The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Part 2 out of 5
"You are quite sure of that?"
"Then that is cleared up! By the way, your mistress didn't ask
you to sign any paper yesterday?"
"To sign a paper? No, sir."
"When Mr. Hastings and Mr. Lawrence came in yesterday evening,
they found your mistress busy writing letters. I suppose you can
give me no idea to whom these letters were addressed?"
"I'm afraid I couldn't, sir. I was out in the evening. Perhaps
Annie could tell you, though she's a careless girl. Never
cleared the coffee-cups away last night. That's what happens
when I'm not here to look after things."
Poirot lifted his hand.
"Since they have been left, Dorcas, leave them a little longer, I
pray you. I should like to examine them."
"Very well, sir."
"What time did you go out last evening?"
"About six o'clock, sir."
"Thank you, Dorcas, that is all I have to ask you." He rose and
strolled to the window. "I have been admiring these flower beds.
How many gardeners are employed here, by the way?"
"Only three now, sir. Five, we had, before the war, when it was
kept as a gentleman's place should be. I wish you could have
seen it then, sir. A fair sight it was. But now there's only
old Manning, and young William, and a new-fashioned woman
gardener in breeches and such-like. Ah, these are dreadful
"The good times will come again, Dorcas. At least, we hope so.
Now, will you send Annie to me here?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
"How did you know that Mrs. Inglethorp took sleeping powders?" I
asked, in lively curiosity, as Dorcas left the room. "And about
the lost key and the duplicate?"
"One thing at a time. As to the sleeping powders, I knew by
this." He suddenly produced a small cardboard box, such as
chemists use for powders.
"Where did you find it?"
"In the wash-stand drawer in Mrs. Inglethorp's bedroom. It was
Number Six of my catalogue."
"But I suppose, as the last powder was taken two days ago, it is
not of much importance?"
"Probably not, but do you notice anything that strikes you as
peculiar about this box?"
I examined it closely.
"No, I can't say that I do."
"Look at the label."
I read the label carefully: " 'One powder to be taken at bedtime,
if required. Mrs. Inglethorp.' No, I see nothing unusual."
"Not the fact that there is no chemist's name?"
"Ah!" I exclaimed. "To be sure, that is odd!"
"Have you ever known a chemist to send out a box like that,
without his printed name?"
"No, I can't say that I have."
I was becoming quite excited, but Poirot damped my ardour by
"Yet the explanation is quite simple. So do not intrigue
yourself, my friend."
An audible creaking proclaimed the approach of Annie, so I had no
time to reply.
Annie was a fine, strapping girl, and was evidently labouring
under intense excitement, mingled with a certain ghoulish
enjoyment of the tragedy.
Poirot came to the point at once, with a business-like briskness.
"I sent for you, Annie, because I thought you might be able to
tell me something about the letters Mrs. Inglethorp wrote last
night. How many were there? And can you tell me any of the names
"There were four letters, sir. One was to Miss Howard, and one
was to Mr. Wells, the lawyer, and the other two I don't think I
remember, sir--oh, yes, one was to Ross's, the caterers in
Tadminster. The other one, I don't remember."
"Think," urged Poirot.
Annie racked her brains in vain.
"I'm sorry, sir, but it's clean gone. I don't think I can have
"It does not matter," said Poirot, not betraying any sign of
disappointment. "Now I want to ask you about something else.
There is a saucepan in Mrs. Inglethorp's room with some coco in
it. Did she have that every night?"
"Yes, sir, it was put in her room every evening, and she warmed
it up in the night--whenever she fancied it."
"What was it? Plain coco?"
"Yes, sir, made with milk, with a teaspoonful of sugar, and two
teaspoonfuls of rum in it."
"Who took it to her room?"
"I did, sir."
"At what time?"
"When I went to draw the curtains, as a rule, sir."
"Did you bring it straight up from the kitchen then?"
"No, sir, you see there's not much room on the gas stove, so Cook
used to make it early, before putting the vegetables on for
supper. Then I used to bring it up, and put it on the table by
the swing door, and take it into her room later."
"The swing door is in the left wing, is it not?"
"And the table, is it on this side of the door, or on the
"It's this side, sir."
"What time did you bring it up last night?"
"About quarter-past seven, I should say, sir."
"And when did you take it into Mrs. Inglethorp's room?"
"When I went to shut up, sir. About eight o'clock. Mrs.
Inglethorp came up to bed before I'd finished."
"Then, between 7.15 and 8 o'clock, the coco was standing on the
table in the left wing?"
"Yes, sir." Annie had been growing redder and redder in the face,
and now she blurted out unexpectedly:
"And if there _was_ salt in it, sir, it wasn't me. I never took
the salt near it."
"What makes you think there was salt in it?" asked Poirot.
"Seeing it on the tray, sir."
"You saw some salt on the tray?"
"Yes. Coarse kitchen salt, it looked. I never noticed it when I
took the tray up, but when I came to take it into the mistress's
room I saw it at once, and I suppose I ought to have taken it
down again, and asked Cook to make some fresh. But I was in a
hurry, because Dorcas was out, and I thought maybe the coco
itself was all right, and the salt had only gone on the tray. So
I dusted it off with my apron, and took it in."
I had the utmost difficulty in controlling my excitement.
Unknown to herself, Annie had provided us with an important piece
of evidence. How she would have gaped if she had realized that
her "coarse kitchen salt" was strychnine, one of the most deadly
poisons known to mankind. I marvelled at Poirot's calm. His
self-control was astonishing. I awaited his next question with
impatience, but it disappointed me.
"When you went into Mrs. Inglethorp's room, was the door leading
into Miss Cynthia's room bolted?"
"Oh! Yes, sir; it always was. It had never been opened."
"And the door into Mr. Inglethorp's room? Did you notice if that
was bolted too?"
"I couldn't rightly say, sir; it was shut but I couldn't say
whether it was bolted or not."
"When you finally left the room, did Mrs. Inglethorp bolt the
door after you?"
"No, sir, not then, but I expect she did later. She usually did
lock it at night. The door into the passage, that is."
"Did you notice any candle grease on the floor when you did the
"Candle grease? Oh, no, sir. Mrs. Inglethorp didn't have a
candle, only a reading-lamp."
"Then, if there had been a large patch of candle grease on the
floor, you think you would have been sure to have seen it?"
"Yes, sir, and I would have taken it out with a piece of
blotting-paper and a hot iron."
Then Poirot repeated the question he had put to Dorcas:
"Did your mistress ever have a green dress?"
"Nor a mantle, nor a cape, nor a--how do you call it?--a sports
"Not green, sir."
"Nor anyone else in the house?"
"You are sure of that?"
"Bien! That is all I want to know. Thank you very much."
With a nervous giggle, Annie took herself creakingly out of the
room. My pent-up excitement burst forth.
"Poirot," I cried, "I congratulate you! This is a great
"What is a great discovery?"
"Why, that it was the coco and not the coffee that was poisoned.
That explains everything! Of course it did not take effect until
the early morning, since the coco was only drunk in the middle of
"So you think that the coco--mark well what I say, Hastings, the
"Of course! That salt on the tray, what else could it have been?"
"It might have been salt," replied Poirot placidly.
I shrugged my shoulders. If he was going to take the matter that
way, it was no good arguing with him. The idea crossed my mind,
not for the first time, that poor old Poirot was growing old.
Privately I thought it lucky that he had associated with him some
one of a more receptive type of mind.
