In Which Rouletabille Sets out on an Expedition under the Bed
ROULETABILLE having pushed open the door of The Yellow Room paused on the threshold saying, with an emotion which I only later understood, "Ah, the perfume of the lady in black!"
The chamber was dark. Daddy Jacques was about to open the blinds when Rouletabille stopped him.
"Did not the tragedy take place in complete darkness?" he asked.
"No, young man, I don't think so. Mademoiselle always had a nightlight on her table, and I lit it every evening before she went to bed. I was a sort of chambermaid, you must understand, when the evening came. The real chambermaid did not come here much before the morning. Mademoiselle worked late — far into the night."
"Where did the table with the night-light stand, — far from the bed?"
"Some way from the bed."
"Can you light the burner now?"
"The lamp is broken and the oil that was in it was spilled when the table was upset. All the rest of the things in the room remain just as they were. I have only to open the blinds for you to see."
Rouletabille went back into the laboratory, closed the shutters of the two windows and the door of the vestibule. When we were in complete darkness, he lit a wax vesta, and asked Daddy Jacques to move to the middle of the chamber with it to the place where the night-light was burning that night.
Daddy Jacques who was in his stockings — he usually left his sabots in the vestibule — entered The Yellow Room with his bit of a vesta. We vaguely distinguished objects overthrown on the floor, a bed in one corner, and, in front of us, to the left, the gleam of a looking-glass hanging on the wall, near to the bed.
"That will do! — you may now open the blinds," said Rouletabille.
"Don't come any further," Daddy Jacques begged, "you may make marks with your boots, and nothing must be deranged; it's an idea of the magistrate's — though he has nothing more to do here."
And he pushed open the shutter. The pale daylight entered from without, throwing a sinister light on the saffron-coloured walls. The floor — for though the laboratory and the vestibule were tiled, The Yellow Room had a flooring of wood — was covered with a single yellow mat which was large enough to cover nearly the whole room, under the bed and under the dressing-table — the only piece of furniture that remained upright. The centre round table, the night-table and two chairs had been overturned. These did not prevent a large stain of blood being visible on the mat, made, as Daddy Jacques informed us, by the blood which had flowed from the wound on Mademoiselle Stangerson's forehead. Besides these stains, drops of blood had fallen in all directions, in line with the visible traces of the footsteps — large and black — of the murderer. Everything led to the presumption that these drops of blood had fallen from the wound of the man who had, for a moment, placed his red hand on the wall. There were other traces of the same hand on the wall, but much less distinct.
"See! — see this blood on the wall!" I could not help exclaiming. "The man who pressed his hand so heavily upon it in the darkness must certainly have thought that he was pushing at a door! That's why he pressed on it so hard, leaving on the yellow paper the terrible evidence. I don't think there are many hands in the world of that sort. It is big and strong and the fingers are nearly all one as long as the other! The thumb is wanting and we have only the mark of the palm; but if we follow the trace of the hand," I continued, "we see that, after leaving its imprint on the wall, the touch sought the door, found it, and then felt for the lock —"
"No doubt," interrupted Rouletabille, chuckling, — "only there is no blood, either on the lock or on the bolt!"
"What does that prove?" I rejoined with a good sense of which I was proud; "he might have opened the lock with his left hand, which would have been quite natural, his right hand being wounded."
"He didn't open it at all!" Daddy Jacques again exclaimed. "We are not fools; and there were four of us when we burst open the door!"
"What a queer hand! — Look what a queer hand it is!" I said.
"It is a very natural hand," said Rouletabille, "of which the shape has been deformed by its having slipped on the wall. The man dried his hand on the wall. He must be a man about five feet eight in height."
"How do you come at that?"
"By the height of the marks on the wall."
My friend next occupied himself with the mark of the bullet in the wall. It was a round hole.
"This ball was fired straight, not from above, and consequently, not from below."
Rouletabille went back to the door and carefully examined the lock and the bolt, satisfying himself that the door had certainly been burst open from the outside, and, further, that the key had been found in the lock on the inside of the chamber. He finally satisfied himself that with the key in the lock, the door could not possibly be opened from without with another key. Having made sure of all these details, he let fall these words: "That's better!" — Then sitting down on the ground, he hastily took off his boots and, in his socks, went into the room.
