Part 4 out of 9
nevertheless retained the shape of the smile. The curve of the chin, the
grace of the neck revealed above the dip of the linen collar, the line of
the shoulders, the position of the arms, and of the hands resting on her
knees: all this was charming and very gentle and, in a manner, very
seemly and reassuring. Was it possible that this woman should be a
murderess, a poisoner?
"I forget what you told me that your Christian name was. But the name you
gave me was not the right one."
"Yes, it was," she said.
"Your name is Florence: Florence Levasseur."
"What! Who told you? Florence? How do you know?"
"Here is your photograph, with your name on it almost illegible."
"Oh!" she said, amazed at seeing the picture. "I can't believe it!
Where does it come from? Where did you get it from?" And, suddenly, "It
was the Prefect of Police who gave it to you, was it not? Yes, it was
he, I'm sure of it. I am sure that this photograph is to identify me
and that they are looking for me, for me, too. And it's you again, it's
"Have no fear," he said. "The print only wants a few touches to alter the
face beyond recognition. I will make them. Have no fear."
She was no longer listening to him. She gazed at the photograph with all
her concentrated attention and murmured:
"I was twenty years old.... I was living in Italy. Dear me, how happy I
was on the day when it was taken! And how happy I was when I saw my
portrait!... I used to think myself pretty in those days.... And then it
disappeared.... It was stolen from me like other things that had already
been stolen from me, at that time--"
And, sinking her voice still lower, speaking her name as if she were
addressing some other woman, some unhappy friend, she repeated:
Tears streamed down her cheeks.
"She is not one of those who kill," thought Don Luis. "I can't believe
that she is an accomplice. And yet--and yet--"
He moved away from her and walked across the room from the window to the
door. The drawings of Italian landscapes on the wall attracted his
attention. Next, he read the titles of the books on the shelves. They
represented French and foreign works, novels, plays, essays, volumes of
poetry, pointing to a really cultivated and varied taste.
He saw Racine next to Dante, Stendhal near Edgar Allan Poe, Montaigne
between Goethe and Virgil. And suddenly, with that extraordinary faculty
which enabled him, in any collection of objects, to perceive details
which he did not at once take in, he noticed that one of the volumes of
an English edition of Shakespeare's works did not look exactly like the
others. There was something peculiar about the red morocco back,
something stiff, without the cracks and creases which show that a book
has been used.
It was the eighth volume. He took it out, taking care not to be heard.
He was not mistaken. The volume was a sham, a mere set of boards
surrounding a hollow space that formed a box and thus provided a regular
hiding-place; and, inside this book, he caught sight of plain note-paper,
envelopes of different kinds, and some sheets of ordinary ruled paper,
all of the same size and looking as if they had been taken from a
And the appearance of these ruled sheets struck him at once. He
remembered the look of the paper on which the article for the _Echo de
France_ had been drafted. The ruling was identical, and the shape and
size appeared to be the same.
On lifting the sheets one after the other, he saw, on the last but one, a
series of lines consisting of words and figures in pencil, like notes
hurriedly jotted down.
"House on the Boulevard Suchet.
"First letter. Night of 15 April.
"Second. Night of 25th.
"Third and fourth. Nights of 5 and 15 May.
"Fifth and explosion. Night of 25 May."
And, while noting first that the date of the first night was that of the
actual day, and next that all these dates followed one another at
intervals of ten days, he remarked the resemblance between the writing
and the writing of the rough draft.
The draft was in a notebook in his pocket. He was therefore in a
position to verify the similarity of the two handwritings and of the two
ruled sheets of paper. He took his notebook and opened it. The draft was
"Gad," he snarled, "but this is a bit too thick!"
And, at the same time, he remembered clearly that, when he was
telephoning to Mazeroux in the morning, the notebook was in the pocket of
his overcoat and that he had left his overcoat on a chair near the
telephone box. Now, at that moment, Mlle. Levasseur, for no reason, was
roaming about the study. What was she doing there?
"Oh, the play-actress!" thought Perenna, raging within himself. "She was
humbugging me. Her tears, her air of frankness, her tender memories: all
bunkum! She belongs to the same stock and the same gang as Marie
Fauville and Gaston Sauverand. Like them, she is an accomplished liar
and actress from her slightest gesture down to the least inflection of
her innocent voice."
He was on the point of having it all out with her and confounding her.
This time, the proof was undeniable. Dreading an inquiry which might have
brought the facts home to her, she had been unwilling to leave the draft
of the article in the adversary's hands.
How could he doubt, from this moment, that she was the accomplice
employed by the people who were working the Mornington affair and trying
to get rid of him? Had he not every right to suppose that she was
directing the sinister gang, and that, commanding the others with her
audacity and her intelligence, she was leading them toward the obscure
goal at which they were aiming?
For, after all, she was free, entirely free in her actions and movements.
The windows opening on the Place du Palais-Bourbon gave her every
facility for leaving the house under cover of the darkness and coming in
again unknown to anybody.
It was therefore quite possible that, on the night of the double crime,
she was among the murderers of Hippolyte Fauville and his son. It was
quite possible that she had taken part in the murders, and even that the
poison had been injected into the victims by her hand, by that little,
white, slender hand which he saw resting against the golden hair.
A shudder passed through him. He had softly put back the paper in the
book, restored the book in its place, and moved nearer to the girl.
All of a sudden, he caught himself studying the lower part of her
face, the shape of her jaw! Yes, that was what he was making every
effort to guess, under the curve of the cheeks and behind the veil of
the lips. Almost against his will, with personal anguish mingled with
torturing curiosity, he stared and stared, ready to force open those
closed lips and to seek the reply to the terrifying problem that
suggested itself to him.
Those teeth, those teeth which he did not see, were not they the teeth
that had left the incriminating marks in the fruit? Which were the teeth
of the tiger, the teeth of the wild beast: these, or the other woman's?
It was an absurd supposition, because the marks had been recognized as
made by Marie Fauville. But was the absurdity of a supposition a
sufficient reason for discarding it?
Himself astonished at the feelings that agitated him, fearing lest he
should betray himself, he preferred to cut short the interview and, going
up to the girl, he said to her, in an imperious and aggressive tone:
"I wish all the servants in the house to be discharged. You will give
them their wages, pay them such compensation as they ask for, and see
that they leave to-day, definitely. Another staff of servants will arrive
this evening. You will be here to receive them."
She made no reply. He went away, taking with him the uncomfortable
impression that had lately marked his relations with Florence. The
atmosphere between them always remained heavy and oppressive. Their words
never seemed to express the private thoughts of either of them; and their
actions did not correspond with the words spoken. Did not the
circumstances logically demand the immediate dismissal of Florence
Levasseur as well? Yet Don Luis did not so much as think of it.
Returning to his study, he at once rang up Mazeroux and, lowering his
voice so as not to let it reach the next room, he said:
"Is that you, Mazeroux?"
"Has the Prefect placed you at my disposal?"
"Well, tell him that I have sacked all my servants and that I have given
you their names and instructed you to have an active watch kept on them.
We must look among them for Sauverand's accomplice. Another thing: ask
the Prefect to give you and me permission to spend the night at Hippolyte
"Nonsense! At the house on the Boulevard Suchet?"
"Yes, I have every reason to believe that something's going to
"What sort of thing?"
"I don't know. But something is bound to take place. And I insist on
being at it. Is it arranged?"
"Right, Chief. Unless you hear to the contrary, I'll meet you at nine
o'clock this evening on the Boulevard Suchet."
Perenna did not see Mlle. Levasseur again that day. He went out in the
course of the afternoon, and called at the registry office, where he
chose some servants: a chauffeur, a coachman, a footman, a cook, and so
on. Then he went to a photographer, who made a new copy of Mlle.
Levasseur's photograph. Don Luis had this touched up and faked it
himself, so that the Prefect of Police should not perceive the
substitution of one set of features for another.
He dined at a restaurant and, at nine o'clock, joined Mazeroux on the
Since the Fauville murders the house had been left in the charge of the
porter. All the rooms and all the locks had been sealed up, except the
inner door of the workroom, of which the police kept the keys for the
purposes of the inquiry.
The big study looked as it did before, though the papers had been removed
and put away and there were no books and pamphlets left on the
writing-table. A layer of dust, clearly visible by the electric light,
covered its black leather and the surrounding mahogany.
"Well, Alexandre, old man," cried Don Luis, when they had made themselves
comfortable, "what do you say to this? It's rather impressive, being here
again, what? But, this time, no barricading of doors, no bolts, eh? If
anything's going to happen, on this night of the fifteenth of April,
we'll put nothing in our friends' way. They shall have full and entire
liberty. It's up to them, this time."
Though joking, Don Luis was nevertheless singularly impressed, as he
himself said, by the terrible recollection of the two crimes which he had
been unable to prevent and by the haunting vision of the two dead bodies.
And he also remembered with real emotion the implacable duel which he had
fought with Mme. Fauville, the woman's despair and her arrest.
