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The Murder on the Links - 7

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

7

The Mysterious Madame Daubreuil

As we retraced our steps to the house, M. Bex excused himself for

leaving us, explaining that he must immediately acquaint the examining

magistrate with the fact of Giraud’s arrival. Giraud himself had been

obviously delighted when Poirot declared that he had seen all he

wanted. The last thing we observed, as we left the spot, was Giraud,

crawling about on all fours, with a thoroughness in his search that I

could not but admire. Poirot guessed my thoughts, for as soon as we

were alone he remarked ironically:

“At last you have seen the detective you admire—the human foxhound! Is

it not so, my friend?”

“At any rate, he’s _doing___ something,” I said, with asperity. “If

there’s anything to find, he’ll find it. Now you—”

“_Eh bien!___ I also have found something! A piece of lead-piping.”

“Nonsense, Poirot. You know very well that’s got nothing to do with it.

I meant _little___ things—traces that may lead us infallibly to the

murderers.”

“_Mon ami___, a clue of two feet long is every bit as valuable as one

measuring two millimetres! But it is the romantic idea that all

important clues must be infinitesimal! As to the piece of lead-piping

having nothing to do with the crime, you say that because Giraud told

you so. No”—as I was about to interpose a question—“we will say no

more. Leave Giraud to his search, and me to my ideas. The case seems

straightforward enough—and yet—and yet, _mon ami___, I am not

satisfied! And do you know why? Because of the wrist watch that is two

hours fast. And then there are several curious little points that do

not seem to fit in. For instance, if the object of the murderers was

revenge, why did they not stab Renauld in his sleep and have done with

it?”

“They wanted the ‘secret,’ ” I reminded him.

Poirot brushed a speck of dust from his sleeve with a dissatisfied air.

“Well, where is this ‘secret’? Presumably some distance away, since

they wish him to dress himself. Yet he is found murdered close at hand,

almost within ear-shot of the house. Then again, it is pure chance that

a weapon such as the dagger should be lying about casually, ready to

hand.”

He paused frowning, and then went on:

“Why did the servants hear nothing? Were they drugged? Was there an

accomplice and did that accomplice see to it that the front door should

remain open? I wonder if—”

He stopped abruptly. We had reached the drive in front of the house.

Suddenly he turned to me.

“My friend, I am about to surprise you—to please you! I have taken your

reproaches to heart! We will examine some footprints!”

“Where?”

“In that right-hand bed yonder. M. Bex says that they are the footmarks

of the gardener. Let us see if that is so. See, he approaches with his

wheelbarrow.”

Indeed an elderly man was just crossing the drive with a barrowful of

seedlings. Poirot called to him, and he set down the barrow and came

hobbling towards us.

“You are going to ask him for one of his boots to compare with the

footmarks?” I asked breathlessly. My faith in Poirot revived a little.

Since he said the footprints in this right-hand bed were important,

presumably they _were___.

“Exactly,” said Poirot.

“But won’t he think it very odd?”

“He will not think about it at all.”

We could say no more, for the old man had joined us.

“You want me for something, monsieur?”

“Yes. You have been gardener here a long time, haven’t you?”

“Twenty-four years, monsieur.”

“And your name is—?”

“Auguste, monsieur.”

“I was admiring these magnificent geraniums. They are truly superb.

They have been planted long?”

“Some time, monsieur. But of course, to keep the beds looking smart,

one must keep bedding out a few new plants, and remove those that are

over, besides keeping the old blooms well picked off.”

“You put in some new plants yesterday, didn’t you? Those in the middle

there, and in the other bed also?”

“Monsieur has a sharp eye. It takes always a day or so for them to

‘pick up.’ Yes, I put ten new plants in each bed last night. As

Monsieur doubtless knows, one should not put in plants when the sun is

hot.”

Auguste was charmed with Poirot’s interest, and was quite inclined to

be garrulous.

“That is a splendid specimen there,” said Poirot, pointing. “Might I

perhaps have a cutting of it?”

“But certainly, monsieur.” The old fellow stepped into the bed, and

carefully took a slip from the plant Poirot had admired.

Poirot was profuse in his thanks, and Auguste departed to his barrow.

