فصل 01

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Chapter one

I Go to Styles

The strong public interest in ‘The Styles Case’ is over now. But because the case was so famous I have been asked to write an account of the whole story, to prevent any more sensational rumours. This is how I, Captain Arthur Hastings, became involved with the affair.

I was wounded while fighting in the Great War and sent home to recover. I had no close relatives or friends, and was wondering where to stay, when I met my friend John Cavendish. John was a friendly man of about forty-five, much older than me. I had not seen him for many years, but when I was a boy I often stayed at Styles - his mother’s country house in Ess@x.

We talked about old times, and John kindly invited me to stay at Styles to rest. ‘My mother will be delighted to see you again,’ he added.

‘Is your mother well?’ I asked.

‘Oh, yes. Did you know she has married again?’

I was surprised. John’s mother, Emily, must now be seventy years old. I remembered her as an energetic woman with a strong personality. She married John’s father after his first wife had died, leaving him with two sons - John and Lawrence. When John’s father died, he left Styles and most of his money to Emily, his second wife - and his older son John would inherit Styles only after she died. Though this was unfair, Emily was very generous to the two boys, and they thought and spoke of her as their own mother.

Lawrence, John’s younger brother, had qualified as a doctor but then abandoned the medical profession. He lived at Styles and wrote poetry, which was not very successful.

John’s profession had once been the law, but now he and his wife also lived at Styles. I suspected he would prefer his own house, but his mother had all the money, and she liked to control everyone.

John noticed my surprise at the news of his mother’s marriage.

‘It’s making life very difficult for us, Hastings. This man, Alfred Inglethorp, arrived from nowhere, saying he was Evie’s second cousin - Evie Howard is mother’s companion. Mother employed him as a secretary. But we were shocked when she married him a few months ago. He’s twenty years younger than she is, and I’m sure he just wants her money!’

Three days later, I arrived by train at the station of Styles St Mary. John Cavendish was waiting on the platform, and his car was outside. He looked at his watch. ‘We don’t have time to collect Cynthia.’

‘Is Cynthia your wife?’

‘No, Cynthia Murdoch is the daughter of an old friend of my mother’s. Mother rescued Cynthia when her parents died, and she’s lived with us for nearly two years. She works in the hospital at Tadminster.’

It was a warm day in early July. As we drove, I admired the Ess@x countryside, green and peaceful in the sun. It was hard to believe that a war was being fought not far away. John said, ‘It’s very quiet here, Hastings. My wife Mary works “on the land” because so many men are away fighting. She’s up at five every morning to milk the cows. It’s a good life - or it would be, if only Alfred Inglethorp wasn’t here!’

We arrived at the fine old house. A lady, who was gardening, stood up as we approached.

‘Hullo, Evie, here’s our wounded hero! Mr Hastings, this is Miss Evelyn Howard. We call her Evie.’

Miss Howard shook my hand with a strong grip. She was a pleasant-looking woman of forty, with very blue eyes and a suntanned face. She had a large square body and a deep voice, like a man’s.

‘Come and have tea, Evie,’ said John. ‘You’ve done enough gardening for today.’

‘Yes,’ said Miss Howard, removing her gardening gloves, ‘I think you’re right.’

She led us round the house to where tea was being served in the shade of a large tree, and as we approached, John’s wife Mary came to meet us.

I’ll never forget my first sight of Mary Cavendish. She was tall and slim, with wonderful dark eyes. Although she was very calm and quiet on the outside, I imagined that inside she was wild and free. Her voice was low and clear. Suddenly I was very glad that I had come to Styles.

As we were having tea, a white-haired old lady stepped out of the house on to the grass, followed by a younger man. Mrs Emily Inglethorp greeted me with enthusiasm. ‘I’m delighted to see you again! Alfred, darling, this is Mr Hastings.’ I looked curiously at Alfred darling. He had a long black beard, and wore gold-framed glasses and strange clothes. He didn’t seem to belong there. He looked as if he should be on stage - like an actor - not here at Styles, in real life.

‘This is a pleasure, Mr Hastings,’ said Mr Inglethorp in a deep voice. Then he said to his wife, ‘Emily dearest, that cushion is damp.’ She smiled happily at him, as he brought another cushion with tender care.

It was clear that no one else liked Mr Inglethorp. Miss Howard, in particular, could not hide her feelings. But Mrs Inglethorp didn’t notice. She talked steadily, and her husband was very attentive to her. I disliked him immediately, and my first opinions are usually right.

While we drank tea, we talked of my profession. After the war I wanted a fresh start.

‘If you could do anything,’ asked Mary Cavendish, ‘what would you choose?’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’ve always wanted to be a detective! I had a friend in Belgium, a very famous detective. He said that method was the key to all good detective work. He was a marvellous little man, and wonderfully clever.’

