The Prisoner in the Opal


Hanaud Reappears

A.E.W. Mason

MR. RICARDO was not the man to sleep comfortably in a strange bed, and though he did fall asleep quickly, he awaked whilst it was still dark; and with a vague uneasiness. He reached up for the light-switch, which in his house in Grosvenor Square was set into the wall above his head, and was disconcerted not to find it there. Gradually, however, he remembered. He was not at home. He was at the Château Suvlac, and discovering the cause of his uneasiness in the unfamiliar environment, his uneasiness itself departed. But he was now thoroughly awake.

He had his own remedies for this mischance. Sheep were of no use to him. He had counted most of the sheep upon the South Downs upon an unhappy night, but having missed one he had been forced to go back and count them all over again; and his annoyance at his carelessness had kept him awake till morning. His better plan was to throw open his curtains and raise his blinds, and the inrush of fresh air through the open windows as a rule quickly sent him off. He tried this cure now.

First of all he turned on his bedside lamp and looked at his watch. It was a few minutes before two o’clock in the morning. Then he rose from his bed and freed the side-window from all its coverings. He noticed that a light was still burning even at that late hour in the chalet beyond the avenue, but it was now upon the first floor and not in the office.

“Mr. Webster has finished his work and is now going to bed,” he reflected with a warm approval of the young man’s industry.

The next moment assured him that his judgment was correct. For whilst he looked, the light flickered and went out. Mr. Ricardo wished the manager a deeper repose than he was enjoying himself, and passed on to his front window.

He threw the curtains wide open with a rattle of rings, and wound the blind up with its roller. The country was spread wide in front of him upon this side, and the air fresher. The moon had set, leaving the night dark and clear and the sky gemmed with stars. But it was not the coolness of the air nor the blaze above his head which kept Mr. Ricardo standing in so fixed an attitude. When he had taken his last look from this window before getting into bed more than three hours ago, not one light had been burning in the white house upon the hill. Now the long range of windows was ablaze from end to end, shining clear in little oblongs of light where the front of the house was in full view, and throwing the trees into relief at the two ends. The building was illuminated like a palace.

“Now, what is the meaning of that?” Mr. Ricardo was asking himself. “Who in a country district would start the evening at so late an hour? It is very, very odd.”

No answer being forthcoming, and his feet growing cold upon the polished boards of the floor, he retired to his bed and turned out his lamp. But his curiosity was thoroughly roused. From his position upon his pillows, he could see that golden blur upon the darkness. He could not but see it, he could not but think of it.

“This will never do,” he said to himself. “I must try recipe number two.”

Recipe number two was a book. But it must be read for itself, not as the gateway of dreams. If you put the thought of sleep altogether out of your mind and settled down to your volume, presto! the trick was done. You are aware suddenly of broad daylight, a cup of tea by your bedside and a lamp extravagantly burning. Mr. Ricardo’s trouble was that he hadn’t a book in his room. Very well then, he must go to the library and take one. So on went his light again. He got out of bed and into his pumps, draped his form in a Japanese dressing-gown of flowered silk, and with a box of matches in his hand stole oft along the corridors. He knew their geography by now, and one match took him to the dining-room door. The French windows of the three rooms en suite were undraped. He passed therefore through that room and the salon and into the library without having to strike a second match. He remembered that there was a light-switch in the library, close to the long window and just within the door. He was feeling for it when something dark on the terrace outside flicked past the panes and vanished. Mr. Ricardo was so startled that he dropped his box of matches on the floor. He stood in the dark, with his heart pounding noisily in his breast, not daring to move. And in the silence, even above the clamour of his heart, he heard a key grate in the lock.

The truth must be told. Mr. Ricardo’s immediate impulse was precipitately to retire. But with an effort he rejected it as unworthy. The thought of the long corridor, too, through which he must return, daunted him. He stood his ground, and in a little while the fluttering of panic subsided. He was his own man again; and being so he could not leave things as they were, select a book and go quietly back to his bed. For the prospect of an adventure never failed to thrill him.

