Welcome to the fifth episode of our Read Aloud of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, by Agatha Christie. Knowing now that Albert Inglethorp has an alibi and could not have bought the poison, where can the investigation go next?
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Georgia: Hello and welcome everyone to another episode of our reading of Agatha Christie’s mystery novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Before we begin, we like to share an interesting fact or insight about the book or Agatha Christie and today we are talking about how it was published! Initially The Mysterious Affair at Styles was rejected by half a dozen publishers until John Lane of “The Bodley Head” acquired it and her next 5 novels. It came out first in serial form in 18 parts published in the The (London) Times Weekly Edition starting on February 27th 1920. It was then published in book form in the United States in October of the same year before being published in the UK in January of 1921.
You may have noticed some language that would now be considered outdated and potentially offensive. In these next two chapters there is a sentence with language that is no longer acceptable. As this sentence is unimportant to the story we made the decision not to include it. If you would like to read it as it was originally written you can read the story for yourself through the link in the description.
With that being said, let’s get into the next two chapters of The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
There was a moment’s stupefied silence. Japp, who was the least surprised of any of us, was the first to speak.
“My word,” he cried, “you’re the goods! And no mistake, Mr. Poirot! These witnesses of yours are all right, I suppose?”
“Voilà! I have prepared a list of them—names and addresses. You must see them, of course. But you will find it all right.”
“I’m sure of that.” Japp lowered his voice. “I’m much obliged to you. A pretty mare’s nest arresting him would have been.” He turned to Inglethorp. “But, if you’ll excuse me, sir, why couldn’t you say all this at the inquest?”
“I will tell you why,” interrupted Poirot. “There was a certain rumour——”
“A most malicious and utterly untrue one,” interrupted Alfred Inglethorp in an agitated voice.
“And Mr. Inglethorp was anxious to have no scandal revived just at present. Am I right?”
“Quite right.” Inglethorp nodded. “With my poor Emily not yet buried, can you wonder I was anxious that no more lying rumours should be started.”
“Between you and me, sir,” remarked Japp, “I’d sooner have any amount of rumours than be arrested for murder. And I venture to think your poor lady would have felt the same. And, if it hadn’t been for Mr. Poirot here, arrested you would have been, as sure as eggs is eggs!”
“I was foolish, no doubt,” murmured Inglethorp. “But you do not know, inspector, how I have been persecuted and maligned.” And he shot a baleful glance at Evelyn Howard.
“Now, sir,” said Japp, turning briskly to John, “I should like to see the lady’s bedroom, please, and after that I’ll have a little chat with the servants. Don’t you bother about anything. Mr. Poirot, here, will show me the way.”
As they all went out of the room, Poirot turned and made me a sign to follow him upstairs. There he caught me by the arm, and drew me aside.
“Quick, go to the other wing. Stand there—just this side of the baize door. Do not move till I come.” Then, turning rapidly, he rejoined the two detectives.
I followed his instructions, taking up my position by the baize door, and wondering what on earth lay behind the request. Why was I to stand in this particular spot on guard? I looked thoughtfully down the corridor in front of me. An idea struck me. With the exception of Cynthia Murdoch’s, everyone’s room was in this left wing. Had that anything to do with it? Was I to report who came or went? I stood faithfully at my post. The minutes passed. Nobody came. Nothing happened.
It must have been quite twenty minutes before Poirot rejoined me.
“You have not stirred?”
“No, I’ve stuck here like a rock. Nothing’s happened.”
“Ah!” Was he pleased, or disappointed? “You’ve seen nothing at all?”
“But you have probably heard something? A big bump—eh, mon ami?”
“Is it possible? Ah, but I am vexed with myself! I am not usually clumsy. I made but a slight gesture”—I know Poirot’s gestures—“with the left hand, and over went the table by the bed!”
He looked so childishly vexed and crest-fallen that I hastened to console him.
“Never mind, old chap. What does it matter? Your triumph downstairs excited you. I can tell you, that was a surprise to us all. There must be more in this affair of Inglethorp’s with Mrs. Raikes than we thought, to make him hold his tongue so persistently. What are you going to do now? Where are the Scotland Yard fellows?”
“Gone down to interview the servants. I showed them all our exhibits. I am disappointed in Japp. He has no method!”
“Hullo!” I said, looking out of the window. “Here’s Dr. Bauerstein. I believe you’re right about that man, Poirot. I don’t like him.”
“He is clever,” observed Poirot meditatively.
“Oh, clever as the devil! I must say I was overjoyed to see him in the plight he was in on Tuesday. You never saw such a spectacle!” And I described the doctor’s adventure. “He looked a regular scarecrow! Plastered with mud from head to foot.”
“You saw him, then?”
“Yes. Of course, he didn’t want to come in—it was just after dinner—but Mr. Inglethorp insisted.”
“What?” Poirot caught me violently by the shoulders. “Was Dr. Bauerstein here on Tuesday evening? Here? And you never told me? Why did you not tell me? Why? Why?”
He appeared to be in an absolute frenzy.
“My dear Poirot,” I expostulated, “I never thought it would interest you. I didn’t know it was of any importance.”
“Importance? It is of the first importance! So Dr. Bauerstein was here on Tuesday night—the night of the murder. Hastings, do you not see? That alters everything—everything!”
I had never seen him so upset. Loosening his hold of me, he mechanically straightened a pair of candlesticks, still murmuring to himself: “Yes, that alters everything—everything.”
Suddenly he seemed to come to a decision.
“Allons!” he said. “We must act at once. Where is Mr. Cavendish?”
John was in the smoking-room. Poirot went straight to him.
“Mr. Cavendish, I have some important business in Tadminster. A new clue. May I take your motor?”
“Why, of course. Do you mean at once?”
“If you please.”
John rang the bell, and ordered round the car. In another ten minutes, we were racing down the park and along the high road to Tadminster.
