Lord Edgware Dies人性记录03
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Chapter 3
 The Man with the Gold Tooth
It was a few days later, when we were sitting at breakfast, that Poirot flung across to me a letter that he had just opened.
‘Well, mon ami,’ he said. ‘What do you think of that?’
The note was from Lord Edgware and in stiff formal language it made an appointment for the following day at eleven.
I must say that I was very much surprised. I had taken Poirot’s words uttered lightly in a convivial moment, and I had had no idea that he had actually taken steps to carry out his promise.
Poirot, who was very quick-witted, read my mind and his eyes twinkled a little.
‘But yes, mon ami, it was not solely the champagne.’
‘I didn’t mean that.’
‘But yes – but yes – you thought to yourself, the poor old one, he has the spirit of the party, he promises things that he will not perform – that he has no intention of performing. But, my friend, the promises of Hercule Poirot are sacred.’
He drew himself up in a stately manner as he said the last words. ‘Of course. Of course. I know that,’ I said hastily. ‘But I thought that perhaps your judgment was slightly – what shall I say – influenced.’
‘I am not in the habit of letting my judgment be “influenced” as you call it, Hastings. The best and driest of champagne, the most golden-haired and seductive of women – nothing influences the judgment of Hercule Poirot. No, mon ami, I am interested – that is all.’
‘In Jane Wilkinson’s love affair?’
‘Not exactly that. Her love affair, as you call it, is a very commonplace business. It is a step in the successful career of a very beautiful woman. If the Duke of Merton had neither a title nor wealth his romantic likeness to a dreamy monk would no longer interest the lady. No, Hastings, what intrigues me is the psychology of the matter. The interplay of character. I welcome the chance of studying Lord Edgware at close quarters.’
‘You do not expect to be successful in your mission?’
‘Pourquoi pas? Every man has his weak spot. Do not imagine, Hastings, that because I am studying the case from a psychological standpoint, I shall not try my best to succeed in the commission entrusted to me. I always enjoy exercising my ingenuity.’
I had feared an allusion to the little grey cells and was thankful to be spared it.
‘So we go to Regent Gate at eleven tomorrow?’ I said.
‘We?’ Poirot raised his eyebrows quizzically.
‘Poirot!’ I cried. ‘You are not going to leave me behind. I always go with you.’
‘If it were a crime, a mysterious poisoning case, an assassination – ah! these are the things your soul delights in. But a mere matter of social adjustment?’
‘Not another word,’ I said determinedly. ‘I’m coming.’
Poirot laughed gently, and at that moment we were told that a gentleman had called.
To our great surprise our visitor proved to be Bryan Martin.
The actor looked older by daylight. He was still handsome, but it was a kind of ravaged handsomeness. It flashed across my mind that he might conceivably take drugs. There was a kind of nervous tension about him that suggested the possibility.
‘Good morning, M. Poirot,’ he said in a cheerful manner. ‘You and Captain Hastings breakfast at a reasonable hour, I am glad to see. By the way, I suppose you are very busy just now?’
Poirot smiled at him amiably.
‘No,’ he said. ‘At the moment I have practically no business of importance on hand.’
‘Come now,’ laughed Bryan. ‘Not called in by Scotland Yard? No delicate matters to investigate for Royalty? I can hardly believe it.’
‘You confound fiction with reality, my friend,’ said Poirot, smiling. ‘I am, I assure you, at the moment completely out of work, though not yet on the dole. Dieu merci.’
‘Well, that’s luck for me,’ said Bryan with another laugh. ‘Perhaps you’ll take on something for me.’
Poirot considered the young man thoughtfully.
‘You have a problem for me – yes?’ he said in a minute or two.
‘Well – it’s like this. I have and I haven’t.’
This time his laugh was rather nervous. Still considering him thoughtfully, Poirot indicated a chair. The young man took it. He sat facing us, for I had taken a seat by Poirot’s side.
‘And now,’ said Poirot, ‘let us hear all about it.’
Bryan Martin still seemed to have a little difficulty in getting under way.
‘The trouble is that I can’t tell you quite as much as I’d like to.’ He hesitated. ‘It’s difficult. You see, the whole business started in America.’
‘In America? Yes?’
‘A mere incident first drew my attention to it. As a matter of fact, I was travelling by train and I noticed a certain fellow. Ugly little chap, clean-shaven, glasses, and a gold tooth.’
‘Ah! a gold tooth.’
‘Exactly. That’s really the crux of the matter.’
