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The Murder on the Links - 27

The Murder on the Links

by Agatha Christie

27

Jack Renauld’s Story

“Congratulations, M. Jack,” said Poirot, wringing the lad warmly by the

hand.

Young Renauld had come to us as soon as he was liberated—before

starting for Merlinville to rejoin Marthe and his mother. Stonor

accompanied him. His heartiness was in strong contrast to the lad’s wan

looks. It was plain that the boy was on the verge of a nervous

breakdown. Although delivered from the immediate peril that was hanging

over him, the circumstances of his release were too painful to let him

feel full relief. He smiled mournfully at Poirot, and said in a low

voice:

“I went through it to protect her, and now it’s all no use!”

“You could hardly expect the girl to accept the price of your life,”

remarked Stonor dryly. “She was bound to come forward when she saw you

heading straight for the guillotine.”

“_Eh ma foi!___ and you were heading for it too!” added Poirot, with a

slight twinkle. “You would have had Maître Grosíer’s death from rage on

your conscience if you had gone on.”

“He was a well meaning ass, I suppose,” said Jack. “But he worried me

horribly. You see, I couldn’t very well take him into my confidence.

But, my God! what’s going to happen about Bella?”

“If I were you,” said Poirot frankly, “I should not distress myself

unduly. The French Courts are very lenient to youth and beauty, and the

_crime passionnel___. A clever lawyer will make out a great case of

extenuating circumstances. It will not be pleasant for you—”

“I don’t care about that. You see, M. Poirot, in a way I _do___ feel

guilty of my father’s murder. But for me, and my entanglement with this

girl, he would be alive and well today. And then my cursed carelessness

in taking away the wrong overcoat. I can’t help feeling responsible for

his death. It will haunt me for ever!”

“No, no,” I said soothingly.

“Of course it’s horrible to me to think that Bella killed my father,”

resumed Jack, “but I’d treated her shamefully. After I met Marthe, and

realized I’d made a mistake, I ought to have written and told her so

honestly. But I was so terrified of a row, and of its coming to

Marthe’s ears, and her thinking there was more in it than there ever

had been, that—well, I was a coward, and went on hoping the thing would

die down of itself. I just drifted, in fact—not realizing that I was

driving the poor kid desperate. If she’d really knifed me, as she meant

to, I should have got no more than my deserts. And the way she’s come

forward now is downright plucky. I’d have stood the racket, you know—up

to the end.”

He was silent for a moment or two, and then burst out on another tack:

“What gets me is why the Governor should be wandering about in

underclothes and my overcoat at that time of night. I suppose he’d just

given the foreign johnnies the slip, and my mother must have made a

mistake about its being 2 o’clock when they came. Or—or, it wasn’t all

a frame up, was it? I mean, my mother didn’t think—couldn’t

think—that—that it was _me?___”

Poirot reassured him quickly.

“No, no, M. Jack. Have no fears on that score. As for the rest, I will

explain it to you one of these days. It is rather curious. But will you

recount to us exactly what did occur on that terrible evening?”

“There’s very little to tell. I came from Cherbourg, as I told you, in

order to see Marthe before going to the other end of the world. The

train was late, and I decided to take the short cut across the golf

links. I could easily get into the grounds of the Villa Marguerite from

there. I had nearly reached the place when—”

He paused and swallowed.

“Yes?”

“I heard a terrible cry. It wasn’t loud—a sort of choke and gasp—but it

frightened me. For a moment I stood rooted to the spot. Then I came

round the corner of a bush. There was moonlight. I saw the grave, and a

figure lying face downwards, with a dagger sticking in the back. And

then—and then—I looked up and saw _her___. She was looking at me as

though she saw a ghost—it’s what she must have thought me at first—all

expression seemed frozen out of her face by horror. And then she gave a

cry, and turned and ran.”

He stopped, trying to master his emotion.

“And afterwards?” asked Poirot gently.

“I really don’t know. I stayed there for a time, dazed. And then I

realized I’d better get away as fast as I could. It didn’t occur to me

that they would suspect me, but I was afraid of being called upon to

give evidence against her. I walked to St. Beauvais as I told you, and

got a car from there back to Cherbourg.”

A knock came at the door, and a page entered with a telegram which he

delivered to Stonor. He tore it open. Then he got up from his seat.

“Mrs. Renauld has regained consciousness,” he said.

