The Murder on the Links/Chapter 24
We crossed from England by the evening boat, and the following morning saw us in Saint-Omer, whither Jack Renauld had been taken. Poirot lost no time in visiting M. Hautet. As he did not seem disposed to make any objections to my accompanying him, I bore him company.
After various formalities and preliminaries, we were conducted to the examining magistrate’s room. He greeted us cordially.
“I was told that you had returned to England, M. Poirot. I am glad to find that such is not the case.”
“It is true that I went there, M. le juge, but it was only for a flying visit. A side issue, but one that I fancied might repay investigation.”
“And it did—eh?”
Poirot shrugged his shoulders. M. Hautet nodded, sighing.
“We must resign ourselves, I fear. That animal Giraud, his manners are abominable, but he is undoubtedly clever! Not much chance of that one making a mistake.”
“You think not, M. le juge?”
It was the examining magistrate’s turn to shrug his shoulders.
“Eh bien, speaking frankly—in confidence, c’est entendu—can you come to any other conclusion?”
“Frankly, M. le juge, there seem to me to be many points that are obscure.”
But Poirot was not to be drawn.
“I have not yet tabulated them,” he remarked. “It was a general reflection that I was making. I liked the young man, and should be sorry to believe him guilty of such a hideous crime. By the way, what has he to say for himself on the matter?”
The magistrate frowned.
“I cannot understand him. He seems incapable of putting up any sort of defence. It has been most difficult to get him to answer questions. He contents himself with a general denial, and beyond that takes refuge in a most obstinate silence. I am interrogating him again tomorrow; perhaps you would like to be present?”
We accepted the invitation with empressement.
“A distressing case,” said the magistrate with a sigh. “My sympathy for Madame Renauld is profound.”
“How is Madame Renauld?”
“She has not yet recovered consciousness. It is merciful in a way, poor woman, she is being spared much. The doctors say that there is no danger, but that when she comes to herself she must be kept as quiet as possible. It was, I understand, quite as much the shock as the fall which caused her present state. It would be terrible if her brain became unhinged; but I should not wonder at all—no, really, not at all.”
M. Hautet leaned back, shaking his head, with a sort of mournful enjoyment, as he envisaged the gloomy prospect.
He roused himself at length, and observed with a start.
“That reminds me. I have here a letter for you, M. Poirot. Let me see, where did I put it?”
He proceeded to rummage amongst his papers. At last he found the missive, and handed it to Poirot.
“It was sent under cover to me in order that I might forward it to you,” he explained. “But as you left no address I could not do so.”
Poirot studied the letter curiously. It was addressed in a long, sloping, foreign hand, and the writing was decidedly a woman’s. Poirot did not open it. Instead he put it in his pocket and rose to his feet.
“A demain then, M. le juge. Many thanks for your courtesy and amiability.”
“But not at all. I am always at your service. These young detectives of the school of Giraud, they are all alike—rude, sneering fellows. They do not realize that an examining magistrate of my—er—experience is bound to have a certain discernment, a certain—flair. Enfin! the politeness of the old school is infinitely more to my taste. Therefore, my dear friend, command me in any way you will. We know a thing or two, you and I—eh?”
And laughing heartily, enchanted with himself and with us, M. Hautet bade us adieu. I am sorry to have to record that Poirot’s first remark to me as we traversed the corridor was:
“A famous old imbecile, that one! Of a stupidity to make pity!”
We were just leaving the building when we came face to face with Giraud, looking more dandified than ever, and thoroughly pleased with himself.
“Aha! M. Poirot,” he cried airily. “You have returned from England then?”
“As you see,” said Poirot.
“The end of the case is not far off now, I fancy.”
“I agree with you, M. Giraud.”
Poirot spoke in a subdued tone. His crest-fallen manner seemed to delight the other.
“Of all the milk and water criminals! Not an idea of defending himself. It is extraordinary!”
“So extraordinary that it gives one to think, does it not?” suggested Poirot mildly.
But Giraud was not even listening. He twirled his cane amicably.
“Well, good day, M. Poirot. I am glad you’re satisfied of young Renauld’s guilt at last.”
“Pardon! But I am not in the least satisfied. Jack Renauld is innocent.”
Giraud stared for a moment—then burst out laughing, tapping his head significantly with the brief remark: “Toqué!”
Poirot drew himself up. A dangerous light showed in his eyes.
“M. Giraud, throughout the case your manner to me has been deliberately insulting! You need teaching a lesson. I am prepared to wager you 500 francs that I find the murderer of M. Renauld before you do. Is it agreed?”
Giraud stared helplessly at him, and murmured again:
“Come now,” urged Poirot, “is it agreed?”
“I have no wish to take your money from you.”
“Make your mind easy—you will not!”
“Oh, well then, I agree! You speak of my manner to you being insulting. Eh bien, once or twice, your manner has annoyed me.”
“I am enchanted to hear it,” said Poirot. “Good morning, M. Giraud. Come, Hastings.”
I said no word as we walked along the street. My heart was heavy. Poirot had displayed his intentions only too plainly. I doubted more than ever my powers of saving Bella from the consequences of her act. This unlucky encounter with Giraud had roused Poirot and put him on his mettle.
Suddenly I felt a hand laid on my shoulder, and turned to face Gabriel Stonor. We stopped and greeted him, and he proposed strolling with us back to our hotel.
“And what are you doing here, M. Stonor?” inquired Poirot.
