Murder on the Links (1985)/Chapter 10
THE man who entered the room was a striking figure. Very tall, with a well-knit athletic frame, and a deeply bronzed face and neck, he dominated the assembly. Even Giraud seemed anemic beside him. When I knew him better I realized that Gabriel Stonor was quite an unusual personality. English by birth, he had knocked about all over the world. He had shot big game in Africa, ranched in California, and traded in the South Sea Islands. He had been secretary to a New York railway magnate, and had spent a year encamped in the desert with a friendly tribe of Arabs.
His unerring eye picked out M. Hautet.
“The examining magistrate in charge of the case? Pleased to meet you, M. le juge. This is a terrible business. How’s Mrs. Renauld? Is she bearing up fairly well? 1t must have been an awful shock to her.”
“Terrible, terrible,” said M. Hautet. “Permit me to introduce M. Bex—our commissary of police, M. Giraud of the Sûreté. This gentleman is M. Hercule Poirot. M. Renauld sent for him, but he arrived too late to do anything to avert the tragedy. A friend of M. Poirot’s, Captain Hastings.”
Stonor looked at Poirot with some interest.
“Sent for you, did he?”
“You did not know, then, that M. Renauld contemplated calling in a detective?” interposed M. Bex.
“No, I didn’t. But it doesn’t surprise me a bit.”
“Because the old man was rattled! I don’t know what it was all about. He didn’t confide in me. We weren’t on those terms. But rattled he was—and badly!”
“H’m!” said M. Hautet. “But you have no notion of the cause?”
“That’s what I said, sir.”
“You will pardon me, M. Stonor, but we must begin with a few formalities. Your name?”
“How long ago was it that you became secretary to M. Renauld?”
“About two years ago, when he first arrived from South America. I met him through a mutual friend, and he offered me the post. A thundering good boss he was too.”
“Did he talk to you much about his life in South America?”
“Yes, a good bit.”
“Do you know if he was ever in Santiago?”
“Several times, I believe.”
“He never mentioned any special incident that occurred there—anything that might have provoked some vendetta against him?”
“Did he speak of any secret that he had acquired while sojourning there?”
“Did he ever say anything at all about a secret?”
“Not that I can remember. But, for all that, there was a mystery about him. I’ve never heard him speak of his boyhood, for instance, or of any incident prior to his arrival in South America. He was a French Canadian by birth, I believe, but I’ve never heard him speak of his life in Canada. He could shut up like a clam if he liked.”
“So, as far as you know, he had no enemies, and you can give us no clue as to any secret to obtain possession of which he might have been murdered?”
“M. Stonor, have you ever heard the name of Duveen in connection with M. Renauld?”
“Duveen. Duveen.” He tried the name over thoughtfully, “I don’t think T have. And yet it seems familiar.”
“Do you know a lady, a friend of M. Renauld’s whose Christian name is Bella?”
Again Mr. Stonor shook his head.
“Bella Duveen? Is that the full name? It’s curious! I’m sure I know it. But for the moment I can’t remember in what connection.”
The magistrate coughed.
“You understand, M. Stonor—the case is like this. There must be no reservations. You might, perhaps, through a feeling of consideration for Madame Renauld—for whom, I gather, you have a great esteem and affection, you might—enfin!” said M. Hautet getting rather tied up in his sentence, "there must absolutely be no reservations.”
Stonor stared at him, a dawning light of comprehension in his eyes.
“I don’t quite get you,” he said gently. “Where does Mrs. Renauld come in? I’ve an immense respect and affection for that lady; she’s a very wonderful and unusual type, but I don’t quite see how my reservations, or otherwise, could affect her.”
“Not if this Bella Duveen should prove to have been something more than a friend to her husband?”
“Ah!” said Stonor. “I get you now. But I’ll bet my bottom dollar that you’re wrong. The old man never so much as looked at a petticoat. He just adored his own wife. They were the most devoted couple I know.”
M. Hautet shook his head gently.
“M. Stonor, we hold absclute proof—a love letter written by this Bella to M. Renauld, accusing him of having tired of her. Moreover, we have further proof that, at the time of his death, he was carrying on an intrigue with a Frenchwoman, a Madame Daubreuil, who rents the adjoining villa. And this is the man who, according to you, never looked at a petticoat!”
The secretary’s eyes narrowed.
“Hold on, M. le juge. You’re barking up the wrong tree. I knew Paul Renauld. What you’ve just been saying is utterly impossible. There’s some other explanation.”
The magistrate shrugged his shoulders.
“What other explanation could there be?”
“What leads you to think it was a love affair?”
“Madame Daubreuil was in the habit of visiting him here in the evenings. Also, since M. Renauld came to the Villa Genevieve, Madame Daubreuil has paid large sums of money into the bank in notes. In all, the amount totals four thousand pounds of your English money.”
