The Prisoner in the Opal


Three Rooms

A.E.W. Mason

HANAUD swept through the drawing-room into the hall, where Moreau his assistant was sitting. He spoke an order over his shoulder without pausing in his walk.

“Bring the keys, Moreau,” and with Moreau and Ricardo following behind him, he turned to the left and at the end of the passage again to the right, into the wing where Mr. Ricardo slept. It was in the middle of this wing that the Commissaire Herbesthal had installed himself. Hanaud opened the door.

“Monsieur Le Commissaire, I propose now to visit the bedrooms of these two young ladies.”

Monsieur Le Commissaire rose at once. “I am at your disposal.”

Evelyn Devenish had occupied a room in the same wing but nearer to the back of the house. Moreau led the way to it and taking a key from his pocket unlocked the door. Hanaud stood in the doorway blocking the entrance.

“There is little, it seems, to help us here,” he said.

Behind him Mr. Ricardo dodged about, seeking in vain for a clear view. But he got the impression of a room tidy and neat as though the housemaid had just left it. The window was closed and looked upon the avenue of dark trees. The coverlet of grey silk was spread over the bed. Every chair was in its place. Hanaud crossed the room to the window. It was a window on the English pattern and the sashes were not bolted. He lifted the lower one and looked out. The terrace was prolonged round the side of the house for a full quarter of the length of the wing, and the flags stretched beneath the window to the edge of the avenue of dark trees. Upon their dry surface there was not a mark. Hanaud closed the window again and turned back into the room. There was a wardrobe in which some dresses were hung, and a chest of drawers filled with the more intimate details of the toilet. Hanaud turned towards Ricardo.

“You remember perhaps the colour of the dress Madame Devenish wore last night?”

“It was green.”

“Do you see it here?” Hanaud asked, standing by the open wardrobe.


“We shall ring for Marianne.”

Hanaud rang the bell, and whilst he waited examined a little writing-table near the window, on which stood a blotting-pad, an inkstand with a tray of pens and a small despatch-case. The blotting-pad was as clean as the flags outside the window. The pens had the rusty look of pens which had not been used for many a long day. Hanaud opened the despatch-case. It held a few small receipted bills from shops in Biarritz, and a cheque-book on a London bank. Hanaud looked at the counterfoils. A few cheques had been drawn to “self” for small amounts. Hanaud replaced everything in its old position and smiled ruefully at Mr. Ricardo.

“Not a letter from a friend! It is true! That young lady was lonely and poor. She paid for that flight across the water on the eve of her birthday.”

A dressing-table stood beneath a pendant of electric light, and this was the only piece of furniture in the room which showed the least disarrangement. The lid of the big glass powder-bowl was off, the hair brushes, backed with tortoiseshell and set with Evelyn’s maiden initials E.B., in gold, were one here one there. A hare’s foot lay dropped at random; a tiny pot of dry rouge was uncovered; a pencil of lip-stick had not been sheathed. Hanaud nodded his head and pursed his lips as he took note of this disarray. Then he turned towards the door almost before Marianne had opened it.

“Marianne,” he asked, “can you tell me what clothes are missing from this poor woman’s wardrobe?”

Marianne shrugged her shoulders. “That should not be difficult. She had not so many, the poor lamb!”; and of all the inappropriate expressions which Mr. Ricardo had ever heard, that word “lamb” as applied to a creature of passions and strong hate like Evelyn Devenish, seemed to him the worst. It was magnificent in its absurdity.

“There is missing, monsieur, the dress which madame wore last evening,” said Marianne, as she felt along the hanging row of clothes, “and a cloak.”

“Ah!” Hanaud exclaimed. “A cloak!”

“Yes, monsieur, a cloak of brown satin, warmly lined with white ermine and with a big collar and cuffs and border of white ermine too. It was a cloak of madame’s other days. For very sure, she could not have afforded so beautiful a wrap today.”

