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"Certainly, monsieur."

And he handed Mon. Imbert a card bearing the name: "Arsène Lupin."

* * * * *

At that time, Arsène Lupin did not enjoy the celebrity which the Cahorn
affair, his escape from the Prison de la Santé, and other brilliant
exploits, afterwards gained for him. He had not even used the name of
Arsène Lupin. The name was specially invented to designate the rescuer
of Mon. Imbert; that is to say, it was in that affair that Arsène
Lupin was baptized. Fully armed and ready for the fray, it is true, but
lacking the resources and authority which command success, Arsène Lupin
was then merely an apprentice in a profession wherein he soon became a
master.

With what a thrill of joy he recalled the invitation he received that
night! At last, he had reached his goal! At last, he had undertaken
a task worthy of his strength and skill! The Imbert millions! What a
magnificent feast for an appetite like his!

He prepared a special toilet for the occasion; a shabby frock-coat,
baggy trousers, a frayed silk hat, well-worn collar and cuffs, all quite
correct in form, but bearing the unmistakable stamp of poverty. His
cravat was a black ribbon pinned with a false diamond. Thus accoutred,
he descended the stairs of the house in which he lived at Montmartre. At
the third floor, without stopping, he rapped on a closed door with the
head of his cane. He walked to the exterior boulevards. A tram-car was
passing. He boarded it, and some one who had been following him took a
seat beside him. It was the lodger who occupied the room on the third
floor. A moment later, this man said to Lupin:

"Well, governor?"

"Well, it is all fixed."

"How?"

"I am going there to breakfast."

"You breakfast - there!"

"Certainly. Why not? I rescued Mon. Ludovic Imbert from certain death
at your hands. Mon. Imbert is not devoid of gratitude. He invited me to
breakfast."

There was a brief silence. Then the other said:

"But you are not going to throw up the scheme?"

"My dear boy," said Lupin, "When I arranged that little case of assault
and battery, when I took the trouble at three o'clock in the morning, to
rap you with my cane and tap you with my boot at the risk of injuring
my only friend, it was not my intention to forego the advantages to be
gained from a rescue so well arranged and executed. Oh! no, not at all."

"But the strange rumors we hear about their fortune?"

"Never mind about that. For six months, I have worked on this affair,
investigated it, studied it, questioned the servants, the money-lenders
and men of straw; for six months, I have shadowed the husband and wife.
Consequently, I know what I am talking about. Whether the fortune came
to them from old Brawford, as they pretend, or from some other source,
I do not care. I know that it is a reality; that it exists. And some day
it will be mine."

"Bigre! One hundred millions!"

"Let us say ten, or even five - that is enough! They have a safe full
of bonds, and there will be the devil to pay if I can't get my hands on
them."

The tram-car stopped at the Place de l'Etoile. The man whispered to
Lupin:

"What am I to do now?"

"Nothing, at present. You will hear from me. There is no hurry."

Five minutes later, Arsène Lupin was ascending the magnificent flight
of stairs in the Imbert mansion, and Mon. Imbert introduced him to
his wife. Madame Gervaise Imbert was a short plump woman, and very
talkative. She gave Lupin a cordial welcome.

"I desired that we should be alone to entertain our saviour," she said.

From the outset, they treated "our saviour" as an old and valued friend.
By the time dessert was served, their friendship was well cemented, and
private confidences were being exchanged. Arsène related the story of
his life, the life of his father as a magistrate, the sorrows of his
childhood, and his present difficulties. Gervaise, in turn, spoke of
her youth, her marriage, the kindness of the aged Brawford, the hundred
millions that she had inherited, the obstacles that prevented her from
obtaining the enjoyment of her inheritance, the moneys she had been
obliged to borrow at an exorbitant rate of interest, her endless
contentions with Brawford's nephews, and the litigation! the
injunctions! in fact, everything!

"Just think of it, Monsieur Lupin, the bonds are there, in my husband's
office, and if we detach a single coupon, we lose everything! They are
there, in our safe, and we dare not touch them."

Monsieur Lupin shivered at the bare idea of his proximity to so much
wealth. Yet he felt quite certain that Monsieur Lupin would never suffer
from the same difficulty as his fair hostess who declared she dare not
touch the money.

"Ah! they are there!" he repeated, to himself; "they are there!"

