The Lady on the Stairs is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in issue 1616 of The Sketch on 16 January 1924. It was the third of a series of connected stories to be published in the magazine under the series title "The Man who was Number Four: Further Adventures of M. Poirot". In January 1927, the stories in the series were woven together with minor changes and some additional connecting paragraphs and then published in novel form as The Big Four. Later the same year, in May 1927, the story was published in The Blue Book Magazine. The text in this latter case was the same (with minor abridgements) as in the novel and so this can be considered a serialization of the novel rather than a republication of the original short story carried in The Sketch.

The short story formed the basis for chapters 5 and 6 of the The Big Four ("Disappearance of a Scientist" and "The Woman on the Stairs").

In the Sketch series, this story is preceded by The Adventure of the Dartmoor Bungalow and followed by The Radium Thieves.

Synopsis[edit | edit source]

Poirot goes in search of an English scientist who has disappeared in Paris. His research has been linked to a weapon which had apparently sunk several warships in what appeared to be a tidal wave.

Plot summary[edit | edit source]

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

Inspector Japp introduces Poirot and Hastings to Captain Kent of the U.S. Secret Service. Kent tells them of an incident where several U.S. naval vessels had been smashed against the rocks off the American coast. At first it was thought to be a tidal wave resulting from an earthquake in Japan. However, in a recent round up of crooks, documents had been recovered which mentioned "The Big Four" and which described sketchily an electro-magnetic weapon which could focus an intense beam of energy at a single spot. A British scientist called Halliday experimented on this and was said to be on the eve of success. Kent came to London to speak to him only to find that he had disappeared in Paris two months before.

Japp and even the French authorities are reluctantly to suspect foul play. It was, after all "gay Paree". Poirot and Hastings call on Mrs Halliday, who is grateful that someone takes the disappearance seriously. From her, they learn that her husband went to Paris to talk to some people connected with his work among them the notable French scientist Madame Olivier. After meeting her, Halliday had dined alone at some restaurant before returning to his hotel for the night. He had walked out the next morning and had not been seen afterwards.

Poirot and Hastings go to Paris and call on Madame Olivier but do not learn anything new. On leaving her house, a glimpse of a veiled lady passing them in the hallway and going up the stairs. As soon as they exit the villa a tree falls down barely missing them. Poirot then explains to Hastings his hypothesis about how Halliday was kidnapped. He was walking away from Madame Olivier's house when a lady caught up with him and told him Madame Olivier wanted to talk to him again. She led him and turned into a narrow alley as a short cut and there Halliday he had been kidnapped. Poirot goes back to Madame Olivier's house and asks to see the veiled lady and learns that she is Olivier's secretary, one Inez Veroneau. At first she refuses but then Poirot mentions that he will soon go to the police. The lady meets them and she turns out to be none other than Countess Vera Rossakoff! Confronted with Poirot's hypothesis, the Countess cuts a bargain. She would return Halliday if Poirot doesn't turn her in. Poirot agrees. She phones the kidnappers ahd Halliday is sent back to his hotel. Poirot is a little puzzled. It had been too easy. He soon discovers why. Halliday is too terrified of the Big Four to say anything. He insists he doesn't remember what happened and just wants to return to his wife.

Characters[edit | edit source]

Research notes[edit | edit source]

  • Giraud is mentioned.

Comparison between the original story and the version in the novel[edit | edit source]

  • Chapter 5 of the novel begins with several additional paragraphs not found in the original short story. These deal with the aftermath of the previous case. Robert Grant is put on trial but Poirot, reluctantly, appears in court as a defence witness. Witnesses are found who testify to having seen a butcher's van drive up to the bungalow on the Monday morning of the murder. Other witnesses testify that the butcher did not normally deliver on Mondays. Based on these testimonies, Grant is acquitted.
  • Chapter 6 is the same as the original story with a few minor textual changes.

Film, TV, or theatrical versions[edit | edit source]

Agatha Christie's Poirot[edit | edit source]

Publication history[edit | edit source]

  • 1924 The Sketch, Issue 1616 (London), 16 January 1924
  • 1927 The Big Four, William Collins and Sons (London), 27 January 1927, Hardcover, 282 pp
  • 1927 The Big Four, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1927, Hardcover, 276 pp
  • 1927 The Blue Book Magazine, Vol. 45 No. 1 (Chicago), May 1927
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