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I think the appearance of the two Scotland Yard men was rather a shock--especially to John, though of course after the verdict, he had realized that it was only a matter of time. Still, the presence of the detectives brought the truth home to him more than anything else could have done.
Poirot had conferred with Japp in a low tone on the way up, and it was the latter functionary who requested that the household, with the exception of the servants, should be assembled together in the drawing-room. I realized the significance of this. It was up to Poirot to make his boast good.
Personally, I was not sanguine. Poirot might have excellent reasons for his belief in Inglethorp's innocence, but a man of the type of Summerhaye would require tangible proofs, and these I doubted if Poirot could supply.
Before very long we had all trooped into the drawing-room, the door of which Japp closed. Poirot politely set chairs for every one. The Scotland Yard men were the cynosure of all eyes. I think that for the first time we realized that the thing was not a bad dream, but a tangible reality. We had read of such things--now we ourselves were actors in the drama. To-morrow the daily papers, all over England, would blazon out the news in staring headlines:
"MYSTERIOUS TRAGEDY IN ESSEX"
There would be pictures of Styles, snap-shots of "The family leaving the Inquest"--the village photographer had not been idle! All the things that one had read a hundred times--things that happen to other people, not to oneself. And now, in this house, a murder had been committed. In front of us were "the detectives in charge of the case." The well-known glib phraseology passed rapidly through my mind in the interval before Poirot opened the proceedings.
I think every one was a little surprised that it should be he and not one of the official detectives who took the initiative.
"Mesdames and messieurs," said Poirot, bowing as though he were a celebrity about to deliver a lecture, "I have asked you to come here all together, for a certain object. That object, it concerns Mr. Alfred Inglethorp."
Inglethorp was sitting a little by himself--I think, unconsciously, every one had drawn his chair slightly away from him--and he gave a faint start as Poirot pronounced his name.
"Mr. Inglethorp," said Poirot, addressing him directly, "a very dark shadow is resting on this house--the shadow of murder."
Inglethorp shook his head sadly.
"My poor wife," he murmured. "Poor Emily! It is terrible."
"I do not think, monsieur," said Poirot pointedly, "that you quite realize how terrible it may be--for you." And as Inglethorp did not appear to understand, he added: "Mr. Inglethorp, you are standing in very grave danger."
The two detectives fidgeted. I saw the official caution "Anything you say will be used in evidence against you," actually hovering on Summerhaye's lips. Poirot went on.
"Do you understand now, monsieur?"
"No; What do you mean?"
"I mean," said Poirot deliberately, "that you are suspected of poisoning your wife."
A little gasp ran round the circle at this plain speaking.
"Good heavens!" cried Inglethorp, starting up. "What a monstrous idea! I--poison my dearest Emily!"
"I do not think"--Poirot watched him narrowly--"that you quite realize the unfavourable nature of your evidence at the inquest. Mr. Inglethorp, knowing what I have now told you, do you still refuse to say where you were at six o'clock on Monday afternoon?"
With a groan, Alfred Inglethorp sank down again and buried his face in his hands. Poirot approached and stood over him.
"Speak!" he cried menacingly.
With an effort, Inglethorp raised his face from his hands. Then, slowly and deliberately, he shook his head.
"You will not speak?"
"No. I do not believe that anyone could be so monstrous as to accuse me of what you say."
Poirot nodded thoughtfully, like a man whose mind is made up.
"Soit!" he said. "Then I must speak for you."
Alfred Inglethorp sprang up again.
"You? How can you speak? You do not know----" he broke off abruptly.
Poirot turned to face us. "Mesdames and messieurs! I speak! Listen! I, Hercule Poirot, affirm that the man who entered the chemist's shop, and purchased strychnine at six o'clock on Monday last was not Mr. Inglethorp, for at six o'clock on that day Mr. Inglethorp was escorting Mrs. Raikes back to her home from a neighbouring farm. I can produce no less than five witnesses to swear to having seen them together, either at six or just after and, as you may know, the Abbey Farm, Mrs. Raikes's home, is at least two and a half miles distant from the village. There is absolutely no question as to the alibi!"
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The Mysterious Affair at Styles -- by Christie