The House of the Arrow


An Experiment and a Discovery

A.E.W. Mason

GASTON answered the bell. “Will you please send Francine Rollard here,” said Hanaud.

Gaston, however, stood his ground. He looked beyond Hanaud to Betty. “If Mademoiselle gives me the order,” he said respectfully.

“At once then, Gaston,” Betty replied, and she sat down in a chair.

Francine Rollard was apparently difficult to persuade. For the minutes passed, and when at last she did come into the treasure-room she was scared and reluctant. She was a girl hardly over twenty, very neat and trim and pretty, and rather like some wild shy creature out of the woods. She looked round the group which awaited her with restless eyes and a sullen air of suspicion. But it was the suspicion of wild people for townsfolk.

“Rollard,” said Hanaud gently. “I sent for you, for I want another woman to help me in acting a little scene.”

He turned towards Ann Upcott. “Now, Mademoiselle, will you please repeat exactly your movements here on the night when Madame Harlowe died? You came into the room—so. You stood by the electric-light switch there. You turned it on, you noticed the time, and you turned it off quickly. For this communicating door stood wide open—so!—and a strong light poured out of Madame Harlowe’s bedroom through the doorway.”

Hanaud was very busy, placing himself first by the side of Ann to make sure that she stood in the exact place which she had described, and then running across the room to set wide open the communicating door.

“You could just see the light gleaming on the ornaments and panels of the sedan chair, on the other side of the fireplace on your right. So! And there, Mademoiselle, you stood in the darkness and”—his words lengthened out now with tiny intervals between each one—“you heard the sound of the struggle in the bedroom and caught some words spoken in a clear whisper.”

“Yes,” Ann replied with a shiver. The solemn manner of authority with which he spoke obviously alarmed her. She looked at him with troubled eyes.

“Then will you stand there once more,” he continued, “and once more listen as you listened on that night. I thank you!” He went away to Betty. “Now, Mademoiselle, and you, Francine Rollard, will you both please come with me.”

He walked towards the communicating door, but Betty did not even attempt to rise from her chair. “Monsieur Hanaud,” she said with her cheeks very white and her voice shaking, “I can guess what you propose to do. But it is horrible and rather cruel to us. And I cannot see how it will help.”

Ann Upcott broke in before Hanaud could reply. She was more troubled even than Betty, though without doubt hers was to be the easier part. “It cannot help at all,” she said. “Why must we pretend now the dreadful thing which was lived then?”

Hanaud turned about in the doorway. “Ladies, I beg you to let me have my way. I think that when I have finished, you will yourselves understand that my experiment has not been without its use. I understand, of course, that moments like these bring their distress. But—you will pardon me—I am not thinking of you”—and there was so much quietude and gravity in the detective’s voice that his words, harsh though they were, carried with them no offence. “No, I am thinking of a woman more than double the age of either of you, whose unhappy life came to an end here on the night of the 27th of April. I am remembering two photographs which you, Mademoiselle Harlowe, showed me this morning. I am moved by them. Yes, that is the truth.”

He closed his eyes as if he saw those two portraits with their dreadful contrast impressed upon his eyelids. “I am her advocate,” he cried aloud in a stirring voice. “The tragic woman, I stand for her! If she was done to death, I mean to know and I mean to punish!”

Never had Frobisher believed that Hanaud could have been so transfigured, could have felt or spoken with so much passion. He stood before them an erect and menacing figure, all his grossness melted out of him, a man with a flaming sword.

“As for you two ladies, you are young. What does a little distress matter to you? A few shivers of discomfort? How long will they last? I beg you not to hinder me!”

Betty rose up from her chair without another word. But she did not rise without an effort, and when she stood up at last she swayed upon her feet and her face was as white as chalk.

“Come, Francine!” she said, pronouncing her words like a person with an impediment of speech. “We must show Monsieur Hanaud that we are not the cowards he takes us for.”

But Francine still held back. “I don’t understand at all. I am only a poor girl and this frightens me. The police! They set traps—the police.”

Hanaud laughed. “And how often do they catch the innocent in them? Tell me that, Mademoiselle Francine!”

He turned almost contemptuously towards Mrs. Harlowe’s bedroom. Betty and Francine followed upon his heels, the others trooped in behind, with Frobisher last of all. He indeed was as reluctant to witness Hanaud’s experiment as the girls were to take a part in it. It savoured of the theatrical. There was to be some sort of imagined reproduction of the scene which Ann Upcott had described, no doubt with the object of testing her sincerity. It would really be a test of nerves more than a test of honesty and to Jim was therefore neither reliable nor fair play. He paused in the doorway to say a word of encouragement to Ann, but she was gazing again with that curious air of perplexity at the clock upon the marquetry cabinet.

“There is nothing to fear, Ann,” he said, and she withdrew her eyes from the clock. They were dancing now as she turned them upon Frobisher.

“I wondered whether I should ever hear you call me by my name,” she said with a smile. “Thank you, Jim!” She hesitated and then the blood suddenly mounted into her face. “I’ll tell you I was a little jealous,” she added in a low voice and with a little laugh at herself as though she was a trifle ashamed of the confession.

Jim was luckily spared the awkwardness of an answer by the appearance of Hanaud in the doorway.

“I hate to interrupt, Monsieur Frobisher,” he said with a smile; “but it is of a real importance that Mademoiselle should listen without anything to distract her.”

Jim followed Hanaud into the bedroom, and was startled. The Commissaire and his secretary and Monsieur Bex were in a group apart near to one of the windows. Betty Harlowe was stretched upon Mrs. Harlowe’s bed; Francine Rollard stood against the wall, near to the door, clearly frightened out of her wits and glancing from side to side with the furtive restless eyes of the half-tamed. But it was not this curious spectacle which so surprised Jim Frobisher, but something strange, something which almost shocked, in the aspect of Betty herself. She was leaning upon an elbow with her eyes fixed upon the doorway and the queerest, most inscrutable fierce look in them that he had ever seen. She was quite lost to her environment. The experiment from which Francine shrank had no meaning for her. She was possessed—the old phrase leapt into Jim’s thoughts—though her face was as still as a mask, a mask of frozen passion. It was only for a second, however, that the strange seizure lasted. Betty’s face relaxed; she dropped back upon the bed with her eyes upon Hanaud like one waiting for instructions.

Hanaud, by pointing a finger, directed Jim to take his place amongst the group at the window. He placed himself upon one side of the bed, and beckoned to Francine. Very slowly she approached the end of the bed. Hanaud directed her in the same silent way to come opposite to him on the other side of the bed. For a little while Francine refused. She stood stubbornly shaking her head at the very foot of the bed. She was terrified of some trick, and when at last at a sign from Betty she took up the position assigned to her, she minced to it gingerly as though she feared the floor would open beneath her feet. Hanaud made her another sign and she looked at a scrap of paper on which Hanaud had written some words. The paper and her orders had obviously been given to her whilst Jim was talking to Ann Upcott. Francine knew what she was to do, but her suspicious peasant nature utterly rebelled against it. Hanaud beckoned to her with his eyes riveted upon her compelling her, and against her will she bent forwards over the bed and across Betty Harlowe’s body.

A nod from Hanaud now, and she spoke in a low, clear whisper:

“That-will-do-now.” And hardly had she spoken those few words which Ann Upcott said she had heard on the night of Mrs. Harlowe’s death, but Hanaud himself must repeat them and also in a whisper.

Having whispered, he cried aloud towards the doorway in his natural voice:

“Did you hear, Mademoiselle? Was that the whisper which reached your ears on the night when Madame died?”

All those in the bedroom waited for the answer in suspense, Francine Rollard, indeed, with her eyes fixed upon Hanaud in a very agony of doubt.

And the answer came. “Yes, but whoever whispered, whispered twice this afternoon. On the night when I came down in the dark to the treasure-room, the words were only whispered once.”

“It was the same voice which whispered them twice, Mademoiselle?”

“Yes . . . I think so . . . I noticed no difference . . . Yes.” And Hanaud flung out his arms with a comic gesture of despair, and addressed the room.

