The Hollow Needle/Chapter Two
From the Grand Journal.
DOCTOR DELATTRE KIDNAPPED A MAD PIECE OF CRIMINAL DARING
At the moment of going to press, we have received an item of news which we dare not guarantee as authentic, because of its very improbable character. We print it, therefore, with all reserve.
Yesterday evening, Dr. Delattre, the well-known surgeon, was present, with his wife and daughter, at the performance of Hernani at the Comedie Francaise. At the commencement of the third act, that is to say, at about ten o'clock, the door of his box opened and a gentleman, accompanied by two others, leaned over to the doctor and said to him, in a low voice, but loud enough for Mme. Delattre to hear:
Doctor, I have a very painful task to fulfil and I shall be very grateful to you if you will make it as easy for me as you can."
"Who are you, sir?"
"M. Thezard, commissary of police of the first district; and my instructions are to take you to M. Dudouis, at the prefecture."
"Not a word, doctor, I entreat you, not a movement—There is some regrettable mistake; and that is why we must act in silence and not attract anybody's attention. You will be back, I have no doubt, before the end of the performance."
The doctor rose and went with the commissary. At the end of the performance, he had not returned. Mme. Delattre, greatly alarmed, drove to the office of the commissary of police. There she found the real M. Thezard and discovered, to her great terror, that the individual who had carried off her husband was an impostor.
Inquiries made so far have revealed the fact that the doctor stepped into a motor car and that the car drove off in the direction of the Concorde.
Readers will find further details of this incredible adventure in our second edition.
Incredible though it might be, the adventure was perfectly true. Besides, the issue was not long delayed and the Grand Journal, while confirming the story in its midday edition, described in a few lines the dramatic ending with which it concluded:
ISIDORE BEAUTRELET THE STORY ENDS
Dr. Delattre was brought back to 78, Rue Duret, at nine o'clock this morning, in a motor car which drove away immediately at full speed.
No. 78, Rue Duret, is the address of Dr. Delattre's clinical surgery, at which he arrives every morning at the same hour. When we sent in our card, the doctor, though closeted with the chief of the detective service, was good enough to consent to receive us.
"All that I can tell you," he said, in reply to our questions, "is that I was treated with the greatest consideration. My three companions were the most charming people I have ever met, exquisitely well-mannered and bright and witty talkers: a quality not to be despised, in view of the length of the journey."
"How long did it take?"
"About four hours and as long returning."
"And what was the object of the journey?"
"I was taken to see a patient whose condition rendered an immediate operation necessary."
"And was the operation successful?"
"Yes, but the consequences may be dangerous. I would answer for the patient here. Down there—under his present conditions—"
"Execrable!—A room in an inn—and the practically absolute impossibility of being attended to."
"Then what can save him?"
"A miracle—and his constitution, which is an exceptionally strong one."
"And can you say nothing more about this strange patient?"
"No. In the first place, I have taken an oath; and, secondly, I have received a present of ten thousand francs for my free surgery. If I do not keep silence, this sum will be taken from me."
"You are joking! Do you believe that?"
"Indeed I do. The men all struck me as being very much in earnest."
This is the statement made to us by Dr. Delattre. And we know, on the other hand, that the head of the detective service, in spite of all his insisting, has not yet succeeded in extracting any more precise particulars from him as to the operation which he performed, the patient whom he attended or the district traversed by the car. It is difficult, therefore, to arrive at the truth.
This truth, which the writer of the interview confessed himself unable to discover, was guessed by the more or less clear-sighted minds that perceived a connection with the facts which had occurred the day before at the Chateau d'Ambrumesy, and which were reported, down to the smallest detail, in all the newspapers of that day. There was evidently a coincidence to be reckoned with in the disappearance of a wounded burglar and the kidnapping of a famous surgeon.
The judical inquiry, moreover, proved the correctness of the hypothesis. By following the track of the sham flyman, who had fled on a bicycle, they were able to show that he had reached the forest of Arques, at some ten miles' distance, and that from there, after throwing his bicycle into a ditch, he had gone to the village of Saint-Nicolas, whence he had dispatched the following telegram:
A. L. N., Post-office 45, Paris. Situation desperate. Operation urgently necessary. Send celebrity by national road fourteen.
The evidence was undeniable. Once apprised the accomplices in Paris hastened to make their arrangements. At ten o'clock in the evening they sent their celebrity by National Road No. 14, which skirts the forest of Arques and ends at Dieppe. During this time, under cover of the fire which they themselves had caused, the gang of burglars carried off their leader and moved him to an inn, where the operation took place on the arrival of the surgeon, at two o'clock in the morning.
