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The Murder on the Links - 8

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

8

An Unexpected Meeting

We were up at the Villa betimes next morning. The man on guard at the

gate did not bar our way this time. Instead, he respectfully saluted

us, and we passed on to the house. The maid Léonie was just coming down

the stairs, and seemed not averse to the prospect of a little

conversation.

Poirot inquired after the health of Mrs. Renauld.

Léonie shook her head.

“She is terribly upset, _la pauvre dame!___ She will eat nothing—but

nothing! And she is as pale as a ghost. It is heartrending to see her.

Ah, _par exemple___, it is not I who would grieve like that for a man

who had deceived me with another woman!”

Poirot nodded sympathetically.

“What you say is very just, but what will you? The heart of a woman who

loves will forgive many blows. Still, undoubtedly there must have been

many scenes of recrimination between them in the last few months?”

Again Léonie shook her head.

“Never, monsieur. Never have I heard Madame utter a word of protest—of

reproach, even! She had the temper and disposition of an angel—quite

different to Monsieur.”

“Monsieur Renauld had not the temper of an angel?”

“Far from it. When he enraged himself, the whole house knew of it. The

day that he quarrelled with M. Jack—_ma foi!___ they might have been

heard in the market place, they shouted so loud!”

“Indeed,” said Poirot. “And when did this quarrel take place?”

“Oh! it was just before M. Jack went to Paris. Almost he missed his

train. He came out of the library, and caught up his bag which he had

left in the hall. The automobile, it was being repaired, and he had to

run for the station. I was dusting the salon, and I saw him pass, and

his face was white—white—with two burning spots of red. Ah, but he was

angry!”

Léonie was enjoying her narrative thoroughly.

“And the dispute, what was it about?”

“Ah, that I do not know,” confessed Léonie. “It is true that they

shouted, but their voices were so loud and high, and they spoke so

fast, that only one well acquainted with English could have

comprehended. But Monsieur, he was like a thundercloud all day!

Impossible to please him!”

The sound of a door shutting upstairs cut short Léonie’s loquacity.

“And Françoise who awaits me!” she exclaimed, awakening to a tardy

remembrance of her duties. “That old one, she always scolds.”

“One moment, mademoiselle. The examining magistrate, where is he?”

“They have gone out to look at the automobile in the garage. Monsieur

the commissary had some idea that it might have been used on the night

of the murder.”

“_Quelle idée___,” murmured Poirot, as the girl disappeared.

“You will go out and join them?”

“No, I shall await their return in the _salon___. It is cool there on

this hot morning.”

This placid way of taking things did not quite commend itself to me.

“If you don’t mind—” I said, and hesitated.

“Not in the least. You wish to investigate on your own account, eh?”

“Well, I’d rather like to have a look at Giraud, if he’s anywhere

about, and see what he’s up to.”

“The human foxhound,” murmured Poirot, as he leaned back in a

comfortable chair, and closed his eyes. “By all means, my friend. Au

revoir.”

I strolled out of the front door. It was certainly hot. I turned up the

path we had taken the day before. I had a mind to study the scene of

the crime myself. I did not go directly to the spot, however, but

turned aside into the bushes, so as to come out on the links some

hundred yards or so further to the right. If Giraud were still on the

spot, I wanted to observe his methods before he knew of my presence.

But the shrubbery here was much denser, and I had quite a struggle to

force my way through. When I emerged at last on the course, it was

quite unexpectedly and with such vigour that I cannoned heavily into a

young lady who had been standing with her back to the plantation.

She not unnaturally gave a suppressed shriek, but I, too, uttered an

exclamation of surprise. For it was my friend of the train, Cinderella!

The surprise was mutual.

“You,” we both exclaimed simultaneously.

The young lady recovered herself first.

“My only Aunt!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

“For the matter of that, what are you?” I retorted.

“When last I saw you, the day before yesterday, you were trotting home

to England like a good little boy. Have they given you a season ticket

to and fro, on the strength of your M.P.?”

I ignored the end of the speech.

“When last I saw you,” I said, “you were trotting home with your

sister, like a good little girl. By the way, how is your sister?”

A flash of white teeth rewarded me.

“How kind of you to ask! My sister is well, I thank you.”

“She is here with you?”

“She remained in town,” said the minx with dignity.

“I don’t believe you’ve got a sister,” I laughed. “If you have, her

name is Harris!”

“Do you remember mine?” she asked, with a smile.

“Cinderella. But you’re going to tell me the real one now, aren’t you?”

She shook her head with a wicked look.

“Not even why you’re here?”

“Oh, that! I suppose you’ve heard of members of my profession

‘resting.’ ”

“At expensive French watering-places?”

“Dirt cheap if you know where to go.”

I eyed her keenly.

“Still, you’d no intention of coming here when I met you two days ago?”

“We all have our disappointments,” said Miss Cinderella sententiously.

“There now, I’ve told you quite as much as is good for you. Little boys

should not be inquisitive. You’ve not yet told me what you’re doing

here? Got the M.P. in tow, I suppose, doing the gay boy on the beach.”

I shook my head. “Guess again. You remember my telling you that my

great friend was a detective?”

“Yes?”

“And perhaps you’ve heard about this crime—at the Villa Geneviève—?”

She stared at me. Her breast heaved, and her eyes grew wide and round.

“You don’t mean—that you’re in on _that?___”

I nodded. There was no doubt that I had scored heavily. Her emotion, as

she regarded me, was only too evident. For some few seconds, she

remained silent, staring at me. Then she nodded her head emphatically.

“Well, if that doesn’t beat the band! Tote me round. I want to see all

the horrors.”

“What do you mean?”

“What I say. Bless the boy, didn’t I tell you I doted on crimes? What

do you think I’m imperilling my ankles for in high-heeled shoes over

this stubble? I’ve been nosing round for hours. Tried the front way in,

but that old stick-in-the-mud of a French gendarme wasn’t taking any. I

guess Helen of Troy, and Cleopatra, and Mary, Queen of Scots, rolled in

one wouldn’t cut ice with him! It’s a real piece of luck happening on

you this way. Come on, show me all the sights.”

“But look here—wait a minute—I can’t. Nobody’s allowed in. They’re

awfully strict.”

“Aren’t you and your friend the big bugs?”

I was loath to relinquish my position of importance.

“Why are you so keen?” I asked weakly. “And what is it you want to

see.”

“Oh, everything! The place where it happened, and the weapon, and the

body, and any finger-prints or interesting things like that. I’ve never

had a chance of being right in on a murder like this before. It’ll last

me all my life?”

I turned away, sickened. What were women coming to nowadays? The girl’s

ghoulish excitement nauseated me. I had read of the mobs of women who

besieged the law courts when some wretched man was being tried for his

life on the capital charge. I had sometimes wondered who these women

were. Now I knew. They were of the likeness of Cinderella, young, yet

obsessed with a yearning for morbid excitement, for sensation at any

price, without regard to any decency or good feeling. The vividness of

the girl’s beauty had attracted me in spite of myself, yet at heart I

retained my first impression of disapproval and dislike. I thought of

my mother, long since dead. What would she have said of this strange

modern product of girlhood? The pretty face with the paint and powder,

and the ghoulish mind behind!

“Come off your high horse,” said the lady suddenly. “And don’t give

yourself airs. When you got called to this job, did you put your nose

in the air and say it was a nasty business, and you wouldn’t be mixed

up in it?”

“No, but—”

“If you’d been here on a holiday, wouldn’t you be nosing round just the

same as I am? Of course you would.”

“I’m a man. You’re a woman.”

“Your idea of a woman is some one who gets on a chair and shrieks if

she sees a mouse. That’s all prehistoric. But you _will___ show me

round, won’t you? You see, it might make a big difference to me.”

“In what way?”

“They’re keeping all the reporters out. I might make a big scoop with

one of the papers. You don’t know how much they pay for a bit of inside

stuff.”

I hesitated. She slipped a small soft hand into mine.

“_Please___—there’s a dear.”

I capitulated. Secretly, I knew that I should rather enjoy the part of

showman. After all, the moral attitude displayed by the girl was none

of my business. I was a little nervous as to what the examining

magistrate might say, but I reassured myself by the reflection that no

harm could possibly be done.

We repaired first to the spot where the body had been discovered. A man

was on guard there, who saluted respectfully, knowing me by sight, and

raised no question as to my companion. Presumably he regarded her as

vouched for by me. I explained to Cinderella just how the discovery had

been made, and she listened attentively, sometimes putting an

intelligent question. Then we turned our steps in the direction of the

Villa. I proceeded rather cautiously, for, truth to tell, I was not at

all anxious to meet any one. I took the girl through the shrubbery

round to the back of the house where the small shed was. I recollected

that yesterday evening, after relocking the door, M. Bex had left the

key with the _sergent de ville___ Marchaud, “in case M. Giraud should

require it while we are upstairs.” I thought it quite likely that the

Sûreté detective, after using it, had returned it to Marchaud again.

