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Chapter 6 - The Scene of the Crime

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« on: November 12, 2022, 02:06:30 am »

Between them, the doctor and M. Hautet carried the unconscious woman into the house. The commissary looked after them, shaking his head.

Pauvre femme,” he murmured to himself. “The shock was too much for her. Well, well, we can do nothing. Now, M. Poirot, shall we visit the place where the crime was committed?”

“If you please, M. Bex.”

We passed through the house, and out by the front door. Poirot had looked up at the staircase in passing, and shook his head in a dissatisfied manner.

“It is to me incredible that the servants heard nothing. The creaking of that staircase, with three people descending it, would awaken the dead!”

“It was the middle of the night, remember. They were sound asleep by then.”

But Poirot continued to shake his head as though not fully accepting the explanation. On the sweep of the drive, he paused, looking up at the house.

“What moved them in the first place to try if the front door were open? It was a most unlikely thing that it should be. It was far more probable that they should at once try to force a window.”

“But all the windows on the ground floor are barred with iron shutters,” objected the commissary.

Poirot pointed to a window on the first floor.

“That is the window of the bedroom we have just come from, is it not? And see—there is a tree by which it would be the easiest thing in the world to mount.”

“Possibly,” admitted the other. “But they could not have done so without leaving footprints in the flower-bed.”

I saw the justice of his words. There were two large oval flower-beds planted with scarlet geraniums, one each side of the steps leading up to the front door. The tree in question had its roots actually at the back of the bed itself, and it would have been impossible to reach it without stepping on the bed.

“You see,” continued the commissary, “owing to the dry weather no prints would show on the drive or paths; but, on the soft mould of the flower-bed, it would have been a very different affair.”

Poirot went close to the bed and studied it attentively. As Bex had said, the mould was perfectly smooth. There was not an indentation on it anywhere.

Poirot nodded, as though convinced, and we turned away, but he suddenly darted off and began examining the other flower-bed.

“M. Bex!” he called. “See here. Here are plenty of traces for you.”

The commissary joined him—and smiled.

“My dear M. Poirot, those are without doubt the footprints of the gardener’s large hobnailed boots. In any case, it would have no importance, since this side we have no tree, and consequently no means of gaining access to the upper story.”

“True,” said Poirot, evidently crestfallen. “So you think these footprints are of no importance?”

“Not the least in the world.”

Then, to my utter astonishment, Poirot pronounced these words:

“I do not agree with you. I have a little idea that these footprints are the most important things we have seen yet.”

M. Bex said nothing, merely shrugged his shoulders. He was far too courteous to utter his real opinion.

“Shall we proceed?” he asked instead.

“Certainly. I can investigate this matter of the footprints later,” said Poirot cheerfully.

Instead of following the drive down to the gate, M. Bex turned up a path that branched off at right angles. It led, up a slight incline, round to the right of the house, and was bordered on either side by a kind of shrubbery. Suddenly it emerged into a little clearing from which one obtained a view of the sea. A seat had been placed here, and not far from it was a rather ramshackle shed. A few steps further on, a neat line of small bushes marked the boundary of the Villa grounds. M. Bex pushed his way through these and we found ourselves on a wide stretch of open downs. I looked round, and saw something that filled me with astonishment.

“Why, this is a golf course,” I cried.

Bex nodded.

“The limits are not completed yet,” he explained. “It is hoped to be able to open them sometime next month. It was some of the men working on them who discovered the body early this morning.”

I gave a gasp. A little to my left, where for the moment I had overlooked it, was a long narrow pit, and by it, face downwards, was the body of a man! For a moment, my heart gave a terrible leap, and I had a wild fancy that the tragedy had been duplicated. But the commissary dispelled my illusion by moving forward with a sharp exclamation of annoyance:

“What have my police been about? They had strict orders to allow no one near the place without proper credentials!”

The man on the ground turned his head over his shoulder.

“But I have proper credentials,” he remarked, and rose slowly to his feet.

“My dear M. Giraud,” cried the commissary. “I had no idea that you had arrived, even. The examining magistrate has been awaiting you with the utmost impatience.”

As he spoke, I was scanning the new-comer with the keenest curiosity. The famous detective from the Paris Sűreté was familiar to me by name, and I was extremely interested to see him in the flesh. He was very tall, perhaps about thirty years of age, with auburn hair and moustache, and a military carriage. There was a trace of arrogance in his manner which showed that he was fully alive to his own importance. Bex introduced us, presenting Poirot as a colleague. A flicker of interest came into the detective’s eye.

“I know you by name, M. Poirot,” he said. “You cut quite a figure in the old days, didn’t you? But methods are very different now.”

“Crimes, though, are very much the same,” remarked Poirot gently.

