Mrs mcgintys dead the la.., p.1
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       Mrs McGinty's Dead / the Labours of Hercules (Agatha Christie Collected Works), p.1

         Part #27 of Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie
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Mrs McGinty's Dead / the Labours of Hercules (Agatha Christie Collected Works)




  HERCULE POIROT MEETS A COUNTESS IN HELL, takes on a desperate band of

  kitters in the Alps and uses a thief to catch a cleric in an

  extraordinary roude of mind-boggling mysteries-a dozen strange and

  difficult cases, selected by the ingenious master of detection to

  parallel, equal, and surpass the twelve great labors of the ancient

  Hercules himself.

  Published by !)ELL PUBLISHING CO., INC. 750 Third Avenue New York, New

  York 100 17

  Copyright 1939, 1940, 1944, 1945, 1947 by Agatha Christie

  All rights reserved

  Dell TM 681510, Dell Publishing Co., Inc.

  Reprinted by arrangement with Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc. New York, N.Y.

  Previous Dell Edition #4620

  New Dell Edition

  First printing-March 1972

  Printed in U.S.A.

  HERCULE POIROT'S FLAT was essentially modern in its furnishings. It

  gleamed with chromium. Its easy chairs, though comfortably padded, were

  square and uncompromising in outline.

  On one of these chairs sat Hercule Poirot, neatly-in the middle of the

  chair. Opposite him, in another chair, sat Dr. Burton, Fellow of Alf

  Souls, sipping appreciatively at a glass of Poirot's Chateau Mouton

  Rothschild. There was no neatness about Dr. Burton. He was plump,

  untidy and beneath his thatch of white hair beamed a rubicund and benign

  countenance. He had a deep wheezy chuckle and the habit of covering

  himself and everything round him with tobacco ash. In vain did Poirot

  surround him with ash trays.

  Dr. Burton was asking a question.

  "Tell me," he said. "Why Hercule?"

  "You mean, my Christian name?"

  "Hardly a Christian name," the other demurred. "Definitely pagan. But

  why? That's what I want to know. Father's fancy? Mother's whim?

  Family reasons? If I remember rightly-though my memory isn't what it

  was-you also had a brother called Achille, did you not?"

  Poirot's mind raced back over the details of Achille Poirot's career.

  Had all that really happened?

  "Only for a short space of time," he replied.

  Dr. Burton passed tactfully from the subject of Achille Poirot.

  "People should be more careful how they name their children," he

  ruminated. "I've got godchildren. I know.

  Blanche, one of'em is called-dark as a gvpsyl Then there's Deirdre,

  Deirdre of the Sorrows-she's turned out nieri-y as a grig. As for young

  Patience, she might as well have been named Impatience and be done with itl And Diana-well, Diana-" The old

  classical scholar shuddered. "Weighs twelve stone now-and she's only

  fifteenl They say it's puppy fat-but it doesn't look that way to me.


  Th-y wanted to call her Helen, but I did p'llt my foot down there.

  Knowing what her father and mother looked likel And her grandmother for

  that matter? I tried hard for Martha or Dorcas or something

  sensible-but it was no good-waste of breath. Rum people, parents."

  He began to wheeze gently-his small fat face crinkled up.

  Poirot looked at him inquiringly.

  ."Thinking of an imaginary conversation. Your mother and the late Mrs.

  Holmes, sitting sewing little garments or knitting: 'Achille, Hercule,

  Sherlock, Mycroft. . .

  Poirot failed to share his friend's amusement.

  "What I understand you to mean is that in physical appearance I do not

  resemble a Hercules?"

  Dr. Burton's eyes swept over Hercule Poirot, over his small neat person

  attired in striped trousers, correct black jacket, and natty bow tie,

  swept up from his patent leather shoes to his eggshaped head and the

  immense mustache that adorned his upper lip.

  "Frankly, Poirot," said Dr. Burton, "you don't] I gather," he added

  that you've never had much time to study the classics?

  'That is so."

  'Pity. Pity. You've missed a lot. Everyone should be made to study

  the classics, if I had my way."

