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Contents > Author > Agatha Christie > The Mysterious Affair at Styles 09 1890- 1976
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Agatha Christie
The Mysterious Affair at Styles 09
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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.

"Have you?"

"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."

"All right."

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

" '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?"

"Oh, yes."

"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

"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

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

"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 coco sample which Poirot had taken to be

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 coco 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

"Yes, but what about the bitter taste that coco 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

"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 coco? 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

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

"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. Some one 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

"Yes, that's possible," admitted John. "Still," he added, "I'm
blest if I can see what his motive could have been."

I trembled.

"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."

I laughed.

"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

"Mr. Hastings."


"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.

Cynthia nodded.

"Yes. I don't know why, but she can't bear me; and _he_ can't,

"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

"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

"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

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?"

"Heard what?"

"About him."

"What about him?"

"He's took."

"Took? Dead?"

"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.


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