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The Murder on the Links - 6

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

6

The Scene of the Crime

Between them, the doctor and M. Hautet carried the unconscious woman

into the house. The commissary looked after them, shaking his head.

“_Pauvre femme___,” he murmured to himself. “The shock was too much for

her. Well, well, we can do nothing. Now, M. Poirot, shall we visit the

place where the crime was committed?”

“If you please, M. Bex.”

We passed through the house, and out by the front door. Poirot had

looked up at the staircase in passing, and shook his head in a

dissatisfied manner.

“It is to me incredible that the servants heard nothing. The creaking

of that staircase, with _three___ people descending it, would awaken

the dead!”

“It was the middle of the night, remember. They were sound asleep by

then.”

But Poirot continued to shake his head as though not fully accepting

the explanation. On the sweep of the drive, he paused, looking up at

the house.

“What moved them in the first place to try if the front door were open?

It was a most unlikely thing that it should be. It was far more

probable that they should at once try to force a window.”

“But all the windows on the ground floor are barred with iron

shutters,” objected the commissary.

Poirot pointed to a window on the first floor.

“That is the window of the bedroom we have just come from, is it not?

And see—there is a tree by which it would be the easiest thing in the

world to mount.”

“Possibly,” admitted the other. “But they could not have done so

without leaving footprints in the flower-bed.”

I saw the justice of his words. There were two large oval flower-beds

planted with scarlet geraniums, one each side of the steps leading up

to the front door. The tree in question had its roots actually at the

back of the bed itself, and it would have been impossible to reach it

without stepping on the bed.

“You see,” continued the commissary, “owing to the dry weather no

prints would show on the drive or paths; but, on the soft mould of the

flower-bed, it would have been a very different affair.”

Poirot went close to the bed and studied it attentively. As Bex had

said, the mould was perfectly smooth. There was not an indentation on

it anywhere.

Poirot nodded, as though convinced, and we turned away, but he suddenly

darted off and began examining the other flower-bed.

“M. Bex!” he called. “See here. Here are plenty of traces for you.”

The commissary joined him—and smiled.

“My dear M. Poirot, those are without doubt the footprints of the

gardener’s large hobnailed boots. In any case, it would have no

importance, since this side we have no tree, and consequently no means

of gaining access to the upper story.”

“True,” said Poirot, evidently crestfallen. “So you think these

footprints are of no importance?”

“Not the least in the world.”

Then, to my utter astonishment, Poirot pronounced these words:

“I do not agree with you. I have a little idea that these footprints

are the most important things we have seen yet.”

M. Bex said nothing, merely shrugged his shoulders. He was far too

courteous to utter his real opinion.

“Shall we proceed?” he asked instead.

“Certainly. I can investigate this matter of the footprints later,”

said Poirot cheerfully.

Instead of following the drive down to the gate, M. Bex turned up a

path that branched off at right angles. It led, up a slight incline,

round to the right of the house, and was bordered on either side by a

kind of shrubbery. Suddenly it emerged into a little clearing from

which one obtained a view of the sea. A seat had been placed here, and

not far from it was a rather ramshackle shed. A few steps further on, a

neat line of small bushes marked the boundary of the Villa grounds. M.

Bex pushed his way through these and we found ourselves on a wide

stretch of open downs. I looked round, and saw something that filled me

with astonishment.

“Why, this is a golf course,” I cried.

Bex nodded.

“The limits are not completed yet,” he explained. “It is hoped to be

able to open them sometime next month. It was some of the men working

on them who discovered the body early this morning.”

I gave a gasp. A little to my left, where for the moment I had

overlooked it, was a long narrow pit, and by it, face downwards, was

the body of a man! For a moment, my heart gave a terrible leap, and I

had a wild fancy that the tragedy had been duplicated. But the

commissary dispelled my illusion by moving forward with a sharp

exclamation of annoyance:

“What have my police been about? They had strict orders to allow no one

near the place without proper credentials!”

The man on the ground turned his head over his shoulder.

“But I have proper credentials,” he remarked, and rose slowly to his

feet.

“My dear M. Giraud,” cried the commissary. “I had no idea that you had

arrived, even. The examining magistrate has been awaiting you with the

utmost impatience.”

As he spoke, I was scanning the new-comer with the keenest curiosity.

The famous detective from the Paris Sûreté was familiar to me by name,

and I was extremely interested to see him in the flesh. He was very

tall, perhaps about thirty years of age, with auburn hair and

moustache, and a military carriage. There was a trace of arrogance in

his manner which showed that he was fully alive to his own importance.

Bex introduced us, presenting Poirot as a colleague. A flicker of

interest came into the detective’s eye.

“I know you by name, M. Poirot,” he said. “You cut quite a figure in

the old days, didn’t you? But methods are very different now.”

“Crimes, though, are very much the same,” remarked Poirot gently.