“Thank you,” said Hanaud. He cast one final look about the room and added: “We will now visit the room of mademoiselle the American. For very likely, Marianne, you can help us there too.”

Marianne threw up her hands. “For Mademoiselle Whipple, my good gentleman! That is a very different thing! She goes from here to America, so she has everything here. If you are fond of fine clothes, you shall see them, I promise you. And boxes besides which have never been unlocked. Oh, la, la! And shoes and stockings! And scarves and cloaks! Oh, you like wonderful clothes, my gentleman. For me, I tell you frankly, I have no very high idea of men who run here and there to see ladies’ clothes.”

If ever there was a lamb, Mr. Ricardo reflected, that lamb was Hanaud of the Surety Generale of Paris. Marianne stood with her arms akimbo, wilfully misunderstanding the help she was asked to give. She resented in every fibre this invasion of the Château Suvlac by the police. She had seen her beloved young mistress struck down, as if by a merciless fist. Mr. Ricardo wondered whether behind all this violence there was not a fear of whither this inquiry would lead. She affected to frown upon the burly Hanaud as though he were some hopeless decadent. Hanaud, however, was meekness itself, so that the Commissaire, who was red in the face with outraged dignity, could not believe his eyes or ears.

“It is because I wish to see mademoiselle wearing once more her pretty frocks that I ask you to show me them, Marianne,” he said; but it seemed that Marianne knew better, for she turned to the door with a disdainful toss of her head and strode back along the corridor past the front door again and turned down the passage towards the turret.

A door faced her, and in the corner at the angle was a second door a good deal narrower, with panels of ground glass in the upper part of it. This door Marianne unlatched and drew open. A narrow spiral stone staircase constructed in the thickness of the wall wound upwards. Marianne ascended it to a small landing and halted in front of another door. On this a sheet of note—paper was fixed with a pin. It read:

MARIANNE——Je vous prie de ne pas me reveiller Le matin.

Hanaud asked of Marianne, “Is that mademoiselle’s handwriting?”

“Yes, monsieur. I give the letters to the postman. That is the writing of mademoiselle.”

“No doubt,” Hanaud agreed.

Moreau produced another key and unlocked the door, and the whole party followed Hanaud into a large room with one wide window which overlooked the garden and the broad water of the Gironde. The window stood open and Hanaud paused at it. The tide had turned again and was running seawards, so that the breast of the river was sprinkled with little ships at anchor, their sails all furled and their sterns towards distant Bordeaux. The gold of a September afternoon painted the lovely country. In the furrows between the vines the peasants stooped and straightened their backs and stooped again; and for a moment or two the contrast between the peace outside and the mystery which haunted this room held everyone in a spell.

Hanaud was the first to break it. “Ahaha! There are other points of difference in this room, Marianne, besides the clothes,” he cried, looking about him; and indeed where all had been tidiness in Evelyn Devenish’s room, here all was disorder. The silver dress which Joyce Whipple had worn was flung carelessly across a chair; her silver slippers lay one kicked into one corner, another in the middle of the room; her stockings had been tossed in a bundle on to a second chair. It was clear that upon coming up from the drawing-room Joyce had changed her dress even to her shoes and stockings in a great haste.

Hanaud opened a wardrobe which stood against the right-hand wall of the room. It was full of dresses and tailored suits all hanging orderly.

“There are others in the lowest drawer,” said Marianne, pointing to a tall chest of drawers against the back wall by the side of the door. Hanaud stooped and drew it open. Certainly some other skirts and coats lay there, but they were all neatly folded. Hanaud turned to Marianne and spoke abruptly and with authority.

“You have been very amusing, Marianne, no doubt. But we are not here to amuse ourselves. You will now tell me plainly, whether to your knowledge any dress is missing from the wardrobe or the drawer.”

“I do not know,” Marianne replied without budging an inch.

“Or any cloak.”