About that there was no doubt. At Pontoise, at Gournay, at Forges, Chief-inspector Ganimard, who was sent specially from Paris, with Inspector Folenfant, as his assistant, ascertained that a motor car had passed in the course of the previous night. The same on the road from Dieppe to Ambrumesy. And, though the traces of the car were lost at about a mile and a half from the chateau, at least a number of footmarks were seen between the little door in the park wall and the abbey ruins. Besides, Ganimard remarked that the lock of the little door had been forced.
So all was explained. It remained to decide which inn the doctor had spoken of: an easy piece of work for a Ganimard, a professional ferret, a patient old stager of the police. The number of inns is limited and this one, given the condition of the wounded man, could only be one quite close to Ambrumesy. Ganimard and Sergeant Quevillon set to work. Within a circle of five hundred yards, of a thousand yards, of fifteen hundred yards, they visited and ransacked everything that could pass for an inn. But, against all expectation, the dying man persisted in remaining invisible.
Ganimard became more resolved than ever. He came back to sleep at the chateau, on the Saturday night, with the intention of making his personal inquiry on the Sunday. On Sunday morning, he learned that, during the night, a posse of gendarmes had seen a figure gliding along the sunk road, outside the wall. Was it an accomplice who had come back to investigate? Were they to suppose that the leader of the gang had not left the cloisters or the neighborhood of the cloisters?
That night, Ganimard openly sent the squad of gendarmes to the farm and posted himself and Folenfant outside the walls, near the little door.
A little before midnight, a person passed out of the wood, slipped between them, went through the door and entered the park. For three hours, they saw him wander from side to side across the ruins, stooping, climbing up the old pillars, sometimes remaining for long minutes without moving. Then he went back to the door and again passed between the two inspectors.
Ganimard caught him by the collar, while Folenfant seized him round the body. He made no resistance of any kind and, with the greatest docility, allowed them to bind his wrists and take him to the house. But, when they attempted to question him, he replied simply that he owed them no account of his doings and that he would wait for the arrival of the examining magistrate. Thereupon, they fastened him firmly to the foot of a bed, in one of the two adjoining rooms which they occupied.
At nine o'clock on Monday morning, as soon as M. Filleul had arrived, Ganimard announced the capture which he had made. The prisoner was brought downstairs. It was Isidore Beautrelet.
"M. Isidore Beautrelet!" exclaimed M. Filleul with an air of rapture, holding out both his hands to the newcomer. "What a delightful surprise! Our excellent amateur detective here! And at our disposal too! Why, it's a windfall!—M. Chief-inspector, allow me to introduce to you M. Isidore Beautrelet, a sixth-form pupil at the Lycee Janson-de-Sailly."
Ganimard seemed a little nonplussed. Isidore made him a very low bow, as though he were greeting a colleague whom he knew how to esteem at his true value, and, turning to M. Filleul:
"It appears, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, that you have received a satisfactory account of me?"
"Perfectly satisfactory! To begin with, you were really at Veules- les-Roses at the time when Mlle. de Saint-Veran thought she saw you in the sunk road. I dare say we shall discover the identity of your double. In the second place, you are in very deed Isidore Beautrelet, a sixth-form pupil and, what is more, an excellent pupil, industrious at your work and of exemplary behavior. As your father lives in the country, you go out once a month to his correspondent, M. Bernod, who is lavish in his praises of you."
"So that you are free, M. Isidore Beautrelet."
"Absolutely. Oh, I must make just one little condition, all the same. You can understand that I can't release a gentleman who administers sleeping-draughts, who escapes by the window and who is afterward caught in the act of trespassing upon private property. I can't release him without a compensation of some kind."
"I await your pleasure."
"Well, we will resume our interrupted conversation and you shall tell me how far you have advanced with your investigations. In two days of liberty, you must have carried them pretty far?" And, as Ganimard was preparing to go, with an affectation of contempt for that sort of practice, the magistrate cried, "Not at all, M. Inspector, your place is here—I assure you that M. Isidore Beautrelet is worth listening to. M. Isidore Beautrelet, according to my information, has made a great reputation at the Lycee Janson- de-Sailly as an observer whom nothing escapes; and his schoolfellows, I hear, look upon him as your competitor and a rival of Holmlock Shears!"
"Indeed!" said Ganimard, ironically.
"Just so. One of them wrote to me, 'If Beautrelet declares that he knows, you must believe him; and, whatever he says, you may be sure that it is the exact expression of the truth.' M. Isidore Beautrelet, now or never is the time to vindicate the confidence of your friends. I beseech you, give us the exact expression of the truth."
