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and his fingers still retained the sensation of that dreadful contact.

Making a desperate effort, he ventured to extend his arm again. Once
more, his hand encountered that strange, unutterable thing. He felt
it. He must feel it and find out what it is. He found that it was hair,
human hair, and a human face; and that face was cold, almost icy.

However frightful the circumstances may be, a man like Arsène Lupin
controls himself and commands the situation as soon as he learns what it
is. So, Arsène Lupin quickly brought his lantern into use. A woman
was lying before him, covered with blood. Her neck and shoulders
were covered with gaping wounds. He leaned over her and made a closer
examination. She was dead.

"Dead! Dead!" he repeated, with a bewildered air.

He stared at those fixed eyes, that grim mouth, that livid flesh,
and that blood - all that blood which had flowed over the carpet and
congealed there in thick, black spots. He arose and turned on the
electric lights. Then he beheld all the marks of a desperate struggle.
The bed was in a state of great disorder. On the floor, the candlestick,
and the clock, with the hands pointing to twenty minutes after eleven;
then, further away, an overturned chair; and, everywhere, there was
blood, spots of blood and pools of blood.

"And the black pearl?" he murmured.

The box of letter-paper was in its place. He opened it, eagerly. The
jewel-case was there, but it was empty.

"Fichtre!" he muttered. "You boasted of your good fortune much too soon,
my friend Lupin. With the countess lying cold and dead, and the black
pearl vanished, the situation is anything but pleasant. Get out of here
as soon as you can, or you may get into serious trouble."

Yet, he did not move.

"Get out of here? Yes, of course. Any person would, except Arsène Lupin.
He has something better to do. Now, to proceed in an orderly way. At
all events, you have a clear conscience. Let us suppose that you are
the commissary of police and that you are proceeding to make an inquiry
concerning this affair - - Yes, but in order to do that, I require a
clearer brain. Mine is muddled like a ragout."

He tumbled into an armchair, with his clenched hands pressed against his
burning forehead.

* * * * *

The murder of the avenue Hoche is one of those which have recently
surprised and puzzled the Parisian public, and, certainly, I should
never have mentioned the affair if the veil of mystery had not been
removed by Arsène Lupin himself. No one knew the exact truth of the
case.

Who did not know - from having met her in the Bois - the fair Léotine
Zalti, the once-famous cantatrice, wife and widow of the Count
d'Andillot; the Zalti, whose luxury dazzled all Paris some twenty years
ago; the Zalti who acquired an European reputation for the magnificence
of her diamonds and pearls? It was said that she wore upon her shoulders
the capital of several banking houses and the gold mines of numerous
Australian companies. Skilful jewelers worked for Zalti as they had
formerly wrought for kings and queens. And who does not remember the
catastrophe in which all that wealth was swallowed up? Of all that
marvelous collection, nothing remained except the famous black pearl.
The black pearl! That is to say a fortune, if she had wished to part
with it.

But she preferred to keep it, to live in a commonplace apartment with
her companion, her cook, and a man-servant, rather than sell that
inestimable jewel. There was a reason for it; a reason she was not
afraid to disclose: the black pearl was the gift of an emperor! Almost
ruined, and reduced to the most mediocre existence, she remained
faithful to the companion of her happy and brilliant youth. The black
pearl never left her possession. She wore it during the day, and, at
night, concealed it in a place known to her alone.

All these facts, being republished in the columns of the public press,
served to stimulate curiosity; and, strange to say, but quite obvious
to those who have the key to the mystery, the arrest of the presumed
assassin only complicated the question and prolonged the excitement. Two
days later, the newspapers published the following item:

"Information has reached us of the arrest of Victor Danègre, the servant
of the Countess d'Andillot. The evidence against him is clear and
convincing. On the silken sleeve of his liveried waistcoat, which chief
detective Dudouis found in his garret between the mattresses of his bed,
several spots of blood were discovered. In addition, a cloth-covered
button was missing from that garment, and this button was found beneath
the bed of the victim.

