"You see, old chap," said Holmlock Shears to Wilson, waving Arsène Lupin's letter in his hand, "the worst of this business is that I feel the confounded fellow's eye constantly fixed upon me. Not one of my most secret thoughts escape him. I am behaving like an actor, whose steps are ruled by the strictest stage-directions, who moves here or there and says this or that because a superior will has so determined it. Do you understand, Wilson?"
Wilson would no doubt have understood had he not been sleeping the sound sleep of a man whose temperature is fluctuating between 102 and 104 degrees. But whether he heard or not made no difference to Shears, who continued:
"It will need all my energy and all my resources not to be discouraged. Fortunately, with me, these little gibes are only so many pin-pricks which stimulate me to further exertions. Once the sting is allayed and the wound in my self-respect closed, I always end by saying: 'Laugh away, my lad. Sooner or later, you will be betrayed by your own hand.' For, when all is said, Wilson, wasn't it Lupin himself who, with his first telegram and the reflection which it suggested to that little Henriette, revealed to me the secret of his correspondence with Alice Demun? You forget that detail, old chap."
He walked up and down the room, with resounding strides, at the risk of waking old chap:
"However, things might be worse; and, though the paths which I am following appear a little dark, I am beginning to see my way. To start with, I shall soon know all about Master Bresson. Ganimard and I have an appointment on the bank of the Seine, at the spot where Bresson flung his parcel, and we shall find out who he was and what he wanted. As regards the rest, it's a game to be played out between Alice Demun and me. Not a very powerful adversary, eh, Wilson? And don't you think I shall soon know the sentence in the album and what those two single letters mean, the C and the H? For the whole mystery lies in that, Wilson."
At this moment, mademoiselle entered the room and, seeing Shears wave his arms about, said: "Mr. Shears, I shall be very angry with you if you wake my patient. It's not nice of you to disturb him. The doctor insists upon absolute calm."
He looked at her without a word, astonished, as on the first day, at her inexplicable composure.
"Why do you look at me like that, Mr. Shears?... You always seem to have something at the back of your mind.... What is it? Tell me, please."
She questioned him with all her bright face, with her guileless eyes, her smiling lips and with her attitude too, her hands joined together, her body bent slightly forward. And so great was her candour that it roused the Englishman's anger. He came up to her and said, in a low voice:
"Bresson committed suicide yesterday."
She repeated, without appearing to understand:
"Bresson committed suicide yesterday?"
As a matter of fact, her features underwent no change whatever; nothing revealed the effort of a lie.
"You have been told," he said, irritably. "If not, you would at least have started.... Ah, you are cleverer than I thought! But why pretend?"
He took the picture-book, which he had placed on a table close at hand, and, opening it at the cut page:
"Can you tell me," he asked, "in what order I am to arrange the letters missing here, so that I may understand the exact purport of the note which you sent to Bresson four days before the theft of the Jewish Lamp?"
"In what order?... Bresson?... The theft of the Jewish Lamp?"
She repeated the words, slowly, as though to make out their meaning.
"Yes, here are the letters you used ... on this scrap of paper. What were you saying to Bresson?"
"The letters I used...? What was I saying to...?"
Suddenly she burst out laughing:
"I see! I understand! I am an accomplice in the theft! There is a M. Bresson who stole the Jewish Lamp and killed himself. And I am the gentleman's friend! Oh, how amusing!"
"Then whom did you go to see yesterday evening, on the second floor of a house in the Avenue des Ternes?"
"Whom? Why, my dressmaker, Mlle. Langeais! Do you mean to imply that my dressmaker and my friend M. Bresson are one and the same person?"
Shears began to doubt, in spite of all. It is possible to counterfeit almost any feeling in such a way as to put another person off: terror, joy, anxiety; but not indifference, not happy and careless laughter.
However, he said:
"One last word. Why did you accost me at the Gare du Nord the other evening? And why did you beg me to go back at once without busying myself about the robbery?"
"Oh, you're much too curious, Mr. Shears," she replied, still laughing in the most natural way. "To punish you, I will tell you nothing and, in addition, you shall watch the patient while I go to the chemist.... There's an urgent prescription to be made up.... I must hurry!"
She left the room.
"I have been tricked," muttered Shears. "I've not only got nothing out of her, but I have given myself away."
And he remembered the case of the blue diamond and the cross-examination to which he had subjected Clotilde Destange. Mademoiselle had encountered him with the same serenity as the blonde lady and he felt that he was again face to face with one of those creatures who, protected by Arsène Lupin and under the direct action of his influence, preserved the most inscrutable calmness amid the very agony of danger.
It was Wilson calling him. He went to the bed and bent over him:
"What is it, old chap? Feeling bad?"
Wilson moved his lips, but was unable to speak. At last, after many efforts, he stammered out:
"No ... Shears ... it wasn't she ... it can't have been...."
"What nonsense are you talking now? I tell you that it was she! It's only when I'm in the presence of a creature of Lupin's, trained and drilled by him, that I lose my head and behave so foolishly.... She now knows the whole story of the album.... I bet you that Lupin will be told in less than an hour. Less than an hour? What am I talking about? This moment, most likely! The chemist, the urgent prescription: humbug!"
Without a further thought of Wilson, he rushed from the room, went down the Avenue de Messine and saw Mademoiselle enter a chemist's shop. She came out, ten minutes later, carrying two or three medicine-bottles wrapped up in white paper. But, when she returned up the avenue, she was accosted by a man who followed her, cap in hand and with an obsequious air, as though he were begging.
She stopped, gave him an alms and then continued on her way. "She spoke to him," said the Englishman to himself.
