I was standing at the window of Poirot's rooms looking out idly on the street below.
"That's queer," I ejaculated suddenly beneath my breath.
"What is, mon ami?" asked Poirot placidly, from the depths of his comfortable chair.
"Deduce, Poirot, from the following facts! Here is a young lady, richly dressed—fashionable hat, magnificent furs. She is coming along slowly, looking up at the houses as she goes. Unknown to her, she is being shadowed by three men and a middle-aged woman. They have just been joined by an errand boy who points after the girl, gesticulating as he does so. What drama is this being played? Is the girl a crook, and are the shadows detectives preparing to arrest her? Or are they the scoundrels, and are they plotting to attack an innocent victim? What does the great detective say?"
"The great detective, mon ami, chooses, as ever, the simplest course. He rises to see for himself." And my friend joined me at the window.
In a minute he gave vent to an amused chuckle.
"As usual, your facts are tinged with your incurable romanticism. This is Miss Mary Marvell, the film star. She is being followed by a bevy of admirers who have recognized her. And, en passant, my dear Hastings, she is quite aware of the fact!"
"So all is explained! But you get no marks for that, Poirot. It was a mere matter of recognition."
"En vérité! And how many times have you seen Mary Marvell on the screen, mon cher?"
"About a dozen times perhaps."
"And I—once! Yet I recognize her, and you do not."
"She looks so different," I replied rather feebly.
"Ah! Sacré! " cried Poirot. "Is it that you expect her to promenade herself in the streets of London in a cowboy hat, or with bare feet, and a bunch of curls, as an Irish colleen? Always with you it is the nonessentials! Remember the case of the dancer, Valerie Saintclair."
I shrugged my shoulders, slightly annoyed.
"But console yourself, mon ami," said Poirot, calming down. "All cannot be as Hercule Poirot! I know it well."
"You really have the best opinion of yourself of anyone I ever knew!" I cried, divided between amusement and annoyance.
"What will you? When one is unique, one knows it! And others share that opinion—even, if I mistake it not, Miss Mary Marvell."
"Without doubt. She is coming here."
"How do you make that out?"
"Very simply. This street, it is not aristocratic, mon ami! In it there is no fashionable doctor, no fashionable dentist—still less is there a fashionable milliner! But there is a fashionable detective. Oui, my friend, it is true—I am become the mode, the dernier cri! One says to another: 'Comment? You have lost your gold pencil case? You must go to the little Belgian. He is too marvellous! Everyone goes! Courez!' And they arrive! In flocks, mon ami! With problems of the most foolish!" A bell rang below. "What did I tell you? That is Miss Marvell."
As usual, Poirot was right. After a short interval, the American film star was ushered in, and we rose to our feet.
Mary Marvell was undoubtedly one of the most popular actresses on the screen. She had only lately arrived in England in company with her husband, Gregory B. Rolf, also a film actor. Their marriage had taken place about a year ago in the States and this was their first visit to England. They had been given a great reception. Everyone was prepared to go mad over Mary Marvell, her wonderful clothes, her furs, her jewels, above all one jewel, the great diamond which had been nicknamed, to match its owner, "The Western Star." Much, true and untrue, had been written about this famous stone which was reported to be insured for the enormous sum of fifty thousand pounds.
All these details passed rapidly through my mind as I joined with Poirot in greeting our fair client.
Miss Marvell was small and slender, very fair and girlish looking, with the wide innocent blue eyes of a child.
Poirot drew forward a chair for her, and she commenced talking at once.
"You will probably think me very foolish, Monsieur Poirot, but Lord Cronshaw was telling me last night how wonderfully you cleared up the mystery of his nephew's death, and I felt that I just must have your advice. I dare say it's only a silly hoax—Gregory says so—but it's just worrying me to death."
She paused for breath. Poirot beamed encouragement.
"Proceed, madame. You comprehend, I am still in the dark."
"It's these letters." Miss Marvell unclasped her handbag, and drew out three envelopes which she handed to Poirot.
The latter scrutinized them closely.
