The Big Four by Agatha Christie
The Unexpected Quest
I have met people who enjoy a channel crossing; men who can sit calmly in their deck-chairs and, on arrival, wait until the boat is moored, then gather their belongings together without fuss and disembark. Personally, I can never manage this. From the moment I get on board I feel that the time is too short to settle down to anything.
I move my suitcases from one spot to another, and if I go down to the saloon for a meal I bolt my food with an uneasy feeling that the boat may arrive unexpectedly whilst I am below. Perhaps all this is merely a legacy from one’s short leaves in the war, when it seemed a matter of such importance to secure a place near the gangway, and to be amongst the first to disembark lest one should waste precious minutes of one’s three or five days’ leave.
On this particular July morning, as I stood by the rail and watched the white cliffs of Dover drawing nearer,
I marvelled at the passengers who could sit calmly in their chairs and never even raise their eyes for the first sight of the native land. Yet perhaps their case was different from mine. Doubtless many of them had only crossed to Paris for the weekend, whereas I had spent the last year and a half on a ranch in the Argentine. I had prospered there, and my wife and I had both enjoyed the free and easy life of the South American continent, nevertheless it was with a lump in my throat that I watched the familiar shore draw nearer and nearer.
I had landed in France two days before, transacted some necessary business, and was now en route for London. I should be there some months – time enough to look up old friends, and one old friend in particular. A little man with an egg-shaped head and green eyes – Hercule Poirot! I proposed to take him completely by surprise. My last letter from the Argentine had given no hint of my intended voyage – indeed, that had been decided upon hurriedly as a result of certain business complications – and I spent many amused moments picturing to myself his delight and stupefaction on beholding me.
He, I knew, was not likely to be far from his headquarters.
The time when his cases had drawn him from one end of England to the other was past. His fame had spread, and no longer would he allow one case to absorb all his time. He aimed more and more, as time went on, at being considered a “consulting detective” – as much a specialist as a Harley Street physician. He had always scoffed at the popular idea of the human bloodhound who assumed wonderful disguises to track criminals, and who paused at every footprint to measure it.
“No, my friend Hastings,” he would say; “we leave that to Giraud and his friends. Hercule Poirot’s methods are his own. Order and method, and ‘the little grey cells.’ Sitting at ease in our own armchairs we see the things that these others overlook, and we do not jump to the conclusion like the worthy Japp.”
No; there was little fear of finding Hercule Poirot far afield.
On arrival in London, I deposited my luggage at an hotel and drove straight on to the old address. What poignant memories it brought back to me! I hardly waited to greet my old landlady, but hurried up the stairs two at a time and rapped on Poirot’s door.
“Enter, then,” cried a familiar voice from within.
I strode in. Poirot stood facing me. In his arms he carried a small valise, which he dropped with a crash on beholding me.
“Mon ami, Hastings!” he cried. “Mon ami, Hastings!”
And, rushing forward, he enveloped me in a capacious embrace.