“Now, Poirot,” I remarked resignedly, “perhaps you will tell me what all this is about?”
“Well, mon ami, a good deal you can guess for yourself. Of course you realize that, now Mr. Inglethorp is out of it, the whole position is greatly changed. We are face to face with an entirely new problem. We know now that there is one person who did not buy the poison. We have cleared away the manufactured clues. Now for the real ones. I have ascertained that anyone in the household, with the exception of Mrs. Cavendish, who was playing tennis with you, could have personated Mr. Inglethorp on Monday evening. In the same way, we have his statement that he put the coffee down in the hall. No one took much notice of that at the inquest—but now it has a very different significance. We must find out who did take that coffee to Mrs. Inglethorp eventually, or who passed through the hall whilst it was standing there. From your account, there are only two people whom we can positively say did not go near the coffee—Mrs. Cavendish, and Mademoiselle Cynthia.”
“Yes, that is so.” I felt an inexpressible lightening of the heart. Mary Cavendish could certainly not rest under suspicion.
“In clearing Alfred Inglethorp,” continued Poirot, “I have been obliged to show my hand sooner than I intended. As long as I might be thought to be pursuing him, the criminal would be off his guard. Now, he will be doubly careful. Yes—doubly careful.” He turned to me abruptly. “Tell me, Hastings, you yourself—have you no suspicions of anybody?”
I hesitated. To tell the truth, an idea, wild and extravagant in itself, had once or twice that morning flashed through my brain. I had rejected it as absurd, nevertheless it persisted.
“You couldn’t call it a suspicion,” I murmured. “It’s so utterly foolish.”
“Come now,” urged Poirot encouragingly. “Do not fear. Speak your mind. You should always pay attention to your instincts.”
“Well then,” I blurted out, “it’s absurd—but I suspect Miss Howard of not telling all she knows!”
“Yes—you’ll laugh at me——”
“Not at all. Why should I?”
“I can’t help feeling,” I continued blunderingly; “that we’ve rather left her out of the possible suspects, simply on the strength of her having been away from the place. But, after all, she was only fifteen miles away. A car would do it in half an hour. Can we say positively that she was away from Styles on the night of the murder?”
“Yes, my friend,” said Poirot unexpectedly, “we can. One of my first actions was to ring up the hospital where she was working.”
“Well, I learnt that Miss Howard had been on afternoon duty on Tuesday, and that—a convoy coming in unexpectedly—she had kindly offered to remain on night duty, which offer was gratefully accepted. That disposes of that.”
“Oh!” I said, rather nonplussed. “Really,” I continued, “it’s her extraordinary vehemence against Inglethorp that started me off suspecting her. I can’t help feeling she’d do anything against him. And I had an idea she might know something about the destroying of the will. She might have burnt the new one, mistaking it for the earlier one in his favour. She is so terribly bitter against him.”
“You consider her vehemence unnatural?”
“Y—es. She is so very violent. I wondered really whether she is quite sane on that point.”
Poirot shook his head energetically.
“No, no, you are on a wrong tack there. There is nothing weak-minded or degenerate about Miss Howard. She is an excellent specimen of well-balanced English beef and brawn. She is sanity itself.”
“Yet her hatred of Inglethorp seems almost a mania. My idea was—a very ridiculous one, no doubt—that she had intended to poison him—and that, in some way, Mrs. Inglethorp got hold of it by mistake. But I don’t at all see how it could have been done. The whole thing is absurd and ridiculous to the last degree.”
“Still you are right in one thing. It is always wise to suspect everybody until you can prove logically, and to your own satisfaction, that they are innocent. Now, what reasons are there against Miss Howard’s having deliberately poisoned Mrs. Inglethorp?”
“Why, she was devoted to her!” I exclaimed.
“Tcha! Tcha!” cried Poirot irritably. “You argue like a child. If Miss Howard were capable of poisoning the old lady, she would be quite equally capable of simulating devotion. No, we must look elsewhere. You are perfectly correct in your assumption that her vehemence against Alfred Inglethorp is too violent to be natural; but you are quite wrong in the deduction you draw from it. I have drawn my own deductions, which I believe to be correct, but I will not speak of them at present.” He paused a minute, then went on. “Now, to my way of thinking, there is one insuperable objection to Miss Howard’s being the murderess.”
“And that is?”
“That in no possible way could Mrs. Inglethorp’s death benefit Miss Howard. Now there is no murder without a motive.”
“Could not Mrs. Inglethorp have made a will in her favour?”
Poirot shook his head.
“But you yourself suggested that possibility to Mr. Wells?”
“That was for a reason. I did not want to mention the name of the person who was actually in my mind. Miss Howard occupied very much the same position, so I used her name instead.”
“Still, Mrs. Inglethorp might have done so. Why, that will, made on the afternoon of her death may——”
But Poirot’s shake of the head was so energetic that I stopped.
“No, my friend. I have certain little ideas of my own about that will. But I can tell you this much—it was not in Miss Howard’s favour.”
I accepted his assurance, though I did not really see how he could be so positive about the matter.
“Well,” I said, with a sigh, “we will acquit Miss Howard, then. It is partly your fault that I ever came to suspect her. It was what you said about her evidence at the inquest that set me off.”
Poirot looked puzzled.
“What did I say about her evidence at the inquest?”
“Don’t you remember? When I cited her and John Cavendish as being above suspicion?”
“Oh—ah—yes.” He seemed a little confused, but recovered himself. “By the way, Hastings, there is something I want you to do for me.”
“Certainly. What is it?”
“Next time you happen to be alone with Lawrence Cavendish, I want you to say this to him. ‘I have a message for you, from Poirot. He says: “Find the extra coffee-cup, and you can rest in peace!”’ Nothing more. Nothing less.”
“‘Find the extra coffee-cup, and you can rest in peace.’ Is that right?” I asked, much mystified.
