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The Murder on the Links - 9

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

9

M. Giraud Finds Some Clues

In the _Salon___ I found the examining magistrate busily interrogating

the old gardener Auguste. Poirot and the commissary, who were both

present, greeted me respectively with a smile and a polite bow. I

slipped quietly into a seat. M. Hautet was painstaking and meticulous

in the extreme, but did not succeed in eliciting anything of

importance.

The gardening gloves Auguste admitted to be his. He wore them when

handling a certain species of primula plant which was poisonous to some

people. He could not say when he had worn them last. Certainly he had

not missed them. Where were they kept? Sometimes in one place,

sometimes in another. The spade was usually to be found in the small

tool shed. Was it locked? Of course it was locked. Where was the key

kept? _Parbleu___, it was in the door of course! There was nothing of

value to steal. Who would have expected a party of bandits, of

assassins? Such things did not happen in Madame la Vicomtesse’s time.

M. Hautet signifying that he had finished with him, the old man

withdrew, grumbling to the last. Remembering Poirot’s unaccountable

insistence on the footprints in the flower beds, I scrutinized him

narrowly as he gave his evidence. Either he had nothing to do with the

crime or he was a consummate actor. Suddenly, just as he was going out

of the door, an idea struck me. “_Pardon___ M. Hautet,” I cried, “but

will you permit me to ask him one question?”

“But certainly, monsieur.”

Thus encouraged, I turned to Auguste.

“Where do you keep your boots?”

“_Sac à papier!___” growled the old man. “On my feet. Where else?”

“But when you go to bed at night?”

“Under my bed.”

“But who cleans them?”

“Nobody. Why should they be cleaned? Is it that I promenade myself on

the front like a young man? On Sunday I wear the Sunday boots, _bien

entendu___, but otherwise—!” he shrugged his shoulders.

I shook my head, discouraged.

“Well, well,” said the magistrate. “We do not advance very much.

Undoubtedly we are held up until we get the return cable from Santiago.

Has any one seen Giraud? In verity that one lacks politeness! I have a

very good mind to send for him and—”

“You will not have to send far, M. le juge.”

The quiet voice startled us. Giraud was standing outside looking in

through the open window.

He leaped lightly into the room, and advanced to the table.

“Here I am, M. le juge, at your service. Accept my excuses for not

presenting myself sooner.”

“Not at all. Not at all,” said the magistrate, rather confused.

“Of course I am only a detective,” continued the other. “I know nothing

of interrogatories. Were I conducting one, I should be inclined to do

so without an open window. Any one standing outside can so easily hear

all that passes. … But no matter.”

M. Hautet flushed angrily. There was evidently going to be no love lost

between the examining magistrate and the detective in charge of the

case. They had fallen foul of each other at the start. Perhaps in any

event it would have been much the same. To Giraud, all examining

magistrates were fools, and to M. Hautet who took himself seriously,

the casual manner of the Paris detective could not fail to give

offence.

“_Eh bien___, M. Giraud,” said the magistrate rather sharply. “Without

doubt you have been employing your time to a marvel? You have the names

of the assassins for us, have you not? And also the precise spot where

they find themselves now?”

Unmoved by this irony, Giraud replied:

“I know at least where they have come from.”

“_Comment?___”

Giraud took two small objects from his pocket and laid them down on the

table. We crowded round. The objects were very simple ones: the stub of

a cigarette, and an unlighted match. The detective wheeled round on

Poirot.

“What do you see there?” he asked.

There was something almost brutal in his tone. It made my cheeks flush.

But Poirot remained unmoved. He shrugged his shoulders.

“A cigarette end, and a match.”

“And what does that tell you?”

Poirot spread out his hands.

“It tells me—nothing.”

“Ah!” said Giraud, in a satisfied voice. “You haven’t made a study of

these things. That’s not an ordinary match—not in this country at

least. It’s common enough in South America. Luckily it’s unlighted. I

mightn’t have recognized it otherwise. Evidently one of the men threw

away his cigarette end, and lit another, spilling one match out of the

box as he did so.”

“And the other match?” asked Poirot.

“Which match?”

“The one he _did___ light his cigarette with. You have found that

also?”

“No.”

“Perhaps you didn’t search very thoroughly.”

“Not search thoroughly—” For a moment it seemed as though the detective

were going to break out angrily, but with an effort he controlled

himself. “I see you love a joke, M. Poirot. But in any case, match or

no match, the cigarette end would be sufficient. It is a South American

cigarette with liquorice pectoral paper.”

Poirot bowed. The commissary spoke:

“The cigarette end and match might have belonged to M. Renauld.

Remember, it is only two years since he returned from South America.”

“No,” replied the other confidently. “I have already searched among the

effects of M. Renauld. The cigarettes he smoked and the matches he used

are quite different.”

“You do not think it odd,” asked Poirot, “that these strangers should

come unprovided with a weapon, with gloves, with a spade, and that they

should so conveniently find all these things?”

Giraud smiled in a rather superior manner.

“Undoubtedly it is strange. Indeed, without the theory that I hold, it

would be inexplicable.”

“Aha!” said M. Hautet. “An accomplice. An accomplice within the house!”

“Or outside it,” said Giraud with a peculiar smile.

“But some one must have admitted them? We cannot allow that, by an

unparalleled piece of good fortune, they found the door ajar for them

to walk in?”

