The Prisoner in the Opal


Hanaud Dots the T’s

A.E.W. Mason

THUS JOYCE WHIPPLE told her story. Before she had got very far with it she slipped her hand under Bryce Carter’s arm with a pretty gesture, assuring herself by the touch of him that the bad days of which she was telling were really at an end. And before she had come to her flight from the house of Mirandol, his arm was about her waist and she held close to his side. Thus, too, they remained when the story was told, not even the charm of a bottle of very sweet pink champagne which Hanaud recklessly ordered sufficing to unlink them.

“Each one the glass full to the brim!” he cried. “So! We pledge Miss Joyce. And do we tap the heels? No! We do not!”

He raised his glass against the light, watched with evident anticipation the bubbles breaking on the surface of the wine, and bowing to her with kindliness and admiration so warm upon his face that not one of them but was stirred, he cried: “To the brave young lady from the Bowery!”

Joyce laughed and blushed and thanked him with shining eyes. Bryce Carter, justifying himself in Hanaud’s thoughts at last, kissed her plump on the mouth, Hanaud smacked his lips, Mr. Ricardo shut his eyes as though he was about to take castor oil; and then they drank their glasses empty.

“The champagne!” said Hanaud. “On the occasion it is right to drink him.”

“And this champagne is wonderful,” said Bryce Carter shamelessly.

“A most nauseating beverage,” said Mr. Ricardo, but he only said it to himself. He had shown heroism enough in drinking the decoction.

“Now,” said Hanaud. “We have heard the story. All that remains is for me to—as you would say”—and he inclined his head towards Bryce Carter—“to dot the T’s.”

“Quite so,” Bryce Carter agreed, but Mr. Ricardo was not so lenient.

“Cross the T’s, my friend!”

Hanaud threw up his hands. “You hear? He calls me his friend, yet always he makes a mocking of me. But tonight I forbid. No, no! I am an inspector of the Surete, I think the best inspector, and I know my way about the English language. One crosses the C’s, it is the habit of the English, but one dots the T’s. Let it be understood, and I keep my biggest dot for the end.”

He challenged Mr. Ricardo with a glare, but confronted with the monstrosity of a man who said the English crossed the C’s, he was without reply.

“Good! I have silenced him. So! In the first place the gabare should have sailed with the tide at six in the morning. Yet when Miss Joyce runs to take refuge upon it, between two and three of the clock, it is gone. It puts out into the river to anchor there, or to drift farther and farther from its destination. There is no sense in the patron’s action, eh? Well, let us hear what he says! He says that shortly after two he was waked by hearing someone step lightly from the dock on to his deck. He pushed his head and shoulders out of his cubby, and at once Robin Webster stooped down to him and said in a whisper:

“‘Don’t make any noise, but come ashore!’

“Webster led him into the grove of trees and showed him the basket, already corded. He thinks that a little way off two other men were standing, but he cannot he sure. He was not told what was in the basket. But he was offered the gabare with its sails and ropes and furniture, just as it lay in the harbour, if he put out now at once and sank that heavy basket with a weight attached to it in the middle of the Gironde. The patron says that he is a poor man, and that to own that fine gabare, the Belle Simone, was the dream of his life. He roused his two sons, carried on board the basket, which was, after all, not suspiciously heavy, pushed out into the river, and sank it weighted as he had been directed. But he had been told to be very quick, and no doubt, therefore, had tied the weight on carelessly. But that was now seen to be the will of the good God who brings the crimes to the light of day. And for himself he is very glad, for he is naturally of a religious nature, etcetera, etcetera. That is the patron’s story, and it fits in with the facts as we know them. The Belle Simone cannot have left its little harbour more than a few minutes before Miss Joyce came to a sudden stop at the foot of the avenue and left the clear imprints of her shoes in the soft grass.” Hanaud turned towards Joyce with a serious look upon his face. “You had a moment of despair then, yes, mademoiselle, but I am inclined to congratulate you upon missing the gabare, in spite of the patron’s very religious nature. After all, a fine gabare with all its equipment—eh?” and he shrugged his shoulders. Mr. Ricardo, however, was not disposed to accept the patron’s story. It was a defect perhaps pardonable in a character otherwise so white, that whenever that gentleman got a setback from Hanaud, he found it necessary afterwards to doubt his statements, his efficiency, the suitability of his age for his work, his sense of humour and his presentation of his case. So now:

“I have a little difficulty in believing that the basket could have been conveyed to the gabare within so short a time,” he said, stabbing the table delicately with the tips of his fingers and smiling a trifle offensively.

“You would have, my friend,” Hanaud agreed. “Yet, after all, though you merely wish to trip me up, you put a question. Let us consider the time.

In the first place, Miss Joyce runs down the hill. It is a kilometre. Then she undresses Mademoiselle Diana and puts her to bed. Ah, ah! Not so easy! Not to be done while you say: ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little bedpost!’ No!”

“Only a lunatic would make such a remark,” said Mr. Ricardo acidly.

“After the undressing, Miss Joyce goes up to her room and, already overtired, does the breakdown. Good! Then she feels stifled, and only then does she think of the gabare. Now look at the other side! Tidon, with his ambitions and his wits about him, and as mademoiselle then noted, with his habit of command, Robin Webster, his black beast out of his way—both will hurry, hurry, for the morning somewhere beyond Bordeaux comes hurry, hurry too. They have a little preparation to make. They make it. They put the basket on de Mirandol’s car. They come down past the offices and out on to the Bordeaux road. Half a kilometre from the main entrance to Mirandol, a gate leads into the plantation of Suvlac. They drive the car into the plantation. They are now close to the avenue of trees. That basket is not so heavy for three men, as the captain of the gabare very truly said. There was time and to spare—even with that little preparation taken into account.”

It did not need the slight emphasis with which Hanaud stressed the words to make clear to anyone at that table exactly what he meant. Joyce Whipple shivered and her face contracted with a spasm of pain.

“Yes, not pretty, mademoiselle, but what will you? There was the smear upon that poor woman’s palm. Already the palms of Robin Webster and Tidon were tingling and burning. Already the flesh was raw. That good magistrate was taking no risks except those which he needs must take. He had seen crimes brought to light because the last necessary little precaution had been forgotten or despised. Suppose that, in spite of all, that body was discovered with a little wound on the palm which matched the wounds on the palms of Robin Webster and Monsieur Tidon—there might be some awkward talk, eh? So”—and Hanaud chopped the side of his hand sharply down upon the table, so that even the men jumped, and Joyce uttered a little cry. “Not pretty, eh? What became of that hand? Who shall say? The furnace or the earth. But it is curious about that bracelet, eh? It was disturbing to discover it—Miss Whipple’s gold bracelet in that basket. Very odd, very disturbing. But it is plain now, eh? The hand was chopped on the edge of the basket. Very likely no one noticed the wound until a moment before. Then—” He raised his hand again edgewise to cut the air, and Joyce Whipple leaned swiftly across her lover and arrested it.

“Please! Please!” she pleaded.

“Well, I omit the chops,” Hanaud conceded rather reluctantly, “but there was a chop and the gold bracelet—he slips into the basket. Why should they bother about it, with all that necessity to hurry, hurry? They did not know that it was the bracelet of Miss Whipple borrowed by a superstitious woman as a charm. So there is one T dotted.”

“Crossed,” Mr. Ricardo protested in an undertone.

“Dotted,” said Bryce Carter quite loudly. “And mind you, I was in the Foreign Office, where we know almost as much about the English language as Monsieur Hanaud himself. Go on, Monsieur Hanaud! I beg you to dot a T for me.”

Hanaud was magnanimity in person. He refused to trample upon a prostrate foe. Perhaps one little look of triumph, and he turned to Bryce Carter.

“Perfectly. Your T, I dot him.”

