“Yes,” said Hanaud. “But you believe now that your interpretation was not correct. You believe now that whilst you stood in the darkness with the door open and the light beyond, Madame Harlowe was being murdered, coldly and cruelly murdered a few feet away from you.”
Ann Upcott shivered from head to foot. “I don’t want to believe it,” she cried. “It’s too horrible.”
“You believe now that the one who whispered ‘That will do now,’ was not Jeanne Baudin,” Hanaud insisted, “but some unknown person, and that the whisper was uttered after murder had been done by a third person in that room.”
Ann twisted her body from this side to that; she wrung her hands. “I am afraid of it!” she moaned.
“And what is torturing you now, Mademoiselle, is remorse that you did not step silently forward and from the darkness of the treasure-room look through that lighted doorway.” He spoke with a great consideration, and his insight into her distress was in its way a solace to her.
“Yes,” she exclaimed eagerly. “I told you this morning I could have hindered it. I didn’t understand until this morning. You see, that night something else happened”; and now indeed stark fear drew the colour from her cheeks and shone in her eyes.
“Something else?” Betty asked with a quick indraw of her breath, and she shifted her chair a little so that she might face Ann. She was wearing a black coat over a white silk shirt open at the throat, and she took her handkerchief from a side pocket of the coat and drew it across her forehead.
“Yes, Mademoiselle,” Hanaud explained. “It is clear that something else happened that night to your friend, something which, taken together with our talk this morning over the book of arrows, had made her believe that murder was done.” He looked at Ann. “You went then to your room?”
Ann resumed her story. “I went to bed, I was very—what shall I say?—disturbed by Madame’s outburst, as I thought it. One never knew what was going to happen in this house. It was on my nerves. For a time I tumbled from side to side in my bed. I was in a fever. Then suddenly I was asleep, sound asleep. But only for a time. I woke up and it was still pitch dark in my room. There was not a thread of light from the shutters. I turned over from my side on to my back and I stretched out my arms above my head. As God is my judge I touched a face—” And even after all these days the terror of that moment was so vivid and fresh to her that she shuddered and a little sob broke from her lips. “A face quite close to me bending over me, in silence. I drew my hands away with a gasp. My heart was in my throat. I lay just for a second or two dumb, paralysed. Then my voice came back to me and I screamed.”
It was the look of the girl as she told her story perhaps more than the words she used; but something of her terror spread like a contagion amongst her hearers. Jim Frobisher’s shoulders worked uneasily. Betty with her big eyes wide open, her breath suspended, hung upon Ann’s narrative.
Hanaud himself said: “You screamed? I do not wonder.”
“I knew that no one could hear me and that lying down I was helpless,” Ann continued. “I sprang out of bed in a panic, and now I touched no one. I was so scared out of my wits that I had lost all sense of direction. I couldn’t find the switch of the electric light. I stumbled along a wall feeling with my hands. I heard myself sobbing as though I was a stranger. At last I knocked against a chest of drawers and came a little to myself. I found my way then to the switch and turned on the light. The room was empty. I tried to tell myself that I had been dreaming, but I knew that the tale wasn’t true. Someone had been stealthily bending down close, oh, so close over me in the darkness. My hand that had touched the face seemed to tingle. I asked myself with a shiver, what would have happened to me if just at that moment I had not waked up? I stood and listened, but the beating of my heart filled the whole room with noise. I stole to the door and laid my ear against the panel. Oh, I could easily have believed that one after another an army was creeping on tiptoe past my door. At last I made up my mind. I flung the door open wide. For a moment I stood back from it, but once the door was open I heard nothing. I stole out to the head of the great staircase. Below me the hall was as silent as an empty church. I think that I should have heard a spider stir. I suddenly realized that the light was streaming from my room and that some of it must reach me. I cried at once, ‘Who’s there?’ And then I ran back to my room and locked myself in. I knew that I should sleep no more that night. I ran to the windows and threw open the shutters. The night had cleared, the stars were bright in a clean black sky and there was a freshness of daylight in the air. I had been, I should think, about five minutes at the window when—you know perhaps, Monsieur, how the clocks in Dijon clash out and take up the hour from one another and pass it on to the hills—all of them struck three. I stayed by the window until the morning came.”
