Read CHAPTER XXV - THE MOVING PICTURE of Through the Wall, free online book, by Cleveland Moffett, on ReadCentral.com.

“Are you feeling better?” asked the judge an hour later when the accused was led back.

“Yes,” answered Groener with recovered self-possession, and again the detective noticed that he glanced anxiously at the clock. It was a quarter past eleven.

“We will have the visual test now,” said Hauteville; “we must go to another room. Take the prisoner to Dr. Duprat’s laboratory,” he directed the guard.

Passing down the wide staircase, strangely silent now, they entered a long narrow passageway leading to a remote wing of the Palais de Justice. First went the guard with Groener close beside him, then twenty paces, behind came M. Paul and the magistrate and last came the weary clerk with Maitre Cure. Their footsteps, echoed ominously along the stone floor, their shadows danced fantastically before them and behind them under gas jets that flared through the tunnel.

“I hope this goes off well,” whispered the judge uneasily. “You don’t think they have forgotten anything?”

“Trust Papa Tignol to obey orders,” replied Coquenil. “Ah!” he started and gripped his companion’s arm. “Do you remember what I told you about those alleyway footprints? About the pressure marks? Look!” and he pointed ahead excitedly. “I knew it, he has gout or rheumatism, just touches that come and go. He had it that night when he escaped from the Ansonia and he has it now. See!”

The judge observed the prisoner carefully and nodded in agreement. There was no doubt about it, as he walked Groener was limping noticeably on his left foot!

Dr. Duprat was waiting for them in his laboratory, absorbed in recording the results of his latest experiments. A kind-eyed, grave-faced man was this, who, for all his modesty, was famous over Europe as a brilliant worker in psychological criminology. Bertillon had given the world a method of identifying criminals’ bodies, and now Duprat was perfecting a method of recognizing their mental states, especially any emotional disturbances connected with fear, anger or remorse.

Entering the laboratory, they found themselves in a large room, quite dark, save for an electric lantern at one end that threw a brilliant circle on a sheet stretched at the other end. The light reflected from this sheet showed the dim outlines of a tiered amphitheater before which was a long table spread with strange-looking instruments, electrical machines and special apparatus for psychological experiments. On the walls were charts and diagrams used by the doctor in his lectures.

“Everything ready?” inquired the magistrate after an exchange of greetings with Dr. Duprat.

“Everything,” answered the latter. “Is this the er the subject?” he glanced at the prisoner.

Hauteville nodded and the doctor beckoned to the guard.

“Please bring him over here. That’s right in front of the lantern.” Then he spoke gently to Groener: “Now, my friend, we are not going to do anything that will cause you the slightest pain or inconvenience. These instruments look formidable, but they are really good friends, for they help us to understand one another. Most of the trouble in this world comes because half the people do not understand the other half. Please turn sideways to the light.”

For some moments he studied the prisoner in silence.

“Interesting, ve-ry interesting,” murmured the doctor, his fine student’s face alight. “Especially the lobe of this ear! I will leave a note about it for Bertillon himself, he mustn’t miss the lobe of this ear. Please turn a little for the back of the head. Thanks! Great width! Extraordinary fullness. Now around toward the light! The eyes ah! The brow excellent! Yes, yes, I know about the hand, he nodded to Coquenil, but the head is even more remarkable. I must study this head when we have time ve-ry remarkable. Tell me, my friend, do you suffer from sudden shooting pains here, over your eyes?”

“No,” said Groener.

“No? I should have thought you might. Well, well!” he proceeded kindly, “we must have a talk one of these days. Perhaps I can make some suggestions. I see so many heads, but not many like yours, no, no, not many like yours.”

He paused and glanced toward an assistant who was busy with the lantern. The assistant looked up and nodded respectfully.

