The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Part 1 out of 5
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THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES
I. I GO TO STYLES
II. THE 16TH AND 17TH OF JULY
III. THE NIGHT OF THE TRAGEDY
IV. POIROT INVESTIGATES
V. "IT ISN'T STRYCHNINE, IS IT?"
VI. THE INQUEST
VII. POIROT PAYS HIS DEBTS
VIII. FRESH SUSPICIONS
IX. DR. BAUERSTEIN
X. THE ARREST
XI. THE CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION
XII. THE LAST LINK
XIII. POIROT EXPLAINS
I GO TO STYLES
The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at
the time as "The Styles Case" has now somewhat subsided.
Nevertheless, in view of the world-wide notoriety which attended
it, I have been asked, both by my friend Poirot and the family
themselves, to write an account of the whole story. This, we
trust, will effectually silence the sensational rumours which
I will therefore briefly set down the circumstances which led to
my being connected with the affair.
I had been invalided home from the Front; and, after spending
some months in a rather depressing Convalescent Home, was given a
month's sick leave. Having no near relations or friends, I was
trying to make up my mind what to do, when I ran across John
Cavendish. I had seen very little of him for some years.
Indeed, I had never known him particularly well. He was a good
fifteen years my senior, for one thing, though he hardly looked
his forty-five years. As a boy, though, I had often stayed at
Styles, his mother's place in Essex.
We had a good yarn about old times, and it ended in his inviting
me down to Styles to spend my leave there.
"The mater will be delighted to see you again--after all those
years," he added.
"Your mother keeps well?" I asked.
"Oh, yes. I suppose you know that she has married again?"
I am afraid I showed my surprise rather plainly. Mrs. Cavendish,
who had married John's father when he was a widower with two
sons, had been a handsome woman of middle-age as I remembered
her. She certainly could not be a day less than seventy now. I
recalled her as an energetic, autocratic personality, somewhat
inclined to charitable and social notoriety, with a fondness for
opening bazaars and playing the Lady Bountiful. She was a most
generous woman, and possessed a considerable fortune of her own.
Their country-place, Styles Court, had been purchased by Mr.
Cavendish early in their married life. He had been completely
under his wife's ascendancy, so much so that, on dying, he left
the place to her for her lifetime, as well as the larger part of
his income; an arrangement that was distinctly unfair to his two
sons. Their step-mother, however, had always been most generous
to them; indeed, they were so young at the time of their father's
remarriage that they always thought of her as their own mother.
Lawrence, the younger, had been a delicate youth. He had
qualified as a doctor but early relinquished the profession of
medicine, and lived at home while pursuing literary ambitions;
though his verses never had any marked success.
John practiced for some time as a barrister, but had finally
settled down to the more congenial life of a country squire. He
had married two years ago, and had taken his wife to live at
Styles, though I entertained a shrewd suspicion that he would
have preferred his mother to increase his allowance, which would
have enabled him to have a home of his own. Mrs. Cavendish,
however, was a lady who liked to make her own plans, and expected
other people to fall in with them, and in this case she certainly
had the whip hand, namely: the purse strings.
John noticed my surprise at the news of his mother's remarriage
and smiled rather ruefully.
"Rotten little bounder too!" he said savagely. "I can tell you,
Hastings, it's making life jolly difficult for us. As for
Evie--you remember Evie?"
"Oh, I suppose she was after your time. She's the mater's
factotum, companion, Jack of all trades! A great sport--old Evie!
Not precisely young and beautiful, but as game as they make
"You were going to say----?"
"Oh, this fellow! He turned up from nowhere, on the pretext of
being a second cousin or something of Evie's, though she didn't
seem particularly keen to acknowledge the relationship. The
fellow is an absolute outsider, anyone can see that. He's got a
great black beard, and wears patent leather boots in all
weathers! But the mater cottoned to him at once, took him on as
secretary--you know how she's always running a hundred
"Well, of course the war has turned the hundreds into thousands.
No doubt the fellow was very useful to her. But you could have
knocked us all down with a feather when, three months ago, she
suddenly announced that she and Alfred were engaged! The fellow
must be at least twenty years younger than she is! It's simply
bare-faced fortune hunting; but there you are--she is her own
mistress, and she's married him."
"It must be a difficult situation for you all."
"Difficult! It's damnable!"
Thus it came about that, three days later, I descended from the
train at Styles St. Mary, an absurd little station, with no
apparent reason for existence, perched up in the midst of green
fields and country lanes. John Cavendish was waiting on the
platform, and piloted me out to the car.
"Got a drop or two of petrol still, you see," he remarked.
"Mainly owing to the mater's activities."
The village of Styles St. Mary was situated about two miles from
the little station, and Styles Court lay a mile the other side of
it. It was a still, warm day in early July. As one looked out
over the flat Essex country, lying so green and peaceful under
the afternoon sun, it seemed almost impossible to believe that,
not so very far away, a great war was running its appointed
course. I felt I had suddenly strayed into another world. As we
turned in at the lodge gates, John said:
"I'm afraid you'll find it very quiet down here, Hastings."
"My dear fellow, that's just what I want."
"Oh, it's pleasant enough if you want to lead the idle life. I
drill with the volunteers twice a week, and lend a hand at the
farms. My wife works regularly 'on the land'. She is up at five
every morning to milk, and keeps at it steadily until lunchtime.
It's a jolly good life taking it all round--if it weren't for
that fellow Alfred Inglethorp!" He checked the car suddenly, and
glanced at his watch. "I wonder if we've time to pick up
Cynthia. No, she'll have started from the hospital by now."
"Cynthia! That's not your wife?"
"No, Cynthia is a protegee of my mother's, the daughter of an old
schoolfellow of hers, who married a rascally solicitor. He came
a cropper, and the girl was left an orphan and penniless. My
mother came to the rescue, and Cynthia has been with us nearly
two years now. She works in the Red Cross Hospital at
Tadminster, seven miles away."
As he spoke the last words, we drew up in front of the fine old
house. A lady in a stout tweed skirt, who was bending over a
flower bed, straightened herself at our approach.
"Hullo, Evie, here's our wounded hero! Mr. Hastings--Miss
Miss Howard shook hands with a hearty, almost painful, grip. I
had an impression of very blue eyes in a sunburnt face. She was
a pleasant-looking woman of about forty, with a deep voice,
almost manly in its stentorian tones, and had a large sensible
square body, with feet to match--these last encased in good thick
boots. Her conversation, I soon found, was couched in the
"Weeds grow like house afire. Can't keep even with 'em. Shall
press you in. Better be careful."
"I'm sure I shall be only too delighted to make myself useful," I
"Don't say it. Never does. Wish you hadn't later."
"You're a cynic, Evie," said John, laughing. "Where's tea
to-day--inside or out?"
"Out. Too fine a day to be cooped up in the house."
"Come on then, you've done enough gardening for to-day. 'The
labourer is worthy of his hire', you know. Come and be
"Well," said Miss Howard, drawing off her gardening gloves, "I'm
inclined to agree with you."
She led the way round the house to where tea was spread under the
shade of a large sycamore.
A figure rose from one of the basket chairs, and came a few steps
to meet us.
"My wife, Hastings," said John.
I shall never forget my first sight of Mary Cavendish. Her tall,
slender form, outlined against the bright light; the vivid sense
of slumbering fire that seemed to find expression only in those
wonderful tawny eyes of hers, remarkable eyes, different from any
other woman's that I have ever known; the intense power of
stillness she possessed, which nevertheless conveyed the
impression of a wild untamed spirit in an exquisitely civilised
body--all these things are burnt into my memory. I shall never
She greeted me with a few words of pleasant welcome in a low
clear voice, and I sank into a basket chair feeling distinctly
glad that I had accepted John's invitation. Mrs. Cavendish gave
me some tea, and her few quiet remarks heightened my first
impression of her as a thoroughly fascinating woman. An
appreciative listener is always stimulating, and I described, in
a humorous manner, certain incidents of my Convalescent Home, in
a way which, I flatter myself, greatly amused my hostess. John,
of course, good fellow though he is, could hardly be called a
At that moment a well remembered voice floated through the open
French window near at hand:
"Then you'll write to the Princess after tea, Alfred? I'll write
to Lady Tadminster for the second day, myself. Or shall we wait
until we hear from the Princess? In case of a refusal, Lady
Tadminster might open it the first day, and Mrs. Crosbie the
second. Then there's the Duchess--about the school fete."
