The House of the Arrow


The Truth About the Clock

A.E.W. Mason

TO THE AMAZEMENT of them all, Moreau began to laugh. Up till now he had been alert, competent and without expression. Stolidity had been the mark of him. And now he laughed in great gusts, holding his sides and then wringing his hands, as though the humour of things was altogether unbearable. Once or twice he tried to speak, but laughter leapt upon the words and drowned them.

“What in the world is the matter with you, Nicolas?” Hanaud asked.

“But I beg your pardon,” Moreau stammered, and again merriment seized and mastered him. At last two intelligible words were heard. “We, Girardot,” he cried, settling an imaginary pair of glasses on the bridge of his nose, and went off into a fit. Gradually the reason of his paroxysms was explained in broken phrases.

“We, Girardot!—We fix the seals upon the doors.—And all the time there is a way in and out under our nose! These rooms must not be disturbed—No! The great Monsieur Hanaud is coming from Paris to look at them. So we seal them tight, we, Girardot. My God! but we, Girardot look the fool! So careful and pompous with our linen bands! We, Girardot shall make the laughter at the Assize Court! Yes, yes, yes! I think, we, Girardot shall hand in our resignation before the trial is over?”

Perhaps Moreau’s humour was a little too professional for his audience. Perhaps, too, the circumstances of that night had dulled their appreciation; certainly Moreau had all the laughter to himself. Jim Frobisher was driven to the little Louis Quinze clock upon the marquetry cabinet. He never could for a moment forget it. So much hung for Betty Harlowe upon its existence. Whatever wild words she might have used tonight, there was the incontrovertible testimony of the clock to prove that she had had no hand whatever in the murder of Mrs. Harlowe. He drew his own watch from his pocket and compared it with the clock.

“It is exact to the minute,” he declared with a little accent of triumph. “It is now twenty-three minutes past one——” And suddenly Hanaud was at his side with a curious air of alertness.

“Is it so?” he asked, and he too made sure by a comparison with his own watch that Frobisher’s statement was correct. “Yes. Twenty-three minutes past one. That is very fortunate.”

He called Ann Upcott and Moreau to him and they all now stood grouped about the cabinet.

“The key to the mystery about this clock,” he remarked, “is to be found in the words which Mademoiselle Ann used, when the seals were removed from the doors and she saw this clock again, in the light of day. She was perplexed. Isn’t that so, Mademoiselle?”

“Yes,” Ann returned. “It seemed to me—it seems to me still—that the clock was somehow placed higher than it actually is——”

“Exactly. Let us put it to the test!”

He looked at the clock and saw that the hands now reached twenty-six minutes past one.

“I will ask you all to go out of this room and wait in the hall in the dark. For it was in the dark, you will remember, that Mademoiselle descended the stairs. I shall turn the lights out here and call you in. When I do, Mademoiselle will switch the lights on and off swiftly, just as she did it on the night of the 27th of April. Then I think all will be clear to you.”

He crossed to the door leading into the hall, and found it locked with the key upon the inside.

“Of course,” he said, “when the passage is used to the Hotel de Breblzart, this door would be locked.”

He turned the key and drew the door towards him. The hall gaped before them black and silent. Hanaud stood aside.

“If you please!”

Moreau and Frobisher went out; Ann Upcott hesitated and cast a look of appeal towards Hanaud. Her perplexities were to be set at rest. She did not doubt that. This man had saved her from death when it seemed that nothing could save her. Her trust in him was absolute. But her perplexities were unimportant. Some stroke was to be delivered upon Betty Harlowe from which there could be no recovery. Ann Upcott was not a good hater of Betty’s stamp. She shrank from the thought that it was to be her hand which would deliver that stroke.

“Courage, Mademoiselle!”

Hanaud exhorted her with a friendly smile and Ann joined the others in the dark hall. Hanaud closed the door upon them and returned to the clock. It was twenty-eight minutes past one.

“I have two minutes,” he said to himself. “That will just do if I am quick.”

Outside the three witnesses waited in the darkness. One of the three shivered suddenly so that her teeth rattled in her mouth.

“Ann,” Jim Frobisher whispered, and he put his hand within her arm. Ann Upcott had come to the end of her strength. She clung to his hand spasmodically.

“Jim!” she answered under her breath. “Oh, but you were cruel to me!”

Hanaud’s voice called to them from within the room.


Ann stepped forward, felt for and found the handle. She threw open the door with a nervous violence. The treasure-room was pitch dark like the hall. Ann stepped through the doorway and her fingers reached for the switch.

“Now,” she warned them in a voice which shook.

Suddenly the treasure-room blazed with light; as suddenly it was black again; and in the darkness rose a clamour of voices.

“Half-past ten! I saw the hour!” cried Jim. “And again the clock was higher!” exclaimed Ann.

“That is true,” Moreau agreed.

