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?"
"Voila! 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, every one's room was in this left wing. Had that anything to do with it? Was I to report who came or went? I stood faithfully at my post. The minutes passed. Nobody came. Nothing happened.
It must have been quite twenty minutes before Poirot rejoined me.
"You have not stirred?"
"No, I've stuck here like a rock. Nothing's happened."
"Ah!" Was he pleased, or disappointed? "You've seen nothing at all?"
"But you have probably heard something? A big bump—eh, mon ami?"
"Is it possible? Ah, but I am vexed with myself! I am not usually clumsy. I made but a slight gesture"—I know Poirot's gestures—"with the left hand, and over went the table by the bed!"
He looked so childishly vexed and crest-fallen that I hastened to console him.
"Never mind, old chap. What does it matter? Your triumph downstairs excited you. I can tell you, that was a surprise to us all. There must be more in this affair of Inglethorp's with Mrs. Raikes than we thought, to make him hold his tongue so persistently. What are you going to do now? Where are the Scotland Yard fellows?"
"Gone down to interview the servants. I showed them all our exhibits. I am disappointed in Japp. He has no method!"
"Hullo!" I said, looking out of the window. "Here's Dr. Bauerstein. I believe you're right about that man, Poirot. I don't like him."
"He is clever," observed Poirot meditatively.
"Oh, clever as the devil! I must say I was overjoyed to see him in the plight he was in on Tuesday. You never saw such a spectacle!" And I described the doctor's adventure. "He looked a regular scarecrow! Plastered with mud from head to foot."
"You saw him, then?"
"Yes. Of course, he didn't want to come in—it was just after dinner—but Mr. Inglethorp insisted."
"What?" Poirot caught me violently by the shoulders. "Was Dr. Bauerstein here on Tuesday evening? Here? And you never told me? Why did you not tell me? Why? Why?"
He appeared to be in an absolute frenzy.
"My dear Poirot," I expostulated, "I never thought it would interest you. I didn't know it was of any importance."
"Importance? It is of the first importance! So Dr. Bauerstein was here on Tuesday night—the night of the murder. Hastings, do you not see? That alters everything—everything!"
I had never seen him so upset. Loosening his hold of me, he mechanically straightened a pair of candlesticks, still murmuring to himself: "Yes, that alters everything—everything."
Suddenly he seemed to come to a decision.
"Allons!" he said. "We must act at once. Where is Mr. Cavendish?"
John was in the smoking-room. Poirot went straight to him.
"Mr. Cavendish, I have some important business in Tadminster. A new clue. May I take your motor?"
"Why, of course. Do you mean at once?"
"If you please."
John rang the bell, and ordered round the car. In another ten minutes, we were racing down the park and along the high road to Tadminster.
"Now, Poirot," I remarked resignedly, "perhaps you will tell me what all this is about?"
"Well, mon ami, a good deal you can guess for yourself. Of course you realize that, now Mr. Inglethorp is out of it, the whole position is greatly changed. We are face to face with an entirely new problem. We know now that there is one person who did not buy the poison. We have cleared away the manufactured clues. Now for the real ones. I have ascertained that anyone in the household, with the exception of Mrs. Cavendish, who was playing tennis with you, could have personated Mr. Inglethorp on Monday evening. In the same way, we have his statement that he put the coffee down in the hall. No one took much notice of that at the inquest—but now it has a very different significance. We must find out who did take that coffee to Mrs. Inglethorp eventually, or who passed through the hall whilst it was standing there. From your account, there are only two people whom we can positively say did not go near the coffee—Mrs. Cavendish, and Mademoiselle Cynthia."
"Yes, that is so." I felt an inexpressible lightening of the heart. Mary Cavendish could certainly not rest under suspicion.
"In clearing Alfred Inglethorp," continued Poirot, "I have been obliged to show my hand sooner than I intended. As long as I might be thought to be pursuing him, the criminal would be off his guard. Now, he will be doubly careful. Yes—doubly careful." He turned to me abruptly. "Tell me, Hastings, you yourself—have you no suspicions of anybody?"
I hesitated. To tell the truth, an idea, wild and extravagant in itself, had once or twice that morning flashed through my brain. I had rejected it as absurd, nevertheless it persisted.
"You couldn't call it a suspicion," I murmured. "It's so utterly foolish."
"Come now," urged Poirot encouragingly. "Do not fear. Speak your mind. You should always pay attention to your instincts."
"Well then," I blurted out, "it's absurd—but I suspect Miss Howard of not telling all she knows!"
"Yes—you'll laugh at me——"
"Not at all. Why should I?"
