Murder on the Links (1985)/Chapter 26

Chapter XXVI

I Receive a Letter

My Friend:

You will know all when you get this. Nothing that I can say will move Bella. She has gone out to give herself up. I am tired out with struggling.

You will know now that I deceived you, that where you gave me trust I repaid you with lies. It will seem, perhaps, indefensible to you, but I should like, before I go out of your life forever, to show you just how it all came about. If I knew that you forgave me, it would make life easier for me. It wasn’t for myself I did it—that’s the only thing I can put forward to say for myself.

I’ll begin from the day I met you in the boat train from Paris. I was uneasy then about Bella. She was just desperate about Jack Renauld, she’d have lain down on the ground for him to walk on, and when he began to change, and to stop writing so often, she began getting in a state. She got it into her head that he was keen on another girl—and of course, as it turned out afterward, she was quite right there. She’d made up her mind to go to their villa at Merlinville, and try and see Jack. She knew I was against it, and tried to give me the slip. I found she was not on the train at Calais and determined I would not go on to England without her. I’d an uneasy feeling that something awful was going to happen if I couldn’t prevent it.

I met the next train from Paris. She was on it, and set upon going out then and there to Merlinville. I argued with her for all I was worth, but it wasn’t any good. She was all strung up and set upon having her own way. Well, I washed my hands of it. I’d done all I could! It was getting late. I went to a hotel, and Bella started for Merlinville. I still couldn’t shake off my feeling of what the books call "impending disaster.”

The next day came—but no Bella. She’d made a date with me to meet at the hotel, but she didn’t keep it. No sign of her all day. I got more and more anxious. Then came an evening paper with the news.

It was awful! I couldn’t be sure, of course—but I was terribly afraid. I figured it out that Bella had met Papa Renauld and told him about her and Jack, and that he’d insulted her or something like that. We’ve both got terribly quick tempers.

Then all the masked foreigner business came out, and I began to feel more at ease. But it still worried me that Bella hadn’t kept her date with me.

By the next morning I was so rattled that I’d just got to go and see what I could. First thing, I ran up against you. You know all that. When I saw the dead man, looking so like Jack, and wearing Jack’s fancy overcoat, I knew! And there was the identical paper-knife—wicked little thing!—that Jack had given Bella! Ten to one it had her finger marks on it. I can’t hope to explain to you the sort of helpless horror of that moment. I only saw one thing clearly—I must get hold of that dagger, and get right away with it before they found out it was gone. I pretended to faint, and while you were away getting water I took the thing and hid it away in my dress.

I told you that I was staying at the Hôtel du Phare, but of course really I made a beeline back to Calais, and then on to England by the first boat. When we were in mid-Channel, I dropped that little devil of a dagger into the sea. Then I felt I could breathe again.

Bella was at our digs in London. She looked like nothing on God’s earth. I told her what I’d done, and that she was pretty safe for the time being. She stared at me, and then began laughing—laughing—laughing—it was horrible to hear her! I felt that the best thing to do was to keep busy. She’d go mad if she had time to brood on what she’d done. Luckily we got an engagement at once.

And then I saw you and your friend, watching us that night. I was frantic. You must suspect, or you wouldn’t have tracked us down. I had to know the worst, so I followed you. I was desperate. And then, before I’d had time to say anything, I tumbled to it that it was me you suspected, not Bella! Or at least that you thought I was Bella since I’d stolen the dagger.

I wish, honey, that you could see back into my mind at that moment—you’d forgive me, perhaps—I was so frightened, and muddled, and desperate. All I could get clearly was that you would try and save me. I didn’t know whether you’d be willing to save her. I thought very likely not—it wasn’t the same thing! And I couldn’t risk it! Bella’s my twin—I’d got to do the best for her. So I went on lying. I felt mean—I feel mean still. That’s all—enough too, you’ll say, I expect. I ought to have trusted you. If I had—

As soon as the news was in the paper that Jack Renauld had been arrested, it was all up. Bella wouldn’t even wait to see how things went.

I’m very tired. I can’t write any more.

She had begun to sign herself Cinderella, but had crossed that out and written instead Dulcie Duveen.

It was an ill-written, blurred epistle but I have kept it to this day.

Poirot was with me when I read it. The sheets fell from my hand, and I looked across at him.

“Did you know all the time that it was—the other?”

“Yes, my friend.”

“Why did you not tell me?”

“To begin with, I could hardly believe it conceivable that you could make such a mistake. You had seen the photograph. The sisters are very alike, but by no means incapable of distinguishment.”

“But the fair hair?”

“A wig, worn for the sake of a piquant contrast on the stage. Is it conceivable that with identical twins one should be fair and one dark?”

“Why didn’t you tell me that night at the hotel in Coventry?”

“You were rather high-handed in your methods, mon ami,” said Poirot dryly. “You did not give me a chance.”

“But afterward?”

“Ah, afterward! Well, to begin with, I was hurt at your want of faith in me. And then I wanted to see whether your—feelings would stand the test of time. In fact, whether it was love, or a flash in the pan, with you. I should not have left you long in your error.”

I nodded. His tone was too affectionate for me to bear resentment. I looked down on the sheets of the letter. Suddenly I picked them up from the floor, and pushed them across to him.

“Read that,” I said. “I’d like you to.”

He read it through in silence, then he looked up at me.

“What is it that worries you, Hastings?”

This was quite a new mood in Poirot. His mocking manner seemed laid quite aside. I was able to say what 1 wanted without too much difficulty.

“She doesn’t say—she doesn’t say—well, not whether she cares for me or not!”

Poirot turned back the pages.

“I think you are mistaken, Hastings.”

“Where?” I cried, leaning forward eagerly.

Poirot smiled.

“She tells you that in every line of the letter, mon ami.

“But where am I to find her? There’s no address on the letter. There’s a French stamp, that’s all.”

“Excite yourself not! Leave it to Papa Poirot. I can find her for you as soon as I have five little minutes!”