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request he had made. Moreover, my curiosity was aroused; so I replied:

"Very well. How much time do you require?"

"Oh! three minutes - not longer. Three minutes from now, I will rejoin
you."

I left the room, and went downstairs. I took out my watch. One minute
passed. Two minutes. Why did I feel so depressed? Why did those moments
seem so solemn and weird? Two minutes and a half....Two minutes and
three quarters. Then I heard a pistol shot.

I bounded up the stairs and entered the room. A cry of horror escaped
me. In the middle of the room, the man was lying on his left side,
motionless. Blood was flowing from a wound in his forehead. Near his
hand was a revolver, still smoking.

But, in addition to this frightful spectacle, my attention was attracted
by another object. At two feet from the body, upon the floor, I saw
a playing-card. It was the seven of hearts. I picked it up. The lower
extremity of each of the seven spots was pierced with a small round
hole.

* * * * *

A half-hour later, the commissary of police arrived, then the coroner
and the chief of the Sûreté, Mon. Dudouis. I had been careful not to
touch the corpse. The preliminary inquiry was very brief, and disclosed
nothing. There were no papers in the pockets of the deceased; no name
upon his clothes; no initial upon his linen; nothing to give any clue
to his identity. The room was in the same perfect order as before. The
furniture had not been disturbed. Yet this man had not come to my house
solely for the purpose of killing himself, or because he considered my
place the most convenient one for his suicide! There must have been a
motive for his act of despair, and that motive was, no doubt, the result
of some new fact ascertained by him during the three minutes he was
alone.

What was that fact? What had he seen? What frightful secret had been
revealed to him? There was no answer to these questions. But, at the
last moment, an incident occurred that appeared to us of considerable
importance. As two policemen were raising the body to place it on a
stretcher, the left hand thus being disturbed, a crumpled card fell from
it. The card bore these words: "Georges Andermatt, 37 Rue de Berry."

What did that mean? Georges Andermatt was a rich banker in Paris, the
founder and president of the Metal Exchange which had given such an
impulse to the metallic industries in France. He lived in princely
style; was the possessor of numerous automobiles, coaches, and an
expensive racing-stable. His social affairs were very select, and Madame
Andermatt was noted for her grace and beauty.

"Can that be the man's name?" I asked. - - - - - - - -

The chief of the Sûreté leaned over him.

"It is not he. Mon. Andermatt is a thin man, and slightly grey."

"But why this card?"

"Have you a telephone, monsieur?"

"Yes, in the vestibule. Come with me."

He looked in the directory, and then asked for number 415.21.

"Is Mon. Andermatt at home?....Please tell him that Mon. Dudouis wished
him to come at once to 102 Boulevard Maillot. Very important."

Twenty minutes later, Mon. Andermatt arrived in his automobile. After
the circumstances had been explained to him, he was taken in to see the
corpse. He displayed considerable emotion, and spoke, in a low tone, and
apparently unwillingly:

"Etienne Varin," he said.

"You know him?"

"No.... or, at least, yes.... by sight only. His brother...."

"Ah! he has a brother?"

"Yes, Alfred Varin. He came to see me once on some matter of
business....I forget what it was."

"Where does he live?"

"The two brothers live together - rue de Provence, I think."

"Do you know any reason why he should commit suicide?"

"None."

"He held a card in his hand. It was your card with your address."

"I do not understand that. It must have been there by some chance that
will be disclosed by the investigation."

A very strange chance, I thought; and I felt that the others entertained
the same impression.

I discovered the same impression in the papers next day, and amongst
all my friends with whom I discussed the affair. Amid the mysteries that
enveloped it, after the double discovery of the seven of hearts pierced
with seven holes, after the two inscrutable events that had happened in
my house, that visiting card promised to throw some light on the
affair. Through it, the truth may be revealed. But, contrary to our
expectations, Mon. Andermatt furnished no explanation. He said:

"I have told you all I know. What more can I do? I am greatly surprised
that my card should be found in such a place, and I sincerely hope the
point will be cleared up."

