The House of the Arrow


The Night of the 27th

A.E.W. Mason

“WE are not yet quite at the end,” said Hanaud as he sat with Frobisher for awhile upon the lawn after Ann Upcott had gone in. “But we are near to it. There is still my question to be answered. ‘Why was the communicating door open between the bedroom of Madame Harlowe and the treasure-room on the night when Ann Upcott came down the stairs in the dark?’ When we know that, we shall know why Francine Rollard and Betty Harlowe between them murdered Madame Harlowe.”

“Then you believe Francine Rollard had a hand in that crime too?” asked Jim.

“I am sure,” returned Hanaud. “Do you remember the experiment I made, the little scene of reconstruction? Betty Harlowe stretched out upon the bed to represent Madame, and Francine whispering ‘That will do now’?”


Hanaud lit a cigarette and smiled. “Francine Rollard would not stand at the side of the bed. No! She would stand at the foot and whisper those simple but appalling words. But nowhere else. That was significant, my friend. She would not stand exactly where she had stood when the murder was committed.” He added softly, “I have great hopes of Francine Rollard. A few days of a prison cell and that untamed little tiger-cat will talk.”

“And what of Waberski in all this?” Jim exclaimed.

Hanaud laughed and rose from his chair. “Waberski? He is for nothing in all this. He brought a charge in which he didn’t believe, and the charge happened to be true. That is all.” He took a step or two away and returned. “But I am wrong. That is not all. Waberski is indeed for something in all this. For when he was pressed to make good his charge and must rake up some excuse for it somehow, by a piece of luck he thinks of a morning when he saw Betty Harlowe in the street of Gambetta near to the shop of Jean Cladel. And so he leads us to the truth. Yes, we owe something to that animal Boris Waberski. Did I not tell you, Monsieur, that we are all the servants of Chance?”

Hanaud went from the garden and for three days Jim Frobisher saw him no more. But the development which Monsieur Bex feared, and for which Hanaud hoped, took place, and on the third day Hanaud invited Jim to his office in the Prefecture. He had Jim’s memorandum in his hand.

“Do you remember what you wrote?” he asked. “See!” He pushed the memorandum in front of Jim and pointed to a paragraph.

“But in the absence of any trace of poison in the dead woman’s body, it is difficult to see how the criminal can be brought to justice except by:

“(a) A confession. (b) The commission of another crime of a similar kind. Hanaud’s theory—once a poisoner, always a poisoner.”

Frobisher read it through. “Now that is very true,” said Hanaud. “Never have I come across a case more difficult. At every step we break down. I think I have my fingers on Jean Cladel. I am five minutes too late. I think that I shall get some useful evidence from a firm in Paris. The firm has ceased to be for the last ten years. All the time I strike at air. So I must take a risk—yes, and a serious one. Shall I tell you what that risk was? I have to assume that Mademoiselle Ann will be brought alive to the Hotel de Brebizart on that night of Madame Le Vay’s ball. That she would be brought back I had no doubt. For one thing, there could be no safer resting-place for her than under the stone flags of the kitchen there. For another, there was the portmanteau in the side-car. It was not light, the portmanteau. Some friends of mine watched it being put into the side-car before young Espinosa started for his rendezvous. I have no doubt it weighed just as many kilos as Mademoiselle Ann.”

“I never understood the reason of that portmanteau,” Frobisher interrupted.

“It was a matter of timing. There were twenty-five kilometres of a bad track, with many sharp little twists between the Val Terzon and the Hotel de Brebizart. And a motor-cycle with an empty side-car would take appreciably longer to cover the distance than a cycle with a side-car weighted, which could take the corners at its top speed. They were anxious to get the exact time the journey would take with Ann Upcott in the side-car, so that there might be no needless hanging about waiting for its arrival. But they were a little too careful. Our friend Boris said a shrewd thing, didn’t he? Some crimes are discovered because the alibis are too unnaturally perfect. Oh, there was no doubt they meant to bring back Mademoiselle Ann! But suppose they brought her back dead! It wasn’t likely—no! It would be so much easier to finish her off with a dose of the arrow-poison. No struggle, no blood, no trouble at all. I reckoned that they would dope her at Madame Le Vay’s ball and bring her back half conscious, as indeed they meant to do. But I shivered all that evening at the risk I had taken, and when that cycle shut off its engine, as we stood in the darkness of the gallery, I was in despair.”

He shook his shoulders uncomfortably as though the danger was not yet passed.

“Anyway, I took the risk,” he resumed, “and so we got fulfilled your condition (b). The commission or, in this case, the attempted commission of another crime of the same kind.”

Frobisher nodded.

“But now,” said Hanaud, leaning forward, “we have got your condition (a) fulfilled—a confession; a clear and complete confession from Francine Rollard, and so many admissions from the Espinosas, and Jeanne Leclerc and Maurice Thevenet, that they amount to confessions. We have put them all together, and here is the new part of the case with which Monsieur Bex and you will have to deal—the charge not of murder attempted but of murder committed—the murder of Madame Harlowe.”

Jim Frobisher was upon the point of interrupting, but he thought better of it.

“Go on!” he contented himself with saying.

“Why Betty Harlowe took to writing anonymous letters, Monsieur—who shall say? The dullness of life for a girl young and beautiful and passionate in a provincial town, as our friend Boris suggests? The craving for excitement? Something bad and vicious and abnormal born in her, part of her, and craving more and more expression as she grew in years? The exacting attendance upon Madame? Probably all of these elements combined to suggest the notion to her. And suddenly it became easy for her. She discovered a bill in that box in Madame Harlowe’s bedroom, a receipted bill ten years old from the firm of Chapperon, builders, of the Rue de Batignolles in Paris. You, by the way, saw an unburnt fragment of the bill in the ashes upon the hearth of the treasure-room. This bill disclosed to her the existence of the hidden passage between the treasure-room and the Hotel de Brebizart. For it was the bill of the builders who had repaired it at the order of Simon Harlowe.

An old typewriting machine belonging to Simon Harlowe and the absolute privacy of the Hotel de Brebizart made the game easy and safe. But as the opportunity grew, so did the desire. Betty Harlowe tasted power. She took one or two people into her confidence—her maid Francine, Maurice Thevenet, Jeanne Leclerc, and Jean Cladel, a very useful personage—and once started the circle grew; blackmail followed. Blackmail of Betty Harlowe, you understand! She, the little queen, became the big slave. She must provide Thevenet with his mistress, Espinosa with his car and his house, Jeanne Leclerc with her luxuries. So the anonymous letters become themselves blackmailing letters. Maurice Thevenet knows the police side of Dijon and the province. Jeanne Leclerc has a—friend, shall we say?—in the Director of an Insurance Company, and, believe me, for a blackmailer nothing is more important than to know accurately the financial resources of one’s—let us say—clients. Thus the game went merrily on until money was wanted and it couldn’t be raised. Betty Harlowe looked around Dijon. There was no one for the moment to exploit. Yes, one person! Let us do Betty Harlowe the justice to believe that the suggestion came from that promising young novice, Maurice Thevenet! Who was that person, Monsieur Frobisher?”

Even now Jim Frobisher was unable to guess the truth, led up to it though he had been by Hanaud’s exposition.

“Why, Madame Harlowe herself,” Hanaud explained, and, as Jim Frobisher started back in a horror of disbelief, he continued: “Yes, it is so! Madame Harlowe received a letter at dinner-time, just as Ann Upcott did, on the night of Monsieur de Pouillac’s ball. She took her dinner in bed, you may remember, that night. That letter was shown to Jeanne Baudin, the nurse, who remembers it very well. It demanded a large sum of money, and something was said about a number of passionate letters which Madame Harlowe might not care to have published—not too much, you understand, but enough to make it clear that the liaison of Madame Raviart and Simon Harlowe was not a secret from the Scourge. I’ll tell you something else which will astonish you, Monsieur Frobisher. That letter was shown not only to Jeanne Baudin, but to Betty Harlowe herself when she came to say good night and show herself in her new dance frock of silver tissue and her silver slippers. It was no wonder that Betty Harlowe lost her head a little when I set my little trap for her in the library and pretended that I did not want to read what Madame had said to Jeanne Baudin after Betty Harlowe had gone off to her ball. I hadn’t one idea what a very unpleasant little trap it was!”

“But wait a moment!” Frobisher interrupted. “If Madame Harlowe showed this letter first of all to Jeanne Baudin, and afterwards to Betty Harlowe in Jeanne Baudin’s presence, why didn’t Jeanne Baudin speak of it at once to the examining magistrate when Waberski brought his accusation? She kept silent! Yes, she kept silent!”

“Why shouldn’t she?” returned Hanaud. “Jeanne Baudin is a good and decent girl. For her, Madame Harlowe had died a natural death in her sleep, the very form in which death might be expected to come for her. Jeanne Baudin didn’t believe a word of Waberski’s accusation. Why should she rake up old scandals? She herself proposed to Betty Harlowe to say nothing about the anonymous letter.”

Jim Frobisher thought over the argument and accepted it. “Yes, I see her point of view,” he admitted, and Hanaud continued his narrative.

