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   Chapter 2 THE BLUE DIAMOND

The Blonde Lady / Being a Record of the Duel of Wits between Arsène Lupin and the English Detective By Maurice Leblanc Characters: 44401

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


In the evening of the twenty-seventh of March, old General Baron d'Hautrec, who had been French Ambassador in Berlin under the Second Empire, was sleeping comfortably in an easy-chair in the house which his brother had left him six months before, at 134, Avenue Henri-Martin. His lady companion continued to read aloud to him, while S?ur Auguste warmed the bed and prepared the night-light.

As an exceptional case, the sister was returning to her convent that evening, to spend the night with the Mother Superior, and, at eleven o'clock, she said:

"I'm finished now, Mlle. Antoinette, and I'm going."

"Very well, sister."

"And don't forget that the cook is sleeping out to-night and that you are alone in the house with the man-servant."

"You need have no fear for monsieur le baron: I shall sleep in the next room, as arranged, and leave the door open."

The nun went away. A minute later, Charles, the man-servant, came in for his orders. The baron had woke up. He replied himself:

"Just the same as usual, Charles. Try the electric bell, to see if it rings in your bedroom properly, and, if you hear it during the night, run down at once and go straight to the doctor."

"Are you still anxious, general?"

"I don't feel well.... I don't feel at all well. Come, Mlle. Antoinette, where were we in your book?"

"Aren't you going to bed, monsieur le baron?"

"No, no, I don't care to go to bed till very late; besides, I can do without help."

Twenty minutes later, the old man dozed off again and Antoinette moved away on tip-toe.

At that moment, Charles was carefully closing the shutters on the ground floor, as usual. In the kitchen, he pushed the bolt of the door that led to the garden and, in the front hall, he not only locked the double door, but put up the chain fastening the two leaves. Then he went up to his attic on the third floor, got into bed and fell asleep.

Perhaps an hour had elapsed when, suddenly, he jumped out of bed: the bell was ringing. It went on for quite a long time, seven or eight seconds, perhaps, and in a steady, uninterrupted way.

"That's all right," said Charles, recovering his wits. "Some fresh whim of the baron's, I suppose."

He huddled on his clothes, ran down the stairs, stopped before the door and, from habit, knocked. No answer. He entered the room:

"Hullo!" he muttered. "No light.... What on earth have they put the light out for?" And he called, in a whisper, "Mademoiselle!..."

No reply.

"Are you there, mademoiselle?... What's the matter? Is monsieur le baron ill?"

The same silence continued around him, a heavy silence that ended by impressing him. He took two steps forward: his foot knocked against a chair and, on touching it, he perceived that it was overturned. And thereupon his hand came upon other objects on the floor: a small table, a fire-screen. Greatly alarmed, he went back to the wall and felt for the electric switch. He found it and turned on the light.

In the middle of the room, between the table and the looking-glass wardrobe, lay the body of his master, the Baron d'Hautrec.

"What!" he stammered. "Is it possible?"

He did not know what to do and, without moving, with his eyes starting from his head, he stood gazing at the general disorder of the room: the chairs upset, a great crystal candlestick smashed into a thousand pieces, the clock lying on the marble hearth-stone, all signs of a fierce and hideous struggle. The handle of a little steel dagger gleamed near the body. The blade was dripping with blood. A handkerchief stained with red marks hung down from the mattress.

Charles gave a yell of horror: the body had suddenly stretched itself in one last effort and then shrunk up again.... Two or three convulsions; and that was all.

He stooped forward. Blood was trickling from a tiny wound in the neck and spotting the carpet with dark stains. The face still wore an expression of mad terror.

"They've killed him," he stammered, "they've killed him!"

And he shuddered at the thought of another probable crime: was not the companion sleeping in the next room? And would not the baron's murderer have killed her too?

He pushed open the door: the room was empty. He concluded that either Antoinette had been carried off or that she had gone before the crime.