"Cheap paper—the name and address carefully printed. Let us see the inside." He drew out the enclosure.
I had joined him, and was leaning over his shoulder. The writing consisted of a single sentence, carefully printed like the envelope. It ran as follows:
"The great diamond which is the left eye of the god must return whence it came."
The second letter was couched in precisely the same terms, but the third was more explicit:
"You have been warned. You have not obeyed. Now the diamond will be taken from you. At the full of the moon, the two diamonds which are the left and right eye of the god shall return. So it is written."
"The first letter I treated as a joke," explained Miss Marvell. "When I got the second, I began to wonder. The third one came yesterday, and it seemed to me that, after all, the matter might be more serious than I had imagined."
"I see they did not come by post, these letters."
"No; they were left by hand—by a Chinaman. That is what frightens me."
"Because it was from a Chink in San Francisco that Gregory bought the stone three years ago."
"I see, madame, that you believe the diamond referred to to be—"
" 'The Western Star,' " finished Miss Marvell. "That's so. At the time, Gregory remembers that there was some story attached to the stone, but the Chink wasn't handing out any information. Gregory says he seemed just scared to death, and in a mortal hurry to get rid of the thing. He only asked about a tenth of its value. It was Greg's wedding present to me."
Poirot nodded thoughtfully.
"The story seems of an almost unbelievable romanticism. And yet—who knows? I pray of you, Hastings, hand me my little almanac."
"Voyons!" said Poirot, turning the leaves. "When is the date of the full moon? Ah, Friday next. That is in three days' time. Eh bien, madame, you seek my advice—I give it to you. This belle histoire may be a hoax—but it may not! Therefore I counsel you to place the diamond in my keeping until after Friday next. Then we can take what steps we please."
A slight cloud passed over the actress's face, and she replied constrainedly:
"I'm afraid that's impossible."
"You have it with you—hein?" Poirot was watching her narrowly.
The girl hesitated a moment, then slipped her hand into the bosom of her gown, drawing out a long thin chain. She leaned forward, unclosing her hand. In the palm, a stone of white fire, exquisitely set in platinum, lay and winked at us solemnly.
Poirot drew in his breath with a long hiss.
"Épatant!" he murmured. "You permit, madame?" He took the jewel in his own hand and scrutinized it keenly, then restored it to her with a little bow. "A magnificent stone—without a flaw. Ah, cent tonnerres! and you carry it about with you, comme ça! "
"No, no, I'm very careful really, Monsieur Poirot. As a rule it's locked up in my jewel case, and left in the hotel safe deposit. We're staying at the Magnificent, you know. I just brought it along today for you to see."
"And you will leave it with me, n'est-ce pas? You will be advised by Papa Poirot?"
"Well, you see, it's this way, Monsieur Poirot. On Friday we're going down to Yardly Chase to spend a few days with Lord and Lady Yardly."
Her words awoke a vague echo of remembrance in my mind. Some gossip—what was it now? A few years ago Lord and Lady Yardly had paid a visit to the States, rumour had it that his lordship had rather gone the pace out there with the assistance of some lady friends—but surely there was something more, more gossip which coupled Lady Yardly's name with that of a "movie" star in California—why! it came to me in a flash—of course it was none other than Gregory B. Rolf.
"I'll let you into a little secret, Monsieur Poirot," Miss Marvell was continuing. "We've got a deal on with Lord Yardly. There's some chance of our arranging to film a play down there in his ancestral pile."
"At Yardly Chase?" I cried, interested. "Why, it's one of the showplaces of England."
Miss Marvell nodded.
"I guess it's the real old feudal stuff all right. But he wants a pretty stiff price, and of course I don't know yet whether the deal will go through, but Greg and I always like to combine business with pleasure."
"But—I demand pardon if I am dense, madame—surely it is possible to visit Yardly Chase without taking the diamond with you?"
A shrewd, hard look came into Miss Marvell's eyes which belied their childlike appearance. She looked suddenly a good deal older.
"I want to wear it down there."
