by Agathe Christie
The Adventure of “The Western Star”
I was standing at the window of Poirot’s rooms looking out idly on the street below.
“That’s queer,” I ejaculated suddenly beneath my breath.
“What is, mon ami?” asked Poirot placidly, from the depths of his comfortable chair.
“Deduce, Poirot, from the following facts! Here is a young lady, richly dressed—fashionable hat, magnificent furs. She is coming along slowly, looking up at the houses as she goes. Unknown to her, she is being shadowed by three men and a middle-aged woman. They have just been joined by an errand boy who points after the girl, gesticulating as he does so. What drama is this being played? Is the girl a crook, and are the shadowers detectives preparing to arrest her? Or are they the scoundrels, and are they plotting to attack an innocent victim? What does the great detective say?”
“The great detective, mon ami, chooses, as ever, the simplest course. He rises to see for himself.” And my friend joined me at the window.
In a minute he gave vent to an amused chuckle.
“As usual, your facts are tinged with your incurable romanticism. That is Miss Mary Marvell, the film star. She is being followed by a bevy of admirers who have recognized her. And, en passant, my dear Hastings, she is quite aware of the fact!”
“So all is explained! But you get no marks for that, Poirot. It was a mere matter of recognition.”
“En vérité! And how many times have you seen Mary Marvell on the screen, mon cher?”
“About a dozen times perhaps.”
“And I—once! Yet I recognize her, and you do not.”
“She looks so different,” I replied rather feebly.
“Ah! Sacré!” cried Poirot. “Is it that you expect her to promenade herself in the streets of London in a cowboy hat, or with bare feet, and a bunch of curls, as an Irish colleen? Always with you it is the non-essentials! Remember the case of the dancer, Valerie Saintclair.”
I shrugged my shoulders, slightly annoyed.
“But console yourself, mon ami,” said Poirot, calming down. “All cannot be as Hercule Poirot! I know it well.”
“You really have the best opinion of yourself of anyone I ever knew!” I cried, divided between amusement and annoyance.
“What will you? When one is unique, one knows it! And others share that opinion—even, if I mistake not, Miss Mary Marvell.”
“Without doubt. She is coming here.”
“How do you make that out?”
“Very simply. This street, it is not aristocratic, mon ami! In it there is no fashionable doctor, no fashionable dentist—still less is there a fashionable milliner! But there is a fashionable detective. Oui, my friend, it is true—I am become the mode, the dernier cri! One says to another: ‘Comment? You have lost your gold pencil-case? You must go to the little Belgian. He is too marvellous! Every one goes! Courez!’ And they arrive! In flocks, mon ami! With problems of the most foolish!” A bell rang below. “What did I tell you? That is Miss Marvell.”
As usual, Poirot was right. After a short interval, the American film star was ushered in, and we rose to our feet.
Mary Marvell was undoubtedly one of the most popular actresses on the screen. She had only lately arrived in England in company with her husband, Gregory B. Rolf, also a film actor. Their marriage had taken place about a year ago in the States and this was their first visit to England. They had been given a great reception. Every one was prepared to go mad over Mary Marvell, her wonderful clothes, her furs, her jewels, above all one jewel, the great diamond which had been nicknamed, to match its owner, “the Western Star.” Much, true and untrue, had been written about this famous stone which was reported to be insured for the enormous sum of fifty thousand pounds.
All these details passed rapidly through my mind as I joined with Poirot in greeting our fair client.
Miss Marvell was small and slender, very fair and girlish-looking, with the wide innocent blue eyes of a child.
Poirot drew forward a chair for her, and she commenced talking at once.
“You will probably think me very foolish, Monsieur Poirot, but Lord Cronshaw was telling me last night how wonderfully you cleared up the mystery of his nephew’s death, and I felt that I just must have your advice. I dare say it’s only a silly hoax—Gregory says so—but it’s just worrying me to death.”
She paused for breath. Poirot beamed encouragement.
“Proceed, Madame. You comprehend, I am still in the dark.”
“It’s these letters.” Miss Marvell unclasped her handbag, and drew out three envelopes which she handed to Poirot.
The latter scrutinized them closely.
“Cheap paper—the name and address carefully printed. Let us see the inside.” He drew out the enclosure.
I had joined him, and was leaning over his shoulder. The writing consisted of a single sentence, carefully printed like the envelope. It ran as follows:
“The great diamond which is the left eye of the god must return whence it came.”
The second letter was couched in precisely the same terms, but the third was more explicit:
“You have been warned. You have not obeyed. Now the diamond will be taken from you. At the full of the moon, the two diamonds which are the left and right eye of the god shall return. So it is written.”
“The first letter I treated as a joke,” explained Miss Marvell. “When I got the second, I began to wonder. The third one came yesterday, and it seemed to me that, after all, the matter might be more serious than I had imagined.”
“I see they did not come by post, these letters.”
“No; they were left by hand—by a Chinaman. That is what frightens me.”
“Because it was from a Chink in San Francisco that Gregory bought the stone three years ago.”
“I see, madame, that you believe the diamond referred to to be——”
“‘The Western Star,’” finished Miss Marvell. “That’s so. At the time, Gregory remembers that there was some story attached to the stone, but the Chink wasn’t handing out any information. Gregory says he seemed just scared to death, and in a mortal hurry to get rid of the thing. He only asked about a tenth of its value. It was Greg’s wedding present to me.”
Poirot nodded thoughtfully.
“The story seems of an almost unbelievable romanticism. And yet—who knows? I pray of you, Hastings, hand me my little almanac.”
“Voyons!” said Poirot, turning the leaves.
“When is the date of the full moon? Ah, Friday next. That is in three days’ time. Eh bien, madame, you seek my advice—I give it to you. This belle histoire may be a hoax—but it may not! Therefore I counsel you to place the diamond in my keeping until after Friday next. Then we can take what steps we please.”
A slight cloud passed over the actress’s face, and she replied constrainedly:
“I’m afraid that’s impossible.”
“You have it with you—hein?” Poirot was watching her narrowly.
The girl hesitated a moment, then slipped her hand into the bosom of her gown, drawing out a long thin chain. She leaned forward, unclosing her hand. In the palm, a stone of white fire, exquisitely set in platinum, lay and winked at us solemnly.
Poirot drew in his breath with a long hiss.
“Épatant!” he murmured. “You permit, madame?” He took the jewel in his own hand and scrutinized it keenly, then restored it to her with a little bow. “A magnificent stone—without a flaw. Ah, cent tonnerres! and you carry it about with you, comme ça!”
“No, no, I’m very careful really, Monsieur Poirot. As a rule it’s locked up in my jewel-case, and left in the hotel safe deposit. We’re staying at the Magnificent, you know. I just brought it along to-day for you to see.”
“And you will leave it with me, n’est-ce pas? You will be advised by Papa Poirot?”
“Well, you see, it’s this way, Monsieur Poirot. On Friday we’re going down to Yardly Chase to spend a few days with Lord and Lady Yardly.”
Her words awoke a vague echo of remembrance in my mind. Some gossip—what was it now? A few years ago Lord and Lady Yardly had paid a visit to the States, rumour had it that his lordship had rather gone the pace out there with the assistance of some lady friends—but surely there was something more, some gossip which coupled Lady Yardly’s name with that of a “movie” star in California—why! it came to me in a flash—of course it was none other than Gregory B. Rolf.
“I’ll let you into a little secret, Monsieur Poirot,” Miss Marvell was continuing. “We’ve got a deal on with Lord Yardly. There’s some chance of our arranging to film a play down there in his ancestral pile.”
“At Yardly Chase?” I cried, interested. “Why, it’s one of the show places of England.”
Miss Marvell nodded.
“I guess it’s the real old feudal stuff all right. But he wants a pretty stiff price, and of course I don’t know yet whether the deal will go through, but Greg and I always like to combine business with pleasure.”
“But—I demand pardon if I am dense, madame—surely it is possible to visit Yardly Chase without taking the diamond with you?”
A shrewd, hard look came into Miss Marvell’s eyes which belied their childlike appearance. She looked suddenly a good deal older.
“I want to wear it down there.”
“Surely” I said suddenly, “there are some very famous jewels in the Yardly collection, a large diamond amongst them?”
“That’s so,” said Miss Marvell briefly.
I heard Poirot murmur beneath his breath: “Ah, c’est comme ça!” Then he said aloud, with his usual uncanny luck in hitting the bull’s-eye (he dignifies it by the name of psychology): “Then you are without doubt already acquainted with Lady Yardly, or perhaps your husband is?”
“Gregory knew her when she was out West three years ago,” said Miss Marvell. She hesitated a moment, and then added abruptly: “Do either of you ever see Society Gossip?”
We both pleaded guilty rather shamefacedly.
“I ask because in this week’s number there is an article on famous jewels, and it’s really very curious——” She broke off.