He returned to the baron's room and, his eyes falling upon the writing-desk, he observed that it had not been broken open. More remarkable still, he saw a handful of louis d'or on the table, beside the bunch of keys and the pocketbook which the baron placed there every evening. Charles took up the pocketbook and went through it. One of the compartments contained bank-notes. He counted them: there were thirteen notes of a hundred francs each.

Then the temptation became too strong for him: instinctively, mechanically, while his thoughts did not even take part in the movement of his hand, he took the thirteen notes, hid them in his jacket, rushed down the stairs, drew the bolt, unhooked the chain, closed the door after him and fled through the garden.

* * *

Charles was an honest man at heart. He had no sooner pushed back the gate than, under the influence of the fresh air, with his face cooled by the rain, he stopped. The deed of which he had been guilty appeared to him in its true light and struck him with sudden horror.

A cab passed. He hailed the driver:

"Hi, mate! Go to the police-station and bring back the commissary.... Gallop! There's murder been done!"

The driver whipped up his horse. But, when Charles tried to go in again, he could not: he had closed the gate himself and the gate could not be opened from the outside.

On the other hand, it was of no use ringing, for there was no one in the house. He therefore walked up and down along the gardens which, at the La Muette end, line the avenue with a pleasant border of trim green shrubs. And it was not until he had waited for nearly an hour that he was at last able to tell the commissary the details of the crime and hand him the thirteen bank-notes.

During this time, a locksmith was sent for who, with great difficulty, succeeded in forcing the gate of the garden and the front door. The commissary went upstairs and, at once, at the first glance, said to the servant:

"Why, you told me that the room was in the greatest disorder!"

He turned round. Charles seemed pinned to the threshold, hypnotized: all the furniture had resumed its usual place! The little table was standing between the two windows, the chairs were on their legs and the clock in the middle of the mantel-piece. The shivers of the smashed candlestick had disappeared.

Gaping with stupor, he articulated:

"The body.... Monsieur le baron ..."

"Yes," cried the commissary, "where is the victim?"

He walked up to the bed. Under a large sheet, which he drew aside, lay General the Baron d'Hautrec, late French Ambassador in Berlin. His body was covered with his general's cloak, decorated with the cross of the Legion of Honour. The face was calm. The eyes were closed.

The servant stammered:

"Someone must have come."

"Which way?"

"I can't say, but someone has been here during my absence.... Look, there was a very thin steel dagger there, on the floor.... And then, on the table, a blood-stained handkerchief.... That's all gone.... They've taken everything away.... They've arranged everything...."

"But who?"

"The murderer!"

"We found all the doors closed."

"He must have remained in the house."

"Then he would be here still, as you never left the pavement."

The man reflected and said, slowly:

"That's so ... that's so ... and I did not go far from the gate either.... Still ..."

"Let us see, who was the last person you saw with the baron?"

"Mlle. Antoinette, the companion."

"What has become of her?"

"I should say that, as her bed was not even touched, she must have taken advantage of S?ur Auguste's absence to go out also. It would only half surprise me if she had: she is young ... and pretty...."

"But how could she have got out?"

"Through the door."

"You pushed the bolt and fastened the chain!"

"A good deal later! By that time, she must have left the house."

"And the crime was committed, you think, after she went?"

"Of course."

They searched the house from top to bottom, from the garrets to the cellars; but the murderer had fled. How? When? Was it he or an accomplice who had thought proper to return to the scene of the crime and do away with anything that might have betrayed him? Those were the questions that suggested themselves to the police.

* * *

The divisional surgeon came upon the scene at seven o'clock, the head of the detective-service at eight. Next came the turn of the public prosecutor and the examining magistrate. In addition, the house was filled with policemen, inspectors, journalists, Baron d'Hautrec's nephew and other members of the family.

They rummaged about, they studied the position of the body, according to Charles's recollection, they questioned S?ur Auguste the moment she arrived. They discovered nothing. At most, S?ur Auguste was surprised at the disappearance of Antoinette Bréhat. She had engaged the girl twelve days before, on the strength of excellent references, and refused to believe that she could have abandoned the sick man confided to her care, to go running about at night alone.

