The Murder on the Links/Chapter 27

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“Congratulations, M. Jack,” said Poirot, wringing the lad warmly by the hand.

Young Renauld had come to us as soon as he was liberated—before starting for Merlinville to rejoin Marthe and his mother. Stonor accompanied him. His heartiness was in strong contrast to the lad’s wan looks. It was plain that the boy was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Although delivered from the immediate peril that was hanging over him, the circumstances of his release were too painful to let him feel full relief. He smiled mournfully at Poirot, and said in a low voice:

“I went through it to protect her, and now it’s all no use!”

“You could hardly expect the girl to accept the price of your life,” remarked Stonor dryly. “She was bound to come forward when she saw you heading straight for the guillotine.”

Eh ma foi! and you were heading for it too!” added Poirot, with a slight twinkle. “You would have had Maître Grosíer’s death from rage on your conscience if you had gone on.”

“He was a well meaning ass, I suppose,” said Jack. “But he worried me horribly. You see, I couldn’t very well take him into my confidence. But, my God! what’s going to happen about Bella?”

“If I were you,” said Poirot frankly, “I should not distress myself unduly. The French Courts are very lenient to youth and beauty, and the crime passionnel. A clever lawyer will make out a great case of extenuating circumstances. It will not be pleasant for you—”

“I don’t care about that. You see, M. Poirot, in a way I do feel guilty of my father’s murder. But for me, and my entanglement with this girl, he would be alive and well today. And then my cursed carelessness in taking away the wrong overcoat. I can’t help feeling responsible for his death. It will haunt me for ever!”

“No, no,” I said soothingly.

“Of course it’s horrible to me to think that Bella killed my father,” resumed Jack, “but I’d treated her shamefully. After I met Marthe, and realized I’d made a mistake, I ought to have written and told her so honestly. But I was so terrified of a row, and of its coming to Marthe’s ears, and her thinking there was more in it than there ever had been, that—well, I was a coward, and went on hoping the thing would die down of itself. I just drifted, in fact—not realizing that I was driving the poor kid desperate. If she’d really knifed me, as she meant to, I should have got no more than my deserts. And the way she’s come forward now is downright plucky. I’d have stood the racket, you know—up to the end.”

He was silent for a moment or two, and then burst out on another tack:

“What gets me is why the Governor should be wandering about in underclothes and my overcoat at that time of night. I suppose he’d just given the foreign johnnies the slip, and my mother must have made a mistake about its being 2 o’clock when they came. Or—or, it wasn’t all a frame up, was it? I mean, my mother didn’t think—couldn’t think—that—that it was me?

Poirot reassured him quickly.

“No, no, M. Jack. Have no fears on that score. As for the rest, I will explain it to you one of these days. It is rather curious. But will you recount to us exactly what did occur on that terrible evening?”

“There’s very little to tell. I came from Cherbourg, as I told you, in order to see Marthe before going to the other end of the world. The train was late, and I decided to take the short cut across the golf links. I could easily get into the grounds of the Villa Marguerite from there. I had nearly reached the place when—”

He paused and swallowed.

“Yes?”

“I heard a terrible cry. It wasn’t loud—a sort of choke and gasp—but it frightened me. For a moment I stood rooted to the spot. Then I came round the corner of a bush. There was moonlight. I saw the grave, and a figure lying face downwards, with a dagger sticking in the back. And then—and then—I looked up and saw her. She was looking at me as though she saw a ghost—it’s what she must have thought me at first—all expression seemed frozen out of her face by horror. And then she gave a cry, and turned and ran.”

He stopped, trying to master his emotion.

“And afterwards?” asked Poirot gently.

“I really don’t know. I stayed there for a time, dazed. And then I realized I’d better get away as fast as I could. It didn’t occur to me that they would suspect me, but I was afraid of being called upon to give evidence against her. I walked to St. Beauvais as I told you, and got a car from there back to Cherbourg.”

A knock came at the door, and a page entered with a telegram which he delivered to Stonor. He tore it open. Then he got up from his seat.

“Mrs. Renauld has regained consciousness,” he said.

“Ah!” Poirot sprang to his feet. “Let us all go to Merlinville at once!”

