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Agatha Christie
The Mysterious Affair at Styles 11
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CHAPTER XI.

THE CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION


The trial of John Cavendish for the murder of his stepmother took
place two months later.

Of the intervening weeks I will say little, but my admiration and
sympathy went out unfeignedly to Mary Cavendish. She ranged
herself passionately on her husband's side, scorning the mere
idea of his guilt, and fought for him tooth and nail.

I expressed my admiration to Poirot, and he nodded thoughtfully.

"Yes, she is of those women who show at their best in adversity.
It brings out all that is sweetest and truest in them. Her pride
and her jealousy have--"

"Jealousy?" I queried.

"Yes. Have you not realized that she is an unusually jealous
woman? As I was saying, her pride and jealousy have been laid
aside. She thinks of nothing but her husband, and the terrible
fate that is hanging over him."

He spoke very feelingly, and I looked at him earnestly,
remembering that last afternoon, when he had been deliberating
whether or not to speak. With his tenderness for "a woman's
happiness," I felt glad that the decision had been taken out of
his hands.

"Even now," I said, "I can hardly believe it. You see, up to the
very last minute, I thought it was Lawrence!"

Poirot grinned.

"I know you did."

"But John! My old friend John!"

"Every murderer is probably somebody's old friend," observed
Poirot philosophically. "You cannot mix up sentiment and
reason."

"I must say I think you might have given me a hint."

"Perhaps, mon ami, I did not do so, just because he _was_ your
old friend."

I was rather disconcerted by this, remembering how I had busily
passed on to John what I believed to be Poirot's views concerning
Bauerstein. He, by the way, had been acquitted of the charge
brought against him. Nevertheless, although he had been too
clever for them this time, and the charge of espionage could not
be brought home to him, his wings were pretty well clipped for
the future.

I asked Poirot whether he thought John would be condemned. To my
intense surprise, he replied that, on the contrary, he was
extremely likely to be acquitted.

"But, Poirot--" I protested.

"Oh, my friend, have I not said to you all along that I have no
proofs. It is one thing to know that a man is guilty, it is
quite another matter to prove him so. And, in this case, there
is terribly little evidence. That is the whole trouble. I,
Hercule Poirot, know, but I lack the last link in my chain. And
unless I can find that missing link--" He shook his head gravely.

"When did you first suspect John Cavendish?" I asked, after a
minute or two.

"Did you not suspect him at all?"

"No, indeed."

"Not after that fragment of conversation you overheard between
Mrs. Cavendish and her mother-in-law, and her subsequent lack of
frankness at the inquest?"

"No."

"Did you not put two and two together, and reflect that if it was
not Alfred Inglethorp who was quarrelling with his wife--and you
remember, he strenuously denied it at the inquest--it must be
either Lawrence or John. Now, if it was Lawrence, Mary
Cavendish's conduct was just as inexplicable. But if, on the
other hand, it was John, the whole thing was explained quite
naturally."

"So," I cried, a light breaking in upon me, "it was John who
quarrelled with his mother that afternoon?"

"Exactly."

"And you have known this all along?"

"Certainly. Mrs. Cavendish's behaviour could only be explained
that way."

"And yet you say he may be acquitted?"

Poirot shrugged his shoulders.

"Certainly I do. At the police court proceedings, we shall hear
the case for the prosecution, but in all probability his
solicitors will advise him to reserve his defence. That will be
sprung upon us at the trial. And--ah, by the way, I have a word
of caution to give you, my friend. I must not appear in the
case."

"What?"

"No. Officially, I have nothing to do with it. Until I have
found that last link in my chain, I must remain behind the
scenes. Mrs. Cavendish must think I am working for her husband,
not against him."

"I say, that's playing it a bit low down," I protested.

"Not at all. We have to deal with a most clever and unscrupulous
man, and we must use any means in our power--otherwise he will
slip through our fingers. That is why I have been careful to
remain in the background. All the discoveries have been made by
Japp, and Japp will take all the credit. If I am called upon to
give evidence at all"--he smiled broadly--"it will probably be
as a witness for the defence."

I could hardly believe my ears.

