The perfume of the lady.., p.1
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       The Perfume of the Lady in Black, p.1
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           Gaston Leroux
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The Perfume of the Lady in Black



  Chapter I Which begins where other novels end

  Chapter II Which reveals the changing moods of Joseph Rouletabille

  Chapter III The perfume

  Chapter IV En route

  Chapter V Panic

  Chapter VI The Chateau Hercule

  Chapter VII Concerning some precautions taken by Joseph Rouletabille to Defend the Chateau d’Hercule Against Attack by an Enemy

  Chapter VIII Concerning the history of Jean Roussel-Larsan-Ballmeyer

  Chapter IX The unexpected arrival of Old Bob

  Chapter X The day of the 11th

  Chapter XI The attack in the Square Tower

  Chapter XII The impossible body

  Chapter XIII Rouletabille’s terror begins to worry me

  Chapter XIV The sack

  Chapter XV The sighs of the night

  Chapter XVI The discovery of Australia

  Chapter XVII Old Bob’s terrible adventure

  Chapter XVIII Noon, King of Terrors

  Chapter XIX Rouletabille closes the iron gates

  Chapter XX In which it is proved that there was a body too many





  Which begins where other novels end

  The marriage of M. Robert Darzac and Mlle Mathilde Stangerson took place in Paris at the church of St Nicholas du Chardonnet on 6th April 1895. It was a strictly private affair. Little more than two years had passed since the events which were the subject of a previous work, too short a period to have entirely erased all memory of The Mystery of the Yellow Room. Indeed, the events which had given rise to that mystery were still so fresh in the public’s mind that the church would doubtless have been filled by a sensation-loving crowd had not the wedding been veiled in secrecy – not so very difficult in such an out-of-the-way parish. Only a few intimate friends had been invited, myself amongst them. I happened to arrive early at the church and the first thing I did was to look for Joseph Rouletabille, the young reporter who had played such an important part in that famous case. I was a little disappointed not to find him there, though I knew instinctively that he would come. While I was waiting, I entered into conversation with Maître Henri-Robert and Maître André Hesse, who, in the solemn silence of the little church, were discussing the remarkable happenings at the Versailles trial and its dramatic finale, which the marriage of two of the main protagonists brought so vividly to the minds of those of us who had been present.

  As they talked, I could not help but notice the depressing appearance of the church of St Nicholas du Chardonnet – decrepit, cracked, fissured, dirty, not with the august dirt of venerable age, but with the sordid, dingy grime peculiar to the Quartiers Saint-Victor and des Bernardins. The sky there seemed farther off than elsewhere and only a very dim light filtered through the age-old layer of filth coating the stained-glass windows. It was in this sombre atmosphere, amidst surroundings more suggestive of a funeral, that the marriage of Robert Darzac and Mathilde Stangerson was about to be celebrated. I could not shake off the depressing influence of my surroundings, and it seemed to me a bad omen.

  Meanwhile Maître Henri-Robert and Maître André Hesse chatted on serenely. The first admitted to the second that he had never felt easy in his mind concerning the fate of Robert Darzac, even after the fortunate outcome of the Versailles trial, not until he had received official confirmation of the death of that pitiless enemy of both bride and bridegroom – Frédéric Larsan. It will be remembered, perhaps, that some months after Darzac’s acquittal the shipwreck of the great transatlantic liner La Dordogne took place. One night, in thick fog, the liner was rammed by a three-masted sailing vessel and sank in a matter of minutes. A score or so of cabin passengers, whose staterooms happened to be on deck, only just had time to make for the boats. They were picked up the following day by fishing smacks and brought into St John’s, Newfoundland. For days afterwards, the bodies of the less fortunate passengers were washed up along the coast, and among them they found that of Larsan.

  The documents on the body – despite their being carefully hidden in the lining of his clothes – left no doubt as to his identity. Mathilde Stangerson was free at last from that preposterous marriage, which, due to the laxity of the American legal system, she had contracted in secret, the result of a momentary mad impulse. The dreadful scoundrel’s real name – which will henceforth be granted a place of infamy in the annals of crime – was Ballmeyer, though he had married Mlle Stangerson under the name of Jean Roussel. Now, however, he would no longer come between her and the man who had loved her for so many years with silent and heroic devotion. I set out the details of this extraordinary affair in The Mystery of the Yellow Room, one of the most remarkable of all court cases, and which would have ended in tragedy but for the timely intervention of an unknown, eighteen-year-old reporter, Joseph Rouletabille, who, alone, was able to see in the police detective, Frédéric Larsan, no less a person than Ballmeyer himself! The accidental and, one might rightly say, providential death of this wretch was surely a fitting end to that long series of dramatic events. And it played no small part in the rapid recovery of Mlle Stangerson, whose very reason had been shaken by the mysterious and horrific events she had recently experienced.

  ‘In life, it pays to be an optimist,’ said Maître Henri-Robert to Maître André Hesse, who was looking anxiously around the church. ‘Everything comes out all right in the end, even Mlle Stangerson’s troubles. But why do you keep looking behind you in that nervous fashion? Are you expecting someone?’

  ‘Yes,’ replied Hesse. ‘I’m expecting Frédéric Larsan!’

  Henri-Robert laughed as heartily as the sanctity of the place allowed, but I did not, for I felt very much as Hesse did. It is true that I was far from foreseeing the terrible experience that awaited us, but since I was, of course, quite ignorant of all that was about to take place, I cannot but be struck by the curious emotion that the mere name of Larsan evoked.

  ‘Hesse was only joking!’ said Maître Henri-Robert, noticing, I suppose, my anxious look.

  ‘I know, I know!’ I replied uneasily, glancing behind me just as Hesse had done.

  The truth is that Larsan, when he was known as Ballmeyer, had been reported dead so often that it seemed unreasonable that, as Larsan, he should die only once!

  ‘Hello! cried Henri-Robert. ‘There’s Rouletabille. I’ll bet he’s not half as worried as you are.’

  ‘He looks very pale, though,’ added Hesse.

  The young reporter came over and absentmindedly shook hands with us.

  ‘Good morning, Sainclair. Good morning, gentlemen. I’m not late, I hope.’

  It seemed to me that his voice was a little unsteady, and, having greeted us, he found a dark corner in the church and knelt down, burying his face in his hands, with a gesture which somehow struck me as childlike in its simplicity. I was surprised, because, frankly, I had never thought Rouletabille much given to piety. When he looked up, I noticed that his eyes were full of tears, a fact that he made no effort to hide, being too absorbed in his prayers and in his evident grief. But what grief could thus take possession of him on this of all days? Should not he, of all men, be rejoicing at the happiness of Robert Darzac and Mathilde Stangerson, a happiness which, in great measure, they owed to him and in which, consequently, he could take a legitimate pride? Perhaps the tears were tears of happiness, but somehow I did not think so, and as it was clear that he wished to remain alone and unobserved, I did not disturb his meditations.

  A moment or two later, Mathilde Stangerson herself came into the church, leaning on her father’s arm. Robert Darzac
was walking behind them. How changed he was! The drama at Glandier had left indelible traces on all three. But, strange to say, Mlle Stangerson seemed more beautiful than ever. It is true that she had lost some of her statuesque magnificence, the marmoreal air of an antique divinity, and that cold beauty which had drawn all eyes to her when she was obliged to attend official functions with her father.

  It would seem that the tardy expiation of a youthful folly, bringing with it, as it did, a crisis of despair, had broken the stony mask behind which lay a nature at once delicate and tender. And it was this hitherto undiscovered character which was now uppermost; it shone in her serene face and in her sad, yet happy, eyes. They suddenly clouded, however, as, looking round, she evidently failed to find the object of her search. When, however, she discovered Rouletabille behind his pillar, her eyes again became serene, and, once more completely in command of herself, she smiled divinely at the young man. And we, in turn, watching the little scene, smiled too.

  ‘If you ask me, she still has the look of a madwoman!’

  I turned suddenly to see who had made this abominable remark. It was Brignolles, a poor, feeble sort of a chap, whom Robert Darzac had, out of the goodness of his heart, taken on as an assistant at his laboratory at the Sorbonne.

  Brignolles was vaguely related to the bridegroom. He was the only one of Darzac’s relatives that I had ever heard of. Darzac’s father and mother had long since died. He came from the south originally and, if he had relatives, he had evidently lost all contact with them in order to give himself over entirely to his work, satisfying his natural need for companionship and affection in his close relationship with Professor Stangerson and his daughter.

  On arriving in Paris from Provence, Brignolles had gone straight to Darzac, and, making known his relationship, or his alleged relationship, had succeeded in persuading Darzac to give him the job I mentioned. Since Darzac was at the time overworked and only just recovering from the effects of the Glandier affair and the subsequent trial, he readily welcomed any assistance. It was expected that the help thus furnished would somewhat relieve Darzac and enable him to make more rapid progress towards a complete recovery.

  However, it became clear that although Darzac did work less after his relative’s arrival, his health grew steadily worse. The arrival of Brignolles had equally unfortunate consequences for the laboratory: two serious accidents took place one after the other, during ordinarily harmless experiments. The first was caused when a Geissler tube exploded at a moment when it could easily have caused Darzac grave injury, though, fortunately, it did not; the second was caused by the explosion of an oil lamp – the result of sheer stupidity – just as Darzac was leaning over it. Again, no great harm resulted, but the Professor was within an inch of losing his eyesight, indeed, his eyes were badly affected for some time afterwards.

  The Glandier business had, I admit, left me in a state of mind which caused me to regard the simplest occurrences with suspicion. I happened to be present on the occasion of the second accident just referred to, and afterwards, when Brignolles offered to accompany the Professor to the surgery to have his wounds attended to, I rather brusquely told him to stay where he was.

  On the way to the surgery, Darzac asked me why I had been so sharp with Brignolles. I replied that his manner displeased and irritated me, and that I felt especially annoyed that day, since I felt that the accident had been entirely due to carelessness on Brignolles’ part. Darzac asked me how I could possibly think such a thing and laughed the matter off. He took the affair in a less lighthearted manner, however, when the doctor, having examined his injuries, assured him that it was a miracle that he had not lost his sight.

  Perhaps the uneasiness which Brignolles aroused in me was groundless. In any case, there were no more accidents. However irrational it may have seemed, I nevertheless held Brignolles responsible for Darzac’s slow recovery. When winter came, Darzac appeared to get worse, and we finally persuaded him to go south. The doctors advised San Remo, and Darzac wrote from there after a week’s absence to say that he was feeling remarkably better. ‘Here I can breathe,’ he wrote, ‘in Paris I suffocate.’

  This letter revived my unease, and I spoke to Rouletabille about it. He, too, had remarked on the odd fact that M. Darzac was always ill when Brignolles was around and perfectly well when away from him. We were afraid that Brignolles might follow Darzac, but he showed no signs of doing so. No sooner had Darzac left Paris than Brignolles took every opportunity to be near the Stangersons. Indeed, on one occasion, he managed to see Mlle Stangerson alone, but I had already told her what my feelings were towards him, and she too had experienced the same curious feeling of repugnance. At this I greatly rejoiced.

  M. Darzac remained in San Remo for four months and returned almost completely restored to health. He still had some problems with his eyes, however, and was obliged to take the very greatest care of them. Rouletabille and I decided to keep a very close watch on Brignolles and were overjoyed when we learned that the marriage was to take place immediately, and that M. Darzac intended going on a long trip abroad with his wife, away from Paris and away from Brignolles.

  On his return from San Remo, M. Darzac had asked:

  ‘Well, how did you get on with that poor devil, Brignolles? Have you changed your mind about him?’

  ‘Not in the least,’ I replied.

  M. Darzac chaffed me for some time, speaking in the Provençal patois which his recent journey to the South had revived. I was delighted to see the man once more cheerful and lighthearted. He was evidently very happy and that morning in church he carried himself proudly and buoyantly.

  ‘The boss looks very pleased with himself,’ said Brignolles, with a leer.

  I drew away, disgusted, and in doing so, brushed against M. Stangerson, who had sat with his arms folded throughout the ceremony, appearing neither to see nor hear anything. Even when the service was over, he stood there motionless, and someone had to tap him on the shoulder to wake him from his reverie.

  In the vestry, Hesse heaved a sigh of relief and said:

  ‘At last it’s over. Now I can breathe easily!’

  ‘Why couldn’t you breathe easily before?’ asked Maître Henri-Robert.

  Then Hesse admitted that, up until the very last minute, he had feared that some catastrophe, perhaps even death itself, would intervene in the happiness of these two people.

  ‘You may laugh,’ he added, ‘but it’s true. I just couldn’t believe that Frédéric Larsan was really dead.’

  There were about a dozen of us in the vestry at that moment. The witnesses were signing their names in the church register, while the others were quietly congratulating the newly married couple. The vestry, it should be remarked, was even darker and dingier than the church itself, and it was doubtless because of this that I did not, at first, notice that Joseph Rouletabille was not there. What could that mean? Mathilde had already asked for him, and Robert Darzac begged me to go and look for him, which I did. But I was obliged to return to the vestry saying that I had been unable to find him.

  ‘That’s extraordinary,’ said Darzac. ‘Are you sure you’ve looked everywhere? He’s probably deep in thought in some out-of-the-way corner.’

  ‘I’ve looked everywhere; I even called out. He’s not in the building.’

  But Darzac was not satisfied and started scouring the church for Rouletabille. He did not find him, but he did at least discover, from an old beggar standing at the door, that a young man, presumably Rouletabille, had left in a cab some minutes previously. When Darzac told his wife this, she looked inexpressibly hurt and upset. She beckoned to me, and said:

  ‘You know that we leave in a couple of hours from the Gare de Lyon. Do please find our young friend and send him to me. Tell him that his extraordinary behaviour has made me very anxious.’

  ‘I’ll do my best.’

  And I immediately set to work to hunt down Rouletabille. However, two hours later, I turned up at the Gare de Lyon empty-handed.
I could find no trace of him at his house, at his office or at the Café where he was in the habit of going to pick up the day’s gossip. None of his friends could tell me where he might be. You can imagine the Darzacs’ distress. I broke the news as gently as I could, adding that Rouletabille would doubtless turn up at the station before the train left; Mathilde was not to be consoled though.

  ‘No, no,’ she said, with tears in her eyes, ‘he won’t come! I doubt that I shall ever see him again.’ And, with great sadness, she got into the carriage.

  And then, seeing how upset the new bride was, the insufferable Brignolles could not resist saying to Hesse with evident malice:

  ‘You can’t tell me those aren’t the eyes of a madwoman. Robert was wrong! He should have waited! He should have waited!’

  Hesse promptly silenced him, but Brignolles had already said enough to inspire us all with horror and repugnance. There was no longer any doubt in my mind that Brignolles was both malicious and jealous. He evidently could not forgive his cousin for having given him such a lowly job. Brignolles’ very appearance – long, lean and sallow-skinned – were suggestive of bitterness and meanness. The only parts of his physique that were not lean and thin were his feet and hands, which were well proportioned and shapely.

  Brignolles took Hesse’s stern rebuke in very bad part and left in high dudgeon, barely bothering to say goodbye to the newly married couple. Since I saw no more of him, I assume he left the station. There were still two or three minutes before the train was due to leave, and we were hoping that Rouletabille might yet turn up, boldly pushing his way through the hurrying crowd of travellers.

  What on earth could have happened to him? We were still hoping against hope, even when the porters were already closing the doors and noisily urging the last lingering passenger to jump on board. With a shrill whistle, a waving of arms and a noisy burst of steam from the engine, the train began to move slowly out. And still no Rouletabille. It made the leave-taking fall quite flat and, indeed, those who were left behind were so surprised at our friend’s failure to turn up that we quite forgot to shout a ‘goodbye’. The train had already begun to gather speed and was almost at the end of the platform when Mlle Darzac leaned out of the window and gestured to me. Running up to her carriage, I received from her hand an envelope.

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