25 avril 2015

Agatha Christie. "The Seven Dials Mystery". 1929. Extracts.



"- When a simple, muscular person like Bill does set out to be subtle, no one ever gives him credit for it.
- And in consequence he can put in some good work. Yes, there's something in that."

"Sir Oswald presently joined his wife.
- What has that Young jackanapes been boring you about?, he demanded. I can't stand that young fellow!
- He's a dear boy, said Lady Coote. And so brave. Look how he got wounded last night.
- Yes, messing around where he'd no business to be.
- I think you're very unfair, Oswald.
- Never done an honest day's work in his life. A real waster if there ever was one. He'd never get on if he had his way to make in the world.
- You must have got your feet damp last night, said Lady Coote. I hope you won't get pneumonia. Freddie Richards died of it the other day. Dear me, Oswald, it makes my blood run cold to think of you wandering about with a dangerous burglar loose in the grounds. He might have shot you. I've asked Mr. Thesiger down for next week-end, by the way.
- Nonsense, said Sir Oswald. I won't have that young man in my house, do you hear, Maria?
- Why not?
- That's my business.
- I'm so sorry, dear, said Lady Coote placidly. I've asked him now, so it can't be helped. Pick up that ball of pink wool, will you, Oswald?
Sir Oswald complied, his face black as thunder. He looked at his wife and hesitated. Lady Coote was placidly threading her wool needle.
- I particularly don't want Thesiger down next week-end, he said at last. I've heard a good deal about him from Bateman. He was at school with him.
- What did Mr. Bateman say?
- He'd no good to say of him. In fact, he warned me very seriously against him.
- He did, did he? said Lady Coote thoughtfully.
- And I have the highest respect for Bateman's judgement. I've never know him wrong.
- Dear me, said Lady Coote. What a mess I seem to have made of things. Of course, I should never have asked him if I had know. You should have told me all this before, Oswald. It's too late now.
She began to roll up her work very carefully. Sir Oswald looked at her, made as if to speak, then shrugged his shoulders. He followed her into the house. Lady Coote, walking ahead, wore a very faint smile on her face. She was fond of her husband, but she was also fond - in a quiet, unobtrusive, wholly womanly manner - of getting her own way."

