The House of the Arrow


A Cry for Help

A.E.W. Mason

“SIMON HARLOWE,” he began, “was the owner of the famous Clos du Prince vineyards on the Cote-d’Or to the east of Dijon. He had an estate in Norfolk, this big house, the Maison Grenelle in Dijon, and a villa at Monte Carlo. But he spent most of his time in Dijon, where at the age of forty-five he married a French lady, Jeanne-Marie Raviart. There was, I believe, quite a little romance about the affair. Jeanne-Marie was married and separated from her husband, and Simon Harlowe waited, I think, for ten years until the husband Raviart died.”

Jim Frobisher moved quickly and Mr. Haslitt, who seemed to be reading of this history in the pattern of the carpet, looked up.

“Yes, I see what you mean,” he said, replying to Jim’s movement. “Yes, there might have been some sort of affair between those two before they were free to marry. But nowadays, my dear Jim! Opinion takes a more human view than it did in my youth. Besides, don’t you see, this little secret, to be of any value to Boris Waberski, must be near enough to Betty Harlowe—I don’t say to affect her if published, but to make Waberski think that she would hate to have it published. Now Betty Harlowe doesn’t come into the picture at all until two years after Simon and Jeanne-Marie were married, when it became clear that they were not likely to have any children. No, the love-affairs of Simon Harlowe are sufficiently remote for us to leave them aside.”

Jim Frobisher accepted the demolition of his idea with a flush of shame. “I was a fool to think of it,” he said.

“Not a bit,” replied Mr. Haslitt cheerfully. “Let us look at every possibility. That’s the only way which will help us to get a glimpse of the truth. I resume, then. Simon Harlowe was a collector. Yes, he had a passion for collecting and a very catholic one. His one sitting-room at the Maison Grenelle was a perfect treasure-house, not only of beautiful things, but of out-of-the-way things too. He liked to live amongst them and do his work amongst them. His married life did not last long. For he died five years ago at the age of fifty-one.”

Mr. Haslitt’s eyes once more searched for recollections amongst the convolutions of the carpet.

“That’s really about all I know of him. He was a pleasant fellow enough, but not very sociable. No, there’s nothing to light a candle for us there, I am afraid.”

Mr. Haslitt turned his thoughts to the widow.

“Jeanne-Marie Harlowe,” he said. “It’s extraordinary how little I know about her, now I come to count it up. Natural too, though. For she sold the Norfolk estate and has since passed her whole time between Monte Carlo and Dijon and—oh yes—a little summer-house on the Cote-d’Or amongst her vineyards.”

“She was left rich, I suppose?” Frobisher asked.

“Very well off, at all events,” Mr. Haslitt replied. “The Clos du Prince Burgundy has a fine reputation, but there’s not a great deal of it.”

“Did she come to England ever?”

“Never,” said Mr. Haslitt. “She was content, it seems, with Dijon, though to my mind the smaller provincial towns of France are dull enough to make one scream. However, she was used to it, and then her heart began to trouble her, and for the last two years she has been an invalid. There’s nothing to help us there.” And Mr. Haslitt looked across to Jim for confirmation.

“Nothing,” said Jim.

“Then we are only left the child Betty Harlowe and—oh yes, your correspondent, your voluminous correspondent, Ann Upcott. Who is she, Jim? Where did she spring from? How does she find herself in the Maison Grenelle? Come, confess, young man,” and Mr. Haslitt archly looked at his junior partner. “Why should Boris Waberski expect her support?”

Jim Frobisher threw his arms wide. “I haven’t an idea,” he said. “I have never seen her. I have never heard of her. I never knew of her existence until that letter came this morning with her name signed at the end of it.”

Mr. Haslitt started up. He crossed the room to his table and, fixing his folding glasses on the bridge of his nose, he bent over the letter.

“But she writes to you, Jim,” he objected. “‘Dear Mr. Frobisher,’ she writes. She doesn’t address the firm at al!”; and he waited, looking at Jim, expecting him to withdraw his denial.

Jim, however, only shook his head.

“It’s the most bewildering thing,” he replied. “I can’t make head or tail of it”; and Mr. Haslitt could not doubt now that he spoke the truth, so utterly and frankly baffled the young man was. “Why should Ann Upcott write to me? I have been asking myself that question for the last half-hour. And why didn’t Betty Harlowe write to you, who have had her affairs in your care?”


That last question helped Mr. Haslitt to an explanation. His face took a livelier expression.

“The answer to that is in Waberski’s second, letter. Betty—she snap her fingers at his awkwardnesses. She doesn’t take the charge seriously. She will have left it to the French notary to dispose of it. Yes—I think that makes Ann Upcott’s letter to you intelligible, too. The ceremonies of the law in a foreign country would frighten a stranger, as this girl is apparently, more than they would Betty Harlowe, who has lived for four years in the midst of them. So she writes to the first name in the title of the firm, and writes to him as a man. That’s it, Jim,” and the old man rubbed his hands together in his satisfaction.

“A girl in terror wouldn’t get any comfort out of writing to an abstraction. She wants to know that she’s in touch with a real person. So she writes, ‘Dear Mr. Frobisher.’ That’s it! You can take my word for it.”

Mr. Haslitt walked back to his chair. But he did not sit down in it; he stood with his hands in his pockets, looking out of the window over Frobisher’s head. “But that doesn’t bring us any nearer to finding out what is Boris Waberski’s strong suit, does it? We haven’t a clue to it,” he said ruefully.

To both of the men, indeed, Mr. Haslitt’s flat, unillumined narrative of facts, without a glimpse into the characters of any of the participants in the little drama, seemed the most unhelpful thing. Yet the whole truth was written there—the truth not only of Waberski’s move, but of all the strange terrors and mysteries into which the younger of the two men was now to be plunged. Jim Frobisher was to recognize that, when, shaken to the soul, he resumed his work in the office. For it was interrupted now.

The House of the Arrow - Contents    |     III - Servants of Chance

Back    |    Words Home    |    A.E.W. Mason Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback