The Murder on the Links/Chapter 11

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

What the next development of the conversation would have been, I cannot say, for at that moment the door was thrown violently open, and a tall young man strode into the room.

Just for a moment I had the uncanny sensation that the dead man had come to life again. Then I realized that this dark head was untouched with grey, and that, in point of fact, it was a mere boy who now burst in among us with so little ceremony. He went straight to Mrs. Renauld with an impetuosity that took no heed of the presence of others.

“Mother!”

“Jack!” With a cry she folded him in her arms. “My dearest! But what brings you here? You were to sail on the Anzora from Cherbourg two days ago?” Then, suddenly recalling to herself the presence of others, she turned with a certain dignity, “My son, messieurs.”

“Aha!” said M. Hautet, acknowledging the young man’s bow. “So you did not sail on the Anzora?

“No, monsieur. As I was about to explain, the Anzora was detained twenty-four hours through engine trouble. I should have sailed last night instead of the night before, but, happening to buy an evening paper, I saw in it an account of the—the awful tragedy that had befallen us—” His voice broke and the tears came into his eyes. “My poor father—my poor, poor, father.”

Staring at him like one in a dream, Mrs. Renauld repeated: “So you did not sail?” And then, with a gesture of infinite weariness, she murmured as though to herself, “After all, it does not matter—now.”

“Sit down, M. Renauld, I beg of you,” said M. Hautet, indicating a chair. “My sympathy for you is profound. It must have been a terrible shock to you to learn the news as you did. However, it is most fortunate that you were prevented from sailing. I am in hopes that you may be able to give us just the information we need to clear up this mystery.”

“I am at your disposal, M. le juge. Ask me any questions you please.”

“To begin with, I understand that this journey was being undertaken at your father’s request?”

“Quite so, M. le juge. I received a telegram bidding me to proceed without delay to Buenos Ayres, and from thence via the Andes to Valparaiso and on to Santiago.”

“Ah. And the object of this journey?”

“I have no idea, M. le juge.”

“What?”

“No. See, here is the telegram.”

The magistrate took it and read it aloud.

“ ‘Proceed immediately Cherbourg embark Anzora sailing tonight Buenos Ayres. Ultimate destination Santiago. Further instructions will await you Buenos Ayres. Do not fail. Matter is of utmost importance. Renauld.’ And there had been no previous correspondence on the matter?”

Jack Renauld shook his head.

“That is the only intimation of any kind. I knew, of course, that my father, having lived so long out there, had necessarily many interests in South America. But he had never mooted any suggestion of sending me out.”

“You have, of course, been a good deal in South America, M. Renauld?”

“I was there as a child. But I was educated in England, and spent most of my holidays in that country, so I really know far less of South America than might be supposed. You see, the war broke out when I was seventeen.”

“You served in the English Flying Corps, did you not?”

“Yes, M. le juge.”

M. Hautet nodded his head, and proceeded with his inquiries along the, by now, well-known lines. In response, Jack Renauld declared definitely that he knew nothing of any enmity his father might have incurred in the city of Santiago, or elsewhere in the South American continent, that he had noticed no change in his father’s manner of late, and that he had never heard him refer to a secret. He had regarded the mission to South America as connected with business interests.

As M. Hautet paused for a minute, the quiet voice of Giraud broke in.

“I should like to put a few questions on my own account, M. le juge.”

“By all means, M. Giraud, if you wish,” said the magistrate coldly.

Giraud edged his chair a little nearer to the table.

“Were you on good terms with your father, M. Renauld?”

“Certainly I was,” returned the lad haughtily.

“You assert that positively?”

“Yes.”

“No little disputes, eh?”

Jack shrugged his shoulders. “Every one may have a difference of opinion now and then.”

“Quite so, quite so. But if any one were to assert that you had a violent quarrel with your father on the eve of your departure for Paris, that person, without doubt, would be lying?”

I could not but admire the ingenuity of Giraud. His boast “I know everything” had been no idle one. Jack Renauld was clearly disconcerted by the question.

“We—we did have an argument,” he admitted.

