Lord Edgware Dies人性记录14
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Chapter 14
 Five Questions
‘Why did you ask Miss Carroll about the possibility of Lord Edgware’s wanting to marry again?’ I asked with some curiosity as we were driving home.
‘It just occurred to me that there was a possibility of such a thing, mon ami.’
‘I have been searching in my mind for something to explain Lord Edgware’s sudden volte face regarding the matter of divorce. There is something curious there, my friend.’
‘Yes,’ I said thoughtfully. ‘It is rather odd.’
‘You see, Hastings, Lord Edgware confirmed what Madame had told us. She had employed the lawyers of all kinds, but he refused to budge an inch. No, he would not agree to the divorce. And then, all of a sudden, he yields!’
‘Or so he says,’ I reminded him.
‘Very true, Hastings. It is very just, the observation you make there. So he says. We have no proof, whatever, that that letter was written. Eh bien, on one part, ce Monsieur is lying. For some reason he tells us the fabrication, the embroidery. Is it not so? Why, we do not know. But, on the hypothesis that he did write that letter, there must have been a reason for so doing. Now the reason that presents itself most naturally to the imagination is that he has suddenly met someone whom he desires to marry. That explains perfectly his sudden change of face. And so, naturally, I make the inquiries.’
‘Miss Carroll turned the idea down very decisively,’ I said.
‘Yes. Miss Carroll . . .’ said Poirot in a meditative voice.
‘Now what are you driving at?’ I asked in exasperation.
Poirot is an adept at suggesting doubts by the tone of his voice.
‘What reason should she have for lying about it?’ I asked.
‘Aucune – aucune.’
‘But, you see, Hastings, it is difficult to trust her evidence.’
‘You think she’s lying? But why? She looks a most upright person.’
‘That is just it. Between the deliberate falsehood and the disinterested inaccuracy it is very hard to distinguish sometimes.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘To deceive deliberately – that is one thing. But to be so sure of your facts, of your ideas and of their essential truth that the details do not matter – that, my friend, is a special characteristic of particularly honest persons. Already, mark you, she has told us one lie. She said she saw Jane Wilkinson’s face when she could not possibly have done so. Now how did that come about? Look at it this way. She looks down and sees Jane Wilkinson in the hall. No doubt enters her head that it is Jane Wilkinson. She knows it is. She says she saw her face distinctly because – being so sure of her facts – exact details do not matter! It is pointed out to her that she could not have seen her face. Is that so? Well, what does it matter if she saw her face or not – it was Jane Wilkinson. And so with any other question. She knows. And so she answers questions in the light of her knowledge, not by reason of remembered facts. The positive witness should always be treated with suspicion, my friend. The uncertain witness who doesn’t remember, isn’t sure, will think a minute – ah! yes, that’s how it was – is infinitely more to be depended upon!’
‘Dear me, Poirot,’ I said. ‘You upset all my preconceived ideas about witnesses.’
‘In reply to my question as to Lord Edgware’s marrying again she ridicules the idea – simply because it has never occurred to her. She will not take the trouble to remember whether any infinitesimal signs may have pointed that way. Therefore we are exactly where we were before.’
‘She certainly did not seem at all taken aback when you pointed out she could not have seen Jane Wilkinson’s face,’ I remarked thoughtfully.
‘No. That is why I decided that she was one of those honestly inaccurate persons, rather than a deliberate liar. I can see no motive for deliberate lying unless – true, that is an idea!’
‘What is?’ I asked eagerly.
But Poirot shook his head.
‘An idea suggested itself to me. But it is too impossible – yes, much too impossible.’
And he refused to say more.
‘She seems very fond of the girl,’ I said.
‘Yes. She certainly was determined to assist at our interview. What was your impression of the Honourable Geraldine Marsh, Hastings?’
‘I was sorry for her – deeply sorry for her.’
‘You have always the tender heart, Hastings. Beauty in distress upsets you every time.’
‘Didn’t you feel the same?’
He nodded gravely.
‘Yes – she has not had a happy life. That is written very clearly on her face.’
‘At any rate,’ I said warmly, ‘you realize how preposterous Jane Wilkinson’s suggestion was – that she should have had anything to do with the crime, I mean.’
‘Doubtless her alibi is satisfactory, but Japp has not communicated it to me as yet.’
‘My dear Poirot – do you mean to say that even after seeing her and talking to her, you are still not satisfied and want an alibi?’