Leaving the girl out of sight in the shrubbery, I entered the house.

Marchaud was on duty outside the door of the _salon___. From within

came the murmur of voices.

“Monsieur desires Hautet? He is within. He is again interrogating

Françoise.”

“No,” I said hastily, “I don’t want him. But I should very much like

the key of the shed outside if it is not against regulations.”

“But certainly, monsieur.” He produced it. “Here it is. M. le juge gave

orders that all facilities were to be placed at your disposal. You will

return it to me when you have finished out there, that is all.”

“Of course.”

I felt a thrill of satisfaction as I realized that in Marchaud’s eyes,

at least, I ranked equally in importance with Poirot. The girl was

waiting for me. She gave an exclamation of delight as she saw the key

in my hand.

“You’ve got it then?”

“Of course,” I said coolly. “All the same, you know, what I’m doing is

highly irregular.”

“You’ve been a perfect duck, and I shan’t forget it. Come along. They

can’t see us from the house, can they?”

“Wait a minute.” I arrested her eager advance. “I won’t stop you if you

really wish to go in. But do you? You’ve seen the grave, and the

grounds, and you’ve heard all the details of the affair. Isn’t that

enough for you? This is going to be gruesome, you know,

and—unpleasant.”

She looked at me for a moment with an expression that I could not quite

fathom. Then she laughed.

“Me for the horrors,” she said. “Come along.”

In silence we arrived at the door of the shed. I opened it and we

passed in. I walked over to the body, and gently pulled down the sheet

as M. Bex had done the preceding afternoon. A little gasping sound

escaped from the girl’s lips, and I turned and looked at her. There was

horror on her face now, and those debonair high spirits of hers were

quenched utterly. She had not chosen to listen to my advice, and she

was punished now for her disregard of it. I felt singularly merciless

towards her. She should go through with it now. I turned the corpse

gently over.

“You see,” I said, “he was stabbed in the back.”

Her voice was almost soundless.

“With what?”

I nodded towards the glass jar.

“That dagger.”

Suddenly the girl reeled, and then sank down in a heap. I sprang to her

assistance.

“You are faint. Come out of here. It has been too much for you.”

“Water,” she murmured. “Quick. Water. …”

I left her, and rushed into the house. Fortunately none of the servants

were about, and I was able to secure a glass of water unobserved and

add a few drops of brandy from a pocket flask. In a few minutes I was

back again. The girl was lying as I had left her, but a few sips of the

brandy and water revived her in a marvellous manner.

“Take me out of here—oh, quickly, quickly!” she cried, shuddering.

Supporting her with my arm I led her out into the air, and she pulled

the door to behind her. Then she drew a deep breath.

“That’s better. Oh, it was horrible! Why did you ever let me go in?”

I felt this to be so feminine that I could not forbear a smile.

Secretly, I was not dissatisfied with her collapse. It proved that she

was not quite so callous as I had thought her. After all she was little

more than a child, and her curiosity had probably been of the

unthinking order.

“I did my best to stop you, you know,” I said gently.

“I suppose you did. Well, good-bye.”

“Look here, you can’t start off like that—all alone. You’re not fit for

it. I insist on accompanying you back to Merlinville.”

“Nonsense. I’m quite all right now.”

“Supposing you felt faint again? No, I shall come with you.”

But this she combated with a good deal of energy. In the end, however,

I prevailed so far as to be allowed to accompany her to the outskirts

of the town. We retraced our steps over our former route, passing the

grave again, and making a detour on to the road. Where the first

straggling line of shops began, she stopped and held out her hand.

“Good-bye, and thank you ever so much for coming with me.”

“Are you sure you’re all right now?”

“Quite, thanks. I hope you won’t get into any trouble over showing me

things?”

I disclaimed the idea lightly.

“Well, good-bye.”

“Au revoir,” I corrected. “If you’re staying here, we shall meet

again.”

She flashed a smile at me.

“That’s so. Au revoir, then.”

“Wait a second, you haven’t told me your address?”

“Oh, I’m staying at the Hôtel du Phare. It’s a little place, but quite

good. Come and look me up tomorrow.”

“I will,” I said, with perhaps rather unnecessary _empressement___.

I watched her out of sight, then turned and retraced my steps to the

Villa. I remembered that I had not relocked the door of the shed.

Fortunately no one had noticed the oversight, and turning the key I

removed it and returned it to the _sergent de ville___. And, as I did

so, it came upon me suddenly that though Cinderella had given me her

address I still did not know her name.

****

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