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Chapter 26 - The Façade of Notre Dame


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Author Topic: Chapter 26 - The Façade of Notre Dame  (Read 5 times)
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« on: December 28, 2022, 04:04:59 am »

For a second time they were fortunate. It was a day without mist or clouds, and the towering silver ridge hung in the blue sky distinct and magical. Hanaud lit one of his black cigarettes and reluctantly turned away from it.

"There were two great mistakes made," he said. "One at the very beginning by Betty Harlowe. One at the very end by me, and of the two mine was the least excusable. Let us begin, therefore, at the beginning. Madame Harlowe has died a natural death. She is buried; Betty Harlowe inherits the Harlowe fortune. Boris Waberski asks her for money and she snaps her the fingers. Why should she not? Ah, but she must have been very sorry a week later that she snapped her the fingers! For suddenly he flings his bomb. Madame Harlowe was poisoned by her niece Betty. Imagine Betty Harlowe's feelings when she heard of that! The charge is preposterous. No doubt! But it is also true. A minute back she is safe. Nothing can touch her. Now suddenly her head is loose upon her neck. She is frightened. She is questioned in the examining magistrate's room. The magistrate has nothing against her. All will be well if she does not make a slip. But there is a good chance she may make a slip. For she has done the murder. Her danger is not any evidence which Waberski can bring, but just herself. In two days she is still more frightened, for she hears that Hanaud is called in from Paris. So she makes her mistake. She sends a telegram to you in London."

"Why was that a mistake?" Frobisher asked quickly.

"Because I begin to ask myself at once: 'How does Betty Harlowe know that Hanaud has been called in?' Oh, to be sure, I made a great fluster in my office about the treachery of my colleagues in Dijon. But I did not believe a word of that. No! I am at once curious about Betty Harlowe. That is all. Still, I am curious. Well, we come to Dijon and you tell her that you have shown me that telegram."

"Yes," Jim admitted. "I did. I remember, too," he added slowly, "that she put out her hand on the window sill—yes, as if to steady herself."

"But she was quick to recover," returned Hanaud with a nod of appreciation. "She must account for that telegram. She cannot tell me that Maurice Thevenet sent a hurried word to her. No! So when I ask her if she has ever received one of these anonymous letters—which, remember, were my real business in Dijon—she says at once 'Yes, I received one on the Sunday morning which told me that Monsieur Hanaud was coming from Paris to make an end of me.' That was quick, eh? Yes, but I know it is a lie. For it was not until the Sunday evening that any question of my being sent for arose at all. You see Mademoiselle Betty was in a corner. I had asked her for the letter. She does not say that she has destroyed it, lest I should at once believe that she never received any such letter at all. On the contrary she says that it is in the treasure-room which is sealed up, knowing quite well that she can write it and place it there by way of the Hôtel de Brebizart before the seals are removed. But for the letter to be in the treasure-room she must have received it on the Sunday morning, since it was on the Sunday morning that the seals were affixed. She did not know when it was first proposed to call me in. She draws a bow at a venture, and I know that she is lying; and I am more curious than ever about Betty Harlowe."

He stopped. For Jim Frobisher was staring at him with a look of horror in his eyes.

"It was I then who put you on her track?—I who came out to defend her!" he cried. "For it was I who showed you the telegram."

"Monsieur Frobisher, that would not have mattered if Betty Harlowe had been, as you believed her, innocent," Hanaud replied gravely; and Frobisher was silent.

"Well, then, after my first interview with Betty Harlowe, I went over the house whilst you and Betty talked together in the library!"

"Yes," said Jim.

"And in Mademoiselle Ann's sitting-room I found something which interested me at the first glance. Now tell me what it was!" and he cocked his head at Jim with the hope that his riddle would divert him from his self-reproaches. And in that to some extent he succeeded.

"That I can guess," Frobisher answered with the ghost of a smile. "It was the treatise on Sporanthus."

"Yes! The arrow-poison! The poison which leaves no trace! Monsieur, that poison has been my nightmare. Who would be the first poisoner to use it? How should I cope with him and prove that it brought no more security than arsenic or prussic-acid? These are questions which have terrified me. And suddenly, unexpectedly, in a house where a death from heart failure has just occurred, I find a dry-as-dust treatise upon the poison tucked away under a pile of magazines in a young lady's sitting-room. I tell you I was staggered. What was it doing there? How did it come there? I see a note upon the cover, indicating a page. I turn to the page and there, staring at me, is an account of Simon Harlowe's perfect specimen of a poison-arrow. The anonymous letters? They are at once forgotten. What if that animal Waberski, without knowing it, were right, and Madame Harlowe was murdered in the Maison Crenelle? I must find that out. I tuck the treatise up my back beneath my waistcoat and I go downstairs again, asking myself some questions. Is Mademoiselle Ann interested in such matters as Sporanthus Hispidus? Or had she anything to hope for from Madame Harlowe's death? Or did she perhaps not know at all that the treatise was under that pile of magazines upon the table at the side? I do not know, and my head is rather in a whirl. Then I catch that wicked look of Betty Harlowe at her friend—Monsieur, a revealing look! I have not the demure and simple young lady of convention to deal with at all. No. I go away from the Maison Crenelle, still more curious about Betty Harlowe."

