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The Murder on the Links - 2

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

2

An Appeal for Help

It was five minutes past nine when I entered our joint sitting-room for

breakfast on the following morning.

My friend Poirot, exact to the minute as usual, was just tapping the

shell of his second egg.

He beamed upon me as I entered.

“You have slept well, yes? You have recovered from the crossing so

terrible? It is a marvel, almost you are exact this morning.

_Pardon___, but your tie is not symmetrical. Permit that I rearrange

him.”

Elsewhere, I have described Hercule Poirot. An extraordinary little

man! Height, five feet four inches, egg-shaped head carried a little to

one side, eyes that shone green when he was excited, stiff military

moustache, air of dignity immense! He was neat and dandified in

appearance. For neatness of any kind, he had an absolute passion. To

see an ornament set crooked, or a speck of dust, or a slight disarray

in one’s attire, was torture to the little man until he could ease his

feelings by remedying the matter. “Order” and “Method” were his gods.

He had a certain disdain for tangible evidence, such as footprints and

cigarette ash, and would maintain that, taken by themselves, they would

never enable a detective to solve a problem. Then he would tap his

egg-shaped head with absurd complacency, and remark with great

satisfaction: “The true work, it is done from _within___. _The little

grey cells___—remember always the little grey cells, _mon ami!___”

I slipped into my seat, and remarked idly, in answer to Poirot’s

greeting, that an hour’s sea passage from Calais to Dover could hardly

be dignified by the epithet “terrible.”

Poirot waved his egg-spoon in vigorous refutation of my remark.

“_Du tout!___ If for an hour one experiences sensations and emotions of

the most terrible, one has lived many hours! Does not one of your

English poets say that time is counted, not by hours, but by

heart-beats?”

“I fancy Browning was referring to something more romantic than sea

sickness, though.”

“Because he was an Englishman, an Islander to whom _la Manche___ was

nothing. Oh, you English! With _nous autres___ it is different. Figure

to yourself that a lady of my acquaintance at the beginning of the war

fled to Ostend. There she had a terrible crisis of the nerves.

Impossible to escape further except by crossing the sea! And she had a

horror—_mais une horreur!___—of the sea! What was she to do? Daily _les

Boches___ were drawing nearer. Imagine to yourself the terrible

situation!”

“What did she do?” I inquired curiously.

“Fortunately her husband was _homme pratique___. He was also very calm,

the crises of the nerves, they affected him not. _Il l’a emportée

simplement!___ Naturally when she reached England she was prostrate,

but she still breathed.”

Poirot shook his head seriously. I composed my face as best I could.

Suddenly he stiffened and pointed a dramatic finger at the toast rack.

“Ah, par exemple, c’est trop fort!” he cried.

“What is it?”

“This piece of toast. You remark him not?” He whipped the offender out

of the rack, and held it up for me to examine.

“Is it square? No. Is it a triangle? Again no. Is it even round? No. Is

it of any shape remotely pleasing to the eye? What symmetry have we

here? None.”

“It’s cut from a cottage loaf,” I explained soothingly.

Poirot threw me a withering glance.

“What an intelligence has my friend Hastings!” he exclaimed

sarcastically. “Comprehend you not that I have forbidden such a loaf—a

loaf haphazard and shapeless, that no baker should permit himself to

bake!”

I endeavoured to distract his mind.

“Anything interesting come by the post?”

Poirot shook his head with a dissatisfied air.

“I have not yet examined my letters, but nothing of interest arrives

nowadays. The great criminals, the criminals of method, they do not

exist. The cases I have been employed upon lately were _banal___ to the

last degree. In verity I am reduced to recovering lost lap-dogs for

fashionable ladies! The last problem that presented any interest was

that intricate little affair of the Yardly diamond, and that was—how

many months ago, my friend?”

He shook his head despondently, and I roared with laughter.

“Cheer up, Poirot, the luck will change. Open your letters. For all you

know, there may be a great Case looming on the horizon.”

Poirot smiled, and taking up the neat little letter opener with which

he opened his correspondence he slit the tops of the several envelopes

that lay by his plate.

“A bill. Another bill. It is that I grow extravagant in my old age.

Aha! a note from Japp.”

“Yes?” pricked up my ears. The Scotland Yard Inspector had more than

once introduced us to an interesting case.

