The House of the Arrow


The Book

A.E.W. Mason

THE TWO startling declarations, one treading upon the heels of the other, set Jim Frobisher’s brain whirling. Consternation and bewilderment were all jumbled together. He had no time to ask “how,” for he was already asking “What next?” His first clear thought was for Betty, and as he looked at her, a sharp anger against both Hanaud and Ann Upcott seized and shook him. Why hadn’t they both spoken before? Why must they speak now? Why couldn’t they leave well alone?

For Betty had fallen back in the window-seat, her hands idle at her sides and her face utterly weary and distressed. Jim thought of some stricken patient who wakes in the morning to believe for a few moments that the malady was a bad dream; and then comes the stab and the cloud of pain settles down for another day. A moment ago Betty’s ordeal seemed over. Now it was beginning a new phase.

“I am sorry,” he said to her.

The report of the analysts was lying on the writing-table just beneath his eyes. He took it up idly. It was a trick, of course, with its seals and its signatures, a trick of Hanaud’s to force Waberski to a retraction. He glanced at it, and with an exclamation began carefully to read it through from the beginning to the end. When he had finished, he raised his head and stared at Hanaud.

“But this report is genuine,” he cried. “Here are the details of the tests applied and the result. There was no trace discovered of any poison.”

“No trace at all,” Hanaud replied. He was not in the least disturbed by the question.

“Then I don’t understand why you bring the accusation or whom you accuse,” Frobisher exclaimed.

“I have accused no one,” said Hanaud steadily. “Let us be clear about that! As to your other question—look!”

He took Frobisher by the elbow and led him to that bookshelf by the window before which they had stood together yesterday.

“There was an empty space here yesterday. You yourself drew my attention to it. You see that the space is filled today.”

“Yes,” said Jim.

Hanaud took down the volume which occupied the space. It was of quarto size, fairly thick and bound in a paper cover.

“Look at that,” he said; and Jim Frobisher as he took it noticed with a queer little start that although Hanaud’s eyes were on his face they were blank of all expression. They did not see him. Hanaud’s senses were concentrated on the two girls at neither of whom he so much as glanced. He was alert to them, to any movement they might make of surprise or terror. Jim threw up his head in a sudden revolt. He was being used for another trick, as some conjurer may use a fool of a fellow whom he has persuaded out of his audience on to his platform. Jim looked at the cover of the book, and cried with enough violence to recall Hanaud’s attention:

“I see nothing here to the point. It is a treatise printed by some learned society in Edinburgh.”

“It is. And if you will look again, you will see that it was written by a Professor of Medicine in that University. And if you will look a third time you will see from a small inscription in ink that the copy was presented with the Professor’s compliments to Mr. Simon Harlowe.”

Hanaud, whilst he was speaking, went to the second of the two windows which looked upon the court, and putting his head out, spoke for a little while in a low voice.

“We shall not need our sentry here any more,” he said as he turned back into the room. “I have sent him upon an errand.”

He went back to Jim Frobisher, who was turning over a page of the treatise here and there and was never a scrap the wiser.

“Well?” he asked. “Strophanthus Hispidus.” Jim read aloud the title of the treatise. “I can’t make head or tail of it.”

“Let me try!” said Hanaud, and he took the book out of Frobisher’s hands. “I will show you all how I spent the half-hour whilst I was waiting for you this morning.”

He sat down at the writing-table, placed the treatise on the blotting-pad in front of him and laid it open at a coloured plate. “This is the fruit of the plant Strophanthus Hispidus, when it is ripening,” he said.

The plate showed two long, tapering follicles joined together at their stems and then separating like a pair of compasses set at an acute angle. The backs of these follicles were rounded, dark in colour and speckled; the inner surfaces, however, were flat, and the curious feature of them was that, from longitudinal crevices, a number of silky white feathers protruded.

“Each of these feathers,” Hanaud continued, and he looked up to find that Ann Upcott had drawn close to the table and that Betty Harlowe herself was leaning forward with a look of curiosity upon her face—“each of these feathers is attached by a fine stalk to an elliptical pod, which is the seed, and when the fruit is quite ripe and these follicles have opened so that they make a straight line, the feathers are released and the wind spreads the seed. It is wonderful, eh? See!”

