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"Mary"--his voice was very quiet now--"are you in love with this fellow Bauerstein?"
She hesitated, and suddenly there swept across her face a strange expression, old as the hills, yet with something eternally young about it. So might some Egyptian sphinx have smiled.
She freed herself quietly from his arm, and spoke over her shoulder.
"Perhaps," she said; and then swiftly passed out of the little glade, leaving John standing there as though he had been turned to stone.
Rather ostentatiously, I stepped forward, crackling some dead branches with my feet as I did so. John turned. Luckily, he took it for granted that I had only just come upon the scene.
"Hullo, Hastings. Have you seen the little fellow safely back to his cottage? Quaint little chap! Is he any good, though, really?"
"He was considered one of the finest detectives of his day."
"Oh, well, I suppose there must be something in it, then. What a rotten world it is, though!"
"You find it so?" I asked.
"Good Lord, yes! There's this terrible business to start with. Scotland Yard men in and out of the house like a jack-in-the-box! Never know where they won't turn up next. Screaming headlines in every paper in the country--damn all journalists, I say! Do you know there was a whole crowd staring in at the lodge gates this morning. Sort of Madame Tussaud's chamber of horrors business that can be seen for nothing. Pretty thick, isn't it?"
"Cheer up, John!" I said soothingly. "It can't last for ever."
"Can't it, though? It can last long enough for us never to be able to hold up our heads again."
"No, no, you're getting morbid on the subject."
"Enough to make a man morbid, to be stalked by beastly journalists and stared at by gaping moon-faced idiots, wherever he goes! But there's worse than that."
John lowered his voice:
"Have you ever thought, Hastings--it's a nightmare to me-- who did it? I can't help feeling sometimes it must have been an accident. Because--because--who could have done it? Now Inglethorp's out of the way, there's no one else; no one, I mean, except--one of us."
Yes, indeed, that was nightmare enough for any man! One of us? Yes, surely it must be so, unless-----
A new idea suggested itself to my mind. Rapidly, I considered it. The light increased. Poirot's mysterious doings, his hints--they all fitted in. Fool that I was not to have thought of this possibility before, and what a relief for us all.
"No, John," I said, "it isn't one of us. How could it be?"
"I know, but, still, who else is there?"
"Can't you guess?"
I looked cautiously round, and lowered my voice.
"Dr. Bauerstein!" I whispered.
"Not at all."
"But what earthly interest could he have in my mother's death?"
"That I don't see," I confessed, "but I'll tell you this: Poirot thinks so."
"Poirot? Does he? How do you know?"
I told him of Poirot's intense excitement on hearing that Dr. Bauerstein had been at Styles on the fatal night, and added:
"He said twice: 'That alters everything.' And I've been thinking. You know Inglethorp said he had put down the coffee in the hall? Well, it was just then that Bauerstein arrived. Isn't it possible that, as Inglethorp brought him through the hall, the doctor dropped something into the coffee in passing?"
"H'm," said John. "It would have been very risky."
"Yes, but it was possible."
"And then, how could he know it was her coffee? No, old fellow, I don't think that will wash."
But I had remembered something else.
"You're quite right. That wasn't how it was done. Listen." And I then told him of the coco sample which Poirot had taken to be analysed.
John interrupted just as I had done.
"But, look here, Bauerstein had had it analysed already?"
"Yes, yes, that's the point. I didn't see it either until now. Don't you understand? Bauerstein had it analysed--that's just it! If Bauerstein's the murderer, nothing could be simpler than for him to substitute some ordinary coco for his sample, and send that to be tested. And of course they would find no strychnine! But no one would dream of suspecting Bauerstein, or think of taking another sample--except Poirot," I added, with belated recognition.
"Yes, but what about the bitter taste that coco won't disguise?"
"Well, we've only his word for that. And there are other possibilities. He's admittedly one of the world's greatest toxicologists----"
"One of the world's greatest what? Say it again."
"He knows more about poisons than almost anybody," I explained. "Well, my idea is, that perhaps he's found some way of making strychnine tasteless. Or it may not have been strychnine at all, but some obscure drug no one has ever heard of, which produces much the same symptoms."
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The Mysterious Affair at Styles -- by Christie