I rose, went to the table at the other side of the room and returned with the paper in question in my hand. She took it from me, found the article, and began to read aloud:
“. . . Amongst other famous stones may be included the Star of the East, a diamond in the possession of the Yardly family. An ancestor of the present Lord Yardly brought it back with him from China, and a romantic story is said to attach to it. According to this, the stone was once the right eye of a temple god. Another diamond, exactly similar in form and size, formed the left eye, and the story goes that this jewel, too, would in course of time be stolen. ‘One eye shall go West, the other East, till they shall meet once more. Then, in triumph shall they return to the god.’ It is a curious coincidence that there is at the present time a stone corresponding closely in description with this one, and known as ‘the Star of the West,’ or ‘the Western Star.’ It is the property of the celebrated film actress, Miss Mary Marvell. A comparison of the two stones would be interesting.”
“Épatant!” murmured Poirot. “Without doubt a romance of the first water.” He turned to Mary Marvell. “And you are not afraid, madame? You have no superstitious terrors? You do not fear to introduce these two Siamese twins to each other lest a Chinaman should appear and, hey presto! whisk them both back to China?”
His tone was mocking, but I fancied that an undercurrent of seriousness lay beneath it.
“I don’t believe that Lady Yardly’s diamond is anything like as good a stone as mine,” said Miss Marvell. “Anyway, I’m going to see.”
What more Poirot would have said I do not know, for at that moment the door flew open, and a splendid-looking man strode into the room. From his crisply curling black head, to the tips of his patent-leather boots, he was a hero fit for romance.
“I said I’d call round for you, Mary,” said Gregory Rolf, “and here I am. Well, what does Monsieur Poirot say to our little problem? Just one big hoax, same as I do?”
Poirot smiled up at the big actor. They made a ridiculous contrast.
“Hoax or no hoax, Mr. Rolf,” he said dryly, “I have advised Madame your wife not to take the jewel with her to Yardly Chase on Friday.”
“I’m with you there, sir. I’ve already said so to Mary. But there! She’s a woman through and through, and I guess she can’t bear to think of another woman outshining her in the jewel line.”
“What nonsense, Gregory!” said Mary Marvell sharply. But she flushed angrily.
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
“Madame, I have advised. I can do no more. C’est fini.”
He bowed them both to the door.
“Ah! la la,” he observed, returning. “Histoire de femmes! The good husband, he hit the nail on the head—tout de même, he was not tactful! Assuredly not.”
I imparted to him my vague remembrances, and he nodded vigorously.
“So I thought. All the same, there is something curious underneath all this. With your permission, mon ami, I will take the air. Await my return, I beg of you. I shall not be long.”
I was half asleep in my chair when the landlady tapped on the door, and put her head in.
“It’s another lady to see Mr. Poirot, sir. I’ve told her he was out, but she says as how she’ll wait, seeing as she’s come up from the country.”
“Oh, show her in here, Mrs. Murchison. Perhaps I can do something for her.”
In another moment the lady had been ushered in. My heart gave a leap as I recognized her. Lady Yardly’s portrait had figured too often in the Society papers to allow her to remain unknown.
“Do sit down, Lady Yardly,” I said, drawing forward a chair. “My friend Poirot is out, but I know for a fact that he’ll be back very shortly.”
She thanked me and sat down. A very different type, this, from Miss Mary Marvell. Tall, dark, with flashing eyes, and a pale proud face—yet something wistful in the curves of the mouth.
I felt a desire to rise to the occasion. Why not? In Poirot’s presence I have frequently felt a difficulty—I do not appear at my best. And yet there is no doubt that I, too, possess the deductive sense in a marked degree. I leant forward on a sudden impulse.
“Lady Yardly,” I said, “I know why you have come here. You have received blackmailing letters about the diamond.”
There was no doubt as to my bolt having shot home. She stared at me open-mouthed, all colour banished from her cheeks.
“You know?” she gasped. “How?”
“By a perfectly logical process. If Miss Marvell has had warning letters——”
“Miss Marvell? She has been here?”
“She has just left. As I was saying, if she, as the holder of one of the twin diamonds, has received a mysterious series of warnings, you, as the holder of the other stone, must necessarily have done the same. You see how simple it is? I am right, then, you have received these strange communications also?”
For a moment she hesitated, as though in doubt whether to trust me or not, then she bowed her head in assent with a little smile.
“That is so,” she acknowledged.
“Were yours, too, left by hand—by a Chinaman?”
“No, they came by post; but, tell me, has Miss Marvell undergone the same experience, then?”
I recounted to her the events of the morning. She listened attentively.
“It all fits in. My letters are the duplicates of hers. It is true that they came by post, but there is a curious perfume impregnating them—something in the nature of joss-stick—that at once suggested the East to me. What does it all mean?”
