Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership



At the Villa Rose
A.E.W. Mason



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

    I. SUMMER LIGHTNING
   II. A CRY FOR HELP
  III. PERRICHET'S STORY
   IV. AT THE VILLA
    V. IN THE SALON
   VI. HELENE VAUQUIER'S EVIDENCE
  VII. A STARTLING DISCOVERY
 VIII. THE CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP
   IX. MME. DAUVRAY'S MOTOR-CAR
    X. NEWS FROM GENEVA
   XI. THE UNOPENED LETTER
  XII. THE ALUMINIUM FLASK
 XIII. IN THE HOUSE AT GENEVA
  XIV. MR. RICARDO IS BEWILDERED
   XV. CELIA'S STORY
  XVI. THE FIRST MOVE
 XVII. THE AFTERNOON OF TUESDAY
XVIII. THE SEANCE
  XIX. HELENS EXPLAINS
   XX. THE GENEVA ROAD
  XXI. HANAUD EXPLAINS




CHAPTER I

SUMMER LIGHTNING


It was Mr. Ricardo's habit as soon as the second week of August
came round to travel to Aix-les-Bains, in Savoy, where for five or
six weeks he lived pleasantly. He pretended to take the waters in
the morning, he went for a ride in his motor-car in the afternoon,
he dined at the Cercle in the evening, and spent an hour or two
afterwards in the baccarat-rooms at the Villa des Fleurs. An
enviable, smooth life without a doubt, and it is certain that his
acquaintances envied him. At the same time, however, they laughed
at him and, alas with some justice; for he was an exaggerated
person. He was to be construed in the comparative. Everything in
his life was a trifle overdone, from the fastidious arrangement of
his neckties to the feminine nicety of his little dinner-parties.
In age Mr. Ricardo was approaching the fifties; in condition he
was a widower--a state greatly to his liking, for he avoided at
once the irksomeness of marriage and the reproaches justly
levelled at the bachelor; finally, he was rich, having amassed a
fortune in Mincing Lane, which he had invested in profitable
securities.

Ten years of ease, however, had not altogether obliterated in him
the business look. Though he lounged from January to December, he
lounged with the air of a financier taking a holiday; and when he
visited, as he frequently did, the studio of a painter, a stranger
would have hesitated to decide whether he had been drawn thither
by a love of art or by the possibility of an investment. His
"acquaintances" have been mentioned, and the word is suitable. For
while he mingled in many circles, he stood aloof from all. He
affected the company of artists, by whom he was regarded as one
ambitious to become a connoisseur; and amongst the younger
business men, who had never dealt with him, he earned the
disrespect reserved for the dilettante. If he had a grief, it was
that he had discovered no great man who in return for practical
favours would engrave his memory in brass. He was a Maecenas
without a Horace, an Earl of Southampton without a Shakespeare. In
a word, Aix-les-Bains in the season was the very place for him;
and never for a moment did it occur to him that he was here to be
dipped in agitations, and hurried from excitement to excitement.
The beauty of the little town, the crowd of well-dressed and
agreeable people, the rose-coloured life of the place, all made
their appeal to him. But it was the Villa des Fleurs which brought
him to Aix. Not that he played for anything more than an
occasional louis; nor, on the other hand, was he merely a cold
looker-on. He had a bank-note or two in his pocket on most
evenings at the service of the victims of the tables. But the
pleasure to his curious and dilettante mind lay in the spectacle
of the battle which was waged night after night between raw nature
and good manners. It was extraordinary to him how constantly
manners prevailed. There were, however, exceptions.

For instance. On the first evening of this particular visit he
found the rooms hot, and sauntered out into the little
semicircular garden at the back. He sat there for half an hour
under a flawless sky of stars watching the people come and go in
the light of the electric lamps, and appreciating the gowns and
jewels of the women with the eye of a connoisseur; and then into
this starlit quiet there came suddenly a flash of vivid life. A
girl in a soft, clinging frock of white satin darted swiftly from
the rooms and flung herself nervously upon a bench. She could not,
to Ricardo's thinking, be more than twenty years of age. She was
certainly quite young. The supple slenderness of her figure proved
it, and he had moreover caught a glimpse, as she rushed out, of a
fresh and very pretty face; but he had lost sight of it now. For
the girl wore a big black satin hat with a broad brim, from which
a couple of white ostrich feathers curved over at the back, and in
the shadow of that hat her face was masked. All that he could see
was a pair of long diamond ear-drops, which sparkled and trembled
as she moved her head--and that she did constantly. Now she stared
moodily at the ground; now she flung herself back; then she
twisted nervously to the right, and then a moment afterwards to
the left; and then again she stared in front of her, swinging a
satin slipper backwards and forwards against the pavement with the
petulance of a child. All her movements were spasmodic; she was on
the verge of hysteria. Ricardo was expecting her to burst into
tears, when she sprang up and as swiftly as she had come she
hurried back into the rooms. "Summer lightning," thought Mr.
Ricardo.

Near to him a woman sneered, and a man said, pityingly: "She was
pretty, that little one. It is regrettable that she has lost."

A few minutes afterwards Ricardo finished his cigar and strolled
back into the rooms, making his way to the big table just on the
right hand of the entrance, where the play as a rule runs high. It
was clearly running high tonight. For so deep a crowd thronged
about the table that Ricardo could only by standing on tiptoe see
the faces of the players. Of the banker he could not catch a
glimpse. But though the crowd remained, its units were constantly
changing, and it was not long before Ricardo found himself
standing in the front rank of the spectators, just behind the
players seated in the chairs. The oval green table was spread out
beneath him littered with bank-notes. Ricardo turned his eyes to
the left, and saw seated at the middle of the table the man who
was holding the bank. Ricardo recognised him with a start of
surprise. He was a young Englishman, Harry Wethermill, who, after
a brilliant career at Oxford and at Munich, had so turned his
scientific genius to account that he had made a fortune for
himself at the age of twenty-eight.

He sat at the table with the indifferent look of the habitual
player upon his cleanly chiselled face. But it was plain that his
good fortune stayed at his elbow tonight, for opposite to him the
croupier was arranging with extraordinary deftness piles of bank-
notes in the order of their value. The bank was winning heavily.
Even as Ricardo looked Wethermill turned up "a natural," and the
croupier swept in the stakes from either side.

"Faites vos jeux, messieurs. Le jeu est fait?" the croupier cried,
all in a breath, and repeated the words. Wethermill waited with
his hand upon the wooden frame in which the cards were stacked. He
glanced round the table while the stakes were being laid upon the
cloth, and suddenly his face flashed from languor into interest.
Almost opposite to him a small, white-gloved hand holding a five-
louis note was thrust forward between the shoulders of two men
seated at the table. Wethermill leaned forward and shook his head
with a smile. With a gesture he refused the stake. But he was too
late. The fingers of the hand had opened, the note fluttered down
on to the cloth, the money was staked.

At once he leaned back in his chair.

"Il y a une suite," he said quietly. He relinquished the bank
rather than play against that five-louis note. The stakes were
taken up by their owners.

The croupier began to count Wethermill's winnings, and Ricardo,
curious to know whose small, delicately gloved hand it was which
had brought the game to so abrupt a termination, leaned forward.
He recognised the young girl in the white satin dress and the big
black hat whose nerves had got the better of her a few minutes
since in the garden. He saw her now clearly, and thought her of an
entrancing loveliness. She was moderately tall, fair of skin, with
a fresh colouring upon her cheeks which she owed to nothing but
her youth. Her hair was of a light brown with a sheen upon it, her
forehead broad, her eyes dark and wonderfully clear. But there was
something more than her beauty to attract him. He had a strong
belief that somewhere, some while ago, he had already seen her.
And this belief grew and haunted him. He was still vaguely
puzzling his brains to fix the place when the croupier finished
his reckoning.

"There are two thousand louis in the bank," he cried. "Who will
take on the bank for two thousand louis?"

No one, however, was willing. A fresh bank was put up for sale,
and Wethermill, still sitting in the dealer's chair, bought it. He
spoke at once to an attendant, and the man slipped round the
table, and, forcing his way through the crowd, carried a message
to the girl in the black hat. She looked towards Wethermill and
smiled; and the smile made her face a miracle of tenderness. Then
she disappeared, and in a few moments Ricardo saw a way open in
the throng behind the banker, and she appeared again only a yard
or two away, just behind Wethermill. He turned, and taking her
hand into his, shook it chidingly.

"I couldn't let you play against me, Celia," he said, in English;
"my luck's too good tonight. So you shall be my partner instead.
I'll put in the capital and we'll share the winnings."

The girl's face flushed rosily. Her hand still lay clasped in his.
She made no effort to withdraw it.

"I couldn't do that," she exclaimed.

"Why not?" said he. "See!" and loosening her fingers he took from
them the five-louis note and tossed it over to the croupier to be
added to his bank. "Now you can't help yourself. We're partners."

The girl laughed, and the company at the table smiled, half in
sympathy, half with amusement. A chair was brought for her, and
she sat down behind Wethermill, her lips parted, her face joyous
with excitement. But all at once Wethermill's luck deserted him.
He renewed his bank three times, and had lost the greater part of
his winnings when he had dealt the cards through. He took a fourth
bank, and rose from that, too, a loser.

"That's enough, Celia," he said. "Let us go out into the garden;
it will be cooler there,"

"I have taken your good luck away," said the girl remorsefully.
Wethermill put his arm through hers.

"You'll have to take yourself away before you can do that," he
answered, and the couple walked together out of Ricardo's hearing.

Ricardo was left to wonder about Celia. She was just one of those
problems which made Aix-les-Bains so unfailingly attractive to
him. She dwelt in some street of Bohemia; so much was clear. The
frankness of her pleasure, of her excitement, and even of her
distress proved it. She passed from one to the other while you
could deal a pack of cards. She was at no pains to wear a mask.
Moreover, she was a young girl of nineteen or twenty, running
about those rooms alone, as unembarrassed as if she had been at
home. There was the free use, too, of Christian names. Certainly
she dwelt in Bohemia. But it seemed to Ricardo that she could pass
in any company and yet not be overpassed. She would look a little
more picturesque than most girls of her age, and she was certainly
a good deal more soignee than many, and she had the Frenchwoman's
knack of putting on her clothes. But those would be all the
differences, leaving out the frankness. Ricardo wondered in what
street of Bohemia she dwelt. He wondered still more when he saw
her again half an hour afterwards at the entrance to the Villa des
Fleurs. She came down the long hall with Harry Wethermill at her
side. The couple were walking slowly, and talking as they walked
with so complete an absorption in each other that they were
unaware of their surroundings. At the bottom of the steps a stout
woman of fifty-five over-jewelled, and over-dressed and raddled
with paint, watched their approach with a smile of good-humoured
amusement. When they came near enough to hear she said in French:

"Well, Celie, are you ready to go home?"

The girl looked up with a start.

"Of course, madame," she said, with a certain submissiveness which
surprised Ricardo. "I hope I have not kept you waiting."

She ran to the cloak-room, and came back again with her cloak.

"Good-bye, Harry," she said, dwelling upon his name and looking
out upon him with soft and smiling eyes.

"I shall see you tomorrow evening," he said, holding her hand.
Again she let it stay within his keeping, but she frowned, and a
sudden gravity settled like a cloud upon her face. She turned to
the elder woman with a sort of appeal.

"No, I do not think we shall be here, tomorrow, shall we, madame?"
she said reluctantly.

"Of course not," said madame briskly. "You have not forgotten what
we have planned? No, we shall not be here tomorrow; but the night
after--yes."

Celia turned back again to Wethermill.

"Yes, we have plans for tomorrow," she said, with a very wistful
note of regret in her voice; and seeing that madame was already at
the door, she bent forward and said timidly, "But the night after
I shall want you."

"I shall thank you for wanting me," Wethermill rejoined; and the
girl tore her hand away and ran up the steps.

Harry Wethermill returned to the rooms. Mr. Ricardo did not follow
him. He was too busy with the little problem which had been
presented to him that night. What could that girl, he asked
himself, have in common with the raddled woman she addressed so
respectfully? Indeed, there had been a note of more than respect
in her voice. There had been something of affection. Again Mr.
Ricardo found himself wondering in what street in Bohemia Celia
dwelt--and as he walked up to the hotel there came yet other
questions to amuse him.

"Why," he asked, "could neither Celia nor madame come to the Villa
des Fleurs tomorrow night? What are the plans they have made? And
what was it in those plans which had brought the sudden gravity
and reluctance into Celia's face?"

Ricardo had reason to remember those questions during the next few
days, though he only idled with them now.




CHAPTER II

A CRY FOR HELP


It was on a Monday evening that Ricardo saw Harry Wethermill and
the girl Celia together. On the Tuesday he saw Wethermill in the
rooms alone and had some talk with him.

Wethermill was not playing that night, and about ten o'clock the
two men left the Villa des Fleurs together.

"Which way do you go?" asked Wethermill.

"Up the hill to the Hotel Majestic," said Ricardo.

"We go together, then. I, too, am staying there," said the young
man, and they climbed the steep streets together. Ricardo was
dying to put some questions about Wethermill's young friend of the
night before, but discretion kept him reluctantly silent. They
chatted for a few moments in the hall upon indifferent topics and
so separated for the night. Mr. Ricardo, however, was to learn
something more of Celia the next morning; for while he was fixing
his tie before the mirror Wethermill burst into his dressing-room.
Mr. Ricardo forgot his curiosity in the surge of his indignation.
Such an invasion was an unprecedented outrage upon the gentle
tenor of his life. The business of the morning toilette was
sacred. To interrupt it carried a subtle suggestion of anarchy.
Where was his valet? Where was Charles, who should have guarded
the door like the custodian of a chapel?

"I cannot speak to you for at least another half-hour," said Mr.
Ricardo, sternly.

But Harry Wethermill was out of breath and shaking with agitation.

"I can't wait," he cried, with a passionate appeal. "I have got to
see you. You must help me, Mr. Ricardo--you must, indeed!"

Ricardo spun round upon his heel. At first he had thought that the
help wanted was the help usually wanted at Aix-les-Bains. A glance
at Wethermills face, however, and the ringing note of anguish in
his voice, told him that the thought was wrong. Mr. Ricardo
slipped out of his affectations as out of a loose coat. "What has
happened?" he asked quietly.

"Something terrible." With shaking fingers Wethermill held out a
newspaper. "Read it," he said.

It was a special edition of a local newspaper, Le Journal de
Savoie, and it bore the date of that morning.

"They are crying it in the streets," said Wethermill. "Read!"

A short paragraph was printed in large black letters on the first
page, and leaped to the eyes.

"Late last night," it ran, "an appalling murder was committed at
the Villa Rose, on the road to Lac Bourget. Mme. Camille Dauvray,
an elderly, rich woman who was well known at Aix, and had occupied
the villa every summer for the last few years, was discovered on
the floor of her salon, fully dressed and brutally strangled,
while upstairs, her maid, Helene Vauquier, was found in bed,
chloroformed, with her hands tied securely behind her back. At the
time of going to press she had not recovered consciousness, but
the doctor, Emile Peytin, is in attendance upon her, and it is
hoped that she will be able shortly to throw some light on this
dastardly affair. The police are properly reticent as to the
details of the crime, but the following statement may be accepted
without hesitation:

"The murder was discovered at twelve o'clock at night by the
sergent-de-ville Perrichet, to whose intelligence more than a word
of praise is due, and it is obvious from the absence of all marks
upon the door and windows that the murderer was admitted from
within the villa. Meanwhile Mme. Dauvray's motor-car has
disappeared, and with it a young Englishwoman who came to Aix with
her as her companion. The motive of the crime leaps to the eyes.
Mme. Dauvray was famous in Aix for her jewels, which she wore with
too little prudence. The condition of the house shows that a
careful search was made for them, and they have disappeared. It is
anticipated that a description of the young Englishwoman, with a
reward for her apprehension, will be issued immediately. And it is
not too much to hope that the citizens of Aix, and indeed of
France, will be cleared of all participation in so cruel and
sinister a crime."

Ricardo read through the paragraph with a growing consternation,
and laid the paper upon his dressing-table.

"It is infamous," cried Wethermill passionately.

"The young Englishwoman is, I suppose, your friend Miss Celia?"
said Ricardo slowly.

Wethermill started forward.

"You know her, then?" he cried in amazement.

"No; but I saw her with you in the rooms. I heard you call her by
that name."

"You saw us together?" exclaimed Wethermill. "Then you can
understand how infamous the suggestion is."

But Ricardo had seen the girl half an hour before he had seen her
with Harry Wethermill. He could not but vividly remember the
picture of her as she flung herself on to the bench in the garden
in a moment of hysteria, and petulantly kicked a satin slipper
backwards and forwards against the stones. She was young, she was
pretty, she had a charm of freshness, but--but--strive against it
as he would, this picture in the recollection began more and more
to wear a sinister aspect. He remembered some words spoken by a
stranger. "She is pretty, that little one. It is regrettable that
she has lost."

Mr. Ricardo arranged his tie with even a greater deliberation than
he usually employed.

"And Mme. Dauvray?" he asked. "She was the stout woman with whom
your young friend went away?"

"Yes," said Wethermill.

Ricardo turned round from the mirror.

"What do you want me to do?"

"Hanaud is at Aix. He is the cleverest of the French detectives.
You know him. He dined with you once."

It was Mr. Ricardo's practice to collect celebrities round his
dinner-table, and at one such gathering Hanaud and Wethermill had
been present together.

"You wish me to approach him?"

"At once."

"It is a delicate position," said Ricardo. "Here is a man in
charge of a case of murder, and we are quietly to go to him--"

To his relief Wethermill interrupted him.

"No, no," he cried; "he is not in charge of the case. He is on his
holiday. I read of his arrival two days ago in the newspaper. It
was stated that he came for rest. What I want is that he should
take charge of the case."

The superb confidence of Wethermill shook Mr. Ricardo for a
moment, but his recollections were too clear.

"You are going out of your way to launch the acutest of French
detectives in search of this girl. Are you wise, Wethermill?"

Wethermill sprang up from his chair in desperation.

"You, too, think her guilty! You have seen her. You think her
guilty--like this detestable newspaper, like the police."

"Like the police?" asked Ricardo sharply.

"Yes," said Harry Wethermill sullenly. "As soon as I saw that rag
I ran down to the villa. The police are in possession. They would
not let me into the garden. But I talked with one of them. They,
too, think that she let in the murderers."

Ricardo took a turn across the room. Then he came to a stop in
front of Wethermill.

"Listen to me," he said solemnly. "I saw this girl half an hour
before I saw you. She rushed out into the garden. She flung
herself on to a bench. She could not sit still. She was
hysterical. You know what that means. She had been losing. That's
point number one."

Mr. Ricardo ticked it off upon his finger.

"She ran back into the rooms. You asked her to share the winnings
of your bank. She consented eagerly. And you lost. That's point
number two. A little later, as she was going away, you asked her
whether she would be in the rooms the next night--yesterday night-
-the night when the murder was committed. Her face clouded over.
She hesitated. She became more than grave. There was a distinct
impression as though she shrank from the contemplation of what it
was proposed she should do on the next night. And then she
answered you, 'No, we have other plans.' That's number three." And
Mr. Ricardo ticked off his third point.

"Now," he asked, "do you still ask me to launch Hanaud upon the
case?"

"Yes, and at once," cried Wethermill.

Ricardo called for his hat and his stick.

"You know where Hanaud is staying?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Wethermill, and he led Ricardo to an unpretentious
little hotel in the centre of the town. Ricardo sent in his name,
and the two visitors were immediately shown into a small sitting-
room, where M. Hanaud was enjoying his morning chocolate. He was
stout and broad-shouldered, with a full and almost heavy face. In
his morning suit at his breakfast-table he looked like a
prosperous comedian.

He came forward with a smile of welcome, extending both his hands
to Mr. Ricardo.

"Ah, my good friend," he said, "it is pleasant to see you. And Mr.
Wethermill," he exclaimed, holding a hand out to the young
inventor.

"You remember me, then?" said Wethermill gladly.

"It is my profession to remember people," said Hanaud, with a
laugh. "You were at that amusing dinner-party of Mr. Ricardo's in
Grosvenor Square."

"Monsieur," said Wethermill, "I have come to ask your help."

The note of appeal in his voice was loud. M. Hanaud drew up a
chair by the window and motioned to Wethermill to take it. He
pointed to another, with a bow of invitation to Mr. Ricardo.

"Let me hear," he said gravely.

"It is the murder of Mme. Dauvray," said Wethermill.

Hanaud started.

"And in what way, monsieur," he asked, "are you interested in the
murder of Mme. Dauvray?"

"Her companion," said Wethermill, "the young English girl--she is
a great friend of mine."

Hanaud's face grew stern. Then came a sparkle of anger in his
eyes.

"And what do you wish me to do, monsieur?" he asked coldly.

"You are upon your holiday, M. Hanaud. I wish you--no, I implore
you," Wethermill cried, his voice ringing with passion, "to take
up this case, to discover the truth, to find out what has become
of Celia."

Hanaud leaned back in his chair with his hands upon the arms. He
did not take his eyes from Harry Wethermill, but the anger died
out of them.

"Monsieur," he said, "I do not know what your procedure is in
England. But in France a detective does not take up a case or
leave it alone according to his pleasure. We are only servants.
This affair is in the hands of M. Fleuriot, the Juge d'lnstruction
of Aix."

"But if you offered him your help it would be welcomed," cried
Wethermill. "And to me that would mean so much. There would be no
bungling. There would be no waste of time. Of that one would be
sure."

Hanaud shook his head gently. His eyes were softened now by a look
of pity. Suddenly he stretched out a forefinger.

"You have, perhaps, a photograph of the young lady in that card-
case in your breast-pocket."

Wethermill flushed red, and, drawing out the card-case, handed the
portrait to Hanaud. Hanaud looked at it carefully for a few
moments.

"It was taken lately, here?" he asked.

"Yes; for me," replied Wethermill quietly.

"And it is a good likeness?"

"Very."

"How long have you known this Mlle. Celie?" he asked.

Wethermill looked at Hanaud with a certain defiance.

"For a fortnight."

Hanaud raised his eyebrows.

"You met her here?"

"Yes."

"In the rooms, I suppose? Not at the house of one of your
friends?"

"That is so," said Wethermill quietly. "A friend of mine who had
met her in Paris introduced me to her at my request."

Hanaud handed back the portrait and drew forward his chair nearer
to Wethermill. His face had grown friendly. He spoke with a tone
of respect.

"Monsieur, I know something of you. Our friend, Mr. Ricardo, told
me your history; I asked him for it when I saw you at his dinner.
You are of those about whom one does ask questions, and I know
that you are not a romantic boy, but who shall say that he is safe
from the appeal of beauty? I have seen women, monsieur, for whose
purity of soul I would myself have stood security, condemned for
complicity in brutal crimes on evidence that could not be
gainsaid; and I have known them turn foul-mouthed, and hideous to
look upon, the moment after their just sentence has been
pronounced." 

"No doubt, monsieur," said Wethermill, with perfect
quietude. "But Celia Harland is not one of those women."

"I do not now say that she is," said Hanaud. "But the Juge
d'lnstruction here has already sent to me to ask for my
assistance, and I refused. I replied that I was just a good
bourgeois enjoying his holiday. Still it is difficult quite to
forget one's profession. It was the Commissaire of Police who came
to me, and naturally I talked with him for a little while. The
case is dark, monsieur, I warn you."

"How dark?" asked Harry Wethermill.

"I will tell you," said Hanaud, drawing his chair still closer to
the young man. "Understand this in the first place. There was an
accomplice within the villa. Some one let the murderers in. There
is no sign of an entrance being forced; no lock was picked, there
is no mark of a thumb on any panel, no sign of a bolt being
forced. There was an accomplice within the house. We start from
that."

Wethermill nodded his head sullenly. Ricardo drew his chair up
towards the others. But Hanaud was not at that moment interested
in Ricardo.

"Well, then, let us see who there are in Mme. Dauvray's household.
The list is not a long one. It was Mme. Dauvray's habit to take
her luncheon and her dinner at the restaurants, and her maid was
all that she required to get ready her 'petit dejeuner' in the
morning and her 'sirop' at night. Let us take the members of the
household one by one. There is first the chauffeur, Henri
Servettaz. He was not at the villa last night. He came back to it
early this morning."

"Ah!" said Ricardo, in a significant exclamation. Wethermill did
not stir. He sat still as a stone, with a face deadly white and
eyes burning upon Hanaud's face.

"But wait," said Hanaud, holding up a warning hand to Ricardo.
"Servettaz was in Chambery, where his parents live. He travelled
to Chambery by the two o'clock train yesterday. He was with them
in the afternoon. He went with them to a cafe in the evening.
Moreover, early this morning the maid, Helene Vauquier, was able
to speak a few words in answer to a question. She said Servettaz
was in Chambery. She gave his address. A telephone message was
sent to the police in that town, and Servettaz was found in bed. I
do not say that it is impossible that Servettaz was concerned in
the crime. That we shall see. But it is quite clear, I think, that
it was not he who opened the house to the murderers, for he was at
Chambery in the evening, and the murder was already discovered
here by midnight. Moreover--it is a small point--he lives, not in
the house, but over the garage in a corner of the garden. Then
besides the chauffeur there was a charwoman, a woman of Aix, who
came each morning at seven and left in the evening at seven or
eight. Sometimes she would stay later if the maid was alone in the
house, for the maid is nervous. But she left last night before
nine--there is evidence of that--and the murder did not take place
until afterwards. That is also a fact, not a conjecture. We can
leave the charwoman, who for the rest has the best of characters,
out of our calculations. There remain then, the maid, Helene
Vauquier, and"--he shrugged his shoulders--"Mlle. Celie."

Hanaud reached out for the matches and lit a cigarette.

"Let us take first the maid, Helene Vauquier. Forty years old, a
Normandy peasant woman--they are not bad people, the Normandy
peasants, monsieur--avaricious, no doubt, but on the whole honest
and most respectable. We know something of Helene Vauquier,
monsieur. See!" and he took up a sheet of paper from the table.
The paper was folded lengthwise, written upon only on the inside.
"I have some details here. Our police system is, I think, a little
more complete than yours in England. Helene Vauquier has served
Mme. Dauvray for seven years. She has been the confidential friend
rather than the maid. And mark this, M. Wethermill! During those
seven years how many opportunities has she had of conniving at
last night's crime? She was found chloroformed and bound. There is
no doubt that she was chloroformed. Upon that point Dr. Peytin is
quite, quite certain. He saw her before she recovered
consciousness. She was violently sick on awakening. She sank again
into unconsciousness. She is only now in a natural sleep. Besides
those people, there is Mlle. Celie. Of her, monsieur, nothing is
known. You yourself know nothing of her. She comes suddenly to Aix
as the companion of Mme. Dauvray--a young and pretty English girl.
How did she become the companion of Mme. Dauvray?"

Wethermill stirred uneasily in his seat. His face flushed. To Mr.
Ricardo that had been from the beginning the most interesting
problem of the case. Was he to have the answer now?

"I do not know," answered Wethermill, with some hesitation, and
then it seemed that he was at once ashamed of his hesitation. His
accent gathered strength, and in a low but ringing voice, he
added: "But I say this. You have told me, M. Hanaud, of women who
looked innocent and were guilty. But you know also of women and
girls who can live untainted and unspoilt amidst surroundings
which are suspicious."

Hanaud listened, but he neither agreed nor denied. He took up a
second slip of paper.

"I shall tell you something now of Mme. Dauvray," he said. "We
will not take up her early history. It might not be edifying and,
poor woman, she is dead. Let us not go back beyond her marriage
seventeen years ago to a wealthy manufacturer of Nancy, whom she
had met in Paris. Seven years ago M. Dauvray died, leaving his
widow a very rich woman. She had a passion for jewellery, which
she was now able to gratify. She collected jewels. A famous
necklace, a well-known stone--she was not, as you say, happy till
she got it. She had a fortune in precious stones--oh, but a large
fortune! By the ostentation of her jewels she paraded her wealth
here, at Monte Carlo, in Paris. Besides that, she was kind-hearted
and most impressionable. Finally, she was, like so many of her
class, superstitious to the degree of folly."

Suddenly Mr. Ricardo started in his chair. Superstitious! The word
was a sudden light upon his darkness. Now he knew what had
perplexed him during the last two days. Clearly--too clearly--he
remembered where he had seen Celia Harland, and when. A picture
rose before his eyes, and it seemed to strengthen like a film in a
developing-dish as Hanaud continued:

"Very well! take Mme. Dauvray as we find her--rich, ostentatious,
easily taken by a new face, generous, and foolishly superstitious-
-and you have in her a living provocation to every rogue. By a
hundred instances she proclaimed herself a dupe. She threw down a
challenge to every criminal to come and rob her. For seven years
Helene Vauquier stands at her elbow and protects her from serious
trouble. Suddenly there is added to her--your young friend, and
she is robbed and murdered. And, follow this, M. Wethermill, our
thieves are, I think, more brutal to their victims than is the
case with you."

Wethermill shut his eyes in a spasm of pain and the pallor of his
face increased.

"Suppose that Celia were one of the victims?" he cried in a
stifled voice.

Hanaud glanced at him with a look of commiseration.

"That perhaps we shall see," he said. "But what I meant was this.
A stranger like Mlle. Celie might be the accomplice in such a
crime as the crime of the Villa Rose, meaning only robbery. A
stranger might only have discovered too late that murder would be
added to the theft."

Meanwhile, in strong, clear colours, Ricardo's picture stood out
before his eyes. He was startled by hearing Wethermill say, in a
firm voice:

"My friend Ricardo has something to add to what you have said."

"I!" exclaimed Ricardo. How in the world could Wethermill know of
that clear picture in his mind?

"Yes. You saw Celia Harland on the evening before the murder."

Ricardo stared at his friend. It seemed to him that Harry
Wethermill had gone out of his mind. Here he was corroborating the
suspicions of the police by facts--damning and incontrovertible
facts.

"On the night before the murder," continued Wethermill quietly,
"Celia Harland lost money at the baccarat-table. Ricardo saw her
in the garden behind the rooms, and she was hysterical. Later on
that same night he saw her again with me, and he heard what she
said. I asked her to come to the rooms on the next evening--
yesterday, the night of the crime--and her face changed, and she
said, 'No, we have other plans for tomorrow. But the night after I
shall want you.'"

Hanaud sprang up from his chair.

"And YOU tell me these two things!" he cried.

"Yes," said Wethermill. "You were kind enough to say to me I was
not a romantic boy. I am not. I can face facts."

Hanaud stared at his companion for a few moments. Then, with a
remarkable air of consideration, he bowed.

"You have won, monsieur," he said. "I will take up this case.
But," and his face grew stern and he brought his fist down upon
the table with a bang, "I shall follow it to the end now, be the
consequences bitter as death to you."

"That is what I wish, monsieur," said Wethermill.

Hanaud locked up the slips of paper in his lettercase. Then he
went out of the room and returned in a few minutes.

"We will begin at the beginning," he said briskly. "I have
telephoned to the Depot. Perrichet, the sergent-de-ville who
discovered the crime, will be here at once. We will walk down to
the villa with him, and on the way he shall tell us exactly what
he discovered and how he discovered it. At the villa we shall find
Monsieur Fleuriot, the Juge d'lnstruction, who has already begun
his examination, and the Commissaire of Police. In company with
them we will inspect the villa. Except for the removal of Mme.
Dauvray's body from the salon to her bedroom and the opening of
the windows, the house remains exactly as it was."

"We may come with you?" cried Harry Wethermill eagerly.

"Yes, on one condition--that you ask no questions, and answer none
unless I put them to you. Listen, watch, examine--but no
interruptions!"

Hanaud's manner had altogether changed. It was now authoritative
and alert. He turned to Ricardo.

"You will swear to what you saw in the garden and to the words you
heard?" he asked. "They are important."

"Yes," said Ricardo.

But he kept silence about that clear picture in his mind which to
him seemed no less important, no less suggestive.

The Assembly Hall at Leamington, a crowded audience chiefly of
ladies, a platform at one end on which a black cabinet stood. A
man, erect and with something of the soldier in his bearing, led
forward a girl, pretty and fair-haired, who wore a black velvet
dress with a long, sweeping train. She moved like one in a dream.
Some half-dozen people from the audience climbed on to the
platform, tied the girl's hands with tape behind her back, and
sealed the tape. She was led to the cabinet, and in full view of
the audience fastened to a bench. Then the door of the cabinet was
closed, the people upon the platform descended into the body of
the hall, and the lights were turned very low. The audience sat in
suspense, and then abruptly in the silence and the darkness there
came the rattle of a tambourine from the empty platform. Rappings
and knockings seemed to flicker round the panels of the hall, and
in the place where the door of the cabinet should be there
appeared a splash of misty whiteness. The whiteness shaped itself
dimly into the figure of a woman, a face dark and Eastern became
visible, and a deep voice spoke in a chant of the Nile and Antony.
Then the vision faded, the tambourines and cymbals rattled again.
The lights were turned up, the door of the cabinet thrown open,
and the girl in the black velvet dress was seen fastened upon the
bench within.

It was a spiritualistic performance at which Julius Ricardo had
been present two years ago. The young, fair-haired girl in black
velvet, the medium, was Celia Harland.

That was the picture which was in Ricardo's mind, and Hanaud's
description of Mme. Dauvray made a terrible commentary upon it.
"Easily taken by a new face, generous, and foolishly
superstitious, a living provocation to every rogue." Those were
the words, and here was a beautiful girl of twenty versed in those
very tricks of imposture which would make Mme. Dauvray her natural
prey!

Ricardo looked at Wethermill, doubtful whether he should tell what
he knew of Celia Harland or not. But before he had decided a knock
came upon the door.

"Here is Perrichet," said Hanaud, taking up his hat. "We will go
down to the Villa Rose."




CHAPTER III

PERRICHET'S STORY


Perrichet was a young, thick-set man, with, a red, fair face, and
a moustache and hair so pale in colour that they were almost
silver. He came into the room with an air of importance.

"Aha!" said Hanaud, with a malicious smile. "You went to bed late
last night, my friend. Yet you were up early enough to read the
newspaper. Well, I am to have the honour of being associated with
you in this case."

Perrichet twirled his cap awkwardly and blushed.

"Monsieur is pleased to laugh at me," he said. "But it was not I
who called myself intelligent. Though indeed I would like to be
so, for the good God knows I do not look it."

Hanaud clapped him on the shoulder.

"Then congratulate yourself! It is a great advantage to be
intelligent and not to look it. We shall get on famously. Come!"

The four men descended the stairs, and as they walked towards the
villa Perrichet related, concisely and clearly, his experience of
the night.

"I passed the gate of the villa about half-past nine," he said.
"The gate was closed. Above the wall and bushes of the garden I saw
a bright light in the room upon the first floor which faces the
road at the south-western corner of the villa. The lower windows I
could not see. More than an hour afterwards I came back, and as I
passed the villa again I noticed that there was now no light in
the room upon the first floor, but that the gate was open. I
thereupon went into the garden, and, pulling the gate, let it
swing to and latch. But it occurred to me as I did so that there
might be visitors at the villa who had not yet left, and for whom
the gate had been set open. I accordingly followed the drive which
winds round to the front door. The front door is not on the side
of the villa which faces the road, but at the back. When I came to
the open space where the carriages turn, I saw that the house was
in complete darkness. There were wooden latticed doors to the long
windows on the ground floor, and these were closed. I tried one to
make certain, and found the fastenings secure. The other windows
upon that floor were shuttered. No light gleamed anywhere. I then
left the garden, closing the gate behind me. I heard a clock
strike the hour a few minutes afterwards, so that I can be sure of
the time. It was eleven o'clock. I came round a third time an
hour after, and to my astonishment I found the gate once more
open. I had left it closed and the house shut up and dark. Now it
stood open! I looked up to the windows and I saw that in a room on
the second floor, close beneath the roof, a light was burning
brightly. That room had been dark an hour before. I stood and
watched the light for a few minutes, thinking that I should see it
suddenly go out. But it did not: it burned quite steadily. This
light and the gate opened and reopened aroused my suspicions. I
went again into the garden, but this time with greater caution. It
was a clear night, and, although there was no moon, I could see
without the aid of my lantern. I stole quietly along the drive.
When I came round to the front door, I noticed immediately that
the shutters of one of the ground-floor windows were swung back,
and that the inside glass window which descended to the ground
stood open. The sight gave me a shock. Within the house those
shutters had been opened. I felt the blood turn to ice in my veins
and a chill crept along my spine. I thought of that solitary light
burning steadily under the roof. I was convinced that something
terrible had happened."

"Yes, yes. Quite so," said Hanaud. "Go on, my friend."

"The interior of the room gaped black," Perrichet resumed. "I
crept up to the window at the side of the wall and dashed my
lantern into the room. The window, however, was in a recess which
opened into the room through an arch, and at each side of the arch
curtains were draped. The curtains were not closed, but between
them I could see nothing but a strip of the room. I stepped
carefully in, taking heed not to walk on the patch of grass before
the window. The light of my lantern showed me a chair overturned
upon the floor, and to my right, below the middle one of the three
windows in the right-hand side wall, a woman lying huddled upon
the floor. It was Mme. Dauvray. She was dressed. There was a
little mud upon her shoes, as though she had walked after the rain
had ceased. Monsieur will remember that two heavy showers fell
last evening between six and eight."

"Yes," said Hanaud, nodding his approval.

"She was quite dead. Her face was terribly swollen and black, and
a piece of thin strong cord was knotted so tightly about her neck
and had sunk so deeply into her flesh that at first I did not see
it. For Mme. Dauvray was stout."

"Then what did you do?" asked Hanaud.

"I went to the telephone which was in the hall and rang up the
police. Then I crept upstairs very cautiously, trying the doors. I
came upon no one until I reached the room under the roof where the
light was burning; there I found Helene Vauquier, the maid,
snoring in bed in a terrible fashion."

The four men turned a bend in the road. A few paces away a knot of
people stood before a gate which a sergent-de-ville guarded.

"But here we are at the villa," said Hanaud.

They all looked up and, from a window at the corner upon the first
floor a man looked out and drew in his head.

"That is M. Besnard, the Commissaire of our police in Aix," said
Perrichet.

"And the window from which he looked," said Hanaud, "must be the
window of that room in which you saw the bright light at half-past
nine on your first round?"

"Yes, m'sieur," said Perrichet; "that is the window."

They stopped at the gate. Perrichet spoke to the sergent-de-ville,
who at once held the gate open. The party passed into the garden
of the villa.




CHAPTER IV

AT THE VILLA


The drive curved between trees and high bushes towards the back of
the house, and as the party advanced along it a small, trim,
soldier-like man, with a pointed beard, came to meet them. It was
the man who had looked out from the window, Louis Besnard, the
Commissaire of Police.

"You are coming, then, to help us, M. Hanaud!" he cried, extending
his hands. "You will find no jealousy here; no spirit amongst us
of anything but good will; no desire except one to carry out your
suggestions. All we wish is that the murderers should be
discovered. Mon Dieu, what a crime! And so young a girl to be
involved in it! But what will you?"

"So you have already made your mind up on that point!" said Hanaud
sharply.

The Commissaire shrugged his shoulders.

"Examine the villa and then judge for yourself whether any other
explanation is conceivable," he said; and turning, he waved his
hand towards the house. Then he cried, "Ah!" and drew himself into
an attitude of attention. A tall, thin man of about forty-five
years, dressed in a frock coat and a high silk hat, had just come
round an angle of the drive and was moving slowly towards them. He
wore the soft, curling brown beard of one who has never used a
razor on his chin, and had a narrow face with eyes of a very light
grey, and a round bulging forehead.

"This is the Juge d'Instruction?" asked Hanaud.

"Yes; M. Fleuriot," replied Louis Besnard in a whisper.

M. Fleuriot was occupied with his own thoughts, and it was not
until Besnard stepped forward noisily on the gravel that he became
aware of the group in the garden.

"This is M. Hanaud, of the Surete in Paris," said Louis Besnard.

M. Fleuriot bowed with cordiality.

"You are very welcome, M. Hanaud. You will find that nothing at
the villa has been disturbed. The moment the message arrived over
the telephone that you were willing to assist us I gave
instructions that all should be left as we found it. I trust that
you, with your experience, will see a way where our eyes find
none."

Hanaud bowed in reply.

"I shall do my best, M. Fleuriot. I can say no more," he said.

"But who are these gentlemen?" asked Fleuriot, waking, it seemed,
now for the first time to the presence of Harry Wethermill and Mr.
Ricardo.

"They are both friends of mine," replied Hanaud. "If you do not
object I think their assistance may be useful. Mr. Wethermill, for
instance, was acquainted with Celia Harland."

"Ah!" cried the judge; and his face took on suddenly a keen and
eager look. "You can tell me about her perhaps?"

"All that I know I will tell readily," said Harry Wethermill.

Into the light eyes of M. Fleuriot there came a cold, bright
gleam. He took a step forward. His face seemed to narrow to a
greater sharpness. In a moment, to Mr. Ricardo's thought, he
ceased to be the judge; he dropped from his high office; he
dwindled into a fanatic.

"She is a Jewess, this Celia Harland?" he cried.

"No, M. Fleuriot, she is not," replied Wethermill. "I do not speak
in disparagement of that race, for I count many friends amongst
its members. But Celia Harland is not one of them."

"Ah!" said Fleuriot; and there was something of disappointment,
something, too, of incredulity, in his voice. "Well, you will come
and report to me when you have made your investigation." And he
passed on without another question or remark.

The group of men watched him go, and it was not until he was out
of earshot that Besnard turned with a deprecating gesture to
Hanaud.

"Yes, yes, he is a good judge, M. Hanaud--quick, discriminating,
sympathetic; but he has that bee in his bonnet, like so many
others. Everywhere he must see l'affaire Dreyfus. He cannot get it
out of his head. No matter how insignificant a woman is murdered,
she must have letters in her possession which would convict
Dreyfus. But you know! There are thousands like that--good,
kindly, just people in the ordinary ways of life, but behind every
crime they see the Jew."

Hanaud nodded his head.

"I know; and in a Juge d'Instruction it is very embarrassing. Let
us walk on."

Half-way between the gate and the villa a second carriage-road
struck off to the left, and at the entrance to it stood a young,
stout man in black leggings.

"The chauffeur?" asked Hanaud. "I will speak to him."

The Commissaire called the chauffeur forward.

"Servettaz," he said, "you will answer any questions which
monsieur may put to you."

"Certainly, M. le Commissaire," said the chauffeur. His manner was
serious, but he answered readily. There was no sign of fear upon
his face.

"How long have you been with Mme. Dauvray?" Hanaud asked.

"Four months, monsieur. I drove her to Aix from Paris."

"And since your parents live at Chambery you wished to seize the
opportunity of spending a day with them while you were so near?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"When did you ask for permission?"

"On Saturday, monsieur."

"Did you ask particularly that you should have yesterday, the
Tuesday?"

"No, monsieur; I asked only for a day whenever it should be
convenient to madame."

"Quite so," said Hanaud. "Now, when did Mme. Dauvray tell you that
you might have Tuesday?"

Servettaz hesitated. His face became troubled. When he spoke, he
spoke reluctantly.

"It was not Mme. Dauvray, monsieur, who told me that I might go on
Tuesday," he said.

"Not Mme. Dauvray! Who was it, then?" Hanaud asked sharply.

