The House of the Arrow


Simon Harlowe’s Treasure-Room

A.E.W. Mason

LIKE THE REST of the reception-rooms along the corridor, it was longer than it was broad and more of a gallery than a room. But it had been arranged for habitation rather than for occasional visits. For it was furnished with a luxurious comfort and not over-crowded. In the fawn-coloured panels of the walls a few exquisite pictures by Fragonard had been framed; on the writing-table of Chinese Chippendale by the window every appointment, ink-stand, pen-tray, candlestick, sand-castor and all were of the pink Battersea enamel and without a flaw. But they were there for use, not for exhibition. Moreover, a prominent big fireplace in the middle of the wall on the side of the hall jutted out into the room and gave it almost the appearance of two rooms in communication. The one feature of the room, indeed, which at a first glimpse betrayed the collector, was the sedan chair set in a recess of the wall by the fireplace and opposite to the door communicating with Mrs. Harlowe’s bedroom. Its body was of a pale French grey in colour, with elaborately carved mouldings in gold round the panels and medallions representing fashionable shepherds and shepherdesses daintily painted in the middle of them. It had glass windows at the sides to show off the occupant, and it was lined with pale grey satin, embroidered in gold to match the colour of the panels. The roof, which could be raised upon a hinge at the back, was ornamented with gold filigree work, and it had a door in front of which the upper part was glass. Altogether it was as pretty a gleaming piece of work as the art of carriage-building could achieve, and a gilt rail very fitly protected it. Even Hanaud was taken by its daintiness. He stood with his hands upon the rail examining it with a smile of pleasure, until Jim began to think that he had quite forgotten the business which had brought him there. However, he brought himself out of his dream with a start.

“A pretty world for rich people, Monsieur Frobisher,” he said. “What pictures of fine ladies in billowy skirts and fine gentlemen in silk stockings! And what splashings of mud for the unhappy devils who had to walk!”

He turned his back to the chair and looked across the room. “That is the clock which marked half-past ten, Mademoiselle, during the moment when you had the light turned up?” he asked of Ann.

“Yes,” she answered quickly. Then she looked at it again. “Yes, that’s it.”

Jim detected or fancied that he detected a tiny change in her intonation, as she repeated her assurance, not an inflexion of doubt—it was not marked enough for that—but of perplexity. It was clearly, however, fancy upon his part, for Hanaud noticed nothing at all. Jim pulled himself up with an unspoken remonstrance. “Take care!” he warned himself. “For once you begin to suspect people, they can say and do nothing which will not provide you with material for suspicion.”

Hanaud was without doubt satisfied. The clock was a beautiful small gilt clock of the Louis Quinze period, shaped with a waist like a violin; it had a white face, and it stood upon a marquetry Boulle cabinet, a little more than waist high, in front of a tall Venetian mirror. Hanaud stood directly in front of it and compared it with his watch.

“It is exact to the minute, Mademoiselle,” he said to Betty with a smile as he replaced his watch in his pocket.

He turned about, so that he stood with his back to the clock. He faced the fireplace across the narrow neck of the room. It had an Adam mantelpiece, fashioned from the same fawn-coloured wood as the panels, with slender pillars and some beautiful carving upon the board beneath the shelf. Above the shelf one of the Fragonards was framed in the wall, and apparently so that nothing should mask it, there were no high ornaments at all upon the shelf itself. One or two small boxes of Battersea enamel and a flat glass case alone decorated it. Hanaud crossed to the mantelshelf and, after a moment’s inspection, lifted, with a low whistle of admiration, the flat glass case.

“You will pardon me, Mademoiselle,” he said to. Betty. “But I shall probably never in my life have the luck to see anything so incomparable again. And the mantelshelf is a little high for me to see it properly.”

Without waiting for the girl’s consent he carried it towards the window.

“Do you see this, Monsieur Frobisher?” he called out, and Jim went forward to his side.

The case held a pendant wrought in gold and chalcedony and translucent enamels by Benvenuto Cellini. Jim acknowledged that he had never seen craftsmanship so exquisite and delicate, but he chafed none the less at Hanaud’s diversion from his business.

“One could spend a long day in this room,” the detective exclaimed, “admiring these treasures.”

“No doubt,” Jim replied dryly. “But I had a notion that we were going to spend an afternoon looking for an arrow.”

