The Hound of Death is a short story written by Agatha Christie with a supernatural theme which was first published as part of the collection The Hound of Death and Other Stories in the U.K. in 1933. In the U.S. the story was not published until 1971 when it came out as part of the collection The Golden Ball and Other Stories in 1971.
William P. Ryan, an American journalist is having lunch with a friend called Anstruther when he hears that the latter is about to visit his sister in Folbridge, Cornwall at her house called "Treane". Ryan has heard of the place and tells a story from the recent First World War when he heard of a German attempt to take over a convent during the Rape of Belgium. As soon as the soldiers entered the building it blew up, killing them all. It was proven that the soldiers had no high explosives on them and speaking with the locals afterwards Ryan was told of one of the nuns having miraculous powers and she brought down a lightning bolt from heaven that destroyed the convent and killed the Germans. All that was left of the building were two walls, one of which had a powder mark in the shape of a giant hound. This scared the local peasants who avoided the area after dark. The nun in question survived and went with other refugees to "Treane" in Cornwall and Anstruther confirms his sister did take in some Belgians at the time. In Cornwall, Anstruther finds out from his sister that the nun, Marie Angelique, is still in the area. She has constant hallucinations and is being studied by a local new young doctor by the name of Rose who intends to write a monograph on her condition. Anstruther meets Rose and persuades him to let him meet the young nun.
She is boarding with the local district nurse. She talks of her dreams but when Anstruther tells her of the story he heard from Ryan, she is shocked to realise that what she thought was a dream was true – that of unleashing the "Hound of Death" on the Germans as they approached the altar. She rambles about the "City of Circles" and the "People of the Crystal" and when they have left her, Rose tells Anstruther that he has heard her mention crystals before and he produced a crystal to her on a previous occasion to test her reaction. She gasped, "Then the faith still lives!"
The next day, the young nun tells Anstruther that she feels that the crystal is a symbol of faith, possibly a second Christ, and the faith has endured for many centuries. Rose tries a word association test in which Marie Angelique makes references to signs – and the sixth sign is destruction. Anstruther starts to feel uneasy about Rose’s interest in the case, suspecting something more than purely medical motives. Some time later, Anstruther receives a letter from the nun in which she voices her fears of Rose and that the doctor is trying to obtain her powers by trying to progress to the sixth sign. The same day he hears from his sister that both Rose and the nun are dead. A landslide swept away the cliffside cottage they were in and the debris on the beach is in the shape of a giant hound. He also hears that Rose’s rich uncle died the same night, struck by lightning although there were no storms in the area and the burn-mark on him is in an unusual shape. Remembering comments from Marie Angelique, Anstruther wonders if Rose acquired the ancient (or possibly future?) powers of the crystal but he failed to control them properly, resulting in his own death. His fears are confirmed when he comes into possession of Rose's notes which detail his attempts to become a superman with "the Power of Death" in his hands.
References or Allusions
References to actual history, geography and current science
- In The Hound of Death, Ryan equates the story of the destruction of the convent to other miracle stories at the time, specifically the Angel of Mons which supposedly appeared over the battlefields of Belgium in 1914 to aid the British Expeditionary Force.
- 1933: The Hound of Death and Other Stories, Odhams Press, October 1933, Hardcover, 252 pp
- 1971: The Golden Ball and Other Stories, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), Hardcover, 280 pp.
- 1975: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, vol. 66 no. 2, whole no. 381, Aug 1975.