I saw at once that Giraud was prepared to be hostile. He resented the

other being associated with him, and I felt that if he came across any

clue of importance he would be more than likely to keep it to himself.

“The examining magistrate—” began Bex again. But Giraud interrupted him

rudely:

“A fig for the examining magistrate! The light is the important thing.

For all practical purposes it will be gone in another half-hour or so.

I know all about the case, and the people at the house will do very

well until tomorrow, but, if we’re going to find a clue to the

murderers, here is the spot we shall find it. Is it your police who

have been trampling all over the place? I thought they knew better

nowadays.”

“Assuredly they do. The marks you complain of were made by the workmen

who discovered the body.”

The other grunted disgustedly.

“I can see the tracks where the three of them came through the

hedge—but they were cunning. You can just recognize the centre

footmarks as those of M. Renauld, but those on either side have been

carefully obliterated. Not that there would really be much to see

anyway on this hard ground, but they weren’t taking any chances.”

“The external sign,” said Poirot. “That is what you seek, eh?”

The other detective stared.

“Of course.”

A very faint smile came to Poirot’s lips. He seemed about to speak, but

checked himself. He bent down to where a spade was lying.

“That’s what the grave was dug with, right enough,” said Giraud. “But

you’ll get nothing from it. It was Renauld’s own spade, and the man who

used it wore gloves. Here they are.” He gesticulated with his foot to

where two soiled earth-stained gloves were lying. “And they’re

Renauld’s too—or at least his gardener’s. I tell you, the men who

planned out this crime were taking no chances. The man was stabbed with

his own dagger, and would have been buried with his own spade. They

counted on leaving no traces! But I’ll beat them. There’s always

_something!___ And I mean to find it.”

But Poirot was now apparently interested in something else, a short

discoloured piece of lead-piping which lay beside the spade. He touched

it delicately with his finger.

“And does this, too, belong to the murdered man?” he asked, and I

thought I detected a subtle flavour of irony in the question.

Giraud shrugged his shoulders to indicate that he neither knew nor

cared.

“May have been lying around here for weeks. Anyway, it doesn’t interest

me.”

“I, on the contrary, find it very interesting,” said Poirot sweetly.

I guessed that he was merely bent on annoying the Paris detective and,

if so, he succeeded. The other turned away rudely, remarking that he

had no time to waste, and bending down he resumed his minute search of

the ground.

Meanwhile Poirot, as though struck by a sudden idea, stepped back over

the boundary, and tried the door of the little shed.

“That’s locked,” said Giraud over his shoulder. “But it’s only a place

where the gardener keeps his rubbish. The spade didn’t come from there,

but from the toolshed up by the house.”

“Marvellous,” murmured M. Bex, to me ecstatically. “He has been here

but half an hour, and he already knows everything! What a man!

Undoubtedly Giraud is the greatest detective alive today.”

Although I disliked the detective heartily, I nevertheless was secretly

impressed. Efficiency seemed to radiate from the man. I could not help

feeling that, so far, Poirot had not greatly distinguished himself, and

it vexed me. He seemed to be directing his attention to all sorts of

silly, puerile points that had nothing to do with the case. Indeed, at

this juncture, he suddenly asked:

“M. Bex, tell me, I pray you, the meaning of this whitewashed line that

extends all round the grave. Is it a device of the police?”

“No, M. Poirot, it is an affair of the golf course. It shows that there

is here to be a ‘bunkair,’ as you call it.”

“A bunkair?” Poirot turned to me. “That is the irregular hole filled

with sand and a bank at one side, is it not?”

I concurred.

“You do not play the golf, M. Poirot?” inquired Bex.

“I? Never! What a game!” He became excited. “Figure to yourself, each

hole it is of a different length. The obstacles, they are not arranged

mathematically. Even the greens are frequently up one side! There is

only one pleasing thing—the how do you call them?—tee boxes! They, at

least, are symmetrical.”

I could not refrain from a laugh at the way the game appeared to

Poirot, and my little friend smiled at me affectionately, bearing no

malice. Then he asked:

“But M. Renauld, without doubt he played the golf?”

“Yes, he was a keen golfer. It’s mainly owing to him, and to his large

subscriptions, that this work is being carried forward. He even had a

say in the designing of it.”

Poirot nodded thoughtfully.

Then he remarked:

“It was not a very good choice they made—of a spot to bury the body?

When the men began to dig up the ground, all would have been

discovered.”

“Exactly,” cried Giraud triumphantly. “And that _proves___ that they

were strangers to the place. It’s an excellent piece of indirect

evidence.”

“Yes,” said Poirot doubtfully. “No one who knew would bury a body

there—unless—unless—they _wanted___ it to be discovered. And that is

clearly absurd, is it not?”

Giraud did not even trouble to reply.

“Yes,” said Poirot, in a somewhat dissatisfied voice.

“Yes—undoubtedly—absurd!”

****

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