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injustice if I should doubt, for one moment, your absolute
discretion in this affair. Your devoted,

"SALVATOR."

I was amused at the facetious tone of his letter and also at the
whimsical nature of his request. There was a charming display of
confidence and candor in his language, and nothing in the world could
have induced me to deceive him or repay his confidence with ingratitude.

I gave my servant a theatre ticket, and he left the house at eight
o'clock. A few minutes later, Daspry arrived. I showed him the letter.

"Well?" said he.

"Well, I have left the garden gate unlocked, so anyone can enter."

"And you - are you going away?"

"Not at all. I intend to stay right here."

"But he asks you to go - -"

"But I am not going. I will be discreet, but I am resolved to see what
takes place."

"Ma foi!" exclaimed Daspry, laughing, "you are right, and I shall stay
with you. I shouldn't like to miss it."

We were interrupted by the sound of the door-bell.

"Here already?" said Daspry, "twenty minutes ahead of time! Incredible!"

I went to the door and ushered in the visitor. It was Madame Andermatt.
She was faint and nervous, and in a stammering voice, she ejaculated:

"My husband.... is coming.... he has an appointment.... they intend to
give him the letters...."

"How do you know?" I asked.

"By chance. A message came for my husband while we were at dinner. The
servant gave it to me by mistake. My husband grabbed it quickly, but he
was too late. I had read it."

"You read it?"

"Yes. It was something like this: `At nine o'clock this evening, be
at Boulevard Maillot with the papers connected with the affair. In
exchange, the letters.' So, after dinner, I hastened here."

"Unknown to your husband?"

"Yes."

"What do you think about it?" asked Daspry, turning to me.

"I think as you do, that Mon. Andermatt is one of the invited guests."

"Yes, but for what purpose?"

"That is what we are going to find out."

I led the men to a large room. The three of us could hide comfortably
behind the velvet chimney-mantle, and observe all that should happen
in the room. We seated ourselves there, with Madame Andermatt in the
centre.

The clock struck nine. A few minutes later, the garden gate creaked upon
its hinges. I confess that I was greatly agitated. I was about to learn
the key to the mystery. The startling events of the last few weeks were
about to be explained, and, under my eyes, the last battle was going to
be fought. Daspry seized the hand of Madame Andermatt, and said to her:

"Not a word, not a movement! Whatever you may see or hear, keep quiet!"

Some one entered. It was Alfred Varin. I recognized him at once, owing
to the close resemblance he bore to his brother Etienne. There was
the same slouching gait; the same cadaverous face covered with a black
beard.

He entered with the nervous air of a man who is accustomed to fear the
presence of traps and ambushes; who scents and avoids them. He glanced
about the room, and I had the impression that the chimney, masked with
a velvet portiere, did not please him. He took three steps in our
direction, when something caused him to turn and walk toward the old
mosaic king, with the flowing beard and flamboyant sword, which he
examined minutely, mounting on a chair and following with his fingers
the outlines of the shoulders and head and feeling certain parts of the
face. Suddenly, he leaped from the chair and walked away from it. He had
heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Mon. Andermatt appeared at the
door.

"You! You!" exclaimed the banker. "Was it you who brought me here?"

"I? By no means," protested Varin, in a rough, jerky voice that reminded
me of his brother, "on the contrary, it was your letter that brought me
here."

"My letter?"

"A letter signed by you, in which you offered - -"

"I never wrote to you," declared Mon. Andermatt.

"You did not write to me!"

Instinctively, Varin was put on his guard, not against the banker, but
against the unknown enemy who had drawn him into this trap. A second
time, he looked in our direction, then walked toward the door. But Mon.
Andermatt barred his passage.

"Well, where are you going, Varin?"

"There is something about this affair I don't like. I am going home.
Good evening."

"One moment!"

"No need of that, Mon. Andermatt. I have nothing to say to you."

"But I have something to say to you, and this is a good time to say it."

"Let me pass."

"No, you will not pass."

Varin recoiled before the resolute attitude of the banker, as he
muttered:

"Well, then, be quick about it."

One thing astonished me; and I have no doubt my two companions
experienced a similar feeling. Why was Salvator not there? Was he not a
necessary party at this conference? Or was he satisfied to let these two
adversaries fight it out between themselves? At all events, his absence
was a great disappointment, although it did not detract from the
dramatic strength of the situation.

