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The Murder on the Links - 24

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

24

“Save Him!”

We crossed from England by the evening boat, and the following morning

saw us in Saint-Omer, whither Jack Renauld had been taken. Poirot lost

no time in visiting M. Hautet. As he did not seem disposed to make any

objections to my accompanying him, I bore him company.

After various formalities and preliminaries, we were conducted to the

examining magistrate’s room. He greeted us cordially.

“I was told that you had returned to England, M. Poirot. I am glad to

find that such is not the case.”

“It is true that I went there, M. le juge, but it was only for a flying

visit. A side issue, but one that I fancied might repay investigation.”

“And it did—eh?”

Poirot shrugged his shoulders. M. Hautet nodded, sighing.

“We must resign ourselves, I fear. That animal Giraud, his manners are

abominable, but he is undoubtedly clever! Not much chance of that one

making a mistake.”

“You think not, M. le juge?”

It was the examining magistrate’s turn to shrug his shoulders.

“_Eh bien___, speaking frankly—in confidence, _c’est entendu___—can you

come to any other conclusion?”

“Frankly, M. le juge, there seem to me to be many points that are

obscure.”

“Such as—?”

But Poirot was not to be drawn.

“I have not yet tabulated them,” he remarked. “It was a general

reflection that I was making. I liked the young man, and should be

sorry to believe him guilty of such a hideous crime. By the way, what

has he to say for himself on the matter?”

The magistrate frowned.

“I cannot understand him. He seems incapable of putting up any sort of

defence. It has been most difficult to get him to answer questions. He

contents himself with a general denial, and beyond that takes refuge in

a most obstinate silence. I am interrogating him again tomorrow;

perhaps you would like to be present?”

We accepted the invitation with _empressement___.

“A distressing case,” said the magistrate with a sigh. “My sympathy for

Madame Renauld is profound.”

“How is Madame Renauld?”

“She has not yet recovered consciousness. It is merciful in a way, poor

woman, she is being spared much. The doctors say that there is no

danger, but that when she comes to herself she must be kept as quiet as

possible. It was, I understand, quite as much the shock as the fall

which caused her present state. It would be terrible if her brain

became unhinged; but I should not wonder at all—no, really, not at

all.”

M. Hautet leaned back, shaking his head, with a sort of mournful

enjoyment, as he envisaged the gloomy prospect.

He roused himself at length, and observed with a start.

“That reminds me. I have here a letter for you, M. Poirot. Let me see,

where did I put it?”

He proceeded to rummage amongst his papers. At last he found the

missive, and handed it to Poirot.

“It was sent under cover to me in order that I might forward it to

you,” he explained. “But as you left no address I could not do so.”

Poirot studied the letter curiously. It was addressed in a long,

sloping, foreign hand, and the writing was decidedly a woman’s. Poirot

did not open it. Instead he put it in his pocket and rose to his feet.

“_A demain___ then, M. le juge. Many thanks for your courtesy and

amiability.”

“But not at all. I am always at your service. These young detectives of

the school of Giraud, they are all alike—rude, sneering fellows. They

do not realize that an examining magistrate of my—er—experience is

bound to have a certain discernment, a certain—_flair___. _Enfin!___

the politeness of the old school is infinitely more to my taste.

Therefore, my dear friend, command me in any way you will. We know a

thing or two, you and I—eh?”

And laughing heartily, enchanted with himself and with us, M. Hautet

bade us adieu. I am sorry to have to record that Poirot’s first remark

to me as we traversed the corridor was:

“A famous old imbecile, that one! Of a stupidity to make pity!”

We were just leaving the building when we came face to face with

Giraud, looking more dandified than ever, and thoroughly pleased with

himself.

“Aha! M. Poirot,” he cried airily. “You have returned from England

then?”

“As you see,” said Poirot.

“The end of the case is not far off now, I fancy.”

“I agree with you, M. Giraud.”

Poirot spoke in a subdued tone. His crest-fallen manner seemed to

delight the other.

“Of all the milk and water criminals! Not an idea of defending himself.

It is extraordinary!”

“So extraordinary that it gives one to think, does it not?” suggested

Poirot mildly.

But Giraud was not even listening. He twirled his cane amicably.

“Well, good day, M. Poirot. I am glad you’re satisfied of young

Renauld’s guilt at last.”

“_Pardon!___ But I am not in the least satisfied. Jack Renauld is

innocent.”

Giraud stared for a moment—then burst out laughing, tapping his head

significantly with the brief remark: “_Toqué!___”

Poirot drew himself up. A dangerous light showed in his eyes.

“M. Giraud, throughout the case your manner to me has been deliberately

insulting! You need teaching a lesson. I am prepared to wager you 500

francs that I find the murderer of M. Renauld before you do. Is it

agreed?”

Giraud stared helplessly at him, and murmured again:

“_Toqué!___”

“Come now,” urged Poirot, “is it agreed?”

“I have no wish to take your money from you.”

“Make your mind easy—you will not!”

“Oh, well then, I agree! You speak of my manner to you being insulting.

_Eh bien___, once or twice, _your___ manner has annoyed _me___.”

“I am enchanted to hear it,” said Poirot. “Good morning, M. Giraud.

Come, Hastings.”

I said no word as we walked along the street. My heart was heavy.

Poirot had displayed his intentions only too plainly. I doubted more

than ever my powers of saving Bella from the consequences of her act.

This unlucky encounter with Giraud had roused Poirot and put him on his

mettle.

Suddenly I felt a hand laid on my shoulder, and turned to face Gabriel

Stonor. We stopped and greeted him, and he proposed strolling with us

back to our hotel.

“And what are you doing here, M. Stonor?” inquired Poirot.

“One must stand by one’s friends,” replied the other dryly. “Especially

when they are unjustly accused.”

