Murder on the Links (1985)/Chapter 15
THE doctor’s words were so surprising that we were all momentarily taken aback. Here was a man stabbed with a dagger which we knew to have been stolen only twenty-four hours previously, and yet Dr. Durand asserted positively that he had been dead at least forty-eight hours! The whole thing was fantastic to the last extreme.
We were still recovering from the surprise of the doctor’s announcement when a telegram was brought to me. It had been sent up from the hotel to the villa. I tore it open. It was from Poirot, and announced his return by the train arriving at Merlinville at 12:28.
I looked at my watch and saw that I had just time to get comfortably to the station and meet him there. I felt that it was of the utmost importance that he should know at once of the new and startling developments in the case.
Evidently, I reflected, Poirot had had no difficulty in finding what he wanted in Paris. The quickness of his return proved that. A very few hours had sufficed. I wondered how he would take the exciting news I had to impart.
The train was some minutes late, and I strolled aimlessly up and down the platform, until it occurred to me that I might pass the time by asking a few questions as to who had left Merlinville by the last train on the evening of the tragedy.
I approached the chief porter, an intelligent-looking man, and had little difficulty in persuading him to enter upon the subject. It was a disgrace to the Police, he hotly affirmed, that such brigands of assassins should be allowed to go about unpunished. I hinted that there was some possibility they might have left by the midnight train, but he negatived the idea decidedly. He would have noticed two foreigners—he was sure of it. Only about twenty people had left by the train, and he could not have failed to observe them.
I do not know what put the idea into my head—possibly it was the deep anxiety underlying Marthe Daubreuil’s tones—but I asked suddenly, “Young M. Renauld—he did not leave by that train, did he?”
“Ah, no, monsieur. To arrive and start off again within half an hour, it would not be amusing, that!”
I stared at the man, the significance of his words almost escaping me. Then I saw.
“You mean,” I said, my heart beating a little, “that M. Jack Renauld arrived at Merlinville that evening?”
“But yes, monsieur. By the last train arriving the other way, the eleven-forty.”
My brain whirled. That, then, was the reason of Marthe’s poignant anxiety. Jack Renauld had been in Merlinville on the night of the crime! But why had he not said so? Why, on the contrary, had he led us to believe that he had remained in Cherbourg? Remembering his frank boyish countenance, I could hardly bring myself to believe that he had any connection with the crime. Yet why this silence on his part about so vital a matter? One thing was certain: Marthe had known all along. Hence her anxiety, and her eager questioning of Poirot to know whether anyone was suspected.
My cogitations were interrupted by the arrival of the train, and in another moment I was greeting Poirot. The little man was radiant. He beamed and vociferated and, forgetting my English reluctance, embraced me warmly on the platform.
“Mon cher ami, I have succeeded—but succeeded to a marvel!”
“Indeed? I’m delighted to hear it. Have you heard the latest here?”
“How would you know that I should hear anything? There have been some developments, eh? The brave Giraud, he has made an arrest? Or even arrests perhaps? Ah, but I will make him look foolish, that one! But where are you taking me, my friend? Do we not go to the hotel? It is necessary that I attend to my mustaches—they are deplorably limp from the heat of traveling. Also, without doubt, there is dust on my coat. And my tie, that I must rearrange.”
I cut short his remonstrances.
“My dear Poirot—never mind all that. We must go to the villa at once. There has been another murder!”
I have frequently been disappointed when fancying that I was giving news of importance to my friend. Either he has known it already or he has dismissed it as irrelevant to the main issue—and in the latter case events have usually proved him justified. But this time I could not complain of missing my effect. Never have I seen a man so flabbergasted. His jaw dropped. All the jauntiness went out of his bearing. He stared at me open-mouthed.
“What is that you say? Another murder? Ah, then, I am all wrong. I have failed. Giraud may mock himself at me—he will have reason!”
“You did not expect it, then?”
“I? Not the least in the world. It demolishes my theory—it ruins everything—it—ah, no!” He stopped dead, thumping himself on the chest. “It is impossible. I cannot be wrong! The facts, taken methodically and in their proper order, admit of only one explanation. I must be right! I am right!”
He interrupted me.
“Wait, my friend. I must be right, therefore this new murder is impossible unless—unless—oh, wait, I implore you. Say no word—”
He was silent for a moment or two, then, resuming his normal manner, he said in a quiet, assured voice.
“The victim is a man of middle age. His body was found in the locked shed near the scene of the crime and had been dead at least forty-eight hours. And it is most probable that he was stabbed in a similar manner to M. Renauld, though not necessarily in the back.”
It was my turn to gape—and gape I did. In all my knowledge of Poirot he had never done anything so amazing as this. And, almost inevitably. a doubt crossed my mind.
“Poirot,” I cried, “you’re pulling my leg. You’ve heard all about it already.”
He turned his earnest gaze upon me reproachfully.
“Would I do such a thing? I assure you that I have heard nothing whatsoever. Did you not observe the shock your news was to me?”
“But how on earth could you know all that?”
“I was right then? But I knew it. The little gray cells, my friend, the little gray cells! They told me. Thus, and in no other way, could there have been a second death. Now tell me all. If we go round to the left here, we can take a short cut across the golf links which will bring us to the back of the Villa Geneviève much more quickly.”