After a moment, Mon. Andermatt approached Varin and, face to face, eye
to eye, said:

"Now, after all these years and when you have nothing more to fear, you
can answer me candidly: What have you done with Louis Lacombe?"

"What a question! As if I knew anything about him!"

"You do know! You and your brother were his constant companions, almost
lived with him in this very house. You knew all about his plans and his
work. And the last night I ever saw Louis Lacombe, when I parted with
him at my door, I saw two men slinking away in the shadows of the trees.
That, I am ready to swear to."

"Well, what has that to do with me?"

"The two men were you and your brother."

"Prove it."

"The best proof is that, two days later, you yourself showed me the
papers and the plans that belonged to Lacombe and offered to sell them.
How did these papers come into your possession?"

"I have already told you, Mon. Andermatt, that we found them on Louis
Lacombe's table, the morning after his disappearance."

"That is a lie!"

"Prove it."

"The law will prove it."

"Why did you not appeal to the law?"

"Why? Ah! Why - -," stammered the banker, with a slight display of
emotion.

"You know very well, Mon. Andermatt, if you had the least certainty of
our guilt, our little threat would not have stopped you."

"What threat? Those letters? Do you suppose I ever gave those letters a
moment's thought?"

"If you did not care for the letters, why did you offer me thousands of
francs for their return? And why did you have my brother and me tracked
like wild beasts?"

"To recover the plans."

"Nonsense! You wanted the letters. You knew that as soon as you had the
letters in your possession, you could denounce us. Oh! no, I couldn't
part with them!"

He laughed heartily, but stopped suddenly, and said:

"But, enough of this! We are merely going over old ground. We make no
headway. We had better let things stand as they are."

"We will not let them stand as they are," said the banker, "and since
you have referred to the letters, let me tell you that you will not
leave this house until you deliver up those letters."

"I shall go when I please."

"You will not."

"Be careful, Mon. Andermatt. I warn you - -"

"I say, you shall not go."

"We will see about that," cried Varin, in such a rage that Madame
Andermatt could not suppress a cry of fear. Varin must have heard it,
for he now tried to force his way out. Mon. Andermatt pushed him back.
Then I saw him put his hand into his coat pocket.

"For the last time, let me pass," he cried.

"The letters, first!"

Varin drew a revolver and, pointing it at Mon. Andermatt, said:

"Yes or no?"

The banker stooped quickly. There was the sound of a pistol-shot. The
weapon fell from Varin's hand. I was amazed. The shot was fired close
to me. It was Daspry who had fired it at Varin, causing him to drop the
revolver. In a moment, Daspry was standing between the two men, facing
Varin; he said to him, with a sneer:

"You were lucky, my friend, very lucky. I fired at your hand and struck
only the revolver."

Both of them looked at him, surprised. Then he turned to the banker, and
said:

"I beg your pardon, monsieur, for meddling in your business; but,
really, you play a very poor game. Let me hold the cards."

Turning again to Varin, Daspry said:

"It's between us two, comrade, and play fair, if you please. Hearts are
trumps, and I play the seven."

Then Daspry held up, before Varin's bewildered eyes, the little iron
plate, marked with the seven red spots. It was a terrible shock to
Varin. With livid features, staring eyes, and an air of intense agony,
the man seemed to be hypnotized at the sight of it.

"Who are you?" he gasped.

"One who meddles in other people's business, down to the very bottom."

"What do you want?"

"What you brought here tonight."

"I brought nothing."

"Yes, you did, or you wouldn't have come. This morning, you received
an invitation to come here at nine o'clock, and bring with you all the
papers held by you. You are here. Where are the papers?"

There was in Daspry's voice and manner a tone of authority that I did
not understand; his manner was usually quite mild and conciliatory.
Absolutely conquered, Varin placed his hand on one of his pockets, and
said:

"The papers are here."

"All of them?"

"Yes."

"All that you took from Louis Lacombe and afterwards sold to Major von
Lieben?"

"Yes."

"Are these the copies or the originals?"

"I have the originals."

"How much do you want for them?"

"One hundred thousand francs."

"You are crazy," said Daspry. "Why, the major gave you only twenty
thousand, and that was like money thrown into the sea, as the boat was a
failure at the preliminary trials."

"They didn't understand the plans."

"The plans are not complete."

"Then, why do you ask me for them?"

