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|The Mysterious Affair at Styles||Agatha Christie|
VI. The Inquest
|Page 2 of 8||
"Is it possible that she could have swallowed the poison by accident?" asked the Coroner.
"I should consider it very unlikely. Strychnine is not used for domestic purposes, as some poisons are, and there are restrictions placed on its sale."
"Does anything in your examination lead you to determine how the poison was administered?"
"You arrived at Styles before Dr. Wilkins, I believe?"
"That is so. The motor met me just outside the lodge gates, and I hurried there as fast as I could."
"Will you relate to us exactly what happened next?"
"I entered Mrs. Inglethorp's room. She was at that moment in a typical tetanic convulsion. She turned towards me, and gasped out: 'Alfred--Alfred----' "
"Could the strychnine have been administered in Mrs. Inglethorp's after-dinner coffee which was taken to her by her husband?"
"Possibly, but strychnine is a fairly rapid drug in its action. The symptoms appear from one to two hours after it has been swallowed. It is retarded under certain conditions, none of which, however, appear to have been present in this case. I presume Mrs. Inglethorp took the coffee after dinner about eight o'clock, whereas the symptoms did not manifest themselves until the early hours of the morning, which, on the face of it, points to the drug having been taken much later in the evening."
"Mrs. Inglethorp was in the habit of drinking a cup of coco in the middle of the night. Could the strychnine have been administered in that?"
"No, I myself took a sample of the coco remaining in the saucepan and had it analysed. There was no strychnine present."
I heard Poirot chuckle softly beside me.
"How did you know?" I whispered.
"I should say"--the doctor was continuing--"that I would have been considerably surprised at any other result."
"Simply because strychnine has an unusually bitter taste. It can be detected in a solution of 1 in 70,000, and can only be disguised by some strongly flavoured substance. Coco would be quite powerless to mask it."
One of the jury wanted to know if the same objection applied to coffee.
"No. Coffee has a bitter taste of its own which would probably cover the taste of strychnine."
"Then you consider it more likely that the drug was administered in the coffee, but that for some unknown reason its action was delayed."
"Yes, but, the cup being completely smashed, there is no possibility of analyzing its contents."
This concluded Dr. Bauerstein's evidence. Dr. Wilkins corroborated it on all points. Sounded as to the possibility of suicide, he repudiated it utterly. The deceased, he said, suffered from a weak heart, but otherwise enjoyed perfect health, and was of a cheerful and well-balanced disposition. She would be one of the last people to take her own life.
Lawrence Cavendish was next called. His evidence was quite unimportant, being a mere repetition of that of his brother. Just as he was about to step down, he paused, and said rather hesitatingly:
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