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The Murder on the Links - 16

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

16

The Beroldy Case

Some twenty years or so before the opening of the present story,

Monsieur Arnold Beroldy, a native of Lyons, arrived in Paris

accompanied by his pretty wife and their little daughter, a mere babe.

Monsieur Beroldy was a junior partner in a firm of wine merchants, a

stout middle-aged man, fond of the good things of life, devoted to his

charming wife, and altogether unremarkable in every way. The firm in

which Monsieur Beroldy was a partner was a small one, and although

doing well, it did not yield a large income to the junior partner. The

Beroldys had a small apartment and lived in a very modest fashion to

begin with.

But unremarkable though Monsieur Beroldy might be, his wife was

plentifully gilded with the brush of Romance. Young and good looking,

and gifted withal with a singular charm of manner, Madame Beroldy at

once created a stir in the quarter, especially when it began to be

whispered that some interesting mystery surrounded her birth. It was

rumoured that she was the illegitimate daughter of a Russian Grand

Duke. Others asserted that it was an Austrian Archduke, and that the

union was legal, though morganatic. But all stories agreed upon one

point, that Jeanne Beroldy was the centre of an interesting mystery.

Questioned by the curious, Madame Beroldy did not deny these rumours.

On the other hand she let it be clearly understood that, though her

“lips” were “sealed,” all these stories had a foundation in fact. To

intimate friends she unburdened herself further, spoke of political

intrigues, of “papers,” of obscure dangers that threatened her. There

was also much talk of Crown jewels that were to be sold secretly, with

herself acting as the go-between.

Amongst the friends and acquaintances of the Beroldys was a young

lawyer, Georges Conneau. It was soon evident that the fascinating

Jeanne had completely enslaved his heart. Madame Beroldy encouraged the

young man in a discreet fashion, but being always careful to affirm her

complete devotion to her middle-aged husband. Nevertheless, many

spiteful persons did not hesitate to declare that young Conneau was her

lover—and not the only one!

When the Beroldys had been in Paris about three months, another

personage came upon the scene. This was Mr. Hiram P. Trapp, a native of

the United States, and extremely wealthy. Introduced to the charming

and mysterious Madame Beroldy, he fell a prompt victim to her

fascinations. His admiration was obvious, though strictly respectful.

About this time, Madame Beroldy became more outspoken in her

confidences. To several friends, she declared herself greatly worried

on her husband’s behalf. She explained that he had been drawn into

several schemes of a political nature, and also referred to some

important papers that had been entrusted to him for safekeeping and

which concerned a “secret” of far reaching European importance. They

had been entrusted to his custody to throw pursuers off the track, but

Madame Beroldy was nervous, having recognized several important members

of the Revolutionary Circle in Paris.

On the 28th day of November, the blow fell. The woman who came daily to

clean and cook for the Beroldys was surprised to find the door of the

apartment standing wide open. Hearing faint moans issuing from the

bedroom, she went in. A terrible sight met her eyes. Madame Beroldy lay

on the floor, bound hand and foot, uttering feeble moans, having

managed to free her mouth from a gag. On the bed was Monsieur Beroldy,

lying in a pool of blood, with a knife driven through his heart.

Madame Beroldy’s story was clear enough. Suddenly awakened from sleep,

she had discerned two masked men bending over her. Stifling her cries,

they had bound and gagged her. They had then demanded of Monsieur

Beroldy the famous “secret.”

But the intrepid wine merchant refused point-blank to accede to their

request. Angered by his refusal, one of the men incontinently stabbed

him through the heart. With the dead man’s keys, they had opened the

safe in the corner, and had carried away with them a mass of papers.

Both men were heavily bearded, and had worn masks, but Madame Beroldy

declared positively that they were Russians.

The affair created an immense sensation. It was referred to variously

as “the Nihilist Atrocity,” “Revolutionaries in Paris,” and the

“Russian Mystery.” Time went on, and the mysterious bearded men were

never traced. And then, just as public interest was beginning to die

down, a startling development occurred. Madame Beroldy was arrested and

charged with the murder of her husband.

The trial, when it came on, aroused widespread interest. The youth and

beauty of the accused, and her mysterious history, were sufficient to

make of it a _cause célèbre___. People ranged themselves wildly for or

against the prisoner. But her partisans received several severe checks

to their enthusiasm. The romantic past of Madame Beroldy, her royal

blood, and the mysterious intrigues in which she had her being were

shown to be mere fantasies of the imagination.

It was proved beyond doubt that Jeanne Beroldy’s parents were a highly

respectable and prosaic couple, fruit merchants, who lived on the

outskirts of Lyons. The Russian Grand Duke, the court intrigues, and

the political schemes—all the stories current were traced back to—the

lady herself! From her brain had emanated these ingenious myths, and

she was proved to have raised a considerable sum of money from various

credulous persons by her fiction of the “Crown jewels”—the jewels in

question being found to be mere paste imitations. Remorselessly the

whole story of her life was laid bare. The motive for the murder was

found in Mr. Hiram P. Trapp. Mr. Trapp did his best, but relentlessly

and agilely cross-questioned he was forced to admit that he loved the

lady, and that, had she been free, he would have asked her to be his

wife. The fact that the relations between them were admittedly platonic

strengthened the case against the accused. Debarred from becoming his

mistress by the simple honourable nature of the man, Jeanne Beroldy had

conceived the monstrous project of ridding herself of her elderly

undistinguished husband, and becoming the wife of the rich American.

Throughout, Madame Beroldy confronted her accusers with complete sang

froid and self possession. Her story never varied. She continued to

declare strenuously that she was of royal birth, and that she had been

substituted for the daughter of the fruit seller at an early age.

Absurd and completely unsubstantiated as these statements were, a great

number of people believed implicitly in their truth.

But the prosecution was implacable. It denounced the masked “Russians”

as a myth, and asserted that the crime had been committed by Madame

Beroldy and her lover, Georges Conneau. A warrant was issued for the

arrest of the latter, but he had wisely disappeared. Evidence showed

that the bonds which secured Madame Beroldy were so loose that she

could easily have freed herself.

And then, towards the close of the trial, a letter, posted in Paris,

was sent to the Public Prosecutor. It was from Georges Conneau and,

without revealing his whereabouts, it contained a full confession of

the crime. He declared that he had indeed struck the fatal blow at

Madame Beroldy’s instigation. The crime had been planned between them.

Believing that her husband ill-treated her, and maddened by his own

passion for her, a passion which he believed her to return, he had

planned the crime and struck the fatal blow that should free the woman

he loved from a hateful bondage. Now, for the first time, he learnt of

Mr. Hiram P. Trapp, and realized that the woman he loved had betrayed

him! Not for his sake did she wish to be free—but in order to marry the

wealthy American. She had used him as a cat’s-paw, and now, in his

jealous rage, he turned and denounced her, declaring that throughout he

had acted at her instigation.

And then Madame Beroldy proved herself the remarkable woman she

undoubtedly was. Without hesitation, she dropped her previous defence,

and admitted that the “Russians” were a pure invention on her part. The

real murderer was Georges Conneau. Maddened by passion, he had

committed the crime, vowing that if she did not keep silence he would

enact a terrible vengeance from her. Terrified by his threats, she had

consented—also fearing it likely that if she told the truth she might

be accused of conniving at the crime. But she had steadfastly refused

to have anything more to do with her husband’s murderer, and it was in

revenge for this attitude on her part that he had written this letter

accusing her. She swore solemnly that she had had nothing to do with

the planning of the crime, that she had awoke on that memorable night

to find Georges Conneau standing over her, the blood-stained knife in

his hand.

It was a touch and go affair. Madame Beroldy’s story was hardly

credible. But this woman, whose fairy tales of royal intrigues had been

so easily accepted, had the supreme art of making herself believed. Her

address to the jury was a masterpiece. The tears streaming down her

face, she spoke of her child, of her woman’s honour—of her desire to

keep her reputation untarnished for the child’s sake. She admitted

that, Georges Conneau having been her lover, she might perhaps be held

morally responsible for the crime—but, before God, nothing more! She

knew that she had committed a grave fault in not denouncing Conneau to

the law, but she declared in a broken voice that that was a thing no

woman could have done. … She had loved him! Could she let her hand be

the one to send him to the Guillotine? She had been guilty of much, but

she was innocent of the terrible crime imputed to her.

However that may have been, her eloquence and personality won the day.

Madame Beroldy, amidst a scene of unparalleled excitement, was

acquitted. Despite the utmost endeavours of the police, Georges Conneau

was never traced. As for Madame Beroldy, nothing more was heard of her.

Taking the child with her, she left Paris to begin a new life.

*****

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