"Surely," I said suddenly, "there are some very famous jewels in the Yardly collection, a large diamond amongst them?"
"That's so," said Miss Marvell briefly.
I heard Poirot murmur beneath his breath: "Ah, c'est comme ça! " Then he said aloud, with his usual uncanny luck in hitting the bull's-eye (he dignifies it by the name of psychology): "Then you are without doubt already acquainted with Lady Yardly, or perhaps your husband is?"
"Gregory knew her when she was out West three years ago," said Miss Marvell. She hesitated a moment, and then added abruptly: "Do either of you ever see Society Gossip?"
We both pleaded guilty rather shamefacedly.
"I ask because in this week's number there is an article on famous jewels, and it's really very curious—" She broke off.
I rose, went to the table at the other side of the room and returned with the paper in question in my hand. She took it from me, found the article, and began to read aloud:
". . . Amongst other famous stones may be included The Star of the East, a diamond in the possession of the Yardly family. An ancestor of the present Lord Yardly brought it back with him from China, and a romantic story is said to attach to it. According to this, the stone was once the right eye of a temple god. Another diamond, exactly similar in form and size, formed the left eye, and the story goes that this jewel, too, would in course of time be stolen. 'One eye shall go West, the other East, till they shall meet once more. Then, in triumph shall they return to the god.' It is a curious coincidence that there is at the present time a stone corresponding closely in description with this one, and known as 'The Star of the West,' or 'The Western Star.' It is the property of the celebrated film star, Miss Mary Marvell. A comparison of the two stones would be interesting."
"Épatant!" murmured Poirot. "Without doubt a romance of the first water." He turned to Mary Marvell. "And you are not afraid, madame? You have no superstitious terrors? You do not fear to introduce these two Siamese twins to each other lest a Chinaman should appear and, hey presto! whisk them both back to China?"
His tone was mocking, but I fancied that an undercurrent of seriousness lay beneath it.
"I don't believe that Lady Yardly's diamond is anything like as good as mine," said Miss Marvell. "Anyway, I'm going to see."
What more Poirot would have said I do not know, for at that moment the door flew open, and a splendid-looking man strode into the room. From his crisply curling black head, to the tips of his patent leather boots, he was a hero fit for romance.
"I said I'd call round for you, Mary," said Gregory Rolf, "and here I am. Well, what does Monsieur Poirot say to our little problem? Just one big hoax, same as I do?"
Poirot smiled up at the big actor. They made a ridiculous contrast.
"Hoax or no hoax, Mr. Rolf," he said dryly, "I have advised Madame your wife not to take the jewel with her to Yardly Chase on Friday."
"I'm with you there, sir. I've already said so to Mary. But there! She's a woman through and through, and I guess she can't bear to think of another woman outshining her in the jewel line."
"What nonsense, Gregory!" said Mary Marvell sharply. But she flushed angrily.
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
"Madame, I have advised. I can do no more. C'est fini."
He bowed them both to the door.
"Ah! la la," he observed, returning. "Histoire des femmes! The good husband, he hit the nail—tout de même, but he was not tactful! Assuredly not."
I imparted to him my vague remembrances, and he nodded vigorously.
"So I thought. All the same, there is something curious underneath all this. With your permission, mon ami, I will take the air. Await my return, I beg of you, I shall not be long."
I was half asleep in my chair when the landlady tapped on the door, and put her head in.
"It's another lady to see Mr. Poirot, sir. I've told her he was out, but she says as how she'll wait, seeing as she's come up from the country."
"Oh, show her in here, Mrs. Murchinson. Perhaps I can do something for her."
In another moment the lady had been ushered in. My heart gave a leap as I recognized her. Lady Yardly's portrait had figured too often in the Society papers to allow her to remain unknown.
"Do sit down, Lady Yardly," I said, drawing forward a chair. "My friend, Poirot, is out, but I know for a fact that he'll be back very shortly."
She thanked me and sat down. A very different type, this, from Miss Mary Marvell. Tall, dark, with flashing eyes, and a pale proud face—yet something wistful in the curves of the mouth.