"I can't help feeling," I continued blunderingly; "that we've rather left her out of the possible suspects, simply on the strength of her having been away from the place. But, after all, she was only fifteen miles away. A car would do it in half an hour. Can we say positively that she was away from Styles on the night of the murder?"
"Yes, my friend," said Poirot unexpectedly, "we can. One of my first actions was to ring up the hospital where she was working."
"Well, I learnt that Miss Howard had been on afternoon duty on Tuesday, and that—a convoy coming in unexpectedly—she had kindly offered to remain on night duty, which offer was gratefully accepted. That disposes of that."
"Oh!" I said, rather nonplussed. "Really," I continued, "it's her extraordinary vehemence against Inglethorp that started me off suspecting her. I can't help feeling she'd do anything against him. And I had an idea she might know something about the destroying of the will. She might have burnt the new one, mistaking it for the earlier one in his favour. She is so terribly bitter against him."
"You consider her vehemence unnatural?"
"Y—es. She is so very violent. I wondered really whether she is quite sane on that point."
Poirot shook his head energetically.
"No, no, you are on a wrong tack there. There is nothing weak-minded or degenerate about Miss Howard. She is an excellent specimen of well-balanced English beef and brawn. She is sanity itself."
"Yet her hatred of Inglethorp seems almost a mania. My idea was—a very ridiculous one, no doubt—that she had intended to poison him—and that, in some way, Mrs. Inglethorp got hold of it by mistake. But I don't at all see how it could have been done. The whole thing is absurd and ridiculous to the last degree."
"Still you are right in one thing. It is always wise to suspect everybody until you can prove logically, and to your own satisfaction, that they are innocent. Now, what reasons are there against Miss Howard's having deliberately poisoned Mrs. Inglethorp?"
"Why, she was devoted to her!" I exclaimed.
"Tcha! Tcha!" cried Poirot irritably. "You argue like a child. If Miss Howard were capable of poisoning the old lady, she would be quite equally capable of simulating devotion. No, we must look elsewhere. You are perfectly correct in your assumption that her vehemence against Alfred Inglethorp is too violent to be natural; but you are quite wrong in the deduction you draw from it. I have drawn my own deductions, which I believe to be correct, but I will not speak of them at present." He paused a minute, then went on. "Now, to my way of thinking, there is one insuperable objection to Miss Howard's being the murderess."
"And that is?"
"That in no possible way could Mrs. Inglethorp's death benefit Miss Howard. Now there is no murder without a motive."
"Could not Mrs. Inglethorp have made a will in her favour?" Poirot shook his head.
"But you yourself suggested that possibility to Mr. Wells?"
"That was for a reason. I did not want to mention the name of the person who was actually in my mind. Miss Howard occupied very much the same position, so I used her name instead."
"Still, Mrs. Inglethorp might have done so. Why, that will, made on the afternoon of her death may——"
But Poirot's shake of the head was so energetic that I stopped.
"No, my friend. I have certain little ideas of my own about that will. But I can tell you this much—it was not in Miss Howard's favour."
I accepted his assurance, though I did not really see how he could be so positive about the matter.
"Well," I said, with a sigh, "we will acquit Miss Howard, then. It is partly your fault that I ever came to suspect her. It was what you said about her evidence at the inquest that set me off."
Poirot looked puzzled.
"What did I say about her evidence at the inquest?"
"Don't you remember? When I cited her and John Cavendish as being above suspicion?"
"Oh—ah—yes." He seemed a little confused, but recovered himself. "By the way, Hastings, there is something I want you to do for me."
"Certainly. What is it?"
"Next time you happen to be alone with Lawrence Cavendish, I want you to say this to him. 'I have a message for you, from Poirot. He says: "Find the extra coffee-cup, and you can rest in peace!" ' Nothing more. Nothing less."
" 'Find the extra coffee-cup, and you can rest in peace.' Is that right?" I asked, much mystified.
"But what does it mean?"
"Ah, that I will leave you to find out. You have access to the facts. Just say that to him, and see what he says."
"Very well—but it's all extremely mysterious."
We were running into Tadminster now, and Poirot directed the car to the "Analytical Chemist."
Poirot hopped down briskly, and went inside. In a few minutes he was back again.
"There," he said. "That is all my business."
"What were you doing there?" I asked, in lively curiosity.
"I left something to be analysed."
"Yes, but what?"
"The sample of coco I took from the saucepan in the bedroom."
"But that has already been tested!" I cried, stupefied. "Dr. Bauerstein had it tested, and you yourself laughed at the possibility of there being strychnine in it."
