When the little two-seater car swooped round the shoulder of the hill and descended, the white ribbon of road was empty but for one tiny speck at the far end, behind which a stream of dust spurted and spread like smoke from the runnel of an engine.
“That motor dust is going to smother us when we pass,” said Jim.
“We shall do as much for him,” said Betty, looking over her shoulder from the steering-wheel. “No, worse!” Behind the car the dust was a screen. “But I don’t mind, do you, Jim?” she asked with a laugh, in which for the first time, with a heart of thankfulness, Jim heard a note of gaiety, “To be free of that town if only for an hour! Oh!” and Betty opened her lungs to the sunlight and the air. “This is my first hour of liberty for a week!”
Frobisher was glad, too, to be out upon the slopes of the Cote-d’Or. The city of Dijon was ringing that morning with the murder of Jean Cladel; you could not pass down a street but you heard his name mentioned and some sarcasms about the police. He wished to forget that nightmare of a visit to the street of Gambetta and the dreadful twisted figure on the floor of the back room.
“You’ll be leaving it for good very soon, Betty,” he said significantly.
Betty made a little grimace at him, and laid her hand upon his sleeve. “Jim!” she said, and the colour rose into her face, and the car swerved across the road. “You mustn’t speak like that to the girl at the wheel,” she said with a laugh as she switched the car back into its course, “or I shall run down the motor-cyclist and. that young lady in the side-car.”
“The young lady,” said Jim, “happens to be a portmanteau!”
The motor-cyclist, indeed, was slowing down as he came nearer to the branching road, like a tourist unacquainted with the country, and when he actually reached it he stopped altogether and dismounted. Betty brought her car to a standstill beside him, and glanced at the clock and the speedometer in front of her.
“Can I help you?” she asked. The man standing beside the motor-cycle was a young man, slim, dark, and of a pleasant countenance. He took off his helmet and bowed politely.
“Madame, I am looking for Dijon,” he said in a harsh accent which struck Frobisher as somehow familiar to his ears.
“Monsieur, you can see the tip of it through that gap across the valley,” Betty returned. In the very centre of the cleft the point of the soaring spire of the cathedral stood up like a delicate lance. “But I warn you that that way, though short, is not good.”
Through the gradually thinning cloud of dust which hung behind the car they heard the Jug-jug of another motor-cycle.
“The road by which we have come is the better one,” she continued.
“But how far is it?” the young man asked. Betty once more consulted her speedometer. “Forty kilometres, and we have covered them in forty minutes, so that you can see the going is good. We started at eleven punctually, and it is now twenty minutes to twelve.”
“Surely we started before eleven?” Jim interposed.
“Yes, but we stopped for a minute or two to tighten the strap of the tool-box on the edge of the town. And we started from there at eleven.”
The motor-cyclist consulted his wrist-watch. “Yes, it’s twenty minutes to twelve now,” he said. “But forty kilometres! I doubt if I have the essence. I think I must try the nearer road.”
The second motor-cycle came out of the dust like a boat out of a sea mist and slowed down in turn at the side of them. The rider jumped out of his saddle, pushed his goggles up on to his forehead and joined in the conversation.
“That little road, Monsieur. It is not one of the national highways. That shows itself at a glance. But it is not so bad. From the stone bridge one can be at the Hotel de Ville of Dijon in twenty-five minutes.”
“I thank you,” said the young man. “You will pardon me. I have been here for seven minutes, and I am expected.”
He replaced his helmet, mounted his machine, and with a splutter and half a dozen explosions ran down into the bed of the valley.
The second cyclist readjusted his goggles.
“Will you go first, Madame?” he suggested. “Otherwise I give you my dust.”
“Thank you!” said Betty with a smile, and she slipped in the clutch and started.
Beyond the little forest and the curve the ground rose and the valley flattened out. Across their road a broad highway set with kilometre stones ran north and south.
“The road to Paris,” said Betty as she stopped the car in front of a little inn with a tangled garden at the angle. She looked along the road Paris-wards. “Air!” she said, and drew a breath of longing, whilst her eyes kindled and her white strong teeth clicked as though she was biting a sweet fruit.
“Soon, Betty,” said Jim. “Very soon!”
Betty drove the car into a little yard at the side of the river.
“We will lunch here, in the garden,” she said, “all amongst the earwigs and the roses.”
An omelet, a cutlet perfectly cooked and piping hot, with a salad and a bottle of Clos du Prince of the 1904 vintage, brought the glowing city of Paris immeasurably nearer to them. They sat in the open under the shade of a tall hedge; they had the tangled garden to themselves; they laughed and made merry in the golden May, and visions of wonder trembled and opened before Jim Frobisher’s eyes.
Betty swept them away, however, when he had lit a cigar and she a cigarette; and their coffee steamed from the little cups in front of them. “Let us be practical, Jim,” she said. “I want to talk to you.”
The sparkle of gaiety had left her face. “Yes!” he asked.
“About Ann.” Her eyes swept round and rested on Jim’s face. “She ought to go.”
“Run away!” cried Jim with a start.
“Yes, at once and as secretly as possible.”
