Arthur Griffiths.

The Rome Express online

. (page 8 of 9)
Online LibraryArthur GriffithsThe Rome Express → online text (page 8 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


bound, I to her, she to me. What are we to do? How shall we meet
inquiry? _Santissima Donna!_ why did I not risk it, and climb
out like the maid? It was terrible for the moment, but the worst
would have been over, and now - "

There was yet more, scribbled in the same faltering, agitated
handwriting, and from the context the entries had been made in the
waiting-room of the railroad station.

"I must attract her attention. She will not look my way. I want
her to understand that I have something special to say to her, and
that, as we are forbidden to speak, I am writing it herein - that
she must contrive to take the book from me and read unobserved.

"_ Cos petto!_ she is stupid! Has fear dazed her entirely? No
matter, I will set it all down."

Now followed what the police deemed such damaging evidence.

"Countess. Remember. Silence - absolute silence. Not a word as to
who I am, or what is common knowledge to us both. It is done. That
cannot be undone. Be brave, resolute; admit nothing. Stick to it
that you know nothing, heard nothing. Deny that you knew _him_,
or me. Swear you slept soundly the night through, make some
excuse, say you were drugged, anything, only be on your guard, and
say nothing about me. I warn you. Leave me alone. Or - but your
interests are my interests; we must stand or fall together.
Afterwards I will meet you - I _must_ meet you somewhere. If we
miss at the station front, write to me Poste Restante, Grand
Hôtel, and give me an address. This is imperative. Once more,
silence and discretion."

This ended the writing in the note-book, and the whole perusal
occupied Sir Charles from fifteen to twenty minutes, during which
the French officials watched his face closely, and his friend
Colonel Papillon anxiously.

But the General's mask was impenetrable, and at the end of his
reading he turned back to read and re-read many pages, holding the
book to the light, and seeming to examine the contents very
curiously.

"Well?" said the Judge at last, when he met the General's eye.

"Do you lay great store by this evidence?" asked the General in a
calm, dispassionate voice.

"Is it not natural that we should? Is it not strongly,
conclusively incriminating?"

"It would be so, of course, if it were to be depended upon. But as
to that I have my doubts, and grave doubts."

"Bah!" interposed the detective; "that is mere conjecture, mere
assertion. Why should not the book be believed? It is perfectly
genuine - "

"Wait, sir," said the General, raising his hand. "Have you not
noticed - surely it cannot have escaped so astute a police
functionary - that the entries are not all in the same handwriting?"

"What! Oh, that is too absurd!" cried both the officials in a
breath.

They saw at once that if this discovery were admitted to be an
absolute fact, the whole drift of their conclusions must be
changed.

"Examine the book for yourselves. To my mind it is perfectly clear
and beyond all question," insisted Sir Charles. "I am quite
positive that the last pages were written by a different hand from
the first."


CHAPTER XIX

For several minutes both the Judge and the detective pored over
the note-book, examining page after page, shaking their heads, and
declining to accept the evidence of their eyes.

"I cannot see it," said the Judge at last; adding reluctantly, "No
doubt there is a difference, but it is to be explained."

"Quite so," put in M. Floçon. "When he wrote the early part, he
was calm and collected; the last entries, so straggling, so
ragged, and so badly written, were made when he was fresh from the
crime, excited, upset, little master of himself. Naturally he
would use a different hand."

"Or he would wish to disguise it. It was likely he would so wish,"
further remarked the Judge.

"You admit, then, that there is a difference?" argued the General,
shrewdly. "But there is more than a disguise. The best disguise
leaves certain unchangeable features. Some letters, capital G's,
H's, and others, will betray themselves through the best
disguise. I know what I am saying. I have studied the subject of
handwriting; it interests me. These are the work of two different
hands. Call in an expert; you will find I am right."

"Well, well," said the Judge, after a pause, "let us grant your
position for the moment. What do you deduce? What do you infer
therefrom?"

"Surely you can see what follows - what this leads us to?" said Sir
Charles, rather disdainfully.

"I have formed an opinion - yes, but I should like to see if it
coincides with yours. You think - "

"I know," corrected the General. "I know that, as two persons
wrote in that book, either it is not Ripaldi's book, or the last
of them was not Ripaldi. I saw the last writer at his work, saw
him with my own eyes. Yet he did not write with Ripaldi's hand -
this is incontestable, I am sure of it, I will swear it - ergo, he
is not Ripaldi."

"But you should have known this at the time," interjected M.
Floçon, fiercely. "Why did you not discover the change of
identity? You should have seen that this was not Ripaldi."

"Pardon me. I did not know the man. I had not noticed him
particularly on the journey. There was no reason why I should. I
had no communication, no dealings, with any of my fellow
passengers except my brother and the Countess."

"But some of the others would surely have remarked the change?"
went on the Judge, greatly puzzled. "That alone seems enough to
condemn your theory, M. le General."

"I take my stand on fact, not theory," stoutly maintained Sir
Charles, "and I am satisfied I am right."

"But if that was not Ripaldi, who was it? Who would wish to
masquerade in his dress and character, to make entries of that
sort, as if under his hand?"

"Some one determined to divert suspicion from himself to others - "

"But stay - does he not plainly confess his own guilt?"

"What matter if he is not Ripaldi? Directly the inquiry was over,
he could steal away and resume his own personality - that of a man
supposed to be dead, and therefore safe from all interference and
future pursuit."

"You mean - Upon my word, I compliment you, M. le Général. It is
really ingenious! remarkable, indeed! superb!" cried the Judge,
and only professional jealousy prevented M. Floçon from conceding
the same praise.

"But how - what - I do not understand," asked Colonel Papillon in
amazement. His wits did not travel quite so fast as those of his
companions.

"Simply this, my dear Jack," explained the General: "Ripaldi must
have tried to blackmail Quadling, as he proposed, and Quadling
turned the tables on him. They fought, no doubt, and Quadling
killed him, possibly in self-defence. He would have said so, but
in his peculiar position as an absconding defaulter he did not
dare. That is how I read it, and I believe that now these
gentlemen are disposed to agree with me."

"In theory, certainly," said the Judge, heartily. "But oh! for
some more positive proof of this change of character! If we could
only identify the corpse, prove clearly that it is not Quadling.
And still more, if we had not let this so-called Ripaldi slip
through our fingers! You will never find him, M. Floçon, never."

The detective hung his head in guilty admission of this reproach.

"We may help you in both these difficulties, gentlemen," said Sir
Charles, pleasantly. "My friend here, Colonel Papillon, can speak
as to the man Quadling. He knew him well in Rome, a year or two
ago."

"Please wait one moment only;" the detective touched a bell, and
briefly ordered two fiacres to the door at once.

"That is right, M. Floçon," said the Judge. "We will all go to the
Morgue. The body is there by now. You will not refuse your
assistance, monsieur?"

"One moment. As to the other matter, M. le General?" went on M.
Floçon. "Can you help us to find this miscreant, whoever he may
be?"

"Yes. The man who calls himself Ripaldi is to be found - or, at
least, you would have found him an hour or so ago - at the Hotel
Ivoire, Rue Bellechasse. But time has been lost, I fear."

"Nevertheless, we will send there."

"The woman Hortense was also with him when last I heard of them."

"How do you know?" began the detective, suspiciously.

"Psha!" interrupted the Judge; "that will keep. This is the time
for action, and we owe too much to the General to distrust him
now."

"Thank you; I am pleased to hear you say that," went on Sir
Charles. "But if I have been of some service to you, perhaps you
owe me a little in return. That poor lady! Think what she is
suffering. Surely, to oblige me, you will now set her free?"

"Indeed, monsieur, I fear - I do not see how, consistently with my
duty" - protested the Judge.

"At least allow her to return to her hotel. She can remain there
at your disposal. I will promise you that."

"How can you answer for her?"

"She will do what I ask, I think, if I may send her just two or
three lines."

The Judge yielded, smiling at the General's urgency, and shrewdly
guessing what it implied.

Then the three departures from the Prefecture took place within a
short time of each other.

A posse of police went to arrest Ripaldi; the Countess returned to
the Hotel Madagascar; and the Judge's party started for the
Morgue, - only a short journey, - where they were presently received
with every mark of respect and consideration.

The keeper, or officer in charge, was summoned, and came out
bareheaded to the fiacre, bowing low before his distinguished
visitors.

"Good morning, La Pêche," said M. Floçon in a sharp voice. "We
have come for an identification. The body from the Lyons Station
- he of the murder in the sleeping-car - is it yet arrived?"

"But surely, at your service, Chief," replied the old man,
obsequiously. "If the gentlemen will give themselves the trouble
to enter the office, I will lead them behind, direct into the
mortuary chamber. There are many people in yonder."

It was the usual crowd of sightseers passing slowly before the
plate glass of this, the most terrible shop-front in the world,
where the goods exposed, the merchandise, are hideous corpses laid
out in rows upon the marble slabs, the battered, tattered remnants
of outraged humanity, insulted by the most terrible indignities in
death.

Who make up this curious throng, and what strange morbid motives
drag them there? Those fat, comfortable-looking women, with their
baskets on their arms; the decent workmen in dusty blouses, idling
between the hours of work; the riffraff of the streets, male or
female, in various stages of wretchedness and degradation? A few,
no doubt, are impelled by motives we cannot challenge - they are
torn and tortured by suspense, trembling lest they may recognize
missing dear ones among the exposed; others stare carelessly at
the day's "take," wondering, perhaps, if they may come to the same
fate; one or two are idle sightseers, not always French, for the
Morgue is a favourite haunt with the irrepressible tourist doing
Paris. Strangest of all, the murderer himself, the doer of the
fell deed, comes here, to the very spot where his victim lies
stark and reproachful, and stares at it spellbound, fascinated,
filled more with remorse, perchance, than fear at the risk he
runs. So common is this trait, that in mysterious murder cases the
police of Paris keep a disguised officer among the crowd at the
Morgue, and have thereby made many memorable arrests.

"This way, gentlemen, this way;" and the keeper of the Morgue led
the party through one or two rooms into the inner and back
recesses of the buildings. It was behind the scenes of the Morgue,
and they were made free of its most gruesome secrets as they
passed along.

The temperature had suddenly fallen far below freezing-point, and
the icy cold chilled to the very marrow. Still worse was an
all-pervading, acrid odour of artificially suspended animal decay. The
cold-air process, that latest of scientific contrivances to arrest
the waste of tissue, has now been applied at the Morgue to
preserve and keep the bodies fresh, and allow them to be for a
longer time exposed than when running water was the only aid.
There are, moreover, many specially contrived refrigerating
chests, in which those still unrecognized corpses are laid by for
months, to be dragged out, if needs be, like carcasses of meat.

"What a loathsome place!" cried Sir Charles. "Hurry up, Jack! let
us get out of this, in Heaven's name!"

"Where's my man?" quickly asked Colonel Papillon in response to
this appeal.

"There, the third from the left," whispered M. Floçon. "We hoped
you would recognize the corpse at once."

"That? Impossible! You do not expect it, surely? Why, the face is
too much mangled for any one to say who it is."

"Are there no indications, no marks or signs, to say whether it is
Quadling or not?" asked the Judge in a greatly disappointed tone.

"Absolutely nothing. And yet I am quite satisfied it is not him.
For the simple reason that - "

"Yes, yes, go on."

"That Quadling in person is standing out there among the crowd."


CHAPTER XX

M. Floçon was the first to realize the full meaning of Colonel
Papillon's surprising statement.

"Run, run, La Pêche! Have the outer doors closed; let no one leave
the place."

"Draw back, gentlemen!" he went on, and he hustled his companions
with frantic haste out at the back of the mortuary chamber. "Pray
Heaven he has not seen us! He would know us, even if we do not
him."

Then with no less haste he seized Colonel Papillon by the arm and
hurried him by the back passages through the office into the
outer, public chamber, where the astonished crowd stood, silent
and perturbed, awaiting explanation of their detention.

"Quick, monsieur!" whispered the Chief; "point him out to me."

The request was not unnecessary, for when Colonel Papillon went
forward, and, putting his hand on a man's shoulder, saying, "Mr.
Quadling, I think," the police officer was scarcely able to
restrain his surprise.

The person thus challenged was very unlike any one he had seen
before that day, Ripaldi most of all. The moustache was gone, the
clothes were entirely changed; a pair of dark green spectacles
helped the disguise. It was strange indeed that Papillon had known
him; but at the moment of recognition Quadling had removed his
glasses, no doubt that he might the better examine the object of
his visit to the Morgue, that gruesome record of his own fell
handiwork.

Naturally he drew back with well-feigned indignation, muttering
half-unintelligible words in French, denying stoutly both in voice
and gesture all acquaintance with the person who thus abruptly
addressed him.

"This is not to be borne," he cried. "Who are you that dares - "

"Ta! ta!" quietly put in M. Floçon; "we will discuss that fully,
but not here. Come into the office; come, I say, or must we use
force?"

There was no escaping now, and with a poor attempt at bravado the
stranger was led away.

"Now, Colonel Papillon, look at him well. Do you know him? Are you
satisfied it is - "

"Mr. Quadling, late banker, of Rome. I have not the slightest
doubt of it. I recognize him beyond all question."

"That will do. Silence, sir!" This to Quadling. "No observations.
I too can recognize you now as the person who called himself
Ripaldi an hour or two ago. Denial is useless. Let him be
searched; thoroughly, you understand, La Pêche? Call in your other
men; he may resist."

They gave the wretched man but scant consideration, and in less
than three minutes had visited every pocket, examined every secret
receptacle, and practically turned him inside out.

After this there could no longer be any doubt of his identity,
still less of his complicity in the crime.

First among the many damning evidences of his guilt was the
missing pocketbook of the porter of the sleeping-car. Within was
the train card and the passengers' tickets, all the papers which
the man Groote had lost so unaccountably. They had, of course,
been stolen from his person with the obvious intention of impeding
the inquiry into the murder. Next, in another inner pocket was
Quadling's own wallet, with his own visiting-cards, several
letters addressed to him by name; above all, a thick sheaf of
bank-notes of all nationalities - English, French, Italian, and
amounting in total value to several thousands of pounds.

"Well, do you still deny? Bah! it is childish, useless, mere waste
of breath. At last we have penetrated the mystery. You may as well
confess. Whether or no, we have enough to convict you by
independent testimony," said the Judge, severely. "Come, what have
you to say?"

But Quadling, with pale, averted face, stood obstinately mute. He
was in the toils, the net had closed round him, they should have
no assistance from him.

"Come, speak out; it will be best. Remember, we have means to make
you - "

"Will you interrogate him further, M. Beaumont le Hardi? Here, at
once?"

"No, let him be removed to the Prefecture; it will be more
convenient; to my private office."

Without more ado a fiacre was called, and the prisoner was taken
off under escort, M. Floçon seated by his side, one policeman in
front, another on the box, and lodged in a secret cell at the Quai
l'Horloge.

"And you, gentlemen?" said the Judge to Sir Charles and Colonel
Papillon. "I do not wish to detain you further, although there may
be points you might help us to elucidate if I might venture to
still trespass on your time?"

Sir Charles was eager to return to the Hôtel Madagascar, and yet
he felt that he should best serve his dear Countess by seeing this
to the end. So he readily assented to accompany the Judge, and
Colonel Papillon, who was no less curious, agreed to go too.

"I sincerely trust," said the Judge on the way, "that our people
have laid hands on that woman Petitpré. I believe that she holds
the key to the situation, that when we hear her story we shall
have a clear case against Quadling; and - who knows? - she may
completely exonerate Madame la Comtesse."

During the events just recorded, which occupied a good hour, the
police agents had time to go and come from the Rue Bellechasse.
They did not return empty-handed, although at first it seemed as
if they had made a fruitless journey. The Hôtel Ivoire was a very
second-class place, a lodging-house, or hotel with furnished rooms
let out by the week to lodgers with whom the proprietor had no
very close acquaintance. His clerk did all the business, and this
functionary produced the register, as he is bound by law, for the
inspection of the police officers, but afforded little information
as to the day's arrivals.

"Yes, a man calling himself Dufour had taken rooms about midday,
one for himself, one for madame who was with him, also named
Dufour - his sister, he said;" and he went on at the request of the
police officers to describe them.

"Our birds," said the senior agent, briefly. "They are wanted. We
belong to the detective police."

"All right." Such visits were not new to the clerk.

"But you will not find monsieur; he is out; there hangs his key.
Madame? No, she is within. Yes, that is certain, for not long
since she rang her bell. There, it goes again."

He looked up at the furiously oscillating bell, but made no move.

"Bah! they do not pay for service; let her come and say what she
needs."

"Exactly; and we will bring her," said the officer, making for the
stairs and the room indicated.

But on reaching the door, they found it locked. From within?
Hardly, for as they stood there in doubt, a voice inside cried
vehemently:

"Let me out! Help! Help! Send for the police. I have much to tell
them. Quick! Let me out."

"We are here, my dear, just as you require us. But wait; step
down, Gaston, and see if the clerk has a second key. If not, call
in a locksmith - the nearest. A little patience only, my beauty. Do
not fear."

The key was quickly produced, and an entrance effected.

A woman stood there in a defiant attitude, with arms akimbo;
she, no doubt, of whom they were in search. A tall, rather
masculine-looking creature, with a dark, handsome face, bold black
eyes just now flashing fiercely, rage in every feature.

"Madame Dufour?" began the police officer.

"Dufour! Rot! My name is Hortense Petitpré; who are you? _La
Rousse_?" (Police.)

"At your service. Have you anything to say to us? We have come on
purpose to take you to the Prefecture quietly, if you will let us;
or - "

"I will go quietly. I ask nothing better. I have to lay
information against a miscreant - a murderer - the vile assassin
who would have made me his accomplice - the banker, Quadling, of
Rome!"

In the fiacre Hortense Petitpré talked on with such incessant
abuse, virulent and violent, of Quadling, that her charges were
neither precise nor intelligible.

It was not until she appeared before M. Beaumont le Hardi, and was
handled with great dexterity by that practised examiner, that her
story took definite form.

What she had to say will be best told in the clear, formal
language of the official disposition.

The witness inculpated stated:

"She was named Aglaé Hortense Petitpré, thirty-four years of age,
a Frenchwoman, born in Paris, Rue de Vincennes No. 374. Was
engaged by the Contessa Castagneto, November 19, 189 - , in Rome,
as lady's maid, and there, at her mistress's domicile, became
acquainted with the Sieur Francis Quadling, a banker of the Via
Condotti, Rome.

"Quadling had pretensions to the hand of the Countess, and sought,
by bribes and entreaties, to interest witness in his suit. Witness
often spoke of him in complimentary terms to her mistress, who was
not very favourably disposed towards him.

"One afternoon (two days before the murder) Quadling paid a
lengthened visit to the Countess. Witness did not hear what
occurred, but Quadling came out much distressed, and again urged
her to speak to the Countess. He had heard of the approaching
departure of the lady from Rome, but said nothing of his own
intentions.

"Witness was much surprised to find him in the sleeping-car, but
had no talk to him till the following morning, when he asked her
to obtain an interview for him with the Countess, and promised a
large reward. In making this offer he produced a wallet and
exhibited a very large number of notes.

"Witness was unable to persuade the Countess, although she
returned to the subject frequently. Witness so informed Quadling,
who then spoke to the lady, but was coldly received.

"During the journey witness thought much over the situation.
Admitted that the sight of Quadling's money had greatly disturbed
her, but, although pressed, would not say when the first idea of
robbing him took possession of her. (Note by Judge - That she had
resolved to do so is, however, perfectly clear, and the conclusion
is borne out by her acts. It was she who secured the Countess's
medicine bottle; she, beyond doubt, who drugged the porter at
Laroche. In no other way can her presence in the sleeping-car
between Laroche and Paris be accounted for-presence which she does
not deny.)

"Witness at last reluctantly confessed that she entered the
compartment where the murder was committed, and at a critical
moment. An affray was actually in progress between the Italian
Ripaldi and the incriminated man Quadling, but the witness arrived
as the last fatal blow was struck by the latter.

"She saw it struck, and saw the victim fall lifeless on the floor.

"Witness declared she was so terrified she could at first utter no
cry, nor call for help, and before she could recover herself the
murderer threatened her with the ensanguined knife. She threw
herself on her knees, imploring pity, but the man Quadling told
her that she was an eye-witness, and could take him to the
guillotine, - she also must die.

"Witness at last prevailed on him to spare her life, but only on
condition that she would leave the car. He indicated the window as
the only way of escape; but on this for a long time she refused to
venture, declaring that it was only to exchange one form of death
for another. Then, as Quadling again threatened to stab her, she
was compelled to accept this last chance, never hoping to win out
alive.

"With Quadling's assistance, however, she succeeded in climbing
out through the window and in gaining the roof. He had told her to
wait for the first occasion when the train slackened speed to
leave it and shift for herself. With this intention he gave her a
thousand francs, and bade her never show herself again.

"Witness descended from the train not far from the small station


1 2 3 4 5 6 8

Online LibraryArthur GriffithsThe Rome Express → online text (page 8 of 9)