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- The Mysterious Affair at Styles - 40/45 -
After this, as it was growing late, the case was adjourned till Monday.
Poirot, I noticed, was looking profoundly discouraged. He had that little frown between the eyes that I knew so well.
"What is it, Poirot?" I inquired.
"Ah, mon ami, things are going badly, badly."
In spite of myself, my heart gave a leap of relief. Evidently there was a likelihood of John Cavendish being acquitted.
When we reached the house, my little friend waved aside Mary's offer of tea.
"No, I thank you, madame. I will mount to my room."
I followed him. Still frowning, he went across to the desk and took out a small pack of patience cards. Then he drew up a chair to the table, and, to my utter amazement, began solemnly to build card houses!
My jaw dropped involuntarily, and he said at once:
"No, mon ami, I am not in my second childhood! I steady my nerves, that is all. This employment requires precision of the fingers. With precision of the fingers goes precision of the brain. And never have I needed that more than now!"
"What is the trouble?" I asked.
With a great thump on the table, Poirot demolished his carefully built up edifice.
"It is this, mon ami! That I can build card houses seven stories high, but I cannot"--thump--"find"--thump--"that last link of which I spoke to you."
I could not quite tell what to say, so I held my peace, and he began slowly building up the cards again, speaking in jerks as he did so.
"It is done--so! By placing--one card--on another--with mathematical--precision!"
I watched the card house rising under his hands, story by story. He never hesitated or faltered. It was really almost like a conjuring trick.
"What a steady hand you've got," I remarked. "I believe I've only seen your hand shake once."
"On an occasion when I was enraged, without doubt," observed Poirot, with great placidity.
"Yes indeed! You were in a towering rage. Do you remember? It was when you discovered that the lock of the despatch-case in Mrs. Inglethorp's bedroom had been forced. You stood by the mantel-piece, twiddling the things on it in your usual fashion, and your hand shook like a leaf! I must say----"
But I stopped suddenly. For Poirot, uttering a hoarse and inarticulate cry, again annihilated his masterpiece of cards, and putting his hands over his eyes swayed backwards and forwards, apparently suffering the keenest agony.
"Good heavens, Poirot!" I cried. "What is the matter? Are you taken ill?"
"No, no," he gasped. "It is--it is--that I have an idea!"
"Oh!" I exclaimed, much relieved. "One of your 'little ideas'?"
"Ah, ma foi, no!" replied Poirot frankly. "This time it is an idea gigantic! Stupendous! And you--_you_, my friend, have given it to me!"
Suddenly clasping me in his arms, he kissed me warmly on both cheeks, and before I had recovered from my surprise ran headlong from the room.
Mary Cavendish entered at that moment.
"What is the matter with Monsieur Poirot? He rushed past me crying out: 'A garage! For the love of Heaven, direct me to a garage, madame!' And, before I could answer, he had dashed out into the street."
I hurried to the window. True enough, there he was, tearing down the street, hatless, and gesticulating as he went. I turned to Mary with a gesture of despair.
"He'll be stopped by a policeman in another minute. There he goes, round the corner!"
Our eyes met, and we stared helplessly at one another.
"What can be the matter?"
I shook my head.
"I don't know. He was building card houses, when suddenly he said he had an idea, and rushed off as you saw."
"Well," said Mary, "I expect he will be back before dinner."
But night fell, and Poirot had not returned.
THE LAST LINK
POIROT'S abrupt departure had intrigued us all greatly. Sunday morning wore away, and still he did not reappear. But about three o'clock a ferocious and prolonged hooting outside drove us to the window, to see Poirot alighting from a car, accompanied by Japp and Summerhaye. The little man was transformed. He radiated an absurd complacency. He bowed with exaggerated respect to Mary Cavendish.
"Madame, I have your permission to hold a little reunion in the salon? It is necessary for every one to attend."
Mary smiled sadly.
"You know, Monsieur Poirot, that you have carte blanche in every way."
"You are too amiable, madame."
Still beaming, Poirot marshalled us all into the drawing-room, bringing forward chairs as he did so.
"Miss Howard--here. Mademoiselle Cynthia. Monsieur Lawrence. The good Dorcas. And Annie. Bien! We must delay our proceedings a few minutes until Mr. Inglethorp arrives. I have sent him a note."
Miss Howard rose immediately from her seat.
"If that man comes into the house, I leave it!"
"No, no!" Poirot went up to her and pleaded in a low voice.
Finally Miss Howard consented to return to her chair. A few minutes later Alfred Inglethorp entered the room.
The company once assembled, Poirot rose from his seat with the air of a popular lecturer, and bowed politely to his audience.
"Messieurs, mesdames, as you all know, I was called in by Monsieur John Cavendish to investigate this case. I at once examined the bedroom of the deceased which, by the advice of the doctors, had been kept locked, and was consequently exactly as it had been when the tragedy occurred. I found: first, a fragment of green material; second, a stain on the carpet near the window, still damp; thirdly, an empty box of bromide powders.
"To take the fragment of green material first, I found it caught in the bolt of the communicating door between that room and the adjoining one occupied by Mademoiselle Cynthia. I handed the fragment over to the police who did not consider it of much importance. Nor did they recognize it for what it was--a piece torn from a green land armlet."
There was a little stir of excitement.
"Now there was only one person at Styles who worked on the land--Mrs. Cavendish. Therefore it must have been Mrs. Cavendish who entered the deceased's room through the door communicating with Mademoiselle Cynthia's room."
"But that door was bolted on the inside!" I cried.
"When I examined the room, yes. But in the first place we have only her word for it, since it was she who tried that particular door and reported it fastened. In the ensuing confusion she would have had ample opportunity to shoot the bolt across. I took an early opportunity of verifying my conjectures. To begin with, the fragment corresponds exactly with a tear in Mrs. Cavendish's armlet. Also, at the inquest, Mrs. Cavendish declared that she had heard, from her own room, the fall of the table by the bed. I took an early opportunity of testing that statement by stationing my friend Monsieur Hastings in the left wing of the building, just outside Mrs. Cavendish's door. I myself, in company with the police, went to the deceased's room, and whilst there I, apparently accidentally, knocked over the table in question, but found that, as I had expected, Monsieur Hastings had heard no sound at all. This confirmed my belief that Mrs. Cavendish was not speaking the truth when she declared that she had been dressing in her room at the time of the tragedy. In fact, I was convinced that, far from having been in her own room, Mrs. Cavendish was actually in the deceased's room when the alarm was given."
I shot a quick glance at Mary. She was very pale, but smiling.
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