THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MR. DAVENHEIM. Agatha
Poirot and I were expecting our old friend Inspector Japp of Scotland
Yard to tea. We were sitting round the tea-table awaiting his arrival. Poirot
had just finished carefully straightening the cups and saucers which our
landlady was in the habit of throwing, rather than placing, on the table. He
had also breathed heavily on the metal teapot, and polished it with a silk
handkerchief. The kettle was on the boil, and a small enamel saucepan beside it
contained some thick, sweet chocolate which was more to Poirot’s palate than
what he described as «your English poison».
A sharp «rat-tat» sounded below, and a few minutes afterwards Japp
«Hope I’m not late», he said as he greeted us. «To tell the truth, I was
yarning (1) with Miller, the man who’s in charge of the Davenheim case».
I pricked up my ears. For the last three days the papers had been full
of the strange disappearance of Mr. Davenheim, senior partner of Davenheim and
Salmon, the well-known bankers and financiers. On Saturday last he had walked
out of his house, and had never been seen since. I looked forward to extracting
some interesting details from Japp.
«I should have thought», I remarked, «that it would be almost impossible
for anyone to «disappear» nowadays».
Poirot moved a plate of bread and butter the eighth of an inch, and said
«Be exact, my friend. What do you mean by «disappear»? To which class of
disappearance are you referring?».
«Are disappearances classified and labelled, then?», I laughed.
Japp smiled also. Poirot frowned at us both.
«But certainly they are! They fall into three categories: First, and
most common, the voluntary disappearance. Second, the much abused «loss of memory»
case – rare, but occasionally genuine. Third, murder, and a more or less
successful disposal of the body. Do you refer to all three as impossible of
«Very nearly so, I should think. You might lose your own memory, but
someone would be sure to recognize you – especially in the case of a well-known
man like Davenheim. Then «bodies» can’t be made to vanish into thin air. Sooner
or later they turn up, concealed in lonely places, or in trunks. Murder will
out. In the same way, the absconding clerk, or the domestic defaulter, is bound
to be run down (2) in these days of wireless telegraphy. He can be
headed off from foreign countries; ports and railways stations are watched;
and, as for concealment in this country, his features and appearance will be
known to everyone who reads a daily newspaper. He’s up against civilization».
«Mon ami (3)», said
Poirot, «you make one error. You do not allow for the fact that a man who had
decided to make away with another man – or with himself in a figurative sense –
might be that rare machine, a man of method. He might bring intelligence,
talent, a careful calculation of detail to the task; and then I do not see why
he should not be successful in baffling the police force».
«But not you, I suppose», said
Japp good-humoredly, winking at me. "He couldn’t baffle you, eh, Monsieur Poirot?».
Poirot endeavoured, with a marked lack of success, to look modest. «Me,
also! Why not? It is true that I approach such problems with an exact science,
a mathematical precision, which seems, alas, only too rare in the new
generation of detectives!».
Japp grinned more widely.
«I don’t know», he said. «Miller, the man who’s on this case, is a smart
chap. You may be very sure he won’t overlook a footprint, or a cigar-ash, or a
crumb even. He’s got eyes that see everything».
«So, mon ami», said Poirot,
«has the London
sparrow. But all the same, I should not ask the little brown bird to solve the
problem of Mr. Davenheim».
«Come now, monsieur, you’re not going to run down (2) the value of
details as clues?».
«By no means. These things are all good in their way. The danger is they
may assume undue importance. Most details are insignificant; one or two are
vital. It is the brain, the little grey cells» – he tapped his forehead – «on
which one must rely. The senses mislead. One must seek the truth within – not
«You don’t mean to say, Monsieur Poirot, that you would undertake to
solve a case without moving from your chair, do you?».
«That is exactly what I do mean – granted the facts were placed before
me. I regard myself as a consulting specialist».
Japp slapped his knee. «Hanged if I don’t take you at your word
(4). Bet you a fiver (5) that you can’t lay your hand – or rather tell
me where to lay my hand – on Mr. Davenheim, dead or alive, before a week is out».
Poirot considered. «Eh bien
(6), mon ami, I accept. Le sport, it is the passion of you
English. Now – the facts».
