The Murder on the Links/Chapter 13
We lunched with an excellent appetite. I understood well enough that Poirot did not wish to discuss the tragedy where we could so easily be overheard. But, as is usual when one topic fills the mind to the exclusion of everything else, no other subject of interest seemed to present itself. For a while we ate in silence, and then Poirot observed maliciously:
“Eh bien! And your indiscretions! You recount them not?”
I felt myself blushing.
“Oh, you mean this morning?” I endeavoured to adopt a tone of absolute nonchalance.
But I was no match for Poirot. In a very few minutes he had extracted the whole story from me, his eyes twinkling as he did so.
“Tiens! A story of the most romantic. What is her name, this charming young lady?”
I had to confess that I did not know.
“Still more romantic! The first rencontre in the train from Paris, the second here. Journeys end in lovers’ meetings, is not that the saying?”
“Don’t be an ass, Poirot.”
“Yesterday it was Mademoiselle Daubreuil, today it is Mademoiselle—Cinderella! Decidedly you have the heart of a Turk, Hastings! You should establish a harem!”
“It’s all very well to rag me. Mademoiselle Daubreuil is a very beautiful girl, and I do admire her immensely—I don’t mind admitting it. The other’s nothing—don’t suppose I shall ever see her again. She was quite amusing to talk to just for a railway journey, but she’s not the kind of girl I should ever get keen on.”
“Well—it sounds snobbish perhaps—but she’s not a lady, not in any sense of the word.”
Poirot nodded thoughtfully. There was less raillery in his voice as he asked:
“You believe, then, in birth and breeding?”
“I may be old-fashioned, but I certainly don’t believe in marrying out of one’s class. It never answers.”
“I agree with you, mon ami. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it is as you say. But there is always the hundredth time! Still, that does not arise, as you do not propose to see the lady again.”
His last words were almost a question, and I was aware of the sharpness with which he darted a glance at me. And before my eyes, writ large in letters of fire, I saw the words “Hôtel du Phare,” and I heard again her voice saying “Come and look me up” and my own answering with empressement: “I will.”
Well, what of it? I had meant to go at the time. But since then, I had had time to reflect. I did not like the girl. Thinking it over in cold blood, I came definitely to the conclusion that I disliked her intensely. I had got hauled over the coals for foolishly gratifying her morbid curiosity, and I had not the least wish to see her again.
I answered Poirot lightly enough.
“She asked me to look her up, but of course I shan’t.”
“Why ‘of course’?”
“Well—I don’t want to.”
“I see.” He studied me attentively for some minutes. “Yes. I see very well. And you are wise. Stick to what you have said.”
“That seems to be your invariable advice,” I remarked, rather piqued.
“Ah, my friend, have faith in Papa Poirot. Some day, if you permit, I will arrange you a marriage of great suitability.”
“Thank you,” I said laughing, “but the prospect leaves me cold.”
Poirot sighed and shook his head.
“Les Anglais!” he murmured. “No method—absolutely none whatever. They leave all to chance!” He frowned, and altered the position of the salt cellar.
“Mademoiselle Cinderella is staying at the Hôtel d’Angleterre you told me, did you not?”
“No. Hôtel du Phare.”
“True, I forgot.”
A moment’s misgiving shot across my mind. Surely I had never mentioned any hotel to Poirot. I looked across at him, and felt reassured. He was cutting his bread into neat little squares, completely absorbed in his task. He must have fancied I had told him where the girl was staying.
We had coffee outside facing the sea. Poirot smoked one of his tiny cigarettes, and then drew his watch from his pocket.
“The train to Paris leaves at 2:25,” he observed. “I should be starting.”
“Paris?” I cried.
“That is what I said, mon ami.”
“You are going to Paris? But why?”
He replied very seriously.
“To look for the murderer of M. Renauld.”
“You think he is in Paris?”
“I am quite certain that he is not. Nevertheless, it is there that I must look for him. You do not understand, but I will explain it all to you in good time. Believe me, this journey to Paris is necessary. I shall not be away long. In all probability I shall return tomorrow. I do not propose that you should accompany me. Remain here and keep an eye on Giraud. Also cultivate the society of M. Renauld fils. And thirdly, if you wish, endeavour to cut him out with Mademoiselle Marthe. But I fear you will not have great success.”
I did not quite relish the last remark.
“That reminds me,” I said. “I meant to ask you how you knew about those two?”