“But what does it mean?”
“Ah, that I will leave you to find out. You have access to the facts. Just say that to him, and see what he says.”
“Very well—but it’s all extremely mysterious.”
We were running into Tadminster now, and Poirot directed the car to the “Analytical Chemist.”
Poirot hopped down briskly, and went inside. In a few minutes he was back again.
“There,” he said. “That is all my business.”
“What were you doing there?” I asked, in lively curiosity.
“I left something to be analysed.”
“Yes, but what?”
“The sample of cocoa I took from the saucepan in the bedroom.”
“But that has already been tested!” I cried, stupefied. “Dr. Bauerstein had it tested, and you yourself laughed at the possibility of there being strychnine in it.”
“I know Dr. Bauerstein had it tested,” replied Poirot quietly.
“Well, I have a fancy for having it analysed again, that is all.”
And not another word on the subject could I drag out of him.
This proceeding of Poirot’s, in respect of the cocoa, puzzled me intensely. I could see neither rhyme nor reason in it. However, my confidence in him, which at one time had rather waned, was fully restored since his belief in Alfred Inglethorp’s innocence had been so triumphantly vindicated.
The funeral of Mrs. Inglethorp took place the following day, and on Monday, as I came down to a late breakfast, John drew me aside, and informed me that Mr. Inglethorp was leaving that morning, to take up his quarters at the Stylites Arms until he should have completed his plans.
“And really it’s a great relief to think he’s going, Hastings,” continued my honest friend. “It was bad enough before, when we thought he’d done it, but I’m hanged if it isn’t worse now, when we all feel guilty for having been so down on the fellow. The fact is, we’ve treated him abominably. Of course, things did look black against him. I don’t see how anyone could blame us for jumping to the conclusions we did. Still, there it is, we were in the wrong, and now there’s a beastly feeling that one ought to make amends; which is difficult, when one doesn’t like the fellow a bit better than one did before. The whole thing’s damned awkward! And I’m thankful he’s had the tact to take himself off. It’s a good thing Styles wasn’t the mater’s to leave to him. Couldn’t bear to think of the fellow lording it here. He’s welcome to her money.”
“You’ll be able to keep up the place all right?” I asked.
“Oh, yes. There are the death duties, of course, but half my father’s money goes with the place, and Lawrence will stay with us for the present, so there is his share as well. We shall be pinched at first, of course, because, as I once told you, I am in a bit of a hole financially myself. Still, the Johnnies will wait now.”
In the general relief at Inglethorp’s approaching departure, we had the most genial breakfast we had experienced since the tragedy. Cynthia, whose young spirits were naturally buoyant, was looking quite her pretty self again, and we all, with the exception of Lawrence, who seemed unalterably gloomy and nervous, were quietly cheerful, at the opening of a new and hopeful future.
The papers, of course, had been full of the tragedy. Glaring headlines, sandwiched biographies of every member of the household, subtle innuendoes, the usual familiar tag about the police having a clue. Nothing was spared us. It was a slack time. The war was momentarily inactive, and the newspapers seized with avidity on this crime in fashionable life: “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” was the topic of the moment.
Naturally it was very annoying for the Cavendishes. The house was constantly besieged by reporters, who were consistently denied admission, but who continued to haunt the village and the grounds, where they lay in wait with cameras, for any unwary members of the household. We all lived in a blast of publicity. The Scotland Yard men came and went, examining, questioning, lynx-eyed and reserved of tongue. Towards what end they were working, we did not know. Had they any clue, or would the whole thing remain in the category of undiscovered crimes?
After breakfast, Dorcas came up to me rather mysteriously, and asked if she might have a few words with me.
“Certainly. What is it, Dorcas?”
“Well, it’s just this, sir. You’ll be seeing the Belgian gentleman to-day perhaps?” I nodded. “Well, sir, you know how he asked me so particular if the mistress, or anyone else, had a green dress?”
“Yes, yes. You have found one?” My interest was aroused.
“No, not that, sir. But since then I’ve remembered what the young gentlemen”—John and Lawrence were still the “young gentlemen” to Dorcas—“call the ‘dressing-up box.’ It’s up in the front attic, sir. A great chest, full of old clothes and fancy dresses, and what not. And it came to me sudden like that there might be a green dress amongst them. So, if you’d tell the Belgian gentleman——”
“I will tell him, Dorcas,” I promised.
“Thank you very much, sir. A very nice gentleman he is, sir. And quite a different class from them two detectives from London, what goes prying about, and asking questions. I don’t hold with foreigners as a rule, but from what the newspapers say I make out as how these brave Belges isn’t the ordinary run of foreigners, and certainly he’s a most polite spoken gentleman.”
Dear old Dorcas! As she stood there, with her honest face upturned to mine, I thought what a fine specimen she was of the old-fashioned servant that is so fast dying out.
I thought I might as well go down to the village at once, and look up Poirot; but I met him half-way, coming up to the house, and at once gave him Dorcas’s message.
“Ah, the brave Dorcas! We will look at the chest, although—but no matter—we will examine it all the same.”
We entered the house by one of the windows. There was no one in the hall, and we went straight up to the attic.
Sure enough, there was the chest, a fine old piece, all studded with brass nails, and full to overflowing with every imaginable type of garment.
Poirot bundled everything out on the floor with scant ceremony. There were one or two green fabrics of varying shades; but Poirot shook his head over them all. He seemed somewhat apathetic in the search, as though he expected no great results from it. Suddenly he gave an exclamation.
“What is it?”
The chest was nearly empty, and there, reposing right at the bottom, was a magnificent black beard.
“Ohó!” said Poirot. “Ohó!” He turned it over in his hands, examining it closely. “New,” he remarked. “Yes, quite new.”
After a moment’s hesitation, he replaced it in the chest, heaped all the other things on top of it as before, and made his way briskly downstairs. He went straight to the pantry, where we found Dorcas busily polishing her silver.
