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"Mr. Hastings--you are always so kind, and you know such a lot."
It struck me at this moment that Cynthia was really a very charming girl! Much more charming than Mary, who never said things of that kind.
"Well?" I asked benignantly, as she hesitated.
"I want to ask your advice. What shall I do?"
"Yes. You see, Aunt Emily always told me I should be provided for. I suppose she forgot, or didn't think she was likely to die--anyway, I am not provided for! And I don't know what to do. Do you think I ought to go away from here at once?"
"Good heavens, no! They don't want to part with you, I'm sure."
Cynthia hesitated a moment, plucking up the grass with her tiny hands. Then she said: "Mrs. Cavendish does. She hates me."
"Hates you?" I cried, astonished.
"Yes. I don't know why, but she can't bear me; and he can't, either."
"There I know you're wrong," I said warmly. "On the contrary, John is very fond of you."
"Oh, yes--John. I meant Lawrence. Not, of course, that I care whether Lawrence hates me or not. Still, it's rather horrid when no one loves you, isn't it?"
"But they do, Cynthia dear," I said earnestly. "I'm sure you are mistaken. Look, there is John--and Miss Howard--"
Cynthia nodded rather gloomily. "Yes, John likes me, I think, and of course Evie, for all her gruff ways, wouldn't be unkind to a fly. But Lawrence never speaks to me if he can help it, and Mary can hardly bring herself to be civil to me. She wants Evie to stay on, is begging her to, but she doesn't want me, and--and--I don't know what to do." Suddenly the poor child burst out crying.
I don't know what possessed me. Her beauty, perhaps, as she sat there, with the sunlight glinting down on her head; perhaps the sense of relief at encountering someone who so obviously could have no connection with the tragedy; perhaps honest pity for her youth and loneliness. Anyway, I leant forward, and taking her little hand, I said awkwardly:
"Marry me, Cynthia."
Unwittingly, I had hit upon a sovereign remedy for her tears. She sat up at once, drew her hand away, and said, with some asperity:
"Don't be silly!"
I was a little annoyed.
"I'm not being silly. I am asking you to do me the honour of becoming my wife."
To my intense surprise, Cynthia burst out laughing, and called me a "funny dear."
"It's perfectly sweet of you," she said, "but you know you don't want to!"
"Yes, I do. I've got--"
"Never mind what you've got. You don't really want to-- and I don't either."
"Well, of course, that settles it," I said stiffly. "But I don't see anything to laugh at. There's nothing funny about a proposal."
"No, indeed," said Cynthia. "Somebody might accept you next time. Good-bye, you've cheered me up very much."
And, with a final uncontrollable burst of merriment, she vanished through the trees.
Thinking over the interview, it struck me as being profoundly unsatisfactory.
It occurred to me suddenly that I would go down to the village, and look up Bauerstein. Somebody ought to be keeping an eye on the fellow. At the same time, it would be wise to allay any suspicions he might have as to his being suspected. I remembered how Poirot had relied on my diplomacy. Accordingly, I went to the little house with the "Apartments" card inserted in the window, where I knew he lodged, and tapped on the door.
An old woman came and opened it.
"Good afternoon," I said pleasantly. "Is Dr. Bauerstein in?"
She stared at me.
"Haven't you heard?"
"What about him?"
"No, took by the perlice."
"By the police!" I gasped. "Do you mean they've arrested him?"
"Yes, that's it, and--"
I waited to hear no more, but tore up the village to find Poirot.
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The Mysterious Affair at Styles -- by Christie