Dorcas was looking very curiously at him and, to tell the truth,
so was I. What was all this about a lost key? Poirot smiled.
"Never mind, Dorcas, it is my business to know things. Is this
the key that was lost?" He drew from his pocket the key that he
had found in the lock of the despatch-case upstairs.
Dorcas's eyes looked as though they would pop out of her head.
"That's it, sir, right enough. But where did you find it? I
looked everywhere for it."
"Ah, but you see it was not in the same place yesterday as it was
to-day. Now, to pass to another subject, had your mistress a
dark green dress in her wardrobe?"
Dorcas was rather startled by the unexpected question.
"Are you quite sure?"
"Oh, yes, sir."
"Has anyone else in the house got a green dress?"
"Miss Cynthia has a green evening dress."
"Light or dark green?"
"A light green, sir; a sort of chiffon, they call it."
"Ah, that is not what I want. And nobody else has anything
"No, sir - not that I know of."
Poirot's face did not betray a trace of whether he was
disappointed or otherwise. He merely remarked:
"Good, we will leave that and pass on. Have you any reason to
believe that your mistress was likely to take a sleeping powder
"Not _last_ night, sir, I know she didn't."
"Why do you know so positively?"
"Because the box was empty. She took the last one two days ago,
and she didn't have any more made up."
"You are quite sure of that?"
"Then that is cleared up! By the way, your mistress didn't ask
you to sign any paper yesterday?"
"To sign a paper? No, sir."
"When Mr. Hastings and Mr. Lawrence came in yesterday evening,
they found your mistress busy writing letters. I suppose you can
give me no idea to whom these letters were addressed?"
"I'm afraid I couldn't, sir. I was out in the evening. Perhaps
Annie could tell you, though she's a careless girl. Never
cleared the coffee-cups away last night. That's what happens
when I'm not here to look after things."
Poirot lifted his hand.
"Since they have been left, Dorcas, leave them a little longer, I
pray you. I should like to examine them."
"Very well, sir."
"What time did you go out last evening?"
"About six o'clock, sir."
"Thank you, Dorcas, that is all I have to ask you." He rose and
strolled to the window. "I have been admiring these flower beds.
How many gardeners are employed here, by the way?"
"Only three now, sir. Five, we had, before the war, when it was
kept as a gentleman's place should be. I wish you could have
seen it then, sir. A fair sight it was. But now there's only
old Manning, and young William, and a new-fashioned woman
gardener in breeches and such-like. Ah, these are dreadful
"The good times will come again, Dorcas. At least, we hope so.
Now, will you send Annie to me here?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
"How did you know that Mrs. Inglethorp took sleeping powders?" I
asked, in lively curiosity, as Dorcas left the room. "And about
the lost key and the duplicate?"
"One thing at a time. As to the sleeping powders, I knew by
this." He suddenly produced a small cardboard box, such as
chemists use for powders.
"Where did you find it?"
"In the wash-stand drawer in Mrs. Inglethorp's bedroom. It was
Number Six of my catalogue."
"But I suppose, as the last powder was taken two days ago, it is
not of much importance?"
"Probably not, but do you notice anything that strikes you as
peculiar about this box?"
I examined it closely.
"No, I can't say that I do."
"Look at the label."
I read the label carefully: " 'One powder to be taken at bedtime,
if required. Mrs. Inglethorp.' No, I see nothing unusual."
"Not the fact that there is no chemist's name?"
"Ah!" I exclaimed. "To be sure, that is odd!"
"Have you ever known a chemist to send out a box like that,
without his printed name?"
"No, I can't say that I have."
I was becoming quite excited, but Poirot damped my ardour by
"Yet the explanation is quite simple. So do not intrigue
yourself, my friend."
An audible creaking proclaimed the approach of Annie, so I had no
time to reply.
Annie was a fine, strapping girl, and was evidently labouring
under intense excitement, mingled with a certain ghoulish
enjoyment of the tragedy.
Poirot came to the point at once, with a business-like briskness.
"I sent for you, Annie, because I thought you might be able to
tell me something about the letters Mrs. Inglethorp wrote last
night. How many were there? And can you tell me any of the names
"There were four letters, sir. One was to Miss Howard, and one
was to Mr. Wells, the lawyer, and the other two I don't think I
remember, sir - oh, yes, one was to Ross's, the caterers in
Tadminster. The other one, I don't remember."