Hanaud laughed. “My friend, you recall me to my duty.” He looked at the jewel again and sighed. “Yes, as you say, we are not visitors here to enjoy ourselves.”

He carried the case back again to the mantelshelf and replaced it. Then all at once his manner changed. He was leaning forward with his hands still about the glass case. But he was looking down. The fire-grate was hidden from the room by a low screen of blue lacquer; and Hanaud, from the position in which he stood, could see over the screen into the grate itself.

“What is all this?” he asked.

He lifted the screen from the hearth and put it carefully aside. All now could see what had disturbed him—a heap of white ashes in the grate.

Hanaud went down upon his knees, and picking up the shovel from the fender he thrust it between the bars and drew it out again with a little layer of the ashes upon it. They were white and had been pulverized into atoms. There was not one flake which would cover a finger-nail. Hanaud touched them gingerly, as though he had expected to find them hot.

“This room was sealed up on Sunday morning and today is Thursday afternoon,” said Jim Frobisher with heavy sarcasm. “Ashes do not as a rule keep hot more than three days, Monsieur Hanaud.”

Maurice Thevenet looked at Frobisher with indignation. He was daring to make fun of Hanaud! He treated the Surete with no more respect than one might treat—well, say Scotland Yard. Even Monsieur Bex had an air of disapproval. For a partner of the firm of Frobisher & Haslitt this gentleman was certainly not very correct.

Hanaud on the contrary was milk and water. “I have observed it,” he replied mildly, and he sat back upon his heels with the shovel still poised in his hands.

“Mademoiselle!” he called; and Betty moved forward and leaned against the mantelshelf at his side. “Who burnt these papers so very carefully?” he asked.

“I did,” Betty replied.

“And when?”

“On Saturday night, a few, and the rest on Sunday morning, before Monsieur Ie Commissaire arrived.”

“And what were they, Mademoiselle?”

“Letters, Monsieur.”

Hanaud looked up into her face quickly.

“Oho!” he said softly. “Letters! Yes! And what kind of letters, if you please?”

Jim Frobisher was for throwing up his hands in despair. What in the world had happened to Hanaud? One moment he forgot altogether the business upon which he was engaged in his enjoyment of Simon Harlowe’s collection. The next he was off on his wild-goose chase after anonymous letters. Jim had not a doubt that he was thinking of them now. One had only to say “letters,” and he was side-tracked at once, apparently ready to accuse anyone of their authorship.

“They were quite private letters,” Betty replied, whilst the colour slowly stained her cheeks. “They will not help you.”

“So I see,” Hanaud returned, with just a touch of a snarl in his voice as he shook the shovel and flung the ashes back into the grate. “But I am asking you, Mademoiselle, what kind of letters these were.”

Betty did not answer. She looked sullenly down at the floor, and then from the floor to the windows; and Jim saw with a stab of pain that her eyes were glistening with tears.

“I think, Monsieur Hanaud, that we have come to a point when Mademoiselle and I should consult together,” he interposed.

“Mademoiselle would certainly be within her rights,” said Monsieur Bex.

But Mademoiselle waived her rights with a little petulant movement of her shoulders. “Very well.” She showed her face now to them all, with the tears abrim in her big eyes, and gave Jim a little nod of thanks and recognition. “You shall be answered, Monsieur Hanaud,” she said with a catch in her voice. “It seems that nothing, however sacred, but must be dragged out into the light. But I say again those letters will not help you.”

She looked across the group to her notary. “Monsieur Bex,” she said, and he moved forward to the other side of Hanaud.

“In Madame’s bedroom between her bed and the door of the bathroom there stood a small chest in which she kept a good many unimportant papers, such as old receipted bills, which it was not yet wise to destroy. This chest I took to my office after Madame’s death, of course with Mademoiselle’s consent, meaning to go through the papers at my leisure and recommend that all which were not important should be destroyed. My time, however, was occupied, as I have already explained to you, and it was not until the Friday of the 6th of May that I opened the chest at all. On the very top I saw, to my surprise, a bundle of letters in which the writing had already faded, tied together with a ribbon. One glance was enough to assure me that they were very private and sacred things with which Mademoiselle’s notary had nothing whatever to do. Accordingly, on the Saturday morning, I brought them back myself to Mademoiselle Betty.”

With a bow Monsieur Bex retired and Betty continued the story.

