As they all went out of the room, Poirot turned and made me a sign to follow him upstairs. There he caught me by the arm, and drew me aside.
"Quick, go to the other wing. Stand there—just this side of the baize door. Do not move till I come." Then, turning rapidly, he rejoined the two detectives.
I followed his instructions, taking up my position by the baize door, and wondering what on earth lay behind the request. Why was I to stand in this particular spot on guard? I looked thoughtfully down the corridor in front of me. An idea struck me. With the exception of Cynthia Murdoch's, every one's room was in this left wing. Had that anything to do with it? Was I to report who came or went? I stood faithfully at my post. The minutes passed. Nobody came. Nothing happened.
It must have been quite twenty minutes before Poirot rejoined me.
"You have not stirred?"
"No, I've stuck here like a rock. Nothing's happened."
"Ah!" Was he pleased, or disappointed? "You've seen nothing at all?"
"But you have probably heard something? A big bump—eh, mon ami?"
"Is it possible? Ah, but I am vexed with myself! I am not usually clumsy. I made but a slight gesture"—I know Poirot's gestures—"with the left hand, and over went the table by the bed!"
He looked so childishly vexed and crest-fallen that I hastened to console him.
"Never mind, old chap. What does it matter? Your triumph downstairs excited you. I can tell you, that was a surprise to us all. There must be more in this affair of Inglethorp's with Mrs. Raikes than we thought, to make him hold his tongue so persistently. What are you going to do now? Where are the Scotland Yard fellows?"
"Gone down to interview the servants. I showed them all our exhibits. I am disappointed in Japp. He has no method!"
"Hullo!" I said, looking out of the window. "Here's Dr. Bauerstein. I believe you're right about that man, Poirot. I don't like him."
"He is clever," observed Poirot meditatively.
"Oh, clever as the devil! I must say I was overjoyed to see him in the plight he was in on Tuesday. You never saw such a spectacle!" And I described the doctor's adventure. "He looked a regular scarecrow! Plastered with mud from head to foot."
"You saw him, then?"
"Yes. Of course, he didn't want to come in—it was just after dinner—but Mr. Inglethorp insisted."
"What?" Poirot caught me violently by the shoulders. "Was Dr. Bauerstein here on Tuesday evening? Here? And you never told me? Why did you not tell me? Why? Why?"
He appeared to be in an absolute frenzy.
"My dear Poirot," I expostulated, "I never thought it would interest you. I didn't know it was of any importance."
"Importance? It is of the first importance! So Dr. Bauerstein was here on Tuesday night—the night of the murder. Hastings, do you not see? That alters everything—everything!"
I had never seen him so upset. Loosening his hold of me, he mechanically straightened a pair of candlesticks, still murmuring to himself: "Yes, that alters everything—everything."
Suddenly he seemed to come to a decision.
"Allons!" he said. "We must act at once. Where is Mr. Cavendish?"
John was in the smoking-room. Poirot went straight to him.
"Mr. Cavendish, I have some important business in Tadminster. A new clue. May I take your motor?"
"Why, of course. Do you mean at once?"
"If you please."
John rang the bell, and ordered round the car. In another ten minutes, we were racing down the park and along the high road to Tadminster.
"Now, Poirot," I remarked resignedly, "perhaps you will tell me what all this is about?"
"Well, mon ami, a good deal you can guess for yourself. Of course you realize that, now Mr. Inglethorp is out of it, the whole position is greatly changed. We are face to face with an entirely new problem. We know now that there is one person who did not buy the poison. We have cleared away the manufactured clues. Now for the real ones. I have ascertained that anyone in the household, with the exception of Mrs. Cavendish, who was playing tennis with you, could have personated Mr. Inglethorp on Monday evening. In the same way, we have his statement that he put the coffee down in the hall. No one took much notice of that at the inquest—but now it has a very different significance. We must find out who did take that coffee to Mrs. Inglethorp eventually, or who passed through the hall whilst it was standing there. From your account, there are only two people whom we can positively say did not go near the coffee—Mrs. Cavendish, and Mademoiselle Cynthia."
"Yes, that is so." I felt an inexpressible lightening of the heart. Mary Cavendish could certainly not rest under suspicion.
"In clearing Alfred Inglethorp," continued Poirot, "I have been obliged to show my hand sooner than I intended. As long as I might be thought to be pursuing him, the criminal would be off his guard. Now, he will be doubly careful. Yes—doubly careful." He turned to me abruptly. "Tell me, Hastings, you yourself—have you no suspicions of anybody?"
I hesitated. To tell the truth, an idea, wild and extravagant in itself, had once or twice that morning flashed through my brain. I had rejected it as absurd, nevertheless it persisted.
"You couldn't call it a suspicion," I murmured. "It's so utterly foolish."
"Come now," urged Poirot encouragingly. "Do not fear. Speak your mind. You should always pay attention to your instincts."
"Well then," I blurted out, "it's absurd—but I suspect Miss Howard of not telling all she knows!"
"Yes—you'll laugh at me——"
"Not at all. Why should I?"
"I can't help feeling," I continued blunderingly; "that we've rather left her out of the possible suspects, simply on the strength of her having been away from the place. But, after all, she was only fifteen miles away. A car would do it in half an hour. Can we say positively that she was away from Styles on the night of the murder?"
"Yes, my friend," said Poirot unexpectedly, "we can. One of my first actions was to ring up the hospital where she was working."
"Well, I learnt that Miss Howard had been on afternoon duty on Tuesday, and that—a convoy coming in unexpectedly—she had kindly offered to remain on night duty, which offer was gratefully accepted. That disposes of that."
"Oh!" I said, rather nonplussed. "Really," I continued, "it's her extraordinary vehemence against Inglethorp that started me off suspecting her. I can't help feeling she'd do anything against him. And I had an idea she might know something about the destroying of the will. She might have burnt the new one, mistaking it for the earlier one in his favour. She is so terribly bitter against him."
"You consider her vehemence unnatural?"
"Y—es. She is so very violent. I wondered really whether she is quite sane on that point."
Poirot shook his head energetically.
"No, no, you are on a wrong tack there. There is nothing weak-minded or degenerate about Miss Howard. She is an excellent specimen of well-balanced English beef and brawn. She is sanity itself."
"Yet her hatred of Inglethorp seems almost a mania. My idea was—a very ridiculous one, no doubt—that she had intended to poison him—and that, in some way, Mrs. Inglethorp got hold of it by mistake. But I don't at all see how it could have been done. The whole thing is absurd and ridiculous to the last degree."
"Still you are right in one thing. It is always wise to suspect everybody until you can prove logically, and to your own satisfaction, that they are innocent. Now, what reasons are there against Miss Howard's having deliberately poisoned Mrs. Inglethorp?"
"Why, she was devoted to her!" I exclaimed.
"Tcha! Tcha!" cried Poirot irritably. "You argue like a child. If Miss Howard were capable of poisoning the old lady, she would be quite equally capable of simulating devotion. No, we must look elsewhere. You are perfectly correct in your assumption that her vehemence against Alfred Inglethorp is too violent to be natural; but you are quite wrong in the deduction you draw from it. I have drawn my own deductions, which I believe to be correct, but I will not speak of them at present." He paused a minute, then went on. "Now, to my way of thinking, there is one insuperable objection to Miss Howard's being the murderess."
"And that is?"
"That in no possible way could Mrs. Inglethorp's death benefit Miss Howard. Now there is no murder without a motive."
"Could not Mrs. Inglethorp have made a will in her favour?" Poirot shook his head.
"But you yourself suggested that possibility to Mr. Wells?"
"That was for a reason. I did not want to mention the name of the person who was actually in my mind. Miss Howard occupied very much the same position, so I used her name instead."
"Still, Mrs. Inglethorp might have done so. Why, that will, made on the afternoon of her death may——"
But Poirot's shake of the head was so energetic that I stopped.
"No, my friend. I have certain little ideas of my own about that will. But I can tell you this much—it was not in Miss Howard's favour."
I accepted his assurance, though I did not really see how he could be so positive about the matter.
"Well," I said, with a sigh, "we will acquit Miss Howard, then. It is partly your fault that I ever came to suspect her. It was what you said about her evidence at the inquest that set me off."
Poirot looked puzzled.
"What did I say about her evidence at the inquest?"
"Don't you remember? When I cited her and John Cavendish as being above suspicion?"
"Oh—ah—yes." He seemed a little confused, but recovered himself. "By the way, Hastings, there is something I want you to do for me."
"Certainly. What is it?"
"Next time you happen to be alone with Lawrence Cavendish, I want you to say this to him. 'I have a message for you, from Poirot. He says: "Find the extra coffee-cup, and you can rest in peace!"' Nothing more. Nothing less."
"'Find the extra coffee-cup, and you can rest in peace.' Is that right?" I asked, much mystified.
"But what does it mean?"
"Ah, that I will leave you to find out. You have access to the facts. Just say that to him, and see what he says."
"Very well—but it's all extremely mysterious."
We were running into Tadminster now, and Poirot directed the car to the "Analytical Chemist."
Poirot hopped down briskly, and went inside. In a few minutes he was back again.
"There," he said. "That is all my business."
"What were you doing there?" I asked, in lively curiosity.
"I left something to be analysed."
"Yes, but what?"
"The sample of coco I took from the saucepan in the bedroom."