"- Mr. Lomax is here, my lord.
Lord Caterham started violently, for, absorbed in the intricacies of what not to do with the left wrist, he had not heard the butler approach over the soft turf. He looked at Tredwell more in sorrow than in anger.
- I told you at breakfast, Tredwell, that I should be particularly engaged this morning.
- Yes, my lord, but...
- Go and tell Mr. Lomax that you have made a mistake, that I am out in the village, that I am laid up with the gout, or, if all else fails, that I am dead.
- Mr. Lomax, my lord, has already caught sight of your lordship when driving up the drive.
Lord Caterham sighed deeply.
- He would. Very well, Tredwell, I am coming.
In a manner highly characteristic, Lord Caterham was always most genial when his feelings were in reality the reverse. He greeted George now with a heartiness quite unparalleled.
- My dear fellow, my dear fellow. Delighted to see you. Absolutely delighted. Sit down. Have a drink. Well, well, this is splendid!
And having pushed George into a large armchair, he sat down opposite him and blinked nervously.
- I wanted to see you very particularly, said George.
- Oh! said Lord Caterham faintly, and his heart sank, whilst his mind raced actively over all the dread possibilities that might lie behind that simple phrase.
- Very particularly, said George with heavy emphasis.
Lord Caterham's heart sank lower than ever. He felt that something was coming worse than anything he had yet thought of.
- Yes? he said, with a courageous attempt at nonchalance.
- Is Eileen at home?
Lord Caterham felt reprieved, but slightly surprised.
- Yes, yes, he said. Bundle's here. Got that friend of hers with her - the little Wade girl. Very nice girl - very nice girl. Going to be quite a good golfer one day. Nice easy swing...
He was chatting garrulously on when George interrupted with ruthlessness:
- I am glad Eileen is at home. Perhaps I might have an interview with her presently?
- Certainly, my dear fellow, certainly.
Lord Caterham still felt very surprised, but was still enjoying the sensation of reprieve.
- If it doesn't bore you.
- Nothing could bore me less, said George. I think, Caterham, If I may say so, that you hardly appreciate the fact that Eileen is grown up. She is no longer a child. She is a woman, and if I may say so, a very charming and talented woman. The man who succeeds in winning her love will be extremely lucky. I repeat it - extremely lucky.
- Oh, I daresay, said Lord Caterham. But she's very restless, you know. Never content to be in one place for more than two minutes together. However, I daresay young fellows don't mind that nowadays.
- You mean that she is not content to stagnate. Eileen has brains, Caterham; she is ambitious. She interests herself in the questions of the day, and brings her fresh and vivid young intellect to bear upon them.
Lord Caterham stared at him. It occurred to him that what was so often referred to as "the strain of modern life", had begun to tell upon George. Certainly his description of Bundle seemed to Lord Caterham ludicrously unlike.
- Are you sure you are feeling quite well? he asked anxiously.
George waved the inquiry aside impatiently.
- Perhaps, Caterham, you begin to have some inkling of my purpose in visiting you this morning. I am not a man to undertake fresh responsibilities lightly. I have a proper sense, I hope, of what is due to the position I hold. I have given this matter my deep and earnest consideration. Marriage, especially at my age, is not to be undertaken without full - er - consideration. Equality of birth, similarity of tastes, general suitability, and the same religious creed - all these things are necessary and the pros and the cons have to be weighed and considered. I can, I think, offer my wife a position in society that is not to be despised. Eileen will grace that position admirably. By birth and breeding she is fitted for it, and her brains and her acute political sense cannot but further my career to our mutual advantage. I am aware, Caterham, that there is - er- some disparity in years. But I can assure you that I feel full of vigour - in my prime. The balance of years should be on the husband's side. And Eileen has serious tastes - an older man will suit her better than some young jackanapes without either experience or savoir-faire. I can assure you, my dear Caterham, that I will cherish her - er - exquisite youth; I will cherish it - er - it will be appreciated. To watch the exquisite flower of her mind unfolding - what a privilege! And to think that I never realized...
He shook his head deprecatingly and Lord Caterham, finding his voice with difficulty, said blankly:
- Do I understand you to mean - ah, my dear fellow, you can't want to marry Bundle?
- You are surprised. I suppose to you it seems sudden. I have your permission, then, to speak to her?
- Oh, yes, said Lord Caterham. If it's permission you want - of course you can. But you know, Lomax, I really shouldn't if I were you. Just go home and think it over like a good fellow. Count twenty. All that sort of thing. Always a pity to propose and make a fool of yourself.
- I daresay you mean your advice kindly, Caterham, though I must confess that you put it somewhat strangely. But I have made up my mind to put my fortune to the test. I may see Eileen?
- Oh, it's nothing to do with me, said Lord Caterham hastily; Eileen settles her own affairs. If she came to me tomorrow and said she was going to marry the chauffeur, I shouldn't make any objections. It's the only way nowadays. Your children can make life damned unpleasant if you don't give in to them in every way. I  say to Bundle, "Do as you like, but don't worry me," and really, on the whole, she is amazingly good about it."

