The Second Gong is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in the U.S. in Ladies Home Journal in June 1932 and in the U.K. in The Strand Magazine in July 1932. In 1948, the story was included in the collection The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories in the U.S. In the U.K., the story was included in the collection Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories which was published in 1991.
Poirot receives a letter from the eccentric Hubert Lytcham Roche. The wealthy Hubert believes he is being defrauded and asks Poirot to make some discreet inquiries. Poirot arrives at Lytcham Close, Hubert's old house. He is just a few minutes late because of a delay on the railways. But even more astonishing, Hubert, who is usually obsessive about punctuality for dinner, is not present at the strike of the second dinner gong.
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Joan Ashby, a guest at Lytcham Close, one of the most famous old houses in England, rushes down when she hears what she thinks is the second dinner gong.
As a first-time guest, Joan knows she cannot be late. Lytcham Close is ruled by the wealthy old eccentric Hubert Lytcham Roche. He is regarded as mad as a hatter by those who know him. He demands complete silence when he plays music and times dinner exactly by a resounding gong. Joan knows that anyone late for dinner would never be invited back again.
In the hall, Joan meets Harry Dalehouse, Hubert's nephew, who tells her that was only the first gong. They then hear a pop which might be a shot, or a car back-firing. But no one is sure where it came from.
The guests and residents are assembled for dinner and the second gong is struck. But everyone is astonished as Hubert is not among them! The door opens and everyone is relieved but it is not Hubert. Poirot enters, apologising for being a few minutes late because his train was delayed. Mrs Lytcham Roche tells Poirot of the puzzling lateness of her husband and Poirot decides they must go check on Hubert in his study.
Hubert's study door is locked and they break it down, to find the old man at his desk. He had apparently committed suicide. The mirror opposite is shattered, showing where the bullet which pass through the head had struck.
The police are called and are satisfied that it is suicide. But Poirot speaks to the guests and members of the household and believes it is murder. They each have motives. Mrs Lytcham Roche stands to inherit a house and an income. Hubert's adopted daughter Diana Cleves stands to inherit the bulk of the estate. She may not have known about a recent codicil which disinherited her unless she marries Gregory Barling, Hubert's friend and financial adviser. Or else, she needed to inherit first before marrying her preferred choice, the estate manager Captain John Marshall. Barling himself had led Hubert to lose a lot of money speculating on various wildcat schemes.
Poirot reveals that the murderer Geoffrey Keene, Hubert's secretary. In that position he had many opportunities to defraud his employer and might have decided he needed to act quickly when he heard that Poirot was coming to the house.
Keene had entered from the window and shot Hubert with a silenced gun. The bullet passed through Hubert's head and struck the gong--this was the gong Joan Ashby had heard leading her to think that the actual first gong was the second gong. After shooting Hubert, Keene exited the room, slamming the window and causing the bolt to drop into place, closing it from the inside. He smoothed the footprints on the flower bed outside. He then fired a gun from the drawing room to fix a later time for the shot which everyone heard,
Diana had the strong motives but Poirot exonerated her. She had indeed been outside plucking flowers for the dinner table and for her dress, but she had left only four footprints--too few. This proved that someone after her had smoothed out the flower bed.
- Hercule Poirot
- Hubert Lytcham Roche
- Joan Ashby
- Harry Dalehouse
- Geoffrey Keene
- Diana Cleves
- Mrs Lytcham Roche
- Gregory Barling
- Captain John Marshall
- Inspector Reeves