فصل 05

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Chapter five

‘Is it Strychnine?’

‘This is Mrs Inglethorp’s writing,’ I said, ‘but what does it mean?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Poirot, ‘though I have an idea. But let us now examine the coffee-cups!’

‘But why, now we know about the cocoa?’

‘Let me look at the coffee-cups, while you think about the cocoa,’ Poirot replied. The coffee-cups and the tray were still in the drawing-room. I told Poirot exactly what had happened the night before.

‘So,’ he said, ‘Mary Cavendish stood by the tray, poured the coffee and sat down with you and Mademoiselle Cynthia. Yes. Here are the three cups. And the cup of Lawrence Cavendish is on the mantelpiece.’

‘John’s cup is on the tray,’ I said. ‘I saw him put it there.’

‘Good. Five cups. But where is the cup of Mr Inglethorp?’

‘He doesn’t drink coffee.’

‘So all the cups are here.’ Poirot carefully took a drop from each cup and put them in separate test tubes. He tasted each one. At first his face looked confused, and then pleased. ‘Bien!’ he said at last. ‘I had an idea, but I was wrong. Yet it is strange-‘

Just then John came in and invited us to have breakfast. Already he seemed back to normal, as he told us that Evelyn Howard was on her way back to Styles. ‘So, Monsieur Poirot,’ he asked, ‘do you think my mother died of a heart attack?’

‘I think it is unlikely, Mr Cavendish,’ replied Poirot seriously. ‘What do the other members of your family think?’

‘Lawrence says it was definitely a heart attack.’

‘That is interesting,’ said Poirot. ‘And Mrs Cavendish?’

‘I have no idea what my wife thinks,’ said John. There was an uncomfortable silence, until John spoke again with difficulty.

‘And how do we behave to Mr Inglethorp? It’s hard to sit down to dinner with a possible murderer!’

‘It is difficult,’ agreed Poirot. ‘May I ask if you are sure that Mr Inglethorp forgot his key?’

‘I’ve no idea,’ replied John. ‘I’ll go and look in the hall drawer.’

‘No, no,’ smiled Poirot. ‘It is too late now. But if anyone had seen the key before his return, it would have been a point in his favour. Do not worry - let us have breakfast now.’

No one in the dining-room was very cheerful. Alfred Inglethorp acted the part of a man who has just lost his wife - a sad widower. Mary Cavendish looked beautiful but was very quiet, and Cynthia looked tired and ill, saying she had a headache.

‘More coffee, mademoiselle?’ asked Poirot, filling up her cup. ‘No sugar,’ said Cynthia. ‘I never have it in coffee.’ At these words Poirot became very excited, and his eyes were as green as a cat’s eyes. I didn’t understand why, but before I could ask, Dorcas came in to say that Mr Wells had arrived.

‘Mr Wells is mother’s lawyer,’ John explained. ‘Please will you join us?’ As we left the room I asked Poirot what was wrong. ‘I am worried, my friend, because Mademoiselle Cynthia does not take sugar in her coffee,’ he said, as we followed John into his study. ‘I was right to examine those coffee cups.’

Mr Wells was a pleasant man of around forty. ‘The inquest will be on Friday,’ he said to John. ‘You and - um - Mr Inglethorp will have to give evidence, though it will just be routine.’ John looked relieved, though I didn’t know why.

‘Can you help us solve this tragic affair, Mr Wells?’ asked Poirot. ‘Mrs Inglethorp wrote to you last night.’

‘Yes, she asked me to visit her, to ask my advice about something important - that’s all.’

After a moment’s thought, Poirot asked, ‘Can you tell me who inherits Mrs Inglethorp’s money now she is dead?’ The lawyer hesitated, and then replied, ‘In her last will, dated August of last year, she left everything to her stepson, John Cavendish. However, because Mrs Inglethorp remarried, that will is now no longer legal.’

‘Did Mrs Inglethorp know that?’ asked Poirot.

‘Yes, she did,’ said John, to our surprise. ‘We talked about it only yesterday.’

‘Ah! One more question, Mr Wells,’ said Poirot. ‘You said “her last will”. Did Mrs Inglethorp make other wills?’

‘At least one a year,’ said the lawyer. ‘She often changed her mind.’

‘Would you be surprised if she had made a new will?’ asked Poirot.

‘I wouldn’t be at all surprised,’ replied Mr Wells.

‘We could look for a later will in mother’s purple despatch- case,’ said John. ‘She kept her most important papers in there.’

‘There was a later will,’ said Poirot, ‘but it has now been burned.’ He gave them the piece of paper he’d found in the fireplace. ‘I think this will was made yesterday afternoon.’


‘Impossible!’ said both men.

‘I will prove it to you,’ said Poirot, ‘if I can speak to your gardener.’ After some discussion the gardener, Manning, was sent for. ‘Come inside, Manning,’ said John, when we heard footsteps. ‘I want to speak to you.’ Manning came into the room. Though he spoke slowly, his eyes were intelligent.