I felt a desire to rise to the occasion. Why not? In Poirot's presence I have frequently felt a difficulty—I do not appear at my best. And yet there is no doubt that I, too, possess the deductive sense in a marked degree. I leant forward on a sudden impulse.
"Lady Yardly," I said, "I know why you have come here. You have received blackmailing letters about the diamond."
There was no doubt as to my bolt having shot home. She stared at me openmouthed, all colour banished from her cheeks.
"You know?" she gasped. "How?"
"By a perfectly logical process. If Miss Marvell has had warning letters—"
"Miss Marvell? She has been here?"
"She has just left. As I was saying, if she, as the holder of one of the twin diamonds, has received a mysterious series of warnings, you, as the holder of the other stone, must necessarily have done the same. You see how simple it is? I am right, then, you have received these strange communications also?"
For a moment she hesitated, as though in doubt whether to trust me or not, then she bowed her head in assent with a little smile.
"That is so," she acknowledged.
"Were yours, too, left by hand—by a Chinaman?"
"No, they came by post; but tell me, has Miss Marvell undergone the same experience, then?"
I recounted to her the events of the morning. She listened attentively.
"It all fits in. My letters are the duplicate of hers. It is true that they came by post, but there is a curious perfume impregnating them—something in the nature of joss stick—that at once suggested the East to me. What does it all mean?"
I shook my head.
"That is what we must find out. You have the letters with you? We might learn something from the postmarks."
"Unfortunately I destroyed them. You understand, at the time I regarded it as some foolish joke. Can it be true that some Chinese gang are really trying to recover the diamonds? It seems too incredible."
We went over the facts again and again, but could get no further towards the elucidation of the mystery. At last Lady Yardly rose.
"I really don't think I need wait for Monsieur Poirot. You can tell him all this, can't you? Thank you so much Mr.—"
She hesitated, her hand outstretched.
"Of course! How stupid of me. You're a friend of the Cavendishes, aren't you? It was Mary Cavendish who sent me to Monsieur Poirot."
When my friend returned, I enjoyed telling him the tale of what had occurred during his absence. He cross-questioned me rather sharply over the details of our conversation and I could read between the lines that he was not best pleased to have been absent. I also fancied that the dear old fellow was just the least inclined to be jealous. It had become rather a pose with him to consistently belittle my abilities, and I think he was chagrined at finding no loophole for criticism. I was secretly rather pleased with myself, though I tried to conceal the fact for fear of irritating him. In spite of his idiosyncrasies, I was deeply attached to my quaint little friend.
"Bien! " he said at length, with a curious look on his face. "The plot develops. Pass me, I pray you, that Peerage on the top shelf there." He turned the leaves. "Ah, here we are! 'Yardly . . . 10th viscount, served South African War . . .' tout ça n'a pas d'importance . . . 'mar. 1907 Hon. Maude Stopperton, fourth daughter of 3rd Baron Cotteril . . .' um, um, um . . . 'has iss. two daughters, born 1908, 1910 . . . Clubs, residences . . .' Voilà, that does not tell us much. But tomorrow morning we see this milord! "
"Yes. I telephoned to him."
"I thought you had washed your hands of the case?"
"I am not acting for Miss Marvell since she refuses to be guided by my advice. What I do now is for my own satisfaction—the satisfaction of Hercule Poirot! Decidedly, I must have a finger in this pie."
"And you calmly wire Lord Yardly to dash up to town just to suit your convenience. He won't be pleased."
"Au contraire, if I preserve for him his family diamond, he ought to be very grateful."
"Then you really think there is any chance of it being stolen?" I asked eagerly.
"Almost a certainty," replied Poirot placidly. "Everything points that way."
Poirot stopped my eager questions with an airy gesture of the hand.
"Not now, I pray you. Let us not confuse the mind. And observe that Peerage—how you have replaced him! See you not that the tallest books go in the top shelf, the next tallest in the row beneath, and so on. Thus we have order, method, which, as I have often told you, Hastings—"
"Exactly," I said hastily, and put the offending volume in its proper place.