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The Murder on the Links - 15

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

15

A Photograph

The doctor’s words were so surprising that we were all momentarily

taken aback. Here was a man stabbed with a dagger which we knew to have

been stolen only twenty-four hours previously, and yet Dr. Durand

asserted positively that he had been dead at least forty-eight hours!

The whole thing was fantastic to the last extreme.

We were still recovering from the surprise of the doctor’s

announcement, when a telegram was brought to me. It had been sent up

from the hotel to the Villa. I tore it open. It was from Poirot, and

announced his return by the train arriving at Merlinville at 12:28.

I looked at my watch and saw that I had just time to get comfortably to

the station and meet him there. I felt that it was of the utmost

importance that he should know at once of the new and startling

developments in the case.

Evidently, I reflected, Poirot had had no difficulty in finding what he

wanted in Paris. The quickness of his return proved that. Very few

hours had sufficed. I wondered how he would take the exciting news I

had to impart.

The train was some minutes late, and I strolled aimlessly up and down

the platform, until it occurred to me that I might pass the time by

asking a few questions as to who had left Merlinville by the last train

on the evening of the tragedy.

I approached the chief porter, an intelligent looking man, and had

little difficulty in persuading him to enter upon the subject. It was a

disgrace to the Police, he hotly affirmed, that such brigands of

assassins should be allowed to go about unpunished. I hinted that there

was some possibility they might have left by the midnight train, but he

negatived the idea decidedly. He would have noticed two foreigners—he

was sure of it. Only about twenty people had left by the train, and he

could not have failed to observe them.

I do not know what put the idea into my head—possibly it was the deep

anxiety underlying Marthe Daubreuil’s tones—but I asked suddenly:

“Young M. Renauld—he did not leave by that train, did he?”

“Ah, no, monsieur. To arrive and start off again within half an hour,

it would not be amusing, that!”

I stared at the man, the significance of his words almost escaping me.

Then I saw. …

“You mean,” I said, my heart beating a little, “that M. Jack Renauld

arrived at Merlinville that evening?”

“But yes, monsieur. By the last train arriving the other way, the

11:40.”

My brain whirled. That, then, was the reason of Marthe’s poignant

anxiety. Jack Renauld had been in Merlinville on the night of the

crime! But why had he not said so? Why, on the contrary, had he led us

to believe that he had remained in Cherbourg? Remembering his frank

boyish countenance, I could hardly bring myself to believe that he had

any connection with the crime. Yet why this silence on his part about

so vital a matter? One thing was certain, Marthe had known all along.

Hence her anxiety, and her eager questioning of Poirot to know whether

any one were suspected.

My cogitations were interrupted by the arrival of the train, and in

another moment I was greeting Poirot. The little man was radiant. He

beamed and vociferated and, forgetting my English reluctance, embraced

me warmly on the platform.

“_Mon cher ami___, I have succeeded—but succeeded to a marvel!”

“Indeed? I’m delighted to hear it. Have you heard the latest here?”

“How would you that I should hear anything? There have been some

developments, eh? The brave Giraud, he has made an arrest? Or even

arrests perhaps? Ah, but I will make him look foolish, that one! But

where are you taking me, my friend? Do we not go to the hotel? It is

necessary that I attend to my moustaches—they are deplorably limp from

the heat of travelling. Also, without doubt, there is dust on my coat.

And my tie, that I must rearrange.”

I cut short his remonstrances.

“My dear Poirot—never mind all that. We must go to the Villa at once.

_There has been another murder!___”

I have frequently been disappointed when fancying that I was giving

news of importance to my friend. Either he has known it already or he

has dismissed it as irrelevant to the main issue—and in the latter case

events have usually proved him justified. But this time I could not

complain of missing my effect. Never have I seen a man so

flabbergasted. His jaw dropped. All the jauntiness went out of his

bearing. He stared at me open-mouthed.

“What is that you say? Another murder? Ah, then, I am all wrong. I have

failed. Giraud may mock himself at me—he will have reason!”

“You did not expect it, then?”

“I? Not the least in the world. It demolishes my theory—it ruins

everything—it—ah, no!” He stopped dead, thumping himself on the chest.

“It is impossible. I _cannot___ be wrong! The facts, taken methodically

and in their proper order admit of only one explanation. I must be

right! I _am___ right!”

“But then—”

He interrupted me.

“Wait, my friend. I must be right, therefore this new murder is

impossible unless—unless—oh, wait, I implore you. Say no word—”

He was silent for a moment or two, then, resuming his normal manner, he

said in a quiet assured voice: “The victim is a man of middle-age. His

body was found in the locked shed near the scene of the crime and had

been dead at least forty-eight hours. And it is most probable that he

was stabbed in a similar manner to M. Renauld, though not necessarily

in the back.”

It was my turn to gape—and gape I did. In all my knowledge of Poirot he

had never done anything so amazing as this. And, almost inevitably, a

doubt crossed my mind.

“Poirot,” I cried, “you’re pulling my leg. You’ve heard all about it

already.”

He turned his earnest gaze upon me reproachfully.

“Would I do such a thing? I assure you that I have heard nothing

whatsoever. Did you not observe the shock your news was to me?”

“But how on earth could you know all that?”

“I was right then? But I knew it. The little grey cells, my friend, the

little grey cells! They told me. Thus, and in no other way, could there

have been a second death. Now tell me all. If we go round to the left

here, we can take a short cut across the golf links which will bring us

to the back of the Villa Geneviève much more quickly.”