After she had finished no one spoke for a little while. Then Hanaud slowly lit another cigarette, looking now upon the ground, now into the air, anywhere except at the faces of his companions.
“So this alarming thing happened just before three o’clock in the morning?” he asked gravely. “You are very sure of that, I suppose? For, you see, it may be of the utmost importance.”
“I am quite sure, Monsieur,” she said.
“And you have told this story to no one until this moment?”
“To no one in the world,” replied Ann. “The next morning Madame Harlowe was found dead. There were the arrangements for the funeral. Then came Monsieur Boris’s accusation. There were troubles enough in the house without my adding to them. Besides, no one would have believed my story of the face in the darkness; and I didn’t of course associate it then with the death of Mrs. Harlowe.”
“No,” Hanaud agreed. “For you believed that death to have been natural.”
“Yes, and I am not sure that it wasn’t natural now,” Ann protested. “But today I had to tell you this story, Monsieur Hanaud”; and she leaned forward in her chair and claimed his attention with her eyes, her face, every tense muscle of her body. “Because if you are right and murder was done in this house on the 27th, I know the exact hour when it was done.”
Hanaud nodded his head once or twice slowly. He gathered up his feet beneath him. His eyes glittered very brightly as he looked at Ann. He gave Frobisher the queer impression of an animal crouching to spring.
“The clock upon the marquetry cabinet,” he said, “against the middle of the wall in the treasure-room. The white face of it and the hour which leapt at you during that fraction of a second when your fingers were on the switch.”
“Yes,” said Ann with a slow and quiet emphasis. “The hour was half-past ten.”
With that statement the tension was relaxed. Betty’s tightly clenched hand opened and her trifle of a handkerchief fluttered down on the grass. Hanaud changed from that queer attitude of a crouching animal. Jim Frobisher drew a great breath of relief.
“Yes, that is very important,” said Hanaud.
“Important. I should think it was!” cried Jim.
For this was clear and proven to him. If murder had been done on the night of the 27th of April, there was just one person belonging to the household of the Maison Grenelle who could have no share in it; and that one person was his client, Betty Harlowe.
Betty was stooping to pick up her handkerchief when Hanaud spoke to her; and she drew herself erect again with a little jerk.
“Does that clock on the marquetry cabinet keep good time, Mademoiselle?” he asked.
“Very good,” she answered. “Monsieur Sabin the watch-maker in the Rue de la Liberte has had it more than once to clean. It is an eight-day clock. It will be going when the seals are broken this afternoon. You will see for yourself.”
Hanaud, however, accepted her declaration on the spot. He rose to his feet and bowed to her with a certain formality but with a smile which redeemed it.
“At half-past ten Mademoiselle Harlowe was dancing at the house of M. de Pouillac on the Boulevard Thiers,” he said. “Of that there is no doubt. Inquiries have been made. Mademoiselle did not leave that house until after one in the morning. There is evidence enough of that to convince her worst enemy, from her chauffeur and her dancing partners to M. de Pouillac’s coachman, who stood at the bottom of the steps with a lantern during that evening and remembers to have held open for Mademoiselle the door of her car when she went away.”
“So that’s that,” said Jim to himself. Betty at all events was out of the net for good. And with that certainty there came a revolution in his thoughts. Why shouldn’t Hanaud’s search go on? It was interesting to watch the building up of this case against an unknown criminal—a case so difficult to bring to its proper conclusion in the Court of Assize, a case of poison where there was no trace of poison, a case where out of a mass of conjectures, here and there and more and more definite facts were coming into view; just as more and more masts of ships stand up out of a tumbled sea, the nearer one approaches land. Yes, now he wanted Hanaud to go on, delving astutely, letting, in his own phrase, things disclose themselves in their due sequence. But there was one point which Hanaud had missed, which should be brought to his notice. The mouse once more, he thought with all a man’s vanity in his modesty, would come to the help of the netted lion. He cleared his throat.