“Ah, we can begin,” continued the doctor. “We must have these off,” he pointed to the handcuffs. “Also the coat. Don’t be alarmed! You will experience nothing unpleasant nothing. There! Now I want the right arm bare above the elbow. No, no, it’s the left arm, I remember, I want the left arm bare above the elbow.”

When these directions had been carried out, Dr. Duprat pointed to a heavy wooden chair with a high back and wide arms.

“Please sit here,” he went on, “and slip your left arm into this leather sleeve. It’s a little tight because it has a rubber lining, but you won’t mind it after a minute or two.”

Groener walked to the chair and then drew back. “What are you going to do to me?” he asked.

“We are going to show you some magic lantern pictures,” answered the doctor.

“Why must I sit in this chair? Why do you want my arm in that leather thing?”

“I told you, Groener,” put in the judge, “that we were coming here for the visual test; it’s part of your examination. Some pictures of persons and places will be thrown on that sheet and, as each one appears, I want you to say what it is. Most of the pictures are familiar to everyone.”

“Yes, but the leather sleeve?” persisted the prisoner.

“The leather sleeve is like the stop watch, it records your emotions. Sit down!”

Groener hesitated and the guard pushed him toward the chair. “Wait!” he said. “I want to know how it records my emotions.”

The magistrate answered with a patience that surprised M. Paul. “There is a pneumatic arrangement,” he explained, “by which the pulsations of your heart and the blood pressure in your arteries are registered automatically. Now then! I warn you if you don’t sit down willingly well, you had better sit down.”

Coquenil was watching closely and, through the prisoner’s half shut eyes, he caught a flash of anger, a quick clenching of the freed hands and then then Groener sat down.

Quickly and skillfully the assistant adjusted the leather sleeve over the bared left arm and drew it close with straps.

“Not too tight,” said Duprat. “You feel a sense of throbbing at first, but it is nothing. Besides, we shall take the sleeve off shortly. Now then,” he turned toward the lantern.

Immediately a familiar scene appeared upon the sheet, a colored photograph of the Place de la Concorde.

“What is it?” asked the doctor pleasantly.

The prisoner was silent.

“You surely recognize this picture. Look! The obelisk and the fountain, the Tuileries gardens, the arches of the Rue de Rivoli, and the Madeleine, there at the end of the Rue Royale. Come, what is it?”

“The Place de la Concorde,” answered Groener sullenly.

“Of course. You see how simple it is. Now another.”

The picture changed to a view of the grand opera house and at the same moment a point of light appeared in the headpiece back of the chair. It was shaded so that the prisoner could not see it and it illumined a graduated white dial on which was a glass tube about thirty inches long, the whole resembling a barometer. Inside the tube a red column moved regularly up and down, up and down, in steady beats and Coquenil understood that this column was registering the beating of Groener’s heart. Standing behind the chair, the doctor, the magistrate, and the detective could at the same time watch the pulsating column and the pictures on the sheet; but the prisoner could not see the column, he did not know it was there, he saw only the pictures.

“What is that?” asked the doctor.

Groener had evidently decided to make the best of the situation for he answered at once: “The grand opera house.”

“Good! Now another! What is that?”

“The Bastille column.”

“Right! And this?”

“The Champs Elysees.”

“And this?”

“Notre-Dame church.”

So far the beats had come uniformly about one in a second, for the man’s pulse was slow; at each beat the liquid in the tube shot up six inches and then dropped six inches, but, at the view of Notre-Dame, the column rose only three inches, then dropped back and shot up seven inches.

The doctor nodded gravely while Coquenil, with breathless interest, with a, morbid fascination, watched the beating of this red column. It was like the beating of red blood.

And this?

As the picture changed there was a quiver in the pulsating column, a hesitation with a quick fluttering at the bottom of the stroke, then the red line shot up full nine inches.

M. Paul glanced at the sheet and saw a perfect reproduction of private room Number Six in the Ansonia. Everything was there as on the night of the crime, the delicate yellow hangings, the sofa, the table set for two. And, slowly, as they looked, two holes appeared in the wall. Then a dim shape took form upon the floor, more and more distinctly until the dissolving lens brought a man’s body into clear view, a body stretched face downward in a dark red pool that grew and widened, slowly straining and wetting the polished wood.

“Groener,” said the magistrate, his voice strangely formidable in the shadows, “do you recognize this room?”

“No,” said the prisoner impassively, but the column was pulsing wildly.

“You have been in this room?”

“Never.”

“Nor looked through these eyeholes?”

“No.”

“Nor seen that man lying on the floor?”

“No.”

Now the prisoner’s heart was beating evenly again, somehow he had regained his self-possession.

“You are lying, Groener,” accused the judge. “You remember this man perfectly. Come, we will lift him from the floor and look him in the face, full in the face. There!” He signaled the lantern operator and there leaped forth on the sheet the head of Martinez, the murdered, mutilated head with shattered eye and painted cheeks and the greenish death pallor showing underneath. A ghastly, leering cadaver in collar and necktie, dressed up and photographed at the morgue, and now flashed hideously at the prisoner out of the darkness. Yet Groener’s heart pulsed on steadily with only a slight quickening, with less quickening than Coquenil felt in his own heart.

“Who is it?” demanded the judge.

“I don’t know,” declared the accused.

Again the picture changed.

“Who is this?”

“Napoleon Bonaparte.”

“And this?”

“Prince Bismarck.”

“And this?”

“Queen Victoria.”

Here, suddenly, at the view of England’s peaceful sovereign, Groener seemed thrown into frightful agitation, not Groener as he sat on the chair, cold and self-contained, but Groener as revealed by the unsuspected dial. Up and down in mad excitement leaped the red column with many little breaks and quiverings at the bottom of the beats and with tremendous up-shootings as if the frightened heart were trying to burst the tube with its spurting red jet.

The doctor put his mouth close to Coquenil’s ear and whispered: “It’s the shock showing now, the shock that he held back after the body.”

Then he leaned over Groener’s shoulder and asked kindly: “Do you feel your heart beating fast, my friend?”

“No,” murmured the prisoner, “my my heart is beating as usual.”

“You will certainly recognize the next picture,” pursued the judge. “It shows a woman and a little girl! There! Do you know these faces, Groener?”

As he spoke there appeared the fake photograph that Coquenil had found in
Brussels, Alice at the age of twelve with the smooth young widow.

The prisoner shook his head. “I don’t know them I never saw them.”

“Groener,” warned the magistrate, “there is no use keeping up this denial, you have betrayed yourself already.”

“No,” cried the prisoner with a supreme rally of his will power, “I have betrayed nothing nothing,” and, once more, while the doctor marveled, his pulse steadied and strengthened and grew normal.

“What a man!” muttered Coquenil.

“We know the facts,” went on Hauteville sternly, “we know why you killed Martinez and why you disguised yourself as a wood carver.”

The prisoner’s face lighted with a mocking smile. “If you know all that, why waste time questioning me?”

“You’re a good actor, sir, but we shall strip off your mask and quiet your impudence. Look at the girl in this false picture which you had cunningly made in Brussels. Look at her! Who is she? There is the key to the mystery! There is the reason for your killing Martinez! He knew the truth about this girl.”

Now the prisoner’s pulse was running wild, faster and faster, but with no more violent spurtings and leapings; the red column throbbed swiftly and faintly at the bottom of the tube as if the heart were weakening.

“A hundred and sixty to the minute,” whispered Duprat to the magistrate. “It is dangerous to go on.”

Hauteville shrugged his shoulders.

“Martinez knew the truth,” he went on, “Martinez held your secret. How had Martinez come upon it? Who was Martinez? A billiard player, a shallow fellow, vain of his conquests over silly women. The last man in Paris, one would say, to interfere with your high purposes or penetrate the barriers of wealth and power that surrounded you.”

“You you flatter me! What am I, pray, a marquis or a duke?” chaffed the other, but the trembling dial belied his gayety, and even from the side Coquenil could see that the man’s face was as tense and pallid as the sheet before him.

“As I said, the key to this murder,” pursued the magistrate, “is the secret that Martinez held. Without that nothing can be understood and no justice can be done. The whole aim of this investigation has been to get the secret and we have got it! Groener, you have delivered yourself into our hands, you have written this secret for us in words of terror and we have read them, we know what Martinez knew when you took his life, we know the story of the medal that he wore on his breast. Do you know the story?”

“I tell you I know nothing about this man or his medal,” flung back the prisoner.

“No? Then you will be glad to hear the story. It was a medal of solid gold, awarded Martinez by the city of Paris for conspicuous bravery in saving lives at the terrible Charity Bazaar fire. You have heard of the Charity Bazaar fire, Groener?”

“Yes, I I have heard of it.”

“But perhaps you never heard the details or, if you did, you may have forgotten them. Have you forgotten the details of the Charity Bazaar fire?”

Charity Bazaar fire! Three times, with increasing emphasis, the magistrate had spoken those sinister words, yet the dial gave no sign, the red column throbbed on steadily.

“I am not interested in the subject,” answered the accused.

“Ah, but you are, or you ought to be. It was such a shocking affair. Hundreds burned to death, think of that! Cowardly men trampling women and children! Our noblest families plunged into grief and bereavement! Princesses burned to death! Duchesses burned to death! Beautiful women burned to death! Rich women burned to death! Think of it, Groener, and ” he signaled the operator, “and look at it!

As he spoke the awful tragedy began in one of those extraordinary moving pictures that the French make after a catastrophe, giving to the imitation even greater terrors than were in the genuine happening. Here before them now leaped redder and fiercer flames than ever crackled through the real Charity Bazaar; here were women and children perishing in more savage torture than the actual victims endured; here were horrors piled on horrors, exaggerated horrors, manufactured horrors, until the spectacle became unendurable, until one all but heard the screams and breathed the sickening odor of burning human flesh.

Coquenil had seen this picture in one of the boulevard theaters and, straightway, after the precious nine-second clew of the word test, he had sent Papa Tignol off for it posthaste, during the supper intermission. If the mere word “Charity Bazaar” had struck this man dumb with fear what would the thing itself do, the revolting, ghastly thing?

That was the question now, what would this hideous moving picture do to a fire-fearing assassin already on the verge of collapse? Would it break the last resistance of his overwrought nerves or would he still hold out?

Silently, intently the three men waited, bending over the dial as the test proceeded, as the fiends of torture and death swept past in lurid triumph.

The picture machine whirled on with droning buzz, the accused sat still, eyes on the sheet, the red column pulsed steadily, up and down, up and down, now a little higher, now a little quicker, but for a minute, for two minutes nothing decisive happened, nothing that they had hoped for; yet Coquenil felt, he knew that something was going to happen, he knew it by the agonized tension of the room, by the atmosphere of pain about them. If Groener had not spoken, he himself, in the poignancy of his own distress, must have cried out or stamped on the floor or broken something, just to end the silence.

Then, suddenly, the tension snapped, the prisoner sprang to his feet and, tearing his arm from the leather sleeve, he faced his tormentors desperately, eyes blazing, features convulsed:

“No, no, no!” he shrieked. “You dogs! You cowards!”

“Lights up,” ordered Hauteville. Then to the guard: “Put the handcuffs on him.”

But the prisoner would not be silenced. “What does all this prove?” he screamed in rage. “Nothing! Nothing! You make me look at disgusting, abominable pictures and why shouldn’t my heart beat? Anybody’s heart would beat if he had a heart.”

The judge paid no attention to this outburst, but went on in a tone as keen and cold as a knife: “Before you go to your cell, Groener, you shall hear what we charge against you. Your wife perished in the Charity Bazaar fire. She was a very rich woman, probably an American, who had been married before and who had a daughter by her previous marriage. That daughter is the girl you call Alice. Her true name is Mary. She was in the fire with her mother and was rescued by Martinez, but the shock of seeing her mother burned to death and, perhaps, the shock of seeing you refuse to save her mother

“It’s a lie!” yelled the prisoner.

“All this terror and anguish caused a violent mental disturbance in the girl and resulted in a failure of her memory. When she came out of the fire it was as if a curtain had fallen over her past life, she had lost the sense of her own personality, she did not know her own name, she was helpless, you could do as you pleased with her. And she was a great heiress! If she lived, she inherited her mother’s fortune; if she died, this fortune reverted to you. So shrinking, perhaps, from the actual killing of this girl, you destroyed her identity; you gave it out that she, too, had perished in the flames and you proceeded to enjoy her stolen fortune while she sold candles in Notre-Dame church.”

“You have no proof of it!” shouted Groener.

“No? What is this?” and he signaled the operator, whereupon the lights went down and the picture of Alice and the widow appeared again. “There is the girl whom you have wronged and defrauded. Now watch the woman, your Brussels accomplice, watch her carefully carefully,” he motioned to the operator and the smooth young widow faded gradually, while the face and form of another woman took her place beside the girl. “Now we have the picture as it was before you falsified it. Do you recognize this face?”

“No,” answered the prisoner, but his heart was pounding.

“It is your wife. Look!”

Under the picture came the inscription: “To my dear husband Raoul with the love of Margaret and her little Mary.”

“I wish we had the dial on him now,” whispered Duprat to M. Paul.

“There are your two victims!” accused the magistrate. “Mary and Margaret! How long do you suppose it will take us to identify them among the Charity Bazaar unfortunates? It is a matter of a few hours’ record searching. What must we look for? A rich American lady who married a Frenchman. Her name is Margaret. She had a daughter named Mary. The Frenchman’s name is Raoul and he probably has a title. We have, also, the lady’s photograph and the daughter’s photograph and a specimen of the lady’s handwriting. Could anything be simpler? The first authority we meet on noble fortune hunters will tell us all about it. And then, M. Adolf Groener, we shall know whether it is a, marquis or a duke whose name must be added to the list of distinguished assassins.”

He paused for a reply, but none came. The guard moved suddenly in the shadows and called for help.

“Lights!” said the doctor sharply and, as the lamps shone out, the prisoner was seen limp and white, sprawling over a chair.

Duprat hurried to him and pressed an ear to his heart.

“He has fainted,” said the doctor.

Coquenil looked half pityingly at his stricken adversary. “Down and out,” he murmured.

Duprat, meantime, was working over the prisoner, rubbing his wrists, loosening his shirt and collar.

“Ammonia quick,” he said to his assistant, and a moment later, with the strong fumes at his nostrils, Groener stirred and opened his eyes weakly.

Just then a sound was heard in the distance as of a galloping horse. The white-faced prisoner started and listened eagerly. Nearer and nearer came the rapid hoof beats, echoing through the deserted streets. Now the horse was crossing the little bridge near the hospital, now he was coming madly down the Boulevard du Palais. Who was this rider dashing so furiously through the peaceful night?

As they all turned wondering, the horse drew up suddenly before the palace and a voice was heard in sharp command. Then the great iron gates swung open and the horse stamped in.

Hauteville hurried to the open window and stood there listening. Just below him in the courtyard he made out of the flashing helmet and imposing uniform of a mounted garde de Paris. And he caught some quick words that made him start.

“A messenger from the Prime Minister,” muttered the judge, “on urgent business with me.”

Groener heard and, with a long sigh, sank back against the chair and closed his eyes, but Coquenil noticed uneasily that just a flicker of the old patronizing smile was playing about his pallid lips.