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At the Villa Rose
by A. E. W. Mason
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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 Prance, 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 thy 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."

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