“Mon ami—I know human nature. Throw together a boy young Renauld and a beautiful girl like Mademoiselle Marthe, and the result is almost inevitable. Then, the quarrel! It was money or a woman and, remembering Léonie’s description of the lad’s anger, I decided on the latter. So I made my guess—and I was right.”
“And that was why you warned me against setting my heart on the lady? You already suspected that she loved young Renauld?”
“At any rate—I saw that she had anxious eyes. That is how always think of Mademoiselle Daubreuil as the girl with the anxious eyes. …”
His voice was so grave that it impressed me uncomfortably.
“What do you mean by that, Poirot?”
“I fancy, my friend, that we shall see before very long. But I must start.”
“You’ve oceans of time.”
“Perhaps—perhaps. But I like plenty of leisure at the station. I do not wish to rush, to hurry, to excite myself.”
“At all events,” I said, rising, “I will come and see you off.”
“You will do nothing of the sort. I forbid it.”
He was so peremptory that I stared at him in surprise. He nodded emphatically.
“I mean it, mon ami. Au revoir! You permit that I embrace you? Ah, no, I forget that it is not the English custom. Une poignee de main, alors.”
I felt rather at a loose end after Poirot had left me. I strolled down the beach, and watched the bathers, without feeling energetic enough to join them. I rather fancied that Cinderella might be disporting herself amongst them in some wonderful costume, but I saw no signs of her. I strolled aimlessly along the sands towards the further end of the town. It occurred to me that, after all, it would only be decent feeling on my part to inquire after the girl. And it would save trouble in the end. The matter would then be finished with. There would be no need for me to trouble about her any further. But, if I did not go at all, she might quite possibly come and look me up at the Villa. And that would be annoying in every way. Decidedly it would be better to pay a short call, in the course of which I could make it quite clear that I could do nothing further for her in my capacity of showman.
Accordingly I left the beach, and walked inland. I soon found the Hôtel du Phare, a very unpretentious building. It was annoying in the extreme not to know the lady’s name and, to save my dignity, I decided to stroll inside and look around. Probably I should find her in the lounge. Merlinville was a small place, you left your hotel to go to the beach, and you left the beach to return to the hotel. There were no other attractions. There was a Casino being built, but it was not yet completed.
I had walked the length of the beach without seeing her, therefore she must be in the hotel. I went in. Several people were sitting in the tiny lounge, but my quarry was not amongst them. I looked into some other rooms, but there was no sign of her. I waited for some time, till my impatience got the better of me. I took the concierge aside, and slipped five francs into his hand.
“I wish to see a lady who is staying here. A young English lady, small and dark. I am not sure of her name.”
The man shook his head, and seemed to be suppressing a grin.
“There is no such lady as you describe staying here.”
“She is American possibly,” I suggested. These fellows are so stupid.
But the man continued to shake his head.
“No, monsieur. There are only six or seven English and American ladies altogether, and they are all much older than the lady you are seeking. It is not here that you will find her, monsieur.”
He was so positive that I felt doubts.
“But the lady told me she was staying here.”
“Monsieur must have made a mistake—or it is more likely the lady did, since there has been another gentleman here inquiring for her.”
“What is that you say?” I cried, surprised.
“But yes, monsieur. A gentleman who described her just as you have done.”
“What was he like?”
“He was a small gentleman, well dressed, very neat, very spotless, the moustache very stiff, the head of a peculiar shape, and the eyes green.”
Poirot! So that was why he refused to let me accompany him to the station. The impertinence of it! I would thank him not to meddle in my concerns. Did he fancy I needed a nurse to look after me? Thanking the man, I departed, somewhat at a loss, and still much incensed with my meddlesome friend. I regretted that he was, for the moment, out of reach. I should have enjoyed telling him what I thought of his unwarranted interference. Had I not distinctly told him that I had no intention of seeing the girl? Decidedly, one’s friends can be too zealous!
But where was the lady? I set aside my wrath, and tried to puzzle it out. Evidently, through inadvertence, she had named the wrong hotel. Then another thought struck me. Was it inadvertence? Or had she deliberately withheld her name and given me the wrong address? The more I thought about it, the more I felt convinced that this last surmise of mine was right. For some reason or other she did not wish to let the acquaintance ripen into friendship. And though half an hour earlier this had been precisely my own view, I did not enjoy having the tables turned upon me. The whole affair was profoundly unsatisfactory, and I went up to the Villa Geneviève in a condition of distinct ill humour. I did not go to the house, but went up the path to the little bench by the shed, and sat there moodily enough.
