Double Sin and Other Stories by Agatha Christie
“No,” said Sybil, with a slight shiver, “but I rather wish I could.”
“Imagine the room without her.”
“Are we all going barmy about this doll?” demanded Alicia Coombe impatiently. “What’s wrong with the poor thing? Looks like a decayed cabbage to me, but perhaps,” she added, “that’s because I haven’t got spectacles on.” She put them on her nose and looked firmly at the doll. “Yes,” she said, “I see what you mean. She is a little creepy . . . Sad looking but—well, sly and rather determined, too.”
“Funny,” said Sybil, “Mrs. Fellows-Brown taking such a violent dislike to her.”
“She’s one who never minds speaking her mind,” said Alicia Coombe.
“But it’s odd,” persisted Sybil, “that this doll should make such an impression on her.”
“Well, people do take dislikes very suddenly sometimes.”
“Perhaps,” said Sybil with a little laugh, “that doll never was here until yesterday . . . Perhaps she just—flew in through the window, as you say, and settled herself here.”
“No,” said Alicia Coombe, “I’m sure she’s been here some time. Perhaps she only became visible yesterday.”
“That’s what I feel, too,” said Sybil, “that she’s been here some time . . . but all the same I don’t remember really seeing her till yesterday.”
“Now, dear,” said Alicia Coombe briskly, “do stop it. You’re making me feel quite peculiar with shivers running up and down my spine. You’re not going to work up a great deal of supernatural hoo-hah about that creature, are you?” She picked up the doll, shook it out, rearranged its shoulders, and sat it down again on another chair. Immediately the doll flopped slightly and relaxed.
“It’s not a bit lifelike,” said Alicia Coombe, staring at the doll. “And yet, in a funny way, she does seem alive, doesn’t she?”
“Oo, it did give me a turn,” said Mrs. Groves, as she went round the showroom, dusting. “Such a turn as I hardly like to go into the fitting room any more.”
“What’s given you a turn?” demanded Miss Coombe who was sitting at a writing table in the corner, busy with various accounts. “This woman,” she added more for her own benefit than that of Mrs. Groves, “thinks she can have two evening dresses, three cocktail dresses, and a suit every year without ever paying me a penny for them! Really, some people!”
“It’s that doll,” said Mrs. Groves.
“What, our doll again?”
“Yes, sitting up there at the desk, like a human. Oo, it didn’t half give me a turn!”
“What are you talking about?”
Alicia Coombe got up, strode across the room, across the landing outside, and into the room opposite—the fitting room. There was a small Sheraton desk in one corner of it, and there, sitting in a chair drawn up to it, her long floppy arms on the desk, sat the doll.
“Sombody seems to have been having fun,” said Alicia Coombe. “Fancy sitting her up like that. Really, she looks quite natural.”
Sybil Fox came down the stairs at this moment, carrying a dress that was to be tried on that morning.
“Come here, Sybil. Look at our doll sitting at my private desk and writing letters now.”
The two women looked.
“Really,” said Alicia Coombe, “it’s too ridiculous! I wonder who propped her up there. Did you?”
“No, I didn’t,” said Sybil. “It must have been one of the girls from upstairs.”
“A silly sort of joke, really,” said Alicia Coombe. She picked up the doll from the desk and threw her back on the sofa.
Sybil laid the dress over a chair carefully, then she went out and up the stairs to the workroom.
“You know the doll,” she said, “the velvet doll in Miss Coombe’s room downstairs—in the fitting room?”
The forewoman and three girls looked up.
“Yes, miss, of course we know.”
“Who sat her up at the desk this morning for a joke?”
The three girls looked at her, then Elspeth, the forewoman, said, “Sat her up at the desk? I didn’t.”
“Nor did I,” said one of the girls. “Did you, Marlene?” Marlene shook her head.
“This your bit of fun, Elspeth?”
“No, indeed,” said Elspeth, a stern woman who looked as though her mouth should always be filled with pins. “I’ve more to do than going about playing with dolls and sitting them up at desks.”