«On Saturday last, as is his usual custom, Mr. Davenheim took the 12:40
train from Victoria
to Chingside, where his palatial country place, The Cedars, is situated. After
lunch, he strolled round the grounds, and gave various directions to the
gardeners. Everybody agrees that his manner was absolutely normal and as usual.
After tea he put his head into his wife’s boudoir, saying that he was going to
stroll down the village and post some letters. He added that he was expecting a
Mr. Lowen on business. If he should come before he himself returned, he was to
be shown into the study and asked to wait. Mr. Davenheim then left the house by
the front door, passed leisurely down the drive, and out at the gate, and – was
never seen again. From that hour, he vanished completely».
«Pretty – very pretty – altogether a charming little problem», murmured
Poirot. «Proceed, my good friend».
«About a quarter of an hour later a tall, dark man with a thick black
moustache rang the front-door bell, and explained that he had an appointment
with Mr. Davenheim. He gave the name of Lowen, and in accordance with the
banker’s instructions was shown into the study. Nearly an hour passed. Mr.
Davenheim did not return. Finally Mr. Lowen rang the bell, and explained that
he was unable to wait any longer, as he must catch his train back to town. Mrs.
Davenheim apologized for her husband’s absence, which seemed unaccountable, as
she knew him to have been expecting the visitor. Mr. Lowen reiterated his regrets
and took his departure.
«Well, as everyone knows, Mr. Davenheim did not return. Early on Sunday morning the police were communicated
with, but could make neither head nor tail of the matter. Mr. Davenheim seemed
literally to have vanished into thin air. He had not been to the post office;
nor had he been seen passing through the village. At the station they were
positive he had not departed by any train. His own motor had not left the
garage. If he had hired a car to meet him in some lonely spot, it seems almost
certain that by this time, in view of the large reward offered for information,
the driver of it would have come forward to tell what he knew. True, there was
a small race-meeting at Entfield, five miles away, and if he had walked to that
station he might have passed unnoticed in the crowd. But since then his
photograph and a full description of him have been circulated in every
newspaper, and nobody has been able to give any news of him. We have, of
course, received many letters from all over England, but each clue, so far, has
ended in disappointment.
«On Monday morning a further sensational discovery came to light. Behind
a portière (7) in Mr.
Davenheim’s study stands a safe, and that safe had been broken into and rifled.
The windows were fastened securely on the inside, which seems to put an
ordinary burglary out of court, unless, of course, an accomplice within the
house fastened them again afterwards. On the other hand, Sunday having
intervened, and the household being in a state of chaos, it is likely that the
burglary was committed on the Saturday, and remained undetected until Monday».
«Précisément (8)», said
Poirot dryly. «Well, is he arrested, ce
pauvre (9) M. Lowen?».
Japp grinned. «Not yet. But he’s under pretty close supervision».
Poirot nodded. «What was taken from the safe? Have you any idea?».
«We’ve been going into that with the junior partner of the firm and Mrs.
Davenheim. Apparently there was a considerable amount in bearer bonds, and a
very large sum in notes, owing to some large transaction having been just
carried through. There was also a small fortune in jewellery. All Mrs.
Davenheim’s jewels were kept in the safe. The purchasing of them had become a
passion with her husband of late years, and hardly a month passed that he did
not make her a present of some rare and costly gem».
«Altogether a good haul», said Poirot thoughtfully. «Now, what about
Lowen? Is it known what his business was with Davenheim that evening?».
«Well, the two men were apparently not on very good terms. Lowen is a
speculator in quite a small way (10). Nevertheless, he has been
able once or twice to score a coup
(11) off Davenheim in the market, though it seems they seldom or never actually
met. It was a matter concerning some South American shares which led the banker
to make his appointment».
«Had Davenheim interests in South America,
«I believe so. Mrs. Davenheim happened to mention that he spent all last
autumn in Buenos Aires».
«Any trouble in his home life? Were the husband and wife on good
«I should say his domestic life was quite peaceful and uneventful. Mrs.
Davenheim is a pleasant, rather unintelligent woman. Quite a nonentity, I
«Then we must not look for the solution of the mystery there. Had he any
«He had plenty of financial rivals, and no doubt there are many people
whom he has got the better of who bear him no particular good-will. But there
was no one likely to make away with him – and, if they had, where is the body?».
