Chapter XI: In Which Frederic Larsan Explains How the Murderer Was Able to Get Out of The Yellow Room
Among the mass of papers, legal documents, memoirs, and extracts from newspapers, which I have collected, relating to the mystery of The Yellow Room, there is one very interesting piece; it is a detail of the famous examination which took place that afternoon, in the laboratory of Professor Stangerson, before the Chief of the Surete. This narrative is from the pen of Monsieur Maleine, the Registrar, who, like the examining magistrate, had spent some of his leisure time in the pursuit of literature. The piece was to have made part of a book which, however, has never been published, and which was to have been entitled: "My Examinations." It was given to me by the Registrar himself, some time after the astonishing denouement to this case, and is unique in judicial chronicles.
Here it is. It is not a mere dry transcription of questions and answers, because the Registrar often intersperses his story with his own personal comments.
THE REGISTRAR'S NARRATIVE
The examining magistrate and I (the writer relates) found ourselves in The Yellow Room in the company of the builder who had constructed the pavilion after Professor Stangerson's designs. He had a workman with him. Monsieur de Marquet had had the walls laid entirely bare; that is to say, he had had them stripped of the paper which had decorated them. Blows with a pick, here and there, satisfied us of the absence of any sort of opening. The floor and the ceiling were thoroughly sounded. We found nothing. There was nothing to be found. Monsieur de Marquet appeared to be delighted and never ceased repeating:
"What a case! What a case! We shall never know, you'll see, how the murderer was able to get out of this room!"
Then suddenly, with a radiant face, he called to the officer in charge of the gendarmes.
"Go to the chateau," he said, "and request Monsieur Stangerson and Monsieur Robert Darzac to come to me in the laboratory, also Daddy Jacques; and let your men bring here the two concierges."
Five minutes later all were assembled in the laboratory. The Chief of the Surete, who had arrived at the Glandier, joined us at that moment. I was seated at Monsieur Stangerson's desk ready for work, when Monsieur de Marquet made us the following little speech--as original as it was unexpected:
"With your permission, gentlemen--as examinations lead to nothing --we will, for once, abandon the old system of interrogation. I will not have you brought before me one by one, but we will all remain here as we are,--Monsieur Stangerson, Monsieur Robert Darzac, Daddy Jacques and the two concierges, the Chief of the Surete, the Registrar, and myself. We shall all be on the same footing. The concierges may, for the moment, forget that they have been arrested. We are going to confer together. We are on the spot where the crime was committed. We have nothing else to discuss but the crime. So let us discuss it freely--intelligently or otherwise, so long as we speak just what is in our minds. There need be no formality or method since this won't help us in any way."
Then, passing before me, he said in a low voice:
"What do you think of that, eh? What a scene! Could you have thought of that? I'll make a little piece out of it for the Vaudeville." And he rubbed his hands with glee.
I turned my eyes on Monsieur Stangerson. The hope he had received from the doctor's latest reports, which stated that Mademoiselle Stangerson might recover from her wounds, had not been able to efface from his noble features the marks of the great sorrow that was upon him. He had believed his daughter to be dead, and he was still broken by that belief. His clear, soft, blue eyes expressed infinite sorrow. I had had occasion, many times, to see Monsieur Stangerson at public ceremonies, and from the first had been struck by his countenance, which seemed as pure as that of a child--the dreamy gaze with the sublime and mystical expression of the inventor and thinker.
On those occasions his daughter was always to be seen either following him or by his side; for they never quitted each other, it was said, and had shared the same labours for many years. The young lady, who was then five and thirty, though she looked no more than thirty, had devoted herself entirely to science. She still won admiration for her imperial beauty which had remained intact, without a wrinkle, withstanding time and love. Who would have dreamed that I should one day be seated by her pillow with my papers, and that I should see her, on the point of death, painfully recounting to us the most monstrous and most mysterious crime I have heard of in my career? Who would have thought that I should be, that afternoon, listening to the despairing father vainly trying to explain how his daughter's assailant had been able to escape from him? Why bury ourselves with our work in obscure retreats in the depths of woods, if it may not protect us against those dangerous threats to life which meet us in the busy cities?