As we walked, taking the way he had indicated, I recounted all I knew. Poirot listened attentively.
“The dagger was in the wound, you say? That is curious. You are sure it was the same one?”
“Absolutely certain. That’s what makes it so impossible.”
“Nothing is impossible. There may have been two daggers.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“Surely that is in the highest degree unlikely? It would be a most extraordinary coincidence.”
“You speak as usual, without reflection, Hastings. In some cases two identical weapons would be highly improbable. But not here. This particular weapon was a souvenir which was made to Jack Renauld’s orders. It is really highly unlikely, when you come to think of it, that he should have had only one made. Very probably he would have another for his own use.
“But nobody has mentioned such a thing,” I objected.
A hint of the lecturer crept into Poirot’s tone.
“My friend, in working upon a case, one does not take into account only the things that are mentioned. There is no reason to mention many things which may be important. Equally, there is often an excellent reason for not mentioning them. You can take your choice of the two motives.”
I was silent, impressed in spite of myself. Another few minutes brought us to the shed. We found all our friends there and, after an interchange of polite amenities, Poirot began his task.
Having watched Giraud at work, I was keenly interested. Poirot bestowed but a cursory glance on the surroundings. The only thing he examined was the ragged coat and trousers by the door. A disdainful smile rose to Giraud’s lips, and, as though noting it, Poirot flung the bundle down again.
“Old clothes of the gardener’s?” he queried.
“Exactly,” said Giraud.
Poirot knelt down by the body. His fingers were rapid but methodical. He examined the texture of the clothes, and satisfied himself that there were no marks on them. The boots he subjected to special care, also the dirty and broken fingernails. While examining the latter, he threw a quick question at Giraud.
“You saw these?"
“Yes, I saw them,” replied the other. His face remained inscrutable.
Suddenly Poirot stiffened.
“Yes?" The doctor came forward.
“There is foam on the lips. You observed it?”
“I didn’t notice it, I must admit.”
“But you observe it now?”
Poirot again shot a question at Giraud.
“You noticed it without doubt?”
The other did not reply. Poirot proceeded. The dagger had been withdrawn from the wound. It reposed in a glass jar by the side of the body. Poirot examined it, then he studied the wound closely. When he looked up, his eyes were excited, and shone with the green light I knew so well.
“It is a strange wound, this! It has not bled. There is no stain on the clothes. The blade of the dagger is slightly discolored. that is all. What do you think, M. le docteur?”
“I can only say that it is most abnormal.”
“It is not abnormal at all. It is most simple. The man was stabbed after he was dead.” And, stilling the clamor of voices that arose with a wave of his hand, Poirot turned to Giraud and added, "M. Giraud agrees with me, do you not, monsieur?”
Whatever Giraud's real belief, he accepted the position without moving a muscle. Calmly and almost scornfully, he replied, “Certainly I agree.”
The murmur of surprise and interest broke out again.
“But what an idea!” cried M. Hautet. “To stab a man after he is dead! Barbaric! Unheard of! Some unappeasable hate, perhaps.”
“No, M. le juge,” said Poirot. "I should fancy it was done quite cold-bloodedly—to create an impression.”
“The impression it nearly did create,” returned Poirot oracularly.
M. Bex had been thinking.
“How, then, was the man killed?”
“He was not killed. He died. He died, M. le juge, if I am not much mistaken, of an epileptic fit!”
This statement of Poirot’s again aroused considerable excitement. Dr. Durand knelt down again, and made a searching examination. At last he rose to his feet.
“Well, M. le docteur?”
“M. Poirot, I am inclined to believe that you are correct in your assertion. I was misled to begin with. The incontrovertible fact that the man had been stabbed distracted my attention from any other indications.”
Poirot was the hero of the hour. The examining magistrate was profuse in compliments. Poirot responded gracefully, and then excused himself on the pretext that neither he nor I had yet lunched, and that he wished to repair the ravages of the journey. As we were about to leave the shed, Giraud approached us.
“One other thing, M. Poirot,” he said, in his suave, mocking voice. “We found this coiled round the handle of the dagger. A woman’s hair.”
“Ah!” said Poirot. “A woman's hair? What woman’s, I wonder?”
“I wonder also,” said Giraud. Then, with a bow, he left us.
“He was insistent, the good Giraud,” said Poirot thoughtfully, as we walked toward the hotel. “I wonder in what direction he hopes to mislead me? A woman’s hair—h’m!”
We lunched heartily, but I found Poirot somewhat distrait and inattentive. Afterward we went up to our sitting-room and there I begged him to tell me something of his mysterious journey to Paris.
“Willingly, my friend. I went to Paris to find this.”
He took from his pocket a small faded newspaper cutting. It was the reproduction of a woman’s photograph. He handed it to me. I uttered an exclamation.
“You recognize it, my friend?”
I nodded. Although the photo obviously dated from very many years back, and the hair was dressed in a different style, the likeness was unmistakable.
“Madame Daubreuil!” I exclaimed.
Poirot shook his head with a smile.
“Not quite correct, my friend. She did not call herself by that name in those days. That is a picture of the notorious Madame Beroldy!”
Madame Beroldy! In a flash the whole thing came back to me. The murder trial that had evoked such world-wide interest.
The Beroldy Case.