The Murder on the Links/Chapter 14

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Waiting for no more, I turned and ran up the path to the shed. The two men on guard there stood aside to let me pass and, filled with excitement, I entered.

The light was dim, the place was a mere rough wooden erection to keep old pots and tools in. I had entered impetuously, but on the threshold I checked myself, fascinated by the spectacle before me.

Giraud was on his hands and knees, a pocket torch in his hand with which he was examining every inch of the ground. He looked up with a frown at my entrance, then his face relaxed a little in a sort of good-humoured contempt.

“Ah, c’est l’Anglais! Enter then. Let us see what you can make of this affair.”

Rather stung by his tone, I stooped my head, and passed in.

“There he is,” said Giraud, flashing his torch to the far corner.

I stepped across.

The dead man lay straight upon his back. He was of medium height, swarthy of complexion, and possibly about fifty years of age. He was neatly dressed in a dark blue suit, well cut and probably made by an expensive tailor, but not new. His face was terribly convulsed, and on his left side, just over the heart, the hilt of a dagger stood up, black and shining. I recognized it. It was the same dagger I had seen reposing in the glass jar the preceding morning!

“I’m expecting the doctor any minute,” explained Giraud. “Although we hardly need him. There’s no doubt what the man died of. He was stabbed to the heart, and death must have been pretty well instantaneous.”

“When was it done? Last night?”

Giraud shook his head.

“Hardly. I don’t lay down the law on medical evidence, but the man’s been dead well over twelve hours. When do you say you last saw that dagger?”

“About ten o’clock yesterday morning.”

“Then I should be inclined to fix the crime as being done not long after that.”

“But people were passing and repassing this shed continually.”

Giraud laughed disagreeably.

“You progress to a marvel! Who told you he was killed in this shed?”

“Well—” I felt flustered. “I—I assumed it.”

“Oh, what a fine detective! Look at him, mon petit—does a man stabbed to the heart fall like that—neatly with his feet together, and his arms to his side? No. Again does a man lie down on his back and permit himself to be stabbed without raising a hand to defend himself? It is absurd, is it not? But see here—and here—” He flashed the torch along the ground. I saw curious irregular marks in the soft dirt. “He was dragged here after he was dead. Half dragged, half carried by two people. Their tracks do not show on the hard ground outside, and here they have been careful to obliterate them—but one of the two was a woman, my young friend.”

“A woman?”

“Yes.”

“But if the tracks are obliterated, how do you know?”

“Because, blurred as they are, the prints of the woman’s shoe are unmistakable. Also, by this—” And, leaning forward, he drew something from the handle of the dagger and held it up for me to see. It was a woman’s long black hair—similar to the one Poirot had taken from the arm-chair in the library.

With a slightly ironic smile he wound it round the dagger again.

“We will leave things as they are as much as possible,” he explained. “It pleases the examining magistrate. Eh bien, do you notice anything else?”

I was forced to shake my head.

“Look at his hands.”

I did. The nails were broken and discoloured, and the skin was hard. It hardly enlightened me as much as I should have liked it to have done. I looked up at Giraud.

“They are not the hands of a gentleman,” he said, answering my look. “On the contrary his clothes are those of a well-to-do man. That is curious, is it not?”

“Very curious,” I agreed.

“And none of his clothing is marked. What do we learn from that? This man was trying to pass himself off as other than he was. He was masquerading. Why? Did he fear something? Was he trying to escape by disguising himself? As yet we do not know, but one thing we do know—he was as anxious to conceal his identity as we are to discover it.”

He looked down at the body again.

“As before there are no finger-prints on the handle of the dagger. The murderer again wore gloves.”

“You think, then, that the murderer was the same in both cases?” I asked eagerly.

Giraud became inscrutable.

“Never mind what I think. We shall see. Marchaud!”

The sergent de ville appeared at the doorway.

“Monsieur?”

“Why is Madame Renauld not here? I sent for her a quarter of an hour ago?”

“She is coming up the path now, monsieur, and her son with her.”

“Good. I only want one at a time, though.”

Marchaud saluted and disappeared again. A moment later he reappeared with Mrs. Renauld.

“Here is Madame.”

Giraud came forward with a curt bow.

“This way, madame.” He led her across, and then, standing suddenly aside. “Here is the man. Do you know him?”

And as he spoke, his eyes, gimlet-like, bored into her face, seeking to read her mind, noting every indication of her manner.

But Mrs. Renauld remained perfectly calm—too calm, I felt. She looked down at the corpse almost without interest, certainly without any sign of agitation or recognition.