"Loraine, playing with a small and delectable puppy, was somewhat surprised when Bundle rejoined her after an absence of twenty minutes, in a breathless state and with an indescribable expression on her face.
- Whoof, said Bundle, sinking on to a garden seat. Whoof.
- What's the matter? asked Loraine, looking at her curiously.
- George is the matter - George Lomax.
- What's he been doing?
- Proposing to me. It was awful. He spluttered as he sluttered, but he would go through with it - he must have learnt it out of a book, I think. There was no stopping him. Oh, how I hate men who splutter! And, unfortunately, I didn't know the reply.
- You must have known what you wanted to do.
- Naturally I'm not going to marry an apoplectic idiot like George. What I mean is, I didn't know the correct reply from the book of etiquette. I could only just say flatly: No, I won't. What I ought to have said was something about being very sensible of the honour he had done me and so on and so on. But I got so rattled that in the end I jumped out of the window and bolted.
- Really, Bundle, that's not like you.
- Well, I never dreamt of such a thing happening. George - who I always thought hated me - and he did too. What a fatal thing it is to pretend to take an interest in a man's pet subject. You should have heard the drivel George talked about my girlish mind and the pleasure it would be to form it. My mind! If George knew one quarter of what was going on in my mind, he'd faint with horror!
Loraine laughed. She couldn't help it.
- Oh, I know it's my own fault. I let myself in for this. There's Father dodging round that rhododendron. Hallo, Father.
Lord Caterham approached with a hangdog expression.
- Lomax gone, eh? he remarked with somewhat forced geniality.
- A nice business you let me in for, said Bundle. George told me he had your full approval and sanction.
- Well, said Lord Caterham, what did you expect me to say? As a matter of fact, I didn't say that at all, or anything like it.
- I didn't really think so, said Bundle. I assumed that George had talked you into a corner and reduced you to such a state that you could only nod your head feebly.
- That's very much what happened. How did he take it? Badly?
- I didn't wait to see, said Bundle. I'm afraid I was rather abrupt.
- Oh, well, said Lord Caterham, perhaps that was the best way. Thank goodness in the future Lomax won't always be running over as he has been in the habit of doing, worrying me about things. Everything is for the best they say. Have you seen my jigger anywhere?
- A mashie shot or two would steady my nerves, I think, said Bundle. I'll take you on for six pence, Loraine.
An hour passed very peacefully. The three returned to the house in a harmonious spirit. A note lay on the hall table.
- Mr. Lomax left that for you, my lord, explained Tredwell. He was much disappointed to find that you had gone out.
Lord Caterham tore it open. He uttered a pained ejaculation and turned upon his daughter. Tredwell had retired.
- Really, Bundle, you might have made yourself clear, I think.
- What do you mean?
- Well, read this.
Bundle took it and read:
My dear Caterham - I am sorry not to have had a word with you. I thought I made it clear that I wanted to see you again after my interview with Eileen. She, dear child, was evidently quite unaware of the feelings I entertained towards her. She was, I am afraid, much startled. I have no wish to hurry her in any way. Her girlish confusion was very charming, and I entertain an even higher regard for her, as I much appreciate her maidenly reserve. I must give her time to become accustomed to the idea. Her very confusion shows that she is not wholly indifferent to me and I have no doubts of my ultimate success.
Believe me, dear Caterham,
Your sincere friend,
George Lomax                          
- Well, said Bundle. Well, I'm damned.
Words failed her.
- The man must be mad, said Lord Caterham. No one could write those things about you, Bundle, unless they were slightly touched in the head. Poor chap, poor chap. But what persistence! I don't wonder he got into the Cabinet. I would serve him right if you did marry him, Bundle."

"- Father, said Bundle, I've got to break a piece of news to you. You're going to lose me.
- Nonsense, said Lord Caterham. Don't tell me that you're suffering from galloping consumption or a weak heart or anything like that, because I simply don't believe it.
- It's not death, said Bundle. It's marriage.
- Very nearly as bad, said Lord Caterham. I suppose I shall have to come to the wedding, all dressed up in tight, uncomfortable clothes, and give you away. And Lomax may think it necessary to kiss me in the vestry.
- Good heavens! You don't think I'm going to marry George, do you? cried Bundle.
- Well, something like that seemed to be in the wind last time I saw you, said her father. Yesterday morning, you know.
- I'm going to be married to someone a hundred times nicer than George, said Bundle.
- I hope so, I'm sure, said Lord Caterham. But one never knows. I don't feel you're really a good judge of character, Bundle. You told me that young Thesiger was a cheerful inefficient, and from all I hear now it seems that he was one of the most efficient criminals of the day. The sad thing is that I never met him. I was thinking of writing my reminiscences soon - with a special chapter on murderers I have met - and by a purely technical oversight, I never met this young man.
- Don't be silly, said Bundle. You know you haven't got the energy to write reminiscences or anything else.
- I wasn't actually going to write them myself, said Lord Caterham. I believe that's never done. But I met a very charming girl the other day and that's her special job. She collects the material and does all the actual writing.
- And what do you do?
- Oh, just give her a few facts for half an hour every day. Nothing more than that.
After a slight pause, Lord Caterham said:
- She was a nice-looking girl - very restful and sympathetic.
- Father, said Bundle, I have a feeling that without me you will run into deadly danger.
- Different kinds of danger suit different kinds of people, said Lord Caterham.
He was moving away, when he turned back and said over his shoulder:
- By the way, Bundle, who are you marrying?
- I was wondering, said Bundle, when you were going to ask me that. I'm going to marry Bill Eversleigh.
The egoist thought it over for a minute. Then he nodded in complete satisfaction.
- Excellent, he said. He's scratch, isn't he? He and I can play together in the foursomes in the Autumn Meeting."