I was distracted from my thoughts by the sound of voices close at hand. In a second or two I realized that they came, not from the garden I was in, but from the adjoining garden of the Villa Marguerite, and that they were approaching rapidly. A girl’s voice was speaking, a voice that I recognized as that of the beautiful Marthe.
“Chéri,” she was saying, “is it really true? Are all our troubles over.”
“You know it, Marthe,” Jack Renauld replied. “Nothing can part us now, beloved. The last obstacle to our union is removed. Nothing can take you from me.”
“Nothing?” the girl murmured. “Oh, Jack, Jack—I am afraid.”
I had moved to depart, realizing that I was quite unintentionally eavesdropping. As I rose to my feet, I caught sight of them through a gap in the hedge. They stood together facing me, the man’s arm round the girl, his eyes looking into hers. They were a splendid looking couple, the dark, well-knit boy, and the fair young goddess. They seemed made for each other as they stood there, happy in spite of the terrible tragedy that overshadowed their young lives.
But the girl’s face was troubled, and Jack Renauld seemed to recognize it, as he held her closer to him and asked:
“But what are you afraid of, darling? What is there to fear—now?”
And then I saw the look in her eyes, the look Poirot had spoken of, as she murmured, so that I almost guessed at the words.
“I am afraid—for you. …”
I did not hear young Renauld’s answer, for my attention was distracted by an unusual appearance a little further down the hedge. There appeared to be a brown bush there, which seemed odd, to say the least of it, so early in the summer. I stepped along to investigate, but, at my advance, the brown bush withdrew itself precipitately, and faced me with a finger to its lips. It was Giraud.
Enjoining caution, he led the way round the shed until we were out of ear-shot.
“What were you doing there?” I asked.
“Exactly what you were doing—listening.”
“But I was not there on purpose!”
“Ah!” said Giraud. “I was.”
As always, I admired the man whilst disliking him. He looked me up and down with a sort of contemptuous disfavour.
“You didn’t help matters by butting in. I might have heard something useful in a minute. What have you done with your old fossil?”
“M. Poirot has gone to Paris,” I replied coldly.
“And I can tell you, M. Giraud, that he is anything but an old fossil. He has solved many cases that have completely baffled the English police.”
“Bah! The English police!” Giraud snapped his fingers disdainfully. “They must be on a level with our examining magistrates. So he has gone to Paris, has he? Well, a good thing. The longer he stays there, the better. But what does he think he will find there?”
I thought I read in the question a tinge of uneasiness. I drew myself up.
“That I am not at liberty to say,” I said quietly.
Giraud subjected me to a piercing stare.
“He has probably enough sense not to tell you,” he remarked rudely. “Good afternoon. I’m busy.”
And with that, he turned on his heel, and left me without ceremony. Matters seemed at a standstill at the Villa Geneviève. Giraud evidently did not desire my company and, from what I had seen, it seemed fairly certain that Jack Renauld did not either.
I went back to the town, had an enjoyable bath and returned to the hotel. I turned in early, wondering whether the following day would bring forth anything of interest.
I was wholly unprepared for what it did bring forth. I was eating my petit déjeuner in the dining-room, when the waiter, who had been talking to some one outside, came back in obvious excitement. He hesitated for a minute, fidgeting with his napkin, and then burst out.
“Monsieur will pardon me, but he is connected, is he not, with the affair at the Villa Geneviève?’
“Yes,” I said eagerly. “Why?”
“Monsieur has not heard the news, though?”
“That there has been another murder there last night!”
Leaving my breakfast, I caught up my hat and ran as fast as I could. Another murder—and Poirot away! What fatality. But who had been murdered?
I dashed in at the gate. A group of the servants was in the drive, talking and gesticulating. I caught hold of Françoise.
“What has happened?”
“Oh, monsieur! monsieur! Another death! It is terrible. There is a curse upon the house. But yes, I say it, a curse! They should send for M. le curé to bring some holy water. Never will I sleep another night under that roof. It might be my turn, who knows?”
She crossed herself.
“Yes,” I cried, “but who has been killed?”
“Do I know—me? A man—a stranger. They found him up there—in the shed—not a hundred yards from where they found poor Monsieur. And that is not all. He is stabbed—stabbed to the heart with the same dagger!”