"It is quite en regle," continued Poirot. "Strangely enough, I
can give evidence that will demolish one contention of the
prosecution."

"Which one?"

"The one that relates to the destruction of the will. John
Cavendish did not destroy that will."

Poirot was a true prophet. I will not go into the details of the
police court proceedings, as it involves many tiresome
repetitions. I will merely state baldly that John Cavendish
reserved his defence, and was duly committed for trial.

September found us all in London. Mary took a house in
Kensington, Poirot being included in the family party.

I myself had been given a job at the War Office, so was able to
see them continually.

As the weeks went by, the state of Poirot's nerves grew worse and
worse. That "last link" he talked about was still lacking.
Privately, I hoped it might remain so, for what happiness could
there be for Mary, if John were not acquitted?

On September 15th John Cavendish appeared in the dock at the Old
Bailey, charged with "The Wilful Murder of Emily Agnes
Inglethorp," and pleaded "Not Guilty."

Sir Ernest Heavywether, the famous K. C., had been engaged to
defend him.

Mr. Philips, K. C., opened the case for the Crown.

The murder, he said, was a most premeditated and cold-blooded
one. It was neither more nor less than the deliberate poisoning
of a fond and trusting woman by the stepson to whom she had been
more than a mother. Ever since his boyhood, she had supported
him. He and his wife had lived at Styles Court in every luxury,
surrounded by her care and attention. She had been their kind
and generous benefactress.

He proposed to call witnesses to show how the prisoner, a
profligate and spendthrift, had been at the end of his financial
tether, and had also been carrying on an intrigue with a certain
Mrs. Raikes, a neighbouring farmer's wife. This having come to
his stepmother's ears, she taxed him with it on the afternoon
before her death, and a quarrel ensued, part of which was
overheard. On the previous day, the prisoner had purchased
strychnine at the village chemist's shop, wearing a disguise by
means of which he hoped to throw the onus of the crime upon
another man--to wit, Mrs. Inglethorp's husband, of whom he had
been bitterly jealous. Luckily for Mr. Inglethorp, he had been
able to produce an unimpeachable alibi.

On the afternoon of July 17th, continued Counsel, immediately
after the quarrel with her son, Mrs. Inglethorp made a new will.
This will was found destroyed in the grate of her bedroom the
following morning, but evidence had come to light which showed
that it had been drawn up in favour of her husband. Deceased had
already made a will in his favour before her marriage, but--and
Mr. Philips wagged an expressive forefinger--the prisoner was not
aware of that. What had induced the deceased to make a fresh
will, with the old one still extant, he could not say. She was
an old lady, and might possibly have forgotten the former one;
or--this seemed to him more likely--she may have had an idea that
it was revoked by her marriage, as there had been some
conversation on the subject. Ladies were not always very well
versed in legal knowledge. She had, about a year before,
executed a will in favour of the prisoner. He would call
evidence to show that it was the prisoner who ultimately handed
his stepmother her coffee on the fatal night. Later in the
evening, he had sought admission to her room, on which occasion,
no doubt, he found an opportunity of destroying the will which,
as far as he knew, would render the one in his favour valid.

The prisoner had been arrested in consequence of the discovery,
in his room, by Detective Inspector Japp--a most brilliant
officer--of the identical phial of strychnine which had been sold
at the village chemist's to the supposed Mr. Inglethorp on the
day before the murder. It would be for the jury to decide
whether or not these damning facts constituted an overwhelming
proof of the prisoner's guilt.

And, subtly implying that a jury which did not so decide, was
quite unthinkable, Mr. Philips sat down and wiped his forehead.

The first witnesses for the prosecution were mostly those who had
been called at the inquest, the medical evidence being again
taken first.

Sir Ernest Heavywether, who was famous all over England for the
unscrupulous manner in which he bullied witnesses, only asked two
questions.

"I take it, Dr. Bauerstein, that strychnine, as a drug, acts
quickly?"

"Yes."

"And that you are unable to account for the delay in this case?"

"Yes."

"Thank you."

Mr. Mace identified the phial handed him by Counsel as that sold
by him to "Mr. Inglethorp." Pressed, he admitted that he only
knew Mr. Inglethorp by sight. He had never spoken to him. The
witness was not cross-examined.

