Lord Edgware Dies人性记录19
文章来源:未知 文章作者:enread 发布时间:2023-08-30 06:38 字体: [ ]  进入论坛
Chapter 19
 A Great Lady
The visit that we received on the following morning was to my mind one of the most surprising things about the whole affair.
I was in my sitting room when Poirot slipped in with his eyes shining.
‘Mon ami, we have a visitor.’
‘Who is it?’
‘The Dowager Duchess of Merton.’
‘How extraordinary! What does she want?’
‘If you accompany me downstairs, mon ami, you will know.’
I hastened to comply. We entered the room together.
The Duchess was a small woman with a high-bridged nose and autocratic eyes. Although she was short one would not have dared to call her dumpy. Dressed though she was in unfashionable black, she was yet every inch a grande dame. She also impressed me as having an almost ruthless personality. Where her son was negative, she was positive. Her will-power was terrific. I could almost feel waves of force emanating from her. No wonder this woman had always dominated all those with whom she came in contact!
She put up a lorgnette and studied first me and then my companion. Then she spoke to him. Her voice was clear and compelling, a voice accustomed to command and to be obeyed.
‘You are M. Hercule Poirot?’
My friend bowed.
‘At your service, Madame la Duchesse.’
She looked at me.
‘This is my friend, Captain Hastings. He assists me in my cases.’
Her eyes looked momentarily doubtful. Then she bent her head in acquiescence.
She took the chair that Poirot offered.
‘I have come to consult you on a very delicate matter, M. Poirot, and I must ask that what I tell you shall be understood to be entirely confidential.’
‘That goes without saying, Madame.’
‘It was Lady Yardly who told me about you. From the way in which she spoke of you and the gratitude she expressed, I felt that you were the only person likely to help me.’
‘Rest assured, I will do my best, Madame.’
Still she hesitated. Then, at last, with an effort, she came to the point, came to it with a simplicity that reminded me in an odd way of Jane Wilkinson on that memorable night at the Savoy.
‘M. Poirot, I want you to ensure that my son does not marry the actress, Jane Wilkinson.’
If Poirot felt astonishment, he refrained from showing it. He regarded her thoughtfully and took his time about replying.
‘Can you be a little more definite, Madame, as to what you want me to do?’
‘That is not easy. I feel that such a marriage would be a great disaster. It would ruin my son’s life.’
‘Do you think so, Madame?’
‘I am sure of it. My son has very high ideals. He knows really very little of the world. He has never cared for the young girls of his own class. They have struck him as empty-headed and frivolous. But as regards this woman – well, she is very beautiful, I admit that. And she has the power of enslaving men. She has bewitched my son. I have hoped that the infatuation would run its course. Mercifully she was not free. But now that her husband is dead –’
She broke off.
‘They intend to be married in a few months’ time. The whole happiness of my son’s life is at stake.’
She spoke more peremptorily. ‘It must be stopped, M. Poirot.’
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
‘I do not say that you are not right, Madame. I agree that the marriage is not a suitable one. But what can one do?’
‘It is for you to do something.’
Poirot slowly shook his head.
‘Yes, yes, you must help me.’
‘I doubt if anything would avail, Madame. Your son, I should say, would refuse to listen to anything against the lady! And also, I do not think there is very much against her to say! I doubt if there are any discreditable incidents to be raked up in her past. She has been – shall we say – careful?’
‘I know,’ said the Duchess grimly.
‘Ah! So you have already made the inquiries in that direction.’
She flushed a little under his keen glance.
‘There is nothing I would not do, M. Poirot, to save my son from this marriage.’ She reiterated that word emphatically, ‘Nothing! ’
She paused, then went on:
‘Money is nothing in this matter. Name any fee you like. But the marriage must be stopped. You are the man to do it.’
Poirot slowly shook his head.
‘It is not a question of money. I can do nothing – for a reason which I will explain to you presently. But also, I may say, I do not see there is anything to be done. I cannot give you help, Madame la Duchesse. Will you think me impertinent if I give you advice?’
‘What advice?’