“_D’accord___, M. le juge. The door was opened for them, but it could

just as easily be opened from outside—by some one who possessed a key.”

“But who did possess a key?”

Giraud shrugged his shoulders.

“As for that, no one who possesses one is going to admit the fact if

they can help it. But several people _might___ have had one. M. Jack

Renauld, the son, for instance. It is true that he is on his way to

South America, but he might have lost the key or had it stolen from

him. Then there is the gardener—he has been here many years. One of the

younger servants may have a lover. It is easy to take an impression of

a key and have one cut. There are many possibilities. Then there is

another person who, I should judge, is exceedingly likely to have such

a thing in her keeping.”

“Who is that?”

“Madame Daubreuil,” said the detective dryly.

“Eh, eh!” said the magistrate, his face falling a little, “so you have

heard about that, have you?”

“I hear everything,” said Giraud imperturbably.

“There is one thing I could swear you have not heard,” said M. Hautet,

delighted to be able to show superior knowledge, and without more ado,

he retailed the story of the mysterious visitor the night before. He

also touched on the cheque made out to “Duveen,” and finally handed

Giraud the letter signed “Bella.”

Giraud listened in silence, studied the letter attentively, and then

handed it back.

“All very interesting, M. le juge. But my theory remains unaffected.”

“And your theory is?”

“For the moment I prefer not to say. Remember, I am only just beginning

my investigations.”

“Tell me one thing, M. Giraud,” said Poirot suddenly. “Your theory

allows for the door being opened. It does not explain why it was

_left___ open. When they departed, would it not have been natural for

them to close it behind them. If a _sergent de ville___ had chanced to

come up to the house, as is sometimes done to see that all is well,

they might have been discovered and overtaken almost at once.”

“Bah! They forgot it. A mistake, I grant you.”

Then, to my surprise, Poirot uttered almost the same words as he had

uttered to Bex the previous evening:

“_I do not agree with you.___ The door being left open was the result

of either design or necessity, and any theory that does not admit that

fact is bound to prove vain.”

We all regarded the little man with a good deal of astonishment. The

confession of ignorance drawn from him over the match end had, I

thought, been bound to humiliate him, but here he was self satisfied as

ever, laying down the law to the great Giraud without a tremor.

The detective twisted his moustache, eyeing my friend in a somewhat

bantering fashion.

“You don’t agree with me, eh? Well, what strikes you particularly about

the case. Let’s hear your views.”

“One thing presents itself to me as being significant. Tell me, M.

Giraud, does nothing strike you as familiar about this case? Is there

nothing it reminds you of?”

“Familiar? Reminds me of? I can’t say off-hand. I don’t think so,

though.”

“You are wrong,” said Poirot quietly. “A crime almost precisely similar

has been committed before.”

“When? And where?”

“Ah, that, unfortunately, I cannot for the moment remember—but I shall

do so. I had hoped you might be able to assist me.”

Giraud snorted incredulously.

“There have been many affairs of masked men! I cannot remember the

details of them all. These crimes all resemble each other more or

less.”

“There is such a thing as the individual touch.” Poirot suddenly

assumed his lecturing manner, and addressed us collectively. “I am

speaking to you now of the psychology of crime. M. Giraud knows quite

well that each criminal has his particular method, and that the police,

when called in to investigate—say a case of burglary—can often make a

shrewd guess at the offender, simply by the peculiar method he has

employed. (Japp would tell you the same, Hastings.) Man is an

unoriginal animal. Unoriginal within the law in his daily respectable

life, equally unoriginal outside the law. If a man commits a crime, any

other crime he commits will resemble it closely. The English murderer

who disposed of his wives in succession by drowning them in their baths

was a case in point. Had he varied his methods, he might have escaped

detection to this day. But he obeyed the common dictates of human

nature, arguing that what had once succeeded would succeed again, and

he paid the penalty of his lack of originality.”

“And the point of all this?” sneered Giraud.

“That when you have two crimes precisely similar in design and

execution, you find the same brain behind them both. I am looking for

that brain, M. Giraud—and I shall find it. Here we have a true clue—a

psychological clue. You may know all about cigarettes and match ends,

M. Giraud, but I, Hercule Poirot, know the mind of man!” And the

ridiculous little fellow tapped his forehead with emphasis.

Giraud remained singularly unimpressed.

“For your guidance,” continued Poirot, “I will also advise you of one

fact which might fail to be brought to your notice. The wrist watch of

Madame Renauld, on the day following the tragedy, had gained two hours.

It might interest you to examine it.”

Giraud stared.

“Perhaps it was in the habit of gaining?”

“As a matter of fact, I am told it did.”

“_Eh bien___, then!”

“All the same, two hours is a good deal,” said Poirot softly. “Then

there is the matter of the footprints in the flower-bed.”

He nodded his head towards the open window. Giraud took two eager

strides, and looked out.

“This bed here?”

“Yes.”

“But I see no footprints?”

“No,” said Poirot, straightening a little pile of books on a table.

“There are none.”

For a moment an almost murderous rage obscured Giraud’s face. He took

two strides towards his tormentor, but at that moment the _salon___

door was opened, and Marchaud announced.

“M. Stonor, the secretary, has just arrived from England. May he

enter?”

*****

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