The Teeth of the Tiger/Chapter 14
CHAPTER XIV. THE "HATER"Edit
M. Desmalions looked at him without understanding, and looked from him to the ceiling. Perenna said:
"Oh, there's no witchcraft about it; and, though no one has thrown that letter from above, though there is not the smallest hole in the ceiling, the explanation is quite simple!"
"Quite simple, is it?" said M. Desmalions.
"Yes, Monsieur le Préfet. It all looks like an extremely complicated conjuring trick, done almost for fun. Well, I say that it is quite simple--and, at the same time, terribly tragic. Sergeant Mazeroux, would you mind drawing back the curtains and giving us as much light as possible?"
While Mazeroux was executing his orders and M. Desmalions glancing at the fourth letter, the contents of which were unimportant and merely confirmed the previous ones, Don Luis took a pair of steps which the workmen had left in the corner, set it up in the middle of the room and climbed to the top, where, seated astride, he was able to reach the electric chandelier.
It consisted of a broad, circular band in brass, beneath which was a festoon of crystal pendants. Inside were three lamps placed at the corners of a brass triangle concealing the wires.
He uncovered the wires and cut them. Then be began to take the whole fitting to pieces. To hasten matters, he asked for a hammer and broke up the plaster all round the clamps that held the chandelier in position.
"Lend me a hand, please," he said to Mazeroux.
Mazeroux went up the steps; and between them they took hold of the chandelier and let it slide down the uprights. The detectives caught it and placed it on the table with some difficulty, for it was much heavier than it looked.
On inspection, it proved to be surmounted by a cubical metal box, measuring about eight inches square, which box, being fastened inside the ceiling between the iron clamps, had obliged Don Luis to knock away the plaster that concealed it.
"What the devil's this?" exclaimed M. Desmalions.
"Open it for yourself, Monsieur le Préfet: there's a lid to it," said Perenna.
M. Desmalions raised the lid. The box was filled with springs and wheels, a whole complicated and detailed mechanism resembling a piece of clockwork.
"By your leave, Monsieur le Préfet," said Don Luis.
He took out one piece of machinery and discovered another beneath it, joined to the first by the gearing of two wheels; and the second was more like one of those automatic apparatuses which turn out printed slips.
Right at the bottom of the box, just where the box touched the ceiling, was a semicircular groove, and at the edge of it was a letter ready for delivery.
"The last of the five letters," said Don Luis, "doubtless continuing the series of denunciations. You will notice, Monsieur le Préfet, that the chandelier originally had a fourth lamp in the centre. It was obviously removed when the chandelier was altered, so as to make room for the letters to pass."
He continued his detailed explanations:
"So the whole set of letters was placed here, at the bottom. A clever piece of machinery, controlled by clockwork, took them one by one at the appointed time, pushed them to the edge of the groove concealed between the lamps and the pendants, and projected them into space."
None of those standing around Don Luis spoke, and all of them seemed perhaps a little disappointed. The whole thing was certainly very clever; but they had expected something better than a trick of springs and wheels, however surprising.
"Have patience, gentlemen," said Don Luis. "I promised you something ghastly; and you shall have it."
"Well, I agree," said the Prefect of Police, "that this is where the letters started from. But a good many points remain obscure; and, apart from this, there is one fact in particular which it seems impossible to understand. How were the criminals able to adapt the chandelier in this way? And, in a house guarded by the police, in a room watched night and day, how were they able to carry out such a piece of work without being seen or heard?"
"The answer is quite easy, Monsieur le Préfet: the work was done before the house was guarded by the police."
"Before the murder was committed, therefore?"
"Before the murder was committed."
"And what is to prove to me that that is so?"
"You have said so yourself, Monsieur le Préfet: because it could not have been otherwise."
"But do explain yourself, Monsieur!" cried M. Desmalions, with a gesture of irritation. "If you have important things to tell us, why delay?"
"It is better, Monsieur le Préfet, that you should arrive at the truth in the same way as I did. When you know the secret of the letters, the truth is much nearer than you think; and you would have already named the criminal if the horror of his crime had not been so great as to divert all suspicion from him."
M. Desmalions looked at him attentively. He felt the importance of Perenna's every word and he was really anxious.
"Then, according to you," he said, "those letters accusing Madame Fauville and Gaston Sauverand were placed there with the sole object of ruining both of them?"
"Yes, Monsieur le Préfet."
"And, as they were placed there before the crime, the plot must have been schemed before the murder?"
"Yes, Monsieur le Préfet, before the murder. From the moment that we admit the innocence of Mme. Fauville and Gaston Sauverand, we are obliged to conclude that, as everything accuses them, this is due to a series of deliberate acts. Mme. Fauville was out on the night of the murder: a plot! She was unable to say how she spent her time while the murder was being committed: a plot! Her inexplicable drive in the direction of La Muette and her cousin Sauverand's walk in the neighbourhood of the house: plots! The marks left in the apple by those teeth, by Mme. Fauville's own teeth: a plot and the most infernal of all!
"I tell you, everything is plotted beforehand, everything is, so to speak, prepared, measured out, labelled, and numbered. Everything takes place at the appointed time. Nothing is left to chance. It is a work very nicely pieced together, worthy of the most skilful artisan, so solidly constructed that outside happenings have not been able to throw it out of gear; and that the scheme works exactly, precisely, imperturbably, like the clockwork in this box, which is a perfect symbol of the whole business and, at the same time, gives a most accurate explanation of it, because the letters denouncing the murderers were duly posted before the crime and delivered after the crime on the dates and at the hours foreseen."
M. Desmalions remained thinking for a time and then objected:
"Still, in the letters which he wrote, M. Fauville accuses his wife."
"We must therefore admit either that he was right in accusing her or that the letters are forged?"
"They are not forged. All the experts have recognized M. Fauville's handwriting."
Don Luis did not finish his sentence; and M. Desmalions felt the breath of the truth fluttering still nearer round him.
The others, one and all as anxious as himself, were silent. He muttered:
"I do not understand--"
"Yes, Monsieur le Préfet, you do. You understand that, if the sending of those letters forms an integrate part of the plot hatched against Mme. Fauville and Gaston Sauverand, it is because their contents were prepared in such a way as to be the undoing of the victims."
"What! What! What are you saying?"
"I am saying what I said before. Once they are innocent, everything that tells against them is part of the plot."
Again there was a long silence. The Prefect of Police did not conceal his agitation. Speaking very slowly, with his eyes fixed on Don Luis's eyes, he said:
"Whoever the culprit may be, I know nothing more terrible than this work of hatred."
"It is an even more improbable work than you can imagine, Monsieur le Préfet," said Perenna, with growing animation, "and it is a hatred of which you, who do not know Sauverand's confession, cannot yet estimate the violence. I understood it completely as I listened to the man; and, since then, all my thoughts have been overpowered by the dominant idea of that hatred. Who could hate like that? To whose loathing had Marie Fauville and Sauverand been sacrificed? Who was the inconceivable person whose perverted genius had surrounded his two victims with chains so powerfully forged?
"And another idea came to my mind, an earlier idea which had already struck me several times and to which I have already referred in Sergeant Mazeroux's presence: I mean the really mathematical character of the appearance of the letters. I said to myself that such grave documents could not be introduced into the case at fixed dates unless some primary reason demanded that those dates should absolutely be fixed. What reason? If a _human_ agency had been at work each time, there would surely have been some irregularity dependent on this especially after the police had become cognizant of the matter and were present at the delivery of the letters.
"Well," Perenna continued, "in spite of every obstacle, the letters continued to come, as though they could not help it. And thus the reason of their coming gradually dawned upon me: they came mechanically, by some invisible process set going once and for all and working with the blind certainty of a physical law. This was a case not of a conscious intelligence and will, but just of material necessity.... It was the clash of these two ideas--the idea of the hatred pursuing the innocent and the idea of that machinery serving the schemes of the 'hater'--it was their clash that gave birth to the little spark of light. When brought into contact, the two ideas combined in my mind and suggested the recollection that Hippolyte Fauville was an engineer by profession!"
The others listened to him with a sort of uneasy oppression. What was gradually being revealed of the tragedy, instead of relieving the anxiety, increased it until it became absolutely painful.
M. Desmalions objected:
"Granting that the letters arrived on the dates named, you will nevertheless have noted that the hour varied on each occasion.
"That is to say, it varied according as we watched in the dark or not, and that is just the detail which supplied me with the key to the riddle. If the letters--and this was an indispensable precaution, which we are now able to understand--were delivered only under cover of the darkness, it must be because a contrivance of some kind prevented them from appearing when the electric light was on, and because that contrivance was controlled by a switch inside the room. There is no other explanation possible.
"We have to do with an automatic distributor that delivers the incriminating letters which it contains by clockwork, releasing them only between this hour and that on such and such a night fixed in advance and only at times when the electric light is off. You have the apparatus before you. No doubt the experts will admire its ingenuity and confirm my assertions. But, given the fact that it was found in the ceiling of this room, given the fact that it contained letters written by M. Fauville, am I not entitled to say that it was constructed by M. Fauville, the electrical engineer?"
Once more the name of M. Fauville returned, like an obsession; and each time the name stood more clearly defined. It was first M. Fauville; then M. Fauville, the engineer; then M. Fauville, the electrical engineer. And thus the picture of the "hater," as Don Luis said, appeared in its accurate outlines, giving those men, used though they were to the strangest criminal monstrosities, a thrill of terror. The truth was now no longer prowling around them. They were already fighting with it, as you fight with an adversary whom you do not see but who clutches you by the throat and brings you to the ground.
And the Prefect of Police, summing up all his impressions, said, in a strained voice:
"So M. Fauville wrote those letters in order to ruin his wife and the man who was in love with her?"
"In that case--"
"Knowing, at the same time, that he was threatened with death, he wished, if ever the threat was realized, that his death should be laid to the charge of his wife and her friend?"
"And, in order to avenge himself on their love for each other and to gratify his hatred of them both, he wanted the whole set of facts to point to them as guilty of the murder of which he would be the victim?"
"So that--so that M. Fauville, in one part of his accursed work, was--what shall I say?--the accomplice of his own murder. He dreaded death. He struggled against it. But he arranged that his hatred should gain by it. That's it, isn't it? That's how it is?"
"Almost, Monsieur le Préfet. You are following the same stages by which I travelled and, like myself, you are hesitating before the last truth, before the truth which gives the tragedy its sinister character and deprives it of all human proportions."
The Prefect struck the table with his two fists and, in a sudden fit of revolt, cried:
"It's ridiculous! It's a perfectly preposterous theory! M. Fauville threatened with death and contriving his wife's ruin with that Machiavellian perseverance? Absurd! The man who came to my office, the man whom you saw, was thinking of only one thing: how to escape dying! He was obsessed by one dread alone, the dread of death.
"It is not at such moments," the Prefect emphasized, "that a man fits up clockwork and lays traps, especially when those traps cannot take effect unless he dies by foul play. Can you see M. Fauville working at his automatic machine, putting in with his own hands letters which he has taken the pains to write to a friend three months before and intercept, arranging events so that his wife shall appear guilty and saying, 'There! If I die murdered, I'm easy in my mind: the person to be arrested will be Marie!'
"No, you must confess, men don't take these gruesome precautions. Or, if they do--if they do, it means that they're sure of being murdered. It means that they agree to be murdered. It means that they are at one with the murderer, so to speak, and meet him halfway. In short, it means--"
He interrupted himself, as if the sentences which he had spoken had surprised him. And the others seemed equally disconcerted. And all of them unconsciously drew from those sentences the conclusions which they implied, and which they themselves did not yet fully perceive.
Don Luis did not remove his eyes from the Prefect, and awaited the inevitable words.
M. Desmalions muttered:
"Come, come, you are not going to suggest that he had agreed--"
"I suggest nothing, Monsieur le Préfet," said Don Luis. "So far, you have followed the logical and natural trend of your thoughts; and that brings you to your present position."
"Yes, yes, I know, but I am showing you the absurdity of your theory. It can't be correct, and we can't believe in Marie Fauville's innocence unless we are prepared to suppose an unheard-of thing, that M. Fauville took part in his own murder. Why, it's laughable!"
And he gave a laugh; but it was a forced laugh and did not ring true.
"For, after all," he added, "you can't deny that that is where we stand."
"I don't deny it."
"Well, M. Fauville, as you say, took part in his own murder."
This was said in the quietest possible fashion, but with an air of such certainty that no one dreamed of protesting. After the work of deduction and supposition which Don Luis had compelled his hearers to undertake, they found themselves in a corner which it was impossible for them to leave without stumbling against unanswerable objections.