The first thing he did was to examine minutely the overturned furniture. We watched him in silence.
"Young fellow, you are giving yourself a great deal of trouble," said Daddy Jacques ironically.
Rouletabille raised his head and said:—
"You have spoken the simple truth, Daddy Jacques; your mistress did not have her hair in bands that evening. I was a donkey to have believed she did."
Then, with the suppleness of a serpent, he slipped under the bed. Presently we heard him ask:—
"At what time, Monsieur Jacques, did Monsieur and Mademoiselle Stangerson arrive at the laboratory?"
"At six o'clock."
The voice of Rouletabille continued:
"Yes, — he's been under here, — that's certain; in fact, there was no where else where he could have hidden himself. Here, too, are the marks of his hobnails. When you entered — all four of you — did you look under the bed?"
"At once, — we drew it right out of its place —"
"And between the mattresses?"
"There was only one on the bed, and on that Mademoiselle was placed; and Monsieur Stangerson and the concierge immediately carried it into the laboratory. Under the mattress there was nothing but the metal netting, which could not conceal anything or anybody. Remember, monsieur, that there were four of us and we could n't fail to see everything — the chamber is so small and scantily furnished, and all was locked behind in the pavilion."
I ventured on a hypothesis:—
"Perhaps he got away with the mattress — in the mattress! — Anything is possible, in the face of such a mystery! In their distress of mind Monsieur Stangerson and the concierge may not have noticed they were bearing a double weight; especially if the concierge were an accomplice! I throw out this hypothesis for what it is worth, but it explains many things, — and particularly the fact that neither the laboratory nor the vestibule bear any traces of the footmarks found in the room. If, in carrying Mademoiselle on the mattress from the laboratory of the château, they rested for a moment, there might have been an opportunity for the man in it to escape."
"And then?" asked Rouletabille, deliberately laughing under the bed.
I felt rather vexed and replied:—
"I don't know, — but anything appears possible" —
"The examining magistrate had the same idea, monsieur," said Daddy Jacques, "and he carefully examined the mattress. He was obliged to laugh at the idea, monsieur, as your friend is doing now, — for whoever heard of a mattress having a double bottom?"
I was myself obliged to laugh, on seeing that what I had said was absurd; but in an affair like this one hardly knows where an absurdity begins or ends.
My friend alone seemed able to talk intelligently. He called out from under the bed.
"The mat here has been moved out of place, — who did it?"
"We did, monsieur," explained Daddy Jacques. "When we could not find the assassin, we asked ourselves whether there was not some hole in the floor —"
"There is not," replied Rouletabille. "Is there a cellar?"
"No, there's no cellar. But that has not stopped our searching, and has not prevented the examining magistrate and his Registrar from studying the floor plank by plank, as if there had been a cellar under it."
The reporter then reappeared. His eyes were sparkling and his nostrils quivered. He remained on his hands and knees. He could not be better likened than to an admirable sporting dog on the scent of some unusual game. And, indeed, he was scenting the steps of a man, — the man whom he has sworn to report to his master, the manager of the "Epoque." It must not be forgotten that Rouletabille was first and last a journalist.
Thus, on his hands and knees, he made his way to the four corners of the room, so to speak, sniffing and going round everything — everything that we could see, which was not much, and everything that we could not see, which must have been infinite.
The toilette table was a simple table standing on four legs; there was nothing about it by which it could possibly be changed into a temporary hiding-place. There was not a closet or cupboard. Mademoiselle Stangerson kept her wardrobe at the château.
Rouletabille literally passed his nose and hands along the walls, constructed of solid brickwork. When he had finished with the walls, and passed his agile fingers over every portion of the yellow paper covering them, he reached to the ceiling, which he was able to touch by mounting on a chair placed on the toilette table, and by moving this ingeniously constructed stage from place to place he examined every foot of it. When he had finished his scrutiny of the ceiling, where he carefully examined the hole made by the second bullet, he approached the window, and, once more, examined the iron bars and blinds, all of which were solid and intact. At last, he gave a grunt of satisfaction and declared "Now I am at ease!"
"Well, — do you believe that the poor dear young lady was shut up when she was being murdered — when she cried out for help?" wailed Daddy Jacques.