"Now, Monsieur Stangerson," said Monsieur de Marquet, with somewhat of an important air, "place yourself exactly where you were when Mademoiselle Stangerson left you to go to her chamber."
Monsieur Stangerson rose and, standing at a certain distance from the door of The Yellow Room, said, in an even voice and without the least trace of emphasis--a voice which I can only describe as a dead voice:
"I was here. About eleven o'clock, after I had made a brief chemical experiment at the furnaces of the laboratory, needing all the space behind me, I had my desk moved here by Daddy Jacques, who spent the evening in cleaning some of my apparatus. My daughter had been working at the same desk with me. When it was her time to leave she rose, kissed me, and bade Daddy Jacques goodnight. She had to pass behind my desk and the door to enter her chamber, and she could do this only with some difficulty. That is to say, I was very near the place where the crime occurred later."
"And the desk?" I asked, obeying, in thus mixing myself in the conversation, the express orders of my chief, "as soon as you heard the cry of 'murder' followed by the revolver shots, what became of the desk?"
Daddy Jacques answered.
"We pushed it back against the wall, here--close to where it is at the present moment-so as to be able to get at the door at once."
I followed up my reasoning, to which, however, I attached but little importance, regarding it as only a weak hypothesis, with another question.
"Might not a man in the room, the desk being so near to the door, by stooping and slipping under the desk, have left it unobserved?"
"You are forgetting," interrupted Monsieur Stangerson wearily, "that my daughter had locked and bolted her door, that the door had remained fastened, that we vainly tried to force it open when we heard the noise, and that we were at the door while the struggle between the murderer and my poor child was going on--immediately after we heard her stifled cries as she was being held by the fingers that have left their red mark upon her throat. Rapid as the attack was, we were no less rapid in our endeavors to get into the room where the tragedy was taking place."
I rose from my seat and once more examined the door with the greatest care. Then I returned to my place with a despairing gesture.
"If the lower panel of the door," I said, "could be removed without the whole door being necessarily opened, the problem would be solved. But, unfortunately, that last hypothesis is untenable after an examination of the door--it's of oak, solid and massive. You can see that quite plainly, in spite of the injury done in the attempt to burst it open."
"Ah!" cried Daddy Jacques, "it is an old and solid door that was brought from the chateau--they don't make such doors now. We had to use this bar of iron to get it open, all four of us--for the concierge, brave woman she is, helped us. It pains me to find them both in prison now."
Daddy Jacques had no sooner uttered these words of pity and protestation than tears and lamentations broke out from the concierges. I never saw two accused people crying more bitterly. I was extremely disgusted. Even if they were innocent, I could not understand how they could behave like that in the face of misfortune. A dignified bearing at such times is better than tears and groans, which, most often, are feigned.
"Now then, enough of that sniveling," cried Monsieur de Marquet; "and, in your interest, tell us what you were doing under the windows of the pavilion at the time your mistress was being attacked; for you were close to the pavilion when Daddy Jacques met you."
"We were coming to help!" they whined.
"If we could only lay hands on the murderer, he'd never taste bread again!" the woman gurgled between her sobs.
As before we were unable to get two connecting thoughts out of them. They persisted in their denials and swore, by heaven and all the saints, that they were in bed when they heard the sound of the revolver shot.
"It was not one, but two shots that were fired!--You see, you are lying. If you had heard one, you would have heard the other."
"Mon Dieu! Monsieur--it was the second shot we heard. We were asleep when the first shot was fired."
"Two shots were fired," said Daddy Jacques. "I am certain that all the cartridges were in my revolver. We found afterward that two had been exploded, and we heard two shots behind the door. Was not that so, Monsieur Stangerson?"
"Yes," replied the Professor, "there were two shots, one dull, and the other sharp and ringing."
"Why do you persist in lying?" cried Monsieur de Marquet, turning to the concierges. "Do you think the police are the fools you are? Everything points to the fact that you were out of doors and near the pavilion at the time of the tragedy. What were you doing there? So far as I am concerned," he said, turning to Monsieur Stangerson, "I can only explain the escape of the murderer on the assumption of help from these two accomplices. As soon as the door was forced open, and while you, Monsieur Stangerson, were occupied with your unfortunate child, the concierge and his wife facilitated the flight of the murderer, who, screening himself behind them, reached the window in the vestibule, and sprang out of it into the park. The concierge closed the window after him and fastened the blinds, which certainly could not have closed and fastened of themselves. That is the conclusion I have arrived at. If anyone here has any other idea, let him state it."
Monsieur Stangerson intervened:
"What you say was impossible. I do not believe either in the guilt or in the connivance of my concierges, though I cannot understand what they were doing in the park at that late hour of the night. I say it was impossible, because Madame Bernier held the lamp and did not move from the threshold of the room; because I, as soon as the door was forced open, threw myself on my knees beside my daughter, and no one could have left or entered the room by the door, without passing over her body and forcing his way by me! Daddy Jacques and the concierge had but to cast a glance round the chamber and under the bed, as I had done on entering, to see that there was nobody in it but my daughter lying on the floor."
"What do you think, Monsieur Darzac?" asked the magistrate.
Monsieur Darzac replied that he had no opinion to express. Monsieur Dax, the Chief of the Surete who, so far, had been listening and examining the room, at length deigned to open his lips:
"While search is being made for the criminal, we had better try to find out the motive for the crime; that will advance us a little," he said. Turning towards Monsieur Stangerson, he continued, in the even, intelligent tone indicative of a strong character, "I understand that Mademoiselle was shortly to have been married?"
The professor looked sadly at Monsieur Robert Darzac.
"To my friend here, whom I should have been happy to call my son --to Monsieur Robert Darzac."
"Mademoiselle Stangerson is much better and is rapidly recovering from her wounds. The marriage is simply delayed, is it not, Monsieur?" insisted the Chief of the Surete.
"I hope so.
"What! Is there any doubt about that?"
Monsieur Stangerson did not answer. Monsieur Robert Darzac seemed agitated. I saw that his hand trembled as it fingered his watchchain. Monsieur Dax coughed, as did Monsieur de Marquet. Both were evidently embarrassed.
"You understand, Monsieur Stangerson," he said, "that in an affair so perplexing as this, we cannot neglect anything; we must know all, even the smallest and seemingly most futile thing concerning the victim--information apparently the most insignificant. Why do you doubt that this marriage will take place? You expressed a hope; but the hope implies a doubt. Why do you doubt?"
Monsieur Stangerson made a visible effort to recover himself.
"Yes, Monsieur," he said at length, "you are right. It will be best that you should know something which, if I concealed it, might appear to be of importance; Monsieur Darzac agrees with me in this."
Monsieur Darzac, whose pallor at that moment seemed to me to be altogether abnormal, made a sign of assent. I gathered he was unable to speak.
"I want you to know then," continued Monsieur Stangerson, "that my daughter has sworn never to leave me, and adheres firmly to her oath, in spite of all my prayers and all that I have argued to induce her to marry. We have known Monsieur Robert Darzac many years. He loves my child; and I believed that she loved him; because she only recently consented to this marriage which I desire with all my heart. I am an old man, Monsieur, and it was a happy hour to me when I knew that, after I had gone, she would have at her side, one who loved her and who would help her in continuing our common labours. I love and esteem Monsieur Darzac both for his greatness of heart and for his devotion to science. But, two days before the tragedy, for I know not what reason, my daughter declared to me that she would never marry Monsieur Darzac."
A dead silence followed Monsieur Stangerson's words. It was a moment fraught with suspense.
"Did Mademoiselle give you any explanation,--did she tell you what her motive was?" asked Monsieur Dax.
"She told me she was too old to marry--that she had waited too long. She said she had given much thought to the matter and while she had a great esteem, even affection, for Monsieur Darzac, she felt it would be better if things remained as they were. She would be happy, she said, to see the relations between ourselves and Monsieur Darzac become closer, but only on the understanding that there would be no more talk of marriage."
"That is very strange!" muttered Monsieur Dax.
"Strange!" repeated Monsieur de Marquet.
"You'll certainly not find the motive there, Monsieur Dax," Monsieur Stangerson said with a cold smile.
"In any case, the motive was not theft!" said the Chief impatiently.
"Oh! we are quite convinced of that!" cried the examining magistrate.
At that moment the door of the laboratory opened and the officer in charge of the gendarmes entered and handed a card to the examining magistrate. Monsieur de Marquet read it and uttered a half angry exclamation:
"This is really too much!" he cried.
"What is it?" asked the Chief.
"It's the card of a young reporter engaged on the 'Epoque,' a Monsieur Joseph Rouletabille. It has these words written on it:
'One of the motives of the crime was robbery.'"
The Chief smiled.
"Ah,--young Rouletabille--I've heard of him he is considered rather clever. Let him come in."
Monsieur Joseph Rouletabille was allowed to enter. I had made his acquaintance in the train that morning on the way to Epinay-sur-Orge. He had introduced himself almost against my wish into our compartment. I had better say at once that his manners, and the arrogance with which he assumed to know what was incomprehensible even to us, impressed him unfavourably on my mind. I do not like journalists. They are a class of writers to be avoided as the pest. They think that everything is permissible and they respect nothing. Grant them the least favour, allow them even to approach you, and you never can tell what annoyance they may give you. This one appears to be scarcely twenty years old, and the effrontery with which he dared to question us and discuss the matter with us made him particularly obnoxious to me. Besides, he had a way of expressing himself that left us guessing as to whether he was mocking us or not. I know quite well that the 'Epoque' is an influential paper with which it is well to be on good terms, but the paper ought not to allow itself to be represented by sneaking reporters.
Monsieur Joseph Rouletabille entered the laboratory, bowed to us, and waited for Monsieur de Marquet to ask him to explain his presence.
"You pretend, Monsieur, that you know the motive for the crime, and that that motive--in the face of all the evidence that has been forthcoming--was robbery?"
"No, Monsieur, I do not pretend that. I do not say that robbery was the motive for the crime, and I don't believe it was."
"Then, what is the meaning of this card?"
"It means that robbery was one of the motives for the crime."
"What leads you to think that?"
"If you will be good enough to accompany me, I will show you."
The young man asked us to follow him into the vestibule, and we did. He led us towards the lavatory and begged Monsieur de Marquet to kneel beside him. This lavatory is lit by the glass door, and, when the door was open, the light which penetrated was sufficient to light it perfectly. Monsieur de Marquet and Monsieur Joseph Rouletabille knelt down on the threshold, and the young man pointed to a spot on the pavement.
"The stones of the lavatory have not been washed by Daddy Jacques for some time," he said; "that can be seen by the layer of dust that covers them. Now, notice here, the marks of two large footprints and the black ash they left where they have been. That ash is nothing else than the charcoal dust that covers the path along which you must pass through the forest, in order to get directly from Epinay to the Glandier. You know there is a little village of charcoal-burners at that place, who make large quantities of charcoal. What the murderer did was to come here at midday, when there was nobody at the pavilion, and attempt his robbery."
"But what robbery?--Where do you see any signs of robbery? What proves to you that a robbery has been committed?" we all cried at once. "What put me on the trace of it," continued the journalist...
"Was this?" interrupted Monsieur de Marquet, still on his knees.
"Evidently," said Rouletabille.
And Monsieur de Marquet explained that there were on the dust of the pavement marks of two footsteps, as well as the impression, freshly-made, of a heavy rectangular parcel, the marks of the cord with which it had been fastened being easily distinguished.
"You have been here, then, Monsieur Rouletabille? I thought I had given orders to Daddy Jacques, who Was left in charge of the pavilion, not to allow anybody to enter."
"Don't scold Daddy Jacques, I came here with Monsieur Robert Darzac."
"Ah,--Indeed!" exclaimed Monsieur de Marquet, disagreeably, casting a side-glance at Monsieur Darzac, who remained perfectly silent.
"When I saw the mark of the parcel by the side of the footprints, I had no doubt as to the robbery," replied Monsieur Rouletabille. "The thief had not brought a parcel with him; he had made one here--a parcel with the stolen objects, no doubt; and he put it in this corner intending to take it away when the moment came for him to make his escape. He had also placed his heavy boots beside the parcel,--for, see--there are no marks of steps leading to the marks left by the boots, which were placed side by side. That accounts for the fact that the murderer left no trace of his steps when he fled from The Yellow Room, nor any in the laboratory, nor in the vestibule. After entering The Yellow Room in his boots, he took them off, finding them troublesome, or because he wished to make as little noise as possible. The marks made by him in going through the vestibule and the laboratory were subsequently washed out by Daddy Jacques. Having, for some reason or other, taken off his boots, the murderer carried them in his hand and placed them by the side of the parcel he had made,--by that time the robbery had been accomplished. The man then returned to The Yellow Room and slipped under the bed, where the mark of his body is perfectly visible on the floor and even on the mat, which has been slightly moved from its place and creased. Fragments of straw also, recently torn, bear witness to the murderer's movements under the bed."
"Yes, yes,--we know all about that," said Monsieur de Marquet.
"The robber had another motive for returning to hide under the bed," continued the astonishing boy-journalist. "You might think that he was trying to hide himself quickly on seeing, through the vestibule window, Monsieur and Mademoiselle Stangerson about to enter the pavilion. It would have been much easier for him to have climbed up to the attic and hidden there, waiting for an opportunity to get away, if his purpose had been only flight.--No! No!--he had to be in The Yellow Room."
Here the Chief intervened.
"That's not at all bad, young man. I compliment you. If we do not know yet how the murderer succeeded in getting away, we can at any rate see how he came in and committed the robbery. But what did he steal?"
"Something very valuable," replied the young reporter.
At that moment we heard a cry from the laboratory. We rushed in and found Monsieur Stangerson, his eyes haggard, his limbs trembling, pointing to a sort of bookcase which he had opened, and which, we saw, was empty. At the same instant he sank into the large armchair that was placed before the desk and groaned, the tears rolling down his cheeks, "I have been robbed again! For God's sake, do not say a word of this to my daughter. She would be more pained than I am." He heaved a deep sigh and added, in a tone I shall never forget: "After all, what does it matter,--so long as she lives!"
"She will live!" said Monsieur Darzac, in a voice strangely touching.
"And we will find the stolen articles," said Monsieur Dax. "But what was in the cabinet?"
"Twenty years of my life," replied the illustrious professor sadly, "or rather of our lives--the lives of myself and my daughter! Yes, our most precious documents, the records of our secret experiments and our labours of twenty years were in that cabinet. It is an irreparable loss to us and, I venture to say, to science. All the processes by which I had been able to arrive at the precious proof of the destructibility of matter were there--all. The man who came wished to take all from me,--my daughter and my work--my heart and my soul."
And the great scientist wept like a child.
We stood around him in silence, deeply affected by his great distress. Monsieur Darzac pressed closely to his side, and tried in vain to restrain his tears--a sight which, for the moment, almost made me like him, in spite of an instinctive repulsion which his strange demeanour and his inexplicable anxiety had inspired me.
Monsieur Rouletabille alone,--as if his precious time and mission on earth did not permit him to dwell in the contemplation on human suffering--had, very calmly, stepped up to the empty cabinet and, pointing at it, broke the almost solemn silence. He entered into explanations, for which there was no need, as to why he had been led to believe that a robbery had been committed, which included the simultaneous discovery he had made in the lavatory, and the empty precious cabinet in the laboratory. The first thing that had struck him, he said, was the unusual form of that piece of furniture. It was very strongly built of fire-proof iron, clearly showing that it was intended for the keeping of most valuable objects. Then he noticed that the key had been left in the lock. "One does not ordinarily have a safe and leave it open!" he had said to himself. This little key, with its brass head and complicated wards, had strongly attracted him,--its presence had suggested robbery.
Monsieur de Marquet appeared to be greatly perplexed, as if he did not know whether he ought to be glad of the new direction given to the inquiry by the young reporter, or sorry that it had not been done by himself. In our profession and for the general welfare, we have to put up with such mortifications and bury selfish feelings. That was why Monsieur de Marquet controlled himself and joined his compliments with those of Monsieur Dax. As for Monsieur Rouletabille, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said: "There's nothing at all in that!" I should have liked to box his ears, especially when he added: "You will do well, Monsieur, to ask Monsieur Stangerson who usually kept that key?"
"My daughter," replied Monsieur Stangerson, "she was never without it.
"Ah! then that changes the aspect of things which no longer corresponds with Monsieur Rouletabille's ideas!" cried Monsieur de Marquet. "If that key never left Mademoiselle Stangerson, the murderer must have waited for her in her room for the purpose of stealing it; and the robbery could not have been committed until after the attack had been made on her. But after the attack four persons were in the laboratory! I can't make it out!"
"The robbery," said the reporter, "could only have been committed before the attack upon Mademoiselle Stangerson in her room. When the murderer entered the pavilion he already possessed the brass-headed key."
"That is impossible," said Monsieur Stangerson in a low voice.
"It is quite possible, Monsieur, as this proves."
And the young rascal drew a copy of the "Epoque" from his pocket, dated the 21st of October (I recall the fact that the crime was committed on the night between the 24th and 25th), and showing us an advertisement, he read:
"'Yesterday a black satin reticule was lost in the Grands Magasins de la Louvre. It contained, amongst other things, a small key with a brass head. A handsome reward will be given to the person who has found it. This person must write, poste restante, bureau 40, to this address: M. A. T. H. S. N.' Do not these letters suggest Mademoiselle Stangerson?" continued the reporter. "The 'key with a brass head'--is not this the key? I always read advertisements. In my business, as in yours, Monsieur, one should always read the personals.' They are often the keys to intrigues, that are not always brass-headed, but which are none the less interesting. This advertisement interested me specially; the woman of the key surrounded it with a kind of mystery. Evidently she valued the key, since she promised a big reward for its restoration! And I thought on these six letters: M. A. T. H. S. N. The first four at once pointed to a Christian name; evidently I said Math is Mathilde. But I could make nothing of the two last letters. So I threw the journal aside and occupied myself with other matters. Four days later, when the evening paper appeared with enormous head-lines announcing the murder of Mademoiselle Stangerson, the letters in the advertisement mechanically recurred to me. I had forgotten the two last letters, S. N. When I saw them again I could not help exclaiming,
'Stangerson!' I jumped into a cab and rushed into the bureau No.
40, asking: 'Have you a letter addressed to M. A. T. H. S. N.?' The clerk replied that he had not. I insisted, begged and entreated him to search. He wanted to know if I were playing a joke on him, and then told me that he had had a letter with the initials M. A. T. H. S. N, but he had given it up three days ago, to a lady who came for it. 'You come to-day to claim the letter, and the day before yesterday another gentleman claimed it! I've had enough of this,' he concluded angrily. I tried to question him as to the two persons who had already claimed the letter; but whether he wished to entrench himself behind professional secrecy,--he may have thought that he had already said too much,--or whether he was disgusted at the joke that had been played on him--he would not answer any of my questions."
Rouletabille paused. We all remained silent. Each drew his own conclusions from the strange story of the poste restante letter. It seemed, indeed, that we now had a thread by means of which we should be able to follow up this extraordinary mystery.
"Then it is almost certain," said Monsieur Stangerson, "that my daughter did lose the key, and that she did not tell me of it, wishing to spare any anxiety, and that she begged whoever had found it to write to the poste restante. She evidently feared that, by giving our address, inquiries would have resulted that would have apprised me of the loss of the key. It was quite logical, quite natural for her to have taken that course--for I have been robbed once before."
"Where was that, and when?" asked the Chief of the Surete.
"Oh! many years ago, in America, in Philadelphia. There were stolen from my laboratory the drawings of two inventions that might have made the fortune of a man. Not only have I never learnt who the thief was, but I have never heard even a word of the object of the robbery, doubtless because, in order to defeat the plans of the person who had robbed me, I myself brought these two inventions before the public, and so rendered the robbery of no avail. From that time on I have been very careful to shut myself in when I am at work. The bars to these windows, the lonely situation of this pavilion, this cabinet, which I had specially constructed, this special lock, this unique key, all are precautions against fears inspired by a sad experience."
"Most interesting!" remarked Monsieur Dax.
Monsieur Rouletabille asked about the reticule. Neither Monsieur Stangerson nor Daddy Jacques had seen it for several days, but a few hours later we learned from Mademoiselle Stangerson herself that the reticule had either been stolen from her, or she had lost it. She further corroborated all that had passed just as her father had stated. She had gone to the poste restante and, on the 23rd of October, had received a letter which, she affirmed, contained nothing but a vulgar pleasantry, which she had immediately burned.
To return to our examination, or rather to our conversation. I must state that the Chief of the Surete having inquired of Monsieur Stangerson under what conditions his daughter had gone to Paris on the 20th of October, we learned that Monsieur Robert Darzac had accompanied her, and Darzac had not been again seen at the chateau from that time to the day after the crime had been committed. The fact that Monsieur Darzac was with her in the Grands Magasins de la Louvre when the reticule disappeared could not pass unnoticed, and, it must be said, strongly awakened our interest.
This conversation between magistrates, accused, victim, witnesses and journalist, was coming to a close when quite a theatrical sensation--an incident of a kind displeasing to Monsieur de Marquet--was produced. The officer of the gendarmes came to announce that Frederic Larsan requested to be admitted,--a request that was at once complied with. He held in his hand a heavy pair of muddy boots, which he threw on the pavement of the laboratory.
"Here," he said, "are the boots worn by the murderer. Do you recognise them, Daddy Jacques?"
Daddy Jacques bent over them and, stupefied, recognised a pair of old boots which he had, some time back, thrown into a corner of his attic. He was so taken aback that he could not hide his agitation.
Then pointing to the handkerchief in the old man's hand, Frederic Larsan said:
"That's a handkerchief astonishingly like the one found in The Yellow Room."
"I know," said Daddy Jacques, trembling, "they are almost alike."
"And then," continued Frederic Larsan, "the old Basque cap also found in The Yellow Room might at one time have been worn by Daddy Jacques himself. All this, gentlemen, proves, I think, that the murderer wished to disguise his real personality. He did it in a very clumsy way--or, at least, so it appears to us. Don't be alarmed, Daddy Jacques; we are quite sure that you were not the murderer; you never left the side of Monsieur Stangerson. But if Monsieur Stangerson had not been working that night and had gone back to the chateau after parting with his daughter, and Daddy Jacques had gone to sleep in his attic, no one would have doubted that he was the murderer. He owes his safety, therefore, to the tragedy having been enacted too soon,--the murderer, no doubt, from the silence in the laboratory, imagined that it was empty, and that the moment for action had come. The man who had been able to introduce himself here so mysteriously and to leave so many evidences against Daddy Jacques, was, there can be no doubt, familiar with the house. At what hour exactly he entered, whether in the afternoon or in the evening, I cannot say. One familiar with the proceedings and persons of this pavilion could choose his own time for entering The Yellow Room."
"He could not have entered it if anybody had been in the laboratory," said Monsieur de Marquet.
