The affair at Styles was over, and Poirot and I were together once more. I felt a curious excitement when I was with him that I recognized from our previous time together in Brussels. I still wanted him, but I was conflicted because I had engaged in relations with my batman, Jeeves, while we were stationed together. I was unsure whether the army would return me to the front, and Jeeves was still there. I did not wish to betray him for I had known various chaps who had been forgotten by their girlfriends once they had left for the front, and I did not wish to cause the same pain to Jeeves. We had made no verbal promises to each other, but I regarded him dearly, and I had no wish to hurt or betray him.
However, I was once more with Poirot, whom I truly did love. I had no idea as to his own feelings. Every so often I would find hinted a genuine regard for me in his expression and demeanor, but I did not know whether he felt anything more for me than friendship. I needed Poirot's support and regard, and I could not chance losing it.
We were in Poirot's tiny rooms when I finally discovered that Poirot held me in similar regard. I had asked where Poirot was going to dine that evening, and Poirot looked at me with searching eyes. I was about to ask him what was wrong, when he leaned forward and kissed me.
After a few moments of shock, I returned the kiss, humming softly as he took control. The kiss grew hungry, impassioned, and I found myself pressed close to his body as we devoured each other.
When I pulled back, we were both panting. "Poirot," I murmured, feeling light-headed.
"Yes, Hastings?" Poirot asked, and when he caressed my cheek, I leaned into his touch.
I closed my eyes briefly, damning myself for my indecision. "I wish…"
"What do you wish, mon ami?" Poirot asked, kissing my lips tenderly.
"I wish you had done this before I left Brussels."
"I wish so, too. We have lost much time."
I rested a hand on his shoulder as he leaned forward, stopping him from kissing me again. His expression was confused, and I hated the look of hurt that crossed his eyes. "I wish that I could, Poirot, but while I was in battle… I made a gentleman's agreement with my batman, and he is still in the thick of it. I cannot betray him."
Poirot asked softly, "You love him?"
"I am fond of him," I replied. "He is a young man, younger than me, and unsuited in temperament to war. We needed each other."
Poirot gazed into my eyes, searching for the truth. "You will wait for him then. You will leave me here alone."
"No, not alone."
I felt an ache deep in my chest when I saw the anger burn in his eyes – anger directed toward me. He turned away from me, and I felt physically struck by the sharpness in his voice. "You profess affection in your every word and action, Hastings, and yet you give yourself to an absent man?"
I did not know what to say. Although I wished to remain silent, the accusation in his eyes grew stronger, and I defended myself. "If I had known, Poirot, I never would have entered into the agreement with him, but now that I am, I cannot—"
"The battlefield agreements are fleeting, Hastings!" he said, interrupting me. "This young man, he is as convenient for you as you are for him, and once the war is over, he will return to his life as you will to yours."
"I doubt that very much," I replied, side-tracked by Poirot's presumed impinging of Jeeves' character. "He is a loyal soldier and a friend."
"You will stay with him after the war is over?" Poirot said, his question put in a cold, unpleasant manner.
"Well, no, I don't think so," I said hesitantly, surprised by his question because I had thought little of the consequences of my actions and what I would do after the war. "I haven't asked him."
Poirot harrumphed, and said with heavy sarcasm, "With love making like that, Hastings, he will fall into your arms."
"Steady on," I cried. "That's most uncalled for."
"I am giving my heart to you, Hastings," Poirot cried back at me. "I, who have known you longer and more deeply, and you pass me by for a man whose regard you are not even sure. I have a right to my anger!"
I dropped my head at his words, aching at the image of my strong friend offering himself so intimately. "I am sorry, Poirot," I murmured. "I didn't know, and he-" I stopped; there was nothing more I could add.
Poirot looked up at me, and he must have seen the determination in my eyes because he sighed softly. "You will understand, Hastings, if I excuse myself from our dinner plans this evening."
"Poirot," I said softly, reaching for him.
He raised his hand to ward away my touch, and said, "Please, Hastings. No more tonight."
I was trembling as I left his rooms. My most cherished dreams – Poirot's love – had come to fruition, and I could not accept them without wronging another man. Oh heavens!
I made my excuses and left the following morning. I could not bear to see Poirot again so soon after our argument, and so I did not say goodbye to him. I suspected that he, too, would not wish to see me. I ached so deeply that I could not speak; I longed to make him understand, and make him forgive me, but I had never been either an eloquent or clever man, and I knew that before I started I would fail.
I was sent back to the war, but this time I was in an office, responsible for sending others to their deaths. It was a joyless occupation, and I drifted into depression. I heard from Jeeves not at all, and only learned of his transfer to the Intelligence department due to a bit of snooping.
The war continued, and I followed the progress of Poirot's career. He had set up shop, so to speak, in London – as I and several others had suggested – and he was doing quite well. I fantasized about assisting him on his cases as I had done in Brussels and at Styles, but I suspected that they were empty dreams. Strangely I could not imagine myself with Jeeves; Poirot held my imagination.
When finally the war ended, I returned home to chaos. News of my father's suicide reached me just as I was discharged from the army, and I hurried home. My mother was in a state of shock; my elder sister was angry that her husband had not yet returned from the front, and my younger sister remained in her own little world where pain and suffering were unwelcome.