Alfred Inglethorp was called, and denied having purchased the
poison. He also denied having quarrelled with his wife. Various
witnesses testified to the accuracy of these statements.

The gardeners' evidence, as to the witnessing of the will was
taken, and then Dorcas was called.

Dorcas, faithful to her "young gentlemen," denied strenuously
that it could have been John's voice she heard, and resolutely
declared, in the teeth of everything, that it was Mr. Inglethorp
who had been in the boudoir with her mistress. A rather wistful
smile passed across the face of the prisoner in the dock. He
knew only too well how useless her gallant defiance was, since it
was not the object of the defence to deny this point. Mrs.
Cavendish, of course, could not be called upon to give evidence
against her husband.

After various questions on other matters, Mr. Philips asked:

"In the month of June last, do you remember a parcel arriving for
Mr. Lawrence Cavendish from Parkson's?"

Dorcas shook her head.

"I don't remember, sir. It may have done, but Mr. Lawrence was
away from home part of June."

"In the event of a parcel arriving for him whilst he was away,
what would be done with it?"

"It would either be put in his room or sent on after him."

"By you?"

"No, sir, I should leave it on the hall table. It would be Miss
Howard who would attend to anything like that."

Evelyn Howard was called and, after being examined on other
points, was questioned as to the parcel.

"Don't remember. Lots of parcels come. Can't remember one
special one."

"You do not know if it was sent after Mr. Lawrence Cavendish to
Wales, or whether it was put in his room?"

"Don't think it was sent after him. Should have remembered it if
it was."

"Supposing a parcel arrived addressed to Mr. Lawrence Cavendish,
and afterwards it disappeared, should you remark its absence?"

"No, don't think so. I should think some one had taken charge of
it."

"I believe, Miss Howard, that it was you who found this sheet of
brown paper?" He held up the same dusty piece which Poirot and I
had examined in the morning-room at Styles.

"Yes, I did."

"How did you come to look for it?"

"The Belgian detective who was employed on the case asked me to
search for it."

"Where did you eventually discover it?"

"On the top of--of--a wardrobe."

"On top of the prisoner's wardrobe?"

"I--I believe so."

"Did you not find it yourself?"

"Yes."

"Then you must know where you found it?"

"Yes, it was on the prisoner's wardrobe."

"That is better."

An assistant from Parkson's, Theatrical Costumiers, testified
that on June 29th, they had supplied a black beard to Mr. L.
Cavendish, as requested. It was ordered by letter, and a postal
order was enclosed. No, they had not kept the letter. All
transactions were entered in their books. They had sent the
beard, as directed, to "L. Cavendish, Esq., Styles Court."

Sir Ernest Heavywether rose ponderously.

"Where was the letter written from?"

"From Styles Court."

"The same address to which you sent the parcel?"

"Yes."

"And the letter came from there?"

"Yes."

Like a beast of prey, Heavywether fell upon him:

"How do you know?"

"I--I don't understand."

"How do you know that letter came from Styles? Did you notice the
postmark?"

"No--but--"

"Ah, you did _not_ notice the postmark! And yet you affirm so
confidently that it came from Styles. It might, in fact, have
been any postmark?"

"Y--es."

"In fact, the letter, though written on stamped notepaper, might
have been posted from anywhere? From Wales, for instance?"

The witness admitted that such might be the case, and Sir Ernest
signified that he was satisfied.

Elizabeth Wells, second housemaid at Styles, stated that after
she had gone to bed she remembered that she had bolted the front
door, instead of leaving it on the latch as Mr. Inglethorp had
requested. She had accordingly gone downstairs again to rectify
her error. Hearing a slight noise in the West wing, she had
peeped along the passage, and had seen Mr. John Cavendish
knocking at Mrs. Inglethorp's door.

Sir Ernest Heavywether made short work of her, and under his
unmerciful bullying she contradicted herself hopelessly, and Sir
Ernest sat down again with a satisfied smile on his face.