«Exactly. As Hastings
says, bodies have a habit of coming to light with fatal persistency».
«By the way, one of the gardeners says he saw a figure going round to
the side of the house toward the rose-garden. The long french window of the
study opens on to the rose-garden, and Mr. Davenheim frequently entered and
left the house that way. But the man was a good way off, at work on some
cucumber frames, and cannot even say whether it was the figure of his master or
not. Also, he cannot fix the time with any accuracy. It must have been before
six, as the gardeners cease work at that time».
«And Mr. Davenheim left the house?».
«About half-past five or thereabouts».
«What lies beyond the rose-garden?».
«With a boathouse?».
«Yes, a couple of punts are kept there. I suppose you’re thinking of
suicide, Monsieur Poirot? Well, I don’t mind telling you that Miller’s going
down tomorrow expressly to see that piece of water dragged. That’s the kind of
man he is!».
Poirot smiled faintly, and turned to me. «Hastings, I pray you, hand me that copy of
the Daily Megaphone. If I remember
rightly, there is an unusually clear photograph there of the missing man».
I rose, and found the sheet required. Poirot studied the features
«H’m!», he murmured. «Wears his hair rather long and wavy, full
moustache and pointed beard, bushy eyebrows. Eyes dark?».
«Hair and beard turning grey?».
The detective nodded. «Well, Monsieur Poirot, what have you got to say
to it all? Clear as daylight, eh?».
«On the contrary, most obscure».
The Scotland Yard man looked pleased.
«Which gives me great hopes of solving it», finished Poirot placidly.
«I find it a good sign when a case is obscure. If a thing is clear as
daylight – eh bien, mistrust it!
Someone has made it so».
Japp shook his head almost pityingly. «Well, each to their fancy. But
it’s not a bad thing to see your way clear ahead».
«I do not see», murmured Poirot. «I shut my eyes – and think».
Japp sighed. «Well, you’ve got a clear week to think in».
«And you will bring me any fresh developments that arise – the result of
the labours of the hard-working and lynx-eyed Inspector Miller, for instance?».
«Certainly. That’s in the bargain».
«Seems a shame, doesn’t it?», said Japp to me as I accompanied him to
the door. «Like robbing a child!».
I could not help agreeing with a smile. I was still smiling as I reentered
«Eh bien!», said Poirot
immediately. «You make fun of Papa Poirot, is it not so?». He shook his finger
at me. «You do not trust his grey cells? Ah, do not be confused! Let us discuss
this little problem – incomplete as yet, I admit, but already showing one or
two points of interest».
«The lake!», I said significantly.
«And even more than the lake, the boathouse!».
I looked sidewise at Poirot. He was smiling in his most inscrutable
fashion. I felt that, for the moment, it would be quite useless to question him
We heard nothing of Japp until the following evening, when he walked in
about nine o’clock. I saw at once by his expression that he was bursting with
news of some kind.
«Eh bien, my friend», remarked
Poirot. «All goes well? But do not tell me that you have discovered the body of
Mr. Davenheim in your lake, because I shall not believe you».
«We haven’t found the body, but we did find his clothes – the identical clothes he was wearing that day. What do
you say to that?».
«Any other clothes missing from the house?».
«No, his valet is quite positive on that point. The rest of his wardrobe
is intact. There’s more. We’ve arrested Lowen. One of the maids, whose business
it is to fasten the bedroom windows, declares that she saw Lowen coming towards the study through the
rose-garden about a quarter past six. That would be about ten minutes before he
left the house».
«What does he himself say to that?».