Hanaud turned the pages until he came to another plate. Here a feather was represented in complete detachment from the follicle. It was outspread like a fan and was extraordinarily pretty and delicate in its texture; and from it by a stem as fine as a hair the seed hung like a jewel.

“What would you say of it, Mademoiselle?” Hanaud asked, looking up into the face of Ann Upcott with a smile. “An ornament wrought for a fine lady, by a dainty artist, eh?” and he turned the book round so that she on the opposite side of the table might the better admire the engraving.

Betty Harlowe, it seemed, was now mastered by her curiosity. Jim Frobisher, gazing down over Hanaud’s shoulder at the plate and wondering uneasily whither he was being led, saw a shadow fall across the book. And there was Betty, standing by the side of her friend with the palms of her hands upon the edge of the table and her face bent over the book.

“One could wish it was an ornament, this seed of the Strophanthus Hispidus,” Hanaud continued with a shake of the head. “But, alas! it is not so harmless.”

He turned the book round again to himself and once more turned the pages. The smile had disappeared altogether from his face. He stopped at a third plate; and this third plate showed a row of crudely fashioned arrows with barbed heads.

Hanaud glanced up over his shoulder at Jim. “Do you understand now the importance of this book, Monsieur Frobisher?” he asked. “No? The seeds of this plant make the famous arrow-poison of Africa. The deadliest of all the poisons, since there is no antidote for it.” His voice grew sombre. “The wickedest of all the poisons, since it leaves no trace.”

Jim Frobisher was startled. “Is that true?” he cried.

“Yes,” said Hanaud; and Betty suddenly leaned forward and pointed to the bottom of the plate.

“There is a mark there below the hilt of that arrow,” she said curiously. “Yes, and a tiny note in ink.”

For a moment a little gift of vision was vouchsafed to Jim Frobisher, born, no doubt, of his perplexities and trouble. A curtain was rung up in his brain. He saw no more than what was before him—the pretty group about the table in the gold of the May morning, but it was all made grim and terrible and the gold had withered to a light that was grey and deathly and cold as the grave. There were the two girls in the grace of their beauty and their youth, daintily tended, fastidiously dressed, bending their shining curls over that plate of the poison arrows like pupils at a lecture. And the man delivering the lecture, so close to them, with speech so gentle, was implacably on the trail of murder, and maybe even now looked upon one of these two girls as his quarry; was even now perhaps planning to set her in the dock of an Assize Court and send her out afterwards, carried screaming and sobbing with terror in the first grey of the morning to the hideous red engine erected during the night before the prison gates. Jim saw Hanaud the genial and friendly, as in some flawed mirror, twisted into a sinister and terrifying figure. How could he sit so close with them at the table, talk to them, point them out this and that diagram in the plates, he being human and knowing what he purposed? Jim broke in upon the lecture with a cry of exasperation.

“But this isn’t a poison! This is a book about a poison. The book can’t kill!”

At once Hanaud replied to him: “Can’t it?” he cried sharply. “Listen to what Mademoiselle said a minute ago. Below the hilt of this arrow marked ‘Figure F,’ the Professor has written a tiny note.”

This particular arrow was a little different from the others in the shape of its shaft. Just below the triangular iron head the shaft expanded. It was as though the head had been fitted into a bulb; as one sees sometimes wooden penholders fine enough and tapering at the upper end, and quite thick just above the nib.

“‘See page 37’,” said Hanaud, reading the Professor’s note, and he turned back the pages. “Page 37. Here we are!”

Hanaud ran a finger half-way down the page and stopped at a word in capitals.