It was not. The official investigation established that the Varin
brothers were of Swiss origin, had led a shifting life under various
names, frequenting gambling resorts, associating with a band of
foreigners who had been dispersed by the police after a series of
robberies in which their participation was established only by their
flight. At number 24 rue de Provence, where the Varin brothers had lived
six years before, no one knew what had become of them.

I confess that, for my part, the case seemed to me so complicated and so
mysterious that I did not think the problem would ever be solved, so
I concluded to waste no more time upon it. But Jean Daspry, whom I
frequently met at that period, became more and more interested in it
each day. It was he who pointed out to me that item from a foreign
newspaper which was reproduced and commented upon by the entire press.
It was as follows:

"The first trial of a new model of submarine boat, which is expected
to revolutionize naval warfare, will be given in presence of the former
Emperor at a place that will be kept secret until the last minute. An
indiscretion has revealed its name; it is called `The Seven-of-Hearts.'"

The Seven-of-Hearts! That presented a new problem. Could a connection be
established between the name of the sub-marine and the incidents which
we have related? But a connection of what nature? What had happened here
could have no possible relation with the sub-marine.

"What do you know about it?" said Daspry to me. "The most diverse
effects often proceed from the same cause."

Two days later, the following foreign news item was received and
published:

"It is said that the plans of the new sub-marine `Seven-of-Hearts' were
prepared by French engineers, who, having sought, in vain, the support
of their compatriots, subsequently entered into negotiations with the
British Admiralty, without success."

I do not wish to give undue publicity to certain delicate matters which
once provoked considerable excitement. Yet, since all danger of injury
therefrom has now come to an end, I must speak of the article that
appeared in the `Echo de France,' which aroused so much comment at
that time, and which threw considerable light upon the mystery of
the Seven-of-Hearts. This is the article as it was published over the
signature of Salvator:

"THE AFFAIR OF THE SEVEN-OF-HEARTS.

"A CORNER OF THE VEIL RAISED.

"We will be brief. Ten years ago, a young mining engineer, Louis
Lacombe, wishing to devote his time and fortune to certain studies,
resigned his position he then held, and rented number 102 boulevard
Maillot, a small house that had been recently built and decorated
for an Italian count. Through the agency of the Varin brothers of
Lausanne, one of whom assisted in the preliminary experiments and
the other acted as financial agent, the young engineer was
introduced to Georges Andermatt, the founder of the Metal Exchange.

"After several interviews, he succeeded in interesting the banker
in a sub-marine boat on which he was working, and it was agreed
that as soon as the invention was perfected, Mon. Andermatt would
use his influence with the Minister of Marine to obtain a series of
trials under the direction of the government. For two years, Louis
Lacombe was a frequent visitor at Andermatt's house, and he
submitted to the banker the various improvements he made upon his
original plans, until one day, being satisfied with the perfection
of his work, he asked Mon. Andermatt to communicate with the
Minister of Marine. That day, Louis Lacombe dined at Mon.
Andermatt's house. He left there about half-past eleven at night.
He has not been seen since.

"A perusal of the newspapers of that date will show that the
young man's family caused every possible inquiry to be made, but
without success; and it was the general opinion that Louis Lacombe -
who was known as an original and visionary youth - had quietly left
for parts unknown.

"Let us accept that theory - improbable, though it be, - and let us
consider another question, which is a most important one for our
country: What has become of the plans of the sub-marine? Did Louis
Lacombe carry them away? Are they destroyed?

"After making a thorough investigation, we are able to assert,
positively, that the plans are in existence, and are now in the
possession of the two brothers Varin. How did they acquire such a
possession? That is a question not yet determined; nor do we know
why they have not tried to sell them at an earlier date. Did they
fear that their title to them would be called in question? If so,
they have lost that fear, and we can announce definitely, that the
plans of Louis Lacombe are now the property of foreign power, and
we are in a position to publish the correspondence that passed
between the Varin brothers and the representative of that power.
The `Seven-of-Hearts' invented by Louis Lacombe has been actually
constructed by our neighbor.

"Will the invention fulfill the optimistic expectations of those
who were concerned in that treacherous act?"

And a post-script adds:

"Later. - Our special correspondent informs us that the preliminary
trial of the `Seven-of-Hearts' has not been satisfactory. It is
quite likely that the plans sold and delivered by the Varin
brothers did not include the final document carried by Louis
Lacombe to Mon. Andermatt on the day of his disappearance, a
document that was indispensable to a thorough understanding of the
invention. It contained a summary of the final conclusions of the
inventor, and estimates and figures not contained in the other
papers. Without this document, the plans are incomplete; on the
other hand, without the plans, the document is worthless.

"Now is the time to act and recover what belongs to us. It may
be a difficult matter, but we rely upon the assistance of Mon.
Andermatt. It will be to his interest to explain his conduct which
has hitherto been so strange and inscrutable. He will explain not
only why he concealed these facts at the time of the suicide of
Etienne Varin, but also why he has never revealed the disappearance
of the paper - a fact well known to him. He will tell why, during
the last six years, he paid spies to watch the movements of the
Varin brothers. We expect from him, not only words, but acts. And
at once. Otherwise - -"

The threat was plainly expressed. But of what did it consist? What whip
was Salvator, the anonymous writer of the article, holding over the head
of Mon. Andermatt?

An army of reporters attacked the banker, and ten interviewers announced
the scornful manner in which they were treated. Thereupon, the `Echo de
France' announced its position in these words:

"Whether Mon. Andermatt is willing or not, he will be, henceforth, our
collaborator in the work we have undertaken."

* * * * *

Daspry and I were dining together on the day on which that announcement
appeared. That evening, with the newspapers spread over my table, we
discussed the affair and examined it from every point of view with that
exasperation that a person feels when walking in the dark and finding
himself constantly falling over the same obstacles. Suddenly, without
any warning whatsoever, the door opened and a lady entered. Her face was
hidden behind a thick veil. I rose at once and approached her.

"Is it you, monsieur, who lives here?" she asked.

"Yes, madame, but I do not understand - -"

"The gate was not locked," she explained.

"But the vestibule door?"

She did not reply, and it occurred to me that she had used the servants'
entrance. How did she know the way? Then there was a silence that was
quite embarrassing. She looked at Daspry, and I was obliged to introduce
him. I asked her to be seated and explain the object of her visit. She
raised her veil, and I saw that she was a brunette with regular features
and, though not handsome, she was attractive - principally, on account of
her sad, dark eyes.

"I am Madame Andermatt," she said.

"Madame Andermatt!" I repeated, with astonishment.

After a brief pause, she continued with a voice and manner that were
quite easy and natural:

"I have come to see you about that affair - you know. I thought I might
be able to obtain some information - -"

"Mon Dieu, madame, I know nothing but what has already appeared in the
papers. But if you will point out in what way I can help you...."

"I do not know....I do not know."

Not until then did I suspect that her calm demeanor was assumed, and
that some poignant grief was concealed beneath that air of tranquility.
For a moment, we were silent and embarrassed. Then Daspry stepped
forward, and said:

"Will you permit me to ask you a few questions?"

"Yes, yes," she cried. "I will answer."

"You will answer.... whatever those questions may be?"

"Yes."

"Did you know Louis Lacombe?" he asked.

"Yes, through my husband."

"When did you see him for the last time?"

"The evening he dined with us."

"At that time, was there anything to lead you to believe that you would
never see him again?"

"No. But he had spoken of a trip to Russia - in a vague way."

"Then you expected to see him again?"

"Yes. He was to dine with us, two days later."

"How do you explain his disappearance?"

"I cannot explain it."

"And Mon. Andermatt?"

"I do not know."

"Yet the article published in the `Echo de France' indicates - -"

"Yes, that the Varin brothers had something to do with his
disappearance."

"Is that your opinion?"

"Yes."

"On what do you base your opinion?"

"When he left our house, Louis Lacombe carried a satchel containing all
the papers relating to his invention. Two days later, my husband, in
a conversation with one of the Varin brothers, learned that the papers
were in their possession."

"And he did not denounce them?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because there was something else in the satchel - something besides the
papers of Louis Lacombe."

"What was it?"

She hesitated; was on the point of speaking, but, finally, remained
silent. Daspry continued:

"I presume that is why your husband has kept a close watch over their
movements instead of informing the police. He hoped to recover the
papers and, at the same time, that compromising article which has
enabled the two brothers to hold over him threats of exposure and
blackmail."

