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Baron Cahorn, he is credited with the thefts at Montigny, Gruchet and
Crasville."

"Has he sent you a warning, as he did to Baron Cahorn?"

"No," replied Devanne, "he can't work the same trick twice."

"What then?"

"I will show you."

He rose, and pointing to a small empty space between the two enormous
folios on one of the shelves of the bookcase, he said:

"There used to be a book there - a book of the sixteenth century entitled
`Chronique de Thibermesnil,' which contained the history of the castle
since its construction by Duke Rollo on the site of a former feudal
fortress. There were three engraved plates in the book; one of which was
a general view of the whole estate; another, the plan of the buildings;
and the third - I call your attention to it, particularly - the third was
the sketch of a subterranean passage, an entrance to which is outside
the first line of ramparts, while the other end of the passage is here,
in this very room. Well, that book disappeared a month ago."

"The deuce!" said Velmont, "that looks bad. But it doesn't seem to be a
sufficient reason for sending for Sherlock Holmes."

"Certainly, that was not sufficient in itself, but another incident
happened that gives the disappearance of the book a special
significance. There was another copy of this book in the National
Library at Paris, and the two books differed in certain details relating
to the subterranean passage; for instance, each of them contained
drawings and annotations, not printed, but written in ink and more or
less effaced. I knew those facts, and I knew that the exact location of
the passage could be determined only by a comparison of the two books.
Now, the day after my book disappeared, the book was called for in the
National Library by a reader who carried it away, and no one knows how
the theft was effected."

The guests uttered many exclamations of surprise.

"Certainly, the affair looks serious," said one.

"Well, the police investigated the matter, and, as usual, discovered no
clue whatever."

"They never do, when Arsène Lupin is concerned in it."

"Exactly; and so I decided to ask the assistance of Sherlock Holmes,
who replied that he was ready and anxious to enter the lists with Arsène
Lupin."

"What glory for Arsène Lupin!" said Velmont. "But if our national thief,
as they call him, has no evil designs on your castle, Sherlock Holmes
will have his trip in vain."

"There are other things that will interest him, such as the discovery of
the subterranean passage."

"But you told us that one end of the passage was outside the ramparts
and the other was in this very room!"

"Yes, but in what part of the room? The line which represents the
passage on the charts ends here, with a small circle marked with the
letters `T.G.,' which no doubt stand for `Tour Guillaume.' But the tower
is round, and who can tell the exact spot at which the passage touches
the tower?"

Devanne lighted a second cigar and poured himself a glass of
Benedictine. His guests pressed him with questions and he was pleased to
observe the interest that his remarks had created. The he continued:

"The secret is lost. No one knows it. The legend is to the effect that
the former lords of the castle transmitted the secret from father to son
on their deathbeds, until Geoffroy, the last of the race, was beheaded
during the Revolution in his nineteenth year."

"That is over a century ago. Surely, someone has looked for it since
that time?"

"Yes, but they failed to find it. After I purchased the castle, I made a
diligent search for it, but without success. You must remember that this
tower is surrounded by water and connected with the castle only by a
bridge; consequently, the passage must be underneath the old moat. The
plan that was in the book in the National Library showed a series of
stairs with a total of forty-eight steps, which indicates a depth of
more than ten meters. You see, the mystery lies within the walls of this
room, and yet I dislike to tear them down."

"Is there nothing to show where it is?"

"Nothing."

"Mon. Devanne, we should turn our attention to the two quotations,"
suggested Father Gélis.

"Oh!" exclaimed Mon. Devanne, laughing, "our worthy father is fond
of reading memoirs and delving into the musty archives of the castle.
Everything relating to Thibermesnil interests him greatly. But the
quotations that he mentions only serve to complicate the mystery. He
has read somewhere that two kings of France have known the key to the
puzzle."

"Two kings of France! Who were they?"

"Henry the Fourth and Louis the Sixteenth. And the legend runs like
this: On the eve of the battle of Arques, Henry the Fourth spent the
night in this castle. At eleven o'clock in the evening, Louise de
Tancarville, the prettiest woman in Normandy, was brought into the
castle through the subterranean passage by Duke Edgard, who, at the
same time, informed the king of the secret passage. Afterward, the king
confided the secret to his minister Sully, who, in turn, relates the
story in his book, "Royales Economies d'Etat," without making any
comment upon it, but linking with it this incomprehensible sentence:
`Turn one eye on the bee that shakes, the other eye will lead to God!'"