“You see?” said Poirot with a smile, as he bent over the bed to examine

the indentation of the gardener’s hobnailed boot. “It is quite simple.”

“I did not realize—”

“That the foot would be inside the boot? You do not use your excellent

mental capacities sufficiently. Well, what of the footmark?”

I examined the bed carefully.

“All the footmarks in the bed were made by the same boot,” I said at

length after a careful study.

“You think so? _Eh bien___, I agree with you,” said Poirot.

He seemed quite uninterested, and as though he were thinking of

something else.

“At any rate,” I remarked, “you will have one bee less in your bonnet

now.”

“_Mon Dieu!___ But what an idiom! What does it mean?”

“What I meant was that now you will give up your interest in these

footmarks.”

But to my surprise Poirot shook his head.

“No, no, _mon ami___. At last I am on the right track. I am still in

the dark, but, as I hinted just now to M. Bex, these footmarks are the

most important and interesting things in the case! That poor Giraud—I

should not be surprised if he took no notice of them whatever.”

At that moment, the front door opened, and M. Hautet and the commissary

came down the steps.

“Ah, M. Poirot, we were coming to look for you,” said the magistrate.

“It is getting late, but I wish to pay a visit to Madame Daubreuil.

Without doubt she will be very much upset by M. Renauld’s death, and we

may be fortunate enough to get a clue from her. The secret that he did

not confide to his wife, it is possible that he may have told it to the

woman whose love held him enslaved. We know where our Samsons are weak,

don’t we?”

I admired the picturesqueness of M. Hautet’s language. I suspected that

the examining magistrate was by now thoroughly enjoying his part in the

mysterious drama.

“Is M. Giraud not going to accompany us?” asked Poirot.

“M. Giraud has shown clearly that he prefers to conduct the case in his

own way,” said M. Hautet dryly. One could see easily enough that

Giraud’s cavalier treatment of the examining magistrate had not

prejudiced the latter in his favour. We said no more, but fell into

line. Poirot walked with the examining magistrate, and the commissary

and I followed a few paces behind.

“There is no doubt that Françoise’s story is substantially correct,” he

remarked to me in a confidential tone. “I have been telephoning

headquarters. It seems that three times in the last six weeks—that is

to say since the arrival of M. Renauld at Merlinville—Madame Daubreuil

has paid a large sum in notes into her banking account. Altogether the

sum totals two hundred thousand francs!”

“Dear me,” I said, considering, “that must be something like four

thousand pounds!”

“Precisely. Yes, there can be no doubt that he was absolutely

infatuated. But it remains to be seen whether he confided his secret to

her. The examining magistrate is hopeful, but I hardly share his

views.”

During this conversation we were walking down the lane towards the fork

in the road where our car had halted earlier in the afternoon, and in

another moment I realized that the Villa Marguerite, the home of the

mysterious Madame Daubreuil, was the small house from which the

beautiful girl had emerged.

“She has lived here for many years,” said the commissary, nodding his

head towards the house. “Very quietly, very unobtrusively. She seems to

have no friends or relations other than the acquaintances she has made

in Merlinville. She never refers to the past, nor to her husband. One

does not even know if he is alive or dead. There is a mystery about

her, you comprehend.” I nodded, my interest growing.

“And—the daughter?” I ventured.

“A truly beautiful young girl—modest, devout, all that she should be.

One pities her, for, though she may know nothing of the past, a man who

wants to ask her hand in marriage must necessarily inform himself, and

then—” The commissary shrugged his shoulders cynically.

“But it would not be her fault!” I cried, with rising indignation.

“No. But what will you? A man is particular about his wife’s

antecedents.”

I was prevented from further argument by our arrival at the door. M.

Hautet rang the bell. A few minutes elapsed, and then we heard a

footfall within, and the door was opened. On the threshold stood my

young goddess of that afternoon. When she saw us, the colour left her

cheeks, leaving her deathly white, and her eyes widened with

apprehension. There was no doubt about it, she was afraid!

“Mademoiselle Daubreuil,” said M. Hautet, sweeping off his hat, “we

regret infinitely to disturb you, but the exigencies of the Law—you

comprehend? My compliments to Madame your mother, and will she have the

goodness to grant me a few moments’ interview.”