"But that has already been tested!" I cried, stupefied. "Dr. Bauerstein had it tested, and you yourself laughed at the possibility of there being strychnine in it."
"I know Dr. Bauerstein had it tested," replied Poirot quietly.
"Well, I have a fancy for having it analysed again, that is all."
And not another word on the subject could I drag out of him.
This proceeding of Poirot's, in respect of the coco, puzzled me intensely. I could see neither rhyme nor reason in it. However, my confidence in him, which at one time had rather waned, was fully restored since his belief in Alfred Inglethorp's innocence had been so triumphantly vindicated.
The funeral of Mrs. Inglethorp took place the following day, and on Monday, as I came down to a late breakfast, John drew me aside, and informed me that Mr. Inglethorp was leaving that morning, to take up his quarters at the Stylites Arms until he should have completed his plans.
"And really it's a great relief to think he's going, Hastings," continued my honest friend. "It was bad enough before, when we thought he'd done it, but I'm hanged if it isn't worse now, when we all feel guilty for having been so down on the fellow. The fact is, we've treated him abominably. Of course, things did look black against him. I don't see how anyone could blame us for jumping to the conclusions we did. Still, there it is, we were in the wrong, and now there's a beastly feeling that one ought to make amends; which is difficult, when one doesn't like the fellow a bit better than one did before. The whole thing's damned awkward! And I'm thankful he's had the tact to take himself off. It's a good thing Styles wasn't the mater's to leave to him. Couldn't bear to think of the fellow lording it here. He's welcome to her money."
"You'll be able to keep up the place all right?" I asked.
"Oh, yes. There are the death duties, of course, but half my father's money goes with the place, and Lawrence will stay with us for the present, so there is his share as well. We shall be pinched at first, of course, because, as I once told you, I am in a bit of a hole financially myself. Still, the Johnnies will wait now."
In the general relief at Inglethorp's approaching departure, we had the most genial breakfast we had experienced since the tragedy. Cynthia, whose young spirits were naturally buoyant, was looking quite her pretty self again, and we all, with the exception of Lawrence, who seemed unalterably gloomy and nervous, were quietly cheerful, at the opening of a new and hopeful future.
The papers, of course, had been full of the tragedy. Glaring headlines, sandwiched biographies of every member of the household, subtle innuendoes, the usual familiar tag about the police having a clue. Nothing was spared us. It was a slack time. The war was momentarily inactive, and the newspapers seized with avidity on this crime in fashionable life: "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" was the topic of the moment.
Naturally it was very annoying for the Cavendishes. The house was constantly besieged by reporters, who were consistently denied admission, but who continued to haunt the village and the grounds, where they lay in wait with cameras, for any unwary members of the household. We all lived in a blast of publicity. The Scotland Yard men came and went, examining, questioning, lynx-eyed and reserved of tongue. Towards what end they were working, we did not know. Had they any clue, or would the whole thing remain in the category of undiscovered crimes?
After breakfast, Dorcas came up to me rather mysteriously, and asked if she might have a few words with me.
"Certainly. What is it, Dorcas?"
"Well, it's just this, sir. You'll be seeing the Belgian gentleman to-day perhaps?" I nodded. "Well, sir, you know how he asked me so particular if the mistress, or anyone else, had a green dress?"
"Yes, yes. You have found one?" My interest was aroused.
"No, not that, sir. But since then I've remembered what the young gentlemen"—John and Lawrence were still the "young gentlemen" to Dorcas—"call the 'dressing-up box.' It's up in the front attic, sir. A great chest, full of old clothes and fancy dresses, and what not. And it came to me sudden like that there might be a green dress amongst them. So, if you'd tell the Belgian gentleman——"
"I will tell him, Dorcas," I promised.
"Thank you very much, sir. A very nice gentleman he is, sir. And quite a different class from them two detectives from London, what goes prying about, and asking questions. I don't hold with foreigners as a rule, but from what the newspapers say I make out as how these brave Belges isn't the ordinary run of foreigners, and certainly he's a most polite spoken gentleman."
Dear old Dorcas! As she stood there, with her honest face upturned to mine, I thought what a fine specimen she was of the old-fashioned servant that is so fast dying out.
I thought I might as well go down to the village at once, and look up Poirot; but I met him half-way, coming up to the house, and at once gave him Dorcas's message.
"Ah, the brave Dorcas! We will look at the chest, although—but no matter—we will examine it all the same."
We entered the house by one of the windows. There was no one in the hall, and we went straight up to the attic.
Sure enough, there was the chest, a fine old piece, all studded with brass nails, and full to overflowing with every imaginable type of garment.
Poirot bundled everything out on the floor with scant ceremony. There were one or two green fabrics of varying shades; but Poirot shook his head over them all. He seemed somewhat apathetic in the search, as though he expected no great results from it. Suddenly he gave an exclamation.
"What is it?"
The chest was nearly empty, and there, reposing right at the bottom, was a magnificent black beard.
"Oho!" said Poirot. "Oho!" He turned it over in his hands, examining it closely. "New," he remarked. "Yes, quite new."
After a moment's hesitation, he replaced it in the chest, heaped all the other things on top of it as before, and made his way briskly downstairs. He went straight to the pantry, where we found Dorcas busily polishing her silver.
Poirot wished her good morning with Gallic politeness, and went on:
"We have been looking through that chest, Dorcas. I am much obliged to you for mentioning it. There is, indeed, a fine collection there. Are they often used, may I ask?"
"Well, sir, not very often nowadays, though from time to time we do have what the young gentlemen call 'a dress-up night.' And very funny it is sometimes, sir. Mr. Lawrence, he's wonderful. Most comic! I shall never forget the night he came down as the Char of Persia, I think he called it—a sort of Eastern King it was. He had the big paper knife in his hand, and 'Mind, Dorcas,' he says, 'you'll have to be very respectful. This is my specially sharpened scimitar, and it's off with your head if I'm at all displeased with you!' Miss Cynthia, she was what they call an Apache, or some such name—a Frenchified sort of cut-throat, I take it to be. A real sight she looked. You'd never have believed a pretty young lady like that could have made herself into such a ruffian. Nobody would have known her."
"These evenings must have been great fun," said Poirot genially. "I suppose Mr. Lawrence wore that fine black beard in the chest upstairs, when he was Shah of Persia?"
"He did have a beard, sir," replied Dorcas, smiling. "And well I know it, for he borrowed two skeins of my black wool to make it with! And I'm sure it looked wonderfully natural at a distance. I didn't know as there was a beard up there at all. It must have been got quite lately, I think. There was a red wig, I know, but nothing else in the way of hair. Burnt corks they use mostly—though 'tis messy getting it off again. Miss Cynthia was a nigger once, and, oh, the trouble she had."
"So Dorcas knows nothing about that black beard," said Poirot thoughtfully, as we walked out into the hall again.
"Do you think it is the one?" I whispered eagerly.
"I do. You notice it had been trimmed?"
"Yes. It was cut exactly the shape of Mr. Inglethorp's, and I found one or two snipped hairs. Hastings, this affair is very deep."
"Who put it in the chest, I wonder?"
"Some one with a good deal of intelligence," remarked Poirot dryly. "You realize that he chose the one place in the house to hide it where its presence would not be remarked? Yes, he is intelligent. But we must be more intelligent. We must be so intelligent that he does not suspect us of being intelligent at all."
"There, mon ami, you will be of great assistance to me."
I was pleased with the compliment. There had been times when I hardly thought that Poirot appreciated me at my true worth.
"Yes," he continued, staring at me thoughtfully, "you will be invaluable."
This was naturally gratifying, but Poirot's next words were not so welcome.
"I must have an ally in the house," he observed reflectively.
"You have me," I protested.
"True, but you are not sufficient."
I was hurt, and showed it. Poirot hurried to explain himself.
"You do not quite take my meaning. You are known to be working with me. I want somebody who is not associated with us in any way."
"Oh, I see. How about John?"
"No, I think not."
"The dear fellow isn't perhaps very bright," I said thoughtfully.
"Here comes Miss Howard," said Poirot suddenly. "She is the very person. But I am in her black books, since I cleared Mr. Inglethorp. Still, we can but try."
With a nod that was barely civil, Miss Howard assented to Poirot's request for a few minutes' conversation.
We went into the little morning-room, and Poirot closed the door.
"Well, Monsieur Poirot," said Miss Howard impatiently, "what is it? Out with it. I'm busy."
"Do you remember, mademoiselle, that I once asked you to help me?"
"Yes, I do." The lady nodded. "And I told you I'd help you with pleasure—to hang Alfred Inglethorp."
"Ah!" Poirot studied her seriously. "Miss Howard, I will ask you one question. I beg of you to reply to it truthfully."
"Never tell lies," replied Miss Howard.
"It is this. Do you still believe that Mrs. Inglethorp was poisoned by her husband?"
"What do you mean?" she asked sharply. "You needn't think your pretty explanations influence me in the slightest. I'll admit that it wasn't he who bought strychnine at the chemist's shop. What of that? I dare say he soaked fly paper, as I told you at the beginning."
"That is arsenic—not strychnine," said Poirot mildly.
"What does that matter? Arsenic would put poor Emily out of the way just as well as strychnine. If I'm convinced he did it, it doesn't matter a jot to me how he did it."
"Exactly. If you are convinced he did it," said Poirot quietly. "I will put my question in another form. Did you ever in your heart of hearts believe that Mrs. Inglethorp was poisoned by her husband?"
