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The Murder on the Links - 3

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

3

At the Villa Geneviève

In a moment Poirot had leapt from the car, his eyes blazing with

excitement. He caught the man by the shoulder.

“What is that you say? Murdered? When? How?”

The _sergent de ville___ drew himself up.

“I cannot answer any questions, monsieur.”

“True. I comprehend.” Poirot reflected for a minute. “The Commissary of

Police, he is without doubt within?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

Poirot took out a card, and scribbled a few words on it.

“_Voilà!___ Will you have the goodness to see that this card is sent in

to the commissary at once?”

The man took it and, turning his head over his shoulder, whistled. In a

few seconds a comrade joined him and was handed Poirot’s message. There

was a wait of some minutes, and then a short stout man with a huge

moustache came bustling down to the gate. The _sergent de ville___

saluted and stood aside.

“My dear M. Poirot,” cried the new-comer, “I am delighted to see you.

Your arrival is most opportune.”

Poirot’s face had lighted up.

“M. Bex! This is indeed a pleasure.” He turned to me. “This is an

English friend of mine, Captain Hastings—M. Lucien Bex.”

The commissary and I bowed to each other ceremoniously, then M. Bex

turned once more to Poirot.

“_Mon vieux___, I have not seen you since 1909, that time in Ostend. I

heard that you had left the Force?”

“So I have. I run a private business in London.”

“And you say you have information to give which may assist us?”

“Possibly you know it already. You were aware that I had been sent

for?”

“No. By whom?”

“The dead man. It seems he knew an attempt was going to be made on his

life. Unfortunately he sent for me too late.”

“_Sacri tonnerre!___” ejaculated the Frenchman. “So he foresaw his own

murder? That upsets our theories considerably! But come inside.”

He held the gate open, and we commenced walking towards the house. M.

Bex continued to talk:

“The examining magistrate, M. Hautet, must hear of this at once. He has

just finished examining the scene of the crime and is about to begin

his interrogations. A charming man. You will like him. Most

sympathetic. Original in his methods, but an excellent judge.”

“When was the crime committed?” asked Poirot.

“The body was discovered this morning about nine o’clock. Madame

Renauld’s evidence, and that of the doctors goes to show that the death

must have occurred about 2 a.m. But enter, I pray of you.”

We had arrived at the steps which led up to the front door of the

Villa. In the hall another _sergent de ville___ was sitting. He rose at

sight of the commissary.

“Where is M. Hautet now?” inquired the latter.

“In the _salon___, monsieur.”

M. Bex opened a door to the left of the hall, and we passed in. M.

Hautet and his clerk were sitting at a big round table. They looked up

as we entered. The commissary introduced us, and explained our

presence.

M. Hautet, the Juge d’Instruction, was a tall, gaunt man, with piercing

dark eyes, and a neatly cut grey beard, which he had a habit of

caressing as he talked. Standing by the mantelpiece was an elderly man,

with slightly stooping shoulders, who was introduced to us as Dr.

Durand.

“Most extraordinary,” remarked M. Hautet, as the commissary finished

speaking. “You have the letter here, monsieur?”

Poirot handed it to him, and the magistrate read it.

“H’m. He speaks of a secret. What a pity he was not more explicit. We

are much indebted to you, M. Poirot. I hope you will do us the honour

of assisting us in our investigations. Or are you obliged to return to

London?”

“M. le juge, I propose to remain. I did not arrive in time to prevent

my client’s death, but I feel myself bound in honour to discover the

assassin.”

The magistrate bowed.

“These sentiments do you honour. Also, without doubt, Madame Renauld

will wish to retain your services. We are expecting M. Giraud from the

Sûreté in Paris any moment, and I am sure that you and he will be able

to give each other mutual assistance in your investigations. In the

meantime, I hope that you will do me the honour to be present at my

interrogations, and I need hardly say that if there is any assistance

you require it is at your disposal.”

“I thank you, monsieur. You will comprehend that at present I am

completely in the dark. I know nothing whatever.”

M. Hautet nodded to the commissary, and the latter took up the tale:

“This morning, the old servant Françoise, on descending to start her

work, found the front door ajar. Feeling a momentary alarm as to

burglars, she looked into the dining-room, but seeing the silver was

safe she thought no more about it, concluding that her master had,

without doubt, risen early, and gone for a stroll.”

“Pardon, monsieur, for interrupting, but was that a common practice of

his?”

“No, it was not, but old Françoise has the common idea as regards the

English—that they are mad, and liable to do the most unaccountable

things at any moment! Going to call her mistress as usual, a younger

maid, Léonie, was horrified to discover her gagged and bound, and

almost at the same moment news was brought that M. Renauld’s body had

been discovered, stone dead, stabbed in the back.”

“Where?”

“That is one of the most extraordinary features of the case. M. Poirot,

the body was lying, face downwards, _in an open grave___.”

“What?”

“Yes. The pit was freshly dug—just a few yards outside the boundary of

the Villa grounds.”

“And he had been dead—how long?”

