"A Man Has Passed like a Shadow through the Blinds"
HALF an hour later Rouletabille and I were on the platform of the Orleans station, awaiting the departure of the train which was to take us to Epinay-sur-Orge.
On the platform we found Monsieur de Marquet and his Registrar, who represented the Judicial Court of Corbeil. Monsieur Marquet had spent the night in Paris, attending the final rehearsal, at the Scala, of a little play of which he was the unknown author, signing himself simply "Castigat Ridendo".
Monsieur de Marquet was beginning to be a "noble old gentleman." Generally he was extremely polite and full of gay humour, and in all his life had had but one passion, — that of dramatic art. Throughout his magisterial career he was interested solely in cases capable of furnishing him with something in the nature of a drama. Though he might very well have aspired to the highest judicial positions, he had never really worked for anything but to win a success at the romantic Porte-Saint-Martin, or at the sombre Odéon.
Because of the mystery which shrouded it, the case of "The Yellow Room" was certain to facinate so theatrical a mind. It interested him enormously, and he threw himself into it, less as a magistrate eager to know the truth, than as an amateur of dramatic embroglios, tending wholly to mystery and intrigue, who dreads nothing so much as the explanatory final act.
So that, at the moment of meeting him, I heard Monsieur de Marquet say to the Registrar with a sigh:—
"I hope, my dear Monsieur Maleine, this builder with his pickaxe will not destroy so fine a mystery."
"Have no fear," replied Monsieur Maleine, "his pickaxe may demolish the pavilion, perhaps, but it will leave our case intact. I have sounded the walls and examined the ceiling and floor and I know all about it. I am not to be deceived."
Having thus reassured his chief, Monsieur Maleine, with a discreet movement of the head, drew Monsieur de Marquet's attention to us. The face of that gentleman clouded, and, as he saw Rouletabille approaching, hat in hand, he sprang into one of the empty carriages saying, half aloud to his Registrar, as he did so, "Above all, no journalists!"
Monsieur Maleine replied in the same tone, "I understand!" and then tried to prevent Rouletabille from entering the same compartment with the examining magistrate.
"Excuse me, gentlemen, — this compartment is reserved."
"I am a journalist, Monsieur, engaged on the 'Epoque,'" said my young friend with a great show of gesture and politeness, "and I have a word or two to say to Monsieur de Marquet."
"Monsieur is very much engaged with the inquiry he has in hand."
"Ah! his inquiry, pray believe me, is absolutely a matter of indifference to me. I am no scavenger of odds and ends," he went on, with infinite contempt in his lower lip, "I am a theatrical reporter; and this evening I shall have to give a little account of the play at the Scala."
"Get in, sir, please," said the Registrar.
Rouletabille was already in the compartment. I went in after him and seated myself by his side. The Registrar followed and closed the carriage door.
Monsieur de Marquet looked at him.
"Ah, sir," Rouletabille began, "You must not be angry with Monsieur de Maleine. It is not with Monsieur de Marquet that I desire to have the honour of speaking, but with Monsieur 'Castigat Ridendo.' Permit me to congratulate you — personally, as well as the writer for the 'Epoque.'" And Rouletabille, having first introduced me, introduced himself.
Monsieur de Marquet, with a nervous gesture, caressed his beard into a point, and explained to Rouletabille, in a few words, that he was too modest an author to desire that the veil of his pseudonym should be publicly raised, and that he hoped the enthusiasm of the journalist for the dramatist's work would not lead him to tell the public that Monsieur "Castigat Ridendo" and the examining magistrate of Corbeil were one and the same person.
"The work of the dramatic author may interfere," he said, after a slight hesitation, "with that of the magistrate, especially in a province where one's labours are little more than routine."
"Oh, you may rely on my discretion!" cried Rouletabille.
The train was in motion.
"We have started!" said the examining magistrate, surprised at seeing us still in the carriage.
"Yes, Monsieur, — truth has started," said Rouletabile, smiling amiably, — "on its way to the Château du Glandier. A fine case, Monsieur de Marquet, — a fine case!"
"An obscure — incredible, unfathomable, inexplicable affair — and there is only one thing I fear, Monsieur Rouletabille, — that the journalists will be trying to explain it."
My friend felt this a rap on his knuckles.
"Yes," he said simply, "that is to be feared. They meddle in everything. As for my interest, monsieur, I only referred to it by mere chance, — the mere chance of finding myself in the same train with you, and in the same compartment of the same carriage."
"Where are you going, then?" asked Monsieur de Marquet.
"To the Château du Glandier," replied Rouletabille, without turning.
"You'll not get in, Monsieur Rouletabille!"
"Will you prevent me?" said my friend, already prepared to fight.
"Not I! — I like the press and journalists too well to be in any way disagreeable to them; but Monsieur Stangerson has given orders for his door to be closed against everybody, and it is well guarded. Not a journalist was able to pass through the gate of the Glandier yesterday."
