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"It does not agree with the facts established by the examining judge.
You have seen nothing, and yet you contradict all that we have seen and
all that we know."

Floriani paid no attention to the count's petulance. He simply smiled
and said:

"Mon Dieu, monsieur, I submit my theory; that is all. If I am mistaken,
you can easily prove it."

"I will do so at once....I confess that your assurance - -"

The count muttered a few more words; then suddenly rushed to the door
and passed out. Not a word was uttered in his absence; and this profound
silence gave the situation an air of almost tragic importance. Finally,
the count returned. He was pale and nervous. He said to his friends, in
a trembling voice:

"I beg your pardon.... the revelations of the chevalier were so
unexpected....I should never have thought...."

His wife questioned him, eagerly:

"Speak.... what is it?"

He stammered: "The hole is there, at the very spot, at the side of the
window - -"

He seized the chevalier's arm, and said to him in an imperious tone:

"Now, monsieur, proceed. I admit that you are right so far, but
now.... that is not all.... go on.... tell us the rest of it."

Floriani disengaged his arm gently, and, after a moment, continued:

"Well, in my opinion, this is what happened. The thief, knowing that the
countess was going to wear the necklace that evening, had prepared his
gangway or bridge during your absence. He watched you through the window
and saw you hide the necklace. Afterward, he cut the glass and pulled
the ring."

"Ah! but the distance was so great that it would be impossible for him
to reach the window-fastening through the transom."

"Well, then, if he could not open the window by reaching through the
transom, he must have crawled through the transom."

"Impossible; it is too small. No man could crawl through it."

"Then it was not a man," declared Floriani.

"What!"

"If the transom is too small to admit a man, it must have been a child."

"A child!"

"Did you not say that your friend Henriette had a son?"

"Yes; a son named Raoul."

"Then, in all probability, it was Raoul who committed the theft."

"What proof have you of that?"

"What proof! Plenty of it....For instance - -"

He stopped, and reflected for a moment, then continued:

"For instance, that gangway or bridge. It is improbable that the child
could have brought it in from outside the house and carried it away
again without being observed. He must have used something close at hand.
In the little room used by Henriette as a kitchen, were there not some
shelves against the wall on which she placed her pans and dishes?"

"Two shelves, to the best of my memory."

"Are you sure that those shelves are really fastened to the wooden
brackets that support them? For, if they are not, we could be justified
in presuming that the child removed them, fastened them together, and
thus formed his bridge. Perhaps, also, since there was a stove, we might
find the bent poker that he used to open the transom."

Without saying a word, the count left the room; and, this time, those
present did not feel the nervous anxiety they had experienced the
first time. They were confident that Floriani was right, and no one was
surprised when the count returned and declared:

"It was the child. Everything proves it."

"You have seen the shelves and the poker?"

"Yes. The shelves have been unnailed, and the poker is there yet."

But the countess exclaimed:

"You had better say it was his mother. Henriette is the guilty party.
She must have compelled her son - -"

"No," declared the chevalier, "the mother had nothing to do with it."

"Nonsense! they occupied the same room. The child could not have done it
without the mother's knowledge."

"True, they lived in the same room, but all this happened in the
adjoining room, during the night, while the mother was asleep."

"And the necklace?" said the count. "It would have been found amongst
the child's things."

"Pardon me! He had been out. That morning, on which you found him
reading, he had just come from school, and perhaps the commissary of
police, instead of wasting his time on the innocent mother, would
have been better employed in searching the child's desk amongst his
school-books."

"But how do you explain those two thousand francs that Henriette
received each year? Are they not evidence of her complicity?"

"If she had been an accomplice, would she have thanked you for that
money? And then, was she not closely watched? But the child, being free,
could easily go to a neighboring city, negotiate with some dealer and
sell him one diamond or two diamonds, as he might wish, upon condition
that the money should be sent from Paris, and that proceeding could be
repeated from year to year."

An indescribable anxiety oppressed the Dreux-Soubise and their guests.
There was something in the tone and attitude of Floriani - something more
than the chevalier's assurance which, from the beginning, had so annoyed
the count. There was a touch of irony, that seemed rather hostile than
sympathetic. But the count affected to laugh, as he said:

"All that is very ingenious and interesting, and I congratulate you upon
your vivid imagination."