There was the murmur of a man's voice, and then Mrs. Inglethorp's
rose in reply:
"Yes, certainly. After tea will do quite well. You are so
thoughtful, Alfred dear."
The French window swung open a little wider, and a handsome
white-haired old lady, with a somewhat masterful cast of
features, stepped out of it on to the lawn. A man followed her,
a suggestion of deference in his manner.
Mrs. Inglethorp greeted me with effusion.
"Why, if it isn't too delightful to see you again, Mr. Hastings,
after all these years. Alfred, darling, Mr. Hastings--my
I looked with some curiosity at "Alfred darling". He certainly
struck a rather alien note. I did not wonder at John objecting
to his beard. It was one of the longest and blackest I have ever
seen. He wore gold-rimmed pince-nez, and had a curious
impassivity of feature. It struck me that he might look natural
on a stage, but was strangely out of place in real life. His
voice was rather deep and unctuous. He placed a wooden hand in
mine and said:
"This is a pleasure, Mr. Hastings." Then, turning to his wife:
"Emily dearest, I think that cushion is a little damp."
She beamed fondly on him, as he substituted another with every
demonstration of the tenderest care. Strange infatuation of an
otherwise sensible woman!
With the presence of Mr. Inglethorp, a sense of constraint and
veiled hostility seemed to settle down upon the company. Miss
Howard, in particular, took no pains to conceal her feelings.
Mrs. Inglethorp, however, seemed to notice nothing unusual. Her
volubility, which I remembered of old, had lost nothing in the
intervening years, and she poured out a steady flood of
conversation, mainly on the subject of the forthcoming bazaar
which she was organizing and which was to take place shortly.
Occasionally she referred to her husband over a question of days
or dates. His watchful and attentive manner never varied. From
the very first I took a firm and rooted dislike to him, and I
flatter myself that my first judgments are usually fairly shrewd.
Presently Mrs. Inglethorp turned to give some instructions about
letters to Evelyn Howard, and her husband addressed me in his
"Is soldiering your regular profession, Mr. Hastings?"
"No, before the war I was in Lloyd's."
"And you will return there after it is over?"
"Perhaps. Either that or a fresh start altogether."
Mary Cavendish leant forward.
"What would you really choose as a profession, if you could just
consult your inclination?"
"Well, that depends."
"No secret hobby?" she asked. "Tell me--you're drawn to
something? Every one is--usually something absurd."
"You'll laugh at me."
"Well, I've always had a secret hankering to be a detective!"
"The real thing--Scotland Yard? Or Sherlock Holmes?"
"Oh, Sherlock Holmes by all means. But really, seriously, I am
awfully drawn to it. I came across a man in Belgium once, a very
famous detective, and he quite inflamed me. He was a marvellous
little fellow. He used to say that all good detective work was a
mere matter of method. My system is based on his--though of
course I have progressed rather further. He was a funny little
man, a great dandy, but wonderfully clever."
"Like a good detective story myself," remarked Miss Howard.
"Lots of nonsense written, though. Criminal discovered in last
chapter. Every one dumbfounded. Real crime--you'd know at
"There have been a great number of undiscovered crimes," I
"Don't mean the police, but the people that are right in it. The
family. You couldn't really hoodwink them. They'd know."
"Then," I said, much amused, "you think that if you were mixed up
in a crime, say a murder, you'd be able to spot the murderer
"Of course I should. Mightn't be able to prove it to a pack of
lawyers. But I'm certain I'd know. I'd feel it in my fingertips
if he came near me."
"It might be a 'she,' " I suggested.
"Might. But murder's a violent crime. Associate it more with a
"Not in a case of poisoning." Mrs. Cavendish's clear voice
startled me. "Dr. Bauerstein was saying yesterday that, owing to
the general ignorance of the more uncommon poisons among the
medical profession, there were probably countless cases of
poisoning quite unsuspected."
"Why, Mary, what a gruesome conversation!" cried Mrs. Inglethorp.
"It makes me feel as if a goose were walking over my grave. Oh,
A young girl in V. A. D. uniform ran lightly across the lawn.
"Why, Cynthia, you are late to-day. This is Mr. Hastings--Miss
Cynthia Murdoch was a fresh-looking young creature, full of life
and vigour. She tossed off her little V. A. D. cap, and I
admired the great loose waves of her auburn hair, and the
smallness and whiteness of the hand she held out to claim her
tea. With dark eyes and eyelashes she would have been a beauty.
She flung herself down on the ground beside John, and as I handed
her a plate of sandwiches she smiled up at me.
"Sit down here on the grass, do. It's ever so much nicer."
I dropped down obediently.
"You work at Tadminster, don't you, Miss Murdoch?"
"For my sins."
"Do they bully you, then?" I asked, smiling.
"I should like to see them!" cried Cynthia with dignity.
"I have got a cousin who is nursing," I remarked. "And she is
terrified of 'Sisters'."
"I don't wonder. Sisters _are_, you know, Mr. Hastings. They
simp--ly _are_! You've no idea! But I'm not a nurse, thank heaven,
I work in the dispensary."
"How many people do you poison?" I asked, smiling.
Cynthia smiled too.
"Oh, hundreds!" she said.
"Cynthia," called Mrs. Inglethorp, "do you think you could write
a few notes for me?"
"Certainly, Aunt Emily."
She jumped up promptly, and something in her manner reminded me
that her position was a dependent one, and that Mrs. Inglethorp,
kind as she might be in the main, did not allow her to forget it.
My hostess turned to me.
"John will show you your room. Supper is at half-past seven. We
have given up late dinner for some time now. Lady Tadminster,
our Member's wife--she was the late Lord Abbotsbury's
daughter--does the same. She agrees with me that one must set an
example of economy. We are quite a war household; nothing is
wasted here--every scrap of waste paper, even, is saved and sent
away in sacks."
I expressed my appreciation, and John took me into the house and
up the broad staircase, which forked right and left half-way to
different wings of the building. My room was in the left wing,
and looked out over the park.
John left me, and a few minutes later I saw him from my window
walking slowly across the grass arm in arm with Cynthia Murdoch.
I heard Mrs. Inglethorp call "Cynthia" impatiently, and the girl
started and ran back to the house. At the same moment, a man
stepped out from the shadow of a tree and walked slowly in the
same direction. He looked about forty, very dark with a
melancholy clean-shaven face. Some violent emotion seemed to be
mastering him. He looked up at my window as he passed, and I
recognized him, though he had changed much in the fifteen years
that had elapsed since we last met. It was John's younger
brother, Lawrence Cavendish. I wondered what it was that had
brought that singular expression to his face.
Then I dismissed him from my mind, and returned to the
contemplation of my own affairs.
The evening passed pleasantly enough; and I dreamed that night of
that enigmatical woman, Mary Cavendish.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny, and I was full of the
anticipation of a delightful visit.
I did not see Mrs. Cavendish until lunch-time, when she
volunteered to take me for a walk, and we spent a charming
afternoon roaming in the woods, returning to the house about
As we entered the large hall, John beckoned us both into the
smoking-room. I saw at once by his face that something
disturbing had occurred. We followed him in, and he shut the
door after us.
"Look here, Mary, there's the deuce of a mess. Evie's had a row
with Alfred Inglethorp, and she's off."
John nodded gloomily.
"Yes; you see she went to the mater, and--Oh, here's Evie
Miss Howard entered. Her lips were set grimly together, and she
carried a small suit-case. She looked excited and determined,
and slightly on the defensive.
"At any rate," she burst out, "I've spoken my mind!"
"My dear Evelyn," cried Mrs. Cavendish, "this can't be true!"
Miss Howard nodded grimly.
"True enough! Afraid I said some things to Emily she won't forget
or forgive in a hurry. Don't mind if they've only sunk in a bit.
