The act, which staggered me, did not appear to affect Rouletabille much. We returned to his room and, without even referring to what we had seen, he gave me his final instructions for the night. First we were to go to dinner; after dinner, I was to take my stand in the dark closet and wait there as long as it was necessary—to look out for what might happen.
"If you see anything before I do," he explained, "you must let me know. If the man gets into the 'right' gallery by any other way than the 'off-turning' gallery, you will see him before I shall, because you have a view along the whole length of the 'right' gallery, while I can only command a view of the 'off-turning' gallery. All you need do to let me know is to undo the cord holding the curtain of the 'right' gallery window, nearest to the dark closet. The curtain will fall of itself and immediately leave a square of shadow where previously there had been a square of light. To do this, you need but stretch your hand out of the closet, I shall understand your signal perfectly."
"Then you will see me coming round the corner of the 'off-turning' gallery."
"What am I to do then?"
"You will immediately come towards me, behind the man; but I shall already be upon him, and shall have seen his face."
I attempted a feeble smile.
"Why do you smile? Well, you may smile while you have the chance, but I swear you'll have no time for that a few hours from now.
"And if the man escapes?"
"So much the better," said Rouletabille, coolly, "I don't want to capture him. He may take himself off any way he can. I will let him go--after I have seen his face. That's all I want. I shall know afterwards what to do so that as far as Mademoiselle Stangerson is concerned he shall be dead to her even though he continues to live. If I took him alive, Mademoiselle Stangerson and Robert Darzac would, perhaps, never forgive me! And I wish to retain their good-will and respect.
"Seeing, as I have just now seen, Mademoiselle Stangerson pour a narcotic into her father's glass, so that he might not be awake to interrupt the conversation she is going to have with her murderer, you can imagine she would not be grateful to me if I brought the man of The Yellow Room and the inexplicable gallery, bound and gagged, to her father. I realise now that if I am to save the unhappy lady, I must silence the man and not capture him. To kill a human being is no small thing. Besides, that's not my business, unless the man himself makes it my business. On the other hand, to render him forever silent without the lady's assent and confidence is to act on one's own initiative and assumes a knowledge of everything with nothing for a basis. Fortunately, my friend, I have guessed, no, I have reasoned it all out. All that I ask of the man who is coming to-night is to bring me his face, so that it may enter--"
"Into the circle?"
"Exactly! And his face won't surprise me!"
"But I thought you saw his face on the night when you sprang into the chamber?"
"Only imperfectly. The candle was on the floor; and, his beard--"
"Will he wear his beard this evening?"
"I think I can say for certain that he will. But the gallery is light and, now, I know--or--at least, my brain knows--and my eyes will see."
"If we are here only to see him and let him escape, why are we armed?"
"Because, if the man of The Yellow Room and the inexplicable gallery knows that I know, he is capable of doing anything! We should then have to defend ourselves."
"And you are sure he will come to-night?"
"As sure as that you are standing there! This morning, at half-past ten o'clock, Mademoiselle Stangerson, in the cleverest way in the world, arranged to have no nurses to-night. She gave them leave of absence for twenty-four hours, under some plausible pretexts, and did not desire anybody to be with her but her father, while they are away. Her father, who is to sleep in the boudoir, has gladly consented to the arrangement. Darzac's departure and what he told me, as well as the extraordinary precautions Mademoiselle Stangerson is taking to be alone to-night leaves me no room for doubt. She has prepared the way for the coming of the man whom Darzac dreads."
"And what we saw her do was done to send her father to sleep?"
"Then there are but two of us for to-night's work?"
"Four; the concierge and his wife will watch at all hazards. I don't set much value on them before--but the concierge may be useful after--if there's to be any killing!"
"Then you think there may be?"
"If he wishes it."
"Why haven't you brought in Daddy Jacques?--Have you made no use of him to-day?"
"No," replied Rouletabille sharply.
I kept silence for awhile, then, anxious to know his thoughts, I asked him point blank:
"Why not tell Arthur Rance?--He may be of great assistance to us?"