"Good heavens!" cried Miss Howard. "Haven't I always told you the man is a villain? Haven't I always told you he would murder her in her bed? Haven't I always hated him like poison?"
"Exactly," said Poirot. "That bears out my little idea entirely."
"What little idea?"
"Miss Howard, do you remember a conversation that took place on the day of my friend's arrival here? He repeated it to me, and there is a sentence of yours that has impressed me very much. Do you remember affirming that if a crime had been committed, and anyone you loved had been murdered, you felt certain that you would know by instinct who the criminal was, even if you were quite unable to prove it?"
"Yes, I remember saying that. I believe it too. I suppose you think it nonsense?"
"Not at all."
"And yet you will pay no attention to my instinct against Alfred Inglethorp."
"No," said Poirot curtly. "Because your instinct is not against Mr. Inglethorp."
"No. You wish to believe he committed the crime. You believe him capable of committing it. But your instinct tells you he did not commit it. It tells you more—shall I go on?"
She was staring at him, fascinated, and made a slight affirmative movement of the hand.
"Shall I tell you why you have been so vehement against Mr. Inglethorp? It is because you have been trying to believe what you wish to believe. It is because you are trying to drown and stifle your instinct, which tells you another name——"
"No, no, no!" cried Miss Howard wildly, flinging up her hands. "Don't say it! Oh, don't say it! It isn't true! It can't be true. I don't know what put such a wild—such a dreadful—idea into my head!"
"I am right, am I not?" asked Poirot.
"Yes, yes; you must be a wizard to have guessed. But it can't be so—it's too monstrous, too impossible. It must be Alfred Inglethorp."
Poirot shook his head gravely.
"Don't ask me about it," continued Miss Howard, "because I shan't tell you. I won't admit it, even to myself. I must be mad to think of such a thing."
Poirot nodded, as if satisfied.
"I will ask you nothing. It is enough for me that it is as I thought. And I—I, too, have an instinct. We are working together towards a common end."
"Don't ask me to help you, because I won't. I wouldn't lift a finger to—to——" She faltered.
"You will help me in spite of yourself. I ask you nothing—but you will be my ally. You will not be able to help yourself. You will do the only thing that I want of you."
"And that is?"
"You will watch!"
Evelyn Howard bowed her head.
"Yes, I can't help doing that. I am always watching—always hoping I shall be proved wrong."
"If we are wrong, well and good," said Poirot. "No one will be more pleased than I shall. But, if we are right? If we are right, Miss Howard, on whose side are you then?"
"I don't know, I don't know——"
"It could be hushed up."
"There must be no hushing up."
"But Emily herself——" She broke off.
"Miss Howard," said Poirot gravely, "this is unworthy of you."
Suddenly she took her face from her hands.
"Yes," she said quietly, "that was not Evelyn Howard who spoke!" She flung her head up proudly. "This is Evelyn Howard! And she is on the side of Justice! Let the cost be what it may." And with these words, she walked firmly out of the room.
"There," said Poirot, looking after her, "goes a very valuable ally. That woman, Hastings, has got brains as well as a heart."
I did not reply.
"Instinct is a marvellous thing," mused Poirot. "It can neither be explained nor ignored."
"You and Miss Howard seem to know what you are talking about," I observed coldly. "Perhaps you don't realize that I am still in the dark."
"Really? Is that so, mon ami?"
"Yes. Enlighten me, will you?"
Poirot studied me attentively for a moment or two. Then, to my intense surprise, he shook his head decidedly.
"No, my friend."
"Oh, look here, why not?"
"Two is enough for a secret."
"Well, I think it is very unfair to keep back facts from me."
"I am not keeping back facts. Every fact that I know is in your possession. You can draw your own deductions from them. This time it is a question of ideas."
"Still, it would be interesting to know."
Poirot looked at me very earnestly, and again shook his head.
"You see," he said sadly, "you have no instincts."
"It was intelligence you were requiring just now," I pointed out.
"The two often go together," said Poirot enigmatically.
The remark seemed so utterly irrelevant that I did not even take the trouble to answer it. But I decided that if I made any interesting and important discoveries—as no doubt I should—I would keep them to myself, and surprise Poirot with the ultimate result.
There are times when it is one's duty to assert oneself.
CHAPTER IX. DR. BAUERSTEIN
I HAD had no opportunity as yet of passing on Poirot's message to Lawrence. But now, as I strolled out on the lawn, still nursing a grudge against my friend's high-handedness, I saw Lawrence on the croquet lawn, aimlessly knocking a couple of very ancient balls about, with a still more ancient mallet.
It struck me that it would be a good opportunity to deliver my message. Otherwise, Poirot himself might relieve me of it. It was true that I did not quite gather its purport, but I flattered myself that by Lawrence's reply, and perhaps a little skillful cross-examination on my part, I should soon perceive its significance. Accordingly I accosted him.
"I've been looking for you," I remarked untruthfully.
"Yes. The truth is, I've got a message for you—from Poirot."
"He told me to wait until I was alone with you," I said, dropping my voice significantly, and watching him intently out of the corner of my eye. I have always been rather good at what is called, I believe, creating an atmosphere.
There was no change of expression in the dark melancholic face. Had he any idea of what I was about to say?
"This is the message." I dropped my voice still lower. "'Find the extra coffee-cup, and you can rest in peace.'"
"What on earth does he mean?" Lawrence stared at me in quite unaffected astonishment.
"Don't you know?"
"Not in the least. Do you?"
I was compelled to shake my head.
"What extra coffee-cup?"
"I don't know."
"He'd better ask Dorcas, or one of the maids, if he wants to know about coffee-cups. It's their business, not mine. I don't know anything about the coffee-cups, except that we've got some that are never used, which are a perfect dream! Old Worcester. You're not a connoisseur, are you, Hastings?"
I shook my head.
"You miss a lot. A really perfect bit of old china—it's pure delight to handle it, or even to look at it."
"Well, what am I to tell Poirot?"
"Tell him I don't know what he's talking about. It's double Dutch to me."
I was moving off towards the house again when he suddenly called me back.
"I say, what was the end of that message? Say it over again, will you?"
"'Find the extra coffee-cup, and you can rest in peace.' Are you sure you don't know what it means?" I asked him earnestly.
He shook his head.
"No," he said musingly, "I don't. I—I wish I did."
The boom of the gong sounded from the house, and we went in together. Poirot had been asked by John to remain to lunch, and was already seated at the table.
By tacit consent, all mention of the tragedy was barred. We conversed on the war, and other outside topics. But after the cheese and biscuits had been handed round, and Dorcas had left the room, Poirot suddenly leant forward to Mrs. Cavendish.
"Pardon me, madame, for recalling unpleasant memories, but I have a little idea"—Poirot's "little ideas" were becoming a perfect byword—"and would like to ask one or two questions."
"Of me? Certainly."
"You are too amiable, madame. What I want to ask is this: the door leading into Mrs. Inglethorp's room from that of Mademoiselle Cynthia, it was bolted, you say?"
"Certainly it was bolted," replied Mary Cavendish, rather surprised. "I said so at the inquest."
"Yes." She looked perplexed.
"I mean," explained Poirot, "you are sure it was bolted, and not merely locked?"
"Oh, I see what you mean. No, I don't know. I said bolted, meaning that it was fastened, and I could not open it, but I believe all the doors were found bolted on the inside."
"Still, as far as you are concerned, the door might equally well have been locked?"
"You yourself did not happen to notice, madame, when you entered Mrs. Inglethorp's room, whether that door was bolted or not?"
"I—I believe it was."
"But you did not see it?"
"No. I—never looked."
"But I did," interrupted Lawrence suddenly. "I happened to notice that it was bolted."
"Ah, that settles it." And Poirot looked crestfallen.
I could not help rejoicing that, for once, one of his "little ideas" had come to naught.
After lunch Poirot begged me to accompany him home. I consented rather stiffly.
"You are annoyed, is it not so?" he asked anxiously, as we walked through the park.
"Not at all," I said coldly.
"That is well. That lifts a great load from my mind."
This was not quite what I had intended. I had hoped that he would have observed the stiffness of my manner. Still, the fervour of his words went towards the appeasing of my just displeasure. I thawed.
"I gave Lawrence your message," I said.
"And what did he say? He was entirely puzzled?"
"Yes. I am quite sure he had no idea of what you meant."
I had expected Poirot to be disappointed; but, to my surprise, he replied that that was as he had thought, and that he was very glad. My pride forbade me to ask any questions.
Poirot switched off on another tack.
"Mademoiselle Cynthia was not at lunch to-day? How was that?"
"She is at the hospital again. She resumed work to-day."
"Ah, she is an industrious little demoiselle. And pretty too. She is like pictures I have seen in Italy. I would rather like to see that dispensary of hers. Do you think she would show it to me?"
"I am sure she would be delighted. It's an interesting little place."
"Does she go there every day?"
"She has all Wednesdays off, and comes back to lunch on Saturdays. Those are her only times off."
"I will remember. Women are doing great work nowadays, and Mademoiselle Cynthia is clever—oh, yes, she has brains, that little one."
"Yes. I believe she has passed quite a stiff exam."
"Without doubt. After all, it is very responsible work. I suppose they have very strong poisons there?"
