The Murder on the Links/Chapter 25
We were present the following morning at the examination of Jack Renauld. Short as the time had been, I was shocked at the change that had taken place in the young prisoner. His cheeks had fallen in, there were deep black circles round his eyes, and he looked haggard and distraught, as one who had wooed sleep in vain for several nights. He betrayed no emotion at seeing us.
The prisoner and his counsel, Maître Grosíer, were accommodated with chairs. A formidable guard with resplendent sabre stood before the door. The patient greffier sat at his desk. The examination began.
“Renauld,” began the magistrate, “do you deny that you were in Merlinville on the night of the crime?”
Jack did not reply at once, then he said with a hesitancy of manner which was piteous:
“I—I—told you that I was in Cherbourg.”
Maître Grosíer frowned and sighed. I realized at once that Jack Renauld was obstinately bent on conducting his own case as he wished, to the despair of his legal representative.
The magistrate turned sharply.
“Send in the station witnesses.”
In a moment or two the door opened to admit a man whom I recognized as being a porter at Merlinville station.
“You were on duty on the night of June 7th?”
“You witnessed the arrival of the 11:40 train?”
“Look at the prisoner. Do you recognize him as having been one of the passengers to alight?”
“Yes, Monsieur le juge.”
“There is no possibility of your being mistaken?”
“No, monsieur. I knew M. Jack Renauld well.”
“Nor of your being mistaken as to the date?”
“No, monsieur. Because it was the following morning, June 8th, that we heard of the murder.”
Another railway official was brought in, and confirmed the first one’s evidence. The magistrate looked at Jack Renauld.
“These men have identified you positively. What have you to say?”
Jack shrugged his shoulders.
M. Hautet exchanged a glance with the greffier, as the scratching of the latter’s pen recorded the answer.
“Renauld,” continued the magistrate, “do you recognize this?”
He took something from the table by his side, and held it out to the prisoner. I shuddered as I recognized the aeroplane dagger.
“Pardon,” cried Maître Grosíer. “I demand to speak to my client before he answers that question.”
But Jack Renauld had no consideration for the feelings of the wretched Grosíer. He waved him aside, and replied quietly:
“Certainly I recognize it. It is a present given by me to my mother, as a souvenir of the War.”
“Is there, as far as you know, any duplicate of that dagger in existence?”
Again Maître Grosíer burst out, and again Jack overrode him.
“Not that I know of. The setting was my own design.”
Even the magistrate almost gasped at the boldness of the reply. It did, in very truth, seem as though Jack was rushing on his fate. I realized, of course, the vital necessity he was under of concealing, for Bella’s sake, the fact that there was a duplicate dagger in the case. So long as there was supposed to be only one weapon, no suspicion was likely to attach to the girl who had had the second paper-knife in her possession. He was valiantly shielding the woman he had once loved—but at what a cost to himself! I began to realize the magnitude of the task I had so lightly set Poirot. It would not be easy to secure the acquittal of Jack Renauld, by anything short of the truth.
M. Hautet spoke again, with a peculiarly biting inflection:
“Madame Renauld told us that this dagger was on her dressing table on the night of the crime. But Madame Renauld is a mother! It will doubtless astonish you, Renauld, but I consider it highly likely that Madame Renauld was mistaken, and that, by inadvertence perhaps, you had taken it with you to Paris. Doubtless you will contradict me—”
I saw the lad’s handcuffed hands clench themselves. The perspiration stood out in beads upon his brow, as with a supreme effort he interrupted M. Hautet in a hoarse voice:
“I shall not contradict you. It is possible.”
It was a stupefying moment. Maître Grosíer rose to his feet, protesting:
“My client has undergone a considerable nervous strain. I should wish it put on record that I do not consider him answerable for what he says.”
The magistrate quelled him angrily. For a moment a doubt seemed to arise in his own mind. Jack Renauld had almost overdone his part. He leaned forward, and gazed at the prisoner searchingly.
“Do you fully understand, Renauld, that on the answers you have given me I shall have no alternative but to commit you for trial?”
Jack’s pale face flushed. He looked steadily back.
“M. Hautet, I swear that I did not kill my father.”
But the magistrate’s brief moment of doubt was over. He laughed a short, unpleasant laugh.
“Without doubt, without doubt—they are always innocent, our prisoners! By your own mouth you are condemned. You can offer no defence, no alibi—only a mere assertion which would not deceive a babe!—that you are not guilty. You killed your father, Renauld—cruel and cowardly murder—for the sake of money which you believed would come to you at his death. Your mother was an accessory after the fact. Doubtless, in view of the fact that she acted as a mother, the courts will extend an indulgence to her that they will not accord to you. And rightly so! Your crime was a horrible one—to be held in abhorrence by gods and men!” M. Hautet was enjoying himself, working up his period, steeped in the solemnity of the moment, and his own role as representative of justice. “You killed—and you must pay the consequences of your action. I speak to you, not as a man, but as Justice, eternal Justice, which—”
M. Hautet was interrupted—to his intense annoyance. The door was pushed open.
“M. le juge, M. le juge,” stammered the attendant, “there is a lady who says—who says—”
“Who says what?” cried the justly incensed magistrate. “This is highly irregular. I forbid it—I absolutely forbid it.”
But a slender figure pushed the stammering gendarme aside. Dressed all in black, with a long veil that hid her face, she advanced into the room.
My heart gave a sickening throb. She had come then! All my efforts were in vain. Yet I could not but admire the courage that had led her to take this step so unfalteringly.
She raised her veil—and I gasped. For, though as like her as two peas, this girl was not Cinderella! On the other hand, now that I saw her without the fair wig she had worn on the stage, I recognized her as the girl of the photograph in Jack Renauld’s room.
“You are the Juge d’Instruction, M. Hautet?” she queried.
“Yes, but I forbid—”
“My name is Bella Duveen. I wish to give myself up for the murder of Mr. Renauld.”