IN THE HOUSE AT GENEVA
It was well, Mr. Ricardo thought, that some one understood. For himself, he frankly admitted that he did not. Indeed, in his view the first principles of reasoning seemed to be set at naught. It was obvious from the solicitude with which Celia Harland was surrounded that every one except himself was convinced of her innocence. Yet it was equally obvious that any one who bore in mind the eight points he had tabulated against her must be convinced of her guilt. Yet again, if she were guilty, how did it happen that she had been so mishandled by her accomplices? He was not allowed, however, to reflect upon these remarkable problems. He had too busy a time of it. At one moment he was running to fetch water wherewith to bathe Celia's forehead. At another, when he had returned with the water, he was distracted by the appearance of Durette, the inspector from Aix, in the doorway.
"We have them both," he said—"Hippolyte and the woman. They were hiding in the garden."
"So I thought," said Hanaud, "when I saw the door open downstairs, and the morphia-needle on the table."
Lemerre turned to one of the officers.
"Let them be taken with old Jeanne in cabs to the depot."
And when the man had gone upon his errand Lemerre spoke to Hanaud.
"You will stay here to-night to arrange for their transfer to Aix?"
"I will leave Durette behind," said Hanaud. "I am needed at Aix. We will make a formal application for the prisoners." He was kneeling by Celia's side and awkwardly dabbing her forehead with a wet handkerchief. He raised a warning hand. Celia Harland moved and opened her eyes. She sat up on the sofa, shivering, and looked with dazed and wondering eyes from one to another of the strangers who surrounded her. She searched in vain for a familiar face.
"You are amongst good friends, Mlle. Celie," said Hanaud with great gentleness.
"Oh, I wonder! I wonder!" she cried piteously.
"Be very sure of it," he said heartily, and she clung to the sleeve of his coat with desperate hands.
"I suppose you ARE friends," she said; "else why—?" and she moved her numbed limbs to make certain that she was free. She looked about the room. Her eyes fell upon the sack and widened with terror.
"They came to me a little while ago in that cupboard there—Adele and the old woman Jeanne. They made me get up. They told me they were going to take me away. They brought my clothes and dressed me in everything I wore when I came, so that no single trace of me might be left behind. Then they tied me." She tore off her gloves and showed them her lacerated wrists. "I think they meant to kill me—horribly." And she caught her breath and whimpered like a child. Her spirit was broken.
"My poor girl, all that is over," said Hanaud. And he stood up.
But at the first movement he made she cried incisively, "No," and tightened the clutch of her fingers upon his sleeve.
"But, mademoiselle, you are safe," he said, with a smile. She stared at him stupidly. It seemed the words had no meaning for her. She would not let him go. It was only the feel of his coat within the clutch of her fingers which gave her any comfort.
"I want to be sure that I am safe," she said, with a wan little smile.
"Tell me, mademoiselle, what have you had to eat and drink during the last two days?"
"Is it two days?" she asked. "I was in the dark there. I did not know. A little bread, a little water."
"That's what is wrong," said Hanaud. "Come, let us go from here!"
"Yes, yes!" Celia cried eagerly. She rose to her feet, and tottered. Hanaud put his arm about her. "You are very kind," she said in a low voice, and again doubt looked out from her face and disappeared. "I am sure that I can trust you."
Ricardo fetched her cloak and slipped it on her shoulders. Then he brought her hat, and she pinned it on. She turned to Hanaud; unconsciously familiar words rose to her lips.
"Is it straight?" she asked. And Hanaud laughed outright, and in a moment Celia smiled herself.
Supported by Hanaud she stumbled down the stairs to the garden. As they passed the open door of the lighted parlour at the back of the house Hanaud turned back to Lemerre and pointed silently to the morphia-needle and the phial. Lemerre nodded his head, and going into the room took them away. They went out again into the garden. Celia Harland threw back her head to the stars and drew in a deep breath of the cool night air.
"I did not think," she said in a low voice, "to see the stars again."
They walked slowly down the length of the garden, and Hanaud lifted her into the launch. She turned and caught his coat.
"You must come too," she said stubbornly.
Hanaud sprang in beside her.
"For to-night," he said gaily, "I am your papa!"
Ricardo and the others followed, and the launch moved out over the lake under the stars. The bow was turned towards Geneva, the water tumbled behind them like white fire, the night breeze blew fresh upon their faces. They disembarked at the landing-stage, and then Lemerre bowed to Celia and took his leave. Hanaud led Celia up on to the balcony of the restaurant and ordered supper. There were people still dining at the tables.
One party indeed sitting late over their coffee Ricardo recognised with a kind of shock. They had taken their places, the very places in which they now sat, before he and Hanaud and Lemerre had left the restaurant upon their expedition of rescue. Into that short interval of time so much that was eventful had been crowded.
Hanaud leaned across the table to Celia and said in a low voice:
"Mademoiselle, if I may suggest it, it would be as well if you put on your gloves; otherwise they may notice your wrists."
Celia followed his advice. She ate some food and drank a glass of champagne. A little colour returned to her cheeks.
"You are very kind to me, you and monsieur your friend," she said, with a smile towards Ricardo. "But for you—" and her voice shook.