"Oh!" said Rouletabille crossly, "then you want to let everybody into Mademoiselle Stangerson's secrets?--Come, let us go to dinner; it is time. This evening we dine in Frederic Larsan's room,--at least, if he is not on the heels of Darzac. He sticks to him like a leech. But, anyhow, if he is not there now, I am quite sure he will be, to-night! He's the one I am going to knock over!"
At this moment we heard a noise in the room near us.
"It must be he," said Rouletabille.
"I forgot to ask you," I said, "if we are to make any allusion to to-night's business when we are with this policeman. I take it we are not. Is that so?"
"Evidently. We are going to operate alone, on our own personal account."
"So that all the glory will be ours?"
We dined with Frederic Larsan in his room. He told us he had just come in and invited us to be seated at table. We ate our dinner in the best of humours, and I had no difficulty in appreciating the feelings of certainty which both Rouletabille and Larsan felt. Rouletabille told the great Fred that I had come on a chance visit, and that he had asked me to stay and help him in the heavy batch of writing he had to get through for the "Epoque." I was going back to Paris, he said, by the eleven o'clock train, taking his "copy," which took a story form, recounting the principal episodes in the mysteries of the Glandier. Larsan smiled at the explanation like a man who was not fooled and politely refrains from making the slightest remark on matters which did not concern him.
With infinite precautions as to the words they used, and even as to the tones of their voices, Larsan and Rouletabille discussed, for a long time, Mr. Arthur Rance's appearance at the chateau, and his past in America, about which they expressed a desire to know more, at any rate, so far as his relations with the Stangersons. At one time, Larsan, who appeared to me to be unwell, said, with an effort:
"I think, Monsieur Rouletabille, that we've not much more to do at the Glandier, and that we sha'n't sleep here many more nights."
"I think so, too, Monsieur Fred."
"Then you think the conclusion of the matter has been reached?"
"I think, indeed, that we have nothing more to find out," replied Rouletabille.
"Have you found your criminal?" asked Larsan.
"So have I," said Rouletabille.
"Can it be the same man?"
"I don't know if you have swerved from your original idea," said the young reporter. Then he added, with emphasis: "Monsieur Darzac is an honest man!"
"Are you sure of that?" asked Larsan. "Well, I am sure he is not. So it's a fight then?"
"Yes, it is a fight. But I shall beat you, Monsieur Frederic Larsan."
"Youth never doubts anything," said the great Fred laughingly, and held out his hand to me by way of conclusion.
Rouletabille's answer came like an echo:
Suddenly Larsan, who had risen to wish us goodnight, pressed both his hands to his chest and staggered. He was obliged to lean on Rouletabille for support, and to save himself from falling.
"Oh! Oh!" he cried. "What is the matter with me?--Have I been poisoned?"
He looked at us with haggard eyes. We questioned him vainly; he did not answer us. He had sunk into an armchair and we could get not a word from him. We were extremely distressed, both on his account and on our own, for we had partaken of all the dishes he had eaten. He seemed to be out of pain; but his heavy head had fallen on his shoulder and his eyelids were tightly closed. Rouletabille bent over him, listening for the beatings of the heart.
My friend's face, however, when he stood up, was as calm as it had been a moment before agitated.
"He is asleep," he said.
He led me to his chamber, after closing Larsan's room.
"The drug?" I asked. "Does Mademoiselle Stangerson wish to put everybody to sleep, to-night?"
"Perhaps," replied Rouletabille; but I could see he was thinking of something else.
"But what about us?" I exclaimed. "How do we know that we have not been drugged?"
"Do you feel indisposed?" Rouletabille asked me coolly.
"Not in the least."
"Do you feel any inclination to go to sleep?"
"Well, then, my friend, smoke this excellent cigar."
And he handed me a choice Havana, one Monsieur Darzac had given him, while he lit his briarwood--his eternal briarwood.
We remained in his room until about ten o'clock without a word passing between us. Buried in an armchair Rouletabille sat and smoked steadily, his brow in thought and a far-away look in his eyes. On the stroke of ten he took off his boots and signalled to me to do the same. As we stood in our socks he said, in so low a tone that I guessed, rather than heard, the word:
I drew my revolver from my jacket pocket.
