The Murder on the Links/Chapter 28

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I have confused memories of the further events of that night. Poirot seemed deaf to my repeated questions. He was engaged in overwhelming Françoise with reproaches for not having told him of Mrs. Renauld’s change of sleeping quarters.

I caught him by the shoulder, determined to attract his attention, and make myself heard.

“But you must have known,” I expostulated. “You were taken up to see her this afternoon.”

Poirot deigned to attend to me for a brief moment.

“She had been wheeled on a sofa into the middle room—her boudoir,” he explained.

“But, monsieur,” cried Françoise, “Madame changed her room almost immediately after the crime! The associations—they were too distressing!”

“Then why was I not told,” vociferated Poirot, striking the table, and working himself into a first-class passion. “I demand you—why—was—I—not—told? You are an old woman completely imbecile! And Léonie and Denise are no better. All of you are triple idiots! Your stupidity has nearly caused the death of your mistress. But for this courageous child—”

He broke off, and, darting across the room to where the girl was bending over ministering to Mrs. Renauld, he embraced her with Gallic fervour—slightly to my annoyance.

I was aroused from my condition of mental fog by a sharp command from Poirot to fetch the doctor immediately on Mrs. Renauld’s behalf. After that, I might summon the police. And he added, to complete my dudgeon:

“It will hardly be worth your while to return here. I shall be too busy to attend to you, and of Mademoiselle here I make a garde-malad.”

I retired with what dignity I could command. Having done my errands, I returned to the hotel. I understood next to nothing of what had occurred. The events of the night seemed fantastic and impossible. Nobody would answer my questions. Nobody had seemed to hear them. Angrily, I flung myself into bed, and slept the sleep of the bewildered and utterly exhausted.

I awoke to find the sun pouring in through the open windows and Poirot, neat and smiling, sitting beside the bed.

Enfin you wake! But it is that you are a famous sleeper, Hastings! Do you know that it is nearly eleven o’clock?”

I groaned and put a hand to my head.

“I must have been dreaming,” I said. “Do you know, I actually dreamt that we found Marthe Daubreuil’s body in Mrs. Renauld’s room, and that you declared her to have murdered Mr. Renauld?”

“You were not dreaming. All that is quite true.”

“But Bella Duveen killed Mr. Renauld?”

“Oh, no, Hastings, she did not! She said she did—yes—but that was to save the man she loved from the guillotine.”

“What?”

“Remember Jack Renauld’s story. They both arrived on the scene at the same instant, and each took the other to be the perpetrator of the crime. The girl stares at him in horror, and then with a cry rushes away. But, when she hears that the crime has been brought home to him, she cannot bear it, and comes forward to accuse herself and save him from certain death.”

Poirot leaned back in his chair, and brought the tips of his fingers together in familiar style.

“The case was not quite satisfactory to me,” he observed judicially. “All along I was strongly under the impression that we were dealing with a cold-blooded and premeditated crime committed by some one who had been contented (very cleverly) with using M. Renauld’s own plans for throwing the police off the track. The great criminal (as you may remember my remarking to you once) is always supremely simple.”

I nodded.

“Now, to support this theory, the criminal must have been fully cognizant of Mr. Renauld’s plans. That leads us to Madame Renauld. But facts fail to support any theory of her guilt. Is there any one else who might have known of them? Yes. From Marthe Daubreuil’s own lips we have the admission that she overheard M. Renauld’s quarrel with the tramp. If she could overhear that, there is no reason why she should not have heard everything else, especially if M. and Madame Renauld were imprudent enough to discuss their plans sitting on the bench. Remember how easily you overheard Marthe’s conversation with Jack Renauld from that spot.”

“But what possible motive could Marthe have for murdering Mr. Renauld?” I argued.

“What motive? Money! M. Renauld was a millionaire several times over, and at his death (or so she and Jack believed) half that vast fortune would pass to his son. Let us reconstruct the scene from the standpoint of Marthe Daubreuil.

“Marthe Daubreuil overhears what passes between Renauld and his wife. So far he has been a nice little source of income to the Daubreuil mother and daughter, but now he proposes to escape from their toils. At first, possibly, her idea is to prevent that escape. But a bolder idea takes its place, and one that fails to horrify the daughter of Jeanne Beroldy! At present M. Renauld stands inexorably in the way of her marriage with Jack. If the latter defies his father, he will be a pauper—which is not at all to the mind of Mademoiselle Marthe. In fact, I doubt if she has ever cared a straw for Jack Renauld. She can simulate emotion, but in reality she is of the same cold, calculating type as her mother. I doubt, too, whether she was really very sure of her hold over the boy’s affections. She had dazzled and captivated him, but separated from her, as his father could so easily manage to separate him, she might lose him. But with M. Renauld dead, and Jack the heir to half his millions, the marriage can take place at once, and at a stroke she will attain wealth—not the beggarly thousands that have been extracted from him so far. And her clever brain takes in the simplicity of the thing. It is all so easy. M. Renauld is planning all the circumstances of his death—she has only to step in at the right moment and turn the farce into a grim reality. And here comes in the second point which led me infallibly to Marthe Daubreuil—the dagger! Jack Renauld had three souvenirs made. One he gave to his mother, one to Bella Duveen; was it not highly probable that he had given the third one to Marthe Daubreuil?

“So then, to sum up, there were four points of note against Marthe Daubreuil:

“(1) Marthe Daubreuil could have overheard M. Renauld’s plans.

“(2) Marthe Daubreuil had a direct interest in causing M. Renauld’s death.

“(3) Marthe Daubreuil was the daughter of the notorious Madame Beroldy who in my opinion was morally and virtually the murderess of her husband, although it may have been Georges Conneau’s hand which struck the actual blow.

“(4) Marthe Daubreuil was the only person, besides Jack Renauld, likely to have the third dagger in her possession.”

Poirot paused and cleared his throat.

“Of course, when I learned of the existence of the other girl, Bella Duveen, I realized that it was quite possible that she might have killed M. Renauld. The solution did not commend itself to me, because, as I pointed out to you, Hastings, an expert, such as I am, likes to meet a foeman worthy of his steel. Still one must take crimes as one finds them, not as one would like them to be. It did not seem very likely that Bella Duveen would be wandering about carrying a souvenir paper-knife in her hand, but of course she might have had some idea all the time of revenging herself on Jack Renauld. When she actually came forward and confessed to the murder, it seemed that all was over. And yet—I was not satisfied, mon ami. I was not satisfied. …

“I went over the case again minutely, and I came to the same conclusion as before. If it was not Bella Duveen, the only other person who could have committed the crime was Marthe Daubreuil. But I had not one single proof against her!

“And then you showed me that letter from Mademoiselle Dulcie, and I saw a chance of settling the matter once for all. The original dagger was stolen by Dulcie Duveen and thrown into the sea—since, as she thought, it belonged to her sister. But if, by any chance, it was not her sister’s, but the one given by Jack to Marthe Daubreuil—why then, Bella Duveen’s dagger would be still intact! I said no word to you, Hastings (it was no time for romance) but I sought out Mademoiselle Dulcie, told her as much as I deemed needful, and set her to search amongst the effects of her sister. Imagine my elation, when she sought me out (according to my instructions) as Miss Robinson with the precious souvenir in her possession!

“In the meantime I had taken steps to force Mademoiselle Marthe into the open. By my orders, Mrs. Renauld repulsed her son, and declared her intention of making a will on the morrow which should cut him off from ever enjoying even a portion of his father’s fortune. It was a desperate step, but a necessary one, and Madame Renauld was fully prepared to take the risk—though unfortunately she also never thought of mentioning her change of room. I suppose she took it for granted that I knew. All happened as I thought. Marthe Daubreuil made a last bold bid for the Renauld millions—and failed!”