Jim Frobisher sat quickly down at Hanaud's side.

"Are you sure of that?" he asked suspiciously.

"Quite," Hanaud replied in wonder.

"You have forgotten, haven't you, that immediately after you left the Maison Crenelle that day you had the sergent-de-ville removed from its gates?"

"No, I don't forget that at all," Hanaud answered imperturbably. "The sergent-de-ville in his white trousers was an absurdity—worse than that, an actual hindrance. There is little use in watching people who know that they are being watched. So I remove the sergent-de-ville and now I can begin really to watch those young ladies of the Maison Crenelle. And that afternoon, whilst Monsieur Frobisher is removing his luggage from his hotel, Betty Harlowe goes out for a walk, is discreetly followed by Nicolas Moreau—and vanishes. I don't blame Nicolas. He must not press too close upon her heels. She was in that place of small lanes about the Hôtel de Brebizart. No doubt it was through the little postern in the wall which we ourselves used a few days afterwards that she vanished. There was the anonymous letter to be written, ready for me to receive when the seals of the treasure-room were broken. But I don't know that yet. No! All that I know is that Betty Harlowe goes out for a walk and is lost, and after an hour reappears in another street. Meanwhile I pass my afternoon examining so far as I can how these young ladies pass their lives and who are their friends. An examination not very productive, and not altogether futile. For I find some curious friends in Betty Harlowe's circle. Now, observe this, Monsieur! Young girls with advanced ideas, social, political, literary, what you will—in their case curious friends mean nothing! They are to be expected. But with a young girl who is to all appearance leading the normal life of her class, the case is different. In her case curious friends are—curious. The Espinosas, Maurice Thevenet, Jeanne Leclerc—flashy cheap people of that type—how shall we account for them as friends of that delicate piece of china, Betty Harlowe?"

Jim Frobisher nodded his head. He, too, had been a trifle disconcerted by the familiarity between Espinosa and Betty Harlowe.

"The evening," Hanaud continued, "which you spent so pleasantly in the cool of the garden with the young ladies, I spent with the Edinburgh Professor. And I prepared a little trap. Yes, and the next morning I came early to the Maison Crenelle and I set my little trap. I replace the book about the arrows on the bookshelf in its obvious place."

Hanaud paused in his explanation to take another black cigarette from his eternal blue bundle, and to offer one to Jim.

"Then comes our interview with the animal Waberski; and he tells me that queer story about Betty Harlowe in the street of Gambetta close to the shop of Jean Cladel. He may be lying. He may be speaking the truth and what he saw might be an accident. Yes! But also it fits in with this theory of Madame Harlowe's murder which is now taking hold of me. For if that poison was used, then some one who understood the composition of drugs must have made the solution from the paste upon the arrow. I am more curious than ever about Betty Harlowe! And the moment that animal has left me, I spring my trap; and I have a success beyond all my expectations. I point to the treatise of the Edinburgh Professor. It was not in its place yesterday. It is to-day. Who then replaced it? I ask that question and Mademoiselle Ann is utterly at sea. She knows nothing about that book. That is evident as Mont Blanc over there in the sky. On the other hand Betty Harlowe knows at once who has replaced that book; and in a most unwise moment of sarcasm, she allows me to see that she knows. She knows that I found it yesterday, that I have studied it since and replaced it. And she is not surprised. No, for she knows where I found it. I am at once like Waberski. I know it in my heart that she put it under those magazines in Ann Upcott's room, although I do not yet know it in my head. Betty Harlowe had prepared to divert suspicion from herself upon Ann Upcott, should suspicion arise. But innocent people do not do that, Monsieur.

"Then we go into the garden and Mademoiselle Ann tells us her story. Monsieur Frobisher, I said to you immediately afterwards that all great criminals who are women are great actresses. But never in my life have I seen one who acted so superbly as Betty Harlowe while that story was being unfolded. Imagine it! A cruel murder has been secretly committed and suddenly the murderess has to listen to a true account of that murder in the presence of the detective who is there to fix the guilt! There was some one at hand all the time—almost an eye-witness—perhaps an actual eye-witness. For she cannot know that she is safe until the last word of the story is told. Picture to yourself Betty Harlowe's feelings during that hour in the pleasant garden, if you can! The questions which must have been racing through her mind! Did Ann Upcott in the end creep forward and peer through the lighted doorway? Does she know the truth—and has she kept it hidden until this moment when Hanaud and Frobisher are present and she can speak it safely? Will her next words be 'And here at my side sits the murderess'? Those must have been terrible moments for Betty Harlowe!"

"Yet she gave no sign of any distress," Frobisher added.

"But she took a precaution," Hanaud remarked. "She ran suddenly and very swiftly into the house."

"Yes. You seemed to me on the point of stopping her."

"And I was," continued Hanaud. "But I let her go and she returned——"

"With the photographs of Mrs. Harlowe," Frobisher interrupted.

"Oh, with more than those photographs," Hanaud exclaimed. "She turned her chair towards Mademoiselle Ann. She sat with her handkerchief in her hand and her face against her handkerchief, listening—the tender, sympathetic friend. But when Mademoiselle Ann told us that the hour of the murder was half-past ten, a weakness overtook her—could not but overtake her. And in that moment of weakness she dropped her handkerchief. Oh, she picked it up again at once. Yes, but where the handkerchief had fallen her foot now rested, and when the story was all ended, and we got up from our chairs, she spun round upon her heel with a certain violence so that there was left a hole in that well-watered turf. I was anxious to discover what it was that she had brought out from the house in her handkerchief, and had dropped with her handkerchief and had driven with all the weight of her body into the turf so that no one might see it. In fact I left my gloves behind in order that I might come back and discover it. But she was too quick for me. She fetched my gloves herself, much to my shame that I, Hanaud, should be waited on by so exquisite a young lady. However, I found it afterwards when you and Girardot and the others were all waiting for me in the library. It was that tablet of cyanide of potassium which I showed to you in the Prefecture. She did not know how much Ann Upcott was going to reveal. The arrow-poison had been hidden away in the Hôtel de Brebizart. But she had something else at hand—more rapid—death like a thunderbolt. So she ran into the house for it. I tell you, Monsieur, it wanted nerve to sit there with that tablet close to her mouth. She grew very pale. I do not wonder. What I do wonder is that she did not topple straight off her chair in a dead faint before us all. But no! She sat ready to swallow that tablet at once if there were need, before my hand could stop her. Once more I say to you, people who are innocent do not do that."

Jim had no argument wherewith to answer.

"Yes," he was forced to admit. "She could have got the tablets no doubt from Jean Cladel."

"Very well, then," Hanaud resumed. "We have separated for luncheon and in the afternoon the seals are to be removed. Before that takes place, certain things must be done. The clock must be moved from the mantelshelf in the treasure-room on to the marquetry cabinet. Some letters too must be burnt."

"Yes. Why?" Frobisher asked eagerly.

Hanaud shrugged his shoulders.

"The letters were burned. It is difficult to say. For my part I think those old letters between Simon Harlowe and Madame Raviart alluded too often to the secret passage. But here I am guessing. What I learnt for certain during that luncheon hour is that there is a secret passage and that it runs from the treasure-room to the Hôtel de Brebizart. For this time Nicolas Moreau makes no mistake. He follows her to the Hôtel de Brebizart and I from this tower see the smoke rising from the chimney. Look, Monsieur, there it is! But no smoke rises from it to-day."

He rose to his feet and turned his back upon Mont Blanc. The trees in the garden, the steep yellow-patterned roof, and the chimneys of the Maison Crenelle stood out above the lesser buildings which surrounded them. Only from one of the chimneys did the smoke rise to-day, and that one at the extreme end of the building where the kitchens were.

"We are back then in the afternoon. The seals are removed. We are in Madame Harlowe's bedroom and something I cannot explain occurs."

"The disappearance of the necklace," Frobisher exclaimed confidently; and Hanaud grinned joyfully.

"See, I set a trap for you and at once you are caught!" he cried. "The necklace? Oh, no, no! I am prepared for that. The guilt is being transferred to Mademoiselle Ann. Good! But it is not enough to hide the book about the arrow in her room. No, we must provide her also with a motive. Mademoiselle is poor; Mademoiselle inherits nothing. Therefore the necklace worth a hundred thousand pounds vanishes, and you must draw from its vanishing what conclusion you will. No, the little matter I cannot explain is different. Betty Harlowe and our good Girardot pay a visit to Jeanne Baudin's bedroom to make sure that a cry from Madame's room could not be heard there."

"Yes."

"Our good Girardot comes back."

"Yes."

