Murder on the Links (1985)/Chapter 7
AS we retraced our steps to the house, M. Bex excused himself for leaving us, explaining that he must immediately acquaint the examining magistrate with the fact of Giraud’s arrival. Giraud himself had been obviously delighted when Poirot declared that he had seen all he wanted. The last thing we observed, as we left the spot, was Giraud, crawling about on all fours, with a thoroughness in his search that I could not but admire. Poirot guessed my thoughts, for as soon as we were alone he remarked ironically:
“At last you have seen the detective you admire—the human foxhound! Is it not so, my friend?”
“At any rate, he's doing something,” I said, with asperity. “If there’s anything to find, he’ll find it. Now you—”
“Eh bien! I also have found something! A piece of lead piping.”
“Nonsense, Poirot. You know very well that’s got nothing to do with it. I meant little things—traces that may lead us infallibly to the murderers.”
“Mon ami, a clue of two feet long is every bit as valuable as one measuring two millimeters! But it is the romantic idea that all important clues must be infinitesimal! As to the piece of lead piping having nothing to do with the crime, you say that because Giraud told you so. No”—as I was about to interpose a question—“we will say no more. Leave Giraud to his search, and me to my ideas. The case seems straightforward enough—and yet—and yet, mon ami, I am not satisfied! And do you know why? Because of the wrist watch that is two hours fast. And then there are several curious little points that do not seem to fit in. For instance, if the object of the murderers was revenge, why did they not stab Renauld in his sleep and have done with it?”
“They wanted the ‘secret,’ ” I reminded him.
Poirot brushed a speck of dust from his sleeve with a dissatisfied air.
“Well, where is this ‘secret’? Presumably some distance away, since they wish him to dress himself. Yet he is found murdered close at hand, almost within earshot of the house. Then again, it is pure chance that a weapon such as the dagger should be lying about casually, ready to hand.”
He paused, frowning, and then went on: “Why did the servants hear nothing? Were they drugged? Was there an accomplice and did that accomplice see to it that the front door should remain open? I wonder if—”
He stopped abruptly. We had reached the drive in front of the house. Suddenly he turned to me.
“My friend, I am about to surprise you—to please you! I have taken your reproaches to heart! We will examine some footprints!”
“In that right-hand bed yonder. M. Bex says that they are the footmarks of the gardener. Let us see if that is so. See, he approaches with his wheelbarrow.”
Indeed an elderly man was just crossing the drive with a barrowful of seedlings. Poirot called to him, and he set down the barrow and came hobbling toward us.
“You are going to ask him for one of his boots to compare with the footmarks?" I asked breathlessly. My faith in Poirot revived a little. Since he said the footprints in this right-hand bed were important, presumably they were.
“Exactly,” said Poirot.
“But won’t he think it very odd?”
“He will not think about it at all.”
We could say no more, for the old man had joined us. “You want me for something, monsieur?”
“Yes. You have been gardener here a long time, haven’t you?”
“Twenty-four years, monsieur.”
“And your name is—?”
“I was admiring these magnificent geraniums. They are truly superb. They have been planted long?”
“Some time, monsieur. But of course, to keep the beds looking smart, one must keep bedding out a few new plants, and remove those that are over, besides keeping the old blooms well picked off.”
“You put in some new plants yesterday, didn’t you? Those in the middle there, and in the other bed also?”
“Monsieur has a sharp eve. It takes always a day or so for them to ‘pick up.’ Yes, I put ten new plants in each bed last night. As Monsieur doubtless knows, one should not put in plants when the sun is hot.”
Auguste was charmed with Poirot’s interest, and was quite inclined to be garrulous.
“That is a splendid specimen there,” said Poirot, pointing. “Might I perhaps have a cutting of it?”
“But certainly, monsieur.” The old fellow stepped into the bed, and carefully took a slip from the plant Poirot had admired.
Poirot was profuse in his thanks, and Auguste departed to his barrow.
“You see?” said Poirot with a smile, as he bent over the bed to examine the indentation of the gardener’s hobnailed boot. “It is quite simple.”