He opened the long window very cautiously and stepped out on to the pavement of the terrace. Far away a star beam trembled on the water of Gironde. Close to him upon his left the projecting round of the turret loomed largely, and from the front of it some rays of light streamed out. Mr. Ricardo moved cautiously forward from the angle made by the turret and the house wall; the light slipped out at the edges of a curtain drawn across a long window in the front of the turret. Someone was awake in the room behind the window. Someone had slid with the swiftness of a snake into that room and turned a key. Mr. Ricardo was in doubt what to do. He had heard of strange doings in country houses, even in England. How much more must he expect them in the gay atmosphere of France!

“I certainly don’t want to butt into the middle of some highly illicit affair,” he argued. “On the other hand, who knows what trouble may be occurring behind that curtained door? A sudden illness perhaps! Perhaps a crime! At the worst I can be sent about my business. At the best I may be of help.”

Thus he stood and disputed. But his romantic disposition got the upper hand. He advanced and rapped gently upon the framework of the glass door; and at once the light went out. But with a speed so instantaneous that the knock upon the door and the extinction of the light seemed to be not so much two consecutive movements as two facets of the same one.

Mr. Ricardo had the most uncomfortable sensations. Someone in that room had heard the sound of his pumps upon the stone slabs of the terrace. That someone had been ever since half expecting and wholly dreading that he would knock upon the window, had been ready then with ears alert and fingers actually on the switch. But who? Mr. Ricardo’s eyes could not pierce those curtains; nor had he the least excuse to renew his signal. He retired discreetly to his room without troubling to select a book from the library at all. There he watched one by one the windows on the hill recede into the night. But whether the emotions through which he had passed were the cause, or the mere movement and fresh air, he fell at once into a heavy sleep, and never stirred until the morning.

Indeed, although he dressed with the utmost expedition that he was capable of, it was after ten o’clock before he was equipped to leave his room. The vineyards were alive with the stooping figures of peasants stripping the plants, the house itself as empty as on his arrival yesterday. Mr. Ricardo walked to the chalet. The office opened directly on to the little flower garden, but that was empty too. He crossed some rough grass to the line of chais. The grapes were being brought to the door in little hand-carts, and thence carried to the wine-presses above the vats. Robin Webster was standing in the great room on the first floor, watching the press move backwards and forwards on its rollers. He looked up at Mr. Ricardo with a smile and extended his left hand, which Mr. Ricardo took, or rather touched, a trifle haughtily. For he was punctilious in such matters. He might be nobody of importance, but youngish managers of vineyards must not behave to him as if they were dukes and he a hireling.

“You must excuse my left hand,” said Robin Webster the next moment. “You see?”

His right hand was inside his double-breasted jacket, the wrist resting upon one of the buttons. He drew the hand out and showed that it was bandaged.

“I did you an injustice,” said Mr. Ricardo.

“So I saw,” Robin Webster replied with a smile.

“You are badly hurt?”

“A trifle. I came here early this morning, before anyone was about, to make sure that everything was ready, and as I tried the press I caught my hand in it. But it is not a wound which needs a doctor.”

Once more the curiously precise articulation of the young man struck Mr. Ricardo as familiar, and yet he could not define it.

“You were up before everyone, then. You had little sleep last night,” he said.

Robin Webster watched the great slab of iron move backwards and forwards on its rollers, crushing the grapes beneath it. “Do you know we are the only vineyard which uses machine-driven presses?” he said. “Yes, I was late last night. No doubt you saw the light in my office when you went to bed.”

“And hours afterwards I saw the light in your bedroom,” said Mr. Ricardo.

Once more the press rumbled backwards and forwards. “It must have been nearly two o’clock in the morning when I put it out,” Robin Webster remarked.

“It was two o’clock to the minute,” said Mr. Ricardo.