"It is supposed that, after dinner, in place of going to his own room,
Danègre slipped into the wardrobe-closet, and, through the glass door,
had seen the countess hide the precious black pearl. This is simply
a theory, as yet unverified by any evidence. There is, also, another
obscure point. At seven o'clock in the morning, Danègre went to the
tobacco-shop on the Boulevard de Courcelles; the concierge and the
shop-keeper both affirm this fact. On the other hand, the countess'
companion and cook, who sleep at the end of the hall, both declare that,
when they arose at eight o'clock, the door of the antechamber and the
door of the kitchen were locked. These two persons have been in the
service of the countess for twenty years, and are above suspicion. The
question is: How did Danègre leave the apartment? Did he have another
key? These are matters that the police will investigate."

As a matter of fact, the police investigation threw no light on the
mystery. It was learned that Victor Danègre was a dangerous criminal, a
drunkard and a debauchee. But, as they proceeded with the investigation,
the mystery deepened and new complications arose. In the first place,
a young woman, Mlle. De Sinclèves, the cousin and sole heiress of the
countess, declared that the countess, a month before her death, had
written a letter to her and in it described the manner in which the
black pearl was concealed. The letter disappeared the day after she
received it. Who had stolen it?

Again, the concierge related how she had opened the door for a person
who had inquired for Doctor Harel. On being questioned, the doctor
testified that no one had rung his bell. Then who was that person? And
accomplice?

The theory of an accomplice was thereupon adopted by the press and
public, and also by Ganimard, the famous detective.

"Lupin is at the bottom of this affair," he said to the judge.

"Bah!" exclaimed the judge, "you have Lupin on the brain. You see him
everywhere."

"I see him everywhere, because he is everywhere."

"Say rather that you see him every time you encounter something you
cannot explain. Besides, you overlook the fact that the crime was
committed at twenty minutes past eleven in the evening, as is shown
by the clock, while the nocturnal visit, mentioned by the concierge,
occurred at three o'clock in the morning."

Officers of the law frequently form a hasty conviction as to the guilt
of a suspected person, and then distort all subsequent discoveries
to conform to their established theory. The deplorable antecedents of
Victor Danègre, habitual criminal, drunkard and rake, influenced
the judge, and despite the fact that nothing new was discovered in
corroboration of the early clues, his official opinion remained firm and
unshaken. He closed his investigation, and, a few weeks later, the trial
commenced. It proved to be slow and tedious. The judge was listless,
and the public prosecutor presented the case in a careless manner. Under
those circumstances, Danègre's counsel had an easy task. He pointed out
the defects and inconsistencies of the case for the prosecution, and
argued that the evidence was quite insufficient to convict the accused.
Who had made the key, the indispensable key without which Danègre, on
leaving the apartment, could not have locked the door behind him? Who
had ever seen such a key, and what had become of it? Who had seen the
assassin's knife, and where is it now?

"In any event," argued the prisoner's counsel, "the prosecution must
prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the prisoner committed the
murder. The prosecution must show that the mysterious individual who
entered the house at three o'clock in the morning is not the guilty
party. To be sure, the clock indicated eleven o'clock. But what of that?
I contend, that proves nothing. The assassin could turn the hands of the
clock to any hour he pleased, and thus deceive us in regard to the exact
hour of the crime."

Victor Danègre was acquitted.

He left the prison on Friday about dusk in the evening, weak and
depressed by his six months' imprisonment. The inquisition, the
solitude, the trial, the deliberations of the jury, combined to fill
him with a nervous fear. At night, he had been afflicted with terrible
nightmares and haunted by weird visions of the scaffold. He was a mental
and physical wreck.

Under the assumed name of Anatole Dufour, he rented a small room on the
heights of Montmartre, and lived by doing odd jobs wherever he could
find them. He led a pitiful existence. Three times, he obtained regular
employment, only to be recognized and then discharged. Sometimes, he
had an idea that men were following him - detectives, no doubt, who were
seeking to trap and denounce him. He could almost feel the strong hand
of the law clutching him by the collar.

One evening, as he was eating his dinner at a neighboring restaurant,
a man entered and took a seat at the same table. He was a person about
forty years of age, and wore a frock-coat of doubtful cleanliness. He
ordered soup, vegetables, and a bottle of wine. After he had finished
his soup, he turned his eyes on Danègre, and gazed at him intently.
Danègre winced. He was certain that this was one of the men who had
been following him for several weeks. What did he want? Danègre tried
to rise, but failed. His limbs refused to support him. The man poured
himself a glass of wine, and then filled Danègre's glass. The man raised
his glass, and said:

"To your health, Victor Danègre."