Probably water off a duck's back, though. I said right out:
'You're an old woman, Emily, and there's no fool like an old
fool. The man's twenty years younger than you, and don't you
fool yourself as to what he married you for. Money! Well, don't
let him have too much of it. Farmer Raikes has got a very pretty
young wife. Just ask your Alfred how much time he spends over
there.' She was very angry. Natural! I went on, 'I'm going to
warn you, whether you like it or not. That man would as soon
murder you in your bed as look at you. He's a bad lot. You can
say what you like to me, but remember what I've told you. He's a
bad lot!' "
"What did she say?"
Miss Howard made an extremely expressive grimace.
" 'Darling Alfred'--'dearest Alfred'--'wicked calumnies'
--'wicked lies'--'wicked woman'--to accuse her 'dear husband'!
The sooner I left her house the better. So I'm off."
"But not now?"
For a moment we sat and stared at her. Finally John Cavendish,
finding his persuasions of no avail, went off to look up the
trains. His wife followed him, murmuring something about
persuading Mrs. Inglethorp to think better of it.
As she left the room, Miss Howard's face changed. She leant
towards me eagerly.
"Mr. Hastings, you're honest. I can trust you?"
I was a little startled. She laid her hand on my arm, and sank
her voice to a whisper.
"Look after her, Mr. Hastings. My poor Emily. They're a lot of
sharks--all of them. Oh, I know what I'm talking about. There
isn't one of them that's not hard up and trying to get money out
of her. I've protected her as much as I could. Now I'm out of
the way, they'll impose upon her."
"Of course, Miss Howard," I said, "I'll do everything I can, but
I'm sure you're excited and overwrought."
She interrupted me by slowly shaking her forefinger.
"Young man, trust me. I've lived in the world rather longer than
you have. All I ask you is to keep your eyes open. You'll see
what I mean."
The throb of the motor came through the open window, and Miss
Howard rose and moved to the door. John's voice sounded outside.
With her hand on the handle, she turned her head over her
shoulder, and beckoned to me.
"Above all, Mr. Hastings, watch that devil--her husband!"
There was no time for more. Miss Howard was swallowed up in an
eager chorus of protests and good-byes. The Inglethorps did not
As the motor drove away, Mrs. Cavendish suddenly detached herself
from the group, and moved across the drive to the lawn to meet a
tall bearded man who had been evidently making for the house.
The colour rose in her cheeks as she held out her hand to him.
"Who is that?" I asked sharply, for instinctively I distrusted
"That's Dr. Bauerstein," said John shortly.
"And who is Dr. Bauerstein?"
"He's staying in the village doing a rest cure, after a bad
nervous breakdown. He's a London specialist; a very clever
man--one of the greatest living experts on poisons, I believe."
"And he's a great friend of Mary's," put in Cynthia, the
John Cavendish frowned and changed the subject.
"Come for a stroll, Hastings. This has been a most rotten
business. She always had a rough tongue, but there is no
stauncher friend in England than Evelyn Howard."
He took the path through the plantation, and we walked down to
the village through the woods which bordered one side of the
As we passed through one of the gates on our way home again, a
pretty young woman of gipsy type coming in the opposite direction
bowed and smiled.
"That's a pretty girl," I remarked appreciatively.
John's face hardened.
"That is Mrs. Raikes."
"The one that Miss Howard----"
"Exactly," said John, with rather unnecessary abruptness.
I thought of the white-haired old lady in the big house, and that
vivid wicked little face that had just smiled into ours, and a
vague chill of foreboding crept over me. I brushed it aside.
"Styles is really a glorious old place," I said to John.
He nodded rather gloomily.
"Yes, it's a fine property. It'll be mine some day--should be
mine now by rights, if my father had only made a decent will.
And then I shouldn't be so damned hard up as I am now."
"Hard up, are you?"
"My dear Hastings, I don't mind telling you that I'm at my wit's
end for money."
"Couldn't your brother help you?"
"Lawrence? He's gone through every penny he ever had, publishing
rotten verses in fancy bindings. No, we're an impecunious lot.
My mother's always been awfully good to us, I must say. That is,
up to now. Since her marriage, of course----" he broke off,
For the first time I felt that, with Evelyn Howard, something
indefinable had gone from the atmosphere. Her presence had spelt
security. Now that security was removed--and the air seemed rife
with suspicion. The sinister face of Dr. Bauerstein recurred to
me unpleasantly. A vague suspicion of every one and everything
filled my mind. Just for a moment I had a premonition of
THE 16TH AND 17TH OF JULY
I had arrived at Styles on the 5th of July. I come now to the
events of the 16th and 17th of that month. For the convenience
of the reader I will recapitulate the incidents of those days in
as exact a manner as possible. They were elicited subsequently
at the trial by a process of long and tedious cross-examinations.
I received a letter from Evelyn Howard a couple of days after her
departure, telling me she was working as a nurse at the big
hospital in Middlingham, a manufacturing town some fifteen miles
away, and begging me to let her know if Mrs. Inglethorp should
show any wish to be reconciled.
The only fly in the ointment of my peaceful days was Mrs.
Cavendish's extraordinary, and, for my part, unaccountable
preference for the society of Dr. Bauerstein. What she saw in
the man I cannot imagine, but she was always asking him up to the
house, and often went off for long expeditions with him. I must
confess that I was quite unable to see his attraction.
The 16th of July fell on a Monday. It was a day of turmoil. The
famous bazaar had taken place on Saturday, and an entertainment,
in connection with the same charity, at which Mrs. Inglethorp was
to recite a War poem, was to be held that night. We were all
busy during the morning arranging and decorating the Hall in the
village where it was to take place. We had a late luncheon and
spent the afternoon resting in the garden. I noticed that John's
manner was somewhat unusual. He seemed very excited and
After tea, Mrs. Inglethorp went to lie down to rest before her
efforts in the evening and I challenged Mary Cavendish to a
single at tennis.
About a quarter to seven, Mrs. Inglethorp called us that we
should be late as supper was early that night. We had rather a
scramble to get ready in time; and before the meal was over the
motor was waiting at the door.
The entertainment was a great success, Mrs. Inglethorp's
recitation receiving tremendous applause. There were also some
tableaux in which Cynthia took part. She did not return with us,
having been asked to a supper party, and to remain the night with
some friends who had been acting with her in the tableaux.
The following morning, Mrs. Inglethorp stayed in bed to
breakfast, as she was rather overtired; but she appeared in her
briskest mood about 12.30, and swept Lawrence and myself off to a
"Such a charming invitation from Mrs. Rolleston. Lady
Tadminster's sister, you know. The Rollestons came over with the
Conqueror--one of our oldest families."
Mary had excused herself on the plea of an engagement with Dr.
We had a pleasant luncheon, and as we drove away Lawrence
suggested that we should return by Tadminster, which was barely a
mile out of our way, and pay a visit to Cynthia in her
dispensary. Mrs. Inglethorp replied that this was an excellent
idea, but as she had several letters to write she would drop us
there, and we could come back with Cynthia in the pony-trap.
We were detained under suspicion by the hospital porter, until
Cynthia appeared to vouch for us, looking very cool and sweet in
her long white overall. She took us up to her sanctum, and
introduced us to her fellow dispenser, a rather awe-inspiring
individual, whom Cynthia cheerily addressed as "Nibs."
"What a lot of bottles!" I exclaimed, as my eye travelled round
the small room. "Do you really know what's in them all?"
"Say something original," groaned Cynthia. "Every single person
who comes up here says that. We are really thinking of bestowing
a prize on the first individual who does _not_ say: 'What a lot of
bottles!' And I know the next thing you're going to say is: 'How
many people have you poisoned?' "
I pleaded guilty with a laugh.
"If you people only knew how fatally easy it is to poison some
one by mistake, you wouldn't joke about it. Come on, let's have
tea. We've got all sorts of secret stories in that cupboard.
No, Lawrence--that's the poison cupboard. The big
We had a very cheery tea, and assisted Cynthia to wash up
afterwards. We had just put away the last tea-spoon when a knock
came at the door. The countenances of Cynthia and Nibs were
suddenly petrified into a stern and forbidding expression.
"Come in," said Cynthia, in a sharp professional tone.