Poirot wished her good morning with Gallic politeness, and went on:
“We have been looking through that chest, Dorcas. I am much obliged to you for mentioning it. There is, indeed, a fine collection there. Are they often used, may I ask?”
“Well, sir, not very often nowadays, though from time to time we do have what the young gentlemen call ‘a dress-up night.’ And very funny it is sometimes, sir. Mr. Lawrence, he’s wonderful. Most comic! I shall never forget the night he came down as the Char of Persia, I think he called it—a sort of Eastern King it was. He had the big paper knife in his hand, and ‘Mind, Dorcas,’ he says, ‘you’ll have to be very respectful. This is my specially sharpened scimitar, and it’s off with your head if I’m at all displeased with you!’ Miss Cynthia, she was what they call an Apache, or some such name—a Frenchified sort of cut-throat, I take it to be. A real sight she looked. You’d never have believed a pretty young lady like that could have made herself into such a ruffian. Nobody would have known her.”
“These evenings must have been great fun,” said Poirot genially. “I suppose Mr. Lawrence wore that fine black beard in the chest upstairs, when he was Shah of Persia?”
“He did have a beard, sir,” replied Dorcas, smiling. “And well I know it, for he borrowed two skeins of my black wool to make it with! And I’m sure it looked wonderfully natural at a distance. I didn’t know as there was a beard up there at all. It must have been got quite lately, I think. There was a red wig, I know, but nothing else in the way of hair. Burnt corks they use mostly—though ‘tis messy getting it off again.”
“So Dorcas knows nothing about that black beard,” said Poirot thoughtfully, as we walked out into the hall again.
“Do you think it is the one?” I whispered eagerly.
“I do. You notice it had been trimmed?”
“Yes. It was cut exactly the shape of Mr. Inglethorp’s, and I found one or two snipped hairs. Hastings, this affair is very deep.”
“Who put it in the chest, I wonder?”
“Someone with a good deal of intelligence,” remarked Poirot dryly. “You realize that he chose the one place in the house to hide it where its presence would not be remarked? Yes, he is intelligent. But we must be more intelligent. We must be so intelligent that he does not suspect us of being intelligent at all.”
“There, mon ami, you will be of great assistance to me.”
I was pleased with the compliment. There had been times when I hardly thought that Poirot appreciated me at my true worth.
“Yes,” he continued, staring at me thoughtfully, “you will be invaluable.”
This was naturally gratifying, but Poirot’s next words were not so welcome.
“I must have an ally in the house,” he observed reflectively.
“You have me,” I protested.
“True, but you are not sufficient.”
I was hurt, and showed it. Poirot hurried to explain himself.
“You do not quite take my meaning. You are known to be working with me. I want somebody who is not associated with us in any way.”
“Oh, I see. How about John?”
“No, I think not.”
“The dear fellow isn’t perhaps very bright,” I said thoughtfully.
“Here comes Miss Howard,” said Poirot suddenly. “She is the very person. But I am in her black books, since I cleared Mr. Inglethorp. Still, we can but try.”
With a nod that was barely civil, Miss Howard assented to Poirot’s request for a few minutes’ conversation.
We went into the little morning-room, and Poirot closed the door.
“Well, Monsieur Poirot,” said Miss Howard impatiently, “what is it? Out with it. I’m busy.”
“Do you remember, mademoiselle, that I once asked you to help me?”
“Yes, I do.” The lady nodded. “And I told you I’d help you with pleasure—to hang Alfred Inglethorp.”
“Ah!” Poirot studied her seriously. “Miss Howard, I will ask you one question. I beg of you to reply to it truthfully.”
“Never tell lies,” replied Miss Howard.
“It is this. Do you still believe that Mrs. Inglethorp was poisoned by her husband?”
“What do you mean?” she asked sharply. “You needn’t think your pretty explanations influence me in the slightest. I’ll admit that it wasn’t he who bought strychnine at the chemist’s shop. What of that? I dare say he soaked fly paper, as I told you at the beginning.”
“That is arsenic—not strychnine,” said Poirot mildly.
“What does that matter? Arsenic would put poor Emily out of the way just as well as strychnine. If I’m convinced he did it, it doesn’t matter a jot to me how he did it.”
“Exactly. If you are convinced he did it,” said Poirot quietly. “I will put my question in another form. Did you ever in your heart of hearts believe that Mrs. Inglethorp was poisoned by her husband?”
“Good heavens!” cried Miss Howard. “Haven’t I always told you the man is a villain? Haven’t I always told you he would murder her in her bed? Haven’t I always hated him like poison?”
“Exactly,” said Poirot. “That bears out my little idea entirely.”
“What little idea?”
“Miss Howard, do you remember a conversation that took place on the day of my friend’s arrival here? He repeated it to me, and there is a sentence of yours that has impressed me very much. Do you remember affirming that if a crime had been committed, and anyone you loved had been murdered, you felt certain that you would know by instinct who the criminal was, even if you were quite unable to prove it?”
“Yes, I remember saying that. I believe it too. I suppose you think it nonsense?”
“Not at all.”
“And yet you will pay no attention to my instinct against Alfred Inglethorp.”
“No,” said Poirot curtly. “Because your instinct is not against Mr. Inglethorp.”
“No. You wish to believe he committed the crime. You believe him capable of committing it. But your instinct tells you he did not commit it. It tells you more—shall I go on?”
She was staring at him, fascinated, and made a slight affirmative movement of the hand.
“Shall I tell you why you have been so vehement against Mr. Inglethorp? It is because you have been trying to believe what you wish to believe. It is because you are trying to drown and stifle your instinct, which tells you another name——”
“No, no, no!” cried Miss Howard wildly, flinging up her hands. “Don’t say it! Oh, don’t say it! It isn’t true! It can’t be true. I don’t know what put such a wild—such a dreadful—idea into my head!”