"Hush!" said Hanaud—"all that is over; we will not speak of it."
Celia looked out across the road on to the trees, of which the dark foliage was brightened and made pale by the lights of the restaurant. Out on the water some one was singing.
"It seems impossible to me," she said in a low voice, "that I am here, in the open air, and free."
Hanaud looked at his watch.
"Mlle. Celie, it is past ten o'clock. M. Ricardo's car is waiting there under the trees. I want you to drive back to Aix. I have taken rooms for you at an hotel, and there will be a nurse from the hospital to look after you."
"Thank you, monsieur," she said; "you have thought of everything. But I shall not need a nurse."
"But you will have a nurse," said Hanaud firmly. "You feel stronger now—yes, but when you lay your head upon your pillow, mademoiselle, it will be a comfort to you to know that you have her within call. And in a day or two," he added gently, "you will perhaps be able to tell us what happened on Tuesday night at the Villa Rose?"
Celia covered her face with her hands for a few moments. Then she drew them away and said simply:
"Yes, monsieur, I will tell you."
Hanaud bowed to her with a genuine deference.
"Thank you, mademoiselle," he said, and in his voice there was a strong ring of sympathy.
They went downstairs and entered Ricardo's motor car.
"I want to send a telephone message," said Hanaud, "if you will wait here."
"No!" cried Celia decisively, and she again laid hold of his coat, with a pretty imperiousness, as though he belonged to her.
"But I must," said Hanaud with a laugh.
"Then I will come too," said Celia, and she opened the door and set a foot upon the step.
"You will not, mademoiselle," said Hanaud, with a laugh. "Will you take your foot back into that car? That is better. Now you will sit with your friend, M. Ricardo, whom, by the way, I have not yet introduced to you. He is a very good friend of yours, mademoiselle, and will in the future be a still better one."
Ricardo felt his conscience rather heavy within him, for he had come out to Geneva with the fixed intention of arresting her as a most dangerous criminal. Even now he could not understand how she could be innocent of a share in Mme. Dauvray's murder. But Hanaud evidently thought she was. And since Hanaud thought so, why, it was better to say nothing if one was sensitive to gibes. So Ricardo sat and talked with her while Hanaud ran back into the restaurant. It mattered very little, however, what he said, for Celia's eyes were fixed upon the doorway through which Hanaud had disappeared. And when he came back she was quick to turn the handle of the door.
"Now, mademoiselle, we will wrap you up in M. Ricardo's spare motor-coat and cover your knees with a rug and put you between us, and then you can go to sleep."
The car sped through the streets of Geneva. Celia Harland, with a little sigh of relief, nestled down between the two men.
"If I knew you better," she said to Hanaud, "I should tell you—what, of course, I do not tell you now—that I feel as if I had a big Newfoundland dog with me."
"Mlle. Celie," said Hanaud, and his voice told her that he was moved, "that is a very pretty thing which you have said to me."
The lights of the city fell away behind them. Now only a glow in the sky spoke of Geneva; now even that was gone and with a smooth continuous purr the car raced through the cool darkness. The great head lamps threw a bright circle of light before them and the road slipped away beneath the wheels like a running tide. Celia fell asleep. Even when the car stopped at the Pont de La Caille she did not waken. The door was opened, a search for contraband was made, the book was signed, still she did not wake. The car sped on.
"You see, coming into France is a different affair," said Hanaud.
"Yes," replied Ricardo.
"Still, I will own it, you caught me napping yesterday.
"I did?" exclaimed Ricardo joyfully.
"You did," returned Hanaud. "I had never heard of the Pont de La Caille. But you will not mention it? You will not ruin me?"
"I will not," answered M. Ricardo, superb in his magnanimity. "You are a good detective."
"Oh, thank you! thank you!" cried Hanaud in a voice which shook—surely with emotion. He wrung Ricardo's hand. He wiped an imaginary tear from his eye.
And still Celia slept. M. Ricardo looked at her. He said to Hanaud in a whisper:
"Yet I do not understand. The car, though no serious search was made, must still have stopped at the Pont de La Caille on the Swiss side. Why did she not cry for help then? One cry and she was safe. A movement even was enough. Do you understand?"
Hanaud nodded his head.
"I think so," he answered, with a very gentle look at Celia. "Yes, I think so."
When Celia was aroused she found that the car had stopped before the door of an hotel, and that a woman in the dress of a nurse was standing in the doorway.
"You can trust Marie," said Hanaud. And Celia turned as she stood upon the ground and gave her hands to the two men.
"Thank you! Thank you both!" she said in a trembling voice. She looked at Hanaud and nodded her head. "You understand why I thank you so very much?"
"Yes," said Hanaud. "But, mademoiselle"—and he bent over the car and spoke to her quietly, holding her hand—"there is ALWAYS a big Newfoundland dog in the worst of troubles—if only you will look for him. I tell you so—I, who belong to the Surete in Paris. Do not lose heart!" And in his mind he added: "God forgive me for the lie." He shook her hand and let it go; and gathering up her skirt she went into the hall of the hotel.