"Yes, she showed them to us. They are kept locked up in a little cupboard. I believe they have to be very careful. They always take out the key before leaving the room."
"Indeed. It is near the window, this cupboard?"
"No, right the other side of the room. Why?"
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
"I wondered. That is all. Will you come in?"
We had reached the cottage.
"No. I think I'll be getting back. I shall go round the long way through the woods."
The woods round Styles were very beautiful. After the walk across the open park, it was pleasant to saunter lazily through the cool glades. There was hardly a breath of wind, the very chirp of the birds was faint and subdued. I strolled on a little way, and finally flung myself down at the foot of a grand old beech-tree. My thoughts of mankind were kindly and charitable. I even forgave Poirot for his absurd secrecy. In fact, I was at peace with the world. Then I yawned.
I thought about the crime, and it struck me as being very unreal and far off.
I yawned again.
Probably, I thought, it really never happened. Of course, it was all a bad dream. The truth of the matter was that it was Lawrence who had murdered Alfred Inglethorp with a croquet mallet. But it was absurd of John to make such a fuss about it, and to go shouting out: "I tell you I won't have it!"
I woke up with a start.
At once I realized that I was in a very awkward predicament. For, about twelve feet away from me, John and Mary Cavendish were standing facing each other, and they were evidently quarrelling. And, quite as evidently, they were unaware of my vicinity, for before I could move or speak John repeated the words which had aroused me from my dream.
"I tell you, Mary, I won't have it."
Mary's voice came, cool and liquid:
"Have you any right to criticize my actions?"
"It will be the talk of the village! My mother was only buried on Saturday, and here you are gadding about with the fellow."
"Oh," she shrugged her shoulders, "if it is only village gossip that you mind!"
"But it isn't. I've had enough of the fellow hanging about. He's a Polish Jew, anyway."
"A tinge of Jewish blood is not a bad thing. It leavens the"—she looked at him—"stolid stupidity of the ordinary Englishman."
Fire in her eyes, ice in her voice. I did not wonder that the blood rose to John's face in a crimson tide.
"Well?" Her tone did not change.
The pleading died out of his voice.
"Am I to understand that you will continue to see Bauerstein against my express wishes?"
"If I choose."
"You defy me?"
"No, but I deny your right to criticize my actions. Have you no friends of whom I should disapprove?"
John fell back a pace. The colour ebbed slowly from his face.
"What do you mean?" he said, in an unsteady voice.
"You see!" said Mary quietly. "You do see, don't you, that you have no right to dictate to me as to the choice of my friends?"
John glanced at her pleadingly, a stricken look on his face.
"No right? Have I no right, Mary?" he said unsteadily. He stretched out his hands. "Mary——"
For a moment, I thought she wavered. A softer expression came over her face, then suddenly she turned almost fiercely away.
She was walking away when John sprang after her, and caught her by the arm.
"Mary"—his voice was very quiet now—"are you in love with this fellow Bauerstein?"
She hesitated, and suddenly there swept across her face a strange expression, old as the hills, yet with something eternally young about it. So might some Egyptian sphinx have smiled.
She freed herself quietly from his arm, and spoke over her shoulder.
"Perhaps," she said; and then swiftly passed out of the little glade, leaving John standing there as though he had been turned to stone.
Rather ostentatiously, I stepped forward, crackling some dead branches with my feet as I did so. John turned. Luckily, he took it for granted that I had only just come upon the scene.
"Hullo, Hastings. Have you seen the little fellow safely back to his cottage? Quaint little chap! Is he any good, though, really?"
"He was considered one of the finest detectives of his day."
"Oh, well, I suppose there must be something in it, then. What a rotten world it is, though!"
"You find it so?" I asked.
"Good Lord, yes! There's this terrible business to start with. Scotland Yard men in and out of the house like a jack-in-the-box! Never know where they won't turn up next. Screaming headlines in every paper in the country—damn all journalists, I say! Do you know there was a whole crowd staring in at the lodge gates this morning. Sort of Madame Tussaud's chamber of horrors business that can be seen for nothing. Pretty thick, isn't it?"
"Cheer up, John!" I said soothingly. "It can't last for ever."
"Can't it, though? It can last long enough for us never to be able to hold up our heads again."
"No, no, you're getting morbid on the subject."
"Enough to make a man morbid, to be stalked by beastly journalists and stared at by gaping moon-faced idiots, wherever he goes! But there's worse than that."
John lowered his voice:
"Have you ever thought, Hastings—it's a nightmare to me—who did it? I can't help feeling sometimes it must have been an accident. Because—because—who could have done it? Now Inglethorp's out of the way, there's no one else; no one, I mean, except—one of us."
Yes, indeed, that was nightmare enough for any man! One of us? Yes, surely it must be so, unless——-
A new idea suggested itself to my mind. Rapidly, I considered it. The light increased. Poirot's mysterious doings, his hints—they all fitted in. Fool that I was not to have thought of this possibility before, and what a relief for us all.
"No, John," I said, "it isn't one of us. How could it be?"
"I know, but, still, who else is there?"
"Can't you guess?"
I looked cautiously round, and lowered my voice.
"Dr. Bauerstein!" I whispered.
"Not at all."
"But what earthly interest could he have in my mother's death?"
"That I don't see," I confessed, "but I'll tell you this: Poirot thinks so."
"Poirot? Does he? How do you know?"
I told him of Poirot's intense excitement on hearing that Dr. Bauerstein had been at Styles on the fatal night, and added:
"He said twice: 'That alters everything.' And I've been thinking. You know Inglethorp said he had put down the coffee in the hall? Well, it was just then that Bauerstein arrived. Isn't it possible that, as Inglethorp brought him through the hall, the doctor dropped something into the coffee in passing?"
"H'm," said John. "It would have been very risky."
"Yes, but it was possible."
"And then, how could he know it was her coffee? No, old fellow, I don't think that will wash."
But I had remembered something else.
"You're quite right. That wasn't how it was done. Listen." And I then told him of the coco sample which Poirot had taken to be analysed.
John interrupted just as I had done.
"But, look here, Bauerstein had had it analysed already?"
"Yes, yes, that's the point. I didn't see it either until now. Don't you understand? Bauerstein had it analysed—that's just it! If Bauerstein's the murderer, nothing could be simpler than for him to substitute some ordinary coco for his sample, and send that to be tested. And of course they would find no strychnine! But no one would dream of suspecting Bauerstein, or think of taking another sample—except Poirot," I added, with belated recognition.
"Yes, but what about the bitter taste that coco won't disguise?"
"Well, we've only his word for that. And there are other possibilities. He's admittedly one of the world's greatest toxicologists——"
"One of the world's greatest what? Say it again."
"He knows more about poisons than almost anybody," I explained. "Well, my idea is, that perhaps he's found some way of making strychnine tasteless. Or it may not have been strychnine at all, but some obscure drug no one has ever heard of, which produces much the same symptoms."
"H'm, yes, that might be," said John. "But look here, how could he have got at the coco? That wasn't downstairs?"
"No, it wasn't," I admitted reluctantly.
And then, suddenly, a dreadful possibility flashed through my mind. I hoped and prayed it would not occur to John also. I glanced sideways at him. He was frowning perplexedly, and I drew a deep breath of relief, for the terrible thought that had flashed across my mind was this: that Dr. Bauerstein might have had an accomplice.
Yet surely it could not be! Surely no woman as beautiful as Mary Cavendish could be a murderess. Yet beautiful women had been known to poison.
And suddenly I remembered that first conversation at tea on the day of my arrival, and the gleam in her eyes as she had said that poison was a woman's weapon. How agitated she had been on that fatal Tuesday evening! Had Mrs. Inglethorp discovered something between her and Bauerstein, and threatened to tell her husband? Was it to stop that denunciation that the crime had been committed?
Then I remembered that enigmatical conversation between Poirot and Evelyn Howard. Was this what they had meant? Was this the monstrous possibility that Evelyn had tried not to believe?
Yes, it all fitted in.
No wonder Miss Howard had suggested "hushing it up." Now I understood that unfinished sentence of hers: "Emily herself——" And in my heart I agreed with her. Would not Mrs. Inglethorp have preferred to go unavenged rather than have such terrible dishonour fall upon the name of Cavendish.
"There's another thing," said John suddenly, and the unexpected sound of his voice made me start guiltily. "Something which makes me doubt if what you say can be true."
"What's that?" I asked, thankful that he had gone away from the subject of how the poison could have been introduced into the coco.
"Why, the fact that Bauerstein demanded a post-mortem. He needn't have done so. Little Wilkins would have been quite content to let it go at heart disease."
"Yes," I said doubtfully. "But we don't know. Perhaps he thought it safer in the long run. Some one might have talked afterwards. Then the Home Office might have ordered exhumation. The whole thing would have come out, then, and he would have been in an awkward position, for no one would have believed that a man of his reputation could have been deceived into calling it heart disease."
"Yes, that's possible," admitted John. "Still," he added, "I'm blest if I can see what his motive could have been."
"Look here," I said, "I may be altogether wrong. And, remember, all this is in confidence."
"Oh, of course—that goes without saying."
We had walked, as we talked, and now we passed through the little gate into the garden. Voices rose near at hand, for tea was spread out under the sycamore-tree, as it had been on the day of my arrival.
Cynthia was back from the hospital, and I placed my chair beside her, and told her of Poirot's wish to visit the dispensary.