Poirot was surveying me with quietly twinkling eyes.
"You are not pleased with me, mon ami?"
"My dear Poirot," I said coldly, "it is not for me to dictate to
you. You have a right to your own opinion, just as I have to
"A most admirable sentiment," remarked Poirot, rising briskly to
his feet. "Now I have finished with this room. By the way,
whose is the smaller desk in the corner?"
"Ah!" He tried the roll top tentatively. "Locked. But perhaps
one of Mrs. Inglethorp's keys would open it." He tried several,
twisting and turning them with a practiced hand, and finally
uttering an ejaculation of satisfaction. "Voila! It is not the
key, but it will open it at a pinch." He slid back the roll top,
and ran a rapid eye over the neatly filed papers. To my
surprise, he did not examine them, merely remarking approvingly
as he relocked the desk: "Decidedly, he is a man of method, this
A "man of method" was, in Poirot's estimation, the highest praise
that could be bestowed on any individual.
I felt that my friend was not what he had been as he rambled on
"There were no stamps in his desk, but there might have been, eh,
mon ami? There might have been? Yes"--his eyes wandered round the
room--"this boudoir has nothing more to tell us. It did not
yield much. Only this."
He pulled a crumpled envelope out of his pocket, and tossed it
over to me. It was rather a curious document. A plain, dirty
looking old envelope with a few words scrawled across it,
apparently at random. The following is a facsimile of it.
"IT ISN'T STRYCHNINE, IS IT?"
"Where did you find this?" I asked Poirot, in lively curiosity.
"In the waste-paper basket. You recognise the handwriting?"
"Yes, it is Mrs. Inglethorp's. But what does it mean?"
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
"I cannot say--but it is suggestive."
A wild idea flashed across me. Was it possible that Mrs.
Inglethorp's mind was deranged? Had she some fantastic idea of
demoniacal possession? And, if that were so, was it not also
possible that she might have taken her own life?
I was about to expound these theories to Poirot, when his own
words distracted me.
"Come," he said, "now to examine the coffee-cups!"
"My dear Poirot! What on earth is the good of that, now that we
know about the coco?"
"Oh, la la! That miserable coco!" cried Poirot flippantly.
He laughed with apparent enjoyment, raising his arms to heaven in
mock despair, in what I could not but consider the worst possible
"And, anyway," I said, with increasing coldness, "as Mrs.
Inglethorp took her coffee upstairs with her, I do not see what
you expect to find, unless you consider it likely that we shall
discover a packet of strychnine on the coffee tray!"
Poirot was sobered at once.
"Come, come, my friend," he said, slipping his arms through mine.
"Ne vous fachez pas! Allow me to interest myself in my
coffee-cups, and I will respect your coco. There! Is it a
He was so quaintly humorous that I was forced to laugh; and we
went together to the drawing-room, where the coffee-cups and tray
remained undisturbed as we had left them.
Poirot made me recapitulate the scene of the night before,
listening very carefully, and verifying the position of the
"So Mrs. Cavendish stood by the tray--and poured out. Yes. Then
she came across to the window where you sat with Mademoiselle
Cynthia. Yes. Here are the three cups. And the cup on the
mantel-piece, half drunk, that would be Mr. Lawrence Cavendish's.
And the one on the tray?"
"John Cavendish's. I saw him put it down there."
"Good. One, two, three, four, five--but where, then, is the cup
of Mr. Inglethorp?"
"He does not take coffee."
"Then all are accounted for. One moment, my friend."
With infinite care, he took a drop or two from the grounds in
each cup, sealing them up in separate test tubes, tasting each in
turn as he did so. His physiognomy underwent a curious change.
An expression gathered there that I can only describe as half
puzzled, and half relieved.
"Bien!" he said at last. "It is evident! I had an idea--but
clearly I was mistaken. Yes, altogether I was mistaken. Yet it
is strange. But no matter!"
And, with a characteristic shrug, he dismissed whatever it was
that was worrying him from his mind. I could have told him from
the beginning that this obsession of his over the coffee was
bound to end in a blind alley, but I restrained my tongue. After
all, though he was old, Poirot had been a great man in his day.
"Breakfast is ready," said John Cavendish, coming in from the
hall. "You will breakfast with us, Monsieur Poirot?"
Poirot acquiesced. I observed John. Already he was almost
restored to his normal self. The shock of the events of the last
night had upset him temporarily, but his equable poise soon swung
back to the normal. He was a man of very little imagination, in
sharp contrast with his brother, who had, perhaps, too much.
Ever since the early hours of the morning, John had been hard at
work, sending telegrams--one of the first had gone to Evelyn
Howard--writing notices for the papers, and generally occupying
himself with the melancholy duties that a death entails.
"May I ask how things are proceeding?" he said. "Do your
investigations point to my mother having died a natural death--
or--or must we prepare ourselves for the worst?"
"I think, Mr. Cavendish," said Poirot gravely, "that you would do
well not to buoy yourself up with any false hopes. Can you tell
me the views of the other members of the family?"
"My brother Lawrence is convinced that we are making a fuss over
nothing. He says that everything points to its being a simple
case of heart failure."
"He does, does he? That is very interesting--very interesting,"
murmured Poirot softly. "And Mrs. Cavendish?"
A faint cloud passed over John's face.
"I have not the least idea what my wife's views on the subject
The answer brought a momentary stiffness in its train. John
broke the rather awkward silence by saying with a slight effort:
"I told you, didn't I, that Mr. Inglethorp has returned?"
Poirot bent his head.
"It's an awkward position for all of us. Of course one has to
treat him as usual--but, hang it all, one's gorge does rise at
sitting down to eat with a possible murderer!"
Poirot nodded sympathetically.
"I quite understand. It is a very difficult situation for you,
Mr. Cavendish. I would like to ask you one question. Mr.
Inglethorp's reason for not returning last night was, I believe,
that he had forgotten the latch-key. Is not that so?"
"I suppose you are quite sure that the latch-key _was_
forgotten--that he did not take it after all?"
"I have no idea. I never thought of looking. We always keep it
in the hall drawer. I'll go and see if it's there now."
Poirot held up his hand with a faint smile.
"No, no, Mr. Cavendish, it is too late now. I am certain that
you would find it. If Mr. Inglethorp did take it, he has had
ample time to replace it by now."
"But do you think----"
"I think nothing. If anyone had chanced to look this morning
before his return, and seen it there, it would have been a
valuable point in his favour. That is all."
John looked perplexed.
"Do not worry," said Poirot smoothly. "I assure you that you
need not let it trouble you. Since you are so kind, let us go
and have some breakfast."
Every one was assembled in the dining-room. Under the
circumstances, we were naturally not a cheerful party. The
reaction after a shock is always trying, and I think we were all
suffering from it. Decorum and good breeding naturally enjoined
that our demeanour should be much as usual, yet I could not help
wondering if this self-control were really a matter of great
difficulty. There were no red eyes, no signs of secretly
indulged grief. I felt that I was right in my opinion that
Dorcas was the person most affected by the personal side of the
I pass over Alfred Inglethorp, who acted the bereaved widower in
a manner that I felt to be disgusting in its hypocrisy. Did he
know that we suspected him, I wondered. Surely he could not be
unaware of the fact, conceal it as we would. Did he feel some
secret stirring of fear, or was he confident that his crime would
go unpunished? Surely the suspicion in the atmosphere must warn
him that he was already a marked man.
But did every one suspect him? What about Mrs. Cavendish? I
watched her as she sat at the head of the table, graceful,
composed, enigmatic. In her soft grey frock, with white ruffles
at the wrists falling over her slender hands, she looked very
beautiful. When she chose, however, her face could be
sphinx-like in its inscrutability. She was very silent, hardly
opening her lips, and yet in some queer way I felt that the great
strength of her personality was dominating us all.
And little Cynthia? Did she suspect? She looked very tired and
ill, I thought. The heaviness and languor of her manner were
very marked. I asked her if she were feeling ill, and she
"Yes, I've got the most beastly headache."
"Have another cup of coffee, mademoiselle?" said Poirot
solicitously. "It will revive you. It is unparalleled for the
mal de tete." He jumped up and took her cup.
"No sugar," said Cynthia, watching him, as he picked up the
"No sugar? You abandon it in the war-time, eh?"
"No, I never take it in coffee."
"Sacre!" murmured Poirot to himself, as he brought back the
Only I heard him, and glancing up curiously at the little man I
saw that his face was working with suppressed excitement, and his
eyes were as green as a cat's. He had heard or seen something
that had affected him strongly--but what was it? I do not usually
label myself as dense, but I must confess that nothing out of the
ordinary had attracted _my_ attention.
In another moment, the door opened and Dorcas appeared.
"Mr. Wells to see you, sir," she said to John.
I remembered the name as being that of the lawyer to whom Mrs.
Inglethorp had written the night before.
John rose immediately.
"Show him into my study." Then he turned to us. "My mother's
lawyer," he explained. And in a lower voice: "He is also
Coroner--you understand. Perhaps you would like to come with
We acquiesced and followed him out of the room. John strode on
ahead and I took the opportunity of whispering to Poirot:
"There will be an inquest then?"
Poirot nodded absently. He seemed absorbed in thought; so much
so that my curiosity was aroused.
"What is it? You are not attending to what I say."
"It is true, my friend. I am much worried."
"Because Mademoiselle Cynthia does not take sugar in her coffee."
"What? You cannot be serious?"
"But I am most serious. Ah, there is something there that I do
not understand. My instinct was right."
"The instinct that led me to insist on examining those
coffee-cups. Chut! no more now!"
We followed John into his study, and he closed the door behind
Mr. Wells was a pleasant man of middle-age, with keen eyes, and
the typical lawyer's mouth. John introduced us both, and
explained the reason of our presence.
"You will understand, Wells," he added, "that this is all
strictly private. We are still hoping that there will turn out
to be no need for investigation of any kind."
"Quite so, quite so," said Mr. Wells soothingly. "I wish we
could have spared you the pain and publicity of an inquest, but
of course it's quite unavoidable in the absence of a doctor's
"Yes, I suppose so."
"Clever man, Bauerstein. Great authority on toxicology, I
"Indeed," said John with a certain stiffness in his manner. Then
he added rather hesitatingly: "Shall we have to appear as
witnesses--all of us, I mean?"
"You, of course--and ah--er--Mr.--er--Inglethorp."
A slight pause ensued before the lawyer went on in his soothing
"Any other evidence will be simply confirmatory, a mere matter of
A faint expression of relief swept over John's face. It puzzled
me, for I saw no occasion for it.
"If you know of nothing to the contrary," pursued Mr. Wells, "I
had thought of Friday. That will give us plenty of time for the
doctor's report. The post-mortem is to take place to-night, I
"Then that arrangement will suit you?"
"I need not tell you, my dear Cavendish, how distressed I am at
this most tragic affair."
"Can you give us no help in solving it, monsieur?" interposed
Poirot, speaking for the first time since we had entered the
"Yes, we heard that Mrs. Inglethorp wrote to you last night. You
should have received the letter this morning."
"I did, but it contains no information. It is merely a note
asking me to call upon her this morning, as she wanted my advice
on a matter of great importance."
"She gave you no hint as to what that matter might be?"
"That is a pity," said John.
"A great pity," agreed Poirot gravely.
There was silence. Poirot remained lost in thought for a few
minutes. Finally he turned to the lawyer again.
"Mr. Wells, there is one thing I should like to ask you--that is,
if it is not against professional etiquette. In the event of
Mrs. Inglethorp's death, who would inherit her money?"
The lawyer hesitated a moment, and then replied:
"The knowledge will be public property very soon, so if Mr.
Cavendish does not object----"
"Not at all," interpolated John.
"I do not see any reason why I should not answer your question.
By her last will, dated August of last year, after various
unimportant legacies to servants, etc., she gave her entire
fortune to her stepson, Mr. John Cavendish."
"Was not that--pardon the question, Mr. Cavendish--rather unfair
to her other stepson, Mr. Lawrence Cavendish?"
"No, I do not think so. You see, under the terms of their
father's will, while John inherited the property, Lawrence, at
his stepmother's death, would come into a considerable sum of
money. Mrs. Inglethorp left her money to her elder stepson,
knowing that he would have to keep up Styles. It was, to my
mind, a very fair and equitable distribution."
Poirot nodded thoughtfully.
"I see. But I am right in saying, am I not, that by your English
law that will was automatically revoked when Mrs. Inglethorp
Mr. Wells bowed his head.
"As I was about to proceed, Monsieur Poirot, that document is now
null and void."
"Hein!" said Poirot. He reflected for a moment, and then asked:
"Was Mrs. Inglethorp herself aware of that fact?"
"I do not know. She may have been."
"She was," said John unexpectedly. "We were discussing the
matter of wills being revoked by marriage only yesterday."
"Ah! One more question, Mr. Wells. You say 'her last will.' Had
Mrs. Inglethorp, then, made several former wills?"
"On an average, she made a new will at least once a year," said
Mr. Wells imperturbably. "She was given to changing her mind as
to her testamentary dispositions, now benefiting one, now another
member of her family."
"Suppose," suggested Poirot, "that, unknown to you, she had made
a new will in favour of some one who was not, in any sense of the
word, a member of the family--we will say Miss Howard, for
instance--would you be surprised?"
"Not in the least."
"Ah!" Poirot seemed to have exhausted his questions.
I drew close to him, while John and the lawyer were debating the
question of going through Mrs. Inglethorp's papers.
"Do you think Mrs. Inglethorp made a will leaving all her money
to Miss Howard?" I asked in a low voice, with some curiosity.
"Then why did you ask?"
John Cavendish had turned to Poirot.
"Will you come with us, Monsieur Poirot? We are going through my
mother's papers. Mr. Inglethorp is quite willing to leave it
entirely to Mr. Wells and myself."
"Which simplifies matters very much," murmured the lawyer. "As
technically, of course, he was entitled----" He did not finish
"We will look through the desk in the boudoir first," explained
John, "and go up to her bedroom afterwards. She kept her most
important papers in a purple despatch-case, which we must look
"Yes," said the lawyer, "it is quite possible that there may be a
later will than the one in my possession."
"There _is_ a later will." It was Poirot who spoke.
"What?" John and the lawyer looked at him startled.
"Or, rather," pursued my friend imperturbably, "there _was_ one."
"What do you mean--there was one? Where is it now?"
"Yes. See here." He took out the charred fragment we had found
in the grate in Mrs. Inglethorp's room, and handed it to the
lawyer with a brief explanation of when and where he had found
"But possibly this is an old will?"
"I do not think so. In fact I am almost certain that it was made
no earlier than yesterday afternoon."
"What?" "Impossible!" broke simultaneously from both men.
Poirot turned to John.
"If you will allow me to send for your gardener, I will prove it
"Oh, of course--but I don't see----"
Poirot raised his hand.
"Do as I ask you. Afterwards you shall question as much as you
"Very well." He rang the bell.
Dorcas answered it in due course.
"Dorcas, will you tell Manning to come round and speak to me
We waited in a tense silence. Poirot alone seemed perfectly at
his ease, and dusted a forgotten corner of the bookcase.
The clumping of hobnailed boots on the gravel outside proclaimed
the approach of Manning. John looked questioningly at Poirot.
The latter nodded.
"Come inside, Manning," said John, "I want to speak to you."
Manning came slowly and hesitatingly through the French window,
and stood as near it as he could. He held his cap in his hands,
twisting it very carefully round and round. His back was much
bent, though he was probably not as old as he looked, but his
eyes were sharp and intelligent, and belied his slow and rather
"Manning," said John, "this gentleman will put some questions to
you which I want you to answer."
"Yes sir," mumbled Manning.
Poirot stepped forward briskly. Manning's eye swept over him
with a faint contempt.
"You were planting a bed of begonias round by the south side of
the house yesterday afternoon, were you not, Manning?"
"Yes, sir, me and Willum."
"And Mrs. Inglethorp came to the window and called you, did she
"Yes, sir, she did."
"Tell me in your own words exactly what happened after that."
"Well, sir, nothing much. She just told Willum to go on his
bicycle down to the village, and bring back a form of will, or
such-like--I don't know what exactly--she wrote it down for him."
"Well, he did, sir."
"And what happened next?"
"We went on with the begonias, sir."
"Did not Mrs. Inglethorp call you again?"
"Yes, sir, both me and Willum, she called."
"She made us come right in, and sign our names at the bottom of a
long paper--under where she'd signed."
"Did you see anything of what was written above her signature?"
asked Poirot sharply.
"No, sir, there was a bit of blotting paper over that part."
"And you signed where she told you?"
"Yes, sir, first me and then Willum."
"What did she do with it afterwards?"
"Well, sir, she slipped it into a long envelope, and put it
inside a sort of purple box that was standing on the desk."
"What time was it when she first called you?"
"About four, I should say, sir."
"Not earlier? Couldn't it have been about half-past three?"
"No, I shouldn't say so, sir. It would be more likely to be a
bit after four--not before it."
"Thank you, Manning, that will do," said Poirot pleasantly.
The gardener glanced at his master, who nodded, whereupon Manning
lifted a finger to his forehead with a low mumble, and backed
cautiously out of the window.
We all looked at each other.
"Good heavens!" murmured John. "What an extraordinary
"That my mother should have made a will on the very day of her
Mr. Wells cleared his throat and remarked drily:
"Are you so sure it is a coincidence, Cavendish?"
"What do you mean?"
"Your mother, you tell me, had a violent quarrel with--some one
"What do you mean?" cried John again. There was a tremor in his
voice, and he had gone very pale.
"In consequence of that quarrel, your mother very suddenly and
hurriedly makes a new will. The contents of that will we shall
never know. She told no one of its provisions. This morning, no
doubt, she would have consulted me on the subject--but she had no
chance. The will disappears, and she takes its secret with her
to her grave. Cavendish, I much fear there is no coincidence
there. Monsieur Poirot, I am sure you agree with me that the
facts are very suggestive."
"Suggestive, or not," interrupted John, "we are most grateful to
Monsieur Poirot for elucidating the matter. But for him, we
should never have known of this will. I suppose, I may not ask
you, monsieur, what first led you to suspect the fact?"
Poirot smiled and answered:
"A scribbled over old envelope, and a freshly planted bed of
John, I think, would have pressed his questions further, but at
that moment the loud purr of a motor was audible, and we all
turned to the window as it swept past.
"Evie!" cried John. "Excuse me, Wells." He went hurriedly out
into the hall.
Poirot looked inquiringly at me.
"Miss Howard," I explained.
"Ah, I am glad she has come. There is a woman with a head and a
heart too, Hastings. Though the good God gave her no beauty!"
I followed John's example, and went out into the hall, where Miss
Howard was endeavouring to extricate herself from the voluminous
mass of veils that enveloped her head. As her eyes fell on me, a
sudden pang of guilt shot through me. This was the woman who had
warned me so earnestly, and to whose warning I had, alas, paid no
heed! How soon, and how contemptuously, I had dismissed it from
my mind. Now that she had been proved justified in so tragic a
manner, I felt ashamed. She had known Alfred Inglethorp only too
well. I wondered whether, if she had remained at Styles, the
tragedy would have taken place, or would the man have feared her
I was relieved when she shook me by the hand, with her well
remembered painful grip. The eyes that met mine were sad, but
not reproachful; that she had been crying bitterly, I could tell
by the redness of her eyelids, but her manner was unchanged from
its old gruffness.
"Started the moment I got the wire. Just come off night duty.
Hired car. Quickest way to get here."
"Have you had anything to eat this morning, Evie?" asked John.
"I thought not. Come along, breakfast's not cleared away yet,
and they'll make you some fresh tea." He turned to me. "Look
after her, Hastings, will you? Wells is waiting for me. Oh,
here's Monsieur Poirot. He's helping us, you know, Evie."
Miss Howard shook hands with Poirot, but glanced suspiciously
over her shoulder at John.
"What do you mean--helping us?"
"Helping us to investigate."
"Nothing to investigate. Have they taken him to prison yet?"
"Taken who to prison?"
"Who? Alfred Inglethorp, of course!"
"My dear Evie, do be careful. Lawrence is of the opinion that my
mother died from heart seizure."
"More fool, Lawrence!" retorted Miss Howard. "Of course Alfred
Inglethorp murdered poor Emily--as I always told you he would."
"My dear Evie, don't shout so. Whatever we may think or suspect,
it is better to say as little as possible for the present. The
inquest isn't until Friday."
"Not until fiddlesticks!" The snort Miss Howard gave was truly
magnificent. "You're all off your heads. The man will be out of
the country by then. If he's any sense, he won't stay here
tamely and wait to be hanged."
John Cavendish looked at her helplessly.
"I know what it is," she accused him, "you've been listening to
the doctors. Never should. What do they know? Nothing at
all--or just enough to make them dangerous. I ought to know--my
own father was a doctor. That little Wilkins is about the
greatest fool that even I have ever seen. Heart seizure! Sort of
thing he would say. Anyone with any sense could see at once that
her husband had poisoned her. I always said he'd murder her in
her bed, poor soul. Now he's done it. And all you can do is to
murmur silly things about 'heart seizure' and 'inquest on
Friday.' You ought to be ashamed of yourself, John Cavendish."
"What do you want me to do?" asked John, unable to help a faint
smile. "Dash it all, Evie, I can't haul him down to the local
police station by the scruff of his neck."
"Well, you might do something. Find out how he did it. He's a
crafty beggar. Dare say he soaked fly papers. Ask Cook if she's
It occurred to me very forcibly at that moment that to harbour
Miss Howard and Alfred Inglethorp under the same roof, and keep
the peace between them, was likely to prove a Herculean task, and
I did not envy John. I could see by the expression of his face
that he fully appreciated the difficulty of the position. For
the moment, he sought refuge in retreat, and left the room
Dorcas brought in fresh tea. As she left the room, Poirot came
over from the window where he had been standing, and sat down
facing Miss Howard.