“Ah!” Poirot sprang to his feet. “Let us all go to Merlinville at

once!”

A hurried departure was made forthwith. Stonor, at Jack’s instance,

agreed to stay behind and do all that could be done for Bella Duveen.

Poirot, Jack Renauld and I set off in the Renauld car.

The run took just over forty minutes. As we approached the doorway of

the Villa Marguerite, Jack Renauld shot a questioning glance at Poirot.

“How would it be if you went on first—to break the news to my mother

that I am free—”

“While you break it in person to Mademoiselle Marthe, eh?” finished

Poirot, with a twinkle. “But yes, by all means, I was about to propose

such an arrangement myself.”

Jack Renauld did not wait for more. Stopping the car, he swung himself

out, and ran up the path to the front door. We went on in the car to

the Villa Geneviève.

“Poirot,” I said, “do you remember how we arrived here that first day?

And were met by the news of M. Renauld’s murder?”

“Ah! yes, truly. Not so long ago, either. But what a lot of things have

happened since then—especially for you, _mon ami!___”

“Poirot, what have you done about finding Bel—I mean Dulcie?”

“Calm yourself, Hastings. I arrange everything.”

“You’re being a precious long time about it,” I grumbled.

Poirot changed the subject.

“Then the beginning, now the end,” he moralized, as we rang the bell.

“And, considered as a case, the end is profoundly unsatisfactory.”

“Yes, indeed,” I sighed.

“You are regarding it from the sentimental standpoint, Hastings. That

was not my meaning. We will hope that Mademoiselle Bella will be dealt

with leniently, and after all Jack Renauld cannot marry both the girls.

I spoke from a professional standpoint. This is not a crime well

ordered and regular, such as a detective delights in. The _mise en

scène___ designed by Georges Conneau, that indeed is perfect, but the

_dénouement___—ah, no! A man killed by accident in a girl’s fit of

anger—ah, indeed, what order or method is there in that?”

And in the midst of a fit of laughter on my part at Poirot’s

peculiarities, the door was opened by Françoise.

Poirot explained that he must see Mrs. Renauld at once, and the old

woman conducted him upstairs. I remained in the _salon___. It was some

time before Poirot reappeared. He was looking unusually grave.

“_Vous voilà___, Hastings! _Sacré tonnerre___, but there are squalls

ahead!”

“What do you mean?” I cried.

“I would hardly have credited it,” said Poirot thoughtfully, “but women

are very unexpected.”

“Here are Jack and Marthe Daubreuil,” I exclaimed, looking out of the

window.

Poirot bounded out of the room, and met the young couple on the steps

outside.

“Do not enter. It is better not. Your mother is very upset.”

“I know, I know,” said Jack Renauld. “I must go up to her at once.”

“But no, I tell you. It is better not.”

“But Marthe and I—”

“In any case, do not take Mademoiselle with you. Mount, if you must,

but you would be wise to be guided by me.”

A voice on the stairs behind made us all start.

“I thank you for your good offices, M. Poirot, but I will make my own

wishes clear.”

We stared in astonishment. Descending the stairs, leaning upon Léonie’s

arm, was Mrs. Renauld, her head still bandaged. The French girl was

weeping, and imploring her mistress to return to bed.

“Madame will kill herself. It is contrary to all the doctor’s orders!”

But Mrs. Renauld came on.

“Mother,” cried Jack, starting forward. But with a gesture she drove

him back.

“I am no mother of yours! You are no son of mine! From this day and

hour I renounce you.”

“Mother,” cried the lad, stupefied.

For a moment she seemed to waver, to falter before the anguish in his

voice. Poirot made a mediating gesture, but instantly she regained

command of herself.

“Your father’s blood is on your head. You are morally guilty of his

death. You thwarted and defied him over this girl, and by your

heartless treatment of another girl, you brought about his death. Go

out from my house. Tomorrow I intend to take such steps as shall make

it certain that you shall never touch a penny of his money. Make your

way in the world as best you can with the help of the girl who is the

daughter of your father’s bitterest enemy!”

And slowly, painfully, she retraced her way upstairs.

We were all dumbfounded—totally unprepared for such a demonstration.

Jack Renauld, worn out with all he had already gone through, swayed and

nearly fell. Poirot and I went quickly to his assistance.

“He is overdone,” murmured Poirot to Marthe. “Where can we take him?”

“But home! To the Villa Marguerite. We will nurse him, my mother and I.

