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The Murder on the Links - 10

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

10

Gabriel Stonor

The man who entered the room was a striking figure. Very tall, with a

well knit athletic frame, and a deeply bronzed face and neck, he

dominated the assembly. Even Giraud seemed anaemic beside him. When I

knew him better I realized that Gabriel Stonor was quite an unusual

personality. English by birth, he had knocked about all over the world.

He had shot big game in Africa, travelled in Korea, ranched in

California, and traded in the South Sea Islands. He had been secretary

to a New York railway magnate, and had spent a year encamped in the

desert with a friendly tribe of Arabs.

His unerring eye picked out M. Hautet.

“The examining magistrate in charge of the case? Pleased to meet you,

M. le juge. This is a terrible business. How’s Mrs. Renauld? Is she

bearing up fairly well? It must have been an awful shock to her.”

“Terrible, terrible,” said M. Hautet. “Permit me to introduce M.

Bex—our commissary of police, M. Giraud of the Sûreté. This gentleman

is M. Hercule Poirot. M. Renauld sent for him, but he arrived too late

to do anything to avert the tragedy. A friend of M. Poirot’s, Captain

Hastings.”

Stonor looked at Poirot with some interest.

“Sent for you, did he?”

“You did not know, then, that M. Renauld contemplated calling in a

detective?” interposed M. Bex.

“No, I didn’t. But it doesn’t surprise me a bit.”

“Why?”

“Because the old man was rattled! I don’t know what it was all about.

He didn’t confide in me. We weren’t on those terms. But rattled he

was—and badly!”

“H’m!” said M. Hautet. “But you have no notion of the cause?”

“That’s what I said, sir.”

“You will pardon me, M. Stonor, but we must begin with a few

formalities. Your name?”

“Gabriel Stonor.”

“How long ago was it that you became secretary to M. Renauld?”

“About two years ago, when he first arrived from South America. I met

him through a mutual friend, and he offered me the post. A thundering

good boss he was too.”

“Did he talk to you much about his life in South America?”

“Yes, a good bit.”

“Do you know if he was ever in Santiago?”

“Several times, I believe.”

“He never mentioned any special incident that occurred there—anything

that might have provoked some vendetta against him?”

“Never.”

“Did he speak of any secret that he had acquired whilst sojourning

there?”

“No.”

“Did he ever say anything at all about a secret?”

“Not that I can remember. But, for all that, there _was___ a mystery

about him. I’ve never heard him speak of his boyhood for instance, or

of any incident prior to his arrival in South America. He was a French

Canadian by birth, I believe, but I’ve never heard him speak of his

life in Canada. He could shut up like a clam if he liked.”

“So, as far as you know, he had no enemies, and you can give us no clue

as to any secret to obtain possession of which he might have been

murdered?”

“That’s so.”

“M. Stonor, have you ever heard the name of Duveen in connection with

M. Renauld?”

“Duveen. Duveen.” He tried the name over thoughtfully. “I don’t think I

have. And yet it seems familiar.”

“Do you know a lady, a friend of M. Renauld’s whose Christian name is

Bella?”

Again Mr. Stonor shook his head.

“Bella Duveen? Is that the full name? It’s curious! I’m sure I know it.

But for the moment I can’t remember in what connection.”

The magistrate coughed.

“You understand, M. Stonor—the case is like this. _There must be no

reservations.___ You might, perhaps, through a feeling of consideration

for Madame Renauld—for whom, I gather, you have a great esteem and

affection, you might—_enfin!___” said M. Hautet getting rather tied up

in his sentence, “there must absolutely be no reservations.”

Stonor stared at him, a dawning light of comprehension in his eyes.

“I don’t quite get you,” he said gently. “Where does Mrs. Renauld come

in? I’ve an immense respect and affection for that lady; she’s a very

wonderful and unusual type, but I don’t quite see how my reservations,

or otherwise, could affect her?”

“Not if this Bella Duveen should prove to have been something more than

a friend to her husband?”

“Ah!” said Stonor. “I get you now. But I’ll bet my bottom dollar that

you’re wrong. The old man never so much as looked at a petticoat. He

just adored his own wife. They were the most devoted couple I know.”

M. Hautet shook his head gently.

“M. Stonor, we hold absolute proof—a love letter written by this Bella

to M. Renauld, accusing him of having tired of her. Moreover, we have

further proof that, at the time of his death, he was carrying on an

intrigue with a Frenchwoman, a Madame Daubreuil, who rents the

adjoining Villa. And this is the man who, according to you, never

looked at a petticoat!”

The secretary’s eyes narrowed.

“Hold on, M. le juge. You’re barking up the wrong tree. I knew Paul

Renauld. What you’ve just been saying is utterly impossible. There’s

some other explanation.”

The magistrate shrugged his shoulders.

“What other explanation could there be?”

“What leads you to think it was a love affair?”

“Madame Daubreuil was in the habit of visiting him here in the

evenings. Also, since M. Renauld came to the Villa Geneviève, Madame

Daubreuil has paid large sums of money into the bank in notes. In all,

the amount totals four thousand pounds of your English money.”