"Mademoiselle," he said gravely, "I want to ask you something."
"Ask away," said the lady, eyeing him with some disfavour.
"I want to be able to count upon your help."
"I'll help you to hang Alfred with pleasure," she replied
gruffly. "Hanging's too good for him. Ought to be drawn and
quartered, like in good old times."
"We are at one then," said Poirot, "for I, too, want to hang the
"Him, or another."
"No question of another. Poor Emily was never murdered until _he_
came along. I don't say she wasn't surrounded by sharks--she
was. But it was only her purse they were after. Her life was
safe enough. But along comes Mr. Alfred Inglethorp--and within
two months--hey presto!"
"Believe me, Miss Howard," said Poirot very earnestly, "if Mr.
Inglethorp is the man, he shall not escape me. On my honour, I
will hang him as high as Haman!"
"That's better," said Miss Howard more enthusiastically.
"But I must ask you to trust me. Now your help may be very
valuable to me. I will tell you why. Because, in all this house
of mourning, yours are the only eyes that have wept."
Miss Howard blinked, and a new note crept into the gruffness of
"If you mean that I was fond of her--yes, I was. You know, Emily
was a selfish old woman in her way. She was very generous, but
she always wanted a return. She never let people forget what she
had done for them--and, that way she missed love. Don't think
she ever realized it, though, or felt the lack of it. Hope not,
anyway. I was on a different footing. I took my stand from the
first. 'So many pounds a year I'm worth to you. Well and good.
But not a penny piece besides--not a pair of gloves, nor a
theatre ticket.' She didn't understand--was very offended
sometimes. Said I was foolishly proud. It wasn't that--but I
couldn't explain. Anyway, I kept my self-respect. And so, out
of the whole bunch, I was the only one who could allow myself to
be fond of her. I watched over her. I guarded her from the lot
of them, and then a glib-tongued scoundrel comes along, and pooh!
all my years of devotion go for nothing."
Poirot nodded sympathetically.
"I understand, mademoiselle, I understand all you feel. It is
most natural. You think that we are lukewarm--that we lack fire
and energy--but trust me, it is not so."
John stuck his head in at this juncture, and invited us both to
come up to Mrs. Inglethorp's room, as he and Mr. Wells had
finished looking through the desk in the boudoir.
As we went up the stairs, John looked back to the dining-room
door, and lowered his voice confidentially:
"Look here, what's going to happen when these two meet?"
I shook my head helplessly.
"I've told Mary to keep them apart if she can."
"Will she be able to do so?"
"The Lord only knows. There's one thing, Inglethorp himself
won't be too keen on meeting her."
"You've got the keys still, haven't you, Poirot?" I asked, as we
reached the door of the locked room.
Taking the keys from Poirot, John unlocked it, and we all passed
in. The lawyer went straight to the desk, and John followed him.
"My mother kept most of her important papers in this
despatch-case, I believe," he said.
Poirot drew out the small bunch of keys.
"Permit me. I locked it, out of precaution, this morning."
"But it's not locked now."
"See." And John lifted the lid as he spoke.
"Milles tonnerres!" cried Poirot, dumfounded. "And I--who have
both the keys in my pocket!" He flung himself upon the case.
Suddenly he stiffened. "En voila une affaire! This lock has been
Poirot laid down the case again.
"But who forced it? Why should they? When? But the door was
locked?" These exclamations burst from us disjointedly.
Poirot answered them categorically--almost mechanically.
"Who? That is the question. Why? Ah, if I only knew. When?
Since I was here an hour ago. As to the door being locked, it is
a very ordinary lock. Probably any other of the doorkeys in this
passage would fit it."
We stared at one another blankly. Poirot had walked over to the
mantel-piece. He was outwardly calm, but I noticed his hands,
which from long force of habit were mechanically straightening
the spill vases on the mantel-piece, were shaking violently.
"See here, it was like this," he said at last. "There was
something in that case--some piece of evidence, slight in itself
perhaps, but still enough of a clue to connect the murderer with
the crime. It was vital to him that it should be destroyed
before it was discovered and its significance appreciated.
Therefore, he took the risk, the great risk, of coming in here.
Finding the case locked, he was obliged to force it, thus
betraying his presence. For him to take that risk, it must have
been something of great importance."
"But what was it?"
"Ah!" cried Poirot, with a gesture of anger. "That, I do not
know! A document of some kind, without doubt, possibly the scrap
of paper Dorcas saw in her hand yesterday afternoon. And I--"
his anger burst forth freely--"miserable animal that I am! I
guessed nothing! I have behaved like an imbecile! I should never
have left that case here. I should have carried it away with me.
Ah, triple pig! And now it is gone. It is destroyed--but is it
destroyed? Is there not yet a chance--we must leave no stone
He rushed like a madman from the room, and I followed him as soon
as I had sufficiently recovered my wits. But, by the time I had
reached the top of the stairs, he was out of sight.
Mary Cavendish was standing where the staircase branched, staring
down into the hall in the direction in which he had disappeared.
"What has happened to your extraordinary little friend, Mr.
Hastings? He has just rushed past me like a mad bull."
"He's rather upset about something," I remarked feebly. I really
did not know how much Poirot would wish me to disclose. As I saw
a faint smile gather on Mrs. Cavendish's expressive mouth, I
endeavoured to try and turn the conversation by saying: "They
haven't met yet, have they?"
"Mr. Inglethorp and Miss Howard."
She looked at me in rather a disconcerting manner.
"Do you think it would be such a disaster if they did meet?"
"Well, don't you?" I said, rather taken aback.
"No." She was smiling in her quiet way. "I should like to see a
good flare up. It would clear the air. At present we are all
thinking so much, and saying so little."
"John doesn't think so," I remarked. "He's anxious to keep them
Something in her tone fired me, and I blurted out:
"Old John's an awfully good sort."
She studied me curiously for a minute or two, and then said, to
my great surprise:
"You are loyal to your friend. I like you for that."
"Aren't you my friend too?"
"I am a very bad friend."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because it is true. I am charming to my friends one day, and
forget all about them the next."
I don't know what impelled me, but I was nettled, and I said
foolishly and not in the best of taste:
"Yet you seem to be invariably charming to Dr. Bauerstein!"
Instantly I regretted my words. Her face stiffened. I had the
impression of a steel curtain coming down and blotting out the
real woman. Without a word, she turned and went swiftly up the
stairs, whilst I stood like an idiot gaping after her.
I was recalled to other matters by a frightful row going on
below. I could hear Poirot shouting and expounding. I was vexed
to think that my diplomacy had been in vain. The little man
appeared to be taking the whole house into his confidence, a
proceeding of which I, for one, doubted the wisdom. Once again I
could not help regretting that my friend was so prone to lose his
head in moments of excitement. I stepped briskly down the
stairs. The sight of me calmed Poirot almost immediately. I
drew him aside.
"My dear fellow," I said, "is this wise? Surely you don't want
the whole house to know of this occurrence? You are actually
playing into the criminal's hands."
"You think so, Hastings?"
"I am sure of it."
"Well, well, my friend, I will be guided by you."
"Good. Although, unfortunately, it is a little too late now."
He looked so crestfallen and abashed that I felt quite sorry,
though I still thought my rebuke a just and wise one.
"Well," he said at last, "let us go, mon ami."
"You have finished here?"
