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The Murder on the Links, Page 2

Agatha Christie

  “H’m,” I demurred. “You’ll be rather tired of balancing yourself and counting six by the time you get to Santiago, or Buenos Aires, or wherever it is you land.”

  “Quelle idée! You do not figure to yourself that I shall go to Santiago?”

  “Mr. Renauld suggests it in his letter.”

  “He did not know the methods of Hercule Poirot. I do not run to and fro, making journeys, and agitating myself. My work is done from within—here—” he tapped his forehead significantly.

  As usual, this remark roused my argumentative faculty.

  “It’s all very well, Poirot, but I think you are falling into the habit of despising certain things too much. A fingerprint has led sometimes to the arrest and conviction of a murderer.”

  “And has, without doubt, hanged more than one innocent man,” remarked Poirot dryly.

  “But surely the study of fingerprints and footprints, cigarette ash, different kinds of mud, and other clues that comprise the minute observation of details—all these are of vital importance?”

  “But certainly. I have never said otherwise. The trained observer, the expert, without doubt he is useful! But the others, the Hercules Poirots, they are above the experts! To them the experts bring the facts, their business is the method of the crime, its logical deduction, the proper sequence and order of the facts; above all, the true psychology of the case. You have hunted the fox, yes?”

  “I have hunted a bit, now and again,” I said, rather bewildered by this abrupt change of subject. “Why?”

  “Eh bien, this hunting of the fox, you need the dogs, no?”

  “Hounds,” I corrected gently. “Yes, of course.”

  “But yet,” Poirot wagged his finger at me. “You did not descend from your horse and run along the ground smelling with your nose and uttering loud Ow Ows?”

  In spite of myself I laughed immoderately. Poirot nodded in a satisfied manner.

  “So. You leave the work of the d—hounds to the hounds. Yet you demand that I, Hercule Poirot, should make myself ridiculous by lying down (possibly on damp grass) to study hypothetical footprints, and should scoop up cigarette ash when I do not know one kind from the other. Remember the Plymouth Express mystery. The good Japp departed to make a survey of the railway line. When he returned, I, without having moved from my apartments, was able to tell him exactly what he had found.”

  “So you are of the opinion that Japp wasted his time.”

  “Not at all, since his evidence confirmed my theory. But I should have wasted my time if I had gone. It is the same with so called ‘experts.’ Remember the handwriting testimony in the Cavendish Case. One counsel’s questioning brings out testimony as to the resemblances, the defence brings evidence to show dissimilarity. All the language is very technical. And the result? What we all knew in the first place. The writing was very like that of John Cavendish. And the psychological mind is faced with the question ‘Why?’ Because it was actually his? Or because some one wished us to think it was his? I answered that question, mon ami, and answered it correctly.”

  And Poirot, having effectually silenced, if not convinced me, leaned back with a satisfied air.

  On the boat, I knew better than to disturb my friend’s solitude. The weather was gorgeous, and the sea as smooth as the proverbial millpond, so I was hardly surprised when a smiling Poirot joined me on disembarking at Calais. A disappointment was in store for us, as no car had been sent to meet us, but Poirot put this down to his telegram having been delayed in transit.

  “We will hire a car,” he said cheerfully. And a few minutes later saw us creaking and jolting along, in the most ramshackle of automobiles that ever plied for hire, in the direction of Merlinville.

  My spirits were at their highest, but my little friend was observing me gravely.

  “You are what the Scotch people call ‘fey,’ Hastings. It presages disaster.”

  “Nonsense. At any rate, you do not share my feelings.”

  “No, but I am afraid.”

  “Afraid of what?”

  “I do not know. But I have a premonition—a je ne sais quoi!”

  He spoke so gravely that I was impressed in spite of myself.

  “I have a feeling,” he said slowly, “that this is going to be a big affair—a long, troublesome problem that will not be easy to work out.”

  I would have questioned him further, but we were just coming into the little town of Merlinville, and we slowed up to inquire the way to the Villa Geneviève.