He strolled away and spent a pleasant morning wandering about the three hundred and fifty acres of the estate. It was a day of bright sunshine, with strips of white cloud streaming out here and there in the blue of the sky. The broad water of the Gironde was dotted with sailing ships at anchor waiting the turn of the tide to carry them to the river’s mouth, and every now and then a steamer with a fantail of tumbled foam and a distant throb of engines rushed past towards the port of Bordeaux. Mr. Ricardo wandered down to the little harbour. It was empty and that was quite as it should be. The Belle Simone had sailed with the inward tide at six in the morning. No doubt she was now nearing Bordeaux. But as he turned away he had a flash of a suspicion that she was doing nothing of the kind. For sailing merrily upwards from the lower reaches of the river a gabare was at that moment passing the garden with the sunlight upon her bows; and she was near enough to the bank for him to see that one word of her name stood out in a brilliant relief upon the grimed timber. He was puzzled. Of course, he argued, the Belle Simone might not be the only boat upon the river which followed the practice of her sex and changed her name. And yet—! Nothing was too trivial for Mr. Ricardo’s speculations. In a twinkling he scuttled back to the house; in another he was back again with his expensive field-glasses lifted to his eyes. The gabare was just opposite to him now. He could read the glistening name Simone, and there were other words in front of it too discoloured for him to make out. Undoubtedly this was La Belle Simone, whose captain had been in such a pother yesterday because he could not start for Bordeaux until six in the morning. Yet he had put out before the turn of the tide and gone down with the ebb. What unexpected commission had taken him out in the dead of night?

“It is all very odd,” Mr. Ricardo reflected for the twentieth time since he had arrived at the Château Suvlac. But the oddest thing of all was to happen to him now.

He went to his room, washed, and brushed his hair. Luncheon was fixed for half-past twelve. There were still twelve minutes. He walked down the avenue, and as he returned he heard a motorcar approaching the front of the house. He mounted on to the terrace and was joined there by Robin Webster. Both men, thereupon, entered the drawing-room by the window. Mrs. Tasborough, seated on her throne, was glancing through the newspaper from Bordeaux which had just arrived. Diana at the centre table, with a tray of glasses in front of her, was vigorously shaking cocktails. At that moment the door opening on to the hall was flung open, and Jules Amadee, with his eyes starting out of his head, broke into the room.

“Madame!” he cried, and again “Madame!” and then a quiet hand pushed him aside.

A small, square man dressed in a morning coat, with a tricolour sash about his waist and a bowler hat in his hand, stepped forward and bowed.

“Messieurs, Mesdames, I am Herbesthal, the Commissaire of Police. I beg of you as yet not to distress yourselves.”

Spoken in the grave, cool voice of the Commissaire, no beginning could have been more ominous. Yet it was not that which made Mr. Ricardo utter a little shrill cry. To his stupefaction, through the doorway he saw standing in the hall the burly figure of Hanaud. Only a few days ago he had left the inspector sunning himself at Aix and practising his deplorable humour upon his friends. Now he was here at the Château Suvlac—on business. His smoothed-out expressionless face was sufficient evidence of that. Hanaud could see Mr. Ricardo quite clearly, and yet gave him no sign of recognition. It was all very well for the Commissary Herbesthal to beg his audience not to distress itself. Mr. Ricardo knew better. Since Hanaud was here on business, someone was certainly going to distress himself very much. The Commissaire Herbesthal looked round the room. He was obviously relieved. He turned towards the door and Hanaud, in reply, stepped with his noiseless feet into the room. He, too, bowed, but there was no relief visible upon his face.

“You see,” said Herbesthal. “It is all a mistake. Nothing could be more calm. It’s not here that we must look!”

“Pardon me,” Hanaud objected. He advanced and bowed again, rather ridiculously, Mr. Ricardo thought, to Mrs. Tasborough. “Madame, I think, does not drink the cocktails. She belongs to a more orderly world.”

The old lady might have taken the words as a compliment, or as an unnecessary reflection on her age. She chose the latter interpretation. For she looked stonily at Hanaud and then turned to the Commissaire; “And, pray, who is this gentleman?”

Herbesthal was a little shocked. “Madame,” he protested, “this gentleman is the famous Monsieur Hanaud of the Surete Generale of Paris.”

The name meant nothing whatever to Mrs. Tasborough. It was known, however, to Robin Webster. Mr. Ricardo heard him draw in his breath sharply and ask in a wondering voice:

“What in the world does he want here?” and as Mr. Ricardo looked at him, he added with a laugh, “Whenever I find myself in the presence of the police, I begin to ask myself whether after all I have not committed some crime.”

Hanaud meanwhile had not taken his eyes from Mrs. Tasborough’s face.

“I ask if madame drinks the cocktails for a reason,” he said suavely. “There are five glasses upon the tray, and if madame avoids the cocktail, then two of her party are not yet here.”

Mr. Ricardo just lifted his shoulders. This was his dear friend at his worst. He must show off. Everyone must applaud the acuteness of his observation. A simple question—“Is the whole party present?”—no, that would not do at all. Mr. Ricardo coined a phrase and stored it for future use. Hanaud must be on the spot. Diana was no more impressed than Mr. Ricardo. She gave her cock-tail mixer such a shaking that the ice rattled within it like a handful of pebbles.

“That is so,” she answered. “Two of the house-party are absent, but it is not yet a crime to be late for luncheon. No doubt in time we shall have inspectors to look after these things.”

“Mademoiselle,” the Commissaire interrupted quietly. “This is not the moment for amusement. I beg you to remember that there are two parties to a crime. The criminal and the victim.”

Up to this moment, the two women had been disposed merely to resent the visit of the police as an intrusion upon their privacy. But the Commissaire’s words were too disquieting to be taken lightly. Mrs. Tasborough uttered a little cry of fear and sank back in her chair, her tiny sceptre of authority struck out of her grasp in a second. Diana was paralysed. She stood with the cocktail mixer still uplifted in her hand, her eyes fixed in horror upon Hanaud, and the blood receded slowly from her face until her very lips were white.

“A victim?” she repeated in a shaking voice.

“Let us not be too quick to assume that trouble has visited this house,” said Hanaud compassionately. “There are two absentees—”

“Evelyn Devenish—” Diana began.

“A lady?” asked Hanaud.


“And the other?”

“Joyce Whipple.”

Hanaud started ever so slightly. His eyes did not seek Ricardo’s, but he remained silent for a time. And his silence was more noticeable than his movement had been.

“You know that young lady?” Robin Webster asked quickly, and Hanaud looked at him curiously, as though he wondered why the question was put.

“No, monsieur. I have not that good fortune,” he replied. “This gentleman is—?”

“Mr. Robin Webster, my manager,” Diana explained.

Hanaud nodded his head and bowed with a smile to Robin Webster.

“Now! Has anyone in this room seen either of these two ladies this morning?”

At once Webster, Mr. Ricardo, Diana, even Mrs. Tasborough, began to look quickly and anxiously at each other.

“Have you?”


“And you?”


No one had seen either of them; and on every face anxiety suddenly deepened into alarm.

“Of course we have been all very busy this morning,” said Diana hurriedly. She had the air of one trying to convince herself that there were no real grounds for apprehension. “This is the first day of our vintage, and there has been, in consequence, an unusual bustle. The house is awake early, the service disarranged.”

“I understand that very well,” said Hanaud. “It may well be that your two friends are still amongst your vines. It is known that young ladies will pursue a new pastime with an enthusiasm which scorns the hours of meals. But they will hardly have left the house, bent upon so arduous a morning, without taking first their little breakfast.”

Diana Tasborough crossed the room at once and rang the bell. Jules Amadee answered it with a suspicious celerity.

“Will you send Marianne to me?” Diana commanded; and Jules Amadee disappeared.

“Aha! He listens at the door, that one,” said Hanaud with a grin. “Yet so do we all—each in our different way. We strain our ears for the little private conversation a few feet away. I, Hanaud, if I see an open letter on a table, I must read it, if I can manoeuvre myself near enough. No, let us not blame Jules Amadee!”

He spoke lightly, and because of his very lightness Mr. Ricardo’s heart lost a beat. Both Hanaud and the Commissaire were too eager in their encouragements, too delicate in their approach, to leave him in any doubt that they were concealing to the very last possible moment some unutterable horror.

“Marianne is your housemaid, I suppose,” said Hanaud.

Mr. Ricardo reflected how curious it was that in a crisis the truth of things should proclaim itself so naturally that not a soul was surprised by the most sudden of changes. Hanaud addressed himself now altogether to Diana. Mrs. Tasborough with her little reprimands and complaints was no longer of any account whatsoever. She did not even resent her dethronement. Diana, yesterday the dutiful ward, was now the unquestioned mistress and chatelaine.

“Marianne is everything, Monsieur Hanaud,” Diana answered with the glimmer of a smile, “as only a Frenchwoman can be. She is the wife of Jules Amadee, and since for the great part of the year the château is empty, they are the only permanent servants we have. During this month or two she gets some assistance from the village, but very reluctantly, and hates everybody she engages and would never let any one of them approach her patrons or any of their guests.”

Hanaud bowed and smiled in the friendliest way. “Ah, mademoiselle, if everyone whom I ask to help me could sketch for me a character with such clear lines, I could have six months’ holiday a year and yet do all the work it takes me twelve months to do.”

Compliments and compliments! When would these petty trappings be torn aside and the shattering facts be disclosed? A sound of heavy shoes clattering along the polished corridor was heard and Marianne marched into the room, defiance in every stubborn line of her. She was a woman of middle age with a full, freshly coloured face. She turned her back upon Hanaud and the Commissaire Herbesthal. No one could doubt that Jules Amadee had primed her with all he had learnt by his eavesdropping.

“Mademoiselle wants me?” she asked.

“Yes, Marianne. At what time this morning did you take their coffee to Mrs. Devenish and Miss Whipple?” Diana asked.

“At seven o’clock,” Marianne answered.

“They were both in their rooms?”

“See, mademoiselle! This is a special day, isn’t it? People are up and about early. Madame Devenish was already out of doors.”

“And Miss Whipple?”

“That was a different thing. There was a notice pinned on that young lady’s door that she had not slept well and did not wish to be disturbed. So I carried her coffee away, meaning to make some hot and fresh for her when she rang for it.”

“And has she rung?”

The question was asked gently enough, but Marianne was deaf to it. She neither turned nor looked in Hanaud’s direction. He repeated it patiently; and suddenly Marianne’s face grew crimson, and crossing her arms upon her breast, she cried out in a sort of angry screech:

“Look, mademoiselle! I don’t know what the police are doing in this house. What affair is it of theirs, if one young lady gets up earlier than usual and another has a migraine? Let them go away and find the poor cure’s stolen vestments! Aha! They will be at last of a utility.”

“I ask you if Miss Whipple has yet rung her bell?” Hanaud repeated.

“And I, by my silences, have replied that I do not answer monsieur’s questions,” said Marianne.

“That won’t do, Marianne,” Diana rebuked her gently. “You must answer monsieur.”

Marianne turned sullenly towards Hanaud.

“Well then, she has not rung,” and Marianne broke out again in exasperation: “But—Saperlipopette—what questions to be asking when mademoiselle’s luncheon is all frizzling away to cinders—”

“And I ask you another question,” Hanaud interrupted with authority now rather than patience ringing in his voice. “Had the bed of Madame Devenish been slept in?”

The question took all who were in the room aback, and no one more so than Marianne. She looked at Hanaud with a little respect. She replied in a humbler voice.

“See, monsieur! As I have told you already, this is a busy day for everyone. It is very likely that Madame Devenish thought of it, knowing what idle good-for-nothings all the young girls are today. She may well have said: ‘Ah, that poor Marianne, today I must help her.’”

“Which means that the bed had not been slept in,” Hanaud insisted.

“No, monsieur, it does not,” cried Marianne, beginning to get red again. “It means that when I went into her room this morning the bed was made.”

Hanaud accepted the correction meekly, but to Mr. Ricardo’s thinking no one who was at all acquainted with Evelyn Devenish could agree with Marianne’s explanation for a moment. Evelyn Devenish was not the kind of person to give a thought as to whether Marianne’s fingers were worked to the bone or not. Nor could he imagine her springing out of her bed in the early morning to help the peasants to strip the grapes. The story was altogether too thin.

“It is enough, I think, that the bed was made,” said Hanaud. He was very grave, very reluctant to speak more openly. He looked at Herbesthal, and Herbesthal, with an inclination of the head, returned the look.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes. The fine feelings—we cannot all the time consider them. I give you the word, Monsieur Hanaud!”

The Commissaire, magistrate though he was, was happy to pay deference to the great man from Paris.

Diana made a restless movement. She was not only distressed; she was puzzled too.

“I beg you not to keep us in suspense,” she cried nervously. “Suspense is worse than the worst of news.”