"Tell me about her," he said to Mazeroux. "So she tried to kill herself?"
"Yes," said Mazeroux, "a thoroughgoing attempt, though she had to make
it in a manner which she must have hated. She hanged herself in strips
of linen torn from her sheets and underclothing and twisted together.
She had to be restored by artificial respiration. She is out of danger
now, I believe, but she is never left alone, for she swore she would do
"She has made no confession?"
"No. She persists in proclaiming her innocence."
"And what do they think at the public prosecutor's? At the Prefect's?"
"Why should they change their opinion, Chief? The inquiries confirm every
one of the charges brought against her; and, in particular, it has been
proved beyond the possibility of dispute that she alone can have touched
the apple and that she can have touched it only between eleven o'clock at
night and seven o'clock in the morning. Now the apple bears the
undeniable marks of her teeth. Would you admit that there are two sets of
jaws in the world that leave the same identical imprint?"
"No, no," said Don Luis, who was thinking of Florence Levasseur. "No,
the argument allows of no discussion. We have here a fact that is clear
as daylight; and the imprint is almost tantamount to a discovery in the
act. But then how, in the midst of all this, are we to explain the
presence of -----"
"Nobody. I had an idea worrying me. Besides, you see, in all this there
are so many unnatural things, such queer coincidences and
inconsistencies, that I dare not count on a certainty which the reality
of to-morrow may destroy."
They went on talking for some time, in a low voice, studying the question
in all its bearings.
At midnight they switched off the electric light in the chandelier and
arranged that each should go to sleep in turn.
And the hours went by as they had done when the two sat up before, with
the same sounds of belated carriages and motor cars; the same railway
whistles; the same silence.
The night passed without alarm or incident of any kind. At daybreak the
life out of doors was resumed; and Don Luis, during his waking hours, had
not heard a sound in the room except the monotonous snoring of his
"Can I have been mistaken?" he wondered. "Did the clue in that volume of
Shakespeare mean something else? Or did it refer to events of last year,
events that took place on the dates set down?"
In spite of everything, he felt overcome by a strange uneasiness as the
dawn began to glimmer through the half-closed shutters. A fortnight
before, nothing had happened either to warn him; and yet there were two
victims lying near him when he woke.
At seven o'clock he called out:
"Eh? What is it, Chief?"
"You're not dead?"
"What's that? Dead? No, Chief; why should I be?"
"Well, that's a good 'un! Why not you?"
"Oh, it'll be my turn soon! Considering the intelligence of those
scoundrels, there's no reason why they should go on missing me."
They waited an hour longer. Then Perenna opened a window and threw back
"I say, Alexandre, perhaps you're not dead, but you're certainly
Mazeroux gave a wry laugh:
"Upon my word, Chief, I confess that I had a bad time of it when I was
keeping watch while you were asleep."
"Were you afraid?"
"To the roots of my hair. I kept on thinking that something was going to
happen. But you, too, Chief, don't look as if you had been enjoying
yourself. Were you also--"
He interrupted himself, on seeing an expression of unbounded astonishment
on Don Luis's face.
"What's the matter, Chief?"
"Look! ... on the table ... that letter--"
He looked. There was a letter on the writing-table, or, rather, a
letter-card, the edges of which had been torn along the perforation
marks; and they saw the outside of it, with the address, the stamp, and
"Did you put that there, Alexandre?"
"You're joking, Chief. You know it can only have been you."
"It can only have been I ... and yet it was not I."
Don Luis took the letter-card and, on examining it, found that the
address and the postmarks had been scratched out so as to make it
impossible to read the name of the addressee or where he lived, but
that the place of posting was quite clear, as was the date: Paris, 4
"So the letter is three and a half months old," said Don Luis.
He turned to the inside of the letter. It contained a dozen lines and he
at once exclaimed:
"Hippolyte Fauville's signature!"
"And his handwriting," observed Mazeroux. "I can tell it at a glance.
There's no mistake about that. What does it all mean? A letter written by
Hippolyte Fauville three months before his death?"
Perenna read aloud:
"MY DEAR OLD FRIEND:
"I can only, alas, confirm what I wrote to you the other day: the plot is
thickening around me! I do not yet know what their plan is and still less
how they mean to put it into execution; but everything warns me that the
end is at hand. I can see it in her eyes. How strangely she looks at me
"Oh, the shame of it! Who would ever have thought her capable of it?
"I am a very unhappy man, my dear friend."
"And it's signed Hippolyte Fauville," Mazeroux continued, "and I declare
to you that it's actually in his hand ... written on the fourth of
January of this year to a friend whose name we don't know, though we
shall dig him out somehow, that I'll swear. And this friend will
certainly give us the proofs we want."
Mazeroux was becoming excited.
"Proofs? Why, we don't need them! They're here. M. Fauville himself
supplies them: 'The end is at hand. I can see it in her eyes.' 'Her'
refers to his wife, to Marie Fauville, and the husband's evidence
confirms all that we knew against her. What do you say, Chief?"
"You're right," replied Perenna, absent-mindedly, "you're right; the
letter is final. Only--"
"Who the devil can have brought it? Somebody must have entered the room
last night while we were here. Is it possible? For, after all, we should
have heard. That's what astounds me."
"It certainly looks like it."
"Just so. It was a queer enough job a fortnight ago. But, still, we were
in the passage outside, while they were at work in here, whereas, this
time, we were here, both of us, close to this very table. And, on this
table, which had not the least scrap of paper on it last night, we find
this letter in the morning."
A careful inspection of the place gave them no clue to put them on the
track. They went through the house from top to bottom and ascertained for
certain that there was no one there in hiding. Besides, supposing that
any one was hiding there, how could he have made his way into the room
without attracting their attention? There was no solving the problem.
"We won't look any more," said Perenna, "it's no use. In matters of this
sort, some day or other the light enters by an unseen cranny and
everything gradually becomes clear. Take the letter to the Prefect of
Police, tell him how we spent the night, and ask his permission for both
of us to come back on the night of the twenty-fifth of April. There's to
be another surprise that night; and I'm dying to know if we shall receive
a second letter through the agency of some Mahatma."
They closed the doors and left the house.
While they were walking to the right, toward La Muette, in order to take
a taxi, Don Luis chanced to turn his head to the road as they reached the
end of the Boulevard Suchet. A man rode past them on a bicycle. Don Luis
just had time to see his clean-shaven face and his glittering eyes fixed
"Look out!" he shouted, pushing Mazeroux so suddenly that the sergeant
lost his balance.
The man had stretched out his hand, armed with a revolver. A shot
rang out. The bullet whistled past the ears of Don Luis, who had
bobbed his head.
"After him!" he roared. "You're not hurt, Mazeroux?"
They both rushed in pursuit, shouting for assistance. But, at that early
hour, there are never many people in the wide avenues of this part of the
town. The man, who was making off swiftly, increased his distance, turned
down the Rue Octave-Feuillet, and disappeared.
"All right, you scoundrel, I'll catch you yet!" snarled Don Luis,
abandoning a vain pursuit.
"But you don't even know who he is, Chief."
"Yes, I do: it's he."
"The man with the ebony stick. He's cut off his beard and shaved his
face, but I knew him for all that. It was the man who was taking
pot-shots at us yesterday morning, from the top of his stairs on the
Boulevard Richard-Wallace, the one who killed Inspector Ancenis. The
blackguard! How did he know that I had spent the night at Fauville's?
Have I been followed then and spied on? But by whom? And why? And how?"
Mazeroux reflected and said:
"Remember, Chief, you telephoned to me in the afternoon to give me an
appointment. For all you know, in spite of lowering your voice, you may
have been heard by somebody at your place."
Don Luis did not answer. He thought of Florence.
That morning Don Luis's letters were not brought to him by Mlle.
Levasseur, nor did he send for her. He caught sight of her several times
giving orders to the new servants. She must afterward have gone back to
her room, for he did not see her again.
In the afternoon he rang for his car and drove to the house on the
Boulevard Suchet, to pursue with Mazeroux, by the Prefect's instructions,
a search that led to no result whatever.
It was ten o'clock when he came in. The detective sergeant and he had
some dinner together. Afterward, wishing also to examine the home of the
man with the ebony stick, he got into his car again, still accompanied by
Mazeroux, and told the man to drive to the Boulevard Richard-Wallace.
The car crossed the Seine and followed the right bank.
"Faster," he said to his new chauffeur, through the speaking-tube. "I'm
accustomed to go at a good pace."
"You'll have an upset one fine day, Chief," said Mazeroux.
"No fear," replied Don Luis. "Motor accidents are reserved for fools."
They reached the Place de l'Alma. The car turned to the left.
"Straight ahead!" cried Don Luis. "Go up by the Trocadero."
The car veered back again. But suddenly it gave three or four lurches in
the road, took the pavement, ran into a tree and fell over on its side.
In a few seconds a dozen people were standing round. They broke one of
the windows and opened the door. Don Luis was the first.