Victor started in alarm, and stammered:

"I!....I!.... no, no....I swear to you...."

"You will swear what? That you are not yourself? The servant of the
countess?"

"What servant? My name is Dufour. Ask the proprietor."

"Yes, Anatole Dufour to the proprietor of this restaurant, but Victor
Danègre to the officers of the law."

"That's not true! Some one has lied to you."

The new-comer took a card from his pocket and handed it to Victor, who
read on it: "Grimaudan, ex-inspector of the detective force. Private
business transacted." Victor shuddered as he said:

"You are connected with the police?"

"No, not now, but I have a liking for the business and I continue to
work at it in a manner more - profitable. From time to time I strike upon
a golden opportunity - such as your case presents."

"My case?"

"Yes, yours. I assure you it is a most promising affair, provided you
are inclined to be reasonable."

"But if I am not reasonable?"

"Oh! my good fellow, you are not in a position to refuse me anything I
may ask."

"What is it.... you want?" stammered Victor, fearfully.

"Well, I will inform you in a few words. I am sent by Mademoiselle de
Sinclèves, the heiress of the Countess d'Andillot."

"What for?"

"To recover the black pearl."

"Black pearl?"

"That you stole."

"But I haven't got it."

"You have it."

"If I had, then I would be the assassin."

"You are the assassin."

Danègre showed a forced smile.

"Fortunately for me, monsieur, the Assizecourt was not of your opinion.
The jury returned an unanimous verdict of acquittal. And when a man has
a clear conscience and twelve good men in his favor - "

The ex-inspector seized him by the arm and said:

"No fine phrases, my boy. Now, listen to me and weigh my words
carefully. You will find they are worthy of your consideration. Now,
Danègre, three weeks before the murder, you abstracted the cook's key
to the servants' door, and had a duplicate key made by a locksmith named
Outard, 244 rue Oberkampf."

"It's a lie - it's a lie!" growled Victor. "No person has seen that key.
There is no such key."

"Here it is."

After a silence, Grimaudan continued:

"You killed the countess with a knife purchased by you at the Bazar de
la Republique on the same day as you ordered the duplicate key. It has a
triangular blade with a groove running from end to end."

"That is all nonsense. You are simply guessing at something you don't
know. No one ever saw the knife."

"Here it is."

Victor Danègre recoiled. The ex-inspector continued:

"There are some spots of rust upon it. Shall I tell you how they came
there?"

"Well!.... you have a key and a knife. Who can prove that they belong to
me?"

"The locksmith, and the clerk from whom you bought the knife. I have
already refreshed their memories, and, when you confront them, they
cannot fail to recognize you."

His speech was dry and hard, with a tone of firmness and precision.
Danègre was trembling with fear, and yet he struggled desperately to
maintain an air of indifference.

"Is that all the evidence you have?"

"Oh! no, not at all. I have plenty more. For instance, after the crime,
you went out the same way you had entered. But, in the centre of the
wardrobe-room, being seized by some sudden fear, you leaned against the
wall for support."

"How do you know that? No one could know such a thing," argued the
desperate man.

"The police know nothing about it, of course. They never think of
lighting a candle and examining the walls. But if they had done so, they
would have found on the white plaster a faint red spot, quite distinct,
however, to trace in it the imprint of your thumb which you had pressed
against the wall while it was wet with blood. Now, as you are well
aware, under the Bertillon system, thumb-marks are one of the principal
means of identification."

Victor Danègre was livid; great drops of perspiration rolled down his
face and fell upon the table. He gazed, with a wild look, at the strange
man who had narrated the story of his crime as faithfully as if he had
been an invisible witness to it. Overcome and powerless, Victor bowed
his head. He felt that it was useless to struggle against this marvelous
man. So he said:

"How much will you give me, if I give you the pearl?"

"Nothing."

"Oh! you are joking! Or do you mean that I should give you an article
worth thousands and hundreds of thousands and get nothing in return?"

"You will get your life. Is that nothing?"

The unfortunate man shuddered. Then Grimaudan added, in a milder tone:

"Come, Danègre, that pearl has no value in your hands. It is quite
impossible for you to sell it; so what is the use of your keeping it?"

"There are pawnbrokers.... and, some day, I will be able to get something
for it."

"But that day may be too late."

"Why?"

"Because by that time you may be in the hands of the police, and,
with the evidence that I can furnish - the knife, the key, the
thumb-mark - what will become of you?"

Victor rested his head on his hands and reflected. He felt that he was
lost, irremediably lost, and, at the same time, a sense of weariness and
depression overcame him. He murmured, faintly:

"When must I give it to you?"

"To-night - -within an hour."

"If I refuse?"

"If you refuse, I shall post this letter to the Procureur of the
Republic; in which letter Mademoiselle de Sinclèves denounces you as the
assassin."

Danègre poured out two glasses of wine which he drank in rapid
succession, then, rising, said:

"Pay the bill, and let us go. I have had enough of the cursed affair."

Night had fallen. The two men walked down the rue Lepic and followed
the exterior boulevards in the direction of the Place de l'Etoile.
They pursued their way in silence; Victor had a stooping carriage and a
dejected face. When they reached the Parc Monceau, he said:

"We are near the house."

"Parbleu! You only left the house once, before your arrest, and that was
to go to the tobacco-shop."

"Here it is," said Danègre, in a dull voice.

They passed along the garden wall of the countess' house, and crossed a
street on a corner of which stood the tobacco-shop. A few steps further
on, Danègre stopped; his limbs shook beneath him, and he sank to a
bench.

"Well! what now?" demanded his companion.

"It is there."

"Where? Come, now, no nonsense!"

"There - in front of us."

"Where?"

"Between two paving-stones."

"Which?"

"Look for it."

"Which stones?"

Victor made no reply.

"Ah; I see!" exclaimed Grimaudan, "you want me to pay for the
information."

"No.... but....I am afraid I will starve to death."

"So! that is why you hesitate. Well, I'll not be hard on you. How much
do you want?"

"Enough to buy a steerage pass to America."

"All right."

"And a hundred francs to keep me until I get work there."

"You shall have two hundred. Now, speak."

"Count the paving-stones to the right from the sewer-hole. The pearl is
between the twelfth and thirteenth."

"In the gutter?"

"Yes, close to the sidewalk."

Grimaudan glanced around to see if anyone were looking. Some tram-cars
and pedestrians were passing. But, bah, they will not suspect anything.
He opened his pocketknife and thrust it between the twelfth and
thirteenth stones.

"And if it is not there?" he said to Victor.

"It must be there, unless someone saw me stoop down and hide it."

Could it be possible that the back pearl had been cast into the mud
and filth of the gutter to be picked up by the first comer? The black
pearl - a fortune!

"How far down?" he asked.

"About ten centimetres."

He dug up the wet earth. The point of his knife struck something. He
enlarged the hole with his finger. Then he abstracted the black pearl
from its filthy hiding-place.

"Good! Here are your two hundred francs. I will send you the ticket for
America."

On the following day, this article was published in the `Echo de
France,' and was copied by the leading newspapers throughout the world:

"Yesterday, the famous black pearl came into the possession of
Arsène Lupin, who recovered it from the murderer of the Countess
d'Andillot. In a short time, fac-similes of that precious jewel
will be exhibited in London, St. Petersburg, Calcutta, Buenos Ayres
and New York.

"Arsène Lupin will be pleased to consider all propositions
submitted to him through his agents."

* * * * *

"And that is how crime is always punished and virtue rewarded," said
Arsène Lupin, after he had told me the foregoing history of the black
pearl.

"And that is how you, under the assumed name of Grimaudan, ex-inspector
of detectives, were chosen by fate to deprive the criminal of the
benefit of his crime."

"Exactly. And I confess that the affair gives me infinite satisfaction
and pride. The forty minutes that I passed in the apartment of the
Countess d'Andillot, after learning of her death, were the most
thrilling and absorbing moments of my life. In those forty minutes,
involved as I was in a most dangerous plight, I calmly studied the scene
of the murder and reached the conclusion that the crime must have been
committed by one of the house servants. I also decided that, in order
to get the pearl, that servant must be arrested, and so I left the
wainscoat button; it was necessary, also, for me to hold some convincing
evidence of his guilt, so I carried away the knife which I found upon
the floor, and the key which I found in the lock. I closed and
locked the door, and erased the finger-marks from the plaster in the
wardrobe-closet. In my opinion, that was one of those flashes - "

"Of genius," I said, interrupting.