“Figure F.” Hanaud hitched his chair a little closer to the table; Ann Upcott moved round the end of the table that she might see the better; even Jim Frobisher found himself stooping above Hanaud’s shoulder. They were all conscious of a queer tension; they were expectant like explorers on the brink of a discovery. Whilst Hanaud read the paragraph aloud, it seemed that no one breathed; and this is what he read:

“‘Figure F is the representation of a poison arrow which was lent to me by Simon Harlowe, Esq., of Blackman’s, Norfolk, and the Maison Grenelle at Dijon. It was given to him by a Mr. John Carlisle, a trader on the Shire River in the Kombe country, and is the most perfect example of a poison arrow which I have seen. The Strophanthus seed has been pounded up in water and mixed with the reddish clay used by the Kombe natives, and the compound is thickly smeared over the head of the arrow shaft and over the actual iron dart except at the point and the edges. The arrow is quite new and the compound fresh.’”

Hanaud leaned back in his chair when he had come to the end of this paragraph. “You see. Monsieur Frobisher, the question we have to answer. Where is today Simon Harlowe’s arrow?”

Betty locked up into Hanaud’s face. “If it is anywhere in this house. Monsieur, it should be in the locked cabinet in my sitting-room.”

“Your sitting-room?” Hanaud exclaimed sharply.

“Yes. It is what we call the Treasure Room—half museum, half living-room. My Uncle Simon used it, Madame too. It was their favourite room, full of curios and beautiful things. But after Simon Harlowe died Madame would never enter it. She locked the door which communicated with her dressing-room, so that she might never even in a moment of forgetfulness enter it. The room has a door into the hall. She gave the room to me.” Hanaud’s forehead cleared of its wrinkles. “I understand,” he said. “And that room is sealed.”


“Have you ever seen the arrow, Mademoiselle?”

“Not that I remember. I only looked into the cabinet once. There are some horrible things hidden away there”; and Betty shivered and shook the recollection of them from her shoulders.

“The chances are that it’s not in the house at all, that it never came back to the house,” Frobisher argued stubbornly. “The Professor in all probability would have kept it.”

“If he could,” Hanaud rejoined. “But it’s out of all probability that a collector of rare things would have allowed him to keep it. No!” and he sat for a little time in a muse. “Do you know what I am wondering?” he asked at length, and then answered his own question. “I am wondering whether after all Boris Waberski was not in the street of Gambetta on the 7th of May and close, very close, to the shop of Jean Cladel the herbalist.”

“Boris! Boris Waberski!” cried Jim. Was he in Hanaud’s eyes the criminal? After all, why not? After all, who more likely if criminal there was, since Boris Waberski thought himself an inheritor under Mrs. Harlowe’s will?

“I am wondering whether he was not doing that very thing which he attributed to you, Mademoiselle Betty,” Hanaud continued.

“Paying?” Betty cried.

“Paying—or making excuses for not paying, which is more probable, or recovering the poison arrow now clean of its poison, which is most probable of all.”

At last Hanaud had made an end of his secrecies and reticence. His suspicion, winged like the arrow in the plate, was flying straight to this evident mark. Jim drew a breath like a man waking from a nightmare; in all of that small company a relaxation was visible; Ann Upcott drew away from the table; Betty said softly as though speaking to herself, “Monsieur Boris! Monsieur Boris! Oh, I never thought of that!” and, to Jim’s admiration, there was actually a note of regret in her voice.

It was audible, too, to Hanaud, since he answered with a smile: “But you must bring yourself to think of it, Mademoiselle. After all, he was not so gentle with you that you need show him so much good.”

A slight rush of colour tinged Betty’s cheeks. Jim was not quite sure that a tiny accent of irony had not pointed Hanaud’s words.

“I saw him sitting here,” she replied quickly, “half an hour ago—abject—in tears—a man!” She shrugged her shoulders with a gesture of distaste. “I wish him nothing worse. I was satisfied.”

Hanaud smiled again with a curious amusement, an appreciation which Frobisher was quite at a loss to understand. But he had from time to time received an uneasy impression that a queer little secret duel was all this while being fought by Betty Harlowe and Hanaud underneath the smooth surface of questions and answers—a duel in which now one, now the other of the combatants got some trifling scratch. This time it seemed Betty was hurt.