"It's nothing," he said. "I'm all right. And you, Alexandre?"
They helped the sergeant out. He had a few bruises and a little pain, but
no serious injury.
Only the chauffeur had been thrown from his seat and lay motionless on
the pavement, bleeding from the head. He was carried into a chemist's
shop and died in ten minutes.
Mazeroux had gone in with the poor victim and, feeling pretty well
stunned, had himself been given a pick-me-up. When he went back to the
motor car he found two policemen entering particulars of the accident in
their notebooks and taking evidence from the bystanders; but the chief
was not there.
Perenna in fact had jumped into a taxicab and driven home as fast as he
could. He got out in the square, ran through the gateway, crossed the
courtyard, and went down the passage that led to Mlle. Levasseur's
quarters. He leaped up the steps, knocked, and entered without waiting
for an answer.
The door of the room that served as a sitting-room was opened and
Florence appeared. He pushed her back into the room, and said, in a tone
furious with indignation:
"It's done. The accident has occurred. And yet none of the old servants
can have prepared it, because they were not there and because I was out
with the car this afternoon. Therefore, it must have been late in the
day between six and nine o'clock, that somebody went to the garage and
filed the steering-rod three quarters through."
"I don't understand. I don't understand," she said, with a scared look.
"You understand perfectly well that the accomplice of the ruffians cannot
be one of the new servants, and you understand perfectly well that the
job was bound to succeed and that it did succeed, beyond their hopes.
There is a victim, who suffers instead of myself."
"But tell me what has happened, Monsieur! You frighten me! What accident?
What was it?"
"The motor car was overturned. The chauffeur is dead."
"Oh," she said, "how horrible! And you think that I can have--Oh, dead,
how horrible! Poor man!"
Her voice grew fainter. She was standing opposite to Perenna, close up
against him. Pale and swooning, she closed her eyes, staggered.
He caught her in his arms as she fell. She tried to release herself, but
had not the strength; and he laid her in a chair, while she moaned,
"Poor man! Poor man!"
Keeping one of his arms under the girl's head, he took a handkerchief in
the other hand and wiped her forehead, which was wet with perspiration,
and her pallid cheeks, down which the tears streamed.
She must have lost consciousness entirely, for she surrendered herself to
Perenna's cares without the least resistance. And he, making no further
movement, began anxiously to examine the mouth before his eyes, the mouth
with the lips usually so red, now bloodless and discoloured.
Gently passing one of his fingers over each of them, with a continuous
pressure, he separated them, as one separates the petals of a flower; and
the two rows of teeth appeared.
They were charming, beautifully shaped, and beautifully white; a little
smaller perhaps than Mme. Fauville's, perhaps also arranged in a wider
curve. But what did he know? Who could say that their bite would not
leave the same imprint? It was an improbable supposition, an impossible
miracle, he knew. And yet the circumstances were all against the girl and
pointed to her as the most daring, cruel, implacable, and terrible of
Her breathing became regular. He perceived the cool fragrance of her
mouth, intoxicating as the scent of a rose. In spite of himself, he bent
down, came so close, so close that he was seized with giddiness and had
to make a great effort to lay the girl's head on the back of the chair
and to take his eyes from the fair face with the half-parted lips.
He rose to his feet and went.
THE DEVIL'S POST-OFFICE
Of all these events the public knew only of the attempted suicide of Mme.
Fauville, the capture and escape of Gaston Sauverand, the murder of Chief
Inspector Ancenis, and the discovery of a letter written by Hippolyte
Fauville. This was enough, however, to reawaken their curiosity, as they
were already singularly puzzled by the Mornington case and took the
greatest interest in all the movements, however slight, of the mysterious
Don Luis Perenna, whom they insisted on confusing with Arsene Lupin.
He was, of course, credited with the brief capture of the man with the
ebony walking-stick. It was also known that he had saved the life of the
Prefect of Police, and that, finally, having at his own request spent the
night in the house on the Boulevard Suchet, he had become the recipient
of Hippolyte Fauville's famous letter. And all this added immensely to
the excitement of the aforesaid public.
But how much more complicated and disconcerting were the problems set to
Don Luis Perenna himself! Not to mention the denunciation in the
anonymous article, there had been, in the short space of forty-eight
hours, no fewer than four separate attempts to kill him: by the iron
curtain, by poison, by the shooting on the Boulevard Suchet, and by the
deliberately prepared motor accident.
Florence's share in this series of attempts was not to be denied. And,
now, behold her relations with the Fauvilles' murderers duly established
by the little note found in the eighth volume of Shakespeare's plays,
while two more deaths were added to the melancholy list: the deaths of
Chief Inspector Ancenis and of the chauffeur. How to describe and how to
explain the part played, in the midst of all these catastrophes, by that
Strangely enough, life went on as usual at the house in the Place du
Palais-Bourbon, as though nothing out of the way had happened there.
Every morning Florence Levasseur sorted Don Luis's post in his presence
and read out the newspaper articles referring to himself or bearing upon
the Mornington case.
Not a single allusion was made to the fierce fight that had been waged
against him for two days. It was as though a truce had been proclaimed
between them; and the enemy appeared to have ceased his attacks for the
moment. Don Luis felt easy, out of the reach of danger; and he talked to
the girl with an indifferent air, as he might have talked to anybody.
But with what a feverish interest he studied her unobserved! He
watched the expression of her face, at once calm and eager, and a
painful sensitiveness which showed under the placid mask and which,
difficult to control, revealed itself in the frequent quivering of the
lips and nostrils.
"Who are you? Who are you?" he felt inclined to exclaim. "Will nothing
content you, you she-devil, but to deal out murder all round? And do you
want my death also, in order to attain your object? Where do you come
from and where are you making for?"
On reflection, he was convinced of a certainty that solved a problem
which had preoccupied him for a long time--namely, the mysterious
connection between his own presence in the mansion in the Place du
Palais-Bourbon and the presence of a woman who was manifestly wreaking
her hatred on him.
He now understood that he had not bought the house by accident. In making
the purchase he had been persuaded by an anonymous offer that reached him
in the form of a typewritten prospectus. Whence did this offer come, if
not from Florence, who wished to have him near her in order to spy upon
him and wage war upon him?
"Yes," he thought, "that is where the truth lies. As the possible heir
of Cosmo Mornington and a prominent figure in the case, I am the enemy,
and they are trying to do away with me as they did with the others. And
it is Florence who is acting against me. And it is she who has
"Everything tells against her; nothing speaks in her defence. Her
innocent eyes? The accent of sincerity in her voice? Her serene dignity?
And then? Yes, what then? Have I never seen women with that frank look
who have committed murder for no reason, almost for pleasure's sake?"
He started with terror at the memory of Dolores Kesselbach. What was it
that made him connect these two women at every moment in his mind? He
had loved one of them, that monster Dolores, and had strangled her with
his own hands. Was fate now leading him toward a like love and a
When Florence left him he would experience a sense of satisfaction and
breathe more easily, as though released from an oppressive weight, but he
would run to the window and see her crossing the courtyard and be still
waiting when the girl whose scented breath he had felt upon his face
passed to and fro.
One morning she said to him:
"The papers say that it will be to-night."
"Yes," she said, showing him an article in one of the newspapers.
"This is the twenty-fifth; and, according to the information of the
police, supplied, they say, by you, there should be a letter delivered
in the house on the Boulevard Suchet every tenth day, and the house is
to be destroyed by an explosion on the day when the fifth and last
Was she defying him? Did she wish to make him understand that, whatever
happened, whatever the obstacles, the letters would appear, those
mysterious letters prophesied on the list which he had found in the
eighth volume of Shakespeare's plays?
He looked at her steadily. She did not flinch. He answered:
"Yes, this is the night. I shall be there. Nothing in the world will
She was on the point of replying, but once more controlled her feelings.
That day Don Luis was on his guard. He lunched and dined out and arranged
with Mazeroux to have the Place du Palais-Bourbon watched.
Mlle. Levasseur did not leave the house during the afternoon. In the
evening Don Luis ordered Mazeroux's men to follow any one who might go
out at that time.
At ten o'clock the sergeant joined Don Luis in Hippolyte Fauville's
workroom. Deputy Chief Detective Weber and two plain-clothesmen
were with him.
Don Luis took Mazeroux aside:
"They distrust me. Own up to it."
"No. As long as M. Desmalions is there, they can do nothing against you.
Only, M. Weber maintains--and he is not the only one--that you fake up
all these occurrences yourself."
"With what object?"
"With the object of furnishing proof against Marie Fauville and getting
her condemned. So I asked for the attendance of the deputy chief and two
men. There will be four of us to bear witness to your honesty."
They all took up their posts. Two detectives were to sit up in turns.
This time, after making a minute search of the little room in which
Fauville's son used to sleep, they locked and bolted the doors and
shutters. At eleven o'clock they switched off the electric chandelier.
Don Luis and Weber hardly slept at all.
The night passed without incident of any kind.
