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´╗┐Title: At the Villa Rose
Author: Mason, A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley), 1865-1948
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "At the Villa Rose" ***

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AT THE VILLA ROSE


A.E.W. Mason



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

     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. HELENE EXPLAINS
    XX. THE GENEVA ROAD
   XXI. HANAUD EXPLAINS



AT THE VILLA ROSE



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 eardrops, 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 dosed. 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 comer 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 now
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 righthand 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 foot-steps 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 southwest 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," said 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
motorcar, 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.

"Goodbye, 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 acquired 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 seance.

(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
kilometres, 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
kilometres, 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 elephantinely 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 sidetable and placed it in front of Hanaud.
Hanaud took a pencil from his pocket.

"One hundred and fifty kilometres 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 drily, 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 contraband 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 stances
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 contemptuous 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 kneeled 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
mantelshelf. 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, Mile.
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 eardrops 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
mantelshelf 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 to-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 Mile. 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 Mile. 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 eardrops. 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 Mile. 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 eardrops. 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 bide 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 eardrops. 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 eardrops 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 eardrops
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 eardrops. 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 Mile. 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."



END





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