"Yes," said the young reporter, drying his forehead, "The Yellow Room was as tightly shut as an iron safe."
"That," I said, "is why this mystery is the most surprising I know. Edgar Allan Poe, in 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' invented nothing like it. The place of that crime was sufficiently closed to prevent the escape of a man; but there was that window through which the monkey, the perpetrator of the murder, could slip away! But here, there can be no question of an opening of any sort. The door was fastened, and through the window blinds, secure as they were, not even a fly could enter or get out."
"True, true," assented Rouletabille as he kept on drying his forehead, which seemed to be perspiring less from his recent bodily exertion than from his mental agitation. "Indeed, it's a great, a beautiful, and a very curious mystery."
"The Bête du bon Dieu," muttered Daddy Jacques, "the Bête du bon Dieu herself, if she had committed the crime, could not have escaped. Listen! Do you hear it? Hush!"
Daddy Jacques made us a sign to keep quiet and, stretching his arm towards the wall nearest the forest, listened to something which we could not hear.
"It's answering," he said at length. "I must kill it. It is too wicked, but it's the Bête du bon Dieu, and, every night, it goes to pray on the tomb of Sainte-Geneviève and nobody dares to touch her, for fear that Mother Angenoux should cast an evil spell on them."
"How big is the Bête du bon Dieu?"
"Nearly as big as a small retriever, — a monster, I tell you. Ah! — I have asked myself more than once whether it was not her that took our poor Mademoiselle by the throat with her claws. But the Bête du bon Dieu does not wear hobnailed boots, nor fire revolvers, nor has she a hand like that!" exclaimed Daddy Jacques, again pointing out to us the red mark on the wall. " Besides, we should have seen her as well as we would have seen a man —"
"Evidently," I said. "Before we had seen this Yellow Room, I had also asked myself whether the cat of Mother Angenoux —"
"You also!" cried Rouletabille.
"Did n't you?" I asked.
"Not for a moment. After reading the article in the 'Matin,' I knew that a cat had nothing to do with the matter. But I swear now that a frightful tragedy has been enacted here. You say nothing about the Basque cap, or the handkerchief, found here, Daddy Jacques?"
"Of course, the magistrate has taken them," the old man answered, hesitatingly.
"I have n't seen either the handkerchief or the cap, yet I can tell you how they are made," the reporter said to him gravely.
"Oh, you are very clever," said Daddy Jacques, coughing and embarrassed.
"The handkerchief is a large one, blue with red stripes and the cap is an old Basque cap, like the one you are wearing now."
"You are a wizard!" said Daddy Jacques, trying to laugh and not quite succeeding. "How do you know that the handkerchief is blue with red stripes?"
"Because, if it had not been blue with red stripes, it would not have been found at all."
Without giving any further attention to Daddy Jacques, my friend took a piece of paper from his pocket, and taking out a pair of scissors, bent over the footprints. Placing the paper over one of them he began to cut. In a short time he had made a perfect pattern which he handed to me, begging me not to lose it.
He then returned to the window and, pointing to the figure of Frédéric Larsan, who had not quitted the side of the lake, asked Daddy Jacques whether the detective had, like himself, been working in The Yellow Room?
"No," replied Robert Darzac, who, since Rouletabille had handed him the piece of scorched paper, had not uttered a word, "He pretends that he does not need to examine The Yellow Room. He says that the murderer made his escape from it in quite a natural way, and that he will, this evening, explain how he did it."
As he listened to what Monsieur Darzac had to say, Rouletabille turned pale.
"Has Frédéric Larsan found out the truth, which I can only guess at?" he murmured. "He is very clever — very clever — and I admire him. But what we have to do to-day is something more than the work of a policeman, something quite different from the teachings of experience. We have to take hold of our reason by the right end."
The reporter rushed into the open air, agitated by the thought that the great and famous Fred might anticipate him in the solution of the problem of The Yellow Room.
I managed to reach him on the threshold of the pavilion.
"Calm yourself, my dear fellow," I said. "Are n't you satisfied?"
"Yes," he confessed to me, with a deep sigh. "I am quite satisfied. I have discovered many things."
"Moral or material?"
"Several moral, — one material. This, for example."
And rapidly he drew from his waistcoat pocket a piece of paper in which he had placed a light-coloured hair from a woman's head.