My poor Jack!”

We got the lad to the Villa, where he dropped limply on to a chair in a

semi-dazed condition. Poirot felt his head and hands.

“He has fever. The long strain begins to tell. And now this shock on

top of it. Get him to bed, and Hastings and I will summon a doctor.”

A doctor was soon procured. After examining the patient, he gave it as

his opinion that it was simply a case of nerve strain. With perfect

rest and quiet, the lad might be almost restored by the next day, but,

if excited, there was a chance of brain fever. It would be advisable

for some one to sit up all night with him.

Finally, having done all we could, we left him in the charge of Marthe

and her mother, and set out for the town. It was past our usual hour of

dining, and we were both famished. The first restaurant we came to

assuaged the pangs of hunger with an excellent _omelette___, and an

equally excellent _entrecôte___ to follow.

“And now for quarters for the night,” said Poirot, when at length _café

noir___ had completed the meal. “Shall we try our old friend, the Hôtel

des Bains?”

We traced our steps there without more ado. Yes, Messieurs could be

accommodated with two good rooms overlooking the sea. Then Poirot asked

a question which surprised me.

“Has an English lady, Miss Robinson, arrived?”

“Yes, monsieur. She is in the little _salon___.”

“Ah!”

“Poirot,” I cried, keeping pace with him as he walked along the

corridor, “who on earth is Miss Robinson?”

Poirot beamed kindly on me.

“It is that I have arranged you a marriage, Hastings.”

“But, I say—”

“Bah!” said Poirot, giving me a friendly push over the threshold of the

door. “Do you think I wish to trumpet aloud in Merlinville the name of

Duveen?”

It was indeed Cinderella who rose to greet us. I took her hands in both

of mine. My eyes said the rest.

Poirot cleared his throat.

“_Mes enfants___,” he said, “for the moment we have no time for

sentiment. There is work ahead of us. Mademoiselle, were you able to do

what I asked you?”

In response, Cinderella took from her bag an object wrapped up in

paper, and handed it silently to Poirot. The latter unwrapped it. I

gave a start—for it was the aeroplane dagger which I understood she had

cast into the sea. Strange, how reluctant women always are to destroy

the most compromising of objects and documents!

“_Très bien, mon enfant___,” said Poirot. “I am pleased with you. Go

now and rest yourself. Hastings here and I have work to do. You shall

see him tomorrow.”

“Where are you going?” asked the girl, her eyes widening.

“You shall hear all about it tomorrow.”

“Because wherever you’re going, I’m coming too.”

“But mademoiselle—”

“I’m coming too, I tell you.”

Poirot realized that it was futile to argue further. He gave in.

“Come then, mademoiselle. But it will not be amusing. In all

probability nothing will happen.”

The girl made no reply.

Twenty minutes later we set forth. It was quite dark now, a close,

oppressive evening. Poirot led the way out of the town in the direction

of the Villa Geneviève. But when he reached the Villa Marguerite he

paused.

“I should like to assure myself that all goes well with Jack Renauld.

Come with me, Hastings. Mademoiselle will perhaps remain outside.

Madame Daubreuil might say something which would wound her.”

We unlatched the gate, and walked up the path. As we went round to the

side of the house, I drew Poirot’s attention to a window on the first

floor. Thrown sharply on the blind was the profile of Marthe Daubreuil.

“Ah!” said Poirot. “I figure to myself that that is the room where we

shall find Jack Renauld.”

Madame Daubreuil opened the door to us. She explained that Jack was

much the same, but perhaps we would like to see for ourselves. She led

us upstairs and into the bedroom. Marthe Daubreuil was embroidering by

a table with a lamp on it. She put her finger to her lips as we

entered.

Jack Renauld was sleeping an uneasy fitful sleep, his head turning from

side to side, and his face still unduly flushed.

“Is the doctor coming again?” asked Poirot in a whisper.

“Not unless we send. He is sleeping—that is the great thing. _Maman___

made him a tisane.”

She sat down again with her embroidery as we left the room. Madame

Daubreuil accompanied us down the stairs. Since I had learned of her

past history, I viewed this woman with increased interest. She stood

there with her eyes cast down, the same very faint enigmatical smile

that I remembered on her lips. And suddenly I felt afraid of her, as

one might feel afraid of a beautiful poisonous snake.

“I hope we have not deranged you, madame,” said Poirot politely as she

opened the door for us to pass out.