"All the more so," the examining magistrate insisted, "as, in that case, she would have been in before now. We therefore come back to the same point: what has become of her?"

"If you ask me," said Charles, "she has been carried off by the murderer."

The suggestion was plausible enough and fitted in with certain details. The head of the detective service said:

"Carried off? Upon my word, it's quite likely."

"It's not only unlikely," said a voice, "but absolutely opposed to the facts, to the results of the investigation, in short, to the evidence itself."

The voice was harsh, the accent gruff and no one was surprised to recognize Ganimard. He alone, besides, would be forgiven that rather free and easy way of expressing himself.

"Hullo, is that you, Ganimard?" cried M. Dudouis. "I hadn't seen you."

"I have been here for two hours."

"So you do take an interest in something besides number 514, series 23, the Rue Clapeyron mystery, the blonde lady and Arsène Lupin?"

"Hee, hee!" grinned the old inspector. "I won't go so far as to declare that Lupin has nothing to do with the case we're engaged on.... But let us dismiss the story of the lottery-ticket from our minds, until further orders, and look into this matter."

* * *

Ganimard is not one of those mighty detectives whose proceedings form a school, as it were, and whose names will always remain inscribed on the judicial annals of Europe. He lacks the flashes of genius that illumine a Dupin, a Lecoq or a Holmlock Shears. But he possesses first-rate average qualities: perspicacity, sagacity, perseverance and even a certain amount of intuition. His greatest merit lies in the fact that he is absolutely independent of outside influences. Short of a kind of fascination which Arsène Lupin wields over him, he works without allowing himself to be biased or disturbed.

At any rate, the part which he played that morning did not lack brilliancy and his assistance was of the sort which a magistrate is able to appreciate.

"To start with," he began, "I will ask Charles here to be very definite on one point: were all the objects which, on the first occasion, he saw upset or disturbed put back, on the second, exactly in their usual places?"

"Exactly."

"It is obvious, therefore, that they can only have been put back by a person to whom the place of each of those objects was familiar."

The remark impressed the bystanders. Ganimard resumed:

"Another question, Mr. Charles.... You were woke by a ring.... Who was it, according to you, that called you?"

"Monsieur le baron, of course."

"Very well. But at what moment do you take it that he rang?"

"After the struggle ... at the moment of dying."

"Impossible, because you found him lying, lifeless, at a spot more than four yards removed from the bell-push."

"Then he rang during the struggle."

"Impossible, because the bell, you told us, rang steadily, without interruption, and went on for seven or eight seconds. Do you think that his assailant would have given him time to ring like that?"

"Then it was before, at the moment when he was attacked."

"Impossible. You told us that, between the ring of the bell and the instant when you entered the room, three minutes elapsed, at most. If, therefore, the baron had rung before, it would be necessary for the struggle, the murder, the dying agony and the flight to have taken place within that short space of three minutes. I repeat, it is impossible."

"And yet," said the examining magistrate, "some one rang. If it was not the baron, who was it?"

"The murderer."

"With what object?"

"I can't tell his object. But at least the fact that he rang proves that he must have known that the bell communicated with a servant's bedroom. Now who could have known this detail except a person belonging to the house?"

The circle of suppositions was becoming narrower. In a few quick, clear, logical sentences, Ganimard placed the question in its true light; and, as the old inspector allowed his thoughts to appear quite plainly, it seemed only natural that the examining magistrate should conclude:

"In short, in two words, you suspect Antoinette Bréhat."

"I don't suspect her; I accuse her."

"You accuse her of being the accomplice?"

"I accuse her of killing General Baron d'Hautrec."

"Come, come! And what proof...?"

"This handful of hair, which I found in the victim's right hand, dug into his flesh by the points of his nails."

He showed the hair; it was hair of a brilliant fairness, gleaming like so many threads of gold; and Charles muttered:

"That is certainly Mlle. Antoinette's hair. There is no mistaking it." And he added, "Besides ... there's something more.... I believe the knife ... the one I didn't see the second time ... belonged to her.... She used it to cut the pages of the books."

The silence that followed was long and painful, as though the crime increased in horror through having been committed by a woman. The examining magistrate argued:

"Let us admit, until further information is obtained, that the baron was murdered by Antoinette Bréhat. We should still have to explain what way she can have taken to go out after committing the crime, to return after Charles's departure and to go out again before the arrival of the commissary. Have you any opinion on this subject, M. Ganimard?"

"No."

"Then...?"

Ganimard wore an air of embarrassment. At last, he spoke, not without a visible effort:

"All that I can say is that I find in this the same way of setting to work as in the ticket 514-23 case, the same phenomenon which one might call the faculty of disappearance. Antoinette Bréhat appears and disappears in this house as mysteriously as Arsène Lupin made his way into Ma?tre Detinan's and escaped from there in the company of the blonde lady."

"Which means...?"

"Which means that I cannot help thinking of these two coincidences, which, to say the least, are very odd: first, Antoinette Bréhat was engaged by S?ur Auguste twelve days ago, that is to say, on the day after that on which the blonde lady slipped through my fingers. In the second place, the hair of the blonde lady has precisely the same violent colouring, the metallic brilliancy with a golden sheen, which we find in this."

"So that, according to you, Antoinette Bréhat ..."

"Is none other than the blonde lady."

"And Lupin, consequently, plotted both cases?"

"I think so."

There was a loud burst of laughter. It was the chief of the detective-service indulging his merriment:

"Lupin! Always Lupin! Lupin is in everything; Lupin is everywhere!"

"He is just where he is," said Ganimard, angrily.

"And then he must have his reasons for being in any particular place," remarked M. Dudouis, "and, in this case, his reasons seem to me obscure. The writing-desk has not been broken open nor the pocketbook stolen. There is even gold left lying on the table."

"Yes," cried Ganimard, "but what about the famous diamond?"

"What diamond?"

"The blue diamond! The celebrated diamond which formed part of the royal crown of France and which was presented by the Duc d'Alais to Léonide Latouche and, on her death, was bought by Baron d'Hautrec in memory of the brilliant actress whom he had passionately loved. This is one of those recollections which an old Parisian like myself never forgets."

"It is obvious," said the examining magistrate, "that, if the blue diamond is not found, the thing explains itself. But where are we to look?"

"On monsieur le baron's finger," replied Charles. "The blue diamond was never off his left hand."

"I have looked at that hand," declared Ganimard, going up to the corpse, "and, as you can see for yourselves, there is only a plain gold ring."

"Look inside the palm," said the servant.

Ganimard unfolded the clenched fingers. The bezel was turned inward and, contained within the bezel, glittered the blue diamond.

"The devil!" muttered Ganimard, absolutely nonplussed. "This is beyond me!"

"And I hope that you will now give up suspecting that unfortunate Arsène Lupin?" said M. Dudouis, with a grin.

Ganimard took his time, reflected and retorted, in a sententious tone:

"It is just when a thing gets beyond me that I suspect Arsène Lupin most."

These were the first discoveries effected by the police on the day following upon that strange murder, vague, inconsistent discoveries to which the subsequent inquiry imparted neither consistency nor certainty. The movements of Antoinette Bréhat remained as absolutely inexplicable as those of the blonde lady, nor was any light thrown upon the identity of that mysterious creature with the golden hair who had killed Baron d'Hautrec without taking from his finger the fabulous diamond from the royal crown of France.

Moreover and especially, the curiosity which it inspired raised the murder above the level of a sordid crime to that of a mighty, if heinous trespass, the mystery of which irritated the public mind.

