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4. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MR. DAVENHEIM (2)


Poirot looked at me pityingly, shaking his head very gently. «Mon pauvre ami! But it is that you have not the gift! The important detail, you appreciate him never! Also, your reasoning is false».

«How?».

«Let me take your four points.

«One: Mr Lowen could not possibly know that he would have the chance to open the safe. He came for a business interview. He could not know beforehand that Mr Davenheim would be absent posting a letter, and that he would consequently be alone in the study!».

«He might have seized his opportunity», I suggested.

«And the tools? City gentlemen do not carry round housebreaker’s tools on the off chance! And one could not cut into that safe with a penknife, bien entendu (19)!».

«Well, what about Number Two?».

«You say Lowen had a grudge against Mr. Davenheim. What you mean is that he had once or twice got the better of him. And presumably those transactions were entered into with the view of benefiting himself. In any case you do not as a rule bear a grudge against a man you have got the better of – it is more likely to be the other way about. Whatever grudge there might have been would have been on Mr Davenheim’s side».

«Well, you can’t deny that he lied about never having left the study?».

«No. But he may have been frightened. Remember, the missing man’s clothes had just been discovered in the lake. Of course, as usual, he would have done better to speak the truth».

«And the fourth point?».

«I grant you that. If Kellett’s story is true, Lowen is undeniably implicated. That is what makes the affair so very interesting».

«Then I did appreciate one vital fact?».

«Perhaps – but you have entirely overlooked the two most important points, the ones which undoubtedly hold the clue to the whole matter».

«And pray, what are they?».

«One, the passion which has grown upon Mr. Davenheim in the last few years for buying jewellery. Two, his trip to Buenos Aires last autumn».

«Poirot, you are joking!».

«I am most serious. Ah, sacred thunder, but I hope Japp will not forget my little commission».

But the detective, entering into the spirit of the joke, had remembered it so well that a telegram was handed to Poirot about eleven o’clock the next day. At his request I opened it and read it out:

 

«Husband and wife have occupied separate rooms since last winter».

 

«Aha!», cried Poirot. «And now we are in mid June! All is solved!».

I stared at him.

«You have no moneys (20) in the bank of Davenheim and Salmon, mon ami?».

«No», I said, wondering. «Why?».

«Because I should advise you to withdraw it – before it is too late».

«Why, what do you expect?».

«I expect a big smash in a few days – perhaps sooner. Which reminds me, we will return the compliment of a dépêche (21) to Japp. A pencil, I pray you, and a form. Voilà (22)! «Advise you to withdraw any money deposited with firm in question». That will intrigue him, the good Japp! His eyes will open wide – wide! He will not comprehend in the slightest – until tomorrow, or the next day!».

I remained sceptical, but the morrow forced me to render tribute to my friend’s remarkable powers. In every paper was a huge headline telling of the sensational failure of the Davenheim bank. The disappearance of the famous financier took on a totally different aspect in the light of the revelation of the financial affairs of the bank.

Before we were half-way through breakfast, the door flew open and Japp rushed in. In his left hand was a paper; in his right was Poirot’s telegram, which he banged down on the table in front of my friend.

«How did you know, Monsieur Poirot? How the blazes could you know?».

Poirot smiled placidly at him. «Ah, mon ami, after your wire, it was a certainty! From the commencement, see you, it struck me that the safe burglary was somewhat remarkable. Jewels, ready money, bearer bonds – all so conveniently arranged for – whom? Well, the good Monsieur Davenheim was of those who «look after Number One» (23) as your saying goes! It seemed almost certain that it was arranged for – himself! Then his passion of late years for buying jewellery! How simple! The funds he embezzled, he converted into jewels, very likely replacing them in turn with paste duplicates, and so he put away in a safe place, under another name, a considerable fortune to be enjoyed all in good time when everyone has been thrown off the track. His arrangements completed, he makes an appointment with Mr. Lowen (who has been imprudent enough in the past to cross the great man once or twice), drills a hole in the safe, leaves orders that the guest is to be shown into the study, and walks out of the house – where?». Poirot stopped, and stretched out his hand for another boiled egg. He frowned. «It is really insupportable», he murmured, «that every hen lays an egg of a different size! What symmetry can there be on the breakfast table? At least they should sort them in dozens at the shop!».

«Never mind the eggs», said Japp impatiently. «Let ‘em lay’em square if they like. Tell us where our customer went to when he left The Cedars – that is, if you know!».

«Eh bien, he went to his hiding-place. Ah, this Monsieur Davenheim, there may be some malformation in his grey cells, but they are of the first quality!».

«Do you know where he is hiding?».

«Certainly! It is most ingenious».

«For the Lord’s sake, tell us, then!».

Poirot gently collected every fragment of shell from his plate, placed them in the egg-cup, and reversed the empty egg-shell on top of them. This little operation concluded, he smiled on the neat effect, and then beamed affectionately on us both.

«Come, my friends, you are men of intelligence. Ask yourself the question which I asked myself. «If I were this man, where should I hide?». Hastings, what do you say?».

«Well», I said, «I’m rather inclined to think I’d not do a bolt (24) at all. I’d stay in London – in the heart of things, travel by tubes and buses; ten to one I’d never be recognized. There’s safety in a crowd».

Poirot turned inquiringly to Japp.

«I don’t agree. Get clear away at once – that’s the only chance. I would have had plenty of time to prepare things beforehand. I’d have a yacht waiting, with steam up, and I’d be off to one of the most out-of-the-way corners of the world before the hue and cry began!».

We both looked at Poirot. «What do you say, monsieur?».

For a moment he remained silent. Then a very curious smile flitted across his face.

«My friends, if I were hiding from the police, do you know where I should hide? In a prison!».