"Of genius, if you wish. But, I flatter myself, it would not have
occurred to the average mortal. To frame, instantly, the two elements of
the problem - an arrest and an acquittal; to make use of the formidable
machinery of the law to crush and humble my victim, and reduce him to a
condition in which, when free, he would be certain to fall into the trap
I was laying for him!"

"Poor devil - "

"Poor devil, do you say? Victor Danègre, the assassin! He might have
descended to the lowest depths of vice and crime, if he had retained the
black pearl. Now, he lives! Think of that: Victor Danègre is alive!"

"And you have the black pearl."

He took it out of one of the secret pockets of his wallet, examined it,
gazed at it tenderly, and caressed it with loving fingers, and sighed,
as he said:

"What cold Russian prince, what vain and foolish rajah may some day
possess this priceless treasure! Or, perhaps, some American millionaire
is destined to become the owner of this morsel of exquisite beauty that
once adorned the fair bosom of Leontine Zalti, the Countess d'Andillot."




IX. Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late


"It is really remarkable, Velmont, what a close resemblance you bear to
Arsène Lupin!"

"How do you know?"

"Oh! like everyone else, from photographs, no two of which are alike,
but each of them leaves the impression of a face.... something like
yours."

Horace Velmont displayed some vexation.

"Quite so, my dear Devanne. And, believe me, you are not the first one
who has noticed it."

"It is so striking," persisted Devanne, "that if you had not been
recommended to me by my cousin d'Estevan, and if you were not the
celebrated artist whose beautiful marine views I so admire, I have no
doubt I should have warned the police of your presence in Dieppe."

This sally was greeted with an outburst of laughter. The large
dining-hall of the Château de Thibermesnil contained on this occasion,
besides Velmont, the following guests: Father Gélis, the parish priest,
and a dozen officers whose regiments were quartered in the vicinity and
who had accepted the invitation of the banker Georges Devanne and his
mother. One of the officers then remarked:

"I understand that an exact description of Arsène Lupin has been
furnished to all the police along this coast since his daring exploit on
the Paris-Havre express."

"I suppose so," said Devanne. "That was three months ago; and a week
later, I made the acquaintance of our friend Velmont at the casino, and,
since then, he has honored me with several visits - an agreeable preamble
to a more serious visit that he will pay me one of these days - or,
rather, one of these nights."

This speech evoked another round of laughter, and the guests then passed
into the ancient "Hall of the Guards," a vast room with a high ceiling,
which occupied the entire lower part of the Tour Guillaume - William's
Tower - and wherein Georges Devanne had collected the incomparable
treasures which the lords of Thibermesnil had accumulated through
many centuries. It contained ancient chests, credences, andirons and
chandeliers. The stone walls were overhung with magnificent tapestries.
The deep embrasures of the four windows were furnished with benches, and
the Gothic windows were composed of small panes of colored glass set
in a leaden frame. Between the door and the window to the left stood
an immense bookcase of Renaissance style, on the pediment of which, in
letters of gold, was the world "Thibermesnil," and, below it, the proud
family device: "Fais ce que veulx" (Do what thou wishest). When the
guests had lighted their cigars, Devanne resumed the conversation.

"And remember, Velmont, you have no time to lose; in fact, to-night is
the last chance you will have."

"How so?" asked the painter, who appeared to regard the affair as a
joke. Devanne was about to reply, when his mother mentioned to him to
keep silent, but the excitement of the occasion and a desire to interest
his guests urged him to speak.

"Bah!" he murmured. "I can tell it now. It won't do any harm."

The guests drew closer, and he commenced to speak with the satisfied air
of a man who has an important announcement to make.

"To-morrow afternoon at four o'clock, Sherlock Holmes, the famous
English detective, for whom such a thing as mystery does not exist;
Sherlock Holmes, the most remarkable solver of enigmas the world has
ever known, that marvelous man who would seem to be the creation of a
romantic novelist - Sherlock Holmes will be my guest!"

Immediately, Devanne was the target of numerous eager questions. "Is
Sherlock Holmes really coming?" "Is it so serious as that?" "Is Arsène
Lupin really in this neighborhood?"

"Arsène Lupin and his band are not far away. Besides the robbery of the


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Online LibraryMaurice LeblancThe Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar → online text (page 11 of 13)