It was an intuition rather than a certainty, but strong enough to induce him to alter his tactics. Leaving the girl, he set off on the track of the sham beggar.
They arrived in this way, one behind the other, on the Place Saint-Ferdinand; and the man hovered long round Bresson's house, sometimes raising his eyes to the second-floor windows and watching the people who entered the house.
At the end of an hour's time, he climbed to the top of a tram-car that was starting for Neuilly. Shears climbed up also and sat down behind the fellow, at some little distance, beside a gentleman whose features were concealed by the newspaper which he was reading. When they reached the fortifications, the newspaper was lowered, Shears recognized Ganimard and Ganimard, pointing to the fellow, said in his ear:
"It's our man of last night, the one who followed Bresson. He's been hanging round the square for an hour."
"Nothing new about Bresson?"
"Yes, a letter arrived this morning addressed to him."
"This morning? Then it must have been posted yesterday, before the writer knew of Bresson's death."
"Just so. It is with the examining magistrate, but I can tell you the exact words: 'He accepts no compromise. He wants everything, the first thing as well as those of the second business. If not, he will take steps.' And no signature," added Ganimard. "As you can see, those few lines won't be of much use to us."
"I don't agree with you at all, M. Ganimard: on the contrary, I consider them very interesting."
"And why, bless my soul?"
"For reasons personal to myself," said Shears, with the absence of ceremony with which he was accustomed to treat his colleague.
The tram stopped at the terminus in the Rue du Château. The man climbed down and walked away quietly. Shears followed so closely on his heels that Ganimard took alarm:
"If he turns round, we are done."
"He won't turn round now."
"What do you know about it?"
"He is an accomplice of Arsène Lupin's and the fact that an accomplice of Lupin's walks away like that, with his hands in his pockets, proves, in the first place, that he knows he's followed, and in the second, that he's not afraid."
"Still, we're running him pretty hard!"
"No matter, he can slip through our fingers in a minute, if he wants. He's too sure of himself."
"Come, come; you're getting at me! There are two cyclist police at the door of that café over there. If I decide to call on them and to tackle our friend, I should like to know how he's going to slip through our fingers."
"Our friend does not seem much put out by that contingency. And he's calling on them himself!"
"By Jupiter!" said Ganimard. "The cheek of the fellow!"
The man, in fact, had walked up to the two policemen just as these were preparing to mount their bicycles. He spoke a few words to them and then, suddenly, sprang upon a third bicycle, which was leaning against the wall of the café, and rode away quickly with the two policemen.
The Englishman burst with laughter:
"There, what did I tell you? Off before we knew where we were; and with two of your colleagues, M. Ganimard! Ah, he looks after himself, does Arsène Lupin! With cyclist policemen in his pay! Didn't I tell you our friend was a great deal too calm!"
"What then?" cried Ganimard, angrily. "What could I do? It's very easy to laugh!"
"Come, come, don't be cross. We'll have our revenge. For the moment, what we want is reinforcements."
"Folenfant is waiting for me at the end of the Avenue de Neuilly."
"All right, pick him up and join me, both of you."
Ganimard went away, while Shears followed the tracks of the bicycles, which were easily visible on the dust of the road because two of the machines were fitted with grooved tires. And he soon saw that these tracks were leading him to the bank of the Seine and that the three men had turned in the same direction as Bresson on the previous evening. He thus came to the gate against which he himself had hidden with Ganimard and, a little farther on, he saw a tangle of grooved lines which showed that they had stopped there. Just opposite, a little neck of land jutted into the river and, at the end of it, an old boat lay fastened.
This was where Bresson must have flung his parcel, or, rather, dropped it. Shears went down the incline and saw that, as the bank sloped very gently, and the water was low, he would easily find the parcel ... unless the three men had been there first.
"No, no," he said to himself, "they have not had time ... a quarter of an hour at most..... And, yet, why did they come this way?"
A man was sitting in the boat, fishing. Shears asked him:
"Have you seen three men on bicycles?"
The angler shook his head.
The Englishman insisted:
"Yes, yes.... Three men.... They stopped only a few yards from where you are."
The angler put his rod under his arm, took a note-book from his pocket, wrote something on one of the pages, tore it out and handed it to Shears.
A great thrill shook the Englishman. At a glance, in the middle of the page which he held in his hand, he recognized the letters torn from the picture-book:
C D E H N O P R Z E O--237
The sun hung heavily over the river. The angler had resumed his work, sheltered under the huge brim of his straw hat; his jacket and waistcoat lay folded by his side. He fished attentively, while the float of his line rocked idly on the current.
Quite a minute elapsed, a minute of solemn and awful silence.
"Is it he?" thought Shears, with an almost painful anxiety.
And then the truth burst upon him:
"It is he! It is he! He alone is capable of sitting like that, without a tremor of uneasiness, without the least fear as to what will happen.... And who else could know the story of the picture-book? Alice must have told him by her messenger."
Suddenly, the Englishman felt that his hand, that his own hand, had seized the butt-end of his revolver and that his eyes were fixed on the man's back, just below the neck. One movement and the whole play was finished; a touch of the trigger and the life of the strange adventurer had come to a miserable end.
The angler did not stir.
Shears nervously gripped his weapon with a fierce longing to fire and have done with it and, at the same time, with horror of a deed against which his nature revolted. Death was certain. It would be over.
"Oh," he thought, "let him get up, let him defend himself.... If not, he will have only himself to blame.... Another second ... and I fire."
But a sound of footsteps made him turn his head and he saw Ganimard arrive, accompanied by the inspectors.
Then, changing his idea, he leapt forward, sprang at one bound into the boat, breaking the painter with the force of the jump, fell upon the man and held him in a close embrace. They both rolled to the bottom of the boat.