“I am right, am I not?” asked Poirot.
“Yes, yes; you must be a wizard to have guessed. But it can’t be so—it’s too monstrous, too impossible. It must be Alfred Inglethorp.”
Poirot shook his head gravely.
“Don’t ask me about it,” continued Miss Howard, “because I shan’t tell you. I won’t admit it, even to myself. I must be mad to think of such a thing.”
Poirot nodded, as if satisfied.
“I will ask you nothing. It is enough for me that it is as I thought. And I—I, too, have an instinct. We are working together towards a common end.”
“Don’t ask me to help you, because I won’t. I wouldn’t lift a finger to—to——” She faltered.
“You will help me in spite of yourself. I ask you nothing—but you will be my ally. You will not be able to help yourself. You will do the only thing that I want of you.”
“And that is?”
“You will watch!”
Evelyn Howard bowed her head.
“Yes, I can’t help doing that. I am always watching—always hoping I shall be proved wrong.”
“If we are wrong, well and good,” said Poirot. “No one will be more pleased than I shall. But, if we are right? If we are right, Miss Howard, on whose side are you then?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know——”
“It could be hushed up.”
“There must be no hushing up.”
“But Emily herself——” She broke off.
“Miss Howard,” said Poirot gravely, “this is unworthy of you.”
Suddenly she took her face from her hands.
“Yes,” she said quietly, “that was not Evelyn Howard who spoke!” She flung her head up proudly. “This is Evelyn Howard! And she is on the side of Justice! Let the cost be what it may.” And with these words, she walked firmly out of the room.
“There,” said Poirot, looking after her, “goes a very valuable ally. That woman, Hastings, has got brains as well as a heart.”
I did not reply.
“Instinct is a marvellous thing,” mused Poirot. “It can neither be explained nor ignored.”
“You and Miss Howard seem to know what you are talking about,” I observed coldly. “Perhaps you don’t realize that I am still in the dark.”
“Really? Is that so, mon ami?”
“Yes. Enlighten me, will you?”
Poirot studied me attentively for a moment or two. Then, to my intense surprise, he shook his head decidedly.
“No, my friend.”
“Oh, look here, why not?”
“Two is enough for a secret.”
“Well, I think it is very unfair to keep back facts from me.”
“I am not keeping back facts. Every fact that I know is in your possession. You can draw your own deductions from them. This time it is a question of ideas.”
“Still, it would be interesting to know.”
Poirot looked at me very earnestly, and again shook his head.
“You see,” he said sadly, “you have no instincts.”
“It was intelligence you were requiring just now,” I pointed out.
“The two often go together,” said Poirot enigmatically.
The remark seemed so utterly irrelevant that I did not even take the trouble to answer it. But I decided that if I made any interesting and important discoveries—as no doubt I should—I would keep them to myself, and surprise Poirot with the ultimate result.
There are times when it is one’s duty to assert oneself.
I had had no opportunity as yet of passing on Poirot’s message to Lawrence. But now, as I strolled out on the lawn, still nursing a grudge against my friend’s high-handedness, I saw Lawrence on the croquet lawn, aimlessly knocking a couple of very ancient balls about, with a still more ancient mallet.
It struck me that it would be a good opportunity to deliver my message. Otherwise, Poirot himself might relieve me of it. It was true that I did not quite gather its purport, but I flattered myself that by Lawrence’s reply, and perhaps a little skillful cross-examination on my part, I should soon perceive its significance. Accordingly I accosted him.
“I’ve been looking for you,” I remarked untruthfully.
“Yes. The truth is, I’ve got a message for you—from Poirot.”
“He told me to wait until I was alone with you,” I said, dropping my voice significantly, and watching him intently out of the corner of my eye. I have always been rather good at what is called, I believe, creating an atmosphere.
There was no change of expression in the dark melancholic face. Had he any idea of what I was about to say?
“This is the message.” I dropped my voice still lower. “‘Find the extra coffee-cup, and you can rest in peace.’”
“What on earth does he mean?” Lawrence stared at me in quite unaffected astonishment.
“Don’t you know?”
“Not in the least. Do you?”
I was compelled to shake my head.
“What extra coffee-cup?”
“I don’t know.”
“He’d better ask Dorcas, or one of the maids, if he wants to know about coffee-cups. It’s their business, not mine. I don’t know anything about the coffee-cups, except that we’ve got some that are never used, which are a perfect dream! Old Worcester. You’re not a connoisseur, are you, Hastings?”
I shook my head.
“You miss a lot. A really perfect bit of old china—it’s pure delight to handle it, or even to look at it.”
“Well, what am I to tell Poirot?”
“Tell him I don’t know what he’s talking about. It’s double Dutch to me.”
I was moving off towards the house again when he suddenly called me back.
“I say, what was the end of that message? Say it over again, will you?”
“‘Find the extra coffee-cup, and you can rest in peace.’ Are you sure you don’t know what it means?” I asked him earnestly.
He shook his head.
“No,” he said musingly, “I don’t. I—I wish I did.”
The boom of the gong sounded from the house, and we went in together. Poirot had been asked by John to remain to lunch, and was already seated at the table.
By tacit consent, all mention of the tragedy was barred. We conversed on the war, and other outside topics. But after the cheese and biscuits had been handed round, and Dorcas had left the room, Poirot suddenly leant forward to Mrs. Cavendish.
“Pardon me, madame, for recalling unpleasant memories, but I have a little idea”—Poirot’s “little ideas” were becoming a perfect byword—“and would like to ask one or two questions.”
“Of me? Certainly.”
“You are too amiable, madame. What I want to ask is this: the door leading into Mrs. Inglethorp’s room from that of Mademoiselle Cynthia, it was bolted, you say?”
“Certainly it was bolted,” replied Mary Cavendish, rather surprised. “I said so at the inquest.”
“Yes.” She looked perplexed.
