Mademoiselle Stangerson had been almost murdered for the second time. Unfortunately, she was in too weak a state to bear the severer injuries of this second attack as well as she had those of the first. She had received three wounds in the breast from the murderer's knife, and she lay long between life and death. Her strong physique, however, saved her; but though she recovered physically it was found that her mind had been affected. The slightest allusion to the terrible incident sent her into delirium, and the arrest of Robert Darzac which followed on the day following the tragic death of the keeper seemed to sink her fine intelligence into complete melancholia.
Robert Darzac arrived at the chateau towards half-past nine. I saw him hurrying through the park, his hair and clothes in disorder and his face a deadly white. Rouletabille and I were looking out of a window in the gallery. He saw us, and gave a despairing cry: "I'm too late!"
Rouletabille answered: "She lives!"
A minute later Darzac had gone into Mademoiselle Stangerson's room and, through the door, we could hear his heart-rending sobs.
"There's a fate about this place!" groaned Rouletabille. "Some infernal gods must be watching over the misfortunes of this family! --If I had not been drugged, I should have saved Mademoiselle Stangerson. I should have silenced him forever. And the keeper would not have been killed!"
Monsieur Darzac came in to speak with us. His distress was terrible. Rouletabille told him everything: his preparations for Mademoiselle Stangerson's safety; his plans for either capturing or for disposing of the assailant for ever; and how he would have succeeded had it not been for the drugging.
"If only you had trusted me!" said the young man, in a low tone. "If you had but begged Mademoiselle Stangerson to confide in me! --But, then, everybody here distrusts everybody else, the daughter distrusts her father, and even her lover. While you ask me to protect her she is doing all she can to frustrate me. That was why I came on the scene too late!"
At Monsieur Robert Darzac's request Rouletabille described the whole scene. Leaning on the wall, to prevent himself from falling, he had made his way to Mademoiselle Stangerson's room, while we were running after the supposed murderer. The ante-room door was open and when he entered he found Mademoiselle Stangerson lying partly thrown over the desk. Her dressing-gown was dyed with the blood flowing from her bosom. Still under the influence of the drug, he felt he was walking in a horrible nightmare.
He went back to the gallery automatically, opened a window, shouted his order to fire, and then returned to the room. He crossed the deserted boudoir, entered the drawing-room, and tried to rouse Monsieur Stangerson who was lying on a sofa. Monsieur Stangerson rose stupidly and let himself be drawn by Rouletabille into the room where, on seeing his daughter's body, he uttered a heart-rending cry. Both united their feeble strength and carried her to her bed.
On his way to join us Rouletabille passed by the desk. On the floor, near it, he saw a large packet. He knelt down and, finding the wrapper loose, he examined it, and made out an enormous quantity of papers and photographs. On one of the papers he read: "New differential electroscopic condenser. Fundamental properties of substance intermediary between ponderable matter and imponderable ether." Strange irony of fate that the professor's precious papers should be restored to him at the very time when an attempt was being made to deprive him of his daughter's life! What are papers worth to him now?
The morning following that awful night saw Monsieur de Marquet once more at the chateau, with his Registrar and gendarmes. Of course we were all questioned. Rouletabille and I had already agreed on what to say. I kept back any information as to my being in the dark closet and said nothing about the drugging. We did not wish to suggest in any way that Mademoiselle Stangerson had been expecting her nocturnal visitor. The poor woman might, perhaps, never recover, and it was none of our business to lift the veil of a secret the preservation of which she had paid for so dearly.
Arthur Rance told everybody, in a manner so natural that it astonished me, that he had last seen the keeper towards eleven o'clock of that fatal night. He had come for his valise, he said, which he was to take for him early next morning to the Saint-Michel station, and had been kept out late running after poachers. Arthur Rance had, indeed, intended to leave the chateau and, according to his habit, to walk to the station.
Monsieur Stangerson confirmed what Rance had said, adding that he had not asked Rance to dine with him because his friend had taken his final leave of them both earlier in the evening. Monsieur Rance had had tea served him in his room, because he had complained of a slight indisposition.
Bernier testified, instructed by Rouletabille, that the keeper had ordered him to meet at a spot near the oak grove, for the purpose of looking out for poachers. Finding that the keeper did not keep his appointment, he, Bernier, had gone in search of him. He had almost arrived at the donjon, when he saw a figure running swiftly in a direction opposite to him, towards the right wing of the chateau. He heard revolver shots from behind the figure and saw Rouletabille at one of the gallery windows. He heard Rouletabille call out to him to fire, and he had fired. He believed he had killed the man until he learned, after Rouletabille had uncovered the body, that the man had died from a knife thrust. Who had given it he could not imagine. "Nobody could have been near the spot without my seeing him." When the examining magistrate reminded him that the spot where the body was found was very dark and that he himself had not been able to recognise the keeper before firing, Daddy Bernier replied that neither had they seen the other body; nor had they found it. In the narrow court where five people were standing it would have been strange if the other body, had it been there, could have escaped. The only door that opened into the court was that of the keeper's room, and that door was closed, and the key of it was found in the keeper's pocket.
However that might be, the examining magistrate did not pursue his inquiry further in this direction. He was evidently convinced that we had missed the man we were chasing and we had come upon the keeper's body in our chase. This matter of the keeper was another matter entirely. He wanted to satisfy himself about that without any further delay. Probably it fitted in with the conclusions he had already arrived at as to the keeper and his intrigues with the wife of Mathieu, the landlord of the Donjon Inn. This Mathieu, later in the afternoon, was arrested and taken to Corbeil in spite of his rheumatism. He had been heard to threaten the keeper, and though no evidence against him had been found at his inn, the evidence of carters who had heard the threats was enough to justify his retention.
