The Three Eyes/Chapter 8
CHAPTER VIII. “SOME ONE WILL EMERGE FROM THE DARKNESS “
NOTWITHSTANDING Noel Dorgeroux's advanced age, there had been a violent struggle. The murderer, whose footprints I traced along the path which led from the fence to the wall, had flung himself upon his victim and had first tried to strangle him. It was not until later, in the second phase of the contest, that he had seized a pick-axe with which to strike Noel Dorgeroux.
Nothing of intrinsic value had been stolen. I found my uncle's watch and note-case untouched. But the waistcoat had been opened; and the lining, which formed a pocket, was, of course, empty.
For the moment I wasted no time in the Yard. Passing through the garden and the Lodge, where I told old Valentine in a few words what had happened, I called the nearest neighbours, sent a boy running to the mayor's and went on to the disused cemetery, accompanied by some men with ropes, a ladder and a lantern. It was growing dark when we arrived.
I had decided to go down the cistern myself; and I did so without experiencing any great emotion. Notwithstanding the reasons which led me to fear that Berangere might have been thrown into it, the crime appeared to me to be absolutely improbable. And I was right. Nevertheless, at the bottom of the cistern, which was perforated by obvious cracks and held only a few puddles of stagnant water, I picked up in the mud, among the stones, brickbats and potsherds, an empty bottle, the neck of which had been knocked off. I was struck by its blue colour. This was doubtless the bottle which had been taken from the dresser at the Lodge. Besides, when I brought it back to the Lodge that evening, Valentine identified it for certain.
What had happened might therefore be reconstructed as follows: the man with the eye-glasses, having the bottle in his possession, had gone to the cemetery to meet the motor-car which was waiting for him and had stopped in front of the chapel, to which were nailed the fragments from the old wall in the Yard. These fragments he had smeared with the liquid contained in the bottle. Then, when he heard me coming, he threw the bottle down the well and, without having time to see the picture which I myself went off in the car to pick up Noel Dorgeroux's was to see ten minutes later, he ran away and murderer near the Yard.
Things as they turned out confirmed my explanation, or at least confirmed it to a great extent. But what of Berangere? What part had she played in all this? And where was she now?
The enquiry, first instituted in the Yard by the local police, was pursued next day by a magistrate and two detectives, assisted by myself. We learnt that the car containing the two accomplices had come from Paris on the morning of the day before and that it had returned to Paris the same night. Both coming and going it had carried two men whose descriptions tallied exactly with that of the two criminals.
We were favoured by an extraordinary piece of luck. A road-mender working near the ornamental water in the Bois de Boulogne told us, when we asked him about the motor-car, that he recognized it as having been garaged in a coachhouse close by the house in which he lived and that he recognized the man with the eye-glasses as one of the tenants of this same house!
He gave us the address. The house was behind the Jardin des Batignolles. It was an old barrack of a tenement-house swarming with tenants. As soon as we had described to the concierge the person for whom we were searching, she exclaimed:
“You mean M. Velmot, a tall, good-looking man, don't you? He has had a furnished flat here for over six months, but he only sleeps here now and again. He is out of town a great deal.”
“Did he sleep at home last night?”
“Yes. He came back yesterday evening, in his motor, with a gentleman whom I had never seen before; and they did not leave until this morning.”
“In the motor?”
“No. The car is in the garage.”
“Have you the key of the flat?”
“ Of course! I do the housework!”
“Show us over, please.”
The flat consisted of three small rooms; a dining-room and two bedrooms. It contained no clothes or papers. M. Velmot had taken everything with him in a portmanteau, as he did each time he went away, said the concierge. But pinned to the wall, amid a number of sketches, was a drawing which represented the Three Eyes so faithfully that it could not have been made except by some one who had seen the miraculous visions.
“Let's go to the garage,” said one of the detectives.
We had to call in a locksmith to gain admittance. In addition to the muffler and a coat stained with blood we found two more mufflers and three silk handkerchiefs, all twisted and spoilt. The identification-plate of the car had been recently unscrewed. The number, newly repainted, must be false. Apart from these details there was nothing specially worth noting.
I am trying to sum up the phases of the preliminary and magisterial enquiries as briefly as possible. This narrative is not a detective-story any more than a love-story. The riddle of the Three Eyes, together with its solution, forms the only object of these pages and the only interest which the reader can hope to find in them. But, at the stage which we have reached, it is easy to understand that all these events were so closely interwoven that it is impossible to separate one from the other. One detail governs the next, which in its turn affects what came before.
So I must repeat my earlier question: what part was Berangere playing in it all? And what had become of her? She had disappeared, suddenly, somewhere near the chapel. Beyond that point there was not a trace of her, not a clue.
And this inexplicable disappearance marked the conclusion of several successive weeks during which, we are bound to admit, the girl's behaviour might easily seem odd to the most indulgent eyes.
I felt this so clearly that I declared, emphatically, in the course of my evidence:
“She was caught in a trap and carried off.”
“Prove it,” they retorted. “Find some justification for the appointments which she made and kept all through the winter with the fellow whom you call the man with the glasses, in other words, with the man Velmot.”
And the police based their suspicions on a really disturbing charge which they had discovered and which had escaped me. During his struggle with his assailant, very likely at the moment when the latter, after reducing him to a state of helplessness, had moved away to fetch the pick-axe, Noel Dorgeroux had managed to scrawl a few words with a broken flint at the foot of the screen. The writing was very faint and almost illegible, for the flint in places had merely scratched the plaster; nevertheless, it was possible to decipher the following:
The term “B-ray” evidently referred to Noel Dorgeroux's invention. My uncle's first thought, when threatened with death, had been to convey in the briefest (but, unfortunately, also the most unintelligible) form the particulars which would save his marvellous discovery from oblivion. “B-ray” was an expression which he himself understood but which suggested nothing to those who did not know what he meant by it.
The five letters “B.E.R.G.E.,” on the other hand, allowed of only one interpretation. “Berge” stood for Bergeronnette, the pet name by which Noel Dorgeroux called his god-daughter.
“Very well,” I exclaimed before the magistrate, who had taken me to the screen. “Very well, I agree with your interpretation. It relates to Berangere. But my uncle was simply wishing to express his love for her and his extreme anxiety on her behalf. In writing his god-daughter's name at the very moment when he is in mortal danger, he shows that he is uneasy about her, that he is recommending her to our care.”
“Or that he is accusing her,” retorted the magistrate.
Berangere accused by my uncle! Berangere capable of sharing in the murder of her godfather! I remember shrugging my shoulders.
But there was no reply that I could make beyond protests based upon no actual fact and contradicted by appearances.
All that I said was:
“I fail to see what interest she could have had!...”
“A very considerable interest: the exploitation of the wonderful secret which you have mentioned.”
“But she is ignorant of the secret!”
“How do you know? She's not ignorant of it, if she is in league with the two accomplices. The manuscript which M. Dorgeroux sent you has disappeared: who was in a better position than she to steal it? However, mark me, I make no assertions. I have my suspicions, that's all; and I'm trying to discover what I can.”
But the most minute investigations led to no result. Was Berangere also a victim of the two criminals?
Her father was written to, at Toulouse. The man Massignac replied that he had been in bed for a fortnight with a sharp attack of influenza, that he would come to Paris as soon as he was well, but that, having had no news of his daughter for years, he was unable to furnish any particulars about her.
So, when all was said and done, whether kidnapped, as I preferred to believe, or in hiding, as the police suspected, Berangere was nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile, the public was beginning to grow excited about a case which, before long, was to rouse it to a pitch of delirium. No doubt at first there was merely a question of the crime itself. The murder of Noel Dorgeroux, the abduction of his god-daughter — the police consented, at my earnest entreaties, to accept this as the official version — the theft of my uncle's manuscript, the theft of the formula: all this, at the outset, only puzzled men's minds as a cunningly-devised conspiracy and a cleverly-executed crime. But not many days elapsed before the revelations which I was constrained to make diverted all the attention of the newspapers and all the curiosity of the public to Noel Dorgeroux's discovery.
For I had to speak, notwithstanding the promise of silence which I had given my uncle. I had to answer the magistrate's questions, to tell all I knew, to explain matters, to enter into details, to write a report, to protest against ill-formed judgments, to rectify mistakes, to specify, enumerate, classify, in short, to confide to the authorities and incidentally to the eager reporters all that my uncle had said to me, all his dreams, all the wonders of the Yard, all the phantasmal visions which I had beheld upon the screen.
Before a week was over, Paris, France, the whole world knew in every detail, save for the points which concerned Berangere and myself alone, what was at once and spontaneously described as the mystery of the Three Eyes.
Of course I was met with irony, sarcasm and uproarious laughter. A miracle finds no believers except among its astounded witnesses. And what but a miracle could be put forward as the cause of a phenomenon which, I maintained, had no credible cause? The execution of Edith Cavell was a miracle.- So was the representation of the fight between two airmen. So was the scene in which Noel Dorgeroux's son was hit by a bullet. So, above all, was the looming of those Three Eyes, which throbbed with life, which gazed at the spectator and which were the eyes of the very people about to figure in the spectacle as the actors thus miraculously announced!
Nevertheless, one by one, voices were raised in my defence. My past was gone into, the value of my evidence was weighed; and, though people were still inclined to accuse me of being a visionary or a sick man, subject to hallucinations, at least they had to admit my absolute bona fides.
A party of adherents took up the cudgels for me. There was a noisy battle of opinions. Ah, my poor uncle Dorgeroux had asked for wide publicity for his amphitheatre! His fondest wishes were far exceeded by the strident and tremendous Clamour which continued like an unbroken peal of thunder.
For the rest, all this uproar was dominated by one idea, which took shape gradually and summed up the thousand theories which every one was indulging. I am copying it from a newspaper-article which I carefully preserved:
“In any case, whatever opinion we may hold of Noel Dorgeroux's alleged discovery, whatever view we may take of M. Victorien Beaugrand's common sense and mental equilibrium, one thing is certain, which is that we shall sooner or later know the truth. When two such competent people as Velmot and his accomplice join forces to accomplish a definite task, namely, the theft of a scientific secret, when they carry out their plot so skilfully, when they succeed beyond all hopes, their object, it will be agreed, is certainly not that they may enjoy the results of their enterprise by stealth.
“If they have Noel Dorgeroux's manuscript in their hands, together with the chemical formula that completes it, their intention beyond a doubt is to make all the profits on which Noel Dorgeroux himself was counting. To make these profits the secret must first be exploited. And, to exploit a secret of this kind, its possessors must act openly, publicly, in the face of the world. And, to do this, it will not pay them to settle down in a remote corner in France or elsewhere and to set up another enterprise. It will not pay,' because, in any case, there would be the same confession of guilt. No, it will pay them better and do them no more harm to take up their quarters frankly and cynically in the amphitheatre of the Yard and to make use of what has there been accomplished, under the most promising conditions, by Noel Dorgeroux. “To sum up, therefore. Before long, some one will emerge from the darkness. Some one will remove the mask from his face. The sequel and the conclusion of the unfinished plot will be enacted in their fullness. And, three weeks hence, on the date fixed, the 14th of May, we shall witness the inauguration of the amphitheatre erected by Noel Dorgeroux. And this inauguration will take place under the vigorous management of the man who will be, who already is, the owner of the secret: a formidable person, we must admit.”
The argument was strictly logical. Stolen jewels are sold in secret. Money changes hands anonymously. But an invention yields no profit unless it is exploited.
Meanwhile the days passed and no one emerged from the darkness. The two accomplices betrayed not a sign of life. It was now known that Velmot, the man with the glasses, had practised all sorts of callings. Some Paris manufacturers, for whom he had travelled in the provinces, furnished an exact description of his person. The police learnt a number of things about him, but not enough to enable them to lay hands upon him.
Nor did a careful scrutiny of Noel Dorgeroux's papers supply the least information. All that the authorities found was a sealed, un-addressed envelope, which they opened. The contents surprised me greatly. They consisted of a will, dated five years back, in which Noel Dorgeroux, while naming me as his residuary legatee, gave and bequeathed to his god-daughter, Berangere Massignac the piece of ground known as the Yard and everything that the Yard might contain on the day of his death. With the exception of this document, which was of no importance, since my uncle, in one of his last letters to me, had expressed different intentions, they found nothing but immaterial notes which had no bearing upon the great secret. Thereupon they indulged in the wildest conjectures and wandered about in a darkness which not even the sworn chemists called in to examine the screen were able to dispel. The wall revealed nothing in particular, for the layer of plaster with which it was covered had not received the special glaze; and it was precisely the formula of this glaze that constituted Noel Dorgeroux's secret.
But the glaze existed on the old chapel in the cemetery, where I had seen the geometrical figure of the Three Eyes appear. Yes, they certainly found something clinging to the surface of the fragments of plaster taken from that spot. But they were not able with this something to produce a compound capable of yielding any sort of vision. The right formula was obviously lacking; and so, no doubt, was some essential ingredient which had already been eliminated by the sun or the rain.
At the end of April there was no reason to believe in the prophecies which announced a theatrical culmination as inevitable. And the curiosity of the public increased at each fresh disappointment and on each new day spent in waiting. Noel Dorgeroux's yard had become a place of pilgrimage. Motor-cars and carriages arrived in swarms. The people crowded outside the locked gates and the fence, trying to catch a glimpse of the wall. I even received letters containing offers to buy the Yard at any price that I chose to name.
One day, old Valentine showed into the drawing-room a gentleman who said that he had come on important business. I saw a man of medium height with hair which was turning grey and with a face which was wider than it was long and which was made still wider by a pair of bushy whiskers and a perpetual smile. His threadbare dress and down-at-heel shoes denoted anything but a brilliant financial position. He expressed himself at once, however, in the language of a person to whom money is no object:
“I have any amount of capital behind me,” he declared, cheerfully and before he had even told me his name. “My plans are made. All that remains is for you and me to come to terms.”
“What on?” I asked.
“Why, on the business that I have come to propose to you!”
“I am sorry, sir,” I replied, “but I am doing no business.”
“That's a pity!” he cried, still more cheerfully and with his mouth spreading still farther across his face. “That's a pity! I should have been glad to take you into partnership. However, since you're not willing, I shall act alone, without of course exceeding the rights which I have in the Yard.”
“Your rights in the Yard?” I echoed, astounded at his assurance.
“Why, rather!” he answered, with a loud laugh. “My rights: that's the only word.”
“I don't follow you.”
“I admit that it's not very clear. Well, suppose — you'll soon understand — suppose that I have come into Noel Dorgeroux's property.”
I was beginning to lose patience and I took the fellow up sharply:
“I have no time to spare for jesting, sir. Noel Dorgeroux left no relatives except myself.”
“I didn't say that I had come into his property as a relative.”
“As what, then?”
“As an heir, simply... as the lawful heir, specifically named as such by Noel Dorgeroux.”
I was a little taken aback and, after a moment's thought, rejoined:
“Do you mean to say that Noel Dorgeroux made a will in your favour?”
“Show it to me.”
“There's no need to show it to you: you've seen it.”
“I've seen it?”
“You saw it the other day. It must be in the hands of the examining-magistrate or the solicitor.”
I lost my temper:
“Oh, it's that you're speaking of! Well, to begin with, the will isn't valid. I have a letter from my uncle...”
He interrupted me:
“That letter doesn't affect the validity of the will. Any one will tell you that.”
“And then?” I exclaimed. “Granting that it is valid, Noel Dorgeroux mentions nobody in it except myself for the Lodge and his god-daughter for the Yard. The only one who benefits, except myself, is Berangere.”
“Quite so, quite so,” replied the man, without changing countenance. “But nobody knows what has become of Berangere Massignac. Suppose that she were dead...”
I grew indignant:
“She's not dead! It's quite impossible that she should be dead!”
“Very well,” he said, calmly. “Then suppose that she's alive, that she's been kidnapped or that she's in hiding. In any event, one fact is certain, which is that she is under twenty, consequently she's a minor and consequently she cannot administer her own property. From the legal point of view she exists only in the person of her natural representative, her guardian, who in this case happens to be her father.”
“And her father?” I asked, anxiously.
He put on his hat, took it off again with a bow and said:
“Theodore Massignac, forty-two years of age, a native of Toulouse, a commercial traveller in wines.”
It was a violent blow. The truth suddenly appeared to me in all its brutal nakedness. This man, this shady and wily individual, was Berangere's father; and he had come in the name of the two accomplices, working in their interest and placing at their service the powers with which circumstances had favoured him.
“Her father?” I murmured. “Can it be possible? Are you her father?”
“Why, yes,” he replied, with a fresh outburst of hilarity, “I'm the girl's daddy and, as such, the beneficiary, with the right to draw the profits for the next eighteen months, of Noel Dorgeroux's bequest. For eighteen months only! You can imagine that I'm itching to take possession of the estate, to complete the works and to prepare for the fourteenth of May an inauguration worthy in every respect of my old friend Dorgeroux.”
I felt the beads of perspiration trickling down my forehead. He had spoken the words which were expected and foretold. He was the man of whom public opinion had said:
“When the time comes, some one will emerge from the darkness.”