“He merely thanks me (in his fashion) for a little point in the

Aberystwyth Case on which I was able to set him right. I am delighted

to have been of service to him.”

“How does he thank you?” I asked curiously, for I knew my Japp.

“He is kind enough to say that I am a wonderful sport for my age, and

that he was glad to have had the chance of letting me in on the case.”

This was so typical of Japp, that I could not forbear a chuckle. Poirot

continued to read his correspondence placidly.

“A suggestion that I should give a lecture to our local boy scouts. The

Countess of Forfanock will be obliged if I will call and see her.

Another lap-dog without doubt! And now for the last. Ah—”

I looked up, quick to notice the change of tone. Poirot was reading

attentively. In a minute he tossed the sheet over to me.

“This is out of the ordinary, _mon ami___. Read for yourself.”

The letter was written on a foreign type of paper, in a bold

characteristic hand:

“Villa Geneviève

Merlinville-sur-Mer

France

“_Dear Sir___,

“I am in need of the services of a detective and, for reasons which I

will give you later, do not wish to call in the official police. I have

heard of you from several quarters, and all reports go to show that you

are not only a man of decided ability, but one who also knows how to be

discreet. I do not wish to trust details to the post, but, on account

of a secret I possess, I go in daily fear of my life. I am convinced

that the danger is imminent, and therefore I beg that you will lose no

time in crossing to France. I will send a car to meet you at Calais, if

you will wire me when you are arriving. I shall be obliged if you will

drop all cases you have on hand, and devote yourself solely to my

interests. I am prepared to pay any compensation necessary. I shall

probably need your services for a considerable period of time, as it

may be necessary for you to go out to Santiago, where I spent several

years of my life. I shall be content for you to name your own fee.

“Assuring you once more that the matter is _urgent___,

“Yours faithfully

“P. T. RENAULD.”

Below the signature was a hastily scrawled line, almost illegible: “For

God’s sake, come!”

I handed the letter back with quickened pulses.

“At last!” I said. “Here is something distinctly out of the ordinary.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Poirot meditatively.

“You will go of course,” I continued.

Poirot nodded. He was thinking deeply. Finally he seemed to make up his

mind, and glanced up at the clock. His face was very grave.

“See you, my friend, there is no time to lose. The Continental express

leaves Victoria at 11 o’clock. Do not agitate yourself. There is plenty

of time. We can allow ten minutes for discussion. You accompany me,

_n’est-ce pas?___”

“Well—”

“You told me yourself that your employer needed you not for the next

few weeks.”

“Oh, that’s all right. But this Mr. Renauld hints strongly that his

business is private.”

“Ta-ta-ta. I will manage M. Renauld. By the way, I seem to know the

name?”

“There’s a well-known South American millionaire fellow. His name’s

Renauld. I don’t know whether it could be the same.”

“But without doubt. That explains the mention of Santiago. Santiago is

in Chile, and Chile it is in South America! Ah, but we progress

finely.”

“Dear me, Poirot,” I said, my excitement rising, “I smell some goodly

shekels in this. If we succeed, we shall make our fortunes!”

“Do not be too sure of that, my friend. A rich man and his money are

not so easily parted. Me, I have seen a well-known millionaire turn out

a tramful of people to seek for a dropped halfpenny.”

I acknowledged the wisdom of this.

“In any case,” continued Poirot, “it is not the money which attracts me

here. Certainly it will be pleasant to have _carte blanche___ in our

investigations; one can be sure that way of wasting no time, but it is

something a little bizarre in this problem which arouses my interest.

You remarked the postscript? How did it strike you?”

I considered.

“Clearly he wrote the letter keeping himself well in hand, but at the

end his self-control snapped and, on the impulse of the moment, he

scrawled those four desperate words.”

But my friend shook his head energetically.

“You are in error. See you not that while the ink of the signature is

nearly black, that of the postscript is quite pale?”

“Well?” I said puzzled.

“_Mon Dieu, mon ami___, but use your little grey cells! Is it not

obvious? M. Renauld wrote his letter. Without blotting it, he reread it

carefully. Then, not on impulse, but deliberately, he added those last

words, and blotted the sheet.”

“But why?”

“_Parbleu!___ so that it should produce the effect upon me that it has

upon you.”

