“You are distressed,” she said gently. “But surely you need not be any longer. What I said this morning was true. It was half-past ten when that dreadful whisper reached my ears. Betty was a mile away amongst her friends in a ball-room. Nothing can shake that.”
“It is not on her account that I am troubled,” he cried, and Ann looked at him with startled eyes.
Betty crossed the court and joined them in the hall before Ann could ask a question; and throughout their luncheon he made conversation upon indifferent subjects with rapidity, if without entertainment.
Fortunately there was no time to spare. They were still indeed smoking their cigarettes over their coffee when Gaston informed them that the Commissaire of Police with his secretary was waiting in the library.
“This is Mr. Frobisher, my solicitor in London,” said Betty as she presented Jim.
The Commissaire, Monsieur Girardot, was a stout, bald, middle-aged man with a pair of folding glasses sitting upon a prominent fat nose; his secretary, Maurice Thevenet, was a tall, good-looking novice in the police administration, a trifle flashy in his appearance, and in his own esteem, one would gather, rather a conqueror amongst the fair.
“I have asked Monsieur Bex, Mademoiselle’s notary in Dijon, to be present,” said Jim.
“That is quite in order,” replied the Commissaire, and Monsieur Bex was at that moment announced. He came on the very moment of three. The clock was striking as he bowed in the doorway. Everything was just as it should be. Monsieur Bex was pleased.
“With Monsieur Le Commissaire’s consent,” he said, smiling, “we can now proceed with the final ceremonies of this affair.”
“We wait for Monsieur Hanaud,” said the Commissaire.
“Hanaud of the Surete of Paris, who has been invited by the examining magistrate to take charge of this case,” the Commissaire explained.
“Case?” cried Monsieur Bex in perplexity. “But there is no case for Hanaud to take charge of”; and Betty Harlowe drew him a little aside.
Whilst she gave the little notary some rapid summary of the incidents of the morning, Jim went out of the room into the hall in search of Hanaud. He saw him at once; but to his surprise Hanaud came forward from the back of the hall as if he had entered the house from the garden.
“I sought you in the dining-room,” he said, pointing to the door of that room which certainly was at the back of the house behind the library, with its entrance behind the staircase. “We will join the others.”
Hanaud was presented to Monsieur Bex. “And this gentleman?” asked Hanaud, bowing slightly to Thevenet.
“My secretary, Maurice Thevenet,” said the Commissaire, and in a loud undertone, “a charming youth, of an intelligence which is surprising. He will go far.”
Hanaud looked at Thevenet with a friendly interest. The young recruit gazed at the great man with kindling eyes.
“This will be an opportunity for me, Monsieur Hanaud, by which, if I do not profit, I prove myself of no intelligence at all,” he said, with a formal modesty which quite went to the heart of Monsieur Bex.
“That is very correct,” said he.
Hanaud for his part was never averse to flattery. He cocked an eye at Jim Frobisher; he shook the secretary warmly by the hand.
“Then don’t hesitate to ask me questions, my young friend,” he answered. “I am Hanaud now, yes. But I was once young Maurice Thevenet without, alas! his good looks.”
Maurice Thevenet blushed with the most becoming diffidence.
“That is very kind,” said Monsieur Bex.
“This looks like growing into a friendly little family party,” Jim Frobisher thought, and he quite welcomed a “Hum” and a “Ha” from the Commissaire.
He moved to the centre of the room. “We, Girardot, Commissaire of Police, will now remove the seals,” he said pompously.
He led the way from the library across the hall and along the corridor to the wide door of Mrs. Harlowe’s bedroom. He broke the seals and removed the bands. Then he took a key from the hand of his secretary and opened the door upon a shuttered room. The little company of people surged forward. Hanaud stretched out his arms and barred the way.
“Just for a moment, please!” he ordered, and over his shoulder Jim Frobisher had a glimpse of the room which made him shiver.
This morning in the garden some thrill of the chase had made him for a moment eager that Hanaud should press on, that development should follow upon development until somewhere a criminal stood exposed. Since the hour, however, which he had spent upon the Tower of the Terrace, all thought of the chase appalled him and he waited for developments in fear. This bedroom mistily lit by a few stray threads of daylight which pierced through the chinks of the shutters, cold and silent and mysterious, was for him peopled with phantoms, whose faces no one could see, who struggled dimly in the shadows. Then Hanaud and the Commissaire crossed to the windows opposite, opened them and flung back the shutters. The clear bright light flooded every corner in an instant and brought to Jim Frobisher relief. The room was swept and clean, the chairs ranged against the wall, the bed flat and covered with an embroidered spread; everywhere there was order; it was as empty of suggestion as a vacant bedroom in an hotel.
Hanaud looked about him. “Yes,” he said. “This room stood open for a week after Madame’s funeral. It would have been a miracle if we discovered anything which could help us.”