“Not at all, monsieur.”

“By the way,” said Poirot, as though struck by an afterthought, “M.

Stonor has not been in Merlinville today, has he?”

I could not at all fathom the point of this question which I well knew

to be meaningless as far as Poirot was concerned.

Madame Daubreuil replied quite composedly:

“Not that I know of.”

“He has not had an interview with Mrs. Renauld?”

“How should I know that, monsieur?”

“True,” said Poirot. “I thought you might have seen him coming or

going, that is all. Good night, madame.”

“Why—” I began.

“No ‘_whys___,’ Hastings. There will be time for that later.”

We rejoined Cinderella and made our way rapidly in the direction of the

Villa Geneviève. Poirot looked over his shoulder once at the lighted

window and the profile of Marthe as she bent over her work.

“He is being guarded at all events,” he muttered.

Arrived at the Villa Geneviève, Poirot took up his stand behind some

bushes to the left of the drive, where, whilst enjoying a good view

ourselves, we were completely hidden from sight. The Villa itself was

in total darkness, everybody was without doubt in bed and asleep. We

were almost immediately under the window of Mrs. Renauld’s bedroom,

which window, I noticed, was open. It seemed to me that it was upon

this spot that Poirot’s eyes were fixed.

“What are we going to do?” I whispered.

“Watch.”

“But—”

“I do not expect anything to happen for at least an hour, probably two

hours, but the—”

But his words were interrupted by a long thin drawn cry:

“Help!”

A light flashed up in the second floor room on the right hand side of

the house. The cry came from there. And even as we watched there came a

shadow on the blind as of two people struggling.

“_Mille tonnerres!___” cried Poirot. “She must have changed her room!”

Dashing forward, he battered wildly on the front door. Then rushing to

the tree in the flower-bed, he swarmed up it with the agility of a cat.

I followed him, as with a bound he sprang in through the open window.

Looking over my shoulder, I saw Dulcie reaching the branch behind me.

“Take care,” I exclaimed.

“Take care of your grandmother!” retorted the girl. “This is child’s

play to me.”

Poirot had rushed through the empty room and was pounding on the door

leading into the corridor.

“Locked and bolted on the outside,” he growled. “And it will take time

to burst it open.”

The cries for help were getting noticeably fainter. I saw despair in

Poirot’s eyes. He and I together put our shoulders to the door.

Cinderella’s voice, calm and dispassionate, came from the window:

“You’ll be too late, I guess I’m the only one who can do anything.”

Before I could move a hand to stop her, she appeared to leap upward

into space. I rushed and looked out. To my horror, I saw her hanging by

her hands from the roof, propelling herself along by jerks in the

direction of the lighted window.

“Good heavens! She’ll be killed,” I cried.

“You forget. She’s a professional acrobat, Hastings. It was the

providence of the good God that made her insist on coming with us

tonight. I only pray that she may be in time. Ah!”

A cry of absolute terror floated out on to the night as the girl

disappeared through the right-hand window; then in Cinderella’s clear

tones came the words:

“No, you don’t! I’ve got you—and my wrists are just like steel.”

At the same moment the door of our prison was opened cautiously by

Françoise. Poirot brushed her aside unceremoniously and rushed down the

passage to where the other maids were grouped round the further door.

“It’s locked on the inside, monsieur.”

There was the sound of a heavy fall within. After a moment or two the

key turned and the door swung slowly open. Cinderella, very pale,

beckoned us in.

“She is safe?” demanded Poirot.

“Yes, I was just in time. She was exhausted.”

Mrs. Renauld was half sitting, half lying on the bed. She was gasping

for breath.

“Nearly strangled me,” she murmured painfully. The girl picked up

something from the floor and handed it to Poirot. It was a rolled up

ladder of silk rope, very fine but quite strong.

“A getaway,” said Poirot. “By the window, whilst we were battering at

the door. Where is—the other?”

The girl stood aside a little and pointed. On the ground lay a figure

wrapped in some dark material a fold of which hid the face.

“Dead?”

She nodded.

“I think so.”

“Head must have struck the marble fender.”

“But who is it?” I cried.

“The murderer of M. Renauld, Hastings. And the would-be murderer of

Madame Renauld.”

Puzzled and uncomprehending, I knelt down, and lifting the fold of

cloth, looked into the dead beautiful face of Marthe Daubreuil!

****

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