‘Mrs Inglethorp spoke to you while you were planting flowers yesterday, did she not?’ asked Poirot. ‘Tell us what happened.’

‘She told William to go to the village and bring back an official form for a will,’ said Manning. ‘Then she asked us to come in and sign our names on a piece of paper. I didn’t see what was written on it. Then she put the paper in an envelope and locked it in a purple box.’

‘What time did she speak to you?’ asked Poirot.

‘About four, I think, sir.’

‘Not earlier, at half-past three?’

‘No,’ said Manning. ‘It was after four - not before it.’

After Manning left we all looked at each other. ‘This can’t be a coincidence!’ said Mr Wells. ‘You say your mother had a violent argument that afternoon.’

‘What do you mean?’ said John, turning pale.

‘Because of the argument, your mother made a new will,’ said Mr Wells, ‘but now we will never know what it said.’

‘It’s only thanks to Monsieur Poirot,’ said John, ‘that we know there was a new will. How did you know?’ Poirot smiled. ‘An old envelope, and some freshly planted flowers.’ But before we could ask more questions, we heard a car outside.

‘It’s Evie!’ said John, looking out the window, and we went with him to meet Evelyn Howard. Her fears had come true, and I wished I had taken her warnings more seriously. If Miss Howard had stayed at Styles, would Mrs Inglethorp still be alive?

Miss Howard’s eyes were red from crying, but her direct manner was the same. ‘I came as soon as I heard,’ she said. ‘I hired a car.’

‘Come and have breakfast, Evie,’ said John. ‘Do you know Monsieur Poirot? He’s helping us investigate.’

‘There’s nothing to investigate,’ she said loudly. ‘Have they taken him to prison yet? I told you Alfred Inglethorp would murder poor Emily - and now he has.’

‘Please don’t shout, Evie,’ said John. ‘We don’t know what happened yet. The inquest is on Friday.’

‘The man will have left the country by then,’ said Miss Howard. ‘He won’t stay to be hanged. And doctors - doctors don’t know anything! My own father was a doctor, so I know what they’re like. Anyone can see that her husband poisoned her. You must find out how he did it.’

It was going to be awkward having Miss Howard and Mr Inglethorp in the same house, I thought.

While John went out for a moment, Poirot sat down with Miss Howard. She said, in a quieter voice, ‘Emily could be a selfish old woman, but I was very fond of her.’

Poirot nodded. ‘I understand, mademoiselle,’ he said seriously, ‘and because of that I want your help.’

‘I’ll help you to hang Alfred Inglethorp,’ she replied. ‘Poor Emily wasn’t murdered until he arrived!’

‘Believe me, Miss Howard,’ said Poirot, ‘if Mr Inglethorp is the murderer, he will not escape me.’

Just then John interrupted, asking me and Poirot to go upstairs to Mrs Inglethorp’s room to look at her papers. Taking the keys from Poirot, John unlocked the bedroom door, and we walked over to the purple despatch-case.

‘I locked it this morning,’ Poirot said, taking the keys from his pocket.

‘It’s not locked now,’ said John, opening the case.

‘Impossible!’ exclaimed Poirot. ‘Look - the lock has been broken!’ We all stared at each other in surprise. ‘But the door was locked!’ I said.

‘The door was probably unlocked by one of the other keys,’ said Poirot, as he walked to the mantelpiece. He looked and sounded calm, but his hands, which were straightening the vases and ornaments on the mantelpiece, were shaking violently. ‘There must have been evidence in that case that linked the murderer to the crime!’ he said. ‘Perhaps it was the paper that Dorcas saw in Mrs Inglethorp’s hand yesterday afternoon. It had to be destroyed, so the murderer risked coming in here and breaking the lock. And I’ - Poirot continued angrily - ‘I guessed nothing! I should have taken the case with me. But now it is too late - the evidence is destroyed - But is it? Is there still a chance-‘

He rushed out quickly, like a madman! Soon we heard voices downstairs. Poirot was shouting loudly, telling every person in the house what had happened. It was some time before he calmed down. ‘Will you walk with me to the village?’ he then asked me, quietly.

‘Of course,’ I said, feeling sorry for him.

As we were leaving we met Cynthia Murdoch. ‘Can I ask you a question, mademoiselle?’ said Poirot. ‘Did you ever prepare Mrs Inglethorp’s medicine?’

‘No, I didn’t,’ said Cynthia.

‘Did you prepare her sleeping powders?’

Cynthia’s face turned red. ‘Oh, yes, I did prepare some sleeping powders for her once.’

‘These?’ Poirot said, showing her the empty box which had contained powders, and she nodded. ‘Can you tell me what they were?’ he asked.

‘They were called “bromide powders”,’ replied Cynthia.