“I put the letters aside so that I might read them quietly after dinner. As it happened I could not in any case have given them attention before. For on that morning Monsieur Boris formulated his charge against me, and in the afternoon I was summoned to the office of the examining magistrate. As you can understand, I was-I don’t say frightened-but distressed by this accusation; and it was not until quite late in the evening, and then rather to distract my thoughts than for any other reason, that I looked at the letters. But as soon as I did look at them I understood that they must be destroyed. There were reasons, which”—and her voice faltered, and with an effort again grew steady—“which I feel it rather a sacrilege to explain. They were letters which passed between my Uncle Simon and Mrs. Harlowe during the time when she was very unhappily married to Monsieur Raviart and living apart from him—sometimes long letters, sometimes little scraps of notes scribbled off—without reserve—during a moment of freedom. They were letters of,” and again her voice broke and died away into a whisper, so that none could misunderstand her meaning—“of lovers—lovers speaking very intimate things, and glorying in their love. Oh, there was no doubt that they ought to be destroyed! But I made up my mind that I ought to read them, every one, first of all lest there should be something in them which I ought to know. I read a good many that night and burnt them. But it grew late—I left the rest until the Sunday morning. I finished them on the Sunday morning, and what I had left over I burnt then. It was soon after I had finished burning them that Monsieur Le Commissaire came to affix his seals. The ashes which you see there, Monsieur Hanaud, are the ashes of the letters which I burnt upon the Sunday morning.”

Betty spoke with a very pretty and simple dignity which touched her audience to a warm sympathy. Hanaud gently tilted the ashes back into the grate.

“Mademoiselle, I am always in the wrong with you,” he said with an accent of remorse. “For I am always forcing you to statements which make me ashamed and do you honour.”

Jim acknowledged that Hanaud, when he wished, could do the handsome thing with a very good grace. Unfortunately grace seemed never to be an enduring quality in him; as, for instance, now. He was still upon his knees in front of the hearth. Whilst making his apology he had been raking amongst the ashes with the shovel without giving, to all appearance, any thought to what he was doing. But his attention was now arrested. The shovel had disclosed an unburnt fragment of bluish-white paper. Hanaud’s body stiffened. He bent forward and picked the scrap of paper out from the grate, whilst Betty, too, stooped with a little movement of curiosity,

Hanaud sat back again upon his heels. “So! You burnt more than letters last Sunday morning.” he said.

Betty was puzzled and Hanaud held out to her the fragment of paper. “Bills too, Mademoiselle.”

Betty took the fragment in her hand and shook her head over it. It was obviously the right-hand top corner of a bill. For an intriguing scrap of a printed address was visible and below a figure or two in a column.

“There must have been a bill or two mixed up with the letters,” said Betty. “I don’t remember it.”

She handed the fragment of paper back to Hanaud, who sat and looked at it. Jim Frobisher standing just behind him read the printed ends of names and words and the figures beneath and happened to remember the very look of them, Hanaud held them so long in his hand; the top bit of name in large capital letters, the words below echeloned in smaller capitals, then the figures in the columns and all enclosed in a rough sort of triangle with the diagonal line browned and made ragged by the fire-thus—


“Well, it is of no importance luckily,” said Hanaud, and he tossed the scrap of paper back into the grate. “Did you notice these ashes, Monsieur Girardot, on Sunday morning?” He turned any slur the question might seem to cast upon Betty’s truthfulness with an explanation. “It is always good when it is possible to get a corroboration, Mademoiselle.”

Betty nodded, but Girardot was at a loss. He managed to look extremely important, but importance was not required. “I don’t remember,” he said.

However, corroboration of a kind at all events did come though from another source.

“If I might speak, Monsieur Hanaud?” said Maurice Thevenet eagerly.

“But by all means,” Hanaud replied.

“I came into this room just behind Monsieur Girardot on the Sunday morning. I did not see any ashes in the hearth, that is true. But Mademoiselle Harlowe was in the act of arranging that screen of blue lacquer in front of the fireplace, just as we saw it today. She arranged it, and when she saw who her visitors were she stood up with a start of surprise.”

“Aha!” said Hanaud cordially. He smiled at Betty. “This evidence is just as valuable as if he had told us that he had seen the ashes themselves.” He rose to his feet and went close to her. “But there is another letter which you were good enough to promise to me,” he said.

“The an——” she began, and Hanaud stopped her hurriedly. “It is better that we hold our tongues,” he said with a nod and a grin which recognized that in this matter they were accomplices. “This is to be our exclusive little secret, which, if he is very good, we will share with Monsieur Le Commissaire.”