Poirot nodded his head several times.
‘I begin to comprehend. Go on.’
‘Well, as I say. I just noticed the fellow. I was travelling, by the way, to New York. Six months later I was in Los Angeles, and I noticed the fellow again. Don’t know why I should have – but I did. Still, nothing in that.’
‘A month afterwards I had occasion to go to Seattle, and shortly after I got there who should I see but my friend again, only this time he wore a beard.’
‘Distinctly curious.’
‘Wasn’t it? Of course I didn’t fancy it had anything to do with me at that time, but when I saw the man again in Los Angeles, beardless, in Chicago with a moustache and different eyebrows and in a mountain village disguised as a hobo – well, I began to wonder.’
‘And at last – well, it seemed odd – but not a doubt about it. I was being what you call shadowed.’
‘Most remarkable.’
‘Wasn’t it? After that I made sure of it. Wherever I was, there, somewhere near at hand, was my shadow made up in different disguises. Fortunately, owing to the gold tooth, I could always spot him.’
‘Ah! that gold tooth, it was a very fortunate occur-rence.’
‘It was.’
‘Pardon me, M. Martin, but did you never speak to the man? Question him as to the reason of his persistent shadowing?’
‘No, I didn’t.’ The actor hesitated. ‘I thought of doing so once or twice, but I always decided against it. It seemed to me that I should merely put the fellow on his guard and learn nothing. Possibly once they had discovered that I had spotted him, they would have put someone else on my track – someone whom I might not recognize.’
‘En effet . . . someone without that useful gold tooth.’
‘Exactly. I may have been wrong – but that’s how I figured it out.’
‘Now, M. Martin, you referred to “they” just now. Whom did you mean by “they”?’
‘It was a mere figure of speech used for convenience. I assumed – I don’t know why – a nebulous “they” in the background.’
‘Have you any reason for that belief ?’
‘You mean you have no conception of who could want you shadowed or for what purpose?’
‘Not the slightest idea. At least –’
‘Continuez,’ said Poirot encouragingly.
‘I have an idea,’ said Bryan Martin slowly. ‘It’s a mere guess on my part, mind.’
‘A guess may be very successful sometimes, Monsieur.’
‘It concerns a certain incident that took place in London about two years ago. It was a slight incident, but an inexplicable and an unforgettable one. I’ve often wondered and puzzled over it. Just because I could find no explanation of it at the time, I am inclined to wonder if this shadowing business might not be connected in some way with it – but for the life of me I can’t see why or how.’
‘Perhaps I can.’
‘Yes, but you see –’ Bryan Martin’s embarrassment returned. ‘The awkward thing is that I can’t tell you about it – not now, that is. In a day or so I might be able to.’
Stung into further speech by Poirot’s inquiring glance he continued desperately.
‘You see – a girl was concerned in it.’
‘Ah! parfaitement! An English girl?’
‘Yes. At least – why?’
‘Very simple. You cannot tell me now, but you hope to do so in a day or two. That means that you want to obtain the consent of the young lady. Therefore she is in England. Also, she must have been in England during the time you were shadowed, for if she had been in America you would have sought her out then and there. Therefore, since she has been in England for the last eighteen months she is probably, though not certainly, English. It is good reasoning that, eh?’
‘Rather. Now tell me, M. Poirot, if I get her permission, will you look into the matter for me?’
There was a pause. Poirot seemed to be debating the matter in his mind. Finally he said:
‘Why have you come to me before going to her?’
‘Well, I thought –’ he hesitated. ‘I wanted to persuade her to – to clear things up – I mean to let things be cleared up by you. What I mean is, if you investigate the affair, nothing need be made public, need it?’
‘That depends,’ said Poirot calmly.
‘What do you mean?’
‘If there is any question of crime –’
‘Oh! there’s no crime concerned.’
‘You do not know. There may be.’
‘But you would do your best for her – for us?’
‘That, naturally.’
He was silent for a moment and then said:
‘Tell me, this follower of yours – this shadow – of what age was he?’
‘Oh! quite youngish. About thirty.’
‘Ah!’ said Poirot. ‘That is indeed remarkable. Yes, that makes the whole thing very much more interesting.’
I stared at him. So did Bryan Martin. This remark of his was, I am sure, equally unexplicable to us both. Bryan questioned me with a lift of the eyebrows. I shook my head.
‘Yes,’ murmured Poirot. ‘It makes the whole story very interesting.’