A friendship formed under such circumstances soon led to closer
relations. When discreetly questioned, Arsène Lupin confessed his
poverty and distress. Immediately, the unfortunate young man was
appointed private secretary to the Imberts, husband and wife, at a
salary of one hundred francs a month. He was to come to the house every
day and receive orders for his work, and a room on the second floor
was set apart as his office. This room was directly over Mon. Imbert's
office.

Arsène soon realized that his position as secretary was essentially
a sinecure. During the first two months, he had only four important
letters to recopy, and was called only once to Mon. Imbert's office;
consequently, he had only one opportunity to contemplate, officially,
the Imbert safe. Moreover, he noticed that the secretary was not invited
to the social functions of the employer. But he did not complain, as he
preferred to remain, modestly, in the shade and maintain his peace and
freedom.

However, he was not wasting any time. From the beginning, he made
clandestine visits to Mon. Imbert's office, and paid his respects to the
safe, which was hermetically closed. It was an immense block of iron and
steel, cold and stern in appearance, which could not be forced open
by the ordinary tools of the burglar's trade. But Arsène Lupin was not
discouraged.

"Where force fails, cunning prevails," he said to himself. "The
essential thing is to be on the spot when the opportunity occurs. In the
meantime, I must watch and wait."

He made immediately some preliminary preparations. After careful
soundings made upon the floor of his room, he introduced a lead pipe
which penetrated the ceiling of Mon. Imbert's office at a point between
the two screeds of the cornice. By means of this pipe, he hoped to see
and hear what transpired in the room below.

Henceforth, he passed his days stretched at full length upon the floor.
He frequently saw the Imberts holding a consultation in front of the
safe, investigating books and papers. When they turned the combination
lock, he tried to learn the figures and the number of turns they made to
the right and left. He watched their movements; he sought to catch their
words. There was also a key necessary to complete the opening of the
safe. What did they do with it? Did they hide it?

One day, he saw them leave the room without locking the safe. He
descended the stairs quickly, and boldly entered the room. But they had
returned.

"Oh! excuse me," said, "I made a mistake in the door."

"Come in, Monsieur Lupin, come in," cried Madame Imbert, "are you not at
home here? We want your advice. What bonds should we sell? The foreign
securities or the government annuities?"

"But the injunction?" said Lupin, with surprise.

"Oh! it doesn't cover all the bonds."

She opened the door of the safe and withdrew a package of bonds. But her
husband protested.

"No, no, Gervaise, it would be foolish to sell the foreign bonds. They
are going up, whilst the annuities are as high as they ever will be.
What do you think, my dear friend?"

The dear friend had no opinion; yet he advised the sacrifice of the
annuities. Then she withdrew another package and, from it, she took
a paper at random. It proved to be a three-per-cent annuity worth two
thousand francs. Ludovic placed the package of bonds in his pocket.
That afternoon, accompanied by his secretary, he sold the annuities to a
stock-broker and realized forty-six thousand francs.

Whatever Madame Imbert might have said about it, Arsène Lupin did not
feel at home in the Imbert house. On the contrary, his position there
was a peculiar one. He learned that the servants did not even know his
name. They called him "monsieur." Ludovic always spoke of him in the
same way: "You will tell monsieur. Has monsieur arrived?" Why that
mysterious appellation?

Moreover, after their first outburst of enthusiasm, the Imberts seldom
spoke to him, and, although treating him with the consideration due to
a benefactor, they gave him little or no attention. They appeared to
regard him as an eccentric character who did not like to be disturbed,
and they respected his isolation as if it were a stringent rule on his
part. On one occasion, while passing through the vestibule, he heard
Madame Imbert say to the two gentlemen:

"He is such a barbarian!"

"Very well," he said to himself, "I am a barbarian."

And, without seeking to solve the question of their strange conduct, he
proceeded with the execution of his own plans. He had decided that he
could not depend on chance, nor on the negligence of Madame Imbert, who
carried the key of the safe, and who, on locking the safe, invariably
scattered the letters forming the combination of the lock. Consequently,
he must act for himself.