“I did not realize—”
“That the foot would be inside the boot? You do not use your excellent mental capacities sufficiently. Well, what of the footmark?”
I examined the bed carefully.
“All the footmarks in the bed were made by the same boot,” I said at length after a careful study.
“You think so? Eh bien, I agree with you,” said Poirot.
He seemed quite uninterested, and as though he were thinking of something else.
“At any rate,” I remarked, “you will have one bee less in your bonnet now.”
“Mon Dieu! But what an idiom! What does it mean?”
“What I meant was that now you will give up your interest in these footmarks.”
But to my surprise Poirot shook his head.
“No, no, mon ami. At last I am on the right track. I am still in the dark, but, as I hinted just now to M. Bex, these footmarks are the most important and interesting things in the case! That poor Giraud—I should not be surprised if he took no notice of them whatever.”
At that moment, the front door opened, and M. Hautet and the commissary came down the steps.
“Ah, M. Poirot, we were coming to look for you,” said the magistrate. “It is getting late, but I wish to pay a visit to Madame Daubreuil. Without doubt she will be very much upset by M. Renauld’s death, and we may be fortunate enough to get a clue from her. The secret that he did not confide to his wife, it is possible that he may have told it to the woman whose love held him enslaved. We know where our Samsons are weak, don’t we?”
I admired the picturesqueness of M. Hautet’s language. I suspected that the examining magistrate was by now thoroughly enjoying his part in the mysterious drama.
“Is M. Giraud not going to accompany us?” asked Poirot.
“M. Giraud has shown clearly that he prefers to conduct the case in his own way,” said M. Hautet dryly.
One could see easily enough that Giraud’s cavalier treatment of the examining magistrate had not prejudiced the latter in his favor. We said no more, but fell into line. Poirot walked with the examining magistrate, and the commissary and I followed a few paces behind.
“There is no doubt that Françoise’s story is substantially correct,” he remarked to me in a confidential tone. “I have been telephoning headquarters. It seems that three times in the last six weeks—that is to say since the arrival of M. Renauld at Merlinville—Madame Daubreuil has paid a large sum in notes into her banking account. Altogether the sum totals two hundred thousand francs!”
“Dear me.” I said, considering, “that must be something like four thousand pounds!”
“Precisely. Yes, there can be no doubt that he was absolutely infatuated. But it remains to be seen whether he confided his secret to her. The examining magistrate is hopeful, but I hardly share his views.”
During this conversation we were walking down the lane toward the fork in the road where our car had halted earlier in the afternoon, and in another moment I realized that the Villa Marguerite, the home of the mysterious Madame Daubreuil, was the small house from which the beautiful girl had emerged.
“She has lived here for many years,” said the commissary, nodding his head toward the house. “Very quietly, very unobtrusively. She seems to have no friends or relations other than the acquaintances she has made in Merlinville. She never refers to the past, nor to her husband. One does not even know if he is alive or dead. There is a mystery about her, you comprehend.”
I nodded, my interest growing.
“And—the daughter?” I ventured.
“A truly beautiful young girl—modest, devout, all that she should be. One pities her, for, though she may know nothing of the past, a man who wants to ask her hand in marriage must necessarily inform himself, and then—” The commissary shrugged his shoulders cynically.
“But it would not be her fault!” I cried, with rising indignation.
“No. But what will you? A man is particular about his wife’s antecedents.”
I was prevented from further argument by our arrival at the door. M. Hautet rang the bell. A few minutes elapsed, and then we heard a footfall within, and the door was opened. On the threshold stood my young goddess of that afternoon. When she saw us, the color left her cheeks, leaving her deathly white, and her eyes widened with apprehension. There was no doubt about it, she was afraid!
“Mademoiselle Daubreuil,” said M. Hautet, sweeping off his hat, “we regret infinitely to disturb you, but the exigencies of the law—you comprehend? My compliments to Madame your mother, and will she have the goodness to grant me a few moments’ interview.”
