The House of the Arrow


Betty Harlowe

A.E.W. Mason

JIM FROBISHER reached Dijon that night at an hour too late for any visit, but at half-past nine on the next morning he turned with a thrill of excitement into the little street of Charles-Robert. This street was bordered upon one side, throughout its length, by a high garden wall above which great sycamores and chestnut trees rustled friendlily in a stir of wind. Towards the farther mouth of the street the wall was broken, first by the end of a house with a florid observation-window of the Renaissance period which overhung the footway; and again a little farther on by a pair of elaborate tall iron gates. Before these gates Jim came to a standstill. He gazed into the courtyard of the Maison Grenelle, and as he gazed his excitement died away and he felt a trifle ashamed of it. There seemed so little cause for excitement.

It was a hot, quiet, cloudless morning. On the left-hand side of the court women-servants were busy in front of a row of offices; at the end Jim caught glimpses of a chauffeur moving between a couple of cars in a garage, and heard him whistling gaily as he moved; on the right stretched the big house, its steep slate roof marked out gaily with huge diamond patterns of bright yellow, taking in the sunlight through all its open windows. The hall door under the horizontal glass fan stood open. One of the iron gates, too, was ajar. Even the sergent-de-ville in his white trousers out in the small street here seemed to be sheltering from the sun in the shadow of the high wall rather than exercising any real vigilance. It was impossible to believe, with all this pleasant evidence of normal life, that any threat was on that house or upon any of its inhabitants.

“And indeed there is no threat,” Jim reflected. “I have Hanaud’s word for it.”

He pushed the gate open and crossed to the front door. An old serving-man informed him that Mademoiselle Harlowe did not receive, but he took Jim’s card nevertheless, and knocked upon a door on the right of the big square hall. As he knocked, he opened the door; and from his position in the hall Jim looked right through a library to a window at the end and saw two figures silhouetted against the window, a man and a girl. The man was protesting, rather extravagantly both in word and gesture, to Jim’s Britannic mind, the girl laughing—a clear, ringing laugh, with just a touch of cruelty, at the man’s protestations. Jim even caught a word or two of the protest spoken in French, but with a curiously metallic accent.

“I have been your slave too long,” the man cried, and the girl became aware that the door was open and that the old man stood inside of it with a card upon a silver salver. She came quickly forward and took the card. Jim heard the cry of pleasure, and the girl came running out into the hall.

“You!” she exclaimed, her eyes shining. “I had no right to expect you so soon. Oh, thank you!” and she gave him both her hands.

Jim did not need her words to recognize in her the “little girl” of Mr. Haslitt’s description. Little in actual height Betty Harlowe certainly was not, but she was such a slender trifle of a girl that the epithet seemed in place. Her hair was dark brown in colour, with a hint of copper where the light caught it, parted on one side and very neatly dressed about her small head. The broad forehead and oval face were of a clear pallor and made vivid the fresh scarlet of her lips; and the large pupils of her grey eyes gave to her a look which was at once haunting and wistful. As she held out her hands in a warm gratitude and seized his, she seemed to him a creature of delicate flame and fragile as fair china. She looked him over with one swift comprehensive glance and breathed a little sigh of relief.

“I shall give you all my troubles to carry from now on,” she said, with a smile.

“To be sure. That’s what I am here for,” he answered. “But don’t take me for anything very choice and particular.”

Betty laughed again and, holding him by the sleeve, drew him into the library.

“Monsieur Espinosa,” she said, presenting the stranger to Jim. “He is from Cataluna, but he spends so much of his life in Dijon that we claim him as a citizen.”

The Catalan bowed and showed a fine set of strong white teeth. “Yes, I have the honour to represent a great Spanish firm of wine-growers. We buy the wines here to mix with our better brands, and we sell wine here to mix with their cheaper ones.”

“You mustn’t give your trade secrets away to me,” Jim replied shortly. He disliked Espinosa on sight, as they say, and he was at no very great pains to conceal his dislike. Espinosa was altogether too brilliant a personage. He was a big, broad-shouldered man with black shining hair and black shining eyes, a florid complexion, a curled moustache, and gleaming rings upon his fingers.