Finally, an incident precipitated matters; it was the vehement campaign
instituted against the Imberts by certain newspapers that accused
the Imberts of swindling. Arsène Lupin was present at certain family
conferences when this new vicissitude was discussed. He decided that if
he waited much longer, he would lose everything. During the next five
days, instead of leaving the house about six o'clock, according to his
usual habit, he locked himself in his room. It was supposed that he had
gone out. But he was lying on the floor surveying the office of Mon.
Imbert. During those five evenings, the favorable opportunity that he
awaited did not take place. He left the house about midnight by a side
door to which he held the key.

But on the sixth day, he learned that the Imberts, actuated by the
malevolent insinuations of their enemies, proposed to make an inventory
of the contents of the safe.

"They will do it to-night," thought Lupin.

And truly, after dinner, Imbert and his wife retired to the office and
commenced to examine the books of account and the securities contained
in the safe. Thus, one hour after another passed away. He heard the
servants go upstairs to their rooms. No one now remained on the first
floor. Midnight! The Imberts were still at work.

"I must get to work," murmured Lupin.

He opened his window. It opened on a court. Outside, everything was
dark and quiet. He took from his desk a knotted rope, fastened it to
the balcony in front of his window, and quietly descended as far as the
window below, which was that of the of Imbert's office. He stood upon
the balcony for a moment, motionless, with attentive ear and watchful
eye, but the heavy curtains effectually concealed the interior of the
room. He cautiously pushed on the double window. If no one had examined
it, it ought to yield to the slightest pressure, for, during the
afternoon, he had so fixed the bolt that it would not enter the staple.

The window yielded to his touch. Then, with infinite care, he pushed
it open sufficiently to admit his head. He parted the curtains a few
inches, looked in, and saw Mon. Imbert and his wife sitting in front
of the safe, deeply absorbed in their work and speaking softly to each
other at rare intervals.

He calculated the distance between him and them, considered the exact
movements he would require to make in order to overcome them, one after
the other, before they could call for help, and he was about to rush
upon them, when Madame Imbert said:

"Ah! the room is getting quite cold. I am going to bed. And you, my
dear?"

"I shall stay and finish."

"Finish! Why, that will take you all night."

"Not at all. An hour, at the most."

She retired. Twenty minutes, thirty minutes passed. Arsène pushed the
window a little farther open. The curtains shook. He pushed once more.
Mon. Imbert turned, and, seeing the curtains blown by the wind, he rose
to close the window.

There was not a cry, not the trace of struggle. With a few precise
moments, and without causing him the least injury, Arsène stunned him,
wrapped the curtain about his head, bound him hand and foot, and did it
all in such a manner that Mon. Imbert had no opportunity to recognize
his assailant.

Quickly, he approached the safe, seized two packages that he placed
under his arm, left the office, and opened the servants' gate. A
carriage was stationed in the street.

"Take that, first - and follow me," he said to the coachman. He returned
to the office, and, in two trips, they emptied the safe. Then Arsène
went to his own room, removed the rope, and all other traces of his
clandestine work.

A few hours later, Arsène Lupin and his assistant examined the stolen
goods. Lupin was not disappointed, as he had foreseen that the wealth of
the Imberts had been greatly exaggerated. It did not consist of hundreds
of millions, nor even tens of millions. Yet it amounted to a very
respectable sum, and Lupin expressed his satisfaction.

"Of course," he said, "there will be a considerable loss when we come
to sell the bonds, as we will have to dispose of them surreptitiously
at reduced prices. In the meantime, they will rest quietly in my desk
awaiting a propitious moment."

Arsène saw no reason why he should not go to the Imbert house the next
day. But a perusal of the morning papers revealed this startling fact:
Ludovic and Gervaise Imbert had disappeared.

When the officers of the law seized the safe and opened it, they found
there what Arsène Lupin had left - nothing.

* * * * *

Such are the facts; and I learned the sequel to them, one day, when
Arsène Lupin was in a confidential mood. He was pacing to and fro in my
room, with a nervous step and a feverish eye that were unusual to him.

"After all," I said to him, "it was your most successful venture."

Without making a direct reply, he said:

"There are some impenetrable secrets connected with that affair; some
obscure points that escape my comprehension. For instance: What
caused their flight? Why did they not take advantage of the help I
unconsciously gave them? It would have been so simple to say: `The
hundred millions were in the safe. They are no longer there, because
they have been stolen.'"

"They lost their nerve."

"Yes, that is it - they lost their nerve...On the other hand, it is
true - -"

"What is true?"

"Oh! nothing."

What was the meaning of Lupin's reticence? It was quite obvious that he
had not told me everything; there was something he was loath to tell.
His conduct puzzled me. It must indeed be a very serious matter to cause
such a man as Arsène Lupin even a momentary hesitation. I threw out a
few questions at random.

"Have you seen them since?"

"No."

"And have you never experienced the slightest degree of pity for those
unfortunate people?"

"I!" he exclaimed, with a start.

His sudden excitement astonished me. Had I touched him on a sore spot? I
continued:

"Of course. If you had not left them alone, they might have been able to
face the danger, or, at least, made their escape with full pockets."

"What do you mean?" he said, indignantly. "I suppose you have an idea
that my soul should be filled with remorse?"

"Call it remorse or regrets - anything you like - -"

"They are not worth it."

"Have you no regrets or remorse for having stolen their fortune?"

"What fortune?"

"The packages of bonds you took from their safe."

"Oh! I stole their bonds, did I? I deprived them of a portion of their
wealth? Is that my crime? Ah! my dear boy, you do not know the truth.
You never imagined that those bonds were not worth the paper they were
written on. Those bonds were false - they were counterfeit - every one of
them - do you understand? THEY WERE COUNTERFEIT!"

I looked at him, astounded.

"Counterfeit! The four or five millions?"

"Yes, counterfeit!" he exclaimed, in a fit of rage. "Only so many scraps
of paper! I couldn't raise a sou on the whole of them! And you ask me if
I have any remorse. THEY are the ones who should have remorse and pity.
They played me for a simpleton; and I fell into their trap. I was their
latest victim, their most stupid gull!"

He was affected by genuine anger - the result of malice and wounded
pride. He continued:

"From start to finish, I got the worst of it. Do you know the part I
played in that affair, or rather the part they made me play? That of
André Brawford! Yes, my boy, that is the truth, and I never suspected
it. It was not until afterwards, on reading the newspapers, that the
light finally dawned in my stupid brain. Whilst I was posing as his
"saviour," as the gentleman who had risked his life to rescue Mon.
Imbert from the clutches of an assassin, they were passing me off as
Brawford. Wasn't that splendid? That eccentric individual who had a
room on the second floor, that barbarian that was exhibited only at a
distance, was Brawford, and Brawford was I! Thanks to me, and to the
confidence that I inspired under the name of Brawford, they were enabled
to borrow money from the bankers and other money-lenders. Ha! what an
experience for a novice! And I swear to you that I shall profit by the
lesson!"

He stopped, seized my arm, and said to me, in a tone of exasperation:

"My dear fellow, at this very moment, Gervaise Imbert owes me fifteen
hundred francs."

I could not refrain from laughter, his rage was so grotesque. He was
making a mountain out of a molehill. In a moment, he laughed himself,
and said:

"Yes, my boy, fifteen hundred francs. You must know that I had not
received one sou of my promised salary, and, more than that, she had
borrowed from me the sum of fifteen hundred francs. All my youthful
savings! And do you know why? To devote the money to charity! I am
giving you a straight story. She wanted it for some poor people she was
assisting - unknown to her husband. And my hard-earned money was wormed
out of me by that silly pretense! Isn't it amusing, hein? Arsène Lupin
done out of fifteen hundred francs by the fair lady from whom he stole
four millions in counterfeit bonds! And what a vast amount of time and
patience and cunning I expended to achieve that result! It was the first
time in my life that I was played for a fool, and I frankly confess that
I was fooled that time to the queen's taste!"




VIII. The Black Pearl


A violent ringing of the bell awakened the concierge of number nine,
avenue Hoche. She pulled the doorstring, grumbling:

"I thought everybody was in. It must be three o'clock!"

"Perhaps it is some one for the doctor," muttered her husband.

"Third floor, left. But the doctor won't go out at night."

"He must go to-night."

The visitor entered the vestibule, ascended to the first floor, the
second, the third, and, without stopping at the doctor's door, he
continued to the fifth floor. There, he tried two keys. One of them
fitted the lock.

"Ah! good!" he murmured, "that simplifies the business wonderfully.
But before I commence work I had better arrange for my retreat. Let me
see.... have I had sufficient time to rouse the doctor and be dismissed
by him? Not yet.... a few minutes more."