“You are satisfied, Mademoiselle, but the Law is not,” Hanaud returned. “Boris Waberski expected a legacy. Boris Waberski needed money immediately, as the first of the two letters which he wrote to Monsieur Frobisher’s firm clearly shows. Boris Waberski had a motive.” He looked from one to the other of his audience with a nod to drive the point home. “Motives, no doubt, are signposts rather difficult to read, and if one reads them amiss, they lead one very wide astray. Granted! But you must look for your signposts all the same and try to read them aright. Listen again to the Professor of Medicine in the University of Edinburgh! He is as precise as a man can be.”

Hanaud’s eyes fell again upon the description of Figure F in the treatise still open upon the table in front of him.

“The arrow was the best specimen of a poison arrow which he had ever come across. The poison paste was thickly and smoothly spread over the arrow head and some inches of the shaft. The arrow was unused and the poison fresh, and these poisons retain their energy for many, many years. I tell you that if this book and this arrow were handed over to Jean Cladel, Herbalist, Jean Cladel could with ease make a solution in alcohol which injected from a hypodermic needle would cause death within fifteen minutes and leave not one trace.”

“Within fifteen minutes?” Betty asked incredulously, and from the arm-chair against the wall, where Ann Upcott had once more seated herself, there broke a startled exclamation.

“Oh!” she cried, but no one took any notice of her at all. Both Jim and Betty had their eyes fixed upon Hanaud, and he was altogether occupied in driving his argument home.

“Within fifteen minutes? How do you know?” cried Jim.

“It is written here, in the book.”

“And where would Jean Cladel have learnt to handle the paste with safety, how to prepare the solution?” Jim went on.

“Here! Here! Here!” answered Hanaud, tapping with his knuckles upon the treatise. “It is all written out here—experiment after experiment made upon living animals and the action of the poison measured and registered by minutes. Oh, given a man with a working knowledge of chemicals such as Jean Cladel must possess, and the result is certain.”

Betty Harlowe leaned forward again over the book and Hanaud turned it half round between them, so that both, by craning their heads, could read. He turned the pages back to the beginning and passed them quickly in review.

“See, Mademoiselle, the time-tables. Strophanthus constricts the muscles of the heart like digitalis, only much more violently, much more swiftly. See the contractions of the heart noted down minute after minute, until the moment of death and all—here is the irony!—so that by means of these experiments, the poison may be transformed into a medicine and the weapon of death become an agent of life—as in good hands, it has happened.” Hanaud leaned back and contemplated Betty Harlowe between his half-closed eyes. “That is wonderful, Mademoiselle. What do you think?”

Betty slowly closed the book.

“I think, Monsieur Hanaud,” she said, “it is no less wonderful that you should have studied this book so thoroughly during the half-hour you waited for us here this morning.”

It was Hanaud’s turn to change colour. The blood mounted into his face. He was for a second or two quite disconcerted. Jim once more had a glimpse of the secret duel and rejoiced that this time it was Hanaud, the great Hanaud, who was scratched.

“The study of poisons is particularly my work,” he answered shortly. “Even at the Surete we have to specialize nowadays,” and he turned rather quickly towards Frobisher. “You are thoughtful, Monsieur?”

Jim was following out his own train of thought. “Yes,” he answered. Then he spoke to Betty. “Boris Waberski had a latchkey, I suppose?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“He took it away with him?”

“I think so.”

“When are the iron gates locked?”

“It is the last thing Gaston does before he goes to bed.”

Jim’s satisfaction increased with every answer he received. “You see, Monsieur Hanaud,” he cried, “all this while we have been leaving out a question of importance. Who put this book back upon its shelf? And when? Yesterday at noon the space was empty. This morning it is filled. Who filled it? Last night we sat in the garden after dinner behind the house. What could have been easier than for Waberski to slip in with his latchkey at some moment when the court was empty, replace the book and slip out again unnoticed? Why——”

A gesture of Betty’s brought him to a halt. “Unnoticed? Impossible!” she said bitterly. “The police have a sergent-de-ville at our gates, night and day.”

Hanaud shook his head.

“He is there no longer. After you were good enough to answer me so frankly yesterday morning the questions it was my duty to put to you, I had him removed at once.”