"For the moment, yes. You will walk back with me to the
He picked up his little suit-case, and we went out through the
open window in the drawing-room. Cynthia Murdoch was just coming
in, and Poirot stood aside to let her pass.
"Excuse me, mademoiselle, one minute."
"Yes?" she turned inquiringly.
"Did you ever make up Mrs. Inglethorp's medicines?"
A slight flush rose in her face, as she answered rather
"Only her powders?"
The flush deepened as Cynthia replied:
"Oh, yes, I did make up some sleeping powders for her once."
Poirot produced the empty box which had contained powders.
"Can you tell me what they were? Sulphonal? Veronal?"
"No, they were bromide powders."
"Ah! Thank you, mademoiselle; good morning."
As we walked briskly away from the house, I glanced at him more
than once. I had often before noticed that, if anything excited
him, his eyes turned green like a cat's. They were shining like
"My friend," he broke out at last, "I have a little idea, a very
strange, and probably utterly impossible idea. And yet--it fits
I shrugged my shoulders. I privately thought that Poirot was
rather too much given to these fantastic ideas. In this case,
surely, the truth was only too plain and apparent.
"So that is the explanation of the blank label on the box," I
remarked. "Very simple, as you said. I really wonder that I did
not think of it myself."
Poirot did not appear to be listening to me.
"They have made one more discovery, la-bas," he observed, jerking
his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of Styles. "Mr.
Wells told me as we were going upstairs."
"What was it?"
"Locked up in the desk in the boudoir, they found a will of Mrs.
Inglethorp's, dated before her marriage, leaving her fortune to
Alfred Inglethorp. It must have been made just at the time they
were engaged. It came quite as a surprise to Wells--and to John
Cavendish also. It was written on one of those printed will
forms, and witnessed by two of the servants--not Dorcas."
"Did Mr. Inglethorp know of it?"
"He says not."
"One might take that with a grain of salt," I remarked
sceptically. "All these wills are very confusing. Tell me, how
did those scribbled words on the envelope help you to discover
that a will was made yesterday afternoon?"
"Mon ami, have you ever, when writing a letter, been arrested by
the fact that you did not know how to spell a certain word?"
"Yes, often. I suppose every one has."
"Exactly. And have you not, in such a case, tried the word once
or twice on the edge of the blotting-paper, or a spare scrap of
paper, to see if it looked right? Well, that is what Mrs.
Inglethorp did. You will notice that the word 'possessed' is
spelt first with one 's' and subsequently with two--correctly. To
make sure, she had further tried it in a sentence, thus: 'I am
possessed.' Now, what did that tell me? It told me that Mrs.
Inglethorp had been writing the word 'possessed' that afternoon,
and, having the fragment of paper found in the grate fresh in my
mind, the possibility of a will--(a document almost certain to
contain that word)--occurred to me at once. This possibility was
confirmed by a further circumstance. In the general confusion,
the boudoir had not been swept that morning, and near the desk
were several traces of brown mould and earth. The weather had
been perfectly fine for some days, and no ordinary boots would
have left such a heavy deposit.
"I strolled to the window, and saw at once that the begonia beds
had been newly planted. The mould in the beds was exactly
similar to that on the floor of the boudoir, and also I learnt
from you that they had been planted yesterday afternoon. I was
now sure that one, or possibly both of the gardeners--for there
were two sets of footprints in the bed--had entered the boudoir,
for if Mrs. Inglethorp had merely wished to speak to them she
would in all probability have stood at the window, and they would
not have come into the room at all. I was now quite convinced
that she had made a fresh will, and had called the two gardeners
in to witness her signature. Events proved that I was right in
"That was very ingenious," I could not help admitting. "I must
confess that the conclusions I drew from those few scribbled
words were quite erroneous."
"You gave too much rein to your imagination. Imagination is a
good servant, and a bad master. The simplest explanation is
always the most likely."
"Another point--how did you know that the key of the
despatch-case had been lost?"
"I did not know it. It was a guess that turned out to be
correct. You observed that it had a piece of twisted wire
through the handle. That suggested to me at once that it had
possibly been wrenched off a flimsy key-ring. Now, if it had
been lost and recovered, Mrs. Inglethorp would at once have
replaced it on her bunch; but on her bunch I found what was
obviously the duplicate key, very new and bright, which led me to
the hypothesis that somebody else had inserted the original key
in the lock of the despatch-case."
"Yes," I said, "Alfred Inglethorp, without doubt."
Poirot looked at me curiously.
"You are very sure of his guilt?"
"Well, naturally. Every fresh circumstance seems to establish it
"On the contrary," said Poirot quietly, "there are several points
in his favour."
"Oh, come now!"
"I see only one."
"That he was not in the house last night."
" 'Bad shot!' as you English say! You have chosen the one point
that to my mind tells against him."
"How is that?"
"Because if Mr. Inglethorp knew that his wife would be poisoned
last night, he would certainly have arranged to be away from the
house. His excuse was an obviously trumped up one. That leaves
us two possibilities: either he knew what was going to happen or
he had a reason of his own for his absence."
"And that reason?" I asked sceptically.
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
"How should I know? Discreditable, without doubt. This Mr.
Inglethorp, I should say, is somewhat of a scoundrel--but that
does not of necessity make him a murderer."
I shook my head, unconvinced.
"We do not agree, eh?" said Poirot. "Well, let us leave it.
Time will show which of us is right. Now let us turn to other
aspects of the case. What do you make of the fact that all the
doors of the bedroom were bolted on the inside?"
"Well----" I considered. "One must look at it logically."
"I should put it this way. The doors _were_ bolted--our own eyes
have told us that--yet the presence of the candle grease on the
floor, and the destruction of the will, prove that during the
night some one entered the room. You agree so far?"
"Perfectly. Put with admirable clearness. Proceed."
"Well," I said, encouraged, "as the person who entered did not do
so by the window, nor by miraculous means, it follows that the
door must have been opened from inside by Mrs. Inglethorp
herself. That strengthens the conviction that the person in
question was her husband. She would naturally open the door to
her own husband."
Poirot shook his head.
"Why should she? She had bolted the door leading into his room--a
most unusual proceeding on her part--she had had a most violent
quarrel with him that very afternoon. No, he was the last person
she would admit."
"But you agree with me that the door must have been opened by
Mrs. Inglethorp herself?"
"There is another possibility. She may have forgotten to bolt
the door into the passage when she went to bed, and have got up
later, towards morning, and bolted it then."
"Poirot, is that seriously your opinion?"
"No, I do not say it is so, but it might be. Now, to turn to
another feature, what do you make of the scrap of conversation
you overheard between Mrs. Cavendish and her mother-in-law?"
"I had forgotten that," I said thoughtfully. "That is as
enigmatical as ever. It seems incredible that a woman like Mrs.
Cavendish, proud and reticent to the last degree, should
interfere so violently in what was certainly not her affair."
"Precisely. It was an astonishing thing for a woman of her
breeding to do."
"It is certainly curious," I agreed. "Still, it is unimportant,
and need not be taken into account."
A groan burst from Poirot.
"What have I always told you? Everything must be taken into
account. If the fact will not fit the theory--let the theory
"Well, we shall see," I said, nettled.
"Yes, we shall see."
We had reached Leastways Cottage, and Poirot ushered me upstairs
to his own room. He offered me one of the tiny Russian
cigarettes he himself occasionally smoked. I was amused to
notice that he stowed away the used matches most carefully in a
little china pot. My momentary annoyance vanished.