After a brief silence, Velmont laughed and said:

"Certainly, it doesn't throw a dazzling light upon the subject."

"No; but Father Gélis claims that Sully concealed the key to the
mystery in this strange sentence in order to keep the secret from the
secretaries to whom he dictated his memoirs."

"That is an ingenious theory," said Velmont.

"Yes, and it may be nothing more; I cannot see that it throws any light
on the mysterious riddle."

"And was it also to receive the visit of a lady that Louis the Sixteenth
caused the passage to be opened?"

"I don't know," said Mon. Devanne. "All I can say is that the king
stopped here one night in 1784, and that the famous Iron Casket found
in the Louvre contained a paper bearing these words in the king's own
writing: `Thibermesnil 3-4-11.'"

Horace Velmont laughed heartily, and exclaimed:

"At last! And now that we have the magic key, where is the man who can
fit it to the invisible lock?"

"Laugh as much as you please, monsieur," said Father Gèlis, "but I am
confident the solution is contained in those two sentences, and some day
we will find a man able to interpret them."

"Sherlock Holmes is the man," said Mon. Devanne, "unless Arsène Lupin
gets ahead of him. What is your opinion, Velmont?"

Velmont arose, placed his hand on Devanne's shoulder, and declared:

"I think that the information furnished by your book and the book of the
National Library was deficient in a very important detail which you have
now supplied. I thank you for it."

"What is it?"

"The missing key. Now that I have it, I can go to work at once," said
Velmont.

"Of course; without losing a minute," said Devanne, smiling.

"Not even a second!" replied Velmont. "To-night, before the arrival of
Sherlock Holmes, I must plunder your castle."

"You have no time to lose. Oh! by the way, I can drive you over this
evening."

"To Dieppe?"

"Yes. I am going to meet Monsieur and Madame d'Androl and a young lady
of their acquaintance who are to arrive by the midnight train."

Then addressing the officers, Devanne added:

"Gentlemen, I shall expect to see all of you at breakfast to-morrow."

The invitation was accepted. The company dispersed, and a few moments
later Devanne and Velmont were speeding toward Dieppe in an automobile.
Devanne dropped the artist in front of the Casino, and proceeded to the
railway station. At twelve o'clock his friends alighted from the train.
A half hour later the automobile was at the entrance to the castle.
At one o'clock, after a light supper, they retired. The lights were
extinguished, and the castle was enveloped in the darkness and silence
of the night.

* * * * *

The moon appeared through a rift in the clouds, and filled the
drawing-room with its bright white light. But only for a moment. Then
the moon again retired behind its ethereal draperies, and darkness and
silence reigned supreme. No sound could be heard, save the monotonous
ticking of the clock. It struck two, and then continued its endless
repetitions of the seconds. Then, three o'clock.

Suddenly, something clicked, like the opening and closing of a
signal-disc that warns the passing train. A thin stream of light flashed
to every corner of the room, like an arrow that leaves behind it a
trail of light. It shot forth from the central fluting of a column that
supported the pediment of the bookcase. It rested for a moment on
the panel opposite like a glittering circle of burnished silver, then
flashed in all directions like a guilty eye that scrutinizes every
shadow. It disappeared for a short time, but burst forth again as a
whole section of the bookcase revolved on a picot and disclosed a large
opening like a vault.

A man entered, carrying an electric lantern. He was followed by a second
man, who carried a coil of rope and various tools. The leader inspected
the room, listened a moment, and said:

"Call the others."

Then eight men, stout fellows with resolute faces, entered the room,
and immediately commenced to remove the furnishings. Arsène Lupin passed
quickly from one piece of furniture to another, examined each, and,
according to its size or artistic value, he directed his men to take it
or leave it. If ordered to be taken, it was carried to the gaping mouth
of the tunnel, and ruthlessly thrust into the bowels of the earth. Such
was the fate of six armchairs, six small Louis XV chairs, a quantity
of Aubusson tapestries, some candelabra, paintings by Fragonard and
Nattier, a bust by Houdon, and some statuettes. Sometimes, Lupin would
linger before a beautiful chest or a superb picture, and sigh:

"That is too heavy.... too large.... what a pity!"

