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The Murder on the Links - 26

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

26

I Receive a Letter

“_My Friend:___

“You will know all when you get this. Nothing that I can say will

move Bella. She has gone out to give herself up. I am tired out

with struggling.

“You will know now that I deceived you, that where you gave me

trust I repaid you with lies. It will seem, perhaps, indefensible

to you, but I should like, before I go out of your life for ever,

to show you just how it all came about. If I knew that you forgave

me, it would make life easier for me. It wasn’t for myself I did

it—that’s the only thing I can put forward to say for myself.

“I’ll begin from the day I met you in the boat train from Paris. I

was uneasy then about Bella. She was just desperate about Jack

Renauld, she’d have lain down on the ground for him to walk on, and

when he began to change, and to stop writing so often, she began

getting in a state. She got it into her head that he was keen on

another girl—and of course, as it turned out afterwards, she was

quite right there. She’d made up her mind to go to their Villa at

Merlinville, and try and see Jack. She knew I was against it, and

tried to give me the slip. I found she was not on the train at

Calais, and determined I would not go on to England without her.

I’d an uneasy feeling that something awful was going to happen if I

couldn’t prevent it.

“I met the next train from Paris. She was on it, and set upon going

out then and there to Merlinville. I argued with her for all I was

worth, but it wasn’t any good. She was all strung up and set upon

having her own way. Well, I washed my hands of it. I’d done all I

could! It was getting late. I went to an hotel, and Bella started

for Merlinville. I still couldn’t shake off my feeling of what the

books call ‘impending disaster.’

“The next day came—but no Bella. She’d made a date with me to meet

at the hotel, but she didn’t keep it. No sign of her all day. I got

more and more anxious. Then came an evening paper with the news.

“It was awful! I couldn’t be sure, of course—but I was terribly

afraid. I figured it out that Bella had met Papa Renauld and told

him about her and Jack, and that he’d insulted her or something

like that. We’ve both got terribly quick tempers.

“Then all the masked foreigner business came out, and I began to

feel more at ease. But it still worried me that Bella hadn’t kept

her date with me.

“By the next morning, I was so rattled that I’d just got to go and

see what I could. First thing, I ran up against you. You know all

that … When I saw the dead man, looking so like Jack, and wearing

Jack’s fancy overcoat, I knew! And there was the identical

paper-knife—wicked little thing!—that Jack had given Bella! Ten to

one it had her finger-marks on it. I can’t hope to explain to you

the sort of helpless horror of that moment. I only saw one thing

clearly—I must get hold of that dagger, and get right away with it

before they found out it was gone. I pretended to faint, and whilst

you were away getting water I took the thing and hid it away in my

dress.

“I told you that I was staying at the Hôtel du Phare, but of course

really I made a bee line back to Calais, and then on to England by

the first boat. When we were in mid-Channel, I dropped that little

devil of a dagger into the sea. Then I felt I could breathe again.

“Bella was at our digs in London. She looked like nothing on God’s

earth. I told her what I’d done, and that she was pretty safe for

the time being. She stared at me, and then began laughing …

laughing … laughing … it was horrible to hear her! I felt that the

best thing to do was to keep busy. She’d go mad if she had time to

brood on what she’d done. Luckily we got an engagement at once.

“And then, I saw you and your friend, watching us that night … I

was frantic. You must suspect, or you wouldn’t have tracked us

down. I had to know the worst, so I followed you. I was desperate.

And then, before I’d had time to say anything, I tumbled to it that

it was _me___ you suspected, not Bella! Or at least that you

thought I _was___ Bella since I’d stolen the dagger.

“I wish, honey, that you could see back into my mind at that

moment … you’d forgive me, perhaps … I was so frightened, and

muddled, and desperate. … All I could get clearly was that you

would try and save me. I didn’t know whether you’d be willing to

save her … I thought very likely not—it wasn’t the same thing! And

I couldn’t risk it! Bella’s my twin—I’d got to do the best for her.

So I went on lying. … I felt mean—I feel mean still. … That’s

all—enough too, you’ll say, I expect. I ought to have trusted

you. … If I had—

“As soon as the news was in the paper that Jack Renauld had been

arrested, it was all up. Bella wouldn’t even wait to see how things

went. …

“I’m very tired. … I can’t write any more. …”

She had begun to sign herself Cinderella, but had crossed that out and

written instead “Dulcie Duveen.”

It was an ill-written, blurred epistle but I have kept it to this day.

Poirot was with me when I read it. The sheets fell from my hand, and I

looked across at him.

“Did you know all the time that it was—the other?”

“Yes, my friend.”

“Why did you not tell me?”

“To begin with, I could hardly believe it conceivable that you could

make such a mistake. You had seen the photograph. The sisters are very

alike, but by no means incapable of distinguishment.”

“But the fair hair?”

“A wig, worn for the sake of a piquant contrast on the stage. Is it

conceivable that with twins one should be fair and one dark?”

“Why didn’t you tell me that night at the hotel in Coventry?”

“You were rather high-handed in your methods, _mon ami___,” said Poirot

dryly. “You did not give me a chance.”

“But afterwards?”

“Ah, afterwards! Well, to begin with, I was hurt at your want of faith

in me. And then, I wanted to see whether your—feelings would stand the

test of time. In fact, whether it was love, or a flash in the pan, with

you. I should not have left you long in your error.”

I nodded. His tone was too affectionate for me to bear resentment. I

looked down on the sheets of the letter. Suddenly I picked them up from

the floor, and pushed them across to him.

“Read that,” I said. “I’d like you to.”

He read it through in silence, then he looked up at me.

“What is it that worries you, Hastings?”

This was quite a new mood in Poirot. His mocking manner seemed laid

quite aside. I was able to say what I wanted without too much

difficulty.

“She doesn’t say—she doesn’t say—well, not whether she cares for me or

not!”

Poirot turned back the pages.

“I think you are mistaken, Hastings.”

“Where?” I cried, leaning forward eagerly.

Poirot smiled.

“She tells you that in every line of the letter, _mon ami___.”

“But where am I to find her? There’s no address on the letter. There’s

a French stamp, that’s all.”

“Excite yourself not! Leave it to Papa Poirot. I can find her for you

as soon as I have five little minutes!”

*****

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