"Of course! I'd love him to see it. He'd better come to tea there one day. I must fix it up with him. He's such a dear little man! But he is funny. He made me take the brooch out of my tie the other day, and put it in again, because he said it wasn't straight."
"It's quite a mania with him."
"Yes, isn't it?"
We were silent for a minute or two, and then, glancing in the direction of Mary Cavendish, and dropping her voice, Cynthia said:
"After tea, I want to talk to you."
Her glance at Mary had set me thinking. I fancied that between these two there existed very little sympathy. For the first time, it occurred to me to wonder about the girl's future. Mrs. Inglethorp had made no provisions of any kind for her, but I imagined that John and Mary would probably insist on her making her home with them—at any rate until the end of the war. John, I knew, was very fond of her, and would be sorry to let her go.
John, who had gone into the house, now reappeared. His good-natured face wore an unaccustomed frown of anger.
"Confound those detectives! I can't think what they're after! They've been in every room in the house—turning things inside out, and upside down. It really is too bad! I suppose they took advantage of our all being out. I shall go for that fellow Japp, when I next see him!"
"Lot of Paul Prys," grunted Miss Howard.
Lawrence opined that they had to make a show of doing something.
Mary Cavendish said nothing.
After tea, I invited Cynthia to come for a walk, and we sauntered off into the woods together.
"Well?" I inquired, as soon as we were protected from prying eyes by the leafy screen.
With a sigh, Cynthia flung herself down, and tossed off her hat. The sunlight, piercing through the branches, turned the auburn of her hair to quivering gold.
"Mr. Hastings—you are always so kind, and you know such a lot."
It struck me at this moment that Cynthia was really a very charming girl! Much more charming than Mary, who never said things of that kind.
"Well?" I asked benignantly, as she hesitated.
"I want to ask your advice. What shall I do?"
"Yes. You see, Aunt Emily always told me I should be provided for. I suppose she forgot, or didn't think she was likely to die—anyway, I am not provided for! And I don't know what to do. Do you think I ought to go away from here at once?"
"Good heavens, no! They don't want to part with you, I'm sure."
Cynthia hesitated a moment, plucking up the grass with her tiny hands. Then she said: "Mrs. Cavendish does. She hates me."
"Hates you?" I cried, astonished.
"Yes. I don't know why, but she can't bear me; and he can't, either."
"There I know you're wrong," I said warmly. "On the contrary, John is very fond of you."
"Oh, yes—John. I meant Lawrence. Not, of course, that I care whether Lawrence hates me or not. Still, it's rather horrid when no one loves you, isn't it?"
"But they do, Cynthia dear," I said earnestly. "I'm sure you are mistaken. Look, there is John—and Miss Howard—"
Cynthia nodded rather gloomily. "Yes, John likes me, I think, and of course Evie, for all her gruff ways, wouldn't be unkind to a fly. But Lawrence never speaks to me if he can help it, and Mary can hardly bring herself to be civil to me. She wants Evie to stay on, is begging her to, but she doesn't want me, and—and—I don't know what to do." Suddenly the poor child burst out crying.
I don't know what possessed me. Her beauty, perhaps, as she sat there, with the sunlight glinting down on her head; perhaps the sense of relief at encountering someone who so obviously could have no connection with the tragedy; perhaps honest pity for her youth and loneliness. Anyway, I leant forward, and taking her little hand, I said awkwardly:
"Marry me, Cynthia."
Unwittingly, I had hit upon a sovereign remedy for her tears. She sat up at once, drew her hand away, and said, with some asperity:
"Don't be silly!"
I was a little annoyed.
"I'm not being silly. I am asking you to do me the honour of becoming my wife."
To my intense surprise, Cynthia burst out laughing, and called me a "funny dear."
"It's perfectly sweet of you," she said, "but you know you don't want to!"
"Yes, I do. I've got—"
"Never mind what you've got. You don't really want to—and I don't either."
"Well, of course, that settles it," I said stiffly. "But I don't see anything to laugh at. There's nothing funny about a proposal."
"No, indeed," said Cynthia. "Somebody might accept you next time. Good-bye, you've cheered me up very much."
And, with a final uncontrollable burst of merriment, she vanished through the trees.
Thinking over the interview, it struck me as being profoundly unsatisfactory.
It occurred to me suddenly that I would go down to the village, and look up Bauerstein. Somebody ought to be keeping an eye on the fellow. At the same time, it would be wise to allay any suspicions he might have as to his being suspected. I remembered how Poirot had relied on my diplomacy. Accordingly, I went to the little house with the "Apartments" card inserted in the window, where I knew he lodged, and tapped on the door.
An old woman came and opened it.
"Good afternoon," I said pleasantly. "Is Dr. Bauerstein in?"
She stared at me.
"Haven't you heard?"
"What about him?"
"No, took by the perlice."
"By the police!" I gasped. "Do you mean they've arrested him?"
"Yes, that's it, and—"
I waited to hear no more, but tore up the village to find Poirot.
CHAPTER X. THE ARREST
To my extreme annoyance, Poirot was not in, and the old Belgian who answered my knock informed me that he believed he had gone to London.
I was dumbfounded. What on earth could Poirot be doing in London! Was it a sudden decision on his part, or had he already made up his mind when he parted from me a few hours earlier?
I retraced my steps to Styles in some annoyance. With Poirot away, I was uncertain how to act. Had he foreseen this arrest? Had he not, in all probability, been the cause of it? Those questions I could not resolve. But in the meantime what was I to do? Should I announce the arrest openly at Styles, or not? Though I did not acknowledge it to myself, the thought of Mary Cavendish was weighing on me. Would it not be a terrible shock to her? For the moment, I set aside utterly any suspicions of her. She could not be implicated—otherwise I should have heard some hint of it.
Of course, there was no possibility of being able permanently to conceal Dr. Bauerstein's arrest from her. It would be announced in every newspaper on the morrow. Still, I shrank from blurting it out. If only Poirot had been accessible, I could have asked his advice. What possessed him to go posting off to London in this unaccountable way?
In spite of myself, my opinion of his sagacity was immeasurably heightened. I would never have dreamt of suspecting the doctor, had not Poirot put it into my head. Yes, decidedly, the little man was clever.
After some reflecting, I decided to take John into my confidence, and leave him to make the matter public or not, as he thought fit.
He gave vent to a prodigious whistle, as I imparted the news.
"Great Scot! You were right, then. I couldn't believe it at the time."
"No, it is astonishing until you get used to the idea, and see how it makes everything fit in. Now, what are we to do? Of course, it will be generally known to-morrow."
"Never mind," he said at last, "we won't say anything at present. There is no need. As you say, it will be known soon enough."
But to my intense surprise, on getting down early the next morning, and eagerly opening the newspapers, there was not a word about the arrest! There was a column of mere padding about "The Styles Poisoning Case," but nothing further. It was rather inexplicable, but I supposed that, for some reason or other, Japp wished to keep it out of the papers. It worried me just a little, for it suggested the possibility that there might be further arrests to come.
After breakfast, I decided to go down to the village, and see if Poirot had returned yet; but, before I could start, a well-known face blocked one of the windows, and the well-known voice said:
"Bon jour, mon ami!"
"Poirot," I exclaimed, with relief, and seizing him by both hands, I dragged him into the room. "I was never so glad to see anyone. Listen, I have said nothing to anybody but John. Is that right?"
"My friend," replied Poirot, "I do not know what you are talking about."
"Dr. Bauerstein's arrest, of course," I answered impatiently.
"Is Bauerstein arrested, then?"
"Did you not know it?"
"Not the least in the world." But, pausing a moment, he added: "Still, it does not surprise me. After all, we are only four miles from the coast."
"The coast?" I asked, puzzled. "What has that got to do with it?"
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
"Surely, it is obvious!"
"Not to me. No doubt I am very dense, but I cannot see what the proximity of the coast has got to do with the murder of Mrs. Inglethorp."
"Nothing at all, of course," replied Poirot, smiling. "But we were speaking of the arrest of Dr. Bauerstein."
"Well, he is arrested for the murder of Mrs. Inglethorp——"
"What?" cried Poirot, in apparently lively astonishment. "Dr. Bauerstein arrested for the murder of Mrs. Inglethorp?"
"Impossible! That would be too good a farce! Who told you that, my friend?"
"Well, no one exactly told me," I confessed. "But he is arrested."
"Oh, yes, very likely. But for espionage, mon ami."
"Espionage?" I gasped.
"Not for poisoning Mrs. Inglethorp?"
"Not unless our friend Japp has taken leave of his senses," replied Poirot placidly.
"But—but I thought you thought so too?"
Poirot gave me one look, which conveyed a wondering pity, and his full sense of the utter absurdity of such an idea.
"Do you mean to say," I asked, slowly adapting myself to the new idea, "that Dr. Bauerstein is a spy?"
"Have you never suspected it?"
"It never entered my head."
"It did not strike you as peculiar that a famous London doctor should bury himself in a little village like this, and should be in the habit of walking about at all hours of the night, fully dressed?"
"No," I confessed, "I never thought of such a thing."
"He is, of course, a German by birth," said Poirot thoughtfully, "though he has practiced so long in this country that nobody thinks of him as anything but an Englishman. He was naturalized about fifteen years ago. A very clever man—a Jew, of course."
"The blackguard!" I cried indignantly.