"Think," urged Poirot.
Annie racked her brains in vain.
"I'm sorry, sir, but it's clean gone. I don't think I can have
"It does not matter," said Poirot, not betraying any sign of
disappointment. "Now I want to ask you about something else.
There is a saucepan in Mrs. Inglethorp's room with some coco in
it. Did she have that every night?"
"Yes, sir, it was put in her room every evening, and she warmed
it up in the night - whenever she fancied it."
"What was it? Plain coco?"
"Yes, sir, made with milk, with a teaspoonful of sugar, and two
teaspoonfuls of rum in it."
"Who took it to her room?"
"I did, sir."
"At what time?"
"When I went to draw the curtains, as a rule, sir."
"Did you bring it straight up from the kitchen then?"
"No, sir, you see there's not much room on the gas stove, so Cook
used to make it early, before putting the vegetables on for
supper. Then I used to bring it up, and put it on the table by
the swing door, and take it into her room later."
"The swing door is in the left wing, is it not?"
"And the table, is it on this side of the door, or on the
farther - servants' side?"
"It's this side, sir."
"What time did you bring it up last night?"
"About quarter-past seven, I should say, sir."
"And when did you take it into Mrs. Inglethorp's room?"
"When I went to shut up, sir. About eight o'clock. Mrs.
Inglethorp came up to bed before I'd finished."
"Then, between 7.15 and 8 o'clock, the coco was standing on the
table in the left wing?"
"Yes, sir." Annie had been growing redder and redder in the face,
and now she blurted out unexpectedly:
"And if there _was_ salt in it, sir, it wasn't me. I never took
the salt near it."
"What makes you think there was salt in it?" asked Poirot.
"Seeing it on the tray, sir."
"You saw some salt on the tray?"
"Yes. Coarse kitchen salt, it looked. I never noticed it when I
took the tray up, but when I came to take it into the mistress's
room I saw it at once, and I suppose I ought to have taken it
down again, and asked Cook to make some fresh. But I was in a
hurry, because Dorcas was out, and I thought maybe the coco
itself was all right, and the salt had only gone on the tray. So
I dusted it off with my apron, and took it in."
I had the utmost difficulty in controlling my excitement.
Unknown to herself, Annie had provided us with an important piece
of evidence. How she would have gaped if she had realized that
her "coarse kitchen salt" was strychnine, one of the most deadly
poisons known to mankind. I marvelled at Poirot's calm. His
self-control was astonishing. I awaited his next question with
impatience, but it disappointed me.
"When you went into Mrs. Inglethorp's room, was the door leading
into Miss Cynthia's room bolted?"
"Oh! Yes, sir; it always was. It had never been opened."
"And the door into Mr. Inglethorp's room? Did you notice if that
was bolted too?"
"I couldn't rightly say, sir; it was shut but I couldn't say
whether it was bolted or not."
"When you finally left the room, did Mrs. Inglethorp bolt the
door after you?"
"No, sir, not then, but I expect she did later. She usually did
lock it at night. The door into the passage, that is."
"Did you notice any candle grease on the floor when you did the
"Candle grease? Oh, no, sir. Mrs. Inglethorp didn't have a
candle, only a reading-lamp."
"Then, if there had been a large patch of candle grease on the
floor, you think you would have been sure to have seen it?"
"Yes, sir, and I would have taken it out with a piece of
blotting-paper and a hot iron."
Then Poirot repeated the question he had put to Dorcas:
"Did your mistress ever have a green dress?"
"Nor a mantle, nor a cape, nor a - how do you call it? - a sports
"Not green, sir."
"Nor anyone else in the house?"
"You are sure of that?"
"Bien! That is all I want to know. Thank you very much."
With a nervous giggle, Annie took herself creakingly out of the
room. My pent-up excitement burst forth.
"Poirot," I cried, "I congratulate you! This is a great
"What is a great discovery?"
"Why, that it was the coco and not the coffee that was poisoned.
That explains everything! Of course it did not take effect until
the early morning, since the coco was only drunk in the middle of
"So you think that the coco - mark well what I say, Hastings, the
coco - contained strychnine?"
"Of course! That salt on the tray, what else could it have been?"
"It might have been salt," replied Poirot placidly.