“Ah, an argument! In the course of that argument did you use this phrase: ‘When you are dead, I can do as I please?’ ”

“I may have done,” muttered the other. “I don’t know.”

“In response to that, did your father say: ‘But I am not dead yet!’ To which you responded: ‘I wish you were!’ ”

The boy made no answer. His hands fiddled nervously with the things on the table in front of him.

“I must request an answer, please, M. Renauld,” said Giraud sharply.

With an angry exclamation, the boy swept a heavy paper-knife on to the floor.

“What does it matter? You might as well know. Yes, I did quarrel with my father. I dare say I said all those things—I was so angry I cannot even remember what I said! I was furious—I could almost have killed him at that moment—there, make the most of that!” He leant back in his chair, flushed and defiant.

Giraud smiled, then, moving his chair back a little, said:

“That is all. You would, without doubt, prefer to continue the interrogatory, M. le juge.”

“Ah, yes, exactly,” said M. Hautet. “And what was the subject of your quarrel?”

“I decline to state.”

M. Hautet sat up in his chair.

“M. Renauld, it is not permitted to trifle with the law!” he thundered. “What was the subject of the quarrel?”

Young Renauld remained silent, his boyish face sullen and overcast. But another voice spoke, imperturbable and calm, the voice of Hercule Poirot.

“I will inform you, if you like, M. le juge.”

“You know?”

“Certainly I know. The subject of the quarrel was Mademoiselle Marthe Daubreuil.”

Renauld sprang round, startled. The magistrate leaned forward.

“Is this so, monsieur.”

Jack Renauld bowed his head.

“Yes,” he admitted. “I love Mademoiselle Daubreuil, and I wish to marry her. When I informed my father of the fact, he flew at once into a violent rage. Naturally I could not stand hearing the girl I loved insulted, and I, too, lost my temper.”

M. Hautet looked across at Mrs. Renauld.

“You were aware of this—attachment, madame.”

“I feared it,” she replied simply.

“Mother,” cried the boy. “You too! Marthe is as good as she is beautiful. What can you have against her?”

“I have nothing against Mademoiselle Daubreuil in any way. But I should prefer you to marry an Englishwoman, or if a Frenchwoman not one who has a mother of doubtful antecedents!”

Her rancour against the older woman showed plainly in her voice, and I could well understand that it must have been a bitter blow to her when her only son showed signs of falling in love with the daughter of her rival.

Mrs. Renauld continued, addressing the magistrate:

“I ought, perhaps, to have spoken to my husband on the subject, but I hoped that it was only a boy and girl flirtation which would blow over all the quicker if no notice was taken of it. I blame myself now for my silence, but my husband, as I told you, had seemed so anxious and care-worn, different altogether from his normal self, that I was chiefly concerned not to give him any additional worry.”

M. Hautet nodded.

“When you informed your father of your intentions towards Mademoiselle Daubreuil,” he resumed, “he was surprised?”

“He seemed completely taken aback. Then he ordered me peremptorily to dismiss any such idea from my mind. He would never give his consent to such a marriage. Nettled, I demanded what he had against Mademoiselle Daubreuil. To that he could give no satisfactory reply, but spoke in slighting terms of the mystery surrounding the lives of the mother and daughter. I answered that I was marrying Marthe, and not her antecedents, but he shouted me down with a peremptory refusal to discuss the matter in any way. The whole thing must be given up. The injustice and high-handedness of it all maddened me—especially since he himself always seemed to go out of his way to be attentive to the Daubreuils and was always suggesting that they should be asked to the house. I lost my head, and we quarrelled in earnest. My father reminded me that I was entirely dependent on him, and it must have been in answer to that that I made the remark about doing as I pleased after his death—”

Poirot interrupted with a quick question.

“You were aware, then, of the terms of your father’s will?”

“I knew that he had left half his fortune to me, the other half in trust for my mother to come to me at her death,” replied the lad.

“Proceed with your story,” said the magistrate.