A young and rather scared looking nurse appeared with a bottle
which she proffered to Nibs, who waved her towards Cynthia with
the somewhat enigmatical remark:
"_I_'m not really here to-day."
Cynthia took the bottle and examined it with the severity of a
"This should have been sent up this morning."
"Sister is very sorry. She forgot."
"Sister should read the rules outside the door."
I gathered from the little nurse's expression that there was not
the least likelihood of her having the hardihood to retail this
message to the dreaded "Sister".
"So now it can't be done until to-morrow," finished Cynthia.
"Don't you think you could possibly let us have it to-night?"
"Well," said Cynthia graciously, "we are very busy, but if we
have time it shall be done."
The little nurse withdrew, and Cynthia promptly took a jar from
the shelf, refilled the bottle, and placed it on the table
outside the door.
"Discipline must be maintained?"
"Exactly. Come out on our little balcony. You can see all the
outside wards there."
I followed Cynthia and her friend and they pointed out the
different wards to me. Lawrence remained behind, but after a few
moments Cynthia called to him over her shoulder to come and join
us. Then she looked at her watch.
"Nothing more to do, Nibs?"
"All right. Then we can lock up and go."
I had seen Lawrence in quite a different light that afternoon.
Compared to John, he was an astoundingly difficult person to get
to know. He was the opposite of his brother in almost every
respect, being unusually shy and reserved. Yet he had a certain
charm of manner, and I fancied that, if one really knew him well,
one could have a deep affection for him. I had always fancied
that his manner to Cynthia was rather constrained, and that she
on her side was inclined to be shy of him. But they were both
gay enough this afternoon, and chatted together like a couple of
As we drove through the village, I remembered that I wanted some
stamps, so accordingly we pulled up at the post office.
As I came out again, I cannoned into a little man who was just
entering. I drew aside and apologised, when suddenly, with a
loud exclamation, he clasped me in his arms and kissed me warmly.
"Mon ami Hastings!" he cried. "It is indeed mon ami Hastings!"
"Poirot!" I exclaimed.
I turned to the pony-trap.
"This is a very pleasant meeting for me, Miss Cynthia. This is
my old friend, Monsieur Poirot, whom I have not seen for years."
"Oh, we know Monsieur Poirot," said Cynthia gaily. "But I had no
idea he was a friend of yours."
"Yes, indeed," said Poirot seriously. "I know Mademoiselle
Cynthia. It is by the charity of that good Mrs. Inglethorp that
I am here." Then, as I looked at him inquiringly: "Yes, my
friend, she had kindly extended hospitality to seven of my
countrypeople who, alas, are refugees from their native land. We
Belgians will always remember her with gratitude."
Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly
more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great
dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always
perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff
and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible.
I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a
bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandyfied little man who, I was
sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the
most celebrated members of the Belgian police. As a detective,
his flair had been extraordinary, and he had achieved triumphs by
unravelling some of the most baffling cases of the day.
He pointed out to me the little house inhabited by him and his
fellow Belgians, and I promised to go and see him at an early
date. Then he raised his hat with a flourish to Cynthia, and we
"He's a dear little man," said Cynthia. "I'd no idea you knew
"You've been entertaining a celebrity unawares," I replied.
And, for the rest of the way home, I recited to them the various
exploits and triumphs of Hercule Poirot.
We arrived back in a very cheerful mood. As we entered the hall,
Mrs. Inglethorp came out of her boudoir. She looked flushed and
"Oh, it's you," she said.
"Is there anything the matter, Aunt Emily?" asked Cynthia.
"Certainly not," said Mrs. Inglethorp sharply. "What should
there be?" Then catching sight of Dorcas, the parlourmaid, going
into the dining-room, she called to her to bring some stamps into
"Yes, m'm." The old servant hesitated, then added diffidently:
"Don't you think, m'm, you'd better get to bed? You're looking
"Perhaps you're right, Dorcas--yes--no--not now. I've some
letters I must finish by post-time. Have you lighted the fire in
my room as I told you?"
"Then I'll go to bed directly after supper."
She went into the boudoir again, and Cynthia stared after her.
"Goodness gracious! I wonder what's up?" she said to Lawrence.
He did not seem to have heard her, for without a word he turned
on his heel and went out of the house.
I suggested a quick game of tennis before supper and, Cynthia
agreeing, I ran upstairs to fetch my racquet.
Mrs. Cavendish was coming down the stairs. It may have been my
fancy, but she, too, was looking odd and disturbed.
"Had a good walk with Dr. Bauerstein?" I asked, trying to appear
as indifferent as I could.
"I didn't go," she replied abruptly. "Where is Mrs. Inglethorp?"
"In the boudoir."
Her hand clenched itself on the banisters, then she seemed to
nerve herself for some encounter, and went rapidly past me down
the stairs across the hall to the boudoir, the door of which she
shut behind her.
As I ran out to the tennis court a few moments later, I had to
pass the open boudoir window, and was unable to help overhearing
the following scrap of dialogue. Mary Cavendish was saying in
the voice of a woman desperately controlling herself:
"Then you won't show it to me?"
To which Mrs. Inglethorp replied:
"My dear Mary, it has nothing to do with that matter."
"Then show it to me."
"I tell you it is not what you imagine. It does not concern you
in the least."
To which Mary Cavendish replied, with a rising bitterness:
"Of course, I might have known you would shield him."
Cynthia was waiting for me, and greeted me eagerly with:
"I say! There's been the most awful row! I've got it all out of
"What kind of a row?"
"Between Aunt Emily and _him_. I do hope she's found him out at
"Was Dorcas there, then?"
"Of course not. She 'happened to be near the door'. It was a
real old bust-up. I do wish I knew what it was all about."
I thought of Mrs. Raikes's gipsy face, and Evelyn Howard's
warnings, but wisely decided to hold my peace, whilst Cynthia
exhausted every possible hypothesis, and cheerfully hoped, "Aunt
Emily will send him away, and will never speak to him again."
I was anxious to get hold of John, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Evidently something very momentous had occurred that afternoon.
I tried to forget the few words I had overheard; but, do what I
would, I could not dismiss them altogether from my mind. What
was Mary Cavendish's concern in the matter?
Mr. Inglethorp was in the drawing-room when I came down to
supper. His face was impassive as ever, and the strange
unreality of the man struck me afresh.
Mrs. Inglethorp came down last. She still looked agitated, and
during the meal there was a somewhat constrained silence.
Inglethorp was unusually quiet. As a rule, he surrounded his
wife with little attentions, placing a cushion at her back, and
altogether playing the part of the devoted husband. Immediately
after supper, Mrs. Inglethorp retired to her boudoir again.
"Send my coffee in here, Mary," she called. "I've just five
minutes to catch the post."
Cynthia and I went and sat by the open window in the
drawing-room. Mary Cavendish brought our coffee to us. She
"Do you young people want lights, or do you enjoy the twilight?"
she asked. "Will you take Mrs. Inglethorp her coffee, Cynthia? I
will pour it out."
"Do not trouble, Mary," said Inglethorp. "I will take it to
Emily." He poured it out, and went out of the room carrying it
Lawrence followed him, and Mrs. Cavendish sat down by us.
We three sat for some time in silence. It was a glorious night,
hot and still. Mrs. Cavendish fanned herself gently with a palm
"It's almost too hot," she murmured. "We shall have a
Alas, that these harmonious moments can never endure! My paradise
was rudely shattered by the sound of a well known, and heartily
disliked, voice in the hall.
"Dr. Bauerstein!" exclaimed Cynthia. "What a funny time to
I glanced jealously at Mary Cavendish, but she seemed quite
undisturbed, the delicate pallor of her cheeks did not vary.
In a few moments, Alfred Inglethorp had ushered the doctor in,
the latter laughing, and protesting that he was in no fit state
for a drawing-room. In truth, he presented a sorry spectacle,
being literally plastered with mud.
"What have you been doing, doctor?" cried Mrs. Cavendish.
"I must make my apologies," said the doctor. "I did not really
mean to come in, but Mr. Inglethorp insisted."