Jim turned the proposal over in his mind whilst Betty waited in suspense. “It couldn’t be managed,” he objected.
“Even if it could, would she consent?”
“Of course it’s pleading guilty,” he said slowly.
“Oh, it isn’t, Jim. She wants time, that’s all. Time for my necklace to be traced, time for the murderer of Jean Cladel to be discovered. You remember what I told you about Hanaud? He must have his victim. You wouldn’t believe me, but it’s true. He has got to go back to Paris and say: ‘You see, they sent from Dijon for me, and five minutes! That’s all I needed. Five little minutes and there’s your murderess, all tied up and safe!’ He tried to fix it on me first.”
“He did, Jim. And now that has failed he has turned on Ann. She’ll have to go. Since he can’t get me he’ll take my friend—yes, and manufacture the evidence into the bargain.”
“Betty! Hanaud wouldn’t do that!” Frobisher protested.
“But, Jim, he has done it,” she said.
“When he put that Edinburgh man’s book about the arrow-poison back upon the bookshelf in the library.”
Jim was utterly taken aback. “Did you know that he had done that?”
“I couldn’t help knowing,” she answered. “The moment he took the book down it was clear to me. He knew it from end to end, as if it was a primer. He could put his finger on the plates, on the history of my uncle’s arrow, on the effect of the poison, on the solution that could be made of it, in an instant. He pretended that he had learnt all that in the half-hour he waited for us. It wasn’t possible. He had found that book the afternoon before somewhere and had taken it away with him secretly and sat up half the night over it. That’s what he had done.”
Jim Froblsher was sunk in confusion. He had been guessing first this person, then that, and in the end had had to be told the truth; whereas Betty had reached it in a flash by using her wits. He felt that he had been just one minute and a half in the bull-ring.
Betty added in a hot scorn: “Then when he had learnt it all up by heart he puts it back secretly in the bookshelf and accuses us.”
“But he admits he put it back,” said Jim slowly.
Betty was startled.
“When did he admit it?”
“Last night. To me,” replied Jim, and Betty laughed bitterly. She would hear no good of Hanaud.
“Yes, now that he has something better to go upon.”
“The disappearance of my necklace. Oh, Jim, Ann has got to go. If she could get to England they couldn’t bring her back, could they? They haven’t evidence enough. It’s only suspicion and suspicion and suspicion. But here in France it’s different, isn’t it? They can hold people on suspicion, keep them shut up by themselves and question them again and again. Oh, yesterday afternoon in the hall—don’t you remember, Jim?—I thought Hanaud was going to arrest her there and then.”
Jim Frobisher nodded.
“I thought so, too.”
He had been a little shocked by Betty’s proposal, but the more familiar he became with it, the more it appealed to him. There was an overpowering argument in its favour of which neither he nor Hanaud had told Betty a word. The shaft of the arrow had been discovered in Ann Upcott’s room, and the dart in the house of Jean Cladel. These were overpowering facts. On the whole, it was better that Ann should go, now, whilst there was still time—if, that is, Hanaud did undoubtedly believe her to be guilty.
“But it is evident that he does,” cried Betty.
Jim answered slowly: “I suppose he does. We can make sure, anyway. I had a doubt last night. So I asked him point-blank.”
“And he answered you?” Betty asked with a gasp.
“Yes and no. He gave me the strangest answer.”
“What did he say?”
“He told me to visit the Church of Notre Dame. If I did, I should read upon the façade whether Ann was innocent or not.”
Slowly every tinge of colour ebbed out of Betty’s face. Her eyes stared at him horror-stricken. She sat, a figure of ice—except for her eyes which blazed.
“That’s terrible,” she said with a low voice, and again, “That’s terrible!” Then with a cry she stood erect. “You shall see! Come!” and she ran towards the motor-car.
The sunlit day was spoilt for both of them. Betty drove homewards, bending over the wheel, her eyes fixed ahead. But Frobisher wondered whether she saw anything at all of that white road which the car devoured. Once as they dropped from the highland and the forests to the plains, she said:
“We shall abide by what we see?”
“If Hanaud thinks her innocent, she should stay. If he thinks her guilty, she must go.”
“Yes,” said Frobisher.
Betty guided the car through the streets of the city, and into a wide square. A great church of the Renaissance type, with octagonal cupolas upon its two towers and another little cupola surmounted by a loggia above its porch, confronted them. Betty stopped the car and led Frobisher into the porch. Above the door was a great bas-relief of The Last Judgment, God amongst the clouds, angels blowing trumpets, and the damned rising from their graves to undergo their torments. Both Betty and Frobisher gazed at the representation for a while in silence. To Frobisher it was a cruel and brutal piece of work which well matched Hanaud’s revelation of his true belief.
“Yes, the message is easy to read,” he said; and they drove back in a melancholy silence to the Maison Grenelle.
The chauffeur, Georges, came forward from the garage to take charge of the car. Betty ran inside the house and waited for Jim Frobisher to join her.
“I am so sorry,” she said in a broken voice. “I kept a hope somewhere that we were all mistaken . . . I mean as to the danger Ann was in. . . . I don’t believe for a moment in her guilt, of course. But she must go—that’s clear.”