  Poirot shrugged his shoulders.

  "Eh bien, I have got on very well without them."

  "Got onl Got on? It's not a question of getting on. That's the wrong

  view altogether. The classics aren't a ladder leading to quick success,

  like a modern correspondence courser It's not a man's working hours that

  are importantit's his leisure hours. That's the mistake we all make.

  Take yourself now, you're getting on, you'll be wanting to get out of

  things, to take things easy-what are you going to do then with your

  leisure hours?"

  Poirot was ready with his reply.

  ."I am going to attend-seriously-to the cultivation of vegetable


  Dr. Burton was taken aback.

  "Vegetable marrows? What dyer mean? Those great swollen green things

  that taste of water?"

  "Ah," Poirot spoke enthusiastically. "But that is the whole point of

  it. They need not taste of water."

  'Oh? I know -sprinkle'em with cheese, or minced onion or white sauce."

  "No, no-you are in error. It is my idea that the actual flavor of the

  marrow itself can be improved. It can be given," he screwed up his

  eyes, "a bouquet-"

  "Good God, man, it's not a claret." The word bouquet reminded Dr. Burton

  of the glass at his elbow. He sipped and savored. "Very good wine,

  this. Very sound. Yes." His head nodded in approbation. "But this

  vegetable marrow business-you're not serious? You don't mean"-he spoke

  in lively horror-"that you're actually going to stoop"-his hands

  descended in sympathetic horror on his own plump stomach-"stoop, and

  fork dung on the things, and feed 'em with strands of wool dipped in

  water and all the rest of it?"

  "You seem," Poirot said, "to be well acquainted with the culture of the


  "Seen gardeners doing it when I've been staying in the country. But

  seriously, Poirot, what a hobbyl Compare that to"-his voice sank to an

  appreciative purr-"an easy chair in front of a wood fire in a long low

  room lined with books-must be a long room-not a square one. Books all

  round one. A glass of port-and a book open in your hand.

  Time rolls back as you read." He quoted sonorously, translating from the


  "By skill again, the pilot on the wine-dark sea straightens

  The swift ship buffeted by the winds.

  "Of course you can never really get the spirit of the original."

  For the moment, in his enthusiasm, he had forgotten Poirot. And Poirot,

  watching him, felt suddenly a doubtan uncomfortable twinge. Was there,

  here, something that he had missed? Some richness of the spirit?

  Sadness crept over him. Yes, he should have become acquainted with the

  classics. Long
ago. Now, alas, it was too late....

  Dr. Burton interrupted his melancholy.

  :'Do you mean that you really are thinking of retiring?"


  The other chuckled. "You won'tl" :'But I assure you-"

  'You won't be able to do it, man. You're too interested in your work."

  "No-indeed-I am making all the arrangements. A few more cases-specially

  selected ones-not, you understand, everything that presents itself-just

  problems that have a personal appeal."

  Dr. Buridn grinned.

  ,.That's the way of it. just a case or two, just one case more-and so

  on. The prima donna's farewell performance won't be in it with yours,


  He chuckled and rose slowly to his feet, an amiable white-haired gnome.

  "Yours areh't the Labors of Hercules," he said. "Yours are labors of

  love. You'll see if I'm not right. Bet you that in twelve months' time

  you'll still be here, and vegetable marrows will still be"-he

  shuddered-"merely marrows."

  Taking leave of his host, Dr. Burton left the severe rectangular room.

  He passes out of these pages not to return to them. We are concerned

  only with what he left behind him, which was an Idea.

  For after his departure Hercule Poirot sat down again slowly like a man

  in a dream and murmured:

  "The Labors of Hercules.... Mais oui, c'est une idde, ,va. . . ."

  The following day saw Hercule Poirot perusing a large calf-bound volume,

  with occasional harried glances at various typewritten slips of paper,

  and other slimmer works.

  His secretary, Miss Lemon, had been detailed to collect information on

  the subject of Hercules and to place same before him.

  Without interest (hers not the type to wonder whyl) but with perfect

  efficiency, Miss Lemon had fulfilled her task.