“I mean,” explained Poirot, “you are sure it was bolted, and not merely locked?”
“Oh, I see what you mean. No, I don’t know. I said bolted, meaning that it was fastened, and I could not open it, but I believe all the doors were found bolted on the inside.”
“Still, as far as you are concerned, the door might equally well have been locked?”
“You yourself did not happen to notice, madame, when you entered Mrs. Inglethorp’s room, whether that door was bolted or not?”
“I—I believe it was.”
“But you did not see it?”
“No. I—never looked.”
“But I did,” interrupted Lawrence suddenly. “I happened to notice that it was bolted.”
“Ah, that settles it.” And Poirot looked crestfallen.
I could not help rejoicing that, for once, one of his “little ideas” had come to naught.
After lunch Poirot begged me to accompany him home. I consented rather stiffly.
“You are annoyed, is it not so?” he asked anxiously, as we walked through the park.
“Not at all,” I said coldly.
“That is well. That lifts a great load from my mind.”
This was not quite what I had intended. I had hoped that he would have observed the stiffness of my manner. Still, the fervour of his words went towards the appeasing of my just displeasure. I thawed.
“I gave Lawrence your message,” I said.
“And what did he say? He was entirely puzzled?”
“Yes. I am quite sure he had no idea of what you meant.”
I had expected Poirot to be disappointed; but, to my surprise, he replied that that was as he had thought, and that he was very glad. My pride forbade me to ask any questions.
Poirot switched off on another tack.
“Mademoiselle Cynthia was not at lunch to-day? How was that?”
“She is at the hospital again. She resumed work to-day.”
“Ah, she is an industrious little demoiselle. And pretty too. She is like pictures I have seen in Italy. I would rather like to see that dispensary of hers. Do you think she would show it to me?”
“I am sure she would be delighted. It’s an interesting little place.”
“Does she go there every day?”
“She has all Wednesdays off, and comes back to lunch on Saturdays. Those are her only times off.”
“I will remember. Women are doing great work nowadays, and Mademoiselle Cynthia is clever—oh, yes, she has brains, that little one.”
“Yes. I believe she has passed quite a stiff exam.”
“Without doubt. After all, it is very responsible work. I suppose they have very strong poisons there?”
“Yes, she showed them to us. They are kept locked up in a little cupboard. I believe they have to be very careful. They always take out the key before leaving the room.”
“Indeed. It is near the window, this cupboard?”
“No, right the other side of the room. Why?”
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
“I wondered. That is all. Will you come in?”
We had reached the cottage.
“No. I think I’ll be getting back. I shall go round the long way through the woods.”
The woods round Styles were very beautiful. After the walk across the open park, it was pleasant to saunter lazily through the cool glades. There was hardly a breath of wind, the very chirp of the birds was faint and subdued. I strolled on a little way, and finally flung myself down at the foot of a grand old beech-tree. My thoughts of mankind were kindly and charitable. I even forgave Poirot for his absurd secrecy. In fact, I was at peace with the world. Then I yawned.
I thought about the crime, and it struck me as being very unreal and far off.
I yawned again.
Probably, I thought, it really never happened. Of course, it was all a bad dream. The truth of the matter was that it was Lawrence who had murdered Alfred Inglethorp with a croquet mallet. But it was absurd of John to make such a fuss about it, and to go shouting out: “I tell you I won’t have it!”
I woke up with a start.
At once I realized that I was in a very awkward predicament. For, about twelve feet away from me, John and Mary Cavendish were standing facing each other, and they were evidently quarrelling. And, quite as evidently, they were unaware of my vicinity, for before I could move or speak John repeated the words which had aroused me from my dream.
“I tell you, Mary, I won’t have it.”
Mary’s voice came, cool and liquid:
“Have you any right to criticize my actions?”
“It will be the talk of the village! My mother was only buried on Saturday, and here you are gadding about with the fellow.”
“Oh,” she shrugged her shoulders, “if it is only village gossip that you mind!”
“But it isn’t. I’ve had enough of the fellow hanging about. He’s a Polish Jew, anyway.”
“A tinge of Jewish blood is not a bad thing. It leavens the”—she looked at him—“stolid stupidity of the ordinary Englishman.”
Fire in her eyes, ice in her voice. I did not wonder that the blood rose to John’s face in a crimson tide.
“Well?” Her tone did not change.
The pleading died out of his voice.
“Am I to understand that you will continue to see Bauerstein against my express wishes?”
“If I choose.”
“You defy me?”
“No, but I deny your right to criticize my actions. Have you no friends of whom I should disapprove?”
John fell back a pace. The colour ebbed slowly from his face.
“What do you mean?” he said, in an unsteady voice.
“You see!” said Mary quietly. “You do see, don’t you, that you have no right to dictate to me as to the choice of my friends?”
John glanced at her pleadingly, a stricken look on his face.
“No right? Have I no right, Mary?” he said unsteadily. He stretched out his hands. “Mary——”
For a moment, I thought she wavered. A softer expression came over her face, then suddenly she turned almost fiercely away.
She was walking away when John sprang after her, and caught her by the arm.
“Mary”—his voice was very quiet now—“are you in love with this fellow Bauerstein?”
She hesitated, and suddenly there swept across her face a strange expression, old as the hills, yet with something eternally young about it. So might some Egyptian sphinx have smiled.
She freed herself quietly from his arm, and spoke over her shoulder.
“Perhaps,” she said; and then swiftly passed out of the little glade, leaving John standing there as though he had been turned to stone.
Rather ostentatiously, I stepped forward, crackling some dead branches with my feet as I did so. John turned. Luckily, he took it for granted that I had only just come upon the scene.
“Hullo, Hastings. Have you seen the little fellow safely back to his cottage? Quaint little chap! Is he any good, though, really?”
“He was considered one of the finest detectives of his day.”
