Murder on the Links (1985)/Chapter 5
Mrs. Renauld’s Story
WE found M. Hautet awaiting us in the hall, and we all proceeded upstairs together, Françoise marching ahead to show us the way. Poirot went up in a zigzag fashion which puzzled me, until he whispered with a grimace:
“No wonder the servants heard M. Renauld mounting the stairs; not a board of them but creaks fit to wake the dead!”
At the head of the staircase, a small passage branched off.
“The servants’ quarters,” explained Bex.
We continued along a corridor, and Françoise tapped on the last door to the right of it.
A faint voice bade us enter, and we passed into a large sunny apartment looking out toward the sea. which showed blue and sparkling about a quarter of a mile distant.
On a couch, propped up with cushions, and attended by Dr. Durand, lay a tall, striking-looking woman. She was middle-aged, and her once dark hair was now almost entirely silvered, but the intense vitality and strength of her personality would have made itself felt anywhere. You knew at once that you were in the presence of what the French call “une maîtresse femme.”
She greeted us with a dignified inclination of the head. “Pray be seated, monsieurs.”
We took chairs, and the magistrate’s clerk established himself at a round table.
“I hope, madame,” began M. Hautet, “that it will not distress you unduly to relate to us what occurred last night?”
“Not at all, monsieur. I know the value of time, if these scoundrelly assassins are to be caught and punished.”
“Very well, madame. It will fatigue you less, I think, if I ask you questions and you confine yourself to answering them. At what time did you go to bed last night?”
“At half-past nine, monsieur. I was tired.”
“And your husband?"
“About an hour later, I fancy.”
“Did he seem disturbed—upset in any way?”
“No, not more than usual.”
“What happened then?”
“We slept. I was awakened by a hand being pressed over my mouth. I tried to scream out, but the hand prevented me. There were two men in the room. They were both masked.”
“Can you describe them at all, madame?”
“One was very tall, and had a long black beard, the other was short and stout. His beard was reddish. They both wore hats pulled down over their eves.”
“H’m,” said the magistrate thoughtfully, “too much beard, I fear.”
“You mean they were false?”
“Yes, madame. But continue your story.”
“It was the short man who was holding me. He forced a gag into my mouth, and then bound me with rope hand and foot. The other man was standing over my husband. He had caught up my little dagger paper-knife from the dressing-table and was holding it with the point just over his heart. When the short man had finished with me, he joined the other, and they forced my husband to get up and accompany them into the dressing-room next door. I was nearly fainting with terror, nevertheless I listened desperately.
“They were speaking in too low a tone for me to hear what they said. But I recognized the language, a bastard Spanish such as is spoken in some parts of South America. They seemed to be demanding something from my husband, and presently they grew angry, and their voices rose a little. I think the tall man was speaking. ‘You know what we want!’ he said. ‘The secret! Where is it?’ I do not know what my husband answered, but the other replied fiercely: ‘You lie! We know you have it. Where are your keys?’
“Then I heard sounds of drawers being pulled out. There is a safe on the wall of my husband’s dressing-room in which he always keeps a fairly large amount of ready money. Léonie tells me this has been rifled and the money taken, but evidently what they were looking for was not there, for presently I heard the tall man, with an oath, command my husband to dress himself. Soon after that, I think some noise in the house must have disturbed them, for they hustled my husband out into my room only half dressed.”
“Pardon,” interrupted Poirot, “but is there then no other egress from the dressing-room?”
“No, monsieur, there is only the communicating door into my room. They hurried my husband through, the short man in front, and the tall man behind him with the dagger still in his hand. Paul tried to break away to come to me. I saw his agonized eyes. He turned to his captors. ‘I must speak to her,’ he said. Then, coming to the side of the bed, ‘It is all right, Eloise,’ he said. ‘Do not be afraid. I shall return before morning.” But, although he tried to make his voice confident, I could see the terror in his eyes. Then they hustled him out of the door, the tall man saying, ‘One sound—and you are a dead man, remember.”
“After that,” continued Mrs. Renauld, I must have fainted. The next thing I recollect is Léonie rubbing my wrists, and giving me brandy.”