"No, not at all," replied Floriani, with the utmost gravity, "I imagine
nothing. I simply describe the events as they must have occurred."

"But what do you know about them?"

"What you yourself have told me. I picture to myself the life of the
mother and child down there in the country; the illness of the mother,
the schemes of and inventions of the child sell the precious stones in
order to save his mother's life, or, at least, soothe her dying moments.
Her illness overcomes her. She dies. Years roll on. The child becomes
a man; and then - and now I will give my imagination a free rein - let
us suppose that the man feels a desire to return to the home of his
childhood, that he does so, and that he meets there certain people who
suspect and accuse his mother.... do you realize the sorrow and anguish
of such an interview in the very house wherein the original drama was
played?"

His words seemed to echo for a few seconds in the ensuing silence,
and one could read upon the faces of the Count and Countess de Dreux a
bewildered effort to comprehend his meaning and, at the same time, the
fear and anguish of such a comprehension. The count spoke at last, and
said:

"Who are you, monsieur?"

"I? The chevalier Floriani, whom you met at Palermo, and whom you have
been gracious enough to invite to your house on several occasions."

"Then what does this story mean?"

"Oh! nothing at all! It is simply a pastime, so far as I am concerned. I
endeavor to depict the pleasure that Henriette's son, if he still lives,
would have in telling you that he was the guilty party, and that he did
it because his mother was unhappy, as she was on the point of losing
the place of a.... servant, by which she lived, and because the child
suffered at sight of his mother's sorrow."

He spoke with suppressed emotion, rose partially and inclined toward
the countess. There could be no doubt that the chevalier Floriani was
Henriette's son. His attitude and words proclaimed it. Besides, was it
not his obvious intention and desire to be recognized as such?

The count hesitated. What action would he take against the audacious
guest? Ring? Provoke a scandal? Unmask the man who had once robbed him?
But that was a long time ago! And who would believe that absurd story
about the guilty child? No; better far to accept the situation, and
pretend not to comprehend the true meaning of it. So the count, turning
to Floriani, exclaimed:

"Your story is very curious, very entertaining; I enjoyed it much. But
what do you think has become of this young man, this model son? I
hope he has not abandoned the career in which he made such a brilliant
début."

"Oh! certainly not."

"After such a début! To steal the Queen's Necklace at six years of age;
the celebrated necklace that was coveted by Marie-Antoinette!"

"And to steal it," remarked Floriani, falling in with the count's mood,
"without costing him the slightest trouble, without anyone thinking to
examine the condition of the window, or to observe that the window-sill
was too clean - that window-sill which he had wiped in order to efface
the marks he had made in the thick dust. We must admit that it was
sufficient to turn the head of a boy at that age. It was all so easy. He
had simply to desire the thing, and reach out his hand to get it."

"And he reached out his hand."

"Both hands," replied the chevalier, laughing.

His companions received a shock. What mystery surrounded the life of
the so-called Floriani? How wonderful must have been the life of that
adventurer, a thief at six years of age, and who, to-day, in search of
excitement or, at most, to gratify a feeling of resentment, had come to
brave his victim in her own house, audaciously, foolishly, and yet with
all the grace and delicacy of a courteous guest!

He arose and approached the countess to bid her adieu. She recoiled,
unconsciously. He smiled.

"Oh! Madame, you are afraid of me! Did I pursue my role of
parlor-magician a step too far?"

She controlled herself, and replied, with her accustomed ease:

"Not at all, monsieur. The legend of that dutiful son interested me very
much, and I am pleased to know that my necklace had such a brilliant
destiny. But do you not think that the son of that woman, that
Henriette, was the victim of hereditary influence in the choice of his
vocation?"

He shuddered, feeling the point, and replied:

"I am sure of it; and, moreover, his natural tendency to crime must have
been very strong or he would have been discouraged."

"Why so?"

"Because, as you must know, the majority of the diamonds were false. The
only genuine stones were the few purchased from the English jeweler, the
others having been sold, one by one, to meet the cruel necessities of
life."

"It was still the Queen's Necklace, monsieur," replied the countess,
haughtily, "and that is something that he, Henriette's son, could not
appreciate."

"He was able to appreciate, madame, that, whether true or false,
the necklace was nothing more that an object of parade, an emblem of
senseless pride."

The count made a threatening gesture, but his wife stopped him.

"Monsieur," she said, "if the man to whom you allude has the slightest
sense of honor - -"

She stopped, intimidated by Floriani's cool manner.

"If that man has the slightest sense of honor," he repeated.

She felt that she would not gain anything by speaking to him in that
manner, and in spite of her anger and indignation, trembling as she was
from humiliated pride, she said to him, almost politely:

"Monsieur, the legend says that Rétaux de Villette, when in possession
of the Queen's Necklace, did not disfigure the mounting. He understood
that the diamonds were simply the ornament, the accessory, and that
the mounting was the essential work, the creation of the artist, and
he respected it accordingly. Do you think that this man had the same
feeling?"

"I have no doubt that the mounting still exists. The child respected
it."

"Well, monsieur, if you should happen to meet him, will you tell him
that he unjustly keeps possession of a relic that is the property and
pride of a certain family, and that, although the stones have
been removed, the Queen's necklace still belongs to the house of
Dreux-Soubise. It belongs to us as much as our name or our honor."

The chevalier replied, simply:

"I shall tell him, madame."

He bowed to her, saluted the count and the other guests, and departed.

* * * * *

Four days later, the countess de Dreux found upon the table in her
chamber a red leather case bearing the cardinal's arms. She opened it,
and found the Queen's Necklace.

But as all things must, in the life of a man who strives for unity and
logic, converge toward the same goal - and as a little advertising never
does any harm - on the following day, the `Echo de France' published
these sensational lines:

"The Queen's Necklace, the famous historical jewelry stolen from
the family of Dreux-Soubise, has been recovered by Arsène Lupin, who
hastened to restore it to its rightful owner. We cannot too highly
commend such a delicate and chivalrous act."




VI. The Seven of Hearts


I am frequently asked this question: "How did you make the acquaintance
of Arsène Lupin?"

My connection with Arsène Lupin was well known. The details that I
gather concerning that mysterious man, the irrefutable facts that I
present, the new evidence that I produce, the interpretation that I
place on certain acts of which the public has seen only the exterior
manifestations without being able to discover the secret reasons or
the invisible mechanism, all establish, if not an intimacy, at least
amicable relations and regular confidences.

But how did I make his acquaintance? Why was I selected to be his
historiographer? Why I, and not some one else?

The answer is simple: chance alone presided over my choice; my merit was
not considered. It was chance that put me in his way. It was by chance
that I was participant in one of his strangest and most mysterious
adventures; and by chance that I was an actor in a drama of which he was
the marvelous stage director; an obscure and intricate drama, bristling
with such thrilling events that I feel a certain embarrassment in
undertaking to describe it.

The first act takes place during that memorable night of 22 June, of
which so much has already been said. And, for my part, I attribute the
anomalous conduct of which I was guilty on that occasion to the unusual
frame of mind in which I found myself on my return home. I had dined
with some friends at the Cascade restaurant, and, the entire evening,
whilst we smoked and the orchestra played melancholy waltzes, we talked
only of crimes and thefts, and dark and frightful intrigues. That is
always a poor overture to a night's sleep.

The Saint-Martins went away in an automobile. Jean Daspry - that
delightful, heedless Daspry who, six months later, was killed in such a
tragic manner on the frontier of Morocco - Jean Daspry and I returned
on foot through the dark, warm night. When we arrived in front of
the little house in which I had lived for a year at Neuilly, on the
boulevard Maillot, he said to me:

"Are you afraid?"

"What an idea!"

"But this house is so isolated.... no neighbors.... vacant lots....Really,
I am not a coward, and yet - -"

"Well, you are very cheering, I must say."

"Oh! I say that as I would say anything else. The Saint-Martins have
impressed me with their stories of brigands and thieves."

We shook hands and said good-night. I took out my key and opened the
door.

"Well, that is good," I murmured, "Antoine has forgotten to light a
candle."