Even then for a moment Hanaud hesitated. He was uneasy. It seemed that he had a premonition that he was now being definitely committed to an inquiry which would open up a pit of monstrous iniquity from which even he shrank back.

“Very well,” he said at length. “At seven o’clock this morning a large dress-basket was seen floating up the Gironde on the flow of the tide by two boys belonging to the village of St. Yzans-d’Houlette, Albert Cordeau, aged fourteen, and Charles Martin, aged thirteen and five months. The village of St. Yzans-d’Houlette lies on the same bank as the Château Suvlac, but six miles nearer to the mouth of the river. These details are important. The dress-basket was carried by a current nearer and nearer to the shore, and the tide running then very slowly, the two boys were easily able to keep up with it. It grounded gently in a tiny bay in a lonely reach half a mile from the village. There were the low slope of grass bank, a strip of meadow, a hedge of brambles behind the meadow, and the village a hundred yards behind that. The two boys dragged the basket out of the water with difficulty. For it was almost too heavy for their strength. They found that it was fastened securely with a thick rope, and that attached to the rope at the bottom of the basket was a fragment of a small-meshed net—a sinister little circumstance, For it looked as if a weight intended to sink the basket had proved too heavy for the net and had torn itself free. The boys, excited at this discovery, sawed through the rope with a pocket-knife and, raising the lid, were horrified to see a body wrapped in a piece of fine linen. They lifted the edge of the linen, and found a girl stark naked, with the knees drawn up towards her chin. They were too frightened to make any closer examination. They replaced the linen, and whilst one, Charles Martin, ran to St. Yzans-d’Houlette with the news, Albert Cordeau closed the basket and remained on guard beside it. The body still huddled inside the basket was then taken to the mortuary at Villeblanche.” He mentioned the little town which was the seat of the local administration. “It happens,” he resumed, “that I was at Bordeaux engaged upon some troublesome business, of which this affair of the basket may, or may not, be a development.” Hanaud at this point received such a glare of reproach from Mr. Ricardo that he was at pains to soften down his neglect of his friend’s neighbourhood.

“Business, I should add, which forbids me seeking advice, however valuable.” And he had the satisfaction of seeing Mr. Ricardo’s self-esteem restored. “Monsieur Herbesthal did me the honour over the telephone to inform me of this discovery and to invite my help. The medical officer, the Doctor Brune, made his examination in our presence. The body is that of a young lady, careful, even fastidiously careful, of her beauty and appearance. There is no mistaking the evidence of a hand in a matter of this kind. But everything—the delicate whiteness of her skin, the gloss of her hair—indicated that she was one who had the time and the inclination to give to herself the most meticulous attention.”

“She was dead?” Diana interrupted in a low voice.

“According to the Doctor Brune, she had been dead for some six hours.”

“Drowned? In that basket? Horrible!” said Diana, and with a shudder she suddenly pressed her hands over her face.

“No, mademoiselle, not drowned,” Hanaud answered. “She had been stabbed through the heart. There was no mark of pain upon her face, nor any contortion of fear. She cannot have known what was happening, so completely was she at peace;” and having thrown all the emphasis of which he was master into those consoling words, he went on slowly: “But there is one perplexing and dreadful detail in this crime. For crime, of course, it is. After she was dead, her right hand had been hacked off at the wrist.”

A wave of horror swept over everyone in that room. For what purpose could mutilation have been added to murder? It spoke of a hatred at once implacable and monstrous, a vengeance which sought to glut itself even beyond the grave. A cry broke from the trembling lips of Diana. Mrs. Tasborough was crying and moaning. Robin Webster, his face troubled and disordered, exclaimed; “Why? In God’s name, why?” Mr. Ricardo alone was silent, with a horrid fear growing in his mind. He sank down into a chair and sat and stared at the floor.

Meanwhile Hanaud went on. “There was no mark whatever by which this young victim could be identified—not a bracelet on the wrist, not a chain about the neck—nothing. But Monsieur Herbesthal and the Doctor Brune thought it most likely that we should learn more at the Château Suvlac, since it was the rule of mademoiselle to entertain a house-party for the vintage. So we came here at once, and here we find that a guest is missing. I shall beg Mr. Ricardo, whom I know, to drive back with me to Villeblanche, and I shall hope, but without much confidence, that he will not recognize her. Until he returns I must ask that none of you leaves the house.”