Servettaz glanced from one to another of the grave faces which
confronted him.

"It was Mlle. Celie," he said, "who told me."

"Oh!" said Hanaud, slowly. "It was Mlle. Celie. When did she tell
you?"

"On Monday morning, monsieur. I was cleaning the car. She came to
the garage with some flowers in her hand which she had been
cutting in the garden, and she said: 'I was right, Alphonse.
Madame has a kind heart. You can go to-morrow by the train which
leaves Aix at 1.52 and arrives at Chambery at nine minutes after
two.'"

Hanaud started.

"'I was right, Alphonse.' Were those her words? And 'Madame has a
kind heart.' Come, come, what is all this?" He lifted a warning
finger and said gravely, "Be very careful, Servettaz."

"Those were her words, monsieur."

"'I was right, Alphonse. Madame has a kind heart'?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Then Mlle. Celie had spoken to you before about this visit of
yours to Chambery," said Hanaud, with his eyes fixed steadily upon
the chauffeur's face. The distress upon Servettaz's face
increased. Suddenly Hanaud's voice rang sharply. "You hesitate.
Begin at the beginning. Speak the truth, Servettaz!"

"Monsieur, I am speaking the truth," said the chauffeur. "It is
true I hesitate ... I have heard this morning what people are
saying ... I do not know what to think. Mlle. Celie was always
kind and thoughtful for me ... But it is true"--and with a kind of
desperation he went on--"yes, it is true that it was Mlle. Celie
who first suggested to me that I should ask for a day to go to
Chambery."

"When did she suggest it?"

"On the Saturday."

To Mr. Ricardo the words were startling. He glanced with pity
towards Wethermill. Wethermill, however, had made up his mind for
good and all. He stood with a dogged look upon his face, his chin
thrust forward, his eyes upon the chauffeur. Besnard, the
Commissaire, had made up his mind, too. He merely shrugged his
shoulders. Hanaud stepped forward and laid his hand gently on the
chauffeur's arm.

"Come, my friend," he said, "let us hear exactly how this
happened!"

"Mlle. Celie," said Servettaz, with genuine compunction in his
voice, "came to the garage on Saturday morning and ordered the car
for the afternoon. She stayed and talked to me for a little while,
as she often did. She said that she had been told that my parents
lived at Chambery, and since I was so near I ought to ask for a
holiday. For it would not be kind if I did not go and see them."

"That was all?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Very well." And the detective resumed at once his brisk voice and
alert manner. He seemed to dismiss Servettaz's admission from his
mind. Ricardo had the impression of a man tying up an important
document which for the moment he has done with, and putting it
away ticketed in some pigeon-hole in his desk. "Let us see the
garage!"

They followed the road between the bushes until a turn showed them
the garage with its doors open.

"The doors were found unlocked?"

"Just as you see them."

Hanaud nodded. He spoke again to Servettaz. "What did you do with
the key on Tuesday?"

"I gave it to Helene Vauquier, monsieur, after I had locked up the
garage. And she hung it on a nail in the kitchen."

"I see," said Hanaud. "So any one could easily, have found it last
night?"

"Yes, monsieur--if one knew where to look for it."

At the back of the garage a row of petrol-tins stood against the
brick wall.

"Was any petrol taken?" asked Hanaud.

"Yes, monsieur; there was very little petrol in the car when I
went away. More was taken, but it was taken from the middle tins--
these." And he touched the tins.

"I see," said Hanaud, and he raised his eyebrows thoughtfully. The
Commissaire moved with impatience.

"From the middle or from the end--what does it matter?" he
exclaimed. "The petrol was taken."

Hanaud, however, did not dismiss the point so lightly.

"But it is very possible that it does matter," he said gently.
"For example, if Servettaz had had no reason to examine his tins
it might have been some while before he found out that the petrol
had been taken."

"Indeed, yes," said Servettaz. "I might even have forgotten that I
had not used it myself."

"Quite so," said Hanaud, and he turned to Besnard.

"I think that may be important. I do not know," he said.

"But since the car is gone," cried Besnard, "how could the
chauffeur not look immediately at his tins?"

The question had occurred to Ricardo, and he wondered in what way
Hanaud meant to answer it. Hanaud, however, did not mean to answer
it. He took little notice of it at all. He put it aside with a
superb indifference to the opinion which his companions might form
of him.

"Ah, yes," he said, carelessly. "Since the car is gone, as you
say, that is so." And he turned again to Servettaz.

"It was a powerful car?" he asked.

"Sixty horse-power," said Servettaz.

Hanaud turned to the Commissaire.

"You have the number and description, I suppose? It will be as
well to advertise for it. It may have been seen; it must be
somewhere."

The Commissaire replied that the description had already been
printed, and Hanaud, with a nod of approval, examined the ground.
In front of the garage there was a small stone courtyard, but on
its surface there was no trace of a footstep.

"Yet the gravel was wet," he said, shaking his head. "The man who
fetched that car fetched it carefully."

He turned and walked back with his eyes upon the ground. Then he
ran to the grass border between the gravel and the bushes.

"Look!" he said to Wethermill; "a foot has pressed the blades of
grass down here, but very lightly--yes, and there again. Some one
ran along the border here on his toes. Yes, he was very careful."

They turned again into the main drive, and, following it for a few
yards, came suddenly upon a space in front of the villa. It was a
small toy pleasure-house, looking on to a green lawn gay with
flower-beds. It was built of yellow stone, and was almost square
in shape. A couple of ornate pillars flanked the door, and a gable
roof, topped by a gilt vane, surmounted it. To Ricardo it seemed
impossible that so sordid and sinister a tragedy had taken place
within its walls during the last twelve hours. It glistened so
gaudily in the blaze of sunlight. Here and there the green outer
shutters were closed; here and there the windows stood open to let
in the air and light. Upon each side of the door there was a
window lighting the hall, which was large; beyond those windows
again, on each side, there were glass doors opening to the ground
and protected by the ordinary green latticed shutters of wood,
which now stood hooked back against the wall. These glass doors
opened into rooms oblong in shape, which ran through towards the
back of the house, and were lighted in addition by side windows.
The room upon the extreme left, as the party faced the villa, was
the dining-room, with the kitchen at the back; the room on the
right was the salon in which the murder had been committed. In
front of the glass door to this room a strip of what had once been
grass stretched to the gravel drive. But the grass had been worn
away by constant use, and the black mould showed through. This
strip was about three yards wide, and as they approached they saw,
even at a distance, that since the rain of last night it had been
trampled down.

"We will go round the house first," said Hanaud, and he turned
along the side of the villa and walked in the direction of the
road. There were four windows just above his head, of which three
lighted the salon, and the fourth a small writing-room behind it.
Under these windows there was no disturbance of the ground, and a
careful investigation showed conclusively that the only entrance
used had been the glass doors of the salon facing the drive. To
that spot, then, they returned. There were three sets of footmarks
upon the soil. One set ran in a distinct curve from the drive to
the side of the door, and did not cross the others.

"Those," said Hanaud, "are the footsteps of my intelligent friend,
Perrichet, who was careful not to disturb the ground."

Perrichet beamed all over his rosy face, and Besnard nodded at him
with condescending approval.

"But I wish, M. le Commissaire"--and Hanaud pointed to a blur of
marks--"that your other officers had been as intelligent. Look!
These run from the glass door to the drive, and, for all the use
they are to us, a harrow might have been dragged across them."

Besnard drew himself up.

"Not one of my officers has entered the room by way of this door.
The strictest orders were given and obeyed. The ground, as you see
it, is the ground as it was at twelve o'clock last night."

Hanaud's face grew thoughtful.

"Is that so?" he said, and he stooped to examine the second set of
marks. They were at the right-hand side of the door. "A woman and a
man," he said. "But they are mere hints rather than prints. One
might almost think--" He rose up without finishing his sentence,
and he turned to the third set and a look of satisfaction gleamed
upon his face. "Ah! here is something more interesting," he said.

There were just three impressions; and, whereas the blurred marks
were at the side, these three pointed straight from the middle of
the glass doors to the drive. They were quite clearly defined, and
all three were the impressions made by a woman's small, arched,
high-heeled shoe. The position of the marks was at first sight a
little peculiar. There was one a good yard from the window, the
impression of the right foot, and the pressure of the sole of the
shoe was more marked than that of the heel. The second, the
impression of the left foot, was not quite so far from the first
as the first was from the window, and here again the heel was the
more lightly defined. But there was this difference--the mark of
the toe, which was pointed in the first instance, was, in this,
broader and a trifle blurred. Close beside it the right foot was
again visible; only now the narrow heel was more clearly defined
than the ball of the foot. It had, indeed, sunk half an inch into
the soft ground. There were no further imprints. Indeed, these two
were not merely close together, they were close to the gravel of
the drive and on the very border of the grass.

Hanaud looked at the marks thoughtfully. Then he turned to the
Commissaire.

"Are there any shoes in the house which fit those marks?"

"Yes. We have tried the shoes of all the women--Celie Harland, the
maid, and even Mme. Dauvray. The only ones which fit at all are
those taken from Celie Harland's bedroom."

He called to an officer standing in the drive, and a pair of grey
suede shoes were brought to him from the hall.

"See, M. Hanaud, it is a pretty little foot which made those clear
impressions," he said, with a smile; "a foot arched and slender.
Mme. Dauvray's foot is short and square, the maid's broad and
flat. Neither Mme. Dauvray nor Helene Vauquier could have worn
these shoes. They were lying, one here, one there, upon the floor
of Celie Harland's room, as though she had kicked them off in a
hurry. They are almost new, you see. They have been worn once,
perhaps, no more, and they fit with absolute precision into those
footmarks, except just at the toe of that second one."

Hanaud took the shoes and, kneeling down, placed them one after
the other over the impressions. To Ricardo it was extraordinary
how exactly they covered up the marks and filled the indentations.

"I should say," said the Commissaire, "that Celie Harland went
away wearing a new pair of shoes made on the very same last as
those."

As those she had left carelessly lying on the floor of her room
for the first person to notice, thought Ricardo! It seemed as if
the girl had gone out of her way to make the weight of evidence
against her as heavy as possible. Yet, after all, it was just
through inattention to the small details, so insignificant at the
red moment of crime, so terribly instructive the next day, that
guilt was generally brought home.

Hanaud rose to his feet and handed the shoes back to the officer.

"Yes," he said, "so it seems. The shoemaker can help us here. I
see the shoes were made in Aix."

Besnard looked at the name stamped in gold letters upon the lining
of the shoes.

"I will have inquiries made," he said.

Hanaud nodded, took a measure from his pocket and measured the
ground between the window and the first footstep, and between the
first footstep and the other two.

"How tall is Mlle. Celie?" he asked, and he addressed the question
to Wethermill. It struck Ricardo as one of the strangest details
in all this strange affair that the detective should ask with
confidence for information which might help to bring Celia Harland
to the guillotine from the man who had staked his happiness upon
her innocence.

"About five feet seven," he answered.

Hanaud replaced his measure in his pocket. He turned with a grave
face to Wethermill.

"I warned you fairly, didn't I?" he said.

Wethermill's white face twitched.

"Yes," he said. "I am not afraid." But there was more of anxiety
in his voice than there had been before.

Hanaud pointed solemnly to the ground.

"Read the story those footprints write in the mould there. A young
and active girl of about Mlle. Celie's height, and wearing a new
pair of Mlle. Celie's shoes, springs from that room where the
murder was committed, where the body of the murdered woman lies.
She is running. She is wearing a long gown. At the second step the
hem of the gown catches beneath the point of her shoe. She
stumbles. To save herself from falling she brings up the other
foot sharply and stamps the heel down into the ground. She
recovers her balance. She steps on to the drive. It is true the
gravel here is hard and takes no mark, but you will see that some
of the mould which has clung to her shoes has dropped off. She
mounts into the motor-car with the man and the other woman and
drives off--some time between eleven and twelve."

"Between eleven and twelve? Is that sure?" asked Besnard.

"Certainly," replied Hanaud. "The gate is open at eleven, and
Perrichet closes it. It is open again at twelve. Therefore the
murderers had not gone before eleven. No; the gate was open for
them to go, but they had not gone. Else why should the gate again
be open at midnight?"

Besnard nodded in assent, and suddenly Perrichet started forward,
with his eyes full of horror.

"Then, when I first closed the gate," he cried, "and came into the
garden and up to the house they were here--in that room? Oh, my
God!" He stared at the window, with his mouth open.

"I am afraid, my friend, that is so," said Hanaud gravely.

"But I knocked upon the wooden door, I tried the bolts; and they
were within--in the darkness within, holding their breath not
three yards from me."

He stood transfixed.

"That we shall see," said Hanaud.

He stepped in Perrichet's footsteps to the sill of the room. He
examined the green wooden doors which opened outwards, and the
glass doors which opened inwards, taking a magnifying-glass from
his pocket. He called Besnard to his side.

"See!" he said, pointing to the woodwork.

"Finger-marks!" asked Besnard eagerly.

"Yes; of hands in gloves," returned Hanaud. "We shall learn
nothing from these marks except that the assassins knew their
trade."

Then he stooped down to the sill, where some traces of steps were
visible. He rose with a gesture of resignation.

"Rubber shoes," he said, and so stepped into the room, followed by
Wethermill and the others. They found themselves in a small recess
which was panelled with wood painted white, and here and there
delicately carved into festoons of flowers. The recess ended in an
arch, supported by two slender pillars, and on the inner side of
the arch thick curtains of pink silk were hung. These were drawn
back carelessly, and through the opening between them the party
looked down the length of the room beyond. They passed within.




CHAPTER V

IN THE SALON


Julius Ricardo pushed aside the curtains with a thrill of
excitement. He found himself standing within a small oblong room
which was prettily, even daintily, furnished. On his left, close
by the recess, was a small fireplace with the ashes of a burnt-out
fire in the grate. Beyond the grate a long settee covered in pink
damask, with a crumpled cushion at each end, stood a foot or two
away from the wall, and beyond the settee the door of the room
opened into the hall. At the end a long mirror was let into the
panelling, and a writing-table stood by the mirror. On the right
were the three windows, and between the two nearest to Mr. Ricardo
was the switch of the electric light. A chandelier hung from the
ceiling, an electric lamp stood upon the writing-table, a couple
of electric candles on the mantel-shelf. A round satinwood table
stood under the windows, with three chairs about it, of which one
was overturned, one was placed with its back to the electric
switch, and the third on the opposite side facing it.

Ricardo could hardly believe that he stood actually upon the spot
where, within twelve hours, a cruel and sinister tragedy had taken
place. There was so little disorder. The three windows on his
right showed him the blue sunlit sky and a glimpse of flowers and
trees; behind him the glass doors stood open to the lawn, where
birds piped cheerfully and the trees murmured of summer. But he
saw Hanaud stepping quickly from place to place, with an
extraordinary lightness of step for so big a man, obviously
engrossed, obviously reading here and there some detail, some
custom of the inhabitants of that room.

Ricardo leaned with careful artistry against the wall.

"Now, what has this room to say to me?" he asked importantly.
Nobody paid the slightest attention to his question, and it was
just as well. For the room had very little information to give
him. He ran his eye over the white Louis Seize furniture, the
white panels of the wall, the polished floor, the pink curtains.
Even the delicate tracery of the ceiling did not escape his
scrutiny. Yet he saw nothing likely to help him but an overturned
chair and a couple of crushed cushions on a settee. It was very
annoying, all the more annoying because M. Hanaud was so
uncommonly busy. Hanaud looked carefully at the long settee and
the crumpled cushions, and he took out his measure and measured
the distance between the cushion at one end and the cushion at the
other. He examined the table, he measured the distance between the
chairs. He came to the fireplace and raked in the ashes of the
burnt-out fire. But Ricardo noticed a singular thing. In the midst
of his search Hanaud's eyes were always straying back to the
settee, and always with a look of extreme perplexity, as if he
read there something, definitely something, but something which he
could not explain. Finally he went back to it; he drew it farther
away from the wall, and suddenly with a little cry he stooped and
went down on his knees. When he rose he was holding some torn
fragments of paper in his hand. He went over to the writing-table
and opened the blotting-book. Where it fell open there were some
sheets of note-paper, and one particular sheet of which half had
been torn off. He compared the pieces which he held with that torn
sheet, and seemed satisfied.

There was a rack for note-paper upon the table, and from it he
took a stiff card.

"Get me some gum or paste, and quickly," he said. His voice had
become brusque, the politeness had gone from his address. He
carried the card and the fragments of paper to the round table.
There he sat down and, with infinite patience, gummed the
fragments on to the card, fitting them together like the pieces of
a Chinese puzzle.

The others over his shoulders could see spaced words, written in
pencil, taking shape as a sentence upon the card. Hanaud turned
abruptly in his seat toward Wethermill.

"You have, no doubt, a letter written by Mlle. Celie?"

Wethermill took his letter-case from his pocket and a letter out
of the case. He hesitated for a moment as he glanced over what was
written. The four sheets were covered. He folded back the letter,
so that only the two inner sheets were visible, and handed it to
Hanaud. Hanaud compared it with the handwriting upon the card.

"Look!" he said at length, and the three men gathered behind him.
On the card the gummed fragments of paper revealed a sentence:

"Je ne sais pas."

"'I do not know,'" said Ricardo; "now this is very important."

Beside the card Celia's letter to Wethermill was laid.

"What do you think?" asked Hanaud.

Besnard, the Commissaire of Police, bent over Hanaud's shoulder.

"There are strong resemblances," he said guardedly.

Ricardo was on the look-out for deep mysteries. Resemblances were
not enough for him; they were inadequate to the artistic needs of
the situation.

"Both were written by the same hand," he said definitely; "only in
the sentence written upon the card the handwriting is carefully
disguised."

"Ah!" said the Commissaire, bending forward again. "Here is an
idea! Yes, yes, there are strong differences."

Ricardo looked triumphant.

"Yes, there are differences," said Hanaud. "Look how long the up
stroke of the 'p' is, how it wavers! See how suddenly this 's'
straggles off, as though some emotion made the hand shake. Yet
this," and touching Wethermill's letter he smiled ruefully, "this
is where the emotion should have affected the pen." He looked up
at Wethermill's face and then said quietly:

"You have given us no opinion, monsieur. Yet your opinion should
be the most valuable of all. Were these two papers written by the
same hand?"

"I do not know," answered Wethermill.

"And I, too," cried Hanaud, in a sudden exasperation, "je ne sais
pas. I do not know. It may be her hand carelessly counterfeited.
It may be her hand disguised. It may be simply that she wrote in a
hurry with her gloves on."

"It may have been written some time ago," said Mr. Ricardo,
encouraged by his success to another suggestion.

"No; that is the one thing it could not have been," said Hanaud.
"Look round the room. Was there ever a room better tended? Find me
a little pile of dust in any one corner if you can! It is all as
clean as a plate. Every morning, except this one morning, this
room has been swept and polished. The paper was written and torn
up yesterday."

He enclosed the card in an envelope as he spoke, and placed it in
his pocket. Then he rose and crossed again to the settee. He stood
at the side of it, with his hands clutching the lapels of his coat
and his face gravely troubled. After a few moments of silence for
himself, of suspense for all the others who watched him, he
stooped suddenly. Slowly, and with extraordinary care, he pushed
his hands under the head-cushion and lifted it up gently, so that
the indentations of its surface might not be disarranged. He
carried it over to the light of the open window. The cushion was
covered with silk, and as he held it to the sunlight all could see
a small brown stain.

Hanaud took his magnifying-glass from his pocket and bent his head
over the cushion. But at that moment, careful though he had been,
the down swelled up within the cushion, the folds and indentations
disappeared, the silk covering was stretched smooth.

"Oh!" cried Besnard tragically. "What have you done?"

Hanaud's face flushed. He had been guilty of a clumsiness--even
he.

Mr. Ricardo took up the tale.

"Yes," he exclaimed, "what have you done?"

Hanaud looked at Ricardo in amazement at his audacity.

"Well, what have I done?" he asked. "Come! tell me!"

"You have destroyed a clue," replied Ricardo impressively.

The deepest dejection at once overspread Hanaud's burly face.

"Don't say that, M. Ricardo, I beseech you!" he implored. "A clue!
and I have destroyed it! But what kind of a clue? And how have I
destroyed it? And to what mystery would it be a clue if I hadn't
destroyed it? And what will become of me when I go back to Paris,
and say in the Rue de Jerusalem, 'Let me sweep the cellars, my
good friends, for M. Ricardo knows that I destroyed a clue.
Faithfully he promised me that he would not open his mouth, but I
destroyed a clue, and his perspicacity forced him into speech.'"

It was the turn of M. Ricardo to grow red.

Hanaud turned with a smile to Besnard.

"It does not really matter whether the creases in this cushion
remain," he said, "we have all seen them." And he replaced the
glass in his pocket.

He carried that cushion back and replaced it. Then he took the
other, which lay at the foot of the settee, and carried it in its
turn to the window. This was indented too, and ridged up, and just
at the marks the nap of the silk was worn, and there was a slit
where it had been cut. The perplexity upon Hanaud's face greatly
increased. He stood with the cushion in his hands, no longer
looking at it, but looking out through the doors at the footsteps
so clearly defined--the footsteps of a girl who had run from this
room and sprung into a motor-car and driven away. He shook his
head, and, carrying back the cushion, laid it carefully down. Then
he stood erect, gazed about the room as though even yet he might
force its secrets out from its silence, and cried, with a sudden
violence:

"There is something here, gentlemen, which I do not understand."

Mr. Ricardo heard some one beside him draw a deep breath, and
turned. Wethermill stood at his elbow. A faint colour had come
back to his cheeks, his eyes were fixed intently upon Hanaud's
face.

"What do you think?" he asked; and Hanaud replied brusquely:

"It's not my business to hold opinions, monsieur; my business is
to make sure."

There was one point, and only one, of which he had made every one
in that room sure. He had started confident. Here was a sordid
crime, easily understood. But in that room he had read something
which had troubled him, which had raised the sordid crime on to
some higher and perplexing level.

"Then M. Fleuriot after all might be right?" asked the Commissaire
timidly.

Hanaud stared at him for a second, then smiled.

"L'affaire Dreyfus?" he cried. "Oh la, la, la! No, but there is
something else."

What was that something? Ricardo asked himself. He looked once
more about the room. He did not find his answer, but he caught
sight of an ornament upon the wall which drove the question from
his mind. The ornament, if so it could be called, was a painted
tambourine with a bunch of bright ribbons tied to the rim; and it
was hung upon the wall between the settee and the fireplace at
about the height of a man's head. Of course it might be no more
than it seemed to be--a rather gaudy and vulgar toy, such as a
woman like Mme. Dauvray would be very likely to choose in order to
dress her walls. But it swept Ricardo's thoughts back of a sudden
to the concert-hall at Leamington and the apparatus of a
spiritualistic show. After all, he reflected triumphantly, Hanaud
had not noticed everything, and as he made the reflection Hanaud's
voice broke in to corroborate him.

"We have seen everything here; let us go upstairs," he said. "We
will first visit the room of Mlle. Celie. Then we will question
the maid, Helene Vauquier."

The four men, followed by Perrichet, passed out by the door into
the hall and mounted the stairs. Celia's room was in the south-west
angle of the villa, a bright and airy room, of which one window
overlooked the road, and two others, between which stood the
dressing-table, the garden. Behind the room a door led into a
little white-tiled bathroom. Some towels were tumbled upon the
floor beside the bath. In the bedroom a dark-grey frock of tussore
and a petticoat were flung carelessly on the bed; a big grey hat
of Ottoman silk was lying upon a chest of drawers in the recess of
a window; and upon a chair a little pile of fine linen and a pair
of grey silk stockings, which matched in shade the grey suede
shoes, were tossed in a heap.

"It was here that you saw the light at half-past nine?" Hanaud
said, turning to Perrichet.

"Yes, monsieur," replied Perrichet.

"We may assume, then, that Mlle. Celie was changing her dress at
that time."

Besnard was looking about him, opening a drawer here, a wardrobe
there.

"Mlle. Celie," he said, with a laugh, "was a particular young
lady, and fond of her fine clothes, if one may judge from the room
and the order of the cupboards. She must have changed her dress
last night in an unusual hurry."

There was about the whole room a certain daintiness, almost, it
seemed to Mr. Ricardo, a fragrance, as though the girl had
impressed something of her own delicate self upon it. Wethermill
stood upon the threshold watching with a sullen face the violation
of this chamber by the officers of the police.

No such feelings, however, troubled Hanaud. He went over to the
dressing-room and opened a few small leather cases which held
Celia's ornaments. In one or two of them a trinket was visible;
others were empty. One of these latter Hanaud held open in his
hand, and for so long that Besnard moved impatiently.

"You see it is empty, monsieur," he said, and suddenly Wethermill
moved forward into the room.

"Yes, I see that," said Hanaud dryly.

It was a case made to hold a couple of long ear-drops--those
diamond ear-drops, doubtless, which Mr. Ricardo had seen twinkling
in the garden.

"Will monsieur let me see?" asked Wethermill, and he took the case
in his hands. "Yes," he said. "Mlle. Celie's ear-drops," and he
handed the case back with a thoughtful air.

It was the first time he had taken a definite part in the
investigation. To Ricardo the reason was clear. Harry Wethermill
had himself given those ear-drops to Celia. Hanaud replaced the
case and turned round.

"There is nothing more for us to see here," he said. "I suppose
that no one has been allowed to enter the room?" And he opened the
door.

"No one except Helene Vauquier," replied the Commissaire.

Ricardo felt indignant at so obvious a piece of carelessness. Even
Wethermill looked surprised. Hanaud merely shut the door again.

"Oho, the maid!" he said. "Then she has recovered!"

"She is still weak," said the Commissaire. "But I thought it was
necessary that we should obtain at once a description of what
Celie Harland wore when she left the house. I spoke to M. Fleuriot
about it, and he gave me permission to bring Helene Vauquier here,
who alone could tell us. I brought her here myself just before you
came. She looked through the girl's wardrobe to see what was
missing."

"Was she alone in the room?"

"Not for a moment," said M. Besnard haughtily. "Really, monsieur,
we are not so ignorant of how an affair of this kind should be
conducted. I was in the room myself the whole time, with my eye
upon her."

"That was just before I came," said Hanaud. He crossed carelessly
to the open window which overlooked the road and, leaning out of
it, looked up the road to the corner round which he and his
friends had come, precisely as the Commissaire had done. Then he
turned back into the room.

"Which was the last cupboard or drawer that Helene Vauquier
touched?" he asked.

"This one."

Besnard stooped and pulled open the bottom drawer of a chest which
stood in the embrasure of the window. A light-coloured dress was
lying at the bottom.

"I told her to be quick," said Besnard, "since I had seen that you
were coming. She lifted this dress out and said that nothing was
missing there. So I took her back to her room and left her with
the nurse."

Hanaud lifted the light dress from the drawer, shook it out in
front of the window, twirled it round, snatched up a corner of it
and held it to his eyes, and then, folding it quickly, replaced it
in the drawer.

"Now show me the first drawer she touched." And this time he
lifted out a petticoat, and, taking it to the window, examined it
with a greater care. When he had finished with it he handed it to
Ricardo to put away, and stood for a moment or two thoughtful and
absorbed. Ricardo in his turn examined the petticoat. But he could
see nothing unusual. It was an attractive petticoat, dainty with
frills and lace, but it was hardly a thing to grow thoughtful
over. He looked up in perplexity and saw that Hanaud was watching
his investigations with a smile of amusement.

"When M. Ricardo has put that away," he said, "we will hear what
Helene Vauquier has to tell us."

He passed out of the door last, and, locking it, placed the key in
his pocket.

"Helene Vauquier's room is, I think, upstairs," he said. And he
moved towards the staircase.

But as he did so a man in plain clothes, who had been waiting upon
the landing, stepped forward. He carried in his hand a piece of
thin, strong whipcord.

"Ah, Durette!" cried Besnard. "Monsieur Hanaud, I sent Durette
this morning round the shops of Aix with the cord which was found
knotted round Mme. Dauvray's neck."

Hanaud advanced quickly to the man.

"Well! Did you discover anything?"

"Yes, monsieur," said Durette. "At the shop of M. Corval, in the
Rue du Casino, a young lady in a dark-grey frock and hat bought
some cord of this kind at a few minutes after nine last night. It
was just as the shop was being closed. I showed Corval the
photograph of Celie Harland which M. le Commissaire gave me out of
Mme. Dauvray's room, and he identified it as the portrait of the
girl who had bought the cord."

Complete silence followed upon Durette's words. The whole party
stood like men stupefied. No one looked towards Wethermill; even
Hanaud averted his eyes.

"Yes, that is very important," he said awkwardly. He turned away
and, followed by the others, went up the stairs to the bedroom of
Helene Vauquier.




CHAPTER VI

HELENE VAUQUIER'S EVIDENCE


A nurse opened the door. Within the room Helene Vauquier was
leaning back in a chair. She looked ill, and her face was very
white. On the appearance of Hanaud, the Commissaire, and the
others, however, she rose to her feet. Ricardo recognised the
justice of Hanaud's description. She stood before them a hard-
featured, tall woman of thirty-five or forty, in a neat black
stuff dress, strong with the strength of a peasant, respectable,
reliable. She looked what she had been, the confidential maid of
an elderly woman. On her face there was now an aspect of eager
appeal.

"Oh, monsieur!" she began, "let me go from here--anywhere--into
prison if you like. But to stay here--where in years past we were
so happy--and with madame lying in the room below. No, it is
insupportable."

She sank into her chair, and Hanaud came over to her side.

"Yes, yes," he said, in a soothing voice. "I can understand your
feelings, my poor woman. We will not keep you here. You have,
perhaps, friends in Aix with whom you could stay?"

"Oh yes, monsieur!" Helene cried gratefully. "Oh, but I thank you!
That I should have to sleep here tonight! Oh, how the fear of that
has frightened me!"

"You need have had no such fear. After all, we are not the
visitors of last night," said Hanaud, drawing a chair close to her
and patting her hand sympathetically. "Now, I want you to tell
these gentlemen and myself all that you know of this dreadful
business. Take your time, mademoiselle! We are human."

"But, monsieur, I know nothing," she cried. "I was told that I
might go to bed as soon as I had dressed Mlle. Celie for the
seance."

"Seance!" cried Ricardo, startled into speech. The picture of the
Assembly Hall at Leamington was again before his mind. But Hanaud
turned towards him, and, though Hanaud's face retained its
benevolent expression, there was a glitter in his eyes which sent
the blood into Ricardo's face.

"Did you speak again, M. Ricardo?" the detective asked. "No? I
thought it was not possible." He turned back to Helene Vauquier.
"So Mlle. Celie practised seances. That is very strange. We will
hear about them. Who knows what thread may lead us to the truth?"

Helene Vauquier shook her head.

"Monsieur, it is not right that you should seek the truth from me.
For, consider this! I cannot speak with justice of Mlle. Celie.
No, I cannot! I did not like her. I was jealous--yes, jealous.
Monsieur, you want the truth--I hated her!" And the woman's face
flushed and she clenched her hand upon the arm of her chair. "Yes,
I hated her. How could I help it?" she asked.

"Why?" asked Hanaud gently. "Why could you not help it?"

Helene Vauquier leaned back again, her strength exhausted, and
smiled languidly.

"I will tell you. But remember it is a woman speaking to you, and
things which you will count silly and trivial mean very much to
her. There was one night last June--only last June! To think of
it! So little while ago there was no Mlle. Celie--" and, as Hanaud
raised his hand, she said hurriedly, "Yes, yes; I will control
myself. But to think of Mme. Dauvray now!"

And thereupon she blurted out her story and explained to Mr.
Ricardo the question which had so perplexed him: how a girl of so
much distinction as Celia Harland came to be living with a woman
of so common a type as Mme. Dauvray.

"Well, one night in June," said Helene Vauquier, "madame went with
a party to supper at the Abbaye Restaurant in Montmartre. And she
brought home for the first time Mlle. Celie. But you should have
seen her! She had on a little plaid skirt and a coat which was
falling to pieces, and she was starving--yes, starving. Madame
told me the story that night as I undressed her. Mlle. Celie was
there dancing amidst the tables for a supper with any one who
would be kind enough to dance with her."

The scorn of her voice rang through the room. She was the rigid,
respectable peasant woman, speaking out her contempt. And
Wethermill must needs listen to it. Ricardo dared not glance at
him.

"But hardly any one would dance with her in her rags, and no one
would give her supper except madame. Madame did. Madame listened
to her story of hunger and distress. Madame believed it, and
brought her home. Madame was so kind, so careless in her kindness.
And now she lies murdered for a reward!" An hysterical sob checked
the woman's utterances, her face began to work, her hands to
twitch.

"Come, come!" said Hanaud gently, "calm yourself, mademoiselle."

Helene Vauquier paused for a moment or two to recover her
composure. "I beg your pardon, monsieur, but I have been so long
with madame--oh, the poor woman! Yes, yes, I will calm myself.
Well, madame brought her home, and in a week there was nothing too
good for Mlle. Celie. Madame was like a child. Always she was
being deceived and imposed upon. Never she learnt prudence. But no
one so quickly made her way to madame's heart as Mlle. Celie.
Mademoiselle must live with her. Mademoiselle must be dressed by
the first modistes. Mademoiselle must have lace petticoats and the
softest linen, long white gloves, and pretty ribbons for her hair,
and hats from Caroline Reboux at twelve hundred francs. And
madame's maid must attend upon her and deck her out in all these
dainty things. Bah!"

Vauquier was sitting erect in her chair, violent, almost rancorous
with anger. She looked round upon the company and shrugged her
shoulders.

"I told you not to come to me!" she said, "I cannot speak
impartially, or even gently of mademoiselle. Consider! For years I
had been more than madame's maid--her friend; yes, so she was kind
enough to call me. She talked to me about everything, consulted me
about everything, took me with her everywhere. Then she brings
home, at two o'clock in the morning, a young girl with a fresh,
pretty face, from a Montmartre restaurant, and in a week I am
nothing at all--oh, but nothing--and mademoiselle is queen."

"Yes, it is quite natural," said Hanaud sympathetically. "You
would not have been human, mademoiselle, if you had not felt some
anger. But tell us frankly about these seances. How did they
begin?"

"Oh, monsieur," Vauquier answered, "it was not difficult to begin
them. Mme. Dauvray had a passion for fortune-tellers and rogues of
that kind. Any one with a pack of cards and some nonsense about a
dangerous woman with black hair or a man with a limp--Monsieur
knows the stories they string together in dimly lighted rooms to
deceive the credulous--any one could make a harvest out of
madame's superstitions. But monsieur knows the type."

"Indeed I do," said Hanaud, with a laugh.

"Well, after mademoiselle had been with us three weeks, she said
to me one morning when I was dressing her hair that it was a pity
madame was always running round the fortune-tellers, that she
herself could do something much more striking and impressive, and
that if only I would help her we could rescue madame from their
clutches. Sir, I did not think what power I was putting into Mlle.
Celie's hands, or assuredly I would have refused. And I did not
wish to quarrel with Mlle. Celie; so for once I consented, and,
having once consented, I could never afterwards refuse, for, if I
had, mademoiselle would have made some fine excuse about the
psychic influence not being en rapport, and meanwhile would have
had me sent away. While if I had confessed the truth to madame,
she would have been so angry that I had been a party to tricking
her that again I would have lost my place. And so the seances went
on."

"Yes," said Hanaud. "I understand that your position was very
difficult. We shall not, I think," and he turned to the
Commissaire confidently for corroboration of his words, "be
disposed to blame you."

"Certainly not," said the Commissaire. "After all, life is not so
easy."

"Thus, then, the seances began," said Hanaud, leaning forward with
a keen interest. "This is a strange and curious story you are
telling me, Mlle. Vauquier. Now, how were they conducted? How did
you assist? What did Mlle. Celie do? Rap on the tables in the dark
and rattle tambourines like that one with the knot of ribbons
which hangs upon the wall of the salon?"

There was a gentle and inviting irony in Hanaud's tone. M. Ricardo
was disappointed. Hanaud had after all not overlooked the
tambourine. Without Ricardo's reason to notice it, he had none the
less observed it and borne it in his memory.

"Well?" he asked.

"Oh, monsieur, the tambourines and the rapping on the table!"
cried Helene. "That was nothing--oh, but nothing at all.
Mademoiselle Celie would make spirits appear and speak!"

"Really! And she was never caught out! But Mlle. Celie must have
been a remarkably clever girl."

"Oh, she was of an address which was surprising. Sometimes madame
and I were alone. Sometimes there were others, whom madame in her
pride had invited. For she was very proud, monsieur, that her
companion could introduce her to the spirits of dead people. But
never was Mlle. Celie caught out. She told me that for many years,
even when quite a child, she had travelled through England giving
these exhibitions."

"Oho!" said Hanaud, and he turned to Wethermill. "Did you know
that?" he asked in English.

"I did not," he said. "I do not now."

Hanaud shook his head.

"To me this story does not seem invented," he replied. And then he
spoke again in French to Helene Vauquier. "Well, continue,
mademoiselle! Assume that the company is assembled for our
seance."

"Then Mlle. Celie, dressed in a long gown of black velvet, which
set off her white arms and shoulders well--oh, mademoiselle did
not forget those little trifles," Helene Vauquier interrupted her
story, with a return of her bitterness, to interpolate--
"mademoiselle would sail into the room with her velvet train
flowing behind her, and perhaps for a little while she would say
there was a force working against her, and she would sit silent in
a chair while madame gaped at her with open eyes. At last
mademoiselle would say that the powers were favourable and the
spirits would manifest themselves to-night. Then she would be
placed in a cabinet, perhaps with a string tied across the door
outside--you will understand it was my business to see after the
string--and the lights would be turned down, or perhaps out
altogether. Or at other times we would sit holding hands round a
table, Mlle. Celie between Mme. Dauvray and myself. But in that
case the lights would be turned out first, and it would be really
my hand which held Mme. Dauvray's. And whether it was the cabinet
or the chairs, in a moment mademoiselle would be creeping silently
about the room in a little pair of soft-soled slippers without
heels, which she wore so that she might not be heard, and
tambourines would rattle as you say, and fingers touch the
forehead and the neck, and strange voices would sound from corners
of the room, and dim apparitions would appear--the spirits of
great ladies of the past, who would talk with Mme. Dauvray. Such
ladies as Mme. de Castiglione, Marie Antoinette, Mme. de Medici--I
do not remember all the names, and very likely I do not pronounce
them properly. Then the voices would cease and the lights be
turned up, and Mlle. Celie would be found in a trance just in the
same place and attitude as she had been when the lights were
turned out. Imagine, messieurs, the effect of such seances upon a
woman like Mme. Dauvray. She was made for them. She believed in
them implicitly. The words of the great ladies from the past--she
would remember and repeat them, and be very proud that such great
ladies had come back to the world merely to tell her--Mme.
Dauvray--about their lives. She would have had seances all day,
but Mlle. Celie pleaded that she was left exhausted at the end of
them. But Mlle. Celie was of an address! For instance--it will
seem very absurd and ridiculous to you, gentlemen, but you must
remember what Mme. Dauvray was--for instance, madame was
particularly anxious to speak with the spirit of Mme. de
Montespan. Yes, yes! She had read all the memoirs about that lady.
Very likely Mlle. Celie had put the notion into Mme. Dauvray's
head, for madame was not a scholar. But she was dying to hear that
famous woman's voice and to catch a dim glimpse of her face. Well,
she was never gratified. Always she hoped. Always Mlle. Celie
tantalised her with the hope. But she would not gratify it. She
would not spoil her fine affairs by making these treats too
common. And she acquired--how should she not?--a power over Mme.
Dauvray which was unassailable. The fortune-tellers had no more to
say to Mme. Dauvray. She did nothing but felicitate herself upon
the happy chance which had sent her Mlle. Celie. And now she lies
in her room murdered!"

Once more Helene's voice broke upon the words. But Hanaud poured
her out a glass of water and held it to her lips. Helene drank it
eagerly.

"There, that is better, is it not?" he said.

"Yes, monsieur," said Helene Vauquier, recovering herself.
"Sometimes, too," she resumed, "messages from the spirits would
flutter down in writing on the table."

"In writing?" exclaimed Hanaud quickly.

"Yes; answers to questions. Mlle. Celie had them ready. Oh, but
she was of an address altogether surprising.

"I see," said Hanaud slowly; and he added, "But sometimes, I
suppose, the questions were questions which Mlle. Celie could not
answer?"

"Sometimes," Helene Vauquier admitted, "when visitors were
present. When Mme. Dauvray was alone--well, she was an ignorant
woman, and any answer would serve. But it was not so when there
were visitors whom Mlle. Celie did not know, or only knew
slightly. These visitors might be putting questions to test her,
of which they knew the answers, while Mlle. Celie did not."

"Exactly," said Hanaud. "What happened then?"

All who were listening understood to what point he was leading
Helene Vauquier. All waited intently for her answer.

She smiled.

"It was all one to Mlle. Celie."

"She was prepared with an escape from the difficulty?"

"Perfectly prepared."

Hanaud looked puzzled.

"I can think of no way out of it except the one," and he looked
round to the Commissaire and to Ricardo as though he would inquire
of them how many ways they had discovered. "I can think of no
escape except that a message in writing should flutter down from
the spirit appealed to saying frankly," and Hanaud shrugged his
shoulders, "'I do not know.'"

"Oh no no, monsieur," replied Helene Vauquier in pity for Hanaud's
misconception, "I see that you are not in the habit of attending
seances. It would never do for a spirit to admit that it did not
know. At once its authority would be gone, and with it Mlle.
Celie's as well. But on the other hand, for inscrutable reasons
the spirit might not be allowed to answer."

"I understand," said Hanaud, meekly accepting the correction. "The
spirit might reply that it was forbidden to answer, but never that
it did not know."

"No, never that," [agreed] Helene. So it seemed that Hanaud must
look elsewhere for the explanation of that sentence. "I do not
know." Helene continued: "Oh, Mlle. Celie--it was not easy to
baffle her, I can tell you. She carried a lace scarf which she
could drape about her head, and in a moment she would be, in the
dim light, an old, old woman, with a voice so altered that no one
could know it. Indeed, you said rightly, monsieur--she was
clever."

To all who listened Helene Vauquier's story carried its
conviction. Mme. Dauvray rose vividly before their minds as a
living woman. Celie's trickeries were so glibly described that
they could hardly have been invented, and certainly not by this
poor peasant woman whose lips so bravely struggled with Medici,
and Montespan, and the names of the other great ladies. How,
indeed, should she know of them at all? She could never have had
the inspiration to concoct the most convincing item of her story--
the queer craze of Mme. Dauvray for an interview with Mme. de
Montespan. These details were assuredly the truth.

Ricardo, indeed, knew them to be true. Had he not himself seen the
girl in her black velvet dress shut up in a cabinet, and a great
lady of the past dimly appear in the darkness? Moreover, Helene
Vauquier's jealousy was so natural and inevitable a thing. Her
confession of it corroborated all her story.

"Well, then," said Hanaud, "we come to last night. There was a
seance held in the salon last night."

"No, monsieur," said Vauquier, shaking her head; "there was no
seance last night."

"But already you have said--" interrupted the Commissaire; and
Hanaud held up his hand.

"Let her speak, my friend."

"Yes, monsieur shall hear," said Vauquier.

