The Case of Jean Louis

THE THIRD OF "The Eight Strokes of the Clock"

MAURICE LEBLANC December 1 1921

The Case of Jean Louis

THE THIRD OF "The Eight Strokes of the Clock"

MAURICE LEBLANC December 1 1921

The Case of Jean Louis

MAURICE LEBLANC

THE THIRD OF "The Eight Strokes of the Clock"

THESE eight were told to me in the old days by Arsene Lupin, as though they luid happened to a friend of his named Prince Renine. Ax for me, considering the way in which they were conducted, the actions, the behavior and the very character of the hero, I find it very difficult not to identify the two friends as one and the same person. Arsene Lupin is gifted with a powerful imagination and is guile capable of attributing to himself adventures which are not his at all and of disowning those which are really his. The reader will judge for himself.— M. L.

MONSIEUR." continued the young girl, addressing Serge Renine, “it was while I was spending the Easter holidays at Nice with my father that I made the acquaintance of Jean Louis d’lmbleval ....

Renine interrupted her:

"Excuse me, mademoiselle, but just now you spoke of this young man as Jean Louis Vaurois.” “That’s his name also,” she said.

"Has he two names then?"

“I don't know I don’t know anything about it,” she said, with some embarrassment, “and that is why by Hortense’s advice, I came to ask for your help.”

This conversation was taking place in Renine’s flat on the Boulevard Haussmann, to which Hortense had brought her friend Genevieve Aymard. a slender, pretty little creature with a face overshadowed by an expression of the greatest melancholy.

“Renine will be successful, take my word for it, Genevieve. You will, Renine, won’t you?”

“Please tell me the rest of the story, mademoiselle,” he said.

Genevieve continued: "I was already engaged

at the time to a man whom I loathe and detest.

My father was trying to force me to marry him, and is still trying to do so.

Jean Louis and I felt the keenest sympathy for each other, a sympathy that soon developed into a profound and passionate affection which, I can assure you, was equally sincere on both sides.

On my return to Paris, Jean Louis, who lives in the country with his mother and his aunt, took rooms in our part of the town and, as I am allowed to go out by myself, we used to see each other daily. 1 need not tell you that we were engaged to be married. I told my father so. And this is what he said: T don’t particularly like

the fellow. But, whether it’s he or another, what I want is that you should get married. So let him come and ask for your hand. If not, you must do as I say.’ In the middle of June, Jean Louis went home to arrange matters with his mother and aunt. I received some passionate letters; and then just these few words:

THERE are too many obstacles in the way of our happiness. 1 give up. I am mad with despair. 1 love you more than ever. Goodbye and forgive me.’ “Since then, I have received nothing: no reply to my

letters and telegrams.”

“Perhaps he has fallen in love with somebody else?” asked Renine. “Or there may be some old connection which he is unable to shake off.”

Genevieve shook her head: “Monsieur, believe me. if

our engagement had been broken off for an ordinary reason, I should not have allowed Hortense to trouble you. There’s a mystery in Jean Louis’ life, or rather an endless number of mysteries which hamper and pursue him. 1 never saw such distress in a human face; and. from the first moment of our meeting, I was conscious in him of a grief and melancholy which have always persisted even at times when he was giving himself to our love with the greatest confidence.”

“But your impression must have been confirmed by minor details, by things which happened to strike you as peculiar?”

“1 don’t quite know what to say.”

“Those two names, for instance?”

“Yes, there was certainly that.”

“By what name did he introduce himself to you?" "Jean Louis d’lmbleval.”

“But Jean Louis Vaurois?”

“That’s what my father calls him.”

“Why?”

“Because that was how he was introduced to my father, at Nice, by a gentleman who knew' him. Besides, he carried visiting cards which describe him under either

“Have you never questioned him on this point?” “Yes, I have, twice. The first time, he said that his aunt’s narre was Vaurois and his mother’s d’lmbleval.” “And the second time?”

“He told n.e the contrary; he spoke of his mother as Vaurois and of his aunt as d’Imbleval. I pointed this out. He colored up and I thought it better not to question him any further.”

"Does he live far from Paris?”

“Right down in Brittany: at the Manoir d’Elssven,

five miles from Carhaix.”

“Are you quite certain that he loves you, mademoiselle?” “I am certain of it and I know too that he represents all my life and all my happiness. He alone can save me. If he can’t, then I shall be married in a week’s time to a man whom I hate. I have promised my father; and the banns have been published."

