The Hollow Needle/Chapter Four
One evening, five weeks later, I had given my man leave to go out. It was the day before the 14th of July. The night was hot, a storm threatened and I felt no inclination to leave the flat. I opened wide the glass doors leading to my balcony, lit my reading lamp and sat down in an easy-chair to look through the papers, which I had not yet seen.
It goes without saying that there was something about Arsene Lupin in all of them. Since the attempt at murder of which poor Isidore Beautrelet had been the victim, not a day had passed without some mention of the Ambrumesy mystery. It had a permanent headline devoted to it. Never had public opinion been excited to that extent, thanks to the extraordinary series of hurried events, of unexpected and disconcerting surprises. M. Filleul, who was certainly accepting the secondary part allotted to him with a good faith worthy of all praise, had let the interviewers into the secret of his young advisor's exploits during the memorable three days, so that the public was able to indulge in the rashest suppositions. And the public gave itself free scope. Specialists and experts in crime, novelists and playwrights, retired magistrates and chief-detectives, erstwhile Lecocqs and budding Holmlock Shearses, each had his theory and expounded it in lengthy contributions to the press. Everybody corrected and supplemented the inquiry of the examining magistrate; and all on the word of a child, on the word of Isidore Beautrelet, a sixth-form schoolboy at the Lycee Janson-de-Sailly!
For really, it had to be admitted, the complete elements of the truth were now in everybody's possession. What did the mystery consist of? They knew the hiding-place where Arsene Lupin had taken refuge and lain a-dying; there was no doubt about it: Dr. Delattre, who continued to plead professional secrecy and refused to give evidence, nevertheless confessed to his intimate friends—who lost no time in blabbing—that he really had been taken to a crypt to attend a wounded man whom his confederates introduced to him by the name of Arsene Lupin. And, as the corpse of Etienne de Vaudreix was found in that same crypt and as the said Etienne de Vaudreix was none other than Arsene Lupin—as the official examination went to show—all this provided an additional proof, if one were needed, of the identity of Arsene Lupin and the wounded man. Therefore, with Lupin dead and Mlle. de Saint-Veran's body recognized by the curb- bracelet on her wrist, the tragedy was finished.
It was not. Nobody thought that it was, because Beautrelet had said the contrary. Nobody knew in what respect it was not finished, but, on the word of the young man, the mystery remained complete. The evidence of the senses did not prevail against the statement of a Beautrelet. There was something which people did not know, and of that something they were convinced that he was in position to supply a triumphant explanation.
It is easy, therefore, to imagine the anxiety with which, at first, people awaited the bulletins issued by the two Dieppe doctors to whose care the Comte de Gesvres entrusted his patient; the distress that prevailed during the first few days, when his life was thought to be in danger; and the enthusiasm of the morning when the newspapers announced that there was no further cause for fear. The least details excited the crowd. People wept at the thought of Beautrelet nursed by his old father, who had been hurriedly summoned by telegram, and they also admired the devotion of Mlle. Suzanne de Gesvres, who spent night after night by the wounded lad's bedside.
Next came a swift and glad convalescence. At last, the public were about to know! They would know what Beautrelet had promised to reveal to M. Filleul and the decisive words which the knife of the would-be assassin had prevented him from uttering! And they would also know everything, outside the tragedy itself, that remained impenetrable or inaccessible to the efforts of the police.
With Beautrelet free and cured of his wound, one could hope for some certainty regarding Harlington, Arsene Lupin's mysterious accomplice, who was still detained at the Sante prison. One would learn what had become, after the crime, of Bredoux the clerk, that other accomplice, whose daring was really terrifying.
With Beautrelet free, one could also form a precise idea concerning the disappearance of Ganimard and the kidnapping of Shears. How was it possible for two attempts of this kind to take place? Neither the English detectives nor their French colleagues possessed the slightest clue on the subject. On Whit-Sunday, Ganimard did not come home, nor on the Monday either, nor during the five weeks that followed. In London, on Whit-Monday, Holmlock Shears took a cab at eight o'clock in the evening to drive to the station. He had hardly stepped in, when he tried to alight, probably feeling a presentiment of danger. But two men jumped into the hansom, one on either side, flung him back on the seat and kept him there between them, or rather under them. All this happened in sight of nine or ten witnesses, who had no time to interfere. The cab drove off at a gallop. And, after that, nothing. Nobody knew anything.
Perhaps, also, Beautrelet would be able to give the complete explanation of the document, the mysterious paper to which. Bredoux, the magistrate's clerk, attached enough importance to recover it, with blows of the knife, from the person in whose possession it was. The problem of the Hollow Needle it was called, by the countless solvers of riddles who, with their eyes bent upon the figures and dots, strove to read a meaning into them. The Hollow Needle! What a bewildering conjunction of two simple words! What an incomprehensible question was set by that scrap of paper, whose very origin and manufacture were unknown! The Hollow Needle! Was it a meaningless expression, the puzzle of a schoolboy scribbling with pen and ink on the corner of a page? Or were they two magic words which could compel the whole great adventure of Lupin the great adventurer to assume its true significance? Nobody knew.
But the public soon would know. For some days, the papers had been announcing the approaching arrival of Beautrelet. The struggle was on the point of recommencing; and, this time, it would be implacable on the part of the young man, who was burning to take his revenge. And, as it happened, my attention, just then, was drawn to his name, printed in capitals. The Grand Journal headed its front page with the following paragraph:
WE HAVE PERSUADED
M. ISIDORE BEAUTRELET
TO GIVE US THE FIRST RIGHT OF PRINTING HIS REVELATIONS. TO-MORROW, TUESDAY, BEFORE THE POLICE THEMSELVES ARE INFORMED, THE Grand Journal WILL PUBLISH THE WHOLE TRUTH OF THE AMBRUMESY MYSTERY.
"That's interesting, eh? What do you think of it, my dear chap?"
I started from my chair. There was some one sitting beside me, some one I did not know. I cast my eyes round for a weapon. But, as my visitor's attitude appeared quite inoffensive, I restrained myself and went up to him.
He was a young man with strongly-marked features, long, fair hair and a short, tawny beard, divided into two points. His dress suggested the dark clothes of an English clergyman; and his whole person, for that matter, wore an air of austerity and gravity that inspired respect.
"Who are you?" I asked. And, as he did not reply, I repeated, "Who are you? How did you get in? What are you here for?"
He looked at me and said:
"Don't you know me?"
"Oh, that's really curious! Just search your memory—one of your friends—a friend of a rather special kind—however—"
I caught him smartly by the arm:
"You lie! You lie! No, you're not the man you say you are—it's not true."
"Then why are you thinking of that man rather than another?" he asked, with a laugh.
Oh, that laugh! That bright and clear young laugh, whose amusing irony had so often contributed to my diversion! I shivered. Could it be?
"No, no," I protested, with a sort of terror. "It cannot be."
"It can't be I, because I'm dead, eh?" he retorted. "And because you don't believe in ghosts." He laughed again. "Am I the sort of man who dies? Do you think I would die like that, shot in the back by a girl? Really, you misjudge me! As though I would ever consent to such a death as that!"
"So it is you!" I stammered, still incredulous and yet greatly excited. "So it is you! I can't manage to recognize you."
"In that case," he said, gaily, "I am quite easy. If the only man to whom I have shown myself in my real aspect fails to know me to-day, then everybody who will see me henceforth as I am to-day is bound not to know me either, when he sees me in my real aspect—if, indeed, I have a real aspect—"
I recognized his voice, now that he was no longer changing its tone, and I recognized his eyes also and the expression of his face and his whole attitude and his very being, through the counterfeit appearance in which he had shrouded it:
"Arsene Lupin!" I muttered.
"Yes, Arsene Lupin!" he cried, rising from his chair. "The one and only Arsene Lupin, returned from the realms of darkness, since it appears that I expired and passed away in a crypt! Arsene Lupin, alive and kicking, in the full exercise of his will, happy and free and more than ever resolved to enjoy that happy freedom in a world where hitherto he has received nothing but favors and privileges!"
It was my turn to laugh:
"Well, it's certainly you, and livelier this time than on the day when I had the pleasure of seeing you, last year—I congratulate you."
I was alluding to his last visit, the visit following on the famous adventure of the diadem, [Footnote: Arsene Lupin, play in three acts and four scenes, by Maurice Leblanc and Drancis de Croisset.] his interrupted marriage, his flight with Sonia Kirchnoff and the Russian girl's horrible death. On that day, I had seen an Arsene Lupin whom I did not know, weak, down-hearted, with eyes tired with weeping, seeking for a little sympathy and affection.
"Be quiet," he said. "The past is far away."
"It was a year ago," I observed.
"It was ten years ago," he declared. "Arsene Lupin's years count for ten times as much as another man's."
I did not insist and, changing the conversation:
"How did you get in?"
"Why, how do you think? Through the door, of course. Then, as I saw nobody, I walked across the drawing room and out by the balcony, and here I am."
"Yes, but the key of the door—?"
"There are no doors for me, as you know. I wanted your flat and I came in."
"It is at your disposal. Am I to leave you?"
"Oh, not at all! You won't be in the way. In fact, I can promise you an interesting evening."
"Are you expecting some one?"