"Over him, and over me."

"Ah! over you, also?"

"Over me, in particular."

She uttered the last words in a hollow voice. Daspry observed it; he
paced to and fro for a moment, then, turning to her, asked:

"Had you written to Louis Lacombe?"

"Of course. My husband had business with him - "

"Apart from those business letters, had you written to Louis
Lacombe.... other letters? Excuse my insistence, but it is absolutely
necessary that I should know the truth. Did you write other letters?"

"Yes," she replied, blushing.

"And those letters came into the possession of the Varin brothers?"

"Yes."

"Does Mon. Andermatt know it?"

"He has not seen them, but Alfred Varin has told him of their existence
and threatened to publish them if my husband should take any steps
against him. My husband was afraid.... of a scandal."

"But he has tried to recover the letters?"

"I think so; but I do not know. You see, after that last interview with
Alfred Varin, and after some harsh words between me and my husband in
which he called me to account - we live as strangers."

"In that case, as you have nothing to lose, what do you fear?"

"I may be indifferent to him now, but I am the woman that he has loved,
the one he would still love - oh! I am quite sure of that," she murmured,
in a fervent voice, "he would still love me if he had not got hold of
those cursed letters - - "

"What! Did he succeed?....But the two brothers still defied him?"

"Yes, and they boasted of having a secure hiding-place."

"Well?"

"I believe my husband discovered that hiding-place."

"Well?"

"I believe my husband has discovered that hiding-place."

"Ah! where was it?"

"Here."

"Here!" I cried in alarm.

"Yes. I always had that suspicion. Louis Lacombe was very ingenious
and amused himself in his leisure hours, by making safes and locks. No
doubt, the Varin brothers were aware of that fact and utilized one of
Lacombe's safes in which to conceal the letters.... and other things,
perhaps."

"But they did not live here," I said.

"Before you came, four months ago, the house had been vacant for some
time. And they may have thought that your presence here would not
interfere with them when they wanted to get the papers. But they did not
count on my husband, who came here on the night of 22 June, forced the
safe, took what he was seeking, and left his card to inform the two
brothers that he feared them no more, and that their positions were now
reversed. Two days later, after reading the article in the `Gil Blas,'
Etienne Varin came here, remained alone in this room, found the safe
empty, and.... killed himself."

After a moment, Daspry said:

"A very simple theory....Has Mon. Andermatt spoken to you since then?"

"No."

"Has his attitude toward you changed in any way? Does he appear more
gloomy, more anxious?"

"No, I haven't noticed any change."

"And yet you think he has secured the letters. Now, in my opinion, he
has not got those letters, and it was not he who came here on the night
of 22 June."

"Who was it, then?"

"The mysterious individual who is managing this affair, who holds all
the threads in his hands, and whose invisible but far-reaching power we
have felt from the beginning. It was he and his friends who entered
this house on 22 June; it was he who discovered the hiding-place of the
papers; it was he who left Mon. Andermatt's card; it is he who now
holds the correspondence and the evidence of the treachery of the Varin
brothers."

"Who is he?" I asked, impatiently.

"The man who writes letters to the `Echo de France'.... Salvator! Have
we not convincing evidence of that fact? Does he not mention in his
letters certain details that no one could know, except the man who had
thus discovered the secrets of the two brothers?"

"Well, then," stammered Madame Andermatt, in great alarm, "he has my
letters also, and it is he who now threatens my husband. Mon Dieu! What
am I to do?"

"Write to him," declared Daspry. "Confide in him without reserve. Tell
him all you know and all you may hereafter learn. Your interest and his
interest are the same. He is not working against Mon. Andermatt, but
against Alfred Varin. Help him."

"How?"

"Has your husband the document that completes the plans of Louis
Lacombe?"

"Yes."

"Tell that to Salvator, and, if possible, procure the document for him.
Write to him at once. You risk nothing."