“I guess that’s right,” said Stonor quietly. “I transmitted him those

sums at his request. But it wasn’t an intrigue.”

“Eh! _mon Dieu!___ What else could it be?”

“_Blackmail___,” said Stonor sharply, bringing down his hand with a

slam on the table. “That’s what it was.”

“Ah! Voilà une idée!” cried the magistrate, shaken in spite of himself.

“Blackmail,” repeated Stonor. “The old man was being bled—and at a good

rate too. Four thousand in a couple of months. Whew! I told you just

now there was a mystery about Renauld. Evidently this Madame Daubreuil

knew enough of it to put the screws on.”

“It is possible,” the commissary cried excitedly. “Decidedly, it is

possible.”

“Possible?” roared Stonor. “It’s certain! Tell me, have you asked Mrs.

Renauld about this love affair stunt of yours?”

“No, monsieur. We did not wish to occasion her any distress if it could

reasonably be avoided.”

“Distress? Why, she’d laugh in your face. I tell you, she and Renauld

were a couple in a hundred.”

“Ah, that reminds me of another point,” said M. Hautet. “Did M. Renauld

take you into his confidence at all as to the dispositions of his

will?”

“I know all about it—took it to the lawyer for him after he’d drawn it

out. I can give you the name of his solicitors if you want to see it.

They’ve got it there. Quite simple. Half in trust to his wife for her

lifetime, the other half to his son. A few legacies. I rather think he

left me a thousand.”

“When was this will drawn up?”

“Oh, about a year and a half ago.”

“Would it surprise you very much, M. Stonor, to hear that M. Renauld

had made another will, less than a fortnight ago?”

Stonor was obviously very much surprised.

“I’d no idea of it. What’s it like?”

“The whole of his vast fortune is left unreservedly to his wife. There

is no mention of his son.”

Mr. Stonor gave vent to a prolonged whistle.

“I call that rather rough on the lad. His mother adores him, of course,

but to the world at large it looks rather like a want of confidence on

his father’s part. It will be rather galling to his pride. Still, it

all goes to prove what I told you, that Renauld and his wife were on

first rate terms.”

“Quite so, quite so,” said M. Hautet. “It is possible we shall have to

revise our ideas on several points. We have, of course, cabled to

Santiago, and are expecting a reply from there any minute. In all

possibility, everything will then be perfectly clear and

straightforward. On the other hand, if your suggestion of blackmail is

true, Madame Daubreuil ought to be able to give us valuable

information.”

Poirot interjected a remark:

“M. Stonor, the English chauffeur, Masters, had he been long with M.

Renauld?”

“Over a year?”

“Have you any idea whether he has ever been in South America?”

“I’m quite sure he hasn’t. Before coming to Mr. Renauld, he had been

for many years with some people in Gloucestershire whom I know well.”

“In fact, you can answer for him as being above suspicion?”

“Absolutely.”

Poirot seemed somewhat crest-fallen.

Meanwhile the magistrate had summoned Marchaud.

“My compliments to Madame Renauld, and I should be glad to speak to her

for a few minutes. Beg her not to disturb herself. I will wait upon her

upstairs.”

Marchaud saluted and disappeared.

We waited some minutes, and then, to our surprise, the door opened, and

Mrs. Renauld, deathly pale in her heavy mourning, entered the room.

M. Hautet brought forward a chair, uttering vigorous protestations, and

she thanked him with a smile. Stonor was holding one hand of hers in

his with an eloquent sympathy. Words evidently failed him. Mrs. Renauld

turned to M. Hautet.

“You wished to ask me something, M. le juge.”

“With your permission, madame. I understand your husband was a French

Canadian by birth. Can you tell me anything of his youth, or

upbringing?”

She shook her head.

“My husband was always very reticent about himself, monsieur. He came

from the North West, I know, but I fancy that he had an unhappy

childhood, for he never cared to speak of that time. Our life was lived

entirely in the present and the future.”

“Was there any mystery in his past life?”

Mrs. Renauld smiled a little, and shook her head.

“Nothing so romantic, I am sure, M. le juge.”

M. Hautet also smiled.

“True, we must not permit ourselves to get melodramatic. There is one

thing more—” he hesitated.

Stonor broke in impetuously:

“They’ve got an extraordinary idea into their heads Mrs. Renauld. They

actually fancy that Mr. Renauld was carrying on an intrigue with a

Madame Daubreuil who, it seems, lives next door.”

The scarlet colour flamed into Mrs. Renauld’s cheeks. She flung her

head up, then bit her lip, her face quivering. Stonor stood looking at

her in astonishment, but M. Bex leaned forward and said gently: “We

regret to cause you pain, madame, but have you any reason to believe

that Madame Daubreuil was your husband’s mistress?”

With a sob of anguish, Mrs. Renauld buried her face in her hands. Her

shoulders heaved convulsively. At last she lifted her head, and said

brokenly:

“She may have been.”

Never, in all my life, have I seen anything to equal the blank

amazement on Stonor’s face. He was thoroughly taken aback.

******

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