The Chocolate Box: A Hercule Poirot Short Story
The Chocolate Box: A Hercule Poirot Short Story
A classic Agatha Christie short story, available individually for the first time as an ebook.Sitting in front of a fire, Hastings listens as Poirot recounts his greatest failure. When a wealthy French deputy dies, everyone believes it is from natural causes. Poirot is on vacation from the Belgian police when a young lady comes to him convinced the man was poisoned. She creates a guise for him enter the house as a journalist to investigate…
The Chocolate Box
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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Ebook Edition © MAY 2013 ISBN: 9780007526413
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The Chocolate Box
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‘The Chocolate Box’ was first published as ‘The Clue of the Chocolate Box’ in The Sketch, 23 May 1923.
It was a wild night. Outside, the wind howled malevolently, and the rain beat against the windows in great gusts.
Poirot and I sat facing the hearth, our legs stretched out to the cheerful blaze. Between us was a small table. On my side of it stood some carefully brewed hot toddy; on Poirot’s was a cup of thick, rich chocolate which I would not have drunk for a hundred pounds! Poirot sipped the thick brown mess in the pink china cup, and sighed with contentment.
‘Quelle belle vie!’ he murmured.
‘Yes, it’s a good old world,’ I agreed. ‘Here am I with a job, and a good job too! And here are you, famous –’
‘Oh, mon ami!’ protested Poirot.
‘But you are. And rightly so! When I think back on your long line of successes, I am positively amazed. I don’t believe you know what failure is!’
‘He would be a droll kind of original who could say that!’
‘No, but seriously, have you ever failed?’
‘Innumerable times, my friend. What would you? La bonne chance, it cannot always be on your side. I have been called in too late. Very often another, working towards the same goal, has arrived there first. Twice have I been stricken down with illness just as I was on the point of success. One must take the downs with the ups, my friend.’
‘I didn’t quite mean that,’ I said. ‘I meant, had you ever been completely down and out over a case through your own fault?’
‘Ah, I comprehend! You ask if I have ever made the complete prize ass of myself, as you say over here? Once, my friend –’ A slow, reflective smile hovered over his face. ‘Yes, once I made a fool of myself.’
He sat up suddenly in his chair.
‘See here, my friend, you have, I know, kept a record of my little successes. You shall add one more story to the collection, the story of a failure!’
He leaned forward and placed a log on the fire. Then, after carefully wiping his hands on a little duster that hung on a nail by the fireplace, he leaned back and commenced his story.
That of which I tell you (said M. Poirot) took place in Belgium many years ago. It was at the time of the terrible struggle in France between church and state. M. Paul Déroulard was a French deputy of note. It was an open secret that the portfolio of a Minister awaited him. He was among the bitterest of the anti-Catholic party, and it was certain that on his accession to power, he would have to face violent enmity. He was in many ways a peculiar man. Though he neither drank nor smoked, he was nevertheless not so scrupulous in other ways. You comprehend, Hastings, c’était des femmes – toujours des femmes!
He had married some years earlier a young lady from Brussels who had brought him a substantial dot. Undoubtedly the money was useful to him in his career, as his family was not rich, though on the other hand he was entitled to call himself M. le Baron if he chose. There were no children of the marriage, and his wife died after two years – the result of a fall downstairs. Among the property which she bequeathed to him was a house on the Avenue Louise in Brussels.
It was in this house that his sudden death took place, the event coinciding with the resignation of the Minister whose portfolio he was to inherit. All the papers printed long notices of his career. His death, which had taken place quite suddenly in the evening after dinner, was attributed to heart-failure.
At that time, mon ami, I was, as you know, a member of the Belgian detective force. The death of M. Paul Déroulard was not particularly interesting to me. I am, as you also know, bon catholique, and his demise seemed to me fortunate.
It was some three days afterwards, when my vacation had just begun, that I received a visitor at my own apartments – a lady, heavily veiled, but evidently quite young; and I perceived at once that she was a jeune fille tout à fait comme il faut.
‘You are Monsieur Hercule Poirot?’ she asked in a low sweet voice.
‘Of the detective service?’
Again I bowed. ‘Be seated, I pray of you, mademoiselle,’ I said.
She accepted a chair and drew aside her veil. Her face was charming, though marred with tears, and haunted as though with some poignant anxiety.
‘Monsieur,’ she said, ‘I understand that you are now taking a vacation. Therefore you will be free to take up a private case. You understand that I do not wish to call in the police.’
I shook my head. ‘I fear what you ask is impossible, mademoiselle. Even though on vacation, I am still of the police.’
She leaned forward. ‘Ecoutez, monsieur. All that I ask of you is to investigate. The result of your investigations you are at perfect liberty to report to the police. If what I believe to be true is true, we shall need all the machinery of the law.’
That placed a somewhat different complexion on the matter, and I placed myself at her service without more ado.
A slight colour rose in her cheeks. ‘I thank you, monsieur. It is the death of M. Paul Déroulard that I ask you to investigate.’