I saw at once that Giraud was prepared to be hostile. He resented the other being associated with him, and I felt that if he came across any clue of importance he would be more than likely to keep it to himself.

“The examining magistrate—” began Bex again. But Giraud interrupted him rudely:

“A fig for the examining magistrate! The light is the important thing. For all practical purposes it will be gone in another half-hour or so. I know all about the case, and the people at the house will do very well until tomorrow, but, if we’re going to find a clue to the murderers, here is the spot we shall find it. Is it your police who have been trampling all over the place? I thought they knew better nowadays.”

“Assuredly they do. The marks you complain of were made by the workmen who discovered the body.”

The other grunted disgustedly.

“I can see the tracks where the three of them came through the hedge—but they were cunning. You can just recognize the centre footmarks as those of M. Renauld, but those on either side have been carefully obliterated. Not that there would really be much to see anyway on this hard ground, but they weren’t taking any chances.”

“The external sign,” said Poirot. “That is what you seek, eh?”

The other detective stared.

“Of course.”

A very faint smile came to Poirot’s lips. He seemed about to speak, but checked himself. He bent down to where a spade was lying.

“That’s what the grave was dug with, right enough,” said Giraud. “But you’ll get nothing from it. It was Renauld’s own spade, and the man who used it wore gloves. Here they are.” He gesticulated with his foot to where two soiled earth-stained gloves were lying. “And they’re Renauld’s too—or at least his gardener’s. I tell you, the men who planned out this crime were taking no chances. The man was stabbed with his own dagger, and would have been buried with his own spade. They counted on leaving no traces! But I’ll beat them. There’s always something! And I mean to find it.”

But Poirot was now apparently interested in something else, a short discoloured piece of lead-piping which lay beside the spade. He touched it delicately with his finger.

“And does this, too, belong to the murdered man?” he asked, and I thought I detected a subtle flavour of irony in the question.

Giraud shrugged his shoulders to indicate that he neither knew nor cared.

“May have been lying around here for weeks. Anyway, it doesn’t interest me.”

“I, on the contrary, find it very interesting,” said Poirot sweetly.

I guessed that he was merely bent on annoying the Paris detective and, if so, he succeeded. The other turned away rudely, remarking that he had no time to waste, and bending down he resumed his minute search of the ground.

Meanwhile Poirot, as though struck by a sudden idea, stepped back over the boundary, and tried the door of the little shed.

“That’s locked,” said Giraud over his shoulder. “But it’s only a place where the gardener keeps his rubbish. The spade didn’t come from there, but from the toolshed up by the house.”

“Marvellous,” murmured M. Bex, to me ecstatically. “He has been here but half an hour, and he already knows everything! What a man! Undoubtedly Giraud is the greatest detective alive today.”

Although I disliked the detective heartily, I nevertheless was secretly impressed. Efficiency seemed to radiate from the man. I could not help feeling that, so far, Poirot had not greatly distinguished himself, and it vexed me. He seemed to be directing his attention to all sorts of silly, puerile points that had nothing to do with the case. Indeed, at this juncture, he suddenly asked:

“M. Bex, tell me, I pray you, the meaning of this whitewashed line that extends all round the grave. Is it a device of the police?”

“No, M. Poirot, it is an affair of the golf course. It shows that there is here to be a ‘bunkair,’ as you call it.”

“A bunkair?” Poirot turned to me. “That is the irregular hole filled with sand and a bank at one side, is it not?”

I concurred.

“You do not play the golf, M. Poirot?” inquired Bex.

“I? Never! What a game!” He became excited. “Figure to yourself, each hole it is of a different length. The obstacles, they are not arranged mathematically. Even the greens are frequently up one side! There is only one pleasing thing—the how do you call them?—tee boxes! They, at least, are symmetrical.”

I could not refrain from a laugh at the way the game appeared to Poirot, and my little friend smiled at me affectionately, bearing no malice. Then he asked:

“But M. Renauld, without doubt he played the golf?”

“Yes, he was a keen golfer. It’s mainly owing to him, and to his large subscriptions, that this work is being carried forward. He even had a say in the designing of it.”

Poirot nodded thoughtfully.

Then he remarked:

“It was not a very good choice they made—of a spot to bury the body? When the men began to dig up the ground, all would have been discovered.”

“Exactly,” cried Giraud triumphantly. “And that proves that they were strangers to the place. It’s an excellent piece of indirect evidence.”

“Yes,” said Poirot doubtfully. “No one who knew would bury a body there—unless—unless—they wanted it to be discovered. And that is clearly absurd, is it not?”

Giraud did not even trouble to reply.

“Yes,” said Poirot, in a somewhat dissatisfied voice. “Yes—undoubtedly—absurd!”
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