"But he comes alone. That is the little thing I cannot explain. Where is Betty Harlowe? I ask for her before I go into the treasure-room, and lo! very modestly and quietly she has slipped in amongst us again. I am very curious about that, my friend, and I keep my eyes open for an explanation, I assure you."

"I remember," said Frobisher. "You stopped with your hand upon the door and asked for Mademoiselle Harlowe. I wondered why you stopped. I attached no importance to her absence."

Hanaud flourished his hand. He was happy. He was in the artist's mood. The work was over, the long strain and pain of it. Now let those outside admire!

"Of all that the treasure-room had to tell us, you know, Monsieur Frobisher. But I answer a question in your memorandum. The instant I am in the room, I look for the mouth of that secret passage from the Hôtel de Brebizart. At once I see. There is only one place. The elegant Sedan chair framed so prettily in a recess of the wall. So I am very careful not to pry amongst its cushions for the poison arrow; just as I am very careful not to ask for the envelope with the post mark in which the anonymous letter was sent. If Betty Harlowe thinks that she has overreached the old fox Hanaud—good! Let her think so. So we go upstairs and I find the explanation of that little matter of Betty Harlowe's absence which has been so troubling me."

Jim Frobisher stared at him.

"No," he said. "I haven't got that. We went into Ann Upcott's sitting-room. I write my memorandum with the shaft of the poison arrow and you notice it Yes! But the matter of Betty Harlowe's absence! No, I haven't got that."

"But you have," cried Hanaud. "That pen! It was not there in the pen-tray on the day before, when I found the book. There was just one pen—the foolish thing young ladies use, a great goose-quill dyed red—and nothing else. The arrow shaft had been placed there since. When? Why, just now. It is clear, that. Where was that shaft of the poison-arrow before? In one of two places. Either in the treasure-room or in the Hôtel de Brebizart. Betty Harlowe has fetched it away during that hour of freedom; she carries it in her dress; she seizes her moment when we are all in Madame Harlowe's bedroom and—pau, pau!—there it is in the pen-tray of Mademoiselle Ann, to make suspicion still more convincing! Monsieur, I walk away with Monsieur Bex, who has some admirable scheme that I should search the gutters for a match-box full of pearls. I agree—oh yes, that is the only way. Monsieur Bex has found it! On the other hand I get some useful information about the Maison Crenelle and the Hôtel de Brebizart. I carry that information to a very erudite gentleman in the Palace of the Departmental Archives, and the next morning I know all about the severe Etienne de Crenelle and the joyous Madame de Brebizart. So when you and Betty Harlowe are rehearsing in the Val Terzon, Nicolas Moreau and I are very busy in the Hôtel de Brebizart—with the results which now are clear to you, and one of which I have not told you. For the pearl necklace was in the drawer of the writing-table."

Jim Frobisher took a turn across the terrace. Yes, the story was clear to him now—a story of dark passions and vanity, and greed of power with cruelties for its methods. Was there no spark of hope and cheer in all this desolation? He turned abruptly upon Hanaud. He wished to know the last hidden detail.

"You said that you had made the inexcusable mistake. What was it?"

"I bade you read my estimate of Ann Upcott on the façade of the Church of Notre Dame."

"And I did," cried Jim Frobisher. He was still looking towards the Maison Crenelle, and his arm swept to the left of the house. His fingers pointed at the Renaissance church with its cupolas and its loggia, to which Betty Harlowe had driven him.

"There it is and under its porch is that terrible relief of the Last Judgment."

"Yes," said Hanaud quietly. "But that is the Church of St. Michel, Monsieur."

He turned Frobisher about. Between him and Mont Blanc, close at his feet, rose the slender apse of a Gothic church, delicate in its structure like a jewel.

"That is the Church of Notre Dame. Let us go down and look at the façade."

Hanaud led Frobisher to the wonderful church and pointed to the frieze. There Frobisher saw such images of devils half beast, half human, such grinning hog-men, such tortured creatures with heads twisted round so that they looked backwards, such old and drunken and vicious horrors as imagination could hardly conceive; and amongst them one girl praying, her sweet face tormented, her hands tightly clasped, an image of terror and faith, a prisoner amongst all these monsters imploring the passers-by for their pity and their help.

"That, Monsieur Frobisher, is what I sent you out to see," said Hanaud gravely. "But you did not see it."

His face changed as he spoke. It shone with kindness. He lifted his hat.

Jim Frobisher, with his eyes fixed in wonder upon that frieze, heard Ann Upcott's voice behind him.

"And how do you interpret that strange work, Monsieur Hanaud?" She stopped beside the two men.

"That, Mademoiselle, I shall leave Monsieur Frobisher to explain to you."

Both Ann Upcott and Jim Frobisher turned hurriedly towards Hanaud. But already he was gone.

THE END

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