It had been a long time since I had last seen my old friend Hercule Poirot. I had been very busy with my ranch in Argentina, where I was engaged in the profitable business of raising anteaters to be pets for Egyptologists, but a matter arose that necessitated my presence in England. My wife assured me that Diego, the Tango instructor, and Jorge, the Gaucho, would keep her needs well attended to in my absence and so I departed across the ocean.
As soon as the urgent business matters had been attended to I took the first possible opportunity to call upon Poirot. He resided now at Whitehaven Mansions, in one of the newest type of service flats, and the front room served him as an office.
He was delighted to see me and promptly summoned Miss Lemon to bring me a drink. Luckily she has a proper understanding of English tastes and I was able to get a whisky instead of one of Poirot’s sickly sirop de cassis concoctions. We settled down to talk. I told him about life as an anteater farmer, and he related some interesting events from his recent cases, and we talked about old times. Eventually, however, Miss Lemon interrupted us.
“A client is here to see you, sir,” she told Poirot. “A young woman who claims that her business is extremely urgent.”
Poirot raised an eyebrow and lifted a hand to stroke his moustache. “My apologies, my friend,” he said to me, and then he instructed Miss Lemon to show in the client.
The young woman who entered was uncommonly pretty in a somewhat unconventional manner. Her reddish-blonde hair was long, instead of being fashionably bobbed, and twined about her head in a chignon. She wore a loose dress that seemed to be made out of a single piece of cloth, draped and folded, rather reminiscent of an Ancient Greek garment. I dredged a memory of my Classical education from the recesses of my mind and identified it as an Doric chiton. Remarkably out of place next to Miss Lemon’s severely tailored twin-set.
Poirot greeted the young lady, invited her to sit down, and pressed a drink upon her. He beamed with delight when she accepted his sirop with alacrity. “Captain Hastings, my old colleague,” he introduced me. “You may talk freely in front of him, Mademoiselle, for he is the very soul of discretion. Now, Mademoiselle, please tell me why you desire my services.”
“My name is Gabrielle of Potadeia,” she introduced herself. “I am the companion of Xena of Amphipolis. She is in prison in Athens, accused of murder, and I seek your aid in freeing her.”
Poirot leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. “Tell me, Mademoiselle, do you believe that your employer is innocent of the crime?”
“Absolutely.” Gabrielle leaned towards Poirot. “I do not fear for her life. She could escape from the prison without difficulty. It is that she wishes her innocence to be proven to all. She did not do this thing. Someone else must have done so, therefore, and that person should be punished.”
“I do not usually carry out the investigations upon the Continent, you understand, Mademoiselle Gabrielle,” said Poirot. “Circumstances have thrust such investigations upon me once in a while, yes, but I would not normally travel to Greece for such a purpose. Especially,” he leaned forward and stared hard at Gabrielle, “Ancient Greece.”
I raised my eyebrows at this comment. “Ancient Greece? What on Earth do you mean, Poirot?”
It was obvious that Gabrielle did not share my surprise. “So you know,” she said.
“I had occasion to study the Greek legends in detail recently, when I performed the Twelve Labours,” Poirot told her. “I recognised your name, and that of your friend, at once. When I look upon your apparel,” he gave a shrug, “it is quite clear that you are who you are.”
“Good Lord,” I exclaimed. “Surely you must be mistaken, Poirot.”
“I am never mistaken,” Poirot declared.
“Then you are the victim of a practical joke,” I suggested. “The young lady must have called upon a theatrical costumier.”
“For what purpose?” Poirot’s eyes twinkled. “Such an imposture would be pointless, my friend, and there must be many easier jokes that could be played. The playing of tricks upon Hercule Poirot is not a safe occupation in any event, as Mr Franklin Clarke would tell you if you visited him in Dartmoor Prison, or as Mademoiselle Nick Buckley would tell you most assuredly were she not dead.”
“But, my dear Poirot,” I protested, “anyone named in the Greek myths must surely have been dead for well over two thousand years!”
“Xena appears in stories that span five centuries,” Poirot replied. “I do not refer to myths, my friend, but to historically documented matters. She must, therefore, have some ability to travel through time.”
“We are sent rather than travelling of our own choice,” Gabrielle put in, “but yes, that is correct.”
“There could be more than one person of the same name,” I pointed out.
“Indeed,” Poirot agreed. “Yet this young lady most charming is evidence in support of my theory.”