“Look here,” said Sybil, and to her surprise her voice shook slightly. “It was—it was quite a good joke, only I’d just like to know who did it.”
The three girls bristled.
“We’ve told you, Mrs. Fox. None of us did it, did we, Marlene?”
“I didn’t,” said Marlene, “and if Nellie and Margaret say they didn’t, well then, none of us did.”
“You’ve heard what I had to say,” said Elspeth. “What’s this all about anyway, Mrs. Fox?”
“Perhaps it was Mrs. Groves?” said Marlene.
Sybil shook her head. “It wouldn’t be Mrs. Groves. It gave her quite a turn.”
“I’ll come down and see for myself,” said Elspeth.
“She’s not there now,” said Sybil. “Miss Coombe took her away from the desk and threw her back on the sofa. Well—” she paused—“what I mean is, someone must have stuck her up there in the chair at the writing desk—thinking it was funny. I suppose. And—and I don’t see why they won’t say so.”
“I’ve told you twice, Mrs. Fox,” said Margaret. “I don’t see why you should go on accusing us of telling lies. None of us would do a silly thing like that.”
“I’m sorry,” said Sybil, “I didn’t mean to upset you. But—but who else could possibly have done it?”
“Perhaps she got up and walked there herself,” said Marlene, and giggled.
For some reason Sybil didn’t like the suggestion.
“Oh, it’s all a lot of nonsense, anyway,” she said, and went down the stairs again.
Alicia Coombe was humming quite cheerfully. She looked round the room.
“I’ve lost my spectacles again,” she said, “but it doesn’t really matter. I don’t want to see anything this moment. The trouble is, of course, when you’re as blind as I am, that when you have lost your spectacles, unless you’ve got another pair to put on and find them with, well, then you can’t find them because you can’t see to find them.”
“I’ll look round for you,” said Sybil. “You had them just now.”
“I went into the other room when you went upstairs. I expect I took them back in there.”
She went across to the other room.
“It’s such a bother,” said Alicia Coombe. “I want to get on with these accounts. How can I if I haven’t my spectacles?”
“I’ll go up and get your second pair from the bedroom,” said Sybil.
“I haven’t a second pair at present,” said Alicia Coombe.
“Why, what’s happened to them?”
“Well, I think I left them yesterday when I was out at lunch. I’ve rung up there, and I’ve rung up the two shops I went into, too.”
“Oh, dear,” said Sybil, “you’ll have to get three pairs, I suppose.”
“If I had three pairs of spectacles,” said Alicia Coombe, “I should spend my whole life looking for one or the other of them. I really think it’s best to have only one. Then you’ve got to look till you find it.”
“Well, they must be somewhere,” said Sybil. “You haven’t been out of these two rooms. They’re certainly not here, so you must have laid them down in the fitting room.”
She went back, walking round, looking quite closely. Finally, as a last idea, she took up the doll from the sofa.
“I’ve got them,” she called.
“Oh, where were they, Sybil?”
“Under our precious doll. I suppose you must have thrown them down when you put her back on the sofa.”
“I didn’t. I’m sure I didn’t.?
“Oh,” said Sybil with exasperation. “Then I suppose the doll took them and was hiding them from you!”
“Really, you know,” said Alicia, looking thoughtfully at the doll, “I wouldn’t put it past her. She looks very intelligent, don’t you think, Sybil?”
“I don’t think I like her face,” said Sybil. “She looks as though she knew something that we didn’t.”
“You don’t think she looks sort of sad and sweet?” said Alicia Coombe pleadingly, but without conviction.
“I don’t think she’s in the least sweet,” said Sybil.
“No . . . perhaps you’re right . . . Oh, well, let’s get on with things. Lady Lee will be here in another ten minutes. I just want to get these invoices done and posted.”
“Mrs. Fox. Mrs. Fox?”
“Yes, Margaret?” said Sybil. “What is it?”
Sybil was busy leaning over a table, cutting a piece of satin material.