  Hercule Poirot was plunged headfirst in a bewildering sea of classical

  lore with particular reference to Hercules, a celebrated hero who, after

  death, was ranked among the gods, and received divine honors.

  So far, so good-but thereafter it was far from plain sailing. For two

  hours Poirot read diligently, making notes, frowning, consulting his

  slips of paper and his other books of reference. Finally, he sank back

  in his chair and shook his head. His mood of the previous evening was


  What peoplel

  Take this Hercules-this herol Hero indeed? What was he but a large

  muscular creature of low intelligence and criminal tendenciest Poirot

  was reminded of one Adolfe Durand, a butcher, who had been tried at Lyon

  in 1895-a creature of oxlike strength who had killed several children.

  The defense had been epilepsy-from which he undoubtedly suffered-though

  whether grand mal or petit mal had been an argument of several days'


  This ancient Hercules probably suffered from grand mal.

  No, Poirot shook his head, if that was the Greeks' idea of a hero, then

  measured by modern standards it certainly would not do. The whole

  classical pattern shocked him.

  These gods and goddesses-they seemed to have as many different aliases

  as a modern criminal. Indeed they seemed to be definitely criminal

  types. Drink, debauchery, incest, rape, loot, homicide, and

  chicanery-enough to keep a luge d'Instruction constantly busy. No

  decent family life. No order, no method. Even in their crimes, no

  order or methodl

  "Hercules indeedl" said Hercule Poirot, rising to his feet,


  He looked round him with approval. A square room, with good square

  modern furniture-even a piece of good modern sculpture representing one

  cube placed on another cube and above it a geometrical arrangement of

  copper wire. And in the midst of this shining and orderly room,

  himself. He looked at himself in the glass. Here, then, was a modern

  Hercules-very distinct from that unpleasant sketch of a naked figure

  with bulging muscles, brandishing a club. Instead, a small compact

  figure attired in correct urban wear with a mustache-such a mustache as

  Hercules never dreamed of cultivating-a mustache magnificent yet


  Yet there was between this Hercule Poirot and the Hercules of classical

  lore one point of resemblance. Both of them, undoubtedly, had been

  instrumental in ridding the world of certain pests. Each of them could

  be described as a benefactor to the society he lived in.

  What had Dr. Burton said last night as he left: "Yours are not the

  Labors of Hercules. . . ."

  Ali, but there he was wrong, the old fossil. There should be, once

  again, the Labors of Hercules-a modern Hercules. An ingenious and

  amusing conceitl In the period before his final retirement he would

  accept twelve cases, no more, no less. And those twelve cases should be

  selected with special reference to the twelve labors of ancient

  Hercules. Yes, that would not only be amusing, it would be artistic, it

  would be spiritual.

  Poirot picked up the Classical Dictionary and immersed himself once more

  in classical lore. He did not intend to follow his prototype too

  closely. There should be no women, no Shirt of Nessus. The Labors and

  the Labors only.

  The first Labor, then, would be that of the Nemean Lion.

  "The Nemean Lion," he repeated, trying it over on his tongue.

  Naturally he did not expect a case to present itself actually involving

  a flesh and blood lion. It would be too much of a coincidence should he

  be approached by the Directors of the Zoological Gardens to solve a

  problem for them involving a real lion.

  No, here symbolism must be involved. The first case

  must concern some celebrated public figure, it must be sensational and

  of the first importancel Some master criminal-or, alternatively, someone

  who was a lion in the public eye. Some well-known writer, or

  politician, or painter -or even royalty?

  He liked the idea of royalty.

  He would not be in a hurry. He would wait-wait for that case of high

  importance that should be the first of his self-imposed labors.

  "ANYTHING OF INTEREST THIS MORNING, Miss Lemon?" he asked as he entered

  the room the following morning.

  He trusted Miss Lemon. She was a woman without imagination, but she had

  an instinct. Anything that she mentioned as worth consideration usually

  was worth consideration. She was a born secretary.