It appeared that at five o'clock in the afternoon Mme. Dauvray and
Mlle. Celie prepared to leave the house on foot. It was their
custom to walk down at this hour to the Villa des Fleurs, pass an
hour or so there, dine in a restaurant, and return to the rooms to
spend the evening. On this occasion, however, Mme. Dauvray
informed Helene that they should be back early and bring with them
a friend who was interested in, but entirely sceptical of,
spiritualistic manifestations. "But we shall convince her tonight,
Celie, "she said confidently; and the two women then went out.
Shortly before eight Helene closed the shutters both of the
upstair and the downstair windows and of the glass doors into the
garden, and returned to the kitchen, which was at the back of the
house--that is, on the side facing the road. There had been a fall
of rain at seven which had lasted for the greater part of the
hour, and soon after she had shut the windows the rain fell again
in a heavy shower, and Helene, knowing that madame felt the chill,
lighted a small fire in the salon. The shower lasted until nearly
nine, when it ceased altogether and the night cleared up.

It was close upon half-past nine when the bell rang from the
salon. Vauquier was sure of the hour, for the charwoman called her
attention to the clock.

"I found Mme. Dauvray, Mlle Celie, and another woman in the
salon," continued Helene Vauquier.

"Madame had let them in with her latchkey."

"Ah, the other woman!" cried Besnard. "Had you seen her before?"

"No, monsieur."

"What was she like?"

"She was sallow, with black hair and bright eyes like beads. She
was short and about forty-five years old, though it is difficult
to judge of these things. I noticed her hands, for she was taking
her gloves off, and they seemed to me to be unusually muscular for
a woman."

"Ah!" cried Louis Besnard. "That is important."

"Mme. Dauvray was, as she always was before a seance, in a
feverish flutter. 'You will help Mlle. Celie to dress, Helene, and
be very quick,' she said; and with an extraordinary longing she
added, 'Perhaps we shall see her tonight.' Her, you understand,
was Mme. de Montespan. And she turned to the stranger and said,
"You will believe, Adele, after tonight."

"Adele!" said the Commissaire wisely. "Then Adele was the strange
woman's name?"

"Perhaps," said Hanaud dryly.

Helene Vauquier reflected.

"I think Adele was the name," she said in a more doubtful tone.
"It sounded like Adele."

The irrepressible Mr. Ricardo was impelled to intervene.

"What Monsieur Hanaud means," he explained, with the pleasant air
of a man happy to illuminate the dark intelligence of a child, "is
that Adele was probably a pseudonym."

Hanaud turned to him with a savage grin.

"Now that is sure to help her!" he cried. "A pseudonym! Helene
Vauquier is sure to understand that simple and elementary word.
How bright this M. Ricardo is! Where shall we find a new pin more
bright? I ask you," and he spread out his hands in a despairing
admiration.

Mr. Ricardo flushed red, but he answered never a word. He must
endure gibes and humiliations like a schoolboy in a class. His one
constant fear was lest he should be turned out of the room. The
Commissaire diverted wrath from him however.

"What he means by pseudonym," he said to Helene Vauquier,
explaining Mr. Ricardo to her as Mr. Ricardo had presumed to
explain Hanaud, "is a false name. Adele may have been, nay,
probably was, a false name adopted by this strange woman."

"Adele, I think, was the name used," replied Helene, the doubt in
her voice diminishing as she searched her memory. "I am almost
sure."

"Well, we will call her Adele," said Hanaud impatiently. "What
does it matter? Go on, Mademoiselle Vauquier."

"The lady sat upright and squarely upon the edge of a chair, with
a sort of defiance, as though she was determined nothing should
convince her, and she laughed incredulously."

Here, again, all who heard were able vividly to conjure up the
scene--the defiant sceptic sitting squarely on the edge of her
chair, removing her gloves from her muscular hands; the excited
Mme. Dauvray, so absorbed in the determination to convince; and
Mlle. Celie running from the room to put on the black gown which
would not be visible in the dim light.

"Whilst I took off mademoiselle's dress," Vauquier continued, "she
said: 'When I have gone down to the salon you can go to bed,
Helene. Mme. Adele'--yes, it was Adele--'will be fetched by a
friend in a motor-car, and I can let her out and fasten the door
again. So if you hear the car you will know that it has come for
her.'"

"Oh, she said that!" said Hanaud quickly.

"Yes, monsieur."

Hanaud looked gloomily towards Wethermill. Then he exchanged a
sharp glance with the Commissaire, and moved his shoulders in an
almost imperceptible shrug. But Mr. Ricardo saw it, and construed
it into one word. He imagined a jury uttering the word "Guilty."

Helene Vauquier saw the movement too.

"Do not condemn her too quickly, monsieur," she, said, with an
impulse of remorse. "And not upon my words. For, as I say, I--
hated her."

Hanaud nodded reassuringly, and she resumed:

"I was surprised, and I asked mademoiselle what she would do
without her confederate. But she laughed, and said there would be
no difficulty. That is partly why I think there was no seance held
last night. Monsieur, there was a note in her voice that evening
which I did not as yet understand. Mademoiselle then took her bath
while I laid out her black dress and the slippers with the soft,
noiseless soles. And now I tell you why I am sure there was no
seance last night--why Mlle. Celie never meant there should be
one."

"Yes, let us hear that," said Hanaud curiously, and leaning
forward with his hands upon his knees.

"You have here, monsieur, a description of how mademoiselle was
dressed when she went away." Helene Vauquier picked up a sheet of
paper from the table at her side. "I wrote it out at the request
of M. le Commissaire." She handed the paper to Hanaud, who glanced
through it as she continued. "Well, except for the white lace
coat, monsieur, I dressed Mlle. Celie just in that way. She would
have none of her plain black robe. No, Mlle. Celie must wear her
fine new evening frock of pale reseda-green chiffon over soft
clinging satin, which set off her fair beauty so prettily. It left
her white arms and shoulders bare, and it had a long train, and it
rustled as she moved. And with that she must put on her pale green
silk stockings, her new little satin slippers to match, with the
large paste buckles--and a sash of green satin looped through
another glittering buckle at the side of the waist, with long ends
loosely knotted together at the knee. I must tie her fair hair
with a silver ribbon, and pin upon her curls a large hat of reseda
green with a golden-brown ostrich feather drooping behind. I
warned mademoiselle that there was a tiny fire burning in the
salon. Even with the fire-screen in front of it there would still
be a little light upon the floor, and the glittering buckles on
her feet would betray her, even if the rustle of her dress did
not. But she said she would kick her slippers off. Ah, gentlemen,
it is, after all, not so that one dresses for a seance," she
cried, shaking her head. "But it is just so--is it not?--that one
dresses to go to meet a lover."

The suggestion startled every one who heard it. It fairly took Mr.
Ricardo's breath away. Wethermill stepped forward with a cry of
revolt. The Commissaire exclaimed, admiringly, "But here is an
idea!" Even Hanaud sat back in his chair, though his expression
lost nothing of its impassivity, and his eyes never moved from
Helene Vauquier's face.

"Listen!" she continued, "I will tell you what I think. It was my
habit to put out some sirop and lemonade and some little cakes in
the dining-room, which, as you know, is at the other side of the
house across the hall. I think it possible, messieurs, that while
Mlle. Celie was changing her dress Mme. Dauvray and the stranger,
Adele, went into the dining-room. I know that Mlle. Celie, as soon
as she was dressed, ran downstairs to the salon. Well, then,
suppose Mlle. Celie had a lover waiting with whom she meant to run
away. She hurries through the empty salon, opens the glass doors,
and is gone, leaving the doors open. And the thief, an accomplice
of Adele, finds the doors open and hides himself in the salon
until Mme. Dauvray returns from the dining-room. You see, that
leaves Mlle. Celie innocent."

Vauquier leaned forward eagerly, her white face flushing. There
was a moment's silence, and then Hanaud said:

"That is all very well, Mlle. Vauquier. But it does not account
for the lace coat in which the girl went away. She must have
returned to her room to fetch that after you had gone to bed."

Helene Vauquier leaned back with an air of disappointment.

"That is true. I had forgotten the coat. I did not like Mlle.
Celie, but I am not wicked--"

"Nor for the fact that the sirop and the lemonade had not been
touched in the dining-room," said the Commissaire, interrupting
her.

Again the disappointment overspread Vauquier's face.

"Is that so?" she asked. "I did not know--I have been kept a
prisoner here."

The Commissaire cut her short with a cry of satisfaction.

"Listen! listen!" he exclaimed excitedly. "Here is a theory which
accounts for all, which combines Vauquier's idea with ours, and
Vauquier's idea is, I think, very just, up to a point. Suppose, M.
Hanaud, that the girl was going to meet her lover, but the lover
is the murderer. Then all becomes clear. She does not run away to
him; she opens the door for him and lets him in."

Both Hanaud and Ricardo stole a glance at Wethermill. How did he
take the theory? Wethermill was leaning against the wall, his eyes
closed, his face white and contorted with a spasm of pain. But he
had the air of a man silently enduring an outrage rather than
struck down by the conviction that the woman he loved was
worthless.

"It is not for me to say, monsieur," Helene Vauquier continued. "I
only tell you what I know. I am a woman, and it would be very
difficult for a girl who was eagerly expecting her lover so to act
that another woman would not know it. However uncultivated and
ignorant the other woman was, that at all events she would know.
The knowledge would spread to her of itself, without a word.
Consider, gentlemen!" And suddenly Helene Vauquier smiled. "A
young girl tingling with excitement from head to foot, eager that
her beauty just at this moment should be more fresh, more sweet
than ever it was, careful that her dress should set it exquisitely
off. Imagine it! Her lips ready for the kiss! Oh, how should
another woman not know? I saw Mlle. Celie, her cheeks rosy, her
eyes bright. Never had she looked so lovely. The pale-green hat
upon her fair head heavy with its curls! From head to foot she
looked herself over, and then she sighed--she sighed with pleasure
because she looked so pretty. That was Mlle. Celie last night,
monsieur. She gathered up her train, took her long white gloves in
the other hand, and ran down the stairs, her heels clicking on the
wood, her buckles glittering. At the bottom she turned and said to
me:

"'Remember, Helene, you can go to bed.' That was it, monsieur."

And now violently the rancour of Helene Vauquier's feelings burst
out once more.

"For her the fine clothes, the pleasure, and the happiness. For
me--I could go to bed!"

Hanaud looked again at the description which Helene Vauquier had
written out, and read it through carefully. Then he asked a
question, of which Ricardo did not quite see the drift.

"So," he said, "when this morning you suggested to Monsieur the
Commissaire that it would be advisable for you to go through Mlle.
Celie's wardrobe, you found that nothing more had been taken away
except the white lace coat?"

"That is so."

"Very well. Now, after Mlle. Celie had gone down the stairs--"

"I put the lights out in her room and, as she had ordered me to
do, I went to bed. The next thing that I remember--but no! It
terrifies me too much to think of it."

Helene shuddered and covered her face spasmodically with her
hands. Hanaud drew her hands gently down.

"Courage! You are safe now, mademoiselle. Calm yourself!"

She lay back with her eyes closed.

"Yes, yes; it is true. I am safe now. But oh! I feel I shall never
dare to sleep again!" And the tears swam in her eyes. "I woke up
with a feeling of being suffocated. Mon Dieu! There was the light
burning in the room, and a woman, the strange woman with the
strong hands, was holding me down by the shoulders, while a man
with his cap drawn over his eyes and a little black moustache
pressed over my lips a pad from which a horribly sweet and sickly
taste filled my mouth. Oh, I was terrified! I could not scream. I
struggled. The woman told me roughly to keep quiet. But I could
not. I must struggle. And then with a brutality unheard of she
dragged me up on to my knees while the man kept the pad right over
my mouth. The man, with the arm which was free, held me close to
him, and she bound my hands with a cord behind me. Look!"

She held out her wrists. They were terribly bruised. Red and angry
lines showed where the cord had cut deeply into her flesh.

"Then they flung me down again upon my back, and the next thing I
remember is the doctor standing over me and this kind nurse
supporting me."

She sank back exhausted in her chair and wiped her forehead with
her handkerchief. The sweat stood upon it in beads.

"Thank you, mademoiselle," said Hanaud gravely. "This has been a
trying ordeal for you. I understand that. But we are coming to the
end. I want you to read this description of Mlle. Celie through
again to make sure that nothing is omitted." He gave the paper
into the maid's hands. "It will be advertised, so it is important
that it should be complete. See that you have left out nothing."

Helene Vauquier bent her head over the paper.

"No," said Helene at last. "I do not think I have omitted
anything." And she handed the paper back.

"I asked you," Hanaud continued suavely, "because I understand
that Mlle. Celie usually wore a pair of diamond ear-drops, and
they are not mentioned here."

A faint colour came into the maid's face.

"That is true, monsieur. I had forgotten. It is quite true."

"Any one might forget," said Hanaud, with a reassuring smile. "But
you will remember now. Think! think! Did Mlle. Celie wear them
last night?" He leaned forward, waiting for her reply. Wethermill
too, made a movement. Both men evidently thought the point of
great importance. The maid looked at Hanaud for a few moments
without speaking.

"It is not from me, mademoiselle, that you will get the answer,"
said Hanaud quietly.

"No, monsieur. I was thinking," said the maid, her face flushing
at the rebuke.

"Did she wear them when she went down the stairs last night?" he
insisted.

"I think she wore them," she said doubtfully. "Ye-es--yes," and the
words came now firm and clear. "I remember well. Mlle. Celie had
taken them off before her bath, and they lay on the dressing-
table. She put them into her ears while I dressed her hair and
arranged the bow of ribbon in it."

"Then we will add the earrings to your description," said Hanaud,
as he rose from his chair with the paper in his hand, "and for the
moment we need not trouble you any more about Mademoiselle Celie."
He folded the paper up, slipped it into his letter-case, and put
it away in his pocket. "Let us consider that poor Madame Dauvray!
Did she keep much money in the house?"

"No, monsieur; very little. She was well known in Aix and her
cheques were everywhere accepted without question. It was a high
pleasure to serve madame, her credit was so good," said Helene
Vauquier, raising her head as though she herself had a share in
the pride of that good credit.

"No doubt," Hanaud agreed. "There are many fine households where
the banking account is overdrawn, and it cannot be pleasant for
the servants."

"They are put to so many shifts to hide it from the servants of
their neighbours," said Helene. "Besides," and she made a little
grimace of contempt, "a fine household and an overdrawn banking
account--it is like a ragged petticoat under a satin dress. That
was never the case with Madame Dauvray."

"So that she was under no necessity to have ready money always in
her pocket," said Hanaud. "I understand that. But at times perhaps
she won at the Villa des Fleurs?"

Helene Vauquier shook her head.

"She loved the Villa des Fleurs, but she never played for high
sums and often never played at all. If she won a few louis, she
was as delighted with her gains and as afraid to lose them again
at the tables as if she were of the poorest, and she stopped at
once. No, monsieur; twenty or thirty louis--there was never more
than that in the house."

"Then it was certainly for her famous collection of jewellery that
Madame Dauvray was murdered?"

"Certainly, monsieur."

"Now, where did she keep her jewellery?"

"In a safe in her bedroom, monsieur. Every night she took off what
she had been wearing and locked it up with the rest. She was never
too tired for that."

"And what did she do with the keys?"

"That I cannot tell you. Certainly she locked her rings and
necklaces away whilst I undressed her. And she laid the keys upon
the dressing-table or the mantel-shelf--anywhere. But in the
morning the keys were no longer where she had left them. She had
put them secretly away."

Hanaud turned to another point.

"I suppose that Mademoiselle Celie knew of the safe and that the
jewels were kept there?"

"Oh yes! Mademoiselle indeed was often in Madame Dauvray's room
when she was dressing or undressing. She must often have seen
madame take them out and lock them up again. But then, monsieur,
so did I."

Hanaud nodded to her with a friendly smile.

"Thank you once more, mademoiselle," he said. "The torture is
over. But of course Monsieur Fleuriot will require your presence."

Helene Vauquier looked anxiously towards him.

"But meanwhile I can go from this villa, monsieur?" she pleaded,
with a trembling voice.

"Certainly; you shall go to your friends at once."

"Oh, monsieur, thank you!" she cried, and suddenly she gave way.
The tears began to flow from her eyes. She buried her face in her
hands and sobbed. "It is foolish of me, but what would you?" She
jerked out the words between her sobs. "It has been too terrible."

"Yes, yes," said Hanaud soothingly. "The nurse will put a few
things together for you in a bag. You will not leave Aix, of
course, and I will send some one with you to your friends."

The maid started violently.

"Oh, not a sergent-de-ville, monsieur, I beg of you. I should be
disgraced."

"No. It shall be a man in plain clothes, to see that you are not
hindered by reporters on the way."

Hanaud turned towards the door. On the dressing-table a cord was
lying. He took it up and spoke to the nurse.

"Was this the cord with which Helene Vauquier's hands were tied?"

"Yes, monsieur," she replied.

Hanaud handed it to the Commissaire.

"It will be necessary to keep that," he said.

It was a thin piece of strong whipcord. It was the same kind of
cord as that which had been found tied round Mme. Dauvray's
throat. Hanaud opened the door and turned back to the nurse.

"We will send for a cab for Mlle. Vauquier. You will drive with
her to her door. I think after that she will need no further help.
Pack up a few things and bring them down. Mlle. Vauquier can
follow, no doubt, now without assistance." And, with a friendly
nod, he left the room.

Ricardo had been wondering, through the examination, in what light
Hanaud considered Helene Vauquier. He was sympathetic, but the
sympathy might merely have been assumed to deceive. His questions
betrayed in no particular the colour of his mind. Now, however, he
made himself clear. He informed the nurse, in the plainest
possible way, that she was no longer to act as jailer. She was to
bring Vauquier's things down; but Vauquier could follow by
herself. Evidently Helene Vauquier was cleared.




CHAPTER VII

A STARTLING DISCOVERY


Harry Wethermill, however, was not so easily satisfied.

"Surely, monsieur, it would be well to know whither she is going,"
he said, "and to make sure that when she has gone there she will
stay there--until we want her again?"

Hanaud looked at the young man pityingly.

"I can understand, monsieur, that you hold strong views about
Helene Vauquier. You are human, like the rest of us. And what she
has said to us just now would not make you more friendly. But--
but--" and he preferred to shrug his shoulders rather than to
finish in words his sentence. "However," he said, "we shall take
care to know where Helene Vauquier is staying. Indeed, if she is
at all implicated in this affair we shall learn more if we leave
her free than if we keep her under lock and key. You see that if
we leave her quite free, but watch her very, very carefully, so as
to awaken no suspicion, she may be emboldened to do something
rash--or the others may."

Mr. Ricardo approved of Hanaud's reasoning.

"That is quite true," he said. "She might write a letter."

"Yes, or receive one," added Hanaud, "which would be still more
satisfactory for us--supposing, of course, that she has anything
to do with this affair"; and again he shrugged his shoulders. He
turned towards the Commissaire.

"You have a discreet officer whom you can trust?" he asked.

"Certainly. A dozen."

"I want only one."

"And here he is," said the Commissaire.

They were descending the stairs. On the landing of the first floor
Durette, the man who had discovered where the cord was bought, was
still waiting. Hanaud took Durette by the sleeve in the familiar
way which he so commonly used and led him to the top of the
stairs, where the two men stood for a few moments apart. It was
plain that Hanaud was giving, Durette receiving, definite
instructions. Durette descended the stairs; Hanaud came back to
the others.

"I have told him to fetch a cab," he said, "and convey Helene
Vauquier to her friends." Then he looked at Ricardo, and from
Ricardo to the Commissaire, while he rubbed his hand backwards and
forwards across his shaven chin.

"I tell you," he said, "I find this sinister little drama very
interesting to me. The sordid, miserable struggle for mastery in
this household of Mme. Dauvray--eh? Yes, very interesting. Just as
much patience, just as much effort, just as much planning for this
small end as a general uses to defeat an army--and, at the last,
nothing gained. What else is politics? Yes, very interesting."

His eyes rested upon Wethermill's face for a moment, but they gave
the young man no hope. He took a key from his pocket

"We need not keep this room locked," he said. "We know all that
there is to be known." And he inserted the key into the lock of
Celia's room and turned it.

"But is that wise, monsieur?" said Besnard.

Hanaud shrugged his shoulders.

"Why not?" he asked.

"The case is in your hands," said the Commissaire. To Ricardo the
proceedings seemed singularly irregular. But if the Commissaire
was content, it was not for him to object.

"And where is my excellent friend Perrichet?" asked Hanaud; and
leaning over the balustrade he called him up from the hall.

"We will now," said Hanaud, "have a glance into this poor murdered
woman's room."

The room was opposite to Celia's. Besnard produced the key and
unlocked the door. Hanaud took off his hat upon the threshold and
then passed into the room with his companions. Upon the bed,
outlined under a sheet, lay the rigid form of Mme. Dauvray. Hanaud
stepped gently to the bedside and reverently uncovered the face.
For a moment all could see it--livid, swollen, unhuman.

"A brutal business," he said in a low voice, and when he turned
again to his companions his face was white and sickly. He replaced
the sheet and gazed about the room.

It was decorated and furnished in the same style as the salon
downstairs, yet the contrast between the two rooms was remarkable.

Downstairs, in the salon, only a chair had been overturned. Here
there was every sign of violence and disorder. An empty safe stood
open in one corner; the rugs upon the polished floor had been
tossed aside; every drawer had been torn open, every wardrobe
burst; the very bed had been moved from its position.

"It was in this safe that Madame Dauvray hid her jewels each
night," said the Commissaire as Hanaud gazed about the room.

"Oh, was it so?" Hanaud asked slowly. It seemed to Ricardo that he
read something in the aspect of this room too, which troubled his
mind and increased his perplexity.

"Yes," said Besnard confidently. "Every night Mme. Dauvray locked
her jewels away in this safe. Vauquier told us so this morning.
Every night she was never too tired for that. Besides, here"--and
putting his hand into the safe he drew out a paper--" here is the
list of Mme. Dauvray's jewellery."

Plainly, however, Hanaud was not satisfied. He took the list and
glanced through the items. But his thoughts were not concerned
with it.

"If that is so," he said slowly, "Mme Dauvray kept her jewels in
this safe, why has every drawer been ransacked, why was the bed
moved? Perrichet, lock the door--quietly--from the inside. That is
right. Now lean your back against it."

Hanaud waited until he saw Perrichet's broad back against the
door. Then he went down upon his knees, and, tossing the rugs here
and there, examined with the minutest care the inlaid floor. By
the side of the bed a Persian mat of blue silk was spread. This in
its turn he moved quickly aside. He bent his eyes to the ground,
lay prone, moved this way and that to catch the light upon the
floor, then with a spring he rose upon his knees. He lifted his
finger to his lips. In a dead silence he drew a pen-knife quickly
from his pocket and opened it. He bent down again and inserted the
blade between the cracks of the blocks. The three men in the room
watched him with an intense excitement. A block of wood rose from
the floor, he pulled it out, laid it noiselessly down, and
inserted his hand into the opening.

Wethermill at Ricardo's elbow uttered a stifled cry. "Hush!"
whispered Hanaud angrily. He drew out his hand again. It was
holding a green leather jewel-case. He opened it, and a diamond
necklace flashed its thousand colours in their faces. He thrust in
his hand again and again and again, and each time that be withdrew
it, it held a jewel-case. Before the astonished eyes of his
companions he opened them. Ropes of pearls, collars of diamonds,
necklaces of emeralds, rings of pigeon-blood rubies, bracelets of
gold studded with opals--Mme. Dauvray's various jewellery was
disclosed.

"But that is astounding," said Besnard, in an awe-struck voice.

"Then she was never robbed after all?" cried Ricardo.

Hanaud rose to his feet.

"What a piece of irony!" he whispered. "The poor woman is murdered
for her jewels, the room's turned upside down, and nothing is
found. For all the while they lay safe in this cache. Nothing is
taken except what she wore. Let us see what she wore."

"Only a few rings, Helene Vauquier thought," said Besnard. "But
she was not sure."

"Ah!" said Hanaud. "Well, let us make sure!" and, taking the list
from the safe, he compared it with the jewellery in the cases on
the floor, ticking off the items one by one. When he had finished
he knelt down again, and, thrusting his hand into the hole, felt
carefully about.

"There is a pearl necklace missing," he said. "A valuable
necklace, from the description in the list and some rings. She
must have been wearing them;" and he sat back upon his heels. "We
will send the intelligent Perrichet for a bag," he said, "and we
will counsel the intelligent Perrichet not to breathe a word to
any living soul of what he has seen in this room. Then we will
seal up in the bag the jewels, and we will hand it over to M. le
Commissaire, who will convey it with the greatest secrecy out of
this villa. For the list--I will keep it," and he placed it
carefully in his pocket-book.

He unlocked the door and went out himself on to the landing. He
looked down the stairs and up the stairs; then he beckoned
Perrichet to him.

"Go!" he whispered. "Be quick, and when you come back hide the bag
carefully under your coat."

Perrichet went down the stairs with pride written upon his face.
Was he not assisting the great M. Hanaud from the Surete in Paris?
Hanaud returned into Mme. Dauvray's room and closed the door. He
looked into the eyes of his companions.

"Can't you see the scene?" he asked with a queer smile of
excitement. He had forgotten Wethermill; he had forgotten even the
dead woman shrouded beneath the sheet. He was absorbed. His eyes
were bright, his whole face vivid with life. Ricardo saw the real
man at this moment--and feared for the happiness of Harry
Wethermill. For nothing would Hanaud now turn aside until he had
reached the truth and set his hands upon the quarry. Of that
Ricardo felt sure. He was trying now to make his companions
visualise just what he saw and understood.

"Can't you see it? The old woman locking up her jewels in this
safe every night before the eyes of her maid or her companion, and
then, as soon as she was alone, taking them stealthily out of the
safe and hiding them in this secret place. But I tell you--this is
human. Yes, it is interesting just because it is so human. Then
picture to yourselves last night, the murderers opening this safe
and finding nothing--oh, but nothing!--and ransacking the room in
deadly haste, kicking up the rugs, forcing open the drawers, and
always finding nothing--nothing--nothing. Think of their rage,
their stupefaction, and finally their fear! They must go, and with
one pearl necklace, when they had hoped to reap a great fortune.
Oh, but this is interesting--yes, I tell you--I, who have seen
many strange things--this is interesting."

Perrichet returned with a canvas bag, into which Hanaud placed the
jewel-cases. He sealed the bag in the presence of the four men and
handed it to Besnard. He replaced the block of wood in the floor,
covered it over again with the rug, and rose to his feet.

"Listen!" he said, in a low voice, and with a gravity which
impressed them all. "There is something in this house which I do
not understand. I have told you so. I tell you something more now.
I am afraid--I am afraid." And the word startled his hearers like
a thunderclap, though it was breathed no louder than a whisper,
"Yes, my friends," he repeated, nodding his head, "terribly
afraid." And upon the others fell a discomfort, an awe, as though
something sinister and dangerous were present in the room and
close to them. So vivid was the feeling, instinctively they drew
nearer together. "Now, I warn you solemnly. There must be no
whisper that these jewels have been discovered; no newspaper must
publish a hint of it; no one must suspect that here in this room
we have found them. Is that understood?"

"Certainly," said the Commissaire.

"Yes," said Mr. Ricardo.

"To be sure, monsieur," said Perrichet.

As for Harry Wethermill, he made no reply. His burning eyes were
fixed upon Hanaud's face, and that was all. Hanaud, for his part,
asked for no reply from him. Indeed, he did not look towards Harry
Wethermill's face at all. Ricardo understood. Hanaud did not mean
to be deterred by the suffering written there.

He went down again into the little gay salon lit with flowers and
August sunlight, and stood beside the couch gazing at it with
troubled eyes. And, as he gazed, he closed his eyes and shivered.
He shivered like a man who has taken a sudden chill. Nothing in
all this morning's investigations, not even the rigid body beneath
the sheet, nor the strange discovery of the jewels, had so
impressed Ricardo. For there he had been confronted with facts,
definite and complete; here was a suggestion of unknown horrors, a
hint, not a fact, compelling the imagination to dark conjecture.
Hanaud shivered. That he had no idea why Hanaud shivered made the
action still more significant, still more alarming. And it was not
Ricardo alone who was moved by it. A voice of despair rang through
the room. The voice was Harry Wethermill's, and his face was ashy
white.

"Monsieur!" he cried, "I do not know what makes you shudder; but I
am remembering a few words you used this morning."

Hanaud turned upon his heel. His face was drawn and grey and his
eyes blazed.

"My friend, I also am remembering those words," he said. Thus the
two men stood confronting one another, eye to eye, with awe and
fear in both their faces.

Ricardo was wondering to what words they both referred, when the
sound of wheels broke in upon the silence. The effect upon Hanaud
was magical. He thrust his hands in his pockets.

"Helene Vauquier's cab," he said lightly. He drew out his
cigarette-case and lighted a cigarette.

"Let us see that poor woman safely off. It is a closed cab I
hope."

It was a closed landau. It drove past the open door of the salon
to the front door of the house. In Hanaud's wake they all went out
into the hall. The nurse came down alone carrying Helene
Vauquier's bag. She placed it in the cab and waited in the
doorway.

"Perhaps Helene Vauquier has fainted," she said anxiously: "she
does not come." And she moved towards the stairs.

Hanaud took a singularly swift step forward and stopped her.

"Why should you think that?" he asked, with a queer smile upon his
face, and as he spoke a door closed gently upstairs. "See," he
continued, "you are wrong: she is coming."

Ricardo was puzzled. It had seemed to him that the door which had
closed so gently was nearer than Helene Vauquier's door. It seemed
to him that the door was upon the first, not the second landing.
But Hanaud had noticed nothing strange; so it could not be. He
greeted Helene Vauquier with a smile as she came down the stairs.

"You are better, mademoiselle," he said politely.

"One can see that. There is more colour in your cheeks. A day or
two, and you will be yourself again."

He held the door open while she got into the cab. The nurse took
her seat beside her; Durette mounted on the box. The cab turned
and went down the drive.

"Good-bye, mademoiselle," cried Hanaud, and he watched until the
high shrubs hid the cab from his eyes. Then he behaved in an
extraordinary way. He turned and sprang like lightning up the
stairs. His agility amazed Ricardo. The others followed upon his
heels. He flung himself at Celia's door and opened it He burst
into the room, stood for a second, then ran to the window. He hid
behind the curtain, looking out. With his hand he waved to his
companions to keep back. The sound of wheels creaking and rasping
rose to their ears. The cab had just come out into the road.
Durette upon the box turned and looked towards the house. Just for
a moment Hanaud leaned from the window, as Besnard, the
Commissaire, had done, and, like Besnard again, he waved his hand.
Then he came back into the room and saw, standing in front of him,
with his mouth open and his eyes starting out of his head,
Perrichet--the intelligent Perrichet.

"Monsieur," cried Perrichet, "something has been taken from this
room."

Hanaud looked round the room and shook his head.

"No," he said.

"But yes, monsieur," Perrichet insisted. "Oh, but yes. See! Upon
this dressing-table there was a small pot of cold cream. It stood
here, where my finger is, when we were in this room an hour ago.
Now it is gone."

Hanaud burst into a laugh.

"My friend Perrichet," he said ironically, "I will tell you the
newspaper did not do you justice. You are more intelligent. The
truth, my excellent friend, lies at the bottom of a well; but you
would find it at the bottom of a pot of cold cream. Now let us go.
For in this house, gentlemen, we have nothing more to do."

He passed out of the room. Perrichet stood aside, his face
crimson, his attitude one of shame. He had been rebuked by the
great M. Hanaud, and justly rebuked. He knew it now. He had wished
to display his intelligence--yes, at all costs he must show how
intelligent he was. And he had shown himself a fool. He should
have kept silence about that pot of cream.




CHAPTER VIII

THE CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP


Hanaud walked away from the Villa Rose in the company of
Wethermill and Ricardo.

"We will go and lunch," he said.

"Yes; come to my hotel," said Harry Wethermill. But Hanaud shook
his head.

"No; come with me to the Villa des Fleurs," he replied. "We may
learn something there; and in a case like this every minute is of
importance. We have to be quick."

"I may come too?" cried Mr. Ricardo eagerly.

"By all means," replied Hanaud, with a smile of extreme courtesy.
"Nothing could be more delicious than monsieur's suggestions"; and
with that remark he walked on silently.

Mr. Ricardo was in a little doubt as to the exact significance of
the words. But he was too excited to dwell long upon them.
Distressed though he sought to be at his friend's grief, he could
not but assume an air of importance. All the artist in him rose
joyfully to the occasion. He looked upon himself from the outside.
He fancied without the slightest justification that people were
pointing him out. "That man has been present at the investigation
at the Villa Rose," he seemed to hear people say. "What strange
things he could tell us if he would!"

And suddenly, Mr. Ricardo began to reflect. What, after all, could
he have told them?

And that question he turned over in his mind while he ate his
luncheon. Hanaud wrote a letter between the courses. They were
sitting at a corner table, and Hanaud was in the corner with his
back to the wall. He moved his plate, too, over the letter as he
wrote it. It would have been impossible for either of his guests
to see what he had written, even if they had wished. Ricardo,
indeed, did wish. He rather resented the secrecy with which the
detective, under a show of openness, shrouded his thoughts and
acts. Hanaud sent the waiter out to fetch an officer in plain
clothes, who was in attendance at the door, and he handed the
letter to this man. Then he turned with an apology to his guests.

"It is necessary that we should find out," he explained, "as soon
as possible, the whole record of Mlle. Celie."

He lighted a cigar, and over the coffee he put a question to
Ricardo.

"Now tell me what you make of the case. What M. Wethermill thinks-
-that is clear, is it not? Helene Vauquier is the guilty one. But
you, M. Ricardo? What is your opinion?"

Ricardo took from his pocket-book a sheet of paper and from his
pocket a pencil. He was intensely flattered by the request of
Hanaud, and he proposed to do himself justice. "I will make a note
here of what I think the salient features of the mystery"; and he
proceeded to tabulate the points in the following way:

(1) Celia Harland made her entrance into Mme. Dauvray's household
under very doubtful circumstances.

(2) By methods still more doubtful she accquired an extraordinary
ascendency over Mme. Dauvray's mind.

(3) If proof were needed how complete that ascendency was, a
glance at Celia Harland's wardrobe would suffice; for she wore the
most expensive clothes.

(4) It was Celia Harland who arranged that Servettaz, the
chauffeur, should be absent at Chambery on the Tuesday night--the
night of the murder.

(5) It was Celia Harland who bought the cord with which Mme.
Dauvray was strangled and Helene Vauquier bound.

(6) The footsteps outside the salon show that Celia Harland ran
from the salon to the motor-car.

(7) Celia Harland pretended that there should be a seance on the
Tuesday, but she dressed as though she had in view an appointment
with a lover, instead of a spiritualistic stance.

(8) Celia Harland has disappeared.

These eight points are strongly suggestive of Celia Harland's
complicity in the murder. But I have no clue which will enable me
to answer the following questions:

(a) Who was the man who took part in the crime? (b) Who was the
woman who came to the villa on the evening of the murder with Mme.
Dauvray and Celia Harland?

(c) What actually happened in the salon? How was the murder
committed?

(d) Is Helene Vauquier's story true?

(e) What did the torn-up scrap of writing mean? (Probably spirit
writing in Celia Harland's hand.)

(f) Why has one cushion on the settee a small, fresh, brown stain,
which is probably blood? Why is the other cushion torn?

Mr. Ricardo had a momentary thought of putting down yet another
question. He was inclined to ask whether or no a pot of cold cream
had disappeared from Celia Harland's bedroom; but he remembered
that Hanaud had set no store upon that incident, and he refrained.
Moreover, he had come to the end of his sheet of paper. He handed
it across the table to Hanaud and leaned back in his chair,
watching the detective with all the eagerness of a young author
submitting his first effort to a critic.

Hanaud read it through slowly. At the end he nodded his head in
approval.

"Now we will see what M. Wethermill has to say," he said, and he
stretched out the paper towards Harry Wethermill, who throughout
the luncheon had not said a word.

"No, no," cried Ricardo.

But Harry Wethermill already held the written sheet in his hand.
He smiled rather wistfully at his friend.

"It is best that I should know just what you both think," he said,
and in his turn he began to read the paper through. He read the
first eight points, and then beat with his fist upon the table.

"No no," he cried; "it is not possible! I don't blame you,
Ricardo. These are facts, and, as I said, I can face facts. But
there will be an explanation--if only we can discover it."

He buried his face for a moment in his hands. Then he took up the
paper again.

"As for the rest, Helene Vauquier lied," he cried violently, and
he tossed the paper to Hanaud. "What do you make of it?"

Hanaud smiled and shook his head.

"Did you ever go for a voyage on a ship?" he asked.

"Yes; why?"

"Because every day at noon three officers take an observation to
determine the ship's position--the captain, the first officer, and
the second officer. Each writes his observation down, and the
captain takes the three observations and compares them. If the
first or second officer is out in his reckoning, the captain tells
him so, but he does not show his own. For at times, no doubt, he
is wrong too. So, gentlemen, I criticise your observations, but I
do not show you mine."

He took up Ricardo's paper and read it through again.

"Yes," he said pleasantly. "But the two questions which are most
important, which alone can lead us to the truth--how do they come
to be omitted from your list, Mr. Ricardo?"

Hanaud put the question with his most serious air. But Ricardo was
none the less sensible of the raillery behind the solemn manner.
He flushed and made no answer.

"Still," continued Hanaud, "here are undoubtedly some questions.
Let us consider them! Who was the man who took a part in the
crime? Ah, if we only knew that, what a lot of trouble we should
save ourselves! Who was the woman? What a good thing it would be
to know that too! How clearly, after all, Mr. Ricardo puts his
finger on the important points! What did actually happen in the
salon?" And as he quoted that question the raillery died out of
his voice. He leaned his elbows on the table and bent forward.

"What did actually happen in that little pretty room, just twelve
hours ago?" he repeated. "When no sunlight blazed upon the lawn,
and all the birds were still, and all the windows shuttered and
the world dark, what happened? What dreadful things happened? We
have not much to go upon. Let us formulate what we know. We start
with this. The murder was not the work of a moment. It was planned
with great care and cunning, and carried out to the letter of the
plan. There must be no noise, no violence. On each side of the
Villa Rose there are other villas; a few yards away the road runs
past. A scream, a cry, the noise of a struggle--these sounds, or
any one of them, might be fatal to success. Thus the crime was
planned; and there WAS no scream, there WAS no struggle. Not a
chair was broken, and only a chair upset. Yes, there were brains
behind that murder. We know that. But what do we know of the plan?
How far can we build it up? Let us see. First, there was an
accomplice in the house--perhaps two."

"No!" cried Harry Wethermill.

Hanaud took no notice of the interruption.

"Secondly the woman came to the house with Mme. Dauvray and Mlle.
Celie between nine and half-past nine. Thirdly, the man came
afterwards, but before eleven, set open the gate, and was admitted
into the salon, unperceived by Mme. Dauvray. That also we can
safely assume. But what happened in the salon? Ah! There is the
question." Then he shrugged his shoulders and said with the note
of raillery once more in his voice:

"But why should we trouble our heads to puzzle out this mystery,
since M. Ricardo knows?"

"I?" cried Ricardo in amazement.

"To be sure," replied Hanaud calmly. "For I look at another of
your questions. 'WHAT DID THE TORN-UP SCRAP OF WRITING MEAN?' and
you add: 'Probably spirit-writing.' Then there was a seance held
last night in the little salon! Is that so?"

Harry Wethermill started. Mr. Ricardo was at a loss.

"I had not followed my suggestion to its conclusion," he admitted
humbly.

"No," said Hanaud. "But I ask myself in sober earnest, 'Was there
a seance held in the salon last night?' Did the tambourine rattle
in the darkness on the wall?"

"But if Helene Vauquier's story is all untrue?" cried Wethermill,
again in exasperation.

"Patience, my friend. Her story was not all untrue. I say there
were brains behind this crime; yes, but brains, even the
cleverest, would not have invented this queer, strange story of
the seances and of Mme. de Montespan. That is truth. But yet, if
there were a seance held, if the scrap of paper were spirit-
writing in answer to some awkward question, why--and here I come
to my first question, which M. Ricardo has omitted--why did Mlle.
Celie dress herself with so much elegance last night? What
Vauquier said is true. Her dress was not suited to a seance. A
light-coloured, rustling frock, which would be visible in a dim
light, or even in the dark, which would certainly be heard at
every movement she made, however lightly she stepped, and a big
hat--no no! I tell you, gentlemen, we shall not get to the bottom
of this mystery until we know why Mlle. Celie dressed herself as
she did last night." "Yes," Ricardo admitted. "I overlooked that
point." "Did she--" Hanaud broke off and bowed to Wethermill with
a grace and a respect which condoned his words. "You must bear
with me, my young friend, while I consider all these points. Did
she expect to join that night a lover--a man with the brains to
devise this crime? But if so--and here I come to the second
question omitted from M. Ricardo's list--why, on the patch of
grass outside the door of the salon, were the footsteps of the man
and woman so carefully erased, and the footsteps of Mlle. Celie--
those little footsteps so easily identified--left for all the
world to see and recognise?"

Ricardo felt like a child in the presence of his schoolmaster. He
was convicted of presumption. He had set down his questions with
the belief that they covered the ground. And here were two of the
utmost importance, not forgotten, but never even thought of.

"Did she go, before the murder, to join a lover? Or after it? At
some time, you will remember, according to Vauquier's story, she
must have run upstairs to fetch her coat. Was the murder committed
during the interval when she was upstairs? Was the salon dark when
she came down again? Did she run through it quickly, eagerly,
noticing nothing amiss? And, indeed, how should she notice
anything if the salon were dark, and Mme. Dauvray's body lay under
the windows at the side?"

Ricardo leaned forward eagerly.

"That must be the truth," he cried; and Wethermill's voice broke
hastily in:

"It is not the truth and I will tell you why. Celia Harland was to
have married me this week."

There was so much pain and misery in his voice that Ricardo was
moved as he had seldom been. Wethermill buried his face in his
hands. Hanaud shook his head and gazed across the table at Ricardo
with an expression which the latter was at no loss to understand.
Lovers were impracticable people. But he--Hanaud--he knew the
world. Women had fooled men before today.

Wethermill snatched his hands away from before his face.

"We talk theories," he cried desperately, "of what may have
happened at the villa. But we are not by one inch nearer to the
man and woman who committed the crime. It is for them we have to
search."

"Yes; but except by asking ourselves questions, how shall we find
them, M. Wethermill?" said Hanaud. "Take the man! We know nothing
of him. He has left no trace. Look at this town of Aix, where
people come and go like a crowd about the baccarat-table! He may
be at Marseilles today. He may be in this very room where we are
taking our luncheon. How shall we find him?"

Wethermill nodded his head in a despairing assent.

"I know. But it is so hard to sit still and do nothing," he cried.

"Yes, but we are not sitting still," said Hanaud; and Wethermill
looked up with a sudden interest. "All the time that we have been
lunching here the intelligent Perrichet has been making inquiries.
Mme. Dauvray and Mlle. Celie left the Villa Rose at five, and
returned on foot soon after nine with the strange woman. And there
I see Perrichet himself waiting to be summoned."

