The Three Eyes/Chapter 7
CHAPTER VII. THE FIERCE-EYED MAN
THE staff at the Lodge consisted in its entirety of one old maid-servant, a little deaf and very short-sighted, who combined the functions, as occasion demanded, of parlour-maid, cook and gardener. Notwithstanding these manifold duties, Valentine hardly ever left her kitchen-range, which was situated in an extension built on to the house and opening directly upon the street.
This was where I found her. She did not seem surprised at my return — nothing, for that matter, ever surprised or perturbed her — and I at once saw that she was still living outside the course of events and that she would be unable to tell me anything useful. I gathered, however, that my uncle and Berangere had gone out half an hour earlier.
“Together?” I asked.
“Good gracious, no! The master came through the kitchen and said, 'I'm going to post a letter. Then I shall go to the Yard.' He left a bottle behind him, you know, one of those blue medicine-bottles which he uses for his experiments.”
“Where did he leave it, Valentine?”
“Why, over there, on the dresser. He must have forgotten it when he put on his overcoat, for he never parts with those bottles of his.”
“It's not there, Valentine.”
“Now that's a funny thing! M. Dorgeroux hasn't been back, I know.”
“And has no one else been?”
“No. Yes, there has, though; a gentleman, a gentleman who came for Mile. Berangere a little while after.”
“And did you go to fetch her?”
“Then it must have been while you were away...”
“You don't mean that! Oh, how M. Dorgeroux will scold me!”
“But who is the gentleman?”
“Upon my word, I couldn't tell you.... My sight is so bad....”
“Do you know him?”
“No, I didn't recognize his voice.”
“And did they both go out, Berangere and he?”
“Yes, they crossed the road... opposite.”
Opposite meant the path in the wood. I thought for a second or two; and then, tearing a sheet of paper from my note-book, I wrote:
“MY DEAR UNCLE,
“Wait for me, when you come back, and don't leave the Lodge on any account. The danger is imminent.
“Give this to M. Dorgeroux as soon as you see him, Valentine. I shall be back in half an hour.”
The path ran in a straight line through dense thickets with tiny leaves burgeoning on the twigs of the bushes. It had rained heavily during the last few days, but a bright spring sun was drying the ground and I could distinguish no trace of footsteps. After walking three hundred yards, however, I met a small boy of the neighbourhood, whom I knew by sight, coming back to the village and pushing his bicycle, which had burst a tyre.
“You don't happen to have seen Mile. Berangere, have you?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “with a gentleman.”
“A gentleman wearing glasses?”
“Yes, a tall chap, with a big beard.”
“Are they far away?”
“When I saw them, they were a mile and a quarter from here. I turned back later... they had taken the old road... the one that goes to the left.”
I quickened my pace, greatly excited, for I was conscious of an increasing dread. I reached the old road. But, a little farther on, it brought me to an open space crossed by a number of paths. Which was I to take?
Feeling more and more anxious, I called out:
Presently I heard the hum of an engine and the sound of a motor-car getting under way. It must have been five hundred yards from where I was. I turned down a path in which, almost at once, I saw footsteps very clearly marked in the mud, the footsteps of a man and of a woman. These led me to the entrance of a cemetery which had not been used for over twenty years and which, standing on the boundary of two parishes, had become the subject of claims, counterclaims and litigation generally.
I made my way in. The tall grass had been trampled down along two lines which skirted the wall, passed before the remnants of what had once been the keeper's cottage, joined around the kerb of a cistern fitted up as a well and were next continued to the wall of a half-demolished little mortuary chapel.
Between the cistern and the chapel the soil had been trodden several times over. Beyond the chapel there was only one track of footsteps, those of a man.
I confess that just then my legs gave way beneath me, although there was no trace of a definite idea in my mind. I examined the inside of the chapel and then walked round it.
Something lying on the ground, at the foot of the only wall that was left wholly standing, attracted my attention. It was a number of bits of loose plaster which had fallen there and which were of a dark-grey colour that at once reminded me of the sort of wash with which the screen in the Yard was coated.
I looked up. More pieces of plaster of the same colour, placed flat against the wall and held in position by clamp-headed nails, formed another screen, an incomplete, broken screen, on which I could plainly see that a quite fresh layer of substance had been spread.
By whom? Evidently by one of the two persons whom I was tracking, by the man with the eye-glasses or by Berangere, perhaps even by both. But with what object? Was it to conjure up the miraculous vision? And was I to believe — the supposition really forced itself upon me as a certainty — that the fragments of plaster had first been stolen from the rubbish in the Yard and then pieced together like a mosaic?
In that case, if the conditions were the same, if the necessary substance was spread precisely in accordance with the details of the discovery, if I was standing opposite a screen identical at all points with the other, it was possible... it was possible...
While this question was taking shape, my mind received so plain an answer that I saw the Three Eyes before they emerged from the depths whence I was waiting for them to appear. The image which I was evoking blended gradually with the real image which was forming and which presently opened its threefold gaze upon me, a fixed and gloomy gaze.
Here, then, as yonder, in the abandoned cemetery as in the Yard where Noel Dorgeroux summoned his inexplicable phantoms from the void, the Three Eyes were awakening to life. Chipped in one place, cracked in another, they looked through the fragments of disjointed plaster as they had done through the carefully tended screen. They gazed in this solitude just as though Noel Dorgeroux had been there to kindle and feed their mysterious flame.
The gloomy eyes, however, were changing their expression. They became wicked, cruel, implacable, ferocious even. Then they faded away; and I waited for the spectacle which those three geometrical figures generally heralded. And in fact, after a break, there was a sort of pulsating light, but so confused that it was difficult for me to make out any clearly defined scenes.
I could barely distinguish some trees, a river with an eyot in it, a low-roofed house and some people; but all this was vague, misty, unfinished, broken up by the cracks in the screen, impeded by causes of which I was ignorant. One might have fancied a certain hesitation in the will that evoked the image. Moreover, after a few fruitless attempts and an effort of which I perceived the futility, the image abruptly faded away and everything relapsed into death and emptiness.
“Death and emptiness,” I said aloud.
I repeated the words several times over. They rang within me like a funereal echo with which the memory of Berangere was mingled. The nightmare of the Three Eyes became one with the nightmare that drove me in pursuit of her. And I remained standing in front of the gruesome chapel, uncertain, not knowing what to do.
Berangere's footprints brought me back to the well, near which I found in four places the marks of both her slender soles and both her pointed heels. The well was covered with a small, tiled dome. Formerly a bucket was lowered by means of a pulley to bring up the rainwater that had been gathered from the roof of the house.
There was of course no valid reason to make me believe that a crime had been committed. The footmarks did not constitute a sufficient clue. Nevertheless I felt myself bathed in perspiration; and, leaning over the open mouth, from which floated a damp and mildewed breath I faltered:
I heard not a sound.
I lit a piece of paper, which I screwed into a torch, throwing a glimmer of light into the widened reservoir of the cistern. But I saw nothing save a sheet of water, black as ink and motionless.
“No,” I protested, “it's impossible. I have no right to imagine such an atrocity. Why should they have killed her? It was my uncle who was threatened, not she.”
At all events I continued my search and followed the man's single track. This led me to the far side of the cemetery and then to an avenue of fir-trees, where I came upon some cans of petrol. The motor-car had started from here. The tracks of the tyres ran through the wood.
I went no farther. It suddenly occurred to me that I ought before all to think of my uncle, to defend him and to take joint measures with him.
I therefore turned in the direction of the post-office. But, remembering that this was Sunday and that my uncle after dropping his letter in the box, had certainly gone back to the Yard, I ran to the Lodge and called out to Valentine:
“Has my uncle come in? Has he had my note?”
“No, no,” she said. “I told you, the master has gone to the Yard.”
“Exactly: he must have come this way!”
“Not at all. Coming from the post-office, he would go straight through the new entrance to the amphitheatre.”
“In that case,” I said, “all I need do is t# go through the garden.”
I hurried away, but the little door was locked. And from that moment, though there was nothing to prove my uncle's presence in the Yard, I felt certain that he was there and also felt afraid that my assistance had come too late.
I called. No one answered. The door remained shut.
Then, terrified, I went back to the house and out into the street and ran round the premises on the left, in order to go in by the new entrance.
This turned out to be a tall gate, flanked on either side by a ticket-office and giving access to a large courtyard, in which stood the back of the amphitheatre.
This gate also was closed, by means of a strong chain which my uncle had padlocked behind him.
What was I to do? Remembering how Berangere and then I myself had climbed over the wall one day, I followed the other side of the Yard, in order to reach the old lamp-post. The same deserted path skirted the same stout plank fence, the corner of which ran into the fields.
When I came to this corner, I saw the lamppost. At that moment, a man appeared on the top of the wall, caught hold of the post and let himself down by it. There was no room for doubt; the man leaving the Yard in this way had just been with my uncle. What had passed between them?
The distance that separated us was too great to allow me to distinguish his features. As soon as he saw me, he turned down the brim of his soft hat and drew the two ends of a muffler over his face. A loose-fitting grey rain-coat concealed his figure. I received the impression, however, that he was shorter and thinner than the man with the eye-glasses.
“Stop!” I cried, as he moved away.
My summons only hastened his flight; and it was in vain that I darted forward in his pup-suit, shouting insults at him and threatening him with a revolver which I did not possess. He covered the whole width of the fields, leapt over a hedge and reached the skirt of the woods.
I was certainly younger than he, for I soon perceived that the interval between us was decreasing; and I should have caught him up, if we had been running across open country. But I lost sight of him at the first clump of trees; and I was nearly abandoning the attempt to come up with him, when, suddenly, he retraced his steps and seemed to be looking for something.
I made a rush for him. He did not appear to be perturbed by my approach. He merely drew a revolver and pointed it at me, without saying a word or ceasing his investigations.
I now saw what his object was. Something lay gleaming in the grass. It was a piece of metal which, I soon perceived, was none other than the steel plate on which Noel Dorgeroux had engraved the chemical formula.
We both flung ourselves on the ground at the same time. I was the first to seize the strip of steel. But a hand gripped mine; and on this hand, which was half-covered by the sleeve of the rain-coat, there was blood.
I was startled and suffered from a moment's faintness. The vision of Noel Dorgeroux dying, nay, dead, had flashed upon me so suddenly that the man succeeded in overpowering me and stretching me underneath him.
As we thus lay one against the other, with our faces almost touching, I saw only part of his, the lower half being hidden by the muffler. But his two eyes glared at me, under the shadow of his hat; and we stared at each other in silence, while our hands continued to grapple.
Those eyes of his were cruel and implacable, the eyes of a murderer whose whole being is bent upon the supreme effort of killing. Where had I seen them before? For I certainly knew those fiercely glittering eyes. Their gaze penetrated my brain at a spot into which it had already been deeply impressed. It bore a familiar look, a look which had crossed my own before. But when? In what eyes had I seen that expression? In the eyes looming out of the wall perhaps? The eyes shown on the fabulous screen?
Yes, yes, those were the eyes! I recognized them now! They had shone in the infinite space that lay in the depths of the plaster! They had lived before my sight, a few minutes ago, on the ruined wall of the mortuary chapel. They were the same cruel, pitiless eyes, the eyes which had perturbed me then even as they were perturbing me now, sapping my last remnant of strength.
I released my hold. The man sprang up, caught me a blow on the forehead with the butt of his revolver and ran away, carrying the steel plate with him.
This time I did not think of pursuing him. Without doing me any great hurt, the blow which I received had stunned me. I was still tottering on my feet when I heard, in the woods, the same sound of an engine being started and a car getting under way which I had heard near the cemetery. The motor-car, driven by the man with the eye-glasses, had come to fetch my assailant. The two confederates, after having probably rid themselves of Berangere and certainly rid themselves of Noel Dorgeroux, were making off....
My heart wrung with anguish, I hurried back to the foot of the old lamp-post, hoisted myself to the top of the fence and in this way jumped into the front part of the Yard, contained between the main wall and the new structure of the amphitheatre.
This wall, entirely rebuilt, taller and wider than it used to be, now had the size and the importance of the outer wall of a Greek or Roman amphitheatre. Two square columns and a canopy marked the place of the screen, whose plaster, from the distance at which I stood, did not seem yet to be coated with its layer of a dark-grey composition, which explained why my uncle had left it uncovered. Nor could I at first see the lower part, which was concealed by a heap of materials of all kinds. But how certain I felt of what I should see when I came nearer! How well I knew what was there, behind those planks and building-stones!
My legs were trembling. I had to seek a support. It cost me an untold effort to take a few steps forward.
Bight against the wall, in the very middle of his Yard, Noel Dorgeroux lay prone, his arms twisted beneath him.
A cursory inspection showed me that he had been murdered with a pick-axe.