"Well?" cried Lupin, struggling. "And then? What does this prove? Suppose one of us reduces the other to impotence: what will he have gained? You will not know what to do with me nor I with you. We shall stay here like a couple of fools!"
The two oars slipped into the water. The boat began to drift. Mingled exclamations resounded along the bank and Lupin continued:
"Lord, what a business! Have you lost all sense of things?... Fancy being so silly at your age! You great schoolboy! You ought to be ashamed!"
He succeeded in releasing himself.
Exasperated, resolved to stick at nothing, Shears put his hand in his pocket. An oath escaped him. Lupin had taken his revolver.
Then he threw himself on his knees and tried to catch hold of one of the oars, in order to pull to the shore, while Lupin made desperate efforts after the other, in order to pull out to mid-stream.
"Got it!... Missed it!" said Lupin. "However, it makes no difference.... If you get your oar, I'll prevent your using it.... And you'll do as much for me.... But there, in life, we strive to act ... without the least reason, for it's always fate that decides.... There, you see, fate ... well, she's deciding for her old friend Lupin!... Victory! The current's favouring me!"
The boat, in fact, was drifting away.
"Look out!" cried Lupin.
Some one, on the bank, pointed a revolver. Lupin ducked his head; a shot rang out; a little water spurted up around them. He burst out laughing:
"Heaven help us, it's friend Ganimard!... Now that's very wrong of you, Ganimard. You have no right to fire except in self-defence.... Does poor Arsène make you so furious that you forget your duties?... Hullo, he's starting again!... But, wretched man, be careful: you'll hit my dear maître here!"
He made a bulwark of his body for Shears and, standing up in the boat, facing Ganimard:
"There, now I don't mind!... Aim here, Ganimard, straight at my heart!... Higher ... to the left.... Missed again ... you clumsy beggar!... Another shot?... But you're trembling, Ganimard!... At the word of command, eh? And steady now ... one, two, three, fire!... Missed! Dash it all, does the Government give you toys for pistols?"
He produced a long, massive, flat revolver and fired without taking aim.
The inspector lifted his hand to his hat: a bullet had made a hole through it.
"What do you say to that, Ganimard? Ah, this is a better make! Hats off, gentlemen: this is the revolver of my noble friend, Maître Holmlock Shears!"
And he tossed the weapon to the bank, right at the inspector's feet.
Shears could not help giving a smile of admiration. What superabundant life! What young and spontaneous gladness! And how he seemed to enjoy himself! It was as though the sense of danger gave him a physical delight, as though life had no other object for this extraordinary man than the search of dangers which he amused himself afterward by averting.
Meantime, crowds had gathered on either side of the river and Ganimard and his men were following the craft, which swung down the stream, carried very slowly by the current. It meant inevitable, mathematical capture.
"Confess, maître," cried Lupin, turning to the Englishman, "that you would not give up your seat for all the gold in the Transvaal! You are in the first row of the stalls! But, first and before all, the prologue ... after which we will skip straight to the fifth act, the capture or the escape of Arsène Lupin. Therefore, my dear maître, I have one request to make of you and I beg you to answer yes or no, to save all ambiguity. Cease interesting yourself in this business. There is yet time and I am still able to repair the harm which you have done. Later on, I shall not be. Do you agree?"
Lupin's features contracted. This obstinacy was causing him visible annoyance. He resumed:
"I insist. I insist even more for your sake than my own, for I am certain that you will be the first to regret your interference. Once more, yes or no?"
Lupin squatted on his heels, shifted one of the planks at the bottom of the boat and, for a few minutes, worked at something which Shears could not see. Then he rose, sat down beside the Englishman and spoke to him in these words:
"I believe, maître, that you and I came to the river-bank with the same purpose, that of fishing up the object which Bresson got rid of, did we not? I, for my part, had made an appointment to meet a few friends and I was on the point, as my scanty costume shows, of effecting a little exploration in the depths of the Seine when my friends gave me notice of your approach. I am bound to confess that I was not surprised, having been kept informed, I venture to say, hourly, of the progress of your inquiry. It is so easy! As soon as the least thing likely to interest me occurs in the Rue Murillo, quick, they ring me up and I know all about it! You can understand that, in these conditions...."
He stopped. The plank which he had removed now rose a trifle and water was filtering in, all around, in driblets.
"The deuce! I don't know how I managed it, but I have every reason to think that there's a leak in this old boat. You're not afraid, maître?"
Shears shrugged his shoulders. Lupin continued:
"You can understand, therefore, that, in these conditions and knowing beforehand that you would seek the contest all the more greedily the more I strove to avoid it, I was rather pleased at the idea of playing a rubber with you the result of which is certain, seeing that I hold all the trumps. And I wished to give our meeting the greatest possible publicity, so that your defeat might be universally known and no new Comtesse de Crozon nor Baron d'Imblevalle be tempted to solicit your aid against me. And, in all this, my dear maître, you must not see ..."
He interrupted himself again, and, using his half-closed hands as a field-glass, he watched the banks:
"By Jove! They've freighted a splendid cutter, a regular man-of-war's boat, and they're rowing like anything! In five minutes they will board us and I shall be lost. Mr. Shears, let me give you one piece of advice: throw yourself upon me, tie me hand and foot and deliver me to the law of my country.... Does that suit you?... Unless we suffer shipwreck meanwhile, in which case there will be nothing for us to do but make our wills. What do you say?"
Their eyes met. This time, Shears understood Lupin's operations: he had made a hole in the bottom of the boat.
And the water was rising. It reached the soles of their boots. It covered their feet; they did not move.
It came above their ankles: the Englishman took his tobacco-pouch, rolled a cigarette and lit it.
"And, in all this, my dear maître, you must not see anything more than the humble confession of my powerlessness in face of you. It is tantamount to yielding to you, when I accept only those contests in which my victory is assured, in order to avoid those of which I shall not have selected the field. It is tantamount to recognizing that Holmlock Shears is the only enemy whom I fear and proclaiming my anxiety as long as Shears is not removed from my path. This, my dear maître, is what I wished to tell you, on this one occasion when fate has allowed me the honour of a conversation with you. I regret only one thing, which is that this conversation should take place while we are having a foot-bath ... a position lacking in dignity, I must confess.... And what was I saying?... A foot-bath!... A hip-bath rather!"
The water, in fact, had reached the seat on which they were sitting and the boat sank lower and lower in the water.
Shears sat imperturbable, his cigarette at his lips, apparently wrapped in contemplation of the sky. For nothing in the world, in the face of that man surrounded by dangers, hemmed in by the crowd, hunted down by a posse of police and yet always retaining his good humour, for nothing in the world would he have consented to display the least sign of agitation.
"What!" they both seemed to be saying. "Do people get excited about such trifles? Is it not a daily occurrence to get drowned in a river? Is this the sort of event that deserves to be noticed?"
And the one chattered and the other mused, while both concealed under the same mask of indifference the formidable clash of their respective prides.
Another minute and they would sink.
"The essential thing," said Lupin, "is to know if we shall sink before or after the arrival of the champions of the law! All depends upon that. For the question of shipwreck is no longer in doubt. Maître, the solemn moment has come to make our wills. I leave all my real and personal estate to Holmlock Shears, a citizen of the British Empire.... But, by Jove, how fast they are coming, those champions of the law! Oh, the dear people! It's a pleasure to watch them! What precision of stroke! Ah, is that you, Sergeant Folenfant? Well done! That idea of the man-of-war's cutter was capital. I shall recommend you to your superiors, Sergeant Folenfant.... And weren't you hoping for a medal? Right you are! Consider it yours!... and where's your friend Dieuzy? On the left bank, I suppose, in the midst of a hundred natives.... So that, if I escape shipwreck, I shall be picked up on the left by Dieuzy and his natives or else on the right by Ganimard and the Neuilly tribes. A nasty dilemma...."
There was an eddy. The boat swung round and Shears was obliged to cling to the row locks.
"Maître," said Lupin, "I beg of you to take off your jacket. You will be more comfortable for swimming. You won't? Then I shall put on mine again."
He slipped on his jacket, buttoned it tightly like Shears's and sighed:
"What a fine fellow you are! And what a pity that you should persist in a business ... in which you are certainly doing the very best you can, but all in vain! Really, you are throwing away your distinguished talent."
"M. Lupin," said Shears, at last abandoning his silence, "you talk a great deal too much and you often err through excessive confidence and frivolity."
"That's a serious reproach."
"It was in this way that, without knowing it, you supplied me, a moment ago, with the information I wanted."
"What! You wanted some information, and you never told me!"
"I don't require you or anybody. In three hours' time I shall hand the solution of the puzzle to M. and reply ..."
He did not finish his sentence. The boat had suddenly foundered, dragging them both with her. She rose to the surface at once, overturned, with her keel in the air. Loud shouts came from the two banks, followed by an anxious silence and, suddenly, fresh cries: one of the shipwrecked men had reappeared.
It was Holmlock Shears.
An excellent swimmer, he struck out boldly for Folenfant's boat.
"Cheerly, Mr. Shears!" roared the detective-sergeant. "You're all right!... Keep on ... we'll see about him afterward.... We've got him right enough ... one more effort, Mr. Shears ... catch hold...."
The Englishman seized a rope which they threw to him. But, while they were dragging him on board, a voice behind him called out:
"Yes, my dear maître, you shall have the solution. I am even surprised that you have not hit upon it already.... And then? What use will it be to you? It's just then that you will have lost the battle...."
Seated comfortably astride the hulk, of which he had scaled the sides while talking, Arsène Lupin continued his speech with solemn gestures and as though he hoped to convince his hearers:
"Do you understand, my dear maître, that there is nothing to be done, absolutely nothing.... You are in the deplorable position of a gentleman who ..."
Folenfant took aim at him:
"You're an ill-bred person, Sergeant Folenfant; you've interrupted me in the middle of a sentence. I was saying ..."
"But, dash it all, Sergeant Folenfant, one only surrenders when in danger! Now surely you have not the face to believe that I am running the least danger!"
"For the last time, Lupin, I call on you to surrender!"
"Sergeant Folenfant, you have not the smallest intention of killing me; at the most you mean to wound me, you're so afraid of my escaping! And supposing that, by accident, the wound should be mortal? Oh, think of your remorse, wretched man, of your blighted old age ..."
The shot went off.
Lupin staggered, clung for a moment to the overturned boat, then let go and disappeared.
It was just three o'clock when these events happened. At six o'clock precisely, as he had declared, Holmlock Shears, clad in a pair of trousers too short and a jacket too tight for him, which he had borrowed from an inn-keeper at Neuilly, and wearing a cap and a flannel shirt with a silk cord and tassels, entered the boudoir in the Rue Murillo, after sending word to M. and Mme. d'Imblevalle to ask for an interview.
They found him walking up and down. And he looked to them so comical in his queer costume that they had a difficulty in suppressing their inclination to laugh. With a pensive air and a bent back, he walked, like an automaton, from the window to the door and the door to the window, taking each time the same number of steps and turning each time in the same direction.
He stopped, took up a knick-knack, examined it mechanically and then resumed his walk.
At last, planting himself in front of them, he asked:
"Is mademoiselle here?"
"Yes, in the garden, with the children."
"Monsieur le baron, as this will be our final conversation, I should like Mlle. Demun to be present at it."
"So you decidedly...?"
"Have a little patience, monsieur. The truth will emerge plainly from the facts which I propose to lay before you with the greatest possible precision."
"Very well. Suzanne, do you mind...?"
Mme. d'Imblevalle rose and returned almost at once, accompanied by Alice Demun. Mademoiselle, looking a little paler than usual, remained standing, leaning against a table and without even asking to know why she had been sent for.
Shears appeared not to see her and, turning abruptly toward M. d'Imblevalle, made his statement in a tone that admitted of no reply:
"After an inquiry extending over several days, and although certain events for a moment altered my view, I will repeat what I said from the first, that the Jewish lamp was stolen by some one living in this house."
"I know it."
"The evidence which I have is enough to confound the culprit."
"It is not enough that the culprit should be confounded. He must restore...."
"The Jewish lamp? It is in my possession!"
"The opal necklace? The snuff-box?..."
"The opal necklace, the snuff-box, in short everything that was stolen on the second occasion is in my possession."
Shears loved this dry, claptrap way of announcing his triumphs.
As a matter of fact, the baron and his wife seemed stupefied and looked at him with a silent curiosity which was, in itself, the highest praise.
He next summed up in detail all that he had done during those three days. He told how he had discovered the picture-book, wrote down on a sheet of paper the sentence formed by the letters which had been cut out, then described Bresson's expedition to the bank of the Seine and his suicide and, lastly, the struggle in which he, Shears, had just been engaged with Lupin, the wreck of the boat and Lupin's disappearance.
When he had finished, the baron said, in a low voice:
"Nothing remains but that you should reveal the name of the thief. Whom do you accuse?"
"I accuse the person who cut out the letters from this alphabet and communicated, by means of those letters, with Arsène Lupin."
"How do you know that this person's correspondent was Arsène Lupin?"
"From Lupin himself."
He held out a scrap of moist and crumpled paper. It was the page which Lupin had torn from his note-book in the boat, and on which he had written the sentence.
"And observe," said Shears, in a gratified voice, "that there was nothing to compel him to give me this paper and thus make himself known. It was a mere schoolboy prank on his part, which gave me the information I wanted."
"What information?" asked the baron. "I don't see...."
Shears copied out the letters and figures in pencil:
C D E H N O P R Z E O--237
"Well?" said M. d'Imblevalle. "That's the formula which you have just shown us yourself."
"No. If you had turned this formula over and over, as I have done, you would have seen at once that it contains two more letters than the first, an E and an O."
"As a matter of fact, I did not notice...."
"Place these two letters beside the C and H which remained over from the word Répondez, and you will see that the only possible word is 'ÉCHO.'"
"Which means the Écho de France, Lupin's newspaper, his own organ, the one for which he reserves his official communications. 'Send reply to the Écho de France, agony column, No. 237.' That was the key for which I had hunted so long and with which Lupin was kind enough to supply me. I have just come from the office of the Écho de France."
"And what have you found?"
"I have found the whole detailed story of the relations between Arsène Lupin and ... his accomplice."
And Shears spread out seven newspapers, opened at the fourth page, and picked out the following lines:
1. ARS. LUP. Lady impl. protect. 540.
2. 540. Awaiting explanations. A. L.
3. A. L. Under dominion of enemy. Lost.
4. 540. Write address. Will make enq.
5. A. L. Murillo.
6. 540. Park 3 p. m. Violets.
7. 237. Agreed Sat. Shall be park. Sun. morn.
"And you call that a detailed story!" exclaimed M. d'Imblevalle.
"Why, of course; and, if you will pay attention, you will think the same. First of all, a lady, signing herself 540, implores the protection of Arsène Lupin. To this Lupin replies with a request for explanations. The lady answers that she is under the dominion of an enemy, Bresson, no doubt, and that she is lost unless some one comes to her assistance. Lupin, who is suspicious and dares not yet have an interview with the stranger, asks for the address and suggests an inquiry. The lady hesitates for four days--see the dates--and, at last, under the pressure of events and the influence of Bresson's threats, gives the name of her street, the Rue Murillo. The next day, Arsène Lupin advertises that he will be in the Parc Monceau at three o'clock and asks the stranger to wear a bunch of violets as a token. Here follows an interruption of eight days in the correspondence. Arsène Lupin and the lady no longer need write through the medium of the paper: they see each other or correspond direct. The plot is contrived: to satisfy Bresson's requirements, the lady will take the Jewish lamp. It remains to fix the day. The lady, who, from motives of prudence, corresponds by means of words cut out and stuck together, decides upon Saturday, and adds, 'Send reply Écho 237.' Lupin replies that it is agreed and that, moreover, he will be in the park on Sunday morning. On Sunday morning, the theft took place."
"Yes, everything fits in," said the baron, approvingly, "and the story is complete."
"So the theft took place. The lady goes out on Sunday morning, tells Lupin what she has done and carries the Jewish lamp to Bresson. Things then happen as Lupin foresaw. The police, misled by an open window, four holes in the ground and two scratches on a balcony, at once accept the burglary suggestion. The lady is easy in her mind."
"Very well," said the baron. "I accept this explanation as perfectly logical. But the second theft...."
"The second theft was provoked by the first. After the newspapers had told how the Jewish lamp had disappeared, some one thought of returning to the attack and seizing hold of everything that had not been carried away. And, this time, it was not a pretended theft, but a real theft, with a genuine burglary, ladders, and so on."
"Lupin, of course...?"
"No, Lupin does not act so stupidly. Lupin does not fire at people without very good reason."
"Then who was it?"
"Bresson, no doubt, unknown to the lady whom he had been blackmailing. It was Bresson who broke in here, whom I pursued, who wounded my poor Wilson."
"Are you quite sure?"
"Absolutely. One of Bresson's accomplices wrote him a letter yesterday, before his suicide, which shows that this accomplice and Lupin had entered upon a parley for the restitution of all the articles stolen from your house. Lupin demanded everything, 'the first thing,' that is to say, the Jewish lamp, 'as well as those of the second business.' Moreover, he watched Bresson. When Bresson went to the bank of the Seine yesterday evening, one of Lupin's associates was dogging him at the same time as ourselves."
"What was Bresson doing at the bank of the Seine?"
"Warned of the progress of my inquiry...."
"Warned by whom?"
"By the same lady, who very rightly feared lest the discovery of the Jewish lamp should entail the discovery of her adventure.... Bresson, therefore, warned, collected into one parcel all that might compromise him and dropped it in a place where it would be possible for him to recover it, once the danger was past. It was on his return that, hunted down by Ganimard and me and doubtless having other crimes on his conscience, he lost his head and shot himself."
"But what did the parcel contain?"
"The Jewish lamp and your other things."
"Then they are not in your possession?"
"Immediately after Lupin's disappearance, I took advantage of the bath which he had compelled me to take to drive to the spot chosen by Bresson; and I found your stolen property wrapped up in linen and oil-skin. Here it is, on the table."
Without a word, the baron cut the string, tore through the pieces of wet linen, took out the lamp, turned a screw under the foot, pressed with both hands on the receiver, opened it into two equal parts and revealed the golden chimera, set with rubies and emeralds. It was untouched.
In all this scene, apparently so natural and consisting of a simple statement of facts, there was something that made it terribly tragic, which was the formal, direct, irrefutable accusation which Shears hurled at mademoiselle with every word he uttered. And there was also Alice Demun's impressive silence.
During that long, that cruel accumulation of small super-added proofs, not a muscle of her face had moved, not a gleam of rebellion or fear had disturbed the serenity of her limpid glance. What was she thinking? And, still more, what would she say at the solemn moment when she must reply, when she must defend herself and break the iron circle in which the Englishman had so cleverly imprisoned her?
The moment had struck, and the girl was silent.
"Speak! speak!" cried M. d'Imblevalle.
She did not speak.
"One word will clear you.... One word of protest and I will believe you."
That word she did not utter.
The baron stepped briskly across the room, returned, went back again and then, addressing Shears:
"Well, no, sir! I refuse to believe it true! There are some crimes which are impossible! And this is opposed to all that I know, all that I have seen for a year." He put his hand on the Englishman's shoulder. "But are you yourself, sir, absolutely and definitely sure that you are not mistaken?"
Shears hesitated, like a man attacked unawares, who does not defend himself at once. However, he smiled and said:
"No one but the person whom I accuse could, thanks to the position which she fills in your house, know that the Jewish lamp contained that magnificent jewel."
"I refuse to believe it," muttered the baron.
It was, in fact, the one thing which he had not tried, in the blind confidence which he felt in the girl. But it was no longer permissible to deny the evidence.
He went up to her and, looking her straight in the eyes:
"Was it you, mademoiselle? Did you take the jewel? Did you correspond with Arsène Lupin and sham the burglary?"
She did not lower her head. Her face expressed neither shame nor embarrassment.
"Is it possible?" stammered M. d'Imblevalle. "I would never have believed ... you are the last person I should have suspected.... How did you do it, unhappy girl?"
"I did as Mr. Shears has said. On Saturday night, I came down here to the boudoir, took the lamp and, in the morning, carried it ... to that man."
"But no," objected the baron; "what you say is impossible."
"Because I found the door of the boudoir locked in the morning."
She coloured, lost countenance and looked at Shears as though to ask his advice.
The Englishman seemed struck by Alice's embarrassment even more than by the baron's objection. Had she, then, no reply to make? Did the confession that confirmed the explanation which he, Shears, had given of the theft of the Jewish lamp conceal a lie which an examination of the facts at once laid bare?
The baron continued:
"The door was locked, I repeat. I declare that I found the bolt as I left it at night. If you had come that way, as you pretend, someone must have opened the door to you from the inside--that is to say, from the boudoir or from our bedroom. Now there was no one in these two rooms ... no one except my wife and myself."
Shears bent down quickly and covered his face with his two hands to hide it. He had flushed scarlet. Something resembling too sudden a light had struck him and left him dazed and ill at ease. The whole stood revealed to him like a dim landscape from which the darkness was suddenly lifting.
Alice Demun was innocent.
Alice Demun was innocent. That was a certain, blinding fact and, at the same time, explained the sort of embarrassment which he had felt since the first day at directing the terrible accusation against this young girl. He saw clearly now. He knew. It needed but a movement and, then and there, the irrefutable proof would stand forth before him.
He raised his head and, after a few seconds, as naturally as he could, turned his eyes toward Mme. d'Imblevalle.
She was pale, with that unaccustomed pallor that overcomes us at the relentless hours of life. Her hands, which she strove to hide, trembled imperceptibly.
"Another second," thought Shears, "and she will have betrayed herself."
He placed himself between her and her husband, with the imperious longing to ward off the terrible danger which, through his fault, threatened this man and this woman. But, at the sight of the baron, he shuddered to the very depths of his being. The same sudden revelation which had dazzled him with its brilliancy was now enlightening M. d'Imblevalle. The same thought was working in the husband's brain. He understood in his turn! He saw!
Desperately, Alice Demun strove to resist the implacable truth:
"You are right, monsieur; I made a mistake. As a matter of fact, I did not come in this way. I went through the hall and the garden and, with the help of a ladder...."
It was a supreme effort of devotion ... but a useless effort! The words did not ring true. The voice had lost its assurance and the sweet girl was no longer able to retain her limpid glance and her great air of sincerity. She hung her head, defeated.
The silence was frightful. Mme. d'Imblevalle waited, her features livid and drawn with anguish and fear. The baron seemed to be still struggling, as though refusing to believe in the downfall of his happiness.
At last he stammered:
"Speak! Explain yourself!"
"I have nothing to say, my poor friend," she said, in a very low voice her features wrung with despair.
"Then ... mademoiselle...?"
"Mademoiselle saved me ... through devotion ... through affection ... and accused herself...."
"Saved you from what? From whom?"
"From that man."
"Yes, he held me by his threats.... I met him at a friend's house ... and I had the madness to listen to him. Oh, there was nothing that you cannot forgive!... But I wrote him two letters ... you shall see them.... I bought them back ... you know how.... Oh, have pity on me.... I have been so unhappy!"
"You! You! Suzanne!"
He raised his clenched fists to her, ready to beat her, ready to kill her. But his arms fell to his sides and he murmured again:
"You, Suzanne!... You!... Is it possible?"
In short, abrupt sentences, she told the heartbreaking and commonplace story: her terrified awakening in the face of the man's infamy, her remorse, her madness; and she also described Alice's admirable conduct: the girl suspecting her mistress's despair, forcing a confession from her, writing to Lupin and contriving this story of a robbery to save her from Bresson's clutches.
"You, Suzanne, you!" repeated M. d'Imblevalle, bent double, overwhelmed. "How could you...?"
On the evening of the same day, the steamer Ville de Londres, from Calais to Dover, was gliding slowly over the motionless water. The night was dark and calm. Peaceful clouds were suggested rather than seen above the boat and, all around, light veils of mist separated her from the infinite space in which the moon and stars were shedding their cold, but invisible radiance.
Most of the passengers had gone to the cabins and saloons. A few of them, however, bolder than the rest, were walking up and down the deck or else dozing under thick rugs in the big rocking-chairs. Here and there the gleam showed of a cigar; and, mingling with the gentle breath of the wind, came the murmur of voices that dared not rise high in the great solemn silence.
One of the passengers, who was walking to and fro with even strides, stopped beside a person stretched out on a bench, looked at her and, when she moved slightly, said:
"I thought you were asleep, Mlle. Alice."
"No, Mr. Shears, I do not feel sleepy. I was thinking."
"What of? Is it indiscreet to ask?"
"I was thinking of Mme. d'Imblevalle. How sad she must be! Her life is ruined."
"Not at all, not at all," he said, eagerly. "Her fault is not one of those which can never be forgiven. M. d'Imblevalle will forget that lapse. Already, when we left, he was looking at her less harshly."
"Perhaps ... but it will take long to forget ... and she is suffering."
"Are you very fond of her?"
"Very. That gave me such strength to smile when I was trembling with fear, to look you in the face when I wanted to avoid your glance."
"And are you unhappy at leaving her?"
"Most unhappy. I have no relations or friends.... I had only her...."
"You shall have friends," said the Englishman, whom this grief was upsetting, "I promise you that.... I have connections.... I have much influence.... I assure you that you will not regret your position...."
"Perhaps, but Mme. d'Imblevalle will not be there...."
They exchanged no more words. Holmlock Shears took two or three more turns along the deck and then came back and settled down near his travelling-companion.
The misty curtain lifted and the clouds seemed to part in the sky. Stars twinkled up above.
Shears took his pipe from the pocket of his Inverness cape, filled it and struck four matches, one after the other, without succeeding in lighting it. As he had none left, he rose and said to a gentleman seated a few steps off:
"Could you oblige me with a light, please?"
The gentleman opened a box of fusees and struck one. A flame blazed up. By its light, Shears saw Arsène Lupin.
If the Englishman had not given a tiny movement, an almost imperceptible movement of recoil, Lupin might have thought that his presence on board was known to him, so great was the mastery which Shears retained over himself and so natural the ease with which he held out his hand to his adversary:
"Keeping well, M. Lupin?"
"Bravo!" exclaimed Lupin, from whom this self-command drew a cry of admiration.
"Bravo?... What for?"
"What for? You see me reappear before you like a ghost, after witnessing my dive into the Seine, and, from pride, from a miraculous pride which I will call essentially British, you give not a movement of astonishment, you utter not a word of surprise! Upon my word, I repeat, bravo! It's admirable!"
"There's nothing admirable about it. From the way you fell off the boat, I could see that you fell of your own accord and that you had not been struck by the sergeant's shot."
"And you went away without knowing what became of me?"
"What became of you? I knew. Five hundred people were commanding the two banks over a distance of three-quarters of a mile. Once you escaped death, your capture was certain."
"And yet I'm here!"
"M. Lupin, there are two men in the world of whom nothing can astonish me: myself first and you next."
Peace was concluded.
If Shears had failed in his undertakings against Arsène Lupin, if Lupin remained the exceptional enemy whom he must definitely renounce all attempts to capture, if, in the course of the engagements, Lupin always preserved his superiority, the Englishman had, nevertheless, thanks to his formidable tenacity, recovered the Jewish lamp, just as he had recovered the blue diamond. Perhaps, this time, the result was less brilliant, especially from the point of view of the public, since Shears was obliged to suppress the circumstances in which the Jewish lamp had been discovered and to proclaim that he did not know the culprit's name. But, as between man and man, between Lupin and Shears, between burglar and detective, there was, in all fairness, neither victor nor vanquished. Each of them could lay claim to equal triumphs.