“You understand now my little experiment. A voice that whispers! How shall one tell it from another voice that whispers! There is no intonation, no depth, no lightness. There is not even sex in a voice which whispers. We have no clue, no, not the slightest to the identity of the person who whispered, ‘That will do now,’ on the night when Madame Harlowe died.” He waved his hand towards Monsieur Bex. “I will be glad if you will open now these cupboards, and Mademoiselle Harlowe will tell us, to the best of her knowledge, whether anything has been taken or anything disturbed.”

Hanaud returned to the treasure-room, leaving Monsieur Bex and Betty at their work, with the Commissaire and his secretary to supervise them. Jim Frobisher followed him. He was very far from believing that Hanaud had truthfully explained the intention of his experiment. The impossibility of identifying a voice which whispers! Here was something with which Hanaud must have been familiar from a hundred cases! No, that interpretation would certainly not work. There was quite another true reason for this melodramatic little scene which he had staged. He was following Hanaud in the hope of finding out that reason, when he heard him speaking in a low voice, and he stopped inside the dressing-room close to the communicating door where he could hear every word and yet not be seen himself.

“Mademoiselle,” Hanaud was saying to Ann Upcott, “there is something about this clock here which troubles you.”

“Yes—of course it’s nonsense . . . I must be wrong . . . For here is the cabinet and on it stands the clock.”

Jim could gather from the two voices that they were both standing together close to the marquetry cabinet.

“Yes, yes,” Hanaud urged. “Still you are troubled.”

There was a moment’s silence. Jim could imagine the girl looking from the clock to the door by which she had stood, and back again from the door to the clock. Surely that scene in the bedroom had been staged to extort some admission from Ann Upcott or the falsity of her story. Was he now, since the experiment had failed, resorting to another trick, setting a fresh trap?

“Well?” he asked insistently. “Why are you troubled?”

“It seems to me,” Ann replied in a voice of doubt, “that the clock is lower now than it was. Of course it can’t be . . . and I had only one swift glimpse of it. . . . Yet my recollection is so vivid—the room standing out revealed in the moment of bright light, and then vanishing into darkness again. . . . Yes, the clock seemed to me to be placed higher . . . ” And suddenly she stopped as if a warning hand had been laid upon her arm. Would she resume? Jim was still wondering when silently, like a swift animal, Hanaud was in the doorway and confronting him.

“Yes, Monsieur Frobisher,” he said with an odd note of relief in his voice, “we shall have to enlist you in the Surete very soon. That I can see. Come in!”

He took Jim by the arm and led him into the room. “As for that matter of the clock, Mademoiselle, the light goes up and goes out—it would have been! a marvel if you had within that flash of vision seen every detail precisely true. No, there is nothing there!” He flung himself into a chair and sat for a little while silent in an attitude of dejection.

“You said this morning to me, Monsieur, that I had nothing to go upon, that I was guessing here, and guessing there, stirring up old troubles which had better be left quietly in their graves, and at the end discovering nothing. Upon my word, I believe you are right! My little experiment! Was there ever a failure more abject?” Hanaud sat up alertly. “What is the matter?” he asked. Jim Frobisher had had a brain-wave. The utter disappointment upon Hanaud’s face and in his attitude had enlightened him. Yes, his experiment had failed. For it was aimed at Francine Rollard. He had summoned her without warning, he had bidden her upon the instant to act a scene, nay, to take the chief part in it, in the hope that it would work upon her and break her down to a confession of guilt. He suspected Ann. Well, then, Ann must have had an accomplice. To discover the accomplice—there was the object of the experiment. And it had failed abjectly, as Hanaud himself confessed. Francine had shrunk from the ordeal, no doubt, but the reason of the shrinking was manifest—fear of the police, suspicion of a trap, the furtive helplessness of the ignorant. She had not delivered herself into Hanaud’s toils. But not a word of this conjecture did Jim reveal to Hanaud. To his question what was the matter, he answered simply: “Nothing.”

