Lord Edgware Dies人性记录12
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Chapter 12
 The Daughter
There was a letter sent by hand lying on the table when we got back to our rooms. Poirot picked it up, slit it open with his usual neatness, and then laughed.
‘What is it you say – “Talk of the devil”? See here, Hastings.’
I took the note from him.
The paper was stamped 17 Regent Gate and was written in very upright characteristic handwriting which looked easy to read and, curiously enough, was not.
‘Dear Sir (it ran),
I hear you were at the house this morning with the inspector. I am sorry not to have had the opportunity of speaking to you. If convenient to yourself I should be much obliged if you could spare me a few minutes any time this afternoon.
Yours truly,
Geraldine Marsh.’
‘Curious,’ I said. ‘I wonder why she wants to see you?’
‘Is it curious that she should want to see me? You are not polite, my friend.’
Poirot has the most irritating habit of joking at the wrong moment.
‘We will go round at once, my friend,’ he said, and lovingly brushing an imagined speck of dust from his hat, he put it on his head.
Jane Wilkinson’s careless suggestion that Geraldine might have killed her father seemed to me particularly absurd. Only a particularly brainless person could have suggested it. I said as much to Poirot.
‘Brains. Brains. What do we really mean by the term? In your idiom you would say that Jane Wilkinson has the brains of a rabbit. That is a term of disparagement. But consider the rabbit for a moment. He exists and multiplies, does he not? That, in Nature, is a sign of mental superiority. The lovely Lady Edgware she does not know history, or geography, nor the classics sans doute. The name of Lao Tse would suggest to her a prize Pekingese dog, the name of Molière a maison de couture. But when it comes to choosing clothes, to making rich and advantageous marriages, and to getting her own way – her success is phenomenal. The opinion of a philosopher as to who murdered Lord Edgware would be no good to me – the motive for murder from a philosopher’s point of view would be the greatest good of the greatest number, and as that is difficult to decide, few philosophers are murderers. But a careless opinion from Lady Edgware might be useful to me because her point of view would be materialistic and based on a knowledge of the worst side of human nature.’
‘Perhaps there’s something in that,’ I conceded.
‘Nous voici,’ said Poirot. ‘I am curious to know why the young lady wishes so urgently to see me.’
‘It is a natural desire,’ I said, getting my own back. ‘You said so a quarter of an hour ago. The natural desire to see something unique at close quarters.’
‘Perhaps it is you, my friend, who make an impression on her heart the other day,’ replied Poirot as he rang the bell.
I recalled the startled face of the girl who had stood in the doorway. I could still see those burning dark eyes in the white face. That momentary glimpse had made a great impression on me.
We were shown upstairs to a big drawing-room and in a minute or two Geraldine Marsh came to us there.
The impression of intensity which I had noticed before was heightened on this occasion. This tall, thin, white-faced girl with her big haunting black eyes was a striking figure.
She was extremely composed – in view of her youth, remarkably so.
‘It is very good of you to come so promptly, M. Poirot,’ she said. ‘I am sorry to have missed you this morning.’
‘You were lying down?’
‘Yes. Miss Carroll – my father’s secretary, you know – insisted. She has been very kind.’
There was a queer grudging note in the girl’s voice that puzzled me.
‘In what way can I be of service to you, Mademoiselle?’ asked Poirot.
She hesitated a minute and then said:
‘On the day before my father was killed you came to see him?’
‘Yes, Mademoiselle.’
‘Why? Did he – send for you?’
Poirot did not reply for a moment. He seemed to be deliberating. I believe, now, that it was a cleverly calculated move on his part. He wanted to goad her into further speech. She was, he realized, of the impatient type. She wanted things in a hurry.
‘Was he afraid of something? Tell me. Tell me. I must know. Who was he afraid of ? Why? What did he say to you? Oh! why can’t you speak?’
I had thought that that forced composure was not natural. It had soon broken down. She was leaning forward now, her hands twisting themselves nervously on her lap.
‘What passed between Lord Edgware and myself was in confidence,’ said Poirot slowly.
His eyes never left her face.
‘Then it was about – I mean, it must have been something to do with – the family. Oh! you sit there and torture me. Why won’t you tell me? It’s necessary for me to know. It’s necessary. I tell you.’
Again, very slowly, Poirot shook his head, apparently a prey to deep perplexity.
‘M. Poirot.’ She drew herself up. ‘I’m his daughter. It is my right to know – what my father dreaded on the last day but one of his life. It isn’t fair to leave me in the dark. It isn’t fair to him – not to tell me.’
‘Were you so devoted to your father, then, Made-moiselle?’ asked Poirot gently.
She drew back as though stung.
‘Fond of him?’ she whispered. ‘Fond of him. I – I –’
And suddenly her self-control snapped. Peals of laughter broke from her. She lay back in her chair and laughed and laughed.
‘It’s so funny,’ she gasped. ‘It’s so funny – to be asked that.’
That hysterical laughter had not passed unheard. The door opened and Miss Carroll came in. She was firm and efficient.
‘Now, now, Geraldine, my dear, that won’t do. No, no. Hush, now. I insist. No. Stop it. I mean it. Stop it at once.’