They talked, therefore, like courteous adversaries who have laid down their arms and who esteem each other at their true worth.
At Shears's request, Lupin described his escape.
"If, indeed," he said, "you can call it an escape. It was so simple! My friends were on the watch, since we had arranged to meet in order to fish up the Jewish lamp. And so, after remaining a good half-hour under the overturned keel of the boat, I took advantage of a moment when Folenfant and his men were looking for my corpse along the banks and I climbed on to the wreck again. My friends had only to pick me up in their motor-boat and to dash off before the astounded eyes of the five hundred sightseers, Ganimard and Folenfant."
"Very pretty!" cried Shears. "Most successful! And now have you business in England?"
"Yes, a few accounts to settle.... But I was forgetting.... M. d'Imblevalle...?"
"He knows all."
"Ah, my dear maître, what did I tell you? The harm's done now, beyond repair. Would it not have been better to let me go to work in my own way? A day or two more and I should have recovered the Jewish lamp and the other things from Bresson and sent them back to the d'Imblevalles; and those two good people would have gone on living peacefully together. Instead of which...."
"Instead of which," snarled Shears, "I have muddled everything up and brought discord into a family which you were protecting."
"Well, yes, if you like, protecting! Is it indispensable that one should always steal, cheat and do harm?"
"So you do good also?"
"When I have time. Besides, it amuses me. I think it extremely funny that, in the present adventure, I should be the good genius who rescues and saves and you the wicked genius who brings despair and tears."
"Certainly! The d'Imblevalle home is broken up and Alice Demun is weeping."
"She could not have remained.... Ganimard would have ended by discovering her ... and through her they would have worked back to Mme. d'Imblevalle."
"Quite of your opinion, maître; but whose fault was it?"
Two men passed in front of them. Shears said to Lupin, in a voice the tone of which seemed a little altered:
"Do you know who those two gentlemen are?"
"I think one was the captain of the boat."
"And the other?"
"I don't know."
"It is Mr. Austin Gilett. And Mr. Austin Gilett occupies in England a post which corresponds with that of your M. Dudouis."
"Oh, what luck! Would you have the kindness to introduce me? M. Dudouis is a great friend of mine and I should like to be able to say as much of Mr. Austin Gilett."
The two gentlemen reappeared.
"And, suppose I were to take you at your word, M. Lupin...?" said Shears, rising.
He had seized Arsène Lupin's wrist and held it in a grip of steel.
"Why grip me so hard, maître? I am quite ready to go with you."
He allowed himself, in fact, to be dragged along, without the least resistance. The two gentlemen were walking away from them.
Shears increased his pace. His nails dug into Lupin's very flesh.
"Come along, come along!" he said, under his breath, in a sort of fevered haste to settle everything as quickly as possible. "Come along! Quick!"
But he stopped short: Alice Demun had followed them.
"What are you doing, mademoiselle? You need not trouble to come!"
It was Lupin who replied:
"I beg you to observe, maître, that mademoiselle is not coming of her own free will. I am holding her wrist with an energy similar to that which you are applying to mine."
"Why? Well, I am bent upon introducing her also. Her part in the story of the Jewish Lamp is even more important than mine. As an accomplice of Arsène Lupin, and of Bresson as well, she too must tell the adventure of the Baronne d'Imblevalle ... which is sure to interest the police immensely. And in this way you will have pushed your kind interference to its last limits, O generous Shears!"
The Englishman had released his prisoner's wrist. Lupin let go of mademoiselle's.
They stood, for a few seconds, without moving, looking at one another. Then Shears went back to his bench and sat down. Lupin and the girl resumed their places.
A long silence divided them. Then Lupin said:
"You see, maître, do what we may, we shall never be in the same camp. You will always be on one side of the ditch, I on the other. We can nod, shake hands, exchange a word or two; but the ditch is always there. You will always be, Holmlock Shears, detective, and I Arsène Lupin, burglar. And Holmlock Shears will always, more or less spontaneously, more or less seasonably, obey his instinct as a detective, which is to hound down the burglar and 'run him in' if possible. And Arsène Lupin will always be consistent with his burglar's soul in avoiding the grasp of the detective and laughing at him if he can. And, this time, he can! Ha, ha, ha!"
He burst into a cunning, cruel and detestable laugh.... Then, suddenly becoming serious, he leaned toward the girl:
"Be sure, mademoiselle, that, though reduced to the last extremity, I would not have betrayed you. Arsène Lupin never betrays, especially those whom he likes and admires. And you must permit me to say that I like and admire the dear, plucky creature that you are."
He took a visiting-card from his pocketbook, tore it in two, gave one-half to the girl and, in a touched and respectful voice:
"If Mr. Shears does not succeed in his steps, mademoiselle, pray go to Lady Strongborough, whose address you can easily find out, hand her this half-card and say, 'Faithful memories!' Lady Strongborough will show you the devotion of a sister."
"Thank you," said the girl, "I will go to her to-morrow."
"And now, maître," cried Lupin, in the satisfied tone of a man who has done his duty, "let me bid you good night. The mist has delayed us and there is still time to take forty winks." He stretched himself at full length and crossed his hands behind his head.
The sky had opened before the moon. She shed her radiant brightness around the stars and over the sea. It floated upon the water; and space, in which the last mists were dissolving, seemed to belong to it.
The line of the coast stood out against the dark horizon. Passengers came up on deck, which was now covered with people. Mr. Austin Gilett passed in the company of two men whom Shears recognized as members of the English detective-force.
On his bench, Lupin slept.... (End)