  “Straight on, monsieur, through the town. The Villa Geneviève is about half a mile the other side. You cannot miss it. A big villa, overlooking the sea.”

  We thanked our informant, and drove on, leaving the town behind. A fork in the road brought us to a second halt. A peasant was trudging towards us, and we waited for him to come up to us in order to ask the way again. There was a tiny villa standing right by the road, but it was too small and dilapidated to be the one we wanted. As we waited, the gate of it swung open and a girl came out.

  The peasant was passing us now, and the driver leaned forward from his seat and asked for direction.

  “The Villa Geneviève? Just a few steps up this road to the right, monsieur. You could see it if it were not for the curve.”

  The chauffeur thanked him, and started the car again. My eyes were fascinated by the girl who still stood, with one hand on the gate, watching us. I am an admirer of beauty, and here was one whom nobody could have passed without remark. Very tall, with the proportions of a young goddess, her uncovered golden head gleaming in the sunlight, I swore to myself that she was one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen. As we swung up the rough road, I turned my head to look after her.

  “By Jove, Poirot,” I exclaimed, “did you see that young goddess?”

  Poirot raised his eyebrows.

  “Ça commence!” he murmured. “Already you have seen a goddess!”

  “But, hang it all, wasn’t she?”

  “Possibly, I did not remark the fact.”

  “Surely you noticed her?”

  “Mon ami, two people rarely see the same thing. You, for instance, saw a goddess. I—” He hesitated.


  “I saw only a girl with anxious eyes,” said Poirot gravely.

  But at that moment we drew up at a big green gate, and, simultaneously, we both uttered an exclamation. Before it stood an imposing sergent de ville. He held up his hand to bar our way.

  “You cannot pass, messieurs.”

  “But we wish to see Mr. Renauld,” I cried. “We have an appointment. This is his villa, isn’t it?”

  “Yes, monsieur, but—”

  Poirot leaned forward.

  “But what?”

  “Monsieur Renauld was murdered this morning.”



  In a moment Poirot had leapt from the car, his eyes blazing with excitement.

  “What is that you say? Murdered? When? How?”

  The sergent de ville drew himself up.

  “I cannot answer any questions, monsieur.”

  “True. I comprehend.” Poirot reflected for a minute. “The Commissary of Police, he is without doubt within?”

  “Yes, monsieur.”

  Poirot took out a card, and scribbled a few words on it.

  “Voilà! Will you have the goodness to see that this card is sent in to the commissary at once?”

  The man took it and, turning his head over his shoulder, whistled. In a few seconds a comrade joined him, and was handed Poirot’s message. There was a wait of some minutes, and then a short, stout man with a huge moustache came bustling down to the gate. The sergent de ville saluted and stood aside.

  “My dear Monsieur Poirot,” cried the newcomer, “I am delighted to see you. Your arrival is most opportune.”

  Poirot’s face had lighted up.

  “Monsieur Bex! This is indeed a pleasure.” He turned to me. “This is an English friend of mine,
Captain Hastings—Monsieur Lucien Bex.”

  The commissary and I bowed to each other ceremoniously, and M. Bex turned once more to Poirot.

  “Mon vieux, I have not seen you since 1909, that time in Ostend. You have information to give which may assist us?”

  “Possibly you know it already. You were aware that I had been sent for?”

  “No. By whom?”

  “The dead man. It seems that he knew an attempt was going to be made on his life. Unfortunately he sent for me too late.”

  “Sacré tonnerre!” ejaculated the Frenchman. “So he foresaw his own murder. That upsets our theories considerably! But come inside.”

  He held the gate open, and we commenced walking towards the house. M. Bex continued to talk:

  “The examining magistrate, Monsieur Hautet, must hear of this at once. He has just finished examining the scene of the crime and is about to begin his interrogations.”

  “When was the crime committed?” asked Poirot.

  “The body was discovered this morning about nine o’clock. Madame Renauld’s evidence and that of the doctors goes to show that death must have occurred about 2 a.m. But enter, I pray of you.”