Hanaud’s voice, from the far corner of the room, joined in. “Is that exactly what you saw, Mademoiselle, on the night of the twenty-seventh?”

“Exactly, Monsieur.”

“Then turn on the lights again and know the truth!”

The injunction was uttered in tones so grave that it sounded like a knell. For a second or two Ann’s fingers refused their service. Once more the conviction forced itself into her mind. Some irretrievable calamity waited upon the movement of her hand.

“Courage, Mademoiselle!”

Again the lights shone, and this time they remained burning. The three witnesses advanced into the room, and as they looked again, from close at hand and with a longer gaze, a cry of surprise broke from all of them.

There was no clock upon the marquetry cabinet at all.

But high above it in the long mirror before which it stood there was the reflection of a clock, its white face so clear and bright that even now it was difficult to disbelieve that this was the clock itself. And the position of the hands gave the hour as precisely half-past ten.

“Now turn about and see!” said Hanaud. The clock itself stood upon the shelf of the Adam mantelpiece, and there staring at them, the true hour was marked. It was exactly half-past one; the long minute-hand pointing to six, the shorter hour-hand on the right-hand side of the figure twelve, half-way between the one and the two. With a simultaneous movement they all turned again to the mirror; and the mystery was explained. The shorter hour-hand seen in the mirror was on the left-hand side of the figure twelve, and just where it would have been if the hour had been half-past ten and the clock actually where its reflection was. The figures on the dial were reversed and difficult at first glance to read.

“You see,” Hanaud explained, “it is the law of nature to save itself from effort even in the smallest things. We live with clocks and watches. They are as customary as our daily bread. And with the instinct to save ourselves from effort, we take our time from the position of the hands. We take the actual figures of the hours for granted. Mademoiselle comes out of the dark. In the one swift flash of light she sees the hands upon the clock’s face. Half-past ten! She herself, you will remember, Monsieur Frobisher, was surprised that the hour was so early. She was cold, as though she had slept long in her arm-chair. She had the impression that she had slept long. And Mademoiselle was right. For the time was half-past one and Betty Harlowe had been twenty minutes home from Monsieur de Pouillac’s ball.”

Hanaud ended with a note of triumph in his voice which exasperated Frobisher. “Aren’t you going a little too fast?” he asked. “When the seals were removed and we entered this room for the first time, the clock was not upon the mantelshelf but upon the marquetry cabinet.”

Hanaud nodded. “Mademoiselle Upcott told us her story before luncheon. We entered this room after luncheon. During the luncheon hours the position of the clock was changed.” He pointed to the sedan chair. “You know now with what ease that could be done.”

“Could, could!” Frobisher repeated impatiently. “It doesn’t follow that it was done.”

“That is true,” Hanaud replied. “So I will answer now one of the questions in your memorandum. What was it that I saw from the top of the Terrace Tower? I saw the smoke rising from this chimney into the air. Oh, Monsieur, I had paid attention to this house, its windows, and its doors, and its chimney-stacks. And there at midday, in all the warmth of late May, the smoke was rising from the chimney of the sealed room. There was an entrance then of which we knew nothing! And somebody had just made use of it. Who? Ask yourself that! Who went straight out from the Maison Grenelle the moment I had gone, and went alone? That clock had to be changed. Apparently some letters also had to be burnt.”

Jim hardly heard the last sentence. The clock still occupied his thoughts. His great argument had been riddled; his one dream of establishing Betty’s innocence in despite of every presumption and fact which could be brought against her had been dispelled. He dropped on to a chair.

“You understood it all so quickly,” he said with bitterness.

“Oh, I was not quick!” Hanaud answered. “Ascribe to me no gifts out of the ordinary run, Monsieur. I am trained—that is all. I have been my twenty minutes in the bull-ring. Listen how it came about!” He looked at Frobisher with a comical smile. “It is a pity our eager young friend, Maurice Thevenet, is not here to profit by the lesson. First of all, then! I knew that Mademoiselle Betty was here doing something of great importance. It may be only burning those letters in the hearth. It may be more. I must wait and see. Good! There, standing before the mirror, Mademoiselle Ann makes her little remark that the clock seemed higher. Do I understand yet? No, no! But I am interested. Then I notice a curious thing, a beautiful specimen of Benvenuto Cellini’s work set up high and flat on that mantelshelf where no one can see it. So I take it down, and I carry it to the window, and I admire it very much and I carry it back to the mantelshelf; and then I notice four little marks upon the wood which had been concealed by the flat case of the jewel; and those four little marks are just the marks which the feet of that very pretty Louise Quinze clock might have made, had it stood regularly there-in its natural place. Yes, and the top of that marquetry cabinet so much lower than the mantelshelf is, too, the natural place for the Cellini jewel. Everyone can see it there. So I say to myself; ‘My good Hanaud, this young lady has been rearranging her ornaments.’