He went to the bed, which stood with its head against the wall midway between the door and the windows. A small flat stand with a button of enamel lay upon the round table by the bed-side, and from the stand a cord ran down by the table leg and disappeared under the carpet.
“This is the bell into what was the maid’s bedroom, I suppose,” he said, turning towards Betty.
“Yes.” Hanaud stooped and minutely examined the cord. But there was no sign that it had ever been tampered with. He stood up again.
“Mademoiselle, will you take Monsieur Girardot into Jeanne Baudin’s bedroom and close the door. I shall press this button, and you will know whether the bell rings, whilst we here shall be able to assure ourselves whether sounds made in one of the rooms would be heard in the other.”
Betty took the Commissaire of Police away, and a few seconds later those in Mrs. Harlowe’s room heard a door close in the corridor.
“Will you shut our door now, if you please?” Hanaud requested. Bex, the notary, closed it. “Now, silence, if you please!”
Hanaud pressed the button, and not a sound answered him. He pressed it again and again with the same result. The Commissaire returned to the bedroom.
“Well?” Hanaud asked. “It rang twice,” said the Commissaire. Hanaud shrugged his shoulders with a laugh. “And an electric bell has a shrill, penetrating sound,” he cried. “Name of a name, but they built good houses when the Maison Grenelle was built! Are the cupboards and drawers open?”
He tried one and found it locked. Monsieur Bex came forward. “All the drawers were locked on the morning when Madame Harlowe’s death was discovered. Mademoiselle Harlowe herself locked them in my presence and handed to me the keys for the purpose of making an inventory. Mademoiselle was altogether correct in so doing. For until the funeral had taken place the terms of the will were not disclosed.”
“But afterwards, when you took the inventory, you must have unlocked them.”
“I have not yet begun the inventory, Monsieur Hanaud. There were the arrangements for the funeral, a list of the properties to be made for valuation, and the vineyards to be administered.”
“Oho,” cried Hanaud alertly. “Then these wardrobes and cupboards and drawers should hold exactly what they held on the night of the 27th of April.” He ran quickly about the room trying a door here, a drawer there, and came to a stop beside a cupboard fashioned in the thickness of the wall. “The trouble is that a child with a bent wire could unlock any one of them. Do you know what Madame Harlowe kept in this, Monsieur Bex?” and Hanaud rapped with his knuckles upon the cupboard door.
“No, I have no idea. Shall I open it?” and Bex produced a bunch of keys from his pocket.
“Not for the moment, I think,” said Hanaud.
He had been dawdling over the locks and the drawers, as though time meant nothing to him at all. He now swung briskly back into the centre of the room, making notes, it seemed to Frobisher, of its geography. The door opening from the corridor faced, across the length of the floor, the two tall windows above the garden. If one stood in the doorway facing these windows, the bed was on the left hand. On the corridor side of the bed, a second smaller door, which was half open, led to a white-tiled bathroom. On the window side of the bed was the cupboard in the wall about the height of a woman’s shoulders. A dressing-table stood between the windows, a great fireplace broke the right-hand wall, and in that same wall, close to the right-hand window, there was yet another door. Hanaud moved to it.
“This is the door of the dressing-room?” he asked of Ann Upcott, and without waiting for an answer pushed it open.
Monsieur Bex followed upon his heels with his keys rattling. “Everything here has been locked up too,” he said.
Hanaud paid not the slightest attention. He opened the shutters.
It was a narrow room without any fireplace at all, and with a door exactly opposite to the door by which Hanaud had entered. He went at once to this door.
“And this must be the communicating door which leads into what is called the treasure-room,” he said, and he paused with his hand upon the knob and his eyes ranging alertly over the faces of the company.
“Yes,” said Ann Upcott.
Jim was conscious of a queer thrill. He thought of the opening of some newly discovered tomb of a Pharaoh in a hill-side of the Valley of Kings. Suspense passed from one to the other as they waited, but Hanaud did not move. He stood there impassive and still like some guardian image at the door of the tomb. Jim felt that he was never going to move, and in a voice of exasperation he cried: “Is the door locked?”
Hanaud replied in a quiet but a singular voice. No doubt he, too, felt that strange current of emotion and expectancy which bound all in the room under a spell, and even gave to their diverse faces for a moment a kind of family similitude.
“I don’t know yet whether it’s locked or not,” he said. “But since this room is now the private sitting-room of Mademoiselle Harlowe, I think that we ought to wait until she rejoins us.”
Monsieur Bex just had time to remark with approval, “That is very correct,” before Betty’s fresh, clear voice rang out from the doorway leading to Mrs. Harlowe’s bedroom: “I am here.”
Hanaud turned the handle. The door was not locked. It opened at a touch—inwards towards the group of people and upwards towards the corridor. The treasure-room was before them, shrouded in dim light, but here and there a beam of light sparkled upon gold and held out a promise of wonders. Hanaud picked his way daintily to the windows and fastened the shutters back against the outside wall. “I beg that nothing shall be touched,” he said as the others filed into the room.