The Life and Times of Cynthia Hastings
June 20, 1918. "Oh, my dear, let me congratulate you!" Mary Cavendish exclaimed, hugging Cynthia Murdoch. Cynthia was dressed in a simple elegant white dress and held a bouquet of Styles Court's exclusive roses in her hand. She smiled awkwardly at Mary: the two women never got on well with each other. This day, however, was an exception. This special day.
"My two old friends getting married at last!" John, Mary's husband, smiled. "Cynthia, you look wonderful. Now, ladies, I must go and see if our bridegroom is ready."
He walked away.
"I wish Mrs. Inglethorp could see us," Mary sighed. Her mother-in-law died a year before, cold-bloodedly poisoned by her second husband and her own companion. It was she who took care of Cynthia since the girl had been orphaned, and Cynthia used to think of her as an aunt.
"Yes," Cynthia sighed too. "She'd have been very happy."
After a pause Mary smiled again:
"Well, alright, Cynthia! No grieving on this day!"
"Yes, yes, of course," the young bride nodded, somehow absent-minded.
John came to them again, grinning:
"Hastings is ready, and quite anxious to see you, Cynthia! Oh, Mary, by the way, where's Lawrence?"
"Er… I think… I definitely saw him an hour ago or so. He said he had the worst headache."
"I hope he won't miss the celebration!" John rolled his eyes. "Sometimes Lawrence is going too far in his oddities! A headache on this day!"
"Well, he poorly slept for the last few days. I think it's the weather," Mary said. "Let's not quarrel now – especially in front of the bride!" she winked at Cynthia.
Now Cynthia just nodded, biting her lip. She seemed to be in deep thoughts.
Everything went on well, and in less than two hours Miss Cynthia Murdoch was married to Captain Arthur Hastings. Lawrence Cavendish, John's younger brother, made only a brief appearance. Apparently the coffee he drank in the morning made him worse instead of better. He sat at the table for ten minutes, and then the headache became so awful that he didn't dare to plague the guests with his pathetic face and left.
December 23, 1924. "Poirot is coming for the Christmas dinner," Hastings spoke to his wife as he entered their house.
"Oh, that's very nice of him!" Cynthia smiled. "I hope to hear some more stories of his cases. How does he manage to solve all of them?"
"Not all. He failed once, when he was in the detective force of Belgium," Hastings chuckled. "I'll tell you the story, if you want. Oh, and is anyone from Styles Court coming for a visit?"
"Mary will come on Boxing Day," Cynthia nodded. "I've just got her letter, it arrived with the evening post. John will be on business in London, and Mary will have some spare time for us. Of course, now that they have a daughter, she has very little time."
"But they're so happy," Hastings observed. "And Emily is a sweet little kid."
"Yes, they're happy," Cynthia sighed and paused. "Dinner's ready, dear."
"And have you heard anything from Lawrence?" Hastings asked as they walked to the dining room.
"No," was Cynthia's laconic reply.
"I hope he's doing well."
"Yes. Mary wrote he's a successful doctor."
Hastings looked at his scowling wife with childish simplicity:
"Cynthia, why do you hate Lawrence so much? After all, we all suspected each other back then – his dislike was directed towards everyone, not only you…"
"He never spoke a word to me – even before Aunt Emily's death," was Cynthia's firm reply. "Now, Arthur, let's think of the Christmas dinner. We have to change our plans a bit, now that Monsieur Poirot is coming."
March 4, 1935. Poirot came to visit Hastings, but the latter had an unexpected urgent business appointment, so he wasn't at home. There were only Cynthia and the two Cavendish children – Emily and Charlie. They stayed with Cynthia while their parents were busy with repairing Styles Court after a major fire.
"Madame Cynthia – Mademoiselle Emily – Master Charles," Poirot bowed to everyone in his usual polite manner.
"Oh, Monsieur Poirot, good afternoon!" Emily said. "Please come have some tea!"
"You are very kind, mademoiselle."
As Poirot was sitting in the dining room and Emily was pouring out the tea, he noticed something was definitely wrong in the house. Cynthia's face was reddened, Charlie was sitting in the corner and frowning sourly, pretending to be absorbed in reading. Emily, always being a strong-willed girl, looked a little better, but her worried expression was also unmistakable.
"How are you all?" Poirot asked.
"Fine!" Cynthia nearly snapped. Of course, that didn't deceive the detective for the moment, but for the moment he smiled and said:
"I'm glad, madame."
Only when Charlie went upstairs to do his homework and Emily left for some party of hers, Poirot asked:
"What happened, Madame Cynthia? Can I be of any assistance to you and Hastings?"
"No," Cynthia murmured, washing the dishes. "It's nothing to do with crimes. Nothing at all. Arthur and I had a dreadful fight."