But, at seven o'clock, when the shutters were opened, they saw that there
was a letter on the table. Just as on the last occasion, there was a
letter on the table!
When the first moment of stupefaction was over, the deputy chief took
the letter. His orders were not to read it and not to let any one
else read it.
Here is the letter, published by the newspapers, which also published the
declarations of the experts certifying that the handwriting was Hippolyte
"I have seen him! You understand, don't you, my dear friend? I have seen
him! He was walking along a path in the Bois, with his coat collar turned
up and his hat pulled over his ears. I don't think that he saw me. It was
almost dark. But I knew him at once. I knew the silver handle of his
ebony stick. It was he beyond a doubt, the scoundrel!
"So he is in Paris, in spite of his promise. Gaston Sauverand is in
Paris! Do you understand the terrible significance of that fact? If he is
in Paris, it means that he intends to act. If he is in Paris, it means
certain death to me. Oh, the harm which I shall have suffered at that
man's hands! He has already robbed me of my happiness; and now he wants
my life. I am terrified."
So Fauville knew that the man with the ebony walking-stick, that Gaston
Sauverand, was designing to kill him. Fauville declared it most
positively, by evidence written in his own hand; and the letter,
moreover, corroborating the words that had escaped Gaston Sauverand at
his arrest, showed that the two men had at one time had relations with
each other, that they were no longer friends, and that Gaston Sauverand
had promised never to come to Paris.
A little light was therefore being shed on the darkness of the Mornington
case. But, on the other hand, how inconceivable was the mystery of that
letter found on the table in the workroom!
Five men had kept watch, five of the smartest men obtainable; and yet, on
that night, as on the night of the fifteenth of April, an unknown hand
had delivered the letter in a room with barricaded doors and windows,
without their hearing a sound or discovering any signs that the
fastenings of the doors or windows had been tampered with.
The theory of a secret outlet was at once raised, but had to be
abandoned after a careful examination of the walls and after an
interview with the contractor who had built the house, from Fauville's
own plans, some years ago.
It is unnecessary once more to recall what I may describe as the flurry
of the public. The deed, in the circumstances, assumed the appearance of
a sleight-of-hand trick. People felt tempted to look upon it as the
recreation of some wonderfully skilful conjurer rather than as the act of
a person employing unknown methods.
Nevertheless, Don Luis Perenna's intelligence was justified at all
points, for the expected incident had taken place on the twenty-fifth of
April, as on the fifteenth. Would the series be continued on the fifth of
May? No one doubted it, because Don Luis had said so and because
everybody felt that Don Luis could not be mistaken. All through the night
of the fifth of May there was a crowd on the Boulevard Suchet; and
quidnuncs and night birds of every kind came trooping up to hear the
The Prefect of Police, greatly impressed by the first two miracles, had
determined to see the next one for himself, and was present in person on
the third night.
He came accompanied by several inspectors, whom he left in the garden, in
the passage, and in the attic on the upper story. He himself took up his
post on the ground floor with Weber, Mazeroux, and Don Luis Perenna.
Their expectations were disappointed; and this was M. Desmalions's fault.
In spite of the express opinion of Don Luis, who deprecated the
experiment as useless, the Prefect had decided not to turn off the
electric light, so that he might see if the light would prevent the
miracle. Under these conditions no letter could appear, and no letter did
appear. The miracle, whether a conjuring trick or a criminal's device,
needed the kindly aid of the darkness.
There were therefore ten days lost, always presuming that the diabolical
postman would dare to repeat his attempt and produce the third
* * * * *
On the fifteenth of May the wait was renewed, while the same crowd
gathered outside, an anxious, breathless crowd, stirred by the least
sound and keeping an impressive silence, with eyes gazing upon the
This time the light was put out, but the Prefect of Police kept his hand
on the electric switch. Ten times, twenty times, he unexpectedly turned
on the light. There was nothing on the table. What had aroused his
attention was the creaking of a piece of furniture or a movement made by
one of the men with him.
Suddenly they all uttered an exclamation. Something unusual, a rustling
noise, had interrupted the silence.
M. Desmalions at once switched on the light. He gave a cry. A letter lay
not on the table, but beside it, on the floor, on the carpet.
Mazeroux made the sign of the cross. The inspectors were as pale as
M. Desmalions looked at Don Luis, who nodded his head without a word.
They inspected the condition of the locks and bolts. Nothing had moved.
That day again, the contents of the letter made some amends for the
really extraordinary manner of its delivery. It completely dispelled
all the doubts that still enshrouded the double murder on the
Again signed by the engineer, written throughout by himself, on the
eighth of February, with no visible address, it said:
"No, my dear friend, I will not allow myself to be killed like a sheep
led to the slaughter. I shall defend myself, I shall fight to the last
moment. Things have changed lately. I have proofs now, undeniable proofs.
I possess letters that have passed between them. And I know that they
still love each other as they did at the start, that they want to marry,
and that they will let nothing stand in their way. It is written,
understand what I say, it is written in Marie's own hand; 'Have patience,
my own Gaston. My courage increases day by day. So much the worse for him
who stands between us. He shall disappear.'
"My dear friend, if I succumb in the struggle you will find those letters
(and all the evidence which I have collected against the wretched
creature) in the safe hidden behind the small glass case: Then revenge
me. Au revoir. Perhaps good-bye."
Thus ran the third missive. Hippolyte Fauville from his grave named and
accused his guilty wife. From his grave he supplied the solution to the
riddle and explained the reason why the crimes had been committed: Marie
Fauville and Gaston Sauverand were lovers.
Certainly they knew of the existence of Cosmo Mornington's will, for they
had begun by doing away with Cosmo Mornington; and their eagerness to
come into the enormous fortune had hastened the catastrophe. But the
first idea of the murder rose from an older and deep-rooted passion:
Marie Fauville and Gaston Sauverand were lovers.
One problem remained to be solved: who was the unknown correspondent to
whom Hippolyte Fauville had bequeathed the task of avenging his murder,
and who, instead of simply handing over the letters to the police, was
exercising his ingenuity to deliver them by means of the most
Machiavellian contrivances? Was it to his interest also to remain in the
To all these questions Marie Fauville replied in the most unexpected
manner, though it was one that fully accorded with her threats. A week
later, after a long cross-examination at which she was pressed for the
name of her husband's old friend and at which she maintained the most
stubborn silence, together with a sort of stupid inertia, she returned to
her cell in the evening and opened the veins of her wrist with a piece of
glass which she had managed to hide.
Don Luis heard the news from Mazeroux, who came to tell him of it
before eight o'clock the next morning, just as he was getting out of
bed. The sergeant had a travelling bag in his hand and was on his way
to catch a train.
Don Luis was greatly upset.
"Is she dead?" he exclaimed.
"No. It seems that she has had one more let-off. But what's the good?"
"How do you mean, what's the good?"
"She'll do it again, of course. She's set her mind upon it. And, one day
"Did she volunteer no confession, this time either, before making the
attempt on her life?"
"No. She wrote a few words on a scrap of paper, saying that, on thinking
it over, she advised us to ask a certain M. Langernault about the
mysterious letters. He was the only friend that she had known her husband
to possess, or at any rate the only one whom he would have called, 'My
dear fellow,' or, 'My dear friend,' This M. Langernault could do no more
than prove her innocence and explain the terrible misunderstanding of
which she was the victim."
"But," said Don Luis, "if there is any one to prove her innocence, why
does she begin by opening her veins?"
"She doesn't care, she says. Her life is done for; and what she wants is
rest and death."
"Rest? Rest? There are other ways in which she can find it besides in
death. If the discovery of the truth is to spell her safety, perhaps the
truth is not impossible to discover."
"What are you saying, Chief? Have you guessed anything? Are you beginning
"Yes, very vaguely, but, all the same, the really unnatural accuracy of
those letters just seems to me a sign--"
He reflected for a moment and continued:
"Have they reexamined the erased addresses of the three letters?"
"Yes; and they managed to make out the name of Langernault."
"Where does this Langernault live?"
"According to Mme. Fauville, at the village of Damigni, in the Orme."
"Have they deciphered the word Damigni on one of the letters?"
"No, but they have the name of the nearest town."
"What town is that?"
"And is that where you're going?"
"Yes, the Prefect of Police told me to go straightaway. I shall take the
train at the Invalides."
"You mean you will come with me in my motor."
"We will both of us go, my lad. I want to be doing something; the
atmosphere of this house is deadly for me."
"What are you talking about, Chief?"
"Nothing. I know."
Half an hour later they were flying along the Versailles Road. Perenna
himself was driving his open car and driving it in such a way that
Mazeroux, almost stifling, kept blurting out, at intervals:
"Lord, what a pace! Dash it all, how you're letting her go, Chief! Aren't
you afraid of a smash? Remember the other day--"
They reached Alencon in time for lunch. When they had done, they went to
the chief post-office. Nobody knew the name of Langernault there.