A hurried departure was made forthwith. Stonor, at Jack’s instance, agreed to stay behind and do all that could be done for Bella Duveen. Poirot, Jack Renauld and I set off in the Renauld car.

The run took just over forty minutes. As we approached the doorway of the Villa Marguerite, Jack Renauld shot a questioning glance at Poirot.

“How would it be if you went on first—to break the news to my mother that I am free—”

“While you break it in person to Mademoiselle Marthe, eh?” finished Poirot, with a twinkle. “But yes, by all means, I was about to propose such an arrangement myself.”

Jack Renauld did not wait for more. Stopping the car, he swung himself out, and ran up the path to the front door. We went on in the car to the Villa Geneviève.

“Poirot,” I said, “do you remember how we arrived here that first day? And were met by the news of M. Renauld’s murder?”

“Ah! yes, truly. Not so long ago, either. But what a lot of things have happened since then—especially for you, mon ami!

“Poirot, what have you done about finding Bel—I mean Dulcie?”

“Calm yourself, Hastings. I arrange everything.”

“You’re being a precious long time about it,” I grumbled.

Poirot changed the subject.

“Then the beginning, now the end,” he moralized, as we rang the bell. “And, considered as a case, the end is profoundly unsatisfactory.”

“Yes, indeed,” I sighed.

“You are regarding it from the sentimental standpoint, Hastings. That was not my meaning. We will hope that Mademoiselle Bella will be dealt with leniently, and after all Jack Renauld cannot marry both the girls. I spoke from a professional standpoint. This is not a crime well ordered and regular, such as a detective delights in. The mise en scène designed by Georges Conneau, that indeed is perfect, but the dénouement—ah, no! A man killed by accident in a girl’s fit of anger—ah, indeed, what order or method is there in that?”

And in the midst of a fit of laughter on my part at Poirot’s peculiarities, the door was opened by Françoise.

Poirot explained that he must see Mrs. Renauld at once, and the old woman conducted him upstairs. I remained in the salon. It was some time before Poirot reappeared. He was looking unusually grave.

Vous voilà, Hastings! Sacré tonnerre, but there are squalls ahead!”

“What do you mean?” I cried.

“I would hardly have credited it,” said Poirot thoughtfully, “but women are very unexpected.”

“Here are Jack and Marthe Daubreuil,” I exclaimed, looking out of the window.

Poirot bounded out of the room, and met the young couple on the steps outside.

“Do not enter. It is better not. Your mother is very upset.”

“I know, I know,” said Jack Renauld. “I must go up to her at once.”

“But no, I tell you. It is better not.”

“But Marthe and I—”

“In any case, do not take Mademoiselle with you. Mount, if you must, but you would be wise to be guided by me.”

A voice on the stairs behind made us all start.

“I thank you for your good offices, M. Poirot, but I will make my own wishes clear.”

We stared in astonishment. Descending the stairs, leaning upon Léonie’s arm, was Mrs. Renauld, her head still bandaged. The French girl was weeping, and imploring her mistress to return to bed.

“Madame will kill herself. It is contrary to all the doctor’s orders!”

But Mrs. Renauld came on.

“Mother,” cried Jack, starting forward. But with a gesture she drove him back.

“I am no mother of yours! You are no son of mine! From this day and hour I renounce you.”

“Mother,” cried the lad, stupefied.

For a moment she seemed to waver, to falter before the anguish in his voice. Poirot made a mediating gesture, but instantly she regained command of herself.

“Your father’s blood is on your head. You are morally guilty of his death. You thwarted and defied him over this girl, and by your heartless treatment of another girl, you brought about his death. Go out from my house. Tomorrow I intend to take such steps as shall make it certain that you shall never touch a penny of his money. Make your way in the world as best you can with the help of the girl who is the daughter of your father’s bitterest enemy!”

And slowly, painfully, she retraced her way upstairs.

We were all dumbfounded—totally unprepared for such a demonstration. Jack Renauld, worn out with all he had already gone through, swayed and nearly fell. Poirot and I went quickly to his assistance.

“He is overdone,” murmured Poirot to Marthe. “Where can we take him?”

“But home! To the Villa Marguerite. We will nurse him, my mother and I. My poor Jack!”