“How was it that Joyce survived during those two days at Mirandol? They ran such risks, those three. You had but to search the house.”

“Oh, but I have no right yet to search the house,” Hanaud interrupted. “I must have authorities, permissions, and who to grant them but the excellent Tidon? He make me some annoyances, I can tell you, if I ask him. Also some annoyances, perhaps, for mademoiselle there. No, I take another way. Oh, I ensure that mademoiselle shall keep her life in the house of Mirandol, never fear!”

Mr. Ricardo sniggered.

“I do that. Yes, I! No one else! Just I!”

Mr. Ricardo smiled across the table at Joyce. “Monsieur Hanaud is not at his best on these occasions. As he would say, modesty is not his summer suiting. And how do you do it?”

“I warn them. You hear me warn them, my friend,” Hanaud replied with a gravity which quite disconcerted Mr. Ricardo. “I tell them that they cannot rid themselves of the dead. Oh, Tidon knows it, but I remind him. I have a cordon round the house. What can they do? There are just two ways—the earth or the stove. For the earth, they are sure I mean to go through that house like a repairer of the roads. For the stove? All that black evil smoke from the chimney—no, no—” And suddenly he caught himself up. “But, mademoiselle, I beg the pardon. On both the knees. It was not nice what I said. No, we blame Mr. Ricardo, who drives me on with snickerings.”

He was speaking very remorsefully to Joyce, who was watching him with a strained white face and such a look of horror in her eyes as put them all to shame for their eager questions.

“You forgive? Yes. We are rough people, without the suitable delicacies. But we love you—even the indescribable Mr. Ricardo. So you forgive?”

But Joyce seemed for the moment not to hear nor to be aware of the real tenderness which underlay the absurdity of his words. With a shudder which shook her from her head to her feet, she buried her face in her hands.

“Oh, oh!” she moaned in a low voice. “The black evil smoke! Me!” and she swayed forwards so that but for Bryce Carter’s clasp she would have fallen across the table. Consternation seized upon the little group. Hanaud filled a glass with Evian water.

“She drink this quick.” He gave it into Bryce Carter’s disengaged hand. “You make her drink it, or I say you are not her man and forbid the bands.”

“Banns,” came feebly from the lips of Mr. Ricardo. Bryce Carter gently drew the girl’s hands from her face and held the glass to her lips.

“You are very kind—all of you,” she said, smiling wanly. She drank from the glass, and reaching out a small white hand, laid it very prettily upon Hanaud’s big paw.

“That is better, eh? I come to the rescue once more. So! now, mademoiselle, listen to me! I dot the last T with a big, neat, pleasant dot, and we all go home to bed.”

He gazed round the table, gathering attention, beaming with satisfaction.

“Listen! I have had it in my mind that all this fine courage of mademoiselle, her devotion to her friend, and her terrible distress, must not miss their fulfilment. It was to save her friend, Diana Tasborough, that she ran these risks. Well, we of the police shall do our part too. That Robin Webster planned to lure Diana into his spider-web of wickedness, that Joyce Whipple took her place—yes, that must be told. But the tale shall end there. Robin Webster and the Vicomte de Mirandol are on their trial for the murder of Evelyn Devenish and the attempt upon Joyce Whipple—and, believe me, they have more upon their hands than they can manage. You shall trust to us, mademoiselle.”

He rose from the table, discharged the account, and walked back with his little party into the town. Or, rather, he walked with Julius Ricardo. For the other pair lagged behind. Hanaud drew Ricardo’s attention to their slow progression with a good many chuckles, and digs with his elbow, and playful archnesses; all of which were quite detestable to one of Mr. Ricardo’s nicety. But Hanaud’s manner changed altogether when the four of them stood together in the street under the lamp of the hotel. He took off his hat as Joyce thanked him in warm and trembling tones, and with a great simplicity he said to her:

“Mademoiselle, I have served.”

The Prisoner in the Opal - Contents

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