Lord Edgware Dies人性记录13
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Chapter 13
 The Nephew
The new Lord Edgware’s eye was a quick one. He noticed the slight start I gave.
‘Ah! you’ve got it,’ he said amiably. ‘Aunt Jane’s little supper party. Just a shade bottled, wasn’t I? But I fancied it passed quite unperceived.’
Poirot was saying goodbye to Geraldine Marsh and Miss Carroll.
‘I’ll come down with you,’ said Ronald genially.
He led the way down the stairs, talking as he went.
‘Rum thing – life. Kicked out one day, lord of the manor the next. My late unlamented uncle kicked me out, you know, three years ago. But I expect you know all about that, M. Poirot?’
‘I had heard the fact mentioned – yes,’ replied Poirot composedly.
‘Naturally. A thing of that kind is sure to be dug up. The earnest sleuth can’t afford to miss it.’
He grinned.
Then he threw open the dining-room door.
‘Have a spot before you go.’
Poirot refused. So did I. But the young man mixed himself a drink and continued to talk.
‘Here’s to murder,’ he said cheerfully. ‘In the space of one short night I am converted from the credit-or’s despair to the tradesman’s hope. Yesterday ruin stared me in the face, today all is affluence. God bless Aunt Jane.’
He drained his glass. Then, with a slight change of manner, he spoke to Poirot.
‘Seriously, though, M. Poirot, what are you doing here? Four days ago Aunt Jane was dramatically declaiming, “Who will rid me of this insolent tyrant?” and lo and behold she is ridded! Not by your agency, I hope? The perfect crime, by Hercule Poirot, ex-sleuth hound.’
Poirot smiled.
‘I am here this afternoon in answer to a note from Miss Geraldine Marsh.’
‘A discreet answer, eh? No, M. Poirot, what are you really doing here? For some reason or other you are interesting yourself in my uncle’s death.’
‘I am always interested in murder, Lord Edgware.’
‘But you don’t commit it. Very cautious. You should teach Aunt Jane caution. Caution and a shade more camouflage. You’ll excuse me calling her Aunt Jane. It amuses me. Did you see her blank face when I did it the other night? Hadn’t the foggiest notion who I was.’
‘En verité?’
‘No. I was kicked out of here three months before she came along.’
The fatuous expression of good nature on his face failed for a moment. Then he went on lightly:
‘Beautiful woman. But no subtlety. Methods are rather crude, eh?’
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
‘It is possible.’
Ronald looked at him curiously.
‘I believe you think she didn’t do it. So she’s got round you too, has she?’
‘I have a great admiration for beauty,’ said Poirot evenly. ‘But also for – evidence.’
He brought the last word out very quietly.
‘Evidence?’ said the other sharply.
‘Perhaps you do not know, Lord Edgware, that Lady Edgware was at a party at Chiswick last night at the time she was supposed to have been seen here.’
Ronald swore.
‘So she went after all! How like a woman! At six o’clock she was throwing her weight about, declaring that nothing on earth would make her go, and I suppose about ten minutes after she’d changed her mind! When planning a murder never depend upon a woman doing what she says she’ll do. That’s how the best-laid plans of murder gang agley. No, M. Poirot, I’m not incriminating myself. Oh, yes, don’t think I can’t read what’s passing through your mind. Who is the Natural Suspect? The well-known Wicked Ne’er-do-Weel Nephew.’
He leaned back in his chair chuckling.
‘I’m saving your little grey cells for you, M. Poirot. No need for you to hunt round for someone who saw me in the offing when Aunt Jane was declaring she never, never, never would go out that night, etc. I was there. So you ask yourself did the wicked nephew in very truth come here last night disguised in a fair wig and a Paris hat?’
Seemingly enjoying the situation, he surveyed us both. Poirot, his head a little on one side, was regarding him with close attention. I felt rather uncomfortable.
‘I had a motive – oh! yes, motive admitted. And I’m going to give you a present of a very valuable and significant piece of information. I called to see my uncle yesterday morning. Why? To ask for money. Yes, lick your lips over that. To ASK FOR MONEY. And I went away without getting any. And that same evening – that very same evening – Lord Edgware dies. Good title that, by the way. Lord Edgware Dies. Look well on a bookstall.’
He paused. Still Poirot said nothing.
‘I’m really flattered by your attention, M. Poirot. Captain Hastings looks as though he had seen a ghost – or were going to see one any minute. Don’t get so strung up, my dear fellow. Wait for the anti-climax. Well, where were we? Oh! yes, case against the Wicked Nephew. Guilt is to be thrown on the hated Aunt by Marriage. Nephew, celebrated at one time for acting female parts, does his supreme histrionic effort. In a girlish voice he announces himself as Lady Edgware and sidles past the butler with mincing steps. No suspicions are aroused. “Jane,” cries my fond uncle. “George,” I squeak. I fling my arms about his neck and neatly insert the penknife. The next details are purely medical and can be omitted. Exit the spurious lady. And so to bed at the end of a good day’s work.’
He laughed, and rising, poured himself out another whisky and soda. He returned slowly to his chair.
‘Works out well, doesn’t it? But you see, here comes the crux of the matter. The disappointment! The annoying sensation of having been led up the garden. For now, M. Poirot, we come to the alibi!’
He finished off his glass.
