The Hollow Needle/Chapter Three
At six o'clock in the evening, having finished all he had to do, M. Filluel, accompanied by M. Bredoux, his clerk, stood waiting for the carriage which was to take him back to Dieppe. He seemed restless, nervous. Twice over, he asked:
"You haven't seen anything of young Beautrelet, I suppose?"
"No, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, I can't say I have."
"Where on earth can he be? I haven't set eyes on him all day!"
Suddenly, he had an idea, handed his portfolio to Bredoux, ran round the chateau and made for the ruins. Isidore Beautrelet was lying near the cloisters, flat on his face, with one arm folded under his head, on the ground carpeted with pine-needles. He seemed drowsing.
"Hullo, young man, what are you doing here? Are you asleep?"
I'm not asleep. I've been thinking."
"Ever since this morning?"
"Ever since this morning."
"It's not a question of thinking! One must see into things first, study facts, look for clues, establish connecting links. The time for thinking comes after, when one pieces all that together and discovers the truth."
"Yes, I know.—That's the usual way, the right one, I dare say.— Mine is different.—I think first, I try, above all, to get the general hang of the case, if I may so express myself. Then I imagine a reasonable and logical hypothesis, which fits in with the general idea. And then, and not before, I examine the facts to see if they agree with my hypothesis."
"That's a funny method and a terribly complicated one!"
"It's a sure method, M. Filleul, which is more than can be said of yours."
"Come, come! Facts are facts."
"With your ordinary sort of adversary, yes. But, given an enemy endowed with a certain amount of cunning, the facts are those which he happens to have selected. Take the famous clues upon which you base your inquiry: why, he was at liberty to arrange them as he liked. And you see where that can lead you, into what mistakes and absurdities, when you are dealing with a man like Arsene Lupin. Holmlock Shears himself fell into the trap."
"Arsene Lupin is dead."
"No matter. His gang remains and the pupils of such a master are masters themselves."
M. Filleul took Isidore by the arm and, leading him away:
"Words, young man, words. Here is something of more importance. Listen to me. Ganimard is otherwise engaged at this moment and will not be here for a few days. On the other hand, the Comte de Gesvres has telegraphed to Holmlock Shears, who has promised his assistance next week. Now don't you think, young man, that it would be a feather in our cap if we were able to say to those two celebrities, on the day of their arrival, 'Awfully sorry, gentlemen, but we couldn't wait. The business is done'?"
It was impossible for M. Filleul to confess helplessness with greater candor. Beautrelet suppressed a smile and, pretending not to see through the worthy magistrate, replied:
"I confess. Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, that, if I was not present at your inquiry just now, it was because I hoped that you would consent to tell me the results. May I ask what you have learned?"
"Well, last night, at eleven o'clock, the three gendarmes whom Sergeant Quevillon had left on guard at the chateau received a note from the sergeant telling them to hasten with all speed to Ouville, where they are stationed. They at once rode off, and when they arrived at Ouville—"
"They discovered that they had been tricked, that the order was a forgery and that there was nothing for them to do but return to Ambrumesy."
"This they did, accompanied by Sergeant Quevillon. But they were away for an hour and a half and, during this time, the crime was committed."
"In what circumstances?"
"Very simple circumstances, indeed. A ladder was removed from the farm buildings and placed against the second story of the chateau. A pane of glass was cut out and a window opened. Two men, carrying a dark lantern, entered Mlle. de Gesvres's room and gagged her before she could cry out. Then, after binding her with cords, they softly opened the door of the room in which Mlle. de Saint-Veran was sleeping. Mlle. de Gesvres heard a stifled moan, followed by the sound of a person struggling. A moment later, she saw two men carrying her cousin, who was also bound and gagged. They passed in front of her and went out through the window. Then Mlle. de Gesvres, terrified and exhausted, fainted."
"But what about the dogs? I thought M. de Gesvres had bought two almost wild sheep-dogs, which were let loose at night?"
"They were found dead, poisoned."
"By whom? Nobody could get near them."
"It's a mystery. The fact remains that the two men crossed the ruins without let or hindrance and went out by the little door which we have heard so much about. They passed through the copsewood, following the line of the disused quarries. It was not until they were nearly half a mile from the chateau, at the foot of the tree known as the Great Oak, that they stopped—and executed their purpose."