“Then you do not believe that Jack Renauld committed the crime?” I

asked eagerly.

“Certainly I don’t. I know the lad. I admit that there have been one or

two things in this business that have staggered me completely, but none

the less, in spite of his fool way of taking it, I’ll never believe

that Jack Renauld is a murderer.”

My heart warmed to the secretary. His words seemed to lift a secret

weight from my heart.

“I have no doubt that many people feel as you do,” I exclaimed. “There

is really absurdly little evidence against him. I should say that there

was no doubt of his acquittal—no doubt whatever.”

But Stonor hardly responded as I could have wished.

“I’d give a lot to think as you do,” he said gravely. He turned to

Poirot. “What’s your opinion, monsieur?”

“I think that things look very black against him,” said Poirot quietly.

“You believe him guilty?” said Stonor sharply.

“No. But I think he will find it hard to prove his innocence.”

“He’s behaving so damned queerly,” muttered Stonor. “Of course I

realize that there’s a lot more in this affair than meets the eye.

Giraud’s not wise to that because he’s an outsider, but the whole thing

has been damned odd. As to that, least said soonest mended. If Mrs.

Renauld wants to hush anything up, I’ll take my cue from her. It’s her

show, and I’ve too much respect for her judgment to shove my oar in,

but I can’t get behind this attitude of Jack’s. Any one would think he

_wanted___ to be thought guilty.”

“But it’s absurd,” I cried, bursting in. “For one thing, the dagger—” I

paused, uncertain as to how much Poirot would wish me to reveal. I

continued, choosing my words carefully, “We know that the dagger could

not have been in Jack Renauld’s possession that evening. Mrs. Renauld

knows that.”

“True,” said Stonor. “When she recovers, she will doubtless say all

this and more. Well, I must be leaving you.”

“One moment.” Poirot’s hand arrested his departure. “Can you arrange

for word to be sent to me at once should Madame Renauld recover

consciousness?”

“Certainly. That’s easily done.”

“That point about the dagger is good, Poirot,” I urged as we went

upstairs. “I couldn’t speak very plainly before Stonor.”

“That was quite right of you. We might as well keep the knowledge to

ourselves as long as we can. As to the dagger, your point hardly helps

Jack Renauld. You remember that I was absent for an hour this morning,

before we started from London?”

“Yes?”

“Well, I was employed in trying to find the firm Jack Renauld employed

to convert his souvenirs. It was not very difficult. _Eh bien___,

Hastings, they made to his order not _two___ paper-knives, but

_three___.”

“So that—?”

“So that, after giving one to his mother, and one to Bella Duveen,

there was a third which he doubtless retained for his own use. No,

Hastings, I fear the dagger question will not help us to save him from

the guillotine.”

“It won’t come to that,” I cried, stung.

Poirot shook his head uncertainly.

“You will save him,” I cried positively.

Poirot glanced at me dryly.

“Have you not rendered it impossible, _mon ami?___”

“Some other way,” I muttered.

“Ah! _Sapristi!___ But it is miracles you ask from me. No—say no more.

Let us instead see what is in this letter.”

And he drew out the envelope from his breast pocket.

His face contracted as he read, then he handed the one flimsy sheet to

me.

“There are other women in the world who suffer, Hastings.”

The writing was blurred and the note had evidently been written in

great agitation:

“_Dear M. Poirot:___

“If you get this, I beg of you to come to my aid. I have no one to turn

to, and at all costs Jack must be saved. I implore of you on my knees

to help us.

“MARTHE DAUBREUIL.”

I handed it back, moved.

“You will go?”

“At once. We will command an auto.”

Half an hour later saw us at the Villa Marguerite. Marthe was at the

door to meet us, and led Poirot in, clinging with both hands to one of

his.

“Ah, you have come—it is good of you. I have been in despair, not

knowing what to do. They will not let me go to see him in prison even.

I suffer horribly, I am nearly mad. Is it true what they say, that he

does not deny the crime? But that is madness. It is impossible that he

should have done it! Never for one minute will I believe it.”

“Neither do I believe it, mademoiselle,” said Poirot gently.

“But then why does he not speak? I do not understand.”

“Perhaps because he is screening some one,” suggested Poirot, watching

her.

Marthe frowned.

“Screening some one? Do you mean his mother? Ah, from the beginning I

have suspected her. Who inherits all that vast fortune? She does. It is

easy to wear widow’s weeds and play the hypocrite. And they say that

when he was arrested she fell down—like _that___.” She made a dramatic

gesture. “And without doubt, M. Stonor, the secretary, he helped her.

They are thick as thieves, those two. It is true she is older than

he—but what do men care—if a woman is rich!”

There was a hint of bitterness in her tone.

“Stonor was in England,” I put in.

“He says so—but who knows?”

“Mademoiselle,” said Poirot quietly, “if we are to work together, you

and I, we must have things clear. First, I will ask you a question.”

“Yes, monsieur?”

“Are you aware of your mother’s real name?”

Marthe looked at him for a minute, then, letting her head fall forward

on her arms, she burst into tears.

“There, there,” said Poirot, patting her on the shoulder. “Calm

yourself, _petite___, I see that you know. Now a second question, did

you know who M. Renauld was?”

“M. Renauld,” she raised her head from her hands and gazed at him

wonderingly.

“Ah, I see you do not know that. Now listen to me carefully.”

Step by step, he went over the case, much as he had done to me on the

day of our departure for England. Marthe listened spellbound. When he

had finished, she drew a long breath.

“But you are wonderful—magnificent! You are the greatest detective in

the world.”

With a swift gesture she slipped off her chair and knelt before him

with an abandonment that was wholly French.

“Save him, monsieur,” she cried. “I love him so. Oh, save him, save

him—save him!”

*****

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