He laughed hugely at his joke, whilst Betty unlocked a drawer in the Chippendale secretary. Girardot the Commissaire tittered, not quite sure that he thought very highly of it. Monsieur Bex, on the other hand, by a certain extra primness of his face, made it perfectly clear that in his opinion such a jape was very, very far from correct.

Betty produced a folded sheet of common paper and handed it to Hanaud, who took it aside to the window and read it carefully. Then with a look he beckoned Girardot to his side.

“Monsieur Frobisher can come too. For he is in the secret,” he added; and the three men stood apart at the window looking at the sheet of paper. It was dated the 7th of May, signed “The Scourge,” like the others of this hideous brood, and it began without any preface. There were only a few words typed upon it, and some of them were epithets not to be reproduced which made Jim’s blood boil that a girl like Betty should ever have had to read them.

“Your time is coming now, you ——” and here followed the string of abominable obscenities. “You are for it, Betty Harlowe. Hanaud the detective from Paris is coming to look after you with his handcuffs in his pocket. You will look pretty in handcuffs, won’t you, Betty? It’s your white neck we want! Three cheers for Waberski? THE SCOURGE.”

Girardot stared at the brutal words and settled his glasses on his nose and stared again. “But—but——” he stammered, and he pointed to the date. A warning gesture made by Hanaud brought him to a sudden stop, but Frobisher had little doubt as to the purport of that unfinished exclamation. Girardot was astonished, as Hanaud himself had been, that this item of news had so quickly leaked abroad.

Hanaud folded the letter and turned back into the room.

“Thank you, Mademoiselle,” he said to Betty, and Thevenet the secretary took his notebook from his pocket.

“Shall I make you a copy of the letter, Monsieur Hanaud?” he said, sitting down and holding out his hand.

“I wasn’t going to give it back,” Hanaud answered, “and a copy at the present stage isn’t necessary. A little later on I may ask for your assistance.”

He put the letter away in his letter-case, and his letter-case away in his breast-pocket. When he looked up again he saw that Betty was holding out to him a key.

“This unlocks the cabinet at the end of the room,” she said.

“Yes! Let us look now for the famous arrow, or we shall have Monsieur Frobisher displeased with us again,” said Hanaud.

The cabinet stood against the wall at the end of the room opposite to the windows, and close to the door which opened on to the hall. Hanaud took the key, unlocked the door of the cabinet and started back with a “Wow.” He was really startled, for facing him upon a shelf were two tiny human heads, perfect in feature, in hair, in eyes, but reduced to the size of big oranges. They were the heads of Indian tribesmen killed upon the banks of the Amazon, and preserved and reduced by their conquerors by the process common amongst those forests.

“If the arrow is anywhere in this room, it is here that we should find it,” he said, but though he found many curious oddities in that cabinet, of the perfect specimen of a poison arrow there was never a trace. He turned away with an air of disappointment.

“Well then, Mademoiselle, there is nothing else for it,” he said regretfully; and for an hour he searched that room, turning back the carpet, examining the upholstery of the chairs, and the curtains, shaking out every vase, and finally giving his attention to Betty’s secretary. He probed every cranny of it; he discovered the simple mechanism of its secret drawers; he turned out every pigeon-hole; working with extraordinary swiftness and replacing everything in its proper place. At the end of the hour the room was as orderly as when he had entered it; yet he had gone through it with a tooth-comb.

“No, it is not here,” he said, and he seated himself in a chair and drew a breath. “But on the other hand, as the two ladies and Monsieur Frobisher are aware, I was prepared not to find it here.”

“We have finished, then?” said Betty; but Hanaud did not stir.

“For a moment,” he replied, “I shall be glad, Monsieur Girardot, if you will remove the seals in the hall from the door at the end of the room.”

The Commissaire went out by the way of Mrs. Harlowe’s bedroom, accompanied by his secretary. After a minute had passed a key grated in the lock and the door was opened. The Commissaire and his secretary returned into the room from the hall.

“Good!” said Hanaud. He rose from this chair and looking around at the little group, now grown puzzled and anxious, he said very gravely: “In the interest of justice I now ask that none of you shall interrupt me by either word or gesture. For I have an experiment to make.” In a complete silence he walked to the fireplace and rang the bell.

The House of the Arrow - Contents    |     XIV - An Experiment and a Discovery

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