Gabrielle smiled and inclined her head towards Poirot. “Thank you. And I can provide yet more proof, if you will agree to help me.” She really was a most exceptionally attractive girl, I thought, and despite all common sense I found that I was inclined to believe her.
“Why do you come to me, Mademoiselle Gabrielle?” Poirot asked. “Surely there is someone in your own time who would be more suited to this task?”
“I went to the Delphic Oracle,” Gabrielle said. “I was told that only one who had completed the Twelve Labours could aid Xena. Naturally I thought that they referred to Hercules, son of Zeus, but no. They transported me to your cold and grey country.”
“Not my country,” Poirot said, “although I have lived here for a long time. I presume, then, that should I accept your commission I will be similarly transported to Ancient Greece? Quelle idée! A primitive time, full of events most disordered, and without the conveniences modern.”
“I can pay you with gold,” Gabrielle offered. She withdrew a pouch from within her dress and poured out the contents upon the desk. A dozen coins as large as sovereigns, although thicker and less perfectly round, gleaming with the unmistakable lustre of pure gold.
Poirot picked up one of the coins and examined it briefly. His eyebrows rose. He raised a hand to his moustache and stroked it. “The talents of gold,” he said. “Each one to the value of six thousand drachma. A fortune at the time, Hastings, and worth a sum most considerable today. Do you still believe that this is a jest, my friend?”
I followed his example and examined one of the coins. It bore the head of Athena and the owl of Athens. It was remarkably heavy for its size. “Good Lord,” I said. “I do believe that this is genuine.”
“I think that perhaps I will accept the mademoiselle’s proposal after all,” Poirot said. He scooped up the coins and returned them to their bag. “Hastings, my friend, would you care to accompany me? I would value your company.”
“My word, yes,” I said. “How could I pass up such an adventure?”
“Bring your trusty Webley, Hastings,” Poirot instructed me. “We may face the dangers unusual in such a time.” He caressed his moustache. “It might, perhaps, be advantageous if the good Miss Lemon were also to come with us. There was much segregation of the sexes at that period and she would be able to make the investigations among the women on my behalf. She is reliable and unimaginative. I could trust in what she recounted.”
“By Jove,” I said, “this really is a most remarkable development. I shall return to my hotel forthwith and return with my suitcase.”
“And your Webley,” Poirot reminded me.
“Of course, Poirot. And a sufficiency of ammunition for every purpose.”
“Do not get overly excited, my friend.” Poirot raised an eyebrow. “We shall not be fighting the war.”
“It does no harm to be prepared,” I replied.
Gabrielle smiled at me. “You are a warrior,” she said, with approval in her voice. She cocked an eyebrow at Poirot. “If you will forgive me, Monsieur Poirot, you do not have the air of a warrior. How, then, did you accomplish the Twelve Labours? Slaying the Nemean Lion, capturing the Erymanthian Boar, and overcoming the Cretan Bull?”
“With the little grey cells,” Poirot told her, and he tapped his forehead. “There is always someone who has the muscles that bulge. It is the knowledge of where to apply that muscle which is of the importance.”
Gabrielle nodded. “Ah, yes,” she said. “We have defeated foes stronger than ourselves by making superior plans.”
Poirot nodded back at her. “The little grey cells of the brain will always triumph over the muscles of the brute,” he said.
A thought struck me. “My Classical Greek is rather rusty,” I said. “How is yours, Poirot?”
“The spell of transportation will take care of that,” Gabrielle assured me. “I do not speak the language of the Britons, but I understand what you say. The Oracle promises that you shall understand the Greeks when you arrive.”
“That’s a relief,” I said. I rose, and made brief farewells, and hastened to my hotel to retrieve my suitcase.
Two hours later we gathered in Poirot’s sitting room. Myself, Poirot, a rather flushed and excited Miss Lemon, and of course Gabrielle.
Our client took out a pouch, similar to the one from which she had produced the coins, but this time full of a powdered material that carried the scent of crushed herbs. She poured a stream of the powder out upon the carpet, causing Poirot to ‘tut’ in disapproval, and rotated as she poured so that she drew a circle around us. Once the circle was complete she recited an incantation and suddenly the room disappeared.
We were standing on a bare rocky hillside. A blazing sun beat down upon us. I donned my hat at once, and saw Poirot doing the same thing. He caught my eye. “So, my friend,” he said, “we are in Ancient Greece. A thing most incredible, is it not?”
“Absolutely remarkable,” I agreed.
“Come,” Gabrielle bade us. “First to the Oracle, where I shall speak to the priestesses, and then we must travel to Athens.”