The Mysterious Affair At Styles: Chapter IX
To begin with Chapter I, please click here
Chapter 9 Poirot has a "little idea" and Hastings makes a rash proposal.
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Chapter IX: Dr. Baustein
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.