The Murder on the Links/Chapter 17
I have set down the Beroldy case in full. Of course all the details did not present themselves to my memory as I have recounted them here. Nevertheless, I recalled the case fairly accurately. It had attracted a great deal of interest at the time, and had been fully reported by the English papers, so that it did not need much effort of memory on my part to recollect the salient details.
Just for the moment, in my excitement, it seemed to clear up the whole matter. I admit that I am impulsive, and Poirot deplores my custom of jumping to conclusions, but I think I had some excuse in this instance. The remarkable way in which this discovery justified Poirot’s point of view struck me at once.
“Poirot,” I said, “I congratulate you. I see everything now.”
“If that is indeed the truth, I congratulate you, mon ami. For as a rule you are not famous for seeing—eh, is it not so?”
I felt a little annoyed.
“Come now, don’t rub it in. You’ve been so confoundedly mysterious all along with your hints and your insignificant details that any one might fail to see what you were driving at.”
Poirot lit one of his little cigarettes with his usual precision. Then he looked up.
“And since you see everything now, mon ami, what exactly is it that you see?”
“Why, that it was Madame Daubreuil—Beroldy, who murdered Mr. Renauld. The similarity of the two cases proves that beyond a doubt.”
“Then you consider that Madame Beroldy was wrongly acquitted? That in actual fact she was guilty of connivance in her husband’s murder?”
I opened my eyes wide.
“But of course! Don’t you?”
Poirot walked to the end of the room, absentmindedly straightened a chair, and then said thoughtfully.
“Yes, that is my opinion. But there is no ‘of course’ about it, my friend. Technically speaking, Madame Beroldy is innocent.”
“Of that crime, perhaps. But not of this.”
Poirot sat down again, and regarded me, his thoughtful air more marked than ever.
“So it is definitely your opinion, Hastings, that Madame Daubreuil murdered M. Renauld?”
He shot the question at me with such suddenness that I was taken aback.
“Why?” I stammered. “Why? Oh, because—” I came to a stop.
Poirot nodded his head at me.
“You see, you come to a stumbling-block at once. Why should Madame Daubreuil (I shall call her that for clearness sake) murder M. Renauld? We can find no shadow of a motive. She does not benefit by his death; considered as either mistress or blackmailer she stands to lose. You cannot have a murder without a motive. The first crime was different, there we had a rich lover waiting to step into her husband’s shoes.”
“Money is not the only motive for murder,” I objected.
“True,” agreed Poirot placidly. “There are two others, the crime passionnel is one. And there is the third rare motive, murder for an idea which implies some form of mental derangement on the part of the murderer. Homicidal mania, and religious fanaticism belong to that class. We can rule it out here.”
“But what about the crime passionnel? Can you rule that out? If Madame Daubreuil was Renauld’s mistress, if she found that his affection was cooling, or if her jealousy was aroused in any way, might she not have struck him down in a moment of anger?”
Poirot shook his head.
“If—I say if, you note—Madame Daubreuil was Renauld’s mistress, he had not had time to tire of her. And in any case you mistake her character. She is a woman who can simulate great emotional stress. She is a magnificent actress. But, looked at dispassionately, her life disproves her appearance. Throughout, if we examine it, she had been cold-blooded and calculating in her motives and actions. It was not to link her life with that of her young lover that she connived at her husband’s murder. The rich American, for whom she probably did not care a button, was her objective. If she committed a crime, she would always do so for gain. Here there was no gain. Besides, how do you account for the digging of the grave? That was a man’s work.”
“She might have had an accomplice,” I suggested, unwilling to relinquish my belief.
“I pass to another objection. You have spoken of the similarity between the two crimes. Wherein does that lie, my friend?”
I stared at him in astonishment.
“Why, Poirot, it was you who remarked on that! The story of the masked men, the ‘secret,’ the papers!”
Poirot smiled a little.
“Do not be so indignant, I beg of you. I repudiate nothing. The similarity of the two stories links the two cases together inevitably. But reflect now on something very curious. It is not Madame Daubreuil who tells us this tale—if it were all would indeed be plain sailing—it is Madame Renauld. Is she then in league with the other?”
“I can’t believe that,” I said slowly. “If it is so, she must be the most consummate actress the world has ever known.”
“Ta-ta-ta,” said Poirot impatiently. “Again you have the sentiment, and not the logic! If it is necessary for a criminal to be a consummate actress, then by all means assume her to be one. But is it necessary? I do not believe Madame Renauld to be in league with Madame Daubreuil for several reasons, some of which I have already enumerated to you. The others are self-evident. Therefore, that possibility eliminated, we draw very near to the truth which is, as always, very curious and interesting.”
“Poirot,” I cried, “what more do you know?”
“Mon ami, you must make your own deductions. You have ‘access to the facts!’ Concentrate your grey cells. Reason—not like Giraud—but like Hercule Poirot.”
