The Prisoner in the Opal


The Picture on the Wall

A.E.W. Mason

HANAUD STOOPED, raised her shoulders, and finally stood erect, holding her in his arms very tenderly, as though she were nothing more than a big baby.

“I was rough—yes, you shall reproach me,” he said remorsefully. “In my profession, alas! one grows hard. One sees so much of the brute in man. However, I make what amends I can for my clumsiness. I carry this young lady to her room.”

Mr. Ricardo was not moved by this remorse. He was never so suspicious of that inspector of the Surete, as when he displayed his tenderer moods. He slipped them on like a pair of gloves. He was so kind and so human and so gentle up to the last grim moment when he towered, the avenger of broken laws. Mr. Ricardo, accordingly, felt the prickliest sensations running up and down his spine when he saw his large friend holding the dainty slip of a girl within the prison of his strong arms. Was he a Samaritan or an animal of prey? A friend or a jailer?

Marianne, however, cherished obviously none of Mr. Ricardo’s doubts. She crossed at once to the windows and opened them wide.

“This, monsieur, is the nearest way, if you will be so amiable. The poor lamb! She has had enough for one day.”

She stepped out on to the terrace with Hanaud upon her heels, and turned to the left past the windows of the library. It was Diana’s room, then, which bowed out upon the terrace in the lower story of the turret. It was upon her window that Mr. Ricardo had knocked. Mr. Ricardo hurried out after Hanaud in a condition of extreme bewilderment. So many questions rapped upon his brain for an answer, even as Marianne had rapped upon Joyce Whipple’s door. Joyce Whipple had occupied the room above Diana’s, and some time during the night Joyce Whipple had gone from her room and vanished. It was in her room, then, if in any room, that a light might be expected to burn at so unlikely an hour. And, after all, why had Diana made not the least smallest inquiry as to who it was that had come beating upon her window in the dark of the morning? Had she, too, been away from the house last night?

Mr. Ricardo saw the tail of Hanaud’s coat as he disappeared with his burden between the glass doors of the turret-room. Mr. Ricardo was not very sure that he would be civilly treated if he followed. But he simply had to follow. He crept into the room timidly, just as Hanaud was gently lowering Diana upon her bed at the back of the room; and he stood aside out of the light at once, making himself very small.

“A glass of water, Marianne,” said Hanaud, straightening his shoulders. “There is no great harm done to mademoiselle, I think. Look, even now her eyelids are fluttering.”

Marianne hurried to the washstand and poured out a glass of water, whilst Hanaud stood by the bedside, his eyes now looking down upon Diana Tasborough, now sweeping the room with a careless glance which Mr. Ricardo had long since learnt not to belittle. He gazed at the door of a wardrobe, at a mirror, at Mr. Ricardo, at the carpet and the chairs. But where his eyes rested, there as a rule there was nothing to see. Suddenly he dropped upon his knee. Diana’s lips were moving. But she only murmured:

“I was a fool! . . . Nothing happened . . . nothing . . . or I should remember.” It seemed to Mr. Ricardo that Hanaud’s head went forward, as though he were about to whisper some question in Diana’s ear, in the hope that she would answer it, whilst still her mind was dim. But Marianne the next second was at his side, and in the most natural manner he took the glass from her and held it to Diana’s lips.

“So . . . so . . . That is better,” he said, rising to his feet. He came across to Mr. Ricardo. “You and I, my friend, we are not wanted here, whereas we are wanted at Villeblanche.”

He took Ricardo by the arm and led him out again on to the terrace. But there was a change in him now. He was quietly alert, with a bright questioning glint in his eyes, and an odd little smile about his mouth.

“I tell you,” he said in a low voice. “Very curious things have been happening in this house. Miss Whipple and her letters. I am thankful that I did not make light of her fears.”

Mr. Ricardo raised his forefinger and announced: “You saw something in that room.”

“Yes. A bed, a young lady in a swoon, a servant, a glass of water.”

“More than that.”

Hanaud threw up his arms. “I was there but for a few seconds. During those seconds I was occupied.”

Mr. Ricardo shook his head sternly. “That won’t do for me, I’m afraid.”

Hanaud gave in with a gesture of despair and a look of regretful admiration. “It is true. I, like this Miss Diana, confess that I was a fool. I should have known better. A secret! Ha, ha! Conceal it if you can! The cunning Mr. Ricardo is after it straight as the cock crows!”

Ricardo was in the habit of foolishly correcting his friend’s admirable English idioms, but preening himself upon this admission of his perspicacity, he allowed the unfortunate form in which it was expressed to pass. Hanaud took him by the arm and led him out of everyone’s hearing to the very edge of the terrace.

“Yes. I saw something in that room,” he said in an important voice. “I shall tell you what it is. A little picture. It hangs upon the wall above the bed. I saw it as I laid that poor young lady down. You must look at it when you get the chance. You will see just what I saw. Meanwhile, however—” And he laid a finger meaningly upon his lips.

Mr. Ricardo was thrilled to his marrow at being made a participator in this mystery. “I shall not say a word about it,” he said reassuringly, and Hanaud without a doubt was immensely relieved. He was turning away when now Mr. Ricardo caught him by the arm.—“Before you continue your work,” he said with a new but tiny touch of patronage in his voice—he was always anxious to reward one of Hanaud’s rare confidences—“I must warn you. You betray yourself, I think, a little more than you used to. So far it is not very serious. But the defect will grow unless it is very carefully watched.”

Hanaud was aghast. “I betray myself!”

“Twice this morning.”

“It is clear, then.” The detective threw up his arms in despair. “Hanaud grows old. Twice! Twice in one morning you catch me bowing.”

“Bending,” said Mr. Ricardo. “But, at the best, it is a vulgar phrase.”



“Once when I see the little picture on the wall?”


“And the other time?”

“Earlier—in the drawing-room. Your regrets that you had so terrible a story to tell, your compassion—on the whole they were very well done.”

“Thank you,” said Hanaud meekly. “Praise from Sir Herbert!”

“Hubert,” said Mr. Ricardo. “Yes, they were well done up to a point. The point when you used one brutal word, and used it brutally, to describe the severed hand.”

All the mischief died out of Hanaud’s eyes. He looked at Ricardo in the oddest way; like some fencer when a despised antagonist slips through beneath his guard.

“Go on!” he said, and Mr. Ricardo was only too pleased to go on. “The sympathy, the gentle remorse that your rough world of crime must break in upon the elegance of that drawing-room—and then suddenly the crude word spoken violently, like a blow—‘hacked’. ‘Hacked off at the wrist’. My friend, you looked for some reaction—yes—some definite reaction from someone in that room.”

Hanaud did not admit the intention. On the other hand, he did not deny it. He remarked rather sulkily: “If I did, I didn’t get it. Come! It is high time that we went off to Villeblanche and identified this poor Madame Devenish. You have your car, no doubt? Yes? Then you and I will go in it and we will leave the police car to Monsieur Herbesthal the commissaire.”

Yet once more during the passage of a morning, Mr. Ricardo was really to astonish the detective. “We will use my car by all means,” he said slowly. “But I do not think that we shall identify Evelyn Devenish.”

Hanaud’s big frame stiffened. ”Oho!” he murmured. “So that was it! Yes! It was you who insisted that Miss Joyce Whipple should be roused from her long sleep. Yes. From the moment when I finished my story, you were troubled by a great fear. Even I, Hanaud, who grow old, could appreciate that. For that reason I wished to drive alone with you to Villeblanche. Yes! It is your little friend, the American, you expect to find in that cold mortuary,” and he shook his shoulders, as though the chill of that place reached out and caught him here on the sunlit terrace. “Let us go! You shall tell me why you fear this, as we go.”

The Prisoner in the Opal - Contents    |     VII - The Cave of the Mummies

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