“We shall leave for Carhaix. Madame Daniel and I. this evening,” said Renine.

That evening he and Hortense took the train for Brittany. They reached Carhaix at ten o’clock in the morning; and, after lunch, at half past twelve o’clock they stepped into a car borrowed from a leading resident of the district.

YOU’RE looking a little pale, my dear,” said Renine, with a laugh, as they alighted by the gate of the garden at Elseven.

“I’m very fond of Genevieve,” she said. “She’s the only friend I have. And I’m feeling frightened."

He called her attention to the fact that the central gate was flanked by two wickets bearing the names of Madame d’lmbleval and Madame \ aurois respectively. Each of these wickets opened on a narrow path which ran among the shrubberies of box and aucuba to the left and right of the main avenue. The avenue itself led to an old manor-house,long,low and picturesque, but provided with two clumsily-built, ugly wings each in a different style of architecture and each forming the destination of one of the side-paths. Madame d Imbleval evidently lived on the left and Madame Vaurois on the right.

Hortense and Renine listened Shrill, hasty voices were di pitting inside the house. The sound came through one of the windows of the groundfloor, which was level with the garden and covered throughout its length with red creepers and white roses.

"We can't go any farther,” said Hortense. "It would be indiscreet.”

"All the more reason,” whispered Renine. “Look here: if we walk straight ahead, we

shan’t be seen by the people who are quarrelling.” The sounds of conflict were by no means abating; and, when they reached the window next to the front-door, through the roses and creepers they could both see and hear two old ladies shrieking at the tops of their voices and shaking their fists at each other.

The women were standing in the foreground, in a large dining-room where the table was not yet cleared; and at the farther side of the table sat a young man, doubtless Jean Louis himself smoking his pipe and reading a newspaper, without appearing to trouble about the two old harridans.

One of these, a thin tali woman, was wearing a purple silk diese; and her hair was dressed in a mass of curls much too yellow for the ravaged face around which they tumbled. The other, who was still thinner, but quite short, was bustling round the room in a cotton dressing-gown and displayed a red, painted face blazing with anger:

“A baggage, that’s what you are!" she yelped. “The wickedest woman in the world and a thief into the bargain!”

“What about that business with the ducks at ten francs apiece: don’t you call that thieving?”

“Hold your tongue, you low creature! Who stole the fifty-franc note from my dressing-table? Lord, that I should have to live with such a wretch!”

The other started with fury at the outrage and. addressing the young man, cried:

“Jean, are you going to sit there and let me be insulted by your hussy of a d’lmbleval?’'

“Hussy! Do you hear that, Louis? Look at her, your Vaurois! She's got the airs of a superannuated barmaid! Make her stop, can’t you?”

Suddenly Jean Louis banged his fist upon the table, making the plates and dishes jump, and shouted:

They turned upon him at once and loaded him with

“Coward!. . Hypocrite!. Liar! A pretty sort of son you are! You son of a slut and not much better yourself! . . "

■'HE insults rained down upon him. He stopped his ears with his fingers and writhed as he sat at table like a man who has lost all patience and has need to restrain himself lest he should fall upon his enemy.

"In among all those infuriated people?" protested Hortense.

“Exactly. We shall see them better with their masks off."

And. with a determined step, he walked to the door.

•opened it and entered the room, followed by Hortense.

His advent gave rise to a feeling of stupefaction. The two women stopped yelling, but were still scarlet in the face and trembling with rage. Jean Louis, who was very pale, stood up.

Profiting by the general confusion, Renine said, briskly: “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Prince Renine. This is Madame Daniel. We are friends of Mile. Genevieve Aymard and we have come in her name. I have a letter from her addressed to you, monsieur.”

Jean Louis, already disconcerted by the newcomers’ arrival, lost countenance entirely on hearing the name of Genevieve. Without quite knowing what he was saying and with the intention of responding to Renine’s courteous behaviour, he tried in his turn to introduce the two ladies and let fall the astounding words:

“My mother, Madame d’lmbleval: my mother,

Madame Vaurois.”

FOR some time no one spoke. Renine bowed. Hortense did not know with whom she should first shake hands, with Madame d’lmbleval, the mother, or with Madame Vaurois, the mother. But what happened was that Madame d’lmbleval and Madame Vaurois both at the same time attempted to snatch the letter which Renine was holding out to Jean Louis, while both at the same time mumbled: “Mile. Aymard!. . . She has had the coolness. . . she has had the audacity....!”

