The Under Dog is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in The Mystery Magazine in April 1926 in the U.S. and in The London Magazine in October 1926 in the U.K. The story was also published as one of two stories in the book Two New Crime Stories in 1929. In the U.S. the story was gathered and included in the anthology The Under Dog and Other Stories in 1951 and then in the U.K. in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and a Selection of Entrées in 1960.
Lady Astwell is convinced that it is the secretary and not her nephew who murdered her husband but she has no proof, only "intuition". She hires Poirot to investigate.
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Sir Reuben Astwell was murdered ten days previously at his country house, Mon Repos, when he was violently hit on the back of the head with a club and his nephew Charles Leverson has been arrested. Sir Reuben's wife, Lady Astwell, is convinced that the true criminal is the late man's secretary, Owen Trefusis, although she doesn't have a shred of evidence to back up this claim, relying instead on "intuition". She sends her young companion, Lily Margrave, to Poirot to employ him on the case. Poirot accepts, partly because he senses that Lily does not want him to investigate the matter and that she has something to hide.
Arriving at Mon Repos Poirot speaks with the daunting and domineering Lady Astwell who tells him that Sir Reuben's brother and business partner, Victor, is also a guest in the house. Both brothers were equally as hot-tempered as the other and there were many rows and disagreements in the house, quite often involving Charles Leverson, with Sir Reuben often taking his temper out on the servants. Poirot interviews Parsons, the butler, who is one of the main witnesses in the case. His bedroom is on the ground floor and above him is the "Tower Room", Sir Reuben's sanctum. It is a lofty room with another room above reached by a spiral staircase and was originally an observatory built by a previous owner who was an astronomer. Sir Reuben was writing late at night and Parsons was asleep when he was awakened by the sound of Leverson returning home near midnight and letting himself in. He heard Leverson shouting at his uncle followed by a cry and a dull thud. About to go upstairs to see what was happening, Parsons then heard Leverson saying "No harm done, luckily" and then wishing his uncle goodnight. The next day, Sir Reuben was found dead. Speaking with Trefusis, the somewhat meek man admits that during his nine years employment, he was ruthlessly bullied by Sir Reuben. Trefusis shows Poirot the scene of the crime and the detective is puzzled as to why there is a bloodstain on the writing desk but Sir Reuben's body was found on the floor. Poirot tries an experiment with his valet, George, and realises that Sir Reuben was clubbed as he sat in his chair and remained in position afterwards as the chair is low-down in comparison to the desk.
Poirot is more suspicious than ever of Lily Margrave's nervous demeanour and investigates the two local hotels to see if anyone was staying that night who left the hotel near midnight. He finds such a man – Captain Humphrey Naylor – and convinced there is a link with Lily sets a trap by putting his own blood on a scrap of the dress that she was wearing that night and telling her he found it in the Tower Room. She confesses that she is Naylor's sister and that he was swindled out of an African gold mine by Sir Reuben. Determined to find proof she agreed with her brother to take employment as Lady Astwell's companion and on the night in question, as her brother waited outside, she went to the Tower Room and saw Leverson leaving it. She then went into the room herself and found the body on the floor (she also rifled the safe and found the proof of the swindle her brother was after) but she is innocent of the crime of murder. Poirot believes her and also realises that Leverson was drunk on the night in question and his strange manner is as a result of starting to shout at his uncle, pushing his shoulder and then realising he was dead as the body slid to the floor – hence the thud that Parsons heard. He is innocent as well as his uncle was killed earlier than when he was in the room.
Poirot persuades Lady Astwell to partake in hypnosis to recall events of the night of the murder. She confirms what she has already told the police – that she argued with her husband in the Tower Room some ten minutes prior to Leverson coming back home. She also manages to recall a subliminal memory of the normally-controlled Trefusis breaking a paper knife in anger earlier in the evening when again being shouted at by Sir Reuben (thus triggering her suspicions of the man) and a strange bulge in the curtain which covered the spiral staircase to the upper portion of the tower room. Poirot realises someone was already there when she and her husband were arguing.
Poirot begins a game of nerves with everyone in the house, extending his stay and searching everyone's bedrooms, much to their annoyance. He also claims to find something on the spiral staircase which will seal the murderer's fate and leaves it in a box in his room while he makes a quick trip to London. He returns and tells the gathered household that Trefusis is indeed the murderer but the crime was not premeditated. The secretary had left something in the upper portion of the Tower Room and was fetching it when he found himself to be an unwilling witness to the row between Sir Reuben and Lady Astwell. After she left the room, he tried to sneak out but was spotted and received another barrage of abuse from his employer. After nine years of such treatment, he was unable to take any more and struck Sir Reuben down. The item Poirot found on the stairs was false but George, hidden in the wardrobe of Poirot's room, saw Trefusis steal the box in which the item was hidden when Poirot was in London. Lady Astwell is delighted – her intuition has proven correct.
- Sir Reuben Astwell
- Lady Nancy Astwell
- Charles Leverson
- Owen Trefusis
- Victor Astwell
- Lily Margrave
- Miss Langdon
- Captain Swann
- Mr Elkins
- Major Blyunt
- Mr Benson
- Captain England
- Miss Cole
- Captain Humphrey Naylor
London and others
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
Agatha Christie's Poirot
- 1926 The Mystery Magazine, Vol. 8. No. 6, 1 April 1926
- 1926 The London Magazine, October 1926
- 1929 Two New Crime Stories Agatha Christie and Phillips Oppenheim, Reader's Library (London), 1929
- 1951 The Under Dog and Other Stories, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1951
- 1960 The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and a Selection of Entrées, Collins Crime Club (London), 24 October 1960