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In the short story The Under Dog, Owen Trefusis was the secretary of Sir Reuben Astwell.

After the murder of Sir Reuben Astwell, his nephew Charles Leverson was arrested for the crime. Lady Astwell had a strong intuition that Charles was innocent and that Trefusis was the guilty one. She asked Poirot to investigate.

At first glance, it seemed most unlikely that Trefusis could have killed anyone. Poirot noted that Trefusis, a man of about 35, was "a prim, proper young man, disarmingly meek, the type of man who can be, and is, systematically bullied. One could feel quite sure that he would never display resentment." Nor did Trefusis benefit in any way from the death of his employer.

However Poirot, as he told the others during the denouement, considered himself a student of psychology. All the other suspects had quarreled with Sir Reuben and had bad tempers. And for him, a bad temper is its own safety valve. "He who can bark does not bite." He looked for the good-tempered man, who was patient and self-controlled. Trefusis fitted the profile--he had played the part of the under dog for nine years and had endured bullying and browbeating by his employer. As Poirot reconstructed the crime, Trefusis had been in an adjourning room to the study when he was trapped by Sir Reuben coming into the study and so had to hide behind a curtain. There he overheard the various members of the family coming in to argue with Sir Reuben. Later he tried to sneak out but Sir Reuben caught him and accused him of spying. Trefusis' self-control snaps and he grabbed a club and killed Sir Reuben. Moreover, Poirot had proof. Earlier in the day, Poirot had pretended to find something significant in the bedroom adjourning the study. He had put this into a cardboard box and placed it in his dresser while he then "departed" for London. George, Poirot's valet, hid himself in the room and witnessed Trefusis coming in to steal the cardboard box. Faced with this, Trefusis confessed.

Poirot complimented Lady Astwell on her intuition which helped put him on the track of Trefusis. Earlier in the case, Lady Astwell had agreed to be hypnotised and while in that state, recounted two significant observations. One, when Sir Reuben came after dinner to summon Trefusis to clear up some error, Trefusis had plunged a paper knife into a table so hard that the point broke (suggesting that he was about to snap). Two, later when Lady Astwell was in Sir Reuben's study quarreling with him, she had seen a bulge behind the curtain.

Portrayals[]

In ITV's 1993 adaptation of the story, the first name of the character is changed to "Horace". Here, Trefusis is not Sir Reuben's secretary, but the Chief Chemist of Sir Reuben's company Astwell Chemicals.

Although portrayed as self-controlled rather than ebullient, Horace Trefusis was nonetheless not as "prim and proper" or "meek" as the Owen in the original. Here his motive for killing Sir Reuben is slightly different. On behalf of Astwell Chemicals, Trefusis had developed the synthetic rubber compound "astroprene". In the documents on astroprene, Poirot found a contract where Astwell Chemicals had agreed to pay Trefusis ₤20 for every ton of astroprene produced. However Trefusis had heard rumours that Sir Reuben was planning to licence astroprene to I. G. Farben to produce it in Germany. In such a case, Trefusis would not get any royalties.

The circumstances of the killing are the same. Trefusis was in the study, probably to search for documents to confirm this I. G. Farben deal. There he was trapped as Sir Reuben and a succession of people came in. When he tried to sneak out, Sir Reuben caught him and in a fit of rage, Trefusis grabbed a bronze casting and struck him to death. Trefusis did not deny doing this (there was no need for the trap set in the original). He described Sir Reuben as "a bully". But besides the frustrations of being bullied for far too long in the position of an under dog, in this case, there was an additional motive of getting even for betrayed over the astroprene project.

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