The Murder on the Links/Chapter 3

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In a moment Poirot had leapt from the car, his eyes blazing with excitement. He caught the man by the shoulder.

“What is that you say? Murdered? When? How?”

The sergent de ville drew himself up.

“I cannot answer any questions, monsieur.”

“True. I comprehend.” Poirot reflected for a minute. “The Commissary of Police, he is without doubt within?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

Poirot took out a card, and scribbled a few words on it.

Voilà! Will you have the goodness to see that this card is sent in to the commissary at once?”

The man took it and, turning his head over his shoulder, whistled. In a few seconds a comrade joined him and was handed Poirot’s message. There was a wait of some minutes, and then a short stout man with a huge moustache came bustling down to the gate. The sergent de ville saluted and stood aside.

“My dear M. Poirot,” cried the new-comer, “I am delighted to see you. Your arrival is most opportune.”

Poirot’s face had lighted up.

“M. Bex! This is indeed a pleasure.” He turned to me. “This is an English friend of mine, Captain Hastings—M. Lucien Bex.”

The commissary and I bowed to each other ceremoniously, then M. Bex turned once more to Poirot.

Mon vieux, I have not seen you since 1909, that time in Ostend. I heard that you had left the Force?”

“So I have. I run a private business in London.”

“And you say you have information to give which may assist us?”

“Possibly you know it already. You were aware that I had been sent for?”

“No. By whom?”

“The dead man. It seems he knew an attempt was going to be made on his life. Unfortunately he sent for me too late.”

Sacri tonnerre!” ejaculated the Frenchman. “So he foresaw his own murder? That upsets our theories considerably! But come inside.”

He held the gate open, and we commenced walking towards the house. M. Bex continued to talk:

“The examining magistrate, M. Hautet, must hear of this at once. He has just finished examining the scene of the crime and is about to begin his interrogations. A charming man. You will like him. Most sympathetic. Original in his methods, but an excellent judge.”

“When was the crime committed?” asked Poirot.

“The body was discovered this morning about nine o’clock. Madame Renauld’s evidence, and that of the doctors goes to show that the death must have occurred about 2 a.m. But enter, I pray of you.”

We had arrived at the steps which led up to the front door of the Villa. In the hall another sergent de ville was sitting. He rose at sight of the commissary.

“Where is M. Hautet now?” inquired the latter.

“In the salon, monsieur.”

M. Bex opened a door to the left of the hall, and we passed in. M. Hautet and his clerk were sitting at a big round table. They looked up as we entered. The commissary introduced us, and explained our presence.

M. Hautet, the Juge d’Instruction, was a tall, gaunt man, with piercing dark eyes, and a neatly cut grey beard, which he had a habit of caressing as he talked. Standing by the mantelpiece was an elderly man, with slightly stooping shoulders, who was introduced to us as Dr. Durand.

“Most extraordinary,” remarked M. Hautet, as the commissary finished speaking. “You have the letter here, monsieur?”

Poirot handed it to him, and the magistrate read it.

“H’m. He speaks of a secret. What a pity he was not more explicit. We are much indebted to you, M. Poirot. I hope you will do us the honour of assisting us in our investigations. Or are you obliged to return to London?”

“M. le juge, I propose to remain. I did not arrive in time to prevent my client’s death, but I feel myself bound in honour to discover the assassin.”

The magistrate bowed.

“These sentiments do you honour. Also, without doubt, Madame Renauld will wish to retain your services. We are expecting M. Giraud from the Sûreté in Paris any moment, and I am sure that you and he will be able to give each other mutual assistance in your investigations. In the meantime, I hope that you will do me the honour to be present at my interrogations, and I need hardly say that if there is any assistance you require it is at your disposal.”

“I thank you, monsieur. You will comprehend that at present I am completely in the dark. I know nothing whatever.”

M. Hautet nodded to the commissary, and the latter took up the tale:

“This morning, the old servant Françoise, on descending to start her work, found the front door ajar. Feeling a momentary alarm as to burglars, she looked into the dining-room, but seeing the silver was safe she thought no more about it, concluding that her master had, without doubt, risen early, and gone for a stroll.”

“Pardon, monsieur, for interrupting, but was that a common practice of his?”

“No, it was not, but old Françoise has the common idea as regards the English—that they are mad, and liable to do the most unaccountable things at any moment! Going to call her mistress as usual, a younger maid, Léonie, was horrified to discover her gagged and bound, and almost at the same moment news was brought that M. Renauld’s body had been discovered, stone dead, stabbed in the back.”

“Where?”

“That is one of the most extraordinary features of the case. M. Poirot, the body was lying, face downwards, in an open grave.”

“What?”

“Yes. The pit was freshly dug—just a few yards outside the boundary of the Villa grounds.”

“And he had been dead—how long?”

Dr. Durand answered this.