Dr. Durand answered this.

“I examined the body this morning at ten o’clock. Death must have taken

place at least seven, and possibly ten hours previously.”

“H’m, that fixes it at between midnight and 3 a.m.”

“Exactly, and Madame Renauld’s evidence places it at after 2 a.m. which

narrows the field still further. Death must have been instantaneous,

and naturally could not have been self-inflicted.”

Poirot nodded, and the commissary resumed:

“Madame Renauld was hastily freed from the cords that bound her by the

horrified servants. She was in a terrible condition of weakness, almost

unconscious from the pain of her bonds. It appears that two masked men

entered the bedroom, gagged and bound her, whilst forcibly abducting

her husband. This we know at second hand from the servants. On hearing

the tragic news, she fell at once into an alarming state of agitation.

On arrival, Dr. Durand immediately prescribed a sedative, and we have

not yet been able to question her. But without doubt she will awake

more calm, and be equal to bearing the strain of the interrogation.”

The commissary paused.

“And the inmates of the house, monsieur?”

“There is old Françoise, the housekeeper, she lived for many years with

the former owners of the Villa Geneviève. Then there are two young

girls, sisters, Denise and Léonie Oulard. Their home is in Merlinville,

and they come of the most respectable parents. Then there is the

chauffeur whom M. Renauld brought over from England with him, but he is

away on a holiday. Finally there are Madame Renauld and her son, M.

Jack Renauld. He, too, is away from home at present.”

Poirot bowed his head. M. Hautet spoke:

“Marchaud!”

The _sergent de ville___ appeared.

“Bring in the woman Françoise.”

The man saluted, and disappeared. In a moment or two, he returned,

escorting the frightened Françoise.

“You name is Françoise Arrichet?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“You have been a long time in service at the Villa Geneviève?”

“Eleven years with Madame la Vicomtesse. Then when she sold the Villa

this spring, I consented to remain on with the English milor. Never did

I imagine—”

The magistrate cut her short.

“Without doubt, without doubt. Now, Françoise, in this matter of the

front door, whose business was it to fasten it at night?”

“Mine, monsieur. Always I saw to it myself.”

“And last night?”

“I fastened it as usual.”

“You are sure of that?”

“I swear it by the blessed saints, monsieur.”

“What time would that be?”

“The same time as usual, half-past ten, monsieur.”

“What about the rest of the household, had they gone up to bed?”

“Madame had retired some time before. Denise and Léonie went up with

me. Monsieur was still in his study.”

“Then, if any one unfastened the door afterwards, it must have been M.

Renauld himself?”

Françoise shrugged her broad shoulders.

“What should he do that for? With robbers and assassins passing every

minute! A nice idea! Monsieur was not an imbecile. It is not as though

he had had to let _cette dame___ out—”

The magistrate interrupted sharply:

“_Cette dame?___ What lady do you mean?”

“Why, the lady who came to see him.”

“Had a lady been to see him that evening?”

“But yes, monsieur—and many other evenings as well.”

“Who was she? Did you know her?”

A rather cunning look spread over the woman’s face. “How should I know

who it was?” she grumbled. “I did not let her in last night.”

“Aha!” roared the examining magistrate, bringing his hand down with a

bang on the table. “You would trifle with the police, would you? I

demand that you tell me at once the name of this woman who came to

visit M. Renauld in the evenings.”

“The police—the police,” grumbled Françoise. “Never did I think that I

should be mixed up with the police. But I know well enough who she was.

It was Madame Daubreuil.”

The commissary uttered an exclamation, and leaned forward as though in

utter astonishment.

“Madame Daubreuil—from the Villa Marguerite just down the road?”

“That is what I said, monsieur. Oh, she is a pretty one, _cellela!___”

The old woman tossed her head scornfully.

“Madame Daubreuil,” murmured the commissary. “Impossible.”

“_Voilà,___” grumbled Françoise. “That is all you get for telling the

truth.”

“Not at all,” said the examining magistrate soothingly. “We were

surprised, that is all. Madame Daubreuil then, and Monsieur Renauld,

they were—” he paused delicately. “Eh? It was that without doubt?”

“How should I know? But what will you? Monsieur, he was _milor

anglais___—_trés riche___—and Madame Daubreuil, she was poor, that

one—and _trés chic___ for all that she lives so quietly with her

daughter. Not a doubt of it, she has had her history! She is no longer

young, but _ma foi!___ I who speak to you have seen the men’s heads

turn after her as she goes down the street. Besides lately, she has had

more money to spend—all the town knows it. The little economies, they

are at an end.” And Françoise shook her head with an air of unalterable

certainty.

M. Hautet stroked his beard reflectively.

“And Madame Renauld?” he asked at length. “How did she take

this—friendship.”

Françoise shrugged her shoulders.

“She was always most amiable—most polite. One would say that she

suspected nothing. But all the same, is it not so, the heart suffers,

monsieur? Day by day, I have watched Madame grow paler and thinner. She

was not the same woman who arrived here a month ago. Monsieur, too, has

changed. He also has had his worries. One could see that he was on the

brink of a crisis of the nerves. And who could wonder, with an affair

conducted such a fashion? No reticence, no discretion. _Style

anglais___, without doubt!”