Hanaud beckoned towards the sergent-de-ville.

"Perrichet will make an excellent detective," he said; "for he
looks more bovine and foolish in plain clothes than he does in
uniform."

Perrichet advanced in his mufti to the table.

"Speak, my friend," said Hanaud.

"I went to the shop of M. Corval. Mlle. Celie was quite alone when
she bought the cord. But a few minutes later, in the Rue du
Casino, she and Mme. Dauvray were seen together, walking slowly in
the direction of the villa. No other woman was with them."

"That is a pity," said Hanaud quietly, and with a gesture he
dismissed Perrichet.

"You see, we shall find out nothing--nothing," said Wethermill,
with a groan.

"We must not yet lose heart, for we know a little more about the
woman than we do about the man," said Hanaud consolingly.

"True," exclaimed Ricardo. "We have Helene Vauquier's description
of her. We must advertise it."

Hanaud smiled.

"But that is a fine suggestion," he cried. "We must think over
that," and he clapped his hand to his forehead with a gesture of
self-reproach. "Why did not such a fine idea occur to me, fool
that I am! However, we will call the head waiter."

The head waiter was sent for and appeared before them.

"You knew Mme. Dauvray?" Hanaud asked.

"Yes, monsieur--oh, the poor woman!" And he flung up his hands.

"And you knew her young companion?"

"Oh yes, monsieur. They generally had their meals here. See, at
that little table over there! I kept it for them. But monsieur
knows well"--and the waiter looked towards Harry Wethermill--"for
monsieur was often with them."

"Yes," said Hanaud. "Did Mme. Dauvray dine at that little table
last night?"

"No, monsieur. She was not here last night."

"Nor Mlle. Celie?"

"No, monsieur! I do not think they were in the Villa des Fleurs at
all."

"We know they were not," exclaimed Ricardo. "Wethermill and I were
in the rooms and we did not see them."

"But perhaps you left early," objected Hanaud.

"No," said Ricardo. "It was just ten o'clock when we reached the
Majestic."

"You reached your hotel at ten," Hanaud repeated. "Did you walk
straight from here?"

"Yes."

"Then you left here about a quarter to ten. And we know that Mme.
Dauvray was back at the villa soon after nine. Yes--they could not
have been here last night," Hanaud agreed, and sat for a moment
silent. Then he turned to the head waiter.

"Have you noticed any woman with Mme. Dauvray and her companion
lately?"

"No, monsieur. I do not think so."

"Think! A woman, for instance, with red hair."

Harry Wethermill started forward. Mr. Ricardo stared at Hanaud in
amazement. The waiter reflected.

"No, monsieur. I have seen no woman with red hair."

"Thank you," said Hanaud, and the waiter moved away.

"A woman with red hair!" cried Wethermill. "But Helene Vauquier
described her. She was sallow; her eyes, her hair, were dark."

Hanaud turned with a smile to Harry Wethermill.

"Did Helene Vauquier, then, speak the truth?" he asked. "No; the
woman who was in the salon last night, who returned home with Mme.
Dauvray and Mlle. Celie, was not a woman with black hair and
bright black eyes. Look!" And, fetching his pocket-book from his
pocket, he unfolded a sheet of paper and showed them, lying upon
its white surface a long red hair.

"I picked that up on the table--the round satinwood table in the
salon. It was easy not to see it, but I did see it. Now, that is
not Mlle. Celie's hair, which is fair; nor Mme. Dauvray's, which
is dyed brown; nor Helene Vauquier's, which is black; nor the
charwoman's, which, as I have taken the trouble to find out, is
grey. It is therefore from the head of our unknown woman. And I
will tell you more. This woman with the red hair--she is in
Geneva."

A startled exclamation burst from Ricardo. Harry Wethermill sat
slowly down. For the first time that day there had come some
colour into his cheeks, a sparkle into his eye.

"But that is wonderful!" he cried. "How did you find that out?"

Hanaud leaned back in his chair and took a pull at his cigar. He
was obviously pleased with Wethermill's admiration.

"Yes, how did you find it out?" Ricardo repeated.

Hanaud smiled.

"As to that," he said, "remember I am the captain of the ship, and
I do not show you my observation." Ricardo was disappointed. Harry
Wethermill, however, started to his feet.

"We must search Geneva, then," he cried. "It is there that we
should be, not here drinking our coffee at the Villa des Fleurs."

Hanaud raised his hand.

"The search is not being overlooked. But Geneva is a big city. It
is not easy to search Geneva and find, when we know nothing about
the woman for whom we are searching, except that her hair is red,
and that probably a young girl last night was with her. It is
rather here, I think--in Aix--that we must keep our eyes wide
open."

"Here!" cried Wethermill in exasperation. He stared at Hanaud as
though he were mad.

"Yes, here; at the post office--at the telephone exchange. Suppose
that the man is in Aix, as he may well be; some time he will wish
to send a letter, or a telegram, or a message over the telephone.
That, I tell you, is our chance. But here is news for us."

Hanaud pointed to a messenger who was walking towards them. The
man handed Hanaud an envelope.

"From M. le Commissaire," he said; and he saluted and retired.

"From M. le Commissaire?" cried Ricardo excitedly.

But before Hanaud could open the envelope Harry Wethermill laid a
hand upon his sleeve.

"Before we pass to something new, M. Hanaud," he said, "I should
be very glad if you would tell me what made you shiver in the
salon this morning. It has distressed me ever since. What was it
that those two cushions had to tell you?"

There was a note of anguish in his voice difficult to resist. But
Hanaud resisted it. He shook his head.

"Again," he said gravely, "I am to remind you that I am captain of
the ship and do not show my observation."

He tore open the envelope and sprang up from his seat.

"Mme. Dauvray's motor-car has been found," he cried. "Let us go!"

Hanaud called for the bill and paid it. The three men left the
Villa des Fleurs together.




CHAPTER IX

MME. DAUVRAY'S MOTOR-CAR


They got into a cab outside the door. Perrichet mounted the box,
and the cab was driven along the upward-winding road past the
Hotel Bernascon. A hundred yards beyond the hotel the cab stopped
opposite to a villa. A hedge separated the garden of the villa
from the road, and above the hedge rose a board with the words "To
Let" upon it. At the gate a gendarme was standing, and just within
the gate Ricardo saw Louis Besnard, the Commissaire, and
Servettaz, Mme. Dauvray's chauffeur.

"It is here," said Besnard, as the party descended from the cab,
"in the coach-house of this empty villa."

"Here?" cried Ricardo in amazement.

The discovery upset all his theories. He had expected to hear that
it had been found fifty leagues away; but here, within a couple of
miles of the Villa Rose itself--the idea seemed absurd! Why take
it away at all--unless it was taken away as a blind? That
supposition found its way into Ricardo's mind, and gathered
strength as he thought upon it; for Hanaud had seemed to lean to
the belief that one of the murderers might be still in Aix.
Indeed, a glance at him showed that he was not discomposed by
their discovery.

"When was it found?" Hanaud asked.

"This morning. A gardener comes to the villa on two days a week to
keep the grounds in order. Fortunately Wednesday is one of his
days. Fortunately, too, there was rain yesterday evening. He
noticed the tracks of the wheels which you can see on the gravel,
and since the villa is empty he was surprised. He found the coach-
house door forced and the motor-car inside it. When he went to his
luncheon he brought the news of his discovery to the depot."

The party followed the Commissaire along the drive to the coach-
house.

"We will have the car brought out," said Hanaud to Servettaz.

It was a big and powerful machine with a limousine body,
luxuriously fitted and cushioned in the shade of light grey. The
outside panels of the car were painted a dark grey. The car had
hardly been brought out into the sunlight before a cry of
stupefaction burst from the lips of Perrichet.

"Oh!" he cried, in utter abasement. "I shall never forgive myself-
-never, never!"

"Why?" Hanaud asked, turning sharply as he spoke.

Perrichet was standing with his round eyes staring and his mouth
agape.

"Because, monsieur, I saw that car--at four o'clock this morning--
at the corner of the road--not fifty yards from the Villa Rose."

"What!" cried Ricardo.

"You saw it!" exclaimed Wethermill.

Upon their faces was reflected now the stupefaction of Perrichet.

"But you must have made a mistake," said the Commissaire.

"No, no, monsieur," Perrichet insisted. "It was that car. It was
that number. It was just after daylight. I was standing outside
the gate of the villa on duty where M. le Commissaire had placed
me. The car appeared at the corner and slackened speed. It seemed
to me that it was going to turn into the road and come down past
me. But instead the driver, as if he were now sure of his way, put
the car at its top speed and went on into Aix."

"Was any one inside the car?" asked Hanaud.

"No, monsieur; it was empty."

"But you saw the driver!" exclaimed Wethermill.

"Yes; what was he like?" cried the Commissaire.

Perrichet shook his head mournfully.

"He wore a talc mask over the upper part of his face, and had a
little black moustache, and was dressed in a heavy great-coat of
blue with a white collar."

"That is my coat, monsieur," said Servettaz, and as he spoke he
lifted it up from the chauffeur's seat. "It is Mme. Dauvray's
livery."

Harry Wethermill groaned aloud.

"We have lost him. He was within our grasp--he, the murderer!--and
he was allowed to go!"

Perrichet's grief was pitiable.

"Monsieur," he pleaded, "a car slackens its speed and goes on
again--it is not so unusual a thing. I did not know the number of
Mme. Dauvray's car. I did not even know that it had disappeared";
and suddenly tears of mortification filled his eyes. "But why do I
make these excuses?" he cried. "It is better, M. Hanaud, that I go
back to my uniform and stand at the street corner. I am as foolish
as I look."

"Nonsense, my friend," said Hanaud, clapping the disconsolate man
upon the shoulder. "You remembered the car and its number. That is
something--and perhaps a great deal," he added gravely. "As for
the talc mask and the black moustache, that is not much to help
us, it is true." He looked at Ricardo's crestfallen face and
smiled. "We might arrest our good friend M. Ricardo upon that
evidence, but no one else that I know."

Hanaud laughed immoderately at his joke. He alone seemed to feel
no disappointment at Perrichet's oversight. Ricardo was a little
touchy on the subject of his personal appearance, and bridled
visibly. Hanaud turned towards Servettaz.

"Now," he said, "you know how much petrol was taken from the
garage?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Can you tell me, by the amount which has been used, how far that
car was driven last night?" Hanaud asked.

Servettaz examined the tank.

"A long way, monsieur. From a hundred and thirty to a hundred and
fifty kilometers, I should say."

"Yes, just about that distance, I should say," cried Hanaud.

His eyes brightened, and a smile, a rather fierce smile, came to
his lips. He opened the door, and examined with a minute scrutiny
the floor of the carriage, and as he looked, the smile faded from
his face. Perplexity returned to it. He took the cushions, looked
them over and shook them out.

"I see no sign--" he began, and then he uttered a little shrill
cry of satisfaction. From the crack of the door by the hinge he
picked off a tiny piece of pale green stuff, which he spread out
upon the back of his hand.

"Tell me, what is this?" he said to Ricardo.

"It is a green fabric," said Ricardo very wisely.

"It is green chiffon," said Hanaud. "And the frock in which Mlle.
Celie went away was of green chiffon over satin. Yes, Mlle. Celie
travelled in this car."

He hurried to the driver's seat. Upon the floor there was some
dark mould. Hanaud cleaned it off with his knife and held some of
it in the palm of his hand. He turned to Servettaz.

"You drove the car on Tuesday morning before you went to
Chambery?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Where did you take up Mme. Dauvray and Mlle. Celie?"

"At the front door of the Villa Rose."

"Did you get down from the seat at all?"

"No, monsieur; not after I left the garage."

Hanaud returned to his companions.

"See!" And he opened his hand. "This is black soil--moist from
last night's rain--soil like the soil in front of Mme. Dauvray's
salon. Look, here is even a blade or two of the grass"; and he
turned the mould over in the palm of his hand. Then he took an
empty envelope from his pocket and poured the soil into it and
gummed the flap down. He stood and frowned at the motor-car.

"Listen," he said, "how I am puzzled! There was a man last night
at the Villa Rose. There were a man's blurred footmarks in the
mould before the glass door. That man drove madame's car for a
hundred and fifty kilometers, and he leaves the mould which clung
to his boots upon the floor of his seat. Mlle. Celie and another
woman drove away inside the car. Mlle. Celie leaves a fragment of
the chiffon tunic of her frock which caught in the hinge. But
Mlle. Celie made much clearer impressions in the mould than the
man. Yet on the floor of the carriage there is no trace of her
shoes. Again I say there is something here which I do not
understand." And he spread out his hands with an impulsive gesture
of despair

"It looks as if they had been careful and he careless," said Mr.
Ricardo, with the air of a man solving a very difficult problem.

"What a mind!" cried Hanaud, now clasping his hands together in
admiration. "How quick and how profound!"

There was at times something elphantinely elfish in M. Hanaud's
demeanour, which left Mr. Ricardo at a loss. But he had come to
notice that these undignified manifestations usually took place
when Hanaud had reached a definite opinion upon some point which
had perplexed him.

"Yet there is perhaps, another explanation," Hanaud continued.
"For observe, M. Ricardo. We have other evidence to show that the
careless one was Mlle. Celie. It was she who left her footsteps so
plainly visible upon the grass, not the man. However, we will go
back to M. Wethermill's room at the Hotel Majestic and talk this
matter over. We know something now. Yes, we know--what do we know,
monsieur?" he asked, suddenly turning with a smile to Ricardo,
and, as Ricardo paused: "Think it over while we walk down to M.
Wethermill's apartment in the Hotel Majestic."

"We know that the murderer has escaped," replied Ricardo hotly.

"The murderer is not now the most important object of our search.
He is very likely at Marseilles by now. We shall lay our hands on
him, never fear," replied Hanaud, with a superb gesture of
disdain. "But it was thoughtful of you to remind me of him. I
might so easily have clean forgotten him, and then indeed my
reputation would have suffered an eclipse." He made a low,
ironical bow to Ricardo and walked quickly down the road.

"For a cumbersome man he is extraordinarily active," said Mr.
Ricardo to Harry Wethermill, trying to laugh, without much
success. "A heavy, clever, middle-aged man, liable to become a
little gutter-boy at a moment's notice."

Thus he described the great detective, and the description is
quoted. For it was Ricardo's best effort in the whole of this
business.

The three men went straight to Harry Wethermill's apartment, which
consisted of a sitting-room and a bedroom on the first floor. A
balcony ran along outside. Hanaud stepped out on to it, looked
about him, and returned.

"It is as well to know that we cannot be overheard," he said.

Harry Wethermill meanwhile had thrown himself into a chair. The
mask he had worn had slipped from its fastenings for a moment.
There was a look of infinite suffering upon his face. It was the
face of a man tortured by misery to the snapping-point.

Hanaud, on the other hand, was particularly alert. The discovery
of the motor-car had raised his spirits. He sat at the table.

"I will tell you what we have learnt," he said, "and it is of
importance. The three of them--the man, the woman with the red
hair, and Mlle. Celie--all drove yesterday night to Geneva. That
is only one thing we have learnt."

"Then you still cling to Geneva?" said Ricardo.

"More than ever," said Hanaud.

He turned in his chair towards Wethermill.

"Ah, my poor friend!" he said, when he saw the young man's
distress.

Harry Wethermill sprang up with a gesture as though to sweep the
need of sympathy away.

"What can I do for you?" he asked.

"You have a road map, perhaps?" said Hanaud.

"Yes," said Wethermill, "mine is here. There it is"; and crossing
the room he brought it from a side-table and placed it in front of
Hanaud. Hanaud took a pencil from his pocket.

"One hundred and fifty kilometers was about the distance which the
car had travelled. Measure the distances here, and you will see
that Geneva is the likely place. It is a good city to hide in.
Moreover the car appears at the corner at daylight. How does it
appear, there? What road is it which comes out at that corner? The
road from Geneva. I am not sorry that it is Geneva, for the Chef
de la Surete is a friend of mine."

"And what else do we know?" asked Ricardo.

"This," said Hanaud. He paused impressively. "Bring up your chair
to the table, M. Wethermill, and consider whether I am right or
wrong"; and he waited until Harry Wethermill had obeyed. Then he
laughed in a friendly way at himself.

"I cannot help it," he said; "I have an eye for dramatic effects.
I must prepare for them when I know they are coming. And one, I
tell you, is coming now."

He shook his finger at his companions. Ricardo shifted and
shuffled in his chair. Harry Wethermill kept his eyes fixed on
Hanaud's face, but he was quiet, as he had been throughout the
long inquiry.

Hanaud lit a cigarette and took his time.

"What I think is this. The man who drove the car into Geneva drove
it back, because--he meant to leave it again in the garage of the
Villa Rose."

"Good heavens!" cried Ricardo, flinging himself back. The theory
so calmly enunciated took his breath away.

"Would he have dared?" asked Harry Wethermill.

Hanaud leaned across and tapped his fingers on the table to
emphasise his answer.

"All through this crime there are two things visible--brains and
daring; clever brains and extraordinary daring. Would he have
dared? He dared to be at the corner close to the Villa Rose at
daylight. Why else should he have returned except to put back the
car? Consider! The petrol is taken from tins which Servettaz might
never have touched for a fortnight, and by that time he might, as
he said, have forgotten whether he had not used them himself. I
had this possibility in my mind when I put the questions to
Servettaz about the petrol which the Commissaire thought so
stupid. The utmost care is taken that there shall be no mould left
on the floor of the carriage. The scrap of chiffon was torn off,
no doubt, when the women finally left the car, and therefore not
noticed, or that, too, would have been removed. That the exterior
of the car was dirty betrayed nothing, for Servettaz had left it
uncleaned."

Hanaud leaned back and, step by step, related the journey of the
car.

"The man leaves the gate open; he drives into Geneva the two
women, who are careful that their shoes shall leave no marks upon
the floor. At Geneva they get out. The man returns. If he can only
leave the car in the garage he covers all traces of the course he
and his friends have taken. No one would suspect that the car had
ever left the garage. At the corner of the road, just as he is
turning down to the villa, he sees a sergent-de-ville at the gate.
He knows that the murder is discovered. He puts on full speed and
goes straight out of the town. What is he to do? He is driving a
car for which the police in an hour or two, if not now already,
will be surely watching. He is driving it in broad daylight. He
must get rid of it, and at once, before people are about to see
it, and to see him in it. Imagine his feelings! It is almost
enough to make one pity him. Here he is in a car which convicts
him as a murderer, and he has nowhere to leave it. He drives
through Aix. Then on the outskirts of the town he finds an empty
villa. He drives in at the gate, forces the door of the coach-
house, and leaves his car there. Now, observe! It is no longer any
use for him to pretend that he and his friends did not disappear
in that car. The murder is already discovered, and with the murder
the disappearance of the car. So he no longer troubles his head
about it. He does not remove the traces of mould from the place
where his feet rested, which otherwise, no doubt, he would have
done. It no longer matters. He has to run to earth now before he
is seen. That is all his business. And so the state of the car is
explained. It was a bold step to bring that car back--yes, a bold
and desperate step. But a clever one. For, if it had succeeded, we
should have known nothing of their movements--oh, but nothing--
nothing. Ah! I tell you this is no ordinary blundering affair.
They are clever people who devised this crime--clever, and of an
audacity which is surprising."

Then Hanaud lit another cigarette.

Mr. Ricardo, on the other hand, could hardly continue to smoke for
excitement.

"I cannot understand your calmness," he exclaimed.

"No?" said Hanaud. "Yet it is so obvious. You are the amateur, I
am the professional--that is all."

He looked at his watch and rose to his feet.

"I must go" he said and as he turned towards the door a cry sprang
from Mr. Ricardo's lips "It is true. I am the amateur. Yet I have
knowledge, Monsieur Hanaud which the professional would do well to
obtain."

Hanaud turned a guarded face towards Ricardo. There was no longer
any raillery in his manner. He spoke slowly, coldly.

"Let me have it then!"

"I have driven in my motor-car from Geneva to Aix," Ricardo cried
excitedly. "A bridge crosses a ravine high up amongst the
mountains. At the bridge there is a Custom House. There--at the
Pont de la Caille--your car is stopped. It is searched. You must
sign your name in a book. And there is no way round. You would
find sure and certain proof whether or no Madame Dauvray's car
travelled last night to Geneva. Not so many travellers pass along
that road at night. You would find certain proof too of how many
people were in the car. For they search carefully at the Pont de
la Caille."

A dark flush overspread Hanaud's face. Ricardo was in the seventh
Heaven. He had at last contributed something to the history of
this crime. He had repaired an omission. He had supplied knowledge
to the omniscient. Wethermill looked up drearily like one who has
lost heart.

"Yes, you must not neglect that clue," he said.

Hanaud replied testily:

"It is not a clue. M. Ricardo tells that he travelled from Geneva
into France and that his car was searched. Well, we know already
that the officers are particular at the Custom Houses of France.
But travelling from France into Switzerland is a very different
affair. In Switzerland, hardly a glance, hardly a word." That was
true. M. Ricardo crestfallen recognized the truth. But his spirits
rose again at once. "But the car came back from Geneva into
France!" he cried.

"Yes, but when the car came back, the man was alone in it," Hanaud
answered. "I have more important things to attend to. For instance
I must know whether by any chance they have caught our man at
Marseilles." He laid his hand on Wethermill's shoulder. "And you,
my friend, I should counsel you to get some sleep. We may need all
our strength tomorrow. I hope so." He was speaking very bravely.
"Yes, I hope so."

Wethermill nodded.

"I shall try," he said.

"That's better," said Hanaud cheerfully. "You will both stay here
this evening; for if I have news, I can then ring you up."

Both men agreed, and Hanaud went away. He left Mr. Ricardo
profoundly disturbed. "That man will take advice from no one," he
declared. "His vanity is colossal. It is true they are not
particular at the Swiss Frontier. Still the car would have to stop
there. At the Custom House they would know something. Hanaud ought
to make inquiries." But neither Ricardo nor Harry Wethermill heard
a word more from Hanaud that night.




CHAPTER X

NEWS FROM GENEVA


The next morning, however, before Mr. Ricardo was out of his bed,
M. Hanaud was announced. He came stepping gaily into the room,
more elephantinely elfish than ever.

"Send your valet away," he said. And as soon as they were alone he
produced a newspaper, which he flourished in Mr. Ricardo's face
and then dropped into his hands.

Ricardo saw staring him in the face a full description of Celia
Harland, of her appearance and her dress, of everything except her
name, coupled with an intimation that a reward of four thousand
francs would be paid to any one who could give information leading
to the discovery of her whereabouts to Mr. Ricardo, the Hotel
Majestic, Aix-les-Bains!

Mr. Ricardo sat up in his bed with a sense of outrage.

"You have done this?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Why have you done it?" Mr. Ricardo cried.

Hanaud advanced to the bed mysteriously on the tips of his toes.

"I will tell you," he said, in his most confidential tones. "Only
it must remain a secret between you and me. I did it--because I
have a sense of humour."

"I hate publicity," said Mr. Ricardo acidly.

"On the other hand you have four thousand francs," protested the
detective. "Besides, what else should I do? If I name myself, the
very people we are seeking to catch--who, you may be sure, will be
the first to read this advertisement--will know that I, the great,
the incomparable Hanaud, am after them; and I do not want them to
know that. Besides"--and he spoke now in a gentle and most serious
voice--"why should we make life more difficult for Mlle. Celie by
telling the world that the police want her? It will be time enough
for that when she appears before the Juge d'Instruction."

Mr. Ricardo grumbled inarticulately, and read through the
advertisement again.

"Besides, your description is incomplete," he said. "There is no
mention of the diamond earrings which Celia Harland was wearing
when she went away."

"Ah! so you noticed that!" exclaimed Hanaud. "A little more
experience and I should be looking very closely to my laurels. But
as for the earrings--I will tell you, Mlle. Celie was not wearing
them when she went away from the Villa Rose."

"But--but," stammered Ricardo, "the case upon the dressing-room
table was empty."

"Still, she was not wearing them, I know," said Hanaud decisively.

"How do you know?" cried Ricardo, gazing at Hanaud with awe in his
eyes. "How could you know?"

"Because"--and Hanaud struck a majestic attitude, like a king in a
play--"because I am the captain of the ship."

Upon that Mr. Ricardo suffered a return of his ill-humour.

"I do not like to be trifled with," he remarked, with as much
dignity as his ruffled hair and the bed-clothes allowed him. He
looked sternly at the newspaper, turning it over, and then he
uttered a cry of surprise.

"But this is yesterday's paper!" he said.

"Yesterday evening's paper," Hanaud corrected.

"Printed at Geneva!"

"Printed, and published and sold at Geneva," said Hanaud.

"When did you send the advertisement in, then?"

"I wrote a letter while we were taking our luncheon," Hanaud
explained. "The letter was to Besnard, asking him to telegraph the
advertisement at once."

"But you never said a word about it to us," Ricardo grumbled.

"No. And was I not wise?" said Hanaud, with complacency. "For you
would have forbidden me to use your name."

"Oh, I don't go so far as that," said Ricardo reluctantly. His
indignation was rapidly evaporating. For there was growing up in
his mind a pleasant perception that the advertisement placed him
in the limelight.

He rose from his bed.

"You will make yourself comfortable in the sitting-room while I
have my bath."

"I will, indeed," replied Hanaud cheerily. "I have already ordered
my morning chocolate. I have hopes that you may have a telegram
very soon. This paper was cried last night through the streets of
Geneva."

Ricardo dressed for once in a way with some approach to ordinary
celerity, and joined Hanaud.

"Has nothing come?" he asked.

"No. This chocolate is very good; it is better than that which I
get in my hotel."

"Good heavens!" cried Ricardo, who was fairly twittering with
excitement. "You sit there talking about chocolate while my cup
shakes in my fingers."

"Again I must remind you that you are the amateur, I the
professional, my friend."

As the morning drew on, however, Hanaud's professional quietude
deserted him. He began to start at the sound of footsteps in the
corridor, to glance every other moment from the window, to eat his
cigarettes rather than to smoke them. At eleven o'clock Ricardo's
valet brought a telegram into the room. Ricardo seized it.

"Calmly, my friend," said Hanaud.

With trembling fingers Ricardo tore it open. He jumped in his
chair. Speechless, he handed the telegram to Hanaud. It had been
sent from Geneva, and it ran thus:

"Expect me soon after three.--MARTHE GOBIN."

Hanaud nodded his head.

"I told you I had hopes." All his levity had gone in an instant
from his manner. He spoke very quietly.

"I had better send for Wethermill?" asked Ricardo.

Hanaud shrugged his shoulders.

"As you like. But why raise hopes in that poor man's breast which
an hour or two may dash for ever to the ground? Consider! Marthe
Gobin has something to tell us. Think over those eight points of
evidence which you drew up yesterday in the Villa des Fleurs, and
say whether what she has to tell us is more likely to prove Mlle.
Celie's innocence than her guilt. Think well, for I will be guided
by you, M. Ricardo," said Hanaud solemnly. "If you think it better
that your friend should live in torture until Marthe Gobin comes,
and then perhaps suffer worse torture from the news she brings, be
it so. You shall decide. If, on the other hand, you think it will
be best to leave M. Wethermill in peace until we know her story,
be it so. You shall decide."

Ricardo moved uneasily. The solemnity of Hanaud's manner impressed
him. He had no wish to take the responsibility of the decision
upon himself. But Hanaud sat with his eyes strangely fixed upon
Ricardo, waiting for his answer.

"Well," said Ricardo, at length, "good news will be none the worse
for waiting a few hours. Bad news will be a little the better."

"Yes," said Hanaud; "so I thought you would decide." He took up a
Continental Bradshaw from a bookshelf in the room. "From Geneva
she will come through Culoz. Let us see!" He turned over the
pages. "There is a train from Culoz which reaches Aix at seven
minutes past three. It is by that train she will come. You have a
motor-car?"

"Yes."

"Very well. Will you pick me up in it at three at my hotel? We
will drive down to the station and see the arrivals by that train.
It may help us to get some idea of the person with whom we have to
deal. That is always an advantage. Now I will leave you, for I
have much to do. But I will look in upon M. Wethermill as I go
down and tell him that there is as yet no news."

He took up his hat and stick, and stood for a moment staring out
of the window. Then he roused himself from his reverie with a
start.

"You look out upon Mont Revard, I see. I think M. Wethermill's
view over the garden and the town is the better one," he said, and
went out of the room.

At three o'clock Ricardo called in his car, which was an open car
of high power, at Hanaud's hotel, and the two men went to the
station. They waited outside the exit while the passengers gave up
their tickets. Amongst them a middle-aged, short woman, of a
plethoric tendency, attracted their notice. She was neatly but
shabbily dressed in black; her gloves were darned, and she was
obviously in a hurry. As she came out she asked a commissionaire:

"How far is it to the Hotel Majestic?"

The man told her the hotel was at the very top of the town, and
the way was steep.

"But madame can go up in the omnibus of the hotel," he suggested.
Madame, however, was in too much of a hurry. The omnibus would
have to wait for luggage. She hailed a closed cab and drove off
inside it.

"Now, if we go back in the car, we shall be all ready for her when
she arrives," said Hanaud.

They passed the cab, indeed, a few yards up the steep hill which
leads from the station. The cab was moving at a walk.

"She looks honest," said Hanaud, with a sigh of relief. "She is
some good bourgeoise anxious to earn four thousand francs."

They reached the hotel in a few minutes.

"We may need your car again the moment Marthe Gobin has gone,"
said Hanaud.

"It shall wait here," said Ricardo.

"No," said Hanaud; "let it wait in the little street at the back
of my hotel. It will not be so noticeable there. You have petrol
for a long journey?"

Ricardo gave the order quietly to his chauffeur, and followed
Hanaud into the hotel. Through a glass window they could see
Wethermill smoking a cigar over his coffee.

"He looks as if he had not slept," said Ricardo.

Hanaud nodded sympathetically, and beckoned Ricardo past the
window.

"But we are nearing the end. These two days have been for him days
of great trouble; one can see that very clearly. And he has done
nothing to embarrass us. Men in distress are apt to be a nuisance.
I am grateful to M. Wethermill. But we are nearing the end. Who
knows? Within an hour or two we may have news for him."

He spoke with great feeling, and the two men ascended the stairs
to Ricardo's rooms. For the second time that day Hanaud's
professional calm deserted him. The window overlooked the main
entrance to the hotel. Hanaud arranged the room, and, even while
he arranged it, ran every other second and leaned from the window
to watch for the coming of the cab.

"Put the bank-notes upon the table," he said hurriedly. "They will
persuade her to tell us all that she has to tell. Yes, that will
do. She is not in sight yet? No."

"She could not be. It is a long way from the station," said
Ricardo, "and the whole distance is uphill."

"Yes, that is true," Hanaud replied. "We will not embarrass her by
sitting round the table like a tribunal. You will sit in that arm-
chair."

Ricardo took his seat, crossed his knees, and joined the tips of
his fingers.

"So! not too judicial!" said Hanaud; "I will sit here at the
table. Whatever you do, do not frighten her." Hanaud sat down in
the chair which he had placed for himself. "Marthe Gobin shall sit
opposite, with the light upon her face. So!" And, springing up, he
arranged a chair for her. "Whatever you do, do not frighten her,"
he repeated. "I am nervous. So much depends upon this interview."
And in a second he was back at the window.

Ricardo did not move. He arranged in his mind the interrogatory
which was to take place. He was to conduct it. He was the master
of the situation. All the limelight was to be his. Startling facts
would come to light elicited by his deft questions. Hanaud need
not fear. He would not frighten her. He would be gentle, he would
be cunning. Softly and delicately he would turn this good woman
inside out, like a glove. Every artistic fibre in his body
vibrated to the dramatic situation.

Suddenly Hanaud leaned out of the window.

"It comes! it comes!" he said in a quick, feverish whisper. "I can
see the cab between the shrubs of the drive."

"Let it come!" said Mr. Ricardo superbly.

Even as he sat he could hear the grating of wheels upon the drive.
He saw Hanaud lean farther from the window and stamp impatiently
upon the floor.

"There it is at the door," he said; and for a few seconds he spoke
no more. He stood looking downwards, craning his head, with his
back towards Ricardo.

Then, with a wild and startled cry, he staggered back into the
room. His face was white as wax, his eyes full of horror, his
mouth open.

"What is the matter?" exclaimed Ricardo, springing to his feet.

"They are lifting her out! She doesn't move! They are lifting her
out!"

For a moment he stared into Ricardo's face--paralysed by fear.
Then he sprang down the stairs. Ricardo followed him.

There was confusion in the corridor. Men were running, voices were
crying questions. As they passed the window they saw Wethermill
start up, aroused from his lethargy. They knew the truth before
they reached the entrance of the hotel. A cab had driven up to the
door from the station; in the cab was an unknown woman stabbed to
the heart.

"She should have come by the omnibus," Hanaud repeated and
repeated stupidly. For the moment he was off his balance.




CHAPTER XI

THE UNOPENED LETTER


The hall of the hotel had been cleared of people. At the entrance
from the corridor a porter barred the way.

"No one can pass," said he.

"I think that I can," said Hanaud, and he produced his card. "From
the Surete at Paris."

He was allowed to enter, with Ricardo at his heels. On the ground
lay Marthe Gobin; the manager of the hotel stood at her side; a
doctor was on his knees. Hanaud gave his card to the manager.

"You have sent word to the police?"

"Yes," said the manager.

"And the wound?" asked Hanaud, kneeling on the ground beside the
doctor. It was a very small wound, round and neat and clean, and
there was very little blood. "It was made by a bullet," said
Hanaud--"some tiny bullet from an air-pistol."

"No," answered the doctor.

"No knife made it," Hanaud asserted.

"That is true," said the doctor. "Look!" and he took up from the
floor by his knee the weapon which had caused Marthe Gobin's
death. It was nothing but an ordinary skewer with a ring at one
end and a sharp point at the other, and a piece of common white
firewood for a handle. The wood had been split, the ring inserted
and spliced in position with strong twine. It was a rough enough
weapon, but an effective one. The proof of its effectiveness lay
stretched upon the floor beside them.

Hanaud gave it to the manager of the hotel.

"You must be very careful of this, and give it as it is to the
police."

Then he bent once more over Marthe Gobin.

"Did she suffer?" he asked in a low voice.

"No; death must have been instantaneous," said the doctor.

"I am glad of that," said Hanaud, as he rose again to his feet.

In the doorway the driver of the cab was standing.

"What has he to say?" Hanaud asked.

The man stepped forward instantly. He was an old, red-faced, stout
man, with a shiny white tall hat, like a thousand drivers of cabs.

"What have I to say, monsieur?" he grumbled in a husky voice. "I
take up the poor woman at the station and I drive her where she
bids me, and I find her dead, and my day is lost. Who will pay my
fare, monsieur?"

"I will," said Hanaud. "There it is," and he handed the man a
five-franc piece. "Now, answer me! Do you tell me that this woman
was murdered in your cab and that you knew nothing about it?"

"But what should I know? I take her up at the station, and all the
way up the hill her head is every moment out of the window,
crying, 'Faster, faster!' Oh, the good woman was in a hurry! But
for me I take no notice. The more she shouts, the less I hear; I
bury my head between my shoulders, and I look ahead of me and I
take no notice. One cannot expect cab-horses to run up these
hills; it is not reasonable."

 "So you went at a walk," said
Hanaud. He beckoned to Ricardo, and said to the manager: "M.
Besnard will, no doubt, be here in a few minutes, and he will send
for the Juge d'Instruction. There is nothing that we can do."

He went back to Ricardo's sitting-room and flung himself into a
chair. He had been calm enough downstairs in the presence of the
doctor and the body of the victim. Now, with only Ricardo for a
witness, he gave way to distress.

"It is terrible," he said. "The poor woman! It was I who brought
her to Aix. It was through my carelessness. But who would have
thought--?" He snatched his hands from his face and stood up. "I
should have thought," he said solemnly. "Extraordinary daring--
that was one of the qualities of my criminal. I knew it, and I
disregarded it. Now we have a second crime."

"The skewer may lead you to the criminal," said Mr. Ricardo.

"The skewer!" cried Hanaud. "How will that help us? A knife, yes--
perhaps. But a skewer!"

"At the shops--there will not be so many in Aix at which you can
buy skewers--they may remember to whom they sold one within the
last day or so."

"How do we know it was bought in the last day or so?" cried Hanaud
scornfully. "We have not to do with a man who walks into a shop
and buys a single skewer to commit a murder with, and so hands
himself over to the police. How often must I say it!"

The violence of his contempt nettled Ricardo.

"If the murderer did not buy it, how did he obtain it?" he asked
obstinately.

"Oh, my friend, could he not have stolen it? From this or from any
hotel in Aix? Would the loss of a skewer be noticed, do you think?
How many people in Aix today have had rognons a la brochette for
their luncheon! Besides, it is not merely the death of this poor
woman which troubles me. We have lost the evidence which she was
going to bring to us. She had something to tell us about Celie
Harland which now we shall never hear. We have to begin all over
again, and I tell you we have not the time to begin all over
again. No, we have not the time. Time will be lost, and we have no
time to lose." He buried his face again in his hands and groaned
aloud. His grief was so violent and so sincere that Ricardo,
shocked as he was by the murder of Marthe Gobin, set himself to
console him.

"But you could not have foreseen that at three o'clock in the
afternoon at Aix--"

Hanaud brushed the excuse aside.

"It is no extenuation. I OUGHT to have foreseen. Oh, but I will
have no pity now," he cried, and as he ended the words abruptly
his face changed. He lifted a trembling forefinger and pointed.
There came a sudden look of life into his dull and despairing
eyes.

He was pointing to a side-table on which were piled Mr. Ricardo's
letters.

"You have not opened them this morning?" he asked.

"No. You came while I was still in bed. I have not thought of them
till now."

Hanaud crossed to the table, and, looking down at the letters,
uttered a cry.

"There's one, the big envelope," he said, his voice shaking like
his hand. "It has a Swiss stamp."

He swallowed to moisten his throat. Ricardo sprang across the room
and tore open the envelope. There was a long letter enclosed in a
handwriting unknown to him. He read aloud the first lines of the
letter:

"I write what I saw and post it tonight, so that no one may be
before me with the news. I will come over tomorrow for the money."

A low exclamation from Hanaud interrupted the words.

"The signature! Quick!"

Ricardo turned to the end of the letter.

"Marthe Gobin."

"She speaks, then! After all she speaks!" Hanaud whispered in a
voice of awe. He ran to the door of the room, opened it suddenly,
and, shutting it again, locked it. "Quick! We cannot bring that
poor woman back to life; but we may still--" He did not finish his
sentence. He took the letter unceremoniously from Ricardo's hand
and seated himself at the table. Over his shoulder Mr. Ricardo,
too, read Marthe Gobin's letter.

It was just the sort of letter, which in Ricardo's view, Marthe
Gobin would have written--a long, straggling letter which never
kept to the point, which exasperated them one moment by its folly
and fired them to excitement the next.

It was dated from a small suburb of Geneva, on the western side of
the lake, and it ran as follows:

"The suburb is but a street close to the lake-side, and a tram
runs into the city. It is quite respectable, you understand,
monsieur, with a hotel at the end of it, and really some very good
houses. But I do not wish to deceive you about the social position
of myself or my husband. Our house is on the wrong side of the
street--definitely--yes. It is a small house, and we do not see
the water from any of the windows because of the better houses
opposite. M. Gobin, my husband, who was a clerk in one of the
great banks in Geneva, broke down in health in the spring, and for
the last three months has been compelled to keep indoors. Of
course, money has not been plentiful, and I could not afford a
nurse. Consequently I myself have been compelled to nurse him.
Monsieur, if you were a woman, you would know what men are when
they are ill--how fretful, how difficult. There is not much
distraction for the woman who nurses them. So, as I am in the
house most of the day, I find what amusement I can in watching the
doings of my neighbours. You will not blame me.

"A month ago the house almost directly opposite to us was taken
furnished for the summer by a Mme. Rossignol. She is a widow, but
during the last fortnight a young gentleman has come several times
in the afternoon to see her, and it is said in the street that he
is going to marry her. But I cannot believe it myself. Monsieur is
a young man of perhaps thirty, with smooth, black hair. He wears a
moustache, a little black moustache, and is altogether
captivating. Mme. Rossignol is five or six years older, I should
think--a tall woman, with red hair and a bold sort of coarse
beauty. I was not attracted by her. She seemed not quite of the
same world as that charming monsieur who was said to be going to
marry her. No; I was not attracted by Adele Rossignol."

And when he had come to that point Hanaud looked up with a start.

"So the name was Adele," he whispered.

"Yes," said Ricardo. "Helene Vauquier spoke the truth."

Hanaud nodded with a queer smile upon his lips.

"Yes, there she spoke the truth. I thought she did."

"But she said Adele's hair was black," interposed Mr. Ricardo.

"Yes, there she didn't," said Hanaud dryly, and his eyes dropped
again to the paper.

"I knew her name was Adele, for often I have heard her servant
calling her so, and without any 'Madame' in front of the name.
That is strange, is it not, to hear an elderly servant-woman
calling after her mistress, 'Adele,' just simple 'Adele'? It was
that which made me think monsieur and madame were not of the same
world. But I do not believe that they are going to be married. I
have an instinct about it. Of course, one never knows with what
extraordinary women the nicest men will fall in love. So that
after all these two may get married. But if they do, I do not
think they will be happy.

"Besides the old woman there was another servant, a man,
Hippolyte, who served in the house and drove the carriage when it
was wanted--a respectable man. He always touched his hat when Mme.
Rossignol came out of the house. He slept in the house at night,
although the stable was at the end of the street. I thought he was
probably the son of Jeanne, the servant-woman. He was young, and
his hair was plastered down upon his forehead, and he was
altogether satisfied with himself and a great favorite amongst the
servants in the street. The carriage and the horse were hired from
Geneva. That is the household of Mme. Rossignol."

So far, Mr. Ricardo read in silence. Then he broke out again.

"But we have them! The red-haired woman called Adele; the man with
the little black moustache. It was he who drove the motor-car!"

Hanaud held up his hand to check the flow of words, and both read
on again:

"At three o'clock on Tuesday afternoon madame was driven away in
the carriage, and I did not see it return all that evening. Of
course, it may have returned to the stables by another road. But
it was not unusual for the carriage to take her into Geneva and
wait a long time. I went to bed at eleven, but in the night M.
Gobin was restless, and I rose to get him some medicine. We slept
in the front of the house, monsieur, and while I was searching for
the matches upon the table in the middle of the room I heard the
sound of carriage wheels in the silent street. I went to the
window, and, raising a corner of the curtains, looked out. M.
Gobin called to me fretfully from the bed to know why I did not
light the candle and get him what he wanted. I have already told
you how fretful sick men can be, always complaining if just for a
minute one distracts oneself by looking out of the window. But
there! One can do nothing to please them. Yet how right I was to
raise the blind and look out of the window! For if I had obeyed my
husband I might have lost four thousand francs. And four thousand
francs are not to be sneezed at by a poor woman whose husband lies
in bed.

"I saw the carriage stop at Mme. Rossignol's house. Almost at once
the house door was opened by the old servant, although the hall of
the house and all the windows in the front were dark. That was the
first thing that surprised me. For when madame came home late and
the house was dark, she used to let herself in with a latchkey.
Now, in the dark house, in the early morning, a servant was
watching for them. It was strange.