“But do I guess why? No, my friend. I told you once, and I tell you again very humbly, that we are the servants of Chance. Chance is a good mistress if her servants do not go to sleep; and she treated me well that afternoon. See! I am standing in the hall, in great trouble about this case. For nothing leads me anywhere. There is a big old-fashioned barometer like a frying-pan on the wall behind me and a mirror on the opposite wall in front of me. I raise my eyes from the floor and by chance I see in the mirror the barometer behind me. By chance my attention is arrested. For I see that—the indicator in the barometer points to stormy weather—which is ridiculous. I turn me about so. It is to fine weather that the indicator points. And in a flash I see. I look at the position of the hand without looking at the letters. If I look the barometer in the face the hand points to the fair weather. If I turn my back and look into the mirror the hand points to the stormy weather. Now indeed I have it! I run into the treasure-room. I lock the door, for I do not wish to be caught. I do not move the clock. No, no, for nothing in the world will I move that clock. But I take out my watch. I face the mirror. I hold my watch facing the mirror. I open the glass and I move the hands until in the mirror they seem to mark half-past ten. Then I look at my watch itself. It is half-past one. So now I know! Do I want more proof? Monsieur, I get it. For as I unlock the door and open it again, there is Mademoiselle Betty face to face with me! That young girl! Even though already I suspect her I get a shock, I can tell you. The good God knows that I am hardened enough against surprises. But for a moment the mask had slipped from her face. I felt a trickle of ice down my spine. For out of her beautiful great eyes murder looked.”

He stood held in a spell by the memory of that fierce look. “Ugh,” he grunted; and he shook himself like a great dog coming up out of the water.

“But you are talking too much, Monsieur Frobisher,” he cried in a different voice, “and you are keeping Mademoiselle from her bed, where she should have been an hour ago. Come!”

He drove his companions out into the hall, turned on the lights, locked the door of the treasure-room and pocketed the key.

“Mademoiselle, we will leave these lights burning,” he said gently to Ann, “and Moreau will keep watch in the house. You have nothing to fear. He will not be far from your door. Good night.”

Ann gave him her hand with a wan smile. “I shall thank you tomorrow,” she said, and she mounted the stairs slowly, her feet dragging, her body swaying with her fatigue.

Hanaud watched her go. Then he turned to Frobisher with a whimsical smile.

“What a pity!” he said. “You—she! No? After all, perhaps——” And he broke off hurriedly. Frobisher was growing red and beginning to look “proper”; and the last thing which Hanaud wished to do was to offend him in this particular.

“I make my apologies,” he said. “I am impertinent and a gossip. If I err, it is because I wish you very well. You understand that? Good! Then a further proof. Tomorrow Mademoiselle will tell us what happened to her tonight, how she came to go to the house of Madame Le Vay-everything. I wish you to be present. You shall know everything. I shall tell you myself, step by step, how my conclusions were reached. All your questions shall be answered. I shall give you every help, every opportunity. I shall see to it that you are not even called as a witness of what you have seen tonight. And when all is over, Monsieur, you will see with me that whatever there may be of pain and distress, the Law must take its course.”

It was a new Hanaud whom Frobisher was contemplating now. The tricks, the gasconades, the buffooneries had gone. He did not even triumph. A dignity shone out of the man like a strong light, and with it he was gentle and considerate.

“Good night, Monsieur!” he said, and bowed; and Jim on an impulse thrust out his hand. “Good night!” he returned. Hanaud took it with a smile of recognition and went away.

Jim Frobisher locked the front door and with a sense of desolation turned back to the hall. He heard the big iron gates swing to. They had been left open, of course, he recognized, in the usual way when one of the household was going to be late. Yes, everything had been planned with the care of a commander planning a battle. Here in this house, the servants were all tucked up in their beds. But for Hanaud, Betty Harlowe might at this very moment have been stealing up these stairs noiselessly to her own room, her dreadful work accomplished. The servants would have waked tomorrow to the knowledge that Ann Upcott had fled rather than face a trial. Sometime in the evening, Espinosa would have called, would have been received in the treasure-room, would have found the spade waiting for him in the great stone-vaulted kitchen of the Hotel de Brebizart. Oh, yes, all dangers had been foreseen-except Hanaud. Nay, even he in a measure had been foreseen! For a panic-stricken telegram had reached Frobisher & Haslitt before Hanaud had started upon his work.

“I shall be on the stairs, Monsieur, below Mademoiselle’s door, if you should want me,” said Moreau.

Jim Frobisher roused himself from his reflections. “Thank you,” he answered, and he went up the stairs to his room. A lot of use to Betty that telegram had been, he reflected bitterly! “Where was she tonight?” he asked, and shut up his mind against the question.

He was to know that it was precisely that panic-stricken telegram and nothing else which had brought Betty Harlowe’s plans crashing about her ears.

The House of the Arrow - Contents    |     XXIV - Ann Upcott’s Story

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