The Mystery of the Yellow Room/Chapter VIII
The Examining Magistrate Questions Mademoiselle Stangerson
TWO minutes later, as Rouletabille was bending over the footprints discovered in the park, under the window of the vestibule, a man, evidently a servant at the château, came towards us rapidly and called out to Monsieur Darzac then coming out of the pavilion:—
"Monsieur Robert, the magistrate, you know, is questioning Mademoiselle."
Monsieur Darzac uttered a muttered excuse to us and set off running towards the château, the man running after him.
"If the corpse can speak," I said, "it would be interesting to be there."
"We must know," said my friend. "Let's go to the château." And he drew me with him. But, at the château, a gendarme placed in the vestibule denied us admission up the staircase of the first floor. We were obliged to wait down stairs.
This is what passed in the chamber of the victim while we were waiting below.
The family doctor, finding that Mademoiselle Stangerson was much better, but fearing a relapse which would no longer permit of her being questioned, had thought it his duty to inform the examining magistrate of this, who decided to proceed immediately with a brief examination. At this examination, the Registrar, Monsieur Stangerson, and the doctor were present. Later, I obtained the text of the report of the examination, and I give it here, in all its legal dryness:—
"Question. Are you able, mademoiselle, without too much fatiguing yourself, to give some necessary details of the frightful attack of which you have been the victim?
"Answer. I feel much better, monsieur, and I will tell you all I know. When I entered my chamber I did not notice anything unusual there.
"Q. Excuse me, mademoiselle,—if you will allow me, I will ask you some questions and you will answer them. That will fatigue you less than making a long recital.
"A. Do so, monsieur.
"Q. What did you do on that day?—I want you to be as minute and precise as possible. I wish to know all you did that day, if it is not asking too much of you.
"A. I rose late, at ten o'clock, for my father and I had returned home late on the night previously, having been to dinner at the reception given by the President of the Republic, in honour of the Academy of Science of Philadelphia. When I left my chamber, at half-past ten, my father was already at work in the laboratory. We worked together till midday. We then took half-an-hour's walk in the park, as we were accustomed to do, before breakfasting at the chateau. After breakfast, we took another walk for half an hour, and then returned to the laboratory. There we found my chambermaid, who had come to set my room in order. I went into The Yellow Room to give her some slight orders and she directly afterwards left the pavilion, and I resumed my work with my father. At five o'clock, we again went for a walk in the park and afterward had tea.
"Q. Before leaving the pavilion at five o'clock, did you go into your chamber?
"A. No, monsieur, my father went into it, at my request to bring me my hat.
"Q. And he found nothing suspicious there?
"A. Evidently no, monsieur.
"Q. It is, then, almost certain that the murderer was not yet concealed under the bed. When you went out, was the door of the room locked?
"A. No, there was no reason for locking it.
"Q. You were absent from the pavilion some length of time, Monsieur Stangerson and you?
"A. About an hour.
"Q. It was during that hour, no doubt, that the murderer got into the pavilion. But how? Nobody knows. Footmarks have been found in the park, leading away from the window of the vestibule, but none has been found going towards it. Did you notice whether the vestibule window was open when you went out?
"A. I don't remember.
"Monsieur Stangerson. It was closed.
"Q. And when you returned?
"Mademoiselle Stangerson. I did not notice.
"M. Stangerson. It was still closed. I remember remarking aloud: 'Daddy Jacques must surely have opened it while we were away.'
"Q. Strange!—Do you recollect, Monsieur Stangerson, if during your absence, and before going out, he had opened it? You returned to the laboratory at six o'clock and resumed work?
"Mademoiselle Stangerson. Yes, monsieur.
"Q. And you did not leave the laboratory from that hour up to the moment when you entered your chamber?
"M. Stangerson. Neither my daughter nor I, monsieur. We were engaged on work that was pressing, and we lost not a moment,—neglecting everything else on that account.
"Q. Did you dine in the laboratory?
"A. For that reason.
"Q. Are you accustomed to dine in the laboratory?
"A. We rarely dine there.
"Q. Could the murderer have known that you would dine there that evening?
"M. Stangerson. Good Heavens!—I think not. It was only when we returned to the pavilion at six o'clock, that we decided, my daughter and I, to dine there. At that moment I was spoken to by my gamekeeper, who detained me a moment, to ask me to accompany him on an urgent tour of inspection in a part of the woods which I had decided to thin. I put this off until the next day, and begged him, as he was going by the château, to tell the steward that we should dine in the laboratory. He left me, to execute the errand and I rejoined my daughter, who was already at work.
"Q. At what hour, mademoiselle, did you go to your chamber while your father continued to work there?
"A. At midnight.
"Q. Did Daddy Jacques enter The Yellow Room in the course of the evening?