There was no longer any doubt about M. Fauville's share in his own death. But of what did that share consist? What part had he played in the tragedy of hatred and murder? Had he played that part, which ended in the sacrifice of his life, voluntarily or under compulsion? Who, when all was said and done, had served as his accomplice or his executioner?
All these questions came crowding upon the minds of M. Desmalions and the others. They thought of nothing but of how to solve them, and Don Luis could feel certain that his solution was accepted beforehand. From that moment he had but to tell his story of what had happened without fear of contradiction. He did so briefly, after the manner of a succinct report limited to essentials:
"Three months before the crime, M. Fauville wrote a series of letters to one of his friends, M. Langernault, who, as Sergeant Mazeroux will have told you, Monsieur le Préfet, had been dead for several years, a fact of which M. Fauville cannot have been ignorant. These letters were posted, but were intercepted by some means which it is not necessary that we should know for the moment. M. Fauville erased the postmarks and the addresses and inserted the letters in a machine constructed for the purpose, of which he regulated the works so that the first letter should be delivered a fortnight after his death and the others at intervals of ten days.
"At this moment it is certain that his plan was concerted down to the smallest detail. Knowing that Sauverand was in love with his wife, watching Sauverand's movements, he must obviously have noticed that his detested rival used to pass under the windows of the house every Wednesday and that Marie Fauville would go to her window.
"This is a fact of the first importance, one which was exceedingly valuable to me; and it will impress you as being equal to a material proof. Every Wednesday evening, I repeat, Sauverand used to wander round the house. Now note this: first, the crime prepared by M. Fauville was committed on a Wednesday evening; secondly, it was at her husband's express request that Mme. Fauville went out that evening to go to the opera and to Mme. d'Ersinger's."
Don Luis stopped for a few seconds and then continued:
"Consequently, on the morning of that Wednesday, everything was ready, the fatal clock was wound up, the incriminating machinery was working to perfection, and the proofs to come would confirm the immediate proofs which M. Fauville held in reserve. Better still, Monsieur le Préfet, you had received from him a letter in which he told you of the plot hatched against him, and he implored your assistance for the morning of the next day--that is to say, _after his death_!
"Everything, in short, led him to think that things would go according to the 'hater's' wishes, when something occurred that nearly upset his schemes: the appearance of Inspector Vérot, who had been sent by you, Monsieur le Préfet, to collect particulars about the Mornington heirs. What happened between the two men? Probably no one will ever know. Both are dead; and their secret will not come to life again. But we can at least say for certain that Inspector Vérot was here and took away with him the cake of chocolate on which the teeth of the tiger were seen for the first time, and also that Inspector Vérot succeeded, thanks to circumstances with which we are unacquainted, in discovering M. Fauville's projects."
"This we know," explained Don Luis, "because Inspector Vérot said so in his own agonizing words; because it was through him that we learned that the crime was to take place on the following night; and because he had set down his discoveries in a letter which was stolen from him.
"And Fauville knew it also, because, to get rid of the formidable enemy who was thwarting his designs, he poisoned him; because, when the poison was slow in acting, he had the audacity, under a disguise which made him look like Sauverand and which was one day to turn suspicion against Sauverand, he had the audacity and the presence of mind to follow Inspector Vérot to the Café du Pont-Neuf, to purloin the letter of explanation which Inspector Vérot wrote you, to substitute a blank sheet of paper for it, and then to ask a passer-by, who might become a witness against Sauverand, the way to the nearest underground station for Neuilly, where Sauverand lived! There's your man, Monsieur le Préfet."
Don Luis spoke with increasing force, with the ardour that springs from conviction; and his logical and closely argued speech seemed to conjure up the actual truth,
"There's your man, Monsieur le Préfet," he repeated. "There's your scoundrel. And the situation in which he found himself was such, the fear inspired by Inspector Vérot's possible revelations was such, that, before putting into execution the horrible deed which he had planned, he came to the police office to make sure that his victim was no longer alive and had not been able to denounce him.
"You remember the scene, Monsieur le Préfet, the fellow's agitation and fright: 'To-morrow evening,' he said. Yes, it was for the morrow that he asked for your help, because he knew that everything would be over that same evening and that next day the police would be confronted with a murder, with the two culprits against whom he himself had heaped up the charges, with Marie Fauville, whom he had, so to speak, accused in advance....
"That was why Sergeant Mazeroux's visit and mine to his house, at nine o'clock in the evening, embarrassed him so obviously. Who were those intruders? Would they not succeed in shattering his plan? Reflection reassured him, even as we, by our insistence, compelled him to give way."
"After all, what he did care?" asked Perenna.
"His measures were so well taken that no amount of watching could destroy them or even make the watchers aware of them. What was to happen would happen in our presence and unknown to us. Death, summoned by him, would do its work.... And the comedy, the tragedy, rather, ran its course. Mme. Fauville, whom he was sending to the opera, came to say good-night. Then his servant brought him something to eat, including a dish of apples. Then followed a fit of rage, the agony of the man who is about to die and who fears death and a whole scene of deceit, in which he showed us his safe and the drab-cloth diary which was supposed to contain the story of the plot. ... That ended matters.
"Mazeroux and I retired to the hall passage, closing the door after us; and M. Fauville remained alone and free to act. Nothing now could prevent the fulfilment of his wishes. At eleven o'clock in the evening, Mme. Fauville--to whom no doubt, in the course of the day, imitating Sauverand's handwriting, he had sent a letter--one of those letters which are always torn up at once, in which Sauverand entreated the poor woman to grant him an interview at the Ranelagh--Mme. Fauville would leave the opera and, before going to Mme. d'Ersinger's party, would spend an hour not far from the house.
"On the other hand, Sauverand would be performing his usual Wednesday pilgrimage less than half a mile away, in the opposite direction. During this time the crime would be committed.
"Both of them would come under the notice of the police, either by M. Fauville's allusions or by the incident at the Cafe du Pont-Neuf; both of them, moreover, would be incapable either of providing an alibi or of explaining their presence so near the house: were not both of them bound to be accused and convicted of the crime? ... In the most unlikely event that some chance should protect them, there was an undeniable proof lying ready to hand in the shape of the apple containing the very marks of Marie Fauville's teeth! And then, a few weeks later, the last and decisive trick, the mysterious arrival at intervals of ten days, of the letters denouncing the pair. So everything was settled.
"The smallest details were foreseen with infernal clearness. You remember, Monsieur le Préfet, that turquoise which dropped out of my ring and was found in the safe? There were only four persons who could have seen it and picked it up. M. Fauville was one of them. Well, he was just the one, whom we all excepted; and yet it was he who, to cast suspicion upon me and to forestall an interference which he felt would be dangerous, seized the opportunity and placed the turquoise in the safe! ...
"This time the work was completed. Fate was about to be fulfilled. Between the 'hater' and his victims there was but the distance of one act. The act was performed. M. Fauville died."
Don Luis ceased. His words were followed by a long silence; and he felt certain that the extraordinary story which he had just finished telling met with the absolute approval of his hearers. They did not discuss, they believed. And yet it was the most incredible truth that he was asking them to believe.
M. Desmalions asked one last question.
"You were in that passage with Sergeant Mazeroux. There were detectives outside the house. Admitting that M. Fauville knew that he was to be killed that night and at that very hour of the night, who can have killed him and who can have killed his son? There was no one within these four walls."
"There was M. Fauville."
A sudden clamour of protests arose. The veil was promptly torn; and the spectacle revealed by Don Luis provoked, in addition to horror, an unforeseen outburst of incredulity and a sort of revolt against the too kindly attention which had been accorded to those explanations. The Prefect of Police expressed the general feeling by exclaiming:
"Enough of words! Enough of theories! However logical they may seem, they lead to absurd conclusions."
"Absurd in appearance, Monsieur le Préfet; but how do we know that M. Fauville's unheard-of conduct is not explained by very natural reasons? Of course, no one dies with a light heart for the mere pleasure of revenge. But how do we know that M. Fauville, whose extreme emaciation and pallor you must have noted as I did, was not stricken by some mortal illness and that, knowing himself doomed--"
"I repeat, enough of words!" cried the Prefect. "You go only by suppositions. What I want is proofs, a proof, only one. And we are still waiting for it."
"Here it is, Monsieur le Préfet."
"Eh? What's that you say?"
"Monsieur le Préfet, when I removed the chandelier from the plaster that supported it, I found, outside the upper surface of the metal box, a sealed envelope. As the chandelier was placed under the attic occupied by M. Fauville's son, it is evident that M. Fauville was able, by lifting the boards of the floor in his son's room, to reach the top of the machine which he had contrived. This was how, during that last night, he placed this sealed envelope in position, after writing on it the date of the murder, '31 March, 11 P.M.,' and his signature, 'Hippolyte Fauville.'"
M. Desmalions opened the envelope with an eager hand. His first glance at the pages of writing which it contained made him give a start.
"Oh, the villain, the villain!" he said. "How was it possible for such a monster to exist? What a loathsome brute!"
In a jerky voice, which became almost inaudible at times owing to his amazement, he read:
"The end is reached. My hour is striking. Put to sleep by me, Edmond is dead without having been roused from his unconsciousness by the fire of the poison. My own death-agony is beginning. I am suffering all the tortures of hell. My hand can hardly write these last lines. I suffer, how I suffer! And yet my happiness is unspeakable.
"This happiness dates back to my visit to London, with Edmond, four months ago. Until then, I was dragging on the most hideous existence, hiding my hatred of the woman who detested me and who loved another, broken down in health, feeling myself already eaten up with an unrelenting disease, and seeing my son grow daily more weak and languid.
"In the afternoon I consulted a great physician and I no longer had the least doubt left: the malady that was eating into me was cancer. And I knew besides that, like myself, my son Edmond was on the road to the grave, incurably stricken with consumption.
"That same evening I conceived the magnificent idea of revenge. And such a revenge! The most dreadful of accusations made against a man and a woman in love with each other! Prison! The assizes! Penal servitude! The scaffold! And no assistance possible, not a struggle, not a hope! Accumulated proofs, proofs so formidable as to make the innocent themselves doubt their own innocence and remain hopelessly and helplessly dumb. What a revenge!... And what a punishment! To be innocent and to struggle vainly against the very facts that accuse you, the very certainty that proclaims you guilty.
"And I prepared everything with a glad heart. Each happy thought, each invention made me shout with laughter. Lord, how merry I was! You would think that cancer hurts: not a bit of it! How can you suffer physical pain when your soul is quivering with delight? Do you think I feel the hideous burning of the poison at this moment?
"I am happy. The death which I have inflicted on myself is the beginning of their torment. Then why live and wait for a natural death which to them would mean the beginning of their happiness? And as Edmond had to die, why not save him a lingering illness and give him a death which would double the crime of Marie and Sauverand?
"The end is coming. I had to break off: the pain was too much for me. Now to pull myself together.... How silent everything is! Outside the house and in the house are emissaries of the police watching over my crime. At no great distance, Marie, in obedience to my letter, is hurrying to the trysting place, where her beloved will not come. And the beloved is roaming under the windows where his darling will not appear.
"Oh, the dear little puppets whose string I pull! Dance! Jump! Skip! Lord, what fun they are! A rope round your neck, sir; and, madam, a rope round yours. Was it not you, sir, who poisoned Inspector Vérot this morning and followed him to the Café du Pont-Neuf, with your grand ebony walking-stick? Why, of course it was! And at night the pretty lady poisons me and poisons her stepson. Prove it? Well, what about this apple, madam, this apple which you did _not_ bite into and which all the same will be found to bear the marks of your teeth? What fun! Dance! Jump! Skip!
"And the letters! The trick of my letters to the late lamented Langernault! That was my crowning triumph. Oh, the joy of it, when I invented and constructed my little mechanical toy! Wasn't it nicely thought out? Isn't it wonderfully neat and accurate? On the appointed day, click, the first letter! And, ten days after, click, the second letter! Come, there's no hope for you, my poor friends, you're nicely done for. Dance! Jump! Skip!
"And what amuses me--for I am laughing now--is to think that nobody will know what to make of it. Marie and Sauverand guilty: of that there is not the least doubt. But, outside that, absolute mystery.
"Nobody will know nor ever will know anything. In a few weeks' time, when the two criminals are irrevocably doomed, when the letters are in the hands of the police, on the 25th, or, rather, at 3 o'clock on the morning of the 26th of May, an explosion will destroy every trace of my work. The bomb is in its place. A movement entirely independent of the chandelier will explode it at the hour aforesaid.
"I have just laid beside it the drab-cloth manuscript book in which I pretended that I wrote my diary, the phials containing the poison, the needles which I used, an ebony walking-stick, two letters from Inspector Vérot, in short, anything that might save the culprits. Then how can any one know? No, nobody will know nor ever will know anything.
"Unless--unless some miracle happens--unless the bomb leaves the walls standing and the ceiling intact. Unless, by some marvel of intelligence and intuition, a man of genius, unravelling the threads which I have tangled, should penetrate to the very heart of the riddle and succeed, after a search lasting for months and months, in discovering this final letter.
"It is for this man that I write, well knowing that he cannot exist. But, after all, what do I care? Marie and Sauverand will be at the bottom of the abyss by then, dead no doubt, or in any case separated forever. And I risk nothing by leaving this evidence of my hatred in the hands of chance.
"There, that's finished. I have only to sign. My hand shakes more and more. The sweat is pouring from my forehead in great drops. I am suffering the tortures of the damned and I am divinely happy! Aha, my friends, you were waiting for my death!
"You, Marie, imprudently let me read in your eyes, which watched me stealthily, all your delight at seeing me so ill! And you were both of you so sure of the future that you had the courage to wait patiently for my death! Well, here it is, my death! Here it is and there are you, united above my grave, linked together with the handcuffs. Marie, be the wife of my friend Sauverand. Sauverand, I bestow my spouse upon you. Be joined together in holy matrimony. Bless you, my children!
"The examining magistrate will draw up the contract and the executioner will read the marriage service. Oh, the delight of it! I suffer agonies--but oh, the delight! What a fine thing is hatred, when it makes death a joy! I am happy in dying. Marie is in prison. Sauverand is weeping in the condemned man's cell. The door opens....
"Oh, horror! the men in black! They walk up to the bed: 'Gaston Sauverand, your appeal is rejected. Courage! Be a man!' Oh, the cold, dark morning--the scaffold! It's your turn, Marie, your turn! Would you survive your lover? Sauverand is dead: it's your turn. See, here's a rope for you. Or would you rather have poison? Die, will you, you hussy! Die with your veins on fire--as I am doing, I who hate you--hate you--hate you!"
M. Desmalions ceased, amid the silent astonishment of all those present. He had great difficulty in reading the concluding lines, the writing having become almost wholly shapeless and illegible.
He said, in a low voice, as he stared at the paper: "'Hippolyte Fauville,' The signature is there. The scoundrel found a last remnant of strength to sign his name clearly. He feared that a doubt might be entertained of his villainy. And indeed how could any one have suspected it?"
And, looking at Don Luis, he added:
"It needed, to solve the mystery, a really exceptional power of insight and gifts to which we must all do homage, to which I do homage. All the explanations which that madman gave have been anticipated in the most accurate and bewildering fashion."
Don Luis bowed and, without replying to the praise bestowed upon him, said:
"You are right, Monsieur le Préfet; he was a madman, and one of the most dangerous kind, the lucid madman who pursues an idea from which nothing will make him turn aside. He pursued it with superhuman tenacity and with all the resources of his fastidious mind, enslaved by the laws of mechanics.
"Another would have killed his victims frankly and brutally. He set his wits to work to kill at a long date, like an experimenter who leaves to time the duty of proving the excellence of his invention. And he succeeded only too well, because the police fell into the trap and because Mme. Fauville is perhaps going to die."
M. Desmalions made a gesture of decision. The whole business, in fact, was past history, on which the police proceedings would throw the necessary light. One fact alone was of importance to the present: the saving of Marie Fauville's life.
"It's true," he said, "we have not a minute to lose. Mme. Fauville must be told without delay. At the same time, I will send for the examining magistrate; and the case against her is sure to be dismissed at once."
He swiftly gave orders for continuing the investigations and verifying Don Luis's theories. Then, turning to Perenna:
"Come, Monsieur," he said. "It is right that Mme. Fauville should thank her rescuer. Mazeroux, you come, too."
The meeting was over, that meeting in the course of which Don Luis had given the most striking proofs of his genius. Waging war, so to speak, upon the powers beyond the grave, he had forced the dead man to reveal his secret. He disclosed, as though he had been present throughout, the hateful vengeance conceived in the darkness and carried out in the tomb.
* * * * *
M. Desmalions showed all his admiration by his silence and by certain movements of his head. And Perenna took a keen enjoyment in the strange fact that he, who was being hunted down by the police a few hours ago, should now be sitting in a motor car beside the head of that same force.
Nothing threw into greater relief the masterly manner in which he had conducted the business and the importance which the police attached to the results obtained. The value of his collaboration was such that they were willing to forget the incidents of the last two days. The grudge which Weber bore him was now of no avail against Don Luis Perenna.
M. Desmalions, meanwhile, began briefly to review the new solutions, and he concluded by still discussing certain points.
"Yes, that's it ... there is not the least shadow of a doubt.... We agree.... It's that and nothing else. Still, one or two things remain obscure. First of all, the mark of the teeth. This, notwithstanding the husband's admission, is a fact which we cannot neglect."
"I believe that the explanation is a very simple one, Monsieur le Préfet. I will give it to you as soon as I am able to support it with the necessary proofs."
"Very well. But another question: how is it that Weber, yesterday morning, found that sheet of paper relating to the explosion in Mlle. Levasseur's room?"
"And how was it," added Don Luis, laughing, "that I found there the list of the five dates corresponding with the delivery of the letters?"
"So you are of my opinion?" said M. Desmalions. "The part played by Mlle. Levasseur is at least suspicious."
"I believe that everything will be cleared up, Monsieur le Préfet, and that you need now only question Mme. Fauville and Gaston Sauverand in order to dispel these last obscurities and remove all suspicion from Mlle. Levasseur."
"And then," insisted M. Desmalions, "there is one more fact that strikes me as odd. Hippolyte Fauville does not once mention the Mornington inheritance in his confession. Why? Did he not know of it? Are we to suppose that there is no connection, beyond a mere casual coincidence, between the series of crimes and that bequest?"
"There, I am entirely of your opinion, Monsieur le Préfet. Hippolyte Fauville's silence as to that bequest perplexes me a little, I confess. But all the same I look upon it as comparatively unimportant. The main thing is Fauville's guilt and the prisoners' innocence."
Don Luis's delight was pure and unbounded. From his point of view, the sinister tragedy was at an end with the discovery of the confession written by Hippolyte Fauville. Anything not explained in those lines would be explained by the details to be supplied by Mme. Fauville, Florence Levasseur, and Gaston Sauverand. He himself had lost all interest in the matter.
The car drew up at Saint-Lazare, the wretched, sordid old prison which is still waiting to be pulled down.
The Prefect jumped out. The door was opened at once.
"Is the prison governor there?" he asked. "Quick! send for him, it's urgent."
Then, unable to wait, he at once hastened toward the corridors leading to the infirmary and, as he reached the first-floor landing, came up against the governor himself.
"Mme. Fauville," he said, without waste of time. "I want to see her--"
But he stopped short when he saw the expression of consternation on the prison governor's face.
"Well, what is it?" he asked. "What's the matter?"
"Why, haven't you heard, Monsieur le Préfet?" stammered the governor. "I telephoned to the office, you know--"
"Speak! What is it?"
"Mme. Fauville died this morning. She managed somehow to take poison."
M. Desmalions seized the governor by the arm and ran to the infirmary, followed by Perenna and Mazeroux.
He saw Marie Fauville lying on a bed in one of the rooms. Her pale face and her shoulders were stained with brown patches, similar to those which had marked the bodies of Inspector Vérot, Hippolyte Fauville, and his son Edmond.
Greatly upset, the Prefect murmured:
"But the poison--where did it come from?"
"This phial and syringe were found under her pillow, Monsieur le Préfet."
"Under her pillow? But how did they get there? How did they reach her? Who gave them to her?"
"We don't know yet, Monsieur le Préfet."
M. Desmalions looked at Don Luis. So Hippolyte Fauville's suicide had not put an end to the series of crimes! His action had done more than aim at Marie's death by the hand of the law: it had now driven her to take poison! Was it possible? Was it admissible that the dead man's revenge should still continue in the same automatic and anonymous manner?
Or rather--or rather, was there not some other mysterious will which was secretly and as audaciously carrying on Hippolyte Fauville's diabolical work?
* * * * *
Two days later came a fresh sensation: Gaston Sauverand was found dying in his cell. He had had the courage to strangle himself with his bedsheet. All efforts to restore him to life were vain.
On the table near him lay a half-dozen newspaper cuttings, which had been passed to him by an unknown hand. All of them told the news of Marie Fauville's death.