I bounded indignantly in my seat, but the examining magistrate was

continuing his questions, undistracted by side issues.

“You say that M. Renauld had not to let Madame Daubreuil out? Had she

left, then?”

“Yes, monsieur. I heard them come out of the study and go to the door.

Monsieur said good night, and shut the door after her.”

“What time was that?”

“About twenty-five minutes after ten, monsieur.”

“Do you know when M. Renauld went to bed?”

“I heard him come up about ten minutes after we did. The stair creaks

so that one hears every one who goes up and down.”

“And that is all? You heard no sound of disturbance during the night?”

“Nothing whatever, monsieur.”

“Which of the servants came down the first in the morning?”

“I did, monsieur. At once I saw the door swinging open.”

“What about the other downstairs windows, were they all fastened?”

“Every one of them. There was nothing suspicious or out of place

anywhere.”

“Good, Françoise, you can go.”

The old woman shuffled towards the door. On the threshold she looked

back.

“I will tell you one thing, monsieur. That Madame Daubreuil she is a

bad one! Oh, yes, one woman knows about another. She is a bad one,

remember that.” And, shaking her head sagely, Françoise left the room.

“Léonie Oulard,” called the magistrate.

Léonie appeared dissolved in tears, and inclined to be hysterical. M.

Hautet dealt with her adroitly. Her evidence was mainly concerned with

the discovery of her mistress gagged and bound, of which she gave

rather an exaggerated account. She, like Françoise, had heard nothing

during the night.

Her sister, Denise, succeeded her. She agreed that her master had

changed greatly of late.

“Every day he became more and more morose. He ate less. He was always

depressed.” But Denise had her own theory. “Without doubt it was the

Mafia he had on his track! Two masked men—who else could it be? A

terrible society that!”

“It is, of course, possible,” said the magistrate smoothly. “Now, my

girl, was it you who admitted Madame Daubreuil to the house last

night?”

“Not _last___ night, monsieur, the night before.”

“But Françoise has just told us that Madame Daubreuil was here last

night?”

“No, monsieur. A lady _did___ come to see M. Renauld last night, but it

was not Madame Daubreuil.”

Surprised, the magistrate insisted, but the girl held firm. She knew

Madame Daubreuil perfectly by sight. This lady was dark also, but

shorter, and much younger. Nothing could shake her statement.

“Had you ever seen this lady before?”

“Never, monsieur.” And then the girl added diffidently: “But I think

she was English.”

“English?”

“Yes, monsieur. She asked for M. Renauld in quite good French, but the

accent—one can always tell it, _n’est-ce pas?___ Besides when they came

out of the study they were speaking in English.”

“Did you hear what they said? Could you understand it, I mean?”

“Me, I speak the English very well,” said Denise with pride. “The lady

was speaking too fast for me to catch what she said, but I heard

Monsieur’s last words as he opened the door for her.” She paused, and

then repeated carefully and laboriously:

“ ‘Yeas—yeas—butt for Gaud’s saike go nauw!’ ”

“Yes, yes, but for God’s sake go now!” repeated the magistrate.

He dismissed Denise and, after a moment or two for consideration,

recalled Françoise. To her he propounded the question as to whether she

had not made a mistake in fixing the night of Madame Daubreuil’s visit.

Françoise, however, proved unexpectedly obstinate. It was last night

that Madame Daubreuil had come. Without a doubt it was she. Denise

wished to make herself interesting, _voilà tout!___ So she had cooked

up this fine tale about a strange lady. Airing her knowledge of English

too! Probably Monsieur had never spoken that sentence in English at

all, and even if he had, it proved nothing, for Madame Daubreuil spoke

English perfectly, and generally used that language when talking to M.

and Madame Renauld. “You see, M. Jack, the son of Monsieur, was usually

here, and he spoke the French very badly.”

The magistrate did not insist. Instead he inquired about the chauffeur,

and learned that only yesterday, M. Renauld had declared that he was

not likely to use the car, and that Masters might just as well take a

holiday.

A perplexed frown was beginning to gather between Poirot’s eyes.

“What is it?” I whispered.

He shook his head impatiently, and asked a question:

“Pardon, M. Bex, but without doubt M. Renauld could drive the car

himself?”

The commissary looked over at Françoise, and the old woman replied

promptly:

“No, Monsieur did not drive himself.”

Poirot’s frown deepened.

“I wish you would tell me what is worrying you,” I said impatiently.

“See you not? In his letter M. Renauld speaks of sending the car for me

to Calais.”

“Perhaps he meant a hired car,” I suggested.

“Doubtless that is so. But why hire a car when you have one of your

own. Why choose yesterday to send away the chauffeur on a

holiday—suddenly, at a moment’s notice? Was it that for some reason he

wanted him out of the way before we arrived?”

****

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