"As soon as the door of the house was opened the door of the
carriage opened too, and a young lady stepped quickly out on to
the pavement. The train of her dress caught in the door, and she
turned round, stooped, freed it with her hand, and held it up off
the ground. The night was clear, and there was a lamp in the
street close by the door of Mme. Rossignol's house. As she turned
I saw her face under the big green hat. It was very pretty and
young, and the hair was fair. She wore a white coat, but it was
open in front and showed her evening frock of pale green. When she
lifted her skirt I saw the buckles sparkling on her satin shoes.
It was the young lady for whom you are advertising, I am sure. She
remained standing just for a moment without moving, while Mme.
Rossignol got out. I was surprised to see a young lady of such
distinction in Mme. Rossignol's company. Then, still holding her
skirt up, she ran very lightly and quickly across the pavement
into the dark house. I thought, monsieur, that she was very
anxious not to be seen. So when I saw your advertisement I was
certain that this was the young lady for whom you are searching.
"I waited for a few moments and saw the carriage drive off towards
the stable at the end of the street. But no light went up in any
of the rooms in front of the house. And M. Gobin was so fretful
that I dropped the corner of the blind, lit the candle, and gave
him his cooling drink. His watch was on the table at the bedside,
and I saw that it was five minutes to three. I will send you a
telegram tomorrow, as soon as I am sure at what hour I can leave
my husband. Accept, monsieur, I beg you, my most distinguished
salutations.

"MARTHE GOBIN."

Hanaud leant back with an extraordinary look of perplexity upon
his face. But to Ricardo the whole story was now clear. Here was
an independent witness, without the jealousy or rancours of Helene
Vauquier. Nothing could be more damning than her statement; it
corroborated those footmarks upon the soil in front of the glass
door of the salon. There was nothing to be done except to set
about arresting Mlle. Celie at once.

"The facts work with your theory, M. Hanaud. The young man with
the black moustache did not return to the house at Geneva. For
somewhere upon the road close to Geneva he met the carriage. He
was driving back the car to Aix--" And then another thought struck
him: "But no!" he cried. "We are altogether wrong. See! They did
not reach home until five minutes to three."

Five minutes to three! But this demolished the whole of Hanaud's
theory about the motor-car. The murderers had left the villa
between eleven and twelve, probably before half-past eleven. The
car was a machine of sixty horse-power, and the roads were certain
to be clear. Yet the travellers only reached their home at three.
Moreover, the car was back in Aix at four. It was evident they did
not travel by the car.

"Geneva time is an hour later than French time," said Hanaud
shortly. It seemed as if the corroboration of this letter
disappointed him. "A quarter to three in Mme. Gobin's house would
be a quarter to two by our watches here."

Hanaud folded up the letter, and rose to his feet.

"We will go now, and we will take this letter with us." Hanaud
looked about the room, and picked up a glove lying upon a table.
"I left this behind me," he said, putting it into his pocket. "By
the way, where is the telegram from Marthe Gobin?"

"You put it in your letter-case."

"Oh, did I?"

Hanaud took out his letter-case and found the telegram within it.
His face lightened.

"Good!" he said emphatically. "For, since we have this telegram,
there must have been another message sent from Adele Rossignol to
Aix saying that Marthe Gobin, that busybody, that inquisitive
neighbour, who had no doubt seen M. Ricardo's advertisement, was
on her way hither. Oh it will not be put as crudely as that, but
that is what the message will mean. We shall have him." And
suddenly his face grew very stern. "I MUST catch him, for Marthe
Gobin's death I cannot forgive. A poor woman meaning no harm, and
murdered like a sheep under our noses. No, that I cannot forgive."

Ricardo wondered whether it was the actual murder of Marthe Gobin
or the fact that he had been beaten and outwitted which Hanaud
could not forgive. But discretion kept him silent.

"Let us go," said Hanaud. "By the lift, if you please; it will
save time."

They descended into the hall close by the main door. The body of
Marthe Gobin had been removed to the mortuary of the town. The
life of the hotel had resumed its course.

"M. Besnard has gone, I suppose?" Hanaud asked of the porter; and,
receiving an assent, he walked quickly out of the front door.

"But there is a shorter way," said Ricardo, running after him:
"across the garden at the back and down the steps."

"It will make no difference now," said Hanaud.

They hurried along the drive and down the road which circled round
the hotel and dipped to the town.

Behind Hanaud's hotel Ricardo's car was waiting.

"We must go first to Besnard's office. The poor man will be at his
wits' end to know who was Mme. Gobin and what brought her to Aix.
Besides, I wish to send a message over the telephone."

Hanaud descended and spent a quarter of an hour with the
Commissaire. As he came out he looked at his watch.

"We shall be in time, I think," he said. He climbed into the car.
"The murder of Marthe Gobin on her way from the station will put
our friends at their ease. It will be published, no doubt, in the
evening papers, and those good people over there in Geneva will
read it with amusement. They do not know that Marthe Gobin wrote a
letter yesterday night. Come, let us go!"

"Where to?" asked Ricardo.

"Where to?" exclaimed Hanaud. "Why, of course, to Geneva."




CHAPTER XII

THE ALUMINIUM FLASK


"I have telephoned to Lemerre, the Chef de la Surete at Geneva,"
said Hanaud, as the car sped out of Aix along the road to Annecy.
"He will have the house watched. We shall be in time. They will do
nothing until dark."

But though he spoke confidently there was a note of anxiety in his
voice, and he sat forward in the car, as though he were already
straining his eyes to see Geneva.

Ricardo was a trifle disappointed. They were on the great journey
to Geneva. They were going to arrest Mlle. Celie and her
accomplices. And Hanaud had not come disguised. Hanaud, in
Ricardo's eyes, was hardly living up to the dramatic expedition on
which they had set out. It seemed to him that there was something
incorrect in the great detective coming out on the chase without a
false beard.

"But, my dear friend, why shouldn't I?" pleaded Hanaud. "We are
going to dine together at the Restaurant du Nord, over the lake,
until it grows dark. It is not pleasant to eat one's soup in a
false beard. Have you tried it? Besides, everybody stares so,
seeing perfectly well that it is false. Now, I do not want tonight
that people should know me for a detective; so I do not go
disguised."

"Humorist!" said Mr. Ricardo.

"There! you have found me out!" cried Hanaud, in mock alarm.
"Besides, I told you this morning that that is precisely what I
am."

Beyond Annecy, they came to the bridge over the ravine. At the far
end of it, the car stopped. A question, a hurried glance into the
body of the car, and the officers of the Customs stood aside.

"You see how perfunctory it is," said Hanaud and with a jerk the
car moved on. The jerk threw Hanaud against Mr. Ricardo. Something
hard in the detective's pocket knocked against his companion.

"You have got them?" he whispered.

"What?"

"The handcuffs."

Another disappointment awaited Ricardo. A detective without a
false beard was bad enough, but that was nothing to a detective
without handcuffs. The paraphernalia of justice were sadly
lacking. However, Hanaud consoled Mr. Ricardo by showing him the
hard thing; it was almost as thrilling as the handcuffs, for it
was a loaded revolver.

"There will be danger, then?" said Ricardo, with a tremor of
excitement. "I should have brought mine."

"There would have been danger, my friend," Hanaud objected
gravely, "if you had brought yours."

They reached Geneva as the dusk was falling, and drove straight to
the restaurant by the side of the lake and mounted to the balcony
on the first floor. A small, stout man sat at a table alone in a
corner of the balcony. He rose and held out his hands.

"My friend, M. Lemerre, the Chef de la Surete of Geneva," said
Hanaud, presenting the little man to his companion.

There were as yet only two couples dining in the restaurant, and
Hanaud spoke so that neither could overhear him. He sat down at
the table.

"What news?" he asked.

"None," said Lemerre. "No one has come out of the house, no one
has gone in."

"And if anything happens while we dine?"

"We shall know," said Lemerre. "Look, there is a man loitering
under the trees there. He will strike a match to light his pipe."

The hurried conversation was ended.

"Good," said Hanaud. "We will dine, then, and be gay."

He called to the waiter and ordered dinner. It was after seven
when they sat down to dinner, and they dined while the dusk
deepened. In the street below the lights flashed out, throwing a
sheen on the foliage of the trees at the water's side. Upon the
dark lake the reflections of lamps rippled and shook. A boat in
which musicians sang to music, passed by with a cool splash of
oars. The green and red lights of the launches glided backwards
and forwards. Hanaud alone of the party on the balcony tried to
keep the conversation upon a light and general level. But it was
plain that even he was overdoing his gaiety. There were moments
when a sudden contraction of the muscles would clench his hands
and give a spasmodic jerk to his shoulders. He was waiting
uneasily, uncomfortably, until darkness should come.

"Eat," he cried--"eat, my friends," playing with his own barely
tasted food.

And then, at a sentence from Lemerre, his knife and fork clattered
on his plate, and he sat with a face suddenly grown white.

For Lemerre said, as though it was no more than a matter of
ordinary comment:

"So Mme. Dauvray's jewels were, after all, never stolen?"

Hanaud started.

"You know that? How did you know it?"

"It was in this evening's paper. I bought one on the way here.
They were found under the floor of the bedroom."

And even as he spoke a newsboy's voice rang out in the street
below them. Lemerre was alarmed by the look upon his friend's
face.

"Does it matter, Hanaud?" he asked, with some solicitude.

"It matters--" and Hanaud rose up abruptly.

The boy's voice sounded louder in the street below. The words
became distinct to all upon that balcony.

"The Aix murder! Discovery of the jewels!"

"We must go," Hanaud whispered hoarsely. "Here are life and death
in the balance, as I believe, and there"--he pointed down to the
little group gathering about the newsboy under the trees--"there
is the command which way to tip the scales."

"It was not I who sent it," said Ricardo eagerly.

He had no precise idea what Hanaud meant by his words; but he
realised that the sooner he exculpated himself from the charge the
better.

"Of course it was not you. I know that very well," said Hanaud. He
called for the bill. "When is that paper published?"

"At seven," said Lemerre.

"They have been crying it in the streets of Geneva, then, for more
than half an hour."

He sat drumming impatiently upon the table until the bill should
be brought.

"By Heaven, that's clever!" he muttered savagely. "There's a man
who gets ahead of me at every turn. See, Lemerre, I take every
care, every precaution, that no message shall be sent. I let it be
known, I take careful pains to let it be known, that no message
can be sent without detection following, and here's the message
sent by the one channel I never thought to guard against and stop.
Look!"

The murder at the Villa Rose and the mystery which hid its
perpetration had aroused interest. This new development had
quickened it. From the balcony Hanaud could see the groups
thickening about the boy and the white sheets of the newspapers in
the hands of passers-by.

"Every one in Geneva or near Geneva will know of this message by
now."

"Who could have told?" asked Ricardo blankly, and Hanaud laughed
in his face, but laughed without any merriment.

"At last!" he cried, as the waiter brought the bill, and just as
he had paid it the light of a match flared up under the trees.

"The signal!" said Lemerre.

"Not too quickly," whispered Hanaud.

With as much unconcern as each could counterfeit, the three men
descended the stairs and crossed the road. Under the trees a
fourth man joined them--he who had lighted his pipe.

"The coachman, Hippolyte," he whispered, "bought an evening paper
at the front door of the house from a boy who came down the street
shouting the news. The coachman ran back into the house."

"When was this?" asked Lemerre.

The man pointed to a lad who leaned against the balustrade above
the lake, hot and panting for breath.

"He came on his bicycle. He has just arrived."

"Follow me," said Lemerre.

Six yards from where they stood a couple of steps led down from
the embankment on to a wooden landing-stage, where boats were
moored. Lemerre, followed by the others, walked briskly down on to
the landing-stage. An electric launch was waiting. It had an
awning and was of the usual type which one hires at Geneva. There
were two sergeants in plain clothes on board, and a third man,
whom Ricardo recognised.

"That is the man who found out in whose shop the cord was bought,"
he said to Hanaud.

"Yes, it is Durette. He has been here since yesterday."

Lemerre and the three who followed him stepped into it, and it
backed away from the stage and, turning, sped swiftly outwards
from Geneva. The gay lights of the shops and the restaurants were
left behind, the cool darkness enveloped them; a light breeze blew
over the lake, a trail of white and tumbled water lengthened out
behind and overhead, in a sky of deepest blue, the bright stars
shone like gold.

"If only we are in time!" said Hanaud, catching his breath.

"Yes," answered Lemerre; and in both their voices there was a
strange note of gravity.

Lemerre gave a signal after a while, and the boat turned to the
shore and reduced its speed. They had passed the big villas. On
the bank the gardens of houses--narrow, long gardens of a street
of small houses--reached down to the lake, and to almost each
garden there was a rickety landing-stage of wood projecting into
the lake. Again Lemerre gave a signal, and the boat's speed was so
much reduced that not a sound of its coming could be heard. It
moved over the water like a shadow, with not so much as a curl of
white at its bows.

Lemerre touched Hanaud on the shoulder and pointed to a house in a
row of houses. All the windows except two upon the second floor
and one upon the ground floor were in absolute darkness, and over
those upper two the wooden shutters were closed. But in the
shutters there were diamond-shaped holes, and from these holes two
yellow beams of light, like glowing eyes upon the watch, streamed
out and melted in the air.

"You are sure that the front of the house is guarded?" asked
Hanaud anxiously.

"Yes," replied Lemerre.

Ricardo shivered with excitement. The launch slid noiselessly into
the bank and lay hidden under its shadow. Hanaud turned to his
associates with his finger to his lips. Something gleamed darkly
in his hand. It was the barrel of his revolver. Cautiously the men
disembarked and crept up the bank. First came Lemerre, then
Hanaud; Ricardo followed him, and the fourth man, who had struck
the match under the trees, brought up the rear. The other three
officers remained in the boat.

Stooping under the shadow of the side wall of the garden, the
invaders stole towards the house. When a bush rustled or a tree
whispered in the light wind, Ricardo's heart jumped to his throat.
Once Lemerre stopped, as though his ears heard a sound which
warned him of danger. Then cautiously he crept on again. The
garden was a ragged place of unmown lawn and straggling bushes.
Behind each one Mr. Ricardo seemed to feel an enemy. Never had he
been in so strait a predicament. He, the cultured host of
Grosvenor Square, was creeping along under a wall with Continental
policemen; he was going to raid a sinister house by the Lake of
Geneva. It was thrilling. Fear and excitement gripped him in turn
and let him go, but always he was sustained by the pride of the
man doing an out-of-the-way thing. "If only my friends could see
me now!" The ancient vanity was loud in his bosom. Poor fellows,
they were upon yachts in the Solent or on grouse-moors in
Scotland, or on golf-links at North Berwick. He alone of them all
was tracking malefactors to their doom by Leman's Lake.

From these agreeable reflections Ricardo was shaken. Lemerre
stopped. The raiders had reached the angle made by the side wall
of the garden and the house. A whisper was exchanged, and the
party turned and moved along the house wall towards the lighted
window on the ground floor. As Lemerre reached it he stooped. Then
slowly his forehead and his eyes rose above the sill and glanced
this way and that into the room. Mr. Ricardo could see his eyes
gleaming as the light from the window caught them. His face rose
completely over the sill. He stared into the room without care or
apprehension, and then dropped again out of the reach of the
light. He turned to Hanaud.

"The room is empty," he whispered. Hanaud turned to Ricardo.

"Pass under the sill, or the light from the window will throw your
shadow upon the lawn."

The party came to the back door of the house. Lemerre tried the
handle of the door, and to his surprise it yielded. They crept
into the passage. The last man closed the door noiselessly, locked
it, and removed the key. A panel of light shone upon the wall a
few paces ahead. The door of the lighted room was open. As Ricardo
stepped silently past it, he looked in. It was a parlour meanly
furnished. Hanaud touched him on the arm and pointed to the table.

Ricardo had seen the objects at which Hanaud pointed often enough
without uneasiness; but now, in this silent house of crime, they
had the most sinister and appalling aspect. There was a tiny phial
half full of a dark-brown liquid, beside it a little leather case
lay open, and across the case, ready for use or waiting to be
filled, was a bright morphia needle. Ricardo felt the cold creep
along his spine, and shivered.

"Come," whispered Hanaud.

They reached the foot of a flight of stairs, and cautiously
mounted it. They came out in a passage which ran along the side of
the house from the back to the front. It was unlighted, but they
were now on the level of the street, and a fan-shaped glass window
over the front door admitted a pale light. There was a street lamp
near to the door, Ricardo remembered. For by the light of it
Marthe Gobin had seen Celia Harland run so nimbly into this house.

For a moment the men in the passage held their breath. Some one
strode heavily by on the pavement outside--to Mr. Ricardo's ear a
most companionable sound. Then a clock upon a church struck the
half-hour musically, distantly. It was half-past eight. And a
second afterwards a tiny bright light shone. Hanaud was directing
the light of a pocket electric torch to the next flight of stairs.

Here the steps were carpeted, and once more the men crept up. One
after another they came out upon the next landing. It ran, like
those below it, along the side of the house from the back to the
front, and the doors were all upon their left hand. From beneath
the door nearest to them a yellow line of light streamed out.

They stood in the darkness listening. But not a sound came from
behind the door. Was this room empty, too? In each one's mind was
the fear that the birds had flown. Lemerre carefully took the
handle of the door and turned it. Very slowly and cautiously he
opened the door. A strong light beat out through the widening gap
upon his face. And then, though his feet did not move, his
shoulders and his face drew back. The action was significant
enough. This room, at all events, was not empty. But of what
Lemerre saw in the room his face gave no hint. He opened the door
wider, and now Hanaud saw. Ricardo, trembling with excitement,
watched him. But again there was no expression of surprise,
consternation, or delight. He stood stolidly and watched. Then he
turned to Ricardo, placed a finger on his lips, and made room.
Ricardo crept on tiptoe to his side. And now he too could look in.
He saw a brightly lit bedroom with a made bed. On his left were
the shuttered windows overlooking the lake. On his right in the
partition wall a door stood open. Through the door he could see a
dark, windowless closet, with a small bed from which the
bedclothes hung and trailed upon the floor, as though some one had
been but now roughly dragged from it. On a table, close by the
door, lay a big green hat with a brown ostrich feather, and a
white cloak. But the amazing spectacle which kept him riveted was
just in front of him. An old hag of a woman was sitting in a chair
with her back towards them. She was mending with a big needle the
holes in an old sack, and while she bent over her work she crooned
to herself some French song. Every now and then she raised her
eyes, for in front of her, under her charge, Mlle. Celie, the girl
of whom Hanaud was in search, lay helpless upon a sofa. The train
of her delicate green frock swept the floor. She was dressed as
Helene Vauquier had described. Her gloved hands were tightly bound
behind her back, her feet were crossed so that she could not have
stood, and her ankles were cruelly strapped together. Over her
face and eyes a piece of coarse sacking was stretched like a mask,
and the ends were roughly sewn together at the back of her head.
She lay so still that, but for the labouring of her bosom and a
tremor which now and again shook her limbs, the watchers would
have thought her dead. She made no struggle of resistance; she lay
quiet and still. Once she writhed, but it was with the uneasiness
of one in pain, and the moment she stirred the old woman's hand
went out to a bright aluminium flask which stood on a little table
at her side.

"Keep quiet, little one!" she ordered in a careless, chiding
voice, and she rapped with the flask peremptorily upon the table.
Immediately, as though the tapping had some strange message of
terror for the girl's ear, she stiffened her whole body and lay
rigid.

"I am not ready for you yet, little fool," said the old woman, and
she bent again to her work.

Ricardo's brain whirled. Here was the girl whom they had come to
arrest, who had sprung from the salon with so much activity of
youth across the stretch of grass, who had run so quickly and
lightly across the pavement into this very house, so that she
should not be seen. And now she was lying in her fine and delicate
attire a captive, at the mercy of the very people who were her
accomplices.

Suddenly a scream rang out in the garden--a shrill, loud scream,
close beneath the windows. The old woman sprang to her feet. The
girl on the sofa raised her head. The old woman took a step
towards the window, and then she swiftly turned towards the door.
She saw the men upon the threshold. She uttered a bellow of rage.
There is no other word to describe the sound. It was not a human
cry; it was the bellow of an angry animal. She reached out her
hand towards the flask, but before she could grasp it Hanaud
seized her. She burst into a torrent of foul oaths. Hanaud flung
her across to Lemerre's officer, who dragged her from the room.

"Quick!" said Hanaud, pointing to the girl, who was now struggling
helplessly upon the sofa. "Mlle. Celie!"

Ricardo cut the stitches of the sacking. Hanaud unstrapped her
hands and feet. They helped her to sit up. She shook her hands in
the air as though they tortured her, and then, in a piteous,
whimpering voice, like a child's, she babbled incoherently and
whispered prayers. Suddenly the prayers ceased. She sat stiff,
with eyes fixed and staring. She was watching Lemerre, and she was
watching him fascinated with terror. He was holding in his hand
the large, bright aluminium flask. He poured a little of the
contents very carefully on to a piece of the sack; and then with
an exclamation of anger he turned towards Hanaud. But Hanaud was
supporting Celia; and so, as Lemerre turned abruptly towards him
with the flask in his hand, he turned abruptly towards Celia too.
She wrenched herself from Hanaud's arms, she shrank violently
away. Her white face flushed scarlet and grew white again. She
screamed loudly, terribly; and after the scream she uttered a
strange, weak sigh, and so fell sideways in a swoon. Hanaud caught
her as she fell. A light broke over his face.

"Now I understand!" he cried. "Good God! That's horrible."




CHAPTER XIII

IN THE HOUSE AT GENEVA


It was well, Mr. Ricardo thought, that some one understood. For
himself, he frankly admitted that he did not. Indeed, in his view
the first principles of reasoning seemed to be set at naught. It
was obvious from the solicitude with which Celia Harland was
surrounded that every one except himself was convinced of her
innocence. Yet it was equally obvious that any one who bore in
mind the eight points he had tabulated against her must be
convinced of her guilt. Yet again, if she were guilty, how did it
happen that she had been so mishandled by her accomplices? He was
not allowed however, to reflect upon these remarkable problems. He
had too busy a time of it. At one moment he was running to fetch
water wherewith to bathe Celia's forehead. At another, when he had
returned with the water, he was distracted by the appearance of
Durette, the inspector from Aix, in the doorway.

"We have them both," he said--"Hippolyte and the woman. They were
hiding in the garden."

"So I thought," said Hanaud, "when I saw the door open downstairs,
and the morphia-needle on the table."

Lemerre turned to one of the officers.

"Let them be taken with old Jeanne in cabs to the depot."

And when the man had gone upon his errand Lemerre spoke to Hanaud.

"You will stay here tonight to arrange for their transfer to Aix?"

"I will leave Durette behind," said Hanaud. "I am needed at Aix.
We will make a formal application for the prisoners." He was
kneeling by Celia's side and awkwardly dabbing her forehead with a
wet handkerchief. He raised a warning hand. Celia Harland moved
and opened her eyes. She sat up on the sofa, shivering, and looked
with dazed and wondering eyes from one to another of the strangers
who surrounded her. She searched in vain for a familiar face.

"You are amongst good friends, Mlle. Celie," said Hanaud with
great gentleness.

"Oh, I wonder! I wonder!" she cried piteously.

"Be very sure of it," he said heartily, and she clung to the
sleeve of his coat with desperate hands.

"I suppose you are friends," she said; "else why--?" and she moved
her numbed limbs to make certain that she was free. She looked
about the room. Her eyes fell upon the sack and widened with
terror.

"They came to me a little while ago in that cupboard there--Adele
and the old woman Jeanne. They made me get up. They told me they
were going to take me away. They brought my clothes and dressed me
in everything I wore when I came, so that no single trace of me
might be left behind. Then they tied me." She tore off her gloves
and showed them her lacerated wrists. "I think they meant to kill
me--horribly." And she caught her breath and whimpered like a
child. Her spirit was broken.

"My poor girl, all that is over," said Hanaud. And he stood up.

But at the first movement he made she cried incisively, "No," and
tightened the clutch of her fingers upon his sleeve.

"But, mademoiselle, you are safe," he said, with a smile. She
stared at him stupidly. It seemed the words had no meaning for
her. She would not let him go. It was only the feel of his coat
within the clutch of her fingers which gave her any comfort.

"I want to be sure that I am safe," she said, with a wan little
smile.

"Tell me, mademoiselle, what have you had to eat and drink during
the last two days?"

"Is it two days?" she asked. "I was in the dark there. I did not
know. A little bread, a little water."

"That's what is wrong," said Hanaud. "Come, let us go from here!"

"Yes, yes!" Celia cried eagerly. She rose to her feet, and
tottered. Hanaud put his arm about her. "You are very kind," she
said in a low voice, and again doubt looked out from her face and
disappeared. "I am sure that I can trust you."

Ricardo fetched her cloak and slipped it on her shoulders. Then he
brought her hat, and she pinned it on. She turned to Hanaud;
unconsciously familiar words rose to her lips.

"Is it straight?" she asked. And Hanaud laughed outright, and in a
moment Celia smiled herself.

Supported by Hanaud she stumbled down the stairs to the garden. As
they passed the open door of the lighted parlour at the back of
the house Hanaud turned back to Lemerre and pointed silently to
the morphia-needle and the phial. Lemerre nodded his head, and
going into the room took them away. They went out again into the
garden. Celia Harland threw back her head to the stars and drew in
a deep breath of the cool night air.

"I did not think," she said in a low voice, "to see the stars
again."

They walked slowly down the length of the garden, and Hanaud
lifted her into the launch. She turned and caught his coat.

"You must come too," she said stubbornly.

Hanaud sprang in beside her.

"For tonight," he said gaily, "I am your papa!"

Ricardo and the others followed, and the launch moved out over the
lake under the stars. The bow was turned towards Geneva, the water
tumbled behind them like white fire, the night breeze blew fresh
upon their faces. They disembarked at the landing-stage, and then
Lemerre bowed to Celia and took his leave. Hanaud led Celia up on
to the balcony of the restaurant and ordered supper. There were
people still dining at the tables.

One party indeed sitting late over their coffee Ricardo recognised
with a kind of shock. They had taken their places, the very places
in which they now sat, before he and Hanaud and Lemerre had left
the restaurant upon their expedition of rescue. Into that short
interval of time so much that was eventful had been crowded.

Hanaud leaned across the table to Celia and said in a low voice:

"Mademoiselle, if I may suggest it, it would be as well if you put
on your gloves; otherwise they may notice your wrists."

Celia followed his advice. She ate some food and drank a glass of
champagne. A little colour returned to her cheeks.

"You are very kind to me, you and monsieur your friend," she said,
with a smile towards Ricardo. "But for you--" and her voice shook.

"Hush!" said Hanaud--"all that is over; we will not speak of it."

Celia looked out across the road on to the trees, of which the
dark foliage was brightened and made pale by the lights of the
restaurant. Out on the water some one was singing.

"It seems impossible to me," she said in a low voice, "that I am
here, in the open air, and free."

Hanaud looked at his watch.

"Mlle. Celie, it is past ten o'clock. M. Ricardo's car is waiting
there under the trees. I want you to drive back to Aix. I have
taken rooms for you at an hotel, and there will be a nurse from
the hospital to look after you."

"Thank you, monsieur," she said; "you have thought of everything.
But I shall not need a nurse."

"But you will have a nurse," said Hanaud firmly. "You feel
stronger now--yes, but when you lay your head upon your pillow,
mademoiselle, it will be a comfort to you to know that you have
her within call. And in a day or two," he added gently, "you will
perhaps be able to tell us what happened on Tuesday night at the
Villa Rose?"

Celia covered her face with her hands for a few moments. Then she
drew them away and said simply:

"Yes, monsieur, I will tell you."

Hanaud bowed to her with a genuine deference.

"Thank you, mademoiselle," he said, and in his voice there was a
strong ring of sympathy.

They went downstairs and entered Ricardo's motor-car.

"I want to send a telephone message," said Hanaud, "if you will
wait here."

"No!" cried Celia decisively, and she again laid hold of his coat,
with a pretty imperiousness, as though he belonged to her.

"But I must," said Hanaud with a laugh.

"Then I will come too," said Celia, and she opened the door and
set a foot upon the step.

"You will not, mademoiselle," said Hanaud, with a laugh. "Will you
take your foot back into that car? That is better. Now you will
sit with your friend, M. Ricardo, whom, by the way, I have not yet
introduced to you. He is a very good friend of yours,
mademoiselle, and will in the future be a still better one."

Ricardo felt his conscience rather heavy within him, for he had
come out to Geneva with the fixed intention of arresting her as a
most dangerous criminal. Even now he could not understand how she
could be innocent of a share in Mme. Dauvray's murder. But Hanaud
evidently thought she was. And since Hanaud thought so, why, it
was better to say nothing if one was sensitive to gibes. So
Ricardo sat and talked with her while Hanaud ran back into the
restaurant. It mattered very little, however, what he said, for
Celia's eyes were fixed upon the doorway through which Hanaud had
disappeared. And when he came back she was quick to turn the
handle of the door.

"Now, mademoiselle, we will wrap you up in M. Ricardo's spare
motor-coat and cover your knees with a rug and put you between us,
and then you can go to sleep."

The car sped through the streets of Geneva. Celia Harland, with a
little sigh of relief, nestled down between the two men.

"If I knew you better," she said to Hanaud, "I should tell you--
what, of course, I do not tell you now--that I feel as if I had a
big Newfoundland dog with me."

"Mlle. Celie," said Hanaud, and his voice told her that he was
moved, "that is a very pretty thing which you have said to me."

The lights of the city fell away behind them. Now only a glow in
the sky spoke of Geneva; now even that was gone and with a smooth
continuous purr the car raced through the cool darkness. The great
head lamps threw a bright circle of light before them and the road
slipped away beneath the wheels like a running tide. Celia fell
asleep. Even when the car stopped at the Pont de La Caille she did
not waken. The door was opened, a search for contrabrand was made,
the book was signed, still she did not wake. The car sped on.

"You see, coming into France is a different affair," said Hanaud.

"Yes," replied Ricardo.

"Still, I will own it, you caught me napping yesterday."

"I did?" exclaimed Ricardo joyfully.

"You did," returned Hanaud. "I had never heard of the Pont de La
Caille. But you will not mention it? You will not ruin me?"

"I will not," answered. M. Ricardo, superb in his magnanimity.
"You are a good detective."

"Oh, thank you! thank you!" cried Hanaud in a voice which shook--
surely with emotion. He wrung Ricardo's hand. He wiped an
imaginary tear from his eye.

And still Celia slept. M. Ricardo looked at her. He said to Hanaud
in a whisper:

"Yet I do not understand. The car, though no serious search was
made, must still have stopped at the Pont de La Caille on the
Swiss side. Why did she not cry for help then? One cry and she was
safe. A movement even was enough. Do you understand?"

Hanaud nodded his head.

"I think so," he answered, with a very gentle look at Celia. "Yes,
I think so."

When Celia was aroused she found that the car had stopped before
the door of an hotel, and that a woman in the dress of a nurse was
standing in the doorway.

"You can trust Marie," said Hanaud. And Celia turned as she stood
upon the ground and gave her hands to the two men.

"Thank you! Thank you both!" she said in a trembling voice. She
looked at Hanaud and nodded her head. "You understand why I thank
you so very much?"

"Yes," said Hanaud. "But, mademoiselle"--and he bent over the car
and spoke to her quietly, holding her hand--"there is ALWAYS a big
Newfoundland dog in the worst of troubles--if only you will look
for him. I tell you so--I, who belong to the Surete in Paris. Do
not lose heart!" And in his mind he added: "God forgive me for the
lie." He shook her hand and let it go; and gathering up her skirt
she went into the hall of the hotel.

Hanaud watched her as she went. She was to him a lonely and
pathetic creature, in spite of the nurse who bore her company.

"You must be a good friend to that young girl, M. Ricardo," he
said. "Let us drive to your hotel."

"Yes," said Ricardo. And as they went the curiosity which all the
way from Geneva had been smouldering within him burst into flame.

"Will you explain to me one thing?" he asked. "When the scream
came from the garden you were not surprised. Indeed, you said that
when you saw the open door and the morphia-needle on the table of
the little room downstairs you thought Adele and the man Hippolyte
were hiding in the garden."

"Yes, I did think so."

"Why? And why did the publication that the jewels had been
discovered so alarm you?"

"Ah!" said Hanaud. "Did not you understand that? Yet it is surely
clear and obvious, if you once grant that the girl was innocent,
was a witness of the crime, and was now in the hands of the
criminals. Grant me those premisses, M. Ricardo, for a moment, and
you will see that we had just one chance of finding the girl alive
in Geneva. From the first I was sure of that. What was the one
chance? Why, this! She might be kept alive on the chance that she
could be forced to tell what, by the way, she did not know,
namely, the place where Mme. Dauvray's valuable jewels were
secreted. Now, follow this. We, the police, find the jewels and
take charge of them. Let that news reach the house in Geneva, and
on the same night Mlle. Celie loses her life, and not--very
pleasantly. They have no further use for her. She is merely a
danger to them. So I take my precautions--never mind for the
moment what they were. I take care that if the murderer is in Aix
and gets wind of our discovery he shall not be able to communicate
his news."

"The Post Office would have stopped letters or telegrams," said
Ricardo. "I understand."

"On the contrary," replied Hanaud. "No, I took my precautions,
which were of quite a different kind, before I knew the house in
Geneva or the name of Rossignol. But one way of communication I
did not think of. I did not think of the possibility that the news
might be sent to a newspaper, which of course would publish it and
cry it through the streets of Geneva. The moment I heard the news
I knew we must hurry. The garden of the house ran down to the
lake. A means of disposing of Mlle. Celie was close at hand. And
the night had fallen. As it was, we arrived just in time, and no
earlier than just in time. The paper had been bought, the message
had reached the house, Mlle. Celie was no longer of any use, and
every hour she stayed in that house was of course an hour of
danger to her captors."

"What were they going to do?" asked Ricardo.

Hanaud shrugged his shoulders.

"It is not pretty--what they were going to do. We reach the garden
in our launch. At that moment Hippolyte and Adele, who is most
likely Hippolyte's wife, are in the lighted parlour on the
basement floor. Adele is preparing her morphia-needle. Hippolyte
is going to get ready the rowing-boat which was tied at the end of
the landing-stage. Quietly as we came into the bank, they heard or
saw us. They ran out and hid in the garden, having no time to lock
the garden door, or perhaps not daring to lock it lest the sound
of the key should reach our ears. We find that door upon the
latch, the door of the room open; on the table lies the morphia-
needle. Upstairs lies Mlle. Celie--she is helpless, she cannot see
what they are meaning to do."

"But she could cry out," exclaimed Ricardo. "She did not even do
that!"

"No, my friend, she could not cry out," replied Hanaud very
seriously. "I know why. She could not. No living man or woman
could. Rest assured of that!"

Ricardo was mystified; but since the captain of the ship would not
show his observation, he knew it would be in vain to press him.

"Well, while Adele was preparing her morphia-needle and Hippolyte
was about to prepare the boat, Jeanne upstairs was making her
preparation too. She was mending a sack. Did you see Mlle. Celie's
eyes and face when first she saw that sack? Ah! she understood!
They meant to give her a dose of morphia, and, as soon as she
became unconscious, they were going perhaps to take some terrible
precaution--" Hanaud paused for a second. "I only say perhaps as
to that. But certainly they were going to sew her up in that sack,
row her well out across the lake, fix a weight to her feet, and
drop her quietly overboard. She was to wear everything which she
had brought with her to the house. Mlle. Celie would have
disappeared for ever, and left not even a ripple upon the water to
trace her by!"

Ricardo clenched his hands.

"But that's horrible!" he cried; and as he uttered the words the
car swerved into the drive and stopped before the door of the
Hotel Majestic.

Ricardo sprang out. A feeling of remorse seized hold of him. All
through that evening he had not given one thought to Harry
Wethermill, so utterly had the excitement of each moment engrossed
his mind.

"He will be glad to know!" cried Ricardo. "Tonight, at all events,
he shall sleep. I ought to have telegraphed to him from Geneva
that we and Miss Celia were coming back." He ran up the steps into
the hotel.

"I took care that he should know," said Hanaud, as he followed in
Ricardo's steps.

"Then the message could not have reached him, else he would have
been expecting us," replied Ricardo, as he hurried into the
office, where a clerk sat at his books.

"Is Mr. Wethermill in?" he asked.

The clerk eyed him strangely.

"Mr. Wethermill was arrested this evening," he said.

Ricardo stepped back.

"Arrested! When?"

"At twenty-five minutes past ten," replied the clerk shortly.

"Ah," said Hanaud quietly. "That was my telephone message."

Ricardo stared in stupefaction at his companion.

"Arrested!" he cried. "Arrested! But what for?"

"For the murders of Marthe Gobin and Mme. Dauvray," said Hanaud.
"Good-night."




CHAPTER XIV

MR. RICARDO IS BEWILDERED


Ricardo passed a most tempestuous night. He was tossed amongst
dark problems. Now it was Harry Wethermill who beset him. He
repeated and repeated the name, trying to grasp the new and
sinister suggestion which, if Hanaud were right, its sound must
henceforth bear. Of course Hanaud might be wrong. Only, if he were
wrong, how had he come to suspect Harry Wethermill? What had first
directed his thoughts to that seemingly heart-broken man? And
when? Certain recollections became vivid in Mr. Ricardo's mind--
the luncheon at the Villa Rose, for instance. Hanaud had been so
insistent that the woman with the red hair was to be found in
Geneva, had so clearly laid it down that a message, a telegram, a
letter from Aix to Geneva, would enable him to lay his hands upon
the murderer in Aix. He was isolating the house in Geneva even so
early in the history of his investigations, even so soon he
suspected Harry Wethermill. Brains and audacity--yes, these two
qualities he had stipulated in the criminal. Ricardo now for the
first time understood the trend of all Hanaud's talk at that
luncheon. He was putting Harry Wethermill upon his guard, he was
immobilising him, he was fettering him in precautions; with a
subtle skill he was forcing him to isolate himself. And he was
doing it deliberately to save the life of Celia Harland in Geneva.
Once Ricardo lifted himself up with the hair stirring on his
scalp. He himself had been with Wethermill in the baccarat-rooms
on the very night of the murder. They had walked together up the
hill to the hotel. It could not be that Harry Wethermill was
guilty. And yet, he suddenly remembered, they had together left
the rooms at an early hour. It was only ten o'clock when they had
separated in the hall, when they had gone, each to his own room.
There would have been time for Wethermill to reach the Villa Rose
and do his dreadful work upon that night before twelve, if all had
been arranged beforehand, if all went as it had been arranged. And
as he thought upon the careful planning of that crime, and
remembered Wethermill's easy chatter as they had strolled from
table to table in the Villa des Fleurs, Ricardo shuddered. Though
he encouraged a taste for the bizarre, it was with an effort. He
was naturally of an orderly mind, and to touch the eerie or
inhuman caused him a physical discomfort. So now he marvelled in a
great uneasiness at the calm placidity with which Wethermill had
talked, his arm in his, while the load of so dark a crime to be
committed within the hour lay upon his mind. Each minute he must
have been thinking, with a swift spasm of the heart, "Should such
a precaution fail--should such or such an unforeseen thing
intervene," yet there had been never a sign of disturbance, never
a hint of any disquietude.

Then Ricardo's thoughts turned as he tossed upon his bed to Celia
Harland, a tragic and a lonely figure. He recalled the look of
tenderness upon her face when her eyes had met Harry Wethermill's
across the baccarat-table in the Villa des Fleurs. He gained some
insight into the reason why she had clung so desperately to
Hanaud's coat-sleeve yesterday. Not merely had he saved her life.
She was lying with all her world of trust and illusion broken
about her, and Hanaud had raised her up. She had found some one
whom she trusted--the big Newfoundland dog, as she expressed it.
Mr. Ricardo was still thinking of Celia Harland when the morning
came. He fell asleep, and awoke to find Hanaud by his bed.

"You will be wanted today," said Hanaud.

Ricardo got up and walked down from the hotel with the detective.
The front door faces the hillside of Mont Revard, and on this side
Mr. Ricardo's rooms looked out. The drive from the front door
curves round the end of the long building and joins the road,
which then winds down towards the town past the garden at the back
of the hotel. Down this road the two men walked, while the
supporting wall of the garden upon their right hand grew higher
and higher above their heads. They came to a steep flight of steps
which makes a short cut from the hotel to the road, and at the
steps Hanaud stopped.

"Do you see?" he said. "On the opposite side there are no houses;
there is only a wall. Behind the wall there are climbing gardens
and the ground falls steeply to the turn of the road below.
There's a flight of steps leading down which corresponds with the
flight of steps from the garden. Very often there's a serjent-de-
ville stationed on the top of the steps. But there was not one
there yesterday afternoon at three. Behind us is the supporting
wall of the hotel garden. Well, look about you. We cannot be seen
from the hotel. There's not a soul in sight--yes, there's some one
coming up the hill, but we have been standing here quite long
enough for you to stab me and get back to your coffee on the
verandah of the hotel."

Ricardo started back.

"Marthe Gobin!" he cried. "It was here, then?"

Hanaud nodded.

"When we returned from the station in your motor-car and went up
to your rooms we passed Harry Wethermill sitting upon the verandah
over the garden drinking his coffee. He had the news then that
Marthe Gobin was on her way."

"But you had isolated the house in Geneva. How could he have the
news?" exclaimed Ricardo, whose brain was whirling.

"I had isolated the house from him, in the sense that he dared not
communicate with his accomplices. That is what you have to
remember. He could not even let them know that they must not
communicate with him. So he received a telegram. It was carefully
worded. No doubt he had arranged the wording of any message with
the care which was used in all the preparations. It ran like
this"--and Hanaud took a scrap of paper from his pocket and read
out from it a copy of the telegram: "'Agent arrives Aix 3.7 to
negotiate purchase of your patent.' The telegram was handed in at
Geneva station at 12.45, five minutes after the train had left
which carried Marthe Gobin to Aix. And more, it was handed in by a
man strongly resembling Hippolyte Tace"--that we know."

"That was madness," said Ricardo.

"But what else could they do over there in Geneva? They did not
know that Harry Wethermill was suspected. Harry Wethermill had no
idea of it himself. But, even if they had known, they must take
the risk. Put yourself into their place for a moment. They had
seen my advertisement about Celie Harland in the Geneva paper.
Marthe Gobin, that busybody who was always watching her
neighbours, was no doubt watched herself. They see her leave the
house, an unusual proceeding for her with her husband ill, as her
own letter tells us. Hippolyte follows her to the station, sees
her take her ticket to Aix and mount into the train. He must guess
at once that she saw Celie Harland enter their house, that she is
travelling to Aix with the information of her whereabouts. At all
costs she must be prevented from giving that information. At all
risks, therefore, the warning telegram must be sent to Harry
Wethermill."

Ricardo recognised the force of the argument.

"If only you had heard of the telegram yesterday in time!" he
cried.

"Ah, yes!" Hanaud agreed. "But it was only sent off at a quarter
to one. It was delivered to Wethermill and a copy was sent to the
Prefecture, but the telegram was delivered first."

"When was it delivered to Wethermill?" asked Ricardo.