Poirot had placed our two chairs in front of the open window
which commanded a view of the village street. The fresh air blew
in warm and pleasant. It was going to be a hot day.
Suddenly my attention was arrested by a weedy looking young man
rushing down the street at a great pace. It was the expression
on his face that was extraordinary--a curious mingling of terror
"Look, Poirot!" I said.
He leant forward.
"Tiens!" he said. "It is Mr. Mace, from the chemist's shop. He
is coming here."
The young man came to a halt before Leastways Cottage, and, after
hesitating a moment, pounded vigorously at the door.
"A little minute," cried Poirot from the window. "I come."
Motioning to me to follow him, he ran swiftly down the stairs and
opened the door. Mr. Mace began at once.
"Oh, Mr. Poirot, I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but I heard
that you'd just come back from the Hall?"
"Yes, we have."
The young man moistened his dry lips. His face was working
"It's all over the village about old Mrs. Inglethorp dying so
suddenly. They do say--" he lowered his voice cautiously--"that
Poirot's face remained quite impassive.
"Only the doctors can tell us that, Mr. Mace."
"Yes, exactly--of course----" The young man hesitated, and then
his agitation was too much for him. He clutched Poirot by the
arm, and sank his voice to a whisper: "Just tell me this, Mr.
Poirot, it isn't--it isn't strychnine, is it?"
I hardly heard what Poirot replied. Something evidently of a
non-committal nature. The young man departed, and as he closed
the door Poirot's eyes met mine.
"Yes," he said, nodding gravely. "He will have evidence to give
at the inquest."
We went slowly upstairs again. I was opening my lips, when
Poirot stopped me with a gesture of his hand.
"Not now, not now, mon ami. I have need of reflection. My mind
is in some disorder--which is not well."
For about ten minutes he sat in dead silence, perfectly still,
except for several expressive motions of his eyebrows, and all
the time his eyes grew steadily greener. At last he heaved a
"It is well. The bad moment has passed. Now all is arranged and
classified. One must never permit confusion. The case is not
clear yet--no. For it is of the most complicated! It puzzles
_me_. _Me_, Hercule Poirot! There are two facts of significance."
"And what are they?"
"The first is the state of the weather yesterday. That is very
"But it was a glorious day!" I interrupted. "Poirot, you're
pulling my leg!"
"Not at all. The thermometer registered 80 degrees in the shade.
Do not forget that, my friend. It is the key to the whole
"And the second point?" I asked.
"The important fact that Monsieur Inglethorp wears very peculiar
clothes, has a black beard, and uses glasses."
"Poirot, I cannot believe you are serious."
"I am absolutely serious, my friend."
"But this is childish!"
"No, it is very momentous."
"And supposing the Coroner's jury returns a verdict of Wilful
Murder against Alfred Inglethorp. What becomes of your theories,
"They would not be shaken because twelve stupid men had happened
to make a mistake! But that will not occur. For one thing, a
country jury is not anxious to take responsibility upon itself,
and Mr. Inglethorp stands practically in the position of local
squire. Also," he added placidly, "I should not allow it!"
"_You_ would not allow it?"
I looked at the extraordinary little man, divided between
annoyance and amusement. He was so tremendously sure of himself.
As though he read my thoughts, he nodded gently.
"Oh, yes, mon ami, I would do what I say." He got up and laid his
hand on my shoulder. His physiognomy underwent a complete
change. Tears came into his eyes. "In all this, you see, I
think of that poor Mrs. Inglethorp who is dead. She was not
extravagantly loved--no. But she was very good to us Belgians--I
owe her a debt."
I endeavoured to interrupt, but Poirot swept on.
"Let me tell you this, Hastings. She would never forgive me if I
let Alfred Inglethorp, her husband, be arrested now--when a word
from me could save him!"
In the interval before the inquest, Poirot was unfailing in his
activity. Twice he was closeted with Mr. Wells. He also took
long walks into the country. I rather resented his not taking me
into his confidence, the more so as I could not in the least
guess what he was driving at.
It occurred to me that he might have been making inquiries at
Raikes's farm; so, finding him out when I called at Leastways
Cottage on Wednesday evening, I walked over there by the fields,
hoping to meet him. But there was no sign of him, and I
hesitated to go right up to the farm itself. As I walked away, I
met an aged rustic, who leered at me cunningly.
"You'm from the Hall, bain't you?" he asked.
"Yes. I'm looking for a friend of mine whom I thought might have
walked this way."
"A little chap? As waves his hands when he talks? One of them
Belgies from the village?"
"Yes," I said eagerly. "He has been here, then?"
"Oh, ay, he's been here, right enough. More'n once too. Friend
of yours, is he? Ah, you gentlemen from the Hall--you'n a pretty
lot!" And he leered more jocosely than ever.
"Why, do the gentlemen from the Hall come here often?" I asked,
as carelessly as I could.
He winked at me knowingly.
"_One_ does, mister. Naming no names, mind. And a very liberal
gentleman too! Oh, thank you, sir, I'm sure."
I walked on sharply. Evelyn Howard had been right then, and I
experienced a sharp twinge of disgust, as I thought of Alfred
Inglethorp's liberality with another woman's money. Had that
piquant gipsy face been at the bottom of the crime, or was it the
baser mainspring of money? Probably a judicious mixture of both.
On one point, Poirot seemed to have a curious obsession. He once
or twice observed to me that he thought Dorcas must have made an
error in fixing the time of the quarrel. He suggested to her
repeatedly that it was 4.30, and not 4 o'clock when she had heard
But Dorcas was unshaken. Quite an hour, or even more, had
elapsed between the time when she had heard the voices and 5
o'clock, when she had taken tea to her mistress.
The inquest was held on Friday at the Stylites Arms in the
village. Poirot and I sat together, not being required to give
The preliminaries were gone through. The jury viewed the body,
and John Cavendish gave evidence of identification.
Further questioned, he described his awakening in the early hours
of the morning, and the circumstances of his mother's death.
The medical evidence was next taken. There was a breathless
hush, and every eye was fixed on the famous London specialist,
who was known to be one of the greatest authorities of the day on
the subject of toxicology.
In a few brief words, he summed up the result of the post-mortem.
Shorn of its medical phraseology and technicalities, it amounted
to the fact that Mrs. Inglethorp had met her death as the result
of strychnine poisoning. Judging from the quantity recovered,
she must have taken not less than three-quarters of a grain of
strychnine, but probably one grain or slightly over.
"Is it possible that she could have swallowed the poison by
accident?" asked the Coroner.
"I should consider it very unlikely. Strychnine is not used for
domestic purposes, as some poisons are, and there are
restrictions placed on its sale."
"Does anything in your examination lead you to determine how the
poison was administered?"
"You arrived at Styles before Dr. Wilkins, I believe?"
"That is so. The motor met me just outside the lodge gates, and
I hurried there as fast as I could."
"Will you relate to us exactly what happened next?"
"I entered Mrs. Inglethorp's room. She was at that moment in a
typical tetanic convulsion. She turned towards me, and gasped
out: 'Alfred--Alfred----' "
"Could the strychnine have been administered in Mrs. Inglethorp's
after-dinner coffee which was taken to her by her husband?"
"Possibly, but strychnine is a fairly rapid drug in its action.