"Not at all. He is, on the contrary, a patriot. Think what he stands to lose. I admire the man myself."
But I could not look at it in Poirot's philosophical way.
"And this is the man with whom Mrs. Cavendish has been wandering about all over the country!" I cried indignantly.
"Yes. I should fancy he had found her very useful," remarked Poirot. "So long as gossip busied itself in coupling their names together, any other vagaries of the doctor's passed unobserved."
"Then you think he never really cared for her?" I asked eagerly—rather too eagerly, perhaps, under the circumstances.
"That, of course, I cannot say, but—shall I tell you my own private opinion, Hastings?"
"Well, it is this: that Mrs. Cavendish does not care, and never has cared one little jot about Dr. Bauerstein!"
"Do you really think so?" I could not disguise my pleasure.
"I am quite sure of it. And I will tell you why."
"Because she cares for some one else, mon ami."
"Oh!" What did he mean? In spite of myself, an agreeable warmth spread over me. I am not a vain man where women are concerned, but I remembered certain evidences, too lightly thought of at the time, perhaps, but which certainly seemed to indicate——
My pleasing thoughts were interrupted by the sudden entrance of Miss Howard. She glanced round hastily to make sure there was no one else in the room, and quickly produced an old sheet of brown paper. This she handed to Poirot, murmuring as she did so the cryptic words:
"On top of the wardrobe." Then she hurriedly left the room.
Poirot unfolded the sheet of paper eagerly, and uttered an exclamation of satisfaction. He spread it out on the table.
"Come here, Hastings. Now tell me, what is that initial—J. or L.?"
It was a medium sized sheet of paper, rather dusty, as though it had lain by for some time. But it was the label that was attracting Poirot's attention. At the top, it bore the printed stamp of Messrs. Parkson's, the well-known theatrical costumiers, and it was addressed to "—(the debatable initial) Cavendish, Esq., Styles Court, Styles St. Mary, Essex."
"It might be T., or it might be L.," I said, after studying the thing for a minute or two. "It certainly isn't a J."
"Good," replied Poirot, folding up the paper again. "I, also, am of your way of thinking. It is an L., depend upon it!"
"Where did it come from?" I asked curiously. "Is it important?"
"Moderately so. It confirms a surmise of mine. Having deduced its existence, I set Miss Howard to search for it, and, as you see, she has been successful."
"What did she mean by 'On the top of the wardrobe'?"
"She meant," replied Poirot promptly, "that she found it on top of a wardrobe."
"A funny place for a piece of brown paper," I mused.
"Not at all. The top of a wardrobe is an excellent place for brown paper and cardboard boxes. I have kept them there myself. Neatly arranged, there is nothing to offend the eye."
"Poirot," I asked earnestly, "have you made up your mind about this crime?"
"Yes—that is to say, I believe I know how it was committed."
"Unfortunately, I have no proof beyond my surmise, unless——" With sudden energy, he caught me by the arm, and whirled me down the hall, calling out in French in his excitement: "Mademoiselle Dorcas, Mademoiselle Dorcas, un moment, s'il vous plait!"
Dorcas, quite flurried by the noise, came hurrying out of the pantry.
"My good Dorcas, I have an idea—a little idea—if it should prove justified, what magnificent chance! Tell me, on Monday, not Tuesday, Dorcas, but Monday, the day before the tragedy, did anything go wrong with Mrs. Inglethorp's bell?"
Dorcas looked very surprised.
"Yes, sir, now you mention it, it did; though I don't know how you came to hear of it. A mouse, or some such, must have nibbled the wire through. The man came and put it right on Tuesday morning."
With a long drawn exclamation of ecstasy, Poirot led the way back to the morning-room.
"See you, one should not ask for outside proof—no, reason should be enough. But the flesh is weak, it is consolation to find that one is on the right track. Ah, my friend, I am like a giant refreshed. I run! I leap!"
And, in very truth, run and leap he did, gambolling wildly down the stretch of lawn outside the long window.
"What is your remarkable little friend doing?" asked a voice behind me, and I turned to find Mary Cavendish at my elbow. She smiled, and so did I. "What is it all about?"
"Really, I can't tell you. He asked Dorcas some question about a bell, and appeared so delighted with her answer that he is capering about as you see!"
"How ridiculous! He's going out of the gate. Isn't he coming back to-day?"
"I don't know. I've given up trying to guess what he'll do next."
"Is he quite mad, Mr. Hastings?"
"I honestly don't know. Sometimes, I feel sure he is as mad as a hatter; and then, just as he is at his maddest, I find there is method in his madness."
In spite of her laugh, Mary was looking thoughtful this morning. She seemed grave, almost sad.
It occurred to me that it would be a good opportunity to tackle her on the subject of Cynthia. I began rather tactfully, I thought, but I had not gone far before she stopped me authoritatively.
"You are an excellent advocate, I have no doubt, Mr. Hastings, but in this case your talents are quite thrown away. Cynthia will run no risk of encountering any unkindness from me."
I began to stammer feebly that I hoped she hadn't thought—But again she stopped me, and her words were so unexpected that they quite drove Cynthia, and her troubles, out of my mind.
"Mr. Hastings," she said, "do you think I and my husband are happy together?"
I was considerably taken aback, and murmured something about it's not being my business to think anything of the sort.
"Well," she said quietly, "whether it is your business or not, I will tell you that we are not happy."
I said nothing, for I saw that she had not finished.
She began slowly, walking up and down the room, her head a little bent, and that slim, supple figure of hers swaying gently as she walked. She stopped suddenly, and looked up at me.
"You don't know anything about me, do you?" she asked. "Where I come from, who I was before I married John—anything, in fact? Well, I will tell you. I will make a father confessor of you. You are kind, I think—yes, I am sure you are kind."
Somehow, I was not quite as elated as I might have been. I remembered that Cynthia had begun her confidences in much the same way. Besides, a father confessor should be elderly, it is not at all the role for a young man.
"My father was English," said Mrs. Cavendish, "but my mother was a Russian."
"Ah," I said, "now I understand—"
"A hint of something foreign—different—that there has always been about you."
"My mother was very beautiful, I believe. I don't know, because I never saw her. She died when I was quite a little child. I believe there was some tragedy connected with her death—she took an overdose of some sleeping draught by mistake. However that may be, my father was broken-hearted. Shortly afterwards, he went into the Consular Service. Everywhere he went, I went with him. When I was twenty-three, I had been nearly all over the world. It was a splendid life—I loved it."
There was a smile on her face, and her head was thrown back. She seemed living in the memory of those old glad days.
"Then my father died. He left me very badly off. I had to go and live with some old aunts in Yorkshire." She shuddered. "You will understand me when I say that it was a deadly life for a girl brought up as I had been. The narrowness, the deadly monotony of it, almost drove me mad." She paused a minute, and added in a different tone: "And then I met John Cavendish."
"You can imagine that, from my aunts' point of view, it was a very good match for me. But I can honestly say it was not this fact which weighed with me. No, he was simply a way of escape from the insufferable monotony of my life."
I said nothing, and after a moment, she went on:
"Don't misunderstand me. I was quite honest with him. I told him, what was true, that I liked him very much, that I hoped to come to like him more, but that I was not in any way what the world calls 'in love' with him. He declared that that satisfied him, and so—we were married."
She waited a long time, a little frown had gathered on her forehead. She seemed to be looking back earnestly into those past days.
"I think—I am sure—he cared for me at first. But I suppose we were not well matched. Almost at once, we drifted apart. He—it is not a pleasing thing for my pride, but it is the truth—tired of me very soon." I must have made some murmur of dissent, for she went on quickly: "Oh, yes, he did! Not that it matters now—now that we've come to the parting of the ways."
"What do you mean?"
She answered quietly:
"I mean that I am not going to remain at Styles."
"You and John are not going to live here?"
"John may live here, but I shall not."
"You are going to leave him?"
She paused a long time, and said at last:
"Perhaps—because I want to be—free!"
And, as she spoke, I had a sudden vision of broad spaces, virgin tracts of forests, untrodden lands—and a realization of what freedom would mean to such a nature as Mary Cavendish. I seemed to see her for a moment as she was, a proud wild creature, as untamed by civilization as some shy bird of the hills. A little cry broke from her lips:
"You don't know, you don't know, how this hateful place has been prison to me!"
"I understand," I said, "but—but don't do anything rash."
"Oh, rash!" Her voice mocked at my prudence.
Then suddenly I said a thing I could have bitten out my tongue for:
"You know that Dr. Bauerstein has been arrested?"
An instant coldness passed like a mask over her face, blotting out all expression.
"John was so kind as to break that to me this morning."
"Well, what do you think?" I asked feebly.
"Of the arrest?"
"What should I think? Apparently he is a German spy; so the gardener had told John."
Her face and voice were absolutely cold and expressionless. Did she care, or did she not?
She moved away a step or two, and fingered one of the flower vases.
"These are quite dead. I must do them again. Would you mind moving—thank you, Mr. Hastings." And she walked quietly past me out of the window, with a cool little nod of dismissal.
No, surely she could not care for Bauerstein. No woman could act her part with that icy unconcern.
Poirot did not make his appearance the following morning, and there was no sign of the Scotland Yard men.
