A classic Agatha Christie short story, available individually for the first time as an ebook.A woman leaves a fancy dress ball early and is later found to have died from a drugs overdose. Hercule Poirot investigates in this, the first story written about him.
The Affair at the Victory Ball
A Short Story
by Agatha Christie
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk)
Copyright © 1999 Agatha Christie Ltd.
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Source ISBN: 9780007438969
Ebook Edition © MARCH 2014 ISBN: 9780007559930
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The Affair at the Victory Ball
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‘The Affair at the Victory Ball’ was first published in The Sketch, 7 March 1923.
Pure chance led my friend Hercule Poirot, formerly chief of the Belgian force, to be connected with the Styles Case. His success brought him notoriety, and he decided to devote himself to the solving of problems in crime. Having been wounded on the Somme and invalided out of the Army, I finally took up my quarters with him in London. Since I have a first-hand knowledge of most of his cases, it has been suggested to me that I select some of the most interesting and place them on record. In doing so, I feel that I cannot do better than begin with that strange tangle which aroused such widespread public interest at the time. I refer to the affair at the Victory Ball.
Although perhaps it is not so fully demonstrative of Poirot’s peculiar methods as some of the more obscure cases, its sensational features, the well-known people involved, and the tremendous publicity given it by the Press, make it stand out as a cause célèbre and I have long felt that it is only fitting that Poirot’s connection with the solution should be given to the world.
It was a fine morning in spring, and we were sitting in Poirot’s rooms. My little friend, neat and dapper as ever, his egg-shaped head tilted on one side, was delicately applying a new pomade to his moustache. A certain harmless vanity was a characteristic of Poirot’s and fell into line with his general love of order and method. The Daily Newsmonger, which I had been reading, had slipped to the floor, and I was deep in a brown study when Poirot’s voice recalled me.
‘Of what are you thinking so deeply, mon ami?’
‘To tell you the truth,’ I replied, ‘I was puzzling over this unaccountable affair at the Victory Ball. The papers are full of it.’ I tapped the sheet with my finger as I spoke.
‘The more one reads of it, the more shrouded in mystery the whole thing becomes!’ I warmed to my subject. ‘Who killed Lord Cronshaw? Was Coco Courtenay’s death on the same night a mere coincidence? Was it an accident? Or did she deliberately take an overdose of cocaine?’ I stopped, and then added dramatically: ‘These are the questions I ask myself.’
Poirot, somewhat to my annoyance, did not play up. He was peering into the glass, and merely murmured: ‘Decidedly, this new pomade, it is a marvel for the moustaches!’ Catching my eye, however, he added hastily: ‘Quite so – and how do you reply to your questions?’
But before I could answer, the door opened, and our landlady announced Inspector Japp.
The Scotland Yard man was an old friend of ours and we greeted him warmly.
‘Ah, my good Japp,’ cried Poirot, ‘and what brings you to see us?’
‘Well, Monsieur Poirot,’ said Japp, seating himself and nodding to me, ‘I’m on a case that strikes me as being very much in your line, and I came along to know whether you’d care to have a finger in the pie?’
Poirot had a good opinion of Japp’s abilities, though deploring his lamentable lack of method, but I, for my part, considered that the detective’s highest talent lay in the gentle art of seeking favours under the guise of conferring them!
‘It’s the Victory Ball,’ said Japp persuasively. ‘Come, now, you’d like to have a hand in that.’
Poirot smiled at me.
‘My friend Hastings would, at all events. He was just holding forth on the subject, n-est-ce pas, mon 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 crossed his legs comfortably and began.
‘As all the world and his wife knows, on Tuesday last a grand Victory Ball was held. Every twopenny-halfpenny hop calls itself that nowadays, but this was the real thing, held at the Colossus Hall, and all London at it – including your Lord Cronshaw and his party.’
‘His dossier?’ interrupted Poirot. ‘I should say his bioscope – no, how do you call it – biograph?’
‘Viscount Cronshaw was 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 who was, by all accounts, a very fascinating young lady.’
‘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, Miss 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 Commedia dell’ Arte,’ 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 Davidsons 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.
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