She went slowly up the stairs, and Jim saw no more of her until dinner was served long after its usual hour. Ann Upcott he had not seen at all that day, nor did he even see her then. Betty came to him in the library a few minutes before nine.
“We are very late, I am afraid. There are just the two of us, Jim,” she said with a smile, and she led the way into the dining-room.
Through the meal she was anxious and preoccupied, nodding her assent to anything that he said, with her thoughts far away and answering him at random, or not answering him at all. She was listening, Frobisher fancied, for some sound in the hall, an expected sound which was overdue. For her eyes went continually to the clock, and a flurry and agitation, very strange in one naturally so still, became more and more evident in her manner. At length, just before ten o’clock, they both heard the horn of a motor-car in the quiet street. The car stopped, as it seemed to Frobisher, just outside the gates, and upon that there followed the sound for which Betty had so anxiously been listening—the closing of a heavy door by someone careful to close it quietly. Betty shot a quick glance at Jim Frobisher and coloured when he intercepted it. A few seconds afterwards the car moved on, and Betty drew a long breath. Jim Frobisher leaned forward to Betty. Though they were alone in the room, he spoke in a low voice of surprise:
“Ann Upcott has gone, then?”
“So soon? You had everything already arranged, then?”
“It was all arranged yesterday evening. She should be in Paris tomorrow morning, England tomorrow night. If only all goes well!”
Even in the stress of her anxiety Betty had been sensitive to a tiny note of discontent in Jim Frobisher’s questions. He had been left out of the counsels of the two girls, their arrangements had been made without his participation, he had only been told of them at the last minute, just as if he was a babbler not to be trusted and an incompetent whose advice would only have been a waste of time. Betty made her excuses.
“It would have been better, of course, if we had got you to help us, Jim. But Ann wouldn’t have it. She insisted that you had come out here on my account, and that you mustn’t be dragged into such an affair as her flight and escape at all. She made it a condition, so I had to give way. But you can help me now tremendously.”
Jim was appeased. Betty at all events had wanted him, was still alarmed lest their plan undertaken without his advice might miscarry. “How can I help?”
“You can go to that cinema and keep Monsieur Hanaud engaged. It’s important that he should know nothing about Ann’s flight until late tomorrow.”
Jim laughed at the futility of Hanaud’s devices to hide himself. It was obviously all over the town that he spent his evenings in the Grande Taverne. “Yes, I’ll go,” he returned. “I’ll go now.” But Hanaud was not that night in his accustomed place, and Jim sat there alone until half-past ten. Then a man strolled out from one of the billiard-rooms, and standing behind Jim with his eyes upon the screen, said in a whisper:
“Do not look at me, Monsieur! It is Moreau. I go outside. Will you please to follow.”
He strolled away. Jim gave him a couple of minutes’ grace. He had remembered Hanaud’s advice and had paid for his Bock when it had been brought to him. The little saucer was turned upside down to show that he owed nothing. When two minutes had elapsed he sauntered out and, looking neither to the right nor to the left, strolled indolently along the Rue de la Gare. When he reached the Place Darcy, Nicolas Moreau passed him without a sign of recognition and struck off to the right along the Rue de la Liberte. Frobisher followed him with a sinking heart. It was folly, of course, to imagine that Hanaud could be so easily eluded. No doubt that motor-car had been stopped. No doubt Ann Upcott was already under lock and key! Why, the last words he had heard Hanaud speak were, “I must be quick!”
Moreau turned off into the Boulevard Sevigne and, doubling back to the station square, slipped into one of the small hotels which cluster in that quarter. The lobby was empty; a staircase narrow and steep led from it to the upper stories. Moreau now ascended it with Frobisher at his heels, and opened a door, Frobisher looked into a small and dingy sitting-room at the back of the house. The windows were open, but the shutters were closed. A single pendant in the centre of the room gave it light, and at a table under the pendant Hanaud sat poring over a map.
The map was marked with red ink in a curious way. A sort of hoop, very much the shape of a tennis racket without its handle, was described upon it, and from the butt to the top of the hoop an irregular line was drawn, separating the hoop roughly into two semicircles. Moreau left Jim Frobisher standing there, and in a moment or two Hanaud looked up.
“Did you know, my friend,” he asked very gravely, “that Ann Upcott has gone tonight to Madame Le Vay’s fancy-dress ball?”
Frobisher was taken completely by surprise.
“No, I see that you didn’t,” Hanaud went on. He took up his pen and placed a red spot at the edge of the hoop close by the butt.
Jim recovered from his surprise. Madame Le Vay’s ball was the spot from which the start was to be made. The plan after all was not so ill-devised, if only Ann could have got to the ball unnoticed. Masked and in fancy dress, amongst a throng of people similarly accoutred, in a house with a garden, no doubt thrown open upon this hot night and lit only by lanterns discreetly dim—she had thus her best chance of escape. But the chance was already lost. For Hanaud laid down his pen again and said in ominous tones; “The water-lily, eh? That pretty water-lily, my friend, will not dance very gaily tonight.”