For once in a blue moon, Poirot was greatly astonished:
"A fight? With Hastings? Madame, maybe you're being too pessimistic – it was a disagreement of some sort perhaps…"
"Well, no, it was a fight. It was I who cried and yelled," Cynthia explained. She was standing near the window and looking at the pouring rain.
"I have to admit, these days have been especially exhausting for me. Vicky, the new nurse, continues to bully me at work – then there are two teenagers to deal with at home – and I am just worn out to pretend that…" she stopped.
"That you're happily married," Poirot finished. Of course, if Cynthia had been a stranger, he wouldn't have been so straight, but the Hastings family were his old friends and confidants, and he knew them well – better than they knew themselves, perhaps.
"Oh yes!" Cynthia exclaimed, as though glad to say it aloud at last. "I'm bored, Monsieur Poirot, bored to death – I'm sorry – Arthur is a nice fellow – but to be stuck with him constantly! I can barely bear it! And he doesn't love me either, I can see that. We're both tired of each other – we grew tired in several years! I admit, I thought marriage would anyway be better than life in Styles Court – but now I think I was mistaken. At least I wasn't chained to Styles – I was not everyone's favorite, but I was free there!"
"But madame, you can arrange a divorce," Poirot suggested as Cynthia grew silent and tried to hold back tears. "As Hastings doesn't love you – I can see that too – and you have no enfants, it will not be too hard."
"Well, where am I to go?" Cynthia raised an eyebrow. "Mary still strongly dislikes me – and anyway, ever since Dorcas died and dear Styles Court was sold, John and Mary are moving from one place to another. I'll simply be a burden for them – they already have to raise two children. And besides them, I have no people whom I can call a family."
"And Lawrence Cavendish?" Poirot asked suddenly. Cynthia's face turned to stone:
"I don't care about him. He has moved to Sweden anyway." The woman sighed. "As you see, Monsieur Poirot, I have no one in the world. I suppose I'll just try to move on. I'm not the frightened girl I used to be eighteen years ago. I can live. I'm writing my dissertation to get a doctor's degree in medical science, you know. And Dr. Caltman says I'm the best nurse in our hospital."
"Aunt Cynthia!" Charlie appeared on the stairway with a large book on Ancient Greek in one hand and a notepad in the other. "What is the plural form of δενδρον? Please help! I have a test in two days!"
After another ten minutes Poirot excused himself.
June 20, 1943. Dr. Cynthia Hastings cleaned her surgical instruments and turned to Nurse Lucia Ariani:
"How horrible. Today's the 25th anniversary of my wedding. Everything's supposed to be good. And that poor soldier is dead."
"It is no your fault," Lucia said. "Poor Signor Gregson have stab in his liver. He need good hospital, and what we have here?"
"Still…" Cynthia whispered. "I've seen many people die – I've never got really used to it."
"I no used to it too," the young nurse agreed. "Why the war begin? Why some people are evil and attack all?"
"I wish I knew, Lucia. I wish I knew."
Nurse Alicia Carter rushed to them:
"Oh, Cynthia, hurry, please! There is an awful case!"
"What?" Cynthia cried.
"Some man – from the Red Cross, like us, can you imagine that? He tried to carry another wounded soldier from the battlefield and – well, a grenade caught them. The wounded soldier's not very much worse, but that poor doctor… oh!"
Cynthia gathered her instruments again, and went to the patient with Nurse Carter. Lucia followed them quickly.
Even before Cynthia saw the patient clearly, she knew he was doomed. While everyone got at least a bit tanned in the Italian sun, this man's angular face was bone white. The sheets covering him were soaked in blood.
The woman smiled comfortingly and walked to the bed:
"Now, sir, what do we have here? Let me treat your wounds. It will be all right. That's a nasty thing, but…"
She stopped in her tracks and caught her breath. It couldn't be… She saw him only several times in these twenty-five years… Still…
"Lawrence!" she cried wildly. The elderly pale man looked at her, confused.
"Cynthia?" he whispered. "What happened?"
"You were hurt," Cynthia sobbed as she tried to treat the terrible wounds he had.
"The coffee cup," Lawrence suddenly groaned as he clenched her hand. "I must find the coffee cup. Where is it? Where? Oh, where? Cynthia?"
"What coffee cup?" she asked, swallowing tears.
"Your cup! And there is the door. I can't remember. It's so blurry. Was it bolted? Or not? Cynthia, did you bolt it?"
"Yes, yes, of course," Cynthia spoke soothingly. "Wait a moment… Lucia! Bring fresh bandages!"
The Italian girl nodded and ran away.
"Oh, you bolted the door!" Lawrence relaxed. "Now there are no clues. You can rest in peace, Cynthia – no one will accuse you. I saw to that."