The advice was bold, dangerous even at first sight, but Madame Andermatt
had no choice. Besides, as Daspry had said, she ran no risk. If
the unknown writer were an enemy, that step would not aggravate the
situation. If he were a stranger seeking to accomplish a particular
purpose, he would attach to those letters only a secondary importance.
Whatever might happen, it was the only solution offered to her, and
she, in her anxiety, was only too glad to act on it. She thanked us
effusively, and promised to keep us informed.

In fact, two days later, she sent us the following letter that she had
received from Salvator:

"Have not found the letters, but I will get them. Rest easy. I am
watching everything. S."

I looked at the letter. It was in the same handwriting as the note I
found in my book on the night of 22 June.

Daspry was right. Salvator was, indeed, the originator of that affair.

* * * * *

We were beginning to see a little light coming out of the darkness that
surrounded us, and an unexpected light was thrown on certain points; but
other points yet remained obscure - for instance, the finding of the two
seven-of-hearts. Perhaps I was unnecessarily concerned about those
two cards whose seven punctured spots had appeared to me under such
startling circumstances! Yet I could not refrain from asking myself:
What role will they play in the drama? What importance do they
bear? What conclusion must be drawn from the fact that the submarine
constructed from the plans of Louis Lacombe bore the name of
`Seven-of-Hearts'?

Daspry gave little thought to the other two cards; he devoted all his
attention to another problem which he considered more urgent; he was
seeking the famous hiding-place.

"And who knows," said he, "I may find the letters that Salvator did not
find - by inadvertence, perhaps. It is improbable that the Varin brothers
would have removed from a spot, which they deemed inaccessible, the
weapon which was so valuable to them."

And he continued to search. In a short time, the large room held no more
secrets for him, so he extended his investigations to the other rooms.
He examined the interior and the exterior, the stones of the foundation,
the bricks in the walls; he raised the slates of the roof.

One day, he came with a pickaxe and a spade, gave me the spade, kept the
pickaxe, pointed to the adjacent vacant lots, and said: "Come."

I followed him, but I lacked his enthusiasm. He divided the vacant land
into several sections which he examined in turn. At last, in a corner,
at the angle formed by the walls of two neighboring proprietors, a small
pile of earth and gravel, covered with briers and grass, attracted his
attention. He attacked it. I was obliged to help him. For an hour, under
a hot sun, we labored without success. I was discouraged, but Daspry
urged me on. His ardor was as strong as ever.

At last, Daspry's pickaxe unearthed some bones - the remains of a
skeleton to which some scraps of clothing still hung. Suddenly, I turned
pale. I had discovered, sticking in the earth, a small piece of iron cut
in the form of a rectangle, on which I thought I could see red spots. I
stooped and picked it up. That little iron plate was the exact size of a
playing-card, and the red spots, made with red lead, were arranged upon
it in a manner similar to the seven-of-hearts, and each spot was pierced
with a round hole similar to the perforations in the two playing cards.

"Listen, Daspry, I have had enough of this. You can stay if it interests
you. But I am going."

Was that simply the expression of my excited nerves? Or was it the
result of a laborious task executed under a burning sun? I know that
I trembled as I walked away, and that I went to bed, where I remained
forty-eight hours, restless and feverish, haunted by skeletons that
danced around me and threw their bleeding hearts at my head.

Daspry was faithful to me. He came to my house every day, and remained
three or four hours, which he spent in the large room, ferreting,
thumping, tapping.

"The letters are here, in this room," he said, from time to time, "they
are here. I will stake my life on it."

On the morning of the third day I arose - feeble yet, but cured. A
substantial breakfast cheered me up. But a letter that I received that
afternoon contributed, more than anything else, to my complete recovery,
and aroused in me a lively curiosity. This was the letter:

"Monsieur,

"The drama, the first act of which transpired on the night of 22
June, is now drawing to a close. Force of circumstances compel me
to bring the two principal actors in that drama face to face, and I
wish that meeting to take place in your house, if you will be so
kind as to give me the use of it for this evening from nine o'clock
to eleven. It will be advisable to give your servant leave of
absence for the evening, and, perhaps, you will be so kind as to
leave the field open to the two adversaries. You will remember
that when I visited your house on the night of 22 June, I took
excellent care of your property. I feel that I would do you an


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Online LibraryMaurice LeblancThe Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar → online text (page 8 of 13)