I shrugged my shoulders. If he was going to take the matter that
way, it was no good arguing with him. The idea crossed my mind,
not for the first time, that poor old Poirot was growing old.
Privately I thought it lucky that he had associated with him some
one of a more receptive type of mind.
Poirot was surveying me with quietly twinkling eyes.
"You are not pleased with me, mon ami?"
"My dear Poirot," I said coldly, "it is not for me to dictate to
you. You have a right to your own opinion, just as I have to
"A most admirable sentiment," remarked Poirot, rising briskly to
his feet. "Now I have finished with this room. By the way,
whose is the smaller desk in the corner?"
"Ah!" He tried the roll top tentatively. "Locked. But perhaps
one of Mrs. Inglethorp's keys would open it." He tried several,
twisting and turning them with a practiced hand, and finally
uttering an ejaculation of satisfaction. "Voila! It is not the
key, but it will open it at a pinch." He slid back the roll top,
and ran a rapid eye over the neatly filed papers. To my
surprise, he did not examine them, merely remarking approvingly
as he relocked the desk: "Decidedly, he is a man of method, this
A "man of method" was, in Poirot's estimation, the highest praise
that could be bestowed on any individual.
I felt that my friend was not what he had been as he rambled on
"There were no stamps in his desk, but there might have been, eh,
mon ami? There might have been? Yes" - his eyes wandered round the
room - "this boudoir has nothing more to tell us. It did not
yield much. Only this."
He pulled a crumpled envelope out of his pocket, and tossed it
over to me. It was rather a curious document. A plain, dirty
looking old envelope with a few words scrawled across it,
apparently at random. The following is a facsimile of it.
"IT ISN'T STRYCHNINE, IS IT?"
"Where did you find this?" I asked Poirot, in lively curiosity.
"In the waste-paper basket. You recognise the handwriting?"
"Yes, it is Mrs. Inglethorp's. But what does it mean?"
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
"I cannot say - but it is suggestive."
A wild idea flashed across me. Was it possible that Mrs.
Inglethorp's mind was deranged? Had she some fantastic idea of
demoniacal possession? And, if that were so, was it not also
possible that she might have taken her own life?
I was about to expound these theories to Poirot, when his own
words distracted me.
"Come," he said, "now to examine the coffee-cups!"
"My dear Poirot! What on earth is the good of that, now that we
know about the coco?"
"Oh, la la! That miserable coco!" cried Poirot flippantly.
He laughed with apparent enjoyment, raising his arms to heaven in
mock despair, in what I could not but consider the worst possible
"And, anyway," I said, with increasing coldness, "as Mrs.
Inglethorp took her coffee upstairs with her, I do not see what
you expect to find, unless you consider it likely that we shall
discover a packet of strychnine on the coffee tray!"
Poirot was sobered at once.
"Come, come, my friend," he said, slipping his arms through mine.
"Ne vous fachez pas! Allow me to interest myself in my
coffee-cups, and I will respect your coco. There! Is it a
He was so quaintly humorous that I was forced to laugh; and we
went together to the drawing-room, where the coffee-cups and tray
remained undisturbed as we had left them.
Poirot made me recapitulate the scene of the night before,
listening very carefully, and verifying the position of the
"So Mrs. Cavendish stood by the tray - and poured out. Yes. Then
she came across to the window where you sat with Mademoiselle
Cynthia. Yes. Here are the three cups. And the cup on the
mantel-piece, half drunk, that would be Mr. Lawrence Cavendish's.
And the one on the tray?"
"John Cavendish's. I saw him put it down there."
"Good. One, two, three, four, five - but where, then, is the cup
of Mr. Inglethorp?"
"He does not take coffee."
"Then all are accounted for. One moment, my friend."
With infinite care, he took a drop or two from the grounds in
each cup, sealing them up in separate test tubes, tasting each in
turn as he did so. His physiognomy underwent a curious change.
An expression gathered there that I can only describe as half
puzzled, and half relieved.
"Bien!" he said at last. "It is evident! I had an idea - but
clearly I was mistaken. Yes, altogether I was mistaken. Yet it
is strange. But no matter!"
And, with a characteristic shrug, he dismissed whatever it was
that was worrying him from his mind. I could have told him from
the beginning that this obsession of his over the coffee was
bound to end in a blind alley, but I restrained my tongue. After
all, though he was old, Poirot had been a great man in his day.