‘Eh bien, my friend, what is the result of seeing and talking to her? We perceive that she has passed through great unhappiness, she admits that she hated her father and is glad that he is dead, and she is deeply uneasy about what he may have said to us yesterday morning. And after that you say – no alibi is necessary!’
‘Her mere frankness proves her innocence,’ I said warmly.
‘Frankness is a characteristic of the family. The new Lord Edgware – with what a gesture he laid his cards on the table.’
‘He did indeed,’ I said, smiling at the remembrance. ‘Rather an original method.’
Poirot nodded.
‘He – what do you say? – cut the ground before our feet.’
‘From under,’ I corrected. ‘Yes – it made us look rather foolish.’
‘What a curious idea. You may have looked foolish. I didn’t feel foolish in the least and I do not think I looked it. On the contrary, my friend, I put him out of countenance.’
‘Did you?’ I said doubtfully, not remembering having seen signs of anything of the kind.
‘Si, si. I listen – and listen. And at last I ask a question about something quite different, and that, you may have noticed, disconcerts our brave Monsieur very much. You do not observe, Hastings.’
‘I thought his horror and astonishment at hearing of Carlotta Adams’ death was genuine,’ I said. ‘I suppose you will say it was a piece of clever acting.’
‘Impossible to tell. I agree it seemed genuine.’
‘Why do you think he flung all those facts at our head in that cynical way? Just for amusement?’
‘That is always possible. You English, you have the most extraordinary notions of humour. But it may have been policy. Facts that are concealed acquire a suspicious importance. Facts that are frankly revealed tend to be regarded as less important than they really are.’
‘The quarrel with his uncle that morning, for instance?’
‘Exactly. He knows that the fact is bound to leak out. Eh bien, he will parade it.’
‘He is not so foolish as he looks.’
‘Oh! he is not foolish at all. He has plenty of brains when he cares to use them. He sees exactly where he stands and, as I said, he lays his cards on the table. You play the bridge, Hastings. Tell me, when does one do that?’
‘You play bridge yourself,’ I said, laughing. ‘You know well enough – when all the rest of the tricks are yours and you want to save time and get on to a new hand.’
‘Yes, mon ami, that is all very true. But occasionally there is another reason. I have remarked it once or twice when playing with les dames. There is perhaps a little doubt. Eh bien, la dame, she throws down the cards, says “and all the rest are mine,” and gathers up the cards and cuts the new pack. And possibly the other players agree – especially if they are a little inexperienced. The thing is not obvious, mark you. It requires to be followed out. Half-way through dealing the next hand, one of the players thinks: “Yes, but she would have to have taken over that fourth diamond in dummy whether she wanted it or not, and then she would have had to lead a little club and my nine would have made.”’
‘So you think?’
‘I think, Hastings, that too much bravado is a very interesting thing. And I also think that it is time we dined. Une petite omelette, n’est ce pas? And after that, about nine o’clock, I have one more visit I wish to make.’
‘Where is that?’
‘We will dine first, Hastings. And until we drink our coffee, we will not discuss the case further. When engaged in eating, the brain should be the servant of the stomach.’
Poirot was as good as his word. We went to a little restaurant in Soho where he was well known, and there we had a delicious omelette, a sole, a chicken and a Baba au Rhum of which Poirot was inordinately fond.
Then, as we sipped our coffee, Poirot smiled affectionately across the table at me.
‘My good friend,’ he said. ‘I depend upon you more than you know.’
I was confused and delighted by these unexpected words. He had never said anything of the kind to me before. Sometimes, secretly, I had felt slightly hurt. He seemed almost to go out of his way to disparage my mental powers.
Although I did not think his own powers were flagging, I did realize suddenly that perhaps he had come to depend on my aid more than he knew.
‘Yes,’ he said dreamily. ‘You may not always comprehend just how it is so – but you do often, and often point the way.’
I could hardly believe my ears.
‘Really, Poirot,’ I stammered. ‘I’m awfully glad, I suppose I’ve learnt a good deal from you one way or another –’
He shook his head.
‘Mais non, ce n’est pas ?a. You have learnt nothing.’
‘Oh!’ I said, rather taken aback.
‘That is as it should be. No human being should learn from another. Each individual should develop his own powers to the uttermost, not try to imitate those of someone else. I do not wish you to be a second and inferior Poirot. I wish you to be the supreme Hastings. And you are the supreme Hastings. In you, Hastings, I find the normal mind almost perfectly illustrated.’
‘I’m not abnormal, I hope,’ I said.
