Lord Edgware Dies人性记录04
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Chapter 4
 An Interview
I arrived with Poirot at Lord Edgware’s house in Regent Gate in a very pleasant state of anticipation. Though I had not Poirot’s devotion to ‘the psychology’, yet the few words in which Lady Edgware had referred to her husband had aroused my curiosity. I was anxious to see what my own judgment would be.
The house was an imposing one – well-built, handsome and slightly gloomy. There were no window-boxes or such frivolities.
The door was opened to us promptly, and by no aged white-haired butler such as would have been in keeping with the exterior of the house. On the contrary, it was opened by one of the handsomest young men I have ever seen. Tall, fair, he might have posed to a sculptor for Hermes or Apollo. Despite his good looks there was something vaguely effeminate that I disliked about the softness of his voice. Also, in a curious way, he reminded me of someone – someone, too, whom I had met quite lately – but who it was I could not for the life of me remember.
We asked for Lord Edgware.
‘This way, sir.’
He led us along the hall, past the staircase, to a door at the rear of the hall.
Opening it, he announced us in that same soft voice which I instinctively distrusted.
The room into which we were shown was a kind of library. The walls were lined with books, the furnishings were dark and sombre but handsome, the chairs were formal and not too comfortable.
Lord Edgware, who rose to receive us, was a tall man of about fifty. He had dark hair streaked with grey, a thin face and a sneering mouth. He looked bad-tempered and bitter. His eyes had a queer secretive look about them. There was something, I thought, distinctly odd about those eyes.
His manner was stiff and formal.
‘M. Hercule Poirot? Captain Hastings? Please be seated.’
We sat down. The room felt chilly. There was little light coming in from the one window and the dimness contributed to the cold atmosphere.
Lord Edgware had taken up a letter which I saw to be in my friend’s handwriting.
‘I am familiar, of course, with your name, M. Poirot. Who is not?’ Poirot bowed at the compliment. ‘But I cannot quite understand your position in this matter. You say that you wish to see me on behalf of ’ – he paused – ‘my wife.’
He said the last two words in a peculiar way – as though it were an effort to get them out.
‘That is so,’ said my friend.
‘I understood that you were an investigator of – crime, M. Poirot?’
‘Of problems, Lord Edgware. There are problems of crime, certainly. There are other problems.’
‘Indeed. And what may this one be?’
The sneer in his words was palpable by now. Poirot took no notice of it.
‘I have the honour to approach you on behalf of Lady Edgware,’ he said. ‘Lady Edgware, as you may know, desires – a divorce.’
‘I am quite aware of that,’ said Lord Edgware coldly.
‘Her suggestion was that you and I should discuss the matter.’
‘There is nothing to discuss.’
‘You refuse, then?’
‘Refuse? Certainly not.’
Whatever else Poirot had expected, he had not expected this. It is seldom that I have seen my friend utterly taken aback, but I did on this occasion. His appearance was ludicrous. His mouth fell open, his hands flew out, his eyebrows rose. He looked like a cartoon in a comic paper.
‘Comment?’ he cried. ‘What is this? You do not refuse?’
‘I am at a loss to understand your astonishment, M. Poirot.’
‘Ecoutez, you are willing to divorce your wife?’
‘Certainly I am willing. She knows that perfectly well. I wrote and told her so.’
‘You wrote and told her so?’
‘Yes. Six months ago.’
‘But I do not understand. I do not understand at all.’ Lord Edgware said nothing.
‘I understood that you were opposed to the principle of divorce.’
‘I do not see that my principles are your business, M. Poirot. It is true that I did not divorce my first wife. My conscience would not allow me to do so. My second marriage, I will admit frankly, was a mistake. When my wife suggested a divorce, I refused point blank. Six months ago she wrote to me again urging the point. I have an idea she wanted to marry again – some film actor or fellow of that kind. My views had, by this time, undergone modification. I wrote to her at Hollywood telling her so. Why she has sent you to me I cannot imagine. I suppose it is a question of money.’
His lips sneered again as he said the last words.
‘Extremely curious,’ muttered Poirot. ‘Extremely curious. There is something here I do not understand at all.’
‘As regards money,’ went on Lord Edgware. ‘My wife deserted me of her own accord. If she wishes to marry another man, I can set her free to do so, but there is no reason why she should receive a penny from me and she will not do so.’
‘There is no question of any financial arrangement.’
Lord Edgware raised his eyebrows.