At the end of ten minutes, he descended the stairs, grumbling noisily
about the doctor. The concierge opened the door for him and heard it
click behind him. But the door did not lock, as the man had quickly
inserted a piece of iron in the lock in such a manner that the bolt
could not enter. Then, quietly, he entered the house again, unknown to
the concierge. In case of alarm, his retreat was assured. Noiselessly,
he ascended to the fifth floor once more. In the antechamber, by the
light of his electric lantern, he placed his hat and overcoat on one
of the chairs, took a seat on another, and covered his heavy shoes with
felt slippers.

"Ouf! Here I am - and how simple it was! I wonder why more people do not
adopt the profitable and pleasant occupation of burglar. With a little
care and reflection, it becomes a most delightful profession. Not too
quiet and monotonous, of course, as it would then become wearisome."

He unfolded a detailed plan of the apartment.

"Let me commence by locating myself. Here, I see the vestibule in which
I am sitting. On the street front, the drawing-room, the boudoir and
dining-room. Useless to waste any time there, as it appears that the
countess has a deplorable taste.... not a bibelot of any value!...Now,
let's get down to business!... Ah! here is a corridor; it must lead to
the bed chambers. At a distance of three metres, I should come to the
door of the wardrobe-closet which connects with the chamber of the
countess." He folded his plan, extinguished his lantern, and proceeded
down the corridor, counting his distance, thus:

"One metre.... two metres.... three metres....Here is the door....Mon
Dieu, how easy it is! Only a small, simple bolt now separates me from
the chamber, and I know that the bolt is located exactly one metre,
forty-three centimeters, from the floor. So that, thanks to a small
incision I am about to make, I can soon get rid of the bolt."

He drew from his pocket the necessary instruments. Then the following
idea occurred to him:

"Suppose, by chance, the door is not bolted. I will try it first."

He turned the knob, and the door opened.

"My brave Lupin, surely fortune favors you....What's to be done now?
You know the situation of the rooms; you know the place in which the
countess hides the black pearl. Therefore, in order to secure the black
pearl, you have simply to be more silent than silence, more invisible
than darkness itself."

Arsène Lupin was employed fully a half-hour in opening the second
door - a glass door that led to the countess' bedchamber. But he
accomplished it with so much skill and precaution, that even had had
the countess been awake, she would not have heard the slightest sound.
According to the plan of the rooms, that he holds, he has merely to pass
around a reclining chair and, beyond that, a small table close to the
bed. On the table, there was a box of letter-paper, and the black pearl
was concealed in that box. He stooped and crept cautiously over the
carpet, following the outlines of the reclining-chair. When he reached
the extremity of it, he stopped in order to repress the throbbing of
his heart. Although he was not moved by any sense of fear, he found it
impossible to overcome the nervous anxiety that one usually feels in the
midst of profound silence. That circumstance astonished him, because he
had passed through many more solemn moments without the slightest trace
of emotion. No danger threatened him. Then why did his heart throb like
an alarm-bell? Was it that sleeping woman who affected him? Was it the
proximity of another pulsating heart?

He listened, and thought he could discern the rhythmical breathing of a
person asleep. It gave him confidence, like the presence of a friend.
He sought and found the armchair; then, by slow, cautious movements,
advanced toward the table, feeling ahead of him with outstretched arm.
His right had touched one of the feet of the table. Ah! now, he had
simply to rise, take the pearl, and escape. That was fortunate, as his
heart was leaping in his breast like a wild beast, and made so much
noise that he feared it would waken the countess. By a powerful effort
of the will, he subdued the wild throbbing of his heart, and was about
to rise from the floor when his left hand encountered, lying on the
floor, an object which he recognized as a candlestick - an overturned
candlestick. A moment later, his hand encountered another object:
a clock - one of those small traveling clocks, covered with leather.
- - - -

Well! What had happened? He could not understand. That candlestick, that
clock; why were those articles not in their accustomed places? Ah! what
had happened in the dread silence of the night?

Suddenly a cry escaped him. He had touched - oh! some strange,
unutterable thing! "No! no!" he thought, "it cannot be. It is some
fantasy of my excited brain." For twenty seconds, thirty seconds, he
remained motionless, terrified, his forehead bathed with perspiration,


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