“What?”

“_Mais, oui___—to make sure of my coming! He reread the letter and was

dissatisfied. It was not strong enough!”

He paused, and then added softly, his eyes shining with that green

light that always betokened inward excitement: “And so, _mon ami___,

since that postscript was added, not on impulse, but soberly, in cold

blood, the urgency is very great, and we must reach him as soon as

possible.”

“Merlinville,” I murmured thoughtfully. “I’ve heard of it, I think.”

Poirot nodded.

“It is a quiet little place—but chic! It lies about midway between

Bolougne and Calais. It is rapidly becoming the fashion. Rich English

people who wish to be quiet are taking it up. M. Renauld has a house in

England, I suppose?”

“Yes, in Rutland Gate, as far as I remember. Also a big place in the

country, somewhere in Hertfordshire. But I really know very little

about him, he doesn’t do much in a social way. I believe he has large

South American interests in the City, and has spent most of his life

out in Chile and the Argentino.”

“Well, we shall hear all details from the man himself. Come, let us

pack. A small suit-case each, and then a taxi to Victoria.”

“And the Countess?” I inquired with a smile.

“Ah! _je m’en fiche!___ Her case was certainly not interesting.”

“Why so sure of that?”

“Because in that case she would have come, not written. A woman cannot

wait—always remember that, Hastings.”

Eleven o’clock saw our departure from Victoria on our way to Dover.

Before starting Poirot had despatched a telegram to Mr. Renauld giving

the time of our arrival at Calais. “I’m surprised you haven’t invested

in a few bottles of some sea sick remedy, Poirot,” I observed

maliciously, as I recalled our conversation at breakfast.

My friend, who was anxiously scanning the weather, turned a reproachful

face upon me.

“Is it that you have forgotten the method most excellent of Laverguier?

His system, I practise it always. One balances oneself, if you

remember, turning the head from left to right, breathing in and out,

counting six between each breath.”

“H’m,” I demurred. “You’ll be rather tired of balancing yourself and

counting six by the time you get to Santiago, or Buenos Ayres, or

wherever it is you land.”

“_Quelle idée!___ You do not figure to yourself that I shall go to

Santiago?”

“Mr. Renauld suggests it in his letter.”

“He did not know the methods of Hercule Poirot. I do not run to and

fro, making journeys, and agitating myself. My work is done from

within—_here___—” he tapped his forehead significantly.

As usual, this remark roused my argumentative faculty.

“It’s all very well, Poirot, but I think you are falling into the habit

of despising certain things too much. A finger-print has led sometimes

to the arrest and conviction of a murderer.”

“And has, without doubt, hanged more than one innocent man,” remarked

Poirot dryly.

“But surely the study of finger-prints and footprints, cigarette ash,

different kinds of mud, and other clues that comprise the minute

observation of details—all these are of vital importance?”

“But certainly. I have never said otherwise. The trained observer, the

expert, without doubt he is useful! But the others, the Hercules

Poirots, they are above the experts! To them the experts bring the

facts, their business is the method of the crime, its logical

deduction, the proper sequence and order of the facts; above all, the

true psychology of the case. You have hunted the fox, yes?”

“I have hunted a bit, now and again,” I said, rather bewildered by this

abrupt change of subject. “Why?”

“_Eh bien___, this hunting of the fox, you need the dogs, no?”

“Hounds,” I corrected gently. “Yes, of course.”

“But yet,” Poirot wagged his finger at me. “You did not descend from

your horse and run along the ground smelling with your nose and

uttering loud Ow Ows?”

In spite of myself I laughed immoderately. Poirot nodded in a satisfied

manner.

“So. You leave the work of the d— hounds to the hounds. Yet you demand

that I, Hercule Poirot, should make myself ridiculous by lying down

(possibly on damp grass) to study hypothetical footprints, and should

scoop up cigarette ash when I do not know one kind from the other.

Remember the Plymouth Express mystery. The good Japp departed to make a

survey of the railway line. When he returned, I, without having moved

from my apartments, was able to tell him exactly what he had found.”

“So you are of the opinion that Japp wasted his time.”

“Not at all, since his evidence confirmed my theory. But _I___ should

have wasted my time if _I___ had gone. It is the same with so called

‘experts.’ Remember the handwriting testimony in the Cavendish Case.