"At three. We had already left for the station. Wethermill was
sitting on the verandah. The telegram was brought to him there. It
was brought by a waiter in the hotel who remembers the incident
very well. Wethermill has seven minutes and the time it will take
for Marthe Gobin to drive from the station to the Majestic. What
does he do? He runs up first to your rooms, very likely not yet
knowing what he must do. He runs up to verify his telegram."

"Are you sure of that?" cried Ricardo. "How can you be? You were
at the station with me. What makes you sure?"

Hanaud produced a brown kid glove from his pocket.

"This."

"That is your glove; you told me so yesterday."

"I told you so," replied Hanaud calmly; "but it is not my glove.
It is Wethermill's; there are his initials stamped upon the
lining--see? I picked up that glove in your room, after we had
returned from the station. It was not there before. He went to
your rooms. No doubt he searched for a telegram. Fortunately he
did not examine your letters, or Marthe Gobin would never have
spoken to us as she did after she was dead,"

"Then what did he do?" asked Ricardo eagerly; and, though Hanaud
had been with him at the entrance to the station all this while,
he asked the question in absolute confidence that the true answer
would be given to him.

"He returned to the verandah wondering what he should do. He saw
us come back from the station in the motor-car and go up to your
room. We were alone. Marthe Gobin, then, was following. There was
his chance. Marthe Gobin must not reach us, must not tell her news
to us. He ran down the garden steps to the gate. No one could see
him from the hotel. Very likely he hid behind the trees, whence he
could watch the road. A cab comes up the hill; there's a woman in
it--not quite the kind of woman who stays at your hotel, M.
Ricardo. Yet she must be going to your hotel, for the road ends.
The driver is nodding on his box, refusing to pay any heed to his
fare lest again she should bid him hurry. His horse is moving at a
walk. Wethermill puts his head in at the window and asks if she
has come to see M. Ricardo. Anxious for her four thousand francs,
she answers 'Yes.' Perhaps he steps into the cab, perhaps as he
walks by the side he strikes, and strikes hard and strikes surely.
Long before the cab reaches the hotel he is back again on the
verandah."

"Yes," said Ricardo, "it's the daring of which you spoke which
made the crime possible--the same daring which made him seek your
help. That was unexampled."

"No," replied Hanaud. "There's an historic crime in your own
country, monsieur. Cries for help were heard in a by-street of a
town. When people ran to answer them, a man was found kneeling by
a corpse. It was the kneeling man who cried for help, but it was
also the kneeling man who did the murder. I remembered that when I
first began to suspect Harry Wethermill."

Ricardo turned eagerly.

"And when--when did you first begin to suspect Harry Wethermill?"

Hanaud smiled and shook his head.

"That you shall know in good time. I am the captain of the ship."
His voice took on a deeper note. "But I prepare you. Listen!
Daring and brains, those were the property of Harry Wethermill--
yes. But it is not he who is the chief actor in the crime. Of that
I am sure. He was no more than one of the instruments."

"One of the instruments? Used, then, by whom?" asked Ricardo.

"By my Normandy peasant-woman, M. Ricardo," said Hanaud. "Yes,
there's the dominating figure--cruel, masterful, relentless--that
strange woman, Helene Vauquier. You are surprised? You will see!
It is not the man of intellect and daring; it's my peasant-woman
who is at the bottom of it all."

"But she's free!" exclaimed Ricardo. "You let her go free!"

"Free!" repeated Ricardo. "She was driven straight from the Villa
Rose to the depot. She has been kept au secret ever since."

Ricardo stared in amazement.

"Already you knew of her guilt?"

"Already she had lied to me in her description of Adele Rossignol.
Do you remember what she said--a black-haired woman with beady
eyes; and I only five minutes before had picked up from the table-
-this."

He opened his pocket-book, and took from an envelope a long strand
of red hair.

"But it was not only because she lied that I had her taken to the
depot. A pot of cold cream had disappeared from the room of Mlle
Celie."

"Then Perrichet after all was right."

"Perrichet after all was quite wrong--not to hold his tongue. For
in that pot of cold cream, as I was sure, were hidden those
valuable diamond earrings which Mlle. Celie habitually wore."

The two men had reached the square in front of the Etablissement
des Bains. Ricardo dropped on to a bench and wiped his forehead.

"But I am in a maze," he cried. "My head turns round. I don't know
where I am."

Hanaud stood in front of Ricardo, smiling. He was not displeased
with his companion's bewilderment; it was all so much of tribute
to himself.

"I am the captain of the ship," he said.

His smile irritated Ricardo, who spoke impatiently.

"I should be very glad," he said, "if you would tell me how you
discovered all these things. And what it was that the little salon
on the first morning had to tell to you? And why Celia Harland ran
from the glass doors across the grass to the motor-car and again
from the carriage into the house on the lake? Why she did not
resist yesterday evening? Why she did not cry for help? How much
of Helene Vauquier's evidence was true and how much false? For
what reason Wethermill concerned himself in this affair? Oh! and a
thousand things which I don't understand."

"Ah, the cushions, and the scrap of paper, and the aluminium
flask," said Hanaud; and the triumph faded from his face. He spoke
now to Ricardo with a genuine friendliness. "You must not be angry
with me if I keep you in the dark for a little while. I, too, Mr.
Ricardo, have artistic inclinations. I will not spoil the
remarkable story which I think Mlle. Celie will be ready to tell
us. Afterwards I will willingly explain to you what I read in the
evidences of the room, and what so greatly puzzled me then. But it
is not the puzzle or its solution," he said modestly, "which is
most interesting here. Consider the people. Mme. Dauvray, the old,
rich, ignorant woman, with her superstitions and her generosity,
her desire to converse with Mme. de Montespan and the great ladies
of the past, and her love of a young, fresh face about her; Helene
Vauquier, the maid with her six years of confidential service, who
finds herself suddenly supplanted and made to tend and dress in
dainty frocks the girl who has supplanted her; the young girl
herself, that poor child, with her love of fine clothes, the
Bohemian who, brought up amidst trickeries and practising them as
a profession, looking upon them and upon misery and starvation and
despair as the commonplaces of life, keeps a simplicity and a
delicacy and a freshness which would have withered in a day had
she been brought up otherwise; Harry Wethermill, the courted and
successful man of genius.

"Just imagine if you can what his feelings must have been, when in
Mme. Dauvray's bedroom, with the woman he had uselessly murdered
lying rigid beneath the sheet, he saw me raise the block of wood
from the inlaid floor and take out one by one those jewel cases
for which less than twelve hours before he had been ransacking
that very room. But what he must have felt! And to give no sign!
Oh, these people are the interesting problems in this story. Let
us hear what happened on that terrible night. The puzzle--that can
wait." In Mr. Ricardo's view Hanaud was proved right. The
extraordinary and appalling story which was gradually unrolled of
what had happened on that night of Tuesday in the Villa Rose
exceeded in its grim interest all the mystery of the puzzle. But
it was not told at once.

The trouble at first with Mlle. Celie was a fear of sleep. She
dared not sleep--even with a light in the room and a nurse at her
bedside. When her eyes were actually closing she would force
herself desperately back into the living world. For when she slept
she dreamed through again that dark and dreadful night of Tuesday
and the two days which followed it, until at some moment endurance
snapped and she woke up screaming. But youth, a good constitution,
and a healthy appetite had their way with her in the end.

She told her share of the story--she told what happened. There was
apparently one terrible scene when she was confronted with Harry
Wethermill in the office of Monsieur Fleuriot, the Juge
d'lnstruction, and on her knees, with the tears streaming down her
face, besought him to confess the truth. For a long while he held
out. And then there came a strange and human turn to the affair.
Adele Rossignol--or, to give her real name, Adele Tace, the wife
of Hippolyte--had conceived a veritable passion for Harry
Wethermill. He was of a not uncommon type, cold and callous in
himself, yet with the power to provoke passion in women. And Adele
Tace, as the story was told of how Harry Wethermill had paid his
court to Celia Harland, was seized with a vindictive jealousy.
Hanaud was not surprised. He knew the woman-criminal of his
country--brutal, passionate, treacherous. The anonymous letters in
a woman's handwriting which descend upon the Rue de Jerusalem, and
betray the men who have committed thefts, had left him no
illusions upon that figure in the history of crime. Adele
Rossignol ran forward to confess, so that Harry Wethermill might
suffer to the last possible point of suffering. Then at last
Wethermill gave in and, broken down by the ceaseless
interrogations of the magistrate, confessed in his turn too. The
one, and the only one, who stood firmly throughout and denied the
crime was Helene Vauquier. Her thin lips were kept contemptuously
closed, whatever the others might admit. With a white, hard face,
quietly and respectfully she faced the magistrate week after week.
She was the perfect picture of a servant who knew her place. And
nothing was wrung from her. But without her help the story became
complete. And Ricardo was at pains to write it out.




CHAPTER XV

CELIA'S STORY


The story begins with the explanation of that circumstance which
had greatly puzzled Mr. Ricardo--Celia's entry into the household
of Mme. Dauvray.

Celia's father was a Captain Harland, of a marching regiment, who
had little beyond good looks and excellent manners wherewith to
support his position. He was extravagant in his tastes, and of an
easy mind in the presence of embarrassments. To his other
disadvantages he added that of falling in love with a pretty girl
no better off than himself. They married, and Celia was born. For
nine years they managed, through the wife's constant devotion, to
struggle along and to give their daughter an education. Then,
however, Celia's mother broke down under the strain and died.
Captain Harland, a couple of years later, went out of the service
with discredit, passed through the bankruptcy court, and turned
showman. His line was thought-reading; he enlisted the services of
his daughter, taught her the tricks of his trade, and became "The
Great Fortinbras" of the music-halls. Captain Harland would move
amongst the audience, asking the spectators in a whisper to think
of a number or of an article in their pockets, after the usual
fashion, while the child, in her short frock, with her long fair
hair tied back with a ribbon, would stand blind-folded upon the
platform and reel off the answers with astonishing rapidity. She
was singularly quick, singularly receptive.

The undoubted cleverness of the performance, and the beauty of the
child, brought to them a temporary prosperity. The Great
Fortinbras rose from the music-halls to the assembly rooms of
provincial towns. The performance became genteel, and ladies
flocked to the matinees.

The Great Fortinbras dropped his pseudonym and became once more
Captain Harland.

As Celia grew up, he tried a yet higher flight--he became a
spiritualist, with Celia for his medium. The thought-reading
entertainments became thrilling seances, and the beautiful child,
now grown into a beautiful girl of seventeen, created a greater
sensation as a medium in a trance than she had done as a lightning
thought-reader.

"I saw no harm in it," Celia explained to M. Fleuriot, without any
attempt at extenuation. "I never understood that we might be doing
any hurt to any one. People were interested. They were to find us
out if they could, and they tried to and they couldn't. I looked
upon it quite simply in that way. It was just my profession. I
accepted it without any question. I was not troubled about it
until I came to Aix."

A startling exposure, however, at Cambridge discredited the craze
for spiritualism, and Captain Harland's fortunes declined. He
crossed with his daughter to France and made a disastrous tour in
that country, wasted the last of his resources in the Casino at
Dieppe, and died in that town, leaving Celia just enough money to
bury him and to pay her third-class fare to Paris.

There she lived honestly but miserably. The slimness of her figure
and a grace of movement which was particularly hers obtained her
at last a situation as a mannequin in the show-rooms of a modiste.
She took a room on the top floor of a house in the Rue St. Honore
and settled down to a hard and penurious life.

"I was not happy or contented--no," said Celia frankly and
decisively. "The long hours in the close rooms gave me headaches
and made me nervous. I had not the temperament. And I was very
lonely--my life had been so different. I had had fresh air, good
clothes, and freedom. Now all was changed. I used to cry myself to
sleep up in my little room, wondering whether I would ever have
friends. You see, I was quite young--only eighteen--and I wanted
to live."

A change came in a few months, but a disastrous change. The
modiste failed. Celia was thrown out of work, and could get
nothing to do. Gradually she pawned what clothes she could spare;
and then there came a morning when she had a single five-franc
piece in the world and owed a month's rent for her room. She kept
the five-franc piece all day and went hungry, seeking for work. In
the evening she went to a provision shop to buy food, and the man
behind the counter took the five-franc piece. He looked at it,
rung it on the counter, and, with a laugh, bent it easily in half.

"See here, my little one," he said, tossing the coin back to her,
"one does not buy good food with lead."

Celia dragged herself out of the shop in despair. She was
starving. She dared not go back to her room. The thought of the
concierge at the bottom of the stairs, insistent for the rent,
frightened her. She stood on the pavement and burst into tears. A
few people stopped and watched her curiously, and went on again.
Finally a sergent-de-ville told her to go away.

The girl moved on with the tears running down her cheeks. She was
desperate, she was lonely.

"I thought of throwing myself into the Seine," said Celia simply,
in telling her story to the Juge d'Instruction. "Indeed, I went to
the river. But the water looked so cold, so terrible, and I was
young. I wanted so much to live. And then--the night came, and the
lights made the city bright, and I was very tired and--and--"

And, in a word, the young girl went up to Montmartre in
desperation, as quickly as her tired legs would carry her. She
walked once or twice timidly past the restaurants, and, finally,
entered one of them, hoping that some one would take pity on her
and give her some supper. She stood just within the door of the
supper-room. People pushed past her--men in evening dress, women
in bright frocks and jewels. No one noticed her. She had shrunk
into a corner, rather hoping not to be noticed, now that she had
come. But the novelty of her surroundings wore off. She knew that
for want of food she was almost fainting. There were two girls
engaged by the management to dance amongst the tables while people
had supper--one dressed as a page in blue satin, and the other as
a Spanish dancer. Both girls were kind. They spoke to Celia
between their dances. They let her waltz with them. Still no one
noticed her. She had no jewels, no fine clothes, no chic--the
three indispensable things. She had only youth and a pretty face.

"But," said Celia, "without jewels and fine clothes and chic these
go for nothing in Paris. At last, however, Mme. Dauvray came in
with a party of friends from a theatre, and saw how unhappy I was,
and gave me some supper. She asked me about myself, and I told
her. She was very kind, and took me home with her, and I cried all
the way in the carriage. She kept me a few days, and then she told
me that I was to live with her, for often she was lonely too, and
that if I would she would some day find me a nice, comfortable
husband and give me a marriage portion. So all my troubles seemed
to be at an end," said Celia, with a smile.

Within a fortnight Mme. Dauvray confided to Celia that there was a
new fortune-teller come to Paris, who, by looking into a crystal,
could tell the most wonderful things about the future. The old
woman's eyes kindled as she spoke. She took Celia to the fortune-
teller's rooms next day, and the girl quickly understood the
ruling passion of the woman who had befriended her. It took very
little time then for Celia to notice how easily Mme. Dauvray was
duped, how perpetually she was robbed. Celia turned the problem
over in her mind.

"Madame had been very good to me. She was kind and simple," said
Celia, with a very genuine affection in her voice. "The people
whom we knew laughed at her, and were ungenerous. But there are
many women whom the world respects who are worse than ever was
poor Mme. Dauvray. I was very fond of her, so I proposed to her
that we should hold a seance, and I would bring people from the
spirit world I knew that I could amuse her with something much
more clever and more interesting than the fortune-tellers. And at
the same time I could save her from being plundered. That was all
I thought about."

That was all she thought about, yes. She left Helene Vauquier out
of her calculations, and she did not foresee the effect of her
seances upon Mme. Dauvray. Celia had no suspicions of Helene
Vauquier. She would have laughed if any one had told her that this
respectable and respectful middle-aged woman, who was so
attentive, so neat, so grateful for any kindness, was really
nursing a rancorous hatred against her. Celia had sprung from
Montmartre suddenly; therefore Helene Vauquier despised her. Celia
had taken her place in Mme. Dauvray's confidence, had deposed her
unwittingly, had turned the confidential friend into a mere
servant; therefore Helene Vauquier hated her. And her hatred
reached out beyond the girl, and embraced the old, superstitious,
foolish woman, whom a young and pretty face could so easily
beguile. Helene Vauquier despised them both, hated them both, and
yet must nurse her rancour in silence and futility. Then came the
seances, and at once, to add fuel to her hatred, she found herself
stripped of those gifts and commissions which she had exacted from
the herd of common tricksters who had been wont to make their
harvest out of Mme. Dauvray. Helene Vauquier was avaricious and
greedy, like so many of her class. Her hatred of Celia, her
contempt for Mme. Dauvray, grew into a very delirium. But it was a
delirium she had the cunning to conceal. She lived at white heat,
but to all the world she had lost nothing of her calm.

Celia did not foresee the hatred she was arousing; nor, on the
other hand, did she foresee the overwhelming effect of these
spiritualistic seances on Mme. Dauvray. Celia had never been
brought quite close to the credulous before.

"There had always been the row of footlights," she said. "I was on
the platform; the audience was in the hall; or, if it was at a
house, my father made the arrangements. I only came in at the last
moment, played my part, and went away. It was never brought home
to me that some amongst these people really and truly believed. I
did not think about it. Now, however, when I saw Mme. Dauvray so
feverish, so excited, so firmly convinced that great ladies from
the spirit world came and spoke to her, I became terrified. I had
aroused a passion which I had not suspected. I tried to stop the
seances, but I was not allowed. I had aroused a passion which I
could not control. I was afraid that Mme. Dauvray's whole life--it
seems absurd to those who did not know her, but those who did will
understand--yes, her whole life and happiness would be spoilt if
she discovered that what she believed in was all a trick."

She spoke with a simplicity and a remorse which it was difficult
to disbelieve. M. Fleuriot, the judge, now at last convinced that
the Dreyfus affair was for nothing in the history of this crime,
listened to her with sympathy.

"That is your explanation, mademoiselle," he said gently. "But I
must tell you that we have another."

"Yes, monsieur?" Celia asked.

"Given by Helene Vauquier," said Fleuriot.

Even after these days Celia could not hear that woman's name
without a shudder of fear and a flinching of her whole body. Her
face grew white, her lips dry.

"I know, monsieur, that Helene Vauquier is not my friend," she
said. "I was taught that very cruelly."

"Listen, mademoiselle, to what she says," said the judge, and he
read out to Celia an extract or two from Hanaud's report of his
first interview with Helene Vauquier in her bedroom at the Villa
Rose.

"You hear what she says. 'Mme. Dauvray would have had seances all
day, but Mlle. Celie pleaded that she was left exhausted at the
end of them. But Mlle. Celie was of an address.' And again,
speaking of Mme. Dauvray's queer craze that the spirit of Mme. de
Montespan should be called up, Helene Vauquier says: 'She was
never gratified. Always she hoped. Always Mlle. Celie tantalised
her with the hope. She would not spoil her fine affairs by making
these treats too common.' Thus she attributes your reluctance to
multiply your experiments to a desire to make the most profit
possible out of your wares, like a good business woman."

"It is not true, monsieur," cried Celia earnestly. "I tried to
stop the seances because now for the first time I recognised that
I had been playing with a dangerous thing. It was a revelation to
me. I did not know what to do. Mme. Dauvray would promise me
everything, give me everything, if only I would consent when I
refused. I was terribly frightened of what would happen. I did not
want power over people. I knew it was not good for her that she
should suffer so much excitement. No, I did not know what to do.
And so we all moved to Aix."

And there she met Harry Wethermill on the second day after her
arrival, and proceeded straightway for the first time to fall in
love. To Celia it seemed that at last that had happened for which
she had so longed. She began really to live as she understood life
at this time. The day, until she met Harry Wethermill, was one
flash of joyous expectation; the hours when they were together a
time of contentment which thrilled with some chance meeting of the
hands into an exquisite happiness. Mme. Dauvray understood quickly
what was the matter, and laughed at her affectionately.

"Celie, my dear," she said, "your friend, M. Wethermill--'Arry, is
it not? See, I pronounce your tongue--will not be as comfortable
as the nice, fat, bourgeois gentleman I meant to find for you.
But, since you are young, naturally you want storms. And there
will be storms, Celie," she concluded, with a laugh.

Celia blushed.

"I suppose there will," she said regretfully. There were, indeed,
moments when she was frightened of Harry Wethermill, but
frightened with a delicious thrill of knowledge that he was only
stern because he cared so much.

But in a day or two there began to intrude upon her happiness a
stinging dissatisfaction with her past life. At times she fell
into melancholy, comparing her career with that of the man who
loved her. At times she came near to an extreme irritation with
Helene Vauquier. Her lover was in her thoughts. As she put it
herself:

"I wanted always to look my best, and always to be very good."

Good in the essentials of life, that is to be understood. She had
lived in a lax world. She was not particularly troubled by the
character of her associates; she was untouched by them; she liked
her fling at the baccarat-tables. These were details, and did not
distress her. Love had not turned her into a Puritan. But certain
recollections plagued her soul. The visit to the restaurant at
Montmartre, for instance, and the seances. Of these, indeed, she
thought to have made an end. There were the baccarat-rooms, the
beauty of the town and the neighbourhood to distract Mme. Dauvray.
Celia kept her thoughts away from seances. There was no seance as
yet held in the Villa Rose. And there would have been none but for
Helene Vauquier.

One evening, however, as Harry Wethermill walked down from the
Cercle to the Villa des Fleurs, a woman's voice spoke to him from
behind.

"Monsieur!"

He turned and saw Mme. Dauvray's maid. He stopped under a street
lamp, and said:

"Well, what can I do for you?"

The woman hesitated.

"I hope monsieur will pardon me," she said humbly. "I am
committing a great impertinence. But I think monsieur is not very
kind to Mlle. Celie."

Wethermill stared at her.

"What on earth do you mean?" he asked angrily.

Helene Vauquier looked him quietly in the face.

"It is plain, monsieur, that Mlle. Celie loves monsieur. Monsieur
has led her on to love him. But it is also plain to a woman with
quick eyes that monsieur himself cares no more for mademoiselle
than for the button on his coat. It is not very kind to spoil the
happiness of a young and pretty girl, monsieur."

Nothing could have been more respectful than the manner in which
these words were uttered. Wethermill was taken in by it. He
protested earnestly, fearing lest the maid should become an enemy.

"Helene, it is not true that I am playing with Mlle. Celie. Why
should I not care for her?"

Helene Vauquier shrugged her shoulders. The question needed no
answer.

"Why should I seek her so often if I did not care?"

And to this question Helene Vauquier smiled--a quiet, slow,
confidential smile.

"What does monsieur want of Mme. Dauvray?" she asked. And the
question was her answer.

Wethermill stood silent. Then he said abruptly:

"Nothing, of course; nothing." And he walked away.

But the smile remained on Helene Vauquier's face. What did they
all want of Mme. Dauvray? She knew very well. It was what she
herself wanted--with other things. It was money--always money.
Wethermill was not the first to seek the good graces of Mme.
Dauvray through her pretty companion. Helene Vauquier went home.
She was not discontented with her conversation. Wethermill had
paused long enough before he denied the suggestion of her words.
She approached him a few days later a second time and more openly.
She was shopping in, the Rue du Casino when he passed her. He
stopped of his own accord and spoke to her. Helene Vauquier kept a
grave and respectful face. But there was a pulse of joy at her
heart. He was coming to her hand.

"Monsieur," she said, "you do not go the right way." And again her
strange smile illuminated her face. "Mlle. Celie sets a guard
about Mme. Dauvray. She will not give to people the opportunity to
find madame generous."

"Oh," said Wethermill slowly. "Is that so?" And he turned and
walked by Helene Vauquier's side.

"Never speak of Mme. Dauvray's wealth, monsieur, if you would keep
the favour of Mlle. Celie. She is young, but she knows her world."

"I have not spoken of money to her," replied Wethermill; and then
he burst out laughing. "But why should you think that I--I, of all
men--want money?" he asked.

And Helene answered him again enigmatically.

"If I am wrong, monsieur, I am sorry, but you can help me too,"
she said, in her submissive voice. And she passed on, leaving
Wethermill rooted to the ground.

It was a bargain she proposed--the impertinence of it! It was a
bargain she proposed--the value of it! In that shape ran Harry
Wethermill's thoughts. He was in desperate straits, though to the
world's eye he was a man of wealth. A gambler, with no inexpensive
tastes, he had been always in need of money. The rights in his
patent he had mortgaged long ago. He was not an idler; he was no
sham foisted as a great man on an ignorant public. He had really
some touch of genius, and he cultivated it assiduously. But the
harder he worked, the greater was his need of gaiety and
extravagance. Gifted with good looks and a charm of manner, he was
popular alike in the great world and the world of Bohemia. He kept
and wanted to keep a foot in each. That he was in desperate
straits now, probably Helene Vauquier alone in Aix had recognised.
She had drawn her inference from one simple fact. Wethermill asked
her at a later time when they were better acquainted how she had
guessed his need.

"Monsieur," she replied, "you were in Aix without a valet, and it
seemed to me that you were of that class of men who would never
move without a valet so long as there was money to pay his wages.
That was my first thought. Then when I saw you pursue your
friendship with Mlle. Celie--you, who so clearly to my eyes did
not love her--I felt sure."

On the next occasion that the two met, it was again Harry
Wethermill who sought Helene Vauquier. He talked for a minute or
two upon indifferent subjects, and then he said quickly:

"I suppose Mme. Dauvray is very rich?"

"She has a great fortune in jewels," said Helene Vauquier.

Wethermill started. He was agitated that evening, the woman saw.
His hands shook, his face twitched. Clearly he was hard put to it.
For he seldom betrayed himself. She thought it time to strike.

"Jewels which she keeps in the safe in her bedroom," she added.

"Then why don't you---?" he began, and stopped.

"I said that I too needed help," replied Helene, without a ruffle
of her composure.

It was nine o'clock at night. Helene Vauquier had come down to the
Casino with a wrap for Mme. Dauvray. The two people were walking
down the little street of which the Casino blocks the end. And it
happened that an attendant at the Casino, named Alphonse Ruel,
passed them, recognised them both, and--smiled to himself with
some amusement. What was Wethermill doing in company with Mme.
Dauvray's maid? Ruel had no doubt. Ruel had seen Wethermill often
enough these recent days with Mme. Dauvray's pretty companion.
Ruel had all a Frenchman's sympathy with lovers. He wished them
well, those two young and attractive people, and hoped that the
maid would help their plans.

But as he passed he caught a sentence spoken suddenly by
Wethermill.

"Well, it is true; I must have money." And the agitated voice and
words remained fixed in his memory. He heard, too, a warning
"Hush!" from the maid. Then they passed out of his hearing. But he
turned and saw that Wethermill was talking volubly. What Harry
Wethermill was saying he was saying in a foolish burst of
confidence.

"You have guessed it, Helene--you alone." He had mortgaged his
patent twice over--once in France, once in England--and the second
time had been a month ago. He had received a large sum down, which
went to pay his pressing creditors. He had hoped to pay the sum
back from a new invention.

"But Helene, I tell you," he said, "I have a conscience." And when
she smiled he explained. "Oh, not what the priests would call a
conscience; that I know. But none the less I have a conscience--a
conscience about the things which really matter, at all events to
me. There is a flaw in that new invention. It can be improved; I
know that. But as yet I do not see how, and--I cannot help it--I
must get it right; I cannot let it go imperfect when I know that
it's imperfect, when I know that it can be improved, when I am
sure that I shall sooner or later hit upon the needed improvement.
That is what I mean when I say I have a conscience."

Helena Vauquier smiled indulgently. Men were queer fish. Things
which were really of no account troubled and perplexed them and
gave them sleepless nights. But it was not for her to object,
since it was one of these queer anomalies which was giving her her
chance.

"And the people are finding out that you have sold your rights
twice over," she said sympathetically. "That is a pity, monsieur."

"They know," he answered; "those in England know."

"And they are very angry?"

"They threaten me," said Wethermill. "They give me a month to
restore the money. Otherwise there will be disgrace, imprisonment,
penal servitude."

Helene Vauquier walked calmly on. No sign of the intense joy which
she felt was visible in her face, and only a trace of it in her
voice.

"Monsieur will, perhaps, meet me tomorrow in Geneva," she said.
And she named a small cafe in a back street. "I can get a holiday
for the afternoon." And as they were near to the villa and the
lights, she walked on ahead.

Wethermill loitered behind. He had tried his luck at the tables
and had failed. And--and--he must have the money.

He travelled, accordingly, the next day to Geneva, and was there
presented to Adele Tace and Hippolyte.

"They are trusted friends of mine," said Helene Vauquier to
Wethermill, who was not inspired to confidence by the sight of the
young man with the big ears and the plastered hair. As a matter of
fact, she had never met them before they came this year to Aix.

The Tace family, which consisted of Adele and her husband and
Jeanne, her mother, were practised criminals. They had taken the
house in Geneva deliberately in order to carry out some robberies
from the great villas on the lake-side. But they had not been
fortunate; and a description of Mme. Dauvray's jewellery in the
woman's column of a Geneva newspaper had drawn Adele Tace over to
Aix. She had set about the task of seducing Mme. Dauvray's maid,
and found a master, not an instrument.

In the small cafe on that afternoon of July, Helene Vauquier
instructed her accomplices, quietly and methodically, as though
what she proposed was the most ordinary stroke of business. Once
or twice subsequently Wethermill, who was the only safe go-
between, went to the house in Geneva, altering his hair and
wearing a moustache, to complete the arrangements. He maintained
firmly at his trial that at none of these meetings was there any
talk of murder.

"To be sure," said the judge, with a savage sarcasm. "In decent
conversation there is always a reticence. Something is left to be
understood."

And it is difficult to understand how murder could not have been
an essential part of their plan, since---But let us see what
happened.




CHAPTER XVI

THE FIRST MOVE


On the Friday before the crime was committed Mme. Dauvray and
Celia dined at the Villa des Fleurs. While they were drinking
their coffee Harry Wethermill joined them. He stayed with them
until Mme. Dauvray was ready to move, and then all three walked
into the baccarat-rooms together. But there, in the throng of
people, they were separated.

Harry Wethermill was looking carefully after Celia, as a good
lover should. He had, it seemed, no eyes for any one else; and it
was not until a minute or two had passed that the girl herself
noticed that Mme. Dauvray was not with them.

"We will find her easily," said Harry.

"Of course," replied Celia.

"There is, after all, no hurry," said Wethermill, with a laugh;
"and perhaps she was not unwilling to leave us together."

Celia dimpled to a smile.

"Mme. Dauvray is kind to me," she said, with a very pretty
timidity.

"And yet more kind to me," said Wethermill in a low voice which
brought the blood into Celia's cheeks.

But even while he spoke he soon caught sight of Mme. Dauvray
standing by one of the tables; and near to her was Adele Tace.
Adele had not yet made Mme. Dauvray's acquaintance; that was
evident. She was apparently unaware of her; but she was gradually
edging towards her. Wethermill smiled, and Celia caught the smile.

"What is it?" she asked, and her head began to turn in the
direction of Mme. Dauvray.

"Why, I like your frock--that's all," said Wethermill at once; and
Celia's eyes went down to it.

"Do you?" she said, with a pleased smile. It was a dress of dark
blue which suited her well. "I am glad. I think it is pretty." And
they passed on.

Wethermill stayed by the girl's side throughout the evening. Once
again he saw Mme. Dauvray and Adele Tace. But now they were
together; now they were talking. The first step had been taken.
Adele Tace had scraped acquaintance with Mme. Dauvray. Celia saw
them almost at the same moment.

"Oh, there is Mme. Dauvray," she cried, taking a step towards her.

Wethermill detained the girl.

"She seems quite happy," he said; and, indeed, Mme. Dauvray was
talking volubly and with the utmost interest, the jewels sparkling
about her neck. She raised her head, saw Celia, nodded to her
affectionately, and then pointed her out to her companion. Adele
Tace looked the girl over with interest and smiled contentedly.
There was nothing to be feared from her. Her youth, her very
daintiness, seemed to offer her as the easiest of victims.

"You see Mme. Dauvray does not want you," said Harry Wethermill.
"Let us go and play chemin-de-fer"; and they did, moving off into
one of the further rooms.

It was not until another hour had passed that Celia rose and went
in search of Mme. Dauvray. She found her still talking earnestly
to Adele Tace. Mme. Dauvray got up at once.

"Are you ready to go, dear?" she asked, and she turned to Adele
Tace. "This is Celie, Mme. Rossignol," she said, and she spoke
with a marked significance and a note of actual exultation in her
voice.

Celia, however, was not unused to this tone. Mme. Dauvray was
proud of her companion, and had a habit of showing her off, to the
girl's discomfort. The three women spoke a few words, and then
Mme. Dauvray and Celia left the rooms and walked to the entrance-
doors. But as they walked Celia became alarmed.

She was by nature extraordinarily sensitive to impressions. It was
to that quick receptivity that the success of "The Great
Fortinbras" had been chiefly due. She had a gift of rapid
comprehension. It was not that she argued, or deducted, or
inferred. But she felt. To take a metaphor from the work of the
man she loved, she was a natural receiver. So now, although no
word was spoken, she was aware that Mme. Dauvray was greatly
excited--greatly disturbed; and she dreaded the reason of that
excitement and disturbance.

While they were driving home in the motor-car she said
apprehensively:

"You met a friend then, to-night, madame?"

"No," said Mme. Dauvray; "I made a friend. I had not met Mme.
Rossignol before. A bracelet of hers came undone, and I helped her
to fasten it. We talked afterwards. She lives in Geneva."

Mme. Dauvray was silent for a moment or two. Then she turned
impulsively and spoke in a voice of appeal.

"Celie, we talked of things"; and the girl moved impatiently. She
understood very well what were the things of which Mme. Dauvray
and her new friend had talked. "And she laughed. ... I could not
bear it."

Celia was silent, and Mme. Dauvray went on in a voice of awe:

"I told her of the wonderful things which happened when I sat with
Helene in the dark--how the room filled with strange sounds, how
ghostly fingers touched my forehead and my eyes. She laughed--
Adele Rossignol laughed, Celie. I told her of the spirits with
whom we held converse. She would not believe. Do you remember the
evening, Celie, when Mme. de Castiglione came back an old, old
woman, and told us how, when she had grown old and had lost her
beauty and was very lonely, she would no longer live in the great
house which was so full of torturing memories, but took a small
appartement near by, where no one knew her; and how she used to
walk out late at night, and watch, with her eyes full of tears,
the dark windows which had been once so bright with light? Adele
Rossignol would not believe. I told her that I had found the story
afterwards in a volume of memoirs. Adele Rossignol laughed and
said no doubt you had read that volume yourself before the
seance."

Celia stirred guiltily.

"She had no faith in you, Celie. It made me angry, dear. She said
that you invented your own tests. She sneered at them. A string
across a cupboard! A child, she said, could manage that; much
more, then, a clever young lady. Oh, she admitted that you were
clever! Indeed, she urged that you were far too clever to submit
to the tests of some one you did not know. I replied that you
would. I was right, Celie, was I not?"

And again the appeal sounded rather piteously in Mme. Dauvray's
voice.

"Tests!" said Celia, with a contemptous laugh. And, in truth, she
was not afraid of them. Mme. Dauvray's voice at once took courage.

"There!" she cried triumphantly. "I was sure. I told her so.
Celie, I arranged with her that next Tuesday--"

And Celia interrupted quickly.

"No! Oh, no!"

Again there was silence; and then Mme. Dauvray said gently, but
very seriously:

"Celie, you are not kind."

Celia was moved by the reproach.

"Oh, madame!" she cried eagerly. "Please don't think that. How
could I be anything else to you who are so kind to me?"

"Then prove it, Celie. On Tuesday I have asked Mme. Rossignol to
come; and--" The old woman's voice became tremulous with
excitement. "And perhaps--who knows?--perhaps SHE will appear to
us."

Celia had no doubt who "she" was. She was Mme. de Montespan.

"Oh, no, madame!" she stammered. "Here, at Aix, we are not in the
spirit for such things,"

And then, in a voice of dread, Mme. Dauvray asked: "Is it true,
then, what Adele said?"

And Celia started violently. Mme. Dauvray doubted.

"I believe it would break my heart, my dear, if I were to think
that; if I were to know that you had tricked me," she said, with a
trembling voice. Celia covered her face with her hands. It would
be true. She had no doubt of it. Mme. Dauvray would never forgive
herself--would never forgive Celia. Her infatuation had grown so
to engross her that the rest of her life would surely be
embittered. It was not merely a passion--it was a creed as well.
Celia shrank from the renewal of these seances. Every fibre in her
was in revolt. They were so unworthy--so unworthy of Harry
Wethermill, and of herself as she now herself wished to be. But
she had to pay now; the moment for payment had come.

"Celie," said Mme. Dauvray, "it isn't true! Surely it isn't true?"

Celia drew her hands away from her face.

"Let Mme. Rossignol come on Tuesday!" she cried, and the old woman
caught the girl's hand and pressed it with affection.

"Oh, thank you! thank you!" she cried. "Adele Rossignol laughs to-
night; we shall convince her on Tuesday, Celie! Celie, I am so
glad!" And her voice sank into a solemn whisper, pathetically
ludicrous. "It is not right that she should laugh! To bring people
back through the gates of the spirit-world--that is wonderful."

To Celia the sound of the jargon learnt from her own lips, used by
herself so thoughtlessly in past times, was odious. "For the last
time," she pleaded to herself. All her life was going to change;
though no word had yet been spoken by Harry Wethermill, she was
sure of it. Just for this one last time, then, so that she might
leave Mme. Dauvray the colours of her belief, she would hold a
seance at the Villa Rose.

Mme. Dauvray told the news to Helene Vauquier when they reached
the villa.

"You will be present, Helene," she cried excitedly. "It will be
Tuesday. There will be the three of us."

"Certainly, if madame wishes," said Helene submissively. She
looked round the room. "Mlle. Celie can be placed on a chair in
that recess and the curtains drawn, whilst we--madame and madame's
friend and I--can sit round this table under the side windows."

"Yes," said Celia, "that will do very well."

It was Madame Dauvray's habit when she was particularly pleased
with Celia to dismiss her maid quickly, and to send her to brush
the girl's hair at night; and in a little while on this night
Helene went to Celia's room. While she brushed Celia's hair she
told her that Servettaz's parents lived at Chambery, and that he
would like to see them.

"But the poor man is afraid to ask for a day," she said. "He has
been so short a time with madame."

"Of course madame will give him a holiday if he asks," replied
Celia with a smile. "I will speak to her myself to-morrow."

"It would be kind of mademoiselle," said Helene Vauquier. "But
perhaps--" She stopped.

"Well," said Celia.

"Perhaps mademoiselle would do better still to speak to Servattaz
himself and encourage him to ask with his own lips. Madame has her
moods, is it not so? She does not always like it to be forgotten
that she is the mistress."

On the next day accordingly Celia did speak to Servettaz, and
Servettaz asked for his holiday.

"But of course," Mme. Dauvray at once replied. "We must decide
upon a day."

It was then that Helene Vauquier ventured humbly upon a
suggestion.

"Since madame has a friend coming here on Tuesday, perhaps that
would be the best day for him to go. Madame would not be likely to
take a long drive that afternoon."

"No, indeed," replied Mme. Dauvray. "We shall all three dine
together early in Aix and return here."

"Then I will tell him he may go to-morrow," said Celia.

For this conversation took place on the Monday, and in the evening
Mme. Dauvray and Celia went as usual to the Villa des Fleurs and
dined there.

"I was in a bad mind," said Celia, when asked by the Juge
d'Instruction to explain that attack of nerves in the garden which
Ricardo had witnessed. "I hated more and more the thought of the
seance which was to take place on the morrow. I felt that I was
disloyal to Harry. My nerves were all tingling. I was not nice
that night at all," she added quaintly. "But at dinner I
determined that if I met Harry after dinner, as I was sure to do,
I would tell him the whole truth about myself. However, when I did
meet him I was frightened. I knew how stern he could suddenly
look. I dreaded what he would think. I was too afraid that I
should lose him. No, I could not speak; I had not the courage.
That made me still more angry with myself, and so I--I quarrelled
at once with Harry. He was surprised; but it was natural, wasn't
it? What else should one do under such circumstances. except
quarrel with the man one loved? Yes, I really quarrelled with him,
and said things which I thought and hoped would hurt. Then I ran
away from him lest I should break down and cry. I went to the
tables and lost at once all the money I had except one note of
five louis. But that did not console me. And I ran out into the
garden, very unhappy. There I behaved like a child, and Mr.
Ricardo saw me. But it was not the little money I had lost which
troubled me; no, it was the thought of what a coward I was.
Afterwards Harry and I made it up, and I thought, like the little
fool I was, that he wanted to ask me to marry him. But I would not
let him that night. Oh! I wanted him to ask me--I was longing for
him to ask me--but not that night. Somehow I felt that the seance
and the tricks must be all over and done with before I could
listen or answer."

The quiet and simple confession touched the magistrate who
listened to it with profound pity. He shaded his eyes with his
hand. The girl's sense of her unworthiness, the love she had given
so unstintingly to Harry Wethermill, the deep pride she had felt
in the delusion that he loved her too, had in it an irony too
bitter. But he was aroused to anger against the man.

"Go on, mademoiselle," he said. But in spite of himself his voice
trembled.

"So I arranged with him that we should meet on Wednesday, as Mr.
Ricardo heard."

"You told him that you would 'want him' on Wednesday," said the
Judge quoting Mr. Ricardo's words.

"Yes," replied Celia. "I meant that the last word of all these
deceptions would have been spoken. I should be free to hear what
he had to say to me. You see, monsieur, I was so sure that I knew
what it was he had to say to me--"and her voice broke upon the
words. She recovered herself with an effort. "Then I went home
with Mme. Dauvray."

On the morning of Tuesday, however, there came a letter from Adele
Tace, of which no trace was afterwards discovered. The letter
invited Mme. Dauvray and Celia to come out to Annecy and dine with
her at an hotel there. They could then return together to Aix. The
proposal fitted well with Mme. Dauvray's inclinations. She was in
a feverish mood of excitement.

"Yes, it will be better that we dine quietly together in a place
where there is no noise and no crowd, and where no one knows us,"
she said; and she looked up the time-table. "There is a train back
which reaches Aix at nine o'clock," she said, "so we need not
spoil Servettaz' holiday."

"His parents will be expecting him," Helene Vauquier added.

Accordingly Servettaz left for Chambery by the 1.50 train from
Aix; and later on in the afternoon Mme. Dauvray and Celia went by
train to Annecy. In the one woman's mind was the queer longing
that "she" should appear and speak to-night; in the girl's there
was a wish passionate as a cry. "This shall be the last time," she
said to herself again and again--"the very last."

Meanwhile, Helene Vauquier, it must be held, burnt carefully Adele
Taces letter. She was left in the Villa Rose with the charwoman to
keep her company. The charwoman bore testimony that Helene
Vauquier certainly did burn a letter in the kitchen-stove, and
that after she had burned it she sat for a long time rocking
herself in a chair, with a smile of great pleasure upon her face,
and now and then moistening her lips with her tongue. But Helene
Vauquier kept her mouth sealed.




CHAPTER XVII

THE AFTERNOON OF TUESDAY


Mme. Dauvray and Celia found Adele Rossignol, to give Adele Tace
the name which she assumed, waiting for them impatiently in the
garden of an hotel at Annecy, on the Promenade du Paquier. She was
a tall, lithe woman, and she was dressed, by the purse and wish of
Helene Vauquier, in a robe and a long coat of sapphire velvet,
which toned down the coarseness of her good looks and lent
something of elegance to her figure.

"So it is mademoiselle," Adele began, with a smile of raillery,
"who is so remarkably clever."

