Hercule Poirot’s early cases – Agatha Christie
‘My friend Hastings would, at all events. He was just holding forth on the subject, n’ est-ce pas, tnon ami?’ ‘Well, sir,’ said Japp condescendingly, ‘you shall be in it too.
I can tell you, it’s something of a feather in your cap to have inside knowledge of a case like this. Well, here’s to business. You know the main facts of the case, I suppose, Monsieur Poirot?’ ‘From the papers only–and the imagination of the journalist is sometimes misleading. Recount the whole story to’ me.’
Japp cross legs comfortably and began.
‘As all the and his wife knows, on Tuesday last a grand ictory Ball was, held. Every twopenny-halfpenny hop calls itself that nowadays, but this was the real thing, held at the Colossus tta!l, and all London at it–including young Lord Cronshaw and his party.’ ‘His dossier?’ interrupted Poirot. ‘I should say his bioscope no, how do you call it – biograph?’ ‘Viscount Cronshaw was the fifth viscount, twenty-five years of age, rich, unmarried, and very fond of the theatrical world.
There were rumours of his being engaged to Miss Courtenay of the Albany Theatre, who was known to her friends as “Coco” and xho was, by all accounts, a very fascinating young lady.’ ‘Good. Continue!’ ‘Lord Cronshaw.’s party consisted of six people: he himself, his uncle, the Honourable Eustace Beltane, a pretty American widow, Mrs Mallaby, a young actor, Chris Davidson, his wife, and last but not least, Mis Coco Courtenay. It was a fancy-dress ball, as you know, and the Cronshaw party represented the old Italian Comedy – whatever that may be.’ ‘The Con, media dell’.4rte,’ murmured Poirot. ‘I know.’ ‘Anyway, the costumes were copied from a set of china figures forming part of Eustace Beltane’s collection. Lord Cronshaw was Harlequin; Beltane was Punchinello; Mrs Mallaby matched him as Pulcinella; the IDavidsons were Pierrot and Pierrette; and Miss Courtenay, of course, was Columbine. Now, quite early in the evening it was apparent that there was something wrong. Lord Cronshaw was moody and strange in his manner. When the party met together for supper in a small private room engaged by the host, everyone noticed that he and Miss Courtenay were no longer on speaking-terms. She had obviously been crying, and seemed on the verge of hysterics. The meal was an uncomfortable one, and as they all left the supper-room, she turned to Chris Davidson and requested him audibly to take her home, as she was “sick of the ball”. The young actor hesitated, glancing at Lord Cronshaw, and finally drew them both back to the supper-room.
‘But all his efforts to secure a reconciliation were unavailing, and he accordingly got a taxi and escorted the now weeping Miss Courtenay back to her flat. Although obviously very much upset, she did not confide in him, merely reiterating again and again that she would “make old Cronch sorry for this?’ That is the only hint we have that her death might not have been accidental, and it’s precious little to go upon. By the time Davidson had quieted her down somewhat, it was too late to return to the Colossus Hall, and Davidson accordingly went straight home to his flat in Chelsea, where his wife arrived shortly afterwards, bearing the news of the terrible tragedy that had occurred after his departure.
‘Lord Cronshaw, it seems, became more and more moody as the ball went on. He kept away from his party, and they hardly saw him during the rest of the evening. It was about one-thirty a.m., just before the grand cotillion when everyone was to unmask, that Captain Digby, a brother officer who knew his disguise, noticed him standing in a box gazing down on the scene.
‘”Hullo, Cronchl” he called. “Come down and be sociablel What are you moping about up there for like a boiled owl? Come along; there’s a good old rag coming on now.” ‘”Right?’ responded Cronshaw. “Wait for me, or I’ll never find you in the crowd.” ‘He turned and left the box as he spoke. Captain Digby, who had Mrs Davidson with him, waited. The minutes passed, but Lord Cronshaw did not appear. Finally Digby grew impatient.
‘ “Does the fellow think we’re going to wait all night for him?” he exclaimed.
‘At that moment Mrs Mallaby joined them, and they explained the situation.
‘”Say, now,” cried the pretty widow vivaciously, “he’s like a bear with a sore head tonight. Let’s go right away and rout him out.” ‘The search commenced, but met with no success until it occurred to Mrs Mallaby that he might possibly be found in the room where they had supped an hour earlier. They made their
way there. What a sight met their eyes! There was Harlequin, sure enough, but stretched on the ground with a table-knife in his heart!’