"Well, Bauerstein, you are in a plight," said John, strolling in
from the hall. "Have some coffee, and tell us what you have been
"Thank you, I will." He laughed rather ruefully, as he described
how he had discovered a very rare species of fern in an
inaccessible place, and in his efforts to obtain it had lost his
footing, and slipped ignominiously into a neighbouring pond.
"The sun soon dried me off," he added, "but I'm afraid my
appearance is very disreputable."
At this juncture, Mrs. Inglethorp called to Cynthia from the
hall, and the girl ran out.
"Just carry up my despatch-case, will you, dear? I'm going to
The door into the hall was a wide one. I had risen when Cynthia
did, John was close by me. There were therefore three witnesses
who could swear that Mrs. Inglethorp was carrying her coffee, as
yet untasted, in her hand.
My evening was utterly and entirely spoilt by the presence of Dr.
Bauerstein. It seemed to me the man would never go. He rose at
last, however, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
"I'll walk down to the village with you," said Mr. Inglethorp.
"I must see our agent over those estate accounts." He turned to
John. "No one need sit up. I will take the latch-key."
THE NIGHT OF THE TRAGEDY
To make this part of my story clear, I append the following plan
of the first floor of Styles. The servants' rooms are reached
through the door B. They have no communication with the right
wing, where the Inglethorps' rooms were situated.
It seemed to be the middle of the night when I was awakened by
Lawrence Cavendish. He had a candle in his hand, and the
agitation of his face told me at once that something was
"What's the matter?" I asked, sitting up in bed, and trying to
collect my scattered thoughts.
"We are afraid my mother is very ill. She seems to be having
some kind of fit. Unfortunately she has locked herself in."
"I'll come at once."
I sprang out of bed; and, pulling on a dressing-gown, followed
Lawrence along the passage and the gallery to the right wing of
John Cavendish joined us, and one or two of the servants were
standing round in a state of awe-stricken excitement. Lawrence
turned to his brother.
"What do you think we had better do?"
Never, I thought, had his indecision of character been more
John rattled the handle of Mrs. Inglethorp's door violently, but
with no effect. It was obviously locked or bolted on the inside.
The whole household was aroused by now. The most alarming sounds
were audible from the interior of the room. Clearly something
must be done.
"Try going through Mr. Inglethorp's room, sir," cried Dorcas.
"Oh, the poor mistress!"
Suddenly I realized that Alfred Inglethorp was not with us--that
he alone had given no sign of his presence. John opened the door
of his room. It was pitch dark, but Lawrence was following with
the candle, and by its feeble light we saw that the bed had not
been slept in, and that there was no sign of the room having been
We went straight to the connecting door. That, too, was locked
or bolted on the inside. What was to be done?
"Oh, dear, sir," cried Dorcas, wringing her hands, "what ever
shall we do?"
"We must try and break the door in, I suppose. It'll be a tough
job, though. Here, let one of the maids go down and wake Baily
and tell him to go for Dr. Wilkins at once. Now then, we'll have
a try at the door. Half a moment, though, isn't there a door
into Miss Cynthia's rooms?"
"Yes, sir, but that's always bolted. It's never been undone."
"Well, we might just see."
He ran rapidly down the corridor to Cynthia's room. Mary
Cavendish was there, shaking the girl--who must have been an
unusually sound sleeper--and trying to wake her.
In a moment or two he was back.
"No good. That's bolted too. We must break in the door. I
think this one is a shade less solid than the one in the
We strained and heaved together. The framework of the door was
solid, and for a long time it resisted our efforts, but at last
we felt it give beneath our weight, and finally, with a
resounding crash, it was burst open.
We stumbled in together, Lawrence still holding his candle. Mrs.
Inglethorp was lying on the bed, her whole form agitated by
violent convulsions, in one of which she must have overturned the
table beside her. As we entered, however, her limbs relaxed, and
she fell back upon the pillows.
John strode across the room, and lit the gas. Turning to Annie,
one of the housemaids, he sent her downstairs to the dining-room
for brandy. Then he went across to his mother whilst I unbolted
the door that gave on the corridor.
I turned to Lawrence, to suggest that I had better leave them now
that there was no further need of my services, but the words were
frozen on my lips. Never have I seen such a ghastly look on any
man's face. He was white as chalk, the candle he held in his
shaking hand was sputtering onto the carpet, and his eyes,
petrified with terror, or some such kindred emotion, stared
fixedly over my head at a point on the further wall. It was as
though he had seen something that turned him to stone. I
instinctively followed the direction of his eyes, but I could see
nothing unusual. The still feebly flickering ashes in the grate,
and the row of prim ornaments on the mantelpiece, were surely
The violence of Mrs. Inglethorp's attack seemed to be passing.
She was able to speak in short gasps.
"Better now--very sudden--stupid of me--to lock myself in."
A shadow fell on the bed and, looking up, I saw Mary Cavendish
standing near the door with her arm around Cynthia. She seemed
to be supporting the girl, who looked utterly dazed and unlike
herself. Her face was heavily flushed, and she yawned
"Poor Cynthia is quite frightened," said Mrs. Cavendish in a low
clear voice. She herself, I noticed, was dressed in her white
land smock. Then it must be later than I thought. I saw that a
faint streak of daylight was showing through the curtains of the
windows, and that the clock on the mantelpiece pointed to close
upon five o'clock.
A strangled cry from the bed startled me. A fresh access of pain
seized the unfortunate old lady. The convulsions were of a
violence terrible to behold. Everything was confusion. We
thronged round her, powerless to help or alleviate. A final
convulsion lifted her from the bed, until she appeared to rest
upon her head and her heels, with her body arched in an
extraordinary manner. In vain Mary and John tried to administer
more brandy. The moments flew. Again the body arched itself in
that peculiar fashion.
At that moment, Dr. Bauerstein pushed his way authoritatively
into the room. For one instant he stopped dead, staring at the
figure on the bed, and, at the same instant, Mrs. Inglethorp
cried out in a strangled voice, her eyes fixed on the doctor:
"Alfred--Alfred----" Then she fell back motionless on the
With a stride, the doctor reached the bed, and seizing her arms
worked them energetically, applying what I knew to be artificial
respiration. He issued a few short sharp orders to the servants.
An imperious wave of his hand drove us all to the door. We
watched him, fascinated, though I think we all knew in our hearts
that it was too late, and that nothing could be done now. I
could see by the expression on his face that he himself had
Finally he abandoned his task, shaking his head gravely. At that
moment, we heard footsteps outside, and Dr. Wilkins, Mrs.
Inglethorp's own doctor, a portly, fussy little man, came
In a few words Dr. Bauerstein explained how he had happened to be
passing the lodge gates as the car came out, and had run up to
the house as fast as he could, whilst the car went on to fetch
Dr. Wilkins. With a faint gesture of the hand, he indicated the
figure on the bed.
"Ve--ry sad. Ve--ry sad," murmured Dr. Wilkins. "Poor dear
lady. Always did far too much--far too much--against my advice.
I warned her. Her heart was far from strong. 'Take it easy,' I
said to her, 'Take--it--easy'. But no--her zeal for good works
was too great. Nature rebelled. Na--ture--re--belled."
Dr. Bauerstein, I noticed, was watching the local doctor
narrowly. He still kept his eyes fixed on him as he spoke.
"The convulsions were of a peculiar violence, Dr. Wilkins. I am
sorry you were not here in time to witness them. They were
quite--tetanic in character."
"Ah!" said Dr. Wilkins wisely.
"I should like to speak to you in private," said Dr. Bauerstein.
He turned to John. "You do not object?"
We all trooped out into the corridor, leaving the two doctors
alone, and I heard the key turned in the lock behind us.
We went slowly down the stairs. I was violently excited. I have
a certain talent for deduction, and Dr. Bauerstein's manner had
started a flock of wild surmises in my mind. Mary Cavendish laid
her hand upon my arm.
"What is it? Why did Dr. Bauerstein seem so--peculiar?"
I looked at her.
"Do you know what I think?"
"Listen!" I looked round, the others were out of earshot. I
lowered my voice to a whisper. "I believe she has been poisoned!
I'm certain Dr. Bauerstein suspects it."
