The Three Eyes/Chapter 9

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CHAPTER IX. THE MAN WHO EMERGED FROM THE DARKNESS[edit]

“WHEN the time comes,” they had said, “some one will emerge from the darkness. When the time comes, some one will remove the mask from his face.”

That face now beamed expansively before me. That some one, who was about to play the game of the two accomplices, was Berangere's father. And the same question continued to suggest itself, each time more painfully than the last:

“What had been Berangere's part in the horrible tragedy?”

There was a long, heavy silence between us. I began to stride across the room and stopped near the chimney, where a dying fire was smouldering. Thence I could see Massignac in a mirror, without his perceiving it; and his face, in repose, surprised me by a gloomy expression which was not unknown to me. I had probably seen some photograph of him in Berangere's possession.

“It's curious,” I said, “that your daughter should not have written to you.”

I had turned round very briskly; nevertheless he had had time to expand his mouth and to resume his smile:

“Alas,” he said, “the dear child hardly ever wrote to me and cared little about her poor daddy. I, on the other hand, am very fond of her. A daughter's always a daughter, you know. So you can imagine how I jumped for joy when I read in the papers that she had come into money. I should at last be able to devote myself to her and to devote all my strength and all my energy to the great and wonderful task of defending her interests and her fortune.”

He spoke in a honeyed voice and assumed a false and unctuous air which exasperated me. I questioned him:

“How do you propose to fulfill that task?”

“Why, quite simply,” he replied, “by continuing Noel Dorgeroux's work.”

“In other words?”

“By throwing open the doors of the amphitheatre.”

“Which means?”

“Which means that I shall show to the public the pictures which your uncle used to produce.”

“Have you ever seen them?”

“No. I speak from your evidence and your interviews.”

“Do you know how my uncle used to produce them?”

“I do, since yesterday evening.”

“Then you have seen the manuscript of which I was robbed and the formula stolen by the murderer?”

“Since yesterday evening, I say.”

“But how?” I exclaimed, excitedly.

“How? By a simple trick.”

“What do you mean?”

He showed me a bundle of newspapers of the day before and continued, with a smirking air:

“If you had read yesterday's newspapers, or at least the more important of them, carefully, you would have noticed a discreet advertisement in the special column. It read, 'Proprietor of the Yard wishes to purchase the two documents necessary for working. He can be seen this evening in the Place Vendome.' Nothing much in the advertisement, was there? But, to the possessors of the two documents, how clear in its meaning... and what a bait! To them it was the one opportunity of making a profit, for, with all the publicity attaching to the affair, they were unable to benefit by the result of their robberies without revealing their identity to the public. My calculation was correct. After I had waited an hour by the Vendome Column, a very luxurious motor-car picked me up, you might almost say without stopping, and, ten minutes afterwards, dropped me at the Etoile, with the documents in my possession. I spent the night in reading the manuscript. Oh, my dear sir, what a genius your uncle was! What a revolution his discovery! And in what a masterly way he expounded it! I never read anything so methodical and so lucid! All that remains for me to do is mere child's-play.”

I had listened to the man Massignac with ever-increasing amazement. Was he assuming that anybody would for a moment credit so ridiculous a tale?

He was laughing, however, with a look of a man who congratulates himself on the events with which he is mixed up, or rather, perhaps, on the very skilful fashion in which he believes himself to have manipulated them.

With one hand, I pushed in his direction the hat which he had laid on the table. Then I opened the door leading into the hall.

He rose and said:

“I am staying close by, at the Station Hotel. Would you mind having any letters sent there which may come for me here? For I suppose you have no room for me at the Lodge?”

I abruptly gripped him by the arm and cried:

“You know what you're risking, don't you?”

“In doing what?”

“In pursuing your enterprise.”

“Upon my word, I don't quite see...

“Prison, sir, prison.”

“Oh, come! Prison!”

“Prison, sir. The police will never accept all your stories and all your lies!”

His mouth widened into a new laugh:

“What big words! And how unjust, when addressed to a respectable father who seeks nothing but his daughter's happiness! No, no, sir, believe me, the inauguration will take place on the fourteenth of May... unless, indeed, you oppose the wishes which your uncle expresses in his will....”

He gave me a questioning look, which betrayed a certain uneasiness; and I myself wavered as to the answer which I ought to give him. My hesitation yielded to a motive of which I did not weigh the value clearly but which seemed to me so imperious that I declared:

“I shall raise no opposition: not that I respect a will which does not represent my uncle's real intentions, but because I am bound to sacrifice everything to his fame. If Noel Dorgeroux's discovery depends on you, go ahead: the means which you have employed to get hold of it do not concern me.”

With a fresh burst of merry laughter and a low bow, the fellow left the room. That evening, in the course of a visit to the solicitor, and next day, through the newspapers, he boldly set forth his claims, which, I may say, from the legal point of view, were recognized as absolutely legitimate. But, two days later, he was summoned to appear before the examining-magistrate and an enquiry was opened against him.

Against him is the right term. Certainly, there was no fact to be laid to his charge. Certainly, he was able to prove that he had been ill in bed, nursed by a woman-of-all-work who had been looking after him for a month, and that he had left his place in Toulouse only to come straight to Paris. But what had he done in Paris? Whom had he seen? From whom had he obtained the manuscript and the formula? He was unable to furnish explanations in reply to any of these questions.

He did not even try:

“I am pledged to secrecy,” he said. “I gave my word of honour not to say anything about those who handed me the documents I needed.”

The man Massignac's word of Honour! The man Massignac's scruples! Lies, of course! Hypocrisy! Subterfuge! But, all the same, however suspect the fellow might be, it was difficult to know of what to accuse him or how to sustain the accusation when made.

And then there was this element of strangeness, that the suspicion, the presumption, the certainty that the man Massignac was the willing tool of the two criminals, all this was swept away by the great movement of curiosity that carried people off their feet. Judicial procedure, ordinary precautions, regular adjournments, legal procrastinations which delay the entry into possession of the legatees were one and all neglected. The public wanted to see and know; and Theodore Massignac was the man who held the prodigious secret.

He was therefore allowed to have the keys of the amphitheatre and went in alone, or with labourers upon whom he kept an eye, replacing them by fresh gangs so as to avoid plots and machinations. He often went to Paris, throwing off the scent of the detectives who dogged his movements, and returned with bottles and cans carefully wrapped up.

On the day before that fixed for the inauguration, the police were no wiser than on the first day in matters concerning the man Massignac, or Velmot's hiding-place, or the murderer's, or Berangere's. The same ignorance prevailed regarding Noel Dorgeroux's secret, the circumstances of his death and the ambiguous words which he had scribbled on the plaster of the wall. As for the miraculous visions which I have described, they were denied or accepted as vigorously and as unreasonably by both the disputing parties. In short, nobody knew anything.

And this perhaps was the reason why the thousand seats in the amphitheatre were sold out within a few hours. Priced at a hundred francs apiece, they were bought up by half-a-dozen speculators who got rid of them at two or three times their original cost. How delighted my poor uncle would have been had he lived to see it!

The night before the fourteenth of May, I slept very badly, haunted by nightmares that kept on waking me with a start. At the first glimmer of dawn, I was sitting on the side of my bed when, in the deep silence, which was barely broken by the twittering of a few birds, I seemed to hear the sound of a key in a lock and a door creaking on its hinges.

I must explain that, since my uncle's death, I had been sleeping next to the room that used to be his. Now the noise came from that room, from which I was separated only by a glazed door covered with a chintz curtain. I listened and heard the sound of a chair moved from its place. There was certainly some one in the next room; and this some one, obviously unaware that I occupied the adjoining chamber, was taking scarcely any precautions. But how had he got in?

I sprang from the bed, slipped on my trousers, took up a revolver and drew aside a corner of the curtain. At first, the shutters were closed and the room in darkness and I saw only an indistinct shadow. Then the window was opened softly. Somebody lifted the iron bar and pushed back the shutters, thus admitting the light.

I now saw a woman return to the middle of the room. She was draped from head to foot in a brown stuff cloak. Nevertheless I knew her at once. It was Berangere.

I had a feeling not so much of amazement as of sudden and profound pity at the sight of her emaciated face, her poor face, once so bright and eager, now so sad and wan. I did not even think of rejoicing at the fact of her being alive, nor did I ask myself what clandestine business had brought her back to the Lodge. The one thing that held me captive was the painful spectacle of her pallid face, with its feverish, burning eyes and blue eyelids. Her cloak betrayed the shrunken figure beneath it.

Her heart must have been beating terribly, for he held her two hands to her breast to suppress its throbbing. She even had to lean on the edge of the table. She staggered and nearly fell. Poor Berangere. I felt anguish-stricken as I watched her.

She pulled herself together, however, and looked around her. Then, with a tottering gait, she went to the mantelpiece, where two old engravings, framed in black with a gold beading, hung one on either side of the looking-glass. She climbed on a chair and took down the one on the right, a portrait of D'Alembert.

Stepping down from the chair, she examined the back of the frame, which was closed by a piece of old card-board the edges of which were fastened to the sides of the frame by strips of gummed cloth. Berangere cut these strips with a pen-knife, bending back the tacks which held the cardboard in position. It came out of the frame; and I then saw — Berangere had her back turned in my direction, so that not a detail escaped me — I then saw that there was inserted between the cardboard and the engraving a large sheet of paper covered with my uncle's writing.

At the top, in red ink, was a drawing of the three geometrical eyes.

Next came the following words, in bold black capitals:

“Instructions for working my discovery, abridged from the manuscript sent to my nephew.”

And next forty or fifty very closely-written lines, in a hand too small to allow me to decipher them.

Besides, I had not the time. Berangere merely glanced at the paper. Having found the object of her search and obtained possession of an additional document which my uncle had provided in case the manuscript should be lost, she folded it up, slipped it into her bodice, replaced the cardboard and hung the engraving where she had found it.

Was she going away? If so, she was bound to return as she had come, that is to say, evidently, through Noel Dorgeroux's dressing-room, on the other side of the bedroom, of which she had left the communicating-door ajar. I was about to prevent her and had already taken hold of the door-handle, when suddenly she moved a few steps towards my uncle's bed and fell on her knees, stretching out her hands in despair.

Her sobs rose in the silence. She stammered words which I was able to catch:

“God-father!... My poor god-father!”

And she passionately kissed the coverlet of the bed beside which she must often have sat up watching my uncle when he was ill.

Her fit of crying lasted a long time and did not cease until just as I entered. Then she turned her head, saw me and stood up slowly, without taking her eyes from my face:

“You!” she murmured. “It's you!”

Seeing her make for the door, I said:

“Don't go, Berangere.”

She stopped, looking paler than ever, with drawn features.

“Give me that sheet of paper,” I said, in a voice of command.

She handed it to me, with a quick movement. After a brief pause, I continued:

“Why did you come to fetch it? My uncle told you of its existence, didn't he? And you... you were taking it to my uncle's murderers, so that they might have nothing more to fear and be the only persons to know the secret?... Speak, Berangere, will you?”

I had raised my voice and was advancing towards her. She took another step back.

“You shan't move, do you hear, Stay where you are. Listen to me and answer me!”

She made no further attempt to move. Her eyes were filled with such distress that I adopted a calmer demeanour:

“Answer me,” I said, very gently. “You know that, whatever you may have done, I am your friend, your indulgent friend, and that I mean to help you... and advise you. There are feelings which are proof against everything. Mine for you is of that sort. It is more than affection: you know it is, don't you, Berangere? You know that I love you?”

Her lips quivered, she tried to speak, but could not. I repeated again and again:

“I love you!... I love you!”

And, each time, she shuddered, as though these words, which I spoke with infinite emotion, which I had never spoken so seriously or so sincerely, as if these words wounded her in the very depths of her soul. What a strange creature she was!

I tried to put my hand on her shoulder. She avoided my friendly touch.

“What can you see to fear in me,” I asked, “when I love you? Why not confess everything? You are not a free agent, are you? You are being forced to act as you do and you hate it all?”

Once more, anger was overmastering me. I was exasperated by her silence. I saw no way of compelling her to reply, of overcoming that incomprehensible obstinacy except by clasping her in my arms and yielding to the instinct of violence which urged me towards some brutal action.

I went boldly forward. But I had not taken a step before she spun round on her heel, so swiftly that I thought that she would drop to the floor in the doorway. I followed her into the other room. She uttered a terrible scream. At the same moment I was knocked down by a sudden blow. The man Massignac, who had been hiding in the dressing-room and watching us, had leapt at me and was attacking me furiously, while Berangere fled to the staircase.

“Your daughter,” I spluttered, defending myself, “your daughter!... Stop her!...”

The words were senseless, seeing that Massignac, beyond a doubt, was Berangere's accomplice, or rather an inspiring force behind her, as indeed he proved by his determination to put me out of action, in order to protect his daughter against my pursuit.

We had rolled over the carpet and each of us was trying to master his adversary. The man Massignac was no longer laughing. He was striking harder blows than ever, but without using any weapon and without any murderous intent. I hit back as lustily and soon discovered that I was getting the better of him.

This gave me additional strength. I succeeded in flattening him beneath me. He stiffened every muscle to no purpose. We lay clutching each other, face to face, eye to eye. I took him by the throat and snarled:

“Ah, I shall get it out of you now, you wretch, and learn at last...”

And suddenly I ceased. My words broke off in a cry of horror and I clapped my hand to his face in such a way as to hide the lower part of it, leaving only the eyes visible. Oh, those eyes riveted on mine! Why, I knew them! Not with their customary expression of smug and hypocritical cheerfulness, but with the other expression which I was slowly beginning to remember. Yes, I remember them now, those two fierce, implacable eyes, filled with hatred and cruelty, those eyes which I had seen on the wall of the chapel, those eyes which had looked at me on that same day, when I lay gasping in the murderer's grip in the woods near the Yard.

And again, as on that occasion, suddenly my strength forsook me. Those savage eyes, those atrocious eyes, the man Massignac's real eyes, alarmed me.

He released himself with a laugh of triumph and, speaking in calm and deliberate accents, said:

“You're no match for me, young fellow! Don't you come meddling in my affairs again!”

Then, pushing me away, he ran off in the same direction as Berangere.

A few minutes later, I perceived that the sheet of paper which the daughter had found behind the old engraving had been taken from me by the father; and then, but not till then, I understood the exact meaning of the attack.

The amphitheatre was duly inaugurated on the afternoon of that same day. Seated in the box-office was the manager of the establishment, the possessor of the great secret, Theodore Massignac, Noel Dorgeroux's murderer.