‘I like a good detective story,’ remarked Miss Howard, ‘though they are often nonsense. With a real crime, the family would know who the murderer was. If I was involved in a murder, I would know him at once.’

‘The murderer might be a woman,’ I suggested.

‘Yes, but murder’s a violent crime - I think of a murderer as a man.’

‘Not if it’s poison,’ said Mary Cavendish.

‘What a horrible conversation!’ said Mrs Inglethorp. ‘It makes me feel uncomfortable. Oh, here’s Cynthia!’ A young girl in hospital uniform ran lightly across the lawn. ‘You’re late today, Cynthia. Mr Hastings, this is Miss Murdoch.’

Cynthia Murdoch was a fresh-looking young woman, full of life and energy, with beautiful red hair. She sat down on the ground beside John, and as I gave her a plate of sandwiches she smiled up at me.

‘You work in the hospital at Tadminster, don’t you, Miss Murdoch?’ I said.

‘Yes, I work in the pharmacy, with the drugs and medicines.’

‘How many people do you poison?’ I asked, smiling.

Cynthia smiled too. ‘Oh, hundreds!’

‘Cynthia,’ interrupted Mrs Inglethorp, ‘can you write a few notes for me?’

‘Certainly, Aunt Emily.’ Cynthia stood up quickly. I remembered that she was dependent on Mrs Inglethorp, who did not let her forget it.

Then Mrs Inglethorp turned to me. ‘John will show you your room, which looks out over the park. To save money because of the war, we now have a simple supper at half-past seven. And we don’t waste anything at Styles - even every little piece of waste paper is saved and sent away.’

Later on, from my window I saw John walking and laughing with Cynthia Murdoch, until Mrs Inglethorp impatiently called her back to the house. Just then I saw John’s younger brother, Lawrence Cavendish. He was about forty, with dark hair and a sad, clean-shaven face. He seemed upset about something, and I wondered what it was. The rest of the evening passed pleasantly; and I dreamed that night of John’s wife, Mary Cavendish.

The next day was bright and sunny. I spent an enjoyable afternoon walking in the woods with Mary, returning to the house at five. We met John Cavendish as we entered the hall. His face told me that something was wrong, and we followed him into the library.

‘Evie’s had an argument with mother, and she’s leaving!’ he told us.

Just then Evelyn Howard entered, carrying a small suitcase. She looked excited but determined. ‘Emily won’t forgive me for this. I told her, “Your husband is twenty years younger than you, and married you for money! Ask your Alfred how often he visits Farmer Raikes’s pretty young wife. He’s a bad man,” I said, “and I won’t be surprised if he murders you for your money!” She was very angry.’

‘What did mother say?’ asked John.

Miss Howard frowned. ‘She said, “My darling Alfred? - these are terrible lies! Get out of my house!” So I’m leaving, now.’ Nothing would change her mind, so finally John went to get the car, and Mary followed him.

When we were alone, Miss Howard leaned towards me. ‘Look after my poor Emily, Mr Hastings. They all want her money. Now I’m leaving I can’t protect her.’

‘Of course, Miss Howard,’ I said, ‘I’ll do everything I can.’

‘Keep your eyes open,’ she said, as she moved to the door, ‘and watch that devil - her husband!’ Then Miss Howard was surrounded by people saying goodbye. The Inglethorps did not appear.

As the car drove away, Mary Cavendish went to meet a tall man with a beard who was approaching the house. Her face turned red as she shook his hand. ‘Who is that?’ I asked. I didn’t trust the man from the first moment I saw him.

‘That’s Dr Bauerstein,’ said John. ‘He’s staying in the village, recovering from an illness. He’s a top London doctor, an expert on poisons.’

‘And he’s a great friend of Mary’s,’ said Cynthia.

John Cavendish frowned and suggested a walk. ‘I hate to see Evie Howard leave,’ he said, as he and I walked through the woods. ‘She’s a good friend.’

We didn’t talk much, and on our way home we met a pretty young woman, who smiled at us as we passed. ‘That’s Mrs Raikes,’ said John.

‘The one that Miss Howard-‘

‘Yes,’ said John, abruptly.

I compared Mrs Inglethorp, a white-haired old lady, to this pretty young girl, and remembered what Evelyn Howard had said. To change the subject, I said to John, ‘Styles is really a wonderful old house.’

He nodded sadly. ‘Yes, it’s a fine property. It would be mine now, if my father had made a fair will. And then I’d have enough money. I’m in debt, too, you know.’

‘Can your brother Lawrence help?’

‘He’s spent all his money on his poetry. We’re all poor. Mother has been very generous, until now. But since her marriage-‘ He stopped, frowning.

This was when I first felt uneasy. Just for a moment I had a feeling that something was badly wrong at Styles.

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