  We had arrived at the steps which led up to the front door of the villa. In the hall another sergent de ville was sitting. He rose at sight of the commissary.

  “Where is Monsieur Hautet now?” inquired the latter.

  “In the salon, monsieur.”

  M. Bex opened a door to the left of the hall, and we passed in. M. Hautet and his clerk were sitting at a big round table. They looked up as we entered. The commissary introduced us, and explained our presence.

  M. Hautet, the Juge d’Instruction, was a tall gaunt man, with piercing dark eyes, and a neatly cut grey beard, which he had a habit of caressing as he talked. Standing by the mantelpiece was an elderly man, with slightly stooping shoulders, who was introduced to us as Dr. Durand.

  “Most extraordinary,” remarked M. Hautet as the commissary finished speaking. “You have the letter here, monsieur?”

  Poirot handed it to him, and the magistrate read it.

  “H’m! He speaks of a secret. What a pity he was not more explicit. We are much indebted to you, Monsieur Poirot. I hope you will do us the honour of assisting us in our investigations. Or are you obliged to return to London?”

  “Monsieur le juge, I propose to remain. I did not arrive in time to prevent my client’s death, but I feel myself bound in honour to discover the assassin.”

  The magistrate bowed.

  “These sentiments do you honour. Also, without doubt, Madame Renauld will wish to retain your services. We are expecting M. Giraud from the Sûreté in Paris any moment, and I am sure that you and he will be able to give each other mutual assistance in your investigations. In the meantime, I hope that you will do me the honour to be present at my interrogations, and I need hardly say that if there is any assistance you require it is at your disposal.”

  “I thank you, monsieur. You will comprehend that at present I am completely in the dark. I know nothing whatever.”

  M. Hautet nodded to the commissary, and the latter took up the tale:

  “This morning, the old servant Françoise, on descending to start her work, found the front door ajar. Feeling a momentary alarm as to burglars, she looked into the dining room, but seeing the silver was safe she thought no more about it, concluding that her master had, without doubt, risen early, and gone for a stroll.”

  “Pardon, monsieur, for interrupting, but was that a common practice of his?”

  “No, it was not, but old Françoise has the common idea as regards the English—that they are mad, and liable to do the most unaccountable things at any moment! Going to call her mistress as usual, a young maid, Léonie, was horrified to discover her gagged and bound, and almost at the same moment news was brought that Monsieur Renauld’s body had been discovered, stone dead, stabbed in the back.”


  “That is one of the most extraordinary features of the case. Monsieur Poirot, the body was lying face downwards, in an open grave.”


  “Yes. The pit was freshly dug—just a few yards outside the boundary of the villa grounds.”

  “And it had been dead—how long?”

  Dr. Durand answered this.

  “I examined the body this morning at ten o’clock. Death must have taken place at least seven, and possibly ten hours previously.”

  “H’m! that fixes it at between midnight and 3 a.m.”

  “Exactly, and Mrs. Renauld’s evidence places it at after 2 a.m., which narrows the field still farther. Death must have been instantaneous, and naturally could not have been self-inflicted.”

  Poirot nodded, and the commissary resumed:

  “Madame Renauld was hastily freed from the cords that bound her by the horrified servants. She was in a terrible condition of weakness, almost unconscious from the pain of her bonds. It appears that two masked men entered the bedroom, gagged and bound her, while forcibly abducting her husband. This we know at second hand from the servants. On hearing the tragic news, she fell at once into an alarming state of agitation. On arrival, Dr. Durand immediately prescribed a sedative, and we have not yet been able to question her. But without doubt she will awake more calm, and be equal to bearing the strain of the interrogation.”

  The commissary paused.

  “And the inmates of the house, monsieur?”

  “There is old Françoise, the housekeeper, she lived for many years with the former owners of the Villa Geneviève. Then there are two young girls, sisters, Denise and Léonie Oulard. Their home is in Merlinville, and they come of most respectable parents. Then there is the chauffeur whom Monsieur Renauld brought over from England with him, but he is away on a holiday. Finally there are Madame Renauld and her son, Monsieur Jack Renauld. He, too, is away from home at present.”