“Madame Renauld,” said the magistrate, “had you any idea what it was for which the assassins were searching?”
“None whatever, monsieur.”
“Had you any knowledge that your husband feared something?”
“Yes. I had seen the change in him.”
“How long ago was that?”
Mrs. Renauld reflected.
“Ten days perhaps.”
“Possibly. I only noticed it then.”
“Did you question your husband at all as to the cause?”
“Once. He put me off evasively. Nevertheless, I was convinced that he was suffering some terrible anxiety. However, since he evidently wished to conceal the fact from me, I tried to pretend that I had noticed nothing.”
“Were you aware that he had called in the services of a detective?”
“A detective?” exclaimed Mrs. Renauld, very much surprised.
“Yes, this gentleman—M. Hercule Poirot.” Poirot bowed. “He arrived today in response to a summons from your husband.” And taking the letter written by M. Renauld from his pocket, he handed it to the lady.
She read it with apparently genuine astonishment.
“I had no idea of this. Evidently he was fully cognizant of the danger.”
“Now, madame, I will beg of you to be frank with me. Is there any incident in your husband’s past life in South America which might throw light on his murder?”
Mrs. Renauld reflected deeply, but at last shook her head.
“I can think of none. Certainly my husband had many enemies, people he had got the better of in some way or another, but I can think of no one distinctive case. I do not say there is no such incident—only that I am not aware of it.”
The examining magistrate stroked his beard disconsolately.
“And you can fix the time of this outrage?”
“Yes, I distinctly remember hearing the clock on the mantelpiece strike two.” She nodded toward an eight-day traveling-clock in a leather case which stood in the center of the chimney-piece.
Poirot rose from his seat, scrutinized the clock carefully, and nodded, satisfied.
“And here too,” exclaimed M. Bex, “is a wrist watch, knocked off the dressing-table by the assassins, without doubt, and smashed to atoms. Little did they know it would testify against them.”
Gently he picked away the fragments of broken glass. Suddenly his face changed to one of utter stupefaction.
“Mon Dieu!” he ejaculated.
“What is it?”
“The hands of the watch point to seven o’clock!”
“What?” cried the examining magistrate, astonished.
But Poirot, deft as ever, took the broken trinket from the startled commissary, and held it to his ear. Then he smiled.
“The glass is broken, yes, but the watch itself is still going.”
The explanation of the mystery was greeted with a relieved smile. But the magistrate bethought him of another point.
“But surely it is not seven o’clock now?”
“No,” said Poirot gently, “it is a few minutes after five. Possibly the watch gains, is that so, madame?"
Mrs. Renauld was frowning perplexedly.
“It does gain,” she admitted, “but I’ve never known it to gain quite so much as that.”
With a gesture of impatience, the magistrate left the matter of the watch and proceeded with his interrogatory.
“Madame, the front door was found ajar. It seems almost certain that the murderers entered that way, vet it has not been forced at all. Can you suggest any explanation?”
“Possibly my husband went out for a stroll the last thing, and forgot to latch it when he came in.”
“Is that a likely thing to happen?"
“Very. My husband was the most absent-minded of men.”
There was a slight frown on her brow as she spoke, as though this trait in the dead man’s character had at times vexed her.
“There is one inference I think we might draw.,” remarked the commissary suddenly. “Since the men insisted on M. Renauld dressing himself, it looks as though the place they were taking him to, the place where ‘the secret’ was concealed, lay some distance away.”
The magistrate nodded. “Yes, far, and yet not too far, since he spoke of being back by morning.”
“What time does the last train leave the station of Merlinville?" asked Poirot.
“Eleven-fifty one way, and twelve-seventeen the other, but it is more probable that they had a motor waiting.”
“Of course," agreed Poirot, looking somewhat crestfallen.
“Indeed, that might be one way of tracing them,” continued the magistrate, brightening. “A motor containing two foreigners is quite likely to have been noticed. That is an excellent point, M. Bex.”
He smiled to himself, and then, becoming grave once more, he said to Mrs. Renauld, “There is another question. Do you know anyone of the name of Duveen?”
“Duveen?" Mrs. Renauld repeated, thoughtfully. “No, for the moment, I cannot say I do.”