Then I recalled the fact that Antoine was away; I had given him a
short leave of absence. Forthwith, I was disagreeably oppressed by the
darkness and silence of the night. I ascended the stairs on tiptoe,
and reached my room as quickly as possible; then, contrary to my usual
habit, I turned the key and pushed the bolt.

The light of my candle restored my courage. Yet I was careful to take my
revolver from its case - a large, powerful weapon - and place it beside
my bed. That precaution completed my reassurance. I laid down and, as
usual, took a book from my night-table to read myself to sleep. Then I
received a great surprise. Instead of the paper-knife with which I had
marked my place on the preceding, I found an envelope, closed with
five seals of red wax. I seized it eagerly. It was addressed to me, and
marked: "Urgent."

A letter! A letter addressed to me! Who could have put it in that place?
Nervously, I tore open the envelope, and read:

"From the moment you open this letter, whatever happens, whatever you
may hear, do not move, do not utter one cry. Otherwise you are doomed."

I am not a coward, and, quite as well as another, I can face real
danger, or smile at the visionary perils of imagination. But, let me
repeat, I was in an anomalous condition of mind, with my nerves set on
edge by the events of the evening. Besides, was there not, in my present
situation, something startling and mysterious, calculated to disturb the
most courageous spirit?

My feverish fingers clutched the sheet of paper, and I read and re-read
those threatening words: "Do not move, do not utter one cry. Otherwise,
you are doomed."

"Nonsense!" I thought. "It is a joke; the work of some cheerful idiot."

I was about to laugh - a good loud laugh. Who prevented me? What haunting
fear compressed my throat?

At least, I would blow out the candle. No, I could not do it. "Do not
move, or you are doomed," were the words he had written.

These auto-suggestions are frequently more imperious than the most
positive realities; but why should I struggle against them? I had simply
to close my eyes. I did so.

At that moment, I heard a slight noise, followed by crackling sounds,
proceeding from a large room used by me as a library. A small room or
antechamber was situated between the library and my bedchamber.

The approach of an actual danger greatly excited me, and I felt a desire
to get up, seize my revolver, and rush into the library. I did not rise;
I saw one of the curtains of the left window move. There was no doubt
about it: the curtain had moved. It was still moving. And I saw - oh! I
saw quite distinctly - in the narrow space between the curtains and the
window, a human form; a bulky mass that prevented the curtains from
hanging straight. And it is equally certain that the man saw me through
the large meshes of the curtain. Then, I understood the situation.
His mission was to guard me while the others carried away their booty.
Should I rise and seize my revolver? Impossible! He was there! At the
least movement, at the least cry, I was doomed.

Then came a terrific noise that shook the house; this was followed
by lighter sounds, two or three together, like those of a hammer that
rebounded. At least, that was the impression formed in my confused
brain. These were mingled with other sounds, thus creating a veritable
uproar which proved that the intruders were not only bold, but felt
themselves secure from interruption.

They were right. I did not move. Was it cowardice? No, rather weakness,
a total inability to move any portion of my body, combined with
discretion; for why should I struggle? Behind that man, there were ten
others who would come to his assistance. Should I risk my life to save a
few tapestries and bibelots?

Throughout the night, my torture endured. Insufferable torture, terrible
anguish! The noises had stopped, but I was in constant fear of their
renewal. And the man! The man who was guarding me, weapon in hand. My
fearful eyes remained cast in his direction. And my heart beat! And a
profuse perspiration oozed from every pore of my body!

Suddenly, I experienced an immense relief; a milk-wagon, whose sound was
familiar to me, passed along the boulevard; and, at the same time, I had
an impression that the light of a new day was trying to steal through
the closed window-blinds.

At last, daylight penetrated the room; other vehicles passed along the
boulevard; and all the phantoms of the night vanished. Then I put one
arm out of the bed, slowly and cautiously. My eyes were fixed upon the
curtain, locating the exact spot at which I must fire; I made an exact
calculation of the movements I must make; then, quickly, I seized my
revolver and fired.

