Lord Edgware Dies人性记录01
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Chapter 1
 A Theatrical Party
The memory of the public is short. Already the intense interest and excitement aroused by the murder of George Alfred St Vincent Marsh, fourth Baron Edgware, is a thing past and forgotten. Newer sensations have taken its place.
My friend, Hercule Poirot, was never openly mentioned in connection with the case. This, I may say, was entirely in accordance with his own wishes. He did not choose to appear in it. The credit went elsewhere – and that is how he wished it to be. Moreover, from Poirot’s own peculiar private point of view, the case was one of his failures. He always swears that it was the chance remark of a stranger in the street that put him on the right track.
However that may be, it was his genius that discovered the truth of the affair. But for Hercule Poirot I doubt if the crime would have been brought home to its perpetrator.
I feel therefore that the time has come for me to set down all I know of the affair in black and white. I know the ins and outs of the case thoroughly and I may also mention that I shall be fulfilling the wishes of a very fascinating lady in so doing.
I have often recalled that day in Poirot’s prim neat little sitting-room when, striding up and down a particular strip of carpet, my little friend gave us his masterly and astounding résumé of the case. I am going to begin my narrative where he did on that occasion – at a London theatre in June of last year.
Carlotta Adams was quite the rage in London at that moment. The year before she had given a couple of matinees which had been a wild success. This year she had had a three weeks’ season of which this was the last night but one.
Carlotta Adams was an American girl with the most amazing talent for single-handed sketches unhampered by make-up or scenery. She seemed to speak every language with ease. Her sketch of an evening in a foreign hotel was really wonderful. In turn, American tourists, German tourists, middle-class English families, questionable ladies, impoverished Russian aristocrats and weary discreet waiters all flitted across the scene.
Her sketches went from grave to gay and back again. Her dying Czecho-Slovakian woman in hospital brought a lump to the throat. A minute later we were rocking with laughter as a dentist plied his trade and chatted amiably with his victims.
Her programme closed with what she announced as ‘Some Imitations’.
Here again, she was amazingly clever. Without make-up of any kind, her features seemed to dissolve suddenly and reform themselves into those of a famous politician, or a well-known actress, or a society beauty. In each character she gave a short typical speech. These speeches, by the way, were remarkably clever. They seemed to hit off every weakness of the subject selected.
One of her last impersonations was Jane Wilkinson – a talented young American actress well known in London. It was really very clever. Inanities slipped off her tongue charged with some powerful emotional appeal so that in spite of yourself you felt that each word was uttered with some potent and fundamental meaning. Her voice, exquisitely toned, with a deep husky note in it, was intoxicating. The restrained gestures, each strangely significant, the slightly swaying body, the impression even, of strong physical beauty – how she did it, I cannot think!
I had always been an admirer of the beautiful Jane Wilkinson. She had thrilled me in her emotional parts, and I had always maintained in face of those who admitted her beauty but declared she was no actress, that she had considerable histrionic powers.
It was a little uncanny to hear that well-known, slightly husky voice with the fatalistic drop in it that had stirred me so often, and to watch that seemingly poignant gesture of the slowly closing and unclosing hand, and the sudden throw back of the head with the hair shaken back from the face that I realized she always gave at the close of a dramatic scene.
Jane Wilkinson was one of those actresses who had left the stage on her marriage only to return to it a couple of years later.
Three years ago she had married the wealthy but slightly eccentric Lord Edgware. Rumour went that she left him shortly afterwards. At any rate eighteen months after the marriage, she was acting for the films in America, and had this season appeared in a successful play in London.
Watching Carlotta Adams’ clever but perhaps slightly malicious imitation, it occurred to me to wonder how much imitations were regarded by the subject selected. Were they pleased at the notoriety – at the advertisement it afforded? Or were they annoyed at what was, after all, a deliberate exposing of the tricks of their trade? Was not Carlotta Adams in the position of the rival conjurer who says: ‘Oh! this is an old trick! Very simple. I’ll show you how this one’s done!’
I decided that if I were the subject in question, I should be very much annoyed. I should, of course, conceal my vexation, but decidedly I should not like it. One would need great broadmindedness and a distinct sense of humour to appreciate such a merciless exposé.
I had just arrived at these conclusions when the delightful husky laugh from the stage was echoed from behind me.
I turned my head sharply. In the seat immediately behind mine, leaning forward with her lips slightly parted, was the subject of the present imitation – Lady Edgware, better known as Jane Wilkinson.