"How do we know that?" replied Larsan. "There was the dinner in the laboratory, the coming and going of the servants in attendance. There was a chemical experiment being carried on between ten and eleven o'clock, with Monsieur Stangerson, his daughter, and Daddy Jacques engaged at the furnace in a corner of the high chimney. Who can say that the murderer--an intimate!--a friend!--did not take advantage of that moment to slip into The Yellow Room, after having taken off his boots in the lavatory?"
"It is very improbable," said Monsieur Stangerson.
"Doubtless--but it is not impossible. I assert nothing. As to the escape from the pavilion--that's another thing, the most natural thing in the world."
For a moment Frederic Larsan paused,--a moment that appeared to us a very long time. The eagerness with which we awaited what he was going to tell us may be imagined.
"I have not been in The Yellow Room," he continued, "but I take it for granted that you have satisfied yourselves that he could have left the room only by way of the door; it is by the door, then, that the murderer made his way out. At what time? At the moment when it was most easy for him to do so; at the moment when it became most explainable--so completely explainable that there can be no other explanation. Let us go over the moments which followed after the crime had been committed. There was the first moment, when Monsieur Stangerson and Daddy Jacques were close to the door, ready to bar the way. There was the second moment, during which Daddy Jacques was absent and Monsieur Stangerson was left alone before the door. There was a third moment, when Monsieur Stangerson was joined by the concierge. There was a fourth moment, during which Monsieur Stangerson, the concierge and his wife and Daddy Jacques were before the door. There was a fifth moment, during which the door was burst open and The Yellow Room entered. The moment at which the flight is explainable is the very moment when there was the least number of persons before the door. There was one moment when there was but one person,--Monsieur Stangerson. Unless a complicity of silence on the part of Daddy Jacques is admitted--in which I do not believe --the door was opened in the presence of Monsieur Stangerson alone and the man escaped.
"Here we must admit that Monsieur Stangerson had powerful reasons for not arresting, or not causing the arrest of the murderer, since he allowed him to reach the window in the vestibule and closed it after him!--That done, Mademoiselle Stangerson, though horribly wounded, had still strength enough, and no doubt in obedience to the entreaties of her father, to refasten the door of her chamber, with both the bolt and the lock, before sinking on the floor. We do not know who committed the crime; we do not know of what wretch Monsieur and Mademoiselle Stangerson are the victims, but there is no doubt that they both know! The secret must be a terrible one, for the father had not hesitated to leave his daughter to die behind a door which she had shut upon herself,--terrible for him to have allowed the assassin to escape. For there is no other way in the world to explain the murderer's flight from The Yellow Room!"
The silence which followed this dramatic and lucid explanation was appalling. We all of us felt grieved for the illustrious professor, driven into a corner by the pitiless logic of Frederic Larsan, forced to confess the whole truth of his martyrdom or to keep silent, and thus make a yet more terrible admission. The man himself, a veritable statue of sorrow, raised his hand with a gesture so solemn that we bowed our heads to it as before something sacred. He then pronounced these words, in a voice so loud that it seemed to exhaust him:
"I swear by the head of my suffering child that I never for an instant left the door of her chamber after hearing her cries for help; that that door was not opened while I was alone in the laboratory; and that, finally, when we entered The Yellow Room, my three domestics and I, the murderer was no longer there! I swear I do not know the murderer!"
Must I say it,--in spite of the solemnity of Monsieur Stangerson's words, we did not believe in his denial. Frederic Larsan had shown us the truth and it was not so easily given up.
Monsieur de Marquet announced that the conversation was at an end, and as we were about to leave the laboratory, Joseph Rouletabille approached Monsieur Stangerson, took him by the hand with the greatest respect, and I heard him say:
"I believe you, Monsieur."
I here close the citation which I have thought it my duty to make from Monsieur Maleine's narrative. I need not tell the reader that all that passed in the laboratory was immediately and faithfully reported to me by Rouletabille.Next