‘Jane must be marrying a rich man,’ he murmured cynically.
‘There is something here that I do not understand,’ said Poirot. His face was perplexed and wrinkled with the effort of thought. ‘I understood from Lady Edgware that she had approached you repeatedly through lawyers?’
‘She did,’ replied Lord Edgware dryly. ‘English lawyers, American lawyers, every kind of lawyer, down to the lowest kind of scallywag. Finally, as I say, she wrote to me herself.’
‘You have previously refused?’
‘That is so.’
‘But on receiving her letter, you changed your mind. Why did you change your mind, Lord Edgware?’
‘Not on account of anything in that letter,’ he said sharply. ‘My views happened to have changed, that is all.’
‘The change was somewhat sudden.’
Lord Edgware did not reply.
‘What special circumstances brought about your change of mind, Lord Edgware?’
‘That, really, is my own business M. Poirot. I cannot enter into the subject. Shall we say that gradually I had perceived the advantages of severing what – you will forgive my plain speaking – I considered a degrading association. My second marriage was a mistake.’
‘Your wife says the same,’ said Poirot softly.
‘Does she?’
There was a queer flicker for a moment in his eyes, but it was gone almost at once.
He rose with an air of finality and as we said goodbye his manner became less unbending.
‘You must forgive my altering the appointment. I have to go over to Paris tomorrow.’
‘Perfectly – perfectly.’
‘A sale of works of art as a matter of fact. I have my eye on a little statuette – a perfect thing in its way – a macabre way, perhaps. But I enjoy the macabre. I always have. My taste is peculiar.’
Again that queer smile. I had been looking at the books in the shelves near. There were the memoirs of Casanova, also a volume on the Comte de Sade, another on mediaeval tortures.
I remembered Jane Wilkinson’s little shudder as she spoke of her husband. That had not been acting. That had been real enough. I wondered exactly what kind of a man George Alfred St Vincent Marsh, fourth Baron Edgware, was.
Very suavely he bid us farewell, touching the bell as he did so. We went out of the door. The Greek god of a butler was waiting in the hall. As I closed the library door behind me, I glanced back into the room. I almost uttered an exclamation as I did so.
That suave smiling face was transformed. The lips were drawn back from the teeth in a snarl, the eyes were alive with fury and an almost insane rage.
I wondered no longer that two wives had left Lord Edgware. What I did marvel at was the iron self-control of the man. To have gone through that interview with such frozen self-control, such aloof politeness!
Just as we reached the front door, a door on the right opened. A girl stood at the doorway of the room, shrinking back a little as she saw us.
She was a tall slender girl, with dark hair and a white face. Her eyes, dark and startled, looked for a moment into mine. Then, like a shadow, she shrank back into the room again, closing the door.
A moment later we were out in the street. Poirot hailed a taxi. We got in and he told the man to drive to the Savoy.
‘Well, Hastings,’ he said with a twinkle, ‘that interview did not go at all as I figured to myself it would.’
‘No, indeed. What an extraordinary man Lord Edgware is.’
I related to him how I had looked back before closing the door of the study and what I had seen. He nodded his head slowly and thoughtfully.
‘I fancy that he is very near the border line of madness, Hastings. I should imagine he practises many curious vices, and that beneath his frigid exterior he hides a deep-rooted instinct of cruelty.’
‘It is no wonder both his wives left him.’
‘As you say.’
‘Poirot, did you notice a girl as we were coming out? A dark girl with a white face.’
‘Yes, I noticed her, mon ami. A young lady who was frightened and not happy.’
His voice was grave.
‘Who do you think she was?’
‘Probably his daughter. He has one.’
‘She did look frightened,’ I said slowly. ‘That house must be a gloomy place for a young girl.’
‘Yes, indeed. Ah! here we are, mon ami. Now to acquaint her ladyship with the good news.’
Jane was in, and after telephoning, the clerk informed us that we were to go up. A page-boy took us to the door.
It was opened by a neat middle-aged woman with glasses and primly arranged grey hair. From the bedroom Jane’s voice, with its husky note, called to her.
‘Is that M. Poirot, Ellis? Make him sit right down. I’ll find a rag to put on and be there in a moment.’
Jane Wilkinson’s idea of a rag was a gossamer negligee which revealed more than it hid. She came in eagerly, saying: ‘Well?’
Poirot rose and bowed over her hand.
‘Exactly the word, Madame, it is well.’