‘He may have been older,’ said Bryan doubtfully, ‘but I don’t think so.’
‘No, no, I am sure your observation is quite accurate, M. Martin. Very interesting – extraordinarily interesting.’
Rather taken aback by Poirot’s enigmatical words, Bryan Martin seemed at a loss what to say or do next. He started making desultory conversation.
‘An amusing party the other night,’ he said. ‘Jane Wilkinson is the most high-handed woman that ever existed.’
‘She has the single vision,’ said Poirot, smiling. ‘One thing at a time.’
‘She gets away with it, too,’ said Martin. ‘How people stand it, I don’t know!’
‘One will stand a good deal from a beautiful woman, my friend,’ said Poirot with a twinkle. ‘If she had the pug nose, the sallow skin, the greasy hair, then – ah! then she would not “get away with it” as you put it.’
‘I suppose not,’ conceded Bryan. ‘But it makes me mad sometimes. All the same, I’m devoted to Jane, though in some ways, mind you, I don’t think she’s quite all there.’
‘On the contrary, I should say she was very much on the spot.’
‘I don’t mean that, exactly. She can look after her interests all right. She’s got plenty of business shrewdness. No, I mean morally.’
‘Ah! morally.’
‘She’s what they call amoral. Right and wrong don’t exist for her.’
‘Ah! I remember you said something of the kind the other evening.’
‘We were talking of crime just now –’
‘Yes, my friend?’
‘Well, it would never surprise me if Jane committed a crime.’
‘And you should know her well,’ murmured Poirot thoughtfully. ‘You have acted much with her, have you not?’
‘Yes. I suppose I know her through and through and up and down. I can see her killing, and quite easily.’
‘Ah! she has the hot temper, yes?’
‘No, no, not at all. Cool as a cucumber. I mean if anyone were in her way she’d just remove them – without a thought. And one couldn’t really blame her – morally, I mean. She’d just think that anyone who interfered with Jane Wilkinson had got to go.’
There was a bitterness in his last words that had been lacking heretofore. I wondered what memory he was recalling.
‘You think she would do – murder?’
Poirot watched him intently.
Bryan drew a deep breath.
‘Upon my soul, I do. Perhaps one of these days, you’ll remember my words . . . I know her, you see. She’d kill as easily as she’d drink her morning tea. I mean it, M. Poirot.’
He had risen to his feet.
‘Yes,’ said Poirot quietly. ‘I can see you mean it.’
‘I know her,’ said Bryan Martin again, ‘through and through.’
He stood frowning for a minute, then with a change of tone, he said:
‘As to this business we’ve been talking about, I’ll let you know, M. Poirot, in a few days. You will undertake it, won’t you?’
Poirot looked at him for a moment or two without replying.
‘Yes,’ he said at last. ‘I will undertake it. I find it – interesting.’
There was something queer in the way he said the last word. I went downstairs with Bryan Martin. At the door he said to me:
‘Did you get the hang of what he meant about that fellow’s age? I mean, why was it interesting that he should be about thirty? I didn’t get the hang of that at all.’
‘No more did I,’ I admitted.
‘It doesn’t seem to make sense. Perhaps he was just having a game with me.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘Poirot is not like that. Depend upon it, the point has significance since he says so.’
‘Well, blessed if I can see it. Glad you can’t either. I’d hate to feel I was a complete nut.’
He strode away. I rejoined my friend.
‘Poirot,’ I said. ‘What was the point about the age of the shadower?’
‘You do not see? My poor Hastings!’ He smiled and shook his head. Then he asked: ‘What did you think of our interview on the whole?’
‘There’s so little to go upon. It seems difficult to say. If we knew more –’
‘Even without knowing more, do not certain ideas suggest themselves to you, mon ami?’
The telephone ringing at that moment saved me from the ignominy of admitting that no ideas whatever suggested themselves to me. I took up the receiver.
A woman’s voice spoke, a crisp, clear efficient voice.
‘This is Lord Edgware’s secretary speaking. Lord Edgware regrets that he must cancel the appointment with M. Poirot for tomorrow morning. He has to go over to Paris tomorrow unexpectedly. He could see M. Poirot for a few minutes at a quarter-past twelve this morning if that would be convenient.’
I consulted Poirot.
‘Certainly, my friend, we will go there this morning.’
I repeated this into the mouthpiece.
‘Very good,’ said the crisp business-like voice. ‘A quarter-past twelve this morning.’
She rang off.