As we walked, taking the way he had indicated, I recounted all I knew.

Poirot listened attentively.

“The dagger was in the wound, you say? That is curious. You are sure it

was the same one?”

“Absolutely certain. That’s what make it so impossible.”

“Nothing is impossible. There may have been two daggers.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Surely that is in the highest degree unlikely? It would be a most

extraordinary coincidence.”

“You speak as usual, without reflection, Hastings. In some cases two

identical weapons _would___ be highly improbable. But not here. This

particular weapon was a war souvenir which was made to Jack Renauld’s

orders. It is really highly unlikely, when you come to think of it,

that he should have had only one made. Very probably he would have

another for his own use.”

“But nobody has mentioned such a thing,” I objected.

A hint of the lecturer crept into Poirot’s tone. “My friend, in working

upon a case, one does not take into account only the things that are

‘mentioned.’ There is no reason to mention many things which may be

important. Equally, there is often an excellent reason for _not___

mentioning them. You can take your choice of the two motives.”

I was silent, impressed in spite of myself. Another few minutes brought

us to the famous shed. We found all our friends there and, after an

interchange of polite amenities, Poirot began his task.

Having watched Giraud at work, I was keenly interested. Poirot bestowed

but a cursory glance on the surroundings. The only thing he examined

was the ragged coat and trousers by the door. A disdainful smile rose

to Giraud’s lips, and, as though noting it, Poirot flung the bundle

down again.

“Old clothes of the gardener’s?” he queried.

“Exactly,” said Giraud.

Poirot knelt down by the body. His fingers were rapid but methodical.

He examined the texture of the clothes, and satisfied himself that

there were no marks on them. The boots he subjected to special care,

also the dirty and broken finger-nails. Whilst examining the latter he

threw a quick question at Giraud.

“You saw these?”

“Yes, I saw them,” replied the other. His face remained inscrutable.

Suddenly Poirot stiffened.

“Dr. Durand!”

“Yes?” The doctor came forward.

“There is foam on the lips. You observed it?”

“I didn’t notice it, I must admit.”

“But you observe it now?”

“Oh, certainly.”

Poirot again shot a question at Giraud.

“You noticed it without doubt?”

The other did not reply. Poirot proceeded. The dagger had been

withdrawn from the wound. It reposed in a glass jar by the side of the

body. Poirot examined it, then he studied the wound closely. When he

looked up, his eyes were excited, and shone with the green light I knew

so well.

“It is a strange wound, this! It has not bled. There is no stain on the

clothes. The blade of the dagger is slightly discoloured, that is all.

What do you think, M. le docteur?”

“I can only say that it is most abnormal.”

“It is not abnormal at all. It is most simple. The man was stabbed

_after he was dead___.” And, stilling the clamour of voices that arose

with a wave of his hand, Poirot turned to Giraud and added, “M. Giraud

agrees with me, do you not, monsieur?”

Whatever Giraud’s real belief, he accepted the position without moving

a muscle. Calmly and almost scornfully he replied:

“Certainly I agree.”

The murmur of surprise and interest broke out again.

“But what an idea!” cried M. Hautet. “To stab a man after he is dead!

Barbaric! Unheard of! Some unappeasable hate, perhaps.”

“No, M. le juge,” said Poirot. “I should fancy it was done quite

cold-bloodedly—to create an impression.”

“What impression?”

“The impression it nearly did create,” returned Poirot oracularly.

M. Bex had been thinking.

“How, then, was the man killed?”

“He was not killed. He died. He died, M. le juge, if I am not much

mistaken, of an epileptic fit!”

This statement of Poirot’s again aroused considerable excitement. Dr.

Durand knelt down again, and made a searching examination. At last he

rose to his feet.

“Well, M. le docteur?”

“M. Poirot, I am inclined to believe that you are correct in your

assertion. I was misled to begin with. The incontrovertible fact that

the man had been stabbed distracted my attention from any other

indications.”

Poirot was the hero of the hour. The examining magistrate was profuse

in compliments. Poirot responded gracefully, and then excused himself

on the pretext that neither he nor I had yet lunched, and that he

wished to repair the ravages of the journey. As we were about to leave

the shed, Giraud approached us.

“One more thing, M. Poirot,” he said, in his suave mocking voice. “We

found this coiled round the handle of the dagger. A woman’s hair.”

“Ah!” said Poirot. “A woman’s hair? What woman’s, I wonder?”

“I wonder also,” said Giraud. Then, with a bow, he left us.

“He was insistent, the good Giraud,” said Poirot thoughtfully, as we

walked towards the hotel. “I wonder in what direction he hopes to

mislead me? A woman’s hair—h’m!”

We lunched heartily, but I found Poirot somewhat distrait and

inattentive. Afterwards we went up to our sitting-room and there I

begged him to tell me something of his mysterious journey to Paris.

“Willingly, my friend. I went to Paris to find _this___.”

He took from his pocket a small faded newspaper cutting. It was the

reproduction of a woman’s photograph. He handed it to me. I uttered an

exclamation.

“You recognize it, my friend?”

I nodded. Although the photo obviously dated from very many years back,

and the hair was dressed in a different style, the likeness was

unmistakable.

“Madame Daubreuil!” I exclaimed.

Poirot shook his head with a smile.

“Not quite correct, my friend. She did not call herself by that name in

those days. That is a picture of the notorious Madame Beroldy!”

Madame Beroldy! In a flash the whole thing came back to me. The murder

trial that had evoked such world-wide interest.

_The Beroldy Case.___

*****

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