I realized immediately that my deductions had been all wrong. She was leaning forward, her lips parted, with an expression of delight and excitement in her eyes.
As the ‘imitation’ finished, she applauded loudly, laughing and turning to her companion, a tall extremely good-looking man, of the Greek god type, whose face I recognized as one better known on the screen than on the stage. It was Bryan Martin, the hero of the screen most popular at the moment. He and Jane Wilkinson had been starred together in several screen productions.
‘Marvellous, isn’t she?’ Lady Edgware was saying.
He laughed.
‘Jane – you look all excited.’
‘Well, she really is too wonderful! Heaps better than I thought she’d be.’
I did not catch Bryan Martin’s amused rejoinder. Carlotta Adams had started on a fresh improvisation.
What happened later is, I shall always think, a very curious coincidence.
After the theatre, Poirot and I went on to supper at the Savoy.
At the very next table to ours were Lady Edgware, Bryan Martin and two other people whom I did not know. I pointed them out to Poirot and, as I was doing so, another couple came and took their places at the table beyond that again. The woman’s face was familiar and yet strangely enough, for the moment I could not place it.
Then suddenly I realized that it was Carlotta Adams at whom I was staring! The man I did not know. He was well-groomed, with a cheerful, somewhat vacuous face. Not a type that I admire.
Carlotta Adams was dressed very inconspicuously in black. Hers was not a face to command instant attention or recognition. It was one of those mobile sensitive faces that preeminently lend themselves to the art of mimicry. It could take on an alien character easily, but it had no very recognizable character of its own.
I imparted these reflections of mine to Poirot. He listened attentively, his egg-shaped head cocked slightly to one side whilst he darted a sharp glance at the two tables in question.
‘So that is Lady Edgware? Yes, I remember – I have seen her act. She is belle femme.’
‘And a fine actress too.’
‘You don’t seem convinced.’
‘I think it would depend on the setting, my friend. If she is the centre of the play, if all revolves round her – yes, then she could play her part. I doubt if she could play a small part adequately or even what is called a character part. The play must be written about her and for her. She appears to me of the type of women who are interested only in themselves.’ He paused and then added rather unexpectedly: ‘Such people go through life in great danger.’
‘Danger?’ I said, surprised.
‘I have used a word that surprises you, I see, mon ami. Yes, danger. Because, you see, a woman like that sees only one thing – herself. Such women see nothing of the dangers and hazards that surround them – the million conflicting interests and relationships of life. No, they see only their own forward path. And so – sooner or later – disaster.’
I was interested. I confessed to myself that such a point of view would not have struck me.
‘And the other?’ I asked.
‘Miss Adams?’
His gaze swept to her table.
‘Well?’ he said, smiling. ‘What do you want me to say about her?’
‘Only how she strikes you.’
‘Mon cher, am I tonight the fortune-teller who reads the palm and tells the character?’
‘You could do it better than most,’ I rejoined.
‘It is a very pretty faith that you have in me, Hastings. It touches me. Do you not know, my friend, that each one of us is a dark mystery, a maze of conflicting passions and desires and attitudes? Mais oui, c’est vrai. One makes one’s little judgments – but nine times out of ten one is wrong.’
‘Not Hercule Poirot,’ I said, smiling.
‘Even Hercule Poirot! Oh! I know very well that you have always a little idea that I am conceited, but, indeed, I assure you, I am really a very humble person.’
I laughed.
‘You – humble!’
‘It is so. Except – I confess it – that I am a little proud of my moustaches. Nowhere in London have I observed anything to compare with them.’
‘You are quite safe,’ I said dryly. ‘You won’t. So you are not going to risk judgment on Carlotta Adams?’
‘Elle est artiste! ’ said Poirot simply. ‘That covers nearly all, does it not?’
‘Anyway, you don’t consider that she walks through life in peril?’
‘We all do that, my friend,’ said Poirot gravely. ‘Misfortune may always be waiting to rush out upon us. But as to your question, Miss Adams, I think, will succeed. She is shrewd and she is something more. You observed without doubt that she is a Jewess?’
I had not. But now that he mentioned it, I saw the faint traces of Semitic ancestry. Poirot nodded.
‘It makes for success – that. Though there is still one avenue of danger – since it is of danger we are talking.’
‘You mean?’
‘Love of money. Love of money might lead such a one from the prudent and cautious path.’
‘It might do that to all of us,’ I said.
‘That is true, but at any rate you or I would see the danger involved. We could weigh the pros and cons. If you care for money too much, it is only the money you see, everything else is in shadow.’
I laughed at his serious manner.
‘Esmeralda, the gipsy queen, is in good form,’ I remarked teasingly.
‘The psychology of character is interesting,’ returned Poirot unmoved. ‘One cannot be interested in crime without being interested in psychology. It is not the mere act of killing, it is what lies behind it that appeals to the expert. You follow me, Hastings?’
I said that I followed him perfectly.
‘I have noticed that when we work on a case together, you are always urging me on to physical action, Hastings. You wish me to measure footprints, to analyse cigarette-ash, to prostrate myself on my stomach for the examination of detail. You never realize that by lying back in an arm-chair with the eyes closed one can come nearer to the solution of any problem. One sees then with the eyes of the mind.’
‘I don’t,’ I said. ‘When I lie back in an arm-chair with my eyes closed one thing happens to me and one thing only!’
‘I have noticed it!’ said Poirot. ‘It is strange. At such moments the brain should be working feverishly, not sinking into sluggish repose. The mental activity, it is so interesting, so stimulating! The employment of the little grey cells is a mental pleasure. They and they only can be trusted to lead one through fog to the truth . . .’
I am afraid that I have got into the habit of averting my attention whenever Poirot mentions his little grey cells. I have heard it all so often before.
In this instance my attention wandered to the four people sitting at the next table. When Poirot’s monologue drew to a close I remarked with a chuckle:
‘You have made a hit, Poirot. The fair Lady Edgware can hardly take her eyes off you.’
‘Doubtless she has been informed of my identity,’ said Poirot, trying to look modest and failing.
‘I think it is the famous moustaches,’ I said. ‘She is carried away by their beauty.’
Poirot caressed them surreptitiously.
‘It is true that they are unique,’ he admitted. ‘Oh, my friend, the “tooth-brush” as you call it, that you wear – it is a horror – an atrocity – a wilful stunting of the bounties of nature. Abandon it, my friend, I pray of you.’
‘By Jove,’ I said, disregarding Poirot’s appeal. ‘The lady’s getting up. I believe she’s coming to speak to us. Bryan Martin is protesting, but she won’t listen to him.’
Sure enough, Jane Wilkinson swept impetuously from her seat and came over to our table. Poirot rose to his feet bowing, and I rose also.
‘M. Hercule Poirot, isn’t it?’ said the soft husky voice.
‘At your service.’
‘M. Poirot, I want to talk to you. I must talk to you.’
‘But certainly, Madame, will you not sit down?’
‘No, no, not here. I want to talk to you privately. We’ll go right upstairs to my suite.’
Bryan Martin had joined her, he spoke now with a deprecating laugh.
‘You must wait a little, Jane. We’re in the middle of supper. So is M. Poirot.’
But Jane Wilkinson was not so easily turned from her purpose.
‘Why, Bryan, what does that matter? We’ll have supper sent up to the suite. Speak to them about it, will you? And, Bryan –’
She went after him as he was turning away and appeared to urge some course upon him. He stood out about it, I gathered, shaking his head and frowning. But she spoke even more emphatically and finally with a shrug of the shoulders he gave way.
Once or twice during her speech to him she had glanced at the table where Carlotta Adams sat, and I wondered if what she were suggesting had anything to do with the American girl.
Her point gained, Jane came back, radiant.
‘We’ll go right up now,’ she said, and included me in a dazzling smile.
The question of our agreeing or not agreeing to her plan didn’t seem to occur to her mind. She swept us off without a shade of apology.
‘It’s the greatest luck just seeing you here this evening, M. Poirot,’ she said as she led the way to the lift. ‘It’s wonderful how everything seems to turn out right for me. I’d just been thinking and wondering what on earth I was going to do and I looked up and there you were at the next table, and I said to myself: “M. Poirot will tell me what to do.”’
She broke off to say ‘Second Floor’ to the lift-boy.
‘If I can be of aid to you –’ began Poirot.
‘I’m sure you can. I’ve heard you’re just the most marvellous man that ever existed. Somebody’s got to get me out of the tangle I’m in and I feel you’re just the man to do it.’
We got out at the second floor and she led the way along the corridor, paused at a door and entered one of the most opulent of the Savoy suites.
Casting her white fur wrap on one chair, and her small jewelled bag on the table, the actress sank on to a chair and exclaimed:
‘M. Poirot, somehow or other I’ve just got to get rid of my husband!’