"I know Dr. Bauerstein had it tested," replied Poirot quietly.
"Well, I have a fancy for having it analysed again, that is all."
And not another word on the subject could I drag out of him.
This proceeding of Poirot's, in respect of the coco, puzzled me intensely. I could see neither rhyme nor reason in it. However, my confidence in him, which at one time had rather waned, was fully restored since his belief in Alfred Inglethorp's innocence had been so triumphantly vindicated.
The funeral of Mrs. Inglethorp took place the following day, and on Monday, as I came down to a late breakfast, John drew me aside, and informed me that Mr. Inglethorp was leaving that morning, to take up his quarters at the Stylites Arms until he should have completed his plans.
"And really it's a great relief to think he's going, Hastings," continued my honest friend. "It was bad enough before, when we thought he'd done it, but I'm hanged if it isn't worse now, when we all feel guilty for having been so down on the fellow. The fact is, we've treated him abominably. Of course, things did look black against him. I don't see how anyone could blame us for jumping to the conclusions we did. Still, there it is, we were in the wrong, and now there's a beastly feeling that one ought to make amends; which is difficult, when one doesn't like the fellow a bit better than one did before. The whole thing's damned awkward! And I'm thankful he's had the tact to take himself off. It's a good thing Styles wasn't the mater's to leave to him. Couldn't bear to think of the fellow lording it here. He's welcome to her money."
"You'll be able to keep up the place all right?" I asked.
"Oh, yes. There are the death duties, of course, but half my father's money goes with the place, and Lawrence will stay with us for the present, so there is his share as well. We shall be pinched at first, of course, because, as I once told you, I am in a bit of a hole financially myself. Still, the Johnnies will wait now."
In the general relief at Inglethorp's approaching departure, we had the most genial breakfast we had experienced since the tragedy. Cynthia, whose young spirits were naturally buoyant, was looking quite her pretty self again, and we all, with the exception of Lawrence, who seemed unalterably gloomy and nervous, were quietly cheerful, at the opening of a new and hopeful future.
The papers, of course, had been full of the tragedy. Glaring headlines, sandwiched biographies of every member of the household, subtle innuendoes, the usual familiar tag about the police having a clue. Nothing was spared us. It was a slack time. The war was momentarily inactive, and the newspapers seized with avidity on this crime in fashionable life: "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" was the topic of the moment.
Naturally it was very annoying for the Cavendishes. The house was constantly besieged by reporters, who were consistently denied admission, but who continued to haunt the village and the grounds, where they lay in wait with cameras, for any unwary members of the household. We all lived in a blast of publicity. The Scotland Yard men came and went, examining, questioning, lynx-eyed and reserved of tongue. Towards what end they were working, we did not know. Had they any clue, or would the whole thing remain in the category of undiscovered crimes?
After breakfast, Dorcas came up to me rather mysteriously, and asked if she might have a few words with me.
"Certainly. What is it, Dorcas?"
"Well, it's just this, sir. You'll be seeing the Belgian gentleman to-day perhaps?" I nodded. "Well, sir, you know how he asked me so particular if the mistress, or anyone else, had a green dress?"
"Yes, yes. You have found one?" My interest was aroused.
"No, not that, sir. But since then I've remembered what the young gentlemen"—John and Lawrence were still the "young gentlemen" to Dorcas—"call the 'dressing-up box.' It's up in the front attic, sir. A great chest, full of old clothes and fancy dresses, and what not. And it came to me sudden like that there might be a green dress amongst them. So, if you'd tell the Belgian gentleman——"
"I will tell him, Dorcas," I promised.
"Thank you very much, sir. A very nice gentleman he is, sir. And quite a different class from them two detectives from London, what goes prying about, and asking questions. I don't hold with foreigners as a rule, but from what the newspapers say I make out as how these brave Belges isn't the ordinary run of foreigners, and certainly he's a most polite spoken gentleman."
Dear old Dorcas! As she stood there, with her honest face upturned to mine, I thought what a fine specimen she was of the old-fashioned servant that is so fast dying out.
I thought I might as well go down to the village at once, and look up Poirot; but I met him half-way, coming up to the house, and at once gave him Dorcas's message.
"Ah, the brave Dorcas! We will look at the chest, although—but no matter—we will examine it all the same."
We entered the house by one of the windows. There was no one in the hall, and we went straight up to the attic.
Sure enough, there was the chest, a fine old piece, all studded with brass nails, and full to overflowing with every imaginable type of garment.