Besides, Damigni had its own post-office, though the presumption was that
M. Langernault had his letters addressed _poste restante_ at Alencon.
Don Luis and Mazeroux went on to the village of Damigni. Here again the
postmaster knew no one of the name of Langernault; and this in spite of
the fact that Damigni contained only about a thousand inhabitants.
"Let's go and call on the mayor," said Perenna.
At the mayor's Mazeroux stated who he was and mentioned the object of his
visit. The mayor nodded his head.
"Old Langernault? I should think so. A decent fellow: used to run a
business in the town."
"And accustomed, I suppose, to fetch his letters at Alencon post-office?"
"That's it, every day, for the sake of the walk."
"And his house?"
"Is at the end of the village. You passed it as you came along."
"Can we see it?"
"Well, of course ... only--"
"Perhaps he's not at home?"
"Certainly not! The poor, dear man hasn't even set foot in the house
since he left it the last time, four years ago!"
"How is that?"
"Why, he's been dead these four years!"
Don Luis and Mazeroux exchanged a glance of amazement.
"So he's dead?" said Don Luis.
"Yes, a gunshot."
"What's that!" cried Perenna. "Was he murdered?"
"No, no. They thought so at first, when they picked him up on the floor
of his room; but the inquest proved that it was an accident. He was
cleaning his gun, and it went off and sent a load of shot into his
stomach. All the same, we thought it very queer in the village. Daddy
Langernault, an old hunter before the Lord, was not the man to commit an
act of carelessness."
"Had he money?"
"Yes; and that's just what clinched the matter: they couldn't find a
penny of it!"
Don Luis remained thinking for some time and then asked:
"Did he leave any children, any relations of the same name?"
"Nobody, not even a cousin. The proof is that his property--it's called
the Old Castle, because of the ruins on it--has reverted to the State.
The authorities have had the doors of the house sealed up, and locked the
gate of the park. They are waiting for the legal period to expire in
order to take possession."
"And don't sightseers go walking in the park, in spite of the walls?"
"Not they. In the first place, the walls are very high. And then--and
then the Old Castle has had a bad reputation in the neighbourhood ever
since I can remember. There has always been a talk of ghosts: a pack of
silly tales. But still--"
Perenna and his companion could not get over their surprise.
"This is a funny affair," exclaimed Don Luis, when they had left the
mayor's. "Here we have Fauville writing his letters to a dead man--and to
a dead man, by the way, who looks to me very much as if he had been
"Some one must have intercepted the letters."
"Obviously. But that does not do away with the fact that he wrote them to
a dead man and made his confidences to a dead man and told him of his
wife's criminal intentions."
Mazeroux was silent. He, too, seemed greatly perplexed.
They spent part of the afternoon in asking about old Langernault's
habits, hoping to receive some useful clue from the people who had known
him. But their efforts led to nothing.
At six o'clock, as they were about to start, Don Luis found that the car
had run out of petrol and sent Mazeroux in a trap to the outskirts of
Alencon to fetch some. He employed the delay in going to look at the Old
Castle outside the village.
He had to follow a hedged road leading to an open space, planted with
lime trees, where a massive wooden gate stood in the middle of a wall.
The gate was locked. Don Luis walked along the wall, which was, in fact,
very high and presented no opening. Nevertheless, he managed to climb
over by means of the branches of a tree.
The park consisted of unkept lawns, overgrown with large wild flowers,
and grass-covered avenues leading on the right to a distant mound,
thickly dotted with ruins, and, on the left, to a small, tumbledown house
with ill-fitting shutters.
He was turning in this direction, when he was much surprised to perceive
fresh footprints on a border which had been soaked with the recent rain.
And he could see that these footprints had been made by a woman's boots,
a pair of elegant and dainty boots.
"Who the devil comes walking here?" he thought.
He found more footprints a little farther, on another border which the
owner of the boots had crossed, and they led him away from the house,
toward a series of clumps of trees where he saw them twice more. Then he
lost sight of them for good.
He was standing near a large, half-ruined barn, built against a very tall
bank. Its worm-eaten doors seemed merely balanced on their hinges. He
went up and looked through a crack in the wood. Inside the windowless
barn was in semi-darkness, for but little light came through the openings
stopped up with straw, especially as the day was beginning to wane. He
was able to distinguish a heap of barrels, broken wine-presses, old
ploughs, and scrap-iron of all kinds.
"This is certainly not where my fair stroller turned her steps," thought
Don Luis. "Let's look somewhere else."
Nevertheless, he did not move. He had noticed a noise in the barn.
He listened and heard nothing. But as he wanted to get to the bottom of
things he forced out a couple of planks with his shoulder and stepped in.
The breach which he had thus contrived admitted a little light. He could
see enough to make his way between two casks, over some broken window
frames, to an empty space on the far side.
His eyes grew accustomed to the darkness as he went on. For all that, he
knocked his head against something which he had not perceived, something
hanging up above, something rather hard which, when set in motion, swung
to and fro with a curious grating sound.
It was too dark to see. Don Luis took an electric lantern from his pocket
and pressed the spring.
"Damn it all!" he swore, falling back aghast.
Above him hung a skeleton!
And the next moment he uttered another oath. A second skeleton hung
beside the first!
They were both fastened by stout ropes to rings fixed in the rafters of
the barn. Their heads dangled from the slip-knots. The one against which
Perenna had struck was still moving slightly and the bones clicked
together with a gruesome sound.
He dragged forward a rickety table, propped it up as best he could, and
climbed onto it to examine the two skeletons more closely. They were
turned toward each other, face to face. The first was considerably bigger
than the second. They were obviously the skeletons of a man and a woman.
Even when they were not moved by a jolt of any kind, the wind blowing
through the crevices in the barn set them lightly swinging to and fro, in
a sort of very slow, rhythmical dance.
But what perhaps was most impressive in this ghastly spectacle was the
fact that each of the skeletons, though deprived of every rag of
clothing, still wore a gold ring, too wide now that the flesh had
disappeared, but held, as in hooks, by the bent joints of the fingers.
He slipped off the rings with a shiver of disgust, and found that they
were wedding rings. Each bore a date inside, the same date, 12 August,
1887, and two names: "Alfred--Victorine."
"Husband and wife," he murmured. "Is it a double suicide? Or a murder?
But how is it possible that the two skeletons have not yet been
discovered? Can one conceive that they have been here since the death of
old Langernault, since the government has taken possession of the estate
and made it impossible for anybody to walk in?"
He paused to reflect.
"Anybody? I don't know about that, considering that I saw footprints in
the garden, and that a woman has been there this very day!"
The thought of the unknown visitor engrossed him once more, and he got
down from the table. In spite of the noise which he had heard, it was
hardly to be supposed that she had entered the barn. And, after a few
minutes' search, he was about to go out, when there came, from the left,
a clash of things falling about and some hoops dropped to the ground not
far from where he stood.
They came from above, from a loft likewise crammed with various objects
and implements and reached by a ladder. Was he to believe that the
visitor, surprised by his arrival, had taken refuge in that hiding-place
and made a movement that caused the fall of the hoops?
Don Luis placed his electric lantern on a cask in such a way as to send
the light right up to the loft. Seeing nothing suspicious, nothing but an
arsenal of old pickaxes, rakes, and disused scythes, he attributed what
had happened so some animal, to some stray cat; and, to make sure, he
walked quickly to the ladder and went up.
Suddenly, at the very moment when he reached the level of the floor,
there was a fresh noise, a fresh clatter of things falling: and a form
rose from the heap of rubbish with a terrible gesture.
It was swift as lightning. Don Luis saw the great blade of a scythe
cleaving the air at the height of his head. Had he hesitated for a
second, for the tenth of a second, the awful weapon would have beheaded
him. As it was, he just had time to flatten himself against the ladder.
The scythe whistled past him, grazing his jacket. He slid down to the
But he had seen.
He had seen the dreadful face of Gaston Sauverand, and, behind the man of
the ebony walking-stick, wan and livid in the rays of the electric light,
the distorted features of Florence Levasseur!
He remained for one moment motionless and speechless. Above was a perfect
clatter of things being pushed about, as though the besieged were
building themselves a barricade. But to the right of the electric rays,
diffused daylight entered through an opening that was suddenly exposed;
and he saw, in front of this opening, first one form and then another
stooping in order to escape over the roofs.
He levelled his revolver and fired, but badly, for he was thinking of
Florence and his hand trembled. Three more shots rang out. The bullets
rattled against the old scrap-iron in the loft. The fifth shot was
followed by a cry of pain. Don Luis once more rushed up the ladder.
Slowly making his way through the tangle of farm implements and over some
cases of dried rape seed forming a regular rampart, he at last, after
bruising and barking his shins, succeeded in reaching the opening, and
was greatly surprised, on passing through it, to find himself on level
ground. It was the top of the sloping bank against which the barn stood.
He descended the slope at haphazard, to the left of the barn, and passed
in front of the building, but saw nobody. He then went up again on the
right; and although the flat part was very narrow, he searched it
carefully for, in the growing darkness of the twilight, he had every
reason to fear renewed attacks from the enemy.
He now became aware of something which he had not perceived before. The
bank ran along the top of the wall, which at this spot was quite
sixteen fee thigh. Gaston Sauverand and Florence had, beyond a doubt,
escaped this way.
Perenna followed the wall, which was fairly wide, till he came to a lower
part, and here he jumped into a ploughed field skirting a little wood
toward which the fugitives must have run He started exploring it, but,
realizing its denseness, he at once saw that it was waste of time to
linger in pursuit.
He therefore returned to the village, while thinking over this, his
latest exploit. Once again Florence and her accomplice had tried to get
rid of him. Once again Florence figured prominently in this network of
At the moment when chance informed Don Luis that old Langernault had
probably died by foul play, at the moment when chance, by leading him to
Hanged Man's Barn, as he christened it, brought him into the presence of
two skeletons, Florence appeared as a murderous vision, as an evil
genius who was seen wherever death had passed with its trail of blood
"Oh, the loathsome creature!" he muttered, with a shudder. "How can she
have so fair a face, and eyes of such haunting beauty, so grave, sincere,
and almost guileless?"
In the church square, outside the inn, Mazeroux, who had returned, was
filling the petrol tank of the motor and lighting the lamps. Don Luis saw
the mayor of Damigni crossing the square. He took him aside.
"By the way, Monsieur le Maire, did you ever hear any talk in the
district, perhaps two years ago, of the disappearance of a couple forty
or fifty years of age? The husband's name was Alfred--"
"And the wife's Victorine, eh?" the mayor broke in. "I should think so!
The affair created some stir. They lived at Alengon on a small, private
income; they disappeared between one day and the next; and no one has
since discovered what became of them, any more than a little hoard,
some twenty thousand francs or so, which they had realized the day
before by the sale of their house. I remember them well. Dedessuslamare
their name was."
"Thank you, Monsieur le Maire," said Perenna, who had learned all that he
wanted to know.
The car was ready. A minute after he was rushing toward Alencon
"Where are we going, Chief?" asked the sergeant.
"To the station. I have every reason to believe, first, that Sauverand
was informed this morning--in what way remains to be seen--of the
revelations made last night by Mme. Fauville relating to old Langernault;
and, secondly, that he has been prowling around and inside old
Langernault's property to-day for reasons that also remain to be seen.
And I presume that he came by train and that he will go back by train."
Perenna's supposition was confirmed without delay. He was told at the
railway station that a gentleman and a lady had arrived from Paris at two
o'clock, that they had hired a trap at the hotel next door, and that,
having finished their business, they had gone back a few minutes ago, by
the 7:40 express. The description of the lady and gentleman corresponded
exactly with that of Florence and Sauverand.
"Off we go!" said Perenna, after consulting the timetable. "We are an
hour behind. We may catch up with the scoundrel at Le Mans."
"We'll do that, Chief, and we'll collar him, I swear: him and his lady,
since there are two of them."
"There are two of them, as you say. Only--"
Don Luis waited to reply until they were seated and the engine started,
when he said:
"Only, my boy, you will keep your hands off the lady."
"Why should I?"
"Do you know who she is? Have you a warrant against her?"
"Then shut up."
"One word more, Alexandre, and I'll set you down beside the road. Then
you can make as many arrests as you please."
Mazeroux did not breathe another word. For that matter the speed at which
they at once began to go hardly left him time to raise a protest. Not a
little anxious, he thought only of watching the horizon and keeping a
lookout for obstacles.
The trees vanished on either side almost unseen. Their foliage overhead
made a rhythmical sound as of moaning waves. Night insects dashed
themselves to death against the lamps.
"We shall get there right enough," Mazeroux ventured to observe. "There's
no need to put on the pace."
The speed increased and he said no more.
Villages, plains, hills; and then, suddenly in the midst of the darkness,
the lights of a large town, Le Mans.
"Do you know the way to the station, Alexandre?"
"Yes, Chief, to the right and then straight on."
Of course they ought to have gone to the left. They wasted seven or eight
minutes in wandering through the streets and receiving contradictory
instructions. When the motor pulled up at the station the train was
Don Luis jumped out, rushed through the waiting-room, found the doors
shut, jostled the railway officials who tried to stop him, and reached
A train was about to start on the farther line. The last door was banged
to. He ran along the carriages, holding on to the brass rails.
"Your ticket, sir! Where's your ticket?" shouted an angry collector.
Don Luis continued to fly along the footboards, giving a swift glance
through the panes, thrusting aside the persons whose presence at the
windows prevented him from seeing, prepared at any moment to burst into
the compartment containing the two accomplices.
He did not see them in the end carriages. The train started. And suddenly
he gave a shout: they were there, the two of them, by themselves! He had
seen them! They were there: Florence, lying on the seat, with her head on
Sauverand's shoulder, and he, leaning over her, with his arms around her!
Mad with rage he flung back the bottom latch and seized the handle of the
carriage door. At the same moment he lost his balance and was pulled off
by the furious ticket collector and by Mazeroux, who bellowed:
"Why, you're mad, Chief! you'll kill yourself!"
"Let go, you ass!" roared Don Luis. "It's they! Let me be, can't you!"
The carriages filed past. He tried to jump on to another footboard.
But the two men were clinging to him, some railway porters came to
their assistance, the station-master ran up. The train moved out of
"Idiots!" he shouted. "Boobies! Pack of asses that you are, couldn't you
leave me alone? Oh, I swear to Heaven--!"
With a blow of his left fist he knocked the ticket collector down; with a
blow of his right he sent Mazeroux spinning; and shaking off the porters
and the station-master, he rushed along the platform to the luggage-room,
where he took flying leaps over several batches of trunks, packing-cases,
"Oh, the perfect fool!" he mumbled, on seeing that Mazeroux had let the
power down in the car. "Trust him, if there's any blunder going!"
Don Luis had driven his car at a fine rate during the day; but that night
the pace became vertiginous. A very meteor flashed through the suburbs of
Le Mans and hurled itself along the highroad. Perenna had but one thought
in his head: to reach the next station, which was Chartres, before the
two accomplices, and to fly at Sauverand's throat. He saw nothing but
that: the savage grip of his two hands that would set Florence
Levasseur's lover gasping in his agony.
"Her lover! Her lover!" he muttered, gnashing his teeth. "Why, of course,
that explains everything! They have combined against their accomplice,
Marie Fauville; and it is she alone, poor devil, who will pay for the
horrible series of crimes!"
"Is she their accomplice even?" he wondered. "Who knows? Who knows if
that pair of demons are not capable, after killing Hippolyte and his son,
of having plotted the ruin of Marie Fauville, the last obstacle that
stood between them and the Mornington inheritance? Doesn't everything
point to that conclusion? Didn't I find the list of dates in a book
belonging to Florence? Don't the facts prove that the letters were
communicated by Florence?...
"Those letters accuse Gaston Sauverand as well. But how does that affect
things? He no longer loves Marie, but Florence. And Florence loves him.
She is his accomplice, his counsellor, the woman who will live by his
side and benefit by his fortune.... True, she sometimes pretends to be
defending Marie Fauville. Play-acting! Or perhaps remorse, fright at the
thought of all that she has done against her rival, and of the fate that
awaits the unhappy woman!
"But she is in love with Sauverand. And she continues to carry on the
struggle without pity and without respite. And that is why she wanted to
kill me, the interloper whose insight she dreaded. And she hates me and
To the hum of the engine and the sighing of the trees, which bent down at
the approach, he murmured incoherent words. The recollection of the two
lovers clasped in each other's arms made him cry aloud with jealousy. He
wanted to be revenged. For the first time in his life, the longing, the
feverish craving to kill set his brain boiling.
"Hang it all!" he growled suddenly. "The engine's misfiring! Mazeroux!
"What, Chief! Did you know that I was here?" exclaimed Mazeroux, emerging
from the shadow in which he sat hidden.
"You jackass! Do you think that the first idiot who comes along can hang
on to the footboard of my car without my knowing it? You must be feeling
comfortable down there!"
"I'm suffering agonies, and I'm shivering with cold."
"That's right, it'll teach you. Tell me, where did you buy your petrol?"
"At the grocer's."
"At a thief's, you mean. It's muck. The plugs are getting sooted up."
"Are you sure?"
"Can't you hear the misfiring, you fool?"
The motor, indeed, at moments seemed to hesitate. Then everything became
normal again. Don Luis forced the pace. Going downhill they appeared to
be hurling themselves into space. One of the lamps went out. The other
was not as bright as usual. But nothing diminished Don Luis's ardour.
There was more misfiring, fresh hesitations, followed by efforts, as
though the engine was pluckily striving to do its duty. And then suddenly
came the final failure, a dead stop at the side of the road, a stupid
"Confound it!" roared Don Luis. "We're stuck! Oh, this is the last
"Come, Chief, we'll put it right. And we'll pick up Sauverand at Paris
instead of Chartres, that's all."