“Mr. Frobisher has come from London to see me on quite different business,” Betty interposed.

“Yes?” said the Catalan, a little defiantly, as though he meant to hold his ground.

“Yes,” replied Betty, and she held out her hand to him. Espinosa raised it reluctantly to his lips and kissed it.

“I shall see you when you return,” said Betty, and she walked to the door.

“If I go away,” Espinosa replied stubbornly. “It is not certain, Mademoiselle Betty, that I shall go”; and with a ceremonious bow to Jim he walked out of the room; but not so quickly but that Betty glanced swiftly from one man to the other with keen comparing eyes, and Jim detected the glance. She closed the door and turned back to Jim with a friendly little grimace which somehow put him in a good humour. He was being compared to another man to his advantage, and however modest one may be, such a comparison promotes a pleasant warmth.

“More trouble, Miss Harlowe,” he said with a smile, “but this time the sort of trouble which you must expect for a good many years to come.”

He moved towards her, and they met at one of the two side-windows which looked out upon the courtyard. Betty sat down in the window-seat.

“I really ought to be grateful to him,” she said, “for he made me laugh. And it seems to me ages since I laughed”; she looked out of the window and her eyes suddenly filled with tears.

“Oh! don’t, please,” cried Jim in a voice of trouble.

The smile trembled once more on Betty’s lips deliciously. “I won’t,” she replied.

“I was so glad to hear you laugh,” he continued, “after your unhappy telegram to my partner and before I told you my good news.”

Betty looked up at him eagerly.

“Good news?”

Jim Frobisher took once more from his long envelope the two letters which Waberski had sent to his firm and handed them to Betty.

“Read them,” he said, “and notice the dates.”

Betty glanced at the handwriting.

“From Monsieur Boris,” she cried, and she settled down in the window-seat to study them. In her short black frock with her slim legs in their black silk stockings extended and her feet crossed, and her head and white neck bent over the sheets of Waberski’s letters, she looked to Jim like a girl fresh from school. She was quick enough, however, to appreciate the value of the letters.

“Of course I always knew that it was money that Monsieur Boris wanted,” she said. “And when my aunt’s will was read and I found that everything had been left to me, I made up my mind to consult you and make some arrangement for him.”

“There was no obligation upon you,” Jim protested. “He wasn’t really a relation at all. He married Mrs. Harlowe’s sister, that’s all.”

“I know,” replied Betty, and she laughed. “He always objected to me because I would call him ‘Monsieur Boris’ instead of ‘uncle.’ But I meant to do something nevertheless. Only he gave me no time. He bullied me first of all, and I do hate being bullied—don’t you, Mr. Frobisher?”

“I do.”

Betty looked at the letters again. “That’s when I snapped me the fingers at him, I suppose,” she continued, with a little gurgle of delight in the phrase. “Afterwards he brought this horrible charge against me, and to have suggested any arrangement would have been to plead guilty.”

“You were quite right. It would indeed,” Jim agreed cordially.

Up to this moment, a suspicion had been lurking at the back of Jim Frobisher’s mind that this girl had been a trifle hard in her treatment of Boris Waberski. He was a sponger, a wastrel, with no real claim upon her, it was true. On the other hand, he had no means of livelihood, and Mrs. Harlowe, from whom Betty drew her fortune, had been content to endure and support him. Now, however, the suspicion was laid, the little blemish upon the girl removed and by her own frankness.

“Then it is all over,” Betty said, handing back the letters to Jim with a sigh of relief. Then she smiled ruefully-”But just for a little while I was really frightened,” she confessed. “You see, I was sent for and questioned by the examining magistrate. Oh! I wasn’t frightened by the questions, but by him, the man. I’ve no doubt it’s his business to look severe, but I couldn’t help thinking that if anyone looked as terrifically severe as he did, it must be because he hadn’t any brains and wanted you not to know. And people without brains are always dangerous, aren’t they?”

“Yes, that wasn’t encouraging,” Jim agreed.

“Then he forbade me to use a motor-car, as if he expected me to run away. And to crown everything, when I came away from the Palais de Justice, I met some friends outside who gave me a long list of people who had been condemned and only found to be innocent when it was too late.”

Jim stared at her. “The brutes!” he cried.

“Well, we have all got friends like that,” Betty returned philosophically. “Mine, however, were particularly odious. For they actually discussed, as a reason of course, why I should engage the very best advocate, whether, since Mrs. Harlowe had adopted me, the charge couldn’t be made one of matricide. In which case there could be no pardon, and I must go to the guillotine with a black veil over my head and naked feet.” She saw horror and indignation in Jim Frobisher’s face and she reached out a hand to him.

“Yes. Malice in the provinces is apt to be a little blunt, though”—and she lifted a slim foot in a shining slipper and contemplated it whimsically—“I don’t imagine that, given the circumstances, I should be bothering my head much as to whether I was wearing my best shoes and stockings or none at all.”

“I never heard of so abominable a suggestion,” cried Jim.

“You can imagine, at all events, that I came home a little rattled,” continued Betty, “and why I sent off that silly panicky telegram. I would have recalled it when I rose to the surface again. But it was then too late. The telegram had——” She broke off abruptly with a little rise of inflexion and a sharp indraw of her breath.

“Who is that?” she asked in a changed voice. She had been speaking quietly and slowly, with an almost humorous appreciation of the causes of her fear. Now her question was uttered quickly and anxiety was predominant in her voice. “Yes, who is that?” she repeated.

A big, heavily-built man sauntering past the great iron gates had suddenly whipped into the courtyard. A fraction of a second before he was an idler strolling along the path, now he was already disappearing under the big glass fan of the porch.

“It’s Hanaud,” Jim replied, and Betty rose to her feet as though a spring in her had been released, and stood swaying.

“You have nothing to fear from Hanaud,” Jim Frobisher reassured her. “I have shown him those two letters of Waberski. From first to last he is your friend. Listen. This is what he said to me only yesterday in Paris.”

“Yesterday, in Paris?” Betty asked suddenly.

“Yes, I called upon him at the Surete. These were his words. I remembered them particularly so that I could repeat them to you just as they were spoken. ‘Your little client can lay her pretty head upon her pillow, confident that no injustice will be done to her.’”

The bell of the front door shrilled through the house as Jim finished.

“Then why is he in Dijon? Why is he at the door now?” Betty asked stubbornly.

But that was the one question which Jim must not answer. He had received a confidence from Hanaud. He had pledged his word not to betray it. For a little while longer Betty must believe that Waberski’s accusation against her was the true reason of Hanaud’s presence in Dijon, and not merely an excuse for it.

“Hanaud acts under orders,” Jim returned. “He is here because he was bidden to come”; and to his relief the answer sufficed. In truth, Betty’s thoughts were diverted to some problem to which he had not the key.

“So you called upon Monsieur Hanaud in Paris,” she said, with a warm smile. “You have forgotten nothing which could help me.” She laid a hand upon the sill of the open window. “I hope that he felt all the flattery of my panic-stricken telegram to London.”

“He was simply regretful that you should have been so distressed.”

“So you showed him the telegram?”

“And he destroyed it. It was my excuse for calling upon him with the letters.”

Betty sat down again on the window-seat and lifted a finger for silence. Outside the door voices were speaking. Then the door was opened and the old man-servant entered. He carried this time no card upon a salver, but he was obviously impressed and a trifle flustered.

“Mademoiselle,” he began, and Betty interrupted him. All trace of anxiety had gone from her manner. She was once more mistress of herself.

“I know, Gaston. Show Monsieur Hanaud in at once.”

But Monsieur Hanaud was already in. He bowed with a pleasant ceremony to Betty Harlowe and shook hands cordially with Jim Frobisher.

“I was delighted as I came through the court, Mademoiselle, to see that my friend here was already with you. For he will have told you that I am not, after all, the ogre of the fairy-books.”

“But you never looked up at the windows once,” cried Betty in perplexity.

Hanaud smiled gaily. “Mademoiselle, it is in the technique of my trade never to look up at windows and yet to know what is going on behind them. With your permission?” And he laid his hat and cane upon a big writing-table in the middle of the room.

The House of the Arrow - Contents    |     V - Betty Harlowe Answers

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