Monsieur de Marquet compressed his lips and seemed ready to relapse into obstinate silence. He only relaxed a little when Rouletabille no longer left him in ignorance of the fact that we were going to the Glandier for the purpose of shaking hands with an "old and intimate friend," Monsieur Robert Darzac — a man whom Rouletabille had perhaps seen once in his life.
"Poor Robert!" continued the young reporter, "this dreadful affair may be his death, — he is so deeply in love with Mademoiselle Stangerson."
"His sufferings are truly painful to witness," escaped like a regret from the lips of Monsieur de Marquet.
"But it is to be hoped that Mademoiselle Stangerson's life will be saved."
"Let us hope so. Her father told me yesterday that, if she does not recover, it will not be long before he joins her in the grave. What an incalculable loss to science his death would be!"
"The wound on her temple is serious, is it not?"
"Evidently; but, by a wonderful chance, it has not proved mortal. The blow was given with great force."
"Then it was not with the revolver she was wounded," said Rouletabille, glancing at me in triumph.
Monsieur de Marquet appeared greatly embarrassed.
"I did n't say anything — I don't want to say anything — I will not say anything," he said. And he turned towards his Registrar as if he no longer knew us.
But Rouletabille was not to be so easily shaken off. He moved nearer to the examining magistrate and, drawing a copy of the "Matin" from his pocket, he showed it to him and said:—
"There is one thing, Monsieur, which I may enquire of you without committing an indiscretion. You have, of course, seen the account given in the 'Matin'? It is absurd, is it not?"
"Not in the slightest, Monsieur."
"What! The Yellow Room has but one barred window — the bars of which have not been moved — and only one door, which had to be broken open — and the assassin was not found!"
"That's so, monsieur, — that's so. That's how the matter stands."
Rouletabille said no more but plunged into thought. A quarter of an hour thus passed.
Coming back to himself again he said, addressing the magistrate:—
"How did Mademoiselle Stangerson wear her hair on that evening?"
"I don't know," replied Monsieur de Marquet.
"That's a very important point," said Rouletabille. "Her hair was done up in bands, wasn't it? I feel sure that on that evening, the evening of the crime, she had her hair arranged in bands."
"Then you are mistaken, Monsieur Rouletabille," replied the magistrate; "Mademoiselle Stangerson that evening had her hair drawn up in a knot on the top of her head, — her usual way of arranging it — her forehead completely uncovered. I can assure you, for we have carefully examined the wound. There was no blood on the hair, and the arrangement of it has not been disturbed since the crime was committed."
"You are sure! You are sure that, on the night of the crime, she had not her hair in bands?"
"Quite sure," the magistrate continued, smiling, "because I remember the Doctor saying to me, while he was examining the wound, 'It is a great pity Mademoiselle Stangerson was in the habit of drawing her hair back from her forehead. If she had worn it in bands, the blow she received on the temple would have been weakened.' It seems strange to me that you should attach so much importance to this point."
"Oh! if she had not her hair in bands, I give it up," said Rouletabille, with a despairing gesture.
"And was the wound on her temple a bad one?" he asked presently.
"With what weapon was it made?"
"That is a secret of the investigation."
"Have you found the weapon — whatever it was?"
The magistrate did not answer.
"And the wound in the throat?"
Here the examining magistrate readily confirmed the decision of the doctor that, if the murderer had pressed her throat a few seconds longer, Mademoiselle Stangerson would have died of strangulation.
"The affair as reported in the 'Matin,'" said Rouletabille eagerly, "seems to me more and more inexplicable. Can you tell me, Monsieur, how many openings there are in the pavilion? I mean doors and windows."
"There are five," replied Monsieur de Marquet, after having coughed once or twice, but no longer resisting the desire he felt to talk of the whole of the incredible mystery of the affair he was investigating. "There are five, of which the door of the vestibule is the only entrance to the pavilion, — a door always automatically closed, which cannot be opened, either from the outer or inside, except with the two special keys which are never out of the possession of either Daddy Jacques or Monsieur Stangerson. Mademoiselle Stangerson had no need for one, since Daddy Jacques lodged in the pavilion and because, during the daytime, she never left her father. When they, all four, rushed into The Yellow Room, after breaking open the door of the laboratory, the door in the vestibule remained closed as usual and, of the two keys for opening it, Daddy Jacques had one in his pocket, and Monsieur Stangerson the other. As to the windows of the pavilion, there are four; the one window of The Yellow Room and those of the laboratory looking out on to the country; the window in the vestibule looking into the park."
"It is by that window that he escaped from the pavilion!" cried Rouletabille.
"How do you know that?" demanded Monsieur de Marquet, fixing a strange look on my young friend.
"We'll see later how he got away from The Yellow Room," replied Rouletabille, "but he must have left the pavilion by the vestibule window."
"Once more, — how do you know that?"
"How? Oh, the thing is simple enough! As soon as he found he could not escape by the door of the pavilion his only way out was by the window in the vestibule, unless he could pass through a grated window. The window of The Yellow Room is secured by iron bars, because it looks out upon the open country; the two windows of the laboratory have to be protected in like manner for the same reason. As the murderer got away, I conceive that he found a window that was not barred, — that of the vestibule, which opens on to the park, — that is to say, into the interior of the estate. There's not much magic in all that."
"Yes," said Monsieur de Marquet, "but what you have not guessed is that this single window in the vestibule, though it has no iron bars, has solid iron blinds. Now these iron blinds have remained fastened by their iron latch; and yet we have proof that the murderer made his escape from the, pavilion by that window! Traces of blood on the inside wall and on the blinds as well as on the floor, and footmarks, of which I have taken the measurements, attest the fact that the murderer made his escape that way. But then, how did he do it, seeing that the blinds remained fastened on the inside? He passed through them like a shadow. But what is more bewildering than all is that it is impossible to form any idea as to how the murderer got out of The Yellow Room, or how he got across the laboratory to reach the vestibule! Ah, yes, Monsieur Rouletabille, it is altogether as you said, a fine case, the key to which will not be discovered for a long time, I hope."
"You hope, Monsieur?"
Monsieur de Marquet corrected himself.
"I do not hope so, — I think so."
"Could that window have been closed and refastened after the flight of the assassin?" asked Rouletabille.
"That is what occurred to me for a moment; but it would imply an accomplice or accomplices, — and I don't see —"
After a short silence he added:—
"Ah — if Mademoiselle Stangerson were only well enough to-day to be questioned!"
Rouletabille following up his thought, asked:—
"And the attic? — There must be some opening to that?"
"Yes; there is a window, or rather skylight, in it, which, as it looks out towards the country, Monsieur Stangerson has had barred, like the rest of the windows. These bars, as in the other windows, have remained intact, and the blinds, which naturally open inwards, have not been unfastened. For the rest, we have not discovered anything to lead us to suspect that the murderer had passed through the attic."
"It seems clear to you, then, Monsieur, that the murderer escaped — nobody knows how — by the window in the vestibule?"
"Everything goes to prove it."
"I think so, too," confessed Rouletabille gravely.
After a brief silence, he continued:—
"If you have not found any traces of the murderer in the attic, such as the dirty footmarks similar to those on the floor of The Yellow Room, you must come to the conclusion that it was not he who stole Daddy Jacques's revolver."
"There are no footmarks in the attic other than those of Daddy Jacques himself," said the magistrate with a significant turn of his head. Then, after an apparent decision, he added: "Daddy Jacques was with Monsieur Stangerson in the laboratory — and it was lucky for him he was."
"Then what part did his revolver play in the tragedy? — It seems very clear that this weapon did less harm to Mademoiselle Stangerson than it did to the murderer."
The magistrate made no reply to this question, which doubtless embarrassed him. "Monsieur Stangerson," he said, "tells us that the two bullets have been found in The Yellow Room, one embedded in the wall stained with the impression of a red hand — a man's large hand — and the other in the ceiling."
"Oh! oh! in the ceiling!" muttered Rouletabille. "In the ceiling! That's very curious! — In the ceiling!"
He puffed awhile in silence at his pipe, enveloping himself in the smoke. When we reached Savigny-sur-Orge, I had to tap him on the shoulder to arouse him from his dream and come out on to the platform of the station.
There, the magistrate and his Registrar bowed to us, and by rapidly getting into a cab that was awaiting them, made us understand that they had seen enough of us.
"How long will it take to walk to the Château du Glandier?" Rouletabille asked one of the railway porters.
"An hour and a half or an hour and three quarters — easy walking," the man replied.
Rouletabille looked up at the sky and, no doubt, finding its appearance satisfactory, took my arm and said:—
"Come on! — I need a walk."
"Are things getting less entangled?" I asked.
"Not a bit of it!" he said, "more entangled than ever! It's true, I have an idea—"
"What's that?" I asked.
"I can't tell you what it is just at present — it's an idea involving the life or death of two persons at least."
"Do you think there were accomplices?"
"I don't think it —"
We fell into silence. Presently he went on:—
"It was a bit of luck, our falling in with that examining magistrate and his Registrar, eh? What did I tell you about that revolver?"
His head was bent down, he had his hands in his pockets, and he was whistling. After a while I heard him murmur:—
"Is it Mademoiselle Stangerson you are pitying?"
"Yes; she's a noble woman and worthy of being pitied! — a woman of a great, a very great character — I imagine — I imagine."
"You know her then?"
"Not at all. I have never seen her."
"Why, then, do you say that she is a woman of great character?"
"Because she bravely faced the murderer; because she courageously defended herself — and, above all, because of the bullet in the ceiling."
I looked at Rouletabille and inwardly wondered whether he was not mocking me, or whether he had not suddenly gone out of his senses. But I saw that he had never been less inclined to laugh, and the brightness of his keenly intelligent eyes assured me that he retained all his reason. Then, too, I was used to his broken way of talking, which only left me puzzled as to his meaning, till, with a very few clear, rapidly uttered words, he would make the drift of his ideas clear to me, and I saw that what he had previously said, and which had appeared to me void of meaning, was so thoroughly logical that I could not understand how it was I had not understood him sooner.