I shook my head.
“That is what we must find out. You have the letters with you? We might learn something from the postmarks.”
“Unfortunately I destroyed them. You understand, at the time I regarded it as some foolish joke. Can it be true that some Chinese gang are really trying to recover the diamonds? It seems too incredible.”
We went over the facts again and again, but could get no further towards the elucidation of the mystery. At last Lady Yardly rose.
“I really don’t think I need wait for Monsieur Poirot. You can tell him all this, can’t you? Thank you so much, Mr.——”
She hesitated, her hand outstretched.
“Of course! How stupid of me. You’re a friend of the Cavendishes, aren’t you? It was Mary Cavendish who sent me to Monsieur Poirot.”
When my friend returned, I enjoyed telling him the tale of what had occurred during his absence. He cross-questioned me rather sharply over the details of our conversation and I could read between the lines that he was not best pleased to have been absent. I also fancied that the dear old fellow was just the least inclined to be jealous. It had become rather a pose with him to consistently belittle my abilities, and I think he was chagrined at finding no loophole for criticism. I was secretly rather pleased with myself, though I tried to conceal the fact for fear of irritating him. In spite of his idiosyncrasies, I was deeply attached to my quaint little friend.
“Bien!” he said at length, with a curious look on his face. “The plot develops. Pass me, I pray you, that ‘Peerage’ on the top shelf there.” He turned the leaves. “Ah, here we are! ‘Yardly . . . 10th viscount, served South African War’ . . . tout ça n’a pas d’importance . . . ‘mar. 1907 Hon. Maude Stopperton, fourth daughter of 3rd Baron Cotteril’ . . . um, um, um, . . . ‘has iss. two daughters, born 1908, 1910. . . . Clubs . . . residences.’ . . . Voilà, that does not tell us much. But to-morrow morning we see this milord!”
“Yes. I telegraphed to him.”
“I thought you had washed your hands of the case?”
“I am not acting for Miss Marvell since she refuses to be guided by my advice. What I do now is for my own satisfaction—the satisfaction of Hercule Poirot! Decidedly, I must have a finger in this pie.”
“And you calmly wire Lord Yardly to dash up to town just to suit your convenience. He won’t be pleased.”
“Au contraire, if I preserve for him his family diamond, he ought to be very grateful.”
“Then you really think there is a chance of it being stolen?” I asked eagerly.
“Almost a certainty,” replied Poirot placidly. “Everything points that way.”
Poirot stopped my eager questions with an airy gesture of the hand.
“Not now, I pray you. Let us not confuse the mind. And observe that ‘Peerage’—how you have replaced him! See you not that the tallest books go in the top shelf, the next tallest in the row beneath, and so on. Thus we have order, method, which, as I have often told you, Hastings——”
“Exactly,” I said hastily, and put the offending volume in its proper place.• • • • • • •
Lord Yardly turned out to be a cheery, loud-voiced sportsman with a rather red face, but with a good-humoured bonhomie about him that was distinctly attractive and made up for any lack of mentality.
“Extraordinary business this, Monsieur Poirot. Can’t make head or tail of it. Seems my wife’s been getting odd kind of letters, and that this Miss Marvell’s had ’em too. What does it all mean?”
Poirot handed him the copy of Society Gossip.
“First, milord, I would ask you if these facts are substantially correct?”
The peer took it. His face darkened with anger as he read.
“Damned nonsense!” he spluttered. “There’s never been any romantic story attaching to the diamond. It came from India originally, I believe. I never heard of all this Chinese god stuff.”
“Still, the stone is known as ‘The Star of the East.’”
“Well, what if it is?” he demanded wrathfully.
Poirot smiled a little, but made no direct reply. “What I would ask you to do, milord, is to place yourself in my hands. If you do so unreservedly, I have great hopes of averting the catastrophe.”
“Then you think there’s actually something in these wild-cat tales?”
“Will you do as I ask you?”
“Of course I will, but——”
“Bien! Then permit that I ask you a few questions. This affair of Yardly Chase, is it, as you say, all fixed up between you and Mr. Rolf?”
“Oh, he told you about it, did he? No, there’s nothing settled.” He hesitated, the brick-red colour of his face deepening. “Might as well get the thing straight. I’ve made rather an ass of myself in many ways, Monsieur Poirot—and I’m head over ears in debt—but I want to pull up. I’m fond of the kids, and I want to straighten things up, and be able to live on at the old place. Gregory Rolf is offering me big money—enough to set me on my feet again. I don’t want to do it—I hate the thought of all that crowd play-acting round the Chase—but I may have to, unless——” He broke off.
Poirot eyed him keenly. “You have, then, another string to your bow? Permit that I make a guess? It is to sell the Star of the East?”
Lord Yardly nodded. “That’s it. It’s been in the family for some generations, but it’s not entailed. Still, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to find a purchaser. Hoffberg, the Hatton Garden man, is on the look-out for a likely customer, but he’ll have to find one soon, or it’s a washout.”
“One more question, permettez—Lady Yardly, which plan does she approve?”
“Oh, she’s bitterly opposed to my selling the jewel. You know what women are. She’s all for this film stunt.”
“I comprehend,” said Poirot. He remained a moment or so in thought, then rose briskly to his feet. “You return to Yardly Chase at once? Bien! Say no word to anyone—to anyone mind—but expect us there this evening. We will arrive shortly after five.”
“All right, but I don’t see——”
“Ça n’a pas d’importance,” said Poirot kindly. “You will that I preserve for you your diamond, n’est-ce pas?”
“Then do as I say.”
A sadly bewildered nobleman left the room.• • • • • • •
It was half-past five when we arrived at Yardly Chase, and followed the dignified butler to the old panelled hall with its fire of blazing logs. A pretty picture met our eyes: Lady Yardly and her two children, the mother’s proud dark head bent down over the two fair ones. Lord Yardly stood near, smiling down on them.
“Monsieur Poirot and Captain Hastings,” announced the butler.
Lady Yardly looked up with a start, her husband came forward uncertainly, his eyes seeking instruction from Poirot. The little man was equal to the occasion.
“All my excuses! It is that I investigate still this affair of Miss Marvell’s. She comes to you on Friday, does she not? I make a little tour first to make sure that all is secure. Also I wanted to ask of Lady Yardly if she recollected at all the postmarks on the letters she received?”
Lady Yardly shook her head regretfully. “I’m afraid I don’t. It is stupid of me. But, you see, I never dreamt of taking them seriously.”
“You’ll stay the night?” said Lord Yardly.
“Oh, milord, I fear to incommode you. We have left our bags at the inn.”
“That’s all right.” Lord Yardly had his cue. “We’ll send down for them. No, no—no trouble, I assure you.”
Poirot permitted himself to be persuaded, and sitting down by Lady Yardly, began to make friends with the children. In a short time they were all romping together, and had dragged me into the game.
“Vous êtes bonne mère,” said Poirot, with a gallant little bow, as the children were removed reluctantly by a stern nurse.
Lady Yardly smoothed her ruffled hair.
“I adore them,” she said with a little catch in her voice.
“And they you—with reason!” Poirot bowed again.
A dressing-gong sounded, and we rose to go up to our rooms. At that moment the butler entered with a telegram on a salver which he handed to Lord Yardly. The latter tore it open with a brief word of apology. As he read it he stiffened visibly.
With an ejaculation, he handed it to his wife. Then he glanced at my friend.
“Just a minute, Monsieur Poirot. I feel you ought to know about this. It’s from Hoffberg. He thinks he’s found a customer for the diamond—an American, sailing for the States to-morrow. They’re sending down a chap to-night to vet the stone. By Jove, though, if this goes through——” Words failed him.
Lady Yardly had turned away. She still held the telegram in her hand.
“I wish you wouldn’t sell it, George,” she said, in a low voice. “It’s been in the family so long.” She waited, as though for a reply, but when none came her face hardened. She shrugged her shoulders. “I must go and dress. I suppose I had better display ‘the goods.’” She turned to Poirot with a slight grimace. “It’s one of the most hideous necklaces that was ever designed! George has always promised to have the stones reset for me, but it’s never been done.” She left the room.
Half an hour later, we three were assembled in the great drawing-room awaiting the lady. It was already a few minutes past the dinner hour.
Suddenly there was a low rustle, and Lady Yardly appeared framed in the doorway, a radiant figure in a long white shimmering dress. Round the column of her neck was a rivulet of fire. She stood there with one hand just touching the necklace.
“Behold the sacrifice,” she said gaily. Her ill-humour seemed to have vanished. “Wait while I turn the big light on and you shall feast your eyes on the ugliest necklace in England.”
The switches were just outside the door. As she stretched out her hand to them, the incredible thing happened. Suddenly without any warning, every light was extinguished, the door banged, and from the other side of it came a long-drawn piercing woman’s scream.
“My God!” cried Lord Yardly. “That was Maude’s voice! What has happened?”
We rushed blindly for the door, cannoning into each other in the darkness. It was some minutes before we could find it. What a sight met our eyes! Lady Yardly lay senseless on the marble floor, a crimson mark on her white throat where the necklace had been wrenched from her neck.
As we bent over her, uncertain for the moment whether she were dead or alive, her eyelids opened.
“The Chinaman,” she whispered painfully. “The Chinaman—the side door.”
Lord Yardly sprang up with an oath. I accompanied him, my heart beating wildly. The Chinaman again! The side door in question was a small one in the angle of the wall, not more than a dozen yards from the scene of the tragedy. As we reached it, I gave a cry. There, just short of the threshold, lay the glittering necklace, evidently dropped by the thief in the panic of his flight. I swooped joyously down on it. Then I uttered another cry which Lord Yardly echoed. For in the middle of the necklace was a great gap. The Star of the East was missing!
“That settles it,” I breathed. “These were no ordinary thieves. This one stone was all they wanted.”
“But how did the fellow get in?”
“Through this door.”
“But it’s always locked.”
I shook my head. “It’s not locked now. See.” I pulled it open as I spoke.
As I did so something fluttered to the ground. I picked it up. It was a piece of silk, and the embroidery was unmistakable. It had been torn from a Chinaman’s robe.
“In his haste it caught in the door,” I explained. “Come, hurry. He cannot have gone far as yet.”
But in vain we hunted and searched. In the pitch darkness of the night, the thief had found it easy to make his getaway. We returned reluctantly, and Lord Yardly sent off one of the footmen post-haste to fetch the police.
Lady Yardly, aptly ministered to by Poirot, who is as good as a woman in these matters, was sufficiently recovered to be able to tell her story.
“I was just going to turn on the other light,” she said, “when a man sprang on me from behind. He tore my necklace from my neck with such force that I fell headlong to the floor. As I fell I saw him disappearing through the side door. Then I realized by the pig-tail and the embroidered robe that he was a Chinaman.” She stopped with a shudder.
The butler reappeared. He spoke in a low voice to Lord Yardly.
“A gentleman from Mr. Hoffberg’s, m’lord. He says you expect him.”
“Good heavens!” cried the distracted nobleman. “I must see him, I suppose. No, not here, Mullings, in the library.”
I drew Poirot aside.
“Look here, my dear fellow, hadn’t we better get back to London?”
“You think so, Hastings? Why?”
“Well”—I coughed delicately—“things haven’t gone very well, have they? I mean, you tell Lord Yardly to place himself in your hands and all will be well—and then the diamond vanishes from under your very nose!”
“True,” said Poirot, rather crestfallen. “It was not one of my most striking triumphs.”
This way of describing events almost caused me to smile, but I stuck to my guns.
“So, having—pardon the expression—rather made a mess of things, don’t you think it would be more graceful to leave immediately?”
“And the dinner, the without doubt excellent dinner, that the chef of Lord Yardly has prepared?”
“Oh, what’s dinner!” I said impatiently.
Poirot held up his hands in horror.
“Mon Dieu! It is that in this country you treat the affairs gastronomic with a criminal indifference.”
“There’s another reason why we should get back to London as soon as possible,” I continued.
“What is that, my friend?”
“The other diamond,” I said, lowering my voice. “Miss Marvell’s.”
“Eh bien, what of it?”
“Don’t you see?” His unusual obtuseness annoyed me. What had happened to his usually keen wits? “They’ve got one, now they’ll go for the other.”
“Tiens!” cried Poirot, stepping back a pace and regarding me with admiration. “But your brain marches to a marvel, my friend! Figure to yourself that for the moment I had not thought of that! But there is plenty of time. The full of the moon, it is not until Friday.”
I shook my head dubiously. The full of the moon theory left me entirely cold. I had my way with Poirot, however, and we departed immediately, leaving behind us a note of explanation and apology for Lord Yardly.
My idea was to go at once to the Magnificent, and relate to Miss Marvell what had occurred, but Poirot vetoed the plan, and insisted that the morning would be time enough. I gave in rather grudgingly.
In the morning Poirot seemed strangely disinclined to stir out. I began to suspect that, having made a mistake to start with, he was singularly loath to proceed with the case. In answer to my persuasions, he pointed out, with admirable common sense, that as the details of the affair at Yardly Chase were already in the morning papers the Rolfs would know quite as much as we could tell them. I gave way unwillingly.
Events proved my forebodings to be justified. About two o’clock, the telephone rang. Poirot answered it. He listened for some moments, then with a brief “Bien, j’y serai” he rang off, and turned to me.
