If there had been no crime, at least something extraordinary had taken place at the chateau; the impassible justice might have been convinced of it, as soon as he had stepped into the vestibule. The glass door leading to the garden was wide open, and three of the panes were shattered into a thousand pieces. The carpeting of waxed canvas between the doors had been torn up, and on the white marble slabs large drops of blood were visible. At the foot of the staircase was a stain larger than the rest, and upon the lowest step a splash hideous to behold.
Unfitted for such spectacles, or for the mission he had now to perform, M. Courtois became faint. Luckily, he borrowed from the idea of his official importance, an energy foreign to his character. The more difficult the preliminary examination of this affair seemed, the more determined he was to carry it on with dignity.
“Conduct us to the place where you saw the body,” said he to Bertaud. But Papa Plantat intervened.
“It would be wiser, I think,” he objected, “and more methodical, to begin by going through the house.”
“Perhaps—yes—true, that’s my own view,” said the mayor, grasping at the other’s counsel, as a drowning man clings to a plank. And he made all retire excepting the brigadier and the valet de chambre, the latter remaining to serve as guide. “Gendarmes,” cried he to the men guarding the gate, “see to it that no one goes out; prevent anybody from entering the house, and above all, let no one go into the garden.”
Then they ascended the staircase. Drops of blood were sprinkled all along the stairs. There was also blood on the baluster, and M. Courtois perceived, with horror, that his hands were stained.
When they had reached the first landing-stage, the mayor said to the valet de chambre:
“Tell me, my friend, did your master and mistress occupy the same chamber?”
“And where is their chamber?”
As he spoke, the valet de chambre staggered back terrified, and pointed to a door, the upper panel of which betrayed the imprint of a bloody hand. Drops of perspiration overspread the poor mayor’s forehead he too was terrified, and could hardly keep on his feet. Alas, authority brings with it terrible obligations! The brigadier, an old soldier of the Crimea, visibly moved, hesitated.
M. Plantat alone, as tranquil as if he were in his garden, retained his coolness, and looked around upon the others.
“We must decide,” said he.
He entered the room; the rest followed.
There was nothing unusual in the apartment; it was a boudoir hung in blue satin, furnished with a couch and four arm-chairs, covered also with blue satin. One of the chairs was overturned.
They passed on to the bed-chamber.
A frightful disorder appeared in this room. There was not an article of furniture, not an ornament, which did not betray that a terrible, enraged and merciless struggle had taken place between the assassins and their victims. In the middle of the chamber a small table was overturned, and all about it were scattered lumps of sugar, vermilion cups, and pieces of porcelain.