Then Jean Louis, recovering his self-possession, laid hold of his mother d’lmbleval and pushed her out of the room by a door on the left and next of his mother Vaurois and pushed her out of the room by a door on the right. Then, returning to his two visitors, be opened the envelope and read, in an undertone:

“I am to be married in a week, Jean Louis. Come to my rescue, I beseech you. My friend Hortense and Prince Renine will help you to overcome the obstacles that baffle you. Trust them. I love you.

GENEVIEVE.”

He was a rather dull-looking young man, whose very swarthy, lean and bony face certainly bore the expression of melancholy and distress described by Genevieve. Indeed, the marks of suffering were visible in all his harassed features, as well as is his sad and anxious eyes.

“Take my word for it, monsieur,” declared Renine, “that it is in your best interests to confide in us. We are Genevieve Aymard’s friends. Do not hesitate to speak.” “I can hardly hesitate,” he said, “after what you have just heard. This is the life I lead, monsieur. I will tell you the whole secret, so that you may tell it to Genevieve. She will then understand why I have not gone back to her. . . and why I have not the right to do so.”

HE PUSHED a chair forward for Hortense. The two men sat down, and, without any need of further persuasion, rather as though he himself felt a certain relief in unburdening himself, he said.

“You must not be surprised, monsieur, if I tell my story ■with a certain flippancy, for, as a matter of fact, it is a frankly comical story and cannot fail to make you laugh. Fate often amuses itself by playing these imbecile tricks, these monstrous farces which seem as though they must have been invented by the brain of a madman or a drunkard. Judge for yourself. Twenty-seven years ago, the Manoir d’Elseven, which at that consisted only of the main building, was occupied by an old doctor who, to increase his modest means, used to receive one or two paying guests. In this way, Madame d’lmbleval spent the summer here one year and Madame Vaurois tbe following summer. Now these two ladies did not know each other. One of them was married to a Breton captain of a merchantvessel and the other to a commercial traveller from the Vendee. It so happened that they lost their husbands at the same time, at a period when each of them was expecting a baby. And, as they both lived in the country, at places some distance from any town, they wrote to the old doctor that they intended to come to his house for their confinement.... He agreed. They arrived almost on the same day, in the autumn. Two small bedrooms were prepared for them behind the room in which we are sitting. The doctor had engaged a nurse, who slept in this very room. Everything was perfectly satisfactory.

‘‘'J'HIS is the funniest, yarn 1 have ever written," Arthur Stringer wrote the Editor of MACLEAN’S, in forwarding his fact-masterpiece entitled ‘‘The Author and the Cow-Catcher," which will greet you in the leading position of the December 15th issue. This article describes the mental and physical reactions when a prominent and plump writer finally is persuaded to ride on a cow-catcher through the roughest of the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Stringer’s article is accompanied by some extraordinary, typical pictures from the brush of H. Weston Taylor. You who it may expect to have the tears roll down your cheeks. Honestly!

Thel ladies were getting on together splendidly. They were determined that their children should be boys and had chosen the names of Jean and Louis respectively.

“One evening the doctor was called out to a case and drove off in his gig with the man-servant, saying that he would not be back till next day. In her master’s absence, a little girl who served as maid-of-all-work ran out to keep company with her sweetheart. These accidents destiny turned to account with diabolical malignity. At about midnight, Madame d’lmbleval was seized with the first pains The nurse, Mile. Boussignol, had had some training as a midwife and did not lose her head. But, an hour later, Madame Vaurois’ turn came;

ajid the tragedy, or I might rather say the tragi-comedy, was enacted amid the screams and moans of the two patients and the bewildered agitation of the nurse runningfrom one to the other, bewailing her fate, opening the window to call out for the doctor or falling on her knees to implore the aid of Providence. . . Madame Vaurois was the first to bring a son into the world. Mile. Boussignol hurriedly carried him in here, washed and tended him and laid him in the cradle prepared for him . . . But Madame d’lmbleval was screaming with pain; and the nurse had to attend to her while the new-born child was yelling like a stuck pig and the terrified mother, unable to stir from her bed, fainted .... Add to this all the wretchedness of darkness and disorder, the only lamp, without any oil, for the servant had neglected to fill it, the candles burning out, the moaning of the wind, the screeching pf the owls, and you will understand that Mile. Boussignol was scared out of her wits.

“However, at five o’clock in the morning, after many tragic incidents, she came in here with the d’lmbleval baby, likewise a boy, washed and tended him, laid him in his cradle and went off to help Madame Vaurois, who had come to herself and was crying out, while Madame d’lmbleval had fainted in her turn. And, when Mile. Boussignol, having settled the two mothers, but half-crazed with fatigue, her brain, in a whirl, returned to the new-born children, she realized with horror that she had wrapped them in similar binders, thrust their feet into similar woolen socks and laid them both, side by side, in the same cradle, so that it was impossible to tell Louis d’lmbleval from Jean Vaurois!. .. .To make matters worse, when she lifted one of them out of the cradle, she found that his hands were cold as ice and that he had ceased to breathe He was dead. What was his name and what the survivor’s? ....

“Three hours later, the doctor found the two women in a condition of frenzied delirium, while the nurse was dragging herself from one bed to the other, entreating the two mothers to forgive her. She held me out first to one, them to the other, to receive their caresses—for I was the surviving child—and they first kissed me and then pushed me away; for, after all, who was I? The son of the widowed Madame d’lmbleval and the late merchant-captain or the son of the widowed Madame Vaurois and the late commercial traveller? There was not a clue by which they could tell. The doctor begged each of the two mothers to sacrifice her rights, at least from the legal point of view, so that I might be called either Louis d’lmbleval or JeanVaurois. They refused absolutely. ‘Why Jean Vaurois, if he’s a d’lmbleval?’ protested the one. ‘Why Louis d’lmbleval, if he’s a Vaurois?’ retorted the other. And I was registered under the name of Jean Louis, the son of an unknown father and mother.”

PRINCE RENINE had listened in silence. But Hortense, as the story approached its conclusion, had given way to a hilarity which she could no longer restrain and suddenly, in spite of all her efforts, she burst into a fit of the wildest laughter:

“Forgive me,” she said, her eyes filled with tears, “do forgive me; it’s too much for my nerves. . ..” “Don’t apologize, madame,” said the young man, gently, in a voice free from resentment. “I warned you that my story was laughable; I, better than any one, know how absurd, how nonsensical it is. Yes, the whole thing is perfectly grotesque. But believe me when I tell you that it was no fun in reality. It seems a humorous situation and it remains humorous'by the force of circumstances; but it is also horrible. You can see that for yourself, can’t you? The two mothers, neither of whom was certain of being a mother, but neither of whom was certain that she was not one, both clung to Jean Louis. ’ He might be a stranger; on the other hand, he might be their own flesh and blood. They loved him to

excess and fought (or him furiously. And, above all, they both came to hate each other with a deadly hatred. Differing completely in charatcer and education and obliged to live together because neither was willing to forego the advantage of her possible maternity, they lived the life of irreconcilable enemies who can never lay their weapons aside I grew up in the midst of this hatred and had ft instilled into me by both of them. When my childish heart, hungering for affection, inclined me to one of them, the other would seek to inspire me with loathing and contempt for her. In this manor-house, which they bought on the old doctor’s death and to which they added the two wings, I was their involuntary torturer and their daily victim. Tormented as a child, and, as a young man, leading the most hideous of lives, I doubt if any one on earth ever suffered more than I did.”

“You ought to have left them!” exclaimed Hortense, who had stopped laughing.

“One can’t leave one’s mother; and one of those two women was my mother. And a woman can’t abandon her son; and each of them was entitled to believe that I was her son. We were all three chained together like convicts, with chains of sorrow, compassion, doubt and also of hope that the truth might one day become apparent. And there was no escaping it. I tried often enough.... but in vain. The broken bonds became tied again. Only this summer, under the stimulus of my love for Genevieve, I tried to free myself and did my utmost to persuade the two women whom I call mother. And then.... and then! I was up against their complaints, their immediate hatred of the wife, of the stranger, whom I was proposing to force upon them.... I gave way. What sort of life would Genevieve have had here, between Madame d’lmbleval and Madame Vaurois? I had no right to victimize her.”

JEAN LOUIS, who had been gradually becoming excited, uttered these last words in a firm voice, as though he would have wished his conduct to be ascribed to conscientious motives and a sense of duty. In reality, as Renine and Hortense clearly saw, his was an unusually weak nature, incapable of reacting against a ridiculous position from which he had suffered ever since he was a child and which he had come to look upon as final and irremediable.