"If they came with the intention of killing Mlle. de Saint-Veran, why didn't they murder her in her room?"
"I don't know. Perhaps the incident that settled their determination only occurred after they had left the house. Perhaps the girl succeeded in releasing herself from her bonds. In my opinion, the scarf which was picked up was used to fasten her wrists. In any case, the blow was struck at the foot of the Great Oak. I have collected indisputable proofs—"
"But the body?"
"The body has not been found, but there is nothing excessively surprising in that. As a matter of fact, the trail which I followed brought me to the church at Varengeville and the old cemetery perched on the top of the cliff. From there it is a sheer precipice, a fall of over three hundred feet to the rocks and the sea below. In a day or two, a stronger tide than usual will cast up the body on the beach."
"Obviously. This is all very simple."
"Yes, it is all very simple and doesn't trouble me in the least. Lupin is dead, his accomplices heard of it and, to revenge themselves, have killed Mlle. de Saint-Veran. These are facts which did not even require checking. But Lupin?"
"What about him?"
"What has become of him? In all probability, his confederates removed his corpse at the same time that they carried away the girl; but what proof have we? None at all. Any more than of his staying in the ruins, or of his death, or of his life. And that is the real mystery, M. Beautrelet. The murder of Mlle. Raymonde solves nothing. On the contrary, it only complicates matters. What has been happening during the past two months at the Chateau d'Ambrumesy? If we don't clear up the riddle, young man, others will give us the go- by."
"On what day are those others coming?"
Beautrelet seemed to be making an inward calculation and then declared:
"Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, this is Saturday. I have to be back at school on Monday evening. Well, if you will have the goodness to be here at ten o'clock exactly on Monday morning, I will try to give you the key to the riddle."
"Really, M. Beautrelet—do you think so? Are you sure?"
"I hope so, at any rate."
"And where are you going now?"
"I am going to see if the facts consent to fit in with the general theory which I am beginning to perceive."
"And if they don't fit in?"
"Well, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction," said Beautrelet, with a laugh, "then it will be their fault and I must look for others which, will prove more tractable. Till Monday, then?"
A few minutes later, M. Filleul was driving toward Dieppe, while Isidore mounted a bicycle which he had borrowed from the Comte de Gesvres and rode off along the road to Yerville and Caudebec-en- Caux.
There was one point in particular on which the young man was anxious to form a clear opinion, because this just appeared to him to be the enemy's weakest point. Objects of the size of the four Rubens pictures cannot be juggled away. They were bound to be somewhere. Granting that it was impossible to find them for the moment, might one not discover the road by which they had disappeared?
What Beautrelet surmised was that the four pictures had undoubtedly been carried off in the motor car, but that, before reaching Caudebec, they were transferred to another car, which had crossed the Seine either above Caudebec or below it. Now the first horse- boat down the stream was at Quillebeuf, a greatly frequented ferry and, consequently, dangerous. Up stream, there was the ferry-boat at La Mailleraie, a large, but lonely market-town, lying well off the main road.
By midnight, Isidore had covered the thirty-five or forty miles to La Mailleraie and was knocking at the door of an inn by the waterside. He slept there and, in the morning, questioned the ferrymen.
They consulted the counterfoils in the traffic-book. No motor-car had crossed on Thursday the 23rd of April.
"A horse-drawn vehicle, then?" suggested Beautrelet. "A cart? A van?"
"No, not either."
Isidore continued his inquiries all through the morning. He was on the point of leaving for Quillebeuf, when the waiter of the inn at which he had spent the night said:
"I came back from my thirteen days' training on the morning of which you are speaking and I saw a cart, but it did not go across."
"No, they unloaded it onto a flat boat, a barge of sorts, which was moored to the wharf."
"And where did the cart come from?"
"Oh, I knew it at once. It belonged to Master Vatinel, the carter."
"And where does he live?"
Beautrelet consulted his military map. The hamlet of Louvetot lay where the highroad between Yvetot and Caudebec was crossed by a little winding road that ran through the woods to La Maiileraie.
Not until six o'clock in the evening did Isidore succeed in discovering Master Vatinel, in a pothouse. Master Vatinel was one of those artful old Normans who are always on their guard, who distrust strangers, but who are unable to resist the lure of a gold coin or the influence of a glass or two:
"Well, yes, sir, the men in the motor car that morning had told me to meet them at five o'clock at the crossroads. They gave me four great, big things, as high as that. One of them went with me and we carted the things to the barge."
"You speak of them as if you knew them before."
"I should think I did know them! It was the sixth time they were employing me."
Isidore gave a start:
"The sixth time, you say? And since when?"
"Why every day before that one, to be sure! But it was other things then—great blocks of stone—or else smaller, longish ones, wrapped up in newspapers, which they carried as if they were worth I don't know what. Oh, I mustn't touch those on any account!—But what's the matter? You've turned quite white."
"Nothing—the heat of the room—"
Beautrelet staggered out into the air. The joy, the surprise of the discovery made him feel giddy. He went back very quietly to Varengeville, slept in the village, spent an hour at the mayor's offices with the school-master and returned to the chateau. There he found a letter awaiting him "care of M. le Comte de Gesvres." It consisted of a single line:
"Second warning. Hold your tongue. If not—"
"Come," he muttered. "I shall have to make up my mind and take a few precautions for my personal safety. If not, as they say—"
It was nine o'clock. He strolled about among the ruins and then lay down near the cloisters and closed his eyes.
"Well, young man, are you satisfied with the results of your campaign?"
It was M. Filleul.
"Delighted, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction."
"By which you mean to say—?"
"By which I mean to say that I am prepared to keep my promise—in spite of this very uninviting letter."
He showed the letter to M. Filleul.
"Pooh! Stuff and nonsense!" cried the magistrate. "I hope you won't let that prevent you—"
"From telling you what I know? No, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction. I have given my word and I shall keep it. In less than ten minutes, you shall know—a part of the truth."
"Yes, in my opinion, Lupin's hiding-place does not constitute the whole of the problem. Far from it. But we shall see later on."
"M. Beautrelet, nothing that you do could astonish me now. But how were you able to discover—?"
"Oh, in a very natural way! In the letter from old man Harlington to M. Etienne de Vaudreix, or rather to Lupin—"
"The intercepted letter?"
"Yes. There is a phrase which always puzzled me. After saying that the pictures are to be forwarded as arranged, he goes on to say, 'You may add THE REST, if you are able to succeed, which I doubt.'"
"Yes, I remember."
"What was this 'rest'? A work of art, a curiosity? The chateau contains nothing of any value besides the Rubenses and the tapestries. Jewelry? There is very little and what there is of it is not worth much. In that case, what could it be?—On the other hand, was it conceivable that people so prodigiously clever as Lupin should not have succeeded in adding 'the rest,' which they themselves had evidently suggested? A difficult undertaking, very likely; exceptional, surprising, I dare say; but possible and therefore certain, since Lupin wished it."
"And yet he failed: nothing has disappeared."
"He did not fail: something has disappeared."
"Yes, the Rubenses—but—"
"The Rubenses and something besides—something which has been replaced by a similar thing, as in the case of the Rubenses; something much more uncommon, much rarer, much more valuable than the Rubenses."
"Well, what? You're killing me with this procrastination!"
While talking, the two men had crossed the ruins, turned toward the little door and were now walking beside the chapel. Beautrelet stopped:
"Do you really want to know, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction?"
"Of course, I do."
Beautrelet was carrying a walking-stick, a strong, knotted stick. Suddenly, with a back stroke of this stick, he smashed one of the little statues that adorned the front of the chapel.
"Why, you're mad!" shouted M. Filleul, beside himself, rushing at the broken pieces of the statue. "You're mad! That old saint was an admirable bit of work—"
"An admirable bit of work!" echoed Isidore, giving a whirl which brought down the Virgin Mary.
M. Filleul took hold of him round the body:
"Young man, I won't allow you to commit—"
A wise man of the East came toppling to the ground, followed by a manger containing the Mother and Child. . . .
"If you stir another limb, I fire!"