‘I always find alibis very enjoyable,’ he remarked. ‘Whenever I happen to be reading a detective story I sit up and take notice when the alibi comes along. This is a remarkably good alibi. Three strong, and Jewish at that. In plainer language, Mr, Mrs and Miss Dortheimer. Extremely rich and extremely musical. They have a box in Covent Garden. Into that box they invite young men with prospects. I, M. Poirot, am a young man with prospects – as good a one, shall we say, as they can hope to get. Do I like the opera? Frankly, no. But I enjoy the excellent dinner in Grosvenor Square first, and I also enjoy an excellent supper somewhere else afterwards, even if I do have to dance with Rachel Dortheimer and have a stiff arm for two days afterwards. So you see, M. Poirot, there you are. When uncle’s lifeblood is flowing, I am whispering cheerful nothings into the diamond encrusted ears of the fair (I beg her pardon, dark) Rachel in a box at Covent Garden. Her long Jewish nose is quivering with emotion. And so you see, M. Poirot, why I can afford to be so frank.’
He leaned back in his chair.
‘I hope I have not bored you. Any question to ask?’
‘I can assure you that I have not been bored,’ said Poirot. ‘Since you are so kind, there is one little question that I would like to ask.’
‘How long, Lord Edgware, have you known Miss Carlotta Adams?’
Whatever the young man had expected, it certainly had not been this. He sat up sharply with an entirely new expression on his face.
‘Why on earth do you want to know that? What’s that got to do with what we’ve been talking about?’
‘I was curious, that was all. For the other, you have explained so fully everything there is to explain that there is no need for me to ask questions.’
Ronald shot a quick glance at him. It was almost as though he did not care for Poirot’s amiable acquiescence. He would, I thought, have preferred him to be more suspicious.
‘Carlotta Adams? Let me see. About a year. A little more. I got to know her last year when she gave her first show.’
‘You knew her well?’
‘Pretty well. She’s not the sort of girl you ever got to know frightfully well. Reserved and all that.’
‘But you liked her?’
Ronald stared at him.
‘I wish I knew why you were so interested in the lady. Was it because I was with her the other night? Yes, I like her very much. She’s sympathetic – listens to a chap and makes him feel he’s something of a fellow after all.’
Poirot nodded.
‘I comprehend. Then you will be sorry.’
‘Sorry? What about?’
‘That she is dead!’
‘What?’ Ronald sprang up in astonishment. ‘Carlotta dead?’
He looked absolutely dumbfounded by the news.
‘You’re pulling my leg, M. Poirot. Carlotta was perfectly well the last time I saw her.’
‘When was that?’ asked Poirot quickly.
‘Day before yesterday, I think. I can’t remember.’
‘Tout de même, she is dead.’
‘It must have been frightfully sudden. What was it? A street accident?’
Poirot looked at the ceiling.
‘No. She took an overdose of veronal.’
‘Oh! I say. Poor kid. How frightfully sad.’
‘N’est ce pas?’
‘I am sorry. And she was getting on so well. She was going to get her kid sister over and had all sorts of plans. Dash it. I’m more sorry than I can say.’
‘Yes,’ said Poirot. ‘It is sad to die when you are young – when you do not want to die – when all life is open before you and you have everything to live for.’
Ronald looked at him curiously. ‘I don’t think I quite get you, M. Poirot.’
Poirot rose and held out his hand.
‘I express my thoughts – a little strongly, perhaps. For I do not like to see youth deprived of its right to live, Lord Edgware. I feel – very strongly about it. I wish you good-day.’
‘Oh – er – good-bye.’
He looked rather taken aback.
As I opened the door I almost collided with Miss Carroll.
‘Ah! M. Poirot, they told me you hadn’t gone yet. I’d like a word with you if I may. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind coming up to my room?
‘It’s about that child, Geraldine,’ she said when we had entered her sanctum and she had closed the door.
‘Yes, Mademoiselle?’
‘She talked a lot of nonsense this afternoon. Now don’t protest. Nonsense! That’s what I call it and that’s what it was. She broods.’
‘I could see that she was suffering from over-strain,’ said Poirot gently.
‘Well – to tell the truth – she hasn’t had a very happy life. No, one can’t pretend she has. Frankly, M. Poirot, Lord Edgware was a peculiar man – not the sort of man who ought to have had anything to do with the upbringing of children. Quite frankly, he terrorized Geraldine.’
Poirot nodded.
‘Yes, I should imagine something of the kind.’
‘He was a peculiar man. He – I don’t quite know how to put it – but he enjoyed seeing anyone afraid of him. It seemed to give him a morbid kind of pleasure.’
‘Quite so.’
‘He was an extremely well-read man, and a man of considerable intellect. But in some ways – well, I didn’t come across that side of him myself, but it was there. I’m not really surprised his wife left him. This wife, I mean. I don’t approve of her, mind. I’ve no opinion of that young woman at all. But in marrying Lord Edgware she got all and more than she deserved. Well, she left him – and no bones broken, as they say. But Geraldine couldn’t leave him. For a long time he’d forget all about her, and then, suddenly, he’d remember. I sometimes think – though perhaps I shouldn’t say it –’
‘Yes, yes. Mademoiselle, say it.’
‘Well, I sometimes thought he revenged himself on the mother – his first wife – that way. She was a gentle creature, I believe, with a very sweet disposition. I’ve always been sorry for her. I shouldn’t have mentioned all this, M. Poirot, if it hadn’t been for that very foolish outburst of Geraldine’s just now. Things she said – about hating her father – they might sound peculiar to anyone who didn’t know.’
‘Thank you very much, Mademoiselle. Lord Edgware, I fancy, was a man who would have done much better not to marry.’
‘Much better.’
‘He never thought of marrying for a third time?’
‘How could he? His wife was alive.’
‘By giving her her freedom he would have been free himself.’
‘I should think he had had enough trouble with two wives as it was,’ said Miss Carroll grimly.
‘So you think there would have been no question of a third marriage. There was no one? Think, Made-moiselle. No one?’
Miss Carroll’s colour rose.
‘I cannot understand the way you keep harping on the point. Of course there was no one.’