Poirot bundled everything out on the floor with scant ceremony. There were one or two green fabrics of varying shades; but Poirot shook his head over them all. He seemed somewhat apathetic in the search, as though he expected no great results from it. Suddenly he gave an exclamation.
"What is it?"
The chest was nearly empty, and there, reposing right at the bottom, was a magnificent black beard.
"Oho!" said Poirot. "Oho!" He turned it over in his hands, examining it closely. "New," he remarked. "Yes, quite new."
After a moment's hesitation, he replaced it in the chest, heaped all the other things on top of it as before, and made his way briskly downstairs. He went straight to the pantry, where we found Dorcas busily polishing her silver.
Poirot wished her good morning with Gallic politeness, and went on:
"We have been looking through that chest, Dorcas. I am much obliged to you for mentioning it. There is, indeed, a fine collection there. Are they often used, may I ask?"
"Well, sir, not very often nowadays, though from time to time we do have what the young gentlemen call 'a dress-up night.' And very funny it is sometimes, sir. Mr. Lawrence, he's wonderful. Most comic! I shall never forget the night he came down as the Char of Persia, I think he called it—a sort of Eastern King it was. He had the big paper knife in his hand, and 'Mind, Dorcas,' he says, 'you'll have to be very respectful. This is my specially sharpened scimitar, and it's off with your head if I'm at all displeased with you!' Miss Cynthia, she was what they call an Apache, or some such name—a Frenchified sort of cut-throat, I take it to be. A real sight she looked. You'd never have believed a pretty young lady like that could have made herself into such a ruffian. Nobody would have known her."
"These evenings must have been great fun," said Poirot genially. "I suppose Mr. Lawrence wore that fine black beard in the chest upstairs, when he was Shah of Persia?"
"He did have a beard, sir," replied Dorcas, smiling. "And well I know it, for he borrowed two skeins of my black wool to make it with! And I'm sure it looked wonderfully natural at a distance. I didn't know as there was a beard up there at all. It must have been got quite lately, I think. There was a red wig, I know, but nothing else in the way of hair. Burnt corks they use mostly—though 'tis messy getting it off again. Miss Cynthia was a nigger once, and, oh, the trouble she had."
"So Dorcas knows nothing about that black beard," said Poirot thoughtfully, as we walked out into the hall again.
"Do you think it is the one?" I whispered eagerly.
"I do. You notice it had been trimmed?"
"Yes. It was cut exactly the shape of Mr. Inglethorp's, and I found one or two snipped hairs. Hastings, this affair is very deep."
"Who put it in the chest, I wonder?"
"Some one with a good deal of intelligence," remarked Poirot dryly. "You realize that he chose the one place in the house to hide it where its presence would not be remarked? Yes, he is intelligent. But we must be more intelligent. We must be so intelligent that he does not suspect us of being intelligent at all."
"There, mon ami, you will be of great assistance to me."
I was pleased with the compliment. There had been times when I hardly thought that Poirot appreciated me at my true worth.
"Yes," he continued, staring at me thoughtfully, "you will be invaluable."
This was naturally gratifying, but Poirot's next words were not so welcome.
"I must have an ally in the house," he observed reflectively.
"You have me," I protested.
"True, but you are not sufficient."
I was hurt, and showed it. Poirot hurried to explain himself.
"You do not quite take my meaning. You are known to be working with me. I want somebody who is not associated with us in any way."
"Oh, I see. How about John?"
"No, I think not."
"The dear fellow isn't perhaps very bright," I said thoughtfully.
"Here comes Miss Howard," said Poirot suddenly. "She is the very person. But I am in her black books, since I cleared Mr. Inglethorp. Still, we can but try."
With a nod that was barely civil, Miss Howard assented to Poirot's request for a few minutes' conversation.
We went into the little morning-room, and Poirot closed the door.
"Well, Monsieur Poirot," said Miss Howard impatiently, "what is it? Out with it. I'm busy."
"Do you remember, mademoiselle, that I once asked you to help me?"
"Yes, I do." The lady nodded. "And I told you I'd help you with pleasure—to hang Alfred Inglethorp."
"Ah!" Poirot studied her seriously. "Miss Howard, I will ask you one question. I beg of you to reply to it truthfully."
"Never tell lies," replied Miss Howard.
"It is this. Do you still believe that Mrs. Inglethorp was poisoned by her husband?"
"What do you mean?" she asked sharply. "You needn't think your pretty explanations influence me in the slightest. I'll admit that it wasn't he who bought strychnine at the chemist's shop. What of that? I dare say he soaked fly paper, as I told you at the beginning."
"That is arsenic—not strychnine," said Poirot mildly.