Mr. Ricardo, however, did not reply. He sat still and stared at the floor, as though he had not heard.

“You will come?” Hanaud insisted. “It is a thankless office, I know very well.”

Still Ricardo never spoke, never changed his attitude. Robin Webster’s shoulders worked uncomfortably. Then he said reluctantly: “Of course, it is my duty more than anyone’s.”

Before he could say more, Hanaud interrupted. “No! I thank you, but it is Mr. Ricardo whom I want.”

Then at last Mr. Ricardo found a voice to speak with, though it was a dull one and toneless, and quite unrecognizable as his own.

“Before I go,” he said, still staring at the floor, “I think that someone should hammer at Miss Whipple’s door and make very sure that she answers.”

At once Mr. Ricardo became the cynosure of all that sad company; and for once he took no joy in his unusual position. But then the glances directed at him were without any friendliness. No one had given a thought to Joyce Whipple during the last tense minutes. Hanaud’s story linked itself so closely with Evelyn Devenish’s disappearance that the proposed journey to identify the body became the mere fulfilment of a formality. Yet now suddenly here was a new suggestion, as vague as it was alarming.

“No—no!” Diana cried sharply. She was not so much opposing Mr. Ricardo’s demand, as refusing to allow that yet another mystery should add to the torture of her nerves.

“I think so,” said Mr. Ricardo, never lifting his eyes from the floor, and his odd attitude somehow convinced everyone that he was right. Hanaud turned towards Marianne, who all this while had been standing apart, and nodded his head. Immediately she went out of the room, leaving the door open, and no more words were spoken. Her shoes were heard ringing on a flight of stone steps a short distance away, and then a loud rapping on a door. In a dreadful suspense the assemblage in the drawing-room listened for the opening of the door, for the welcome sound of Joyce Whipple’s clear voice. They heard only the rapping repeated, more insistently; and again there was no answer.

Mr. Ricardo lifted his head now in a sort of listless bewilderment, and broke the silence.

“Miss Whipple sleeps upstairs?”

“Yes,” answered Diana.

In one of the two turret-rooms, then!

“And Mrs. Devenish?” he asked.

“In the wing opposite to yours.”

“I see.”

What window was it, then, which he had knocked upon at two o’clock that morning, behind which he had seen the light so furtively extinguished? He was very soon to know. Marianne was heard to knock again, to cry out Joyce Whipple’s name; and then she came clattering back to the room, her bosom heaving, her face distorted with fear.

“Mademoiselle’s door is locked, and there is no key in the lock,” she stammered.

Hanaud put a question to Diana: “Have you another key to that door?”

“Any key will open it. All the locks are upon one pattern.”

“All of you, then, will stay here.”

Hanaud whipped out of the room. They never heard his step upon the stone stairs, but they did distinctly hear the grinding of a key as it shot back a bolt; and again there was silence. But for once silence became intolerable.

“Joyce! Joyce! Oh!”

The name broke from Robin Webster’s lips in a long-drawn little cry of utter misery. It was an appeal to her to answer, to appear in all her radiant youth in the midst of them, and an expression of a belief that she never would. Mr. Ricardo saw Diana slowly lift her eyes to Robin Webster and let them dwell upon his twitching troubled face with a curiously intent look; and in a moment Hanaud was back again in the salon.

“Her room is empty,” he said gravely. “Her bedclothes were tumbled and dragging on the floor. But that had been done deliberately. Madame Devenish, Mademoiselle Whipple—neither of them slept in her bed at the Château Suvlac last night.”

Suddenly his face changed. “Wait! Wait!” he cried, and sprang forward. He had seen Diana Tasborough sway like a sapling in a wind. Her face took on a sickly pallor. “It’s horrible! Horrible!” she whispered. Hanaud was only in time to break her fall. For she slipped through his arms and lay quite still upon the floor.

The Prisoner in the Opal - Contents    |     VI - The Picture on the Wall

Back    |    Words Home    |    A.E.W. Mason Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback