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The Murder on the Links - 21

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

21

Hercule Poirot on the Case!

In a measured voice, Poirot began his exposition.

“It seems strange to you, _mon ami___, that a man should plan his own

death? So strange, that you prefer to reject the truth as fantastic,

and to revert to a story that is in reality ten times more impossible.

Yes, M. Renauld planned his own death, but there is one detail that

perhaps escapes you—he did not intend to die.”

I shook my head, bewildered.

“But no, it is all most simple really,” said Poirot kindly. “For the

crime that M. Renauld proposed a murderer was not necessary, as I told

you, but a body was. Let us reconstruct, seeing events this time from a

different angle.

“Georges Conneau flies from justice—to Canada. There, under an assumed

name he marries, and finally acquires a vast fortune in South America.

But there is a nostalgia upon him for his own country. Twenty years

have elapsed, he is considerably changed in appearance, besides being a

man of such eminence that no one is likely to connect him with a

fugitive from justice many years ago. He deems it quite safe to return.

He takes up his headquarters in England, but intends to spend the

summers in France. And ill fortune, that obscure justice which shapes

men’s ends, and will not allow them to evade the consequences of their

acts, takes him to Merlinville. There, in the whole of France, is the

one person who is capable of recognizing him. It is, of course, a gold

mine to Madame Daubreuil, and a gold mine of which she is not slow to

take advantage. He is helpless, absolutely in her power. And she bleeds

him heavily.

“And then the inevitable happens. Jack Renauld falls in love with the

beautiful girl he sees almost daily, and wishes to marry her. That

rouses his father. At all costs, he will prevent his son marrying the

daughter of this evil woman. Jack Renauld knows nothing of his father’s

past, but Madame Renauld knows everything. She is a woman of great

force of character, and passionately devoted to her husband. They take

counsel together. Renauld sees only one way of escape—death. He must

appear to die, in reality escaping to another country where he will

start again under an assumed name, and where Madame Renauld, having

played the widow’s part for a while, can join him. It is essential that

she should have control of the money, so he alters his will. How they

meant to manage the body business originally, I do not know—possibly an

art student’s skeleton—and a fire or something of the kind, but long

before their plans have matured an event occurs which plays into their

hands. A rough tramp, violent and abusive, finds his way into the

garden. There is a struggle, M. Renauld seeks to eject him, and

suddenly the tramp, an epileptic, falls down in a fit. He is dead. M.

Renauld calls his wife. Together they drag him into the shed—as we

know, the event had occurred just outside—and they realize the

marvellous opportunity that has been vouchsafed them. The man bears no

resemblance to M. Renauld, but he is middle-aged, of a usual French

type. That is sufficient.

“I rather fancy that they sat on the bench up there, out of earshot

from the house, discussing matters. Their plan was quickly made. The

identification must rest solely on Madame Renauld’s evidence. Jack

Renauld and the chauffeur (who had been with his master two years) must

be got out of the way. It was unlikely that the French women servants

would go near the body, and in any case Renauld intended to take

measures to deceive any one not likely to appreciate details. Masters

was sent off, a telegram despatched to Jack, Buenos Ayres being

selected to give credence to the story that Renauld had decided upon.

Having heard of me, as a rather obscure elderly detective, he wrote his

appeal for help knowing that, when I arrived, the production of the

letter would have a profound effect upon the examining

magistrate—which, of course, it did.

“They dressed the body of the tramp in a suit of M. Renauld’s and left

his ragged coat and trousers by the door of the shed, not daring to

take them into the house. And then, to give credence to the tale Madame

Renauld was to tell, they drove the aeroplane dagger through his heart.

That night, M. Renauld will first bind and gag his wife, and then,

taking a spade, will dig a grave in that particular spot of ground

where he knows a—how do you call it? bunkair?—is to be made. It is

essential that the body should be found—Madame Daubreuil must have no

suspicions. On the other hand, if a little time elapses, any dangers as

to identity will be greatly lessened. Then, M. Renauld will don the

tramp’s rags, and shuffle off to the station, where he will leave,

unnoticed, by the 12:10 train. Since the crime will be supposed to have

taken place two hours later, no suspicion can possibly attach to him.

“You see now his annoyance at the inopportune visit of the girl Bella.

Every moment of delay is fatal to his plans. He gets rid of her as soon

as he can, however. Then, to work! He leaves the front door slightly

ajar to create the impression that the assassins left that way. He

binds and gags Madame Renauld, correcting his mistake of twenty-two

years ago, when the looseness of the bonds caused suspicion to fall

upon his accomplice, but leaving her primed with essentially the same

story as he had invented before, proving the unconscious recoil of the

mind against originality. The night is chilly, and he slips on an

overcoat over his underclothing, intending to cast it into the grave

with the dead man. He goes out by the window, smoothing over the flower

bed carefully, and thereby furnishing the most positive evidence

against himself. He goes out on to the lonely golf links, and he

digs—and then—”

“Yes?”

“And then,” said Poirot gravely, “the justice that he has so long

eluded overtakes him. An unknown hand stabs him in the back. … Now,

Hastings, you understand what I mean when I talk of _two___ crimes. The

first crime, the crime that M. Renauld, in his arrogance, asked us to

investigate (ah, but he made a famous mistake there! He misjudged

Hercule Poirot!) is solved. But behind it lies a deeper riddle. And to

solve that will be difficult—since the criminal in his wisdom, has been

content to avail himself of the devices prepared by M. Renauld. It has

been a particularly perplexing and baffling mystery to solve. A young

hand, like Giraud, who does not place any reliance on the psychology,

is almost certain to fail.”

