The House of the Arrow


Ann Upcott’s Story

A.E.W. Mason

EARLY the next morning Hanaud rang up the Maison Grenelle and made his appointment for the afternoon. Jim accordingly spent the morning with Monsieur Bex, who was quite overwhelmed with the story which was told to him.

“Prisoners have their rights nowadays,” he said. “They can claim the presence of their legal adviser when they are being examined by the judge. I will go round at once to the Prefecture”; with his head erect and his little chest puffed out like a bantam cock, he hurried to do battle for his client. There was no battle to be waged, however. Certainly Monsieur Bex’s unhappy client was for the moment au secret. She would not come before the judge for a couple of days. It was the turn of Francine Rollard. Every opportunity was to be given to the defence, and Monsieur Bex would certainly be granted an interview with Betty Harlowe, if she so wished, before she was brought up in the judge’s office.

Monsieur Bex returned to the Place Etienne Dolet to find Jim Frobisher restlessly pacing his office. Jim looked up eagerly, but Monsieur Bex had no words of comfort.

“I don’t like it!” he cried. “It displeases me. I am not happy. They are all very polite—yes. But they examine the maid first. That’s bad, I tell you,” and he tapped upon the table. “That is Hanaud. He knows his affair. The servants. They can be made to talk, and this Francine Rollard——” He shook his head. “I shall get the best advocate in France.”

Jim left him to his work and returned to the Maison Grenelle. It was obvious that nothing of these new and terrible developments of the “Affaire Waberski” had yet leaked out. There was not a whisper of it in the streets, not a loiterer about the gates of the Maison Grenelle. The “Affaire Waberski” had, in the general view, become a stale joke.

Jim sent up word to Ann Upcott in her room that he was removing his luggage to the hotel in the Place Darcy, and leaving the house to her, where he prayed her to remain. Even at that moment Ann’s lips twitched a little with humour as she read the embarrassed note.

“He is very correct, as Monsieur Bex would say,” she reflected, “and proper enough to make every nerve of Monsieur Hanaud thrill with delight.”

Jim returned in the afternoon, and once more in the shade of the sycamores, whilst the sunlight dappled the lawn and the bees hummed amongst the roses, Ann Upcott told a story of terror and darkness, though to a smaller audience. Certain additions were made to the story by Hanaud.

“I should never have dreamed of going to Madame Le Vay’s ball,” she began, “except for the anonymous letter,” and Hanaud leaned forward alertly.

The anonymous letter had arrived whilst she, Betty and Jim Frobisher were sitting at dinner. It had been posted therefore in the middle of the day and very soon after Ann had told her first story in the garden. Ann opened the envelope expecting a bill, and was amazed and a little terrified to read the signature, “The Scourge.” She was more annoyed than ever when she read the contents, but her terror had decreased. “The Scourge” bade her attend the ball. He gave her explicit instructions that she should leave the ball-room at half-past ten, follow a particular corridor leading to a wing away from the reception-rooms, and hide behind the curtains in a small library. If she kept very still she would overhear in a little while the truth about the death of Mrs. Harlowe. She was warned to tell no one of her plan.

“I told no one then,” Ann declared. “I thought the letter just a malicious joke quite in accord with ‘The Scourge’s’ character. I put it back into its envelope. But I couldn’t forget it. Suppose that by any chance there was something in it—and I didn’t go! Why should ‘The Scourge’ play a trick on me, who had no money and was of no importance? And all the while the sort of hope which no amount of reasoning can crush kept growing and growing!”

After dinner Ann took the letter up to her sitting-room and believed it and scorned herself for believing it, and believed it again. That afternoon she had almost felt the handcuffs on her wrists. There was no chance which she ought to refuse of clearing herself from suspicion, however wild it seemed! Ann made up her mind to consult Betty, and ran down to the treasure-room, which was lit up but empty. It was half-past nine o’clock. Ann determined to wait for Betty’s return, and was once more perplexed by the low position of the clock upon the marquetry cabinet. She stood in front of it, staring at it. She took her own watch in her hand, with a sort of vague idea that it might help her. And indeed it was very likely to. Had she turned its dial to the mirror behind the clock, the truth would have leapt at her. But she had not the time. For a slight movement in the room behind her arrested her attention.