For a moment the girl stood motionless. Her left hand was pressed to

her side, as though to still the sudden unconquerable agitation of her

heart. But she mastered herself, and said in a low voice:

“I will go and see. Please come inside.”

She entered a room on the left of the hall, and we heard the low murmur

of her voice. And then another voice, much the same in timbre, but with

a slightly harder inflection behind its mellow roundness said:

“But certainly. Ask them to enter.”

In another minute we were face to face with the mysterious Madame

Daubreuil.

She was not nearly so tall as her daughter, and the rounded curves of

her figure had all the grace of full maturity. Her hair, again unlike

her daughter’s, was dark, and parted in the middle in the madonna

style. Her eyes, half hidden by the drooping lids, were blue. There was

a dimple in the round chin, and the half parted lips seemed always to

hover on the verge of a mysterious smile. There was something almost

exaggeratedly feminine about her, at once yielding and seductive.

Though very well preserved, she was certainly no longer young, but her

charm was of the quality which is independent of age.

Standing there, in her black dress with the fresh white collar and

cuffs, her hands clasped together, she looked subtly appealing and

helpless.

“You wished to see me, monsieur?” she asked.

“Yes, madame.” M. Hautet cleared his throat. “I am investigating the

death of M. Renauld. You have heard of it, no doubt?”

She bowed her head without speaking. Her expression did not change.

“We came to ask you whether you can—er—throw any light upon the

circumstances surrounding it?”

“I?” The surprise of her tone was excellent.

“Yes, madame. It would, perhaps, be better if we could speak to you

alone.” He looked meaningly in the direction of the girl.

Madame Daubreuil turned to her.

“Marthe, dear—”

But the girl shook her head.

“No, _maman___, I will not go. I am not a child. I am twenty-two. I

shall not go.”

Madame Daubreuil turned back to the examining magistrate.

“You see, monsieur.”

“I should prefer not to speak before Mademoiselle Daubreuil.”

“As my daughter says, she is not a child.”

For a moment the magistrate hesitated, baffled.

“Very well, madame,” he said at last. “Have it your own way. We have

reason to believe that you were in the habit of visiting the dead man

at his Villa in the evenings. Is that so?”

The colour rose in the lady’s pale cheeks, but she replied quietly:

“I deny your right to ask me such a question!”

“Madame, we are investigating a murder.”

“Well, what of it? I had nothing to do with the murder.”

“Madame, we do not say that for a moment. But you knew the dead man

well. Did he ever confide in you as to any danger that threatened him?”

“Never.”

“Did he ever mention his life in Santiago, and any enemies he may have

made there?”

“No.”

“Then you can give us no help at all?”

“I fear not. I really do not see why you should come to me. Cannot his

wife tell you what you want to know?” Her voice held a slender

inflection of irony.

“Madame Renauld has told us all she can.”

“Ah!” said Madame Daubreuil. “I wonder—”

“You wonder what, madame?”

“Nothing.”

The examining magistrate looked at her. He was aware that he was

fighting a duel, and that he had no mean antagonist.

“You persist in your statement that M. Renauld confided nothing in

you?”

“Why should you think it likely that he should confide in me?”

“Because, madame,” said M. Hautet, with calculated brutality. “A man

tells to his mistress what he does not always tell to his wife.”

“Ah!” she sprang forward. Her eyes flashed fire. “Monsieur, you insult

me! And before my daughter! I can tell you nothing. Have the goodness

to leave my house!”

The honours undoubtedly rested with the lady. We left the Villa

Marguerite like a shamefaced pack of schoolboys. The magistrate

muttered angry ejaculations to himself. Poirot seemed lost in thought.

Suddenly he came out of his reverie with a start, and inquired of M.

Hautet if there was a good hotel near at hand.

“There is a small place, the Hotel des Bains, on this side of town. A

few hundred yards down the road. It will be handy for your

investigations. We shall see you in the morning then, I presume?”

“Yes, I thank you, M. Hautet.”

With mutual civilities, we parted company, Poirot and I going towards

Merlinville, and the others returning to the Villa Geneviève.

