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Suddenly he seemed to come to a decision.
"Allons!" he said. "We must act at once. Where is Mr. Cavendish?"
John was in the smoking-room. Poirot went straight to him.
"Mr. Cavendish, I have some important business in Tadminster. A new clue. May I take your motor?"
"Why, of course. Do you mean at once?"
"If you please."
John rang the bell, and ordered round the car. In another ten minutes, we were racing down the park and along the high road to Tadminster.
"Now, Poirot," I remarked resignedly, "perhaps you will tell me what all this is about?"
"Well, mon ami, a good deal you can guess for yourself. Of course you realize that, now Mr. Inglethorp is out of it, the whole position is greatly changed. We are face to face with an entirely new problem. We know now that there is one person who did not buy the poison. We have cleared away the manufactured clues. Now for the real ones. I have ascertained that anyone in the household, with the exception of Mrs. Cavendish, who was playing tennis with you, could have personated Mr. Inglethorp on Monday evening. In the same way, we have his statement that he put the coffee down in the hall. No one took much notice of that at the inquest--but now it has a very different significance. We must find out who did take that coffee to Mrs. Inglethorp eventually, or who passed through the hall whilst it was standing there. From your account, there are only two people whom we can positively say did not go near the coffee--Mrs. Cavendish, and Mademoiselle Cynthia."
"Yes, that is so." I felt an inexpressible lightening of the heart. Mary Cavendish could certainly not rest under suspicion.
"In clearing Alfred Inglethorp," continued Poirot, "I have been obliged to show my hand sooner than I intended. As long as I might be thought to be pursuing him, the criminal would be off his guard. Now, he will be doubly careful. Yes--doubly careful." He turned to me abruptly. "Tell me, Hastings, you yourself--have you no suspicions of anybody?"
I hesitated. To tell the truth, an idea, wild and extravagant in itself, had once or twice that morning flashed through my brain. I had rejected it as absurd, nevertheless it persisted.
"You couldn't call it a suspicion," I murmured. "It's so utterly foolish."
"Come now," urged Poirot encouragingly. "Do not fear. Speak your mind. You should always pay attention to your instincts."
"Well then," I blurted out, "it's absurd--but I suspect Miss Howard of not telling all she knows!"
"Yes--you'll laugh at me----"
"Not at all. Why should I?"
"I can't help feeling," I continued blunderingly; "that we've rather left her out of the possible suspects, simply on the strength of her having been away from the place. But, after all, she was only fifteen miles away. A car would do it in half an hour. Can we say positively that she was away from Styles on the night of the murder?"
"Yes, my friend," said Poirot unexpectedly, "we can. One of my first actions was to ring up the hospital where she was working."
"Well, I learnt that Miss Howard had been on afternoon duty on Tuesday, and that--a convoy coming in unexpectedly-- she had kindly offered to remain on night duty, which offer was gratefully accepted. That disposes of that."
"Oh!" I said, rather nonplussed. "Really," I continued, "it's her extraordinary vehemence against Inglethorp that started me off suspecting her. I can't help feeling she'd do anything against him. And I had an idea she might know something about the destroying of the will. She might have burnt the new one, mistaking it for the earlier one in his favour. She is so terribly bitter against him."
"You consider her vehemence unnatural?"
"Y--es. She is so very violent. I wondered really whether she is quite sane on that point."
Poirot shook his head energetically.
"No, no, you are on a wrong tack there. There is nothing weak-minded or degenerate about Miss Howard. She is an excellent specimen of well-balanced English beef and brawn. She is sanity itself."
"Yet her hatred of Inglethorp seems almost a mania. My idea was--a very ridiculous one, no doubt--that she had intended to poison him--and that, in some way, Mrs. Inglethorp got hold of it by mistake. But I don't at all see how it could have been done. The whole thing is absurd and ridiculous to the last degree."
"Still you are right in one thing. It is always wise to suspect everybody until you can prove logically, and to your own satisfaction, that they are innocent. Now, what reasons are there against Miss Howard's having deliberately poisoned Mrs. Inglethorp?"
"Why, she was devoted to her!" I exclaimed.
"Tcha! Tcha!" cried Poirot irritably. "You argue like a child. If Miss Howard were capable of poisoning the old lady, she would be quite equally capable of simulating devotion. No, we must look elsewhere. You are perfectly correct in your assumption that her vehemence against Alfred Inglethorp is too violent to be natural; but you are quite wrong in the deduction you draw from it. I have drawn my own deductions, which I believe to be correct, but I will not speak of them at present." He paused a minute, then went on. "Now, to my way of thinking, there is one insuperable objection to Miss Howard's being the murderess."
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The Mysterious Affair at Styles -- by Christie