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Hercule Poirot 3-Book Collection 1: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder on the Links, Poirot Investigates
Агата Кристи


‘This is a pleasure, Mr Hastings.’ Then, turning to his wife: ‘Emily dearest, I think that cushion is a little damp.’

She beamed fondly at him, as he substituted another with every demonstration of the tenderest care. Strange infatuation of an otherwise sensible woman!

With the presence of Mr Inglethorp, a sense of constraint and veiled hostility seemed to settle down upon the company. Miss Howard, in particular, took no pains to conceal her feelings. Mrs Inglethorp, however, seemed to notice nothing unusual. Her volubility, which I remembered of old, had lost nothing in the intervening years, and she poured out a steady flood of conversation, mainly on the subject of the forthcoming bazaar which she was organizing and which was to take place shortly. Occasionally she referred to her husband over a question of days or dates. His watchful and attentive manner never varied. From the very first I took a firm and rooted dislike to him, and I flatter myself that my first judgements are usually fairly shrewd.

Presently Mrs Inglethorp turned to give some instructions about letters to Evelyn Howard, and her husband addressed me in his painstaking voice:

‘Is soldiering your regular profession, Mr Hastings?’

‘No, before the war I was in Lloyd’s.’

‘And you will return there after it is over?’

‘Perhaps. Either that or a fresh start altogether.’

Mary Cavendish leant forward.

‘What would you really choose as a profession, if you could just consult your inclination?’

‘Well, that depends.’

‘No secret hobby?’ she asked. ‘Tell me—you’re drawn to something? Everyone is—usually something absurd.’

‘You’ll laugh at me.’

She smiled.

‘Perhaps.’

‘Well, I’ve always had a secret hankering to be a detective!’

‘The real thing—Scotland Yard? Or Sherlock Holmes?’

‘Oh, Sherlock Holmes by all means. But really, seriously, I am awfully drawn to it. I came across a man in Belgium once, a very famous detective, and he quite inflamed me. He was a marvellous little fellow. He used to say that all good detective work was a mere matter of method. My system is based on his—though of course I have progressed rather further. He was a funny little man, a great dandy, but wonderfully clever.’

‘Like a good detective story myself,’ remarked Miss Howard. ‘Lots of nonsense written, though. Criminal discovered in last chapter. Every one dumbfounded. Real crime—you’d know at once.’

‘There have been a great number of undiscovered crimes,’ I argued.

‘Don’t mean the police, but the people that are right in it. The family. You couldn’t really hoodwink them. They’d know.’

‘Then,’ I said, much amused, ‘you think that if you were mixed up in a crime, say a murder, you’d be able to spot the murderer right off ?’

‘Of course I should. Mightn’t be able to prove it to a pack of lawyers. But I’m certain I’d know. I’d feel it in my finger-tips if he came near me.’

‘It might be a “she”,’ I suggested.

‘Might. But murder’s a violent crime. Associate it more with a man.’

‘Not in a case of poisoning.’ Mrs Cavendish’s clear voice startled me. ‘Dr Bauerstein was saying yesterday that, owing to the general ignorance of the more uncommon poisons among the medical profession, there were probably countless cases of poisoning quite unsuspected.’

‘Why, Mary, what a gruesome conversation!’ cried Mrs Inglethorp. ‘It makes me feel as if a goose were walking over my grave. Oh, there’s Cynthia!’

A young girl in VAD uniform ran lightly across the lawn.

‘Why, Cynthia, you are late today. This is Mr Hastings—Miss Murdoch.’

Cynthia Murdoch was a fresh-looking young creature, full of life and vigour. She tossed off her little VAD cap, and I admired the great loose waves of her auburn hair, and the smallness and whiteness of the hand she held out to claim her tea. With dark eyes and eyelashes she would have been a beauty.

She flung herself down on the ground beside John, and as I handed her a plate of sandwiches she smiled up at me.

‘Sit down here on the grass, do. It’s ever so much nicer.’

I dropped down obediently.

‘You work at Tadminster, don’t you, Miss Murdoch?’

She nodded.

‘For my sins.’

‘Do they bully you, then?’ I asked, smiling.

‘I should like to see them!’ cried Cynthia with dignity.

‘I have got a cousin who is nursing,’ I remarked. ‘And she is terrified of “Sisters”.’

‘I don’t wonder. Sisters are, you know, Mr Hastings. They simp-ly are! You’ve no idea! But I’m not a nurse, thank heaven, I work in the dispensary.’

‘How many people do you poison?’ I asked, smiling.

Cynthia smiled too.

‘Oh, hundreds!’ she said.

‘Cynthia,’ called Mrs Inglethorp, ‘do you think you could write a few notes for me?’

‘Certainly, Aunt Emily.’

She jumped up promptly, and something in her manner reminded me that her position was a dependent one, and that Mrs Inglethorp, kind as she might be in the main, did not allow her to forget it.

My hostess turned to me.

‘John will show you your room. Supper is at half-past seven. We have given up late dinner for some time now. Lady Tadminster, our Member’s wife—she was the late Lord Abbotsbury’s daughter—does the same. She agrees with me that one must set an example of economy. We are quite a war household; nothing is wasted here—every scrap of waste paper, even, is saved and sent away in sacks.’

I expressed my appreciation, and John took me into the house and up the broad staircase, which forked right and left half-way to different wings of the building. My room was in the left wing, and looked out over the park.

John left me, and a few minutes later I saw him from my window walking slowly across the grass arm in arm with Cynthia Murdoch. I heard Mrs Inglethorp call ‘Cynthia’ impatiently, and the girl started and ran back to the house. At the same moment, a man stepped out from the shadow of a tree and walked slowly in the same direction. He looked about forty, very dark with a melancholy clean-shaven face. Some violent emotion seemed to be mastering him. He looked up at my window as he passed, and I recognized him, though he had changed much in the fifteen years that had elapsed since we last met. It was John’s younger brother, Lawrence Cavendish. I wondered what it was that had brought that singular expression to his face.
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