For a moment the girl stood motionless. Her left hand was pressed to her side, as though to still the sudden unconquerable agitation of her heart. But she mastered herself, and said in a low voice, “I will go and see. Please come inside.”
She entered a room on the left of the hall, and we heard the low murmur of her voice. And then another voice, much the same in timbre, but with a slightly harder inflection behind its mellow roundness said, “But certainly. Ask them to enter.”
In another minute we were face to face with the mysterious Madame Daubreuil.
She was not nearly so tall as her daughter, and the rounded curves of her figure had all the grace of full maturity. Her hair, again unlike her daughter’s, was dark, and parted in the middle in the madonna style. Her eyes, half hidden by the drooping lids, were blue. There was a dimple in the round chin, and the half parted lips seemed always to hover on the verge of a mysterious smile. There was something almost exaggeratedly feminine about her, at once yielding and seductive. Though very well preserved, she was certainly no longer young, but her charm was of the quality which is independent of age.
Standing there, in her black dress with the fresh white collar and cuffs, her hands clasped together, she looked subtly appealing and helpless.
“You wished to see me, monsieur?” she asked.
“Yes, madame.” M. Hautet cleared his throat. "I am investigating the death of M. Renauld. You have heard of it, no doubt?”
She bowed her head without speaking. Her expression did not change.
“We came to ask you whether you can—er—throw any light upon the circumstances surrounding it?”
“I?” The surprise of her tone was excellent.
“Yes, madame. It would, perhaps, be better if we could speak to you alone.” He looked meaningly in the direction of the girl.
Madame Daubreuil turned to her.
But the girl shook her head.
“No, maman, I will not go. I am not a child. I am twenty-two. I shall not go”
Madame Daubreuil turned back to the examining magistrate.
“You see, monsieur.”
“I should prefer not to speak before Mademoiselle Daubreuil.”
“As my daughter says, she is not a child.”
For a moment the magistrate hesitated, baffled.
“Very well, madame,” he said at last. “Have it your own way. We have reason to believe that you were in the habit of visiting the dead man at his villa in the evenings. Is that so?”
The color rose in the lady’s pale cheeks, but she replied quietly, "I deny your right to ask me such a question!”
“Madame, we are investigating a murder.”
“Well, what of it? I had nothing to do with the murder.”
“Madame, we do not say that for a moment. But you knew the dead man well. Did he ever confide in you as to any danger that threatened him?”
“Did he ever mention his life in Santiago, and any enemies he may have made there?”
“Then you can give us no help at all?”
“I fear not. I really do not see why you should come to me. Cannot his wife tell you what you want to know?” Her voice held a slender inflection of irony.
“Madame Renauld has told us all she can.”
“Ah!” said Madame Daubreuil. “I wonder—”
“You wonder what, madame?”
The examining magistrate looked at her. He was aware that he was fighting a duel, and that he had no mean antagonist.
“You persist in your statement that M. Renauld confided nothing to you?”
“Why should you think it likely that he should confide in me?”
“Because, madame,” said M. Hautet, with calculated brutality, “a man tells to his mistress what he does not always tell to his wife.”
“Ah!" She sprang forward. Her eyes flashed fire. “Monsieur, you insult me! And before my daughter! I can tell you nothing. Have the goodness to leave my house!”
The honors undoubtedly rested with the lady. We left the Villa Marguerite like a shamefaced pack of schoolboys. The magistrate muttered angry ejaculations to himself. Poirot seemed lost in thought. Suddenly he came out of his reverie with a start, and inquired of M. Hautet if there was a good hotel near at hand.
“There is a small place, the Hotel des Bains, on this side of the town. A few hundred yards down the road. It will be handy for your investigations. We shall see you in the morning then, I presume?”
“Yes, I thank you, M. Hautet.”
With mutual civilities, we parted company, Poirot and I going toward Merlinville, and the others returning to the Villa Geneviève.