“I do not know. Mademoiselle has been at the Château Suvlac for a fortnight, and once or twice she has put on a wrap in the evening when she has been out of doors on the terrace.” She went to the wardrobe and examined the clothes hung up there. “Yes, it has always been this one,” and she touched a glittering cloak of gold lame.

“Thank you,” said Hanaud. “I need not keep you any longer from your service.”

Marianne closed the door of the wardrobe and went out of the room. Hanaud walked over to the bed which stood against the wall opposite to the wardrobe with the foot of it stretching out into the room. The bed-clothes were tumbled, the pyjamas crumpled up, the pillow flung aside. Hanaud threw the bed-clothes back. The lower sheet was flat and tightly stretched over the mattress without a wrinkle on its surface.

“Yes, it is clear,” said the Commissaire. “Nobody has lain in that bed since it was made.”

Hanaud called Mr. Ricardo to his side.

“Let us now put quite clearly, my friend, the question you approached. Madame Devenish retires to her room. She stops for a moment at her dressing-table to touch her hair, powder her face, and repair the little disorders of the evening. She puts on her cloak of brown satin, opens her window and slips out. Whither she is bound we do not know. But she does not tumble her bed. No! Why should she? If she does not mean to come back, there is no reason why she should pretend to have slept in it. If she does, there is still less reason, for she means to sleep in it on her return. That is clear, eh?”

“Yes,” Mr. Ricardo agreed.

“But now consider the case of Joyce Whipple! She, too, retires to her room. She changes her clothes in a great haste, and then—” he flung his arms out wide—“she, too, is gone. But her bed is tumbled. If she meant to come back and sleep in it, again I ask you, why should she tumble it? If she did not mean to come back, what is the use of pretending that she has slept in it? There is a notice on the door . . . ‘Do not wake me, Marianne!’ If she does not mean to come back, she has taken her precautions. She will not be missed until the hour of luncheon. Why should she tumble her bed any more than the unhappy Madame Devenish? So you see your question, plain and clear now.”

Mr. Ricardo had not one idea of the nature of the famous question which he was supposed to have put, but he nodded his head vigorously and sagely.

“Of course,” he said.

“Did Mademoiselle Whipple go out of this room of her own accord?” Hanaud went on, to Ricardo’s amazement. “Yes, that is the question.”

“But there was no noise,” Ricardo objected.

“No, there was no noise that anyone could hear, and yet I ask myself that question. She meant to go somewhere—that is clear from the fact that she changed her clothes in so much haste. Oh, there are a hundred questions. Did she mean to go with the woman Devenish? Did she mean to follow her? Was it by an accident that she meant to go where she meant to go on the same night that Evelyn Devenish went? But more important than all these questions is this one. Did she actually in the end go of her own accord? Suppose that she was taken away—”

“By force?” interrupted Mr. Ricardo.

“And by some persons who had not noticed that writing on the door, because they are in the dark and in a hurry. If they tumble the bed they may win some hours before it is discovered that the young lady has disappeared. Marianne finds the bed in disorder. Very well. Then mademoiselle has risen early. She may be amongst the vines.” He suddenly turned to his companions and cried:

“Let someone explain that tumbled bed to me in some other way. I shall be very glad.”

There was a note of anxiety, of deep feeling in Hanaud’s voice which troubled everyone in that room. He was setting no trap now to parade his cleverness. He looked from face to face, eager for a convincing interpretation other than the only one he discovered for himself.

“Can you, Monsieur Le Commissaire?”


“Come, Moreau! You!”

“No, Monsieur Hanaud.”

“And you, Mr. Ricardo, I hardly ask, since it was you who first of all of us detected the significance of this manufactured disorder.”

He turned sombrely away from the bed and then swooped upon a writing-table which stood in front of the window, but a little way back from it. A leather blotting-book lay closed upon it. Hanaud opened it and at once half a sheet of the blotting-paper fluttered down to the floor. He picked it up. Its inner edge was jagged. Hanaud compared it with the other sheets.

“Half of this has been torn away,” he said, “but we shall not find it.”

There was a waste-paper basket beside the table, but it was empty. There was a drawer in the table. It held no torn sheet of blotting-paper, but on the other hand it did hold a jumble of letters opened and pushed back into their envelopes. Hanaud sat down in the chair in front of the table and with his face to the window and his back to the room set himself quickly to read them.

“Aha! She has friends, this young lady,” he said more to himself than to any of those behind him. And after another moment or two, “Who is a certain Bryce Carter?”

Mr. Ricardo started as he heard the name, and without so much as turning his head Hanaud exclaimed:

“So you know him, my friend.”

“No. I know a little of him,” Mr. Ricardo returned. “He was at one time engaged to Diana Tasborough,” and Hanaud swung round in his chair.

“What is this you tell me?” he said slowly, with a letter open in his hand. Mr. Ricardo remembered very clearly the information which Joyce Whipple had given to him about this young man, in London, but he remembered still more clearly the confusion with which she had given it.

“Bryce Carter is a young man who was in the Foreign Office, but he left it to go to the City and make money, since he did not wish to be the poor husband of a rich wife. But a few months ago he crashed.”

Ricardo remembered the graphic word and reproduced it.

“Crashed? “Hanaud repeated. “Crashed? That is an idiom,” and he was utterly surprised that here was an idiom with which he was unacquainted.

“I mean that Diana Tasborough broke off her engagement.”


Hanaud turned back to the drawer. He searched amongst the litter of envelopes and found another of the same handwriting and then another; and he read them all through. He looked over his shoulder at Ricardo with a grin.

“I make you a prophecy. That young man will make money in the City. He wastes no time, the scamp,” and with a little mimicry of burnt fingers he dropped the letter he was holding and took it up again gingerly. “They are live coals, these letters of Bryce Carter. Oh, oh, they boil”—he put his fingers ridiculously into his mouth and blew upon them—and suddenly all his play-acting ceased. Some quite new thought had smitten him, and he sat, his body arrested, a man changed into stone.

“Yes,” he said at last. “Yes,” and now very soberly he continued his examination of the drawer. For a little while he found nothing to interest him, and then he leaned back in his chair staring at a sheet of paper.

“It is not easy to read, this signature. Do you know a name Brever?”

Ricardo shook his head.

“There is a name Brewer.”

“Yes? Then that is it. Brever. Henry Brever, and he has a pharmacological laboratory at Leeds.”


Mr. Ricardo jumped.

“You know him?” asked Hanaud.

“Again, I know of him. Sir Henry Brewer. He is a renowned physician devoted to research.”

“A curious friend for a young lady of fashion,” said Hanaud.

Mr. Ricardo as a citizen of the world was in a position to put his friend right in matters of the social order.

“We don’t live in our categories and departments as much as you do in France,” Ricardo explained with a trifle of condescension. “No, we have the habit of a wider life. Our actresses dine in high company and eminent physicians run around with the girls.”

Hanaud bowed his head meekly. “It must be very pleasant for the eminent physicians,” he said. Mr. Ricardo, curious as to the character of the letter, drew nearer to the table. But before he could get so much as a glimpse of it, Hanaud folded it, replaced it in its envelope, and put the envelope in his pocket. It was to the credit of science that he didn’t have to blow upon his fingers to cool them, afterwards. He rose up from the table and as he closed the drawer he said: “I keep this one letter, and I beg of you that no one shall mention it. We forget the name of Brever! So!” He closed his eyes for a moment and opened them again. “It is done. And there—is no Leeds. So!” He repeated his performance with his eyelids and to Mr. Ricardo who was staring at him with a certain disfavour. “Ah! I am a comical, eh? Yes, but I do not always live in my category and department, either. In that I am like—the one I have forgotten. Let us go!”

He took a final glance about the room. The dressing-table stood against the same wall as the wardrobe opposite to the bed. The window and the writing-table were between. A cluster of light globes was fixed in the centre of the ceiling. There was a standard lamp by the bed, two upon the dressing-table and in the back wall two sconces were set, fitted with electric bulbs. Hanaud took all these details in and led the way down the stone staircase into the angle of the corridor.

“And this,” he said, seizing the handle of the door close by, “this is the room of Mademoiselle Tasbruff.”

“Tasborough,” Ricardo corrected him.

“That is what I say, ‘Tasbruff.’”

He remained with his hand upon the knob, measuring with his eyes the distance between the two doors.

“This something,” he asked of Ricardo, “which flicked past you last night outside upon the terrace—it was a person? It could not have been a bat or an owl?”

“Oh, no. It was a person. I am sure.”

“But you had no suspicion who it was?”


“And it vanished through the window of this room, at the door of which I am standing?”


“At half-past two in the morning?”


“Good! We have that clear,” and Hanaud turned the handle and for a second time entered Diana Tasborough’s bedroom.

Mr. Ricardo had been awaiting this moment in a fever. He almost pushed Hanaud out of the way in his anxiety to get to that picture on the wall above the bed and pluck its secret from it. He suffered one of the great disappointments of his life. For he found himself staring at one of a myriad copies of Tintoretto’s picture of the Grand Canal of Venice. The gondolas, the pale mass of the Doge’s Palace, the dome of Santa Maria del Salute—Mr. Ricardo had seen them a hundred times on the walls of a hundred bedrooms, had slept under them, he too. There was no secret to be plucked out of that picture, no mystery by its mute agency to be laid bare. Mr. Ricardo gazed reproachfully at the detective who hurried to his side.

“You see nothing there?” Hanaud asked.


“It must be, then, that there is nothing to see.”

Nothing there—no! But there was that curious brightness in Hanaud’s eyes, that curious alertness in his manner, which Ricardo had noticed before in this very spot. Even his voice was vibrant with excitement. Once more this room had had some vital information to give to him. The picture—a joke and not in the best taste. But jokes in bad taste played upon you delightedly were part of the price which you had to pay for the thrills which his friendship was apt to provide. Mr. Ricardo swallowed his grievance and gazed with a frowning brow about the room for just that changed thing which had so encouraged Hanaud. Alas! He could not find it. There was the mirror, the writing-table with the crucifix, the same bottles of perfume on the dressing-table—no, Mr. Ricardo was at a loss. He detected Hanaud watching him with the shadow of a grin upon his face.

“It is peculiar, isn’t it?” said Hanaud quickly.

“Very. Very peculiar,” replied Mr. Ricardo, who was not going to be made a mockery and derision if he could help it.

“If you are satisfied, there is one more room which we should visit before our hostess and her manager return. It is not pleasant to find the police poking their noses into little intimate secrets which have nothing to do with them. Yet that, alas, in their wide search the police must do. So let us cause as little annoyance as we can. Moreau, you will ask Monsieur Le Commissaire to post someone to watch the road and give us warning of the car’s return.”

Monsieur Le Commissaire, however, was disinclined to withdraw the dignity of his tricoloured sash from Hanaud’s investigation. He nodded to Moreau.

“You will find Andrieu Biche in the room we are using. You shall post him at the spot which is most convenient.”

Moreau went reluctantly upon his errand.

“Andrieu Biche has his wits about him,” said the Commissaire to Hanaud. “We are safe from interruption.”

Mr. Ricardo knew Hanaud well enough to realize that he was now in a great hurry. He led the way on to the terrace by the long window in the bow of the turret, passed swiftly along the face of the house, crossed the avenue of trees and came out into the open space of grass upon which the chalet was built. On the edge of this space he halted just for a second. But there was not any movement visible within the chalet, and a screen of trees sheltered the onlookers from the observation of the labourers about the chais and the vats. Nevertheless Hanaud crossed the plot of grass at a run, flung open the white gate and was at the door of the chalet with a speed which his bulk altogether belied. The door was latched but unlocked. It gave upon a narrow passage with a door on either side, a staircase beyond, and beyond the staircase, through an open doorway, the party caught a glimpse of a kitchen. Hanaud stopped in the passage again for a second with his finger to his lips. But not a sound could be heard.

“The service of the chalet is done from the château,” Hanaud said with a note of relief. “It is empty.”

A hurried step sounded on the gravel behind him. He turned round. The new-comer was Moreau back from his errand to the Commissaire. “A man is posted on the road,” he said.

“Good!” Hanaud replied. He paid not the slightest attention to the rooms on the ground floor, but sprang quickly up the stairs. A bathroom and a dressing-room stood upon one side, a long bedroom upon the other with a window at either end. Hanaud went at once to the window, which looked out across the grass on the avenue of trees.

“It was here that you saw the light burning?” he asked of Mr. Ricardo.


The room was lit at night by electricity. A standard lamp stood upon a table by the bed and a couple of brackets were fixed in each of the walls.

“Yes,” Hanaud repeated. But he was not satisfied. A table stood in the centre of the room but in a line with the window. He ran his eyes over the articles upon it—a book, a fountain-pen, a case for note-paper and envelopes, a blotter, a bottle of ink, a pencil—but he was looking for something, and the thing he looked for was not there. Some cupboards were let into a wall side by side. Hanaud opened them in their order. In one, clothes dangled upon hangers; in the second, Robin Webster’s linen was arranged upon shelves. In the third, which was fitted with shelves too, his ties and collars and socks and handkerchiefs were grouped. But they only took up two shelves and there were three. The third was given over to odds and ends—a leather collar-box, a few bottles, a Thermos flask, and a saucer. Hanaud closed the door and swung round, he clapped his hands and rubbed the palms together while a smile slowly overspread his face. Oh, he had found what he was looking for—not a doubt of it. But Mr. Ricardo was not paying any great attention to him. He had found something too. Yes, he had—an idea.

“Hanaud, I have an idea,” he cried as he stood by the window. In a moment Hanaud was shaking him by the elbow with every sign of admiration and excitement.

“An idea! Actually! That thing so rare! Speak it! Don’t keep me on the tent-hook! Put the idea so priceless into priceless words!”

“You will not laugh at me?”

“My friend!” The two words breathed a whole world of reproach.

“Very well, then. I measure the length of the wing of the château with my eyes.”

“I had not thought of it! Now I do,” said Hanaud.

“On the left at the end of the wing, obliquely from us, is my window.”

Hanaud curled his hands into a mimicry of opera-glasses and held them to his eyes.

“I do see that,” he said earnestly. “It is very extraordinary.”

“There, just opposite to us, is the window of Evelyn Devenish.”

Hanaud collapsed into a chair. “Oh!” he cried. “To be sure it is! Well, then! Oh, speak!”

“Well, then! I told you of the murderous look which Evelyn Devenish shot at Joyce Whipple when Robin Webster was leaning over her chair.”

“You did! You did!”

“Don’t you see, then? It was to this chalet that Evelyn Devenish fled of her own accord when she left her room last night. It was to her lover Robin Webster.”

All the enthusiasm faded out of Hanaud’s big face. Discouragement became visible in the limpness of his attitude. He shook his head at Mr. Ricardo with the tenderest of reproach, and pressed a large hand upon his bosom to still the disappointment at his heart.

“My friend,” he said in a voice of pathos, “you work me up to a pitch of excitement most dangerous to the aged, and then you fling me down with the thud of Lucifer falling from the skies! How could you! How could you!”

Even the Commissaire Herbesthal, who could make neither head nor tail of Hanaud’s varied moods, glared at Mr. Ricardo indignantly. Mr. Ricardo, however, stood his ground.

“Evelyn Devenish fled to this chalet and to Robin Webster,” said he hotly.

“But Robin Webster wasn’t here,” said Hanaud.

“Not here!”

Mr. Ricardo stared sympathetically at the inspector of the Surete. Yes, the great detective’s day was done. This case with its subtleties and confusions had been too much for his once great bright mind. Mr. Ricardo could not, however, have him put to shame before his colleague. He must let him down easily and smoothly.

“You forget, Monsieur Hanaud. I saw Webster’s light in this window. I saw him turn it out.”

And at once Hanaud leaped to his feet.

“No, no, no! I recall your words. You saw the light flicker and go out. Yes, at the time when you used them, I thought the words were strange. Let us see now. If I turn out an electric light, it is out and at once I am in the dark. If a wire fuses, it is the same. But when an electric lamp nickers and goes out, it is because the bulb is exhausted. Let us see now!”

He switched on all the lights of the room one after another, and all of them burned brightly. He switched them off again, and in each case the light disappeared cleanly and sharply and instantaneously.

“You see!” he said.

He went back to the third cupboard and from the third shelf he took the saucer and brought it back to the table.

“This is what you saw flicker and go out.”

Herbesthal and Mr. Ricardo jostled each other in their haste to examine the saucer. At the bottom of it they saw a fragment of black wick and a little patch of wax which had melted and congealed again.

“I don’t understand,” Mr. Ricardo stammered.

“Yet it is clear. My young friend Webster lights this candle and leaves it burning in the room, so that Mr. Ricardo, or anyone who looks this way, may say to himself: ‘Oh, that industrious young man! What a treasure!’ But the candle is of a certain length, so that at a moment which experience has fixed, it will go out, and Mr. Ricardo, if he is still awake, will say: ‘It is high time he went to sleep. Treasures must not ruin their health. We do not pick them up in every hedge.’”

Now Mr. Ricardo had, indeed, argued in just that way, and he grew very red as he listened to this exposition.

“But, meanwhile, he is away. Yes, all very fine, but he forgets the nicker when the flame fades and leaps up, and so goes out. Aha! This Monsieur Webster is an interesting person. Where does he go when he leaves the candle burning? What does he do?”

Hanaud carefully replaced the saucer in its old position upon the shelf of the cupboard and closed the door. In a small recess in the wall at the head of the bed some books were standing. Hanaud walked across to them and read the titles aloud. It was the queerest collection of books for a man to keep at his bedside, and in Mr. Ricardo’s opinion some of them were not at all likely to foster those nice thoughts which should attend upon falling asleep.

“‘The Diary of Casanova,’ “Hanaud read out. “‘The Ornaments of Ruysbroek, the Mystic,’ ‘Mademoiselle de Maupin,’ ‘The Imitatio Christi,’ ‘Urn Burial’ and ‘La Fille aux Yeux d’Or.’ A very interesting person, this Monsieur Webster! What a collection!”

He took the copy of “Mademoiselle de Maupin” into his hands and opened it at the fly-leaf.

“Yes,” he said thoughtfully. ‘”Robin Webster.’”

He replaced the book and took at random one of the volumes of Casanova. That, too, bore the name of Robin Webster upon the fly-leaf. The binding of the third book which he removed from its shelf was more used than the other bindings; at which Mr. Ricardo was surprised. For it was “The Ornaments of Ruysbroek, the Mystic,” and it seemed an unlikely book to find in frequent use in the bedroom of the manager of a vineyard. Hanaud opened it. The sewing of the leaves even was loose, and the fly-leaf had disappeared altogether.

But Mr. Ricardo was now at Hanaud’s side, not looking over his shoulder—for that his stature prevented him from doing—but peeping round his elbow; and as Hanaud was closing the book he exclaimed in remonstrance at the detective’s carelessness: “But, my friend, you don’t notice things any more! How is this?”

“Tell me! Tell me quick!” cried Hanaud in a voice of anguish at all the mistakes which he was committing.

“The fly-leaf of that book was not lost because it was loose. Not at all. It was folded back and creased and then neatly and deliberately cut out.”

Hanaud’s voice grew strong again.

“I did notice that. Yes, yes. Some remnants of Hanaud’s once terrific acumen are still alive. The fly-leaf has been cut out.”

“But why?” Mr. Ricardo cried triumphantly. “It is obvious. Robin Webster has changed his name.”

“I wonder,” Hanaud replied. He took down the “Imitatio Christi.” From that book, too, the fly-leaf had been neatly removed. He stood and stared at it for an appreciable time. Then he slowly replaced it and as slowly observed: “There is another explanation. I like it the better of the two. For it explains to me something about Robin Webster which has been puzzling me all this day.”

He resumed his searching, running through the drawers with the light touch of a woman and a swiftness which was all his own. An old chest remained, on the closed lid of which lay heaped a pipe or two, a tennis racket, a telephone book, a map, an American magazine, the miscellanies which a man collects. Hanaud swept them aside and burrowed in the chest. A travelling-rug and a heavy overcoat were tossed upon the floor and then Hanaud stood up, holding in his hands a little cheap oblong box inlaid with mother-of-pearl. He shook the box and something within it rattled faintly. He tried the lid but it was locked down, and he seated himself at the table. The lock was as cheap as the box. Hanaud took from his pocket a bunch of tiny steel implements on a ring. He selected a forceps and in a trice the box was open.

“Oho!” he said, and he shook out on to the table some eight or ten letters—if letters they could be called. For even to the eyes of Mr. Ricardo, on the other side of the table, they had the appearance of notes, most of them in pencil and all scribbled off in a hurry. Hanaud read them quickly, and his face changed.

“Aha!” he said slowly, and looking up he nodded at Mr. Ricardo in confirmation of some suggestion which he had made.

“Yes, yes!” said Hanaud, which was pleasant for Mr. Ricardo as far as it went. But since Mr. Ricardo was not allowed to see even the signature to the letters, it did not go very far. Hanaud replaced the letters in the box and turned to Moreau.

“These must be photographed—now. It will be a matter of a few minutes for you.”

“I’ll fetch my camera and the little board to keep them flat,” said Moreau, making for the door.

But he was recalled. “No. Our friend the—” and Hanaud pulled himself up short. “Our friend, Mr. Robin, might hop in and make us leave the work unfinished. Better take them to our room, photograph them as quickly as you can and bring them back, if you’re in time. If you’re not, so much the worse for you. We keep the box and hope that its disappearance will not be discovered too soon.”

He spoke confidently enough, but he was certainly on the “tent-hook” during Moreau’s absence. He walked backwards and forwards between the table and the window, peering up the avenue, searching again some corner which he had already searched and betraying every sign of impatience. Finally he sat down again at the table and folded his hands.

“Why does a man keep letters from a woman in a locked box?” he asked suddenly. “Can you tell me that?”

Julius Ricardo smiled. The answer was obvious. “Because he is in love,” he replied. “You will remember that I saw him leaning forward over the back of a chair. And my observation was confirmed by his outburst this morning when we discovered that Joyce Whipple had vanished.”

Hanaud looked curiously at Mr. Ricardo.

“Then those letters, notes, fragments of writing—call them what you will—were from Joyce Whipple?” he asked.

“I did not need to see the signatures you so carefully concealed to be aware of that, my friend,” said Mr. Ricardo in gentle reproach.

Hanaud turned abruptly to Herbesthal.

“And you, Monsieur Le Commissaire? Why does a man keep letters from a lady in a locked box? Do you say the same? Is it because he is in love?”

“Probably,” replied the Commissaire with a shrug of the shoulders.

“Well, it may be,” said Hanaud doubtfully. “But again I say there is another explanation, and I like it the better of the two.”

Moreau returned to the room as he spoke with the inlaid box in his hands. “It is done,” he said.

Hanaud sprang up, relocked the box with his forceps, and stowed it away in its hiding-place. “Good!” he said, his face beaming with relief. “Let us go now! For the motor-car—I give it the permission to return!”

And the three men departed from the chalet and returned to the terrace.

The Prisoner in the Opal - Contents    |     XI - Footsteps

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