“Why, that’s true,” Jim exclaimed joyfully. He remembered now that when he had driven up with his luggage from the hotel in the afternoon, the street of Charles-Robert had been quite empty. Betty Harlowe stood taken aback by her surprise. Then a smile made her face friendly; her eyes danced to the smile, and she dipped to the detective a little mock curtsy. But her voice was warm with gratitude.

“I thank you, Monsieur. I did not notice yesterday that the man had been removed, or I should have thanked you before. Indeed I was not looking for so much consideration at your hands. As I told my friend Jim, I believed that you went away thinking me guilty.”

Hanaud raised a hand in protest. To Jim it was the flourish of the sword with which the duellist saluted at the end of the bout. The little secret combat between these two was over. Hanaud, by removing the sergeant from before the gates, had given a sign surely not only to Betty but to all Dijon that he found nothing to justify any surveillance of her goings out and comings in, or any limitations upon her freedom.

“Then you see,” Jim insisted. He was still worrying at his solution of the case like a dog with a bone. “You see, Waberski had the road clear for him last night.”

Betty, however, would not have it. She shook her head vigorously.

“I won’t believe that Monsieur Boris is guilty of so horrible a murder. More,” and she turned her great eyes pleadingly upon Hanaud, “I don’t believe that any murder was committed here at all. I don’t want to believe it,” and for a moment her voice faltered.

“After all, Monsieur Hanaud, what are you building this dreadful theory upon? That a book of my Uncle Simon was not in his library yesterday and is there today. We know nothing more. We don’t know even whether Jean Cladel exists at all.”

“We shall know that, Mademoiselle, very soon,” said Hanaud, staring down at the book upon the table.

“We don’t know whether the arrow is in the house, whether it ever was.”

“We must make sure, Mademoiselle,” said Hanaud stubbornly.

“And even if you had it now, here with the poison clinging in shreds to the shaft, you still couldn’t be sure that the rest of it had been used. Here is a report, Monsieur, from the doctors. Because it says that no trace of the poison can be discovered, you can’t infer that a poison was administered which leaves no trace. You never can prove it. You have nothing to go upon. It’s all guess-work, and guesswork which will keep us living in a nightmare. Oh, if I thought for a moment that murder had been committed, I’d say ‘Go on, go on’! But it hasn’t. Oh, it hasn’t!”

Betty’s voice rang with so evident a sincerity, there was so strong a passion of appeal, for peace, for an end of suspicion, for a right to forget and be forgotten, that Jim fancied no man could resist it. Indeed, Hanaud sat for a long while with his eyes bent upon the table before he answered her. But when at last he did, gently though his voice began, Jim knew at once that she had lost.

“You argue and plead very well, Mademoiselle Betty,” he said. “But we have each of us our little creeds by which we live for better or for worse. Here is mine, a very humble one. I can discover extenuations in most crimes: even crimes of violence. Passion, anger, even greed! What are they but good qualities developed beyond the bounds? Things at the beginning good and since grown monstrous! So, too, in the execution. This or that habit of life makes natural this or that weapon which to us is hideous and abnormal and its mere use a sign of a dreadful depravity. Yes, I recognize these palliations. But there is one crime I never will forgive—murder by poison. And one criminal in whose pursuit I will never tire nor slacken, the poisoner.” Through the words there ran a real thrill of hatred, and though Hanaud’s voice was low, and he never once raised his eyes from the table, he held the three who listened to him in a dreadful spell.

“Cowardly and secret, the poisoner has his little world at his mercy, and a fine sort of mercy he shows to be sure,” he continued bitterly. “His hideous work is so easy. It just becomes a vice like drink, no more than that to the poisoner, but with a thousand times the pleasure drink can give. Like the practice of some abominable art. I tell you the truth now! Show me one victim today and the poisoner scot-free, and I’ll show you another victim before the year’s out. Make no mistake! Make no mistake!”

