As the companion of the great detective Hercule Poirot, I know I should have been prepared from the start to meet people less than eager to talk candidly with us. Naturally, people who have done something wrong don’t want to admit to it, whether or not they had good reasons for their actions. It still astonished me, though, how so many people we chatted with lied to our faces. Even those who turned out to be innocent, or near enough to it, ended up trying to hide something from us more often than not. Far too frequently, people tried to hide something relatively minor, nothing more than an embarrassing mistake or careless indiscretion, and gave my friend that much more mystery to work through in order to solve something serious like a murder.
There was a time when I’d thought that basic decency encouraged most people to be honest, but the more cases I helped Poirot with, the more I got the impression that the smart thing to do is to assume from the start that everyone is lying.
I could see that this thought bothered me more than it should have. Deception and mystery are ordinary parts of detective work, right? Yet for some reason, I was fairly perturbed. I knew it was a strong reaction, but I just couldn’t shake a feeling of disappointment in the world.
I was thinking of this one day when I was in Poirot’s flat. Sitting across the table from my friend, I with my newspaper, and he with his herbal tea and some letters, I wondered at how he could keep himself going through all these cases. Didn’t it get to him that so many people were dishonest? After so many cases filled with people hiding what they saw or what they’d done, could he trust anything anyone said to him?
For about ten minutes, I tried to read the newspaper. I couldn’t focus on it, though. I kept thinking about all the dishonesty Poirot and I had come across. He’d been in the business of solving mysteries long before I ever helped him with a case, so indeed, he must have seen a great deal more of it than I.
“How can you stand it, Poirot?” I said, somewhat impulsively, I’m afraid.
Poirot turned to me with an understandably confused expression. It was actually an adorable expression on his face, if I may say so. His face on the whole was adorable really, especially when he raised his dark eyebrow like that, like one of the ends of his flawless moustache.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized, when I realized I’d spoken without thinking.
“What is it that I am standing, Hastings?” he asked, his graceful voice showing hints of both amusement and concern.
“Oh, forget I said anything. It’s not important.”
Poirot set down the letter in his hands, which he had been busy reading before I had rashly interrupted him. I could tell from the stubborn look in his gleaming, observant eyes that he wasn’t going to let me off so easily.
His eyes are truly enchanting, by the way. They’re deep and alive with so much intelligence. I wanted to look into his eyes for ages—but not in a romantic way, or so some part of my mind reminded me. I couldn’t very well find a man’s eyes alluring, could I?
“Well,” I said lightly, with a shrug. I didn’t want to worry him. “I was just asking myself how you can put up with being lied to so often. On cases, you know. I’m as eager as anyone to find out the truth of the matter, of course, but it can also be so unpleasant, can’t it? Not just learning about the crimes, though there’s never anything pleasant about that. I mean discovering that all those people have been dishonest. It must seem to you some days that everyone has something to hide.”
I was afraid that I was being silly, and it was a relief when my kind friend answered me seriously and sympathetically.
“My poor friend,” he said. “He is the honest soul. He does not tell lies. Ah, but if only the world were full of the people like you, Hastings.” There was a wistful sparkle in his enchanting eyes. “Then I would be out of a job.”
I smiled, bucked up a little by the warm feeling I got whenever I did right by Poirot. “Thanks, I suppose.”
“Let me make for you a cup of tea, mon ami.” Moving with the graceful neatness that was so much a part of him, Poirot stepped up from the table. “That will help you feel better.”
“Oh, thanks,” I said, “but you don’t have to go to any trouble for me.”
Striding into the kitchen, Poirot left the door open, so I could hear him. “It is no trouble to make tea for my friend Hastings, especially when he is feeling blue.”
“It’s not a big deal, really.”
Poirot chuckled. “Ah, now is it you who is telling a little fib?”
I hadn’t even realized it until he pointed it out, though I saw he was right. “Well, I say,” I retorted, flustered, “it’s not the same thing! I just don’t want to be a bother.”
“You can never bother me with the truth.”
I was glad that he didn’t sound offended, but I felt awfully silly. “So I’m a liar, too, like everyone else. I suppose it’s part of human nature.”