"Breakfast is ready," said John Cavendish, coming in from the
hall. "You will breakfast with us, Monsieur Poirot?"
Poirot acquiesced. I observed John. Already he was almost
restored to his normal self. The shock of the events of the last
night had upset him temporarily, but his equable poise soon swung
back to the normal. He was a man of very little imagination, in
sharp contrast with his brother, who had, perhaps, too much.
Ever since the early hours of the morning, John had been hard at
work, sending telegrams - one of the first had gone to Evelyn
Howard - writing notices for the papers, and generally occupying
himself with the melancholy duties that a death entails.
"May I ask how things are proceeding?" he said. "Do your
investigations point to my mother having died a natural death -
or - or must we prepare ourselves for the worst?"
"I think, Mr. Cavendish," said Poirot gravely, "that you would do
well not to buoy yourself up with any false hopes. Can you tell
me the views of the other members of the family?"
"My brother Lawrence is convinced that we are making a fuss over
nothing. He says that everything points to its being a simple
case of heart failure."
"He does, does he? That is very interesting - very interesting,"
murmured Poirot softly. "And Mrs. Cavendish?"
A faint cloud passed over John's face.
"I have not the least idea what my wife's views on the subject
The answer brought a momentary stiffness in its train. John
broke the rather awkward silence by saying with a slight effort:
"I told you, didn't I, that Mr. Inglethorp has returned?"
Poirot bent his head.
"It's an awkward position for all of us. Of course one has to
treat him as usual - but, hang it all, one's gorge does rise at
sitting down to eat with a possible murderer!"
Poirot nodded sympathetically.
"I quite understand. It is a very difficult situation for you,
Mr. Cavendish. I would like to ask you one question. Mr.
Inglethorp's reason for not returning last night was, I believe,
that he had forgotten the latch-key. Is not that so?"
"I suppose you are quite sure that the latch-key _was_
forgotten - that he did not take it after all?"
"I have no idea. I never thought of looking. We always keep it
in the hall drawer. I'll go and see if it's there now."
Poirot held up his hand with a faint smile.
"No, no, Mr. Cavendish, it is too late now. I am certain that
you would find it. If Mr. Inglethorp did take it, he has had
ample time to replace it by now."
"But do you think - - "
"I think nothing. If anyone had chanced to look this morning
before his return, and seen it there, it would have been a
valuable point in his favour. That is all."
John looked perplexed.
"Do not worry," said Poirot smoothly. "I assure you that you
need not let it trouble you. Since you are so kind, let us go
and have some breakfast."
Every one was assembled in the dining-room. Under the
circumstances, we were naturally not a cheerful party. The
reaction after a shock is always trying, and I think we were all
suffering from it. Decorum and good breeding naturally enjoined
that our demeanour should be much as usual, yet I could not help
wondering if this self-control were really a matter of great
difficulty. There were no red eyes, no signs of secretly
indulged grief. I felt that I was right in my opinion that
Dorcas was the person most affected by the personal side of the
I pass over Alfred Inglethorp, who acted the bereaved widower in
a manner that I felt to be disgusting in its hypocrisy. Did he
know that we suspected him, I wondered. Surely he could not be
unaware of the fact, conceal it as we would. Did he feel some
secret stirring of fear, or was he confident that his crime would
go unpunished? Surely the suspicion in the atmosphere must warn
him that he was already a marked man.
But did every one suspect him? What about Mrs. Cavendish? I
watched her as she sat at the head of the table, graceful,
composed, enigmatic. In her soft grey frock, with white ruffles
at the wrists falling over her slender hands, she looked very
beautiful. When she chose, however, her face could be
sphinx-like in its inscrutability. She was very silent, hardly
opening her lips, and yet in some queer way I felt that the great
strength of her personality was dominating us all.
And little Cynthia? Did she suspect? She looked very tired and
ill, I thought. The heaviness and languor of her manner were
very marked. I asked her if she were feeling ill, and she
"Yes, I've got the most beastly headache."
"Have another cup of coffee, mademoiselle?" said Poirot
solicitously. "It will revive you. It is unparalleled for the
mal de tete." He jumped up and took her cup.
"No sugar," said Cynthia, watching him, as he picked up the
"No sugar? You abandon it in the war-time, eh?"
"No, I never take it in coffee."
