Lord Edgware Dies
‘I’m going to give up the stage when I marry. I just don’t seem to care about it any more.’
‘In the meantime,’ said Poirot dryly, ‘Lord Edgware stands in the way of these romantic dreams.’
‘Yes—and it’s driving me to distraction.’ She leaned back thoughtfully. ‘Of course if we were only in Chicago I could get him bumped off quite easily, but you don’t seem to run to gunmen over here.’
‘Over here,’ said Poirot, smiling, ‘we consider that every human being has the right to live.’
‘Well, I don’t know about that. I guess you’d be better off without some of your politicians, and knowing what I do of Edgware I think he’d be no loss—rather the contrary.’
There was a knock at the door, and a waiter entered with supper dishes. Jane Wilkinson continued to discuss her problem with no appreciation of his presence.
‘But I don’t want you to kill him for me, M. Poirot.’
‘I thought perhaps you might argue with him in some clever way. Get him to give in to the idea of divorce. I’m sure you could.’
‘I think you overrate my persuasive powers, Madame.’
‘Oh! but you can surely think of something, M. Poirot.’ She leaned forward. Her blue eyes opened wide again. ‘You’d like me to be happy, wouldn’t you?’
Her voice was soft, low and deliciously seductive.
‘I should like everybody to be happy,’ said Poirot cautiously.
‘Yes, but I wasn’t thinking of everybody. I was thinking of just me.’
‘I should say you always do that, Madame.’
‘You think I’m selfish?’
‘Oh! I did not say so, Madame.’
‘I dare say I am. But, you see, I do so hate being unhappy. It affects my acting, even. And I’m going to be ever so unhappy unless he agrees to a divorce—or dies.
‘On the whole,’ she continued thoughtfully, ‘it would be much better if he died. I mean, I’d feel more finally quit of him.’
She looked at Poirot for sympathy.
‘You will help me, won’t you, M. Poirot?’ She rose, picking up the white wrap, and stood looking appealingly into his face. I heard the noise of voices outside in the corridor. The door was ajar. ‘If you don’t—’ she went on.
‘If I don’t, Madame?’
‘I’ll have to call a taxi to go round and bump him off myself.’
Laughing, she disappeared through a door to an adjoining room just as Bryan Martin came in with the American girl, Carlotta Adams, and her escort, and the two people who had been supping with him and Jane Wilkinson. They were introduced to me as Mr and Mrs Widburn.
‘Hello!’ said Bryan. ‘Where’s Jane? I want to tell her I’ve succeeded in the commission she gave me.’
Jane appeared in the doorway of the bedroom. She held a lipstick in one hand.
‘Have you got her? How marvellous. Miss Adams, I do admire your performance so. I felt I just had to know you. Come in here and talk to me while I fix my face. It’s looking too perfectly frightful.’
Carlotta Adams accepted the invitation. Bryan Martin flung himself down in a chair.
‘Well, M. Poirot,’ he said. ‘You were duly captured. Has our Jane persuaded you to fight her battles? You might as well give in sooner as later. She doesn’t understand the word “No.”’
‘She has not come across it, perhaps.’
‘A very interesting character, Jane,’ said Bryan Martin. He lay back in his hair and puffed cigarette smoke idly towards the ceiling. ‘Taboos have no meaning for her. No morals whatever. I don’t mean she’s exactly immoral—she isn’t. Amoral is the word, I believe. Just sees one thing only in life—what Jane wants.’
‘I believe she’d kill somebody quite cheerfully—and feel injured if they caught her and wanted to hang her for it. The trouble is that she would be caught. She hasn’t any brains. Her idea of a murder would be to drive up in a taxi, sail in under her own name and shoot.’
‘Now, I wonder what makes you say that?’ murmured Poirot.
‘You know her well, Monsieur?’
‘I should say I did.’
He laughed again, and it struck me that his laugh was unusually bitter.
‘You agree, don’t you?’ he flung out to the others.
‘Oh! Jane’s an egoist,’ agreed Mrs Widburn. ‘An actress has got to be, though. That is, if she wants to express her personality.’
Poirot did not speak. His eyes were resting on Bryan Martin’s face, dwelling there with a curious speculative expression that I could not quite understand.
At that moment Jane sailed in from the next room, Carlotta Adams behind her. I presume that Jane had now ‘fixed her face’, whatever that term denoted, to her own satisfaction. It looked to me exactly the same as before and quite incapable of improvement.
The supper party that followed was quite a merry one, yet I sometimes had the feeling that there were undercurrents which I was incapable of appreciating.
Jane Wilkinson I acquitted of any subtleties. She was obviously a young woman who saw only one thing at a time. She had desired an interview with Poirot, and had carried her point and obtained her desire without delay. Now she was obviously in high good humour. Her desire to include Carlotta Adams in the party had been, I decided, a mere whim. She had been highly amused, as a child might be amused, by the clever counterfeit of herself.
No, the undercurrents that I sensed were nothing to do with Jane Wilkinson. In what direction did they lie?
I studied the guests in turn. Bryan Martin? He was certainly not behaving quite naturally. But that, I told myself, might be merely characteristic of a film star. The exaggerated self-consciousness of a vain man too accustomed to playing a part to lay it aside easily.
Carlotta Adams, at any rate, was behaving naturally enough. She was a quiet girl with a pleasant low voice. I studied her with some attention now that I had a chance to do so at close quarters. She had, I thought, distinct charm, but charm of a somewhat negative order. It consisted in an absence of any jarring or strident note. She was a kind of personified soft agreement. Her very appearance was negative. Soft dark hair, eyes a rather colourless pale blue, pale face and a mobile sensitive mouth. A face that you liked but that you would find it hard to know again if you were to meet her, say, in different clothes.
She seemed pleased at Jane’s graciousness and complimentary sayings. Any girl would be, I thought—and then—just at that moment—something occurred that caused me to revise that rather too hasty opinion.