"You infernal ass! The repairs will take an hour! And then she'll break
down again. It's not petrol, it's filth they've foisted on you."
The country stretched around them to endless distances, with no other
lights than the stars that riddled the darkness of the sky.
Don Luis was stamping with fury. He would have liked to kick the motor to
pieces. He would have liked--
It was Mazeroux who "caught it," in the hapless sergeant's own words. Don
Luis took him by the shoulders, shook him, loaded him with insults and
abuse and, finally, pushing him against the roadside bank and holding him
there, said, in a broken voice of mingled hatred and sorrow.
"It's she, do you hear, Mazeroux? it's Sauverand's companion who has done
everything. I'm telling you now, because I'm afraid of relenting. Yes, I
am a weak coward. She has such a grave face, with the eyes of a child.
But it's she, Mazeroux. She lives in my house. Remember her name:
Florence Levasseur. You'll arrest her, won't you? I might not be able to.
My courage fails me when I look at her. The fact is that I have never
"There have been other women--but no, those were fleeting fancies--not
even that: I don't even remember the past! Whereas Florence--! You must
arrest her, Mazeroux. You must deliver me from her eyes. They burn into
me like poison. If you don't deliver me I shall kill her as I killed
Dolores--or else they will kill me--or--Oh, I don't know all the ideas
that are driving me wild--!
"You see, there's another man," he explained. "There's Sauverand, whom
she loves. Oh, the infamous pair! They have killed Fauville and the boy
and old Langernault and those two in the barn and others besides: Cosmo
Mornington, Verot, and more still. They are monsters, she most of
all--And if you saw her eyes-"
He spoke so low that Mazeroux could hardly hear him. He had let go his
hold of Mazeroux and seemed utterly cast down with despair, a surprising
symptom in a man of his amazing vigour and authority.
"Come, Chief," said the sergeant, helping him up. "This is all stuff and
nonsense. Trouble with women: I've had it like everybody else. Mme.
Mazeroux--yes, I got married while you were away--Mme. Mazeroux turned
out badly herself, gave me the devil of a time, Mme. Mazeroux did. I'll
tell you all about it, Chief, how Mme. Mazeroux rewarded my kindness."
He led Don Luis gently to the car and settled him on the front seat.
"Take a rest, Chief. It's not very cold and there are plenty of furs. The
first peasant that comes along at daybreak, I'll send him to the next
town for what we want--and for food, too, for I'm starving. And
everything will come right; it always does with women. All you have to do
is to kick them out of your life--except when they anticipate you and
kick themselves out.... I was going to tell you: Mme. Mazeroux--"
Don Luis was never to learn what had happened with Mme. Mazeroux. The
most violent catastrophies had no effect upon the peacefulness of his
slumbers. He was asleep almost at once.
It was late in the morning when he woke up. Mazeroux had had to wait till
seven o'clock before he could hail a cyclist on his way to Chartres.
They made a start at nine o'clock. Don Luis had recovered all his
coolness. He turned to his sergeant.
"I said a lot last night that I did not mean to say. However, I don't
regret it. Yes, it is my duty to do everything to save Mme. Fauville and
to catch the real culprit. Only the task falls upon myself; and I swear
that I shan't fail in it. This evening Florence Levasseur shall sleep in
"I'll help you, Chief," replied Mazeroux, in a queer tone of voice.
"I need nobody's help. If you touch a single hair of her head, I'll do
for you. Do you understand?"
"Then hold your tongue."
His anger was slowly returning and expressed itself in an increase of
speed, which seemed to Mazeroux a revenge executed upon himself. They
raced over the cobble-stones of Chartres. Rambouillet, Chevreuse, and
Versailles received the terrifying vision of a thunderbolt tearing across
them from end to end.
Saint-Cloud. The Bois de Boulogne ...
On the Place de la Concorde, as the motor was turning toward the
Tuileries, Mazeroux objected:
"Aren't you going home, Chief?"
"No. There's something more urgent first: we must relieve Marie Fauville
of her suicidal obsession by letting her know that we have discovered the
"Then I want to see the Prefect of Police."
"M. Desmalions is away and won't be back till this afternoon."
"In that case the examining magistrate."
"He doesn't get to the law courts till twelve; and it's only eleven now."
Mazeroux was right: there was no one at the law courts.
Don Luis lunched somewhere close by; and Mazeroux, after calling at the
detective office, came to fetch him and took him to the magistrate's
corridor. Don Luis's excitement, his extraordinary restlessness, did not
fail to strike Mazeroux, who asked:
"Are you still of the same mind, Chief?"
"More than ever. I looked through the newspapers at lunch. Marie
Fauville, who was sent to the infirmary after her second attempt, has
again tried to kill herself by banging her head against the wall of the
room. They have put a straitjacket on her. But she is refusing all food.
It is my duty to save her."
"By handing over the real criminal. I shall inform the magistrate in
charge of the case; and this evening I shall bring you Florence Levasseur
dead or alive."
"Sauverand? That won't take long. Unless--"
"Unless I settle his business myself, the miscreant!"
"Oh, dry up!"
There were some reporters near them waiting for particulars. He
recognized them and went up to them.
"You can say, gentlemen, that from to-day I am taking up the defence of
Marie Fauville and devoting myself entirely to her cause."
They all protested: was it not he who had had Mme. Fauville arrested? Was
it not he who had collected a heap of convicting proofs against her?
"I shall demolish those proofs one by one," he said. "Marie Fauville is
the victim of wretches who have hatched the most diabolical plot against
her, and whom I am about to deliver up to justice."
"But the teeth! The marks of the teeth!"
"A coincidence! An unparalleled coincidence, but one which now strikes me
as a most powerful proof of innocence. I tell you that, if Marie Fauville
had been clever enough to commit all those murders, she would also have
been clever enough not to leave behind her a fruit bearing the marks of
her two rows of teeth."
"She is innocent! And that is what I am going to tell the examining
magistrate. She must be informed of the efforts that are being made in
her favour. She must be given hope at once. If not, the poor thing will
kill herself and her death will be on the conscience of all who accused
an innocent woman. She must--"
At that moment he interrupted himself. His eyes were fixed on one of the
journalists who was standing a little way off listening to him and
He whispered to Mazeroux:
"Could you manage to find out that beggar's name? I can't remember where
on earth I've seen him before."
But an usher now opened the door of the examining magistrate, who, on
receiving Don Perenna's card, had asked to see him at once. He stepped
forward and was about to enter the room with Mazeroux, when he suddenly
turned to his companion with a cry of rage:
"It's he! It was Sauverand in disguise. Stop him! He's made off. Run,
He himself darted away followed by Mazeroux and a number of warders and
journalists, He soon outdistanced them, so that, three minutes later, he
heard no one more behind him. He had rushed down the staircase of the
"Mousetrap," and through the subway leading from one courtyard to the
other. Here two people told him that they had met a man walking at a
The track was a false one. He became aware of this, hunted about, lost a
good deal of time, and managed to discover that Sauverand had left by the
Boulevard du Palais and joined a very pretty, fair-haired woman--Florence
Levasseur, obviously--on the Quai de l'Horloge. They had both got into
the motor bus that runs from the Place Saint-Michel to the Gare
Don Luis went back to a lonely little street where he had left his car in
the charge of a boy. He set the engine going and drove at full speed to
the Gare Saint-Lazare, From the omnibus shelter he went off on a fresh
track which also proved to be wrong, lost quite another hour, returned to
the terminus, and ended by learning for certain that Florence had stepped
by herself into a motor bus which would take her toward the Place du
Palais-Bourbon. Contrary to all his expectations, therefore, the girl
must have gone home.
The thought of seeing her again roused his anger to its highest pitch.
All the way down the Rue Royale and across the Place de la Concorde he
kept blurting out words of revenge and threats which he was itching to
carry out. He would abuse Florence. He would sting her with his insults.
He felt a bitter and painful need to hurt the odious creature.
But on reaching the Place du Palais-Bourbon he pulled up short. His
practised eye had counted at a glance, on the right and left, a
half-dozen men whose professional look there was no mistaking. And
Mazeroux, who had caught sight of him, had spun round on his heel and was
hiding under a gateway.
He called him:
The sergeant appeared greatly surprised to hear his name and came up
to the car.
"Hullo, the Chief!"
His face expressed such embarrassment that Don Luis felt his fears taking
"Look here, is it for me that you and your men are hanging about outside
"There's a notion, Chief," replied Mazeroux, looking very uncomfortable.
"You know that you're in favour all right!"
Don Luis gave a start. He understood. Mazeroux had betrayed his
confidence. To obey his scruples of conscience as well as to rescue the
chief from the dangers of a fatal passion, Mazeroux had denounced
Perenna clenched his fists in an effort of his whole being to stifle his
boiling rage. It was a terrible blow. He received a sudden intuition of
all the blunders which his mad jealousy had made him commit since the day
before, and a presentiment of the irreparable disasters that might result
from them. The conduct of events was slipping from him.