“Oh, well, I suppose there must be something in it, then. What a rotten world it is, though!”
“You find it so?” I asked.
“Good Lord, yes! There’s this terrible business to start with. Scotland Yard men in and out of the house like a jack-in-the-box! Never know where they won’t turn up next. Screaming headlines in every paper in the country—damn all journalists, I say! Do you know there was a whole crowd staring in at the lodge gates this morning. Sort of Madame Tussaud’s chamber of horrors business that can be seen for nothing. Pretty thick, isn’t it?”
“Cheer up, John!” I said soothingly. “It can’t last for ever.”
“Can’t it, though? It can last long enough for us never to be able to hold up our heads again.”
“No, no, you’re getting morbid on the subject.”
“Enough to make a man morbid, to be stalked by beastly journalists and stared at by gaping moon-faced idiots, wherever he goes! But there’s worse than that.”
John lowered his voice:
“Have you ever thought, Hastings—it’s a nightmare to me—who did it? I can’t help feeling sometimes it must have been an accident. Because—because—who could have done it? Now Inglethorp’s out of the way, there’s no one else; no one, I mean, except—one of us.”
Yes, indeed, that was nightmare enough for any man! One of us? Yes, surely it must be so, unless——-
A new idea suggested itself to my mind. Rapidly, I considered it. The light increased. Poirot’s mysterious doings, his hints—they all fitted in. Fool that I was not to have thought of this possibility before, and what a relief for us all.
“No, John,” I said, “it isn’t one of us. How could it be?”
“I know, but, still, who else is there?”
“Can’t you guess?”
I looked cautiously round, and lowered my voice.
“Dr. Bauerstein!” I whispered.
“Not at all.”
“But what earthly interest could he have in my mother’s death?”
“That I don’t see,” I confessed, “but I’ll tell you this: Poirot thinks so.”
“Poirot? Does he? How do you know?”
I told him of Poirot’s intense excitement on hearing that Dr. Bauerstein had been at Styles on the fatal night, and added:
“He said twice: ‘That alters everything.’ And I’ve been thinking. You know Inglethorp said he had put down the coffee in the hall? Well, it was just then that Bauerstein arrived. Isn’t it possible that, as Inglethorp brought him through the hall, the doctor dropped something into the coffee in passing?”
“H’m,” said John. “It would have been very risky.”
“Yes, but it was possible.”
“And then, how could he know it was her coffee? No, old fellow, I don’t think that will wash.”
But I had remembered something else.
“You’re quite right. That wasn’t how it was done. Listen.” And I then told him of the cocoa sample which Poirot had taken to be analysed.
John interrupted just as I had done.
“But, look here, Bauerstein had had it analysed already?”
“Yes, yes, that’s the point. I didn’t see it either until now. Don’t you understand? Bauerstein had it analysed—that’s just it! If Bauerstein’s the murderer, nothing could be simpler than for him to substitute some ordinary cocoa for his sample, and send that to be tested. And of course they would find no strychnine! But no one would dream of suspecting Bauerstein, or think of taking another sample—except Poirot,” I added, with belated recognition.
“Yes, but what about the bitter taste that cocoa won’t disguise?”
“Well, we’ve only his word for that. And there are other possibilities. He’s admittedly one of the world’s greatest toxicologists——”
“One of the world’s greatest what? Say it again.”
“He knows more about poisons than almost anybody,” I explained. “Well, my idea is, that perhaps he’s found some way of making strychnine tasteless. Or it may not have been strychnine at all, but some obscure drug no one has ever heard of, which produces much the same symptoms.”
“H’m, yes, that might be,” said John. “But look here, how could he have got at the cocoa? That wasn’t downstairs?”
“No, it wasn’t,” I admitted reluctantly.
And then, suddenly, a dreadful possibility flashed through my mind. I hoped and prayed it would not occur to John also. I glanced sideways at him. He was frowning perplexedly, and I drew a deep breath of relief, for the terrible thought that had flashed across my mind was this: that Dr. Bauerstein might have had an accomplice.
Yet surely it could not be! Surely no woman as beautiful as Mary Cavendish could be a murderess. Yet beautiful women had been known to poison.
And suddenly I remembered that first conversation at tea on the day of my arrival, and the gleam in her eyes as she had said that poison was a woman’s weapon. How agitated she had been on that fatal Tuesday evening! Had Mrs. Inglethorp discovered something between her and Bauerstein, and threatened to tell her husband? Was it to stop that denunciation that the crime had been committed?
Then I remembered that enigmatical conversation between Poirot and Evelyn Howard. Was this what they had meant? Was this the monstrous possibility that Evelyn had tried not to believe?
Yes, it all fitted in.
No wonder Miss Howard had suggested “hushing it up.” Now I understood that unfinished sentence of hers: “Emily herself——” And in my heart I agreed with her. Would not Mrs. Inglethorp have preferred to go unavenged rather than have such terrible dishonour fall upon the name of Cavendish.
“There’s another thing,” said John suddenly, and the unexpected sound of his voice made me start guiltily. “Something which makes me doubt if what you say can be true.”
“What’s that?” I asked, thankful that he had gone away from the subject of how the poison could have been introduced into the cocoa.
“Why, the fact that Bauerstein demanded a post-mortem. He needn’t have done so. Little Wilkins would have been quite content to let it go at heart disease.”
“Yes,” I said doubtfully. “But we don’t know. Perhaps he thought it safer in the long run. Someone might have talked afterwards. Then the Home Office might have ordered exhumation. The whole thing would have come out, then, and he would have been in an awkward position, for no one would have believed that a man of his reputation could have been deceived into calling it heart disease.”
“Yes, that’s possible,” admitted John. “Still,” he added, “I’m blest if I can see what his motive could have been.”
“Look here,” I said, “I may be altogether wrong. And, remember, all this is in confidence.”
“Oh, of course—that goes without saying.”
