A classic Agatha Christie short story, available individually for the first time as an ebook.A newspaper headline about the arrest of a murderer raises Poirot’s suspicions that there has been a miscarriage of justice. A visit to the scene of the crime to meet the witnesses should allow him to uncover the truth…
The Mystery of the Spanish Chest
A Hercule Poirot Short Story
by Agatha Christie
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF
Copyright © 2008 Agatha Christie Ltd.
Cover design © HarperCollinsPublishers 2014
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Ebook Edition © JUNE 2014 ISBN 9780007560141
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‘The Mystery of the Spanish Chest’ is an expanded version of the story ‘The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest’ which was first published in The Strand, January 1932.
Punctual to the moment, as always, Hercule Poirot entered the small room where Miss Lemon, his efficient secretary, awaited her instructions for the day.
At first sight Miss Lemon seemed to be composed entirely of angles – thus satisfying Poirot’s demand for symmetry.
Not that where women were concerned Hercule Poirot carried his passion for geometrical precision so far. He was, on the contrary, old-fashioned. He had a continental prejudice for curves – it might be said for voluptuous curves. He liked women to be women. He liked them lush, highly coloured, exotic. There had been a certain Russian countess – but that was long ago now. A folly of earlier days.
But Miss Lemon he had never considered as a woman. She was a human machine – an instrument of precision. Her efficiency was terrific. She was forty-eight years of age, and was fortunate enough to have no imagination whatever.
‘Good morning, Miss Lemon.’
‘Good morning, M. Poirot.’
Poirot sat down and Miss Lemon placed before him the morning’s mail, neatly arranged in categories. She resumed her seat and sat with pad and pencil at the ready.
But there was to be this morning a slight change in routine. Poirot had brought in with him the morning newspaper, and his eyes were scanning it with interest. The headlines were big and bold. SPANISH CHEST MYSTERY. LATEST DEVELOPMENTS.
‘You have read the morning papers, I presume, Miss Lemon?’
‘Yes, M. Poirot. The news from Geneva is not very good.’
Poirot waved away the news from Geneva in a comprehensive sweep of the arm.
‘A Spanish chest,’ he mused. ‘Can you tell me, Miss Lemon, what exactly is a Spanish chest?’
‘I suppose, M. Poirot, that it is a chest that came originally from Spain.’
‘One might reasonably suppose so. You have then, no expert knowledge?’
‘They are usually of the Elizabethan period, I believe. Large, and with a good deal of brass decoration on them. They look very nice when well kept and polished. My sister bought one at a sale. She keeps household linen in it. It looks very nice.’
‘I am sure that in the house of any sister of yours, all the furniture would be well kept,’ said Poirot, bowing gracefully.
Miss Lemon replied sadly that servants did not seem to know what elbow grease was nowadays. Poirot looked a little puzzled, but decided not to inquire into the inward meaning of the mysterious phrase ‘elbow grease’.
He looked down again at the newspaper, conning over the names: Major Rich, Mr and Mrs Clayton, Commander McLaren, Mr and Mrs Spence. Names, nothing but names to him; yet all possessed of human personalities, hating, loving, fearing. A drama, this, in which he, Hercule Poirot, had no part. And he would have liked to have a part in it! Six people at an evening party, in a room with a big Spanish chest against the wall, six people, five of them talking, eating a buffet supper, putting records on the gramophone, dancing, and the sixth dead, in the Spanish chest …
Ah, thought Poirot. How my dear friend, Hastings, would have enjoyed this! What romantic flights of imagination he would have had. What ineptitudes he would have uttered! Ah, ce cher Hastings, at this moment, today, I miss him … Instead –
He sighed and looked at Miss Lemon. Miss Lemon, intelligently perceiving that Poirot was in no mood to dictate letters, had uncovered her typewriter and was awaiting her moment to get on with certain arrears of work. Nothing could have interested her less than sinister Spanish chests containing dead bodies.
Poirot sighed and looked down at a photographed face. Reproductions in newsprint were never very good, and this was decidedly smudgy – but what a face! Mrs Clayton, the wife of the murdered man …
On an impulse, he thrust the paper at Miss Lemon.
‘Look,’ he demanded. ‘Look at that face.’
Miss Lemon looked at it obediently, without emotion.
‘What do you think of her, Miss Lemon? That is Mrs Clayton.’
Miss Lemon took the paper, glanced casually at the picture and remarked:
‘She’s a little like the wife of our bank manager when we lived at Croydon Heath.’