Hercule Poirot 3-Book Collection 1: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder on the Links, Poirot Investigates
He looked quickly round the room. ‘There is nothing more to be done here, I think, unless’—he stared earnestly and long at the dead ashes in the grate. ‘The fire burns—and it destroys. But by chance—there might be—let us see!’
Deftly, on hands and knees, he began to sort the ashes from the grate into the fender, handling them with the greatest caution. Suddenly, he gave a faint exclamation.
‘The forceps, Hastings!’
I quickly handed them to him, and with skill he extracted a small piece of half-charred paper.
‘There, mon ami!’ he cried. ‘What do you think of that?’
I scrutinized the fragment. This is an exact reproduction of it:
I was puzzled. It was unusually thick, quite unlike ordinary notepaper. Suddenly an idea struck me.
‘Poirot!’ I cried. ‘This is a fragment of a will!’
I looked at him sharply.‘You are not surprised?’
‘No,’ he said gravely, ‘I expected it.’
I relinquished the piece of paper, and watched him put it away in his case, with the same methodical care that he bestowed on everything. My brain was in a whirl. What was this complication of a will? Who had destroyed it? The person who had left the candle grease on the floor? Obviously. But how had anyone gained admission? All the doors had been bolted on the inside.
‘Now, my friend,’ said Poirot briskly, ‘we will go. I should like to ask a few questions of the parlourmaid—Dorcas, her name is, is it not?’
We passed through Alfred Inglethorp’s room, and Poirot delayed long enough to make a brief but fairly comprehensive examination of it. We went out through that door, locking both it and that of Mrs Inglethorp’s room as before.
I took him down to the boudoir which he had expressed a wish to see, and went myself in search of Dorcas.
When I returned with her, however, the boudoir was empty.
‘Poirot,’ I cried, ‘where are you?’
‘I am here, my friend.’
He had stepped outside the french window, and was standing, apparently lost in admiration, before the various shaped flower beds.
‘Admirable!’ he murmured. ‘Admirable! What symmetry! Observe that crescent; and those diamonds—their neatness rejoices the eye. The spacing of the plants, also, is perfect. It has been recently done; is it not so?’
‘Yes, I believe they were at it yesterday afternoon. But come in—Dorcas is here.’
‘Eh bien, eh bien! Do not grudge me a moment’s satisfaction of the eye.’
‘Yes, but this affair is more important.’
‘And how do you know that these fine begonias are not of equal importance?’
I shrugged my shoulders. There was really no arguing with him if he chose to take that line.
‘You do not agree? But such things have been. Well, we will come in and interview the brave Dorcas.’
Dorcas was standing in the boudoir, her hands folded in front of her, and her grey hair rose in stiff waves under her white cap. She was the very model and picture of a good old-fashioned servant.
In her attitude towards Poirot, she was inclined to be suspicious, but he soon broke down her defences. He drew forward a chair.
‘Pray be seated mademoiselle.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
‘You have been with your mistress many years, is it not so?’
‘Ten years, sir.’
‘That is a long time, and very faithful service. You were much attached to her, were you not?’
‘She was a very good mistress to me, sir.’
‘Then you will not object to answering a few questions. I put them to you with Mr Cavendish’s full approval.’
‘Oh, certainly, sir.’
‘Then I will begin by asking you about the events of yesterday afternoon. Your mistress had a quarrel?’
‘Yes, sir. But I don’t know that I ought –’ Dorcas hesitated.
Poirot looked at her keenly.
‘My good Dorcas, it is necessary that I should know every detail of that quarrel as fully as possible. Do not think you are betraying your mistress’s secrets. Your mistress lies dead, and it is necessary that we should know all—if we are to avenge her. Nothing can bring her back to life, but we do hope, if there has been foul play, to bring the murderer to justice.’
‘Amen to that,’ said Dorcas fiercely. ‘And, naming no names, there’s one in this house that none of us could ever abide! And an ill day it was when first he darkened the threshold.’
Poirot waited for her indignation to subside, and then, resuming his business-like tone, he asked:
‘Now, as to this quarrel? What is the first you heard of it?’
‘Well, sir, I happened to be going along the hall outside yesterday –’
‘What time was that?’
‘I couldn’t say exactly, sir, but it wasn’t teatime by a long way. Perhaps four o’clock—or it may have been a bit later. Well, sir, as I said, I happened to be passing along, when I heard voices very loud and angry in here. I didn’t exactly mean to listen, but—well, there it is. I stopped. The door was shut, but the mistress was speaking very sharp and clear, and I heard what she said quite plainly. “You have lied to me, and deceived me,” she said. I didn’t hear what Mr Inglethorp replied. He spoke a good bit lower than she did—but she answered: “How dare you? I have kept you and clothed you and fed you! You owe everything to me! And this is how you repay me! By bringing disgrace upon our name!” Again I didn’t hear what he said, but she went on: “Nothing that you can say will make any difference. I see my duty clearly. My mind is made up. You need not think that any fear of publicity, or scandal between husband and wife will deter me.” Then I thought I heard them coming out, so I went off quickly.’
‘You are sure it was Mr Inglethorp’s voice you heard?’
‘Oh, yes, sir, whose else’s could it be?’
‘Well, what happened next?’
‘Later, I came back to the hall; but it was all quiet. At five o’clock, Mrs Inglethorp rang the bell and told me to bring her a cup of tea—nothing to eat—to the boudoir. She was looking dreadful—so white and upset. “Dorcas,” she says, “I’ve had a great shock.” “I’m sorry for that, m’m,” I says. “You’ll feel better after a nice hot cup of tea, m’m.” She had something in her hand. I don’t know if it was a letter, or just a piece of paper, but it had writing on it, and she kept staring at it, almost as if she couldn’t believe what was written there. She whispered to herself, as though she had forgotten I was there: “These few words—and everything’s changed.” And then she says to me: “Never trust a man, Dorcas, they’re not worth it!” I hurried off, and got her a good strong cup of tea, and she thanked me, and said she’d feel better when she’d drunk it. “I don’t know what to do,” she says. “Scandal between husband and wife is a dreadful thing, Dorcas. I’d rather hush it up if I could.” Mrs Cavendish came in just then, so she didn’t say any more.’