“Oh, Mrs. Fox, it’s that doll again. I took down the brown dress like you said, and there’s that doll sitting up at the desk again. And it wasn’t me—it wasn’t any of us. Please, Mrs. Fox, we really wouldn’t do such a thing.”
Sybil’s scissors slid a little.
“There,” she said angrily, “look what you’ve made me do. Oh, well, it’ll be all right, I suppose. Now, what’s this about the doll?”
“She’s sitting at the desk again.”
Sybil went down and walked into the fitting room. The doll was sitting at the desk exactly as she had sat there before.
“You’re very determined, aren’t you?” said Sybil, speaking to the doll.
She picked her up unceremoniously and put her back on the sofa.
“That’s your place, my girl,” she said. “You stay there.”
She walked across to the other room.
“Somebody is having a game with us, you know. That doll was sitting at the desk again.”
“Who do you think it is?”
“It must be one of those three upstairs,” said Sybil. “Thinks it’s funny, I suppose. Of course they all swear to high heaven it wasn’t them.”
“Who do you think it is—Margaret?”
“No, I don’t think it’s Margaret. She looked quite queer when she came in and told me. I expect it’s that giggling Marlene.”
“Anyway, it’s a very silly thing to do.”
“Of course it is—idiotic,” said Sybil. “However,” she added grimly, “I’m going to put a stop to it.”
“What are you going to do?”
“You’ll see,” said Sybil.
That night when she left, she locked the fitting room from the outside.
“I’m locking this door,” she said, “and I’m taking the key with me.”
“Oh, I see,” said Alicia Coombe, with a faint air of amusement. “You’re beginning to think it’s me, are you? You think I’m so absentminded that I go in there and think I’ll write at the desk, but instead I pick the doll up and put her there to write for me. Is that the idea? And then I forget all about it?”
“Well, it’s a possibility,” Sybil admitted. “Anyway, I’m going to be quite sure that no silly practical joke is played tonight.”
The following morning, her lips set grimly, the first thing Sybil did on arrival was to unlock the door of the fitting room and march in. Mrs. Groves, with an aggrieved expression and mop and duster in hand, had been waiting on the landing.
“Now we’ll see!” said Sybil.
Then she drew back with a slight gasp.
The doll was sitting at the desk.
“Cool!” said Mrs. Groves behind her. “It’s uncanny! That’s what it is. Oh, there, Mrs. Fox, you look quite pale, as though you’ve come over queer. You need a little drop of something. Has Miss Coombe got a drop upstairs, do you know?”
“I’m quite all right,” said Sybil.
She walked over to the doll, lifted her carefully, and crossed the room with her.
“Somebody’s been playing a trick on you again,” said Mrs. Groves.
“I don’t see how they could have played a trick on me this time,” said Sybil slowly. “I locked that door last night. You know yourself that no one could get in.”
“Somebody’s got another key, maybe,” said Mrs. Groves helpfully.
“I don’t think so,” said Sybil. “We’ve never bothered to lock this door before. It’s one of those old-fashioned keys and there’s only one of them.”
“Perhaps the other key fits it—the one to the door opposite.”
In due course they tried all the keys in the shop, but none fitted the door of the fitting room.
“It is odd, Miss Coombe,” said Sybil later, as they were having lunch together.
Alicia Coombe was looking rather pleased.
“My dear,” she said. “I think it’s simply extraordinary. I think we ought to write to the psychical research people about it. You know, they might send an investigator—a medium or someone—to see if there’s anything peculiar about the room.”
“You don’t seem to mind at all,” said Sybil.
“Well, I rather enjoy it in a way,” said Alicia Coombe. “I mean, at my age, it’s rather fun when things happen! All the same—no,” she added thoughtfully. “I don’t think I do quite like it. I mean, that doll’s getting rather above herself, isn’t she?”
On that evening Sybil and Alicia Coombe locked the door once more on the outside.
“I still think,” said Sybil, “that somebody might be playing a practical joke, though, really, I don’t see why. . . .”
