I give you this story only at second-hand; but you have it in substance — and he wasted few words over it — as Paul Devereux told it me.
It was not the only queer story he could have told about himself if he had chosen, by a good many, I should say. Paul’s life had been an eminently unconventional one: the man’s face certified to that — hard, bronzed, war-worn, seamed and scarred with strange battle-marks — the face of a man who had dared and done most things.
It was not his custom to speak much of what he had done, however. Probably only because he and I were little likely to meet again that he told me this I am free to tell you now.
We had come across one another for the first time for years that afternoon on the Italian Boulevart. Paul had landed a couple of weeks previously at Marseilles from a long yacht-cruise in southern waters, the monotony of which we heard had been agreeably diversified by a little pirate-hunting and slaver-chasing — the evil tongues called it piracy and slave-running; and certainly Devereux was quite equal to either métier; and he was about starting on a promising little filibustering expedition across the Atlantic, where the chances were he would be shot, and the certainty was that he would be starved. So perhaps he felt inclined to be a trifle more communicative than usual, as we sat late that night over a blazing pyre of logs and in a cloud of Cavendish. At all events he was, and after this fashion.
I forget now exactly how the subject was led up to. Expression of some philosophic incredulity on my part regarding certain matters, followed by a ten-minutes’ silence on his side pregnant with unwonted words to come — that was it, perhaps. At last he said, more to himself, it seemed, than to me:
“‘Such stuff as dreams are made of.’ Well, who knows? You’re a Sadducee, Bertie; you call this sort of thing, politely, indigestion. Perhaps you’re right. But yet I had a queer dream once.”
“Not unlikely,” I assented.
“You’re wrong; I never dream, as a rule. But, as I say, I had a queer dream once; and queer because it came literally true three years afterward.”
“Queer indeed, Paul.”
“Happens to be true. What’s queerer still, my dream was the means of my finding a man I owed a long score, and a heavy one, and of my paying him in full.”
“Bad for the payee!” I thought.
Paul’s face had grown terribly eloquent as he spoke those last words. On a sudden the expression of it changed — another memory was stirring in him. Wonderfully tender the fierce eyes grew; wonderfully tender the faint, sad smile, that was like sunshine on storm-scathed granite. That smile transfigured the man before me.
“Ah, poor child — poor Lucille!” I heard him mutter.
That was it, was it? So I let him be. Presently he lifted his head. If he had let himself get the least thing out of hand for a moment, he had got back his self-mastery the next.
“I’ll tell you that queer story, Bertie, if you like,” he said.
The proposition was flatteringly unusual, but the voice was quite his own.
“Somehow I’d sooner talk than think about — her,” he went on after a pause.
I nodded. He might talk about this, you see, but I couldn’t. He began with a question — an odd one:
“Did you ever hear I’d been married?”
Paul Devereux and a wife had always seemed and been to me a most unheard-of conjunction. So I laconically said:
“Well, I was once, years ago. She was my wife — that child — for a week. And then ——”
I easily filled up the pause; but, as it happened, I filled it up wrongly; for he added:
“And then she was murdered.”
I was not unused to our Paul’s stony style of talk; but this last sentence was sufficiently startling.
“Murdered — in her sleep. They never found the man who did it either, though I had Durbec and all the Rue de Jérusalem at work. But I forgave them that, for I found the man myself, and killed him.”
He was filling his pipe again as he told me this, and he perhaps rammed the Cavendish in a little tighter, but that was all. The thing was a matter of course; I knew my Paul, well enough to know that. Of course he killed him.
“Mind you,” he continued, kindling the black brûle-gueule the while —“mind you, I’d never seen this man before, never known of his existence, except in a way that — however, it was this way.”
He let his grizzled head drop back on the cushions of his chair, and his eyes seemed to see the queer story he was telling enacted once more before him in the red hollows of the fire.
“As I said, it was years ago. I was waiting here in Paris for some fellows who were to join me in a campaign we’d arranged against the African big game. I never was more fit for anything of that sort than I was then. I only tell you this to show you that the thing can’t be accounted for by my nerves having been out of order at all.
“Well: I was dining alone that day, at the Café Anglais. It was late when I sat down to my dinner in the little salon as usual. Only two other men were still lingering over theirs. All the time they stayed they bored me so persistently with some confounded story of a murder they were discussing, that I was once or twice more than half-inclined to tell them so. At last, though, they went away.
“But their talk kept buzzing abominably in my head. When the waiter brought me the evening paper, the first thing that caught my eye was a circumstantial account of the probable way the fellow did his murder. I say probable, for they never caught him; and, as you will see directly, they could only suppose how it occurred.
“It seemed that a well-known Paris banker, who was ascertained beyond doubt to have left one station alive and well, and with a couple of hundred thousand francs in a leathern sac under his seat, arrived at the next station the train stopped at with his throat cut and minus all his money, except a few bank-notes to no great amount, which the assassin had been wise enough to leave behind him. The train was a night express on one of the southern lines; the banker travelled quite alone, in a first-class carriage; and the murder must have taken place between midnight and 1 A.M. next morning. The newspapers supposed — rightly enough, I think — that the murderer must have entered the carriage from without, stabbed his victim in his sleep — there were no signs of any struggle — opened the sac, taken what he wanted, and retreated, loot and all, by the way he came. I fully indorsed my particular writer’s opinion that the murderer was an uncommonly cool and clever individual, especially as I fancy he got clear off and was never afterward laid hands on.
“When I had done that I thought I had done with the affair altogether. Not at all. I was regularly ridden with this confounded murder. You see the banker was rather a swell; everybody knew him: and that, of course, made it so shocking. So everybody kept talking about him: they were talking about him at the Opera, and over the baccarat and bouillotte at La Topaze’s later. To escape him I went to bed and smoked myself to sleep. And then a queer thing came to pass: I had a dream — I who never dream; and this is what I dreamed:
“I saw a wide, rich country that I knew. A starless night hung over it like a pall. I saw a narrow track running through it, straight, both ways, for leagues. Something sped along this track with a hurtling rush and roar. This something that at first had looked like a red-eyed devil, with dark sides full of dim fire, resolved itself, as I watched it, presently, into a more conventional night express-train. It flew along, though, as no express-train ever travelled yet; for all that, I was able to keep it quite easily in view. I could count the carriages as they whirled by. One — two — three — four — five — six; but I could only see distinctly into one. Into that one with perfect distinctness. Into that one I seemed forced to look.
“It was the fourth carriage. Two people were in it. They sat in opposite corners; both were sleeping. The one who sat facing forward was a woman — a girl, rather. I could see that; but I couldn’t see her face. The blind was drawn across the lamp in the roof, and the light was very dim; moreover, this girl lay back in the shadow. Yet I seemed to know her, and I knew that her face was very fair. She wore a cloak that shrouded her form completely, yet her form was familiar to me.
“The figure opposite to her was a man’s. Strangely familiar to me too this figure was. But, as he slept, his head had sunk upon his breast, and the shadow cast upon his face by the low-drawn travelling-cap he wore hid it from me. Yet if I had seemed to know the girl’s face, I was certain I knew the man’s. But as I could see, so I could remember, neither. And there was an absolute torture in this which I can’t explain to you — in this inability, and in my inability to wake them from their sleep.
“From the first I had been conscious of a desire to do that. This desire grew stronger every second. I tried to call to them, and my tongue wouldn’t move. I tried to spring toward them, to thrust out my arms and touch them, and my limbs were paralyzed. And then I tried to shut my eyes to what I knew must happen, and my eyes were held open and dragged to look on in spite of me. And I saw this:
“I saw the door of the carriage where these two sleepers, whose sleep was so horribly sound, were sitting — I saw this door open, and out of the thick darkness another face look in.
“The light, as I have said, was very dim, but I could see his face as plainly as I can see yours. A large yellow face it was, like a wax mask. The lips were full, and lustful and cruel. The eyes were little eyes of an evil gray. Thin yellow streaks marked the absence of the eyebrows; thin yellow hair showed itself under a huge fur travelling-cap. The whole face seemed to grow slowly into absolute distinctness as I looked, by the sort of devilish light that it, as it were, radiated. I had chanced upon a good many damnable visages before then; but there was a cold fiendishness about this one such as I had seen on no man’s face, alive or dead, till then.
“The next moment the man this face belonged to was standing in the carriage, that seemed to plunge and sway more furiously, as though to waken them that still slept on. He wore a long fur travelling-robe, girt about the waist with a fur girdle. Abnormally tall and broad as he was, he looked in this dress gigantic. Yet there was a marvellous cat-like lightness and agility about all his movements.