“I examined the body this morning at ten o’clock. Death must have taken place at least seven, and possibly ten hours previously.”

“H’m, that fixes it at between midnight and 3 a.m.”

“Exactly, and Madame Renauld’s evidence places it at after 2 a.m. which narrows the field still further. Death must have been instantaneous, and naturally could not have been self-inflicted.”

Poirot nodded, and the commissary resumed:

“Madame Renauld was hastily freed from the cords that bound her by the horrified servants. She was in a terrible condition of weakness, almost unconscious from the pain of her bonds. It appears that two masked men entered the bedroom, gagged and bound her, whilst forcibly abducting her husband. This we know at second hand from the servants. On hearing the tragic news, she fell at once into an alarming state of agitation. On arrival, Dr. Durand immediately prescribed a sedative, and we have not yet been able to question her. But without doubt she will awake more calm, and be equal to bearing the strain of the interrogation.”

The commissary paused.

“And the inmates of the house, monsieur?”

“There is old Françoise, the housekeeper, she lived for many years with the former owners of the Villa Geneviève. Then there are two young girls, sisters, Denise and Léonie Oulard. Their home is in Merlinville, and they come of the most respectable parents. Then there is the chauffeur whom M. Renauld brought over from England with him, but he is away on a holiday. Finally there are Madame Renauld and her son, M. Jack Renauld. He, too, is away from home at present.”

Poirot bowed his head. M. Hautet spoke:

“Marchaud!”

The sergent de ville appeared.

“Bring in the woman Françoise.”

The man saluted, and disappeared. In a moment or two, he returned, escorting the frightened Françoise.

“You name is Françoise Arrichet?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“You have been a long time in service at the Villa Geneviève?”

“Eleven years with Madame la Vicomtesse. Then when she sold the Villa this spring, I consented to remain on with the English milor. Never did I imagine—”

The magistrate cut her short.

“Without doubt, without doubt. Now, Françoise, in this matter of the front door, whose business was it to fasten it at night?”

“Mine, monsieur. Always I saw to it myself.”

“And last night?”

“I fastened it as usual.”

“You are sure of that?”

“I swear it by the blessed saints, monsieur.”

“What time would that be?”

“The same time as usual, half-past ten, monsieur.”

“What about the rest of the household, had they gone up to bed?”

“Madame had retired some time before. Denise and Léonie went up with me. Monsieur was still in his study.”

“Then, if any one unfastened the door afterwards, it must have been M. Renauld himself?”

Françoise shrugged her broad shoulders.

“What should he do that for? With robbers and assassins passing every minute! A nice idea! Monsieur was not an imbecile. It is not as though he had had to let cette dame out—”

The magistrate interrupted sharply:

Cette dame? What lady do you mean?”

“Why, the lady who came to see him.”

“Had a lady been to see him that evening?”

“But yes, monsieur—and many other evenings as well.”

“Who was she? Did you know her?”

A rather cunning look spread over the woman’s face. “How should I know who it was?” she grumbled. “I did not let her in last night.”

“Aha!” roared the examining magistrate, bringing his hand down with a bang on the table. “You would trifle with the police, would you? I demand that you tell me at once the name of this woman who came to visit M. Renauld in the evenings.”

“The police—the police,” grumbled Françoise. “Never did I think that I should be mixed up with the police. But I know well enough who she was. It was Madame Daubreuil.”

The commissary uttered an exclamation, and leaned forward as though in utter astonishment.

“Madame Daubreuil—from the Villa Marguerite just down the road?”

“That is what I said, monsieur. Oh, she is a pretty one, cellela!” The old woman tossed her head scornfully.

“Madame Daubreuil,” murmured the commissary. “Impossible.”

Voilà,” grumbled Françoise. “That is all you get for telling the truth.”

“Not at all,” said the examining magistrate soothingly. “We were surprised, that is all. Madame Daubreuil then, and Monsieur Renauld, they were—” he paused delicately. “Eh? It was that without doubt?”

“How should I know? But what will you? Monsieur, he was milor anglaistrés riche—and Madame Daubreuil, she was poor, that one—and trés chic for all that she lives so quietly with her daughter. Not a doubt of it, she has had her history! She is no longer young, but ma foi! I who speak to you have seen the men’s heads turn after her as she goes down the street. Besides lately, she has had more money to spend—all the town knows it. The little economies, they are at an end.” And Françoise shook her head with an air of unalterable certainty.

M. Hautet stroked his beard reflectively.

“And Madame Renauld?” he asked at length. “How did she take this—friendship.”

Françoise shrugged her shoulders.

“She was always most amiable—most polite. One would say that she suspected nothing. But all the same, is it not so, the heart suffers, monsieur? Day by day, I have watched Madame grow paler and thinner. She was not the same woman who arrived here a month ago. Monsieur, too, has changed. He also has had his worries. One could see that he was on the brink of a crisis of the nerves. And who could wonder, with an affair conducted such a fashion? No reticence, no discretion. Style anglais, without doubt!”