“What absolutely bewilders me,” I said, “is how she ever got into the house without our seeing her. It seems an absolute miracle. We left her behind at the Villa Marguerite, we go straight to the Villa Geneviève—and yet she is there before us!”

“Ah, but we did not leave her behind. She was out of the Villa Marguerite by the back way whilst we were talking to her mother in the hall. That is where, as the Americans say, she ‘put it over’ on Hercule Poirot!”

“But the shadow on the blind? We saw it from the road.”

Eh bien, when we looked up, Madame Daubreuil had just had time to run upstairs and take her place.”

“Madame Daubreuil?”

“Yes. One is old, and one is young, one dark, and one fair, but, for the purpose of a silhouette on a blind, their profiles are singularly alike. Even I did not suspect—triple imbecile that I was! I thought I had plenty of time before me—that she would not try to gain admission to the Villa until much later. She had brains, that beautiful Mademoiselle Marthe.”

“And her object was to murder Mrs. Renauld?”

“Yes. The whole fortune would then pass to her son. But it would have been suicide, mon ami! On the floor by Marthe Daubreuil’s body, I found a pad and a little bottle of chloroform and a hypodermic syringe containing a fatal dose of morphine. You understand? The chloroform first—then when the victim is unconscious the prick of the needle. By the morning the smell of the chloroform has quite disappeared, and the syringe lies where it has fallen from Madame Renauld’s hand. What would he say, the excellent M. Hautet? ‘Poor woman! What did I tell you? The shock of joy, it was too much on top of the rest! Did I not say that I should not be surprised if her brain became unhinged. Altogether a most tragic case, the Renauld Case!’

“However, Hastings, things did not go quite as Mademoiselle Marthe had planned. To begin with, Madame Renauld was awake and waiting for her. There is a struggle. But Madame Renauld is terribly weak still. There is a last chance for Marthe Daubreuil. The idea of suicide is at an end, but if she can silence Madame Renauld with her strong hands, make a getaway with her little silk ladder whilst we are still battering on the inside of the further door, and be back at the Villa Marguerite before we return there, it will be hard to prove anything against her. But she was checkmated—not by Hercule Poirot—but by la petite acrobate with her wrists of steel.”

I mused over the whole story.

“When did you first begin to suspect Marthe Daubreuil, Poirot? When she told us she had overheard the quarrel in the garden?”

Poirot smiled.

“My friend, do you remember when we drove into Merlinville that first day? And the beautiful girl we saw standing at the gate? You asked me if I had not noticed a young goddess, and I replied to you that I had seen only a girl with anxious eyes. That is how I have thought of Marthe Daubreuil from the beginning. The girl with the anxious eyes! Why was she anxious? Not on Jack Renauld’s behalf, for she did not know then that he had been in Merlinville the previous evening.”

“By the way,” I exclaimed, “how is Jack Renauld?”

“Much better. He is still at the Villa Marguerite. But Madame Daubreuil has disappeared. The police are looking for her.”

“Was she in with her daughter, do you think?”

“We shall never know. Madame is a lady who can keep her secrets. And I doubt very much if the police will ever find her.”

“Has Jack Renauld been—told?”

“Not yet.”

“It will be a terrible shock to him.”

“Naturally. And yet, do you know, Hastings, I doubt if his heart was ever seriously engaged. So far we have looked upon Bella Duveen as a siren, and Marthe Daubreuil as the girl he really loved. But I think that if we reversed the terms we should come nearer to the truth. Marthe Daubreuil was very beautiful. She set herself to fascinate Jack, and she succeeded, but remember his curious reluctance to break with the other girl. And see how he was willing to go to the guillotine rather than implicate her. I have a little idea that when he learns the truth he will be horrified—revolted, and his false love will wither away.”

“What about Giraud?”