"_What_?" She shrank against the wall, the pupils of her eyes
dilating wildly. Then, with a sudden cry that startled me, she
cried out: "No, no--not that--not that!" And breaking from me,
fled up the stairs. I followed her, afraid that she was going to
faint. I found her leaning against the bannisters, deadly pale.
She waved me away impatiently.
"No, no--leave me. I'd rather be alone. Let me just be quiet
for a minute or two. Go down to the others."
I obeyed her reluctantly. John and Lawrence were in the
dining-room. I joined them. We were all silent, but I suppose I
voiced the thoughts of us all when I at last broke it by saying:
"Where is Mr. Inglethorp?"
John shook his head.
"He's not in the house."
Our eyes met. Where _was_ Alfred Inglethorp? His absence was
strange and inexplicable. I remembered Mrs. Inglethorp's dying
words. What lay beneath them? What more could she have told us,
if she had had time?
At last we heard the doctors descending the stairs. Dr. Wilkins
was looking important and excited, and trying to conceal an
inward exultation under a manner of decorous calm. Dr.
Bauerstein remained in the background, his grave bearded face
unchanged. Dr. Wilkins was the spokesman for the two. He
addressed himself to John:
"Mr. Cavendish, I should like your consent to a postmortem."
"Is that necessary?" asked John gravely. A spasm of pain crossed
"Absolutely," said Dr. Bauerstein.
"You mean by that----?"
"That neither Dr. Wilkins nor myself could give a death
certificate under the circumstances."
John bent his head.
"In that case, I have no alternative but to agree."
"Thank you," said Dr. Wilkins briskly. "We propose that it
should take place to-morrow night--or rather to-night." And he
glanced at the daylight. "Under the circumstances, I am afraid
an inquest can hardly be avoided--these formalities are
necessary, but I beg that you won't distress yourselves."
There was a pause, and then Dr. Bauerstein drew two keys from his
pocket, and handed them to John.
"These are the keys of the two rooms. I have locked them and, in
my opinion, they would be better kept locked for the present."
The doctors then departed.
I had been turning over an idea in my head, and I felt that the
moment had now come to broach it. Yet I was a little chary of
doing so. John, I knew, had a horror of any kind of publicity,
and was an easygoing optimist, who preferred never to meet
trouble half-way. It might be difficult to convince him of the
soundness of my plan. Lawrence, on the other hand, being less
conventional, and having more imagination, I felt I might count
upon as an ally. There was no doubt that the moment had come for
me to take the lead.
"John," I said, "I am going to ask you something."
"You remember my speaking of my friend Poirot? The Belgian who is
here? He has been a most famous detective."
"I want you to let me call him in--to investigate this matter."
"What--now? Before the post-mortem?"
"Yes, time is an advantage if--if--there has been foul play."
"Rubbish!" cried Lawrence angrily. "In my opinion the whole
thing is a mare's nest of Bauerstein's! Wilkins hadn't an idea of
such a thing, until Bauerstein put it into his head. But, like
all specialists, Bauerstein's got a bee in his bonnet. Poisons
are his hobby, so of course he sees them everywhere."
I confess that I was surprised by Lawrence's attitude. He was so
seldom vehement about anything.
"I can't feel as you do, Lawrence," he said at last. "I'm
inclined to give Hastings a free hand, though I should prefer to
wait a bit. We don't want any unnecessary scandal."
"No, no," I cried eagerly, "you need have no fear of that.
Poirot is discretion itself."
"Very well, then, have it your own way. I leave it in your
hands. Though, if it is as we suspect, it seems a clear enough
case. God forgive me if I am wronging him!"
I looked at my watch. It was six o'clock. I determined to lose
Five minutes' delay, however, I allowed myself. I spent it in
ransacking the library until I discovered a medical book which
gave a description of strychnine poisoning.
The house which the Belgians occupied in the village was quite
close to the park gates. One could save time by taking a narrow
path through the long grass, which cut off the detours of the
winding drive. So I, accordingly, went that way. I had nearly
reached the lodge, when my attention was arrested by the running
figure of a man approaching me. It was Mr. Inglethorp. Where
had he been? How did he intend to explain his absence?
He accosted me eagerly.
"My God! This is terrible! My poor wife! I have only just heard."
"Where have you been?" I asked.
"Denby kept me late last night. It was one o'clock before we'd
finished. Then I found that I'd forgotten the latch-key after
all. I didn't want to arouse the household, so Denby gave me a
"How did you hear the news?" I asked.
"Wilkins knocked Denby up to tell him. My poor Emily! She was so
self-sacrificing--such a noble character. She over-taxed her
A wave of revulsion swept over me. What a consummate hypocrite
the man was!
"I must hurry on," I said, thankful that he did not ask me
whither I was bound.
In a few minutes I was knocking at the door of Leastways Cottage.
Getting no answer, I repeated my summons impatiently. A window
above me was cautiously opened, and Poirot himself looked out.
He gave an exclamation of surprise at seeing me. In a few brief
words, I explained the tragedy that had occurred, and that I
wanted his help.
"Wait, my friend, I will let you in, and you shall recount to me
the affair whilst I dress."
In a few moments he had unbarred the door, and I followed him up
to his room. There he installed me in a chair, and I related the
whole story, keeping back nothing, and omitting no circumstance,
however insignificant, whilst he himself made a careful and
I told him of my awakening, of Mrs. Inglethorp's dying words, of
her husband's absence, of the quarrel the day before, of the
scrap of conversation between Mary and her mother-in-law that I
had overheard, of the former quarrel between Mrs. Inglethorp and
Evelyn Howard, and of the latter's innuendoes.
I was hardly as clear as I could wish. I repeated myself several
times, and occasionally had to go back to some detail that I had
forgotten. Poirot smiled kindly on me.
"The mind is confused? Is it not so? Take time, mon ami. You are
agitated; you are excited--it is but natural. Presently, when we
are calmer, we will arrange the facts, neatly, each in his proper
place. We will examine--and reject. Those of importance we will
put on one side; those of no importance, pouf!"--he screwed up
his cherub-like face, and puffed comically enough--"blow them
"That's all very well," I objected, "but how are you going to
decide what is important, and what isn't? That always seems the
difficulty to me."
Poirot shook his head energetically. He was now arranging his
moustache with exquisite care.
"Not so. Voyons! One fact leads to another--so we continue.
Does the next fit in with that? A merveille! Good! We can
proceed. This next little fact--no! Ah, that is curious! There
is something missing--a link in the chain that is not there. We
examine. We search. And that little curious fact, that possibly
paltry little detail that will not tally, we put it here!" He
made an extravagant gesture with his hand. "It is significant!
It is tremendous!"
"Ah!" Poirot shook his forefinger so fiercely at me that I
quailed before it. "Beware! Peril to the detective who says: 'It
is so small--it does not matter. It will not agree. I will
forget it.' That way lies confusion! Everything matters."
"I know. You always told me that. That's why I have gone into
all the details of this thing whether they seemed to me relevant
"And I am pleased with you. You have a good memory, and you have
given me the facts faithfully. Of the order in which you present
them, I say nothing--truly, it is deplorable! But I make
allowances--you are upset. To that I attribute the circumstance
that you have omitted one fact of paramount importance."
"What is that?" I asked.
"You have not told me if Mrs. Inglethorp ate well last night."
I stared at him. Surely the war had affected the little man's
brain. He was carefully engaged in brushing his coat before
putting it on, and seemed wholly engrossed in the task.
"I don't remember," I said. "And, anyway, I don't see----"
"You do not see? But it is of the first importance."
"I can't see why," I said, rather nettled. "As far as I can
remember, she didn't eat much. She was obviously upset, and it
had taken her appetite away. That was only natural."
"Yes," said Poirot thoughtfully, "it was only natural."
He opened a drawer, and took out a small despatch-case, then
turned to me.
"Now I am ready. We will proceed to the chateau, and study
matters on the spot. Excuse me, mon ami, you dressed in haste,
and your tie is on one side. Permit me." With a deft gesture, he
"Ca y est! Now, shall we start?"
We hurried up the village, and turned in at the lodge gates.
Poirot stopped for a moment, and gazed sorrowfully over the
beautiful expanse of park, still glittering with morning dew.
"So beautiful, so beautiful, and yet, the poor family, plunged in
sorrow, prostrated with grief."