Hanaud watched her as she went. She was to him a lonely and pathetic creature, in spite of the nurse who bore her company.
"You must be a good friend to that young girl, M. Ricardo," he said. "Let us drive to your hotel."
"Yes," said Ricardo. And as they went the curiosity which all the way from Geneva had been smouldering within him burst into flame.
"Will you explain to me one thing?" he asked. "When the scream came from the garden you were not surprised. Indeed, you said that when you saw the open door and the morphia-needle on the table of the little room downstairs you thought Adele and the man Hippolyte were hiding in the garden."
"Yes, I did think so."
"Why? And why did the publication that the jewels had been discovered so alarm you?"
"Ah!" said Hanaud. "Did not you understand that? Yet it is surely clear and obvious, if you once grant that the girl was innocent, was a witness of the crime, and was now in the hands of the criminals. Grant me those premisses, M. Ricardo, for a moment, and you will see that we had just one chance of finding the girl alive in Geneva. From the first I was sure of that. What was the one chance? Why, this! She might be kept alive on the chance that she could be forced to tell what, by the way, she did not know, namely, the place where Mme. Dauvray's valuable jewels were secreted. Now, follow this. We, the police, find the jewels and take charge of them. Let that news reach the house in Geneva, and on the same night Mlle. Celie loses her life, and not—very pleasantly. They have no further use for her. She is merely a danger to them. So I take my precautions—never mind for the moment what they were. I take care that if the murderer is in Aix and gets wind of our discovery he shall not be able to communicate his news."
"The Post Office would have stopped letters or telegrams," said Ricardo. "I understand."
"On the contrary," replied Hanaud. "No, I took my precautions, which were of quite a different kind, before I knew the house in Geneva or the name of Rossignol. But one way of communication I did not think of. I did not think of the possibility that the news might be sent to a newspaper, which of course would publish it and cry it through the streets of Geneva. The moment I heard the news I knew we must hurry. The garden of the house ran down to the lake. A means of disposing of Mlle. Celie was close at hand. And the night had fallen. As it was, we arrived just in time, and no earlier than just in time. The paper had been bought, the message had reached the house, Mlle. Celie was no longer of any use, and every hour she stayed in that house was of course an hour of danger to her captors."
"What were they going to do?" asked Ricardo.
Hanaud shrugged his shoulders.
"It is not pretty—what they were going to do. We reach the garden in our launch. At that moment Hippolyte and Adele, who is most likely Hippolyte's wife, are in the lighted parlour on the basement floor. Adele is preparing her morphia-needle. Hippolyte is going to get ready the rowing-boat which was tied at the end of the landing-stage. Quietly as we came into the bank, they heard or saw us. They ran out and hid in the garden, having no time to lock the garden door, or perhaps not daring to lock it lest the sound of the key should reach our ears. We find that door upon the latch, the door of the room open; on the table lies the morphia-needle. Upstairs lies Mlle. Celie—she is helpless, she cannot see what they are meaning to do."
"But she could cry out," exclaimed Ricardo. "She did not even do that!"
"No, my friend, she could not cry out," replied Hanaud very seriously. "I know why. She could not. No living man or woman could. Rest assured of that!"
Ricardo was mystified; but since the captain of the ship would not show his observation, he knew it would be in vain to press him.
"Well, while Adele was preparing her morphia-needle and Hippolyte was about to prepare the boat, Jeanne upstairs was making her preparation too. She was mending a sack. Did you see Mlle. Celie's eyes and face when first she saw that sack? Ah! she understood! They meant to give her a dose of morphia, and, as soon as she became unconscious, they were going perhaps to take some terrible precaution—" Hanaud paused for a second. "I only say perhaps as to that. But certainly they were going to sew her up in that sack, row her well out across the lake, fix a weight to her feet, and drop her quietly overboard. She was to wear everything which she had brought with her to the house. Mlle. Celie would have disappeared for ever, and left not even a ripple upon the water to trace her by!"
Ricardo clenched his hands.
"But that's horrible!" he cried; and as he uttered the words the car swerved into the drive and stopped before the door of the Hotel Majestic.
Ricardo sprang out. A feeling of remorse seized hold of him. All through that evening he had not given one thought to Harry Wethermill, so utterly had the excitement of each moment engrossed his mind.
"He will be glad to know!" cried Ricardo. "To-night, at all events, he shall sleep. I ought to have telegraphed to him from Geneva that we and Miss Celia were coming back." He ran up the steps into the hotel.
"I took care that he should know," said Hanaud, as he followed in Ricardo's steps.
"Then the message could not have reached him, else he would have been expecting us," replied Ricardo, as he hurried into the office, where a clerk sat at his books.
"Is Mr. Wethermill in?" he asked.
The clerk eyed him strangely.
"Mr. Wethermill was arrested this evening," he said.
Ricardo stepped back.
"At twenty-five minutes past ten," replied the clerk shortly.
"Ah," said Hanaud quietly. "That was my telephone message."
Ricardo stared in stupefaction at his companion.
"Arrested!" he cried. "Arrested! But what for?"
"For the murders of Marthe Gobin and Mme. Dauvray," said Hanaud. "Good-night."