The symptoms appear from one to two hours after it has been
swallowed. It is retarded under certain conditions, none of
which, however, appear to have been present in this case. I
presume Mrs. Inglethorp took the coffee after dinner about eight
o'clock, whereas the symptoms did not manifest themselves until
the early hours of the morning, which, on the face of it, points
to the drug having been taken much later in the evening."
"Mrs. Inglethorp was in the habit of drinking a cup of coco in
the middle of the night. Could the strychnine have been
administered in that?"
"No, I myself took a sample of the coco remaining in the saucepan
and had it analysed. There was no strychnine present."
I heard Poirot chuckle softly beside me.
"How did you know?" I whispered.
"I should say"--the doctor was continuing--"that I would have
been considerably surprised at any other result."
"Simply because strychnine has an unusually bitter taste. It can
be detected in a solution of 1 in 70,000, and can only be
disguised by some strongly flavoured substance. Coco would be
quite powerless to mask it."
One of the jury wanted to know if the same objection applied to
"No. Coffee has a bitter taste of its own which would probably
cover the taste of strychnine."
"Then you consider it more likely that the drug was administered
in the coffee, but that for some unknown reason its action was
"Yes, but, the cup being completely smashed, there is no
possibility of analyzing its contents."
This concluded Dr. Bauerstein's evidence. Dr. Wilkins
corroborated it on all points. Sounded as to the possibility of
suicide, he repudiated it utterly. The deceased, he said,
suffered from a weak heart, but otherwise enjoyed perfect health,
and was of a cheerful and well-balanced disposition. She would
be one of the last people to take her own life.
Lawrence Cavendish was next called. His evidence was quite
unimportant, being a mere repetition of that of his brother.
Just as he was about to step down, he paused, and said rather
"I should like to make a suggestion if I may?"
He glanced deprecatingly at the Coroner, who replied briskly:
"Certainly, Mr. Cavendish, we are here to arrive at the truth of
this matter, and welcome anything that may lead to further
"It is just an idea of mine," explained Lawrence. "Of course I
may be quite wrong, but it still seems to me that my mother's
death might be accounted for by natural means."
"How do you make that out, Mr. Cavendish?"
"My mother, at the time of her death, and for some time before
it, was taking a tonic containing strychnine."
"Ah!" said the Coroner.
The jury looked up, interested.
"I believe," continued Lawrence, "that there have been cases
where the cumulative effect of a drug, administered for some
time, has ended by causing death. Also, is it not possible that
she may have taken an overdose of her medicine by accident?"
"This is the first we have heard of the deceased taking
strychnine at the time of her death. We are much obliged to you,
Dr. Wilkins was recalled and ridiculed the idea.
"What Mr. Cavendish suggests is quite impossible. Any doctor
would tell you the same. Strychnine is, in a certain sense, a
cumulative poison, but it would be quite impossible for it to
result in sudden death in this way. There would have to be a
long period of chronic symptoms which would at once have
attracted my attention. The whole thing is absurd."
"And the second suggestion? That Mrs. Inglethorp may have
inadvertently taken an overdose?"
"Three, or even four doses, would not have resulted in death.
Mrs. Inglethorp always had an extra large amount of medicine made
up at a time, as she dealt with Coot's, the Cash Chemists in
Tadminster. She would have had to take very nearly the whole
bottle to account for the amount of strychnine found at the
"Then you consider that we may dismiss the tonic as not being in
any way instrumental in causing her death?"
"Certainly. The supposition is ridiculous."
The same juryman who had interrupted before here suggested that
the chemist who made up the medicine might have committed an
"That, of course, is always possible," replied the doctor.
But Dorcas, who was the next witness called, dispelled even that
possibility. The medicine had not been newly made up. On the
contrary, Mrs. Inglethorp had taken the last dose on the day of
So the question of the tonic was finally abandoned, and the
Coroner proceeded with his task. Having elicited from Dorcas how
she had been awakened by the violent ringing of her mistress's
bell, and had subsequently roused the household, he passed to the
subject of the quarrel on the preceding afternoon.
Dorcas's evidence on this point was substantially what Poirot and
I had already heard, so I will not repeat it here.
The next witness was Mary Cavendish. She stood very upright, and
spoke in a low, clear, and perfectly composed voice. In answer
to the Coroner's question, she told how, her alarm clock having
aroused her at 4.30 as usual, she was dressing, when she was
startled by the sound of something heavy falling.
"That would have been the table by the bed?" commented the
"I opened my door," continued Mary, "and listened. In a few
minutes a bell rang violently. Dorcas came running down and woke
my husband, and we all went to my mother-in-law's room, but it
The Coroner interrupted her.
"I really do not think we need trouble you further on that point.
We know all that can be known of the subsequent happenings. But
I should be obliged if you would tell us all you overheard of the
quarrel the day before."
There was a faint insolence in her voice. She raised her hand
and adjusted the ruffle of lace at her neck, turning her head a
little as she did so. And quite spontaneously the thought
flashed across my mind: "She is gaining time!"
"Yes. I understand," continued the Coroner deliberately, "that
you were sitting reading on the bench just outside the long
window of the boudoir. That is so, is it not?"
This was news to me and glancing sideways at Poirot, I fancied
that it was news to him as well.
There was the faintest pause, the mere hesitation of a moment,
before she answered:
"Yes, that is so."
"And the boudoir window was open, was it not?"
Surely her face grew a little paler as she answered:
"Then you cannot have failed to hear the voices inside,
especially as they were raised in anger. In fact, they would be
more audible where you were than in the hall."
"Will you repeat to us what you overheard of the quarrel?"
"I really do not remember hearing anything."
"Do you mean to say you did not hear voices?"
"Oh, yes, I heard the voices, but I did not hear what they said."
A faint spot of colour came into her cheek. "I am not in the
habit of listening to private conversations."
The Coroner persisted.
"And you remember nothing at all? _Nothing_, Mrs. Cavendish? Not
one stray word or phrase to make you realize that it _was_ a
She paused, and seemed to reflect, still outwardly as calm as
"Yes; I remember. Mrs. Inglethorp said something--I do not
remember exactly what--about causing scandal between husband and
"Ah!" the Coroner leant back satisfied. "That corresponds with
what Dorcas heard. But excuse me, Mrs. Cavendish, although you
realized it was a private conversation, you did not move away?
You remained where you were?"
I caught the momentary gleam of her tawny eyes as she raised
them. I felt certain that at that moment she would willingly
have torn the little lawyer, with his insinuations, into pieces,
but she replied quietly enough:
"No. I was very comfortable where I was. I fixed my mind on my
"And that is all you can tell us?"
"That is all."
The examination was over, though I doubted if the Coroner was
entirely satisfied with it. I think he suspected that Mary
Cavendish could tell more if she chose.
Amy Hill, shop assistant, was next called, and deposed to having
sold a will form on the afternoon of the 17th to William Earl,
under-gardener at Styles.
William Earl and Manning succeeded her, and testified to
witnessing a document. Manning fixed the time at about 4.30,
William was of the opinion that it was rather earlier.
Cynthia Murdoch came next. She had, however, little to tell.
She had known nothing of the tragedy, until awakened by Mrs.
"You did not hear the table fall?"
"No. I was fast asleep."
The Coroner smiled.
"A good conscience makes a sound sleeper," he observed. "Thank
you, Miss Murdoch, that is all."
Miss Howard produced the letter written to her by Mrs. Inglethorp
on the evening of the 17th. Poirot and I had, of course already
seen it. It added nothing to our knowledge of the tragedy. The
following is a facsimile:
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