I leaped from my bed with a cry of deliverance, and rushed to the
window. The bullet had passed through the curtain and the window-glass,
but it had not touched the man - for the very good reason that there was
none there. Nobody! Thus, during the entire night, I had been
hypnotized by a fold of the curtain. And, during that time, the
malefactors....Furiously, with an enthusiasm that nothing could have
stopped, I turned the key, opened the door, crossed the antechamber,
opened another door, and rushed into the library. But amazement stopped
me on the threshold, panting, astounded, more astonished than I had
been by the absence of the man. All the things that I supposed had been
stolen, furniture, books, pictures, old tapestries, everything was in
its proper place.

It was incredible. I could not believe my eyes. Notwithstanding that
uproar, those noises of removal....I made a tour, I inspected the walls,
I made a mental inventory of all the familiar objects. Nothing was
missing. And, what was more disconcerting, there was no clue to the
intruders, not a sign, not a chair disturbed, not the trace of a
footstep.

"Well! Well!" I said to myself, pressing my hands on my bewildered head,
"surely I am not crazy! I hear something!"

Inch by inch, I made a careful examination of the room. It was in vain.
Unless I could consider this as a discovery: Under a small Persian rug,
I found a card - an ordinary playing card. It was the seven of hearts;
it was like any other seven of hearts in French playing-cards, with this
slight but curious exception: The extreme point of each of the seven red
spots or hearts was pierced by a hole, round and regular as if made with
the point of an awl.

Nothing more. A card and a letter found in a book. But was not that
sufficient to affirm that I had not been the plaything of a dream?

* * * * *

Throughout the day, I continued my searches in the library. It was a
large room, much too large for the requirements of such a house, and the
decoration of which attested the bizarre taste of its founder. The
floor was a mosaic of multicolored stones, formed into large symmetrical
designs. The walls were covered with a similar mosaic, arranged in
panels, Pompeiian allegories, Byzantine compositions, frescoes of the
Middle Ages. A Bacchus bestriding a cask. An emperor wearing a gold
crown, a flowing beard, and holding a sword in his right hand.

Quite high, after the style of an artist's studio, there was a large
window - the only one in the room. That window being always open at
night, it was probable that the men had entered through it, by the aid
of a ladder. But, again, there was no evidence. The bottom of the ladder
would have left some marks in the soft earth beneath the window; but
there were none. Nor were there any traces of footsteps in any part of
the yard.

I had no idea of informing the police, because the facts I had before me
were so absurd and inconsistent. They would laugh at me. However, as I
was then a reporter on the staff of the `Gil Blas,' I wrote a lengthy
account of my adventure and it was published in the paper on the second
day thereafter. The article attracted some attention, but no one took it
seriously. They regarded it as a work of fiction rather than a story
of real life. The Saint-Martins rallied me. But Daspry, who took an
interest in such matters, came to see me, made a study of the affair,
but reached no conclusion.

A few mornings later, the door-bell rang, and Antoine came to inform
me that a gentleman desired to see me. He would not give his name. I
directed Antoine to show him up. He was a man of about forty years of
age with a very dark complexion, lively features, and whose correct
dress, slightly frayed, proclaimed a taste that contrasted strangely
with his rather vulgar manners. Without any preamble, he said to me - in
a rough voice that confirmed my suspicion as to his social position:

"Monsieur, whilst in a café, I picked up a copy of the `Gil Blas,' and
read your article. It interested me very much.

"Thank you."

"And here I am."

"Ah!"

"Yes, to talk to you. Are all the facts related by you quite correct?"

"Absolutely so."

"Well, in that case, I can, perhaps, give you some information."

"Very well; proceed."

"No, not yet. First, I must be sure that the facts are exactly as you
have related them."

"I have given you my word. What further proof do you want?"

"I must remain alone in this room."

"I do not understand," I said, with surprise.

"It's an idea that occurred to me when reading your article. Certain
details established an extraordinary coincidence with another case that
came under my notice. If I am mistaken, I shall say nothing more. And
the only means of ascertaining the truth is by my remaining in the room
alone."

What was at the bottom of this proposition? Later, I recalled that the
man was exceedingly nervous; but, at the same time, although somewhat
astonished, I found nothing particularly abnormal about the man or the


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