‘Ah! Thank you, mademoiselle,’ said Poirot, and again his eyes looked very green, like a cat’s.

‘I have a little idea,’ he said, as we started to walk to the village. ‘It is very strange, but it fits.’ I shrugged my shoulders - I didn’t understand. Poirot often had strange ideas.

‘Mr Wells told me that they found Mrs Ingle thorp’s most recent will,’ Poirot continued. ‘The date on it was before her marriage, and left all her money to Alfred Inglethorp. Mr Wells and John Cavendish were very surprised, and Mr Inglethorp says he didn’t know about it.’

‘All these wills are very confusing,’ I said. ‘How did that envelope tell you that a will was made yesterday afternoon?’

‘I’m sure you have written a word once or twice to make sure you have spelled it correctly,’ Poirot smiled. ‘That is what Mrs Inglethorp did. The first word has one “s” and the second - correct version - has two. To make sure, she wrote “I am possessed”, a sentence that people only normally write in a will. Then near the desk I found some mud. It was the same as the mud where the flowers were planted yesterday afternoon. I was sure that one or both of the gardeners had entered the study, because only they would have such muddy boots after the recent fine weather. Mrs Inglethorp must have invited the gardeners in, because if she just wanted to speak to them she could have stood at the window. I was sure that she had made a new will, and had asked the two gardeners to come in and sign it as witnesses.’

‘That’s very clever,’ I admitted. ‘And how did you know that the key of the despatch-case had been lost?’

‘The original key had a piece of twisted wire through the handle,’ explained Poirot. ‘This suggested that it had been taken off another key-ring. If it had been lost and found, Mrs Inglethorp would have put it back on her bunch of keys. But on her bunch I found the spare key, very new and bright. So someone else must have used the original key in the lock of the despatch-case.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It must be Alfred Inglethorp.’

‘Are you sure he is guilty?’ Poirot asked. ‘There are several points in his favour.’

‘I see only one - that he was not in the house last night.’

‘That is the one point against him!’ exclaimed Poirot. ‘If Mr Inglethorp was going to poison his wife, he would make sure he was not in the house. He did not have a good excuse, so either he knew what was going to happen, or he had another reason for not being there.’

I shook my head - I didn’t agree with him. ‘We will soon know who is right, said Poirot. ‘Now let us discuss other points of the case. Why do you think all the doors to Mrs Inglethorp’s bedroom were bolted on the inside?’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘though the doors were bolted, there was candlewax on the floor and the will was burned - so someone entered the room. I think Mrs Inglethorp must have let the person in herself - which means it was probably her husband.’ Poirot shook his head. ‘But Mrs Inglethorp had bolted the door to her husband’s room, and argued violently with him that afternoon. And it is possible - though unlikely - that she forgot to bolt the door to the corridor until later, towards the morning.’

Before I could argue, Poirot continued. And how do you explain the conversation you overheard between Mary Cavendish and Mrs Inglethorp?’

‘It’s hard to believe,’ I said, ‘that a woman like Mary Cavendish - so proud and quiet - would get involved in something that was not her business. Still, it isn’t important.’ Poirot sighed loudly. ‘What have I always told you? Everything is important! If the fact does not fit the theory, the theory is wrong.’

By this time we had reached Poirot’s house, and soon we were sitting by the open window, with a view of the street. The fresh air was pleasant. It was going to be another hot day.

Then suddenly we saw a young man run down the street. He looked very worried and upset. ‘It is Mr Mace, from the village pharmacy,’ said Poirot, ‘and he is coming here.’

Sure enough, Mr Mace soon knocked at the door. ‘I’ve just heard about old Mrs Inglethorp dying so suddenly,’ he said excitedly. ‘Please tell me, Mr Poirot, is it poison - is it strychnine?’

‘Only the doctors can tell us that, Mr Mace,’ replied Poirot. The young man still looked worried as he left. Poirot said thoughtfully, ‘Yes, he will have evidence to give at the inquest. And now, my friend, I need to think.’

We sat upstairs in silence, until at last Poirot sighed. ‘That is better. Now all is clearly arranged in my mind. But this case puzzles me. Me, Hercule Poirot! There are two important facts. First, is that the weather was so hot yesterday. That is the key to the puzzle.’ I didn’t understand. ‘And the second point?’ I asked instead.

‘That Mr Inglethorp wears glasses and strange clothes, and has a black beard.’

‘You are joking, Poirot!’ I exclaimed. ‘What will you say if the decision at the inquest is that Alfred Inglethorp murdered his wife?’

‘That will not happen. I will not allow it.’

I was both annoyed and amused - Poirot was so sure of himself. But then his mood changed. ‘I am thinking of poor Mrs Inglethorp,’ he said. ‘I am grateful to her and owe her a debt. She would never forgive me if I let Alfred Inglethorp, her husband, be arrested now - when I could save him!’

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