“The French police system is very marvelous,” said Poirot, looking after them. “The information they possess about everyone’s life, down to the most commonplace detail, is extraordinary. Though he has only been here a little over six weeks, they are perfectly well acquainted with M. Renauld’s tastes and pursuits, and at a moment’s notice they can produce information as to Madame Daubreuil’s bank account, and the sums that have lately been paid in! Undoubtedly the dossier is a great institution. But what is that?” He turned sharply.
A figure was running, hatless, down the road after us. It was Marthe Daubreuil.
“I beg your pardon,” she cried breathlessly, as she reached us. “I—I should not do this, I know. You must not tell my mother. But is it true, what the people say, that M. Renauld called in a detective before he died, and—that you are he?”
“Yes, mademoiselle.” said Poirot gently. “It is quite true. But how did you learn it?”
“Françoise told our Amélie,” explained Marthe, with a blush.
Poirot made a grimace.
“The secrecy, it is impossible in an affair of this kind! Not that it matters. Well, mademoiselle, what is it you want to know?”
The girl hesitated. She seemed longing, yet fearing, to speak. At last, almost in a whisper, she asked, “Is—anyone suspected?”
Poirot eyed her keenly.
Then he replied evasively, “Suspicion is in the air at present, mademoiselle.”
“Yes, I know—but—anyone in particular?”
“Why do you want to know?”
The girl seemed frightened by the question. All at once Poirot’s words about her earlier in the day recurred to me. The “girl with the anxious eyes”!
“M. Renauld was always very kind to me,” she replied at last. “It is natural that I should be interested.”
“I see,” said Pairot. “Well, mademoiselle, suspicion at present is hovering round two persons.”
I could have sworn there was a note of surprise and relief in her voice.
“Their names are unknown, but they are presumed to be Chileans from Santiago. And now, mademoiselle, you see what comes of being young and beautiful! I have betrayed professional secrets for you!”
The girl laughed merrily, and then, rather shyly, she thanked him.
“I must run back now. Maman will miss me.”
And she turned and ran back up the road, looking like a modern Atalanta. I stared after her.
“Mon ami,” said Poirot, in his gentle, ironical voice, “is it that we are to remain planted here all night—just because you have seen a beautiful young woman, and your head is in a whirl?”
I laughed and apologized.
“But she is beautiful, Poirot. Anyone might be excused for being bowled over by her.”
Poirot groaned. “Mon Dieu! But it is that you have the susceptible heart!”
“Poirot,” I said, “do you remember after the Styles case when—”
“When you were in love with two charming women at once, and neither of them was for you? Yes, I remember.”
“You consoled me by saying that perhaps some day we should hunt together again, and that then—”
“Well, we are hunting together again, and—” I paused, and laughed rather self-consciously.
But to my surprise Poirot shook his head very earnestly.
“Ah, mon ami, do not set your heart on Marthe Daubreuil. She is not for you, that one! Take it from Papa Poirot!”
“Why,” I cried, “the commissary assured me that she was as good as she is beautiful! A perfect angel!”
“Some of the greatest criminals I have known had the faces of angels,” remarked Poirot cheerfully. “A malformation of the gray cells may coincide quite easily with the face of a madonna.”
“Poirot,” I cried, horrified, “you cannot mean that you suspect an innocent child like this!”
“Ta-ta-ta! Do not excite yourself! I have not said that I suspected her. But you must admit that her anxiety to know about the case is somewhat unusual.”
“For once, I see further than you do,” I said. “Her anxiety is not for herself—but for her mother.”
“My friend,” said Poirot, “as usual, you see nothing at all. Madame Daubreuil is very well able to look after herself without her daughter worrying about her. I admit I was teasing you just now, but all the same I repeat what I said before. Do not set your heart on that girl. She is not for you! I, Hercule Poirot, know it. Sacré! if only I could remember where I had seen that face!”
“What face?" I asked, surprised. “The daughter’s?”
“No. The mother’s.”
Noting my surprise, he nodded emphatically.
“But yes—it is as I tell you. It was a long time ago, when I was still with the Police in Belgium. I have never actually seen the woman before, but I have seen her picture—and in connection with some case. I rather fancy—"
“I may be mistaken, but I rather fancy that it was a murder case!”