"A. To shut the blinds and light the night-light.
"Q. He saw nothing suspicious?
"A. He would have told us if he had seen. Daddy Jacques is an honest man and very attached to me.
"Q. You affirm, Monsieur Stangerson, that Daddy Jacques remained with you all the time you were in the laboratory?
"M. Stangerson. I am sure of it. I have no doubt of that.
"Q. When you entered your chamber, mademoiselle, you immediately shut the door and locked and bolted it? That was taking unusual precautions, knowing that your father and your servant were there? Were you in fear of something, then?
"A. My father would be returning to the château and Daddy Jacques would be going to his bed. And, in fact, I did fear something.
"Q. You were so much in fear of something that you borrowed Daddy Jacques's revolver without telling him you had done so?
"A. That is true. I did not wish to alarm anybody,—the more, because my fears might have proved to have been foolish.
"Q. What was it you feared?
"A. I hardly know how to tell you. For several nights, I seemed to hear, both in the park and out of the park, round the pavilion, unusual sounds, sometimes footsteps, at other times the cracking of branches. The night before the attack on me, when I did not get to bed before three o'clock in the morning, on our return from the Élysée, I stood for a moment before my window, and I felt sure I saw shadows.
"Q. How many?
"A. Two. They moved round the lake,—then the moon became clouded and I lost sight of them. At this time of the season, every year, I have generally returned to my apartment in the château for the winter; but this year I said to myself that I would not quit the pavilion before my father had finished the résumé of his works on the 'Dissociation of Matter' for the Academy. I did not wish that that important work, which was to have been finished in the course of a few days, should be delayed by a change in our daily habit. You can well understand that I did not wish to speak of my childish fears to my father, nor did I say anything to Daddy Jacques who, I knew, would not have been able to hold his tongue. Knowing that he had a revolver in his room, I took advantage of his absence and borrowed it, placing it in the drawer of my night-table.
"Q. You know of no enemies you have?
"Q. You understand, mademoiselle, that these precautions are calculated to cause surprise?
"M. Stangerson. Evidently, my child, such precautions are very surprising.
"A. No;—because I have told you that I had been uneasy for two nights.
"M. Stangerson. You ought to have told me of that! This misfortune would have been avoided.
"Q. The door of The Yellow Room locked, did you go to bed?
"A. Yes, and, being very tired, I at once went to sleep.
"Q. The night-light was still burning?
"A. Yes, but it gave a very feeble light.
"Q. Then, mademoiselle, tell us what happened.
"A. I do not know whether I had been long asleep, but suddenly I awoke—and uttered a loud cry.
"M. Stangerson. Yes—a horrible cry—'Murder!'—It still rings in my ears.
"Q. You uttered a loud cry?
"A. A man was in my chamber. He sprang at me and tried to strangle me. I was nearly stifled when suddenly I was able to reach the drawer of my night-table and grasp the revolver which I had placed in it. At that moment the man had forced me to the foot of my bed and brandished in over my head a sort of mace. But I had fired. He immediately struck a terrible blow at my head. All that, monsieur, passed more rapidly than I can tell it, and I know nothing more.
"Q. Nothing?—Have you no idea as to how the assassin could escape from your chamber?
"A. None whatever—I know nothing more. One does not know what is passing around one, when one is unconscious.
"Q. Was the man you saw tall or short, little or big?
"A. I only saw a shadow which appeared to me formidable.
"Q. You cannot give us any indication?
"A. I know nothing more, monsieur, than that a man threw himself upon me and that I fired at him. I know nothing more."
Here the interrogation of Mademoiselle Stangerson concluded.
Rouletabille waited patiently for Monsieur Robert Darzac, who soon appeared.
From a room near the chamber of Mademoiselle Stangerson, he had heard the interrogatory and now came to recount it to my friend with great exactitude, aided by an excellent memory. His docility still surprised me. Thanks to hasty pencil-notes, he was able to reproduce, almost textually, the questions and the answers given.
It looked as if Monsieur Darzac were being employed as the secretary of my young friend and acted as if he could refuse him nothing; nay, more, as if under a compulsion to do so.
The fact of the closed window struck the reporter as it had struck the magistrate. Rouletabille asked Darzac to repeat once more Mademoiselle Stangerson's account of how she and her father had spent their time on the day of the tragedy, as she had stated it to the magistrate. The circumstance of the dinner in the laboratory seemed to interest him in the highest degree; and he had it repeated to him three times. He also wanted to be sure that the forest-keeper knew that the professor and his daughter were going to dine in the laboratory, and how he had come to know it.
When Monsieur Darzac had finished, I said: "The examination has not advanced the problem much."
"It has put it back," said Monsieur Darzac.
"It has thrown light upon it," said Rouletabille, thoughtfully.