Isidore listened with a smile and replied:
"Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, you are very cruel. You make fun of poor schoolboys who amuse themselves as best they can. You are quite right, however, and I will give you no further reason to laugh at me."
"The fact is that you know nothing, M. Isidore Beautrelet."
"Yes, I confess in all humility that I know nothing. For I do not call it 'knowing anything' that I happen to have hit upon two or three more precise points which, I am sure, cannot have escaped you."
"For instance, the object of the theft."
"Ah, of course, you know the object of the theft?"
"As you do, I have no doubt. In fact, it was the first thing I studied, because the task struck me as easier."
"Why, of course. At the most, it's a question of reasoning."
"Nothing more than that?"
"And what is your reasoning?"
"It is just this, stripped of all extraneous comment: on the one hand, THERE HAS BEEN A THEFT, because the two young ladies are agreed and because they really saw two men running away and carrying things with them."
"There has been a theft."
"On the other hand, NOTHING HAS DISAPPEARED, because M. de Gesvres says so and he is in a better position than anybody to know."
"Nothing has disappeared."
"From those two premises I arrive at this inevitable result: granted that there has been a theft and that nothing has disappeared, it is because the object carried off has been replaced by an exactly similar object. Let me hasten to add that possibly my argument may not be confirmed by the facts. But I maintain that it is the first argument that ought to occur to us and that we are not entitled to waive it until we have made a serious examination."
'That's true—that's true," muttered the magistrate, who was obviously interested.
"Now," continued Isidore, "what was there in this room that could arouse the covetousness of the burglars? Two things. The tapestry first. It can't have been that. Old tapestry cannot be imitated: the fraud would have been palpable at once. There remain the four Rubens pictures."
"What's that you say?"
"I say that the four Rubenses on that wall are false."
"They are false a priori, inevitably and without a doubt."
"I tell you, it's impossible."
"It is very nearly a year ago, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, since a young man, who gave his name as Charpenais, came to the Chateau d'Ambrumesy and asked permission to copy the Rubens pictures. M. de Gesvres gave him permission. Every day for five months Charpenais worked in this room from morning till dusk. The copies which he made, canvases and frames, have taken the place of the four original pictures bequeathed to M. de Gesvres by his uncle, the Marques de Bobadilla."
"I have no proof to give. A picture is false because it is false; and I consider that it is not even necessary to examine these four."
M. Filleul and Ganimard exchanged glances of unconcealed astonishment. The inspector no longer thought of withdrawing. At last, the magistrate muttered:
"We must have M. de Gesvres's opinion."
And Ganimard agreed:
"Yes, we must have his opinion."
And they sent to beg the count to come to the drawing room.
The young sixth-form pupil had won a real victory. To compel two experts, two professionals like M. Filleul and Ganimard to take account of his surmises implied a testimony of respect of which any other would have been proud. But Beautrelet seemed not to feel those little satisfactions of self-conceit and, still smiling without the least trace of irony, he placidly waited.
M. de Gesvres entered the room.
"Monsieur le Comte," said the magistrate, "the result of our inquiry has brought us face to face with an utterly unexpected contingency, which we submit to you with all reserve. It is possible—I say that it is possible—that the burglars, when breaking into the house, had it as their object to steal your four pictures by Rubens—or, at least, to replace them by four copies—copies which are said to have been made last year by a painter called Charpenais. Would you be so good as to examine the pictures and to tell us if you recognize them as genuine?"
The count appeared to suppress a movement of annoyance, looked at Isidore Beautrelet and at M. Filleul and replied, without even troubling to go near the pictures:
"I hoped, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, that the truth might have remained unknown. As this is not so, I have no hesitation in declaring that the four pictures are false."
"You knew it, then?"
"From the beginning."
"Why didn't you say so?"
"The owner of a work is never in a hurry to declare that that work is not—or, rather, is no longer genuine."
"Still, it was the only means of recovering them."
"I consider that there was another and a better."
"Which was that?"
"Not to make the secret known, not to frighten my burglars and to offer to buy back the pictures, which they must find more or less difficult to dispose of."
"How would you communicate with them?"
As the count did not reply, Isidore answered for him:
"By means of an advertisement in the papers. The paragraph inserted in the agony column of the Journal, the Echo de Paris and the Matin runs, 'Am prepared to buy back the pictures.'"
The count agreed with a nod. Once again, the young man was teaching his elders. M. Filleul showed himself a good sportsman.
"There's no doubt about it, my dear sir," he exclaimed. "I'm beginning to think your school-fellows were not quite wrong. By Jove, what an eye! What intuition! If this goes on, there will be nothing left for M. Ganimard and me to do."