"Because I want them. I offer you five thousand francs - not a sou more."

"Ten thousand. Not a sou less."

"Agreed," said Daspry, who now turned to Mon. Andermatt, and said:

"Monsieur will kindly sign a check for the amount."

"But....I haven't got - -"

"Your check-book? Here it is."

Astounded, Mon. Andermatt examined the check-book that Daspry handed to
him.

"It is mine," he gasped. "How does that happen?"

"No idle words, monsieur, if you please. You have merely to sign."

The banker took out his fountain pen, filled out the check and signed
it. Varin held out his hand for it.

"Put down your hand," said Daspry, "there is something more." Then, to
the banker, he said: "You asked for some letters, did you not?"

"Yes, a package of letters."

"Where are they, Varin?"

"I haven't got them."

"Where are they, Varin?"

"I don't know. My brother had charge of them."

"They are hidden in this room."

"In that case, you know where they are."

"How should I know?"

"Was it not you who found the hiding-place? You appear to be as well
informed.... as Salvator."

"The letters are not in the hiding-place."

"They are."

"Open it."

Varin looked at him, defiantly. Were not Daspry and Salvator the same
person? Everything pointed to that conclusion. If so, Varin risked
nothing in disclosing a hiding-place already known.

"Open it," repeated Daspry.

"I have not got the seven of hearts."

"Yes, here it is," said Daspry, handing him the iron plate. Varin
recoiled in terror, and cried:

"No, no, I will not."

"Never mind," replied Daspry, as he walked toward the bearded king,
climbed on a chair and applied the seven of hearts to the lower part of
the sword in such a manner that the edges of the iron plate coincided
exactly with the two edges of the sword. Then, with the assistance of
an awl which he introduced alternately into each of the seven holes, he
pressed upon seven of the little mosaic stones. As he pressed upon the
seventh one, a clicking sound was heard, and the entire bust of the King
turned upon a pivot, disclosing a large opening lined with steel. It was
really a fire-proof safe.

"You can see, Varin, the safe is empty."

"So I see. Then, my brother has taken out the letters."

Daspry stepped down from the chair, approached Varin, and said:

"Now, no more nonsense with me. There is another hiding-place. Where is
it?"

"There is none."

"Is it money you want? How much?"

"Ten thousand."

"Monsieur Andermatt, are those letters worth then thousand francs to
you?"

"Yes," said the banker, firmly.

Varin closed the safe, took the seven of hearts and placed it again on
the sword at the same spot. He thrust the awl into each of the seven
holes. There was the same clicking sound, but this time, strange to
relate, it was only a portion of the safe that revolved on the pivot,
disclosing quite a small safe that was built within the door of the
larger one. The packet of letters was here, tied with a tape, and
sealed. Varin handed the packet to Daspry. The latter turned to the
banker, and asked:

"Is the check ready, Monsieur Andermatt?"

"Yes."

"And you have also the last document that you received from Louis
Lacombe - the one that completes the plans of the sub-marine?"

"Yes."

The exchange was made. Daspry pocketed the document and the checks, and
offered the packet of letters to Mon. Andermatt.

"This is what you wanted, Monsieur."

The banker hesitated a moment, as if he were afraid to touch those
cursed letters that he had sought so eagerly. Then, with a nervous
movement, he took them. Close to me, I heard a moan. I grasped Madame
Andermatt's hand. It was cold.

"I believe, monsieur," said Daspry to the banker, "that our business is
ended. Oh! no thanks. It was only by a mere chance that I have been able
to do you a good turn. Good-night."

Mon. Andermatt retired. He carried with him the letters written by his
wife to Louis Lacombe.

"Marvelous!" exclaimed Daspry, delighted. "Everything is coming our
way. Now, we have only to close our little affair, comrade. You have the
papers?"

"Here they are - all of them."

Daspry examined them carefully, and then placed them in his pocket.

"Quite right. You have kept your word," he said.

"But - -"

"But what?"

"The two checks? The money?" said Varin, eagerly.

"Well, you have a great deal of assurance, my man. How dare you ask such
a thing?"

"I ask only what is due to me."

"Can you ask pay for returning papers that you stole? Well, I think
not!"

Varin was beside himself. He trembled with rage; his eyes were
bloodshot.

"The money.... the twenty thousand...." he stammered.

"Impossible! I need it myself."

"The money!"

