Perrichet was a young, thick-set man, with a red, fair face, and a moustache and hair so pale in colour that they were almost silver. He came into the room with an air of importance.
"Aha!" said Hanaud, with a malicious smile. "You went to bed late last night, my friend. Yet you were up early enough to read the newspaper. Well, I am to have the honour of being associated with you in this case."
Perrichet twirled his cap awkwardly and blushed.
"Monsieur is pleased to laugh at me," he said. "But it was not I who called myself intelligent. Though indeed I would like to be so, for the good God knows I do not look it."
Hanaud clapped him on the shoulder.
"Then congratulate yourself! It is a great advantage to be intelligent and not to look it. We shall get on famously. Come!"
The four men descended the stairs, and as they walked towards the villa Perrichet related, concisely and clearly, his experience of the night.
"I passed the gate of the villa about half-past nine," he said. "The gate was closed. Above the wall and bushes of the garden I saw a bright light in the room upon the first floor which faces the road at the south-western comer of the villa. The lower windows I could not see. More than an hour afterwards I came back, and as I passed the villa again I noticed that there was now no light in the room upon the first floor, but that the gate was open. I thereupon went into the garden, and, pulling the gate, let it swing to and latch. But it occurred to me as I did so that there might be visitors at the villa who had not yet left, and for whom the gate had been set open. I accordingly followed the drive which winds round to the front door. The front door is not on the side of the villa which faces the road, but at the back. When I came to the open space where the carriages turn, I saw that the house was in complete darkness. There were wooden latticed doors to the long windows on the ground floor, and these were closed. I tried one to make certain, and found the fastenings secure. The other windows upon that floor were shuttered. No light gleamed anywhere. I then left the garden, closing the gate behind me. I heard a clock strike the hour a few minutes afterwards, so that I can be sure of the time. It was now eleven o'clock. I came round a third time an hour after, and to my astonishment I found the gate once more open. I had left it closed and the house shut up and dark. Now it stood open! I looked up to the windows and I saw that in a room on the second floor, close beneath the roof, a light was burning brightly. That room had been dark an hour before. I stood and watched the light for a few minutes, thinking that I should see it suddenly go out. But it did not: it burned quite steadily. This light and the gate opened and reopened aroused my suspicions. I went again into the garden, but this time with greater caution. It was a clear night, and, although there was no moon, I could see without the aid of my lantern. I stole quietly along the drive. When I came round to the front door, I noticed immediately that the shutters of one of the ground-floor windows were swung back, and that the inside glass window which descended to the ground stood open. The sight gave me a shock. Within the house those shutters had been opened. I felt the blood turn to ice in my veins and a chill crept along my spine. I thought of that solitary light burning steadily under the roof. I was convinced that something terrible had happened."
"Yes, yes. Quite so," said Hanaud. "Go on, my friend."
"The interior of the room gaped black," Perrichet resumed. "I crept up to the window at the side of the wall and flashed my lantern into the room. The window, however, was in a recess which opened into the room through an arch, and at each side of the arch curtains were draped. The curtains were not closed, but between them I could see nothing but a strip of the room. I stepped carefully in, taking heed not to walk on the patch of grass before the window. The light of my lantern showed me a chair overturned upon the floor, and to my right, below the middle one of the three windows in the right-hand side wall, a woman lying huddled upon the floor. It was Mme. Dauvray. She was dressed. There was a little mud upon her shoes, as though she had walked after the rain had ceased. Monsieur will remember that two heavy showers fell last evening between six and eight."
"Yes," said Hanaud, nodding his approval.
"She was quite dead. Her face was terribly swollen and black, and a piece of thin strong cord was knotted so tightly about her neck and had sunk so deeply into her flesh that at first I did not see it. For Mme. Dauvray was stout."
"Then what did you do?" asked Hanaud.
"I went to the telephone which was in the hall and rang up the police. Then I crept upstairs very cautiously, trying the doors. I came upon no one until I reached the room under the roof where the light was burning; there I found Helene Vauquier, the maid, snoring in bed in a terrible fashion."
The four men turned a bend in the road. A few paces away a knot of people stood before a gate which a sergent-de-ville guarded.
"But here we are at the villa," said Hanaud.
They all looked up and, from a window at the corner upon the first floor a man looked out and drew in his head.
"That is M. Besnard, the Commissaire of our police in Aix," said Perrichet.
"And the window from which he looked," said Hanaud, "must be the window of that room in which you saw the bright light at half-past nine on your first round?"
"Yes, m'sieur," said Perrichet; "that is the window."
They stopped at the gate. Perrichet spoke to the sergent-de-ville, who at once held the gate open. The party passed into the garden of the villa.