“What do you think, mon ami?” He looked half ashamed, half excited. “The diamond of Miss Marvell, it has been stolen.”
“What?” I cried, springing up. “And what about the ‘full of the moon’ now?” Poirot hung his head. “When did this happen?”
“This morning, I understand.”
I shook my head sadly. “If only you had listened to me. You see I was right.”
“It appears so, mon ami,” said Poirot cautiously. “Appearances are deceptive, they say, but it certainly appears so.”
As we hurried in a taxi to the Magnificent, I puzzled out the true inwardness of the scheme.
“That ‘full of the moon’ idea was clever. The whole point of it was to get us to concentrate on the Friday, and so be off our guard beforehand. It is a pity you did not realize that.”
“Ma foi!” said Poirot airily, his nonchalance quite restored after its brief eclipse. “One cannot think of everything!”
I felt sorry for him. He did so hate failure of any kind.
“Cheer up,” I said consolingly. “Better luck next time.”
At the Magnificent, we were ushered at once into the manager’s office. Gregory Rolf was there with two men from Scotland Yard. A pale-faced clerk sat opposite them.
Rolf nodded to us as we entered.
“We’re getting to the bottom of it,” he said. “But it’s almost unbelievable. How the guy had the nerve I can’t think.”
A very few minutes sufficed to give us the facts. Mr. Rolf had gone out of the hotel at 11.15. At 11.30, a gentleman, so like him in appearance as to pass muster, entered the hotel and demanded the jewel-case from the safe deposit. He duly signed the receipt, remarking carelessly as he did so: “Looks a bit different from my ordinary one, but I hurt my hand getting out of the taxi.” The clerk merely smiled and remarked that he saw very little difference. Rolf laughed and said: “Well, don’t run me in as a crook this time, anyway. I’ve been getting threatening letters from a Chinaman, and the worst of it is I look rather like a Chink myself—it’s something about the eyes.”
“I looked at him,” said the clerk who was telling us this, “and I saw at once what he meant. The eyes slanted up at the corners like an Oriental’s. I’d never noticed it before.”
“Darn it all, man,” roared Gregory Rolf, leaning forward, “do you notice it now?”
The man looked up at him and started.
“No, sir,” he said. “I can’t say I do.” And indeed there was nothing even remotely Oriental about the frank brown eyes that looked into ours.
The Scotland Yard man grunted. “Bold customer. Thought the eyes might be noticed, and took the bull by the horns to disarm suspicion. He must have watched you out of the hotel, sir, and nipped in as soon as you were well away.”
“What about the jewel-case?” I asked.
“It was found in a corridor of the hotel. Only one thing had been taken—‘the Western Star.’”
We stared at each other—the whole thing was so bizarre, so unreal.
Poirot hopped briskly to his feet. “I have not been of much use, I fear,” he said regretfully. “Is it permitted to see Madame?”
“I guess she’s prostrated with the shock,” explained Rolf.
“Then perhaps I might have a few words alone with you, monsieur?”
In about five minutes Poirot reappeared.
“Now, my friend,” he said gaily. “To a post office. I have to send a telegram.”
“Lord Yardly.” He discounted further inquiries by slipping his arm through mine. “Come, come, mon ami. I know all that you feel about this miserable business. I have not distinguished myself! You, in my place, might have distinguished yourself! Bien! All is admitted. Let us forget it and have lunch.”
It was about four o’clock when we entered Poirot’s rooms. A figure rose from a chair by the window. It was Lord Yardly. He looked haggard and distraught.
“I got your wire and came up at once. Look here, I’ve been round to Hoffberg, and they know nothing about that man of theirs last night, or the wire either. Do you think that——”
Poirot held up his hand.
“My excuses! I sent that wire, and hired the gentleman in question.”
“You—but why? What?” The nobleman spluttered impotently.
“My little idea was to bring things to a head,” explained Poirot placidly.
“Bring things to a head! Oh, my God!” cried Lord Yardly.
“And the ruse succeeded,” said Poirot cheerfully. “Therefore, milord, I have much pleasure in returning you—this!” With a dramatic gesture he produced a glittering object. It was a great diamond.
“The Star of the East,” gasped Lord Yardly. “But I don’t understand——”
“No?” said Poirot. “It makes no matter. Believe me, it was necessary for the diamond to be stolen. I promised you that it should be preserved to you, and I have kept my word. You must permit me to keep my little secret. Convey, I beg of you, the assurances of my deepest respect to Lady Yardly, and tell her how pleased I am to be able to restore her jewel to her. What beau temps, is it not? Good day, milord.”