She turned abruptly. The room was empty. Yet without doubt it was from within the room that the faint noise had come. And there was only one place from which it could have come. Someone was hiding within the elaborate sedan chair with its shining grey panels, its delicate gold beading. Ann was uneasy rather than frightened. Her first thought was to ring the bell by the fireplace—she could do that well out of view of the sedan chair—and carry on until Gaston answered it. There were treasures enough in the room to repay a hundred thieves. Then, without arguing at all, she took the bolder line. She went quietly towards the chair, advancing from the back, and then with a rush planted herself in front of the glass doors.

She started back with a cry of surprise. The rail in front of the doors was down, the doors were open, and leaning back upon the billowy cushions sat Betty Harlowe. She sat quite still, still as an image even after Ann had appeared and uttered a cry of surprise; but she was not asleep. Her great eyes were blazing steadily out of the darkness of the chair in a way which gave Ann a curious shock.

“I have been watching you,” said Betty very slowly; and if ever there had been a chance that she would relent, that chance was gone for ever now. She had come up out of the secret passage to find Ann playing with her watch in front of the mirror, seeking for an explanation of the doubt which troubled her and so near to it-so very near to it! Ann heard her own death sentence pronounced in those words, “I have been watching you.” And though she did not understand the menace they conveyed, there was something in the slow, steady utterance of them which a little unnerved her.

“Betty,” she cried, “I want your advice.” Betty came out of the chair and took the anonymous letter from her hand.

“Ought I to go?” Ann Upcott asked.

“It’s your affair,” Betty replied. “In your place I should. I shouldn’t hesitate. No one knows yet that there’s any suspicion upon you.”

Ann put forward her objection. To go from this house of mourning might appear an outrage. “You’re not a relation,” Betty argued. “You can go privately, just before the time. I have no doubt we can arrange it all. But of course it’s your affair.”

“Why should the Scourge help me?”

“I don’t suppose that he is, except indirectly,” Betty reasoned. “I imagine that he’s attacking other people, and using you.” She read through the letter again. “He has always been right, hasn’t he? That’s what would determine me in your place. But I don’t want to interfere.”

Ann spun round on her heel. “Very well. I shall go.”

“Then I should destroy that letter”; and she made as if to tear it.

“No!” cried Ann, and she held out her hand for it. “I don’t know Madame Le Vay’s house very well. I might easily lose my way without the instructions. I must take it with me.” Betty agreed and handed the letter back. “You want to go quite quietly,” she said, and she threw herself heart and soul into the necessary arrangements.

She would give Francine Rollard a holiday and herself help Ann to dress in her fanciful and glistening frock. She wrote a letter to Michel Le Vay, Madame Le Vay’s second son and one of Betty’s most indefatigable courtiers. Fortunately for himself, Michel Le Vay kept that letter, and it saved him from any charge of complicity in her plot. For Betty used to him the same argument which had persuaded Jim Frobisher. She wrote frankly that suspicion had centred upon Ann Upcott and that it was necessary that she should get away secretly.

“All the plans have been made, Michel,” she wrote. “Ann will come late. She is to meet the friends who will help her—it is best that you should know as little as possible about them—in the little library. If you will keep the corridor clear for a little while, they can get out by the library doors into the park and be in Paris the next morning.”

She sealed up this letter without showing it to Ann and said: “I will send this by a messenger tomorrow morning, with orders to deliver it into Michel’s own hands. Now, how are you to go?”

Over that point the two girls had some discussion. It would be inviting Hanaud’s interference if the big limousine were ordered out. What more likely than that he should imagine Ann meant to run away and that Betty was helping her? That plan certainly would not do.

“I know,” Betty cried. “Jeanne Leclerc shall call for you. You will be ready to slip out. She shall stop her car for a second outside the gates. It will be quite dark. You’ll be away in a flash.”

“Jeanne Leclerc!” Ann exclaimed, drawing back. It had always perplexed Ann that Betty, so exquisite and fastidious in her own looks and bearing, should have found her friends amongst the flamboyant and the cheap. But she would rather throne it amongst her inferiors than take her place amongst her equals. Under her reserved demeanour she was insatiable of recognition. The desire to be courted, admired, looked up to as a leader and a chief, burned within her like a raging flame. Jeanne Leclerc was of her company of satellites—a big, red-haired woman of excessive manners, not without good looks of a kind, and certainly received in the society of the town. Ann Upcott not merely disliked, but distrusted her. She had a feeling that there was something indefinably wrong in her very nature.

“She will do anything for me, Ann,” said Betty. “That’s why I named her. I know that she is going to Madame Le Vay’s dance.”