"What does that matter? Arsenic would put poor Emily out of the way just as well as strychnine. If I'm convinced he did it, it doesn't matter a jot to me how he did it."
"Exactly. If you are convinced he did it," said Poirot quietly. "I will put my question in another form. Did you ever in your heart of hearts believe that Mrs. Inglethorp was poisoned by her husband?"
"Good heavens!" cried Miss Howard. "Haven't I always told you the man is a villain? Haven't I always told you he would murder her in her bed? Haven't I always hated him like poison?"
"Exactly," said Poirot. "That bears out my little idea entirely."
"What little idea?"
"Miss Howard, do you remember a conversation that took place on the day of my friend's arrival here? He repeated it to me, and there is a sentence of yours that has impressed me very much. Do you remember affirming that if a crime had been committed, and anyone you loved had been murdered, you felt certain that you would know by instinct who the criminal was, even if you were quite unable to prove it?"
"Yes, I remember saying that. I believe it too. I suppose you think it nonsense?"
"Not at all."
"And yet you will pay no attention to my instinct against Alfred Inglethorp."
"No," said Poirot curtly. "Because your instinct is not against Mr. Inglethorp."
"No. You wish to believe he committed the crime. You believe him capable of committing it. But your instinct tells you he did not commit it. It tells you more—shall I go on?"
She was staring at him, fascinated, and made a slight affirmative movement of the hand.
"Shall I tell you why you have been so vehement against Mr. Inglethorp? It is because you have been trying to believe what you wish to believe. It is because you are trying to drown and stifle your instinct, which tells you another name——"
"No, no, no!" cried Miss Howard wildly, flinging up her hands. "Don't say it! Oh, don't say it! It isn't true! It can't be true. I don't know what put such a wild—such a dreadful—idea into my head!"
"I am right, am I not?" asked Poirot.
"Yes, yes; you must be a wizard to have guessed. But it can't be so—it's too monstrous, too impossible. It must be Alfred Inglethorp."
Poirot shook his head gravely.
"Don't ask me about it," continued Miss Howard, "because I shan't tell you. I won't admit it, even to myself. I must be mad to think of such a thing."
Poirot nodded, as if satisfied.
"I will ask you nothing. It is enough for me that it is as I thought. And I—I, too, have an instinct. We are working together towards a common end."
"Don't ask me to help you, because I won't. I wouldn't lift a finger to—to——" She faltered.
"You will help me in spite of yourself. I ask you nothing—but you will be my ally. You will not be able to help yourself. You will do the only thing that I want of you."
"And that is?"
"You will watch!"
Evelyn Howard bowed her head.
"Yes, I can't help doing that. I am always watching—always hoping I shall be proved wrong."
"If we are wrong, well and good," said Poirot. "No one will be more pleased than I shall. But, if we are right? If we are right, Miss Howard, on whose side are you then?"
"I don't know, I don't know——"
"It could be hushed up."
"There must be no hushing up."
"But Emily herself——" She broke off.
"Miss Howard," said Poirot gravely, "this is unworthy of you."
Suddenly she took her face from her hands.
"Yes," she said quietly, "that was not Evelyn Howard who spoke!" She flung her head up proudly. "This is Evelyn Howard! And she is on the side of Justice! Let the cost be what it may." And with these words, she walked firmly out of the room.
"There," said Poirot, looking after her, "goes a very valuable ally. That woman, Hastings, has got brains as well as a heart."
I did not reply.
"Instinct is a marvellous thing," mused Poirot. "It can neither be explained nor ignored."
"You and Miss Howard seem to know what you are talking about," I observed coldly. "Perhaps you don't realize that I am still in the dark."
"Really? Is that so, mon ami?"
"Yes. Enlighten me, will you?"
Poirot studied me attentively for a moment or two. Then, to my intense surprise, he shook his head decidedly.
"No, my friend."
"Oh, look here, why not?"
"Two is enough for a secret."
"Well, I think it is very unfair to keep back facts from me."
"I am not keeping back facts. Every fact that I know is in your possession. You can draw your own deductions from them. This time it is a question of ideas."
"Still, it would be interesting to know."
Poirot looked at me very earnestly, and again shook his head.
"You see," he said sadly, "you have no instincts."
"It was intelligence you were requiring just now," I pointed out.
"The two often go together," said Poirot enigmatically.
The remark seemed so utterly irrelevant that I did not even take the trouble to answer it. But I decided that if I made any interesting and important discoveries—as no doubt I should—I would keep them to myself, and surprise Poirot with the ultimate result.
There are times when it is one's duty to assert oneself.