The Hollow Needle/Chapter Six
Beautrelet's resolve was soon taken: he would act alone. To inform the police was too dangerous. Apart from the fact that he could only offer presumptions, he dreaded the slowness of the police, their inevitable indiscretions, the whole preliminary inquiry, during which Lupin, who was sure to be warned, would have time to effect a retreat in good order.
At eight o'clock the next morning, with his bundle under his arm, he left the inn in which he was staying near Cuzion, made for the nearest thicket, took off his workman's clothes, became once more the young English painter that he had been and went to call on the notary at Eguzon, the largest place in the immediate neighborhood.
He said that he liked the country and that he was thinking of taking up his residence there, with his relations, if he could find a suitable house.
The notary mentioned a number of properties. Beautrelet took note of them and let fall that some one had spoken to him of the Chateau de l'Aiguille, on the bank of the Creuse.
"Oh, yes, but the Chateau de l'Aiguille, which has belonged to one of my clients for the last five years, is not for sale."
"He lives in it, then?"
"He used to live in it, or rather his mother did. But she did not care for it; found the castle rather gloomy. So they left it last year."
"And is no one living there at present?"
"Yes, an Italian, to whom my client let it for the summer season: Baron Anfredi."
"Oh, Baron Anfredi! A man still young, rather grave and solemn- looking—?"
"I'm sure I can't say.—My client dealt with him direct. There was no regular agreement, just a letter—"
"But you know the baron?"
"No, he never leaves the castle.—Sometimes, in his motor, at night, so they say. The marketing is done by an old cook, who talks to nobody. They are queer people—"
"Do you think your client would consent to sell his castle?"
"I don't think so. It's an historic castle, built in the purest Louis XIII. style. My client was very fond of it; and, unless he has changed his mind—"
"Can you give me his name and address?"
"Louis Valmeras, 34, Rue du Mont-Thabor."
Beautrelet took the train for Paris at the nearest station. On the next day but one, after three fruitless calls, he at last found Louis Valmeras at home. He was a man of about thirty, with a frank and pleasing face. Beautrelet saw no need to beat about the bush, stated who he was and described his efforts and the object of the step which he was now taking:
"I have good reason to believe," he concluded, "that my father is imprisoned in the Chateau de l'Aiguille, doubtless in the company of other victims. And I have come to ask you what you know of your tenant, Baron Anfredi."
"Not much. I met Baron Anfredi last winter at Monte Carlo. He had heard by accident that I was the owner of the Chateau de l'Aiguille and, as he wished to spend the summer in France, he made me an offer for it."
"He is still a young man—"
"Yes, with very expressive eyes, fair hair—"
"And a beard?"
"Yes, ending in two points, which fall over a collar fastened at the back, like a clergyman's. In fact, he looks a little like an English parson."
"It's he," murmured Beautrelet, "it's he, as I have seen him: it's his exact description."
"What! Do you think—?"
"I think, I am sure that your tenant is none other than Arsene Lupin."
The story amused Louis Valmeras. He knew all the adventures of Arsene Lupin and the varying fortunes of his struggle with Beautrelet. He rubbed his hands:
"Ha, the Chateau de l'Aiguille will become famous!—I'm sure I don't mind, for, as a matter of fact, now that my mother no longer lives in it, I have always thought that I would get rid of it at the first opportunity. After this, I shall soon find a purchaser. Only—"
"I will ask you to act with the most extreme prudence and not to inform the police until you are quite sure. Can you picture the situation, supposing my tenant were not Arsene Lupin?"
Beautrelet set forth his plan. He would go alone at night; he would climb the walls; he would sleep in the park—
Louis Valmeras stopped him at once:
"You will not climb walls of that height so easily. If you do, you will be received by two huge sheep-dogs which belonged to my mother and which I left behind at the castle."
"Pooh! A dose of poison—"
"Much obliged. But suppose you escaped them. What then? How would you get into the castle? The doors are massive, the windows barred. And, even then, once you were inside, who would guide you? There are eighty rooms."
"Yes, but that room with two windows, on the second story—"
"I know it, we call it the glycine room. But how will you find it? There are three staircases and a labyrinth of passages. I can give you the clue and explain the way to you, but you would get lost just the same."
"Come with me," said Beautrelet, laughing.
"I can't. I have promised to go to my mother in the South."
Beautrelet returned to the friend with whom he was staying and began to make his preparations. But, late in the day, as he was getting ready to go, he received a visit from Valmeras.
"Do you still want me?"
"Well, I'm coming with you. Yes, the expedition fascinates me. I think it will be very amusing and I like being mixed up in this sort of thing.—Besides, my help will be of use to you. Look, here's something to start with."
He held up a big key, all covered with rust and looking very old.
"What does the key open?" asked Beautrelet.
"A little postern hidden between two buttresses and left unused since centuries ago. I did not even think of pointing it out to my tenant. It opens straight on the country, just at the verge of the wood."
Beautrelet interrupted him quickly:
"They know all about that outlet. It was obviously by this way that the man whom I followed entered the park. Come, it's fine game and we shall win it. But, by Jupiter, we must play our cards carefully!"
Two days later, a half-famished horse dragged a gipsy caravan into Crozant. Its driver obtained leave to stable it at the end of the village, in an old deserted cart-shed. In addition to the driver, who was none other than Valmeras, there were three young men, who occupied themselves in the manufacture of wicker-work chairs: Beautrelet and two of his Janson friends.
They stayed there for three days, waiting for a propitious, moonless night and roaming singly round the outskirts of the park. Once Beautrelet saw the postern. Contrived between two buttresses placed very close together, it was almost merged, behind the screen of brambles that concealed it, in the pattern formed by the stones of the wall.
At last, on the fourth evening, the sky was covered with heavy black clouds and Valmeras decided that they should go reconnoitring, at the risk of having to return again, should circumstances prove unfavorable.
All four crossed the little wood. Then Beautrelet crept through the heather, scratched his hands at the bramble-hedge and, half raising himself, slowly, with restrained movements, put the key into the lock. He turned it gently. Would the door open without an effort? Was there no bolt closing it on the other side? He pushed: the door opened, without a creak or jolt. He was in the park.
"Are you there, Beautrelet?" asked Valmeras. "Wait for me. You two chaps, watch the door and keep our line of retreat open. At the least alarm, whistle."
He took Beautrelet's hand and they plunged into the dense shadow of the thickets. A clearer space was revealed to them when they reached the edge of the central lawn. At the same moment a ray of moonlight pierced the clouds; and they saw the castle, with its pointed turrets arranged around the tapering spire to which, no doubt, it owed its name. There was no light in the windows; not a sound.
Valmeras grasped his companion's arm:
"What is it?"
"The dogs, over there—look—"
There was a growl. Valmeras gave a low whistle. Two white forms leapt forward and, in four bounds, came and crouched at their master's feet.
"Gently—lie down—that's it—good dogs—stay there."
And he said to Beautrelet:
"And now let us push on. I feel more comfortable."
"Are you sure of the way?"
"Yes. We are near the terrace."
"I remember that, on the left, at a place where the river terrace rises to the level of the ground-floor windows, there is a shutter which closes badly and which can be opened from the outside."
They found, when they came to it, that the shutter yielded to pressure. Valmeras removed a pane with a diamond which he carried. He turned the window-latch. First one and then the other stepped over the balcony. They were now in the castle, at the end of a passage which divided the left wing into two.
"This room," said Valmeras, "opens at the end of a passage. Then comes an immense hall, lined with statues, and at the end of the hall a staircase which ends near the room occupied by your father."
He took a step forward.
"Are you coming, Beautrelet?"
"But no, you're not coming—What's the matter with you?"
He seized him by the hand. It was icy cold and he perceived that the young man was cowering on the floor.
"What's the matter with you?" he repeated.
"Nothing—it'll pass off—"
"But what is it?"
"Yes," Beautrelet confessed, frankly, "it's my nerves giving way—I generally manage to control them—but, to-day, the silence—the excitement—And then, since I was stabbed by that magistrate's clerk—But it will pass off—There, it's passing now—"
He succeeded in rising to his feet and Valmeras dragged him out of the room. They groped their way along the passage, so softly that neither could hear a sound made by the other.
A faint glimmer, however, seemed to light the hall for which they were making. Valmeras put his head round the corner. It was a night- light placed at the foot of the stairs, on a little table which showed through the frail branches of a palm tree.
"Halt!" whispered Valmeras.
Near the night-light, a man stood sentry, carrying a gun.
Had he seen them? Perhaps. At least, something must have alarmed him, for he brought the gun to his shoulder.
Beautrelet had fallen on his knees, against a tub containing a plant, and he remained quite still, with his heart thumping against his chest.
Meanwhile, the silence and the absence of all movement reassured the man. He lowered his weapon. But his head was still turned in the direction of the tub.
Terrible minutes passed: ten minutes, fifteen. A moonbeam had glided through a window on the staircase. And, suddenly, Beautrelet became aware that the moonbeam was shifting imperceptibly, and that, before fifteen, before ten more minutes had elapsed, it would be shining full in his face.
Great drops of perspiration fell from his forehead on his trembling hands. His anguish was such that he was on the point of getting up and running away—But, remembering that Valmeras was there, he sought him with his eyes and was astounded to see him, or rather to imagine him, creeping in the dark, under cover of the statues and plants. He was already at the foot of the stairs, within a few steps of the man.
What was he going to do? To pass in spite of all? To go upstairs alone and release the prisoner? But could he pass?
Beautrelet no longer saw him and he had an impression that something was about to take place, something that seemed foreboded also by the silence, which hung heavier, more awful than before.
And, suddenly, a shadow springing upon the man, the night-light extinguished, the sound of a struggle—Beautrelet ran up. The two bodies had rolled over on the flagstones. He tried to stoop and see. But he heard a hoarse moan, a sigh; and one of the adversaries rose to his feet and seized him by the arm:
It was Valmeras.
They went up two storys and came out at the entrance to a corridor, covered by a hanging.
"To the right," whispered Valmeras. "The fourth room on the left."
They soon found the door of the room. As they expected, the captive was locked in. It took them half an hour, half an hour of stifled efforts, of muffled attempts, to force open the lock. The door yielded at last.
Beautrelet groped his way to the bed. His father was asleep.
He woke him gently:
"It's I—Isidore—and a friend—don't be afraid—get up—not a word."
The father dressed himself, but, as they were leaving the room, he whispered:
"I am not alone in the castle—"
"Ah? Who else? Ganimard? Shears?"
"No—at least, I have not seen them."
"A young girl."
"Mlle. de Saint-Veran, no doubt."
"I don't know—I saw her several times at a distance, in the park— and, when I lean out of my window, I can see hers. She has made signals to me."
"Do you know which is her room?"
"Yes, in this passage, the third on the right."
"The blue room," murmured Valmeras. "It has folding doors: they won't give us so much trouble."
One of the two leaves very soon gave way. Old Beautrelet undertook to tell the girl.
Ten minutes later, he left the room with her and said to his son:
"You were right—Mlle. de Saint-Veran—;"
They all four went down the stairs. When they reached the bottom, Valmeras stopped and bent over the man. Then, leading them to the terrace-room:
"He is not dead," he said. "He will live."
"Ah!" said Beautrelet, with a sigh of relief.
"No, fortunately, the blade of my knife bent: the blow is not fatal. Besides, in any case, those rascals deserve no pity."
Outside, they were met by the dogs, which accompanied them to the postern. Here, Beautrelet found his two friends and the little band left the park. It was three o'clock in the morning.
This first victory was not enough to satisfy Beautrelet. As soon as he had comfortably settled his father and Mlle. de Saint-Veran, he asked them about the people who lived at the castle, and, particularly, about the habits of Arsene Lupin. He thus learnt that Lupin came only every three or four days, arriving at night in his motor car and leaving again in the morning. At each of his visits, he called separately upon his two prisoners, both of whom agreed in praising his courtesy and his extreme civility. For the moment, he was not at the castle.
Apart from him, they had seen no one except an old woman, who ruled over the kitchen and the house, and two men, who kept watch over them by turns and never spoke to them: subordinates, obviously, to judge by their manners and appearance.
"Two accomplices, for all that," said Beautrelet, in conclusion, "or rather three, with the old woman. It is a bag worth having. And, if we lose no time—"
He jumped on his bicycle, rode to Eguzon, woke up the gendarmerie, set them all going, made them sound the boot and saddle and returned to Crozant at eight o'clock, accompanied by the sergeant and eight gendarmes. Two of the men were posted beside the gipsy-van. Two others took up their positions outside the postern-door. The last four, commanded by their chief and accompanied by Beautrelet and Valmeras, marched to the main entrance of the castle.
Too late. The door was wide open. A peasant told them that he had seen a motor car drive out of the castle an hour before.
Indeed, the search led to no result. In all probability, the gang had installed themselves there picnic fashion. A few clothes were found, a little linen, some household implements; and that was all.
What astonished Beautrelet and Valmeras more was the disappearance of the wounded man. They could not see the faintest trace of a struggle, not even a drop of blood on the flagstones of the hall.
All said, there was no material evidence to prove the fleeting presence of Lupin at the Chateau de l'Aiguille; and the authorities would have been entitled to challenge the statements of Beautrelet and his father, of Valmeras and Mlle. de Saint-Veran, had they not ended by discovering, in a room next to that occupied by the young girl, some half-dozen exquisite bouquets with Arsene Lupin's card pinned to them, bouquets scorned by her, faded and forgotten—One of them, in addition to the card, contained a letter which Raymonde had not seen. That afternoon, when opened by the examining magistrate, it was found to contain page upon page of prayers, entreaties, promises, threats, despair, all the madness of a love that has encountered nothing but contempt and repulsion.
And the letter ended:
I shall come on Tuesday evening, Raymonde. Reflect between now and then. As for me, I will wait no longer. I am resolved on all.
Tuesday evening was the evening of the very day on which Beautrelet had released Mlle. de Saint-Veran from her captivity.
The reader will remember the extraordinary explosion of surprise and enthusiasm that resounded throughout the world at the news of that unexpected issue: Mlle. de Saint-Veran free! The pretty girl whom Lupin coveted, to secure whom he had contrived his most Machiavellian schemes, snatched from his claws! Free also Beautrelet's father, whom Lupin had chosen as a hostage in his extravagant longing for the armistice demanded by the needs of his passion! They were both free, the two prisoners! And the secret of the Hollow Needle was known, published, flung to the four corners of the world!
The crowd amused itself with a will. Ballads were sold and sung about the defeated adventurer: Lupin's Little Love-Affairs!— Arsene's Piteous Sobs!—The Lovesick Burglar! The Pickpocket's Lament!—They were cried on the boulevards and hummed in the artists' studios.
Raymonde, pressed with questions and pursued by interviewers, replied with the most extreme reserve. But there was no denying the letter, or the bouquets of flowers, or any part of the pitiful story! Then and there, Lupin, scoffed and jeered at, toppled from his pedestal.
And Beautrelet became the popular idol. He had foretold everything, thrown light on everything. The evidence which Mlle. de Saint-Veran gave before the examining magistrate confirmed, down to the smallest detail, the hypothesis imagined by Isidore. Reality seemed to submit, in every point, to what he had decreed beforehand. Lupin had found his master.—
Beautrelet insisted that his father, before returning to his mountains in Savoy, should take a few months' rest in the sunshine, and himself escorted him and Mlle. de Saint-Veran to the outskirts of Nice, where the Comte de Gesvres and his daughter Suzanne were already settled for the winter. Two days later, Valmeras brought his mother to see his new friends and they thus composed a little colony grouped around the Villa de Gesvres and watched over day and night by half a dozen men engaged by the comte.
Early in October, Beautrelet, once more the sixth-form pupil, returned to Paris to resume the interrupted course of his studies and to prepare for his examinations. And life began again, calmer, this time, and free from incident. What could happen, for that matter. Was the war not over?
Lupin, on his side, must have felt this very clearly, must have felt that there was nothing left for him but to resign himself to the accomplished fact; for, one fine day, his two other victims, Ganimard and Holmlock Shears, made their reappearance. Their return to the life of this planet, however, was devoid of any sort of glamor or fascination. An itinerant rag-man picked them up on the Quai des Orfevres, opposite the headquarters of police. Both of them were gagged, bound and fast asleep.
After a week of complete bewilderment, they succeeded in recovering the control of their thought and told—or rather Ganimard told, for Shears wrapped himself in a fierce and stubborn silence—how they had made a voyage of circumnavigation round the coast of Africa on board the yacht Hirondelle, a voyage combining amusement with instruction, during which they could look upon themselves as free, save for a few hours which they spent at the bottom of the hold, while the crew went on shore at outlandish ports.
As for their landing on the Quai des Orfevres, they remembered nothing about it and had probably been asleep for many days before.
This liberation of the prisoners was the final confession of defeat. By ceasing to fight, Lupin admitted it without reserve.
One incident, moreover, made it still more glaring, which was the engagement of Louis Valmeras and Mlle. de Saint-Veran. In the intimacy created between them by the new conditions under which they lived, the two young people fell in love with each other. Valmeras loved Raymonde's melancholy charm; and she, wounded by life, greedy for protection, yielded before the strength and energy of the man who had contributed so gallantly to her preservation.
The wedding day was awaited with a certain amount of anxiety. Would Lupin not try to resume the offensive? Would he accept with a good grace the irretrievable loss of the woman he loved? Twice or three times, suspicious-looking people were seen prowling round the villa; and Valmeras even had to defend himself one evening against a so- called drunken man, who fired a pistol at him and sent a bullet through his hat. But, in the end, the ceremony was performed at the appointed hour and day and Raymonde de Saint-Veran became Mme. Louis Valmeras.
It was as though Fate herself had taken sides with Beautrelet and countersigned the news of victory. This was so apparent to the crowd that his admirers now conceived the notion of entertaining him at a banquet to celebrate his triumph and Lupin's overthrow. It was a great idea and aroused general enthusiasm. Three hundred tickets were sold in less than a fortnight. Invitations were issued to the public schools of Paris, to send two sixth-form pupils apiece. The press sang paeans. The banquet was what it could not fail to be, an apotheosis.
But it was a charming and simple apotheosis, because Beautrelet was its hero. His presence was enough to bring things back to their due proportion. He showed himself modest, as usual, a little surprised at the excessive cheering, a little embarrassed by the extravagant panegyrics in which he was pronounced greater than the most illustrious detectives—a little embarrassed, but also not a little touched.
He said as much in a few words that pleased all his hearers and with the shyness of a child that blushes when you look at it. He spoke of his delight, of his pride. And really, reasonable and self- controlled as he was, this was for him a moment of never-to-be- forgotten exultation. He smiled to his friends, to his fellow- Jansonians, to Valmeras, who had come specially to give him a cheer, to M. de Gesvres, to his father.
When he had finished speaking; and while he still held his glass in his hand, a sound of voices came from the other end of the room and some one was gesticulating and waving a newspaper. Silence was restored and the importunate person sat down again: but a thrill of curiosity ran round the table, the newspaper was passed from hand to hand and, each, time that one of the guests cast his eyes upon the page at which it was opened, exclamations followed:
"Read it! Read it!" they cried from the opposite side.
The people were leaving their seats at the principal table. M. Beautrelet went and took the paper and handed it to his son.
"Read it out! Read it out!" they cried, louder.
And others said:
"Listen! He's going to read it! Listen!"
Beautrelet stood facing his audience, looked in the evening paper which his father had given him for the article that was causing all this uproar and, suddenly, his eyes encountering a heading underlined in blue pencil, he raised his hand to call for silence and began in a loud voice to read a letter addressed to the editor by M. Massiban, of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres. His voice broke and fell, little by little, as he read those stupefying revelations, which reduced all his efforts to nothing, upset his notions concerning the Hollow Needle and proved the vanity of his struggle with Arsene Lupin:
On the 17th of March, 1679, there appeared a little book with the following title: The Mystery of the Hollow Needle. The Whole Truth now first exhibited. One hundred copies printed by myself for the instruction of the Court.
At nine o'clock on the morning of that day, the author, a very young man, well-dressed, whose name has remained unknown, began to leave his book on the principal persons at court. At ten o'clock, when he had fulfilled four of these errands, he was arrested by a captain in the guards, who took him to the king's closet and forthwith set off in search of the four copies distributed.
When the hundred copies were got together, counted, carefully looked through and verified, the king himself threw them into the fire and burnt them, all but one, which he kept for his own purposes.
Then he ordered the captain of the guards to take the author of the book to M. de Saint-Mars, who confined his prisoner first at Pignerol and then in the fortress of the Ile Sainte-Marguerite. This man was obviously no other than the famous Man with the Iron Mask.
The truth would never have been known, or at least a part of the truth, if the captain in the guards had not been present at the interview and if, when the king's back was turned, he had not been tempted to withdraw another of the copies from the chimney, before the fire got to it.
Six months later, the captain was found dead on the highroad between Gaillon and Mantes. His murderers had stripped him of all his apparel, forgetting, however, in his right boot a jewel which was discovered there afterward, a diamond of the first water and of considerable value.
Among his papers was found a sheet in his handwriting, in which he did not speak of the book snatched from the flames, but gave a summary of the earlier chapters. It referred to a secret which was known to the Kings of England, which was lost by them when the crown passed from the poor fool, Henry VI., to the Duke of York, which was revealed to Charles VII., King of France, by Joan of Arc and which, becoming a State secret, was handed down from sovereign to sovereign by means of a letter, sealed anew on each occasion, which was found in the deceased monarch's death-bed with this superscription: "For the King of France."
This secret concerned the existence and described the whereabouts of a tremendous treasure, belonging to the kings, which increased in dimensions from century to century.
One hundred and fourteen years later, Louis XVI., then a prisoner in the Temple, took aside one of the officers whose duty it was to guard the royal family, and asked:
"Monsieur, had you not an ancestor who served as a captain under my predecessor, the Great King?"
"Well, could you be relied upon—could you be relied upon—"
He hesitated. The officer completed the sentence:
"Not to betray your Majesty! Oh, sire!—"
"Then listen to me."
He took from his pocket a little book of which he tore out one of the last pages. But, altering his mind:
"No, I had better copy it—"
He seized a large sheet of paper and tore it in such a way as to leave only a small rectangular space, on which he copied five lines of dots, letters and figures from the printed page. Then, after burning the latter, he folded the manuscript sheet in four, sealed it with red wax, and gave it to the officer.
"Monsieur, after my death, you must hand this to the Queen and say to her, 'From the King, madame—for Your Majesty and for your son.' If she does not understand—
"If she does not understand, sire—
"You must add, 'It concerns the secret, the secret of the Needle.' The Queen will understand."
When he had finished speaking, he flung the book into the embers glowing on the hearth.
He ascended the scaffold on the 21st of January.
It took the officer several months, in consequence of the removal of the Queen to the Conciergerie, before he could fulfil the mission with which he was entrusted. At last, by dint of cunning intrigues, he succeeded, one day, in finding himself in the presence of Marie Antoinette.
Speaking so that she could just hear him, he said:
"Madame, from the late King, your husband, for Your Majesty and your son."
And he gave her the sealed letter.
She satisfied herself that the jailers could not see her, broke the seals, appeared surprised at the sight of those undecipherable lines and then, all at once, seemed to understand.
She smiled bitterly and the officer caught the words:
"Why so late?"
She hesitated. Where should she hide this dangerous document? At last, she opened her book of hours and slipped the paper into a sort of secret pocket contrived between the leather of the binding and the parchment that covered it.
"Why so late?" she had asked.
It is, in fact, probable that this document, if it could have saved her, came too late, for, in the month of October next, Queen Marie Antoinette ascended the scaffold in her turn.
Now the officer, when going through his family papers, came upon his ancestor's manuscript. From that moment, he had but one idea, which was to devote his leisure to elucidating this strange problem. He read all the Latin authors, studied all the chronicles of France and those of the neighboring countries, visited the monasteries, deciphered account-books, cartularies, treaties; and, in this way, succeeded in discovering certain references scattered over the ages.
In Book III of Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War (MS. edition, Alexandria), it is stated that, after the defeat of Veridovix by G. Titullius Sabinus, the chief of the Caleti was brought before Caesar and that, for his ransom, he revealed the secret of the Needle—
The Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, between Charles the Simple and Rollo, the chief of the Norse barbarians, gives Rollo's name followed by all his titles, among which we read that of Master of the Secret of the Needle.
The Saxon Chronicle (Gibson's edition, page 134), speaking of William the Conqueror, says that the staff of his banner ended in a steel point pierced with an eye, like a needle.
In a rather ambiguous phrase in her examination, Joan of Arc admits that she has still a great secret to tell the King of France. To which her judges reply, "Yes, we know of what you speak; and that, Joan, is why you shall die the death."
Philippe de Comines mentions it in connection with Louis XI., and, later, Sully in connection with Henry IV.: "By the virtue of the Needle!" the good king sometimes swears.
Between these two, Francis I., in a speech addressed to the notables of the Havre, in 1520, uttered this phrase, which has been handed down in the diary of a Honfleur burgess; "The Kings of France carry secrets that often decide the conduct of affairs and the fate of towns."
All these quotations, all the stories relating to the Iron Mask, the captain of the guards and his descendant, I have found to-day in a pamphlet written by this same descendant and published in the month of June, 1815, just before or just after the battle of Waterloo, in a period, therefore, of great upheavals, in which the revelations which it contained were likely to pass unperceived.
What is the value of this pamphlet? Nothing, you will tell me, and we must attach no credit to it. And this is the impression which I myself would have carried away, if it had not occurred to me to open Caesar's Commentaries at the chapter given. What was my astonishment when I came upon the phrase quoted in the little book before me! And it was the same thing with the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, with the Saxon Chronicle, with the examination of Joan of Arc, in short, with all that I have been able to verify up to the present.
Lastly, there is an even more precise fact related by the author of the pamphlet of 1815. During the French campaign, he being then an officer under Napoleon, his horse dropped dead, one evening, and he rang at the door of a castle where he was received by an old knight of St. Louis. And, in the course of conversation with the old man, he learnt that this castle, standing on the bank of the Creuse, was called the Chateau de l'Aiguille, that it had been built and christened by Louis XIV., and that, by his express order, it was adorned with turrets and with a spire which represented the Needle. As its date it bore, it must still bear, the figure 1680.
1680! One year after the publication of the book and the imprisonment of the Iron Mask! Everything was now explained: Louis XIV., foreseeing that the secret might be noised abroad, had built and named that castle so as to offer the quidnuncs a natural explanation of the ancient mystery. The Hollow Needle! A castle with pointed bell-turrets standing on the bank of the Creuse and belonging to the King. People would at once think that they had the key to the riddle and all enquiries would cease.
The calculation was just, seeing that, more than two centuries later, M. Beautrelet fell into the trap. And this, Sir, is what I was leading up to in writing this letter. If Lupin, under the name of Anfredi, rented from M. Valmeras the Chateau de l'Aiguille on the bank of the Creuse; if, admitting the success of the inevitable investigations of M. Beautrelet, he lodged his two prisoners there, it was because he admitted the success of the inevitable researches made by M. Beautrelet and because, with the object of obtaining the peace for which he had asked, he laid for M. Beautrelet precisely what we may call the historic trap of Louis XIV.
And hence we come to this undeniable conclusion, that he, Lupin, by his unaided lights, without possessing any other facts than those which we possess, managed by means of the witchcraft of a really extraordinary genius, to decipher the undecipherable document; and that he, Lupin, the last heir of the Kings of France, knows the royal mystery of the Hollow Needle!
Here ended the letter. But, for some minutes, from the passage that referred to the Chateau de l'Aiguille onward, it was not Beautrelet's but another voice that read it aloud. Realizing his defeat, crushed under the weight of his humiliation, Isidore had dropped the newspaper and sunk into his chair, with his face buried in his hands.
Panting, shaken with excitement by this incredible story, the crowd had come gradually nearer and was now pressing round.
With a thrill of anguish, they waited for the words which he would say in reply, the objections which he would raise.
He did not stir.
Valmeras gently uncrossed his hands and raised his head.
Isidore Beautrelet was weeping.