Ann Upcott gave in, and a second letter was written to Jeanne Leclerc. This second letter asked Jeanne to call at the Maison Grenelle at an early hour in the morning; and Jeanne Leclerc came and was closeted with Betty for an hour between nine and ten. Thus all the arrangements were made.

It was at this point that Frobisher interrupted Hanaud’s explanations. “No,” he said. “There remain Espinosa and the young brother to be accounted for.”

“Mademoiselle has just told us that she heard a slight noise in the treasure-room and found Betty Harlowe seated in the sedan chair,” Hanaud replied. “Betty Harlowe had just returned from the Hotel de Brebizart, whither Espinosa went that night after it had grown dark and about the time when dinner was over in the Maison Grenelle. . . . From the Hotel de Brebizart Espinosa went to the Rue Gambetta and waited for Jean Cladel. It was a busy night, that one, my friends. That old wolf, the Law, was sniffing at the bottom of the door. They could hear him. They had no time to waste!”

The next night came. Dinner was very late, Jim remembered. It was because Betty was helping Ann to dress, Francine having been given her holiday. Jim and Betty dined alone, and whilst they dined Ann Upcott stole downstairs, a cloak of white ermine hiding her pretty dress. She held the front door a little open, and the moment Jeanne Leclerc’s car stopped before the gates, she flashed across the courtyard. Jeanne had the door of her car open. It had hardly stopped before it went on again. Jim, as the story was told, remembered vividly Betty’s preoccupation whilst dinner went on, and the immensity of her relief when the hall door so gently closed and the car moved forward out of the street of Charles-Robert. Ann Upcott had gone for good from the Maison Grenelle. She would not interfere with Betty Harlowe any more.

Jeanne Leclerc and Ann Upcott reached Madame Le Vay’s house a few minutes after ten. Michel Le Vay came forward to meet them.

“I am so glad that you came, Mademoiselle,” he said to Ann, “but you are late. Madame my mother has left her place at the door of the ballroom, but we shall find her later.”

He took them to the cloak-room, and coming away they were joined by Espinosa.

“You are going to dance now?” Michel Le Vay asked. “No, not yet? Then Senor Espinosa will take you to the buffet while I look after others of our guests.”

He hurried away towards the ball-room, where a clatter of high voices competed with the music of the band. Espinosa conducted the two ladies to the buffet. There was hardly anybody in the room.

“We are still too early,” said Jeanne Leclerc in a low voice. “We shall take some coffee.”

But Ann would not. Her eyes were on the door, her feet danced, her hands could not keep still. Was the letter a trick? Would she, indeed, within the next few minutes learn the truth? At one moment her heart sank into her shoes, at another it soared.

“Mademoiselle, you neglect your coffee,” said Espinosa urgently. “And it is good.”

“No doubt,” Ann replied. She turned to Jeanne Leclerc. “You will send me home, won’t you? I shall not wait—afterwards.”

“But of course,” Jeanne Leclerc agreed. “All that is arranged. The chauffeur has his orders. You will take your coffee, dear?”

Again Ann would not, “I want nothing,” she declared. “It is time that I went.” She caught a swift and curious interchange of glances between Jeanne Leclerc and Espinosa, but she was in no mood to seek an interpretation. There could be no doubt that the coffee set before her had had some drug slipped into it by Espinosa when he fetched it from the buffet to the little table at which they sat; a drug which would have half stupefied her and made her easy to manage. But she was not to be persuaded, and she rose to her feet.

“I shall get my cloak,” she said, and she fetched it, leaving her two companions together. She did not return to the buffet.

On the far side of the big central hall a long corridor stretched out. At the mouth of the corridor, guarding it, stood Michel Le Vay. He made a sign to her, and when she joined him:

“Turn down to the right into the wing,” he said in a low voice. “The small library is in front of you.”

Ann slipped past him. She turned into a wing of the house which was quite deserted and silent. At the end of it a shut door confronted her. She opened it softly. It was all dark within. But enough light entered from the corridor to show her the high book-cases ranged against the walls, the position of the furniture, and some dark, heavy curtains at the end. She was the first, then, to come to the tryst. She closed the door behind her and moved slowly and cautiously forwards with her hands outstretched, until she felt the curtains yield. She passed in between them into the recess of a great bow-window opening on to the park; and a sound, a strange, creaking sound, brought her heart into her mouth.