“You have never heard your husband mention anyone of that name?”
“Do you know anyone whose Christian name is Bella?”
He watched Mrs. Renauld narrowly as he spoke, seeking to surprise any signs of anger or consciousness, but she merely shook her head in quite a natural manner. He continued his questions.
“Are you aware that your husband had a visitor last night?”
Now he saw the red mount slightly in her cheeks, but she replied composedly, “No, who was that?”
But for the moment the magistrate was content to say no more. It seemed unlikely that Madame Daubreuil had any connection with the crime, and he was anxious not to upset Mrs. Renauld more than necessary.
He made a sign to the commissary, and the latter replied with a nod. Then rising, he went across the room and returned with the glass jar we had seen in the outhouse in his hand. From this, he took the dagger.
“Madame,” he said gently, “do you recognize this?”
She gave a little cry.
“Yes, that is my little dagger.” Then—she saw the stained point, and she drew back, her eyes widening with horror. “Is that—blood?”
“Yes, madame. Your husband was killed with this weapon.” He removed it hastily from sight. “You are quite sure about its being the one that was on your dressing-table last night?”
“Oh, yes. It was a present from my son. He was in the air force during the war. He gave his age as older than it was.” There was a touch of the proud mother in her voice. "This was made from an airplane wire, and was given to me by my son as a souvenir.”
“I see, madame. That brings us to another matter. Your son, where is he now? It is necessary that he should be telegraphed to without delay.”
“Jack? He is on his way to Buenos Aires.”
“Yes. My husband telegraphed to him yesterday. He had sent him on business to Paris, but yesterday he discovered that it would be necessary tor him to proceed without delay to South America. There was a boat leaving Cherbourg for Buenos Aires last night, and he wired him to catch it.”
“Have you any knowledge of what the business in Buenos Aires was?”
“No, monsieur, I know nothing of its nature, but Buenos Aires is not my son’s final destination. He was going overland from there to Santiago.”
And, in unison, the magistrate and the commissary exclaimed, “Santiago! Again Santiago!”
It was at this moment, when we were all stunned by the mention of that word, that Poirot approached Mrs. Renauld. He had been standing by the window like a man lost in a dream, and I doubt if he had fully taken in what had passed. He paused by the lady’s side with a bow.
“Pardon, madame, but may I examine your wrists?”
Though slightly surprised at the request, Mrs. Renauld held them out to him. Round each of them was a cruel red mark where the cords bad bitten into the flesh. As he examined them, I fancied that a momentary flicker of excitement I had seen in his eyes disappeared.
“They must cause you great pain,” he said, and once more he looked puzzled.
But the magistrate was speaking excitedly.
“Young M. Renauld must be communicated with at once by wireless. It is vital that we should know anything he can tell us about this trip to Santiago.” He hesitated. “I hoped he might have been near at hand, so that we could have saved you pain, madame.” He paused.
“You mean,” she said in a low voice, “the identification of my husband’s body?”
The magistrate bowed his head.
“I am a strong woman, monsieur. I can bear all that is required of me. I am ready—now.”
“Oh, tomorrow will be quite soon enough, I assure you.”
“I prefer to get it over,” she said in a low tone, a spasm of pain crossing her face. “If you will be so good as to give me your arm, doctor?”
The doctor hastened forward, a cloak was thrown over Mrs. Renauld’s shoulders, and a slow procession went down the stairs. M. Bex hurried on ahead to open the door of the shed. In a minute or two Mrs. Renauld appeared in the doorway. She was very pale, but resolute. Behind her, M. Hautet was clacking commiserations and apologies like an animated hen.
She raised her hand to her face.
“A moment, messieurs, while I steel myself.”
She took her hand away and looked down at the dead man. Then the marvelous self-control which had upheld her so far deserted her.
“Paul!” she cried. “Husband! Oh, God!” And pitching forward, she fell unconscious to the ground.
Instantly Poirot was beside her. He raised the lid of her eye, felt her pulse. When he had satisfied himself that she had really fainted, he drew aside. He caught me by the arm.
“I am an imbecile, my friend! If ever there was love and grief in a woman’s voice, I heard it then. My little idea was all wrong. Eh bien! I must start again!”