  "Nothing much, M. Poirot. There is just one letter that I thought

  might interest you. I have put it on the top of the pile."

  "And what is that?" He took an interested step forward.

  "It's from a man who wants you to investigate the disappearance of his

  wife's Pekinese dog "

  Poirot paused with his foot still in the air. He threw a glance of deep

  reproach at Miss Lemon. She did not notice it. She had I;egu to type.

  She typed with the speed and precision of a quick-firing tank.

  Poirot was shaken; shaken and embittered. Miss Lemon, the efficient

  Miss Lemon, had let him downt A Pekinese dog. A Pekinese dogl And after

  the dream he had had last night. He had been leaving Buckingham Palace

  after being personally thanked when his valet had come in with his

  morning chocolatel

  Words trembled on his lips-witty, caustic words. He did not utter them

  because Miss Lemon, owing to the speed and efficiency of her typing,

  Ayould not have heard them.

  With a grunt of disgust he picked up the topmost letter from the little

  pile on the side of his aesk.

  Yes, it was exactly as Misi Lemon had said. A cit ad .y dress-a

  curt, businesslike, unrefined demand. The subject -the kidnaping of a

  Pekinese dog. One of those bulgingeyed, overpampered pets of a rich

  woman. Hercule

  Poirot's lip curled as he read it.

  Nothing unusual about this. Nothing out of the way or- But yes, yes, in

  one small detail, Miss Lemon was right. In one small detail there was

  something unusual.

  Hercule Poirot sat down. He read the letter slowly and carefully. It

  was not the kind of case he wanted, it was not the kind of case he had

  promised himself. It was not in any sense an important case, it was

  supremely unimportant. It was not-and here was the crux of-his

  objection-it was not a proper Labor of Hercules.

  But unfortunately he was curious.... Yes, he was curious.

  He raised his voice so as to be heard by Miss Lemon above the noise of

  her typing.

  "Ring up this Sir Joseph Hoggin," he ordered, ."and make an appointment

  for me to see him at his office as he suggests."

  As usual, Miss Lemon had been right.

  "I'm a plain man, M. Poirot," said Sir Joseph Hoggin.

  Hercule Poirot made a noncommittal gesture with his right hand. It

  expressed (if you chose to take it so) admiration for the solid worth of

  Sir Joseph's career and an appreciation of his modesty in so describing

  himself. It could also have conveyed a graceful deprecation of the

  statement. In any case it gave no clue to the thought then uppermost in

  Hercule Poirot's mind, which was that Sir Joseph certainly was (using

  the term in its more colloquial sense) a very plain man indeed. Hercule

  Poirot's eyes rested critically on the swelling jowl, the small pig

  eyes, the bulbous nose, and the close-lipped mouth. The whole general

  effect reminded him of someone or somethingbut for the moment he could

  not recollect who or what it was. A memory stirred dimly. A long time

  ago ... in Belgium ... something, surely, to do with soap....

  Sir Joseph was continuing.

  "No frills about me. I don't beat about the bush. Most people, M.

  Poirot, would let this business go. Write it off as a bad debt and

  forget about it. But that's not Joseph

  Hoggin's way. I'm a rich man-and in a manner of speaking xc2OO is

  neither here nor there to me-"

  Poirot interpolated swiftly, "I congratulate you."

  "Eh?" Sir ' J&seph paused a minute. His small eyes narrowed themselves

  still more. He said sharply, "That's not to say that I'm in the habit

  of throwing my money about.

  What I want I pay for. But I pay the market price-no more."

  Hercule Poirot said, "You realize that my fees are high?"

  "Yes, yes. But this," Sir Joseph looked at him cunningly, "is a very

  small matter."

  Hercule Poirot shrugged his shoulders.

  He s;d, "I do not bargain. I am an expert. For the services of an

  expert you have to pay."

  Sir Joseph said frankly, "I k7now you're a tiptop man at this sort of

  thing. I made inquiries and I was told that you were the best man

  available. I mean to get to the bottom of this business and I don't

  grudge the expense. That's why I got you to come here."

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