"Accuse me of what?"
"Of the murder!"
Now, finally, Cynthia understood. Lawrence thought it was the year 1917, and the investigation of Mrs. Inglethorp's death was in the process. And, suddenly, she recalled some details of it which corresponded only too well with the man's current raving! Monsieur Poirot and Arthur speaking something about Lawrence finding the extra coffee-cup – and the Cynthia's own missing cup… The door that connected her room with Mrs. Inglethorp's – it was unbolted, she remembered it even now…
"Y-you were trying to shield me?" Cynthia whispered as Lucia returned with the bandages and the nurses began to apply them. Lawrence's conscience cleared a little.
"I thought you were guilty," he spoke. "You were in the room next to mater's… Oh, it hurts so much – my stomach's simply torn apart – where am I?"
"In a hospital!" Cynthia cried. "Lawrence, wake up! It's the year 1943, and we're working for the Red Cross in Italy!"
"Oh, yes, of course! That young soldier – he was shot through the leg – I carried him away – what happened?"
"A grenade. It missed him – hit you."
Lawrence suddenly relaxed completely and smiled:
"Then I understand. I'm raving. That's it. I knew it was impossible to meet you, Cynthia. You're just a shadow of yourself. That's wonderful. I hope in reality you are safe and sound in England. I feared it was true – you were really in the battlefields. Say hello to John, Mary, Emily and Charlie, will you? And to your husband – I hope he takes care of you. And to Monsieur Poirot. You know, I'm so glad that it was your phantom who came to me now."
His eyes rested on her. Cynthia broke into uncontrollable tears again. The tenderness in the eyes of Lawrence Cavendish was such that she realized how much she used to be mistaken in him.
"I thought phantoms don't cry," Lawrence whispered worriedly. "What is it?"
Then he suddenly shivered and tried to get up. Cynthia and the nurses had to hold him by the shoulders.
"There he is! Catch him!" he breathed. "It's Alfred Inglethorp! Quickly, arrest him!"
"Lawrence!" Cynthia clenched both his hands. "Please, can you hear me? Never mind Inglethorp! Listen to me!"
Lawrence looked wearily at her. His eyes were slowly growing shadowy and dull. Cynthia hurried to speak:
"Oh Lawrence, please, forgive me! I've always been awful with you! I thought you hated me! I never knew… Oh, I never ever knew… If I knew… I wouldn't have married Arthur… Lawrence – Lawrence – I love you!.."
Lawrence put his weakened arms around her and pulled her closer.
"Forgive me, darling," he whispered. "Oh, I'm better now. Much better. I'll soon heal, and everything will be alright."
Cynthia embraced him back and clung to him, as if to stop his life from fading away. Lawrence was smiling. The peaceful loving smile was still on his face when in half an hour his lifeless arms fell on the sheets.
June 30, 1943. The letter was with a black ribbon on the envelope and addressed to Captain Hastings. The captain tore it open and took out a single sheet of paper.
To Captain Arthur Hastings –
We are very sorry to inform you that your wife, Mrs. Cynthia Molly Hastings, died at 5 a. m., on June 21st, 1943 in a field hospital near the village on Santa Maddalena. She had a swoon while caring for her patients and never recovered from it…
July 8th, 1943. The letter was with a black ribbon on the envelope and addressed to Mr. Cavendish. As Mr. Cavendish had recently volunteered into the Air Force, Miss Emily Cavendish received and opened it and glanced at the text. Immediately her face blanched, and she fell on the couch.
"What is it, dear?" Mrs. Cavendish took the letter. The beginning of it read:
To Mr. John Cavendish –
We are very sorry to inform you that your brother, Mr. Lawrence Cavendish, was wounded on June 20th, 1943, and died at 9 p. m. on the same day in a field hospital near the village of Santa Maddalena. He was heroically trying to carry a wounded soldier away from the battlefield and was struck by a grenade…
June 20th, 1953. Poirot and Hastings got off the train and walked among the blossoming fields in silence. Both of them were holding fresh bouquets.
They stopped near a seemingly obscure hill with a single gravestone on it. The gravestone had an inscription carved on it. If translated into English, it would have looked like this:
Here during World War II a field hospital was situated. God rest the souls of soldiers and doctors who died here, while fearlessly fighting for the freedom and peace of Italy and their native countries:
Then there was a steel tablet with a long list of names that included Dr. Cynthia Hastings (1895-1943) and Mr. Lawrence Cavendish (1882-1943).
"Who knows?" Hastings sighed as he laid his flowers beside the stone. "If I hadn't been so foolish – if we hadn't got married, they both might have been still alive now. And I could have married Bella – that charming girl."
"Mon ami, if we could see into the future… many things would be mended."