Japp watched through squinted eyes as the venomous Bowley sisters left the study, a distinct air of stringent bile heavy in their wake. Poirot, too, was pleased to be rid of them, for now. He was far too polite to say so, but Ethel’s obvious glee at the misfortune of others was most unbecoming. Inspector Japp had no such compunction.
“Hardly the shining example of grace and manners, those two, eh Poirot?” he said, poking at his pipe. “Don’t strike me as the murdering kind, though. Unless you’re seeing something I’m not?”
“Non, Chief Inspector,” replied Poirot, with a small sigh. “Unless ill-thoughts alone could kill, in which case we would all be as dead as the dodo.”
“And what’s all this talk about Cambridge?” Japp continued. “Didn’t you say our first victim Maggie had recently arrived from there?”
“Oui, c’est vrai,” Poirot nodded, his manicured hand thoughtfully stroking his pocket watch. “She was until recently, a maid at Queens’ College. Indeed, the slightest mention of the university city caused much contention from Lord Bottomclutch at the party last night. It is most perplexing.”
“D’you think there’s anything in what those harridans had to say about Clara, Poirot?” Japp fished in his jacket pocket and drew out a small, fat pouch of tobacco. “Could the Bottomclutches have bumped her off along with the maid, for the sake of the family reputation?”
“It would be a most unusual thing, Chief Inspector, to hold a party whilst executing such devilish acts, non?”
“Don’t discount it, Poirot,” replied Japp, an uncharacteristic smirk on his lips. “We’ve seen many a murder at a country house gathering. Besides, it’s a good way to bump up the suspect list, isn’t it!”
As Japp lit his pipe, Poirot’s attention was drawn to the sound of muffled commotion on the other side of the door. Three voices jostled for position in the exchange, one of which belonged to Captain Hastings. The door opened a few inches and a perturbed-looking Hastings thrust his head into the room.
“I’m sorry, Poirot, but we’ve got Enid Bowley here, absolutely insists she must see you,” explained Hastings. “She’s been giving poor Derbyshire the most terrible gip about it.”
Poirot and Japp raised eyebrows in unison. This would be the first time the usually-mute sister had opened her mouth in their presence. Poirot felt that surely this request must be granted, if only for the sake of curiosity. Nodding his assent to Hastings, Poirot straightened his waistcoat and steadied himself for this unexpected intercourse.
Without her sister Ethel at her side, Enid had an altogether different manner about her. She shuffled into the room with small, apologetic steps and cast her cold beady eyes to the floor. Her claw-like hands were held before her, not quite wringing but clutching themselves in earnest. A small effort at clearing her throat sufficed as a greeting. Captain Hastings strode in behind her, furiously patting at his jacket in an effort to remove a few errant pastry flakes. Poirot clasped his hands before him, mirroring Enid, and stretched his face into his warmest smile, straining his beautiful moustache in the process.
“Mademoiselle Enid, you wish to speak with Poirot?”
The room fell silent in anticipation and all eyes turned to Enid. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, as if rehearsing an unfamiliar action. Finally, she spoke.
“Yes, Mister Poirot, thank you for seeing me.” Her voice was far softer than expected, certainly not the pin-sharp vocal of her loquacious sister. “All I wanted to say – it isn’t quite right what Ethel said. About Clara. The Lord and Lady were not ashamed of her, Mister Poirot, not in the slightest. They loved her deeply. It is true that they cosseted her here in the Hall, but that wasn’t out of shame. They were protecting her from the crueller elements of the outside world, you see. From people like… my sister.”
Enid at once broke off and the smallness of her voice left a silence far bigger than herself. A spindly hand went to her temple, the effort of speaking seemingly too great to bear. Eyes darting about the room, she scuttled back towards the door.
“That is all, Mister Poirot! I thank you for your time!”
With that, she was gone.
“I say!” exclaimed Hastings. “That’s a turn up for the books. Who would have thought either of those creatures would have a good word to say about anybody!”
“She looked absolutely bloody terrified,” Japp noted. “Guilty conscience, d’you think?”
“Good Lord, anyone would be terrified of having that hideous Ethel as a sister,” replied Hastings, thrusting his hands in his pockets and wrinkling his nose.
“It appears to Poirot that perhaps mademoiselle Enid knows more than she has shared with us,” remarked the Belgian, rearranging his moustache following it’s strenuous activity at forcing a smile. “Mais, for now there is an even more pressing matter at hand.”
Hastings and Japp waited with anticipation for Poirot to elaborate. When he was satisfied with the condition of his moustache, he did.
“Why, Hastings has, this very morning, spied a gentleman wielding the murder weapon from the death of mademoiselle Maggie,” Poirot continued. “From the window in my room, my dear Hastings, when I observed Barton on the edge of the copse. I thought that I saw a gun in his hands, but you correctly identified him as carrying a rope, did you not?”
“I say! You’re right!”
“Oui, Hastings, of course I am right.” Poirot ran his thumb over the smooth surface of his pocket watch, before replacing it in his waistcoat. “Gentleman, we must speak at once to Barton the gamekeeper.”