"Clever?" answered Celia, looking straight at Adele, as though
through her she saw mysteries beyond. She took up her part at
once. Since for the last time it had got to be played, there must
be no fault in the playing. For her own sake, for the sake of Mme.
Dauvray's happiness, she must carry it off to-night with success.
The suspicions of Adele Rossignol must obtain no verification. She
spoke in a quiet and most serious voice. "Under spirit-control no
one is clever. One does the bidding of the spirit which controls."

"Perfectly," said Adele in a malicious tone. "I only hope you will
see to it, mademoiselle, that some amusing spirits control you
this evening and appear before us."

"I am only the living gate by which the spirit forms pass from the
realm of mind into the world of matter," Celia replied.

"Quite so," said Adele comfortably. "Now let us be sensible and
dine. We can amuse ourselves with mademoiselle's rigmaroles
afterwards."

Mme. Dauvray was indignant. Celia, for her part, felt humiliated
and small. They sat down to their dinner in the garden, but the
rain began to fall and drove them indoors. There were a few people
dining at the same hour, but none near enough to overhear them.
Alike in the garden and the dining-room, Adele Tace kept up the
same note of ridicule and disbelief. She had been carefully
tutored for her work. She was able to cite the stock cases of
exposure--"les freres Davenport," as she called them, Eusapia
Palladino and Dr. Slade. She knew the precautions which had been
taken to prevent trickery and where those precautions had failed.
Her whole conversation was carefully planned to one end, and to
one end alone. She wished to produce in the minds of her
companions so complete an impression of her scepticism that it
would seem the most natural thing in the world to both of them
that she should insist upon subjecting Celia to the severest
tests. The rain ceased, and they took their coffee on the terrace
of the hotel. Mme. Dauvray had been really pained by the
conversation of Adele Tace. She had all the missionary zeal of a
fanatic.

"I do hope, Adele, that we shall make you believe. But we shall.
Oh, I am confident we shall." And her voice was feverish.

Adele dropped for the moment her tone of raillery.

"I am not unwilling to believe," she said, "but I cannot. I am
interested--yes. You see how much I have studied the subject. But
I cannot believe. I have heard stories of how these manifestations
are produced--stories which make me laugh. I cannot help it. The
tricks are so easy. A young girl wearing a black frock which does
not rustle--it is always a black frock, is it not, because a black
frock cannot be seen in the dark?--carrying a scarf or veil, with
which she can make any sort of headdress if only she is a little
clever, and shod in a pair of felt-soled slippers, is shut up in a
cabinet or placed behind a screen, and the lights are turned down
or out--" Adele broke off with a comic shrug of the shoulders.
"Bah! It ought not to deceive a child."

Celia sat with a face which WOULD grow red. She did not look, but
none the less she was aware that Mme. Dauvray was gazing at her
with a perplexed frown and some return of her suspicion showing in
her eyes. Adele Tace was not content to leave the subject there.

"Perhaps," she said, with a smile, "Mlle. Celie dresses in that
way for a seance?"

"Madame shall see tonight," Celia stammered, and Camille Dauvray
rather sternly repeated her words.

"Yes, Adele shall see tonight. I myself will decide what you shall
wear, Celie."

Adele Tace casually suggested the kind of dress which she would
prefer.

"Something light in colour with a train, something which will hiss
and whisper if mademoiselle moves about the room--yes, and I think
one of mademoiselle's big hats," she said. "We will have
mademoiselle as modern as possible, so that, when the great ladies
of the past appear in the coiffure of their day, we may be sure it
is not Mlle. Celie who represents them."

"I will speak to Helene," said Mme. Dauvray, and Adele Tace was
content.

There was a particular new dress of which she knew, and it was
very desirable that Mlle. Celie should wear it tonight. For one
thing, if Celia wore it, it would help the theory that she had put
it on because she expected that night a lover; for another, with
that dress there went a pair of satin slippers which had just come
home from a shoemaker at Aix, and which would leave upon soft
mould precisely the same imprints as the grey suede shoes which
the girl was wearing now.

Celia was not greatly disconcerted by Mme. Rossignol's
precautions. She would have to be a little more careful, and Mme.
de Montespan would be a little longer in responding to the call of
Mme. Dauvray than most of the other dead ladies of the past had
been. But that was all. She was, however, really troubled in
another way. All through dinner, at every word of the
conversation, she had felt her reluctance towards this seance
swelling into a positive disgust. More than once she had felt
driven by some uncontrollable power to rise up at the table and
cry out to Adele:

"You are right! It IS trickery. There is no truth in it."

But she had mastered herself. For opposite to her sat her
patroness, her good friend, the woman who had saved her. The flush
upon Mme. Dauvray's cheeks and the agitation of her manner warned
Celia how much hung upon the success of this last seance. How much
for both of them!

And in the fullness of that knowledge a great fear assailed her.
She began to be afraid, so strong was her reluctance, that she
would not bring her heart into the task. "Suppose I failed tonight
because I could not force myself to wish not to fail!" she
thought, and she steeled herself against the thought. Tonight she
must not fail. For apart altogether from Mme. Dauvray's happiness,
her own, it seemed, was at stake too.

"It must be from my lips that Harry learns what I have been," she
said to herself, and with the resolve she strengthened herself.

"I will wear what you please," she said, with a smile. "I only
wish Mme. Rossignol to be satisfied."

"And I shall be," said Adele, "if--" She leaned forward in
anxiety. She had come to the real necessity of Helene Vauquier's
plan. "If we abandon as quite laughable the cupboard door and the
string across it; if, in a word, mademoiselle consents that we tie
her hand and foot and fasten her securely in a chair. Such
restraints are usual in the experiments of which I have read. Was
there not a medium called Mlle. Cook who was secured in this way,
and then remarkable things, which I could not believe, were
supposed to have happened?"

"Certainly I permit it," said Celia, with indifference; and Mme.
Dauvray cried enthusiastically:

"Ah, you shall believe tonight in those wonderful things!"

Adele Tace leaned back. She drew a breath. It was a breath of
relief.

"Then we will buy the cord in Aix," she said.

"We have some, no doubt, in the house," said Mme. Dauvray.

Adele shook her head and smiled.

"My dear madame, you are dealing with a sceptic. I should not be
content."

Celia shrugged her shoulders.

"Let us satisfy Mme. Rossignol," she said.

Celia, indeed, was not alarmed by this last precaution. For her it
was a test less difficult than the light-coloured rustling robe.
She had appeared upon so many platforms, had experienced too often
the bungling efforts of spectators called up from the audience, to
be in any fear. There were very few knots from which her small
hands and supple fingers had not learnt long since to extricate
themselves. She was aware how much in all these matters the
personal equation counted. Men who might, perhaps, have been able
to tie knots from which she could not get free were always too
uncomfortable and self-conscious, or too afraid of hurting her
white arms and wrists, to do it. Women, on the other hand, who had
no compunctions of that kind, did not know how.

It was now nearly eight o'clock; the rain still held off.

"We must go," said Mme. Dauvray, who for the last half-hour had
been continually looking at her watch.

They drove to the station and took the train. Once more the rain
came down, but it had stopped again before the train steamed into
Aix at nine o'clock.

"We will take a cab," said Mme. Dauvray: "it will save time."

"It will do us good to walk, madame," pleaded Adele. The train was
full. Adele passed quickly out from the lights of the station in the
throng of passengers and waited in the dark square for the others
to join her. "It is barely nine. A friend has promised to call at the Villa
Rose for me after eleven and drive me back in a motor-car to Geneva,
so we have plenty of time."

They walked accordingly up the hill, Mme. Dauvray slowly, since
she was stout, and Celia keeping pace with her. Thus it seemed
natural that Adele Tace should walk ahead, though a passer-by
would not have thought she was of their company. At the corner of
the Rue du Casino Adele waited for them and said quickly:

"Mademoiselle, you can get some cord, I think, at the shop there,"
and she pointed to the shop of M. Corval. "Madame and I will go
slowly on; you, who are the youngest, will easily catch us up."
Celia went into the shop, bought the cord, and caught Mme. Dauvray
up before she reached the villa.

"Where is Mme. Rossignol?" she asked.

"She went on," said Camille Dauvray. "She walks faster than I do."

They passed no one whom they knew, although they did pass one who
recognised them, as Perrichet had discovered. They came upon
Adele, waiting for them at the corner of the road, where it turns
down toward the villa.

"It is near here--the Villa Rose?" she asked.

"A minute more and we are there."

They turned in at the drive, closed the gate behind them, and
walked up to the villa.

The windows and the glass doors were closed, the latticed shutters
fastened. A light burned in the hall.

"Helene is expecting us," said Mme. Dauvray, for as they
approached she saw the front door open to admit them, and Helene
Vauquier in the doorway. The three women went straight into the
little salon, which was ready with the lights up and a small fire
burning. Celia noticed the fire with a trifle of dismay. She moved
a fire-screen in front of it.

"I can understand why you do that, mademoiselle," said Adele
Rossignol, with a satirical smile. But Mme. Dauvray came to the
girl's help.

"She is right, Adele. Light is the great barrier between us and
the spirit-world," she said solemnly.

Meanwhile, in the hall Helene Vauquier locked and bolted the front
door. Then she stood motionless, with a smile upon her face and a
heart beating high. All through that afternoon she had been afraid
that some accident at the last moment would spoil her plan, that
Adele Tace had not learned her lesson, that Celie would take
fright, that she would not return. Now all those fears were over.
She had her victims safe within the villa. The charwoman had been
sent home. She had them to herself. She was still standing in the
hall when Mme. Dauvray called aloud impatiently:

"Helene! Helene!"

And when she entered the salon there was still, as Celia was able
to recall, some trace of her smile lingering upon her face.

Adele Rossignol had removed her hat and was taking off her gloves.
Mme. Dauvray was speaking impatiently to Celia.

"We will arrange the room, dear, while Helene helps you to dress.
It will be quite easy. We shall use the recess."

And Celia, as she ran up the stairs, heard Mme. Dauvray discussing
with her maid what frock she should wear. She was hot, and she
took a hurried bath. When she came from her bathroom she saw with
dismay that it was her new pale-green evening gown which had been
laid out. It was the last which she would have chosen. But she
dared not refuse it. She must still any suspicion. She must
succeed. She gave herself into Helene's hands. Celia remembered
afterwards one or two points which passed barely heeded at the
time. Once while Helene was dressing her hair she looked up at the
maid in the mirror and noticed a strange and rather horrible grin
upon her face, which disappeared the moment their eyes met. Then
again, Helene was extraordinarily slow and extraordinarily
fastidious that evening. Nothing satisfied her, neither the hang
of the girl's skirt, the folds of her sash, nor the arrangement of
her hair.

"Come, Helene, be quick," said Celia. "You know how madame hates
to be kept waiting at these times. You might be dressing me to go
to meet my lover," she added, with a blush and a smile at her own
pretty reflection in the glass; and a queer look came upon Helene
Vauquier's face. For it was at creating just this very impression
that she aimed.

"Very well, mademoiselle," said Helene. And even as she spoke Mme.
Dauvray's voice rang shrill and irritable up the stairs.

"Celie! Celie!"

"Quick, Helene," said Celia. For she herself was now anxious to
have the seance over and done with.

But Helene did not hurry. The more irritable Mme. Dauvray became,
the more impatient with Mlle. Celie, the less would Mlle. Celie
dare to refuse the tests Adele wished to impose upon her. But that
was not all. She took a subtle and ironic pleasure to-night in
decking out her victim's natural loveliness. Her face, her slender
throat, her white shoulders, should look their prettiest, her
grace of limb and figure should be more alluring than ever before.
The same words, indeed, were running through both women's minds.

"For the last time," said Celia to herself, thinking of these
horrible seances, of which to-night should see the end.

"For the last time," said Helene Vauquier too. For the last time
she laced the girl's dress. There would be no more patient and
careful service for Mlle. Celie after to-night. But she should
have it and to spare to-night. She should be conscious that her
beauty had never made so strong an appeal; that she was never so
fit for life as at the moment when the end had come. One thing
Helene regretted. She would have liked Celia--Celia, smiling at
herself in the glass--to know suddenly what was in store for her!
She saw in imagination the colour die from the cheeks, the eyes
stare wide with terror.

"Celie! Celie!"

Again the impatient voice rang up the stairs, as Helene pinned the
girl's hat upon her fair head. Celie sprang up, took a quick step
or two towards the door, and stopped in dismay. The swish of her
long satin train must betray her. She caught up the dress and
tried again. Even so, the rustle of it was heard.

"I shall have to be very careful. You will help me, Helene?"

"Of course, mademoiselle. I will sit underneath the switch of the
light in the salon. If madame, your visitor, makes the experiment
too difficult, I will find a way to help you," said Helene
Vauquier, and as she spoke she handed Celia a long pair of white
gloves.

"I shall not want them," said Celia.

"Mme. Dauvray ordered me to give them to you," replied Helene.

Celia took them hurriedly, picked up a white scarf of tulle, and
ran down the stairs. Helene Vauquier listened at the door and
heard madame's voice in feverish anger.

"We have been waiting for you, Celie. You have been an age."

Helene Vauquier laughed softly to herself, took out Celia's white
frock from the wardrobe, turned off the lights, and followed her
down to the hall. She placed the cloak just outside the door of
the salon. Then she carefully turned out all the lights in the
hall and in the kitchen and went into the salon. The rest of the
house was in darkness. This room was brightly lit; and it had been
made ready.




CHAPTER XVIII

THE SEANCE


Helene Vauquier locked the door of the salon upon the inside and
placed the key upon the mantel-shelf, as she had always done
whenever a seance had been held. The curtains had been loosened at
the sides of the arched recess in front of the glass doors, ready
to be drawn across. Inside the recess, against one of the pillars
which supported the arch, a high stool without a back, taken from
the hall, had been placed, and the back legs of the stool had been
lashed with cord firmly to the pillar, so that it could not be
moved. The round table had been put in position, with three chairs
about it. Mme. Dauvray waited impatiently. Celia stood apparently
unconcerned, apparently lost to all that was going on. Her eyes
saw no one. Adele looked up at Celia, and laughed maliciously.

"Mademoiselle, I see, is in the very mood to produce the most
wonderful phenomena. But it will be better, I think, madame," she
said, turning to Mme. Dauvray, "that Mlle. Celie should put on
those gloves which I see she has thrown on to a chair. It will be
a little more difficult for mademoiselle to loosen these cords,
should she wish to do so."

The argument silenced Celia. If she refused this condition now she
would excite Mme. Dauvray to a terrible suspicion. She drew on her
gloves ruefully and slowly, smoothed them over her elbows, and
buttoned them. To free her hands with her fingers and wrists
already hampered in gloves would not be so easy a task. But there
was no escape. Adele Rossignol was watching her with a satiric
smile. Mme. Dauvray was urging her to be quick. Obeying a second
order the girl raised her skirt and extended a slim foot in a
pale-green silk stocking and a satin slipper to match. Adele was
content. Celia was wearing the shoes she was meant to wear. They
were made upon the very same last as those which Celia had just
kicked off upstairs. An almost imperceptible nod from Helene
Vauquier, moreover, assured her.

She took up a length of the thin cord.

"Now, how are we to begin?" she said awkwardly. "I think I will
ask you, mademoiselle, to put your hands behind you."

Celia turned her back and crossed her wrists. She stood in her
satin frock, with her white arms and shoulders bare, her slender
throat supporting her small head with its heavy curls, her big
hat--a picture of young grace and beauty. She would have had an
easy task that night had there been men instead of women to put her
to the test. But the women were intent upon their own ends: Mme.
Dauvray eager for her seance, Adele Tace and Helene Vauquier
for the climax of their plot.

Celia clenched her hands to make the muscles of her wrists rigid
to resist the pressure of the cord. Adele quietly unclasped them
and placed them palm to palm. And at once Celia became uneasy. It
was not merely the action, significant though it was of Adele's
alertness to thwart her, which troubled Celia. But she was
extraordinarily receptive of impressions, extraordinarily quick to
feel, from a touch, some dim sensation of the thought of the one
who touched her. So now the touch of Adele's swift, strong,
nervous hands caused her a queer, vague shock of discomfort. It
was no more than that at the moment, but it was quite definite as
that.

"Keep your hands so, please, mademoiselle," said Adele; "your
fingers loose."

And the next moment Celia winced and had to bite her lip to
prevent a cry. The thin cord was wound twice about her wrists,
drawn cruelly tight and then cunningly knotted. For one second
Celia was thankful for her gloves; the next, more than ever she
regretted that she wore them. It would have been difficult enough
for her to free her hands now, even without them. And upon that a
worse thing befell her.

"I beg mademoiselle's pardon if I hurt her," said Adele.

And she tied the girl's thumbs and little fingers. To slacken the
knots she must have the use of her fingers, even though her gloves
made them fumble. Now she had lost the use of them altogether. She
began to feel that she was in master-hands. She was sure of it the
next instant. For Adele stood up, and, passing a cord round the
upper part of her arms, drew her elbows back. To bring any
strength to help her in wriggling her hands free she must be able
to raise her elbows. With them trussed in the small of her back
she was robbed entirely of her strength. And all the time her
strange uneasiness grew. She made a movement of revolt, and at
once the cord was loosened.

"Mlle. Celie objects to my tests," said Adele, with a laugh, to
Mme. Dauvray. "And I do not wonder."

Celia saw upon the old woman's foolish and excited face a look of
veritable consternation.

"Are you afraid, Celie?" she asked.

There was anger, there was menace in the voice, but above all
these there was fear--fear that her illusions were to tumble about
her. Celia heard that note and was quelled by it. This folly of
belief, these seances, were the one touch of colour in Mme.
Dauvray's life. And it was just that instinctive need of colour
which had made her so easy to delude. How strong the need is, how
seductive the proposal to supply it, Celia knew well. She knew it
from the experience of her life when the Great Fortinbras was at
the climax of his fortunes. She had travelled much amongst
monotonous, drab towns without character or amusements. She had
kept her eyes open. She had seen that it was from the denizens of
the dull streets in these towns that the quack religions won their
recruits. Mme. Dauvray's life had been a featureless sort of
affair until these experiments had come to colour it. Madame
Dauvray must at any rate preserve the memory of that colour.

"No," she said boldly; "I am not afraid," and after that she moved
no more.

Her elbows were drawn firmly back and tightly bound. She was sure
she could not free them. She glanced in despair at Helene
Vauquier, and then some glimmer of hope sprang up. For Helene
Vauquier gave her a look, a smile of reassurance. It was as if she
said, "I will come to your help." Then, to make security still
more sure, Adele turned the girl about as unceremoniously as if
she had been a doll, and, passing a cord at the back of her arms,
drew both ends round in front and knotted them at her waist.

"Now, Celie," said Adele, with a vibration in her voice which
Celia had not remarked before.

Excitement was gaining upon her, as upon Mme. Dauvray. Her face
was flushed and shiny, her manner peremptory and quick. Celia's
uneasiness grew into fear. She could have used the words which
Hanaud spoke the next day in that very room--"There is something
here which I do not understand." The touch of Adele Tace's hands
communicated something to her--something which filled her with a
vague alarm. She could not have formulated it if she would; she
dared not if she could. She had but to stand and submit.

"Now," said Adele.

She took the girl by the shoulders and set her in a clear space in
the middle of the room, her back to the recess, her face to the
mirror, where all could see her.

"Now, Celie"--she had dropped the "Mlle." and the ironic suavity
of her manner--"try to free yourself."

For a moment the girl's shoulders worked, her hands fluttered. But
they remained helplessly bound.

"Ah, you will be content, Adele, to-night," cried Mme. Dauvray
eagerly.

But even in the midst of her eagerness--so thoroughly had she been
prepared--there lingered a flavour of doubt, of suspicion. In
Celia's mind there was still the one desperate resolve.

"I must succeed to-night," she said to herself--"I must!"

Adele Rossignol knelt on the floor behind her. She gathered in
carefully the girl's frock. Then she picked up the long train,
wound it tightly round her limbs, pinioning and swathing them in
the folds of satin, and secured the folds with a cord about the
knees.

She stood up again.

"Can you walk, Celie?" she asked. "Try!"

With Helene Vauquier to support her if she fell, Celia took a tiny
shuffling step forward, feeling supremely ridiculous. No one,
however, of her audience was inclined to laugh. To Mme. Dauvray
the whole business was as serious as the most solemn ceremonial.
Adele was intent upon making her knots secure. Helene Vauquier was
the well-bred servant who knew her place. It was not for her to
laugh at her young mistress, in however ludicrous a situation she
might be.

"Now," said Adele, "we will tie mademoiselle's ankles, and then we
shall be ready for Mme. de Montespan."

The raillery in her voice had a note of savagery in it now.
Celia's vague terror grew. She had a feeling that a beast was
waking in the woman, and with it came a growing premonition of
failure. Vainly she cried to herself, "I must not fail to-night."
But she felt instinctively that there was a stronger personality
than her own in that room, taming her, condemning her to failure,
influencing the others.

She was placed in a chair. Adele passed a cord round her ankles,
and the mere touch of it quickened Celia to a spasm of revolt. Her
last little remnant of liberty was being taken from her. She
raised herself, or rather would have raised herself. But Helene
with gentle hands held her in the chair, and whispered under her
breath:

"Have no fear! Madame is watching."

Adele looked fiercely up into the girl's face.

"Keep still, hein, la petite!" she cried. And the epithet--"little
one"--was a light to Celia. Till now, upon these occasions, with
her black ceremonial dress, her air of aloofness, her vague eyes,
and the dignity of her carriage, she had already produced some
part of their effect before the seance had begun. She had been
wont to sail into the room, distant, mystical. She had her
audience already expectant of mysteries, prepared for marvels. Her
work was already half done. But now of all that help she was
deprived. She was no longer a person aloof, a prophetess, a seer
of visions; she was simply a smartly-dressed girl of today,
trussed up in a ridiculous and painful position--that was all. The
dignity was gone. And the more she realised that, the more she was
hindered from influencing her audience, the less able she was to
concentrate her mind upon them, to will them to favour her. Mme.
Dauvray's suspicions, she was sure, were still awake. She could
not quell them. There was a stronger personality than hers at work
in the room. The cord bit through her thin stockings into her
ankles. She dared not complain. It was savagely tied. She made no
remonstrance. And then Helene Vauquier raised her up from the
chair and lifted her easily off the ground. For a moment she held
her so. If Celia had felt ridiculous before, she knew that she was
ten times more so now. She could see herself as she hung in Helene
Vauquier's arms, with her delicate frock ludicrously swathed and
swaddled about her legs. But, again, of those who watched her no
one smiled.

"We have had no such tests as these," Mme. Dauvray explained, half
in fear, half in hope.

Adele Rossignol looked the girl over and nodded her head with
satisfaction. She had no animosity towards Celia; she had really
no feeling of any kind for her or against her. Fortunately she was
unaware at this time that Harry Wethermill had been paying his
court to her or it would have gone worse with Mlle. Celie before
the night was out. Mlle. Celie was just a pawn in a very dangerous
game which she happened to be playing, and she had succeeded in
engineering her pawn into the desired condition of helplessness.
She was content.

"Mademoiselle," she said, with a smile, "you wish me to believe.
You have now your opportunity."

Opportunity! And she was helpless. She knew very well that she
could never free herself from these cords without Helene's help.
She would fail, miserably and shamefully fail.

"It was madame who wished you to believe," she stammered.

And Adele Rossignol laughed suddenly--a short, loud, harsh laugh,
which jarred upon the quiet of the room. It turned Celia's vague
alarm into a definite terror. Some magnetic current brought her
grave messages of fear. The air about her seemed to tingle with
strange menaces. She looked at Adele. Did they emanate from her?
And her terror answered her "Yes." She made her mistake in that.
The strong personality in the room was not Adele Rossignol, but
Helene Vauquier, who held her like a child in her arms. But she
was definitely aware of danger, and too late aware of it. She
struggled vainly. From her head to her feet she was powerless. She
cried out hysterically to her patron:

"Madame! Madame! There is something--a presence here--some one who
means harm! I know it!"

And upon the old woman's face there came a look, not of alarm, but
of extraordinary relief. The genuine, heartfelt cry restored her
confidence in Celia.

"Some one--who means harm!" she whispered, trembling with
excitement.

"Ah, mademoiselle is already under control," said Helene, using
the jargon which she had learnt from Celia's lips.

Adele Rossignol grinned.

"Yes, la petite is under control," she repeated, with a sneer; and
all the elegance of her velvet gown was unable to hide her any
longer from Celia's knowledge. Her grin had betrayed her. She was
of the dregs. But Helene Vauquier whispered:

"Keep still, mademoiselle. I shall help you."

Vauquier carried the girl into the recess and placed her upon the
stool. With a long cord Adele bound her by the arms and the waist
to the pillar, and her ankles she fastened to the rung of the
stool, so that they could not touch the ground.

"Thus we shall be sure that when we hear rapping it will be the
spirits, and not the heels, which rap," she said. "Yes, I am
contented now." And she added, with a smile, "Celie may even have
her scarf," and, picking up a white scarf of tulle which Celia had
brought down with her, she placed it carelessly round her
shoulders.

"Wait!" Helene Vauquier whispered in Celia's ear.

To the cord about Celia's waist Adele was fastening a longer line.

"I shall keep my foot on the other end of this," she said, "when
the lights are out, and I shall know then if our little one frees
herself."

The three women went out of the recess. And the next moment the
heavy silk curtains swung across the opening, leaving Celia in
darkness. Quickly and noiselessly the poor girl began to twist and
work her hands. But she only bruised her wrists. This was to be
the last of the seances. But it must succeed! So much of Mme.
Dauvray's happiness, so much of her own, hung upon its success.
Let her fail to-night, she would be surely turned from the door.
The story of her trickery and her exposure would run through Aix.
And she had not told Harry! It would reach his ears from others.
He would never forgive her. To face the old, difficult life of
poverty and perhaps starvation again, and again alone, would be
hard enough; but to face it with Harry Wethermill's contempt added
to its burdens--as the poor girl believed she surely would have to
do--no, that would be impossible! Not this time would she turn
away from the Seine, because it was so terrible and cold. If she
had had the courage to tell him yesterday, he would have forgiven,
surely he would! The tears gathered in her eyes and rolled down
her cheeks. What would become of her now? She was in pain besides.
The cords about her arms and ankles tortured her. And she feared--
yes, desperately she feared the effect of the exposure upon Mme.
Dauvray. She had been treated as a daughter; now she was in return
to rob Mme. Dauvray of the belief which had become the passion of
her life.

"Let us take our seats at the table," she heard Mme. Dauvray say.
"Helene, you are by the switch of the electric light. Will you
turn it off?" And upon that Helene whispered, yet so that the
whisper reached to Celia and awakened hope:

"Wait! I will see what she is doing."

The curtains opened, and Helene Vauquier slipped to the girl's
side.

Celia checked her tears. She smiled imploringly, gratefully.

"What shall I do?" asked Helene, in a voice so low that the
movement of her mouth rather than the words made the question
clear.

Celia raised her head to answer. And then a thing incomprehensible
to her happened. As she opened her lips Helene Vauquier swiftly
forced a handkerchief in between the girl's teeth, and lifting the
scarf from her shoulders wound it tightly twice across her mouth,
binding her lips, and made it fast under the brim of her hat
behind her head. Celia tried to scream; she could not utter a
sound. She stared at Helene with incredulous, horror-stricken
eyes. Helene nodded at her with a cruel grin of satisfaction, and
Celia realised, though she did not understand, something of the
rancour and the hatred which seethed against her in the heart of
the woman whom she had supplanted. Helene Vauquier meant to expose
her to-night; Celia had not a doubt of it. That was her
explanation of Helene Vauquier's treachery; and believing that
error, she believed yet another--that she had reached the terrible
climax of her troubles. She was only at the beginning of them.

"Helene!" cried Mme. Dauvray sharply. "What are you doing?"

The maid instantly slid back into the room.

"Mademoiselle has not moved," she said.

Celia heard the women settle in their chairs about the table.

"Is madame ready?" asked Helene; and then there was the sound of
the snap of a switch. In the salon darkness had come.

If only she had not been wearing her gloves, Celia thought, she
might possibly have just been able to free her fingers and her
supple hands from their bonds. But as it was she was helpless. She
could only sit and wait until the audience in the salon grew tired
of waiting and came to her. She closed her eyes, pondering if by
any chance she could excuse her failure. But her heart sank within
her as she thought of Mme. Rossignol's raillery. No, it was all
over for her. ...

She opened her eyes, and she wondered. It seemed to her that there
was more light in the recess than there had been when she closed
them. Very likely her eyes were growing used to the darkness. Yet-
-yet--she ought not to be able to distinguish quite so clearly the
white pillar opposite to her. She looked towards the glass doors
and understood. The wooden shutters outside the doors were not
quite closed. They had been carelessly left unbolted. A chink from
lintel to floor let in a grey thread of light. Celia heard the
women whispering in the salon, and turned her head to catch the
words.

"Do you hear any sound?"

"No."

"Was that a hand which touched me?"

"No."

"We must wait."

And so silence came again, and suddenly there was quite a rush of
light into the recess. Celia was startled. She turned her head
back again towards the window. The wooden door had swung a little
more open. There was a wider chink to let the twilight of that
starlit darkness through. And as she looked, the chink slowly
broadened and broadened, the door swung slowly back on hinges
which were strangely silent. Celia stared at the widening panel of
grey light with a vague terror. It was strange that she could hear
no whisper of wind in the garden. Why, oh, why was that latticed
door opening so noiselessly? Almost she believed that the spirits
after all... And suddenly the recess darkened again, and Celia sat
with her heart leaping and shivering in her breast. There was
something black against the glass doors--a man. He had appeared as
silently, as suddenly, as any apparition. He stood blocking out
the light, pressing his face against the glass, peering into the
room. For a moment the shock of horror stunned her. Then she tore
frantically at the cords. All thought of failure, of exposure, of
dismissal had fled from her. The three poor women--that was her
thought--were sitting unwarned, unsuspecting, defenceless in the
pitch-blackness of the salon. A few feet away a man, a thief, was
peering in. They were waiting for strange things to happen in the
darkness. Strange and terrible things would happen unless she
could free herself, unless she could warn them. And she could not.
Her struggles were mere efforts to struggle, futile, a shiver from
head to foot, and noiseless as a shiver. Adele Rossignol had done
her work well and thoroughly. Celia's arms, her waist, her ankles
were pinioned; only the bandage over her mouth seemed to be
loosening. Then upon horror, horror was added. The man touched the
glass doors, and they swung silently inwards. They, too, had been
carelessly left unbolted. The man stepped without a sound over the
sill into the room. And, as he stepped, fear for herself drove out
for the moment from Celia's thoughts fear for the three women in
the black room. If only he did not see her! She pressed herself
against the pillar. He might overlook her, perhaps! His eyes would
not be so accustomed to the darkness of the recess as hers. He
might pass her unnoticed--if only he did not touch some fold of
her dress.

And then, in the midst of her terror, she experienced so great a
revulsion from despair to joy that a faintness came upon her, and
she almost swooned. She saw who the intruder was. For when he
stepped into the recess he turned towards her, and the dim light
struck upon him and showed her the contour of his face. It was her
lover, Harry Wethermill. Why he had come at this hour, and in this
strange way, she did not consider. Now she must attract his eyes,
now her fear was lest he should not see her.

But he came at once straight towards her. He stood in front of
her, looking into her eyes. But he uttered no cry. He made no
movement of surprise. Celia did not understand it. His face was in
the shadow now and she could not see it. Of course, he was
stunned, amazed. But--but--he stood almost as if he had expected
to find her there and just in that helpless attitude. It was
absurd, of course, but he seemed to look upon her helplessness as
nothing out of the ordinary way. And he raised no hand to set her
free. A chill struck through her. But the next moment he did raise
his hand and the blood flowed again, at her heart. Of course, she
was in the darkness. He had not seen her plight. Even now he was
only beginning to be aware of it. For his hand touched the bandage
over her mouth--tentatively. He felt for the knot under the broad
brim of her hat at the back of her head. He found it. In a moment
she would be free. She kept her head quite still, and then--why
was he so long? she asked herself. Oh, it was not possible! But
her heart seemed to stop, and she knew that it was not only
possible--it was true: he was tightening the scarf, not loosening
it. The folds bound her lips more surely. She felt the ends drawn
close at the back of her head. In a frenzy she tried to shake her
head free. But he held her face firmly and finished his work. He
was wearing gloves, she noticed with horror, just as thieves do.
Then his hands slid down her trembling arms and tested the cord
about her wrists. There was something horribly deliberate about
his movements. Celia, even at that moment, even with him, had the
sensation which had possessed her in the salon. It was the
personal equation on which she was used to rely. But neither Adele
nor this--this STRANGER was considering her as even a human being.
She was a pawn in their game, and they used her, careless of her
terror, her beauty, her pain. Then he freed from her waist the
long cord which ran beneath the curtain to Adele Rossignol's foot.
Celia's first thought was one of relief. He would jerk the cord
unwittingly. They would come into the recess and see him. And then
the real truth flashed in upon her blindingly. He had jerked the
cord, but he had jerked it deliberately. He was already winding it
up in a coil as it slid noiselessly across the polished floor
beneath the curtains towards him. He had given a signal to Adele
Rossignol. All that woman's scepticism and precaution against
trickery had been a mere blind, under cover of which she had been
able to pack the girl away securely without arousing her
suspicions. Helene Vauquier was in the plot, too. The scarf at
Celia's mouth was proof of that. As if to add proof to proof, she
heard Adele Rossignol speak in answer to the signal.

"Are we all ready? Have you got Mme. Dauvray's left hand, Helene?"

"Yes, madame," answered the maid.

"And I have her right hand. Now give me yours, and thus we are in
a circle about the table."

Celia, in her mind, could see them sitting about the round table
in the darkness, Mme. Dauvray between the two women, securely held
by them. And she herself could not utter a cry--could not move a
muscle to help her.

Wethermill crept back on noiseless feet to the window, closed the
wooden doors, and slid the bolts into their sockets. Yes, Helene
Vauquier was in the plot. The bolts and the hinges would not have
worked so smoothly but for her. Darkness again filled the recess
instead of the grey twilight. But in a moment a faint breath of
wind played upon Celia's forehead, and she knew that the man had
parted the curtains and slipped into the room. Celia let her head
fall towards her shoulder. She was sick and faint with terror. Her
lover was in this plot--the lover in whom she had felt so much
pride, for whose sake she had taken herself so bitterly to task.
He was the associate of Adele Rossignol, of Helene Vauquier. He
had used her, Celia, as an instrument for his crime. All their
hours together at the Villa des Fleurs--here to-night was their
culmination. The blood buzzed in her ears and hammered in the
veins of her temples. In front of her eyes the darkness whirled,
flecked with fire. She would have fallen, but she could not fall.
Then, in the silence, a tambourine jangled. There was to be a
seance to-night, then, and the seance had begun. In a dreadful
suspense she heard Mme. Dauvray speak.




CHAPTER XIX

HELENE EXPLAINS


And what she heard made her blood run cold.

Mme Dauvray spoke in a hushed, awestruck voice.

"There is a presence in the room."

It was horrible to Celia that the poor woman was speaking the
jargon which she herself had taught to her.

"I will speak to it," said Mme. Dauvray, and raising her voice a
little, she asked: "Who are you that come to us from the spirit-
world?"

No answer came, but all the while Celia knew that Wethermill was
stealing noiselessly across the floor towards that voice which
spoke this professional patter with so simple a solemnity.

"Answer!" she said. And the next moment she uttered a little
shrill cry--a cry of enthusiasm. "Fingers touch my forehead--now
they touch my cheek--now they touch my throat!"

And upon that the voice ceased. But a dry, choking sound was
heard, and a horrible scuffling and tapping of feet upon the
polished floor, a sound most dreadful. They were murdering her--
murdering an old, kind woman silently and methodically in the
darkness. The girl strained and twisted against the pillar
furiously, like an animal in a trap. But the coils of rope held
her; the scarf suffocated her. The scuffling became a spasmodic
sound, with intervals between, and then ceased altogether. A voice
spoke--a man's voice--Wethermill's. But Celia would never have
recognised it--it had so shrill and fearful an intonation.

"That's horrible," he said, and his voice suddenly rose to a
scream.

"Hush!" Helene Vauquier whispered sharply. "What's the matter?"

"She fell against me--her whole weight. Oh!"

"You are afraid of her!"

"Yes, yes!" And in the darkness Wethermill's voice came
querulously between long breaths. "Yes, NOW I am afraid of her!"

Helene Vauquier replied again contemptuously. She spoke aloud and
quite indifferently. Nothing of any importance whatever, one would
have gathered, had occurred.

"I will turn on the light," she said. And through the chinks in
the curtain the bright light shone. Celia heard a loud rattle upon
the table, and then fainter sounds of the same kind. And as a kind
of horrible accompaniment there ran the laboured breathing of the
man, which broke now and then with a sobbing sound. They were
stripping Mme. Dauvray of her pearl necklace, her bracelets, and
her rings. Celia had a sudden importunate vision of the old woman's
fat, podgy hands loaded with brilliants. A jingle of keys followed.

"That's all," Helene Vauquier said. She might have just turned out
the pocket of an old dress.

There was the sound of something heavy and inert falling with a
dull crash upon the floor. A woman laughed, and again it was
Helene Vauquier.

"Which is the key of the safe?" asked Adele.

And Helene Vauquier replied:-

"That one."

Celia heard some one drop heavily into a chair. It was Wethermill,
and he buried his face in his hands. Helene went over to him and
laid her hand upon his shoulder and shook him.

"Do you go and get her jewels out of the safe," she said, and she
spoke with a rough friendliness.

"You promised you would blindfold the girl," he cried hoarsely.

Helene Vauquier laughed.

"Did I?" she said. "Well, what does it matter?" "There would have
been no need to--" And his voice broke off shudderingly.

"Wouldn't there? And what of us--Adele and me? She knows certainly
that we are here. Come, go and get the jewels. The key of the
door's on the mantel-shelf. While you are away we two will arrange
the pretty baby in there."

She pointed to the recess; her voice rang with contempt.
Wethermill staggered across the room like a drunkard, and picked
up the key in trembling fingers. Celia heard it turn in the lock,
and the door bang. Wethermill had gone upstairs.

Celia leaned back, her heart fainting within her. Arrange! It was
her turn now. She was to be "arranged." She had no doubt what
sinister meaning that innocent word concealed. The dry, choking
sound, the horrid scuffling of feet upon the floor, were in her
ears. And it had taken so long--so terribly long!

She heard the door open again and shut again. Then steps
approached the recess. The curtains were flung back, and the two
women stood in front of her--the tall Adele Rossignol with her red
hair and her coarse good looks and her sapphire dress, and the
hard-featured, sallow maid. The maid was carrying Celia's white
coat. They did not mean to murder her, then. They meant to take
her away, and even then a spark of hope lit up in the girl's
bosom. For even with her illusions crushed she still clung to life
with all the passion of her young soul.

The two women stood and looked at her; and then Adele Rossignol
burst out laughing. Vauquier approached the girl, and Celia had a
moment's hope that she meant to free her altogether, but she only
loosed the cords which fixed her to the pillar and the high stool.

"Mademoiselle will pardon me for laughing," said Adele Rossignol
politely; "but it was mademoiselle who invited me to try my hand.
And really, for so smart a young lady, mademoiselle looks too
ridiculous."

She lifted the girl up and carried her back writhing and
struggling into the salon. The whole of the pretty room was within
view, but in the embrasure of a window something lay dreadfully
still and quiet. Celia held her head averted. But it was there,
and, though it was there, all the while the women joked and
laughed, Adele Rossignol feverishly, Helene Vauquier with a real
glee most horrible to see.

"I beg mademoiselle not to listen to what Adele is saying,"
exclaimed Helene. And she began to ape in a mincing, extravagant
fashion the manner of a saleswoman in a shop. "Mademoiselle has
never looked so ravishing. This style is the last word of fashion.
It is what there is of most chic. Of course, mademoiselle
understands that the costume is not intended for playing the
piano. Nor, indeed, for the ballroom. It leaps to one's eyes that
dancing would be difficult. Nor is it intended for much
conversation. It is a costume for a mood of quiet reflection. But
I assure mademoiselle that for pretty young ladies who are the
favourites of rich old women it is the style most recommended by
the criminal classes."

All the woman's bitter rancour against Celia, hidden for months
beneath a mask of humility, burst out and ran riot now. She went
to Adele Rossignol's help, and they flung the girl face downwards
upon the sofa. Her face struck the cushion at one end, her feet
the cushion at the other. The breath was struck out of her body.
She lay with her bosom heaving.

Helene Vauquier watched her for a moment with a grin, paying
herself now for her respectful speeches and attendance.

"Yes, lie quietly and reflect, little fool!" she said savagely.
"Were you wise to come here and interfere with Helene Vauquier?
Hadn't you better have stayed and danced in your rags at
Montmartre? Are the smart frocks and the pretty hats and the good
dinners worth the price? Ask yourself these questions, my dainty
little friend!"

She drew up a chair to Celia's side, and sat down upon it
comfortably.

"I will tell you what we are going to do with you, Mlle. Celie.
Adele Rossignol and that kind gentleman, M. Wethermill, are going
to take you away with them. You will be glad to go, won't you,
dearie? For you love M. Wethermill, don't you? Oh, they won't keep
you long enough for you to get tired of them. Do not fear! But you
will not come back, Mlle. Celie. No; you have seen too much
to-night. And every one will think that Mlle. Celie helped to murder
and rob her benefactress. They are certain to suspect some one,
so why not you, pretty one?"

Celia made no movement. She lay trying to believe that no crime
had been committed, that that lifeless body did not lie against
the wall. And then she heard in the room above a bed wheeled
roughly from its place.

The two women heard it too, and looked at one another.

"He should look in the safe," said Vauquier. "Go and see what he
is doing."

And Adele Rossignol ran from the room.

As soon as she was gone Vauquier followed to the door, listened,
closed it gently, and came back. She stooped down.

"Mlle. Celie," she said, in a smooth, silky voice, which terrified
the girl more than her harsh tones, "there is just one little
thing wrong in your appearance, one tiny little piece of bad
taste, if mademoiselle will pardon a poor servant the expression.
I did not mention it before Adele Rossignol; she is so severe in
her criticism, is she not? But since we are alone, I will presume
to point out to mademoiselle that those diamond ear-drops which I
see peeping out under the scarf are a little ostentatious in her
present predicament. They are a provocation to thieves. Will
mademoiselle permit me to remove them?"

She caught her by the neck and lifted her up. She pushed the lace
scarf up at the side of Celia's head. Celia began to struggle
furiously, convulsively. She kicked and writhed, and a little
tearing sound was heard. One of her shoe-buckles had caught in the
thin silk covering of the cushion and slit it. Helene Vauquier let
her fall. She felt composedly in her pocket, and drew from it an
aluminium flask--the same flask which Lemerre was afterward to
snatch up in the bedroom in Geneva. Celia stared at her in dread.
She saw the flask flashing in the light. She shrank from it. She
wondered what new horror was to grip her. Helene unscrewed the top
and laughed pleasantly.