‘Why – how do you mean?’
‘Lord Edgware is perfectly willing to agree to a divorce.’
Either the stupefaction on her face was genuine, or else she was indeed a most marvellous actress.
‘M. Poirot! You’ve managed it! At once! Like that! Why, you’re a genius. How in mercy’s name did you set about it?’
‘Madame, I cannot take compliments where they are not earned. Six months ago your husband wrote to you withdrawing his opposition.’
‘What’s that you say? Wrote to me? Where?’
‘It was when you were at Hollywood, I understand.’
‘I never got it. Must have gone astray, I suppose. And to think I’ve been thinking and planning and fretting and going nearly crazy all these months.’
‘Lord Edgware seemed to be under the impression that you wished to marry an actor.’
‘Naturally. That’s what I told him.’ She gave a pleased child’s smile. Suddenly it changed to a look of alarm. ‘Why, M. Poirot, you did not go and tell him about me and the duke?’
‘No, no, reassure yourself. I am discreet. That would not have done, eh?’
‘Well, you see, he’s got a queer mean nature. Marrying Merton, he’d feel, was perhaps a kind of leg up for me – so then naturally he’d queer the pitch. But a film actor’s different. Though, all the same, I’m surprised. Yes, I am. Aren’t you surprised, Ellis?’
I had noticed that the maid had come to and fro from the bedroom tidying away various outdoor garments which were lying flung over the backs of chairs. It had been my opinion that she had been listening to the conversation. Now it seemed that she was completely in Jane’s confidence.
‘Yes, indeed, m’lady. His lordship must have changed a good deal since we knew him,’ said the maid spitefully.
‘Yes, he must.’
‘You cannot understand his attitude. It puzzles you?’ suggested Poirot.
‘Oh, it does. But anyway, we needn’t worry about that. What does it matter what made him change his mind so long as he has changed it?’
‘It may not interest you, but it interests me, Madame.’
Jane paid no attention to him.
‘The thing is that I’m free – at last.’
‘Not yet, Madame.’
She looked at him impatiently.
‘Well, going to be free. It’s the same thing.’
Poirot looked as though he did not think it was.
‘The duke is in Paris,’ said Jane. ‘I must cable him right away. My – won’t his old mother be wild!’
Poirot rose.
‘I am glad, Madame, that all is turning out as you wish.’
‘Goodbye, M. Poirot, and thanks awfully.’
‘I did nothing.’
‘You brought me the good news, anyway, M. Poirot, and I’m ever so grateful. I really am.’
‘And that is that,’ said Poirot to me, as we left the suite. ‘The single idea – herself ! She has no speculation, no curiosity as to why that letter never reached her. You observe, Hastings, she is shrewd beyond belief in the business sense, but she has absolutely no intellect. Well, well, the good God cannot give everything.’
‘Except to Hercule Poirot,’ I said dryly.
‘You mock yourself at me, my friend,’ he replied serenely. ‘But come, let me walk along the Embankment. I wish to arrange my ideas with order and method.’
I maintained a discreet silence until such time as the oracle should speak.
‘That letter,’ he resumed when we were pacing along by the river. ‘It intrigues me. There are four solutions of that problem, my friend.’
‘Yes. First, it was lost in the post. That does happen, you know. But not very often. No, not very often. Incorrectly addressed, it would have been returned to Lord Edgware long before this. No, I am inclined to rule out that solution – though, of course, it may be the true one.
‘Solution two, our beautiful lady is lying when she says she never received it. That, of course, is quite possible. That charming lady is capable of telling any lie to her advantage with the most childlike candour. But I cannot see, Hastings, how it could be to her advantage. If she knows that he will divorce her, why send me to ask him to do so? It does not make sense.
‘Solution three. Lord Edgware is lying. And if anyone is lying it seems more likely that it is he than his wife. But I do not see much point in such a lie. Why invent a fictitious letter sent six months ago? Why not simply agree to my proposition? No, I am inclined to think that he did send that letter – though what the motive was for his sudden change of attitude I cannot guess.
‘So we come to the fourth solution – that someone suppressed that letter. And there, Hastings, we enter on a very interesting field of speculation, because that letter could have been suppressed at either end – in America or England.
‘Whoever suppressed it was someone who did not want that marriage dissolved. Hastings, I would give a great deal to know what is behind this affair. There is something – I swear there is something.’
He paused and then added slowly.
‘Something of which as yet I have only been able to get a glimpse.’