Someone was already in the room, then. Somebody had been quietly watching as she came in from the lighted corridor. The sound grew louder. Ann peered between the curtains, holding them apart with shaking hands, and through that chink from behind her a vague twilight flowed into the room. In the far corner, near to the door, high up on a tall book-case, something was clinging—something was climbing down. Whoever it was, had been hiding behind the ornamental top of the heavy mahogany book-case; was now using the shelves like the rungs of a ladder.

Ann was seized with a panic. A sob broke from her throat. She ran for the door. But she was too late, A black figure dropped from the bookcase to the ground and, as Ann reached out her hands to the door, a scarf was whipped about her mouth, stifling her cry. She was jerked back into the room, but her fingers had touched the light switch by the door, and as she stumbled and fell, the room was lighted up. Her assailant fell upon her, driving the breath out of her lungs, and knotted the scarf tightly at the back of her head. Ann tried to lift herself, and recognized with a gasp of amazement that the assailant who pinned her down by the weight of her body and the thrust of her knees was Francine Rollard. Her panic gave place to anger and a burning humiliation. She fought with all the strength of her supple body. But the scarf about her mouth stifled and weakened her, and with a growing dismay she understood that she was no match for the hardy peasant girl. She was the taller of the two, but her height did not avail her; she was like a child matched with a wild-cat. Francine’s hands were made of steel. She snatched Ann’s arms behind her back and bound her wrists, as she lay face downwards, her bosom labouring, her heart racing so that she felt that it must burst. Then, as Ann gave up the contest, she turned and tied her by the ankles.

Francine was upon her feet again in a flash. She ran to the door, opened it a little way and beckoned. Then she dragged her prisoner up on to a couch, and Jeanne Leclerc and Espinosa slipped into the room.

“It’s done?” said Espinosa.

Francine laughed. “Ah, but she fought, the pretty baby! You should have given her the coffee. Then she would have walked with us. Now she must be carried. She’s wicked, I can tell you.”

Jeanne Leclerc twisted a lace scarf about the girl’s face to hide the gag over her mouth, and, while Francine held her up, set her white cloak about her shoulders and fastened it in front. Espinosa then turned out the light and drew back the curtains.

The room was at the back of the house. In the front of the window the park stretched away. But it was the park of a French chateau, where the cattle feed up to the windows, and only a strip about the front terrace is devoted to pleasure-gardens and fine lawns. Espinosa looked out upon meadow-land thickly studded with trees, and cows dimly moving in the dusk of the summer night like ghosts. He opened the window, and the throb of the music from the ball-room came faintly to their ears.

“We must be quick,” said Espinosa. He lifted the helpless girl in his arms and passed out into the park. They left the window open behind them, and between them they carried their prisoner across the grass, keeping where it was possible in the gloom of the trees, and aiming for a point in the drive where a motor-car waited half-way between the house and the gates. A blur of light from the terrace and ornamental grounds in front of it became visible away upon their left, but here all was dark. Once or twice they stopped and set Ann upon her feet, and held her so, while they rested.

“A few more yards,” Espinosa whispered, and, stifling an oath, he stopped again. They were on the edge of the drive now, and just ahead of him he saw the glimmer of a white dress and close to it the glow of a cigarette. Swiftly he put Ann down again and propped her against a tree. Jeanne Leclerc stood in front of her and, as the truants from the ball-room approached, she began to talk to Ann, nodding her head like one engrossed in a lively story. Espinosa’s heart stood still as he heard the man say:

“Why, there are some others here! That is curious. Shall we see?”

But even as he moved across the drive, the girl in the white dress caught him by the arm.

“That would not be very tactful,” she said with a laugh. “Let us do as we would be done by,” and the couple sauntered past.

Espinosa waited until they had disappeared. “Quick! Let us go!” he whispered in a shaking voice.

A few yards farther on they found Espinosa’s closed car hidden in a little alley which led from the main drive. They placed Ann in the car. Jeanne Leclerc got in beside her, and Espinosa took the wheel. As they took the road to the Val Terzon a distant clock struck eleven. Within the car Jeanne Leclerc removed the gag from Ann Upcott’s mouth, drew the sack over her and fastened it underneath her feet. At the branch road young Espinosa was waiting with his motor-cycle and side-car.

“I can add a few words to that story, Mademoiselle,” said Hanaud when she had ended. “First, Michel Le Vay went later into the library, and bolted the window again, believing you to be well upon your way to Paris. Second, Espinosa and Jeanne Leclerc were taken as they returned to Madame Le Vay’s ball.”

The House of the Arrow - Contents    |     XXV - The Night of the 27th

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