“Oh, no, Hastings, do not think that way.” Returning from the kitchen, Poirot came up to me. “The water is heating, and your tea will be ready shortly. Why don’t we move to le salon? There we can drink tea, and I can try my best to cheer you up.”
I was deeply touched by my friend’s solicitous attention. Whatever had been in his morning post, he was putting it aside for my sake. “That’s very kind of you. But what about those letters?”
“It is nothing urgent. Merely social letters and small inquiries. Nothing that cannot wait until after I have cheered up my good friend.”
He said this with such certainty that I could hardly raise any more objections. Appreciatively, I followed him to the sitting room.
There’s a sofa there, across from two armchairs. I expected Poirot to take one of the armchairs, but I was glad to see that he stayed nearer than that, sitting by my side on the sofa. A part of me thought it would be delightful to sit even closer to him, perhaps in an embrace, yet I knew that would be ridiculous. It was a silly thought, I told myself. Besides, he couldn’t embrace anyone, since he was holding his saucer and teacup.
“Now,” Poirot said, “you are concerned that human nature is dishonest?”
“I suppose I am,” I admitted. “It’s not something that troubles me constantly, you know. And I do understand that it shouldn’t shock me when people connected to a crime don’t tell the truth. I just wish the world could be a more honest place.”
“It is not surprising that you feel that way. One who works with a detective meets many people who tell falsehoods to hide their misdeeds.”
“Maybe. But what about the people who don’t tell us the truth, who didn’t do anything wrong? How is one supposed to feel about that?”
“Alas, there is something in what you say. The innocent do often lie, especially to a detective. But we must remember that it is not out of malice. It is clear why the murderer lies, yet there is also the porter who was merely in the wrong place, or the secretary who made the little mistake. Take, for instance, a young lady who is not married and who leaves her lover’s apartment in the middle of the night.”
This struck me as approaching risqué. “Poirot…”
“Do not worry yourself,” he said, with a pleasant note of fondness. “This is as far as I will push your English sensibilities. As this young lady leaves the room,” Poirot continued, “she observes a strange man moving down the hall, but will she tell this to the police when they make their inquiries about a tragedy that has occurred in the building? Non. She fears judgment. She protects herself. She thinks to herself that the police do not need her statement, and she tells them that she was not there.”
“She ought to tell the truth, if something serious happened.”
“Oui, but she is afraid. Who can blame her? She says to herself, ‘What will my parents think?’ or ‘What will my friends say?’ and these are not meaningless questions. Does it not make a lot of sense for her to stay silent?”
“You have a point,” I conceded. “I shouldn’t feel bad about people lying if they’re protecting themselves.”
Poirot took a thoughtful sip of his drink. “That is not quite what I mean to say. We must be understanding, certainly, but we must also help the truth to come out. Let us imagine that I come to this young lady and I am supportive. I play the role of Papa Poirot. I tell her that she has nothing to fear and will pass on her no judgment. Then she feels relief that, at last, here is someone she can talk to, and to me she tells the truth. Do you see now what I am getting at, Hastings? Let us not think of making the world a more honest place. Let us instead think of making the world a place where innocent people do not fear being honest. Because it is the honesty, mon ami, that sits at the core of human nature. It is only clouded by fear.”
I clasped my hands, taking in what he had said. “I think I see what you mean, Poirot. People generally do want to tell the truth, they just have to know that they can?”
“Exactement. People are basically not so bad, Hastings. They are not so dishonest at heart. If we are understanding, then we will be rewarded with the truth.”
This was putting things in a new, hopeful light. “Thanks, Poirot.”
Poirot seemed very pleased. “You feel better, then?”
“Yes, I do,” I answered sincerely.
The kettle whistled from the kitchen, and Poirot excused himself.
He soon returned, with a new cup and saucer, which he handed to me.
“This well help you even more, I hope.”
“Thank you.” I drank the warm, soothing tea, which Poirot had cooled down with a bit of ice. Poirot knows I’m not very fond of the herbal stuff he prefers himself, and he’d considerately picked out something more to my taste. “It’s perfect. I am feeling much better.”
“I am overjoyed to hear this,” he said, just as sincerely. He is such a sympathetic chap. “Honesty, it starts with us, does it not? I hope that you feel you may speak honestly with me.”
“Yes, of course I do.”
“Even when it is ‘no big deal?’” His eyebrows rose in a dramatic show of emphasis.
“Oh, ah, well,” I blushed, “I’ve learnt my lesson. I won’t do that again. You’ll only get the truth from me. I’m very lucky to have you as a friend, and of course I trust you completely.”
This delighted Poirot. “That means more to me than I can express.”
It was flattering to know that my trust meant so much to him. “I hope the reverse is true,” I told him, wishing to be as good a friend to him as he was to me. “Do you feel you can be honest with me?”
To my dismay, Poirot fell silent, and frowned.
I regretted saying anything, and I was afraid I’d make things worse by saying anything more; however, I couldn’t think of any other way to make things right. “I shouldn’t have asked,” I said. “It was too personal of me. I am sorry.”
He was sitting stiffly now, I noticed, and I got the impression that he had moved away an inch or two. “No, Hastings, it was a fair question. You deserve an answer that is honest. I do not want to give you any more reason to doubt in human nature. I will tell you the truth, though it will not be easy.” I could see his fingers nervously drumming the side of his cup, which was odd. He’s usually so composed. “I have not always been honest with you.”
It pained me to see my friend nervous. “If there’s something you don’t want to tell me, you don’t have to. I didn’t mean to push.”
“Thank you, I understand. But I want you to know that I trust you. It is not through any fault of your own that I have sometimes kept the truth to myself.”
“Oh, hold on,” I said, believing that I had realized what the issue was. “You mean during cases, don’t you?” I smirked, relieved that the problem was so minor. “You do sometimes keep the solutions from me for a while. I know I complain about that, but if it means that much to you, it’s not a problem.”
Poirot gave me an amused smile in return, though I’d bet anything that his was the more charming. “It is true that I keep certain conclusions to myself until I am ready to share them. If I may be bold enough as to defend myself on that point, I am usually honest with you even then. I tell you that the clues are all there for you to see, and I do not wish to influence your own judgment before I have reached my conclusions. When I must briefly mislead you, I always illuminate the facts for you by the end of the case. At this moment, however, I do not refer to the lying for the cases.” His smile vanished. “It is another matter.”
“If you do want to share it with me, then, whatever it is, Poirot, I’ll understand. I’m sure you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Oh, I thank you for your confidence in me, but it is not something I have done. It is something I have felt.”
“What do you mean?”
Poirot looked down at his tea. “I suppose it is time for me to, as one says, come clean.” He tilted the cup a little, as if inspecting it. “I think that you are a remarkable man, Hastings, and I have felt the romantic feelings for you.”
When I heard these words, it was all I could do to stare mutely at my friend. I hadn’t known what to expect, but this was an authentic stunner. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to set down my cup of tea before I dropped it, though it was a near thing.
“It is a confession more pleasant than that of the murderer, n’est-ce pas?” Carefully, Poirot looked up at me. “I pray you take it as a compliment.”
“You…?” was all I managed to say. Hercule Poirot, the great detective, the brilliant, dignified, charming man who had helped so many people, had romantic feelings for me?
“I hope you are not shocked.” His voice was low and discreet. “The English law, I know, does not smile on men who feel these things for other men. Although such people face their difficulties in Belgium as well, the law is kinder there than here. Thus it seems stranger to you than to me. I understand this. So I will understand if you are shocked. But you will not use this against me or let this knowledge prejudice you, for you are my kind and understanding friend, my trustworthy companion. Am I not correct?”
“Yes, of course,” I said; my thoughts were still in a whirl, and my voice wasn’t steady by any means, but I meant it. “You can trust me.”
“Thank you.” He smiled. His fingers stopped drumming, and he actually took another sip of his tea. “You are, naturally, free to forget what it is that I have told you. The subject need never come up again between us. I believe that I have proven that I trust you, so if you will excuse me, I think that now would be the ideal time for me to see to my letters.”
When he moved to leave, taking his tea with him, I found the courage to raise my hand. “No, wait.”
Stopping where he stood by the sofa, he eyed me curiously.
“Poirot,” I said, my heart racing, “I think I’ve felt something like that for you, too.”