“He has a crise of the nerves, that one! He has been obliged to return to Paris.”

We both smiled.

Poirot proved a fairly true prophet. When at length the doctor pronounced Jack Renauld strong enough to hear the truth, it was Poirot who broke it to him. The shock was indeed terrific. Yet Jack rallied better than I could have supposed possible. His mother’s devotion helped him to live through those difficult days. The mother and son were inseparable now.

There was a further revelation to come. Poirot had acquainted Mrs. Renauld with the fact that he knew her secret, and had represented to her that Jack should not be left in ignorance of his father’s past.

“To hide the truth, never does it avail, madame! Be brave and tell him everything.”

With a heavy heart Mrs. Renauld consented, and her son learned that the father he had loved had been in actual fact a fugitive from justice. A halting question was promptly answered by Poirot.

“Reassure yourself, M. Jack. The world knows nothing. As far as I can see, there is no obligation for me to take the police into my confidence. Throughout the case I have acted, not for them, but for your father. Justice overtook him at last, but no one need ever know that he and Georges Conneau were one and the same.”

There were, of course, various points in the case that remained puzzling to the police, but Poirot explained things in so plausible a fashion that all query about them was gradually stilled.

Shortly after we got back to London, I noticed a magnificent model of a foxhound adorning Poirot’s mantelpiece. In answer to my inquiring glance, Poirot nodded.

Mais, oui! I got my 500 francs! Is he not a splendid fellow? I call him Giraud!”

A few days later Jack Renauld came to see us with a resolute expression on his face.

“M. Poirot, I’ve come to say good-bye. I’m sailing for South America almost immediately. My father had large interests over the continent, and I mean to start a new life out there.”

“You go alone, M. Jack?”

“My mother comes with me—and I shall keep Stonor on as my secretary. He likes out of-the-way parts of the world.”

“No one else goes with you?”

Jack flushed.

“You mean—?”

“A girl who loves you very dearly—who has been willing to lay down her life for you.”

“How could I ask her?” muttered the boy. “After all that has happened, could I go to her and—oh, what sort of a lame story could I tell?”

Les femmes—they have a wonderful genius for manufacturing crutches for stories like that.”

“Yes, but—I’ve been such a damned fool!”

“So have all of us, at one time and another,” observed Poirot philosophically.

But Jack’s face had hardened.

“There’s something else. I’m my father’s son. Would any one marry me, knowing that?”

“You are your father’s son, you say. Hastings here will tell you that I believe in heredity—”

“Well, then—”

“Wait. I know a woman, a woman of courage and endurance, capable of great love, of supreme self-sacrifice—”

The boy looked up. His eyes softened.

“My mother!”

“Yes. You are your mother’s son as well as your father’s. Go then to Mademoiselle Bella. Tell her everything. Keep nothing back—and see what she will say!”

Jack looked irresolute.

“Go to her as a boy no longer, but a man—a man bowed by the fate of the Past, and the fate of Today, but looking forward to a new and wonderful life. Ask her to share it with you. You may not realize it, but your love for each other has been tested in the fire and not found wanting. You have both been willing to lay down your lives for each other.”

And what of Captain Arthur Hastings, humble chronicler of these pages?

There is some talk of his joining the Renaulds on a ranch across the seas, but for the end of this story I prefer to go back to a morning in the garden of the Villa Geneviève.

“I can’t call you Bella,” I said, “since it isn’t your name. And Dulcie seems so unfamiliar. So it’s got to be Cinderella. Cinderella married the Prince, you remember. I’m not a Prince, but—”

She interrupted me.

“Cinderella warned him, I’m sure! You see, she couldn’t promise to turn into a princess. She was only a little scullion after all—”

“It’s the Prince’s turn to interrupt,” I interpolated. “Do you know what he said?”

“No?”

“ ‘Hell!’ said the Prince—and kissed her!”

And I suited the action to the word.