“After that we shouted at each other in sheer rage, until I suddenly realized that I was in danger of missing my train to Paris. I had to run for the station, still in a white heat of fury. However, once well away, I calmed down. I wrote to Marthe, telling her what had happened, and her reply soothed me still further. She pointed out to me that we had only to be steadfast, and any opposition was bound to give way at last. Our affection for each other must be tried and proved, and when my parents realized that it was no light infatuation on my part they would doubtless relent towards us. Of course, to her, I had not dwelt on my father’s principal objection to the match. I soon saw that I should do my cause no good by violence. My father wrote me several letters to Paris, affectionate in tone, and which did not refer to our disagreement or its cause, and I replied in the same strain.”

“You can produce those letters, eh?” said Giraud.

“I did not keep them.”

“No matter,” said the detective.

Renauld looked at him for a moment, but the magistrate was continuing his questions.

“To pass to another matter, are you acquainted with the name of Duveen, M. Renauld?”

“Duveen?” said Jack. “Duveen?” He leant forward, and slowly picked up the paper-knife he had swept from the table. As he lifted his head, his eyes met the watching ones of Giraud. “Duveen? No, I can’t say I am.”

“Will you read this letter, M. Renauld? And tell me if you have any idea as to who the person was who addressed it to your father?”

Jack Renauld took the letter, and read it through, the colour mounting in his face as he did so.

“Addressed to my father?” The emotion and indignation in his tones were evident.

“Yes. We found it in the pocket of his coat.”

“Does—” He hesitated, throwing the merest fraction of a glance towards his mother. The magistrate understood.

“As yet—no. Can you give us any clue as to the writer?”

“I have no idea whatsoever.”

M. Hautet sighed.

“A most mysterious case. Ah, well, I suppose we can now rule out the letter altogether. What do you think, M. Giraud? It does not seem to lead us anywhere.”

“It certainly does not,” agreed the detective with emphasis.

“And yet,” sighed the magistrate, “it promised at the beginning to be such a beautiful and simple case!” He caught Mrs. Renauld’s eye, and blushed in immediate confusion. “Ah, yes,” he coughed, turning over the papers on the table. “Let me see, where were we? Oh, the weapon. I fear this may give you pain, M. Renauld. I understand it was a present from you to your mother. Very sad—very distressing—”

Jack Renauld leaned forward. His face, which had flushed during the perusal of the letter, was now deadly white.

“Do you mean—that it was with an aeroplane wire paper cutter that my father was—was killed? But it’s impossible! A little thing like that!”

“Alas, M. Renauld, it is only too true! An ideal little tool, I fear. Sharp and easy to handle.”

“Where is it? Can I see it? Is it still in the—the body?”

“Oh, no, it had been removed. You would like to see it? To make sure? It would be as well, perhaps, though madame has already identified it. Still—M. Bex, might I trouble you?”

“Certainly, M. le juge. I will fetch it immediately.”

“Would it not be better to take M. Renauld to the shed?” suggested Giraud smoothly. “Without doubt he would wish to see his father’s body.”

The boy made a shivering gesture of negation, and the magistrate, always disposed to cross Giraud whenever possible, replied.

“But no—not at present. M. Bex will be so kind as to bring it to us here.”

The commissary left the room. Stonor crossed to Jack, and wrung him by the hand. Poirot had risen and was adjusting a pair of candlesticks that struck his trained eye as being a shade askew. The magistrate was reading the mysterious love-letter through a last time, clinging desperately to his first theory of jealousy and a stab in the back.

Suddenly the door burst open and the commissary rushed in.

“M. le juge! M. le juge!”

“But yes. What is it?”

“The dagger! It is gone!”

Comment—gone?”

“Vanished. Disappeared. The glass jar that contained it is empty!”

“What?” I cried. “Impossible. Why, only this morning I saw—” The words died on my tongue.

But the attention of the entire room was diverted to me.

“What is that you say?” cried the commissary. “This morning?”

“I saw it there this morning,” I said slowly. “About an hour and a half ago, to be accurate.”

“You went to the shed, then? How did you get the key?”

“I asked the sergent de ville for it.”

“And you went there? Why?”

I hesitated, but in the end I decided that the only thing to do was to make a clean breast of it.