We had walked, as we talked, and now we passed through the little gate into the garden. Voices rose near at hand, for tea was spread out under the sycamore-tree, as it had been on the day of my arrival.
Cynthia was back from the hospital, and I placed my chair beside her, and told her of Poirot’s wish to visit the dispensary.
“Of course! I’d love him to see it. He’d better come to tea there one day. I must fix it up with him. He’s such a dear little man! But he is funny. He made me take the brooch out of my tie the other day, and put it in again, because he said it wasn’t straight.”
“It’s quite a mania with him.”
“Yes, isn’t it?”
We were silent for a minute or two, and then, glancing in the direction of Mary Cavendish, and dropping her voice, Cynthia said:
“After tea, I want to talk to you.”
Her glance at Mary had set me thinking. I fancied that between these two there existed very little sympathy. For the first time, it occurred to me to wonder about the girl’s future. Mrs. Inglethorp had made no provisions of any kind for her, but I imagined that John and Mary would probably insist on her making her home with them—at any rate until the end of the war. John, I knew, was very fond of her, and would be sorry to let her go.
John, who had gone into the house, now reappeared. His good-natured face wore an unaccustomed frown of anger.
“Confound those detectives! I can’t think what they’re after! They’ve been in every room in the house—turning things inside out, and upside down. It really is too bad! I suppose they took advantage of our all being out. I shall go for that fellow Japp, when I next see him!”
“Lot of Paul Prys,” grunted Miss Howard.
Lawrence opined that they had to make a show of doing something.
Mary Cavendish said nothing.
After tea, I invited Cynthia to come for a walk, and we sauntered off into the woods together.
“Well?” I inquired, as soon as we were protected from prying eyes by the leafy screen.
With a sigh, Cynthia flung herself down, and tossed off her hat. The sunlight, piercing through the branches, turned the auburn of her hair to quivering gold.
“Mr. Hastings—you are always so kind, and you know such a lot.”
It struck me at this moment that Cynthia was really a very charming girl! Much more charming than Mary, who never said things of that kind.
“Well?” I asked benignantly, as she hesitated.
“I want to ask your advice. What shall I do?”
“Yes. You see, Aunt Emily always told me I should be provided for. I suppose she forgot, or didn’t think she was likely to die—anyway, I am not provided for! And I don’t know what to do. Do you think I ought to go away from here at once?”
“Good heavens, no! They don’t want to part with you, I’m sure.”
Cynthia hesitated a moment, plucking up the grass with her tiny hands. Then she said: “Mrs. Cavendish does. She hates me.”
“Hates you?” I cried, astonished.
“Yes. I don’t know why, but she can’t bear me; and he can’t, either.”
“There I know you’re wrong,” I said warmly. “On the contrary, John is very fond of you.”
“Oh, yes—John. I meant Lawrence. Not, of course, that I care whether Lawrence hates me or not. Still, it’s rather horrid when no one loves you, isn’t it?”
“But they do, Cynthia dear,” I said earnestly. “I’m sure you are mistaken. Look, there is John—and Miss Howard——”
Cynthia nodded rather gloomily. “Yes, John likes me, I think, and of course Evie, for all her gruff ways, wouldn’t be unkind to a fly. But Lawrence never speaks to me if he can help it, and Mary can hardly bring herself to be civil to me. She wants Evie to stay on, is begging her to, but she doesn’t want me, and—and—I don’t know what to do.” Suddenly the poor child burst out crying.
I don’t know what possessed me. Her beauty, perhaps, as she sat there, with the sunlight glinting down on her head; perhaps the sense of relief at encountering someone who so obviously could have no connection with the tragedy; perhaps honest pity for her youth and loneliness. Anyway, I leant forward, and taking her little hand, I said awkwardly:
“Marry me, Cynthia.”
Unwittingly, I had hit upon a sovereign remedy for her tears. She sat up at once, drew her hand away, and said, with some asperity:
“Don’t be silly!”
I was a little annoyed.
“I’m not being silly. I am asking you to do me the honour of becoming my wife.”
To my intense surprise, Cynthia burst out laughing, and called me a “funny dear.”
“It’s perfectly sweet of you,” she said, “but you know you don’t want to!”
“Yes, I do. I’ve got——”
“Never mind what you’ve got. You don’t really want to—and I don’t either.”
“Well, of course, that settles it,” I said stiffly. “But I don’t see anything to laugh at. There’s nothing funny about a proposal.”
“No, indeed,” said Cynthia. “Somebody might accept you next time. Good-bye, you’ve cheered me up very much.”
And, with a final uncontrollable burst of merriment, she vanished through the trees.
Thinking over the interview, it struck me as being profoundly unsatisfactory.
It occurred to me suddenly that I would go down to the village, and look up Bauerstein. Somebody ought to be keeping an eye on the fellow. At the same time, it would be wise to allay any suspicions he might have as to his being suspected. I remembered how Poirot had relied on my diplomacy. Accordingly, I went to the little house with the “Apartments” card inserted in the window, where I knew he lodged, and tapped on the door.
An old woman came and opened it.
“Good afternoon,” I said pleasantly. “Is Dr. Bauerstein in?”
She stared at me.
“Haven’t you heard?”
“What about him?”
“No, took by the perlice.”
“By the police!” I gasped. “Do you mean they’ve arrested him?”
“Yes, that’s it, and——”
I waited to hear no more, but tore up the village to find Poirot.
Georgia: And that concludes the fifth episode of our novel read aloud. Now I’m sure you already have your suspicions about certain characters, or maybe a prediction on how the murder unfolded? If so, we would love to hear them! Please share any thoughts or theories you have with us and we will share some of our favorites during the next episode! You can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may discuss your theories next episode! If you’re loving the historical element of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, check out our latest book tasting episode which dives into the Adult Historical Fiction genre. As always, tune in next friday for another two chapters. Have a good one everyone!