He looked at me keenly as he spoke, and I was aware that I
reddened under his prolonged gaze.
Was the family prostrated by grief? Was the sorrow at Mrs.
Inglethorp's death so great? I realized that there was an
emotional lack in the atmosphere. The dead woman had not the
gift of commanding love. Her death was a shock and a distress,
but she would not be passionately regretted.
Poirot seemed to follow my thoughts. He nodded his head gravely.
"No, you are right," he said, "it is not as though there was a
blood tie. She has been kind and generous to these Cavendishes,
but she was not their own mother. Blood tells--always remember
"Poirot," I said, "I wish you would tell me why you wanted to
know if Mrs. Inglethorp ate well last night? I have been turning
it over in my mind, but I can't see how it has anything to do
with the matter?"
He was silent for a minute or two as we walked along, but finally
"I do not mind telling you--though, as you know, it is not my
habit to explain until the end is reached. The present
contention is that Mrs. Inglethorp died of strychnine poisoning,
presumably administered in her coffee."
"Well, what time was the coffee served?"
"About eight o'clock."
"Therefore she drank it between then and half-past eight--
certainly not much later. Well, strychnine is a fairly rapid
poison. Its effects would be felt very soon, probably in about
an hour. Yet, in Mrs. Inglethorp's case, the symptoms do not
manifest themselves until five o'clock the next morning: nine
hours! But a heavy meal, taken at about the same time as the
poison, might retard its effects, though hardly to that extent.
Still, it is a possibility to be taken into account. But,
according to you, she ate very little for supper, and yet the
symptoms do not develop until early the next morning! Now that is
a curious circumstance, my friend. Something may arise at the
autopsy to explain it. In the meantime, remember it."
As we neared the house, John came out and met us. His face
looked weary and haggard.
"This is a very dreadful business, Monsieur Poirot," he said.
"Hastings has explained to you that we are anxious for no
"I comprehend perfectly."
"You see, it is only suspicion so far. We have nothing to go
"Precisely. It is a matter of precaution only."
John turned to me, taking out his cigarette-case, and lighting a
cigarette as he did so.
"You know that fellow Inglethorp is back?"
"Yes. I met him."
John flung the match into an adjacent flower bed, a proceeding
which was too much for Poirot's feelings. He retrieved it, and
buried it neatly.
"It's jolly difficult to know how to treat him."
"That difficulty will not exist long," pronounced Poirot quietly.
John looked puzzled, not quite understanding the portent of this
cryptic saying. He handed the two keys which Dr. Bauerstein had
given him to me.
"Show Monsieur Poirot everything he wants to see."
"The rooms are locked?" asked Poirot.
"Dr. Bauerstein considered it advisable."
Poirot nodded thoughtfully.
"Then he is very sure. Well, that simplifies matters for us."
We went up together to the room of the tragedy. For convenience
I append a plan of the room and the principal articles of
furniture in it.
Poirot locked the door on the inside, and proceeded to a minute
inspection of the room. He darted from one object to the other
with the agility of a grasshopper. I remained by the door,
fearing to obliterate any clues. Poirot, however, did not seem
grateful to me for my forbearance.
"What have you, my friend," he cried, "that you remain there
like--how do you say it?--ah, yes, the stuck pig?"
I explained that I was afraid of obliterating any foot-marks.
"Foot-marks? But what an idea! There has already been practically
an army in the room! What foot-marks are we likely to find? No,
come here and aid me in my search. I will put down my little
case until I need it."
He did so, on the round table by the window, but it was an
ill-advised proceeding; for, the top of it being loose, it tilted
up, and precipitated the despatch-case on the floor.
"Eh voila une table!" cried Poirot. "Ah, my friend, one may live
in a big house and yet have no comfort."
After which piece of moralizing, he resumed his search.
A small purple despatch-case, with a key in the lock, on the
writing-table, engaged his attention for some time. He took out
the key from the lock, and passed it to me to inspect. I saw
nothing peculiar, however. It was an ordinary key of the Yale
type, with a bit of twisted wire through the handle.
Next, he examined the framework of the door we had broken in,
assuring himself that the bolt had really been shot. Then he
went to the door opposite leading into Cynthia's room. That door
was also bolted, as I had stated. However, he went to the length
of unbolting it, and opening and shutting it several times; this
he did with the utmost precaution against making any noise.
Suddenly something in the bolt itself seemed to rivet his
attention. He examined it carefully, and then, nimbly whipping
out a pair of small forceps from his case, he drew out some
minute particle which he carefully sealed up in a tiny envelope.
On the chest of drawers there was a tray with a spirit lamp and a
small saucepan on it. A small quantity of a dark fluid remained
in the saucepan, and an empty cup and saucer that had been drunk
out of stood near it.
I wondered how I could have been so unobservant as to overlook
this. Here was a clue worth having. Poirot delicately dipped
his finger into liquid, and tasted it gingerly. He made a
"Coco--with--I think--rum in it."
He passed on to the debris on the floor, where the table by the
bed had been overturned. A reading-lamp, some books, matches, a
bunch of keys, and the crushed fragments of a coffee-cup lay
"Ah, this is curious," said Poirot.
"I must confess that I see nothing particularly curious about
"You do not? Observe the lamp--the chimney is broken in two
places; they lie there as they fell. But see, the coffee-cup is
absolutely smashed to powder."
"Well," I said wearily, "I suppose some one must have stepped on
"Exactly," said Poirot, in an odd voice. "Some one stepped on
He rose from his knees, and walked slowly across to the
mantelpiece, where he stood abstractedly fingering the ornaments,
and straightening them--a trick of his when he was agitated.
"Mon ami," he said, turning to me, "somebody stepped on that cup,
grinding it to powder, and the reason they did so was either
because it contained strychnine or--which is far more
serious--because it did not contain strychnine!"
I made no reply. I was bewildered, but I knew that it was no
good asking him to explain. In a moment or two he roused
himself, and went on with his investigations. He picked up the
bunch of keys from the floor, and twirling them round in his
fingers finally selected one, very bright and shining, which he
tried in the lock of the purple despatch-case. It fitted, and he
opened the box, but after a moment's hesitation, closed and
relocked it, and slipped the bunch of keys, as well as the key
that had originally stood in the lock, into his own pocket.
"I have no authority to go through these papers. But it should
be done--at once!"
He then made a very careful examination of the drawers of the
wash-stand. Crossing the room to the left-hand window, a round
stain, hardly visible on the dark brown carpet, seemed to
interest him particularly. He went down on his knees, examining
it minutely--even going so far as to smell it.
Finally, he poured a few drops of the coco into a test tube,
sealing it up carefully. His next proceeding was to take out a
"We have found in this room," he said, writing busily, "six
points of interest. Shall I enumerate them, or will you?"
"Oh, you," I replied hastily.
"Very well, then. One, a coffee-cup that has been ground into
powder; two, a despatch-case with a key in the lock; three, a
stain on the floor."
"That may have been done some time ago," I interrupted.
"No, for it is still perceptibly damp and smells of coffee.
Four, a fragment of some dark green fabric--only a thread or two,
"Ah!" I cried. "That was what you sealed up in the envelope."
"Yes. It may turn out to be a piece of one of Mrs. Inglethorp's
own dresses, and quite unimportant. We shall see. Five, _this_!"
With a dramatic gesture, he pointed to a large splash of candle
grease on the floor by the writing-table. "It must have been
done since yesterday, otherwise a good housemaid would have at
once removed it with blotting-paper and a hot iron. One of my
best hats once--but that is not to the point."
"It was very likely done last night. We were very agitated. Or
perhaps Mrs. Inglethorp herself dropped her candle."
"You brought only one candle into the room?"
"Yes. Lawrence Cavendish was carrying it. But he was very
upset. He seemed to see something over here"--I indicated the
mantelpiece--"that absolutely paralysed him."
"That is interesting," said Poirot quickly. "Yes, it is
suggestive"--his eye sweeping the whole length of the wall--"but
it was not his candle that made this great patch, for you
perceive that this is white grease; whereas Monsieur Lawrence's
candle, which is still on the dressing-table, is pink. On the
other hand, Mrs. Inglethorp had no candlestick in the room, only
"Then," I said, "what do you deduce?"