With the evidence of Annie, as to the candle grease on the floor,
and as to seeing the prisoner take the coffee into the boudoir,
the proceedings were adjourned until the following day.

As we went home, Mary Cavendish spoke bitterly against the
prosecuting counsel.

"That hateful man! What a net he has drawn around my poor John!
How he twisted every little fact until he made it seem what it
wasn't!"

"Well," I said consolingly, "it will be the other way about
to-morrow."

"Yes," she said meditatively; then suddenly dropped her voice.
"Mr. Hastings, you do not think--surely it could not have been
Lawrence--Oh, no, that could not be!"

But I myself was puzzled, and as soon as I was alone with Poirot
I asked him what he thought Sir Ernest was driving at.

"Ah!" said Poirot appreciatively. "He is a clever man, that Sir
Ernest."

"Do you think he believes Lawrence guilty?"

"I do not think he believes or cares anything! No, what he is
trying for is to create such confusion in the minds of the jury
that they are divided in their opinion as to which brother did
it. He is endeavouring to make out that there is quite as much
evidence against Lawrence as against John--and I am not at all
sure that he will not succeed."

Detective-inspector Japp was the first witness called when the
trial was reopened, and gave his evidence succinctly and briefly.
After relating the earlier events, he proceeded:

"Acting on information received, Superintendent Summerhaye and
myself searched the prisoner's room, during his temporary absence
from the house. In his chest of drawers, hidden beneath some
underclothing, we found: first, a pair of gold-rimmed pince-nez
similar to those worn by Mr. Inglethorp"--these were
exhibited--"secondly, this phial."

The phial was that already recognized by the chemist's assistant,
a tiny bottle of blue glass, containing a few grains of a white
crystalline powder, and labelled: "Strychnine Hydrochloride.
POISON."

A fresh piece of evidence discovered by the detectives since the
police court proceedings was a long, almost new piece of
blotting-paper. It had been found in Mrs. Inglethorp's cheque
book, and on being reversed at a mirror, showed clearly the
words: ". . . erything of which I die possessed I leave to my
beloved husband Alfred Ing ..." This placed beyond question the
fact that the destroyed will had been in favour of the deceased
lady's husband. Japp then produced the charred fragment of paper
recovered from the grate, and this, with the discovery of the
beard in the attic, completed his evidence.

But Sir Ernest's cross-examination was yet to come.

"What day was it when you searched the prisoner's room?"

"Tuesday, the 24th of July."

"Exactly a week after the tragedy?"

"Yes."

"You found these two objects, you say, in the chest of drawers.
Was the drawer unlocked?"

"Yes."

"Does it not strike you as unlikely that a man who had committed
a crime should keep the evidence of it in an unlocked drawer for
anyone to find?"

"He might have stowed them there in a hurry."

"But you have just said it was a whole week since the crime. He
would have had ample time to remove them and destroy them."

"Perhaps."

"There is no perhaps about it. Would he, or would he not have
had plenty of time to remove and destroy them?"

"Yes."

"Was the pile of underclothes under which the things were hidden
heavy or light?"

"Heavyish."

"In other words, it was winter underclothing. Obviously, the
prisoner would not be likely to go to that drawer?"

"Perhaps not."

"Kindly answer my question. Would the prisoner, in the hottest
week of a hot summer, be likely to go to a drawer containing
winter underclothing. Yes, or no?"

"No."

"In that case, is it not possible that the articles in question
might have been put there by a third person, and that the
prisoner was quite unaware of their presence?"

"I should not think it likely."

"But it is possible?"

"Yes."

"That is all."

More evidence followed. Evidence as to the financial
difficulties in which the prisoner had found himself at the end
of July. Evidence as to his intrigue with Mrs. Raikes--poor
Mary, that must have been bitter hearing for a woman of her
pride. Evelyn Howard had been right in her facts, though her
animosity against Alfred Inglethorp had caused her to jump to the
conclusion that he was the person concerned.

Lawrence Cavendish was then put into the box. In a low voice, in
answer to Mr. Philips' questions, he denied having ordered
anything from Parkson's in June. In fact, on June 29th, he had
been staying away, in Wales.

Instantly, Sir Ernest's chin was shooting pugnaciously forward.