We got the lad to the Villa, where he dropped limply on to a chair in a semi-dazed condition. Poirot felt his head and hands.

“He has fever. The long strain begins to tell. And now this shock on top of it. Get him to bed, and Hastings and I will summon a doctor.”

A doctor was soon procured. After examining the patient, he gave it as his opinion that it was simply a case of nerve strain. With perfect rest and quiet, the lad might be almost restored by the next day, but, if excited, there was a chance of brain fever. It would be advisable for some one to sit up all night with him.

Finally, having done all we could, we left him in the charge of Marthe and her mother, and set out for the town. It was past our usual hour of dining, and we were both famished. The first restaurant we came to assuaged the pangs of hunger with an excellent omelette, and an equally excellent entrecôte to follow.

“And now for quarters for the night,” said Poirot, when at length café noir had completed the meal. “Shall we try our old friend, the Hôtel des Bains?”

We traced our steps there without more ado. Yes, Messieurs could be accommodated with two good rooms overlooking the sea. Then Poirot asked a question which surprised me.

“Has an English lady, Miss Robinson, arrived?”

“Yes, monsieur. She is in the little salon.”

“Ah!”

“Poirot,” I cried, keeping pace with him as he walked along the corridor, “who on earth is Miss Robinson?”

Poirot beamed kindly on me.

“It is that I have arranged you a marriage, Hastings.”

“But, I say—”

“Bah!” said Poirot, giving me a friendly push over the threshold of the door. “Do you think I wish to trumpet aloud in Merlinville the name of Duveen?”

It was indeed Cinderella who rose to greet us. I took her hands in both of mine. My eyes said the rest.

Poirot cleared his throat.

Mes enfants,” he said, “for the moment we have no time for sentiment. There is work ahead of us. Mademoiselle, were you able to do what I asked you?”

In response, Cinderella took from her bag an object wrapped up in paper, and handed it silently to Poirot. The latter unwrapped it. I gave a start—for it was the aeroplane dagger which I understood she had cast into the sea. Strange, how reluctant women always are to destroy the most compromising of objects and documents!

Très bien, mon enfant,” said Poirot. “I am pleased with you. Go now and rest yourself. Hastings here and I have work to do. You shall see him tomorrow.”

“Where are you going?” asked the girl, her eyes widening.

“You shall hear all about it tomorrow.”

“Because wherever you’re going, I’m coming too.”

“But mademoiselle—”

“I’m coming too, I tell you.”

Poirot realized that it was futile to argue further. He gave in.

“Come then, mademoiselle. But it will not be amusing. In all probability nothing will happen.”

The girl made no reply.

Twenty minutes later we set forth. It was quite dark now, a close, oppressive evening. Poirot led the way out of the town in the direction of the Villa Geneviève. But when he reached the Villa Marguerite he paused.

“I should like to assure myself that all goes well with Jack Renauld. Come with me, Hastings. Mademoiselle will perhaps remain outside. Madame Daubreuil might say something which would wound her.”

We unlatched the gate, and walked up the path. As we went round to the side of the house, I drew Poirot’s attention to a window on the first floor. Thrown sharply on the blind was the profile of Marthe Daubreuil.

“Ah!” said Poirot. “I figure to myself that that is the room where we shall find Jack Renauld.”

Madame Daubreuil opened the door to us. She explained that Jack was much the same, but perhaps we would like to see for ourselves. She led us upstairs and into the bedroom. Marthe Daubreuil was embroidering by a table with a lamp on it. She put her finger to her lips as we entered.

Jack Renauld was sleeping an uneasy fitful sleep, his head turning from side to side, and his face still unduly flushed.

“Is the doctor coming again?” asked Poirot in a whisper.

“Not unless we send. He is sleeping—that is the great thing. Maman made him a tisane.”

She sat down again with her embroidery as we left the room. Madame Daubreuil accompanied us down the stairs. Since I had learned of her past history, I viewed this woman with increased interest. She stood there with her eyes cast down, the same very faint enigmatical smile that I remembered on her lips. And suddenly I felt afraid of her, as one might feel afraid of a beautiful poisonous snake.

“I hope we have not deranged you, madame,” said Poirot politely as she opened the door for us to pass out.