I bounded indignantly in my seat, but the examining magistrate was continuing his questions, undistracted by side issues.

“You say that M. Renauld had not to let Madame Daubreuil out? Had she left, then?”

“Yes, monsieur. I heard them come out of the study and go to the door. Monsieur said good night, and shut the door after her.”

“What time was that?”

“About twenty-five minutes after ten, monsieur.”

“Do you know when M. Renauld went to bed?”

“I heard him come up about ten minutes after we did. The stair creaks so that one hears every one who goes up and down.”

“And that is all? You heard no sound of disturbance during the night?”

“Nothing whatever, monsieur.”

“Which of the servants came down the first in the morning?”

“I did, monsieur. At once I saw the door swinging open.”

“What about the other downstairs windows, were they all fastened?”

“Every one of them. There was nothing suspicious or out of place anywhere.”

“Good, Françoise, you can go.”

The old woman shuffled towards the door. On the threshold she looked back.

“I will tell you one thing, monsieur. That Madame Daubreuil she is a bad one! Oh, yes, one woman knows about another. She is a bad one, remember that.” And, shaking her head sagely, Françoise left the room.

“Léonie Oulard,” called the magistrate.

Léonie appeared dissolved in tears, and inclined to be hysterical. M. Hautet dealt with her adroitly. Her evidence was mainly concerned with the discovery of her mistress gagged and bound, of which she gave rather an exaggerated account. She, like Françoise, had heard nothing during the night.

Her sister, Denise, succeeded her. She agreed that her master had changed greatly of late.

“Every day he became more and more morose. He ate less. He was always depressed.” But Denise had her own theory. “Without doubt it was the Mafia he had on his track! Two masked men—who else could it be? A terrible society that!”

“It is, of course, possible,” said the magistrate smoothly. “Now, my girl, was it you who admitted Madame Daubreuil to the house last night?”

“Not last night, monsieur, the night before.”

“But Françoise has just told us that Madame Daubreuil was here last night?”

“No, monsieur. A lady did come to see M. Renauld last night, but it was not Madame Daubreuil.”

Surprised, the magistrate insisted, but the girl held firm. She knew Madame Daubreuil perfectly by sight. This lady was dark also, but shorter, and much younger. Nothing could shake her statement.

“Had you ever seen this lady before?”

“Never, monsieur.” And then the girl added diffidently: “But I think she was English.”

“English?”

“Yes, monsieur. She asked for M. Renauld in quite good French, but the accent—one can always tell it, n’est-ce pas? Besides when they came out of the study they were speaking in English.”

“Did you hear what they said? Could you understand it, I mean?”

“Me, I speak the English very well,” said Denise with pride. “The lady was speaking too fast for me to catch what she said, but I heard Monsieur’s last words as he opened the door for her.” She paused, and then repeated carefully and laboriously:

“ ‘Yeas—yeas—butt for Gaud’s saike go nauw!’ ”

“Yes, yes, but for God’s sake go now!” repeated the magistrate.

He dismissed Denise and, after a moment or two for consideration, recalled Françoise. To her he propounded the question as to whether she had not made a mistake in fixing the night of Madame Daubreuil’s visit. Françoise, however, proved unexpectedly obstinate. It was last night that Madame Daubreuil had come. Without a doubt it was she. Denise wished to make herself interesting, voilà tout! So she had cooked up this fine tale about a strange lady. Airing her knowledge of English too! Probably Monsieur had never spoken that sentence in English at all, and even if he had, it proved nothing, for Madame Daubreuil spoke English perfectly, and generally used that language when talking to M. and Madame Renauld. “You see, M. Jack, the son of Monsieur, was usually here, and he spoke the French very badly.”

The magistrate did not insist. Instead he inquired about the chauffeur, and learned that only yesterday, M. Renauld had declared that he was not likely to use the car, and that Masters might just as well take a holiday.

A perplexed frown was beginning to gather between Poirot’s eyes.

“What is it?” I whispered.

He shook his head impatiently, and asked a question:

“Pardon, M. Bex, but without doubt M. Renauld could drive the car himself?”

The commissary looked over at Françoise, and the old woman replied promptly:

“No, Monsieur did not drive himself.”

Poirot’s frown deepened.

“I wish you would tell me what is worrying you,” I said impatiently.

“See you not? In his letter M. Renauld speaks of sending the car for me to Calais.”

“Perhaps he meant a hired car,” I suggested.

“Doubtless that is so. But why hire a car when you have one of your own. Why choose yesterday to send away the chauffeur on a holiday—suddenly, at a moment’s notice? Was it that for some reason he wanted him out of the way before we arrived?”