It was Poirot’s turn to be surprised.
“I wasn’t even fully aware of it, until now.” An exhilarating joy was coming over me as my feelings became clearer, and I confess that some kind of giddy laugh escaped me. “I didn’t realize that’s what the feeling was.”
“My dear Hastings,” Poirot said, his eyes wide. “Do you mean that?”
“Yes! You’re brilliant and charming. I’ve always thought that about you. And I want to be closer to you.” I wished that he was sitting next to me, and that our hands were clasped together. “In fact, right now I have this great urge to hold your hand.”
“I would not mind that at all,” my companion replied breathlessly. “That would truly be acceptable to you?”
“Oh, yes, rather!”
Poirot looked cautiously at me for a moment, but my expression must have seemed genuine, since he sat back down. Our teas were put aside. Gently, he took my hands between his own. The soft warmth of his hands on mine felt blissful.
“If you are saying these things for my sake…” he began.
“No, I promise you I’m not. You are very important to me, Poirot. I’m only sorry I didn’t understand it before. I… I suppose I didn’t think I could feel that way for a man. I told myself that the feelings had to mean something else.”
Poirot nodded. “People do not lie only to the detective. They lie also to themselves.”
“You’re definitely right about that,” I said. “I won’t be doing it anymore, thank goodness.” As my heart started to slow down a bit—not a lot, but enough for me to think—a funny thought occurred to me. “I wonder if this is why I was so bothered about other people lying. I was really bothered about lying to myself?”
“Ah, My Hastings, so brilliant!” This warm compliment embarrassed me, and sheepishly I turned my face away, provoking a little chuckle from Poirot. “Oh, do not be shy! Does my Hastings not know that he is brilliant? Have I not told you this many times? One would expect nothing less than brilliance in the worthy companion of Hercule Poirot,” he said proudly.
Still a bit sheepish but smiling wide, I faced him again. “Do you think I’m right? That I was actually upset with myself all along?”
“It could certainly be so. La psychologie, it is a strange thing.”
“You can say that again, Poirot,” I agreed.
I thought about calling him Hercule, but I decided that this wasn’t the time for it. Moving to first names would be a big step. Besides, I could barely say his surname properly! It was doubtful that I would do any better with his first name, though I ought to rehearse a little anyway, before I mispronounced his name too badly. His first name really is very alluring when he says it himself. Then again, his voice is so elegant, and his accent is so charming, that pretty much everything he says is alluring. The name Arthur would probably sound splendid coming from him.
I was getting ahead of myself. I’d just discovered my own feelings, hadn’t I? There’d be time for first names and all sorts of other things later. We hadn’t even gone on a single date yet.
“If I’m not being too forward,” I said, feeling a nervous flutter in my stomach, “Would you care to go for a walk with me?”
Poirot chuckled again. It was wonderful to see him so happy. “My dear Hastings! The true gentleman. For him, asking for a walk is being forward!” The jaunty way he said this made me chuckle too. “Yes, Hastings, I would be delighted to take a walk with you.”
“Great, and then we could see a show? And I could take you to dinner. I want to show you a proper evening!” I was so wrapped up in my incredible, exhilarating, newly-acknowledged feelings that I only realized after saying this that I’d already taken a lot of Poirot’s time. “Oh, but I’m forgetting about your letters.”
Scoffing at the notion, Poirot lifted one of his hands from mine to wave it theatrically. “Letters! What do I care of letters? My dear gentlemanly Hastings is taking me out,” he declared, “and I wouldn’t miss this evening for worlds."
I beamed, feeling close to bursting with joy. “You mean that?”
“Yes, of course! From now on, it is the truth only between us. And the truth at this moment is that we are wasting time when you could be taking me out, mon cher!” He grinned endearingly. “My walk and show and dinner with my romantic gentleman, where are they? They are not here in this apartment!”
“Right, right,” I laughed. This felt magnificent, being so cheerful and familiar with Poirot. I could hardly feel that nervous flutter anymore. “Let’s get moving, shall we?”
As soon as the tea things were put away and we’d got hold of our hats, we left the flat together, laughing and smiling all the time. We were inseparable throughout that wonderful evening.
I had a good feeling we’d be inseparable every day after that, too.