‘Do not antagonize your son! He is of an age to choose for himself. Because his choice is not your choice, do not assume that you must be right. If it is a misfortune – then accept misfortune. Be at hand to aid him when he needs aid. But do not turn him against you.’
‘You hardly understand.’
She rose to her feet. Her lips were trembling.
‘But yes, Madame la Duchesse, I understand very well. I comprehend the mother’s heart. No one comprehends it better than I, Hercule Poirot. And I say to you with authority – be patient. Be patient and calm, and disguise your feelings. There is yet a chance that the matter may break itself. Opposition will merely increase your son’s obstinacy.’
‘Goodbye, M. Poirot,’ she said coldly. ‘I am disappointed.’
‘I regret infinitely, Madame, that I cannot be of service to you. I am in a difficult position. Lady Edgware, you see, has already done me the honour to consult me herself.’
‘Oh! I see.’ Her voice cut like a knife. ‘You are in the opposite camp. That explains, no doubt, why Lady Edgware has not yet been arrested for her husband’s murder.’
‘Comment, Madame la Duchesse?’
‘I think you heard what I said. Why is she not arrested? She was there that evening. She was seen to enter the house – to enter his study. No one else went near him and he was found dead? And yet she is not arrested! Our police force must be corrupt through and through.’
With shaking hands she arranged the scarf round her neck, then with the slightest of bows, she swept out of the room.
‘Whew!’ I said. ‘What a tartar! I admire her, though, don’t you?’
‘Because she wishes to arrange the universe to her manner of thinking?’
‘Well, she’s only got her son’s welfare at heart.’
Poirot nodded his head.
‘That is true enough, and yet, Hastings, will it really be such a bad thing for M. le Duc to marry Jane Wilkinson?’
‘Why, you don’t think she is really in love with him?’
‘Probably not. Almost certainly not. But she is very much in love with his position. She will play her part carefully. She is an extremely beautiful woman and very ambitious. It is not such a catastrophe. The Duke might very easily have married a young girl of his own class who would have accepted him for the same reasons – but no one would have made the song and the dance about that.’
‘That is quite true, but –’
‘And suppose he marries a girl who loves him passionately, is there such a great advantage in that? Often I have observed that it is a great misfortune for a man to have a wife who loves him. She creates the scenes of jealousy, she makes him look ridiculous, she insists on having all his time and attention. Ah! non, it is not the bed of roses.’
‘Poirot,’ I said. ‘You’re an incurable old cynic.’
‘Mais non, mais non, I only make the reflections. See you, really, I am on the side of the good mamma.’
I could not refrain from laughing at hearing the haughty Duchess described in this way.
Poirot remained quite serious.
‘You should not laugh. It is of great importance – all this. I must reflect. I must reflect a great deal.’
‘I don’t see what you can do in the matter,’ I said.
Poirot paid no attention.
‘You observed, Hastings, how well-informed the Duchess was? And how vindictive. She knew all the evidence there was against Jane Wilkinson.’
‘The case for the prosecution, but not the case for the defence,’ I said, smiling.
‘How did she come to know of it?’
‘Jane told the Duke. The Duke told her,’ I suggested.
‘Yes, that is possible. Yet I have –’
The telephone rang sharply. I answered it.
My part consisted of saying ‘Yes’ at varying intervals. Finally I put down the receiver and turned excitedly to Poirot.
‘That was Japp. Firstly, you’re “the goods” as usual. Secondly, he’s had a cable from America. Thirdly, he’s got the taxi-driver. Fourthly, would you like to come round and hear what the taxi-driver says. Fifthly, you’re “the goods” again, and all along he’s been convinced that you’d hit the nail on the head when you suggested that there was some man behind all this! I omitted to tell him that we’d just had a visitor here who says the police force is corrupt.’
‘So Japp is convinced at last,’ murmured Poirot. ‘Curious that the Man-in-the-Background theory should be proved just at the moment when I was inclining to another possible theory.’
‘What theory?’
‘The theory that the motive for the murder might have nothing to do with Lord Edgware himself. Imagine someone who hated Jane Wilkinson, hated her so much that they would have even had her hanged for murder. C’est une idée, ?a!’
He sighed – then rousing himself:
‘Come, Hastings, let us hear what Japp has to say.’