"Have you the warrant?" he asked.
"It was quite by accident. I met the Prefect, who was back. We spoke of
the young lady's business. And, as it happened, they had discovered that
the photograph--you know, the photograph of Florence Levasseur which the
Prefect lent you--well, they have discovered that you faked it. And then
when I mentioned the name of Florence, the Prefect remembered that that
was the name."
"Have you the warrant?" Don Luis repeated, in a harsher tone.
"Well, you see, I couldn't help it.... M. Desmalions, the magistrate--"
If the Place du Palais Bourbon had been deserted at that moment, Don
Luis would certainly have relieved himself by a swinging blow
administered to Mazeroux's chin according to the most scientific rules
of the noble art. And Mazeroux foresaw this contingency, for he
prudently kept as far away as possible and, to appease the chief's
anger, intended a whole litany of excuses:
"It was for your good, Chief.... I had to do it ... Only think! You
yourself told me: 'Rid me of the creature!' said you. I'm too weak.
You'll arrest her, won't you? Her eyes burn into me--like poison! Well,
Chief, could I help it? No, I couldn't, could I? Especially as the
"Ah! So Weber knows?"
"Why, yes! The Prefect is a little suspicious of you since he understood
about the faking of the portrait. So M. Weber is coming back in an hour,
perhaps, with reinforcements. Well, I was saying, the deputy chief had
learnt that the woman who used to go to Gaston Sauverand's at
Neuilly--you know, the house on the Boulevard Richard-Wallace--was fair
and very good looking, and that her name was Florence. She even used to
stay the night sometimes."
"You lie! You lie!" hissed Perenna.
All his spite was reviving. He had been pursuing Florence with intentions
which it would have been difficult for him to put into words. And now
suddenly he again wanted to destroy her; and this time consciously. In
reality he no longer knew what he was doing. He was acting at haphazard,
tossed about in turns by the most diverse passions, a prey to that
inordinate love which impels us as readily to kill the object of our
affections as to die in an attempt to save her.
A newsboy passed with a special edition of the _Paris-Midi_, showing in
great black letters:
"SENSATIONAL DECLARATION BY DON LUIS PERENNA
"MME. FAUVILLE IS INNOCENT.
"IMMINENT ARREST OF THE TWO CRIMINALS"
"Yes, yes," he said aloud. "The drama is drawing to an end. Florence is
about to pay her debt to society. So much the worse for her."
He started his car again and drove through the gate. In the courtyard he
said to his chauffeur, who came up:
"Turn her around and don't put her up. I may be starting again at
He sprang out and asked the butler:
"Is Mlle. Levasseur in?"
"Yes, sir, she's in her room."
"She was away yesterday, wasn't she?"
"Yes, sir, she received a telegram asking her to go to the country to see
a relation who was ill. She came back last night."
"I want to speak to her. Send her to me. At once."
"In the study, sir?"
"No, upstairs, in the boudoir next to my bedroom."
This was a small room on the second floor which had once been a lady's
boudoir, and he preferred it to his study since the attempt at murder of
which he had been the object. He was quieter up there, farther away; and
he kept his important papers there. He always carried the key with him: a
special key with three grooves to it and an inner spring.
Mazeroux had followed him into the courtyard and was keeping close behind
him, apparently unobserved by Perenna, who having so far appeared not to
notice it. He now, however, took the sergeant by the arm and led him to
the front steps.
"All is going well. I was afraid that Florence, suspecting something,
might not have come back. But she probably doesn't know that I saw her
yesterday. She can't escape us now."
They went across the hall and up the stairs to the first floor. Mazeroux
rubbed his hands.
"So you've come to your senses, Chief?"
"At any rate I've made up my mind. I will not, do you hear, I will not
have Mme. Fauville kill herself; and, as there is no other way of
preventing that catastrophe, I shall sacrifice Florence."
"Then you forgive me?"
"I thank you."
And he struck him a clean, powerful blow under the chin. Mazeroux fell
without a moan, in a dead faint on the steps of the second flight.
Halfway up the stairs was a dark recess that served as a lumber room
where the servants kept their pails and brooms and the soiled household
linen. Don Luis carried Mazeroux to it, and, seating him comfortably on
the floor, with his back to a housemaid's box, he stuffed his
handkerchief into his mouth, gagged him with a towel, and bound his
wrists and ankles with two tablecloths. The other ends of these he
fastened to a couple of strong nails. As Mazeroux was slowly coming to
himself, Don Luis said:
"I think you have all you want. Tablecloths--napkins--something in your
mouth in case you're hungry. Eat at your ease. And then take a little
nap, and you'll wake up as fresh as paint."
He locked him in and glanced at his watch.
"I have an hour before me. Capital!"
At that moment his intention was to insult Florence, to throw up all her
scandalous crimes in her face, and, in this way, to force a written and
signed confession from her. Afterward, when Marie Fauville's safety was
insured, he would see. Perhaps he would put Florence in his motor and
carry her off to some refuge from which, with the girl for a hostage, he
would be able to influence the police. Perhaps--But he did not seek to
anticipate events. What he wanted was an immediate, violent explanation.
He ran up to his bedroom on the second floor and dipped his face into
cold water. Never had he experienced such a stimulation of his whole
being, such an unbridling of his blind instincts.
"It's she!" he spluttered. "I hear her! She is at the bottom of the
stairs. At last! Oh, the joy of having her in front of me! Face to face!
She and I alone!"
He returned to the landing outside the boudoir. He took the key from his
pocket. The door opened.
He uttered a great shout: Gaston Sauverand was there! In that locked room
Gaston Sauverand was waiting for him, standing with folded arms.
GASTON SAUVERAND EXPLAINS
Instinctively, Don Luis took a step back, drew his revolver, and aimed it
at the criminal:
"Hands up!" he commanded. "Hands up, or I fire!"
Sauverand did not appear to be put out. He nodded toward two revolvers
which he had laid on a table beyond his reach and said:
"There are my arms. I have come here not to fight, but to talk."
"How did you get in?" roared Don Luis, exasperated by this display of
calmness. "A false key, I suppose? But how did you get hold of the key?
How did you manage it?"
The other did not reply. Don Luis stamped his foot:
"Speak, will you? Speak! If not--"
But Florence ran into the room. She passed him by without his trying to
stop her, flung herself upon Gaston Sauverand, and, taking no heed of
Perenna's presence, said:
"Why did you come? You promised me that you wouldn't. You swore it
to me. Go!"
Sauverand released himself and forced her into a chair.
"Let me be, Florence. I promised only so as to reassure you. Let me be."
"No, I will not!" exclaimed the girl eagerly. "It's madness! I won't have
you say a single word. Oh, please, please stop!"
He bent over her and smoothed her forehead, separating her mass of
"Let me do things my own way, Florence," he said softly.
She was silent, as though disarmed by the gentleness of his voice; and he
whispered more words which Don Luis could not hear and which seemed to
Perenna had not moved. He stood opposite them with his arm outstretched
and his finger on the trigger, aiming at the enemy. When Sauverand
addressed Florence by her Christian name, he started from head to foot
and his finger trembled. What miracle kept him from shooting? By what
supreme effort of will did he stifle the jealous hatred that burnt him
like fire? And here was Sauverand daring to stroke Florence's hair!
He lowered his arm. He would kill them later, do with them what he
pleased, since they were in his power, and since nothing henceforth could
snatch them from his vengeance.
He took Sauverand's two revolvers and laid them in a drawer. Then he went
back to the door, intending to lock it. But hearing a sound on the
first-floor landing, he leant over the balusters. The butler was coming
upstairs with a tray in his hand.
"What is it now?"
"An urgent letter, sir, for Sergeant Mazeroux."
"Sergeant Mazeroux is with me. Give me the letter and don't let me be
He tore open the envelope. The letter, hurriedly written in pencil and
signed by one of the inspectors on duty outside the house, contained
"Look out, Sergeant. Gaston Sauverand is in the house. Two people living
opposite say that the girl who is known hereabouts as the lady
housekeeper came in at half-past one, before we took up our posts. She
was next seen at the window of her lodge.
"A few moments after, a small, low door, used for the cellars and
situated under the lodge, was opened, evidently by her. Almost at the
same time a man entered the square, came along the wall, and slipped in
through the cellar door. According to the description it was Gaston
Sauverand. So look out, Sergeant. At the least alarm, at the first signal
from you, we shall come in."
Don Luis reflected. He now understood how the scoundrel had access to his
house, and how, hidden in the safest of retreats, he was able to escape
every attempt to find him. He was living under the roof of the very man
who had declared himself his most formidable adversary.
"Come on," he said to himself. "The fellow's score is settled--and so is
his young lady's. They can choose between the bullets in my revolver and
the handcuffs of the police."
He had ceased to think of his motor standing ready below. He no longer
dreamt of flight with Florence. If he did not kill the two of them, the
law would lay its hand upon them, the hand that does not let go. And