7. The Identity of Mary Debenham
She wore no hat. Her head was thrown back as though in defiance. “The sweep of her hair back from her face, the curve of her nostril suggested the figure-head of a ship plunging gallantly into a rough sea. In that moment she was beautiful.
Her eyes went to Arbuthnot for a minute-just a minute. She said to Poirot, “You wished to see me?”
“I wished to ask you, Mademoiselle, why you lied to us this morning?”
“Lied to you? I don’t know what you mean.”
“You concealed the fact that at the time of the Armstrong tragedy you were actually living in the house. You told me that you had never been in America.”
He saw her flinch for a moment and then recover herself.
“Yes,” she said. “That is true.”
“No, Mademoiselle, it was false.”
“You misunderstood me. I mean that it is true that I lied to you.”
“Ah, you admit it?”
Her lips curved into a smile. “Certainly, since you have found me out.”
“You are at least frank, Mademoiselle.”
“There does not seem anything else for me to be.”
“Well, of course, that is true. And now, Mademoiselle, may I ask you the reason for these evasions?”
“I should have thought the reason leapt to the eye, M. Poirot.”
“It does not leap to mine, Mademoiselle.”
She said in a quiet even voice with a trace of hardness in it, “I have my living to get.”
She raised her eyes and looked him full in the face. “How much do you know, M. Poirot, of the fight to get and keep decent employment? Do you think that a girl who had been detained in connection with a murder case, whose name and perhaps photograph were reproduced in the English papers-do you think that any nice ordinary middle-class woman
would want to engage that girl as governess to her daughters?”
“I do not see why not-if no blame attached to you.”
“Oh, blame-it is notblame – it is the publicity! So far, M. Poirot, I have succeeded in life. I have had well-paid, pleasant posts. I was not going to risk the position I had attained when no good end could have been served.”
“I will venture to suggest, Mademoiselle, that I would have been the best judge of that, not you.”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“For instance, you could have helped me in the matter of identification.”
“What do you mean?”
“Is it possible, Mademoiselle, that you did not recognise in the Countess Andrenyi, Mrs. Armstrong’s young sister whom you taught in New York?”
“Countess Andrenyi? No.” She shook her head. “It may seem extraordinary to you-but I did not recognise her. She was not grown up, you see, when I knew her. That was over three years ago. It is true that the Countess reminded me of someone; it puzzled me. But she looks so foreign-I never connected her with the little American schoolgirl. I only glanced at her casually when coming into the restaurant car, and I noticed her clothes more than her face.” She smiled faintly. “Women do! And then-well-I had my own preoccupations.”
“You will not tell me your secret, Mademoiselle?”
Poirot’s voice was very gentle and persuasive.
She said in a low voice, “I can’t-I can’t.”
And suddenly, without warning, she broke down, dropping her face down upon her outstretched arms and crying as though her heart would break.
The Colonel sprang up and stood awkwardly beside her.
He stopped and turning round scowled fiercely at Poirot.
“I’ll break every bone in your damned body, you dirty little whipper-snapper,” he said.