“But are you sure?”
“My friend, in many ways I have been an imbecile. But at last I see clearly.”
“You know everything?”
“I have discovered what M. Renauld sent for me to discover.”
“And you know the murderer?”
“I know one murderer.”
“What do you mean?”
“We talk a little at cross-purposes. There are here not one crime, but two. The first I have solved, the second—eh bien, I will confess, I am not sure!”
“But, Poirot, I thought you said the man in the shed had died a natural death?”
“Ta-ta-ta.” Poirot made his favourite ejaculation of impatience. “Still you do not understand. One may have a crime without a murderer, but for two crimes it is essential to have two bodies.”
His remark struck me as so peculiarly lacking in lucidity that I looked at him in some anxiety. But he appeared perfectly normal. Suddenly he rose and strolled to the window.
“Here he is,” he observed.
“M. Jack Renauld. I sent a note up to the Villa to ask him to come here.”
That changed the course of my ideas, and I asked Poirot if he knew that Jack Renauld had been in Merlinville on the night of the crime. I had hoped to catch my astute little friend napping, but as usual, he was omniscient. He, too, had inquired at the station.
“And without doubt we are not original in the idea, Hastings. The excellent Giraud, he also has probably made his inquiries.”
“You don’t think—” I said, and then stopped. “Ah, no, it would be too horrible!”
Poirot looked inquiringly at me, but I said no more. It had just occurred to me that though there were seven women directly or indirectly connected with the case Mrs. Renauld, Madame Daubreuil and her daughter, the mysterious visitor, and the three servants—there was, with the exception of old Auguste who could hardly count, only one man—Jack Renauld. And a man must have dug a grave. …
I had no time to develop further the appalling idea that had occurred to me, for Jack Renauld was ushered into the room.
Poirot greeted him in a business-like manner.
“Take a seat, monsieur. I regret infinitely to derange you, but you will perhaps understand that the atmosphere of the Villa is not too congenial to me. M. Giraud and I do not see eye to eye about everything. His politeness to me has not been striking and you will comprehend that I do not intend any little discoveries I may make to benefit him in any way.”
“Exactly, M. Poirot,” said the lad. “That fellow Giraud is an ill-conditioned brute, and I’d be delighted to see some one score at his expense.”
“Then I may ask a little favour of you?”
“I will ask you to go to the railway station and take a train to the next station along the line, Abbalac. Ask there at the cloak-room whether two foreigners deposited a valise there on the night of the murder. It is a small station, and they are almost certain to remember. Will you do this?”
“Of course I will,” said the boy, mystified, though ready for the task.
“I and my friend, you comprehend, have business elsewhere,” explained Poirot. “There is a train in a quarter of an hour, and I will ask you not to return to the Villa, as I have no wish for Giraud to get an inkling of your errand.”
“Very well, I will go straight to the station.”
He rose to his feet. Poirot’s voice stopped him.
“One moment, M. Renauld, there is one little matter that puzzles me. Why did you not mention to M. Hautet this morning that you were in Merlinville on the night of the crime?”
Jack Renauld’s face went crimson. With an effort he controlled himself.
“You have made a mistake. I was in Cherbourg, as I told the examining magistrate this morning.”
Poirot looked at him, his eyes narrowed, cat-like, until they only showed a gleam of green.
“Then it is a singular mistake that I have made there—for it is shared by the station staff. They say you arrived by the 11:40 train.”
For a moment Jack Renauld hesitated, then he made up his mind.
“And if I did? I suppose you do not mean to accuse me of participating in my father’s murder?” He asked the question haughtily, his head thrown back.
“I should like an explanation of the reason that brought you here.”
“That is simple enough. I came to see my fiancée, Mademoiselle Daubreuil. I was on the eve of a long voyage, uncertain as to when I should return. I wished to see her before I went, to assure her of my unchanging devotion.”
“And you did see her?” Poirot’s eyes never left the other’s face.
There was an appreciable pause before Renauld replied. Then he said:
“I found I had missed the last train. I walked to St. Beauvais where I knocked up a garage and got a car to take me back to Cherbourg.”
“St. Beauvais? That is fifteen kilometres. A long walk, M. Renauld.”
“I—I felt like walking.”
Poirot bowed his head as a sign that he accepted the explanation. Jack Renauld took up his hat and cane and departed. In a trice Poirot jumped to his feet.
“Quick, Hastings. We will go after him.”
Keeping a discreet distance behind our quarry, we followed him through the streets of Merlinville. But when Poirot saw that he took the turning to the station, he checked himself.
“All is well. He has taken the bait. He will go to Abbalac, and will inquire for the mythical valise left by the mythical foreigners. Yes, mon ami, all that was a little invention of my own.”
“You wanted him out of the way!” I exclaimed.
“Your penetration is amazing, Hastings! Now, if you please, we will go up to the Villa Geneviève.”