«What?».

«You are seeking Monsieur Davenheim in order to put him in prison, so you never dream of looking to see if he may not be already there!».

«What do you mean?».

«You tell me Madame Davenheim is not a very intelligent woman. Nevertheless I think that if you took her to Bow Street and confronted her with the man Billy Kellett, she would recognize him! In spite of the fact that he has shaved his beard and moustache and those bushy eyebrows, and has cropped his hair close. A woman nearly always knows her husband, though the rest of the world may be deceived!».

«Billy Kellett? But he’s known to the police!».

«Did I not tell you Davenheim was a clever man? He prepared his alibi long beforehand. He was not in Buenos Aires last autumn – he was creating the character of Billy Kellett, «doing three months», so that the police should have no suspicions when the time came. He was playing, remember, for a large fortune, as well as liberty. It was worth while doing the thing thoroughly. Only –».

«Yes?».

«Eh bien, afterwards he had to wear a false beard and wig, had to make up as himself again, and to sleep with a false beard is not easy – it invites detection! He cannot risk continuing to share the chamber of madame his wife. You found out for me that for the last six months, or ever since his supposed return from Buenos Aires, he and Mrs. Davenheim occupied separate rooms. Then I was sure! Everything fitted in. The gardener who fancied he saw his master going round to the side of the house was quite right. He went to the boathouse, donned his «tramp» clothes, which you may be sure had been safely hidden from the eyes of his valet, dropped the others in the lake, and proceeded to carry out his plan by pawning the ring in an obvious manner, and then assaulting a policeman, getting himself safely into the haven of Bow Street, where nobody would ever dream of looking for him!».

«It’s impossible», murmured Japp.

«Ask Madame», said my friend, smiling.

The next day a registered letter lay beside Poirot’s plate. He opened it, and a five-pound note fluttered out. My friend’s brow puckered.

«Ah, sacré! But what shall I do with it? I have much remorse! Ce pauvre Japp! Ah, an idea! We will have a little dinner, we three! That consoles me. It was really too easy. I am ashamed. I, who would not rob a child – mille tonnerres (25)! Mon ami, what have you, that you laugh so heartily?».

 

READING NOTES.

 

1. yarn (coll): have a long and comfortable chat.

2. run down: this verb-adverb combination occurs in the text in the following senses: 1) pursue and catch; 2) speak ill of, disparage.

3. Mon ami (Fr.): my friend.

4. Hanged if I don’t take you at your word: this is an elliptical sentence which should read «I’ll be hanged if I don’t take you at your word» and which means «I’ll be damned if I don’t take your words seriously». Note the meaning of the same phrase in the following examples: «I’ll be hanged if I know» – I don’t know at all; «I’ll be hanged if I’ll go» – I refuse absolutely to go.

5. fiver (coll): a five-pound note.

6. Eh bien (Fr.): and so, thus.

7. portière (Fr.): a curtain.

8. Précisément (Fr.): precisely.

9. ce pauvre (Fr.): this poor.

10. in a small way: on a small scale.

11. coup: a successful deal.

12. lift (coll): steal.

13. run in (coll): arrest and take to a police station.

14. Bow Street: what is actually meant here is the famous Police Court so often referred to in the writings of Charles Dickens and which is just opposite the Royal Opera House.

15. gent: a vulgar abbreviation of «gentleman».

16. toff (sl): a well-dressed or distinguished-looking person.

17. jailbird (coll): a person often put in jail; a habitual lawbreaker.

18. Que faites vous là, mon ami? (Fr.): What are you doing, my friend?

19. bien entendu (Fr.): it is so.

20. moneys: legal or archaic sums of money.

21. dépêche (Fr.): message, dispatch.

22. Voilà (Fr.): here you are.

23. Number One: oneself.

24. do a bolt: run away quickly.

25. mille tonnerres (Fr.): here not on your life!

 

EXERCISES.

 

(a) Questions:

1. Why did the disappearance of Mr. Davenheim cause such a stir?

2. What were the circumstances of Mr. Davenheim’s disappearance as reported by the press?

3. What were the three ways in which a person could disappear according to Poirot?

4. What bet did Inspector Japp make with Poirot?

5. What facts did Inspector Japp place at Poirot’s disposal?

6. Why was Mr. Lowen arrested?

7. What story Billy Kellett tells the police?

8. What additional information did Poirot require of Inspector Japp?

9. What conclusions did Hastings make on the basis of the evidence?

10. What conclusions did Poirot draw from the same evidence?

11. What were the true facts behind Mr. Davenheim’s disappearance?

12. What made Hastings laugh to hear Poirot say, «I, who would not rob a child...»?

 

(b) Read through the story once again and see if you can find facts to prove that:

1. Hercule Poirot was a man of method.

2. Poirot’s methods of crime detection were vastly different from those practised by the ordinary run of detectives.

3. Captain Hastings was no match for Poirot in matters of crime detection.

4. Poirot had every reason to be proud of himself.

5. Mr. Davenheim had indeed shown considerable ingenuity in preparing his escape.

 

(c) Talking points:

1. A character-sketch of Hercule Poirot.

2. Give a full list of the facts concerning Mr. Davenheim’s disappearance and say how they were interpreted by: a) Hercule Poirot; b) Hastings.

3. Mr. Davenheim’s reasons for making a getaway.

4. What made Hercule Poirot suspect that Mr. Davenheim and Billy Kellett was one and the same person?

5. Say whether you believe there is any reason to think that Hercule Poirot’s method could be successfully applied in solving real crimes.

6. See if you can find the flaw in Mr. Davenheim’s plan of escape which allowed Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery.

7. Tell the story of the meeting between Mrs. Davenheim and Billy Kellett.

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