Le mystire de la chambre.., p.1
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       Le mystère de la chambre jaune. English, p.1
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           Gaston Leroux
Le mystère de la chambre jaune. English


  By Gaston Leroux

  CHAPTER I. In Which We Begin Not to Understand

  It is not without a certain emotion that I begin to recount here theextraordinary adventures of Joseph Rouletabille. Down to the presenttime he had so firmly opposed my doing it that I had come to despair ofever publishing the most curious of police stories of the past fifteenyears. I had even imagined that the public would never know the wholetruth of the prodigious case known as that of The Yellow Room, out ofwhich grew so many mysterious, cruel, and sensational dramas, with whichmy friend was so closely mixed up, if, propos of a recent nomination ofthe illustrious Stangerson to the grade of grandcross of the Legion ofHonour, an evening journal--in an article, miserable for its ignorance,or audacious for its perfidy--had not resuscitated a terrible adventureof which Joseph Rouletabille had told me he wished to be for everforgotten.

  The Yellow Room! Who now remembers this affair which caused so much inkto flow fifteen years ago? Events are so quickly forgotten in Paris.Has not the very name of the Nayves trial and the tragic history of thedeath of little Menaldo passed out of mind? And yet the public attentionwas so deeply interested in the details of the trial that the occurrenceof a ministerial crisis was completely unnoticed at the time. Now TheYellow Room trial, which, preceded that of the Nayves by some years,made far more noise. The entire world hung for months over this obscureproblem--the most obscure, it seems to me, that has ever challenged theperspicacity of our police or taxed the conscience of our judges. Thesolution of the problem baffled everybody who tried to find it. It waslike a dramatic rebus with which old Europe and new America alike becamefascinated. That is, in truth--I am permitted to say, because therecannot be any author's vanity in all this, since I do nothing more thantranscribe facts on which an exceptional documentation enables me tothrow a new light--that is because, in truth, I do not know that, inthe domain of reality or imagination, one can discover or recall to mindanything comparable, in its mystery, with the natural mystery of TheYellow Room.

  That which nobody could find out, Joseph Rouletabille, aged eighteen,then a reporter engaged on a leading journal, succeeded in discovering.But when, at the Assize Court, he brought in the key to the whole case,he did not tell the whole truth. He only allowed so much of it to appearas sufficed to ensure the acquittal of an innocent man. The reasonswhich he had for his reticence no longer exist. Better still, the timehas come for my friend to speak out fully. You are going to know all;and, without further preamble, I am going to place before your eyesthe problem of The Yellow Room as it was placed before the eyes of theentire world on the day following the enactment of the drama at theChateau du Glandier.

  On the 25th of October, 1892, the following note appeared in the latestedition of the "Temps":

  "A frightful crime has been committed at the Glandier, on the border ofthe forest of Sainte-Genevieve, above Epinay-sur-Orge, at the house ofProfessor Stangerson. On that night, while the master was working in hislaboratory, an attempt was made to assassinate Mademoiselle Stangerson,who was sleeping in a chamber adjoining this laboratory. The doctors donot answer for the life of Mdlle. Stangerson."

  The impression made on Paris by this news may be easily imagined.Already, at that time, the learned world was deeply interested in thelabours of Professor Stangerson and his daughter. These labours--thefirst that were attempted in radiography--served to open the way forMonsieur and Madame Curie to the discovery of radium. It was expectedthe Professor would shortly read to the Academy of Sciences asensational paper on his new theory,--the Dissociation of Matter,--atheory destined to overthrow from its base the whole of officialscience, which based itself on the principle of the Conservation ofEnergy. On the following day, the newspapers were full of the tragedy.The "Matin," among others, published the following article, entitled: "ASupernatural Crime":

  "These are the only details," wrote the anonymous writer in the"Matin"--"we have been able to obtain concerning the crime of theChateau du Glandier. The state of despair in which Professor Stangersonis plunged, and the impossibility of getting any information fromthe lips of the victim, have rendered our investigations and those ofjustice so difficult that, at present, we cannot form the least idea ofwhat has passed in The Yellow Room in which Mdlle. Stangerson, in hernight-dress, was found lying on the floor in the agonies of death. Wehave, at least, been able to interview Daddy Jacques--as he is calledin the country--a old servant in the Stangerson family. Daddy Jacquesentered The Room at the same time as the Professor. This chamber adjoinsthe laboratory. Laboratory and Yellow Room are in a pavilion at theend of the park, about three hundred metres (a thousand feet) from thechateau.

  "'It was half-past twelve at night,' this honest old man told us, 'and Iwas in the laboratory, where Monsieur Stangerson was still working, whenthe thing happened. I had been cleaning and putting instruments in orderall the evening and was waiting for Monsieur Stangerson to go to bed.Mademoiselle Stangerson had worked with her father up to midnight; whenthe twelve strokes of midnight had sounded by the cuckoo-clock inthe laboratory, she rose, kissed Monsieur Stangerson and bade himgood-night. To me she said "bon soir, Daddy Jacques" as she passed intoThe Yellow Room. We heard her lock the door and shoot the bolt, so thatI could not help laughing, and said to Monsieur: "There's Mademoiselledouble-locking herself in,--she must be afraid of the 'Bete du bonDieu!'" Monsieur did not even hear me, he was so deeply absorbed in whathe was doing. Just then we heard the distant miawing of a cat. "Is thatgoing to keep us awake all night?" I said to myself; for I must tellyou, Monsieur, that, to the end of October, I live in an attic of thepavilion over The Yellow Room, so that Mademoiselle should not beleft alone through the night in the lonely park. It was the fancy ofMademoiselle to spend the fine weather in the pavilion; no doubt, shefound it more cheerful than the chateau and, for the four years it hadbeen built, she had never failed to take up her lodging there in thespring. With the return of winter, Mademoiselle returns to the chateau,for there is no fireplace in The Yellow Room.

  "'We were staying in the pavilion, then--Monsieur Stangerson and me. Wemade no noise. He was seated at his desk. As for me, I was sitting ona chair, having finished my work and, looking at him, I said to myself:"What a man!--what intelligence!--what knowledge!" I attach importanceto the fact that we made no noise; for, because of that, the assassincertainly thought that we had left the place. And, suddenly, while thecuckoo was sounding the half after midnight, a desperate clamourbroke out in The Yellow Room. It was the voice of Mademoiselle, crying"Murder!--murder!--help!" Immediately afterwards revolver shots rang outand there was a great noise of tables and furniture being thrown tothe ground, as if in the course of a struggle, and again the voice ofMademoiselle calling, "Murder!--help!--Papa!--Papa!--"

  "'You may be sure that we quickly sprang up and that Monsieur Stangersonand I threw ourselves upon the door. But alas! it was locked, fastlocked, on the inside, by the care of Mademoiselle, as I have told you,with key and bolt. We tried to force it open, but it remained firm.Monsieur Stangerson was like a madman, and truly, it was enough to makehim one, for we heard Mademoiselle still calling "Help!--help!" MonsieurStangerson showered terrible blows on the door, and wept with rage andsobbed with despair and helplessness.

  "'It was then that I had an inspiration. "The assassin must have enteredby the window!" I cried;--"I will go to the window!" and I rushed fromthe pavilion and ran like one out of his mind.

  "'The inspiration was that the window of The Yellow Room looks out insuch a way that the park wall, which abuts on the pavilion, prevented myat once reaching the window. To get up to it one has first to go outof the park. I ran towards the g
ate and, on my way, met Bernier and hiswife, the gate-keepers, who had been attracted by the pistol reports andby our cries. In a few words I told them what had happened, and directedthe concierge to join Monsieur Stangerson with all speed, while his wifecame with me to open the park gate. Five minutes later she and I werebefore the window of The Yellow Room.

  "'The moon was shining brightly and I saw clearly that no one hadtouched the window. Not only were the bars that protect it intact, butthe blinds inside of them were drawn, as I had myself drawn them earlyin the evening, as I did every day, though Mademoiselle, knowing thatI was tired from the heavy work I had been doing, had begged me not totrouble myself, but leave her to do it; and they were just as I hadleft them, fastened with an iron catch on the inside. The assassin,therefore, could not have passed either in or out that way; but neithercould I get in.

  "'It was unfortunate,--enough to turn one's brain! The door of the roomlocked on the inside and the blinds on the only window also fastened onthe inside; and Mademoiselle still calling for help!--No! she had ceasedto call. She was dead, perhaps. But I still heard her father, in thepavilion, trying to break down the door.

  "'With the concierge I hurried back to the pavilion. The door, in spiteof the furious attempts of Monsieur Stangerson and Bernier to burstit open, was still holding firm; but at length, it gave way before ourunited efforts,--and then what a sight met our eyes! I should tell youthat, behind us, the concierge held the laboratory lamp--a powerfullamp, that lit the whole chamber.

  "'I must also tell you, monsieur, that The Yellow Room is a very smallroom. Mademoiselle had furnished it with a fairly large iron bedstead,a small table, a night-commode; a dressing-table, and two chairs. Bythe light of the big lamp we saw all at a glance. Mademoiselle, inher night-dress, was lying on the floor in the midst of the greatestdisorder. Tables and chairs had been overthrown, showing that there hadbeen a violent struggle. Mademoiselle had certainly been draggedfrom her bed. She was covered with blood and had terrible marks offinger-nails on her throat,--the flesh of her neck having been almosttorn by the nails. From a wound on the right temple a stream ofblood had run down and made a little pool on the floor. When MonsieurStangerson saw his daughter in that state, he threw himself on his kneesbeside her, uttering a cry of despair. He ascertained that she stillbreathed. As to us, we searched for the wretch who had tried to kill ourmistress, and I swear to you, monsieur, that, if we had found him, itwould have gone hard with him!

  "'But how to explain that he was not there, that he had already escaped?It passes all imagination!--Nobody under the bed, nobody behind thefurniture!--All that we discovered were traces, blood-stained marks ofa man's large hand on the walls and on the door; a big handkerchief redwith blood, without any initials, an old cap, and many fresh footmarksof a man on the floor,--footmarks of a man with large feet whoseboot-soles had left a sort of sooty impression. How had this man gotaway? How had he vanished? Don't forget, monsieur, that there is nochimney in The Yellow Room. He could not have escaped by the door, whichis narrow, and on the threshold of which the concierge stood with thelamp, while her husband and I searched for him in every corner of thelittle room, where it is impossible for anyone to hide himself. Thedoor, which had been forced open against the wall, could not concealanything behind it, as we assured ourselves. By the window, still inevery way secured, no flight had been possible. What then?--I began tobelieve in the Devil.

  "'But we discovered my revolver on the floor!--Yes, my revolver! Oh!that brought me back to the reality! The Devil would not have needed tosteal my revolver to kill Mademoiselle. The man who had been there hadfirst gone up to my attic and taken my revolver from the drawer whereI kept it. We then ascertained, by counting the cartridges, that theassassin had fired two shots. Ah! it was fortunate for me that MonsieurStangerson was in the laboratory when the affair took place and had seenwith his own eyes that I was there with him; for otherwise, with thisbusiness of my revolver, I don't know where we should have been,--Ishould now be under lock and bar. Justice wants no more to send a man tothe scaffold!'"

  The editor of the "Matin" added to this interview the following lines:

  "We have, without interrupting him, allowed Daddy Jacques to recountto us roughly all he knows about the crime of The Yellow Room. We havereproduced it in his own words, only sparing the reader the continuallamentations with which he garnished his narrative. It is quiteunderstood, Daddy Jacques, quite understood, that you are very fond ofyour masters; and you want them to know it, and never cease repeatingit--especially since the discovery of your revolver. It is your right,and we see no harm in it. We should have liked to put some furtherquestions to Daddy Jacques--Jacques--Louis Moustier--but the inquiryof the examining magistrate, which is being carried on at the chateau,makes it impossible for us to gain admission at the Glandier; and, asto the oak wood, it is guarded by a wide circle of policemen, who arejealously watching all traces that can lead to the pavilion, and thatmay perhaps lead to the discovery of the assassin. "We have also wishedto question the concierges, but they are invisible. Finally, we havewaited in a roadside inn, not far from the gate of the chateau, forthe departure of Monsieur de Marquet, the magistrate of Corbeil. Athalf-past five we saw him and his clerk and, before he was able to enterhis carriage, had an opportunity to ask him the following question:

  "'Can you, Monsieur de Marquet, give us any information as to thisaffair, without inconvenience to the course of your inquiry?'

  "'It is impossible for us to do it,' replied Monsieur de Marquet. 'I canonly say that it is the strangest affair I have ever known. The more wethink we know something, the further we are from knowing anything!'

  "We asked Monsieur de Marquet to be good enough to explain his lastwords; and this is what he said,--the importance of which no one willfail to recognise:

  "'If nothing is added to the material facts so far established, Ifear that the mystery which surrounds the abominable crime of whichMademoiselle Stangerson has been the victim will never be brought tolight; but it is to be hoped, for the sake of our human reason, thatthe examination of the walls, and of the ceiling of The YellowRoom--an examination which I shall to-morrow intrust to the builder whoconstructed the pavilion four years ago--will afford us the proof thatmay not discourage us. For the problem is this: we know by what way theassassin gained admission,--he entered by the door and hid himself underthe bed, awaiting Mademoiselle Stangerson. But how did he leave? How didhe escape? If no trap, no secret door, no hiding place, no openingof any sort is found; if the examination of the walls--even to thedemolition of the pavilion--does not reveal any passage practicable--notonly for a human being, but for any being whatsoever--if the ceilingshows no crack, if the floor hides no underground passage, one mustreally believe in the Devil, as Daddy Jacques says!'"

  And the anonymous writer in the "Matin" added in this article--which Ihave selected as the most interesting of all those that were publishedon the subject of this affair--that the examining magistrate appearedto place a peculiar significance to the last sentence: "One must reallybelieve in the Devil, as Jacques says."

  The article concluded with these lines: "We wanted to know what DaddyJacques meant by the cry of the Bete Du Bon Dieu." The landlord of theDonjon Inn explained to us that it is the particularly sinister crywhich is uttered sometimes at night by the cat of an old woman,--MotherAngenoux, as she is called in the country. Mother Angenoux is a sort ofsaint, who lives in a hut in the heart of the forest, not far from thegrotto of Sainte-Genevieve.

  "The Yellow Room, the Bete Du Bon Dieu, Mother Angenoux, the Devil,Sainte-Genevieve, Daddy Jacques,--here is a well entangled crime whichthe stroke of a pickaxe in the wall may disentangle for us to-morrow.Let us at least hope that, for the sake of our human reason, as theexamining magistrate says. Meanwhile, it is expected that MademoiselleStangerson--who has not ceased to be delirious and only pronouncesone word distinctly, 'Murderer! Murderer!'--will not live through thenight."

  In conclusion, and at a late hour, the same j
ournal announced that theChief of the Surete had telegraphed to the famous detective, FredericLarsan, who had been sent to London for an affair of stolen securities,to return immediately to Paris.

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