“Do you think she’ll be at the desk again tomorrow morning?” demanded Alicia.
“Yes,” said Sybil, “I do.”
But they were wrong. The doll was not at the desk. Instead, she was on the window sill, looking out into the street. And again there was an extraordinary naturalness about her position.
“It’s all frightfully silly, isn’t it?” said Alicia Coombe, as they were snatching a quick cup of tea that afternoon. By common consent they were not having it in the fitting room, as they usually did, but in Alicia Coombe’s own room opposite.
“Silly in what way?”
“Well, I mean, there’s nothing you can get hold of. Just a doll that’s always in a different place.”
As day followed day it seemed a more and more apt observation. It was not only at night that the doll now moved. At any moment when they came into the fitting room, after they had been absent even a few minutes, they might find the doll in a different place. They could have left her on the sofa and find her on a chair. Then she’d be on a different chair. Sometimes she’d be in the window seat, sometimes at the desk again.
“She just moves about as she likes,” said Alicia Coombe. “And I think, Sybil, I think it’s amusing her.”
The two women stood looking down at the inert sprawling figure in its limp, soft velvet, with its painted silk face.
“Some old bits of velvet and silk and a lick of paint, that’s all it is,” said Alicia Coombe. Her voice was strained. “I suppose, you know, we could—er—we could dispose of her.”
“What do you mean, dispose of her?” asked Sybil. Her voice sounded almost shocked.
“Well,” said Alicia Coombe, “we could put her in the fire, if there was a fire. Burn her, I mean, like a witch . . . Or of course,” she added matter-of-factly, “we could just put her in the dustbin.”
“I don’t think that would do,” said Sybil. “Somebody would probably take her out of the dustbin and bring her back to us.”
“Or we could send her somewhere,” said Alicia Coombe. “You know, to one of those societies who are always writing and asking for something—for a sale or a bazaar. I think that’s the best idea.”
“I don’t know . . .” said Sybil. “I’d be almost afraid to do that.”
“Well, I think she’d come back,” said Sybil.
“You mean, she’d come back here?”
“Like a homing pigeon?”
“Yes, that’s what I mean.”
“I suppose we’re not going off our heads, are we?” said Alicia Coombe. “Perhaps I’ve really gone gaga and perhaps you’re just humouring me, is that it?”
“No,” said Sybil. “But I’ve got a nasty frightening feeling—a horrid feeling that she’s too strong for us.”
“What? That mess of rags?”
“Yes, that horrible limp mess of rags. Because, you see, she’s so determined.”
“To have her own way! I mean, this is her room now!”
“Yes,” said Alicia Coombe, looking round, “it is, isn’t it? Of course, it always was, when you come to think of it—the colours and everything . . . I thought she fitted in here, but it’s the room that fits her. I must say,” added the dressmaker, with a touch of briskness in her voice, “it’s rather absurd when a doll comes and takes possession of things like this. You know, Mrs. Groves won’t come in here any longer and clean.”
“Does she say she’s frightened of the doll?”
“No. She just makes excuses of some kind or other.” Then Alicia added with a hint of panic, “What are we going to do, Sybil? It’s getting me down, you know. I haven’t been able to design anything for weeks.”
“I can’t keep my mind on cutting out properly,” Sybil confessed. “I make all sorts of silly mistakes. Perhaps,” she said uncertainly, your idea of writing to the psychical research people might do some good.”
“Just make us look like a couple of fools,” said Alicia Coombe. “I didn’t seriously mean it. No, I suppose we’ll just have to go on until—”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Alicia, and she laughed uncertainly.
On the following day Sybil, when she arrived, found the door of the fitting room locked.
“Miss Coombe, have you got the key? Did you lock this last night?”
“Yes,” said Alicia Coombe, “I locked it and it’s going to stay locked.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just mean I’ve given up the room. The doll can have it. We don’t need two rooms. We can fit in here.”
“But it’s your own private sitting room.”
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