One counsel’s questioning brings out testimony as to the resemblances,

the defence brings evidence to show dissimilarity. All the language is

very technical. And the result? What we all knew in the first place.

The writing was very like that of John Cavendish. And the psychological

mind is faced with the question ‘Why?’ Because it was actually his? Or

because some one wished us to think it was his? I answered that

question, _mon ami___, and answered it correctly.”

And Poirot, having effectually silenced, if not convinced me, leaned

back with a satisfied air.

On the boat, I knew better than to disturb my friend’s solitude. The

weather was gorgeous, and the sea as smooth as the proverbial

mill-pond, so I was hardly surprised to hear that Laverguier’s method

had once more justified itself when a smiling Poirot joined me on

disembarking at Calais. A disappointment was in store for us, as no car

had been sent to meet us, but Poirot put this down to his telegram

having been delayed in transit.

“Since it is _carte blanche___, we will hire a car,” he said

cheerfully. And a few minutes later saw us creaking and jolting along,

in the most ramshackle of automobiles that ever plied for hire, in the

direction of Merlinville.

My spirits were at their highest.

“What gorgeous air!” I exclaimed. “This promises to be a delightful

trip.”

“For you, yes. For me, I have work to do, remember, at our journey’s

end.”

“Bah!” I said cheerfully. “You will discover all, ensure this Mr.

Renauld’s safety, run the would-be assassins to earth, and all will

finish in a blaze of glory.”

“You are sanguine, my friend.”

“Yes, I feel absolutely assured of success. Are you not the one and

only Hercule Poirot?”

But my little friend did not rise to the bait. He was observing me

gravely.

“You are what the Scotch people call ‘fey,’ Hastings. It presages

disaster.”

“Nonsense. At any rate, you do not share my feelings.”

“No, but I am afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“I do not know. But I have a premonition—a _je ne sais quoi!___”

He spoke so gravely, that I was impressed in spite of myself.

“I have a feeling,” he said slowly, “that this is going to be a big

affair—a long, troublesome problem that will not be easy to work out.”

I would have questioned him further, but we were just coming into the

little town of Merlinville, and we slowed up to inquire the way to the

Villa Geneviève.

“Straight on, monsieur, through the town. The Villa Geneviève is about

half a mile the other side. You cannot miss it. A big Villa,

overlooking the sea.”

We thanked our informant, and drove on, leaving the town behind. A fork

in the road brought us to a second halt. A peasant was trudging towards

us, and we waited for him to come up to us in order to ask the way

again. There was a tiny Villa standing right by the road, but it was

too small and dilapidated to be the one we wanted. As we waited, the

gate of it swung open and a girl came out.

The peasant was passing us now, and the driver leaned forward from his

seat and asked for direction.

“The Villa Geneviève? Just a few steps up this road to the right,

monsieur. You could see it if it were not for the curve.”

The chauffeur thanked him, and started the car again. My eyes were

fascinated by the girl who still stood, with one hand on the gate,

watching us. I am an admirer of beauty, and here was one whom nobody

could have passed without remark. Very tall, with the proportions of a

young goddess, her uncovered golden head gleaming in the sunlight, I

swore to myself that she was one of the most beautiful girls I had ever

seen. As we swung up the rough road, I turned my head to look after

her.

“By Jove, Poirot,” I exclaimed, “did you see that young goddess.”

Poirot raised his eyebrows.

“_Ça commence!___” he murmured. “Already you have seen a goddess!”

“But, hang it all, wasn’t she?”

“Possibly. I did not remark the fact.”

“Surely you noticed her?”

“_Mon ami___, two people rarely see the same thing. You, for instance,

saw a goddess. I—” he hesitated.

“Yes?”

“I saw only a girl with anxious eyes,” said Poirot gravely.

But at that moment we drew up at a big green gate, and, simultaneously,

we both uttered an exclamation. Before it stood an imposing _sergent de

ville___. He held up his hand to bar our way.

“You cannot pass, monsieurs.”

“But we wish to see Mr. Renauld,” I cried. “We have an appointment.

This is his Villa, isn’t it?”

“Yes, monsieur, but—”

Poirot leaned forward.

“But what?”

“M. Renauld was murdered this morning.”

****

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