“Bring a rope, Raoul!” I heard Simon call.
Half conscious, I knew that I was being tied. I felt the rope tighten upon my wrists and limbs; presently I opened my aching eyes to find myself trussed like a chicken to two legs of the table. I think it was Jean Petitjean who said something about shooting me, and was knocked down for it. Leroux was yelling like a demoniac. I saw Jacqueline’s terrified face and the trembling old man; and presently Leroux was standing over me again, perfectly calm.
He had taken the pistol from my coat pocket and placed it on the table, and now he took it in his hand and held it under my eyes. The magazine was empty.
“Ah, Paul Hewlett, you are a very poor conspirator, indeed,” he said, “to try to shoot a man without anything in your pistol. Do you remember how affectionately I put my arm round you when you were sitting in that chair writing your ridiculous check? It was then that I took the liberty of extracting the two cartridges. But I did think you would have had sense to examine your pistol and reload before you returned.”
Jacqueline was clinging to him. “Monsieur,” she panted, “you will spare his life? You will unfasten him and let him go?”
“But he keeps coming back,” protested Leroux, wringing his hands in mock dismay.
“Spare him, monsieur, and God will bless you! You cannot kill him in cold blood,” she cried.
“We will talk about that presently, my dear,” he answered. “Go and sit down like a good child. I have something more to ask this gentleman before I make my decision.”
He picked up a scrap of newspaper from the table and held it before my eyes, deliberately turning up the oil-lamp wick that I might read it. I recognized it at once. It was the clipping from the newspaper, descriptive of the murdered man, which I had cut out in the train and placed in my pocketbook.
“You dropped this, my friend, when you pulled out your check-book,” said Simon. “You are a very poor conspirator, Paul Hewlett. Assuredly I would not have you on my side at any price. Well?”
“Well?” I repeated mechanically.
“Who killed him?” he shouted.
He shook the paper before my eyes and then he struck me across the face with it.
“Who killed Louis d’Epernay?” he yelled, and Jacqueline screamed in fear.
“I did,” I answered after a moment.
THE LITTLE DAGGER
Leroux staggered back against the wall and stood there, scowling like a devil. It was evident that my answer had been totally unexpected. I had never seen him under the influence of any overwhelming emotion, and I did not at the time understand the cause of his consternation.
Jacqueline was clinging to her father, and the old man looked from one to the other of us in bewilderment, and shook his white head and mumbled.