"Cock it!" he said.
I did as he directed.
Then moving towards the door of his room, he opened it with infinite precaution; it made no sound. We were in the "off-turning" gallery. Rouletabille made another sign to me which I understood to mean that I was to take up my post in the dark closet.
When I was some distance from him, he rejoined me and embraced me; and then I saw him, with the same precaution, return to his room. Astonished by his embrace, and somewhat disquieted by it, I arrived at the right gallery without difficulty, crossing the landing-place, and reaching the dark closet.
Before entering it I examined the curtain-cord of the window and found that I had only to release it from its fastening with my fingers for the curtain to fall by its own weight and hide the square of light from Rouletabille--the signal agreed upon. The sound of a footstep made me halt before Arthur Rance's door. He was not yet in bed, then! How was it that, being in the chateau, he had not dined with Monsieur Stangerson and his daughter? I had not seen him at table with them, at the moment when we looked in.
I retired into the dark closet. I found myself perfectly situated. I could see along the whole length of the gallery. Nothing, absolutely nothing could pass there without my seeing it. But what was going to pass there? Rouletabille's embrace came back to my mind. I argued that people don't part from each, other in that way unless on an important or dangerous occasion. Was I then in danger?
My hand closed on the butt of my revolver and I waited. I am not a hero; but neither am I a coward.
I waited about an hour, and during all that time I saw nothing unusual. The rain, which had begun to come down strongly towards nine o'clock, had now ceased.
My friend had told me that, probably, nothing would occur before midnight or one o'clock in the morning. It was not more than half-past eleven, however, when I heard the door of Arthur Rance's room open very slowly. The door remained open for a minute, which seemed to me a long time. As it opened into the gallery, that is to say, outwards, I could not see what was passing in the room behind the door.
At that moment I noticed a strange sound, three times repeated, coming from the park. Ordinarily I should not have attached any more importance to it than I would to the noise of cats on the roof. But the third time, the mew was so sharp and penetrating that I remembered what I had heard about the cry of the Bete du bon Dieu. As the cry had accompanied all the events at the Glandier, I could not refrain from shuddering at the thought.
Directly afterwards I saw a man appear on the outside of the door, and close it after him. At first I could not recognise him, for his back was towards me and he was bending over a rather bulky package. When he had closed the door and picked up the package, he turned towards the dark closet, and then I saw who he was. He was the forest-keeper, the Green Man. He was wearing the same costume that he had worn when I first saw him on the road in front of the Donjon Inn. There was no doubt about his being the keeper. As the cry of the Bete du Bon Dieu came for the third time, he put down the package and went to the second window, counting from the dark closet. I dared not risk making any movement, fearing I might betray my presence.
Arriving at the window, he peered out on to the park. The night was now light, the moon showing at intervals. The Green Man raised his arms twice, making signs which I did not understand; then, leaving the window, he again took up his package and moved along the gallery towards the landing-place.
Rouletabille had instructed me to undo the curtain-cord when I saw anything. Was Rouletabille expecting this? It was not my business to question. All I had to do was obey instructions. I unfastened the window-cord; my heart beating the while as if it would burst. The man reached the landing-place, but, to my utter surprise--I had expected to see him continue to pass along the gallery--I saw him descend the stairs leading to the vestibule.
What was I to do? I looked stupidly at the heavy curtain which had shut the light from the window. The signal had been given, and I did not see Rouletabille appear at the corner of the off-turning gallery. Nobody appeared. I was exceedingly perplexed. Half an hour passed, an age to me. What was I to do now, even if I saw something? The signal once given I could not give it a second time. To venture into the gallery might upset all Rouletabille's plans. After all, I had nothing to reproach myself for, and if something had happened that my friend had not expected he could only blame himself. Unable to be of any further assistance to him by means of a signal, I left the dark closet and, still in my socks, made my way to the "off-turning" gallery.
There was no one there. I went to the door of Rouletabille's room and listened. I could hear nothing. I knocked gently. There was no answer. I turned the door-handle and the door opened. I entered. Rouletabille lay extended at full length on the floor.