"Come, be reasonable, and don't get excited. It won't do you any good."

Daspry seized his arm so forcibly, that Varin uttered a cry of pain.
Daspry continued:

"Now, you can go. The air will do you good. Perhaps you want me to show
you the way. Ah! yes, we will go together to the vacant lot near here,
and I will show you a little mound of earth and stones and under it - -"

"That is false! That is false!"

"Oh! no, it is true. That little iron plate with the seven spots on it
came from there. Louis Lacombe always carried it, and you buried it with
the body - and with some other things that will prove very interesting to
a judge and jury."

Varin covered his face with his hands, and muttered:

"All right, I am beaten. Say no more. But I want to ask you one
question. I should like to know - -"

"What is it?"

"Was there a little casket in the large safe?"

"Yes."

"Was it there on the night of 22 June?"

"Yes."

"What did it contain?"

"Everything that the Varin brothers had put in it - a very pretty
collection of diamonds and pearls picked up here and there by the said
brothers."

"And did you take it?"

"Of course I did. Do you blame me?"

"I understand.... it was the disappearance of that casket that caused my
brother to kill himself."

"Probably. The disappearance of your correspondence was not a sufficient
motive. But the disappearance of the casket....Is that all you wish to
ask me?"

"One thing more: your name?"

"You ask that with an idea of seeking revenge."

"Parbleu! The tables may be turned. Today, you are on top. To-morrow - -"

"It will be you."

"I hope so. Your name?"

"Arsène Lupin."

"Arsène Lupin!"

The man staggered, as though stunned by a heavy blow. Those two words
had deprived him of all hope.

Daspry laughed, and said:

"Ah! did you imagine that a Monsieur Durand or Dupont could manage an
affair like this? No, it required the skill and cunning of Arsène Lupin.
And now that you have my name, go and prepare your revenge. Arsène Lupin
will wait for you."

Then he pushed the bewildered Varin through the door.

"Daspry! Daspry!" I cried, pushing aside the curtain. He ran to me.

"What? What's the matter?"

"Madame Andermatt is ill."

He hastened to her, caused her to inhale some salts, and, while caring
for her, questioned me:

"Well, what did it?"

"The letters of Louis Lacombe that you gave to her husband."

He struck his forehead and said:

"Did she think that I could do such a thing!...But, of course she would.
Imbecile that I am!"

Madame Andermatt was now revived. Daspry took from his pocket a small
package exactly similar to the one that Mon. Andermatt had carried away.

"Here are your letters, Madame. These are the genuine letters."

"But.... the others?"

"The others are the same, rewritten by me and carefully worded. Your
husband will not find anything objectionable in them, and will never
suspect the substitution since they were taken from the safe in his
presence."

"But the handwriting - -"

"There is no handwriting that cannot be imitated."

She thanked him in the same words she might have used to a man in her
own social circle, so I concluded that she had not witnessed the final
scene between Varin and Arsène Lupin. But the surprising revelation
caused me considerable embarrassment. Lupin! My club companion was none
other than Arsène Lupin. I could not realize it. But he said, quite at
his ease:

"You can say farewell to Jean Daspry."

"Ah!"

"Yes, Jean Daspry is going on a long journey. I shall send him to
Morocco. There, he may find a death worthy of him. I may say that that
is his expectation."

"But Arsène Lupin will remain?"

"Oh! Decidedly. Arsène Lupin is simply at the threshold of his career,
and he expects - -"

I was impelled by curiosity to interrupt him, and, leading him away from
the hearing of Madame Andermatt, I asked:

"Did you discover the smaller safe yourself - the one that held the
letters?"

"Yes, after a great deal of trouble. I found it yesterday afternoon
while you were asleep. And yet, God knows it was simple enough! But
the simplest things are the ones that usually escape our notice." Then,
showing me the seven-of-hearts, he added: "Of course I had guessed that,
in order to open the larger safe, this card must be placed on the sword
of the mosaic king."

"How did you guess that?"

"Quite easily. Through private information, I knew that fact when I came
here on the evening of 22 June - -"

"After you left me - -"

"Yes, after turning the subject of our conversation to stories of crime
and robbery which were sure to reduce you to such a nervous condition
that you would not leave your bed, but would allow me to complete my
search uninterrupted."

"The scheme worked perfectly."