“Not at all, monsieur.”

“By the way,” said Poirot, as though struck by an afterthought, “M. Stonor has not been in Merlinville today, has he?”

I could not at all fathom the point of this question which I well knew to be meaningless as far as Poirot was concerned.

Madame Daubreuil replied quite composedly:

“Not that I know of.”

“He has not had an interview with Mrs. Renauld?”

“How should I know that, monsieur?”

“True,” said Poirot. “I thought you might have seen him coming or going, that is all. Good night, madame.”

“Why—” I began.

“No ‘whys,’ Hastings. There will be time for that later.”

We rejoined Cinderella and made our way rapidly in the direction of the Villa Geneviève. Poirot looked over his shoulder once at the lighted window and the profile of Marthe as she bent over her work.

“He is being guarded at all events,” he muttered.

Arrived at the Villa Geneviève, Poirot took up his stand behind some bushes to the left of the drive, where, whilst enjoying a good view ourselves, we were completely hidden from sight. The Villa itself was in total darkness, everybody was without doubt in bed and asleep. We were almost immediately under the window of Mrs. Renauld’s bedroom, which window, I noticed, was open. It seemed to me that it was upon this spot that Poirot’s eyes were fixed.

“What are we going to do?” I whispered.

“Watch.”

“But—”

“I do not expect anything to happen for at least an hour, probably two hours, but the—”

But his words were interrupted by a long thin drawn cry:

“Help!”

A light flashed up in the second floor room on the right hand side of the house. The cry came from there. And even as we watched there came a shadow on the blind as of two people struggling.

Mille tonnerres!” cried Poirot. “She must have changed her room!”

Dashing forward, he battered wildly on the front door. Then rushing to the tree in the flower-bed, he swarmed up it with the agility of a cat. I followed him, as with a bound he sprang in through the open window. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Dulcie reaching the branch behind me.

“Take care,” I exclaimed.

“Take care of your grandmother!” retorted the girl. “This is child’s play to me.”

Poirot had rushed through the empty room and was pounding on the door leading into the corridor.

“Locked and bolted on the outside,” he growled. “And it will take time to burst it open.”

The cries for help were getting noticeably fainter. I saw despair in Poirot’s eyes. He and I together put our shoulders to the door.

Cinderella’s voice, calm and dispassionate, came from the window:

“You’ll be too late, I guess I’m the only one who can do anything.”

Before I could move a hand to stop her, she appeared to leap upward into space. I rushed and looked out. To my horror, I saw her hanging by her hands from the roof, propelling herself along by jerks in the direction of the lighted window.

“Good heavens! She’ll be killed,” I cried.

“You forget. She’s a professional acrobat, Hastings. It was the providence of the good God that made her insist on coming with us tonight. I only pray that she may be in time. Ah!”

A cry of absolute terror floated out on to the night as the girl disappeared through the right-hand window; then in Cinderella’s clear tones came the words:

“No, you don’t! I’ve got you—and my wrists are just like steel.”

At the same moment the door of our prison was opened cautiously by Françoise. Poirot brushed her aside unceremoniously and rushed down the passage to where the other maids were grouped round the further door.

“It’s locked on the inside, monsieur.”

There was the sound of a heavy fall within. After a moment or two the key turned and the door swung slowly open. Cinderella, very pale, beckoned us in.

“She is safe?” demanded Poirot.

“Yes, I was just in time. She was exhausted.”

Mrs. Renauld was half sitting, half lying on the bed. She was gasping for breath.

“Nearly strangled me,” she murmured painfully. The girl picked up something from the floor and handed it to Poirot. It was a rolled up ladder of silk rope, very fine but quite strong.

“A getaway,” said Poirot. “By the window, whilst we were battering at the door. Where is—the other?”

The girl stood aside a little and pointed. On the ground lay a figure wrapped in some dark material a fold of which hid the face.

“Dead?”

She nodded.

“I think so.”

“Head must have struck the marble fender.”

“But who is it?” I cried.

“The murderer of M. Renauld, Hastings. And the would-be murderer of Madame Renauld.”

Puzzled and uncomprehending, I knelt down, and lifting the fold of cloth, looked into the dead beautiful face of Marthe Daubreuil!