"You deny having ordered a black beard from Parkson's on June
29th?"

"I do."

"Ah! In the event of anything happening to your brother, who will
inherit Styles Court?"

The brutality of the question called a flush to Lawrence's pale
face. The judge gave vent to a faint murmur of disapprobation,
and the prisoner in the dock leant forward angrily.

Heavywether cared nothing for his client's anger.

"Answer my question, if you please."

"I suppose," said Lawrence quietly, "that I should."

"What do you mean by you 'suppose'? Your brother has no children.
You _would_ inherit it, wouldn't you?"

"Yes."

"Ah, that's better," said Heavywether, with ferocious geniality.
"And you'd inherit a good slice of money too, wouldn't you?"

"Really, Sir Ernest," protested the judge, "these questions are
not relevant."

Sir Ernest bowed, and having shot his arrow proceeded.

"On Tuesday, the 17th July, you went, I believe, with another
guest, to visit the dispensary at the Red Cross Hospital in
Tadminster?"

"Yes."

"Did you--while you happened to be alone for a few
seconds--unlock the poison cupboard, and examine some of the
bottles?"

"I--I--may have done so."

"I put it to you that you did do so?"

"Yes."

Sir Ernest fairly shot the next question at him.

"Did you examine one bottle in particular?"

"No, I do not think so."

"Be careful, Mr. Cavendish. I am referring to a little bottle of
Hydro-chloride of Strychnine."

Lawrence was turning a sickly greenish colour.

"N--o--I am sure I didn't."

"Then how do you account for the fact that you left the
unmistakable impress of your finger-prints on it?"

The bullying manner was highly efficacious with a nervous
disposition.

"I--I suppose I must have taken up the bottle."

"I suppose so too! Did you abstract any of the contents of the
bottle?"

"Certainly not."

"Then why did you take it up?"

"I once studied to be a doctor. Such things naturally interest
me."

"Ah! So poisons 'naturally interest' you, do they? Still, you
waited to be alone before gratifying that 'interest' of yours?"

"That was pure chance. If the others had been there, I should
have done just the same."

"Still, as it happens, the others were not there?"

"No, but----"

"In fact, during the whole afternoon, you were only alone for a
couple of minutes, and it happened--I say, it happened--to be
during those two minutes that you displayed your 'natural
interest' in Hydro-chloride of Strychnine?"

Lawrence stammered pitiably.

"I--I----"

With a satisfied and expressive countenance, Sir Ernest observed:

"I have nothing more to ask you, Mr. Cavendish."

This bit of cross-examination had caused great excitement in
court. The heads of the many fashionably attired women present
were busily laid together, and their whispers became so loud that
the judge angrily threatened to have the court cleared if there
was not immediate silence.

There was little more evidence. The hand-writing experts were
called upon for their opinion of the signature of "Alfred
Inglethorp" in the chemist's poison register. They all declared
unanimously that it was certainly not his hand-writing, and gave
it as their view that it might be that of the prisoner disguised.
Cross-examined, they admitted that it might be the prisoner's
hand-writing cleverly counterfeited.

Sir Ernest Heavywether's speech in opening the case for the
defence was not a long one, but it was backed by the full force
of his emphatic manner. Never, he said, in the course of his
long experience, had he known a charge of murder rest on slighter
evidence. Not only was it entirely circumstantial, but the
greater part of it was practically unproved. Let them take the
testimony they had heard and sift it impartially. The strychnine
had been found in a drawer in the prisoner's room. That drawer
was an unlocked one, as he had pointed out, and he submitted that
there was no evidence to prove that it was the prisoner who had
concealed the poison there. It was, in fact, a wicked and
malicious attempt on the part of some third person to fix the
crime on the prisoner. The prosecution had been unable to
produce a shred of evidence in support of their contention that
it was the prisoner who ordered the black beard from Parkson's.
The quarrel which had taken place between prisoner and his
stepmother was freely admitted, but both it and his financial
embarrassments had been grossly exaggerated.