His voice rang out and died away. But the words seemed still to vibrate in the air of that room, to strike the walls and rebound from them and still be audible. Jim Frobisher, for all his slow imagination, felt that had a poisoner been present and heard them, some cry of guilt must have rent the silence and betrayed him. His heart stopped in its beats listening for a cry, though his reason told him there was no mouth in that room from which the cry could come.

Hanaud looked up at Betty when he had finished. He begged her pardon with a little flutter of his hands and a regretful smile. “You must take me, therefore, as God made me, Mademoiselle, and not blame me more than you can help for the distress I still must cause you. There was never a case more difficult. Therefore never one about which one way or the other I must be more sure.”

Before Betty could reply there came a knock upon the door. “Come in,” Hanaud cried out, and a small, dark, alert man in plain clothes entered the room.

“This is Nicolas Moreau, who was keeping watch in the courtyard. I sent him some while ago upon an errand,” he explained, and turned again to Moreau.

“Well, Nicolas?” Nicolas stood at attention, with his hands at the seams of his trousers, in spite of his plain clothes, and he recited rather than spoke in a perfectly expressionless official voice.

“In accordance with instructions I went to the shop of Jean Cladel. It is number seven. From the Rue Gambetta I went to the Prefecture. I verified your statement. Jean Cladel has twice appeared before the Police Correctionelle for selling forbidden drugs and has twice been acquitted owing to the absence of necessary witnesses.”

“Thank you, Nicolas.”

Moreau saluted, turned on his heel, and went out of the room. There followed a moment of silence, of discouragement. Hanaud looked ruefully at Betty. “You see! I must go on. We must search in that locked cabinet of Simon Harlowe’s for the poison arrow, if by chance it should be there.”

“The room is sealed,” Frobisher reminded him.

“We must have those seals removed,” he replied, and he took his watch from his pocket and screwed up his face in grimace.

“We need Monsieur the Commissaire, and Monsieur the Commissaire will not be in a good humour if we disturb him now. For it is twelve o’clock, the sacred hour of luncheon. You will have observed upon the stage that Commissaries of Police are never in a good humour. It is because—” But Hanaud’s audience was never to hear his explanation of this well-known fact. For he stopped with a queer jerk of his voice, his watch still dangling from his fingers upon its chain. Both Jim and Betty looked at once where he was looking. They saw Ann Upcott standing up against the wall with her hand upon the top rail of a chair to prevent herself from falling. Her eyes were closed, her whole face a mask of misery. Hanaud was at her side in a moment.

“Mademoiselle,” he asked with a breathless sort of eagerness, “what is it you have to tell me?”

“It is true, then?” she whispered. “Jean Cladel exists?”


‘And the poison arrow could have been used?” she faltered, and the next words would not be spoken, but were spoken at the last. “And death would have followed in fifteen minutes?”

“Upon my oath it is true,” Hanaud insisted. “What is it you have to tell me?”

“That I could have hindered it all. I shall never forgive myself. I could have hindered the murder.”

Hanaud’s eyes narrowed as he watched the girl. Was he disappointed, Frobisher wondered? Did he expect quite another reply? A swift movement by Betty distracted him from these questions. He saw Betty looking across the room at them with the strangest glittering eyes he had ever seen. And then Ann Upcott drew herself away from Hanaud and stood up against the wall at her full height with her arms outstretched. She seemed to be setting herself apart as a pariah; her whole attitude and posture cried, “Stone me! I am waiting.” Hanaud put his watch into his pocket. “Mademoiselle, we will let the Commissaire eat his luncheon in peace, and we will hear your story first. But not here. In the garden under the shade of the trees.” He took his handkerchief and wiped his forehead. “Indeed I too feel the heat. This room is as hot as an oven.”

When Jim Frobisher looked back in after time upon the incidents of that morning, nothing stood out so vividly in his memories, no, not even the book of arrows and its plates, not Hanaud’s statement of his creed, as the picture of him twirling his watch at the end of his chain, whilst it sparkled in the sunlight and he wondered whether he should break in now upon the Commissaire of Police or let him eat his luncheon in quiet. So much that was then unsuspected by them all hung upon the exact sequence of events.

The House of the Arrow - Contents    |     IX - The Secret

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