In forty minutes the room was dismantled; and it had been accomplished
in such an orderly manner and with as little noise as if the various
articles had been packed and wadded for the occasion.

Lupin said to the last man who departed by way of the tunnel:

"You need not come back. You understand, that as soon as the auto-van is
loaded, you are to proceed to the grange at Roquefort."

"But you, patron?"

"Leave me the motor-cycle."

When the man had disappeared, Arsène Lupin pushed the section of the
bookcase back into its place, carefully effaced the traces of the men's
footsteps, raised a portiere, and entered a gallery, which was the only
means of communication between the tower and the castle. In the center
of this gallery there was a glass cabinet which had attracted Lupin's
attentions. It contained a valuable collection of watches, snuff-boxes,
rings, chatelaines and miniatures of rare and beautiful workmanship. He
forced the lock with a small jimmy, and experienced a great pleasure in
handling those gold and silver ornaments, those exquisite and delicate
works of art.

He carried a large linen bag, specially prepared for the removal of
such knick-knacks. He filled it. Then he filled the pockets of his coat,
waistcoat and trousers. And he was just placing over his left arm a
number of pearl reticules when he heard a slight sound. He listened. No,
he was not deceived. The noise continued. Then he remembered that, at
one end of the gallery, there was a stairway leading to an unoccupied
apartment, but which was probably occupied that night by the young lady
whom Mon. Devanne had brought from Dieppe with his other visitors.

Immediately he extinguished his lantern, and had scarcely gained the
friendly shelter of a window-embrasure, when the door at the top of the
stairway was opened and a feeble light illuminated the gallery. He could
feel - for, concealed by a curtain, he could not see - that a woman was
cautiously descending the upper steps of the stairs. He hoped she would
come no closer. Yet, she continued to descend, and even advanced some
distance into the room. Then she uttered a faint cry. No doubt she had
discovered the broken and dismantled cabinet.

She advanced again. Now he could smell the perfume, and hear the
throbbing of her heart as she drew closer to the window where he was
concealed. She passed so close that her skirt brushed against the
window-curtain, and Lupin felt that she suspected the presence of
another, behind her, in the shadow, within reach of her hand. He
thought: "She is afraid. She will go away." But she did not go. The
candle, that she carried in her trembling hand, grew brighter. She
turned, hesitated a moment, appeared to listen, then suddenly drew aside
the curtain.

They stood face to face. Arsène was astounded. He murmured,
involuntarily:

"You - you - mademoiselle."

It was Miss Nelly. Miss Nelly! his fellow passenger on the transatlantic
steamer, who had been the subject of his dreams on that memorable
voyage, who had been a witness to his arrest, and who, rather than
betray him, had dropped into the water the Kodak in which he had
concealed the bank-notes and diamonds. Miss Nelly! that charming
creature, the memory of whose face had sometimes sheered, sometimes
saddened the long hours of imprisonment.

It was such an unexpected encounter that brought them face to face in
that castle at that hour of the night, that they could not move,
nor utter a word; they were amazed, hypnotized, each at the sudden
apparition of the other. Trembling with emotion, Miss Nelly staggered to
a seat. He remained standing in front of her.

Gradually, he realized the situation and conceived the impression he
must have produced at that moment with his arms laden with knick-knacks,
and his pockets and a linen sack overflowing with plunder. He was
overcome with confusion, and he actually blushed to find himself in
the position of a thief caught in the act. To her, henceforth, he was
a thief, a man who puts his hand in another's pocket, who steals into
houses and robs people while they sleep.

A watch fell upon the floor; then another. These were followed by other
articles which slipped from his grasp one by one. Then, actuated by a
sudden decision, he dropped the other articles into an armchair, emptied
his pockets and unpacked his sack. He felt very uncomfortable in Nelly's
presence, and stepped toward her with the intention of speaking to her,
but she shuddered, rose quickly and fled toward the salon. The portiere
closed behind her. He followed her. She was standing trembling and
amazed at the sight of the devastated room. He said to her, at once:

"To-morrow, at three o'clock, everything will be returned. The furniture
will be brought back."

She made no reply, so he repeated:

"I promise it. To-morrow, at three o'clock. Nothing in the world could
induce me to break that promise....To-morrow, at three o'clock."