"Oh, none of this part was so very complicated!'
"You mean to say that the rest was more so I remember, in fact, that, when we first met you seemed to know all about it. Let me see, a far as I recollect, you said that you knew the name of the murderer."
"So I do."
"Well, then, who killed Jean Daval? Is the man alive? Where is he hiding?"
"There is a misunderstanding between us, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, or, rather, you have misunderstood the facts from the beginning The murderer and the runaway are two distinct persons."
"What's that?" exclaimed M. Filleul. "The man whom M. de Gesvres saw in the boudoir and struggled with, the man whom the young ladies saw in the drawing-room and whom Mlle. de Saint-Veran shot at, the man who fell in the park and whom we are looking for: do you suggest that he is not the man who killed Jean Daval?"
"Have you discovered the traces of a third accomplice who disappeared before the arrival of the young ladies?"
"I have not."
"In that case, I don't understand.—Well, who is the murderer of Jean Daval?"
"Jean Daval was killed by—"
Beautrelet interrupted himself, thought for a moment and continued:
"But I must first show you the road which I followed to arrive at the certainty and the very reasons of the murder—without which my accusation would seem monstrous to you.—And it is not—no, it is not monstrous at all.—There is one detail which has passed unobserved and which, nevertheless, is of the greatest importance; and that is that Jean Daval, at the moment when he was stabbed, had all his clothes on, including his walking boots, was dressed, in short, as a man is dressed in the middle of the day, with a waistcoat, collar, tie and braces. Now the crime was committed at four o'clock in the morning."
"I reflected on that strange fact," said the magistrate, "and M. de Gesvres replied that Jean Daval spent a part of his nights in working."
"The servants say, on the contrary, that he went to bed regularly at a very early hour. But, admitting that he was up, why did he disarrange his bedclothes, to make believe that he had gone to bed? And, if he was in bed, why, when he heard a noise, did he take the trouble to dress himself from head to foot, instead of slipping on anything that came to hand? I went to his room on the first day, while you were at lunch: his slippers were at the foot of the bed. What prevented him from putting them on rather than his heavy nailed boots?"
"So far, I do not see—"
"So far, in fact, you cannot see anything, except anomalies. They appeared much more suspicious to me, however, when I learned that Charpenais the painter, the man who copied the Rubens pictures, had been introduced and recommended to the Comte de Gesvres by Jean Daval himself."
"Well, from that to the conclusion that Jean Daval and Charpenais were accomplices required but a step. I took that step at the time of our conversation."
"A little quickly, I think."
"As a matter of fact, a material proof was wanted. Now I had discovered in Daval's room, on one of the sheets of the blotting-pad on which he used to write, this address: 'Monsieur A.L.N., Post- office 45, Paris.' You will find it there still, traced the reverse way on the blotting-paper. The next day, it was discovered that the telegram sent by the sham flyman from Saint-Nicolas bore the same address: 'A.L.N., Post-office 45.' The material proof existed: Jean Daval was in correspondence with the gang which arranged the robbery of the pictures."
M. Filleul raised no objection.
"Agreed. The complicity is established. And what conclusion do you draw?"
"This, first of all, that it was not the runaway who killed Jean Daval, because Jean Daval was his accomplice."
"And after that?"
"Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, I will ask you to remember the first sentence uttered by Monsieur le Comte when he recovered from fainting. The sentence forms part of Mlle. de Gesvres' evidence and is in the official report: 'I am not wounded.—Daval?—Is he alive?- -The knife?' And I will ask you to compare it with that part of his story, also in the report, in which Monsieur le Comte describes the assault: 'The man leaped at me and felled me with a blow on the temple!' How could M. de Gesvres. who had fainted, know, on waking, that Daval had been stabbed with a knife?"
Isidore Beautrelet did not wait for an answer to his question. It seemed as though he were in a hurry to give the answer himself and to avoid all comment. He continued straightway:
"Therefore it was Jean Daval who brought the three burglars to the drawing room. While he was there with the one whom they call their chief, a noise was heard in the boudoir. Daval opened the door. Recognizing M. de Gesvres, he rushed at him, armed with the knife. M. de Gesvres succeeded in snatching the knife from him, struck him with it and himself fell, on receiving a blow from the man whom the two girls were to see a few minutes after."
Once again, M. Filleul and the inspector exchanged glances. Ganimard tossed his head in a disconcerted way. The magistrate said:
"Monsieur le Comte, am I to believe that this version is correct?"
M. de Gesvres made no answer.
"Come, Monsieur le Comte, your silence would us to suppose—I beg you to speak."
Replying in a very clear voice, M. de Gesvres said:
"The version is correct in every particular."
The magistrate gave a start.
"Then I cannot understand why you misled the police. Why conceal an act which you were lawfully entitled to commit in defense of your life?"
"For twenty years," said M. de Gesvres, "Daval worked by my side. I trusted him. If he betrayed me, as the result of some temptation or other, I was, at least, unwilling, for the sake of the past, that his treachery should become known."
"You were unwilling, I agree, but you had no right to be."
"I am not of your opinion, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction. As long as no innocent person was accused of the crime, I was absolutely entitled to refrain from accusing the man who was at the same time the culprit and the victim. He is dead. I consider death a sufficient punishment."
"But now, Monsieur le Comte, now that the truth is known, you can speak."
"Yes. Here are two rough drafts of letters written by him to his accomplices. I took them from his pocket-book, a few minutes after his death."
"And the motive of his theft?"
"Go to 18, Rue de la Barre, at Dieppe, which is the address of a certain Mme. Verdier. It was for this woman, whom he got to know two years ago, and to supply her constant need of money that Daval turned thief."
So everything was cleared up. The tragedy rose out of the darkness and gradually appeared in its true light.
"Let us go on," said M. Filluel after the count had withdrawn.
"Upon my word," said Beautrelet, gaily, "I have said almost all that I had to say."
"But the runaway, the wounded man?"
"As to that, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, you know as much as I do. You have followed his tracks in the grass by the cloisters—you have—"
"Yes, yes, I know. But, since then, his friends have removed him and what I want is a clue or two as regards that inn—"
Isidore Beautrelet burst out laughing:
"The inn! The inn does not exist! It's an invention, a trick to put the police on the wrong scent, an ingenious trick, too, for it seems to have succeeded."
"But Dr. Delattre declares—"
"Ah, that's just it!" cried Beautrelet, in a tone of conviction. "It is just because Dr. Delattre declares that we mustn't believe him. Why, Dr. Delattre refused to give any but the vaguest details concerning his adventure! He refused to say anything that might compromise his patient's safety!—And suddenly he calls attention to an inn!—You may be sure that he talked about that inn because he was told to. You may be sure that the whole story which he dished up to us was dictated to him under the threat of terrible reprisals. The doctor has a wife. The doctor has a daughter. He is too fond of them to disobey people of whose formidable power he has seen proofs. And that is why he has assisted your efforts by supplying the most precise clues."
"So precise that the inn is nowhere to be found."
"So precise that you have never ceased looking for it, in the face of all probability, and that your eyes have been turned away from the only spot where the man can be, the mysterious spot which he has not left, which he has been unable to leave ever since the moment when, wounded by Mlle. de Saint-Veran, he succeeded in dragging himself to it, like a beast to its lair."
"But where, confound it all?—In what corner of Hades—?"
"In the ruins of the old abbey."
"But there are no ruins left!—A few bits of wall!—A few broken columns!"
"That's where he's gone to earth. Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction!" shouted Beautrelet. "That's where you will have to look for him! It's there and nowhere else that you will find Arsene Lupin!"
"Arsene Lupin!" yelled M. Filleul, springing to his feet.
There was a rather solemn pause, amid which the syllables of the famous name seemed to prolong their sound. Was it possible that the vanquished and yet invisible adversary, whom they had been hunting in vain for several days, could really be Arsene Lupin? Arsene Lupin, caught in a trap, arrested, meant immediate promotion, fortune, glory to any examining magistrate!
Ganimard had not moved a limb. Isidore said to him:
"You agree with me, do you not, M. Inspector?"
"Of course I do!"
"You have not doubted either, for a moment have you, that he managed this business?"
"Not for a second! The thing bears his signature. A move of Arsene Lupin's is as different from a move made by another man as one face is from another. You have only to open your eyes."
"Do you think so? Do you think so?" said M. Filleul.
"Think so!" cried the young man. "Look, here's one little fact: what are the initials under which those men correspond among themselves? 'A. L. N.,' that is to say, the first letter of the name Arsene and the first and last letters of the name Lupin."
"Ah," said Ganimard, "nothing escapes you! Upon my word, you're a fine fellow and old Ganimard lays down his arms before you!"
Beautrelet flushed with pleasure and pressed the hand which the chief-inspector held out to him. The three men had drawn near the balcony and their eyes now took in the extent of the ruins. M. Filleul muttered:
"So he ought to be there."
"HE IS THERE," said Beautrelet, in a hollow voice. "He has been there ever since the moment when he fell. Logically and practically, he could not escape without being seen by Mile, de Saint-Veran and the two servants."
"What proof have you?"