But, at lunch-time, there arrived a new piece of evidence—or rather lack of evidence. We had vainly tried to trace the fourth letter, which Mrs. Inglethorp had written on the evening preceding her death. Our efforts having been in vain, we had abandoned the matter, hoping that it might turn up of itself one day. And this is just what did happen, in the shape of a communication, which arrived by the second post from a firm of French music publishers, acknowledging Mrs. Inglethorp's cheque, and regretting they had been unable to trace a certain series of Russian folksongs. So the last hope of solving the mystery, by means of Mrs. Inglethorp's correspondence on the fatal evening, had to be abandoned.
Just before tea, I strolled down to tell Poirot of the new disappointment, but found, to my annoyance, that he was once more out.
"Gone to London again?"
"Oh, no, monsieur, he has but taken the train to Tadminster. 'To see a young lady's dispensary,' he said."
"Silly ass!" I ejaculated. "I told him Wednesday was the one day she wasn't there! Well, tell him to look us up to-morrow morning, will you?"
But, on the following day, no sign of Poirot. I was getting angry. He was really treating us in the most cavalier fashion.
After lunch, Lawrence drew me aside, and asked if I was going down to see him.
"No, I don't think I shall. He can come up here if he wants to see us."
"Oh!" Lawrence looked indeterminate. Something unusually nervous and excited in his manner roused my curiosity.
"What is it?" I asked. "I could go if there's anything special."
"It's nothing much, but—well, if you are going, will you tell him—" he dropped his voice to a whisper—"I think I've found the extra coffee-cup!"
I had almost forgotten that enigmatical message of Poirot's, but now my curiosity was aroused afresh.
Lawrence would say no more, so I decided that I would descend from my high horse, and once more seek out Poirot at Leastways Cottage.
This time I was received with a smile. Monsieur Poirot was within. Would I mount? I mounted accordingly.
Poirot was sitting by the table, his head buried in his hands. He sprang up at my entrance.
"What is it?" I asked solicitously. "You are not ill, I trust?"
"No, no, not ill. But I decide an affair of great moment."
"Whether to catch the criminal or not?" I asked facetiously.
But, to my great surprise, Poirot nodded gravely.
"'To speak or not to speak,' as your so great Shakespeare says, 'that is the question.'"
I did not trouble to correct the quotation.
"You are not serious, Poirot?"
"I am of the most serious. For the most serious of all things hangs in the balance."
"And that is?"
"A woman's happiness, mon ami," he said gravely.
I did not quite know what to say.
"The moment has come," said Poirot thoughtfully, "and I do not know what to do. For, see you, it is a big stake for which I play. No one but I, Hercule Poirot, would attempt it!" And he tapped himself proudly on the breast.
After pausing a few minutes respectfully, so as not to spoil his effect, I gave him Lawrence's message.
"Aha!" he cried. "So he has found the extra coffee-cup. That is good. He has more intelligence than would appear, this long-faced Monsieur Lawrence of yours!"
I did not myself think very highly of Lawrence's intelligence; but I forebore to contradict Poirot, and gently took him to task for forgetting my instructions as to which were Cynthia's days off.
"It is true. I have the head of a sieve. However, the other young lady was most kind. She was sorry for my disappointment, and showed me everything in the kindest way."
"Oh, well, that's all right, then, and you must go to tea with Cynthia another day."
I told him about the letter.
"I am sorry for that," he said. "I always had hopes of that letter. But no, it was not to be. This affair must all be unravelled from within." He tapped his forehead. "These little grey cells. It is 'up to them'—as you say over here." Then, suddenly, he asked: "Are you a judge of finger-marks, my friend?"
"No," I said, rather surprised, "I know that there are no two finger-marks alike, but that's as far as my science goes."
He unlocked a little drawer, and took out some photographs which he laid on the table.
"I have numbered them, 1, 2, 3. Will you describe them to me?"
I studied the proofs attentively.
"All greatly magnified, I see. No. 1, I should say, are a man's finger-prints; thumb and first finger. No. 2 are a lady's; they are much smaller, and quite different in every way. No. 3"—I paused for some time—"there seem to be a lot of confused finger-marks, but here, very distinctly, are No. 1's."
"Overlapping the others?"
"You recognize them beyond fail?"
"Oh, yes; they are identical."
Poirot nodded, and gently taking the photographs from me locked them up again.
"I suppose," I said, "that as usual, you are not going to explain?"
"On the contrary. No. 1 were the finger-prints of Monsieur Lawrence. No. 2 were those of Mademoiselle Cynthia. They are not important. I merely obtained them for comparison. No. 3 is a little more complicated."
"It is, as you see, highly magnified. You may have noticed a sort of blur extending all across the picture. I will not describe to you the special apparatus, dusting powder, etc., which I used. It is a well-known process to the police, and by means of it you can obtain a photograph of the finger-prints of any object in a very short space of time. Well, my friend, you have seen the finger-marks—it remains to tell you the particular object on which they had been left."
"Go on—I am really excited."
"Eh bien! Photo No. 3 represents the highly magnified surface of a tiny bottle in the top poison cupboard of the dispensary in the Red Cross Hospital at Tadminster—which sounds like the house that Jack built!"
"Good heavens!" I exclaimed. "But what were Lawrence Cavendish's finger-marks doing on it? He never went near the poison cupboard the day we were there!"
"Oh, yes, he did!"
"Impossible! We were all together the whole time."
Poirot shook his head.
"No, my friend, there was a moment when you were not all together. There was a moment when you could not have been all together, or it would not have been necessary to call to Monsieur Lawrence to come and join you on the balcony."
"I'd forgotten that," I admitted. "But it was only for a moment."
"Long enough for what?"
Poirot's smile became rather enigmatical.
"Long enough for a gentleman who had once studied medicine to gratify a very natural interest and curiosity."
Our eyes met. Poirot's were pleasantly vague. He got up and hummed a little tune. I watched him suspiciously.
"Poirot," I said, "what was in this particular little bottle?"
Poirot looked out of the window.
"Hydro-chloride of strychnine," he said, over his shoulder, continuing to hum.
"Good heavens!" I said it quite quietly. I was not surprised. I had expected that answer.
"They use the pure hydro-chloride of strychnine very little—only occasionally for pills. It is the official solution, Liq. Strychnine Hydro-clor. that is used in most medicines. That is why the finger-marks have remained undisturbed since then."
"How did you manage to take this photograph?"
"I dropped my hat from the balcony," explained Poirot simply. "Visitors were not permitted below at that hour, so, in spite of my many apologies, Mademoiselle Cynthia's colleague had to go down and fetch it for me."
"Then you knew what you were going to find?"
"No, not at all. I merely realized that it was possible, from your story, for Monsieur Lawrence to go to the poison cupboard. The possibility had to be confirmed, or eliminated."
"Poirot," I said, "your gaiety does not deceive me. This is a very important discovery."
"I do not know," said Poirot. "But one thing does strike me. No doubt it has struck you too."
"What is that?"
"Why, that there is altogether too much strychnine about this case. This is the third time we run up against it. There was strychnine in Mrs. Inglethorp's tonic. There is the strychnine sold across the counter at Styles St. Mary by Mace. Now we have more strychnine, handled by one of the household. It is confusing; and, as you know, I do not like confusion."
Before I could reply, one of the other Belgians opened the door and stuck his head in.
"There is a lady below, asking for Mr Hastings."
I jumped up. Poirot followed me down the narrow stairs. Mary Cavendish was standing in the doorway.
"I have been visiting an old woman in the village," she explained, "and as Lawrence told me you were with Monsieur Poirot I thought I would call for you."
"Alas, madame," said Poirot, "I thought you had come to honour me with a visit!"
"I will some day, if you ask me," she promised him, smiling.
"That is well. If you should need a father confessor, madame" —she started ever so slightly—"remember, Papa Poirot is always at your service."
She stared at him for a few minutes, as though seeking to read some deeper meaning into his words. Then she turned abruptly away.
"Come, will you not walk back with us too, Monsieur Poirot?"
All the way to Styles, Mary talked fast and feverishly. It struck me that in some way she was nervous of Poirot's eyes.
The weather had broken, and the sharp wind was almost autumnal in its shrewishness. Mary shivered a little, and buttoned her black sports coat closer. The wind through the trees made a mournful noise, like some great giant sighing.
We walked up to the great door of Styles, and at once the knowledge came to us that something was wrong.
Dorcas came running out to meet us. She was crying and wringing her hands. I was aware of other servants huddled together in the background, all eyes and ears.
"Oh, m'am! Oh, m'am! I don't know how to tell you—"
"What is it, Dorcas?" I asked impatiently. "Tell us at once."
"It's those wicked detectives. They've arrested him—they've arrested Mr. Cavendish!"
"Arrested Lawrence?" I gasped.
I saw a strange look come into Dorcas's eyes.
"No, sir. Not Mr. Lawrence—Mr. John."
Behind me, with a wild cry, Mary Cavendish fell heavily against me, and as I turned to catch her I met the quiet triumph in Poirot's eyes.
CHAPTER XI. THE CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION
The trial of John Cavendish for the murder of his stepmother took place two months later.
Of the intervening weeks I will say little, but my admiration and sympathy went out unfeignedly to Mary Cavendish. She ranged herself passionately on her husband's side, scorning the mere idea of his guilt, and fought for him tooth and nail.
I expressed my admiration to Poirot, and he nodded thoughtfully.