Hanaud beat with the palms of his hands upon the arms of his chair. “Nothing, eh? nothing! That’s the only answer in this case. To every question! To every search! Nothing, nothing, nothing”; and as he ended in a sinking voice, a startled cry rang out in the bedroom.

“Betty!” Ann exclaimed.

Hanaud threw off his dejection like an overcoat. Jim fancied that he was out of his chair and across the dressing-room before the sound of the cry had ceased. Certainly Betty could not have moved. She was standing in front of the dressing-table, looking down at a big jewel-case of dark blue morocco leather, and she was lifting up and down the open lid of it with an expression of utter incredulity.

“Aha!” said Hanaud. “It is unlocked. We have something, after all, Monsieur Frobisher. Here is a jewel-case unlocked, and jewel-cases do not unlock themselves. It was here?”

He looked towards the cupboard in the wall, of which the door stood open.

“Yes,” said Betty. “I opened the door, and took the case out by the side handles. The lid came open when I touched it.”

“Will you look through it, please, and see whether anything is missing?”

While Betty began to examine the contents of the jewel-case, Hanaud went to Francine, who stood apart. He took her by the arm and led her to the door.

“I am sorry if I frightened you, Francine,” he said. “But, after all, we are not such alarming people, the police, eh? No, so long as good little maids hold their good little tongues, we can be very good friends. Of course, if there is chatter, little Francine, and gossip, little Francine, and that good-looking baker’s boy is tomorrow spreading over Dijon the story of Hanaud’s little experiment, Hanaud will know where to look for the chatterers.”

“Monsieur, I shall not say one word,” cried Francine.

“And how wise that will be, little Francine!” Hanaud rejoined in a horribly smooth and silky voice. “For Hanaud can be the wickedest of wicked uncles to naughty little chatterers. Oh ho ho, yes! He seizes them tight—so—and it will be ever so long before he says to them, ‘That-will-do-now!’”

He rounded off his threats with a quite friendly laugh and gently pushed Francine Rollard from the room. Then he returned to Betty, who had lifted the tray out of the box and was opening some smaller cases which had been lying at the bottom. The light danced upon pendant and bracelet, buckle and ring, but Betty still searched.

“You miss something, Mademoiselle?”


“It was, after all, certain that you would,” Hanaud continued. “If murders are committed, there will be some reason. I will even venture to guess that the jewel which you miss is of great value.”

“It is,” Betty admitted. “But I expect it has only been mislaid. No doubt we shall find it somewhere, tucked away in a drawer.” She spoke with very great eagerness, and a note of supplication that the matter should rest there. “In any case, what has disappeared is mine, isn’t it? And I am not going to imitate Monsieur Boris. I make no complaint.”

Hanaud shook his head. “You are very kind, Mademoiselle. But we cannot, alas! say here, ‘That will do now.’” It was strange to Jim to notice how he kept harping upon the words of that whisper. “We are not dealing with a case of theft, but with a case of murder. We must go on. What is it that you miss?”

“A pearl necklace,” Betty answered reluctantly.

“A big one?”

It was noticeable that as Betty’s reluctance increased Hanaud became more peremptory and abrupt.

“Not so very.”

“Describe it to me, Mademoiselle!”

Betty hesitated. She stood with a troubled face looking out upon the garden. Then with a shrug of resignation she obeyed.

“There were thirty-five pearls—not so very large, but they were perfectly matched and of a beautiful pink. My uncle took a great deal of trouble and some years to collect them. Madame told me herself that they actually cost him nearly a hundred thousand pounds. They would be worth even more now.”

“A fortune, then,” cried Hanaud.

Not a person in that room had any belief that the necklace would be found, laid aside somewhere by chance. Here was Hanaud’s case building itself up steadily. Another storey was added to it this afternoon. This or that experiment might fail. What did that matter? A motive for the murder came to light now. Jim had an intuition that nothing now could prevent a definite result; that the truth, like a beam of light that travels for a million of years, would in the end strike upon a dark spot, and that someone would stand helpless and dazzled in a glare—the criminal.

“Who knew of this necklace of yours, Mademoiselle, beside yourself?” Hanaud asked.

