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[Illustration: The girl gasped as Renine (Arsene Lupin) drew forth the
mysterious telescope.]


THE EIGHT STROKES OF THE CLOCK

BY

MAURICE LE BLANC




AUTHOR'S NOTE

These adventures were told to me in the old days by Arsène Lupin, as
though they had happened to a friend of his, named Prince Rénine. As for
me, considering the way in which they were conducted, the actions, the
behaviour and the very character of the hero, I find it very difficult not
to identify the two friends as one and the same person. Arsène Lupin is
gifted with a powerful imagination and is quite capable of attributing to
himself adventures which are not his at all and of disowning those which
are really his. The reader will judge for himself.

M. L.




CONTENTS


I ON THE TOP OF THE TOWER

II THE WATER BOTTLE

III THE CASE OF JEAN LOUIS

IV THE TELL-TALE FILM

V THÉRÈSE AND GERMAINE

VI THE LADY WITH THE HATCHET

VII FOOTPRINTS IN THE SNOW

VIII AT THE SIGN OF MERCURY




I

ON THE TOP OF THE TOWER


Hortense Daniel pushed her window ajar and whispered:

"Are you there, Rossigny?"

"I am here," replied a voice from the shrubbery at the front of the house.

Leaning forward, she saw a rather fat man looking up at her out of a gross
red face with its cheeks and chin set in unpleasantly fair whiskers.

"Well?" he asked.

"Well, I had a great argument with my uncle and aunt last night. They
absolutely refuse to sign the document of which my lawyer sent them the
draft, or to restore the dowry squandered by my husband."

"But your uncle is responsible by the terms of the marriage-settlement."

"No matter. He refuses."

"Well, what do you propose to do?"

"Are you still determined to run away with me?" she asked, with a laugh.

"More so than ever."

"Your intentions are strictly honourable, remember!"

"Just as you please. You know that I am madly in love with you."

"Unfortunately I am not madly in love with you!"

"Then what made you choose me?"

"Chance. I was bored. I was growing tired of my humdrum existence. So I'm
ready to run risks.... Here's my luggage: catch!"

She let down from the window a couple of large leather kit-bags. Rossigny
caught them in his arms.

"The die is cast," she whispered. "Go and wait for me with your car at the
If cross-roads. I shall come on horseback."

"Hang it, I can't run off with your horse!"

"He will go home by himself."

"Capital!... Oh, by the way...."

"What is it?"

"Who is this Prince Rénine, who's been here the last three days and whom
nobody seems to know?"

"I don't know much about him. My uncle met him at a friend's shoot and
asked him here to stay."

"You seem to have made a great impression on him. You went for a long ride
with him yesterday. He's a man I don't care for."

"In two hours I shall have left the house in your company. The scandal will
cool him off.... Well, we've talked long enough. We have no time to lose."

For a few minutes she stood watching the fat man bending under the weight
of her traps as he moved away in the shelter of an empty avenue. Then she
closed the window.

Outside, in the park, the huntsmen's horns were sounding the reveille. The
hounds burst into frantic baying. It was the opening day of the hunt that
morning at the Château de la Marèze, where, every year, in the first week
in September, the Comte d'Aigleroche, a mighty hunter before the Lord,
and his countess were accustomed to invite a few personal friends and the
neighbouring landowners.

Hortense slowly finished dressing, put on a riding-habit, which
revealed the lines of her supple figure, and a wide-brimmed felt hat,
which encircled her lovely face and auburn hair, and sat down to her
writing-desk, at which she wrote to her uncle, M. d'Aigleroche, a farewell
letter to be delivered to him that evening. It was a difficult letter to
word; and, after beginning it several times, she ended by giving up the
idea.

"I will write to him later," she said to herself, "when his anger has
cooled down."

And she went downstairs to the dining-room.

Enormous logs were blazing in the hearth of the lofty room. The walls were
hung with trophies of rifles and shotguns. The guests were flocking in from
every side, shaking hands with the Comte d'Aigleroche, one of those typical
country squires, heavily and powerfully built, who lives only for hunting
and shooting. He was standing before the fire, with a large glass of old
brandy in his hand, drinking the health of each new arrival.

Hortense kissed him absently:

"What, uncle! You who are usually so sober!"