He sat down to a writing-table and quickly wrote ja letter which he handed to Renine.

“Would you be kind enough to give this note to Mile. Aymard and beg her once more to forgive me?”

Renine did not move and, when the other pressed the letter upon him, he took it and tore it up.

“What does this mean?” asked the young man.

“It means that I will not charge myself with any mes-

“Why?”

“Because you are coming with us.”

‘T?” the young man replied in amazement, looking up.

“Yes. You will see Mlle. Aymard to-morrow, and ask for her hand in marriage.”

Jean Louis looked at Renine with a rather disdainful air, as though he were thinking: “Here’s a man who has

not understood a word of what I’ve been explaining to

But Hortense went up to Renine: “Why do you say

that?”

‘Tecause it will be as I say.”

“But you must have your reasons?”

“Only one: but it will be enough, provided this gentle-

man is so kind as to help me in my inquiries.”

“Enquiries? With what object?” asked the young

“With the object of proving that your story is not quite accurate.”

Jean Louis took umbrage at this: “I must ask you to

believe, monsieur, that I have not said a word which is not the exact truth.”

“I expressed myself badly,” said Renine, with great kindliness. “Certainly you have not said a word that does not agree with what you believe to be the exact truth. But the truth is not, cannot be, what you believe it to be.”

The young man folded his arms: “In any case, mon-

sieur, it seems likely that I should know the truth better than you do."

“Why better? What happened on that tragic night can obviously be known to you only at second-hand. You have no proofs. Neither have Madame dTmbleval and Madame Vaurois.”

“No proofs of what?” exclaimed Jean Louis, losing patience.

“No proofs of the confusion that took place."

“What’ Why, it’s an absolute certainty! The two children were laid in the same cradle, with no marks to distinguish one from the other; and the nurse was unable to tell. .”

“At least, that’s her version of it,” interrupted Re-

“What’s that? Her version? But you’re accusing the woman.”

“I’m accusing her of nothing.”

“Yes you are; you're accusing her of lying. And why should she lie? She had no interest in doing so; and her tears and despair are so much evidence of her good faith. For, after all, the two mothers were there. . they saw the woman weeping. .. they questioned her .. .And then, I repeat, what interest had she. ...?"

JEAN LOUIS was greatly excited.

Close beside him, Madame dTmbleval and Madame Vaurois, who had no doubt been listening behind the doors and who had stealthily entered the room, stood stammering, in amazement: “No, no it’s impossible. . . .

We’ve questioned her over and over again. Why should

she tell a lie?. It is impossible. I can never believe—"

“Speak, monsieur, speak,” Jean Louis enjoined. “Explain yourself. Give your reasons for trying to cast doubt upon an absolute truth!”

“Because that truth is inadmissible,” declared Renine, raising his voice and growing excited in turn to the point of punctuating his remarks by thumping the table. “No, things don’t happen like that. No, fate does not display those refinements of cruelty, and chance is not added to chance with such reckless extravagance! It was already an unprecedented chance that, on the very night on which the. doctor, his man-servant and his maid were out of the house, the two ladies should be seized with labor-pains at the same hour and should bring two sons into the world at the same time. Don’t let us add a still more exceptional event! Enough of the uncanny! Enough of lamps that go out and candles that refuse to burn! No and again no, it is not admissible that a midwife should become confused in the essential details of her trade. However bewildered she may be by the unforeseen nature of the circumstances, a remnant of instinct is still on the alert, so that there is a place prepared for each child and each is kept distinct from the other. The first child is here, the second is the e. Even if they are lying side by side, one is on the left and the other on the right. Even if they are wrapped in the same kind of binders, some little detail differs, a trifle which is recorded by the memory and which is inevitably recalled to the mind without any need of reflection. Confusion? I refuse to believe in it. Impossible to tell one from the other? It isn’t true. In the world of fiction, yes, one can imagine all sorts of fantastic accidents and heap contradiction on contradiction. But, in the world of reality, at the very heart of reality, there is always a fixed point, a solid nucleus, about which the facts group themselves in accordance with a logical order.. I therefore declare most positively that Nurse Boussignol could not have mixed up the two children.”

A LL THIS he said decisively, as though he had been -*■A. present during the night in question; and so great was his power of persuasion that from the very first he shook the certainty of those who for more than a quarter of a century had never doubted.

The two women and their son pressed round him and questioned him with breathless anxiety: “Then you think

that she may know that she may be able to tell us.. . ?”

He corrected himself: “I don’t say yes and I don’t

say no. All I say is that there was something in her behaviour during those hours that does not tally with her statements and with reality. All the vast and intolerable mystery that has weighed down upon you three arises not from a momentary lack of attention but from something of which we do not know, but of which she does. That is what I maintain; and that is what happened.”

•Jean Louis said, in a husky voice: "She is alive... She

lives at Carhaix. .. .We can send for herV Hortense at once proposed: “Would you

go for her? I will take the motor and bring her 1 me. Where does she live?”

“In the middle of the town, at a little draper’s shop. The chauffeur will show you. Mile. Boussignol; everybody knows her. . . .”

“And, whatever you do,” added Renine. “don’t warn her in any way. If she's uneasy, so much the better. But don’t let her know what we want with her.” Twenty minutes passed in absolute silence. Reninepaced the room, in which the fine old furniture, the handsome tapestries, the well-bound books and pretty knickknacks denoted a love of art and a seeking after style in Jean Louis. This room was really his. In the adjoining apartments on either side, through the open doors, Renine was able to note the bad taste of the two mothers.

He went up to Jean Louis and, in a low voice, asked.. “Are they well off?”

“‘And you?”

‘They settled the manor-house upon me, with all the hand around it, which makes me quite independent.” “Have they any relations?”

“Sisters, both of them.”

“With whom they could go to live?”

“Yes; and they have sometimes thought of doing so. But there can’t be any question of that. Once more, I assure you...”

MEANTIME the car had returned. The two women jumped up hurriedly, ready to speak.

“Leave it to me,” said Renine, “and don’t be surprised by anything that I say. It’s not a matter of asking her questions but of frightening her, of flurrying her. . . The sudden attack,” he added between his teeth.

The car drove round the lawn and drew up outside the windows. Hortense sprang out and helped an old woman to alight, dressed in a fluted linen cap, a black velvet bodice and a heavy gathered skirt.

The old woman entered in a great state of alarm. She had a pointed face, like a weasel’s, with a prominent mouth full of protruding teeth.

“What's the matter, Madame dTmbleval!” she asked, timidly stepping into the room from which the doctor had once driven her. “Good day to you, Madame Vaurois.” The ladies did not reply.

Renine came forward and said, sternly: “Mile. Bous-

signol, I have been sent by the Paris police to throw light upon a tragedy which took place here twenty-seven years ago. I have just secured evidence that you have distorted the truth and that, as the result of your false declarations, the birth-certificate of one of the children horn in the course of that night is inaccurate. Now false declarations in matters of birth-certificates are misdemeanors punishable by law.

I shall therefore be obliged to take you to Paris to be interrogated, unless you are prepared here and now to confess everything that might repair the consequences of your of-

The old maid was shaking in every limb. Her teeth were chattering. She was evidently incapable of opposing the least resistance to Renine.

“Are you ready to confess everything?” he asked.

“Yes,” she panted.

“Without delay? I have to catch a train. The business must be settled immediately. If you show the least hesitation. I take you with me. Have you made up your mind to

“Yes"

He pointed to Jean Louis: "Whose

son is this gentleman? Madame d’Imbleval’s?"

"No."

“Madame Vaurois', therefore?” “No."

A stupefied silence welcomed the

two replies.

"Explain yourself,” Renine commanded, looking at his watch.

Then Madame Boussignol fell on her knees and said, in so low and dull a voice that they had to bend over her in order to catch the sense of what she was mumbling:

“Some one came in the evening a gentleman with a new-born baby, wrapped in blankets, which he wanted the doctor to look after. As the doctor wasn’t there, he waited all night and it was he w ho did it nil.”

Cont in uni on page 48

Continued from page 23

"Did what?” asked Renine. “What did he do? What happened?”

“Well, what happened was that it was not one child but the two of them that died : Madame d’lmbleval’s and Madame Vaurois’ too, both in convulsions. Then the gentleman, seeing this, said, ‘This shows me where my duty lies. I must seize this opportunity of making sure that my own boy shall be happy and well cared for. Put him in the place of one of the dead children.’ He offered me a big sum of money, saying that this one payment would save him the expense of providing for his child every month; and I accepted. Only, I did not know in whose place to put him and whether to say that the boy was Louis d’lmbleval or Jean Vaurois. The gentleman thought a moment and said neither. Then he explained to me what I was to do and what I was to say after he had gone. And, while I was dressing his boy in vest and binders the same asoné of the dead children, he wrapped the other in the blankets he had brought with him and went out into the night.”

Mile. Boussignol bent her head and wept. After a moment, Renine said: “Your deposition agrees with the result of my investigations.”

“Can I go?”

“Yes.”

“And is it over, as far as I’m concerned? They won't be talking about this all over the district?”

“No. Oh, just one more question: do you know the man’s name?”

“No. He didn’t tell me his name.” “Have you ever seen him since?” “Never.”

“Have you anything more to say?” “No.”

“Are you prepared to sign the written text of your confession?”

“Yes.”

“Very well. I shall send for you in a week or two. Till then, not a word to

anybody.”

L_I E SAW her to the door and closed it after her. When he returned, Jean Louis was between the two old ladies and all three were holding hands. The bond of hatred and wretchedness which had

hound them had suddenly snapped; and this rupture, without requiring them to reflect upon the matter, filled them with a gentle tranquillity of which they were hardly conscious, but which made them serious and thoughtful.

“Let’s rush things,” said Renine to Hortense. “This is the decisive moment of the battle. We must get Jean Louis on board.”

Hortense seemed preoccupied. She whispered: “Why did you let the woman

go? Were you satisfied with her state-

“I don’t need to be satisfied. She told us what happened. What more do you want?”

“Nothing. ... I don’t know...”

^ “We’ll talk about it later, my dear. For the moment, I repeat, we must get Jean Louis on board. And immediately Otherwise . . .”

He turned to the young man: “You

agree with me, don’t you, that, things being as they are, it is best for you and Madame Vaurois and Madame d’lmbleval to separate for a time? That will enable you all to see matters more clearly and to decide in perfect freedom what is to be done. Come with us, monsieur. The most pressing thing is to save Genevieve Aymard, your fiancee.”

^•Jeaii Louis stood perplexed and unde-

Renine turned to the two women: “That is your opinion too, I am sure, ladies?”

They nodded.

“You see, monsieur,” he said to Jean Louis, “we are all agreed. In great crises, there is nothing like separation... a few^days’ respite. Quickly now, mon-

And, without giving him time to hesitate, he drove him towards his bedroom to pack up.

Half an hour later, Jean Louis left the manor-house with his new friends.

“ A ND he won’t go back until he’s TT married,” said Renine to Hortense, as they were waiting at Carhaix station, to which the car had taken them, while Jean Louis was attending to his luggage.

“Everything’s for the best. Are you satisfied?”

“Yes. Genevieve will be glad," she replied, absently.

When they had taken their seats in the train, Renine and she repaired to the din-

Renine, who had asked Hortense several questons to which she had replied only in monosyllables, protested: “What’s the matter with you, my child? You look worried!”

“I? Not at all!”

“Yes, yes, I know you. Now, no secrets, no mysteries!”

She smiled: “Well, since you insist

on knowing if I am satisfied, I am bound to admit that of course I am. as regards my friend Genevieve, but that, in another respect—from the point of view of the adventure—I have an uncomfortable sort of feeling. . ”

“To speak frankly, I haven’t ’staggered’ you this time?”

“Not very much.”

“I seem to you to have played a secondary part. For, after all, what have I done? We arrived. We listened to Jean Louis’ tale of woe. I had a midwife fetched. And that was all.”

“Exactly. I want to know if that wax all; and I’m not quite sure. To tell you the truth, our other adventures left behind them an impression which was-how shall I put it?—more definite, clearer.”

“And this one strikes you as obscure?” “Obscure, yes, and incomplete.”

“But in what way?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps it has something to do with that woman’s confession. Yes, very likely that is it. It was all so unexpected and so short.”

“Well, of course, I cut it short, as you could readily imagine!” said Renine. laughing. “We didn’t want too many explanations.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why, if she had given her explanations with too much detail, we should have ended by douhting what she was telling us.”

“By doubting it?”

“Well, hang it all, the story is a trifle far-fetched! That fellow arriving at night with a live baby in his pocket, and going away with a dead one; the thing hardly holds water. But you see, my dear, I hadn’t much time to coach the unfortunate woman in her part.”

Hortense stared at him in amazement “What on earth do you mean?”

“Well, you know how dull-witted these country-women are. And she and I had no time to spare. So we worked out a little scene in a hurry . and she really didn’t act it so badly. It was all in the right key: terror, tremolo, tears. ..”

“Is it possible?” murmured Hortense. “Is it possible? You had seen her before-

“I had to, of course.”

“But when?”

THIS morning, when we arrived. While you were titivating yourself at the hotel at Carhaix, I was running round to see what information I could pick up. As you may imagine, everybody in the district knows the dTmbleval-Vourois story. I was at once directed to the former midwife, Mile. Boussignol. With Mile. Boussignol it did not take long. Three minutes to settle a new version of what had happened and ten thousand francs to.induce her to repeat that... more or less credible .... version to the people at the manorhouse.”

“A quite incredible version!”

“Not so bad as all that, my child, seeing that you believed it... . and the others too. And that was the essential thing. What I had to do was to demolish at one blow a truth which had been twentyseven years in existence and which was all the more firmly established because it was founded on actual facts. That was why I went for it with all my might and attacked it by sheer force of eloquence. Impossible to identify the children? I deny it. Inevitable confusion? It’s not true. ‘You’re all three,’ I say, ‘the victim of something which I don’t know but which it is your duty to clear up!’ ‘That’s easily done,’ says Jean Louis, whose conviction is at once shaken. ‘Let’s send for Mile. Boussignol.’ ‘Right! Let’s send for her.’ Whereupon Mile. Boussigno! arrives and mumbles out the little speech I have taught her. Sensation! General stupefaction.... of which I take advantage to carry off oqr young man!” Hortense shook her head: “But they'll

get over it. all three of them, on thinking!"

“Never! Never! They will have their doubts, perhaps. But they will never consent to feel certain! They will never agree to think! Use your imagination! Here are three people whom I have rescued from the hell in which they have been floundering for a quarter of a century. Do you think they’re going back to it? Here are three people who, from weakness or a false sense of duty, had not the courage to escape. Do you think they won’t cling like grim death to the liberty which I’m giving them? Nonsense ! Why, they would have swallowed a hoax twice as difficult to digest as that which Mile. Boussignol dished up for them! After all, my version was no more absurd than the truth. On the contrary. And they swallowed it whole! Look at this: before

we left, I heard Madame d’lmbleval and Madame Vaurois speak of an immediate removal. They are already becoming quite affectionate at the thought of seeing the last of each other.’’

“But what about Jean Louis?”

“ JEAN LOUIS? Why, he was fed up with his two mothers! By Jingo, one can’t do with two mothers in a lifetime! What a situation! And when one has the luck to be able to choose between having two mothers or none at all, why, bless me, one doesn’t hesitate! And, besides, Jean Louis is in love with Genevieve.” He laughed. “And he loves her well enough, I hope and trust, not to inflict two mothers-in-law upon her! Come, you may be easy in your mind. Your friend’s happiness is assured; and that is all you asked for. All that matters is the object which we achieve and not the more or

less peculiar nature of the methods which we employ. And, if some adventures are wound up and some mysteries elucidated by looking for and finding cigarette-ends, or incendiary water-bottles and blazing hat-boxes as on our last expedition, others call for psychology and for purely psychological solutions. I have spoken, And I charge you to be silent.”

“Silent?”

“Yes, there’s a man and woman sitting behind us who seem to be saying something uncommonly interesting.”

“But they’re talking in whispers.” “Just so. When people talk in whispers, it’s always about something shady.” He lit a cigarette and sat back in his chair. Hortense listened, but in vain. As for him, he was emitting little slow puffs of smoke.

Fifteen minutes later, the train stopped and the man and woman got out.

“Pity,” said Renine, “that I don’t know their names or where they’re going. But I know where to find them. My dear, we have a new adventure before us.” Hortense protested: “Oh, no, please,

not yet!.... Give me a little rest! And oughtn’t we to think of Genevieve?” He seemed greatly surprised;

“Why, all that’s over and done with! Do you mean to say you want to waste any more time over that old story? Well, I for my part confess that I’ve lost all interest in the man with the two mammas.” And this was said in such a comical tone and with such diverting sincerity that Hortense was once more seized with a fit of giggling. Laughter alone was abl to relax her exasperated nerves and to distract her from so many contradictory emotions.