“Everyone in the house, Monsieur. Madame wore it nearly always.”

“She wore it, then, on the day of her death?”

“Yes, I——” Betty began, and she turned towards Ann for confirmation, and then swiftly turned away again. “I think so.”

“I am sure of it,” said Ann steadily, though her face had grown rather white and her eyes anxious.

“How long has Francine Rollard been with you?” Hanaud asked of Betty.

“Three years. No—a little more. She is the only maid I have ever had,” Betty answered with a laugh.

“I see,” Hanaud said thoughtfully; and what he saw, it seemed to Jim Frobisher that everyone else in that room saw too. For no one looked at Ann Upcott. Old servants do not steal valuable necklaces: Ann Upcott and Jeanne Baudin, the nurse, were the only new-comers to the Maison Grenelle these many years; and Jeanne Baudin had the best of characters. Thus the argument seemed to run, though no one expressed it in words.

Hanaud turned his attention to the lock of the cupboard, and shook his head over it. Then he crossed to the dressing-table and the morocco case.

“Aha!” he said with a lively interest. “This is a different affair”; and he bent down closely over it.

The case was not locked with a key at all. There were three small gilt knobs in the front of the case, and the lock was set by the number of revolutions given to each knob. These, of course, could be varied with each knob, and all must be known before the case could be opened—Mrs. Harlowe’s jewels had been guarded by a formula.

“There has been no violence used here,” said Hanaud, standing up again.

“Of course my aunt may have forgotten to lock the case,” said Betty.

“Of course that’s possible,” Hanaud agreed. “And of course this room was open to anyone between the time of my aunt’s funeral and Sunday morning, when the doors were sealed.”

“A week, in fact—with Boris Waberski in the house,” said Hanaud.

“Yes . . . yes,” said Betty. “Only . . . but I expect it is just mislaid and we shall find it. You see Monsieur Boris expected to get some money from my lawyers in London. No doubt he meant to make a bargain with me. It doesn’t look as if he had stolen it. He wouldn’t want a thousand pounds if he had.”

Jim had left Boris out of his speculations. He had recollected him with a thrill of hope that he would be discovered to be the thief when Hanaud mentioned his name. But the hope died away again before the reluctant and deadly reasoning of Betty Harlowe. On the other hand, if Boris and Ann were really accomplices in the murder, because he wanted his legacy, the necklace might well have been Ann’s share. More and more, whichever way one looked at it, the facts pointed damningly towards Ann.

“Well, we will see if it has been mislaid,” said Hanaud. “But meanwhile, Mademoiselle, it would be well for you to lock that case up and to take it some time this afternoon to your bankers.”

Betty shut down the lid and spun the knobs one after the other. Three times a swift succession of sharp little clicks was heard in the room.

“You have not used, I hope, the combination which Madame Harlowe used,” said Hanaud.

“I never knew the combination she used,” said Betty. She lifted the jewel-case back into its cupboard; and the search of the drawers and the cupboards began. But it was as barren of result as had been the search of the treasure-room for the arrow.

“We can do no more,” said Hanaud.

“Yes. One thing more.” The correction came quietly from Ann Upcott. She was standing by herself, very pale and defiant. She knew now that she was suspected. The very care with which everyone had avoided even looking at her had left her in no doubt.

Hanaud looked about the room. “What more can we do?” he asked.

“You can search my rooms.”

“No!” cried Betty violently. “I won’t have it!”

“If you please,” said Ann. “It is only fair to me.”

Monsieur Bex nodded violently.

“Mademoiselle could not be more correct,” said he.

Ann addressed herself to Hanaud. “I shall not go with you. There is nothing locked in my room except a small leather dispatch-case. You will find the key to that in the left-hand drawer of my dressing-table. I will wait for you in the library.”

Hanaud bowed, and before he could move from his position Betty did a thing for which Jim could have hugged her there and then before them all. She went straight to Ann and set her arm about her waist. “I’ll wait with you, Ann,” she said. “Of course it’s ridiculous,” and she led Ann out of the room.

The House of the Arrow - Contents    |     XV - The Finding of the Arrow

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