“You’re marvellous, Poirot,” I said, with admiration. “Absolutely

marvellous. No one on earth but you could have done it!”

I think my praise pleased him. For once in his life, he looked almost

embarrassed.

“Ah, then you no longer despise poor old Papa Poirot? You shift your

allegiance back from the human foxhound?”

His term for Giraud never failed to make me smile.

“Rather. You’ve scored over him handsomely.”

“That poor Giraud,” said Poirot, trying unsuccessfully to look modest.

“Without doubt it is not all stupidity. He has had _la mauvaise

chance___ once or twice. That dark hair coiled round the dagger, for

instance. To say the least, it was misleading.”

“To tell you the truth, Poirot,” I said slowly, “even now I don’t quite

see—whose hair was it?”

“Madame Renauld’s of course. That is where _la mauvaise chance___ came

in. Her hair, dark originally, is almost completely silvered. It might

just as easily have been a grey hair—and then, by no conceivable effort

could Giraud have persuaded himself it came from the head of Jack

Renauld! But it is all of a piece. Always the facts must be twisted to

fit the theory! Did not Giraud find the traces of two persons, a man

and a woman, in the shed? And how does that fit in with his

reconstruction of the case? I will tell you—it does not fit in, and so

we shall hear no more of them! I ask you, is that a methodical way of

working? The great Giraud! The great Giraud is nothing but a toy

balloon—swollen with its own importance. But I, Hercule Poirot, whom he

despises, will be the little pin that pricks the big balloon—_comme

ça!___” And he made an expressive gesture. Then, calming down, he

resumed:

“Without doubt, when Madame Renauld recovers, she will speak. The

possibility of her son being accused of the murder never occurred to

her. How should it, when she believed him safely at sea on board the

_Anzora?___ _Ah! voilà une femme___, Hastings! What force, what

self-command! She only made one slip. On his unexpected return: ‘It

does not matter—_now___.’ And no one noticed—no one realized the

significance of those words. What a terrible part she has had to play,

poor woman. Imagine the shock when she goes to identify the body and,

instead of what she expects, sees the actual lifeless form of the

husband she has believed miles away by now. No wonder she fainted! But

since then, despite her grief and her despair, how resolutely she has

played her part, and how the anguish of it must wring her. She cannot

say a word to set us on the track of the real murderers. For her son’s

sake, no one must know that Paul Renauld was Georges Conneau, the

criminal. Final and most bitter blow, she has admitted publicly that

Madame Daubreuil was her husband’s mistress—for a hint of blackmail

might be fatal to her secret. How cleverly she dealt with the examining

magistrate when he asked her if there was any mystery in her husband’s

past life. ‘Nothing so romantic, I am sure, M. le juge.’ It was

perfect, the indulgent tone, the _soupçon___ of sad mockery. At once M.

Hautet felt himself foolish and melodramatic. Yes, she is a great

woman! If she loved a criminal, she loved him royally!”

Poirot lost himself in contemplation.

“One thing more, Poirot, what about the piece of lead piping?”

“You do not see? To disfigure the victim’s face so that it would be

unrecognizable. It was that which first set me on the right track. And

that imbecile of a Giraud, swarming all over it to look for match ends!

Did I not tell you that a clue of two feet long was quite as good as a

clue of two inches?”

“Well, Giraud will sing small now,” I observed hastily, to lead the

conversation away from my own shortcomings.

“As I said before, will he? If he has arrived at the right person by

the wrong method, he will not permit that to worry him.”

“But surely—” I paused as I saw the new trend of things.

“You see, Hastings, we must now start again. Who killed M. Renauld?

Some one who was near the Villa just before twelve o’clock that night,

some one who would benefit by his death—the description fits Jack

Renauld only too well. The crime need not have been premeditated. And

then the dagger!”

I started, I had not realized that point.

“Of course,” I said. “The second dagger we found in the tramp was Mrs.

Renauld’s. There _were___ two, then.”

“Certainly, and, since they were duplicates, it stands to reason that

Jack Renauld was the owner. But that would not trouble me so much. In

fact I have a little idea as to that. No, the worst indictment against

him is again psychological—heredity, _mon ami___, heredity! Like

father, like son—Jack Renauld, when all is said or done, is the son of

Georges Conneau.”

His tone was grave and earnest, and I was impressed in spite of myself.

“What is your little idea that you mentioned just now?” I asked.

For answer, Poirot consulted his turnip-faced watch, and then asked:

“What time is the afternoon boat from Calais?”

“About five, I believe.”

“That will do very well. We shall just have time.”

“You are going to England?”

“Yes, my friend.”

“Why?”

“To find a possible—witness.”

“Who?”

With a rather peculiar smile upon his face, Poirot replied:

“Miss Bella Duveen.”

“But how will you find her—what do you know about her?”

“I know nothing about her—but I can guess a good deal. We may take it

for granted that her name _is___ Bella Duveen, and since that name was

faintly familiar to M. Stonor, though evidently not in connection with

the Renauld family, it is probable that she is on the stage. Jack

Renauld was a young man with plenty of money, and twenty years of age.

The stage is sure to have been the home of his first love. It tallies,

too, with M. Renauld’s attempt to placate her with a cheque. I think I

shall find her all right—especially with the help of _this___.”

And he brought out the photograph I had seen him take from Jack

Renauld’s drawer. “With love from Bella,” was scrawled across the

corner, but it was not that which held my eyes fascinated. The likeness

was not first rate—but for all that it was unmistakable to me. I felt a

cold sinking, as though some unutterable calamity had befallen me.

It was the face of Cinderella.

****

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