‘No, no. You are beautifully and perfectly balanced. In you sanity is personified. Do you realize what that means to me? When the criminal sets out to do a crime his first effort is to deceive. Who does he seek to deceive? The image in his mind is that of the normal man. There is probably no such thing actually – it is a mathematical abstraction. But you come as near to realizing it as is possible. There are moments when you have flashes of brilliance when you rise above the average, moments (I hope you will pardon me) when you descend to curious depths of obtuseness, but take it all for all, you are amazingly normal. Eh bien, how does this profit me? Simply in this way. As in a mirror I see reflected in your mind exactly what the criminal wishes me to believe. That is terrifically helpful and suggestive.’
I did not quite understand. It seemed to me that what Poirot was saying was hardly complimentary. However, he quickly disabused me of that impression.
‘I have expressed myself badly,’ he said quickly. ‘You have an insight into the criminal mind, which I myself lack. You show me what the criminal wishes me to believe. It is a great gift.’
‘Insight,’ I said thoughtfully. ‘Yes, perhaps I have got insight.’
I looked across the table at him. He was smoking his tiny cigarettes and regarding me with great kindliness.
‘Ce cher Hastings,’ he murmured. ‘I have indeed much affection for you.’
I was pleased but embarrassed and hastened to change the subject.
‘Come,’ I said in a business-like manner. ‘Let us discuss the case.’
‘Eh bien.’ Poirot threw his head back, his eyes narrowed. He slowly puffed out smoke.
‘Je me pose des questions,’ he said.
‘Yes?’ I said eagerly.
‘You, too, doubtless?’
‘Certainly,’ I said. And also leaning back and narrowing my own eyes I threw out:
‘Who killed Lord Edgware?’
Poirot immediately sat up and shook his head vigorously.
‘No, no. Not at all. Is it a question, that? You are like someone who reads the detective story and who starts guessing each of the characters in turn without rhyme or reason. Once, I agree, I had to do that myself. It was a very exceptional case. I will tell you about it one of these days. It was a feather in my cap. But of what were we speaking?’
‘Of the questions you were “posing” to yourself,’ I replied dryly. It was on the tip of my tongue to suggest that my real use to Poirot was to provide him with a companion to whom he could boast, but I controlled myself. If he wished to instruct then let him.
‘Come on,’ I said. ‘Let’s hear them.’
That was all that the vanity of the man wanted. He leaned back again and resumed his former attitude.
‘The first question we have already discussed. Why did Lord Edgware change his mind on the subject of divorce? One or two ideas suggest themselves to me on that subject. One of them you know.
‘The second question I ask myself is What happened to that letter? To whose interest was it that Lord Edgware and his wife should continue to be tied together?
‘Three, What was the meaning of the expression on his face that you saw when you looked back yesterday morning on leaving the library? Have you any answer to that, Hastings?’
I shook my head.
‘I can’t understand it.’
‘You are sure that you didn’t imagine it? Sometimes, Hastings, you have the imagination un peu vif.’
‘No, no.’ I shook my head vigorously. ‘I’m quite sure I wasn’t mistaken.’
‘Bien. Then it is a fact to be explained. My fourth question concerns those pince-nez. Neither Jane Wilkinson nor Carlotta Adams wore glasses. What, then, are the glasses doing in Carlotta Adams’ bag?
‘And for my fifth question. Why did someone telephone to find out if Jane Wilkinson were at Chiswick and who was it?
‘Those, my friend, are the questions with which I am tormenting myself. If I could answer those, I should feel happier in my mind. If I could even evolve a theory that explained them satisfactorily, my amour propre would not suffer so much.’
‘There are several other questions,’ I said.
‘Such as?’
‘Who incited Carlotta Adams to this hoax? Where was she that evening before and after ten o’clock? Who is D who gave her the golden box?’
‘Those questions are self-evident,’ said Poirot. ‘There is no subtlety about them. They are simply things we do not know. They are questions of fact. We may get to know them any minute. My questions, mon ami, are psychological. The little grey cells of the brain –’
‘Poirot,’ I said desperately. I felt that I must stop him at all costs. I could not bear to hear it all over again. ‘You spoke of making a visit tonight?’
Poirot looked at his watch.
‘True,’ he said. ‘I will telephone and find out if it is convenient.’
He went away and returned a few minutes later.
‘Come,’ he said. ‘All is well.’
‘Where are we going?’ I asked.
‘To the house of Sir Montagu Corner at Chiswick. I would like to know a little more about that telephone call.’