  Poirot bowed his head. M. Hautet spoke:


  The sergent de ville appeared.

  “Bring in the woman Françoise.”

  The man saluted, and disappeared. In a moment or two he returned, escorting the frightened Françoise.

  “Your name is Françoise Arrichet?”

  “Yes, monsieur.”

  “You have been a long time in service at the Villa Geneviève?”

  “Eleven years with Madame la Vicomtesse. Then when she sold the Villa this spring, I consented to remain on with the English milor’. Never did I imagine—”

  The magistrate cut her short.

  “Without doubt, without doubt. Now, Françoise, in this matter of the front door, whose business was it to fasten it at night?”

  “Mine, monsieur. Always I saw to it myself.”

  “And last night?”

  “I fastened it as usual.”

  “You are sure of that?”

  “I swear it by the blessed saints, monsieur.”

  “What time would that be?”

  “The same time as usual, half past ten, monsieur.”

  “What about the rest of the household, had they gone up to bed?”

  “Madame had retired some time before. Denise and Léonie went up with me. Monsieur was still in his study.”

  “Then, if anyone unfastened the door afterwards, it must have been Monsieur Renauld himself?”

  Françoise shrugged her broad shoulders.

  “What should he do that for? With robbers and assassins passing every minute! A nice idea! Monsieur was not an imbecile. It is not as though he had had to let the lady out—”

  The magistrate interrupted sharply:

  “The lady? What lady do you mean?”

  “Why, the lady who came to see him.”

  “Had a lady been to see him that evening?”

  “But yes, monsieur—and many other evenings as well.”

  “Who was she? Did you know her?”

  A rather cunning look spread over the woman’s face.

  “How should I
know who it was?” she grumbled. “I did not let her in last night.”

  “Aha!” roared the examining magistrate, bringing his hand down with a bang on the table. “You would trifle with the police, would you? I demand that you tell me at once the name of this woman who came to visit Monsieur Renauld in the evenings.”

  “The police—the police,” grumbled Françoise. “Never did I think that I should be mixed-up with the police. But I know well enough who she was. It was Madame Daubreuil.”

  The commissary uttered an exclamation, and leaned forward as though in utter astonishment.

  “Madame Daubreuil—from the Villa Marguerite just down the road?”

  “That is what I said, monsieur. Oh, she is a pretty one.”

  The old woman tossed her head scornfully.

  “Madame Daubreuil,” murmured the commissary. “Impossible.”

  “Voilà,” grumbled Françoise. “That is all you get for telling the truth.”

  “Not at all,” said the examining magistrate soothingly. “We were surprised, that is all. Madame Daubreuil then, and Monsieur Renauld, they were—?” He paused delicately. “Eh? It was that without doubt?”

  “How should I know? But what will you? Monsieur, he was milord anglais—très riche—and Madame Daubreuil, she was poor, that one—and très chic, for all that she lives so quietly with her daughter. Not a doubt of it, she has had her history! She is no longer young, but ma foi! I who speak to you have seen the men’s heads turn after her as she goes down the street. Besides lately, she had had more money to spend—all the town knows it. The little economies, they are at an end.” And Françoise shook her head with an air of unalterable certainty.

  M. Hautet stroked his beard reflectively.

  “And Madame Renauld?” he asked at length. “How did she take this—friendship?”

  Françoise shrugged her shoulders.

  “She was always most amiable—most polite. One would say that she suspected nothing. But all the same, is it not so, the heart suffers, monsieur? Day by day, I have watched Madame grow paler and thinner. She was not the same woman who arrived here a month ago. Monsieur, too, has changed. He also has had his worries. One could see that he was on the brink of a crisis of the nerves. And who could wonder, with an affair conducted in such a fashion? No reticence, no discretion. Style anglais, without doubt!”