"Yes, she is of those women who show at their best in adversity. It brings out all that is sweetest and truest in them. Her pride and her jealousy have—"
"Jealousy?" I queried.
"Yes. Have you not realized that she is an unusually jealous woman? As I was saying, her pride and jealousy have been laid aside. She thinks of nothing but her husband, and the terrible fate that is hanging over him."
He spoke very feelingly, and I looked at him earnestly, remembering that last afternoon, when he had been deliberating whether or not to speak. With his tenderness for "a woman's happiness," I felt glad that the decision had been taken out of his hands.
"Even now," I said, "I can hardly believe it. You see, up to the very last minute, I thought it was Lawrence!"
"I know you did."
"But John! My old friend John!"
"Every murderer is probably somebody's old friend," observed Poirot philosophically. "You cannot mix up sentiment and reason."
"I must say I think you might have given me a hint."
"Perhaps, mon ami, I did not do so, just because he was your old friend."
I was rather disconcerted by this, remembering how I had busily passed on to John what I believed to be Poirot's views concerning Bauerstein. He, by the way, had been acquitted of the charge brought against him. Nevertheless, although he had been too clever for them this time, and the charge of espionage could not be brought home to him, his wings were pretty well clipped for the future.
I asked Poirot whether he thought John would be condemned. To my intense surprise, he replied that, on the contrary, he was extremely likely to be acquitted.
"But, Poirot—" I protested.
"Oh, my friend, have I not said to you all along that I have no proofs. It is one thing to know that a man is guilty, it is quite another matter to prove him so. And, in this case, there is terribly little evidence. That is the whole trouble. I, Hercule Poirot, know, but I lack the last link in my chain. And unless I can find that missing link—" He shook his head gravely.
"When did you first suspect John Cavendish?" I asked, after a minute or two.
"Did you not suspect him at all?"
"Not after that fragment of conversation you overheard between Mrs. Cavendish and her mother-in-law, and her subsequent lack of frankness at the inquest?"
"Did you not put two and two together, and reflect that if it was not Alfred Inglethorp who was quarrelling with his wife—and you remember, he strenuously denied it at the inquest—it must be either Lawrence or John. Now, if it was Lawrence, Mary Cavendish's conduct was just as inexplicable. But if, on the other hand, it was John, the whole thing was explained quite naturally."
"So," I cried, a light breaking in upon me, "it was John who quarrelled with his mother that afternoon?"
"And you have known this all along?"
"Certainly. Mrs. Cavendish's behaviour could only be explained that way."
"And yet you say he may be acquitted?"
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
"Certainly I do. At the police court proceedings, we shall hear the case for the prosecution, but in all probability his solicitors will advise him to reserve his defence. That will be sprung upon us at the trial. And—ah, by the way, I have a word of caution to give you, my friend. I must not appear in the case."
"No. Officially, I have nothing to do with it. Until I have found that last link in my chain, I must remain behind the scenes. Mrs. Cavendish must think I am working for her husband, not against him."
"I say, that's playing it a bit low down," I protested.
"Not at all. We have to deal with a most clever and unscrupulous man, and we must use any means in our power—otherwise he will slip through our fingers. That is why I have been careful to remain in the background. All the discoveries have been made by Japp, and Japp will take all the credit. If I am called upon to give evidence at all"—he smiled broadly—"it will probably be as a witness for the defence."
I could hardly believe my ears.
"It is quite en regle," continued Poirot. "Strangely enough, I can give evidence that will demolish one contention of the prosecution."
"The one that relates to the destruction of the will. John Cavendish did not destroy that will."
Poirot was a true prophet. I will not go into the details of the police court proceedings, as it involves many tiresome repetitions. I will merely state baldly that John Cavendish reserved his defence, and was duly committed for trial.
September found us all in London. Mary took a house in Kensington, Poirot being included in the family party.
I myself had been given a job at the War Office, so was able to see them continually.
As the weeks went by, the state of Poirot's nerves grew worse and worse. That "last link" he talked about was still lacking. Privately, I hoped it might remain so, for what happiness could there be for Mary, if John were not acquitted?
On September 15th John Cavendish appeared in the dock at the Old Bailey, charged with "The Wilful Murder of Emily Agnes Inglethorp," and pleaded "Not Guilty."
Sir Ernest Heavywether, the famous K. C., had been engaged to defend him.
Mr. Philips, K. C., opened the case for the Crown.
The murder, he said, was a most premeditated and cold-blooded one. It was neither more nor less than the deliberate poisoning of a fond and trusting woman by the stepson to whom she had been more than a mother. Ever since his boyhood, she had supported him. He and his wife had lived at Styles Court in every luxury, surrounded by her care and attention. She had been their kind and generous benefactress.
He proposed to call witnesses to show how the prisoner, a profligate and spendthrift, had been at the end of his financial tether, and had also been carrying on an intrigue with a certain Mrs. Raikes, a neighbouring farmer's wife. This having come to his stepmother's ears, she taxed him with it on the afternoon before her death, and a quarrel ensued, part of which was overheard. On the previous day, the prisoner had purchased strychnine at the village chemist's shop, wearing a disguise by means of which he hoped to throw the onus of the crime upon another man—to wit, Mrs. Inglethorp's husband, of whom he had been bitterly jealous. Luckily for Mr. Inglethorp, he had been able to produce an unimpeachable alibi.
On the afternoon of July 17th, continued Counsel, immediately after the quarrel with her son, Mrs. Inglethorp made a new will. This will was found destroyed in the grate of her bedroom the following morning, but evidence had come to light which showed that it had been drawn up in favour of her husband. Deceased had already made a will in his favour before her marriage, but—and Mr. Philips wagged an expressive forefinger—the prisoner was not aware of that. What had induced the deceased to make a fresh will, with the old one still extant, he could not say. She was an old lady, and might possibly have forgotten the former one; or—this seemed to him more likely—she may have had an idea that it was revoked by her marriage, as there had been some conversation on the subject. Ladies were not always very well versed in legal knowledge. She had, about a year before, executed a will in favour of the prisoner. He would call evidence to show that it was the prisoner who ultimately handed his stepmother her coffee on the fatal night. Later in the evening, he had sought admission to her room, on which occasion, no doubt, he found an opportunity of destroying the will which, as far as he knew, would render the one in his favour valid.
The prisoner had been arrested in consequence of the discovery, in his room, by Detective Inspector Japp—a most brilliant officer—of the identical phial of strychnine which had been sold at the village chemist's to the supposed Mr. Inglethorp on the day before the murder. It would be for the jury to decide whether or not these damning facts constituted an overwhelming proof of the prisoner's guilt.
And, subtly implying that a jury which did not so decide, was quite unthinkable, Mr. Philips sat down and wiped his forehead.
The first witnesses for the prosecution were mostly those who had been called at the inquest, the medical evidence being again taken first.
Sir Ernest Heavywether, who was famous all over England for the unscrupulous manner in which he bullied witnesses, only asked two questions.
"I take it, Dr. Bauerstein, that strychnine, as a drug, acts quickly?"
"And that you are unable to account for the delay in this case?"
Mr. Mace identified the phial handed him by Counsel as that sold by him to "Mr. Inglethorp." Pressed, he admitted that he only knew Mr. Inglethorp by sight. He had never spoken to him. The witness was not cross-examined.
Alfred Inglethorp was called, and denied having purchased the poison. He also denied having quarrelled with his wife. Various witnesses testified to the accuracy of these statements.
The gardeners' evidence, as to the witnessing of the will was taken, and then Dorcas was called.
Dorcas, faithful to her "young gentlemen," denied strenuously that it could have been John's voice she heard, and resolutely declared, in the teeth of everything, that it was Mr. Inglethorp who had been in the boudoir with her mistress. A rather wistful smile passed across the face of the prisoner in the dock. He knew only too well how useless her gallant defiance was, since it was not the object of the defence to deny this point. Mrs. Cavendish, of course, could not be called upon to give evidence against her husband.
After various questions on other matters, Mr. Philips asked:
"In the month of June last, do you remember a parcel arriving for Mr. Lawrence Cavendish from Parkson's?"
Dorcas shook her head.
"I don't remember, sir. It may have done, but Mr. Lawrence was away from home part of June."
"In the event of a parcel arriving for him whilst he was away, what would be done with it?"
"It would either be put in his room or sent on after him."
"No, sir, I should leave it on the hall table. It would be Miss Howard who would attend to anything like that."
Evelyn Howard was called and, after being examined on other points, was questioned as to the parcel.
"Don't remember. Lots of parcels come. Can't remember one special one."
"You do not know if it was sent after Mr. Lawrence Cavendish to Wales, or whether it was put in his room?"
"Don't think it was sent after him. Should have remembered it if it was."
"Supposing a parcel arrived addressed to Mr. Lawrence Cavendish, and afterwards it disappeared, should you remark its absence?"
"No, don't think so. I should think some one had taken charge of it."
"I believe, Miss Howard, that it was you who found this sheet of brown paper?" He held up the same dusty piece which Poirot and I had examined in the morning-room at Styles.
"Yes, I did."
"How did you come to look for it?"
"The Belgian detective who was employed on the case asked me to search for it."
"Where did you eventually discover it?"
"On the top of—of—a wardrobe."
"On top of the prisoner's wardrobe?"
"I—I believe so."
"Did you not find it yourself?"
"Then you must know where you found it?"
"Yes, it was on the prisoner's wardrobe."