The Comte de Gesvres had appeared upon the scene and was cocking his revolver. Beautrelet burst out laughing:
"That's right, Monsieur le Comte, blaze away!—Take a shot at them, as if you were at a fair!—Wait a bit—this chap carrying his head in his hands—"
St. John the Baptist fell, shattered to pieces.
"Oh!" shouted the count, pointing his revolver. "You young vandal!— Those masterpieces!"
"Sham, Monsieur le Comte!"
"What? What's that?" roared M. Filleul, wresting the Comte de Gesvres's weapon from him.
"Sham!" repeated Beautrelet. "Paper-pulp and plaster!"
"Oh, nonsense! It can't be true!"
"Hollow plaster, I tell you! Nothing at all!"
The count stooped and picked up a sliver of a statuette.
"Look at it, Monsieur le Comte, and see for yourself: it's plaster! Rusty, musty, mildewed plaster, made to look like old stone—but plaster for all that, plaster casts!—That's all that remains of your perfect masterpiece!—That's what they've done in just a few days!-That's what the Sieur Charpenais who copied the Rubenses, prepared a year ago." He seized M. Filleul's arm in his turn. "What do you think of it, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction? Isn't it fine? Isn't it grand? Isn't it gorgeous? The chapel has been removed! A whole Gothic chapel collected stone by stone! A whole population of statues captured and replaced by these chaps in stucco! One of the most magnificent specimens of an incomparable artistic period confiscated! The chapel, in short, stolen! Isn't it immense? Ah, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, what a genius the man is!"
"You're allowing yourself to be carried away, M. Beautrelet."
"One can't be carried away too much, monsieur, when one has to do with people like that. Every-thing above the average deserves our admiration. And this man soars above everything. There is in his flight a wealth of imagination, a force and power, a skill and freedom that send a thrill through me!"
"Pity he's dead," said M. Filleul, with a grin. "He'd have ended by stealing the towers of Notre-Dame."
Isidore shrugged his shoulders:
"Don't laugh, monsieur. He upsets you, dead though he may be."
"I don't say not, I don't say not, M. Beautrelet, I confess that I feel a certain excitement now that I am about to set eyes on him— unless, indeed, his friends have taken away the body."
"And always admitting," observed the Comte de Gesvres, "that it was really he who was wounded by my poor niece."
"It was he, beyond a doubt, Monsieur le Comte," declared Beautrelet; "it was he, believe me, who fell in the ruins under the shot fired by Mlle. de Saint-Veran; it was he whom she saw rise and who fell again and dragged himself toward the cloisters to rise again for the last time—this by a miracle which I will explain to you presently— to rise again for the last time and reach this stone shelter—which was to be his tomb."
And Beautrelet struck the threshold of the chapel with his stick.
"Eh? What?" cried M. Filleul, taken aback. "His tomb?—Do you think that that impenetrable hiding-place—"
"It was here—there," he repeated.
"But we searched it."
"There is no hiding-place here," protested M. de Gesvres. "I know the chapel."
"Yes, there is, Monsieur le Comte. Go to the mayor's office at Varengeville, where they have collected all the papers that used to be in the old parish of Ambrumesy, and you will learn from those papers, which belong to the eighteenth century, that there is a crypt below the chapel. This crypt doubtless dates back to the Roman chapel, upon the site of which the present one was built."
"But how can Lupin have known this detail?" asked M. Filleul.
"In a very simple manner: because of the works which he had to execute to take away the chapel."
"Come, come, M. Beautrelet, you're exaggerating. He has not taken away the whole chapel. Look, not one of the stones of this top course has been touched."
"Obviously, he cast and took away only what had a financial value: the wrought stones, the sculptures, the statuettes, the whole treasure of little columns and carved arches. He did not trouble about the groundwork of the building itself. The foundations remain."
"Therefore, M. Beautrelet, Lupin was not able to make his way into the crypt."
At that moment, M. de Gesvres, who had been to call a servant, returned with the key of the chapel. He opened the door. The three men entered. After a short examination Beautrelet said:
"The flag-stones on the ground have been respected, as one might expect. But it is easy to perceive that the high altar is nothing more than a cast. Now, generally, the staircase leading to the crypt opens in front of the high altar and passes under it."
"What do you conclude?"
"I conclude that Lupin discovered the crypt when working at the altar."
The count sent for a pickaxe and Beautrelet attacked the altar. The plaster flew to right and left. He pushed the pieces aside as he went on.
"By Jove!" muttered M. Filleul, "I am eager to know—"
"So am I," said Beautrelet, whose face was pale with anguish.
He hurried his blows. And, suddenly, his pickaxe, which, until then, had encountered no resistance, struck against a harder material and rebounded. There was a sound of something falling in; and all that remained of the altar went tumbling into the gap after the block of stone which had been struck by the pickaxe. Beautrelet bent forward. A puff of cold air rose to his face. He lit a match and moved it from side to side over the gap:
"The staircase begins farther forward than I expected, under the entrance-flags, almost. I can see the last steps, there, right at the bottom."
"Is it deep?"
"Three or four yards. The steps are very high—and there are some missing."
"It is hardly likely," said M. Filleul, "that the accomplices can have had time to remove the body from the cellar, when they were engaged in carrying off Mlle. de Saint-Veran—during the short absence of the gendarmes. Besides, why should they?—No, in my opinion, the body is here."
A servant brought them a ladder. Beautrelet let it down through the opening and fixed it, after groping among the fallen fragments. Holding the two uprights firmly:
"Will you go down, M. Filleul?" he asked.
The magistrate, holding a candle in his hand, ventured down the ladder. The Comte de Gesvres followed him and Beautrelet, in his turn, placed his foot on the first rung.
Mechanically, he counted eighteen rungs, while his eyes examined the crypt, where the glimmer of the candle struggled against the heavy darkness. But, at the bottom, his nostrils were assailed by one of those foul and violent smells which linger m the memory for many a long day. And, suddenly, a trembling hand seized him by the shoulder.
"Well, what is it?"
"B-beautrelet," stammered M. Filleul. "B-beau-trelet—"
He could not get a word out for terror.
"Come, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, compose yourself!"
"Beautrelet—he is there—"
"Yes-there was something under the big stone that broke off the altar—I pushed the stone—and I touched—I shall never—shall never forget.—"
"Where is it?"
"On this side.—Don't you notice the smell?—And then look—see."
He took the candle and held it towards a motionless form stretched upon the ground.
"Oh!" exclaimed Beautrelet, in a horror-stricken tone.
The three men bent down quickly. The corpse lay half-naked, lean, frightful. The flesh, which had the greenish hue of soft wax, appeared in places through the torn clothes. But the most hideous thing, the thing that had drawn a cry of terror from the young man's lips, was the head, the head which had just been crushed by the block of stone, the shapeless head, a repulsive mass in which not one feature could be distinguished.
Beautrelet took four strides up the ladder and fled into the daylight and the open air.
M. Filleul found him again lying flat on the around, with his hands glued to his face:
"I congratulate you, Beautrelet," he said. "In addition to the discovery of the hiding-place, there are two points on which I have been able to verify the correctness of your assertions. First of all, the man on whom Mlle. de Saint-Veran fired was indeed Arsene Lupin, as you said from the start. Also, he lived in Paris under the name of Etienne de Vaudreix. His linen is marked with the initials E. V. That ought to be sufficient proof, I think: don't you?"
Isidore did not stir.
"Monsieur le Comte has gone to have a horse put to. They're sending for Dr. Jouet, who will make the usual examination. In my opinion, death must have taken place a week ago, at least. The state of decomposition of the corpse—but you don't seem to be listening—"
"What I say is based upon absolute reasons. Thus, for instance—"
M. Filleul continued his demonstrations, with-out, however, obtaining any more manifest marks of attention. But M. de Gesvres's return interrupted his monologue. The comte brought two letters. One was to tell him that Holmlock Shears would arrive next morning.
"Capital!" cried M. Filleul, joyfully. "Inspector Ganimard will be here too. It will be delightful."
"The other letter is for you, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction," said the comte.
"Better and better," said M. Filleul, after reading it. "There will certainly not be much for those two gentlemen to do. M. Beautrelet, I hear from Dieppe that the body of a young woman was found by some shrimpers, this morning, on the rocks."