Her determined manner had its effect. Geraldine’s laughter grew fainter. She wiped her eyes and sat up.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said in a low voice. ‘I’ve never done that before.’
Miss Carroll was still looking at her anxiously.
‘I’m all right now, Miss Carroll. It was idiotic.’
She smiled suddenly. A queer bitter smile that twisted her lips. She sat up very straight in her chair and looked at no one.
‘He asked me,’ she said in a cold clear voice, ‘if I had been very fond of my father.’
Miss Carroll made a sort of indeterminate cluck. It denoted irresolution on her part. Geraldine went on, her voice high and scornful.
‘I wonder if it is better to tell lies or the truth? The truth, I think. I wasn’t fond of my father. I hated him!’
‘Geraldine dear.’
‘Why pretend? You didn’t hate him because he couldn’t touch you! You were one of the few people in the world that he couldn’t get at. You saw him as the employer who paid you so much a year. His rages and his queerness didn’t interest you – you ignored them. I know what you’d say, “Everyone has got to put up with something.” You were cheerful and uninterested. You’re a very strong woman. You’re not really human. But then you could have walked out of the house any minute. I couldn’t. I belonged.’
‘Really, Geraldine, I don’t think it’s necessary going into all this. Fathers and daughters often don’t get on. But the less said in life the better, I’ve found.’
Geraldine turned her back on her. She addressed herself to Poirot.
‘M. Poirot, I hated my father! I am glad he is dead! It means freedom for me – freedom and independence. I am not in the least anxious to find his murderer. For all we know the person who killed him may have had reasons – ample reasons – justifying that action.’
Poirot looked at her thoughtfully.
‘That is a dangerous principle to adopt, Mademoiselle.’
‘Will hanging someone else bring father back to life?’
‘No,’ said Poirot dryly. ‘But it may save other innocent people from being murdered.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘A person who has once killed, Mademoiselle, nearly always kills again – sometimes again and again.’
‘I don’t believe it. Not – not a real person.’
‘You mean – not a homicidal maniac? But yes, it is true. One life is removed – perhaps after a terrific struggle with the murderer’s conscience. Then – danger threatens – the second murder is morally easier. At the slightest threatening of suspicion a third follows. And little by little an artistic pride arises – it is a métier – to kill. It is done at last almost for pleasure.’
The girl had hidden her face in her hands.
‘Horrible. Horrible. It isn’t true.’
‘And supposing I told you that it had already hap - pened ? That already – to save himself – the murderer has killed a second time?’
‘What’s that, M. Poirot?’ cried Miss Carroll. ‘Another murder? Where? Who?’
Poirot gently shook his head.
‘It was an illustration only. I ask pardon.’
‘Oh! I see. For a moment I really thought – Now, Geraldine, if you’ve finished talking arrant nonsense.’
‘You are on my side, I see,’ said Poirot with a little bow.
‘I don’t believe in capital punishment,’ said Miss Carroll briskly. ‘Otherwise I am certainly on your side. Society must be protected.’
Geraldine got up. She smoothed back her hair.
‘I am sorry,’ she said. ‘I am afraid I have been making rather a fool of myself. You still refuse to tell me why my father called you in?’
‘Called him?’ said Miss Carroll in lively astonishment.
‘You misunderstand, Miss Marsh. I have not refused to tell you.’
Poirot was forced to come out into the open.
‘I was only considering how far that interview might have been said to be confidential. Your father did not call me in. I sought an interview with him on behalf of a client. That client was Lady Edgware.’
‘Oh! I see.’
An extraordinary expression came over the girl’s face. I thought at first it was disappointment. Then I saw it was relief.
‘I have been very foolish,’ she said slowly. ‘I thought my father had perhaps thought himself menaced by some danger. It was stupid.’
‘You know, M. Poirot, you gave me quite a turn just now,’ said Miss Carroll, ‘when you suggested that woman had done a second murder.’
Poirot did not answer her. He spoke to the girl.
‘Do you believe Lady Edgware committed the murder, Mademoiselle?’
She shook her head.
‘No, I don’t. I can’t see her doing a thing like that. She’s much too – well, artificial.’
‘I don’t see who else can have done it,’ said Miss Carroll. ‘And I don’t think women of that kind have got any moral sense.’
‘It needn’t have been her,’ argued Geraldine. ‘She may have come here and just had an interview with him and gone away, and the real murderer may have been some lunatic who got in afterwards.’
‘All murderers are mentally deficient – of that I am assured,’ said Miss Carroll. ‘Internal gland secretion.’
At that moment the door opened and a man came in – then stopped awkwardly.
‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know anyone was in here.’
Geraldine made a mechanical introduction.
‘My cousin, Lord Edgware. M. Poirot. It’s all right, Ronald. You’re not interrupting.’
‘Sure, Dina? How do you do, M. Poirot? Are your grey cells functioning over our particular family mystery?’
I cast my mind back trying to remember. That round, pleasant, vacuous face, the eyes with slight pouches underneath them, the little moustache marooned like an island in the middle of the expanse of face.
Of course! It was Carlotta Adams’ escort on the night of the supper party in Jane Wilkinson’s suite.
Captain Ronald Marsh. Now Lord Edgware.