"His accomplices have furnished the proof. On the very morning, one of them disguised himself as a flyman and drove you here—"
"To recover the cap, which would serve to identify him."
"Very well, but also and more particularly to examine the spot, find out and see for himself what had become of the 'governor.'"
"And did he find out?"
"I presume so, as he knew the hiding-place. And I presume that he became aware of the desperate condition of his chief, because, under the impulse of his alarm, he committed the imprudence to write that threat: 'Woe betide the young lady, if she has killed the governor!'"
"But his friends were able to take him away afterward?"
"When? Your men have never left the ruins. And where could they have moved him to? At most, a few hundred yards away, for one doesn't let a dying man travel—and then you would have found him. No, I tell you, he is there. His friends would never have removed him from the safest of hiding-places. It was there that they brought the doctor, while the gendarmes were running to the fire like children."
"But how is he living? How will he keep alive? To keep alive you need food and drink."
"I can't say. I don't know. But he is there, I will swear it. He is there, because he can't help being there. I am as sure of it as if I saw as if I touched him. He is there."
With his finger outstretched toward the ruins, he traced in the air a little circle which became smaller and smaller until it was only a point. And that point his two companions sought desperately, both leaning into space, both moved by the same faith in Beautrelet and quivering with the ardent conviction which he had forced upon them. Yes, Arsene Lupin was there. In theory and in fact, he was there: neither of them was now able to doubt it.
And there was something impressive and tragic in knowing that the famous adventurer was lying in some dark shelter, below the ground, helpless, feverish and exhausted.
"And if he dies?" asked M. Filleul, in a low voice.
"If he dies," said Beautrelet. "and if his accomplices are sure of it, then see to the safety of Mlle. de Saint-Veran. Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction, for the vengeance will be terrible."
A few minutes later and in spite of the entreaties of M. Filleul, who would gladly have made further use of this fascinating auxiliary, Isidore Beautrelet, whose holidays ended that day, went off by the Dieppe Road. He stepped from the train in Paris at five o'clock and, at eight o'clock, returned to the Lycee Janson together with his schoolfellows.
Ganimard, after a minute, but utterly useless exploration of the ruins of Ambrumesy, returned to Paris by the fast night-train. On reaching his apartment in the Rue Pergolese, he found an express letter awaiting him:
Monsieur l'Inspecteur Principal:
Finding that I had a little time to spare at the end of the day, I have succeeded in collecting a few additional particulars which are sure to interest you.
Arsene Lupin has been living in Paris for twelve months under the name of Etienne de Vaudreix. It is a name which you will often come across in the society notes or the sporting columns of the newspapers. He is a great traveler and is absent for long periods, during which, by his own account, he goes hunting tigers in Bengal or blue foxes in Siberia. He is supposed to be in business of some kind, although nobody is able to say for certain what his business is.
His present address is 38, Rue Marbeuf; and I will call your attention to the fact that the Rue Marbeuf is close to Post-office Number 45. Since Thursday the twenty-third of April, the day before the burglary at Ambrumesy, there has been no news at all of Etienne de Vaudreix.
With very many thanks for the kindness which you have shown me, believe me to be, Monsieur l'Inspecteur Principal. Yours sincerely,
P.S.—Please on no account think that it cost me any great trouble to obtain this information. On the very morning of the crime, while M. Filleul was pursuing his examination before a few privileged persons, I had the fortunate inspiration to glance at the runaway's cap, before the sham flyman came to change it. The hatter's name was enough, as you may imagine, to enable me to find the clue that led to the identification of the purchaser and his address.
The next morning, Ganimard called at 36, Rue Marbeuf. After questioning the concierge, he made him open the door of the ground- floor flat on the right, a very comfortable apartment, elegantly furnished, in which, however, he discovered nothing beyond some cinders in the fireplace. Two friends had come, four days earlier, to burn all compromising papers.
But, just as he was leaving, Ganimard passed the postman, who was bringing a letter for M. de Vaudreix. That afternoon, the public prosecutor was informed of the case and ordered the letter to be given up. It bore an American postmark and contained the following lines, in English:
I write to confirm the answer which I gave your representative. As soon as you have M. de Gesvres's four pictures in your possession, you can forward them as arranged.
You may add the rest, if you are able to succeed, which I doubt.
An unexpected business requires my presence in Europe and I shall reach Paris at the same time as this letter. You will find me at the Grand Hotel.
EPHRAIM B. HARLINGTON.
That same day, Ganimard applied for a warrant and took Mr. E. B. Harlington, an American citizen, to the police-station, on a charge of receiving and conspiracy.
Thus, within the space of twenty-four hours, all the threads of the plot had been unraveled, thanks to the really unforeseen clues supplied by a schoolboy of seventeen. In twenty-four hours, what had seemed inexplicable became simple and clear. In twenty-four hours, the scheme devised by the accomplices to save their leader was baffled; the capture of Arsene Lupin, wounded and dying, was no longer in doubt, his gang was disorganized, the address of his establishment in Paris and the name which he assumed were known and, for the first time, one of his cleverest and most carefully elaborated feats was seen through before he had been able to ensure its complete execution.
An immense clamor of astonishment, admiration and curiosity arose among the public. Already, the Rouen journalist, in a very able article, had described the first examination of the sixth-form pupil, laying stress upon his personal charm, his simplicity of manner and his quiet assurance. The indiscretions of Ganimard and M. Filleul, indiscretions to which they yielded in spite of themselves, under an impulse that proved stronger than their professional pride, suddenly enlightened the public as to the part played by Isidore Beautrelet in recent events. He alone had done everything. To him alone the merit of the victory was due.
The excitement was intense. Isidore Beautrelet awoke to find himself a hero; and the crowd, suddenly infatuated, insisted upon the fullest information regarding its new favorite. The reporters were there to supply it. They rushed to the assault of the Lycee Janson- de-Sailly, waited for the day-boarders to come out after schoolhours and picked up all that related, however remotely, to Beautrelet. It was in this way that they learned the reputation which he enjoyed among his schoolfellows, who called him the rival of Holmlock Shears. Thanks to his powers of logical reasoning, with no further data than those which he was able to gather from the papers, he had, time after time, proclaimed the solution of very complicated cases long before they were cleared up by the police.
It had become a game at the Lycee Janson to put difficult questions and intricate problems to Beautrelet; and it was astonishing to see with what unhesitating and analytical power and by means of what ingenious deductions he made his way through the thickest darkness. Ten days before the arrest of Jorisse, the grocer, he showed what could be done with the famous umbrella. In the same way, he declared from the beginning, in the matter of the Saint-Cloud mystery, that the concierge was the only possible murderer.
But most curious of all was the pamphlet which was found circulating among the boys at the school, a typewritten pamphlet signed by Beautrelet and manifolded to the number of ten copies. It was entitled, ARSENE LUPIN AND HIS METHOD, SHOWING IN HOW FAR THE LATTER IS BASED UPON TRADITION AND IN HOW FAR ORIGINAL. FOLLOWED BY A COMPARISON BETWEEN ENGLISH HUMOR AND FRENCH IRONY.
It contained a profound study of each of the exploits of Arsene Lupin, throwing the illustrious burglar's operations into extraordinary relief, showing the very mechanism of his way of setting to work, his special tactics, his letters to the press, his threats, the announcement of his thefts, in short, the whole bag of tricks which he employed to bamboozle his selected victim and throw him into such a state of mind that the victim almost offered himself to the plot contrived against him and that everything took place, as it were, with his own consent.
And the work was so just, regarded as a piece of criticism, so penetrating, so lively and marked by a wit so clever and, at the same time, so cruel that the lawyers at once passed over to his side, that the sympathy of the crowd was summarily transferred from Lupin to Beautrelet and that, in the struggle engaged upon between the two, the schoolboy's victory was loudly proclaimed in advance.
Be this as it may, both M. Filleul and the Paris public prosecutor seemed jealously to reserve the possibility of this victory for him. On the one hand, they failed to establish Mr. Harlington's identity or to furnish a definite proof of his connection with Lupin's gang. Confederate or not, he preserved an obstinate silence. Nay, more, after examining his handwriting, it was impossible to declare that he was the author of the intercepted letter. A Mr. Harlington, carrying a small portmanteau and a pocket-book stuffed with bank- notes, had taken up his abode at the Grand Hotel: that was all that could be stated with certainty.
On the other hand, at Dieppe, M. Filleul lay down on the positions which Beautrelet had won for him. He did not move a step forward. Around the individual whom Mlle. de Saint-Veran had taken for Beautrelet, on the eve of the crime, the same mystery reigned as heretofore. The same obscurity also surrounded everything connected with the removal of the four Rubens pictures. What had become of them? And what road had been taken by the motor car in which they were carried off during the night?
Evidence of its passing was obtained at Luneray at Yerville, at Yvetot and at Caudebec-en-Caux, where it must have crossed the Seine at daybreak in the steam-ferry. But, when the matter came to be inquired into more thoroughly, it was stated that the motor car was an uncovered one and that it would have been impossible to pack four large pictures into it unobserved by the ferryman.
It was very probably the same car; but then the question cropped up again: what had become of the four Rubenses?