His learned friend--Sir Ernest nodded carelessly at Mr.
Philips--had stated that if the prisoner were an innocent man, he
would have come forward at the inquest to explain that it was he,
and not Mr. Inglethorp, who had been the participator in the
quarrel. He thought the facts had been misrepresented. What had
actually occurred was this. The prisoner, returning to the house
on Tuesday evening, had been authoritatively told that there had
been a violent quarrel between Mr. and Mrs. Inglethorp. No
suspicion had entered the prisoner's head that anyone could
possibly have mistaken his voice for that of Mr. Inglethorp. He
naturally concluded that his stepmother had had two quarrels.

The prosecution averred that on Monday, July 16th, the prisoner
had entered the chemist's shop in the village, disguised as Mr.
Inglethorp. The prisoner, on the contrary, was at that time at a
lonely spot called Marston's Spinney, where he had been summoned
by an anonymous note, couched in blackmailing terms, and
threatening to reveal certain matters to his wife unless he
complied with its demands. The prisoner had, accordingly, gone
to the appointed spot, and after waiting there vainly for half an
hour had returned home. Unfortunately, he had met with no one on
the way there or back who could vouch for the truth of his story,
but luckily he had kept the note, and it would be produced as
evidence.

As for the statement relating to the destruction of the will, the
prisoner had formerly practiced at the Bar, and was perfectly
well aware that the will made in his favour a year before was
automatically revoked by his stepmother's remarriage. He would
call evidence to show who did destroy the will, and it was
possible that that might open up quite a new view of the case.

Finally, he would point out to the jury that there was evidence
against other people besides John Cavendish. He would direct
their attention to the fact that the evidence against Mr.
Lawrence Cavendish was quite as strong, if not stronger than that
against his brother.

He would now call the prisoner.

John acquitted himself well in the witness-box. Under Sir
Ernest's skilful handling, he told his tale credibly and well.
The anonymous note received by him was produced, and handed to
the jury to examine. The readiness with which he admitted his
financial difficulties, and the disagreement with his stepmother,
lent value to his denials.

At the close of his examination, he paused, and said:

"I should like to make one thing clear. I utterly reject and
disapprove of Sir Ernest Heavywether's insinuations against my
brother. My brother, I am convinced, had no more to do with the
crime than I have."

Sir Ernest merely smiled, and noted with a sharp eye that John's
protest had produced a very favourable impression on the jury.

Then the cross-examination began.

"I understand you to say that it never entered your head that the
witnesses at the inquest could possibly have mistaken your voice
for that of Mr. Inglethorp. Is not that very surprising?"

"No, I don't think so. I was told there had been a quarrel
between my mother and Mr. Inglethorp, and it never occurred to me
that such was not really the case."

"Not when the servant Dorcas repeated certain fragments of the
conversation--fragments which you must have recognized?"

"I did not recognize them."

"Your memory must be unusually short!"

"No, but we were both angry, and, I think, said more than we
meant. I paid very little attention to my mother's actual
words."

Mr. Philips' incredulous sniff was a triumph of forensic skill.
He passed on to the subject of the note.

"You have produced this note very opportunely. Tell me, is there
nothing familiar about the hand-writing of it?"

"Not that I know of."

"Do you not think that it bears a marked resemblance to your own
hand-writing--carelessly disguised?"

"No, I do not think so."

"I put it to you that it is your own hand-writing!"

"No."

"I put it to you that, anxious to prove an alibi, you conceived
the idea of a fictitious and rather incredible appointment, and
wrote this note yourself in order to bear out your statement!"

"No."

"Is it not a fact that, at the time you claim to have been
waiting about at a solitary and unfrequented spot, you were
really in the chemist's shop in Styles St. Mary, where you
purchased strychnine in the name of Alfred Inglethorp?"

"No, that is a lie."

"I put it to you that, wearing a suit of Mr. Inglethorp's
clothes, with a black beard trimmed to resemble his, you were
there--and signed the register in his name!"

"That is absolutely untrue."

"Then I will leave the remarkable similarity of hand-writing
between the note, the register, and your own, to the
consideration of the jury," said Mr. Philips, and sat down with
the air of a man who has done his duty, but who was nevertheless
horrified by such deliberate perjury.

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.



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