"Pooh!" he said. "A man may surely indulge himself a little once a
year!..."

"Aunt will give you a scolding!"

"Your aunt has one of her sick headaches and is not coming down. Besides,"
he added, gruffly, "it is not her business ... and still less is it yours,
my dear child."

Prince Rénine came up to Hortense. He was a young man, very smartly
dressed, with a narrow and rather pale face, whose eyes held by turns
the gentlest and the harshest, the most friendly and the most satirical
expression. He bowed to her, kissed her hand and said:

"May I remind you of your kind promise, dear madame?"

"My promise?"

"Yes, we agreed that we should repeat our delightful excursion of yesterday
and try to go over that old boarded-up place the look of which made us so
curious. It seems to be known as the Domaine de Halingre."

She answered a little curtly:

"I'm extremely sorry, monsieur, but it would be rather far and I'm feeling
a little done up. I shall go for a canter in the park and come indoors
again."

There was a pause. Then Serge Rénine said, smiling, with his eyes fixed on
hers and in a voice which she alone could hear:

"I am sure that you'll keep your promise and that you'll let me come with
you. It would be better."

"For whom? For you, you mean?"

"For you, too, I assure you."

She coloured slightly, but did not reply, shook hands with a few people
around her and left the room.

A groom was holding the horse at the foot of the steps. She mounted and set
off towards the woods beyond the park.

It was a cool, still morning. Through the leaves, which barely quivered,
the sky showed crystalline blue. Hortense rode at a walk down winding
avenues which in half an hour brought her to a country-side of ravines and
bluffs intersected by the high-road.

She stopped. There was not a sound. Rossigny must have stopped his engine
and concealed the car in the thickets around the If cross-roads.

She was five hundred yards at most from that circular space. After
hesitating for a few seconds, she dismounted, tied her horse carelessly, so
that he could release himself by the least effort and return to the house,
shrouded her face in the long brown veil that hung over her shoulders and
walked on.

As she expected, she saw Rossigny directly she reached the first turn in
the road. He ran up to her and drew her into the coppice!

"Quick, quick! Oh, I was so afraid that you would be late ... or even
change your mind! And here you are! It seems too good to be true!"

She smiled:

"You appear to be quite happy to do an idiotic thing!"

"I should think I _am_ happy! And so will you be, I swear you will!
Your life will be one long fairy-tale. You shall have every luxury, and all
the money you can wish for."

"I want neither money nor luxuries."

"What then?"

"Happiness."

"You can safely leave your happiness to me."

She replied, jestingly:

"I rather doubt the quality of the happiness which you would give me."

"Wait! You'll see! You'll see!"

They had reached the motor. Rossigny, still stammering expressions of
delight, started the engine. Hortense stepped in and wrapped herself in a
wide cloak. The car followed the narrow, grassy path which led back to the
cross-roads and Rossigny was accelerating the speed, when he was suddenly
forced to pull up. A shot had rung out from the neighbouring wood, on the
right. The car was swerving from side to side.

"A front tire burst," shouted Rossigny, leaping to the ground.

"Not a bit of it!" cried Hortense. "Somebody fired!"

"Impossible, my dear! Don't be so absurd!"

At that moment, two slight shocks were felt and two more reports were
heard, one after the other, some way off and still in the wood.

Rossigny snarled:

"The back tires burst now ... both of them.... But who, in the devil's
name, can the ruffian be?... Just let me get hold of him, that's all!..."

He clambered up the road-side slope. There was no one there. Moreover, the
leaves of the coppice blocked the view.

"Damn it! Damn it!" he swore. "You were right: somebody was firing at the
car! Oh, this is a bit thick! We shall be held up for hours! Three tires to
mend!... But what are you doing, dear girl?"

Hortense herself had alighted from the car. She ran to him, greatly
excited:

"I'm going."

"But why?"

"I want to know. Some one fired. I want to know who it was."

"Don't let us separate, please!"

"Do you think I'm going to wait here for you for hours?"

"What about your running away?... All our plans ...?"

"We'll discuss that to-morrow. Go back to the house. Take back my things
with you.... And good-bye for the present."

She hurried, left him, had the good luck to find her horse and set off at a
gallop in a direction leading away from La Marèze.

There was not the least doubt in her mind that the three shots had been
fired by Prince Rénine.

"It was he," she muttered, angrily, "it was he. No one else would be
capable of such behaviour."

Besides, he had warned her, in his smiling, masterful way, that he would
expect her.

She was weeping with rage and humiliation. At that moment, had she found
herself face to face with Prince Rénine, she could have struck him with her
riding-whip.

Before her was the rugged and picturesque stretch of country which lies
between the Orne and the Sarthe, above Alençon, and which is known as
Little Switzerland. Steep hills compelled her frequently to moderate her
pace, the more so as she had to cover some six miles before reaching her
destination. But, though the speed at which she rode became less headlong,
though her physical effort gradually slackened, she nevertheless persisted
in her indignation against Prince Rénine. She bore him a grudge not only
for the unspeakable action of which he had been guilty, but also for his
behaviour to her during the last three days, his persistent attentions, his
assurance, his air of excessive politeness.

She was nearly there. In the bottom of a valley, an old park-wall, full
of cracks and covered with moss and weeds, revealed the ball-turret of a
château and a few windows with closed shutters. This was the Domaine de
Halingre.

She followed the wall and turned a corner. In the middle of the
crescent-shaped space before which lay the entrance-gates, Serge Rénine
stood waiting beside his horse.

She sprang to the ground, and, as he stepped forward, hat in hand, thanking
her for coming, she cried:

"One word, monsieur, to begin with. Something quite inexplicable happened
just now. Three shots were fired at a motor-car in which I was sitting. Did
you fire those shots?"

"Yes."

She seemed dumbfounded:

"Then you confess it?"

"You have asked a question, madame, and I have answered it."

"But how dared you? What gave you the right?"

"I was not exercising a right, madame; I was performing a duty!"

"Indeed! And what duty, pray?"

"The duty of protecting you against a man who is trying to profit by your
troubles."

"I forbid you to speak like that. I am responsible for my own actions, and
I decided upon them in perfect liberty."

"Madame, I overheard your conversation with M. Rossigny this morning and it
did not appear to me that you were accompanying him with a light heart. I
admit the ruthlessness and bad taste of my interference and I apologise for
it humbly; but I risked being taken for a ruffian in order to give you a
few hours for reflection."

"I have reflected fully, monsieur. When I have once made up my mind to a
thing, I do not change it."

"Yes, madame, you do, sometimes. If not, why are you here instead of
there?"

Hortense was confused for a moment. All her anger had subsided. She looked
at Rénine with the surprise which one experiences when confronted with
certain persons who are unlike their fellows, more capable of performing
unusual actions, more generous and disinterested. She realised perfectly
that he was acting without any ulterior motive or calculation, that he was,
as he had said, merely fulfilling his duty as a gentleman to a woman who
has taken the wrong turning.

Speaking very gently, he said:

"I know very little about you, madame, but enough to make me wish to be of
use to you. You are twenty-six years old and have lost both your parents.
Seven years ago, you became the wife of the Comte d'Aigleroche's nephew by
marriage, who proved to be of unsound mind, half insane indeed, and had
to be confined. This made it impossible for you to obtain a divorce and
compelled you, since your dowry had been squandered, to live with your
uncle and at his expense. It's a depressing environment. The count and
countess do not agree. Years ago, the count was deserted by his first wife,
who ran away with the countess' first husband. The abandoned husband and
wife decided out of spite to unite their fortunes, but found nothing but
disappointment and ill-will in this second marriage. And you suffer the
consequences. They lead a monotonous, narrow, lonely life for eleven months
or more out of the year. One day, you met M. Rossigny, who fell in love
with you and suggested an elopement. You did not care for him. But you were
bored, your youth was being wasted, you longed for the unexpected, for
adventure ... in a word, you accepted with the very definite intention of
keeping your admirer at arm's length, but also with the rather ingenuous
hope that the scandal would force your uncle's hand and make him account
for his trusteeship and assure you of an independent existence. That is how
you stand. At present you have to choose between placing yourself in M.
Rossigny's hands ... or trusting yourself to me."

She raised her eyes to his. What did he mean? What was the purport of this
offer which he made so seriously, like a friend who asks nothing but to
prove his devotion?

After a moment's silence, he took the two horses by the bridle and tied
them up. Then he examined the heavy gates, each of which was strengthened
by two planks nailed cross-wise. An electoral poster, dated twenty years
earlier, showed that no one had entered the domain since that time.

Rénine tore up one of the iron posts which supported a railing that ran
round the crescent and used it as a lever. The rotten planks gave way. One
of them uncovered the lock, which he attacked with a big knife, containing
a number of blades and implements. A minute later, the gate opened on a
waste of bracken which led up to a long, dilapidated building, with a
turret at each corner and a sort of a belvedere, built on a taller tower,
in the middle.

The Prince turned to Hortense:

"You are in no hurry," he said. "You will form your decision this evening;
and, if M. Rossigny succeeds in persuading you for the second time, I give
you my word of honour that I shall not cross your path. Until then, grant
me the privilege of your company. We made up our minds yesterday to inspect
the château. Let us do so. Will you? It is as good a way as any of passing
the time and I have a notion that it will not be uninteresting."

He had a way of talking which compelled obedience. He seemed to be
commanding and entreating at the same time. Hortense did not even seek
to shake off the enervation into which her will was slowly sinking. She
followed him to a half-demolished flight of steps at the top of which was
a door likewise strengthened by planks nailed in the form of a cross.

Rénine went to work in the same way as before. They entered a spacious
hall paved with white and black flagstones, furnished with old sideboards
and choir-stalls and adorned with a carved escutcheon which displayed the
remains of armorial bearings, representing an eagle standing on a block of
stone, all half-hidden behind a veil of cobwebs which hung down over a pair
of folding-doors.

"The door of the drawing-room, evidently," said Rénine.

He found this more difficult to open; and it was only by repeatedly
charging it with his shoulder that he was able to move one of the doors.

Hortense had not spoken a word. She watched not without surprise this
series of forcible entries, which were accomplished with a really masterly
skill. He guessed her thoughts and, turning round, said in a serious voice:

"It's child's-play to me. I was a locksmith once."

She seized his arm and whispered:

"Listen!"

"To what?" he asked.

She increased the pressure of her hand, to demand silence. The next moment,
he murmured:

"It's really very strange."

"Listen, listen!" Hortense repeated, in bewilderment. "Can it be possible?"

They heard, not far from where they were standing, a sharp sound, the sound
of a light tap recurring at regular intervals; and they had only to listen
attentively to recognise the ticking of a clock. Yes, it was this and
nothing else that broke the profound silence of the dark room; it was
indeed the deliberate ticking, rhythmical as the beat of a metronome,
produced by a heavy brass pendulum. That was it! And nothing could be more
impressive than the measured pulsation of this trivial mechanism, which by
some miracle, some inexplicable phenomenon, had continued to live in the
heart of the dead château.

"And yet," stammered Hortense, without daring to raise her voice, "no one
has entered the house?"

"No one."

"And it is quite impossible for that clock to have kept going for twenty
years without being wound up?"

"Quite impossible."

"Then ...?"

Serge Rénine opened the three windows and threw back the shutters.

He and Hortense were in a drawing-room, as he had thought; and the room
showed not the least sign of disorder. The chairs were in their places. Not
a piece of furniture was missing. The people who had lived there and who
had made it the most individual room in their house had gone away leaving
everything just as it was, the books which they used to read, the
knick-knacks on the tables and consoles.

Rénine examined the old grandfather's clock, contained in its tall carved
case which showed the disk of the pendulum through an oval pane of glass.
He opened the door of the clock. The weights hanging from the cords were at
their lowest point.

At that moment there was a click. The clock struck eight with a serious
note which Hortense was never to forget.

"How extraordinary!" she said.

"Extraordinary indeed," said he, "for the works are exceedingly simple and
would hardly keep going for a week."

"And do you see nothing out of the common?"

"No, nothing ... or, at least...."

He stooped and, from the back of the case, drew a metal tube which was
concealed by the weights. Holding it up to the light:

"A telescope," he said, thoughtfully. "Why did they hide it?... And they
left it drawn out to its full length.... That's odd.... What does it mean?"

The clock, as is sometimes usual, began to strike a second time, sounding
eight strokes. Rénine closed the case and continued his inspection without
putting his telescope down. A wide arch led from the drawing-room to a
smaller apartment, a sort of smoking-room. This also was furnished, but
contained a glass case for guns of which the rack was empty. Hanging on
a panel near by was a calendar with the date of the 5th of September.

"Oh," cried Hortense, in astonishment, "the same date as to-day!... They
tore off the leaves until the 5th of September.... And this is the
anniversary! What an astonishing coincidence!"

"Astonishing," he echoed. "It's the anniversary of their departure ...
twenty years ago to-day."

"You must admit," she said, "that all this is incomprehensible.

"Yes, of course ... but, all the same ... perhaps not."

"Have you any idea?"

He waited a few seconds before replying:

"What puzzles me is this telescope hidden, dropped in that corner, at
the last moment. I wonder what it was used for.... From the ground-floor
windows you see nothing but the trees in the garden ... and the same, I
expect, from all the windows.... We are in a valley, without the least open
horizon.... To use the telescope, one would have to go up to the top of the
house.... Shall we go up?"

She did not hesitate. The mystery surrounding the whole adventure excited
her curiosity so keenly that she could think of nothing but accompanying
Rénine and assisting him in his investigations.

They went upstairs accordingly, and, on the second floor, came to a landing
where they found the spiral staircase leading to the belvedere.

At the top of this was a platform in the open air, but surrounded by a
parapet over six feet high.

"There must have been battlements which have been filled in since,"
observed Prince Rénine. "Look here, there were loop-holes at one time. They
may have been blocked."

"In any case," she said, "the telescope was of no use up here either and we
may as well go down again."

"I don't agree," he said. "Logic tells us that there must have been some
gap through which the country could be seen and this was the spot where the
telescope was used."

He hoisted himself by his wrists to the top of the parapet and then saw
that this point of vantage commanded the whole of the valley, including the
park, with its tall trees marking the horizon; and, beyond, a depression
in a wood surmounting a hill, at a distance of some seven or eight hundred
yards, stood another tower, squat and in ruins, covered with ivy from top
to bottom.

Rénine resumed his inspection. He seemed to consider that the key to the
problem lay in the use to which the telescope was put and that the problem
would be solved if only they could discover this use.

He studied the loop-holes one after the other. One of them, or rather the
place which it had occupied, attracted his attention above the rest. In
the middle of the layer of plaster, which had served to block it, there
was a hollow filled with earth in which plants had grown. He pulled out
the plants and removed the earth, thus clearing the mouth of a hole some
five inches in diameter, which completely penetrated the wall. On bending
forward, Rénine perceived that this deep and narrow opening inevitably
carried the eye, above the dense tops of the trees and through the
depression in the hill, to the ivy-clad tower.

At the bottom of this channel, in a sort of groove which ran through it
like a gutter, the telescope fitted so exactly that it was quite impossible
to shift it, however little, either to the right or to the left.

Rénine, after wiping the outside of the lenses, while taking care not to
disturb the lie of the instrument by a hair's breadth, put his eye to the
small end.

He remained for thirty or forty seconds, gazing attentively and silently.
Then he drew himself up and said, in a husky voice:

"It's terrible ... it's really terrible."

"What is?" she asked, anxiously.

"Look."

She bent down but the image was not clear to her and the telescope had to
be focussed to suit her sight. The next moment she shuddered and said:

"It's two scarecrows, isn't it, both stuck up on the top? But why?"

"Look again," he said. "Look more carefully under the hats ... the
faces...."

"Oh!" she cried, turning faint with horror, "how awful!"

The field of the telescope, like the circular picture shown by a magic
lantern, presented this spectacle: the platform of a broken tower, the
walls of which were higher in the more distant part and formed as it were
a back-drop, over which surged waves of ivy. In front, amid a cluster of
bushes, were two human beings, a man and a woman, leaning back against a
heap of fallen stones.

But the words man and woman could hardly be applied to these two forms,
these two sinister puppets, which, it is true, wore clothes and hats - or
rather shreds of clothes and remnants of hats - but had lost their eyes,
their cheeks, their chins, every particle of flesh, until they were
actually and positively nothing more than two skeletons.



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