And smiling and talking, the amazing little man conducted the bewildered nobleman to the door. He returned gently rubbing his hands.
“Poirot,” I said. “Am I quite demented?”
“No, mon ami, but you are, as always, in a mental fog.”
“How did you get the diamond.”
“From Mr. Rolf.”
“Mais oui! The warning letters, the Chinaman, the article in Society Gossip, all sprang from the ingenious brain of Mr. Rolf! The two diamonds, supposed to be so miraculously alike—bah! they did not exist. There was only one diamond, my friend! Originally in the Yardly collection, for three years it has been in the possession of Mr. Rolf. He stole it this morning with the assistance of a touch of grease paint at the corner of each eye! Ah, I must see him on the film, he is indeed an artist, celui-là!
“But why should he steal his own diamond?” I asked, puzzled.
“For many reasons. To begin with, Lady Yardly was getting restive.”
“You comprehend she was left much alone in California. Her husband was amusing himself elsewhere. Mr. Rolf was handsome, he had an air about him of romance. But au fond, he is very business-like, ce monsieur! He made love to Lady Yardly, and then he blackmailed her. I taxed the lady with the truth the other night, and she admitted it. She swore that she had only been indiscreet, and I believe her. But, undoubtedly, Rolf had letters of hers that could be twisted to bear a different interpretation. Terrified by the threat of a divorce, and the prospect of being separated from her children, she agreed to all he wished. She had no money of her own, and she was forced to permit him to substitute a paste replica for the real stone. The coincidence of the date of the appearance of ‘the Western Star’ struck me at once. All goes well. Lord Yardly prepares to range himself—to settle down. And then comes the menace of the possible sale of the diamond. The substitution will be discovered. Without doubt she writes off frantically to Gregory Rolf who has just arrived in England. He soothes her by promising to arrange all—and prepares for a double robbery. In this way he will quiet the lady, who might conceivably tell all to her husband, an affair which would not suit our blackmailer at all, he will have £50,000 insurance money (aha, you had forgotten that!), and he will still have the diamond! At this point I put my finger in the pie. The arrival of a diamond expert is announced. Lady Yardly, as I felt sure she would, immediately arranges a robbery—and does it very well too! But Hercule Poirot, he sees nothing but facts. What happens in actuality? The lady switches off the light, bangs the door, throws the necklace down the passage, and screams. She has already wrenched out the diamond with pliers upstairs——”
“But we saw the necklace round her neck!” I objected.
“I demand pardon, my friend. Her hand concealed the part of it where the gap would have shown. To place a piece of silk in the door beforehand is child’s play! Of course, as soon as Rolf read of the robbery, he arranged his own little comedy. And very well he played it!”
“What did you say to him?” I asked with lively curiosity.
“I said to him that Lady Yardly had told her husband all, that I was empowered to recover the jewel, and that if it were not immediately handed over proceedings would be taken. Also a few more little lies which occurred to me. He was as wax in my hands!”
I pondered the matter.
“It seems a little unfair on Mary Marvell. She has lost her diamond through no fault of her own.”
“Bah!” said Poirot brutally. “She has a magnificent advertisement. That is all she cares for, that one! Now the other, she is different. Bonne mère, très femme!”
“Yes,” I said doubtfully, hardly sharing Poirot’s views on femininity. “I suppose it was Rolf who sent her the duplicate letters.”
“Pas du tout,” said Poirot briskly. “She came by the advice of Mary Cavendish to seek my aid in her dilemma. Then she heard that Mary Marvell, whom she knew to be her enemy, had been here, and she changed her mind, jumping at a pretext that you, my friend, offered her. A very few questions sufficed to show me that you told her of the letters, not she you! She jumped at the chance your words offered.”
“I don’t believe it,” I cried, stung.
“Si, si, mon ami, it is a pity that you study not the psychology. She told you that the letters were destroyed? Oh, la la, never does a woman destroy a letter if she can avoid it! Not even if it would be more prudent to do so!”
“It’s all very well,” I said, my anger rising, “but you’ve made a perfect fool of me! From beginning to end! No, it’s all very well to try and explain it away afterwards. There really is a limit!”
“But you were so enjoying yourself, my friend. I had not the heart to shatter your illusions.”
“It’s no good. You’ve gone a bit too far this time.”
“Mon Dieu! but how you enrage yourself for nothing, mon ami!”
“I’m fed up!” I went out, banging the door. Poirot had made an absolute laughing-stock of me. I decided that he needed a sharp lesson. I would let some time elapse before I forgave him. He had encouraged me to make a perfect fool of myself!