“One must stand by one’s friends,” replied the other dryly. “Especially when they are unjustly accused.”
“Then you do not believe that Jack Renauld committed the crime?” I asked eagerly.
“Certainly I don’t. I know the lad. I admit that there have been one or two things in this business that have staggered me completely, but none the less, in spite of his fool way of taking it, I’ll never believe that Jack Renauld is a murderer.”
My heart warmed to the secretary. His words seemed to lift a secret weight from my heart.
“I have no doubt that many people feel as you do,” I exclaimed. “There is really absurdly little evidence against him. I should say that there was no doubt of his acquittal—no doubt whatever.”
But Stonor hardly responded as I could have wished.
“I’d give a lot to think as you do,” he said gravely. He turned to Poirot. “What’s your opinion, monsieur?”
“I think that things look very black against him,” said Poirot quietly.
“You believe him guilty?” said Stonor sharply.
“No. But I think he will find it hard to prove his innocence.”
“He’s behaving so damned queerly,” muttered Stonor. “Of course I realize that there’s a lot more in this affair than meets the eye. Giraud’s not wise to that because he’s an outsider, but the whole thing has been damned odd. As to that, least said soonest mended. If Mrs. Renauld wants to hush anything up, I’ll take my cue from her. It’s her show, and I’ve too much respect for her judgment to shove my oar in, but I can’t get behind this attitude of Jack’s. Any one would think he wanted to be thought guilty.”
“But it’s absurd,” I cried, bursting in. “For one thing, the dagger—” I paused, uncertain as to how much Poirot would wish me to reveal. I continued, choosing my words carefully, “We know that the dagger could not have been in Jack Renauld’s possession that evening. Mrs. Renauld knows that.”
“True,” said Stonor. “When she recovers, she will doubtless say all this and more. Well, I must be leaving you.”
“One moment.” Poirot’s hand arrested his departure. “Can you arrange for word to be sent to me at once should Madame Renauld recover consciousness?”
“Certainly. That’s easily done.”
“That point about the dagger is good, Poirot,” I urged as we went upstairs. “I couldn’t speak very plainly before Stonor.”
“That was quite right of you. We might as well keep the knowledge to ourselves as long as we can. As to the dagger, your point hardly helps Jack Renauld. You remember that I was absent for an hour this morning, before we started from London?”
“Well, I was employed in trying to find the firm Jack Renauld employed to convert his souvenirs. It was not very difficult. Eh bien, Hastings, they made to his order not two paper-knives, but three.”
“So that, after giving one to his mother, and one to Bella Duveen, there was a third which he doubtless retained for his own use. No, Hastings, I fear the dagger question will not help us to save him from the guillotine.”
“It won’t come to that,” I cried, stung.
Poirot shook his head uncertainly.
“You will save him,” I cried positively.
Poirot glanced at me dryly.
“Have you not rendered it impossible, mon ami?”
“Some other way,” I muttered.
“Ah! Sapristi! But it is miracles you ask from me. No—say no more. Let us instead see what is in this letter.”
And he drew out the envelope from his breast pocket.
His face contracted as he read, then he handed the one flimsy sheet to me.
“There are other women in the world who suffer, Hastings.”
The writing was blurred and the note had evidently been written in great agitation:
“Dear M. Poirot:
“If you get this, I beg of you to come to my aid. I have no one to turn to, and at all costs Jack must be saved. I implore of you on my knees to help us.
I handed it back, moved.
“You will go?”
“At once. We will command an auto.”
Half an hour later saw us at the Villa Marguerite. Marthe was at the door to meet us, and led Poirot in, clinging with both hands to one of his.
“Ah, you have come—it is good of you. I have been in despair, not knowing what to do. They will not let me go to see him in prison even. I suffer horribly, I am nearly mad. Is it true what they say, that he does not deny the crime? But that is madness. It is impossible that he should have done it! Never for one minute will I believe it.”
“Neither do I believe it, mademoiselle,” said Poirot gently.
“But then why does he not speak? I do not understand.”
“Perhaps because he is screening some one,” suggested Poirot, watching her.
“Screening some one? Do you mean his mother? Ah, from the beginning I have suspected her. Who inherits all that vast fortune? She does. It is easy to wear widow’s weeds and play the hypocrite. And they say that when he was arrested she fell down—like that.” She made a dramatic gesture. “And without doubt, M. Stonor, the secretary, he helped her. They are thick as thieves, those two. It is true she is older than he—but what do men care—if a woman is rich!”
There was a hint of bitterness in her tone.
“Stonor was in England,” I put in.
“He says so—but who knows?”
“Mademoiselle,” said Poirot quietly, “if we are to work together, you and I, we must have things clear. First, I will ask you a question.”
“Are you aware of your mother’s real name?”
Marthe looked at him for a minute, then, letting her head fall forward on her arms, she burst into tears.
“There, there,” said Poirot, patting her on the shoulder. “Calm yourself, petite, I see that you know. Now a second question, did you know who M. Renauld was?”
“M. Renauld,” she raised her head from her hands and gazed at him wonderingly.
“Ah, I see you do not know that. Now listen to me carefully.”
Step by step, he went over the case, much as he had done to me on the day of our departure for England. Marthe listened spellbound. When he had finished, she drew a long breath.
“But you are wonderful—magnificent! You are the greatest detective in the world.”
With a swift gesture she slipped off her chair and knelt before him with an abandonment that was wholly French.
“Save him, monsieur,” she cried. “I love him so. Oh, save him, save him—save him!”