My mother died soon after my father. Our estate was decimated because of my father's debts. We were ruined, and I had nothing to show for my name but my soldier's pension and my war wound. My inquiries showed that Jeeves had found an excellent position, and could have easily sent me a letter or visited me. Our relationship had meant nothing to him; what is more, I rejected Poirot because of my misguided sense of duty. My good, devoted man had rightfully sent me away.
I was alone.
My older sister complained throughout the funeral at the lack of majesty, of food, and repeatedly said that I should get married. My younger sister stared into the middle distance, and said nothing. Our family house was being sold, and we were taking our things from it that very evening. I wanted nothing from my childhood room. The soldier toys reminded me of the war; I took a couple of the toy cars, but more because I felt I should take something rather than that I held some emotional connection to them.
I went down the stairs, suitcase in hand. I said goodbye to the butler, who had been there as long as I could remember, to the cook, the other members of staff, and then I left.
My plan had been to leave immediately for a boat to heaven only knew where, but I decided that it would be best to stay where the butler had acquired me a room for the night. In my exhausted state I could go no further. Fortune blessed me on that night because when I opened the door to my room, I discovered Poirot seated on the bed. Dressed in a light-colored suit, he looked like a dapper angel with a distinctive mustache and an egg-shaped head.
My mouth dropped open, and for a moment I wondered if I was hallucinating.
Poirot stood up, and said softly, "Hastings, mon ami."
I put my suitcase down, and walked to him. We stared at each other for several seconds, and then I murmured, "What are you doing here?"
"I had to come," he replied. "Your poor mother, Hastings… and you."
"I have no one," I answered, my voice cracking ever so slightly. "Jeeves is perfectly healthy, and has a situation. He never wrote."
Poirot said nothing, but his dark eyes expressed his regret at my pain. He directed me to sit on the bed, and held me close in his arms. I rested my head on his shoulder, and allowed my tears to flow.
"Perhaps he could not bear it, my friend. Never mind. Poirot is here. He will take care of his Hastings."
No, perhaps Jeeves could not bear it, but Poirot could. Poirot was strong enough, stronger than Jeeves or myself, two injured souls.
"I thought," I said, trying in vain to control the hitches in my breath. "I thought that I would never see you again."
Poirot shook his head, and said, "You said that you wished to wait for your lover, yes? I wished to do the same."
I sniffled, and Poirot handed me his handkerchief. It smelled of his familiar, expensive scent, and I accepted it gratefully. As my tears slowed, I raised my head, and said softly, "I was going to leave – to leave and never return."
Poirot smiled at me fondly, his fingers brushing my temple. "You would have returned," he said. He bent forward, and lightly pressed his lips to mine. "You would have returned to me."
I laughed slightly, and said, "What arrogance, Poirot." I embraced him as I added, "But you are right."
"Poirot is always right," he replied fondly, and then kissed me once more.
I did not see Jeeves until many years later. Oddly it was not in London but in Brighton of all places. I was purchasing ice cream for myself (Poirot had declined in a polite but firm manner) when I looked over to see a tall man in dark clothes. For a moment I did not recognize him.
"Captain Hastings, sir," he said, looking momentarily as surprised as I felt before a calm mask fell over his features.
"Jeeves!" I said, shifting the cone to my other hand so that I could shake his hand properly. "How are you?" I asked.
"In good health, sir, and you?"
"Wonderful," I replied.
After a potentially awkward pause, during which Jeeves seemed to examine my expression, he said softly, "Are you accompanying someone?"
I waited just long enough to answer so that I could insinuate the importance of my company. "Yes," I replied. "Hercule Poirot and I are here to take in the sea air."
I did my own inspection, and could see the lines of weariness in his face. "Are you alone?" I asked, surprised when I felt no bitterness toward the man who – perhaps unknowingly – abandoned me.
"I am, sir," he replied, his eyes downcast.
I wished to say more, although I had no idea what I could say, when I spied Poirot coming toward me, his inspection of the theater poster at an end. I smiled at him because he looked completely out of place on this beach full of sunbathers.
I made introductions, and when I said that Jeeves had been my batman, I could see that Poirot remembered his name. We spoke for a few more moments, but Jeeves excused himself soon after. I watched him depart, feeling a swell of pity for him.
"Hastings?" Poirot said softly, and I could see his concern.
"He seems so lonely," I replied.
After a moment's pause, Poirot asked softly, "You have regrets?"
I looked sharply at him, and was startled by the uncertainty in his eyes. Hercule Poirot was never uncertain. "Absolutely not," I replied firmly. If we had been in private, I would have kissed him thoroughly to prove it. "I merely feel sorry for him. He was a good man."
Poirot raised his chin slightly, and said in a fussy manner, "He was a foolish man who let you go."
"I was foolish, too," I replied, turning a fond smile upon him. "I let you go."
Poirot shrugged in an excessively Gallic manner. "You came back."
"No, you hunted me down," I replied.
"It is all the same to me, mon ami. I nearly wrote to you instead. I dislike the travel, as you know. I might have sent a letter, and you would have already departed."
"And I would have abandoned my heart," I replied, blushing.
Poirot gazed at me, his dark eyes soft with amusement and affection. "You will say that again, yes, when we are alone? I shall respond correctement."
"Bon," I replied, smiling.
We continued our walk on the beach, each in our proper place.