“M. le juge,” I said. “I have committed a grave fault, for which I must crave your indulgence.”

Eh bien! Proceed, monsieur.”

“The fact of the matter is,” I said, wishing myself anywhere else than where I was, “that I met a young lady, an acquaintance of mine. She displayed a great desire to see everything that was to be seen, and I—well, in short, I took the key to show her the body.”

“Ah, par exemple,” cried the magistrate indignantly. “But it is a grave fault you have committed there, Captain Hastings. It is altogether most irregular. You should not have permitted yourself this folly.”

“I know,” I said meekly. “Nothing that you can say could be too severe, M. le juge.”

“You did not invite this lady to come here?”

“Certainly not. I met her quite by accident. She is an English lady who happens to be staying in Merlinville, though I was not aware of that until my unexpected meeting with her.”

“Well, well,” said the magistrate, softening. “It was most irregular, but the lady is without doubt young and beautiful, n’est-ce pas? What it is to be young! O jeunesse, jeunesse!” And he sighed sentimentally.

But the commissary, less romantic, and more practical, took up the tale:

“But did not you reclose and lock the door when you departed.”

“That’s just it,” I said slowly. “That’s what I blame myself for so terribly. My friend was upset at the sight. She nearly fainted. I got her some brandy and water, and afterwards insisted on accompanying her back to town. In the excitement, I forgot to relock the door. I only did so when I got back to the Villa.”

“Then for twenty minutes at least—” said the commissary slowly. He stopped.

“Exactly,” I said.

“Twenty minutes,” mused the commissary.

“It is deplorable,” said M. Hautet, his sternness of manner returning. “Without precedent.”

Suddenly another voice spoke.

“You find it deplorable, M. le juge?” asked Giraud.

“Certainly I do.”

Eh bien! I find it admirable,” said the other imperturbably.

This unexpected ally quite bewildered me.

“Admirable, M. Giraud?” asked the magistrate, studying him cautiously out of the corner of his eye.

“Precisely.”

“And why?”

“Because we know now that the assassin, or an accomplice of the assassin, has been near the Villa only an hour ago. It will be strange if, with that knowledge, we do not shortly lay hands upon him.” There was a note of menace in his voice. He continued: “He risked a good deal to gain possession of that dagger. Perhaps he feared that finger-prints might be discovered on it.”

Poirot turned to Bex.

“You said there were none?”

Giraud shrugged his shoulders.

“Perhaps he could not be sure.”

Poirot looked at him.

“You are wrong, M. Giraud. The assassin wore gloves. So he must have been sure.”

“I do not say it was the assassin himself. It may have been an accomplice who was not aware of that fact.”

Ils sont mal renseignés, les accomplices!” muttered Poirot, but he said no more.

The magistrate’s clerk was gathering up the papers on the table. M. Hautet addressed us:

“Our work here is finished. Perhaps, M. Renauld, you will listen whilst your evidence is read over to you. I have purposely kept all the proceedings as informal as possible. I have been called original in my methods, but I maintain that there is much to be said for originality. The case is now in the clever hands of the renowned M. Giraud. He will without doubt distinguish himself. Indeed, I wonder that he has not already laid his hands upon the murderers! Madame, again let me assure you of my heart-felt sympathy. Messieurs, I wish you all good day.” And, accompanied by his clerk and the commissary, he took his departure.

Poirot tugged out that large turnip of a watch of his, and observed the time.

“Let us return to the hotel for lunch, my friend,” he said. “And you shall recount to me in full the indiscretions of this morning. No one is observing us. We need make no adieux.”

We went quietly out of the room. The examining magistrate had just driven off in his car. I was going down the steps when Poirot’s voice arrested me:

“One little moment, my friend.” Dexterously, he whipped out his yard measure, and proceeded, quite solemnly, to measure an overcoat hanging in the hall from the collar to the hem. I had not seen it hanging there before, and guessed that it belonged to either Mr. Stonor, or Jack Renauld.

Then, with a little satisfied grunt, Poirot returned the measure to his pocket, and followed me out into the open air.