Then followed a long silence that he dared not break, whilst the
agitation of the young girl caused him a feeling of genuine regret.
Quietly, without a word, he turned away, thinking: "I hope she will go
away. I can't endure her presence." But the young girl suddenly spoke,
and stammered:

"Listen.... footsteps....I hear someone...."

He looked at her with astonishment. She seemed to be overwhelmed by the
thought of approaching peril.

"I don't hear anything," he said.

"But you must go - you must escape!"

"Why should I go?"

"Because - you must. Oh! do not remain here another minute. Go!"

She ran, quickly, to the door leading to the gallery and listened. No,
there was no one there. Perhaps the noise was outside. She waited a
moment, then returned reassured.

But Arsène Lupin had disappeared.

* * * * *

As soon as Mon. Devanne was informed of the pillage of his castle, he
said to himself: It was Velmont who did it, and Velmont is Arsène Lupin.
That theory explained everything, and there was no other plausible
explanation. And yet the idea seemed preposterous. It was ridiculous to
suppose that Velmont was anyone else than Velmont, the famous artist,
and club-fellow of his cousin d'Estevan. So, when the captain of the
gendarmes arrived to investigate the affair, Devanne did not even think
of mentioning his absurd theory.

Throughout the forenoon there was a lively commotion at the castle.
The gendarmes, the local police, the chief of police from Dieppe, the
villagers, all circulated to and fro in the halls, examining every
nook and corner that was open to their inspection. The approach of the
maneuvering troops, the rattling fire of the musketry, added to the
picturesque character of the scene.

The preliminary search furnished no clue. Neither the doors nor windows
showed any signs of having been disturbed. Consequently, the removal of
the goods must have been effected by means of the secret passage. Yet,
there were no indications of footsteps on the floor, nor any unusual
marks upon the walls.

Their investigations revealed, however, one curious fact that denoted
the whimsical character of Arsène Lupin: the famous Chronique of the
sixteenth century had been restored to its accustomed place in the
library and, beside it, there was a similar book, which was none other
than the volume stolen from the National Library.

At eleven o'clock the military officers arrived. Devanne welcomed them
with his usual gayety; for, no matter how much chagrin he might suffer
from the loss of his artistic treasures, his great wealth enabled him to
bear his loss philosophically. His guests, Monsieur and Madame d'Androl
and Miss Nelly, were introduced; and it was then noticed that one of the
expected guests had not arrived. It was Horace Velmont. Would he come?
His absence had awakened the suspicions of Mon. Devanne. But at twelve
o'clock he arrived. Devanne exclaimed:

"Ah! here you are!"

"Why, am I not punctual?" asked Velmont.

"Yes, and I am surprised that you are.... after such a busy night! I
suppose you know the news?"

"What news?"

"You have robbed the castle."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Velmont, smiling.

"Exactly as I predicted. But, first escort Miss Underdown to the
dining-room. Mademoiselle, allow me - "

He stopped, as he remarked the extreme agitation of the young girl.
Then, recalling the incident, he said:

"Ah! of course, you met Arsène Lupin on the steamer, before his arrest,
and you are astonished at the resemblance. Is that it?"

She did not reply. Velmont stood before her, smiling. He bowed. She
took his proffered arm. He escorted her to her place, and took his seat
opposite her. During the breakfast, the conversation related exclusively
to Arsène Lupin, the stolen goods, the secret passage, and Sherlock
Holmes. It was only at the close of the repast, when the conversation
had drifted to other subjects, that Velmont took any part in it. Then
he was, by turns, amusing and grave, talkative and pensive. And all
his remarks seemed to be directed to the young girl. But she, quite
absorbed, did not appear to hear them.

Coffee was served on the terrace overlooking the court of honor and
the flower garden in front of the principal façade. The regimental band
played on the lawn, and scores of soldiers and peasants wandered through
the park.

Miss Nelly had not forgotten, for one moment, Lupin's solemn promise:
"To-morrow, at three o'clock, everything will be returned."

At three o'clock! And the hands of the great clock in the right wing of
the castle now marked twenty minutes to three. In spite of herself, her
eyes wandered to the clock every minute. She also watched Velmont, who
was calmly swinging to and fro in a comfortable rocking chair.

Ten minutes to three!....Five minutes to three!....Nelly was impatient
and anxious. Was it possible that Arsène Lupin would carry out his
promise at the appointed hour, when the castle, the courtyard, and the
park were filled with people, and at the very moment when the officers
of the law were pursuing their investigations? And yet....Arsène Lupin
had given her his solemn promise. "It will be exactly as he said,"
thought she, so deeply was she impressed with the authority, energy and
assurance of that remarkable man. To her, it no longer assumed the form
of a miracle, but, on the contrary, a natural incident that must occur
in the ordinary course of events. She blushed, and turned her head.

Three o'clock! The great clock struck slowly:
one.... two.... three....Horace Velmont took out his watch, glanced at the
clock, then returned the watch to his pocket. A few seconds passed in
silence; and then the crowd in the courtyard parted to give passage
to two wagons, that had just entered the park-gate, each drawn by two
horses. They were army-wagons, such as are used for the transportation
of provisions, tents, and other necessary military stores. They stopped
in front of the main entrance, and a commissary-sergeant leaped from
one of the wagons and inquired for Mon. Devanne. A moment later, that
gentleman emerged from the house, descended the steps, and, under
the canvas covers of the wagons, beheld his furniture, pictures and
ornaments carefully packaged and arranged.

When questioned, the sergeant produced an order that he had received
from the officer of the day. By that order, the second company of the
fourth battalion were commanded to proceed to the crossroads of Halleux
in the forest of Arques, gather up the furniture and other articles
deposited there, and deliver same to Monsieur Georges Devanne, owner of
the Thibermesnil castle, at three o'clock. Signed: Col. Beauvel.

"At the crossroads," explained the sergeant, "we found everything ready,
lying on the grass, guarded by some passers-by. It seemed very strange,
but the order was imperative."

One of the officers examined the signature. He declared it a forgery;
but a clever imitation. The wagons were unloaded, and the goods restored
to their proper places in the castle.

During this commotion, Nelly had remained alone at the extreme end of
the terrace, absorbed by confused and distracted thoughts. Suddenly, she
observed Velmont approaching her. She would have avoided him, but the
balustrade that surrounded the terrace cut off her retreat. She was
cornered. She could not move. A gleam of sunshine, passing through the
scant foliage of a bamboo, lighted up her beautiful golden hair. Some
one spoke to her in a low voice:

"Have I not kept my promise?"

Arsène Lupin stood close to her. No one else was near. He repeated, in a
calm, soft voice:

"Have I not kept my promise?"

He expected a word of thanks, or at least some slight movement that
would betray her interest in the fulfillment of his promise. But she
remained silent.

Her scornful attitude annoyed Arsène Lupin; and he realized the vast
distance that separated him from Miss Nelly, now that she had learned
the truth. He would gladly have justified himself in her eyes, or at
least pleaded extenuating circumstances, but he perceived the absurdity
and futility of such an attempt. Finally, dominated by a surging flood
of memories, he murmured:

"Ah! how long ago that was! You remember the long hours on the deck of
the `Provence.' Then, you carried a rose in your hand, a white rose like
the one you carry to-day. I asked you for it. You pretended you did
not hear me. After you had gone away, I found the rose - forgotten, no
doubt - and I kept it."

She made no reply. She seemed to be far away. He continued:

"In memory of those happy hours, forget what you have learned since.
Separate the past from the present. Do not regard me as the man you saw
last night, but look at me, if only for a moment, as you did in those
far-off days when I was Bernard d'Andrezy, for a short time. Will you,
please?"

She raised her eyes and looked at him as he had requested. Then, without
saying a word, she pointed to a ring he was wearing on his forefinger.
Only the ring was visible; but the setting, which was turned toward the
palm of his hand, consisted of a magnificent ruby. Arsène Lupin blushed.
The ring belonged to Georges Devanne. He smiled bitterly, and said:

"You are right. Nothing can be changed. Arsène Lupin is now and always
will be Arsène Lupin. To you, he cannot be even so much as a memory.
Pardon me....I should have known that any attention I may now offer you
is simply an insult. Forgive me."

He stepped aside, hat in hand. Nelly passed before him. He was inclined
to detain her and beseech her forgiveness. But his courage failed, and
he contented himself by following her with his eyes, as he had done when
she descended the gangway to the pier at New York. She mounted the steps


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Online LibraryMaurice LeblancThe Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar → online text (page 12 of 13)