"Yes. I have given him an appointment here at ten o'clock." He took out his watch. "It is ten now. If the telegram reached him, he ought to be here soon."
The front-door bell rang.
"What did I tell you? No, don't trouble to get up: I'll go."
With whom on earth could he have made an appointment? And what sort of scene was I about to assist at: dramatic or comic? For Lupin himself to consider it worthy of interest, the situation must be somewhat exceptional.
He returned in a moment and stood back to make way for a young man, tall and thin and very pale in the face.
Without a word and with a certain solemnity about his movements that made me feel ill at ease. Lupin switched on all the electric lamps, one after the other, till the room was flooded with light. Then the two men looked at each other, exchanged profound and penetrating glances, as if, with all the effort of their gleaming eyes, they were trying to pierce into each other's souls.
It was an impressive sight to see them thus, grave and silent. But who could the newcomer be?
I was on the point of guessing the truth, through his resemblance to a photograph which had recently appeared in the papers, when Lupin turned to me:
"My dear chap, let me introduce M. Isidore Beautrelet." And, addressing the young man, he continued, "I have to thank you, M. Beautrelet, first, for being good enough, on receipt of a letter from me, to postpone your revelations until after this interview and, secondly, for granting me this interview with so good a grace."
"Allow me to remark that my good grace consists, above all, in obeying your orders. The threat which you made to me in the letter in question was the more peremptory in being aimed not at me, but at my father."
"My word," said Lupin laughing, "we must do the best we can and make use of the means of action vouchsafed to us. I knew by experience that your own safety was indifferent to you, seeing that you resisted the arguments of Master Bredoux. There remained your father—your father for whom you have a great affection—I played on that string."
"And here I am," said Beautrelet, approvingly.
I motioned them to be seated. They consented and Lupin resumed, in that tone of imperceptible banter which is all his own:
"In any case, M. Beautrelet, if you will not accept my thanks, you will at least not refuse my apologies."
"Apologies! Bless my soul, what for?"
"For the brutality which Master Bredoux showed you."
"I confess that the act surprised me. It was not Lupin's usual way of behaving. A stab—"
"I assure you I had no hand in it. Bredoux is a new recruit. My friends, during the time that they had the management of our affairs, thought that it might be useful to win over to our cause the clerk of the magistrate himself who was conducting the inquiry."
"Your friends were right."
"Bredoux, who was specially attached to your person, was, in fact, most valuable to us. But, with the ardor peculiar to any neophyte who wishes to distinguish himself, he pushed his zeal too far and thwarted my plans by permitting himself, on his own initiative, to strike you a blow."
"Oh, it was a little accident!"
"Not at all, not at all! And I have reprimanded him severely! I am bound, however, to say in his favor that he was taken unawares by the really unexpected rapidity of your investigation. If you had only left us a few hours longer, you would have escaped that unpardonable attempt."
"And I should doubtless have enjoyed the enormous advantage of undergoing the same fate as M. Ganimard and Mr. Holmlock Shears?"
"Exactly," said Lupin, laughing heartily. "And I should not have known the cruel terrors which your wound caused me. I have had an atrocious time because of it, believe me, and, at this moment, your pallor fills me with all the stings of remorse. Can you ever forgive me?"
"The proof of confidence which you have shown me in delivering yourself unconditionally into my hands—it would have been so easy for me to bring a few of Ganimard's friends with me—that proof of confidence wipes out everything."
Was he speaking seriously? I confess frankly that I was greatly perplexed. The struggle between the two men was beginning in a manner which I was simply unable to understand. I had been present at the first meeting between Lupin and Holmlock Shears, in the cafe near the Gare Montparnesse, [Footnote: Arsene Lupin versus Holmlock Shears, by Maurice Leblanc.] and I could not help recalling the haughty carriage of the two combatants, the terrific clash of their pride under the politeness of their manners, the hard blows which they dealt each other, their feints, their arrogance.
Here, it was quite different. Lupin, it is true, had not changed; he exhibited the same tactics, the same crafty affability. But what a strange adversary he had come upon! Was it even an adversary? Really, he had neither the tone of one nor the appearance. Very calm, but with a real calmness, not one assumed to cloak the passion of a man endeavoring to restrain himself; very polite, but without exaggeration; smiling, but without chaff, he presented the most perfect contrast to Arsene Lupin, a contrast so perfect even that, to my mind, Lupin appeared as much perplexed as myself.
No, there was no doubt about it: in the presence of that frail stripling, with cheeks smooth as a girl's and candid and charming eyes, Lupin was losing his ordinary self-assurance. Several times over, I observed traces of embarrassment in him. He hesitated, did not attack frankly, wasted time in mawkish and affected phrases.
It also looked as though he wanted something. He seemed to be seeking, waiting. What for? Some aid?
There was a fresh ring of the bell. He himself ran and opened the door. He returned with a letter:
"Will you allow me, gentlemen?" he asked.
He opened the letter. It contained a telegram. He read it—and became as though transformed. His face lit up, his figure righted itself and I saw the veins on his forehead swell. It was the athlete who once more stood before me, the ruler, sure of himself, master of events and master of persons. He spread the telegram on the table and, striking it with his fist, exclaimed:
"Now, M. Beautrelet, it's you and I!"
Beautrelet adopted a listening attitude and Lupin began, in measured, but harsh and masterful tones:
"Let us throw off the mask—what say you?—and have done with hypocritical compliments. We are two enemies, who know exactly what to think of each other; we act toward each other as enemies; and therefore we ought to treat with each other as enemies."
"To treat?" echoed Beautrelet, in a voice of surprise.
"Yes, to treat. I did not use that word at random and I repeat it, in spite of the effort, the great effort, which it costs me. This is the first time I have employed it to an adversary. But also, I may as well tell you at once, it is the last. Make the most of it. I shall not leave this flat without a promise from you. If I do, it means war."
Beautrelet seemed more and more surprised. He said very prettily:
"I was not prepared for this—you speak so funnily! It's so different from what I expected! Yes, I thought you were not a bit like that! Why this display of anger? Why use threats? Are we enemies because circumstances bring us into opposition? Enemies? Why?"
Lupin appeared a little out of countenance, but he snarled and, leaning over the boy:
"Listen to me, youngster," he said. "It's not a question of picking one's words. It's a question of a fact, a positive, indisputable fact; and that fact is this: in all the past ten years, I have not yet knocked up against an adversary of your capacity. With Ganimard and Holmlock Shears I played as if they were children. With you, I am obliged to defend myself, I will say more, to retreat. Yes, at this moment, you and I well know that I must look upon myself as worsted in the fight. Isidore Beautrelet has got the better of Arsene Lupin. My plans are upset. What I tried to leave in the dark you have brought into the full light of day. You annoy me, you stand in my way. Well, I've had enough of it—Bredoux told you so to no purpose. I now tell you so again; and I insist upon it, so that you may take it to heart: I've had enough of it!"
Beautrelet nodded his head:
"Yes. but what do you want?"
"Peace! Each of us minding his own business, keeping to his own side!"
"That is to say, you free to continue your burglaries undisturbed, I free to return to my studies."
"Your studies—anything you please—I don't care. But you must leave me in peace—I want peace."
"How can I trouble it now?"
Lupin seized his hand violently:
"You know quite well! Don't pretend not to know. You are at this moment in possession of a secret to which I attach the highest importance. This secret you were free to guess, but you have no right to give it to the public."
"Are you sure that I know it?"
"You know it, I am certain: day by day, hour by hour, I have followed your train of thought and the progress of your investigations. At the very moment when Bredoux struck you, you were about to tell all. Subsequently, you delayed your revelations, out of solicitude for your father. But they are now promised to this paper here. The article is written. It will be set up in an hour. It will appear to-morrow."
Lupin rose, and slashing the air with his hand,
"It shall not appear!" he cried.
"It shall appear!" said Beautrelet, starting up in his turn.
At last, the two men were standing up to each other. I received the impression of a shock, as if they had seized each other round the body. Beautrelet seemed to burn with a sudden energy. It was as though a spark had kindled within him a group of new emotions: pluck, self-respect, the passion of fighting, the intoxication of danger. As for Lupin, I read in the radiance of his glance the joy of the duellist who at length encounters the sword of his hated rival.
"Is the article in the printer's hands?"
"Have you it there—on you?"
"No fear! I shouldn't have it by now, in that case!"
"One of the assistant editors has it, in a sealed envelope. If I am not at the office by midnight, he will have set it up."
"Oh, the scoundrel!" muttered Lupin. "He has provided for everything!"
His anger was increasing, visibly and frightfully. Beautrelet chuckled, jeering in his turn, carried away by his success.
"Stop that, you brat!" roared Lupin. "You're forgetting who I am— and that, if I wished—upon my word, he's daring to laugh!"
A great silence fell between them. Then Lupin stepped forward and, in muttered tones, with his eyes on Beautrelet's:
"You shall go straight to the Grand Journal."
"Tear up your article."
"See the editor."
"Tell him you made a mistake."
"And write him another article, in which you will give the official version of the Ambrumesy mystery, the one which every one has accepted."
Lupin took up a steel ruler that lay on my desk and broke it in two without an effort. His pallor was terrible to see. He wiped away the beads of perspiration that stood on his forehead. He, who had never known his wishes resisted, was being maddened by the obstinacy of this child. He pressed his two hands on Beautrelet's shoulder and, emphasizing every syllable, continued:
"You shall do as I tell you, Beautrelet. You shall say that your latest discoveries have convinced you of my death, that there is not the least doubt about it. You shall say so because I wish it, because it has to be believed that I am dead. You shall say so, above all, because, if you do not say so—"
"Because, if I do not say so—?"
"Your father will be kidnapped to-night, as Ganimard and Holmlock Shears were."
Beautrelet gave a smile.
"My answer is that I am very sorry to disappoint you, but I have promised to speak and I shall speak."
"Speak in the sense which I have told you."
"I shall speak the truth," cried Beautrelet, eagerly. "It is something which you can't understand, the pleasure, the need, rather, of saying the thing that is and saying it aloud. The truth is here, in this brain which has guessed it and discovered it; and it will come out, all naked and quivering. The article, therefore, will be printed as I wrote it. The world shall know that Lupin is alive and shall know the reason why he wished to be considered dead. The world shall know all." And he added, calmly, "And my father shall not be kidnapped."
Once again, they were both silent, with their eyes still fixed upon each other. They watched each other. Their swords were engaged up to the hilt. And it was like the heavy silence that goes before the mortal blow. Which of the two was to strike it?
Lupin said, between his teeth:
"Failing my instructions to the contrary, two of my friends have orders to enter your father's room to-night, at three o'clock in the morning, to seize him and carry him off to join Ganimard and Holmlock Shears."
A burst of shrill laughter interrupted him:
"Why, you highwayman, don't you understand," cried Beautrelet, "that I have taken my precautions? So you think that I am innocent enough, ass enough, to have sent my father home to his lonely little house in the open country!" Oh, the gay, bantering laughter that lit up the boy's face! It was a new sort of laugh on his lips, a laugh that showed the influence of Lupin himself. And the familiar form of address which he adopted placed him at once on his adversary's level. He continued:
"You see, Lupin, your great fault is to believe your schemes infallible. You proclaim yourself beaten, do you? What humbug! You are convinced that you will always win the day in the end—and you forget that others can have their little schemes, too. Mine is a very simple one, my friend."
It was delightful to hear him talk. He walked up and down, with his hands in his pockets and with the easy swagger of a boy teasing a caged beast. Really, at this moment, he was revenging, with the most terrible revenges, all the victims of the great adventurer. And he concluded:
"Lupin, my father is not in Savoy. He is at the other end of France, in the centre of a big town, guarded by twenty of our friends, who have orders not to lose sight of him until our battle is over. Would you like details? He is at Cherbourg, in the house of one of the keepers of the arsenal. And remember that the arsenal is closed at night and that no one is allowed to enter it by day, unless he carries an authorization and is accompanied by a guide."
He stopped in front of Lupin and defied him, like a child making faces at his playmate:
"What do you say to that, master?"
For some minutes, Lupin had stood motionless. Not a muscle of his face had moved. What were his thoughts? Upon what action was he resolving? To any one knowing the fierce violence of his pride the only possible solution was the total, immediate, final collapse of his adversary. His fingers twitched. For a second, I had a feeling that he was about to throw himself upon the boy and wring his neck.
"What do you say to that, master?" Beautrelet repeated.
Lupin took up the telegram that lay on the table, held it out and said, very calmly:
"Here, baby, read that."
Beautrelet became serious, suddenly, impressed by the gentleness of the movement. He unfolded the paper and, at once, raising his eyes, murmured:
"What does it mean? I don't understand."
"At any rate, you understand the first word," said Lupin, "the first word of the telegram—that is to say, the name of the place from which it was sent—look—'Cherbourg.'"
"Yes—yes," stammered Beautrelet. "Yes—I understand—'Cherbourg'- and then?"
"And then?—I should think the rest is quite plain: 'Removal of luggage finished. Friends left with it and will wait instructions till eight morning. All well.' Is there anything there that seems obscure? The word 'luggage'? Pooh, you wouldn't have them write 'M. Beautrelet, senior'! What then? The way in which the operation was performed? The miracle by which your father was taken out of Cherbourg Arsenal, in spite of his twenty body-guards? Pooh, it's as easy as A B C! And the fact remains that the luggage has been dispatched. What do you say to that, baby?"
With all his tense being, with all his exasperated energy, Isidore tried to preserve a good countenance. But I saw his lips quiver, his jaw shrink, his eyes vainly strive to fix upon a point. He lisped a few words, then was silent and, suddenly, gave way and, with his hands before his face, burst into loud sobs:
"Oh, father! Father!"
An unexpected result, which was certainly the collapse which Lupin's pride demanded, but also something more, something infinitely touching and infinitely artless. Lupin gave a movement of annoyance and took up his hat, as though this unaccustomed display of sentiment were too much for him. But, on reaching the door, he stopped, hesitated and then returned, slowly, step by step.
The soft sound of the sobs rose like the sad wailing of a little child overcome with grief. The lad's shoulders marked the heart- rending rhythm. Tears appeared through the crossed fingers. Lupin leaned forward and, without touching Beautrelet, said, in a voice that had not the least tone of pleasantry, nor even of the offensive pity of the victor:
"Don't cry, youngster. This is one of those blows which a man must expect when he rushes headlong into the fray, as you did. The worst disasters lie in wait for him. The destiny of fighters will have it so. We must suffer it as bravely as we can." Then, with a sort of gentleness, he continued, "You were right, you see: we are not enemies. I have known it for long. From the very first, I felt for you, for the intelligent creature that you are, an involuntary sympathy—and admiration. And that is why I wanted to say this to you—don't be offended, whatever you do: I should be extremely sorry to offend you—but I must say it: well, give up struggling against me. I am not saying this out of vanity—nor because I despise you— but, you see, the struggle is too unequal. You do not know—nobody knows all the resources which I have at my command. Look here, this secret of the Hollow Needle which you are trying so vainly to unravel: suppose, for a moment, that it is a formidable, inexhaustible treasure—or else an invisible, prodigious, fantastic refuge—or both perhaps. Think of the superhuman power which I must derive from it! And you do not know, either, all the resources which I have within myself—all that my will and my imagination enable me to undertake and to undertake successfully. Only think that my whole life—ever since I was born, I might almost say—has tended toward the same aim, that I worked like a convict before becoming what I am and to realize, in its perfection, the type which I wished to create—which I have succeeded in creating. That being so—what can you do? At that very moment when you think that victory lies within your grasp, it will escape you—there will be something of which you have not thought—a trifle—a grain of sand which I shall have put in the right place, unknown to you. I entreat vou, give up—I should be obliged to hurt you; and the thought distresses me." And, placing his hand on the boy's forehead, he repeated, "Once more, youngster, give up. I should only hurt you. Who knows if the trap into which you will inevitably fall has not already opened under your footsteps?"
Beautrelet uncovered his face. He was no longer crying. Had he heard Lupin's words? One might have doubted it, judging by his inattentive air.
For two or three minutes, he was silent. He seemed to weigh the decision which he was about to take, to examine the reasons for and against, to count up the favorable and unfavorable chances. At last, he said to Lupin:
"If I change the sense of the article, if I confirm the version of your death and if I undertake never to contradict the false version which I shall have sanctioned, do you swear that my father will be free?"
"I swear it. My friends have taken your father by motor car to another provincial town. At seven o'clock to-morrow morning, if the article in the Grand Journal is what I want it to be, I shall telephone to them and they will restore your father to liberty."
"Very well," said Beautrelet." I submit to your conditions."
Quickly, as though he saw no object in prolonging the conversation after accepting his defeat, he rose, took his hat, bowed to me, bowed to Lupin and went out. Lupin watched him go, listened to the sound of the door closing and muttered:
"Poor little beggar!"
At eight o'clock the next morning, I sent my man out to buy the Grand Journal. It was twenty minutes before he brought me a copy, most of the kiosks being already sold out.
I unfolded the paper with feverish hands. Beautrelet's article appeared on the front page. I give it as it stood and as it was quoted in the press of the whole world:
THE AMBRUMESY MYSTERY
I do not intend in these few sentences to set out in detail the mental processes and the investigations that have enabled me to reconstruct the tragedy—I should say the twofold tragedy—of Ambrumesy. In my opinion, this sort of work and the judgments which it entails, deductions, inductions, analyses and so on, are only interesting in a minor degree and, in any case, are highly commonplace. No, I shall content myself with setting forth the two leading ideas which I followed; and, if I do that, it will be seen that, in so setting them forth and in solving the two problems which they raise, I shall have told the story just as it happened, in the exact order of the different incidents.
It may be said that some of these incidents are not proved and that I leave too large a field to conjecture. That is quite true. But, in my view, my theory is founded upon a sufficiently large number of proved facts to be able to say that even those facts which are not proved must follow from the strict logic of events. The stream is so often lost under the pebbly bed: it is nevertheless the same stream that reappears at intervals and mirrors back the blue sky.
The first riddle that confronted me, a riddle not in detail, but as a whole, was how came it that Lupin, mortally wounded, one might say, managed to live for five or six weeks without nursing, medicine or food, at the bottom of a dark hole?
Let us start at the beginning. On Thursday the sixteenth of April, at four o'clock in the morning, Arsene Lupin, surprised in the middle of one of his most daring burglaries, runs away by the path leading to the ruins and drops down shot. He drags himself painfully along, falls again and picks himself up in the desperate hope of reaching the chapel. The chapel contains a crypt, the existence of which he has discovered by accident. If he can burrow there, he may be saved. By dint of an effort, he approaches it, he is but a few yards away, when a sound of footsteps approaches. Harassed and lost, he lets himself go. The enemy arrives. It is Mlle. Raymonde de Saint-Veran.
This is the prologue or rather the first scene of the drama.
What happened between them? This is the easier to guess inasmuch as the sequel of the adventure gives us all the necessary clues. At the girl's feet lies a wounded man, exhausted by suffering, who will be captured in two minutes. THIS MAN HAS BEEN WOUNDED BY HERSELF. Will she also give him up?
If he is Jean Daval's murderer, yes, she will let destiny take its course. But, in quick sentences, he tells her the truth about this awful murder committed by her uncle, M. de Gesvres. She believes him. What will she do?
Nobody can see them. The footman Victor is watching the little door. The other, Albert, posted at the drawing-room window, has lost sight of both of them. Will she give up the man she has wounded?
The girl is carried away by a movement of irresistible pity, which any woman will understand. Instructed by Lupin, with a few movements she binds up the wound with his handkerchief, to avoid the marks which the blood would leave. Then, with the aid of the key which he gives her, she opens the door of the chapel. He enters, supported by the girl. She locks the door again and walks away. Albert arrives.
If the chapel had been visited at that moment or at least during the next few minutes, before Lupin had had time to recover his strength, to raise the flagstone and disappear by the stairs leading to the crypt, he would have been taken. But this visit did not take place until six hours later and then only in the most superficial way. As it is, Lupin is saved; and saved by whom? By the girl who very nearly killed him.
Thenceforth, whether she wishes it or no, Mlle. de Saint-Veran is his accomplice. Not only is she no longer able to give him up, but she is obliged to continue her work, else the wounded man will perish in the shelter in which she has helped to conceal him. Therefore she continues.
For that matter, if her feminine instinct makes the task a compulsory one, it also makes it easy. She is full of artifice, she foresees and forestalls everything. It is she who gives the examining magistrate a false description of Arsene Lupin (the reader will remember the difference of opinion on this subject between the cousins). It is she, obviously, who, thanks to certain signs which I do not know of, suspects an accomplice of Lupin's in the driver of the fly. She warns him. She informs him of the urgent need of an operation. It is she, no doubt, who substitutes one cap for the other. It is she who causes the famous letter to be written in which she is personally threatened. How, after that, is it possible to suspect her?
It is she, who at that moment when I was about to confide my first impressions to the examining magistrate, pretends to have seen me, the day before, in the copsewood, alarms M. Filleul on my score and reduces me to silence: a dangerous move, no doubt, because it arouses my attention and directs it against the person who assails me with an accusation which I know to be false; but an efficacious move, because the most important thing of all is to gain time and close my lips.
Lastly, it is she who, during forty days, feeds Lupin, brings him his medicine (the chemist at Ouville will produce the prescriptions which he made up for Mile, de Saint-Veran), nurses him, dresses his wound, watches over him AND CURES HIM.
Here we have the first of our two problems solved, at the same time that the Ambrumesy mystery is set forth. Arsene Lupin found, close at hand, in the chateau itself, the assistance which was indispensable to him in order, first, not to be discovered and, secondly, to live.
He now lives. And we come to the second problem, corresponding with the second Ambrumesy mystery, the study of which served me as a conducting medium. Why does Lupin, alive, free, at the head of his gang, omnipotent as before, why does Lupin make desperate efforts, efforts with which I am constantly coming into collision, to force the idea of his death upon the police and the public?
We must remember that Mlle. de Saint-Veran was a very pretty girl. The photographs reproduced in the papers after her disappearance give but an imperfect notion of her beauty. That follows which was bound to follow. Lupin, seeing this lovely girl daily for five or six weeks, longing for her presence when she is not there, subjected to her charm and grace when she is there, inhaling the cool perfume of her breath when she bends over him, Lupin becomes enamored of his nurse. Gratitude turns to love, admiration to passion. She is his salvation, but she is also the joy of his eyes, the dream of his lonely hours, his light, his hope, his very life.
He respects her sufficiently not to take advantage of the girl's devotion and not to make use of her to direct his confederates. There is, in fact, a certain lack of decision apparent in the acts of the gang. But he loves her also, his scruples weaken and, as Mlle. de Saint-Veran refuses to be touched by a love that offends her, as she relaxes her visits when they become less necessary, as she ceases them entirely on the day when he is cured—desperate, maddened by grief, he takes a terrible resolve. He leaves his lair, prepares his stroke and, on Saturday the sixth of June, assisted by his accomplices, he carries off the girl.
This is not all. The abduction must not be known. All search, all surmises, all hope, even, must be cut short. Mlle. de Saint-Veran must pass for dead. There is a mock murder: proofs are supplied for the police inquiries. There is doubt about the crime, a crime, for that matter, not unexpected, a crime foretold by the accomplices, a crime perpetrated to revenge the chief's death. And, through this very fact—observe the marvelous ingenuity of the conception— through this very fact, the belief in this death is, so to speak, stimulated.
It is not enough to suggest a belief; it is necessary to compel a certainty. Lupin foresees my interference. I am sure to guess the trickery of the chapel. I am sure to discover the crypt. And, as the crypt will be empty, the whole scaffolding will come to the ground.
THE CRYPT SHALL NOT BE EMPTY.
In the same way, the death of Mile, de Saint-Veran will not be definite, unless the sea gives up her corpse.
THE SEA SHALL GIVE UP THE CORPSE OF MLLE. DE SAINT-VERAN.
The difficulty is tremendous. The double obstacle seems insurmountable. Yes, to any one but Lupin, but not to Lupin.
As he had foreseen, I guess the trickery of the chapel, I discover the crypt and I go down into the lair where Lupin has taken refuge. His corpse is there!
Any person who had admitted the death of Lupin as possible would have been baffled. But I had not admitted this eventuality for an instant (first, by intuition and, secondly, by reasoning). Pretense thereupon became useless and every scheme vain. I said to myself at once that the block of stone disturbed by the pickaxe had been placed there with a very curious exactness, that the least knock was bound to make it fall and that, in falling, it must inevitably reduce the head of the false Arsene Lupin to pulp, in such a way as to make it utterly irrecognizable.
Another discovery: half an hour later, I hear that the body of Mlle. de Saint-Veran has been found on the rocks at Dieppe—or rather a body which is considered to be Mlle. de Saint-Veran's, for the reason that the arm has a bracelet similar to one of that young lady's bracelets. This, however, is the only mark of identity, for the corpse is irrecognizable.
Thereupon I remember and I understand. A few days earlier, I happened to read in a number of the Vigie de Dieppe that a young American couple staying at Envermeu had committed suicide by taking poison and that their bodies had disappeared on the very night of the death. I hasten to Envermeu. The story is true, I am told, except in so far as concerns the disappearance, because the brothers of the victims came to claim the corpses and took them away after the usual formalities. The name of these brothers, no doubt, was Arsene Lupin Co.
Consequently, the thing is proved. We know why Lupin shammed the murder of the girl and spread the rumor of his own death. He is in love and does not wish it known. And, to reach his ends, he shrinks from nothing, he even undertakes that incredible theft of the two corpses which he needs in order to impersonate himself and Mlle. de Saint-Veran. In this way, he will be at ease. No one can disturb him. Xo one will ever suspect the truth which he wishes to suppress.
No one? Yes—three adversaries, at the most, might conceive doubts: Ganimard, whose arrival is hourly expected; Holmlock Shears, who is about to cross the Channel; and I, who am on the spot. This constitutes a threefold danger. He removes it. He kidnaps Ganimard. He kidnaps Holmlock Shears. He has me stabbed by Bredoux.
One point alone remains obscure. Why was Lupin so fiercely bent upon snatching the document about the Hollow Needle from me? He surely did not imagine that, by taking it away, he could wipe out from my memory the text of the five lines of which it consists! Then why? Did he fear that the character of the paper itself, or some other clue, could give me a hint?
Be that as it may, this is the truth of the Ambrumesy mystery. I repeat that conjecture plays a certain part in the explanation which I offer, even as it played a great part in my personal investigation. But, if one waited for proofs and facts to fight Lupin, one would run a great risk either of waiting forever or else of discovering proofs and facts carefully prepared by Lupin, which would lead in a direction immediately opposite to the object in view. I feel confident that the facts, when they are known, will confirm my surmise in every respect.
So Isidore Beautrelet, mastered for a moment by Arsene Lupin, distressed by the abduction of his father and resigned to defeat, Isidore Beautrelet, in the end, was unable to persuade himself to keep silence. The truth was too beautiful and too curious, the proofs which he was able to produce were too logical and too conclusive for him to consent to misrepresent it. The whole world was waiting for his revelations. He spoke.
On the evening of the day on which his article appeared, the newspapers announced the kidnapping of M. Beautrelet, senior. Isidore was informed of it by a telegram from Cherbourg, which reached him at three o'clock.