"Mlle. Celie is under control," she said. "We shall have to teach
her that it is not polite in young ladies to kick." She pressed
Celia down with a hand upon her back, and her voice changed. "Lie
still," she commanded savagely. "Do you hear? Do you know what
this is, Mlle. Celie?" And she held the flask towards the girl's
face. "This is vitriol, my pretty one. Move, and I'll spoil these
smooth white shoulders for you. How would you like that?"

Celia shuddered from head to foot, and, burying her face in the
cushion, lay trembling. She would have begged for death upon her
knees rather than suffer this horror. She felt Vauquier's fingers
lingering with a dreadful caressing touch upon her shoulders and
about her throat. She was within an ace of the torture, the
disfigurement, and she knew it. She could not pray for mercy.
She could only lie quite still, as she was bidden, trying to control
the shuddering of her limbs and body.

"It would be a good lesson for Mlle. Celie," Helene continued
slowly. "I think that if Mlle. Celie will forgive the liberty I
ought to inflict it. One little tilt of the flask and the satin of
these pretty shoulders--"

She broke off suddenly and listened. Some sound heard outside had
given Celia a respite, perhaps more than a respite. Helene set the
flask down upon the table. Her avarice had got the better of her
hatred. She roughly plucked the earrings out of the girl's ears.
She hid them quickly in the bosom of her dress with her eye upon
the door. She did not see a drop of blood gather on the lobe of
Celia's ear and fall into the cushion on which her face was
pressed. She had hardly hidden them away before the door opened
and Adele Rossignol burst into the room.

"What is the matter?" asked Vauquier.

"The safe's empty. We have searched the room. We have found
nothing," she cried.

"Everything is in the safe," Helene insisted.

"No."

The two women ran out of the room and up the stairs. Celia, lying
on the settee, heard all the quiet of the house change to noise
and confusion. It was as though a tornado raged in the room
overhead. Furniture was tossed about and over the room, feet
stamped and ran, locks were smashed in with heavy blows. For many
minutes the storm raged. Then it ceased, and she heard the
accomplices clattering down the stairs without a thought of the
noise they made. They burst into the room. Harry Wethermill was
laughing hysterically, like a man off his head. He had been
wearing a long dark overcoat when he entered the house; now he
carried the coat over his arm. He was in a dinner-jacket, and his
black clothes were dusty and disordered.

"It's all for nothing!" he screamed rather than cried. "Nothing
but the one necklace and a handful of rings!"

In a frenzy he actually stooped over the dead woman and questioned
her.

"Tell us--where did you hide them?" he cried.

"The girl will know," said Helene.

Wethermill rose up and looked wildly at Celia.

"Yes, yes," he said.

He had no scruple, no pity any longer for the girl. There was no
gain from the crime unless she spoke. He would have placed his
head in the guillotine for nothing. He ran to the writing-table,
tore off half a sheet of paper, and brought it over with a pencil
to the sofa. He gave them to Vauquier to hold, and drawing out the
sofa from the wall slipped in behind. He lifted up Celia with
Rossignol's help, and made her sit in the middle of the sofa with
her feet upon the ground. He unbound her wrists and fingers, and
Vauquier placed the writing-pad and the paper on the girl's knees.
Her arms were still pinioned above the elbows; she could not raise
her hands high enough to snatch the scarf from her lips. But with
the pad held up to her she could write.

"Where did she keep her jewels! Quick! Take the pencil and write,"
said Wethermill, holding her left wrist.

Vauquier thrust the pencil into her right hand, and awkwardly and
slowly her gloved fingers moved across the page.

"I do not know," she wrote; and, with an oath, Wethermill snatched
the paper up, tore it into pieces, and threw it down.

"You have got to know," he said, his face purple with passion, and
he flung out his arm as though he would dash his fist into her
face. But as he stood with his arm poised there came a singular
change upon his face.

"Did you hear anything?" he asked in a whisper.

All listened, and all heard in the quiet of the night a faint
click, and after an interval they heard it again, and after
another but shorter interval yet once more.

"That's the gate," said Wethermill in a whisper of fear, and a
pulse of hope stirred within Celia.

He seized her wrists, crushed them together behind her, and
swiftly fastened them once more. Adele Rossignol sat down upon the
floor, took the girl's feet upon her lap, and quietly wrenched off
her shoes.

"The light," cried Wethermill in an agonised voice, and Helena
Vauquier flew across the room and turned it off.

All three stood holding their breath, straining their ears in the
dark room. On the hard gravel of the drive outside footsteps
became faintly audible, and grew louder and came near. Adele
whispered to Vauquier:

"Has the girl a lover?"

And Helene Vauquier, even at that moment, laughed quietly.

All Celia's heart and youth rose in revolt against her extremity.
If she could only free her lips! The footsteps came round the
corner of the house, they sounded on the drive outside the very
window of this room. One cry, and she would be saved. She tossed
back her head and tried to force the handkerchief out from between
her teeth. But Wethermill's hand covered her mouth and held it
closed. The footsteps stopped, a light shone for a moment outside.
The very handle of the door was tried. Within a few yards help was
there--help and life. Just a frail latticed wooden door stood
between her and them. She tried to rise to her feet. Adele
Rossignol held her legs firmly. She was powerless. She sat with
one desperate hope that, whoever it was who was in the garden,
he would break in. Were it even another murderer, he might have
more pity than the callous brutes who held her now; he could have
no less. But the footsteps moved away. It was the withdrawal of all
hope. Celia heard Wethermill behind her draw a long breath of relief.
That seemed to Celia almost the cruellest part of the whole tragedy.
They waited in the darkness until the faint click of the gate was heard
once more. Then the light was turned up again.

"We must go," said Wethermill. All the three of them were shaken.
They stood looking at one another, white and trembling. They spoke
in whispers. To get out of the room, to have done with the
business--that had suddenly become their chief necessity.

Adele picked up the necklace and the rings from the satin-wood
table and put them into a pocket-bag which was slung at her waist.

"Hippolyte shall turn these things into money," she said. "He
shall set about it to-morrow. We shall have to keep the girl now--
until she tells us where the rest is hidden."

"Yes, keep her," said Helene. "We will come over to Geneva in a
few days, as soon as we can. We will persuade her to tell." She
glanced darkly at the girl. Celia shivered.

"Yes, that's it," said Wethermill. "But don't harm her. She will
tell of her own will. You will see. The delay won't hurt now. We
can't come back and search for a little while."

He was speaking in a quick, agitated voice. And Adele agreed. The
desire to be gone had killed even their fury at the loss of their
prize. Some time they would come back, but they would not search
now--they were too unnerved.

"Helene," said Wethermill, "get to bed. I'll come up with the
chloroform and put you to sleep."

Helene Vauquier hurried upstairs. It was part of her plan that she
should be left alone in the villa chloroformed. Thus only could
suspicion be averted from herself. She did not shrink from the
completion of the plan now. She went, the strange woman, without a
tremor to her ordeal. Wethermill took the length of rope which had
fixed Celia to the pillar.

"I'll follow," he said, and as he turned he stumbled over the body
of Mme. Dauvray. With a shrill cry he kicked it out of his way and
crept up the stairs. Adele Rossignol quickly set the room in
order. She removed the stool from its position in the recess, and
carried it to its place in the hall. She put Celia's shoes upon
her feet, loosening the cord from her ankles. Then she looked
about the floor and picked up here and there a scrap of cord. In
the silence the clock upon the mantel-shelf chimed the quarter past
eleven. She screwed the stopper on the flask of vitriol very
carefully, and put the flask away in her pocket. She went into the
kitchen and fetched the key of the garage. She put her hat on her
head. She even picked up and drew on her gloves, afraid lest she
should leave them behind; and then Wethermill came down again.
Adele looked at him inquiringly.

"It is all done," he said, with a nod of the head. "I will bring
the car down to the door. Then I'll drive you to Geneva and come
back with the car here."

He cautiously opened the latticed door of the window, listened for
a moment, and ran silently down the drive. Adele closed the door
again, but she did not bolt it. She came back into the room; she
looked at Celia, as she lay back upon the settee, with a long
glance of indecision. And then, to Celia's surprise--for she had
given up all hope--the indecision in her eyes became pity. She
suddenly ran across the room and knelt down before Celia. With
quick and feverish hands she untied the cord which fastened the
train of her skirt about her knees.

At first Celia shrank away, fearing some new cruelty. But Adele's
voice came to her ears, speaking--and speaking with remorse.

"I can't endure it!" she whispered. "You are so young--too young
to be killed."

The tears were rolling down Celia's cheeks. Her face was pitiful
and beseeching.

"Don't look at me like that, for God's sake, child!" Adele went
on, and she chafed the girl's ankles for a moment.

"Can you stand?" she asked.

Celia nodded her head gratefully. After all, then, she was not to
die. It seemed to her hardly possible. But before she could rise a
subdued whirr of machinery penetrated into the room, and the
motor-car came slowly to the front of the villa.

"Keep still!" said Adele hurriedly, and she placed herself in
front of Celia.

Wethermill opened the wooden door, while Celia's heart raced in
her bosom.

"I will go down and open the gate," he whispered. "Are you ready?"

"Yes."

Wethermill disappeared; and this time he left the door open. Adele
helped Celia to her feet. For a moment she tottered; then she
stood firm.

"Now run!" whispered Adele. "Run, child, for your life!"

Celia did not stop to think whither she should run, or how she
should escape from Wethermill's search. She could not ask that her
lips and her hands might be freed. She had but a few seconds. She
had one thought--to hide herself in the darkness of the garden.
Celia fled across the room, sprang wildly over the sill, ran,
tripped over her skirt, steadied herself, and was swung off the ground
by the arms of Harry Wethermill.

"There we are," he said, with his shrill, wavering laugh. "I
opened the gate before." And suddenly Celia hung inert in his
arms.

The light went out in the salon. Adele Rossignol, carrying Celia's
cloak, stepped out at the side of the window.

"She has fainted," said Wethermill. "Wipe the mould off her shoes
and off yours too--carefully. I don't want them to think this car
has been out of the garage at all."

Adele stooped and obeyed. Wethermill opened the door of the car
and flung Celia into a seat. Adele followed and took her seat
opposite the girl. Wethermill stepped carefully again on to the
grass, and with the toe of his shoe scraped up and ploughed the
impressions which he and Adele Rossignol had made on the ground,
leaving those which Celia had made. He came back to the window.

"She has left her footmarks clear enough," he whispered. "There
will be no doubt in the morning that she went of her own free
will."

Then he took the chauffeur's seat, and the car glided silently
down the drive and out by the gate. As soon as it was on the road
it stopped. In an instant Adele Rossignol's head was out of the
window.

"What is it?" she exclaimed in fear.

Wethermill pointed to the roof. He had left the light burning in
Helene Vauquier's room.

"We can't go back now," said Adele in a frantic whisper. "No; it
is over. I daren't go back." And Wethermill jammed down the lever.
The car sprang forward, and humming steadily over the white road
devoured the miles. But they had made their one mistake.




CHAPTER XX

THE GENEVA ROAD


The car had nearly reached Annecy before Celia woke to
consciousness. And even then she was dazed. She was only aware
that she was in the motor-car and travelling at a great speed. She
lay back, drinking in the fresh air. Then she moved, and with the
movement came to her recollection and the sense of pain. Her arms
and wrists were still bound behind her, and the cords hurt her
like hot wires. Her mouth, however, and her feet were free. She
started forward, and Adele Rossignol spoke sternly from the seat
opposite.

"Keep still. I am holding the flask in my hand. If you scream, if
you make a movement to escape, I shall fling the vitriol in your
face," she said.

Celia shrank back, shivering.

"I won't! I won't!" she whispered piteously. Her spirit was broken
by the horrors of the night's adventure. She lay back and cried
quietly in the darkness of the carriage. The car dashed through
Annecy. It seemed incredible to Celia that less than six hours ago
she had been dining with Mme. Dauvray and the woman opposite, who
was now her jailer. Mme. Dauvray lay dead in the little salon, and
she herself--she dared not think what lay in front of her. She was
to be persuaded--that was the word--to tell what she did not know.
Meanwhile her name would be execrated through Aix as the murderess
of the woman who had saved her. Then suddenly the car stopped.
There were lights outside. Celia heard voices. A man was speaking
to Wethermill. She started and saw Adele Tace's arm flash upwards.
She sank back in terror; and the car rolled on into the darkness.
Adele Tace drew a breath of relief. The one point of danger had
been passed. They had crossed the Pont de la Caille, they were in
Switzerland.

Some long while afterwards the car slackened its speed. By the
side of it Celia heard the sound of wheels and of the hooves of a
horse. A single-horsed closed landau had been caught up as it
jogged along the road. The motor-car stopped; close by the side of
it the driver of the landau reined in his horse. Wethermill jumped
down from the chauffeur's seat, opened the door of the landau, and
then put his head in at the window of the car.

"Are you ready? Be quick!"

Adele turned to Celia.

"Not a word, remember!"

Wethermill flung open the door of the car. Adele took the girl's
feet and drew them down to the step of the car. Then she pushed
her out. Wethermill caught her in his arms and carried her to the
landau. Celia dared not cry out. Her hands were helpless, her face
at the mercy of that grim flask. Just ahead of them the lights of
Geneva were visible, and from the lights a silver radiance
overspread a patch of sky. Wethermill placed her in the landau;
Adele sprang in behind her and closed the door. The transfer had
taken no more than a few seconds. The landau jogged into Geneva;
the motor turned and sped back over the fifty miles of empty road
to Aix.

As the motor-car rolled away, courage returned for a moment to
Celia. The man--the murderer--had gone. She was alone with Adele
Rossignol in a carriage moving no faster than an ordinary trot.
Her ankles were free, the gag had been taken from her lips. If
only she could free her hands and choose a moment when Adele was
off her guard she might open the door and spring out on to the
road. She saw Adele draw down the blinds of the carriage, and very
carefully, very secretly, Celia began to work her hands behind
her. She was an adept; no movement was visible, but, on the other
hand, no success was obtained. The knots had been too cunningly
tied. And then Mme. Rossignol touched a button at her side in the
leather of the carriage.

The touch turned on a tiny lamp in the roof of the carriage, and
she raised a warning hand to Celia.

"Now keep very quiet."

Right through the empty streets of Geneva the landau was quietly
driven. Adele had peeped from time to time under the blind. There
were few people in the streets. Once or twice a sergent-de-ville
was seen under the light of a lamp. Celia dared not cry out. Over
against her, persistently watching her, Adele Rossignol sat with
the open flask clenched in her hand, and from the vitriol Celia
shrank with an overwhelming terror. The carriage drove out from
the town along the western edge of the lake.

"Now listen," said Adele. "As soon as the landau stops the door of
the house opposite to which it stops will open. I shall open the
carriage door myself and you will get out. You must stand close by
the carriage door until I have got out. I shall hold this flask
ready in my hand. As soon as I am out you will run across the
pavement into the house. You won't speak or scream."

Adele Rossignol turned out the lamp and ten minutes later the
carriage passed down the little street and attracted Mme. Gobin's
notice. Marthe Gobin had lit no light in her room. Adele Rossignol
peered out of the carriage. She saw the houses in darkness. She
could not see the busybody's face watching the landau from a dark
window. She cut the cords which fastened the girl's hands. The
carriage stopped. She opened the door. Celia sprang out on to the
pavement. She sprang so quickly that Adele Rossignol caught and
held the train of her dress. But it was the fear of the vitriol
which had made her spring so nimbly. It was that, too, which made
her run so lightly and quickly into the house. The old woman who
acted as servant, Jeanne Tace, received her. Celia offered no
resistance. The fear of vitriol had made her supple as a glove.
Jeanne hurried her down the stairs into the little parlour at the
back of the house, where supper was laid, and pushed her into a
chair. Celia let her arms fall forward on the table. She had no
hope now. She was friendless and alone in a den of murderers, who
meant first to torture, then to kill her. She would be held up to
execration as a murderess. No one would know how she had died or
what she had suffered. She was in pain, and her throat burned. She
buried her face in her arms and sobbed. All her body shook with
her sobbing. Jeanne Rossignol took no notice. She treated Celie
just as the others had done. Celia was la petite, against whom she
had no animosity, by whom she was not to be touched to any
tenderness. La petite had unconsciously played her useful part in
their crime. But her use was ended now, and they would deal with
her accordingly. She removed the girl's hat and cloak and tossed
them aside.

"Now stay quiet until we are ready for you," she said. And Celia,
lifting her head, said in a whisper:

"Water!"

The old woman poured some from a jug and held the glass to Celia's
lips.

"Thank you," whispered Celia gratefully, and Adele came into the
room. She told the story of the night to Jeanne, and afterwards to
Hippolyte when he joined them.

"And nothing gained!" cried the older woman furiously. "And we
have hardly a five-franc piece in the house."

"Yes, something," said Adele. "A necklace--a good one--some good
rings, and bracelets. And we shall find out where the rest is hid-
-from her." And she nodded at Celia.

The three people ate their supper, and, while they ate it,
discussed Celia's fate. She was lying with her head bowed upon her
arms at the same table, within a foot of them. But they made no
more of her presence than if she had been an old shoe. Only once
did one of them speak to her.

"Stop your whimpering," said Hippolyte roughly. "We can hardly
hear ourselves talk."

He was for finishing with the business altogether that night.

"It's a mistake," he said. "There's been a bungle, and the sooner
we are rid of it the better. There's a boat at the bottom of the
garden."

Celia listened and shuddered. He would have no more compunction
over drowning her than he would have had over drowning a blind
kitten.

"It's cursed luck," he said. "But we have got the necklace--that's
something. That's our share, do you see? The young spark can look
for the rest."

But Helene Vauquier's wish prevailed. She was the leader. They
would keep the girl until she came to Geneva.

They took her upstairs into the big bedroom overlooking the lake.
Adele opened the door of the closet, where a truckle-bed stood,
and thrust the girl in.

"This is my room," she said warningly, pointing to the bedroom.
"Take care I hear no noise. You might shout yourself hoarse, my
pretty one; no one else would hear you. But I should, and
afterwards--we should no longer be able to call you 'my pretty
one,' eh?"

And with a horrible playfulness she pinched the girl's cheek.

Then with old Jeanne's help she stripped Celia and told her to get
into bed.

"I'll give her something to keep her quiet," said Adele, and she
fetched her morphia-needle and injected a dose into Celia's arm.

Then they took her clothes away and left her in the darkness. She
heard the key turn in the lock, and a moment after the sound of
the bedstead being drawn across the doorway. But she heard no
more, for almost immediately she fell asleep.

She was awakened some time the next day by the door opening. Old
Jeanne Tace brought her in a jug of water and a roll of bread, and
locked her up again. And a long time afterwards she brought her
another supply. Yet another day had gone, but in that dark
cupboard Celia had no means of judging time. In the afternoon the
newspaper came out with the announcement that Mme. Dauvray's
jewellery had been discovered under the boards. Hippolyte brought
in the newspaper, and, cursing their stupidity, they sat down to
decide upon Celia's fate. That, however, was soon arranged. They
would dress her in everything which she wore when she came, so
that no trace of her might be discovered. They would give her
another dose of morphia, sew her up in a sack as soon as she was
unconscious, row her far out on to the lake, and sink her with a
weight attached. They dragged her out from the cupboard, always
with the threat of that bright aluminium flask before her eyes.
She fell upon her knees, imploring their pity with the tears
running down her cheeks; but they sewed the strip of sacking over
her face so that she should see nothing of their preparations.
They flung her on the sofa, secured her as Hanaud had found her,
and, leaving her in the old woman's charge, sent down Adele for
her needle and Hippolyte to get ready the boat. As Hippolyte
opened the door he saw the launch of the Chef de la Surete glide
along the bank.




CHAPTER XXI

HANAUD EXPLAINS


This is the story as Mr. Ricardo wrote it out from the statement
of Celia herself and the confession of Adele Rossignol.
Obscurities which had puzzled him were made clear. But he was
still unaware how Hanaud had worked out the solution.

"You promised me that you would explain," he said, when they were
both together after the trial was over at Aix. The two men had
just finished luncheon at the Cercle and were sitting over their
coffee. Hanaud lighted a cigar.

"There were difficulties, of course," he said; "the crime was so
carefully planned. The little details, such as the footprints, the
absence of any mud from the girl's shoes in the carriage of the
motor-car, the dinner at Annecy, the purchase of the cord, the
want of any sign of a struggle in the little salon, were all
carefully thought out. Had not one little accident happened, and
one little mistake been made in consequence, I doubt if we should
have laid our hands upon one of the gang. We might have suspected
Wethermill; we should hardly have secured him, and we should very
likely never have known of the Tace family. That mistake was, as
you no doubt are fully aware--"

"The failure of Wethermill to discover Mme. Dauvray's jewels,"
said Ricardo at once.

"No, my friend," answered Hanaud. "That made them keep Mlle. Celie
alive. It enabled us to save her when we had discovered the
whereabouts of the gang. It did not help us very much to lay our
hands upon them. No; the little accident which happened was the
entrance of our friend Perrichet into the garden while the
murderers were still in the room. Imagine that scene, M. Ricardo.
The rage of the murderers at their inability to discover the
plunder for which they had risked their necks, the old woman
crumpled up on the floor against the wall, the girl writing
laboriously with fettered arms 'I do not know' under threats of
torture, and then in the stillness of the night the clear, tiny
click of the gate and the measured, relentless footsteps. No
wonder they were terrified in that dark room. What would be their
one thought? Why, to get away--to come back perhaps later, when
Mlle. Celie should have told them what, by the way, she did not
know, but in any case to get away now. So they made their little
mistake, and in their hurry they left the light burning in the
room of Helene Vauquier, and the murder was discovered seven hours
too soon for them."

"Seven hours!" said Mr. Ricardo.

"Yes. The household did not rise early. It was not until seven
that the charwoman came. It was she who was meant to discover the
crime. By that time the motor-car would have been back three hours
ago in its garage. Servettaz, the chauffeur, would have returned
from Chambery some time in the morning, he would have cleaned the
car, he would have noticed that there was very little petrol in
the tank, as there had been when he had left it on the day before.
He would not have noticed that some of his many tins which had
been full yesterday were empty to-day. We should not have
discovered that about four in the morning the car was close to the
Villa Rose and that it had travelled, between midnight and five in
the morning, a hundred and fifty kilometres."

"But you had already guessed 'Geneva,'" said Ricardo. "At
luncheon, before the news came that the car was found, you had
guessed it."

"It was a shot," said Hanaud. "The absence of the car helped me to
make it. It is a large city and not very far away, a likely place
for people with the police at their heels to run to earth in. But
if the car had been discovered in the garage I should not have
made that shot. Even then I had no particular conviction about
Geneva. I really wished to see how Wethermill would take it. He
was wonderful."

"He sprang up."

"He betrayed nothing but surprise. You showed no less surprise
than he did, my good friend. What I was looking for was one glance
of fear. I did not get it."

"Yet you suspected him--even then you spoke of brains and
audacity. You told him enough to hinder him from communicating
with the red-haired woman in Geneva. You isolated him. Yes, you
suspected him."

"Let us take the case from the beginning. When you first came to
me, as I told you, the Commissaire had already been with me. There
was an interesting piece of evidence already in his possession.
Adolphe Ruel--who saw Wethermill and Vauquier together close by
the Casino and overheard that cry of Wethermill's, 'It is true: I
must have money!'--had already been with his story to the
Commissaire. I knew it when Harry Wethermill came into the room to
ask me to take up the case. That was a bold stroke, my friend. The
chances were a hundred to one that I should not interrupt my
holiday to take up a case because of your little dinner-party in
London. Indeed, I should not have interrupted it had I not known
Adolphe Ruel's story. As it was I could not resist. Wethermill's
very audacity charmed me. Oh yes, I felt that I must pit myself
against him. So few criminals have spirit, M. Ricardo. It is
deplorable how few. But Wethermill! See in what a fine position he
would have been if only I had refused. He himself had been the
first to call upon the first detective in France. And his
argument! He loved Mlle. Celie. Therefore she must be innocent!
How he stuck to it! People would have said, 'Love is blind,' and
all the more they would have suspected Mlle. Celie. Yes, but they
love the blind lover. Therefore all the more would it have been
impossible for them to believe Harry Wethermill had any share in
that grim crime."

Mr. Ricardo drew his chair closer in to the table.

"I will confess to you," he said, "that I thought Mlle. Celie was
an accomplice."

"It is not surprising," said Hanaud. "Some one within the house
was an accomplice--we start with that fact. The house had not been
broken into. There was Mlle. Celie's record as Helene Vauquier
gave it to us, and a record obviously true. There was the fact
that she had got rid of Servettaz. There was the maid upstairs
very ill from the chloroform. What more likely than that Mlle.
Celie had arranged a seance, and then when the lights were out had
admitted the murderer through that convenient glass door?"

"There were, besides, the definite imprints of her shoes," said
Mr. Ricardo.

"Yes, but that is precisely where I began to feel sure that she
was innocent," replied Hanaud dryly. "All the other footmarks had
been so carefully scored and ploughed up that nothing could be
made of them. Yet those little ones remained so definite, so
easily identified, and I began to wonder why these, too, had not
been cut up and stamped over. The murderers had taken, you see, an
excess of precaution to throw the presumption of guilt upon Mlle.
Celie rather than upon Vauquier. However, there the footsteps
were. Mlle. Celie had sprung from the room as I described to
Wethermill. But I was puzzled. Then in the room I found the torn-
up sheet of notepaper with the words, 'Je ne sais pas,' in
mademoiselle's handwriting. The words might have been spirit-
writing, they might have meant anything. I put them away in my
mind. But in the room the settee puzzled me. And again I was
troubled--greatly troubled."

"Yes, I saw that."

"And not you alone," said Hanaud, with a smile. "Do you remember
that loud cry Wethermill gave when we returned to the room and
once more I stood before the settee? Oh, he turned it off very
well. I had said that our criminals in France were not very gentle
with their victims, and he pretended that it was in fear of what
Mlle. Celie might be suffering which had torn that cry from his
heart. But it was not so. He was afraid--deadly afraid--not for
Mlle. Celie, but for himself. He was afraid that I had understood
what these cushions had to tell me."

"What did they tell you?" asked Ricardo.

"You know now," said Hanaud. "They were two cushions, both
indented, and indented in different ways. The one at the head was
irregularly indented--something shaped had pressed upon it. It
might have been a face--it might not; and there was a little brown
stain which was fresh and which was blood. The second cushion had
two separate impressions, and between them the cushion was forced
up in a thin ridge; and these impressions were more definite. I
measured the distance between the two cushions, and I found this:
that supposing--and it was a large supposition--the cushions had
not been moved since those impressions were made, a girl of Mlle.
Celie's height lying stretched out upon the sofa would have her
face pressing down upon one cushion and her feet and insteps upon
the other. Now, the impressions upon the second cushion and the
thin ridge between them were just the impressions which might have
been made by a pair of shoes held close together. But that would
not be a natural attitude for any one, and the mark upon the head
cushion was very deep. Supposing that my conjectures were true,
then a woman would only lie like that because she was helpless,
because she had been flung there, because she could not lift
herself--because, in a word, her hands were tied behind her back
and her feet fastened together. Well, then, follow this train of
reasoning, my friend! Suppose my conjectures--and we had nothing
but conjectures to build upon--were true, the woman flung upon the
sofa could not be Helene Vauquier, for she would have said so; she
could have had no reason for concealment. But it must be Mlle.
Celie. There was the slit in the one cushion and the stain on the
other which, of course, I had not accounted for. There was still,
too, the puzzle of the footsteps outside the glass doors. If Mlle.
Celie had been bound upon the sofa, how came she to run with her
limbs free from the house? There was a question--a question not
easy to answer."

"Yes," said Mr. Ricardo.

"Yes; but there was also another question. Suppose that Mlle.
Celie was, after all, the victim, not the accomplice; suppose she
had been flung tied upon the sofa; suppose that somehow the
imprint of her shoes upon the ground had been made, and that she
had afterwards been carried away, so that the maid might be
cleared of all complicity--in that case it became intelligible why
the other footprints were scored out and hers left. The
presumption of guilt would fall upon her. There would be proof
that she ran hurriedly from the room and sprang into a motor-car
of her own free will. But, again, if that theory were true, then
Helene Vauquier was the accomplice and not Mlle. Celie."

"I follow that."

"Then I found an interesting piece of evidence with regard to the
strange woman who came: I picked up a long red hair--a very
important piece of evidence about which I thought it best to say
nothing at all. It was not Mlle. Celie's hair, which is fair; nor
Vauquier's, which is black; nor Mme. Dauvray's, which is dyed
brown; nor the charwoman's, which is grey. It was, therefore, the
visitor's. Well, we went upstairs to Mlle. Celie's room."

"Yes," said Mr. Ricardo eagerly. "We are coming to the pot of
cream."

"In that room we learnt that Helene Vauquier, at her own request,
had already paid it a visit. It is true the Commissaire said that
he had kept his eye on her the whole time. But none the less from
the window he saw me coming down the road, and that he could not
have done, as I made sure, unless he had turned his back upon
Vauquier and leaned out of the window. Now at the time I had an
open mind about Vauquier. On the whole I was inclined to think she
had no share in the affair. But either she or Mlle. Celie had, and
perhaps both. But one of them--yes. That was sure. Therefore I
asked what drawers she touched after the Commissaire had leaned
out of the window. For if she had any motive in wishing to visit
the room she would have satisfied it when the Commissaire's back
was turned. He pointed to a drawer, and I took out a dress and
shook it, thinking that she may have wished to hide something. But
nothing fell out. On the other hand, however, I saw some quite
fresh grease-marks, made by fingers, and the marks were wet. I
began to ask myself how it was that Helene Vauquier, who had just
been helped to dress by the nurse, had grease upon her fingers.
Then I looked at a drawer which she had examined first of all.
There were no grease-marks on the clothes she had turned over
before the Commissaire leaned out of the window. Therefore it
followed that during the few seconds when he was watching me she
had touched grease. I looked about the room, and there on the
dressing-table close by the chest of drawers was a pot of cold
cream. That was the grease Helene Vauquier had touched. And why--
if not to hide some small thing in it which, firstly, she dared
not keep in her own room; which, secondly, she wished to hide in
the room of Mlle. Celie; and which, thirdly, she had not had an
opportunity to hide before? Now bear those three conditions in
mind, and tell me what the small thing was."

Mr. Ricardo nodded his head.

"I know now," he said. "You told me. The earrings of Mlle. Celie.
But I should not have guessed it at the time."

"Nor could I--at the time," said Hanaud. "I kept my open mind
about Helene Vauquier; but I locked the door and took the key.
Then we went and heard Vauquier's story. The story was clever,
because so much of it was obviously, indisputably true. The
account of the seances, of Mme. Dauvray's superstitions, her
desire for an interview with Mme. de Montespan--such details are
not invented. It was interesting, too, to know that there had been
a seance planned for that night! The method of the murder began to
be clear. So far she spoke the truth. But then she lied. Yes, she
lied, and it was a bad lie, my friend. She told us that the
strange woman Adele had black hair. Now I carried in my pocket-
book proof that that woman's hair was red. Why did she lie, except
to make impossible the identification of that strange visitor?
That was the first false step taken by Helene Vauquier.

"Now let us take the second. I thought nothing of her rancour
against Mlle. Celie. To me it was all very natural. She--the hard
peasant woman no longer young, who had been for years the
confidential servant of Mme. Dauvray, and no doubt had taken her
levy from the impostors who preyed upon her credulous mistress--
certainly she would hate this young and pretty outcast whom she
has to wait upon, whose hair she has to dress. Vauquier--she would
hate her. But if by any chance she were in the plot--and the lie
seemed to show she was--then the seances showed me new
possibilities. For Helene used to help Mlle. Celie. Suppose that
the seance had taken place, that this sceptical visitor with the
red hair professed herself dissatisfied with Vauquier's method of
testing the medium, had suggested another way, Mlle. Celie could
not object, and there she would be neatly and securely packed up
beyond the power of offering any resistance, before she could have
a suspicion that things were wrong. It would be an easy little
comedy to play. And if that were true--why, there were my sofa
cushions partly explained."

"Yes, I see!" cried Ricardo, with enthusiasm. "You are wonderful."

Hanaud was not displeased with his companion's enthusiasm.

"But wait a moment. We have only conjectures so far, and one fact
that Helene Vauquier lied about the colour of the strange woman's
hair. Now we get another fact. Mlle. Celie was wearing buckles on
her shoes. And there is my slit in the sofa cushions. For when she
is flung on to the sofa, what will she do? She will kick, she will
struggle. Of course it is conjecture. I do not as yet hold
pigheadedly to it. I am not yet sure that Mlle. Celie is innocent.
I am willing at any moment to admit that the facts contradict my
theory. But, on the contrary, each fact that I discover helps it
to take shape.

"Now I come to Helene Vauquier's second mistake. On the evening
when you saw Mlle. Celie in the garden behind the baccarat-rooms
you noticed that she wore no jewellery except a pair of diamond
ear-drops. In the photograph of her which Wethermill showed me,
again she was wearing them. Is it not, therefore, probable that
she usually wore them? When I examined her room I found the case
for those earrings--the case was empty. It was natural, then, to
infer that she was wearing them when she came down to the seance."

"Yes."

"Well, I read a description--a carefully written description--of
the missing girl, made by Helene Vauquier after an examination of
the girl's wardrobe. There is no mention of the earrings. So I
asked her--'Was she not wearing them?' Helene Vauquier was taken
by surprise. How should I know anything of Mlle. Celie's earrings?
She hesitated. She did not quite know what answer to make. Now,
why? Since she herself dressed Mlle. Celie, and remembers so very
well all she wore, why does she hesitate? Well, there is a reason.
She does not know how much I know about those diamond ear-drops.
She is not sure whether we have not dipped into that pot of cold
cream and found them. Yet without knowing she cannot answer. So
now we come back to our pot of cold cream."

"Yes!" cried Mr. Ricardo. "They were there."

"Wait a bit," said Hanaud. "Let us see how it works out. Remember
the conditions. Vauquier has some small thing which she must hide,
and which she wishes to hide in Mlle. Celie's room. For she
admitted that it was her suggestion that she should look through
mademoiselle's wardrobe. For what reason does she choose the
girl's room, except that if the thing were discovered that would
be the natural place for it? It is, then, something belonging to
Mlle. Celie. There was a second condition we laid down. It was
something Vauquier had not been able to hide before. It came,
then, into her possession last night. Why could she not hide it
last night? Because she was not alone. There were the man and the
woman, her accomplices. It was something, then, which she was
concerned in hiding from them. It is not rash to guess, then, that
it was some piece of the plunder of which the other two would have
claimed their share--and a piece of plunder belonging to Mlle.
Celie. Well, she has nothing but the diamond ear-drops. Suppose
Vauquier is left alone to guard Mlle. Celie while the other two
ransack Mme. Dauvray's room. She sees her chance. The girl cannot
stir hand or foot to save herself. Vauquier tears the ear-drops in
a hurry from her ears--and there I have my drop of blood just
where I should expect it to be. But now follow this! Vauquier
hides the earrings in her pocket. She goes to bed in order to be
chloroformed. She knows that it is very possible that her room
will be searched before she regains consciousness, or before she
is well enough to move. There is only one place to hide them in,
only one place where they will be safe. In bed with her. But in
the morning she must get rid of them, and a nurse is with her.
Hence the excuse to go to Mlle. Celie's room. If the ear-drops are
found in the pot of cold cream, it would only be thought that
Mlle. Celie had herself hidden them there for safety. Again it is
conjecture, and I wish to make sure. So I tell Vauquier she can go
away, and I leave her unwatched. I have her driven to the depot
instead of to her friends, and searched. Upon her is found the pot
of cream, and in the cream Mlle. Celie's ear-drops. She has slipped
into Mlle. Celie's room, as, if my theory was correct, she would
be sure to do, and put the pot of cream into her pocket. So I am
now fairly sure that she is concerned in the murder.

"We then went to Mme. Dauvray's room and discovered her brilliants
and her ornaments. At once the meaning of that agitated piece of
hand-writing of Mlle. Celie's becomes clear. She is asked where
the jewels are hidden. She cannot answer, for her mouth, of
course, is stopped. She has to write. Thus my conjectures get more
and more support. And, mind this, one of the two women is guilty--
Celie or Vauquier. My discoveries all fit in with the theory of
Celie's innocence. But there remain the footprints, for which I
found no explanation.

"You will remember I made you all promise silence as to the
finding of Mme. Dauvray's jewellery. For I thought, if they have
taken the girl away so that suspicion may fall on her and not on
Vauquier, they mean to dispose of her. But they may keep her so
long as they have a chance of finding out from her Mme. Dauvray's
hiding-place. It was a small chance but our only one. The moment
the discovery of the jewellery was published the girl's fate was
sealed, were my theory true.

"Then came our advertisement and Mme. Gobin's written testimony.
There was one small point of interest which I will take first: her
statement that Adele was the Christian name of the woman with the
red hair, that the old woman who was the servant in that house in
the suburb of Geneva called her Adele, just simply Adele. That
interested me, for Helene Vauquier had called her Adele too when
she was describing to us the unknown visitor. 'Adele' was what
Mme. Dauvray called her."

"Yes," said Ricardo. "Helene Vauquier made a slip there. She
should have given her a false name."

Hanaud nodded.

"It is the one slip she made in the whole of the business. Nor did
she recover herself very cleverly. For when the Commissaire
pounced upon the name, she at once modified her words. She only
thought now that the name was Adele, or something like it. But
when I went on to suggest that the name in any case would be a
false one, at once she went back upon her modifications. And now
she was sure that Adele was the name used. I remembered her
hesitation when I read Marthe Gobin's letter. They helped to
confirm me in my theory that she was in the plot; and they made me
very sure that it was an Adele for whom we had to look. So far
well. But other statements in the letter puzzled me. For instance,
'She ran lightly and quickly across the pavement into the house,
as though she were afraid to be seen.' Those were the words, and
the woman was obviously honest. What became of my theory then? The
girl was free to run, free to stoop and pick up the train of her
gown in her hand, free to shout for help in the open street if she
wanted help. No; that I could not explain until that afternoon,
when I saw Mlle. Celie's terror-stricken eyes fixed upon that
flask, as Lemerre poured a little out and burnt a hole in the
sack. Then I understood well enough. The fear of vitriol!" Hanaud
gave an uneasy shudder. "And it is enough to make any one afraid!
That I can tell you. No wonder she lay still as a mouse upon the
sofa in the bedroom. No wonder she ran quickly into the house.
Well, there you have the explanation. I had only my theory to work
upon even after Mme. Gobin's evidence. But as it happened it was
the right one. Meanwhile, of course, I made my inquiries into
Wethermill's circumstances. My good friends in England helped me.
They were precarious. He owed money in Aix, money at his hotel. We
knew from the motor-car that the man we were searching for had
returned to Aix. Things began to look black for Wethermill. Then
you gave me a little piece of information."

"I!" exclaimed Ricardo, with a start.

"Yes. You told me that you walked up to the hotel with Harry
Wethermill on the night of the murder and separated just before
ten. A glance into his rooms which I had--you will remember that
when we had discovered the motor-car I suggested that we should go
to Harry Wethermill's rooms and talk it over--that glance enabled
me to see that he could very easily have got out of his room on to
the verandah below and escaped from the hotel by the garden quite
unseen. For you will remember that whereas your rooms look out to
the front and on to the slope of Mont Revard, Wethermill's look
out over the garden and the town of Aix. In a quarter of an hour
or twenty minutes he could have reached the Villa Rose. He could
have been in the salon before half-past ten, and that is just the
hour which suited me perfectly. And, as he got out unnoticed, so
he could return. So he did return! My friend, there are some
interesting marks upon the window-sill of Wethermill's room and
upon the pillar just beneath it. Take a look, M. Ricardo, when you
return to your hotel. But that was not all. We talked of Geneva in
Mr. Wethermill's room, and of the distance between Geneva and Aix.
Do you remember that?"

"Yes," replied Ricardo.

"Do you remember too that I asked him for a road-book?"

"Yes; to make sure of the distance. I do."

"Ah, but it was not to make sure of the distance that I asked for
the road-book, my friend. I asked in order to find out whether
Harry Wethermill had a road-book at all which gave a plan of the
roads between here and Geneva. And he had. He handed it to me at
once and quite naturally. I hope that I took it calmly, but I was
not at all calm inside. For it was a new road-book, which, by the
way, he bought a week before, and I was asking myself all the
while--now what was I asking myself, M. Ricardo?"

"No," said Ricardo, with a smile. "I am growing wary. I will not
tell you what you were asking yourself, M. Hanaud. For even were I
right you would make out that I was wrong, and leap upon me with
injuries and gibes. No, you shall drink your coffee and tell me of
your own accord."

"Well," said Hanaud, laughing, "I will tell you. I was asking
myself: 'Why does a man who owns no motor-car, who hires no motor-
car, go out into Aix and buy an automobilist's road-map? With what
object?' And I found it an interesting question. M. Harry
Wethermill was not the man to go upon a walking tour, eh? Oh, I
was obtaining evidence. But then came an overwhelming thing--the
murder of Marthe Gobin. We know now how he did it. He walked
beside the cab, put his head in at the window, asked, 'Have you
come in answer to the advertisement?' and stabbed her straight to
the heart through her dress. The dress and the weapon which he
used would save him from being stained with her blood. He was in
your room that morning, when we were at the station. As I told
you, he left his glove behind. He was searching for a telegram in
answer to your advertisement. Or he came to sound you. He had
already received his telegram from Hippolyte. He was like a fox in
a cage, snapping at every one, twisting vainly this way and that
way, risking everything and every one to save his precious neck.
Marthe Gobin was in the way. She is killed. Mlle. Celie is a
danger. So Mlle. Celie must be suppressed. And off goes a telegram
to the Geneva paper, handed in by a waiter from the cafe at the
station of Chambery before five o'clock. Wethermill went to
Chambery that afternoon when we went to Geneva. Once we could get
him on the run, once we could so harry and bustle him that he must
take risks--why, we had him. And that afternoon he had to take
them."

"So that even before Marthe Gobin was killed you were sure that
Wethermill was the murderer?"

Hanaud's face clouded over.

"You put your finger on a sore place, M. Ricardo. I was sure, but
I still wanted evidence to convict. I left him free, hoping for
that evidence. I left him free, hoping that he would commit
himself. He did, but--well, let us talk of some one else. What of
Mlle. Celie?"

Ricardo drew a letter from his pocket.

"I have a sister in London, a widow," he said. "She is kind. I,
too, have been thinking of what will become of Mlle. Celie. I
wrote to my sister, and here is her reply. Mlle. Celie will be
very welcome."

Hanaud stretched out his hand and shook Ricardo's warmly.

"She will not, I think, be for very long a burden. She is young.
She will recover from this shock. She is very pretty, very gentle.
If--if no one comes forward whom she loves and who loves her--I--
yes, I myself, who was her papa for one night, will be her husband
forever."

He laughed inordinately at his own joke; it was a habit of M.
Hanaud's. Then he said gravely:

"But I am glad, M. Ricardo, for Mlle. Celie's sake that I came to
your amusing dinner-party in London."

Mr. Ricardo was silent for a moment. Then he asked:

"And what will happen to the condemned?"

"To the women? Imprisonment for life."

"And to the man?"

Hanaud shrugged his shoulders.

"Perhaps the guillotine. Perhaps New Caledonia. How can I say? I
am not the President of the Republic."



THE END




This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia