Lord Edgware Dies人性记录02
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Chapter 2
 A Supper Party
After a moment’s astonishment Poirot recovered himself !
‘But, Madame,’ he said, his eyes twinkling, ‘getting rid of husbands is not my speciality.’
‘Well, of course I know that.’
‘It is a lawyer you require.’
‘That’s just where you’re wrong. I’m just about sick and tired of lawyers. I’ve had straight lawyers and crooked lawyers, and not one of them’s done me any good. Lawyers just know the law, they don’t seem to have any kind of natural sense.’
‘And you think I have?’
She laughed.
‘I’ve heard that you’re the cat’s whiskers, M. Poirot.’
‘Comment? The cat’s whiskers? I do not understand.’
‘Well – that you’re it.’
‘Madame, I may or may not have brains – as a matter of fact I have – why pretend? But your little affair, it is not my genre.’
‘I don’t see why not. It’s a problem.’
‘Oh! a problem!’
‘And it’s difficult,’ went on Jane Wilkinson. ‘I should say you weren’t the man to shy at difficulties.’
‘Let me compliment you on your insight, Madame. But all the same, me, I do not make the investigations for divorce. It is not pretty – ce métier là.’
‘My dear man. I’m not asking you to do spying work. It wouldn’t be any good. But I’ve just got to get rid of the man, and I’m sure you could tell me how to do it.’
Poirot paused awhile before replying. When he did, there was a new note in his voice.
‘First tell me, Madame, why are you so anxious to “get rid” of Lord Edgware?’
There was no delay or hesitation about her answer. It came swift and pat.
‘Why, of course. I want to get married again. What other reason could there be?’
Her great blue eyes opened ingenuously.
‘But surely a divorce should be easy to obtain?’
‘You don’t know my husband, M. Poirot. He’s – he’s –’ She shivered. ‘I don’t know how to explain it. He’s a queer man – he’s not like other people.’
She paused and then went on.
‘He should never have married – anyone. I know what I’m talking about. I just can’t describe him, but he’s – queer. His first wife, you know, ran away from him. Left a baby of three months behind. He never divorced her and she died miserably abroad somewhere. Then he married me. Well – I couldn’t stick it. I was frightened. I left him and went to the States. I’ve no grounds for a divorce, and if I’ve given him grounds for one, he won’t take notice of them. He’s – he’s a kind of fanatic.’
‘In certain American states you could obtain a divorce, Madame.’
‘That’s no good to me – not if I’m going to live in England.’
‘You want to live in England?’
‘Who is the man you want to marry?’
‘That’s just it. The Duke of Merton.’
I drew in my breath sharply. The Duke of Merton had so far been the despair of matchmaking mammas. A young man of monkish tendencies, a violent Anglo-Catholic, he was reported to be completely under the thumb of his mother, the redoubtable dowager duchess. His life was austere in the extreme. He collected Chinese porcelain and was reputed to be of aesthetic tastes. He was supposed to care nothing for women.
‘I’m just crazy about him,’ said Jane sentimentally. ‘He’s unlike anyone I ever met, and Merton Castle is too wonderful. The whole thing is the most romantic business that ever happened. He’s so good-looking too – like a dreamy kind of monk.’
She paused.
‘I’m going to give up the stage when I marry. I just don’t seem to care about it any more.’
‘In the meantime,’ said Poirot dryly, ‘Lord Edgware stands in the way of these romantic dreams.’
‘Yes – and it’s driving me to distraction.’ She leaned back thoughtfully. ‘Of course if we were only in Chicago I could get him bumped off quite easily, but you don’t seem to run to gunmen over here.’
‘Over here,’ said Poirot, smiling, ‘we consider that every human has the right to live.’
‘Well, I don’t know about that. I guess you’d be better off without some of your politicians, and knowing what I do of Edgware I think he’d be no loss – rather the contrary.’
There was a knock at the door, and a waiter entered with supper dishes. Jane Wilkinson continued to discuss her problem with no appreciation of his presence.
‘But I don’t want you to kill him for me, M. Poirot.’
‘Merci, Madame.’
‘I thought perhaps you might argue with him in some clever way. Get him to give in to the idea of divorce. I’m sure you could.’
‘I think you overrate my persuasive powers, Madame.’
‘Oh! but you can surely think of something, M. Poirot.’ She leaned forward. Her blue eyes opened wide again. ‘You’d like me to be happy, wouldn’t you?’
Her voice was soft, low and deliciously seductive.
‘I should like everybody to be happy,’ said Poirot cautiously.
‘Yes, but I wasn’t thinking of everybody. I was thinking of just me.’
‘I should say you always do that, Madame.’
He smiled.
‘You think I’m selfish?’
‘Oh! I did not say so, Madame.’
‘I dare say I am. But, you see, I do so hate being unhappy. It affects my acting, even. And I’m going to be ever so unhappy unless he agrees to a divorce – or dies.
‘On the whole,’ she continued thoughtfully, ‘it would be much better if he died, I mean, I’d feel more finally quit of him.’
She looked at Poirot for sympathy.
‘You will help me, won’t you, M. Poirot?’ She rose, picking up the white wrap, and stood looking appealingly into his face. I heard the noise of voices outside in the corridor. The door was ajar. ‘If you don’t –’ she went on.
‘If I don’t, Madame?’
She laughed.
‘I’ll have to call a taxi to go round and bump him off myself.’
Laughing, she disappeared through a door to an adjoining room just as Bryan Martin came in with the American girl, Carlotta Adams, and her escort, and the two people who had been supping with him and Jane Wilkinson. They were introduced to me as Mr and Mrs Widburn.
‘Hello!’ said Bryan. ‘Where’s Jane? I want to tell her I’ve succeeded in the commission she gave me.’
Jane appeared in the doorway of the bedroom. She held a lipstick in one hand.
‘Have you got her? How marvellous. Miss Adams, I do admire your performance so. I felt I just had to know you. Come in here and talk to me while I fix my face. It’s looking too perfectly frightful.’
Carlotta Adams accepted the invitation. Bryan Martin flung himself down in a chair.
‘Well, M. Poirot,’ he said. ‘You were duly captured. Has our Jane persuaded you to fight her battles? You might as well give in sooner as later. She doesn’t understand the word “No.” ’
‘She has not come across it, perhaps.’
‘A very interesting character, Jane,’ said Bryan Martin. He lay back in his hair and puffed cigarette smoke idly towards the ceiling. ‘Taboos have no meaning for her. No morals whatever. I don’t mean she’s exactly immoral – she isn’t. Amoral is the word, I believe. Just sees one thing only in life – what Jane wants.’
He laughed.
‘I believe she’d kill somebody quite cheerfully – and feel injured if they caught her and wanted to hang her for it. The trouble is that she would be caught. She hasn’t any brains. Her idea of a murder would be to drive up in a taxi, sail in under her own name and shoot.’
‘Now, I wonder what makes you say that?’ murmured Poirot.
‘You know her well, Monsieur?’
‘I should say I did.’
He laughed again, and it struck me that his laugh was unusually bitter.
‘You agree, don’t you?’ he flung out to the others.
‘Oh! Jane’s an egoist,’ agreed Mrs Widburn. ‘An actress has got to be, though. That is, if she wants to express her personality.’
Poirot did not speak. His eyes were resting on Bryan Martin’s face, dwelling there with a curious speculative expression that I could not quite understand.
At that moment Jane sailed in from the next room, Carlotta Adams behind her. I presume that Jane had now ‘fixed her face’, whatever that term denoted, to her own satisfaction. It looked to me exactly the same as before and quite incapable of improvement.
The supper party that followed was quite a merry one, yet I sometimes had the feeling that there were undercurrents which I was incapable of appreciating.
Jane Wilkinson I acquitted of any subtleties. She was obviously a young woman who saw only one thing at a time. She had desired an interview with Poirot, and had carried her point and obtained her desire without delay. Now she was obviously in high good humour. Her desire to include Carlotta Adams in the party had been, I decided, a mere whim. She had been highly amused, as a child might be amused, by the clever counterfeit of herself.
No, the undercurrents that I sensed were nothing to do with Jane Wilkinson. In what direction did they lie?
I studied the guests in turn. Bryan Martin? He was certainly not behaving quite naturally. But that, I told myself, might be merely characteristic of a film star. The exaggerated self-consciousness of a vain man too accustomed to playing a part to lay it aside easily.
Carlotta Adams, at any rate, was behaving naturally enough. She was a quiet girl with a pleasant low voice. I studied her with some attention now that I had a chance to do so at close quarters. She had, I thought, distinct charm, but charm of a somewhat negative order. It consisted in an absence of any jarring or strident note. She was a kind of personified soft agreement. Her very appearance was negative. Soft dark hair, eyes a rather colourless pale blue, pale face and a mobile sensitive mouth. A face that you liked but that you would find it hard to know again if you were to meet her, say, in different clothes.
She seemed pleased at Jane’s graciousness and complimentary sayings. Any girl would be, I thought – and then – just at that moment – something occurred that caused me to revise that rather hasty opinion.
Carlotta Adams looked across the table at her hostess who was at that moment turning her head to talk to Poirot. There was a curious scrutinizing quality in the girl’s gaze – it seemed a deliberate summing up, and at the same time it struck me that there was a very definite hostility in those pale blue eyes.
Fancy, perhaps. Or possibly professional jealousy. Jane was a successful actress who had definitely arrived. Carlotta was merely climbing the ladder.
I looked at the three other members of the party. Mr and Mrs Widburn, what about them? He was a tall cadaverous man, she a plump, fair, gushing soul. They appeared to be wealthy people with a passion for everything connected with the stage. They were in fact, unwilling to talk on any other subject. Owing to my recent absence from England they found me sadly ill-informed, and finally Mrs Widburn turned a plump shoulder on me and remembered my existence no more.
The last member of the party was the dark young man with the round cheerful face who was Carlotta Adams’ escort. I had had my suspicions from the first that the young man was not quite so sober as he might have been. As he drank more champagne this became even more clearly apparent.
He appeared to be suffering from a profound sense of injury. For the first half of the meal he sat in gloomy silence. Towards the latter half he unbosomed himself to me apparently under the impression that I was one of his oldest friends.
‘What I mean to say,’ he said. ‘It isn’t. No, dear old chap, it isn’t –’
I omit the slight slurring together of the words.
‘I mean to say,’ he went on, ‘I ask you? I mean if you take a girl – well, I mean – butting in. Going round upsetting things. Not as though I’d ever said a word to her I shouldn’t have done. She’s not the sort. You know – Puritan fathers – the Mayflower – all that. Dash it – the girl’s straight. What I mean is – what was I saying?’
‘That it was hard lines,’ I said soothingly.
‘Well, dash it all, it is. Dash it, I had to borrow the money for this beano from my tailor. Very obliging chap, my tailor. I’ve owed him money for years. Makes a sort of bond between us. Nothing like a bond, is there, dear old fellow. You and I. You and I. Who the devil are you, by the way?’
‘My name is Hastings.’
‘You don’t say so. Now I could have sworn you were a chap called Spencer Jones. Dear old Spencer Jones. Met him at the Eton and Harrow and borrowed a fiver from him. What I say is one face is very like another face – that’s what I say. If we were a lot of Chinks we wouldn’t know each other apart.’
He shook his head sadly, then cheered up suddenly and drank off some more champagne.
‘Anyway,’ he said. ‘I’m not a damned nigger.’
This reflection seemed to cause him such elation that he presently made several remarks of a hopeful character.
‘Look on the bright side, my boy,’ he adjured me. ‘What I say is, look on the bright side. One of these days – when I’m seventy-five or so, I’m going to be a rich man. When my uncle dies. Then I can pay my tailor.’
He sat smiling happily at the thought.
There was something strangely likeable about the young man. He had a round face and an absurdly small black moustache that gave one the impression of being marooned in the middle of a desert.
Carlotta Adams, I noticed, had an eye on him, and it was after a glance in his direction that she rose and broke up the party.
‘It was just sweet of you to come up here,’ said Jane. ‘I do so love doing things on the spur of the moment, don’t you?’
‘No,’ said Miss Adams. ‘I’m afraid I always plan a thing out very carefully before I do it. It saves – worry.’
There was something faintly disagreeable in her manner.
‘Well, at any rate the results justify you,’ laughed Jane. ‘I don’t know when I enjoyed anything so much as I did your show tonight.’
The American girl’s face relaxed.
‘Well, that’s very sweet of you,’ she said warmly. ‘And I guess I appreciate your telling me so. I need encouragement. We all do.’
‘Carlotta,’ said the young man with the black moustache. ‘Shake hands and say thank you for the party to Aunt Jane and come along.’
The way he walked straight through the door was a miracle of concentration. Carlotta followed him quickly.
‘Well,’ said Jane, ‘what was that that blew in and called me Aunt Jane? I hadn’t noticed him before.’
‘My dear,’ said Mrs Widburn. ‘You mustn’t take any notice of him. Most brilliant as a boy in the O.U.D.S. You’d hardly think so now, would you? I hate to see early promise come to nothing. But Charles and I positively must toddle.’
The Widburns duly toddled and Bryan Martin went with them.
‘Well, M. Poirot?’
He smiled at her.
‘Eh bien, Lady Edgware?’
‘For goodness’ sake, don’t call me that. Let me forget it! If you aren’t the hardest-hearted little man in Europe!’
‘But no, but no, I am not hard-hearted.’
Poirot, I thought, had had quite enough champagne, possibly a glass too much.
‘Then you’ll go and see my husband? And make him do what I want?’
‘I will go and see him,’ Poirot promised cautiously.
‘And if he turns you down – as he will – you’ll think of a clever plan. They say you’re the cleverest man in England, M. Poirot.’
‘Madame, when I am hard-hearted, it is Europe you mention. But for cleverness you say only England.’
‘If you put this through I’ll say the universe.’
Poirot raised a deprecating hand.
‘Madame, I promise nothing. In the interests of the psychology I will endeavour to arrange a meeting with your husband.’
‘Psycho-analyse him as much as you like. Maybe it would do him good. But you’ve got to pull it off – for my sake. I’ve got to have my romance, M. Poirot.’
She added dreamily: ‘Just think of the sensation it will make.’