“The French police system is very marvellous,” said Poirot, looking

after them. “The information they possess about every one’s life, down

to the most commonplace detail, is extraordinary. Though he has only

been here a little over six weeks, they are perfectly well acquainted

with M. Renauld’s tastes and pursuits, and at a moment’s notice they

can produce information as to Madame Daubreuil’s banking account, and

the sums that have lately been paid in! Undoubtedly the _dossier___ is

a great institution. But what is that?” He turned sharply.

A figure was running hatless, down the road after us. It was Marthe

Daubreuil.

“I beg your pardon,” she cried breathlessly, as she reached us. “I—I

should not do this, I know. You must not tell my mother. But is it

true, what the people say, that M. Renauld called in a detective before

he died, and—and that you are he?”

“Yes, mademoiselle,” said Poirot gently. “It is quite true. But how did

you learn it?”

“Françoise told our Amélie,” explained Marthe, with a blush.

Poirot made a grimace.

“The secrecy, it is impossible in an affair of this kind! Not that it

matters. Well, mademoiselle, what is it you want to know?”

The girl hesitated. She seemed longing, yet fearing, to speak. At last,

almost in a whisper, she asked:

“Is—any one suspected?”

Poirot eyed her keenly.

Then he replied evasively:

“Suspicion is in the air at present, mademoiselle.”

“Yes, I know—but—any one in particular?”

“Why do you want to know?”

The girl seemed frightened by the question. All at once Poirot’s words

about her earlier in the day recurred to me. The “girl with the anxious

eyes!”

“M. Renauld was always very kind to me,” she replied at last. “It is

natural that I should be interested.”

“I see,” said Poirot. “Well, mademoiselle, suspicion at present is

hovering round two persons.”

“Two?”

I could have sworn there was a note of surprise and relief in her

voice.

“Their names are unknown, but they are presumed to be Chilians from

Santiago. And now, mademoiselle, you see what comes of being young and

beautiful! I have betrayed professional secrets for you!”

The girl laughed merrily, and then, rather shyly, she thanked him.

“I must run back now. _Maman___ will miss me.”

And she turned and ran back up the road, looking like a modern

Atalanta. I stared after her.

“_Mon ami___,” said Poirot, in his gentle ironical voice, “is it that

we are to remain planted here all night—just because you have seen a

beautiful young woman, and your head is in a whirl?”

I laughed and apologized.

“But she _is___ beautiful, Poirot. Any one might be excused for being

bowled over by her.”

Poirot groaned.

“_Mon Dieu!___ But it is that you have the susceptible heart!”

“Poirot,” I said, “do you remember after the Styles Case when—”

“When you were in love with two charming women at once, and neither of

them were for you? Yes, I remember.”

“You consoled me by saying that perhaps some day we should hunt

together again, and that then—”

“_Eh bien?___”

“Well, we are hunting together again, and—” I paused, and laughed

rather self-consciously.

But to my surprise Poirot shook his head very earnestly.

“Ah, _mon ami___, do not set your heart on Marthe Daubreuil. She is not

for you, that one! Take it from Papa Poirot!”

“Why,” I cried, “the commissary assured me that she was as good as she

is beautiful! A perfect angel!”

“Some of the greatest criminals I have known had the faces of angels,”

remarked Poirot cheerfully. “A malformation of the grey cells may

coincide quite easily with the face of a madonna.”

“Poirot,” I cried, horrified, “you cannot mean that you suspect an

innocent child like this!”

“Ta-ta-ta! Do not excite yourself! I have not said that I suspected

her. But you must admit that her anxiety to know about the case is

somewhat unusual.”

“For once, I see further than you do,” I said. “Her anxiety is not for

herself—but for her mother.”

“My friend,” said Poirot, “as usual, you see nothing at all. Madame

Daubreuil is very well able to look after herself without her daughter

worrying about her. I admit I was teasing you just now, but all the

same I repeat what I said before. Do not set your heart on that girl.

She is not for you! I, Hercule Poirot, know it. _Sacré!___ if only I

could remember where I had seen that face!”

“What face?” I asked, surprised. “The daughter’s?”

“No. The mother’s.”

Noting my surprise, he nodded emphatically.

“But yes—it is as I tell you. It was a long time ago, when I was still

with the Police in Belgium. I have never actually seen the woman

before, but I have seen her picture—and in connection with some case. I

rather fancy—”

“Yes?”

“I may be mistaken, but I rather fancy that it was a murder case!”

****

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