"Well, I knew when I came here that there was a casket concealed in a
safe with a secret lock, and that the seven-of-hearts was the key
to that lock. I had merely to place the card upon the spot that was
obviously intended for it. An hour's examination showed me where the
spot was."

"One hour!"

"Observe the fellow in mosaic."

"The old emperor?"

"That old emperor is an exact representation of the king of hearts on
all playing cards."

"That's right. But how does the seven of hearts open the larger safe at
one time and the smaller safe at another time? And why did you open only
the larger safe in the first instance? I mean on the night of 22 June."

"Why? Because I always placed the seven of hearts in the same way. I
never changed the position. But, yesterday, I observed that by reversing
the card, by turning it upside down, the arrangement of the seven spots
on the mosaic was changed."

"Parbleu!"

"Of course, parbleu! But a person has to think of those things."

"There is something else: you did not know the history of those letters
until Madame Andermatt - -"

"Spoke of them before me? No. Because I found in the safe, besides
the casket, nothing but the correspondence of the two brothers which
disclosed their treachery in regard to the plans."

"Then it was by chance that you were led, first, to investigate the
history of the two brothers, and then to search for the plans and
documents relating to the sub-marine?"

"Simply by chance."

"For what purpose did you make the search?"

"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed Daspry, laughing, "how deeply interested you are!"

"The subject fascinates me."

"Very well, presently, after I have escorted Madame Andermatt to a
carriage, and dispatched a short story to the `Echo de France,' I will
return and tell you all about it."

He sat down and wrote one of those short, clear-cut articles which
served to amuse and mystify the public. Who does not recall the
sensation that followed that article produced throughout the entire
world?

"Arsène Lupin has solved the problem recently submitted by Salvator.
Having acquired possession of all the documents and original plans
of the engineer Louis Lacombe, he has placed them in the hands of
the Minister of Marine, and he has headed a subscription list for the
purpose of presenting to the nation the first submarine constructed from
those plans. His subscription is twenty thousand francs."

"Twenty thousand francs! The checks of Mon. Andermatt?" I exclaimed,
when he had given me the paper to read.

"Exactly. It was quite right that Varin should redeem his treachery."

* * * * *

And that is how I made the acquaintance of Arsène Lupin. That is how
I learned that Jean Daspry, a member of my club, was none other than
Arsène Lupin, gentleman-thief. That is how I formed very agreeable ties
of friendship with that famous man, and, thanks to the confidence
with which he honored me, how I became his very humble and faithful
historiographer.




VII. Madame Imbert's Safe


At three o'clock in the morning, there were still half a dozen carriages
in front of one of those small houses which form only the side of the
boulevard Berthier. The door of that house opened, and a number of
guests, male and female, emerged. The majority of them entered their
carriages and were quickly driven away, leaving behind only two men who
walked down Courcelles, where they parted, as one of them lived in that
street. The other decided to return on foot as far as the Porte-Maillot.
It was a beautiful winter's night, clear and cold; a night on which a
brisk walk is agreeable and refreshing.

But, at the end of a few minutes, he had the disagreeable impression
that he was being followed. Turning around, he saw a man sulking amongst
the trees. He was not a coward; yet he felt it advisable to increase his
speed. Then his pursuer commenced to run; and he deemed it prudent to
draw his revolver and face him. But he had no time. The man rushed at
him and attacked him violently. Immediately, they were engaged in a
desperate struggle, wherein he felt that his unknown assailant had the
advantage. He called for help, struggled, and was thrown down on a pile
of gravel, seized by the throat, and gagged with a handkerchief that his
assailant forced into his mouth. His eyes closed, and the man who
was smothering him with his weight arose to defend himself against an
unexpected attack. A blow from a cane and a kick from a boot; the
man uttered two cries of pain, and fled, limping and cursing. Without
deigning to pursue the fugitive, the new arrival stooped over the
prostrate man and inquired:

"Are you hurt, monsieur?"

He was not injured, but he was dazed and unable to stand. His rescuer
procured a carriage, placed him in it, and accompanied him to his house
on the avenue de la Grande-Armée. On his arrival there, quite recovered,
he overwhelmed his saviour with thanks.

"I owe you my life, monsieur, and I shall not forget it. I do not wish
to alarm my wife at this time of night, but, to-morrow, she will be
pleased to thank you personally. Come and breakfast with us. My name is
Ludovic Imbert. May I ask yours?"


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