“Well, then, Betty Harlowe is off to her ball on the Boulevard Thiers. Ann Upcott is in her sitting-room. Jeanne Baudin has finished her offices for the night. Madame Harlowe is alone. What does she do? Drink? For that night—no! She sits and thinks. Were there any of the letters which passed between her and Simon Harlowe, before she was Simon Harlowe’s wife, still existing? She had thought to have destroyed them all. But she was a woman, she might have clutched some back. If there were any, where would they be? Why, in that house at the end of the secret passage. Some such thoughts must have passed through her mind. For she rose from her bed, slipped on her dressing-gown and shoes, unlocked the communicating door between her and the treasure-room and passed by the secret way into the empty Hotel de Brebizart. And what does she find there, Monsieur? A room in daily use, a bundle of her letters ready in the top drawer of her Empire writing-table, and on the writing-table Simon’s Corona machine, and the paper and envelopes of the anonymous letters. Monsieur, there is only one person who can have access to that room, the girl whom she has befriended, whom in her exacting way she no doubt loved. And at eleven o’clock that night Francine Rollard is startled by the entrance of Madame Harlowe into her bedroom. For a moment Francine fancied that Madame had been drinking. She was very quickly better informed. She was told to get up, to watch for Betty Harlowe’s return and to bring her immediately to Madame Harlowe’s bedroom. At one o’clock Francine Rollard is waiting in the dark hall. As Betty comes in from her party, Francine Rollard gives her the message. Neither of these two girls know as yet how much of their villainies has been discovered. But something, at all events. Betty Harlowe bade Francine wait and ran upstairs silently to her room. Betty Harlowe was prepared against discovery. She had been playing with fire, and she didn’t mean to be burnt. She had the arrow-poison ready—yes, ready for herself. She filled her hypodermic needle, and with that concealed in the palm of her glove she went to confront her benefactress,

“You can imagine that scene, the outraged woman, whose romance and tragedy were to be exploited, blurting out her fury in front of Francine Rollard. It wasn’t Waberski who was to be stripped to the skin—no, but the girl in the pretty silver frock and the silver slippers. You can imagine the girl, too, her purpose changing under the torrent of abuse. Why should she use the arrow-poison to destroy herself when she can save everything—fortune, liberty, position—by murder? Only she must be quick. Madame’s voice is rising in gusts of violence. Even in that house of the old thick walls, Jeanne Baudin, someone, might be wakened by the clamour. And in a moment the brutal thing is done. Madame Harlowe is flung back upon her bed. Her mouth is covered and held by Francine Rollard. The needle does its work. ‘That will do now,’ whispers Betty Harlowe. But at the door of the treasure-room in the darkness Ann Upcott is standing, unable to identify the voice which whispered, just as you and I were unable, Monsieur, to identify a voice which whispered to us from the window of Jean Cladel’s house, but taking deep into her memory the terrible words. And neither of the murderesses knew it.

“They go calmly about their search for the letters. They cannot find them, because Madame had pushed them into the coffer of old bills and papers. They rearrange the bed, they compose their victim in it as if she were asleep, they pass into the treasure-room, and they forget to lock the door behind them. Very likely they visit the Hotel de Brebizart. Betty Harlowe has the rest of the arrow-poison and the needle to put in some safe place, and where else is safe? In the end, when every care has been taken that not a scrap of incriminating evidence is left to shout ‘Murder’ the next morning, Betty creeps up the stairs to make sure that Ann Upcott is asleep; and Ann Upcott, waking, stretches up her hands and touches her face.

“That, Monsieur,” and Hanaud rose to his feet, “is what you would call the case for the Crown. It is the case which you and Monsieur Bex have to meet.”

Jim Frobisher made up his mind to say the things which he had almost said at the beginning of this interview. “I shall tell Monsieur Bex exactly what you have told me. I shall give him every assistance that I personally or my firm can give. But I have no longer any formal connection with the defence.”

Hanaud looked at Frobisher in perplexity. “I don’t understand, Monsieur. This is not the moment to renounce a client.”

“Nor do I,” rejoined Frobisher. “It is the other way about. Monsieur Bex put it to me very—how shall I say?”

Hanaud supplied the missing word with a twitch of his lips. “Very correctly.”

“He told me that Mademoiselle did not wish to see me again.”

Hanaud walked over to the window. The humiliation evident in Frobisher’s voice and face moved him. He said very gently, “I can understand that, can’t you? She has fought for a great stake all this last week, her liberty, her fortune, her good name—and you.—Oh, yes,” he continued, as Jim stirred at the table. “Let us be frank! And you, Monsieur! You were a little different from her friends. From the earliest moment she set her passions upon you. Do you remember the first morning I came to the Maison Grenelle? You promised Ann Upcott to put up there though you had just refused the same invitation from Betty Harlowe. Such a fury of jealousy blazed in her eyes, that I had to drop my stick with a clatter in the hall lest she should recognize that I could not but have discovered her secret. Well, having fought for this stake and lost, she would not wish to see you. You had seen her too, in her hand-cuffs and tied by the legs like a sheep. I understand her very well.”

Jim Frobisher remembered that from the moment Hanaud burst into the room at the Hotel de Brebizart, Betty had never once even looked at him. He got up from his chair and took up his hat and stick.

“I must go back to my partner in London with this story as soon as I have told it to Monsieur Bex,” he said. “I should like it complete. When did you first suspect Betty Harlowe?”

Hanaud nodded. “That, too, I shall tell you. Oh, don’t thank me! I am not so sure that I should be so ready with all these confidences if I was not certain what the verdict in the Assize Court must be. I shall gather up for you the threads which are still loose, but not here.”

He looked at his watch. “See, it is past noon! We shall once more have Philippe Le Bon’s Terrace Tower to ourselves. It may be, too, that we shall see Mont Blanc across all the leagues of France. Come! Let us take your memorandum and go there.”

The House of the Arrow - Contents    |     XXVI - The Façade of Notre Dame

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