“He bent over the girl lying there helpless in her sleep. I don’t make rash bargains as a rule, but I felt I would have given years of my life for five minutes of my lost freedom of limb just then. I tell you the torture was infernal.
“The assassin — I knew he was an assassin — bent awhile, gloatingly, over the girl. His great yellow hands were both bare, and on the forefinger of the right hand I could see some great stone blazing like an evil eye. In that right hand there gleamed something else. I saw him draw it slowly from his sleeve, and, as he drew it, turn round and look at the other sleeper with an infernal triumphant malignity and hate the Devil himself might have envied. But the man he looked at slept heavily on. And then — God! I feel the agony I felt in my dream then now! — then I saw the great yellow hand, with the great evil eye upon it, lifted murderously, and the bright steel it held shimmer as the assassin turned again and bent his yellow face down closer to that other face hidden from me in the shadow — the girl’s face, that I knew was so fair.
“How can I tell this? . . . The blade flashed and fell. . . . There was the sound of a heavy sigh stifled under a heavy hand. . . .
“Then the huge form of the assassin was reared erect, and the bloated yellow face seemed to laugh silently, while the hand that held the steel pointed at the sleeping man in diabolical menace.
“And so the huge form and the bloated yellow face seemed to fade away while I watched.
“The express rushed and roared through the blinding darkness without; the sleeping man slept on still; till suddenly a strong light fell full upon him, and he woke.
“And then I saw why I had been so certain that I knew him. For as he lifted his head, I saw his face in the strong light.
“And the face was my own face; and the sleeper was myself!”
Paul Devereux made a pause in his queer story here. Except when he had spoken of the girl, he had spoken in his usual cool, hard way. The pipe he had been smoking all the time was smoked out. He took time to fill another before he went on. I said never a word, for I guessed who the sleeping girl was.
“Well,” Paul remarked presently, “that was a devilish queer dream, wasn’t it? You’ll account for it by telling me I’d been so pestered with the story of the banker’s murder that I naturally had nightmare; perhaps, too, that my digestion was out of order. Call it a nightmare, call it dyspepsia, if you like. I don’t, because —— But you’ll see why I don’t directly.
“At the same moment that my dream-self awoke in my dream, my actual self woke in reality, and with the same ghastly horror.
“I say the same horror, for neither then nor afterward could I separate my one self from my other self. They seemed identical; so that this queer dream made a more lasting impression upon me than you’d think. However, in the life I led that sort of thing couldn’t last very long. Before I came back from Africa I had utterly forgotten all about it. Before I left Paris, though, and while it was quite fresh in my memory, I sketched the big murderer just as I had seen him in my dream. The great yellow face, the great broad frame in the fur travelling-robe, the great hand with the great evil eye upon it — everything, carefully and minutely, as though I had been going to paint a portrait that I wanted to make lifelike. I think at the time I had some such intention. If I had, I never fulfilled it. But I made the sketch, as I say, carefully; and then I forgot all about it.
“Time passed — three years nearly. I was wintering in the south of France that year. There it was that I met her — Lucille. Old D’Avray, her father, and I had met before in Algeria. He was dying now. He left the child on his death-bed to me. The end was I married her.
“Poor little thing! I think I might have made her happy — who knows? She used to tell me often she was happy with me. Poor little thing!
“Well, we were to come straight to London. That was Lucille’s notion. She wanted to go to my London first — nowhere else. Now I would rather have gone anywhere else; but, naturally, I let the child have her way. She seemed nervously eager about it, I remembered afterward; seemed to have a nervous objection to every other place I proposed. But I saw or suspected nothing to make me question her very closely, or the reasons for her preference for our grimy old Pandemonium. What could I suspect? Not the truth. If I only had! If I had only guessed what it was that made her, as she said, long to be safe there already. Safe? What had she to fear with me? Ah, what indeed!
“So we started on our journey to England. It was a cold, dark night, early in March. We reached Lyons somewhere about seven. I should have stayed there that night but for Lucille. She entreated me so earnestly and with such strange vehemence to go on by the night-mail to Paris, that at last, to satisfy her, I consented; though it struck me unpleasantly at the time that I had let her travel too long already, and that this feverishness was the consequence of over-fatigue. But she became pacified at once when I told her it should be as she wanted; and declared she should sleep perfectly well in the carriage with me beside her. She should feel quite safe then, she said.
“Safe! Where safer? you might ask. Nowhere, I believe. Alone with me — surely nowhere safer. The Paris express was a short train that night; but I managed to secure a compartment for ourselves. I left Lucille in her corner there while I went across to the buffet to fill a flask. I was gone barely five minutes; but when I came back the change in the child’s face fairly startled me. I had seen it last with the smile it always wore for me on it, looking so childishly happy in the lamp-light. Now it was all gray-pale and distorted; and the great blue eyes told me directly with what.
“Fear — sudden, terrible fear — I thought. But fear? Fear of what? I asked her. She clung close to me half-sobbing awhile before she could answer; and then she told me — nothing. There was nothing the matter; only she had felt a pain — a cruel pain — at her heart; and it had frightened her. Yes, that was it; it had frightened her, but it had passed; and she was well, quite well again now.
“All this time her eyes seemed to be telling me another story; but I said nothing; she was obviously too excited already. I did my best to soothe her, and I succeeded. She told me she felt quite well once more before we started. No, she had rather, much rather go on to Paris, as I had promised her she should. She should sleep all the way, if no one came into the carriage to disturb her. No one could come in? Then nothing could be better.
“And so it was that she and I started that night by the Paris mail.
“I made her up a bed of rugs and wraps upon the cushions; but she had rather rest her head upon my shoulder, she said, and feel my arm about her; nothing could hurt her then. Ah, strange how she harped on that.
“She lay there, then, as she loved best — with her head resting on my shoulder, not sleeping much or soundly; uneasily, with sudden waking starts, and with glances round her; till I would speak to her. And then she would look up into my face and smile; and so drop into that uneasy sleep again. And I would think she was over-tired, that was all; and reproach myself with having let her come on. And three or four hours passed like this; and then we had got as far as Dijon.
“But the child was fairly worn out now; and she offered no opposition when I asked her to let me pillow her head on something softer than my shoulder. So I folded, a great thick shawl she was too well cloaked to need, and she made that her pillow.
“We were rushing full swing through the wild, dark night, when she lifted up her face and bade me kiss her and bid her sleep well. And I put my arm round her, and kissed the child’s loving lips — for the last time while she lived. Then I flung myself on the seat opposite her; and, watching her till she slept soundly and peacefully, slept at last myself also. I had drawn the blind across the lamp in the roof, and the light in the carriage was very dim.
“How long I slept I don’t know; it couldn’t have been more than an hour and a half, because the express was slackening speed for its first halt beyond Dijon. I had slept heavily I knew; but I woke with a sudden, sharp sense of danger that made me broad awake, and strung every nerve in a moment. The sort of feeling you have when you wake on a prairie, where you have come across ‘Indian sign;’ on outpost-duty, when your feldwebel plucks gently at your cloak. You know what I mean.
“I was on my feet at once. As I said, the light in the carriage was very dim, and the shadow was deepest where Lucille lay. I looked there instinctively. She must have moved in her sleep, for her face was turned away from me; and the cloak I had put so carefully about her had partly fallen off. But she slept on still. Only soundly, very soundly; she scarcely seemed to breathe. And — did she breathe?
“A ghastly fear ran through my blood, and froze it. I understood why I had wakened. In my nostrils was an awful odor that I knew well enough. I bent over her; I touched her. Her face was very cold; her eyes glared glassily at me; my hands were wet with something. My hands were wet with blood — her blood!
“I tore away the blind from the lamp, and then I could see that my wife of a week lay there stabbed straight to the heart — dead — dead beyond doubting; murdered in her sleep.”
Devereux’s stern, low voice shook ever so little as he spoke those last words; and we both sat very silent after them for a good while. Only when he could trust his utterance again he went on.
“A curious piece of devilry, wasn’t it? That child — whom had she ever harmed? Who could hate her like this? I remember I thought that, in a dull, confused sort of way, when I found myself alone in that carriage with her lying dead on the cushions before me. Alone with her — you understand? It was confusing.
“I pass over what immediately followed. The express came duly to a halt; and then I called people to me, and — and the Paris express went on without that particular carriage.
“The inquiry began before some local authority next day. Very little came of it. What could come of it, unless they had convicted me of the murder of this child I would have given my own life to save?
“They might have done that at home; but they knew better here, and didn’t. They couldn’t find me the actual assassin, however; though I believe they did their best. All they found was his weapon, which he most purposely have left behind. I asked for this, and got it. It gave their police no clue; and it gave me none. But I had a fancy for it.
“It was a plain, double-edged, admirably-tempered dagger — a very workmanlike article indeed. On the cross hilt of it I swore one day that I would live thenceforth for one thing alone — the discovery of the murderer of old D’Avray’s child, whom I had promised him to care for before all. When I had found this man, whoever he was, I also swore that I would kill him. Kill him myself, you understand; without any of the law’s delay or uncertainty, without troubling bourreau or hangman. Kill him as he had killed her — to do this was what I meant to live for. There was war to the knife between him and me.
“I started, of course, under one heavy disadvantage. He knew me, probably, whereas I didn’t know him at all. When he found that his amiable intention of fixing the crime on me had been frustrated, it must, I imagined, have occurred to him that the said crime might eventually be fixed by me on him. And he had proved himself to be a person who didn’t stick at trifles. It behooved me, therefore, to go to work cautiously. But I hadn’t fought Indians for nothing; and I was very cautious. I waited quiet till I got a clue. It was a curious one; and I got it in this way. It struck me one day, suddenly, that I had heard of a murder precisely similar to this already. I could not at first call the thing to mind; but presently I remembered — my dream. And then I asked myself this: Had not this murder been done before my eyes three years ago?
“I came to the conclusion that the circumstances of the murder in my dream were absolutely identical with the circumstances of the actual crime. Yes; the girl whose face in that dream I had never been able to see was Lucille. Yes; the assassin whose face I had seen so plainly in that dream was the real assassin. In short, I believe that the murder had been rehearsed before me three years previous to its actual committal.
“Now this sounds rather wild. Yet I came to this conviction quite coolly and deliberately. It was a conviction. Assuming it to be true, the odds against me grew shorter directly; for I had the portrait of the man I wanted drawn by myself the day after I had seen him in my dream. And the original of that portrait was a man not to be easily mistaken, supposing him to exist at all. The day I came across that sketch of him in that old forgotten sketch-book of mine, I was as sure he did exist as that I was alive myself. What I had to do was to find this man, and then I never doubted I should find the man I wanted. You see how the odds had shortened. If he knew me I knew him now, and he had no notion that I did know him. It was a good deal fairer fight between us.
“I fought it out alone. My story was hardly one the Rue de Jérusalem would have acted upon; and, besides, I wanted no interference. So, with the portrait before me, I sat down and began to consider who this man was, and why he had murdered that child. The big, burly frame, the heavy yellow face, the sandy-yellow hair, the physiognomy generally, was Teutonic. My man I put down as a North German. Now there were, and are probably, plenty of men who would have no objection whatever to put a knife into me, if they got the chance; but this man, whom I had never met, could have had no such quarrel as theirs with me. His quarrel with me must have been, then, Lucille. Yes, that was it — Lucille. I began to see clearly: a thwarted, devilish passion — a cool, infernal revenge. The child had feared something of this sort; had perhaps seen him that night. This explained her nervous terror, her nervous anxiety to stop nowhere, to travel on. In that carriage of that express-train, alone with me — where could she be safer? This accounted, too, for her anxiety to reach England. He would not dare follow her there, she had thought, or, at least, could not without my noticing him. And then she would have told me. She had not told me before evidently because she had feared for me too, in a quarrel with this man. She must, innocent child as she was, have had some instinctive knowledge of what he was capable. . . . Ay, a cool, infernal revenge, indeed. To kill her; to fix the murder on me. That dagger he had left behind. . . . The apparent impossibility of any one’s entering the carriage as he must have entered it at all, to say nothing of the almost absolute impossibility of his doing so without disturbing either of us — you see it might have gone hard with me if a British jury had had to decide on the case.
“Well, to cut this as short as may be, I made up my mind that the man I wanted was a North German; that he had conceived a hideous passion for Lucille before I knew her; that she had shrunk from it and him so unmistakably, that he knew he had no chance; that my taking her away as my wife, to which he might have been a witness, drove him to as hideous a revenge; that, hearing we were going to England, and seeing that we were likely to stop nowhere on the way, and so give him a chance of doing what he had made up his mind to do, he had decided to do what he had done as he had done it — counting on finding us asleep as he had found us, or on his strength if it came to a fight between him and me; but coolly reckless enough to brave everything in any case. And the devil aiding, he had in great part and only too well succeeded. He was now either so far satisfied that, if I made no move against him — and how, he might think, could I? — he, feeling himself all safe, would let me be; or, on the other hand, he did not feel safe, and was not satisfied, and was arranging for my being disposed of by and by. I considered the latter frame of mind as his most probable one; I went to work cautiously, as I say. I ascertained that Lucille had made no mention of any obnoxious prétendant at any time; I didn’t expect to find she had, her terror of the man was too intense. But this man must have met her somewhere — where?
“When old D’Avray came home to die, his daughter was just leaving her Paris pensionnat. All through his last illness he had seen no visitor but me, and Lucille had never quitted him. Besides, I had been there all the time. I presumed, then, that this man and she had met in Paris; and I believe they were only likely to have met at one of the half-dozen houses where the child would now and again be asked. I got a list of all these. One name only struck me; it happened to be a German name — Steinmetz. I wondered if Monsieur Steinmetz was my man. In the mean time, who was he? I had no trouble in finding that out: Monsieur Steinmetz was a German banker of good standing and repute, reasonably well off, and recently left a widower. Personally? Dame, personally Monsieur Steinmetz was a great man and a fat, with a big face and blond hair, and the appearance of what he really was — a bon vivant and a bon enfant yet n’avait jamais fait de mal à personne — allez! — All, yes; in effect, Madame had died about a year ago, and Monsieur had been inconsolable for a long time. He had changed his residence now, and inhabited a house in one of the new streets off the Champs Elysées.
“From another source I discovered that in the lifetime of Madame Steinmetz Lucille was frequently at the house. She had ceased to come there about the date of the commencement of Madame’s sudden illness. I got this information by degrees, while I lay perdu in an old haunt of mine in the Pays Latin yonder; for I had always had an idea that I should find the man I wanted in Paris. When I had got it, I thought I should like to see Monsieur Steinmetz, the agreeable banker. One night I strolled up as far as his new residence in the street off the Champs Elysées. Monsieur Steinmetz lived on the first-floor. There was a brilliant light there: Monsieur Steinmetz was entertaining friends, it seemed.
“It was a fine night; I established myself out of sight under the doorway of an unfinished house opposite, and waited. I don’t know why; perhaps I fancied that when his friends were gone, the fineness of the night might induce Monsieur Steinmetz to take a stroll, and that then I should be able to gratify my curiosity. You see, I knew that if he were my man, I should know him directly. I waited a good while: shadows crossed the lighted blinds; once a big, broad shadow appeared there, that made me fancy I mightn’t have been waiting for nothing after all, somehow. Presently Monsieur Steinmetz’s guests departed, and in a little while after there appeared on the little balcony of Monsieur Steinmetz’s apartment the man I wanted. There was a moon that night, and the cold white light fell on the great yellow face, with the full lustful lips, and the full cruel chin, just as I had seen the light fall on it in my dream. It was the same face, Bertie; the same face, the same man. I couldn’t be mistaken. I had no doubt; I knew that the assassin of my wife, of that tender, innocent, helpless child, stood there, twenty yards from me, on that balcony.
“I had got myself pretty well in hand; and it was as well. I never moved. The face I knew turned presently toward the spot where I stood hidden — the face I had seen in my dream, beyond all doubting. The evil gray eyes glanced carelessly into the shadow, and up and down the quiet street; and then Monsieur Steinmetz, humming an air, got inside the window again, and closed it after him. Once more the great burly shadow that had at first told me I should not wait in that dark doorway in vain crossed the blinds; and then it disappeared. I saw my man no more that night; but I had seen enough. I knew who he was now, and where to find him.
“As I walked along home I thought what I would do. I quite meant to kill Monsieur Steinmetz; but I also meant to have no démêlés with an Impérial Procureur and the Cour d’Assizes for doing so. I didn’t want to murder him, either. I thought I would wait a little for the chance of a suitable opportunity for settling my business satisfactorily. And I did wait. I turned this delay to account, and got together a case of circumstantial evidence against my man that, though perhaps it might have broken down in a law-court, would have been alone amply sufficient for me.
“The reason why Lucille’s visits to the banker’s house ceased was, it appeared, because Madame Steinmetz had conceived all at once a jealous dislike to her. How far this was owing to Lucille herself I could well understand; but I could understand Madame’s jealousy equally well. Madame’s illness, strangely sudden, dated from the cessation of Lucille’s visits. Was it hard to find a cause for that illness — a cause for the wife’s subsequent suspected death? I thought not. Then had followed Lucille’s departure from Paris. The child’s anxiety for her father hid her other fear from his eyes and mine; but that fear must have been on her then. With us she forgot it in time; yet it or another reason had always prevented all mention of what had occasioned it. She became my wife. At that very time I easily ascertained that Steinmetz was absent from Paris; less easily, but indubitably, that he had, at all events, been as far south as Lyons. At Lyons it must have been that Lucille first discovered he was dogging us. Hence her alarm, which I had remembered, and her anxiety to proceed on our journey without stopping for the night, as I had previously arranged. The morning after the murder Steinmetz reappeared in Paris. From the hour at which he was seen at the gare, it was certain that he had travelled by the night express train in which Lucille and I had started from Lyons; and he wore that morning a travelling-coat of fur in all respects similar to the one I remembered so well.
“If I had ever had any doubt of my man after actually seeing him, I should probably have convinced myself that he was my man by the general tendency of these facts, which I got at slowly and one by one. But I had no need of such evidence; and of course no case, even with such evidence, for a court of law. However, courts of law I had never intended to trouble in the matter.
“The opportunity I was waiting was some time before it offered. Monsieur Steinmetz was a man of regular habits, I found — from his first-floor in the street off the Champs Elysées, every morning at eleven, to the Bourse; thence to his bureau hard by till four; from his bureau to his café, where he read papers and played dominoes till six; and then home slowly by the Boulevarts. He might consider himself tolerably safe from me while he led this sort of life, even supposing he was aware he was incurring any danger. I don’t think he troubled much about that; till one night, when, over the count of the beloved domino-points, his eyes met mine fixed right upon him. I had arranged this little surprise to see how it would affect him.
“Perhaps my gaze may have expressed something more than the mere distraction I intended; but I noticed — though a more indifferent observer might easily have failed to notice — how the great yellow face, expanded in childish interest in the childish game, seemed suddenly to grow gray and harden; how the fat smile became a cruel baring of sharp white teeth; how the fat chin squared itself. The man knew me, and scented danger.
“A moment’s reflection convinced Monsieur Steinmetz, though, that it could be by no means so certain that I knew him; five minutes’ observation of me more than half satisfied him that I did not. Yet what did I want there? What was I doing in Paris? This might concern him nearly, he must have thought.
“I kept my own face in order, and watched his. It wasn’t an easy one to read; but you see I had studied it closely, and in a way he couldn’t have dreamed of. Monsieur Steinmetz was outwardly his wonted self, but inwardly not quite comfortable when he rose; and I saw the evil eye gleam on his great yellow finger as he took out his purse to pay the garçon, just as I had seen it when that finger pointed at myself in my dream. I felt curious sensations, Bertie, as I sat there and looked abstractedly at Monsieur Steinmetz. I wondered how long it would be before —— But my time hadn’t come yet. He went out without another glance at me. I saw his huge form on the other side of the street when I left the café in my turn. This I had expected. Monsieur Steinmetz was naturally curious. It was hardly possible that I could know him; but it was quite certain that he ought to know all about me. So, when I moved on, he moved on; in short, Monsieur Steinmetz dogged me up one street and down another, till he finally dogged me home to my hiding-place in the Pays Latin. He did it very well, too — much better than you would have expected from so apparently unwieldy a mouchard. But I remembered how lightly he could move.
“Next day I had, of course, disappeared from my old quarters, and gone no one knew where. I suppose Monsieur Steinmetz didn’t like this fact when he heard of it. It might have seemed suspicious. Suppose I had recognized him? In that case I had evidently a little game of my own, and was as evidently desirous to keep it dark. He was a cool hand; but I fancy my man began to get a little uneasy. He took some trouble to find me again. After a while I permitted him to do that. Once found, he seemed determined that I should not be lost sight of again for want of watching. I permitted that, too; it helped play my game, and I wanted to bring it to an end. To which intent, Monsieur Steinmetz got to hear from sources best known to himself as much of my plans as should bring him to the state I wanted. That was a murderous state. I wanted to get him to think that I was dangerous enough to be worth putting out of the way. I presume he was aware there were, or would be, weak joints in his armor, impenetrable as it seemed; and he preferred not risking the ordeal of legal battle if he could help it. At all events, he elected at last to rid himself of a person who might be dangerous, and was troublesome, by the shortest and the simplest means.
“I say so because when, believing my man was ripe for this, I left Paris about midday for a certain secluded little spot on the sea-coast, I saw one of Monsieur Steinmetz’s employees on the platform; and because, two days after my arrival in my secluded spot, I met Monsieur Steinmetz in person, newly arrived also. Now this was exactly what I had intended and anticipated. Monsieur Steinmetz had come down there to put me out of his way, if he could. He passed me, leisurely strolling in the opposite direction, humming his favorite aria, bigger and yellower than ever, the evil eye fiery on his finger. His own eyes shot me as evil fire; but he said nothing. . . . I saw he was ripe, though. . . . My time was close at hand.
“It came. Monsieur Steinmetz and I met once more in the very place where I, knowing my ground, had intended we should meet. It was a dip in the cliffs like a hollowed palm, and just there the cliff jutted out a good bit, with a sheer fall on to the rocks below. It was a gray afternoon, at the end of summer. The wind was rising fast; there was a thunder of heavy waves already.
“I think he had been dogging me; but I hadn’t chosen to let him get up to me till now. We were quite out of sight when he had reached the level bottom of the dip, where I had halted — quite out of sight, and quite alone. To do him justice, he came on steadily enough. His face was liker the sketch I had made of it, liker the face I had seen in my dream, than it had ever looked before. Evidently he had made up his mind. . . . At last, then! . . . Well, I had been waiting long! . . . He was close beside me.
“‘Ah! bon jour, cher Monsieur Steinmetz.’
“‘So?’ he said, his little eyes contracting like a cobra’s. ‘Ah! Monsieur knows my name?’
“‘Among other things about you — yes.’
“‘So!’ The yellow face was turning grayer and harder every minute — liker and liker to my likeness of it. ‘And what other things? Has it never appeared to you that this you do, have been doing — this meddling, may be dangerous, hein?’
“He had changed his tone, as he had changed the person in which he addressed me. Yes, he had certainly made up his mind. And his big right hand was hidden inside his waistcoat, so that I could not see the evil eye I knew was on his finger.
“‘Dangerous?’ he repeated slowly.
“‘Ay, surely; I shall crush you!’
“‘In good time; wait. You plot against me. Take care; I am strong; I warn you. There must be an end of this, you understand, or ——’
“He nodded his big head significantly.
“‘You are right,’ I told him; ‘there must be an end. It is coming.’
“‘Yes; I know you. You know me now.’
“‘I know you. What do you want?’
“‘To kill you.’
“‘Yes; as you killed her.’
“‘As I killed her? That is it, then? You know that?’
“‘I know that.’
“‘Well, it is true. I killed her. Now you can guess what I am going to do to you — to you, curse you! — whom she loved.’
[Illustration: “THE GREAT YELLOW FACE LOOKED SILENTLY UP AT ME; AND THEN— THEN IT DISAPPEARED.”]
“The very face I had seen in my dream now, Bertie, the very face! There was something besides the evil eye that gleamed in his right hand when he drew it from his breast. Once more he spoke.
“‘Yes, I killed her. I meant worse for you. You escaped that; but you will not escape me now. Fool! were you mad to do this? Did not I hate you enough? And I would have let you be. Ah, die, then, if you will have it so!’
“His heavy right arm swung high as he spoke, and I saw the sharp steel gleam as it turned to fall. And I twisted from his grip, and caught the falling arm, and bent it till the dagger dropped to the ground. And then, for a fierce, desperate, devilish minute, I had him in my clutch, dragging him nearer the smooth, slippery edge. He was no match for me at this I knew, and he knew; but he held me with the hold of his despair, and I could not loose myself. Both of us together, he meant; but not I. Yet I only freed myself just as he rolled exhausted, but clutching at the tough, short bushes wildly, toward the brink, and partly over it. . . . Only the hold of his hands between him and his death. And I knelt above him, with the knife in my hand that was stained with her blood.
“The great yellow face, ashen now in its mortal agony, looked silently up at me — for three or four awful seconds; and then — then it disappeared.
“Bah!” Paul concluded, “that was the end of it.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57