فصل 03

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Chapter three

The Night of the Tragedy

To make this part of my story clear, here is a plan showing the first floor of Styles.

It was the middle of the night when Lawrence Cavendish woke me up, a candle in his hand. ‘Mother’s very ill! We can hear her calling but she’s locked the door!’

I jumped out of bed and followed Lawrence to the door of Mrs Inglethorp’s room. John Cavendish joined us, and tried to open the door, but it was locked or bolted on the inside. Everyone in the house was now awake, and we could hear terrible sounds from inside the room. We had to do something!

‘Go through Mr Inglethorp’s room, sir,’ said Dorcas the maid. ‘Oh, my poor mistress!’

Suddenly I realized that Alfred Inglethorp was not with us. When John opened the door of his room we saw that his bed had not been slept in. But the door from his room to Mrs Inglethorp’s was also locked or bolted on the inside.

‘Go and get Dr Wilkins, at once!’ said John. ‘I’ll try the door from Cynthia’s room.’

He ran quickly to Cynthia’s room. Mary Cavendish was there, shaking Cynthia - who seemed to be sleeping very deeply - and trying to wake her up. In a moment he returned. ‘Mary says that door is bolted too. The door in Inglethorp’s room is the thinnest - we’ll break it down.’

After some effort the door finally broke open and we fell into the room, Lawrence still holding his candle. Mrs Inglethorp was lying on the bed, her whole body shaking and twisting violently. She had knocked over the table by the bed. John lit the gaslight, while I unbolted the door to the corridor.

I looked at Lawrence. His face was white, his eyes were terrified and his hand, that held the candle, was shaking so much that candlewax fell on the carpet. He was staring at something on the wall behind me, but when I turned I didn’t see anything strange. Ashes were burning quietly in the fireplace, and on the mantelpiece there were vases full of pieces of paper used to light the fire, and some ornaments.

Mrs Inglethorp seemed to be a little better, and she gasped. ‘Better now - very sudden - stupid to lock myself in.’

I looked up and saw Mary Cavendish standing near the door with her arm around Cynthia. Cynthia looked confused and very sleepy. ‘Poor Cynthia is frightened,’ said Mary. I noticed that Mary was dressed in her white land army uniform, ready for work. So it must be early - indeed, the clock said it was five in the morning.

Suddenly Mrs Inglethorp gave another cry of pain, and again her body shook and twisted violently. John and Mary tried to give her a drink of strong brandy, but we could do nothing to help.

Just then Dr Bauerstein entered the room. When Mrs Inglethorp saw him she gasped, ‘Alfred - Alfred-‘ and then she fell back and lay still. Dr Bauerstein tried to bring her back to life, but I think we all knew it was too late. Finally he stopped and shook his head.

Then Dr Wilkins, the family doctor, rushed in. ‘Very sad,’ he said quietly, looking at the bed. ‘Poor dear lady. She must have had a heart attack.’

‘But you didn’t see how violently her body shook and twisted before she died,’ said Dr Bauerstein, watching Dr Wilkins closely. ‘I’d like to speak to you in private.’ We left the two doctors alone, and I heard them lock the door to Mrs Inglethorp’s room as we went downstairs.

Dr Bauerstein’s behaviour had given me an idea. Speaking quietly so no one else could hear, I said to Mary, ‘I believe Mrs Inglethorp has been poisoned! I’m certain Dr Bauerstein thinks so.’

‘No, that can’t be true!’ gasped Mary, her eyes wide and her face pale. She looked as if she might faint. ‘Please leave me,’ she said, when I tried to help her. ‘I want to be alone for a moment.’

Although I didn’t want to leave her, I joined John and Lawrence in the dining-room, and after a short silence I asked, ‘Where is Mr Inglethorp?’

‘I don’t know,’ said John. ‘He’s not in the house.’

‘Where was Alfred Inglethorp? I wondered. What did Mrs Inglethorp’s dying words mean? What else did she want to tell us before she died?’

At last the two doctors came downstairs. Dr Wilkins looked excited, but was trying to hide it, while Dr Bauerstein’s bearded face was serious. ‘Mr Cavendish,’ said Dr Wilkins, ‘there needs to be a post mortem.’

‘Is that necessary?’ asked John.

‘Absolutely,’ said Dr Bauerstein. ‘Neither of us knows why Mrs Inglethorp died. And there will have to be an inquest.’ There was a pause, and then Dr Bauerstein gave John the two keys that locked the doors to Mrs Inglethorp’s room. ‘It’s best to keep them locked,’ he said, as he and Dr Wilkins left.

All this time I had been thinking. ‘John,’ I said, ‘do you remember my friend Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective? Let him investigate, to find out if your mother was poisoned.’

‘Rubbish!’ said Lawrence angrily. ‘Bauerstein is wrong. Wilkins didn’t think anything was wrong until Bauerstein said so. Because Bauerstein is an expert on poisons, he sees them everywhere. Mother died of a heart attack!’ Lawrence didn’t usually speak so strongly.

John hesitated. ‘I can’t agree with you, Lawrence,’ he said at last, I think Hastings is right. I know we all suspect the same person, but we may be wrong.’

My watch said it was now six o’clock. Before I went to see my friend Poirot I looked in the library downstairs, where I discovered a medical book that described strychnine poisoning.

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