To which my friend only made a rather irritating reply, urging me
to use my own natural faculties.
"And the sixth point?" I asked. "I suppose it is the sample of
"No," said Poirot thoughtfully. "I might have included that in
the six, but I did not. No, the sixth point I will keep to
myself for the present."
He looked quickly round the room. "There is nothing more to be
done here, I think, unless"--he stared earnestly and long at the
dead ashes in the grate. "The fire burns--and it destroys. But
by chance--there might be--let us see!"
Deftly, on hands and knees, he began to sort the ashes from the
grate into the fender, handling them with the greatest caution.
Suddenly, he gave a faint exclamation.
"The forceps, Hastings!"
I quickly handed them to him, and with skill he extracted a small
piece of half charred paper.
"There, mon ami!" he cried. "What do you think of that?"
I scrutinized the fragment. This is an exact reproduction of it:--
I was puzzled. It was unusually thick, quite unlike ordinary
notepaper. Suddenly an idea struck me.
"Poirot!" I cried. "This is a fragment of a will!"
I looked up at him sharply.
"You are not surprised?"
"No," he said gravely, "I expected it."
I relinquished the piece of paper, and watched him put it away in
his case, with the same methodical care that he bestowed on
everything. My brain was in a whirl. What was this complication
of a will? Who had destroyed it? The person who had left the
candle grease on the floor? Obviously. But how had anyone gained
admission? All the doors had been bolted on the inside.
"Now, my friend," said Poirot briskly, "we will go. I should
like to ask a few questions of the parlourmaid--Dorcas, her name
is, is it not?"
We passed through Alfred Inglethorp's room, and Poirot delayed
long enough to make a brief but fairly comprehensive examination
of it. We went out through that door, locking both it and that
of Mrs. Inglethorp's room as before.
I took him down to the boudoir which he had expressed a wish to
see, and went myself in search of Dorcas.
When I returned with her, however, the boudoir was empty.
"Poirot," I cried, "where are you?"
"I am here, my friend."
He had stepped outside the French window, and was standing,
apparently lost in admiration, before the various shaped flower
"Admirable!" he murmured. "Admirable! What symmetry! Observe
that crescent; and those diamonds--their neatness rejoices the
eye. The spacing of the plants, also, is perfect. It has been
recently done; is it not so?"
"Yes, I believe they were at it yesterday afternoon. But come
in--Dorcas is here."
"Eh bien, eh bien! Do not grudge me a moment's satisfaction of
"Yes, but this affair is more important."
"And how do you know that these fine begonias are not of equal
I shrugged my shoulders. There was really no arguing with him if
he chose to take that line.
"You do not agree? But such things have been. Well, we will come
in and interview the brave Dorcas."
Dorcas was standing in the boudoir, her hands folded in front of
her, and her grey hair rose in stiff waves under her white cap.
She was the very model and picture of a good old-fashioned
In her attitude towards Poirot, she was inclined to be
suspicious, but he soon broke down her defences. He drew forward
"Pray be seated, mademoiselle."
"Thank you, sir."
"You have been with your mistress many years, is it not so?"
"Ten years, sir."
"That is a long time, and very faithful service. You were much
attached to her, were you not?"
"She was a very good mistress to me, sir."
"Then you will not object to answering a few questions. I put
them to you with Mr. Cavendish's full approval."
"Oh, certainly, sir."
"Then I will begin by asking you about the events of yesterday
afternoon. Your mistress had a quarrel?"
"Yes, sir. But I don't know that I ought----" Dorcas hesitated.
Poirot looked at her keenly.
"My good Dorcas, it is necessary that I should know every detail
of that quarrel as fully as possible. Do not think that you are
betraying your mistress's secrets. Your mistress lies dead, and
it is necessary that we should know all--if we are to avenge her.
Nothing can bring her back to life, but we do hope, if there has
been foul play, to bring the murderer to justice."
"Amen to that," said Dorcas fiercely. "And, naming no names,
there's _one_ in this house that none of us could ever abide! And
an ill day it was when first _he_ darkened the threshold."
Poirot waited for her indignation to subside, and then, resuming
his business-like tone, he asked:
"Now, as to this quarrel? What is the first you heard of it?"
"Well, sir, I happened to be going along the hall outside
"What time was that?"
"I couldn't say exactly, sir, but it wasn't tea-time by a long
way. Perhaps four o'clock--or it may have been a bit later.
Well, sir, as I said, I happened to be passing along, when I
heard voices very loud and angry in here. I didn't exactly mean
to listen, but--well, there it is. I stopped. The door was
shut, but the mistress was speaking very sharp and clear, and I
heard what she said quite plainly. 'You have lied to me, and
deceived me,' she said. I didn't hear what Mr. Inglethorp
replied. He spoke a good bit lower than she did--but she
answered: 'How dare you? I have kept you and clothed you and fed
you! You owe everything to me! And this is how you repay me! By
bringing disgrace upon our name!' Again I didn't hear what he
said, but she went on: 'Nothing that you can say will make any
difference. I see my duty clearly. My mind is made up. You
need not think that any fear of publicity, or scandal between
husband and wife will deter me.' Then I thought I heard them
coming out, so I went off quickly."
"You are sure it was Mr. Inglethorp's voice you heard?"
"Oh, yes, sir, whose else's could it be?"
"Well, what happened next?"
"Later, I came back to the hall; but it was all quiet. At five
o'clock, Mrs. Inglethorp rang the bell and told me to bring her a
cup of tea--nothing to eat--to the boudoir. She was looking
dreadful--so white and upset. 'Dorcas,' she says, 'I've had a
great shock.' 'I'm sorry for that, m'm,' I says. 'You'll feel
better after a nice hot cup of tea, m'm.' She had something in
her hand. I don't know if it was a letter, or just a piece of
paper, but it had writing on it, and she kept staring at it,
almost as if she couldn't believe what was written there. She
whispered to herself, as though she had forgotten I was there:
'These few words--and everything's changed.' And then she says to
me: 'Never trust a man, Dorcas, they're not worth it!' I hurried
off, and got her a good strong cup of tea, and she thanked me,
and said she'd feel better when she'd drunk it. 'I don't know
what to do,' she says. 'Scandal between husband and wife is a
dreadful thing, Dorcas. I'd rather hush it up if I could.' Mrs.
Cavendish came in just then, so she didn't say any more."
"She still had the letter, or whatever it was, in her hand?"
"What would she be likely to do with it afterwards?"
"Well, I don't know, sir, I expect she would lock it up in that
purple case of hers."
"Is that where she usually kept important papers?"
"Yes, sir. She brought it down with her every morning, and took
it up every night."
"When did she lose the key of it?"
"She missed it yesterday at lunch-time, sir, and told me to look
carefully for it. She was very much put out about it."
"But she had a duplicate key?"
"Oh, yes, sir."
Dorcas was looking very curiously at him and, to tell the truth,
so was I. What was all this about a lost key? Poirot smiled.
"Never mind, Dorcas, it is my business to know things. Is this
the key that was lost?" He drew from his pocket the key that he
had found in the lock of the despatch-case upstairs.
Dorcas's eyes looked as though they would pop out of her head.
"That's it, sir, right enough. But where did you find it? I
looked everywhere for it."
"Ah, but you see it was not in the same place yesterday as it was
to-day. Now, to pass to another subject, had your mistress a
dark green dress in her wardrobe?"
Dorcas was rather startled by the unexpected question.
"Are you quite sure?"
"Oh, yes, sir."
"Has anyone else in the house got a green dress?"
"Miss Cynthia has a green evening dress."
"Light or dark green?"
"A light green, sir; a sort of chiffon, they call it."
"Ah, that is not what I want. And nobody else has anything
"No, sir--not that I know of."
Poirot's face did not betray a trace of whether he was
disappointed or otherwise. He merely remarked:
"Good, we will leave that and pass on. Have you any reason to
believe that your mistress was likely to take a sleeping powder
"Not _last_ night, sir, I know she didn't."
"Why do you know so positively?"
"Because the box was empty. She took the last one two days ago,
and she didn't have any more made up."
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