"Sacre!" murmured Poirot to himself, as he brought back the
Only I heard him, and glancing up curiously at the little man I
saw that his face was working with suppressed excitement, and his
eyes were as green as a cat's. He had heard or seen something
that had affected him strongly - but what was it? I do not usually
label myself as dense, but I must confess that nothing out of the
ordinary had attracted _my_ attention.
In another moment, the door opened and Dorcas appeared.
"Mr. Wells to see you, sir," she said to John.
I remembered the name as being that of the lawyer to whom Mrs.
Inglethorp had written the night before.
John rose immediately.
"Show him into my study." Then he turned to us. "My mother's
lawyer," he explained. And in a lower voice: "He is also
Coroner - you understand. Perhaps you would like to come with
We acquiesced and followed him out of the room. John strode on
ahead and I took the opportunity of whispering to Poirot:
"There will be an inquest then?"
Poirot nodded absently. He seemed absorbed in thought; so much
so that my curiosity was aroused.
"What is it? You are not attending to what I say."
"It is true, my friend. I am much worried."
"Because Mademoiselle Cynthia does not take sugar in her coffee."
"What? You cannot be serious?"
"But I am most serious. Ah, there is something there that I do
not understand. My instinct was right."
"The instinct that led me to insist on examining those
coffee-cups. Chut! no more now!"
We followed John into his study, and he closed the door behind
Mr. Wells was a pleasant man of middle-age, with keen eyes, and
the typical lawyer's mouth. John introduced us both, and
explained the reason of our presence.
"You will understand, Wells," he added, "that this is all
strictly private. We are still hoping that there will turn out
to be no need for investigation of any kind."
"Quite so, quite so," said Mr. Wells soothingly. "I wish we
could have spared you the pain and publicity of an inquest, but
of course it's quite unavoidable in the absence of a doctor's
"Yes, I suppose so."
"Clever man, Bauerstein. Great authority on toxicology, I
"Indeed," said John with a certain stiffness in his manner. Then
he added rather hesitatingly: "Shall we have to appear as
witnesses - all of us, I mean?"
"You, of course - and ah - er - Mr. - er - Inglethorp."
A slight pause ensued before the lawyer went on in his soothing
"Any other evidence will be simply confirmatory, a mere matter of
A faint expression of relief swept over John's face. It puzzled
me, for I saw no occasion for it.
"If you know of nothing to the contrary," pursued Mr. Wells, "I
had thought of Friday. That will give us plenty of time for the
doctor's report. The post-mortem is to take place to-night, I
"Then that arrangement will suit you?"
"I need not tell you, my dear Cavendish, how distressed I am at
this most tragic affair."
"Can you give us no help in solving it, monsieur?" interposed
Poirot, speaking for the first time since we had entered the
"Yes, we heard that Mrs. Inglethorp wrote to you last night. You
should have received the letter this morning."
"I did, but it contains no information. It is merely a note
asking me to call upon her this morning, as she wanted my advice
on a matter of great importance."
"She gave you no hint as to what that matter might be?"
"That is a pity," said John.
"A great pity," agreed Poirot gravely.
There was silence. Poirot remained lost in thought for a few
minutes. Finally he turned to the lawyer again.
"Mr. Wells, there is one thing I should like to ask you - that is,
if it is not against professional etiquette. In the event of
Mrs. Inglethorp's death, who would inherit her money?"
The lawyer hesitated a moment, and then replied:
"The knowledge will be public property very soon, so if Mr.
Cavendish does not object - - "
"Not at all," interpolated John.
"I do not see any reason why I should not answer your question.
By her last will, dated August of last year, after various
unimportant legacies to servants, etc., she gave her entire
fortune to her stepson, Mr. John Cavendish."
"Was not that - pardon the question, Mr. Cavendish - rather unfair
to her other stepson, Mr. Lawrence Cavendish?"
"No, I do not think so. You see, under the terms of their
father's will, while John inherited the property, Lawrence, at
his stepmother's death, would come into a considerable sum of
money. Mrs. Inglethorp left her money to her elder stepson,
knowing that he would have to keep up Styles. It was, to my
mind, a very fair and equitable distribution."
Poirot nodded thoughtfully.
"I see. But I am right in saying, am I not, that by your English
law that will was automatically revoked when Mrs. Inglethorp
Mr. Wells bowed his head.