“No,” she said. “I have never seen him in my life. He is quite a stranger to me.”

“You are sure?”

“Quite sure.”

“You do not recognize in him one of your assailants, for instance?”

“No,” she seemed to hesitate, as though struck by the idea. “No, I do not think so. Of course they wore beards—false ones the examining magistrate thought, but still—no.” Now she seemed to make her mind up definitely. “I am sure neither of the two was this man.”

“Very well, madame. That is all, then.”

She stepped out with head erect, the sun flashing on the silver threads in her hair. Jack Renauld succeeded her. He, too, failed to identify the man, in a completely natural manner.

Giraud merely grunted. Whether he was pleased or chagrined I could not tell. He merely called to Marchaud:

“You have got the other there?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“Bring her in then.”

“The other” was Madame Daubreuil. She came indignantly, protesting with vehemence.

“I object, monsieur! This is an outrage! What have I to do with all this?”

“Madame,” said Giraud brutally, “I am investigating not one murder, but two murders! For all I know you may have committed them both.”

“How dare you?” she cried. “How dare you insult me by such a wild accusation! It is infamous.”

“Infamous, is it? What about this?” Stooping, he again detached the hair, and held it up. “Do you see this, madame?” He advanced towards her. “You permit that I see whether it matches?”

With a cry she started backwards, white to the lips.

“It is false—I swear it. I know nothing of the crime—of either crime. Any one who says I do lies! Ah! mon Dieu, what shall I do?”

“Calm yourself, madame,” said Giraud coldly. “No one has accused you as yet. But you will do well to answer my questions without more ado.”

“Anything you wish, monsieur.”

“Look at the dead man. Have you ever seen him before?”

Drawing nearer, a little of the colour creeping back to her face, Madame Daubreuil looked down at the victim with a certain amount of interest and curiosity. Then she shook her head.

“I do not know him.”

It seemed impossible to doubt her, the words came so naturally. Giraud dismissed her with a nod of the head. “You are letting her go?” I asked in a low voice. “Is that wise? Surely that black hair is from her head.”

“I do not need teaching my business,” said Giraud dryly. “She is under surveillance. I have no wish to arrest her as yet.”

Then, frowning, he gazed down at the body.

“Should you say that was a Spanish type at all?” he asked suddenly.

I considered the face carefully.

“No,” I said at last. “I should put him down as a Frenchman most decidedly.”

Giraud gave a grunt of dissatisfaction.

“Same here.”

He stood there for a moment, then with an imperative gesture he waved me aside, and once more, on hands and knees, he continued his search of the floor of the shed. He was marvellous. Nothing escaped him. Inch by inch he went over the floor, turning over pots, examining old sacks. He pounced on a bundle by the door, but it proved to be only a ragged coat and trousers, and he flung it down again with a snarl. Two pairs of old gloves interested him, but in the end he shook his head and laid them aside. Then he went back to the pots, methodically turning them over one by one. In the end, he rose to his feet, and shook his head thoughtfully. He seemed baffled and perplexed. I think he had forgotten my presence.

But, at that moment, a stir and bustle was heard outside, and our old friend, the examining magistrate, accompanied by his clerk and M. Bex, with the doctor behind him, came bustling in.

“But this is extraordinary, Mr. Giraud,” cried M. Hautet. “Another crime! Ah, we have not got to the bottom of this case. There is some deep mystery here. But who is the victim this time?”

“That is just what nobody can tell us, M. le juge. He has not been identified.”

“Where is the body?” asked the doctor.

Giraud moved aside a little.

“There in the corner. He has been stabbed to the heart, as you see. And with the dagger that was stolen yesterday morning. I fancy that the murder followed hard upon the theft—but that is for you to say. You can handle the dagger freely—there are no finger-prints on it.”

The doctor knelt down by the dead man, and Giraud turned to the examining magistrate.

“A pretty little problem, is it not? But I shall solve it.”

“And so no one can identify him,” mused the magistrate. “Could it possibly be one of the assassins? They may have fallen out among themselves.”

Giraud shook his head.

“The man is a Frenchman—I would take my oath of that—”

But at that moment they were interrupted by the doctor who was sitting back on his heels with a perplexed expression.

“You say he was killed yesterday morning?”

“I fix it by the theft of the dagger,” explained Giraud. “He may, of course, have been killed later in the day.”

“Later in the day? Fiddlesticks! This man has been dead at least forty-eight hours, and probably longer.”

We stared at each other in blank amazement.