«Denied first of all that he had ever left the study. But the maid was
positive, and he pretended afterwards that he had forgotten just stepping out
of the window to examine an unusual species of rose. Rather a weak story! And
there’s fresh evidence against him come to light. Mr. Davenheim always wore a
thick gold ring set with a solitaire diamond on the little finger of his right
hand. Well, that ring was pawned in London
on Saturday night by a man called Billy Kellett! He’s already known to the
police – did three months last autumn for lifting (12) an old
gentleman’s watch. It seems he tried to pawn the ring at no less than five
different places, succeeded at the last one, got gloriously drunk on the
proceeds, assaulted a policeman, and was run in (13) in consequence. I
went to Bow Street (14) with Miller and saw him. He’s sober enough now,
and I don’t mind admitting we pretty well frightened the life out of him,
hinting he might be charged with murder. This is his yarn, and a very queer one
«He was at Entfield races on Saturday, though I dare say scarf pins was
his line of business, rather than betting. Anyway, he had a bad day, and was
down on his luck. He was tramping along the road to Chingside, and sat down in
a ditch to rest just before he got into the village. A few minutes later he
noticed a man coming along the road to the village, «dark-complexioned gent
(15), with a big moustache, one of them city toffs (16)», is his description
of the man.
«Kellett was half concealed from the road by a heap of stones. Just
before he got abreast of him, the man looked quickly up and down the road, and
seeing it apparently deserted he took a small object from his pocket and threw
it over the hedge. Then he went on towards the station. Now, the object he had
thrown over the hedge had fallen with a slight «chink» which aroused the
curiosity of the human derelict in the ditch. He investigated and, after a
short search, discovered the ring! That is Kellett’s story. It’s only fair to
say that Lowen denies it utterly, and of course the word of a man like Kellett
can’t be relied upon in the slightest. It’s within the bounds of possibility
that he met Davenheim in the lane and robbed and murdered him».
Poirot shook his head.
«Very improbable, mon ami. He
had no means of disposing of the body. It would have been found by now.
Secondly, the open way in which he pawned the ring makes it unlikely that he
did murder to get it. Thirdly, your sneak-thief is rarely a murderer. Fourthly,
as he has been in prison since Saturday, it would be too much of a coincidence
that he is able to give so accurate a description of Lowen».
Japp nodded. «I don’t say you’re not right. But all the same, you won’t
get a jury to take much note of a jailbird’s (17) evidence. What seems
odd to me is that Lowen couldn’t find a cleverer way of disposing of the ring».
Poirot shrugged his shoulders. «Well, after all, if it were found in the
neighbourhood, it might be argued that Davenheim himself had dropped it».
«But why remove it from the body at all?», I cried.
«There might be a reason for that», said Japp. «Do you know that just
beyond the lake, a little gate leads out on to the hill, and not three minutes’
walk brings you to – what do you think? – a lime
«Good heavens!», I cried. «You mean that the lime which destroyed the
body would be powerless to affect the metal of the ring?».
«It seems to me», I said, «that that explains everything. What a
By common consent we both turned and looked at Poirot. He seemed lost in
reflection, his brow knitted, as though with some supreme mental effort. I felt
that at last his keen intellect was asserting itself. What would his first
words be? We were not long left in doubt. With a sigh, the tension of his
attitude relaxed, and turning to Japp, he asked:
«Have you any idea, my friend, whether Mr. and Mrs. Davenheim occupied
the same bedroom?».
The question seemed so ludicrously inappropriate that for a moment we
both stared in silence. Then Japp burst into a laugh. «Good Lord, Monsieur
Poirot, I thought you were coming out with something startling. As to your question,
I’m sure I don’t know».
«You could find out?», asked Poirot with curious persistence.
«Oh, certainly – if you really
want to know».
«Merci, mon ami. I should be obliged if you would make a point of it».
Japp stared at him a few minutes longer, but Poirot seemed to have
forgotten us both. The detective shook his head sadly at me, and murmuring, «Poor
old fellow! War’s been too much for him!» gently withdrew from the room.
As Poirot seemed sunk in a daydream, I took a sheet of paper, and amused
myself by scribbling notes upon it. My friend’s voice aroused me. He had come
out of his reverie, and was looking brisk and alert.
«Que faites vous là, mon ami?
«I was jotting down what occurred to me as the main points of interest
in this affair».
«You become methodical – at last!», said Poirot approvingly.
I concealed my pleasure. «Shall I read them to you?».
«By all means».
I cleared my throat.
«One: All the evidence points to Lowen having been the man who forced
«Two: He had a grudge against Davenheim.
«Three: He lied in his first statement that he had never left the study.
«Four: If you accept Billy Kellett’s story as true, Lowen is
I paused. «Well?», I asked, for I felt that I had put my finger on all
the vital facts.