“Miss Ann, there is one little question I would like to ask you,” he began, and Hanaud turned upon him, to his surprise, with a face of thunder.
“You wish to ask a question?” he said. “Well, Monsieur, ask it if you wish. It is your right.”
His manner added what his voice left unsaid, “and your responsibility.” Jim hesitated. He could see no harm in the question he proposed to ask. It was of vital importance. Yet Hanaud stood in front of him with a lowering face, daring him to put it. Jim did not doubt any longer that Hanaud was quite aware of his point and yet for some unknown reason objected to its disclosure. Jim yielded, but not with a very good grace.
“It is nothing,” he said surlily, and Hanaud at once was all cheerfulness again.
“Then we will adjourn,” he said, looking at his watch. “It is nearly one o’clock. Shall we say three for the Commissaire of Police? Yes? Then I shall inform him and we will meet in the library at three and”—with a little bow to Betty—“the interdict shall be raised.”
“At three, then,” she said gaily. She sprang up from her chair, stooped, picked up her handkerchief with a swift and supple movement, twirled upon her heel and cried, “Come along, Ann!”
The four people moved off towards the house. Betty looked back.
“You have left your gloves behind you on your chair,” she said suddenly to Hanaud.
Hanaud looked back. “So I have,” he said, and then in a voice of protest, “Oh, Mademoiselle.”
For Betty had already darted back and now returned dangling the gloves in her hand.
“Mademoiselle, how shall I thank you?” he asked as he took them from her. Then he cocked his head at Frobisher, who was looking a little stiff.
“Ha! ha! my young friend,” he said with a grin. “You do not like that so much kindness should be shown me, No! You are looking very proper. You have the poker in the back. But ask yourself this: ‘What are youth and good looks compared with Hanaud?’”
No, Jim Frobisher did not like Hanaud at all when the urchin got the upper hand in him. And the worst of it was that he had no rejoinder. He flushed very red, but he really had no rejoinder. They walked in silence to the house, and Hanaud, picking up his hat and stick, took his leave by the courtyard and the big gates. Ann drifted into the library. Jim felt a touch upon his arm. Betty was standing beside him with a smile of amusement upon her face.
“You didn’t really mind my going back for his gloves, did you?” she asked. “Say you didn’t, Jim!” and the amusement softened into tenderness. “I wouldn’t have done it for worlds if I had thought you’d have minded.”
Jim’s ill-humour vanished like mist on a summer morning.
“Mind?” he cried. “You shall pin a rose in his buttonhole if it pleases you, and all I’ll say will be, ‘You might do the same for me’!”
Betty laughed and gave his arm a friendly squeeze. “We are friends again, then,” she said, and the next moment she was out on the steps under the glass face of the porch. “Lunch at two, Ann!” she cried. “I must walk all the grime of this morning out of my brain.”
She was too quick and elusive for Jim Frobisher. She had something of Ariel in her conception—a delicate creature of fire and spirit and air. She was across the courtyard and out of sight in the street of Charles-Robert before he had quite realized that she was going. He turned doubtfully towards the library, where Ann Upcott stood in the doorway.
“I had better follow her,” he said, reaching for his hat.
Ann smiled and shook her head wisely. “I shouldn’t. I know Betty. She wants to be alone.”
“Do you think so?”
“I am sure.”
Jim twiddled his hat in his hands, not half as sure upon the point as she was. Ann watched him with a rather rueful smile for a little while. Then she shrugged her shoulders in a sudden exasperation. “There is something you ought to do,” she said. “You ought to let Monsieur Bex, Betty’s notary here, know that the seals are to be broken this afternoon. He ought to be here. He was here when they were affixed. Besides, he has all the keys of Mrs. Harlowe’s drawers and cupboards.”
“That’s true,” Jim exclaimed. “I’ll go at once.” Ann gave him Monsieur Box’s address in the Place Etienne Dolet, and from the window of the library watched him go upon his errand. She stood at the window for a long while after he had disappeared.