These were so many problems which M. Filleul unanswered. Every day, his subordinates searched the quadrilateral of the ruins. Almost every day, he came to direct the explorations. But between that and discovering the refuge in which Lupin lay dying—if it were true that Beautrelet's opinion was correct—there was a gulf fixed which the worthy magistrate did not seem likely to cross.
And so it was natural that they should turn once more to Isidore Beautrelet, as he alone had succeeded in dispelling shadows which, in his absence, gathered thicker and more impenetrable than ever. Why did he not go on with the case? Seeing how far he had carried it, he required but an effort to succeed.
The question was put to him by a member of the staff of the Grand Journal, who had obtained admission to the Lycee Janson by assuming the name of Bernod, the friend of Beautrelet's father. And Isidore very sensibly replied:
"My dear sir, there are other things besides Lupin in this world, other things besides stories about burglars and detectives. There is, for instance, the thing which is known as taking one's degree. Now I am going up for my examination in July. This is May. And I don't want to be plucked. What would my worthy parent say?"
"But what would he say if you delivered Arsene Lupin into the hands of the police?"
"Tut! There's a time for everything. In the next holidays—"
"Yes—I shall go down on Saturday the sixth of June by the first train."
"And, on the evening of that Saturday, Lupin will be taken."
"Will you give me until the Sunday?" asked Beautrelet, laughing.
"Why delay?" replied the journalist, quite seriously.
This inexplicable confidence, born of yesterday and already so strong, was felt with regard to the young man by one and all, even though, in reality, events had justified it only up to a certain point. No matter, people believed in him! Nothing seemed difficult to him. They expected from him what they were entitled to expect at most from some phenomenon of penetration and intuition, of experience and skill. That day of the sixth of June was made to sprawl over all the papers. On the sixth of June, Isidore Beautrelet would take the fast train to Dieppe: and Lupin would be arrested on the same evening.
"Unless he escapes between this and then," objected the last remaining partisans of the adventurer.
"Impossible! Every outlet is watched."
"Unless he has succumbed to his wounds, then," said the partisans, who would have preferred their hero's death to his capture.
And the retort was immediate:
"Nonsense! If Lupin were dead, his confederates would know it by now, and Lupin would be revenged. Beautrelet said so!"
And the sixth of June came. Half a dozen journalists were looking out for Isidore at the Gare Saint-Lazare. Two of them wanted to accompany him on his journey. He begged them to refrain.
He started alone, therefore, in a compartment to himself. He was tired, thanks to a series of nights devoted to study, and soon fell asleep. He slept heavily. In his dreams, he had an impression that the train stopped at different stations and that people got in and out. When he awoke, within sight of Rouen, he was still alone. But, on the back of the opposite seat, was a large sheet of paper, fastened with a pin to the gray cloth. It bore these words:
"Every man should mind his own business. Do you mind yours. If not, you must take the consequences."
"Capital!" he exclaimed, rubbing his hands with delight. "Things are going badly in the adversary's camp. That threat is as stupid and vulgar as the sham flyman's. What a style! One can see that it wasn't composed by Lupin."
The train threaded the tunnel that precedes the old Norman city. On reaching the station, Isidore took a few turns on the platform to stretch his legs. He was about to re-enter his compartment, when a cry escaped him. As he passed the bookstall, he had read, in an absent-minded way, the following lines on the front page of a special edition of the Journal de Rouen; and their alarming sense suddenly burst upon him:
We hear by telephone from Dieppe that the Chateau d'Ambrumesy was broken into last night by criminals, who bound and gagged Mlle. de Gesvres and carried off Mlle. de Saint-Veran. Traces of blood have been seen at a distance of five hundred yards from the house and a scarf has been found close by, which is also stained with blood. There is every reason to fear that the poor young girl has been murdered.
Isidore Beautrelet completed his journey to Dieppe without moving a limb. Bent in two, with his elbows on his knees and his hands plastered against his face, he sat thinking.
At Dieppe, he took a fly. At the door of Ambrumesy, he met the examining magistrate, who confirmed the horrible news.
"You know nothing more?" asked Beautrelet.
"Nothing. I have only just arrived."
At that moment, the sergeant of gendarmes came up to M. Filleul and handed him a crumpled, torn and discolored piece of paper, which he had picked up not far from the place where the scarf was found. M. Filleul looked at it and gave it to Beautrelet, saying:
"I don't suppose this will help us much in our investigations."
Isidore turned the paper over and over. It was covered with figures, dots and signs and presented the exact appearance reproduced below:
[Illustration: drawing of an outline of paper with writing and drawing on it—numbers, dots, some letters, signs and symbols...]