Beautrelet gave a start:
"What's that? The body—"
"Of a young woman.—The body is horribly mutilated, they say, and it would be impossible to establish the identity, but for a very narrow little gold curb-bracelet on the right arm which has become encrusted in the swollen skin. Now Mlle. de Saint-Veran used to wear a gold curb-bracelet on her right arm. Evidently, therefore, Monsieur le Comte, this is the body of your poor niece, which the sea must have washed to that distance. What do you think, Beautrelet?"
"Nothing—nothing—or, rather, yes—everything is connected, as you see—and there is no link missing in my argument. All the facts, one after the other, however contradictory, however disconcerting they may appear, end by support-the supposition which I imagined from the first."
"I don't understand."
"You soon will. Remember, I promised you the whole truth."
"But it seems to me—"
"A little patience, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction. So far, you have had no cause to complain of me. It is a fine day. Go for a walk, lunch at the chateau, smoke your pipe. I shall be back by four o'clock. As for my school, well, I don't care: I shall take the night train."
They had reached the out-houses at the back of the chateau. Beautrelet jumped on his bicycle and rode away.
At Dieppe, he stopped at the office of the local paper, the Vigie, and examined the file for the last fortnight. Then he went on to the market-town of Envermeu, six or seven miles farther. At Envermeu, he talked to the mayor, the rector and the local policeman. The church- clock struck three. His inquiry was finished.
He returned singing for joy. He pressed upon the two pedals turn by turn, with an equal and powerful rhythm; his chest opened wide to take in the keen air that blew from the sea. And, from time to time, he forgot himself to the extent of uttering shouts of triumph to the sky, when he thought of the aim which he was pursuing and of the success that was crowning his efforts.
Ambrumesy appeared in sight. He coasted at full speed down the slope leading to the chateau. The top rows of venerable trees that line the road seemed to run to meet him and to vanish behind him forthwith. And, all at once, he uttered a cry. In a sudden vision, he had seen a rope stretched from one tree to another, across the road.
His machine gave a jolt and stopped short. Beautrelet was flung three yards forward, with immense violence, and it seemed to him that only chance, a miraculous chance, caused him to escape a heap of pebbles on which, logically, he ought to have broken his head.
He lay for a few seconds stunned. Then, all covered with bruises, with the skin flayed from his knees, he examined the spot. On the right lay a small wood, by which his aggressor had no doubt fled. Beautrelet untied the rope. To the tree on the left around which it was fastened a small piece of paper was fixed with string. Beautrelet unfolded it and read:
"The third and last warning."
He went on to the chateau, put a few questions to the servants and joined the examining magistrate in a room on the ground floor, at the end of the right wing, where M. Filleul used to sit in the course of his operations. M. Filleul was writing, with his clerk seated opposite to him. At a sign from him, the clerk left the room; and the magistrate exclaimed:
"Why, what have you been doing to yourself, M. Beautrelet? Your hands are covered with blood."
"It's nothing, it's nothing," said the young man. "Just a fall occasioned by this rope, which was stretched in front of my bicycle. I will only ask you to observe that the rope comes from the chateau. Not longer than twenty minutes ago, it was being used to dry linen on, outside the laundry."
"You don't mean to say so!"
"Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, I am being watched here, by some one in the very heart of the place, who can see me, who can hear me and who, minute by minute, observes my actions and knows my intentions."
"Do you think so?"
I am sure of it. It is for you to discover him and you will have no difficulty in that. As for myself, I want to have finished and to give you the promised explanations. I have made faster progress than our adversaries expected and I am convinced that they mean to take vigorous measures on their side. The circle is closing around me. The danger is approaching. I feel it."
"You wait and see! For the moment, let us lose no time. And, first, a question on a point which I want to have done with at once. Have you spoken to anybody of that document which Sergeant Quevillon picked up and handed you in my presence?"
"No, indeed; not to a soul. But do you attach any value—?"
"The greatest value. It's an idea of mine, an idea, I confess, which does not rest upon a proof of any kind—for, up to the present, I have not succeeded in deciphering the document. And therefore I am mentioning it—so that we need not come back to it."
Beautrelet pressed his hand on M. Filleul's and whispered:
"Don't speak—there's some one listening—outside—"
The gravel creaked. Beautrelet ran to the window and leaned out:
"There's no one there—but the border has been trodden down—we can easily identify the footprints—"
He closed the window and sat down again:
"You see, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, the enemy has even ceased to take the most ordinary precautions-he has not time left—he too feels that the hour is urgent. Let us be quick, there-fore, and speak, since they do not wish us to speak."
He laid the document on the table and held it in position, unfolded:
"One observation, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, to begin with. The paper consists almost entirely of dots and figures. And in the first three lines and the fifth—the only ones with which we have to do at present, for the fourth seems to present an entirely different character—not one of those figures is higher than the figure 5. There is, therefore, a great chance that each of these figures represents one of the five vowels, taken in alphabetical order. Let us put down the result."
He wrote on a separate piece of paper:
E . A . A . . E . . E . A . . A . . A . . . E . E . . E OI . E . . E . . OU . . E . O . . . E . . E . O . . E AI . UI . . E . . EU . E
Then he continued:
"As you see, this does not give us much to go upon. The key is, at the same time, very easy, because the inventor has contented himself with replacing the vowels by figures and the consonants by dots, and very difficult, if not impossible, because he has taken no further trouble to complicate the problem."
"It is certainly pretty obscure."
"Let us try to throw some light upon it. The second line is divided into two parts; and the second part appears in such a way that it probably forms one word. If we now seek to replace the intermediary dots by consonants, we arrive at the conclusion, after searching and casting about, that the only consonants which are logically able to support the vowels are also logically able to produce only one word, the word DEMOISELLES."
"That would refer to Mlle. de Gesvres and Mlle. de Saint-Veran."
"And do you see nothing more?"
"Yes. I also note an hiatus in the middle of the last line; and, if I apply a similar operation to the beginning of the line, I at once see that the only consonant able to take the place of the dot between the diphthongs FAI and UI is the letter G and that, when I have thus formed the first five letters of the word, AIGUI, it is natural and inevitable that, with the two next dots and the final E, I should arrive at the word AIGUILLE."
"Yes, the word AIGUILLE forces itself upon us."
"Finally, for the last word, I have three vowels and three consonants. I cast about again, I try all the letters, one after the other, and, starting with the principle that the two first letters are necessary consonants, I find that three words apply: F*EUVE, PREUVE and CREUSE. I eliminate the words F*EUVE and PREUVE, as possessing no possible relation to a needle, and I keep the word CREUSE."
"Making 'hollow needle'! By jove! I admit that your solution is correct, because it needs must be; but how does it help us?"
"Not at all," said Beautrelet, in a thoughtful tone. "Not at all, for the moment.—Later on, we shall see.—I have an idea that a number of things are included in the puzzling conjunction of those two words, AIGUILLE CREUSE. What is troubling me at present is rather the material on which the document is written, the paper employed.—Do they still manufacture this sort of rather coarse- grained parchment? And then this ivory color.—And those folds—the wear of those folds—and. lastly, look, those marks of red sealing- wax, on the back—"
At that moment Beautrelet, was interrupted by Bredoux, the magistrate's clerk, who opened the door and announced the unexpected arrival of the chief public prosecutor. M. Filleul rose:
"Anything new? Is Monsieur le Procureur General downstairs?"
"No, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction. Monsieur le Procureur General has not left his carriage. He is only passing through Ambrumesy and begs you to be good enough to go down to him at the gate. He only has a word to say to you."
"That's curious," muttered M. Filleul. "How-ever—we shall see. Excuse me, Beautrelet, I shan't be long."
He went away. His footsteps sounded outside. Then the clerk closed the door, turned the key and put it in his pocket.
"Hullo!" exclaimed Beautrelet, greatly surprised. "What are you locking us in for?"
"We shall be able to talk so much better," retorted Bredoux.
Beautrelet rushed toward another door, which led to the next room. He had understood: the accomplice was Bredoux, the clerk of the examining magistrate himself. Bredoux grinned:
"Don't hurt your fingers, my young friend. I have the key of that door, too."
"There's the window!" cried Beautrelet.
"Too late," said Bredoux, planting himself in front of the casement, revolver in hand.
Every chance of retreat was cut off. There was nothing more for Isidore to do, nothing except to defend himself against the enemy who was revealing himself with such brutal daring. He crossed his arms.
"Good," mumbled the clerk. "And now let us waste no time." He took out his watch. "Our worthy M. Filleul will walk down to the gate. At the gate, he will find nobody, of course: no more public prosecutor than my eye. Then he will come back. That gives us about four minutes. It will take me one minute to escape by this window, clear through the little door by the ruins and jump on the motor cycle waiting for me. That leaves three minutes, which is just enough."
Bredoux was a queer sort of misshapen creature, who balanced on a pair of very long spindle-legs a huge trunk, as round as the body of a spider and furnished with immense arms. A bony face and a low, small stubborn forehead pointed to the man's narrow obstinacy.
Beautrelet felt a weakness in the legs and staggered. He had to sit down:
"Speak," he said. "What do you want?"
"The paper. I've been looking for it for three days."
"I haven't got it."
"You're lying. I saw you put it back in your pocket-book when I came in."
"Next, you must undertake to keep quite quiet. You're annoying us. Leave us alone and mind your own business. Our patience is at an end."
He had come nearer, with the revolver still aimed at the young man's head, and spoke in a hollow voice, with a powerful stress on each syllable that he uttered. His eyes were hard, his smile cruel.
Beautrelet gave a shudder. It was the first time that he was experiencing the sense of danger. And such danger! He felt himself in the presence of an implacable enemy, endowed with blind and irresistible strength.
"And next?" he asked, with less assurance in his voice.
"Next? Nothing.—You will be free.—We will forget—"
There was a pause. Then Bredoux resumed:
"There is only a minute left. You must make up your mind. Come, old chap, don't be a fool.—We are the stronger, you know, always and everywhere.—Quick, the paper—"
Isidore did not flinch. With a livid and terrified face, he remained master of himself, nevertheless, and his brain remained clear amid the breakdown of his nerves. The little black hole of the revolver was pointing at six inches from his eyes. The finger was bent and obviously pressing on the trigger. It only wanted a moment—
"The paper," repeated Bredoux. "If not—"
"Here it is," said Beautrelet.
He took out his pocket-book and handed it to the clerk, who seized it eagerly.
"Capital! We've come to our senses. I've no doubt there's something to be done with you.—You're troublesome, but full of common sense. I'll talk about it to my pals. And now I'm off. Good-bye!"
He pocketed his revolver and turned back the fastening of the window. There was a noise in the passage.
"Good-bye," he said again. "I'm only just in time."
But the idea stopped him. With a quick movement, he examined the pocket-book:
"Damn and blast it!" He grated through his teeth. "The paper's not there.—You've done me—"
He leaped into the room. Two shots rang out. Isidore, in his turn, had seized his pistol and fired.
"Missed, old chap!" shouted Bredoux. "Your hand's shaking.—You're afraid—"
They caught each other round the body and came down to the floor together. There was a violent and incessant knocking at the door. Isidore's strength gave way and he was at once over come by his adversary. It was the end. A hand was lifted over him, armed with a knife, and fell. A fierce pain burst into his shoulder. He let go.
He had an impression of some one fumbling in the inside pocket of his jacket and taking the paper from it. Then, through the lowered veil of his eyelids, he half saw the man stepping over the window- sill.
The same newspapers which, on the following morning, related the last episodes that had occurred at the Chateau d'Ambrumesy—the trickery at the chapel, the discovery of Arsene Lupin's body and of Raymonde's body and, lastly, the murderous attempt made upon Beautrelet by the clerk to the examining magistrate—also announced two further pieces of news: the disappearance of Ganimard, and the kidnapping of Holmlock Shears, in broad daylight, in the heart of London, at the moment when he was about to take the train for Dover.
Lupin's gang, therefore, which had been disorganized for a moment by the extraordinary ingenuity of a seventeen-year-old schoolboy, was now resuming the offensive and was winning all along the line from the first. Lupin's two great adversaries, Shears and Ganimard, were put away. Isidore Beautrelet was disabled. The police were powerless. For the moment there was no one left capable of struggling against such enemies.