“I guess that’s right,” said Stonor quietly. “I transmitted him those sums at his request. But it wasn’t an intrigue.”
“Eh! mon Dieu! What else could it be?”
“Blackmail,” said Stonor sharply, bringing down his hand with a slam on the table. “That’s what it was.”
“Ah! voila une idée!” cried the magistrate, shaken in spite of himself.
“Blackmail,” repeated Stonor. “The old man was being bled—and at a good rate too. Four thousand in a couple of months. Whew! I told you just now there was a mystery about Renauld. Evidently this Madame Daubreuil knew enough of it to put the screws on.”
“It is possible,” the commissary cried excitedly. “Decidedly, it is possible.”
“Possible?” roared Stonor. “It’s certain! Tell me, have you asked Mrs. Renauld about this love affair stunt of yours?”
“No, monsieur. We did not wish to occasion her any distress if it could reasonably be avoided.”
“Distress? Why, she’d laugh in your face. I tell you, she and Renauld were a couple in a hundred.”
“Ah, that reminds me of another point,” said M. Hautet. “Did M. Renauld take you into his confidence at all as to the dispositions of his will?”
“I know all about it—took it to the lawyer for him after he’d drawn it out. I can give you the name of his solicitors if you want to see it. They've got it there. Quite simple. Half in trust to his wife for her lifetime, the other half to his son. A few legacies. I rather think he left me a thousand.”
“When was this will drawn up?”
“Oh, about a year and a half ago.”
“Would it surprise you very much, M. Stonor, to hear that M. Renauld had made another will, less than a fortnight ago?”
Stonor was obviously very much surprised.
“I’d no idea of it. What's it like?”
“The whole of his vast fortune is left unreservedly to his wife. There is no mention of his son.”
Mr. Stonor gave vent to a prolonged whistle.
“I call that rather rough on the lad. His mother adores him, of course, but to the world at large it looks rather like a want of confidence on his father’s part. It will be rather galling to his pride. Still, it all goes to prove what I told you, that Renauld and his wife were on first-rate terms.”
“Quite so, quite so,” said M. Hautet. "It is possible we shall have to revise our ideas on several points. We have, of course, cabled to Santiago, and are expecting a reply from there any minute. In all possibility, everything will then be perfectly clear and straightforward. On the other hand, if your suggestion of blackmail is true, Madame Daubreuil ought to be able to give us valuable information.”
Poirot interjected a remark: “M. Stonor, the English chauffeur, Masters, had he been long with M. Renauld?”
“Over a year.”
“Have you any idea whether he has ever been in South America?”
“I’m quite sure he hasn’t. Before coming to Mr. Renauld he had been for many years with some people in Gloucestershire whom I know well.”
“In fact, you can answer for him as being above suspicion?”
Poirot seemed somewhat crestfallen.
Meanwhile the magistrate had summoned Marchaud.
“My compliments to Madame Renauld, and I should be glad to speak to her for a few minutes. Beg her not to disturb herself. T will wait upon her upstairs.”
Marchaud saluted and disappeared.
We waited some minutes, and then, to our surprise, the door opened, and Mrs. Renauld, deathly pale, entered the room.
M. Hautet brought forward a chair, uttering vigorous protestations, and she thanked him with a smile. Stonor was holding one hand of hers in his with an eloquent sympathy. Words evidently failed him. Mrs, Renauld turned to M. Hautet.
“You wished to ask me something, M. le juge?”
“With your permission, madame. I understand your husband was a French Canadian by birth. Can you tell me anything of his youth, or upbringing?”
She shook her head.
“My husband was always very reticent about himself, monsieur. I fancy that he had an unhappy childhood, for he never cared to speak of that time. Our life was lived entirely in the present and the future.”
“Was there any mystery in his past life?”
Mrs. Renauld smiled a little, and shook her head.
“Nothing so romantic, I am sure, M. le juge.”
M. Hautet also smiled.
“True, we must not permit ourselves to get melodramatic. There is one thing more—” he hesitated.
Stonor broke in impetuously: “They’ve got an extraordinary idea in their heads, Mrs. Renauld. They actually fancy that Mr. Renauld was carrying on an intrigue with a Madame Daubreuil who, it seems, lives next door.”
The scarlet color flamed into Mrs. Renauld’s cheeks. She flung her head up, then bit her lip, her face quivering. Stonor stood looking at her in astonishment, but M. Bex leaned forward and said gently, “We regret to cause you pain, madame, but have you any reason to believe that Madame Daubreuil was your husband’s mistress?”
With a sob of anguish, Mrs. Renauld buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders heaved convulsively. At last she lifted her head, and said brokenly, “She may have been.”
Never, in all my life, have I seen anything to equal the blank amazement on Stonor’s face. He was thoroughly taken aback.