The examination had proceeded thus far when, to our surprise, Frederic Larsan returned to the chateau. He was accompanied by one of the employes of the railway. At that moment Rance and I were in the vestibule discussing Mathieu's guilt or innocence, while Rouletabille stood apart buried, apparently, in thought. The examining magistrate and his Registrar were in the little green drawing-room, while Darzac was with the doctor and Stangerson in the lady's chamber. As Frederic Larsan entered the vestibule with the railway employed, Rouletabille and I at once recognised him by the small blond beard. We exchanged meaningful glances. Larsan had himself announced to the examining magistrate by the gendarme and entered with the railway servant as Daddy Jacques came out. Some ten minutes went by during which Rouletabille appeared extremely impatient. The door of the drawing-room was then opened and we heard the magistrate calling to the gendarme who entered. Presently he came out, mounted the stairs and, coming back shortly, went in to the magistrate and said:
"Monsieur,--Monsieur Robert Darzac will not come!"
"What! Not come!" cried Monsieur de Marquet.
"He says he cannot leave Mademoiselle Stangerson in her present state."
"Very well," said Monsieur de Marquet; "then we'll go to him."
Monsieur de Marquet and the gendarme mounted the stairs. He made a sign to Larsan and the railroad employe to follow. Rouletabille and I went along too.
On reaching the door of Mademoiselle Stangerson's chamber, Monsieur de Marquet knocked. A chambermaid appeared. It was Sylvia, with her hair all in disorder and consternation showing on her face.
"Is Monsieur Stangerson within?" asked the magistrate.
"Tell him that I wish to speak with him."
Stangerson came out. His appearance was wretched in the extreme.
"What do you want?" he demanded of the magistrate. "May I not be left in peace, Monsieur?"
"Monsieur," said the magistrate, "it is absolutely necessary that I should see Monsieur Darzac at once. If you cannot induce him to come, I shall be compelled to use the help of the law."
The professor made no reply. He looked at us all like a man being led to execution, and then went back into the room.
Almost immediately after Monsieur Robert Darzac came out. He was very pale. He looked at us and, his eyes falling on the railway servant, his features stiffened and he could hardly repress a groan.
We were all much moved by the appearance of the man. We felt that what was about to happen would decide the fate of Monsieur Robert Darzac. Frederic Larsan's face alone was radiant, showing a joy as of a dog that had at last got its prey.
Pointing to the railway servant, Monsieur de Marquet said to Monsieur Darzac:
"Do you recognise this man, Monsieur?"
"I do," said Monsieur Darzac, in a tone which he vainly tried to make firm. "He is an employe at the station at Epinay-sur-Orge."
"This young man," went on Monsieur de Marquet, "affirms that he saw you get off the train at Epinay-sur-Orge--"
"That night," said Monsieur Darzac, interrupting, "at half-past ten --it is quite true."
An interval of silence followed.
"Monsieur Darzac," the magistrate went on in a tone of deep emotion, "Monsieur Darzac, what were you doing that night, at Epinay-sur-Orge --at that time?"
Monsieur Darzac remained silent, simply closing his eyes.
"Monsieur Darzac," insisted Monsieur de Marquet, "can you tell me how you employed your time, that night?"
Monsieur Darzac opened his eyes. He seemed to have recovered his self-control.
"Think, Monsieur! For, if you persist in your strange refusal, I shall be under the painful necessity of keeping you at my disposition."
"Monsieur Darzac!--in the name of the law, I arrest you!"
The magistrate had no sooner pronounced the words than I saw Rouletabille move quickly towards Monsieur Darzac. He would certainly have spoken to him, but Darzac, by a gesture, held him off. As the gendarme approached his prisoner, a despairing cry rang through the room:
We recognised the voice of Mademoiselle Stangerson. We all shuddered. Larsan himself turned pale. Monsieur Darzac, in response to the cry, had flown back into the room.
The magistrate, the gendarme, and Larsan followed closely after. Rouletabille and I remained on the threshold. It was a heart-breaking sight that met our eyes. Mademoiselle Stangerson, with a face of deathly pallor, had risen on her bed, in spite of the restraining efforts of two doctors and her father. She was holding out her trembling arms towards Robert Darzac, on whom Larsan and the gendarme had laid hands. Her distended eyes saw --she understood--her lips seemed to form a word, but nobody made it out; and she fell back insensible.
Monsieur Darzac was hurried out of the room and placed in the vestibule to wait for the vehicle Larsan had gone to fetch. We were all overcome by emotion and even Monsieur de Marquet had tears in his eyes. Rouletabille took advantage of the opportunity to say to Monsieur Darzac:
"Are you going to put in any defense?"
"No!" replied the prisoner.
"Very well, then I will, Monsieur."
"You cannot do it," said the unhappy man with a faint smile.
"I can--and I will."
Rouletabille's voice had in it a strange strength and confidence.
"I can do it, Monsieur Robert Darzac, because I know more than you do!"
"Come! Come!" murmured Darzac, almost angrily.
"Have no fear! I shall know only what will benefit you."
"You must know nothing, young man, if you want me to be grateful."
Rouletabille shook his head, going close up to Darzac.
"Listen to what I am about to say," he said in a low tone, "and let it give you confidence. You do not know the name of the murderer. Mademoiselle Stangerson knows it; but only half of it; but I know his two halves; I know the whole man!"
Robert Darzac opened his eyes, with a look that showed he had not understood a word of what Rouletabille had said to him. At that moment the conveyance arrived, driven by Frederic Larsan. Darzac and the gendarme entered it, Larsan remaining on the driver's seat. The prisoner was taken to Corbeil.