* * *

Baron d'Hautrec's heirs were obliged to benefit by this great advertisement. They arranged an exhibition of the furniture and personal effects in the Avenue Henri-Martin, in the house itself, on the scene of the crime, prior to the sale at the Salle Drouot. The furniture was modern and in indifferent taste, the knicknacks had no artistic value ... but, in the middle of the bedroom, on a stand covered with ruby velvet, the ring with the blue diamond sparkled under a glass shade, closely watched by two detectives.

It was a magnificent diamond of enormous size and incomparable purity and of that undefined blue which clear water takes from the sky which it reflects, the blue which we can just suspect in newly-washed linen. People admired it, went into raptures over it ... and cast terrified glances round the victim's room, at the spot where the corpse had lain, at the floor stripped of its blood-stained carpet and especially at the walls, those solid walls through which the criminal had passed. They felt to make sure that the marble chimney-piece did not swing on a pivot, that there was no secret spring in the mouldings of the mirrors. They pictured yawning cavities, tunnels communicating with the sewers, with the catacombs....

* * *

The blue diamond was sold at the H?tel Drouot on the thirtieth of January. The auction-room was crammed and the bidding proceeded madly.

All Paris, the Paris of the first nights and great public functions, was there, all those who buy and all those who like others to think that they are in a position to buy: stockbrokers, artists, ladies in every class of society, two members of the Government, an Italian tenor, a king in exile who, in order to re?stablish his credit, with great self-possession and in a resounding voice, permitted himself the luxury of running up the price to a hundred thousand francs. A hundred thousand francs! His Majesty was quite safe in making the bid. The Italian tenor was soon offering a hundred and fifty thousand, an actress at the Fran?ais a hundred and seventy-five.

At two hundred thousand francs, however, the competition became less brisk. At two hundred and fifty thousand, only two bidders remained: Herschmann, the financial magnate, known as the Gold-mine King; and a wealthy American lady, the Comtesse de Crozon, whose collection of diamonds and other precious stones enjoys a world-wide fame.

"Two hundred and sixty thousand ... two hundred and seventy thousand ... seventy-five ... eighty," said the auctioneer, with a questioning glance at either competitor in turn. "Two hundred and eighty thousand for madame.... No advance on two hundred and eighty thousand...?"

"Three hundred thousand," muttered Herschmann.

A pause followed. All eyes were turned on the Comtesse de Crozon. Smiling, but with a pallor that betrayed her excitement, she stood leaning over the back of the chair before her. In reality, she knew and everybody present knew that there was no doubt about the finish of the duel: it was logically and fatally bound to end in favour of the financier, whose whims were served by a fortune of over five hundred millions. Nevertheless, she said:

"Three hundred and five thousand."

There was a further pause. Every glance was now turned on the Gold-mine King, in expectation of the inevitable advance. It was sure to come, in all its brutal and crushing strength.

It did not come. Herschmann remained impassive, with his eyes fixed on a sheet of paper which he held in his right hand, while the other crumpled up the pieces of a torn envelope.

"Three hundred and five thousand," repeated the auctioneer. "Going ... going.... No further bid...?"

No one

spoke.

"Once more: going ... going...."

Herschmann did not move. A last pause. The hammer fell.

"Four hundred thousand!" shouted Herschmann, starting up, as though the tap of the hammer had roused him from his torpor.

Too late. The diamond was sold.

Herschmann's acquaintances crowded round him. What had happened? Why had he not spoken sooner?

He gave a laugh:

"What happened? Upon my word, I don't know. My thoughts wandered for a second."

"You don't mean that!"

"Yes, some one brought me a letter."

"And was that enough...?"

"To put me off? Yes, for the moment."

Ganimard was there. He had watched the sale of the ring. He went up to one of the porters:

"Did you hand M. Herschmann a letter?"

"Yes."

"Who gave it you?"

"A lady."

"Where is she?"

"Where is she?... Why, sir, there she is ... the lady over there, in a thick veil."

"Just going out?"

"Yes."

Ganimard rushed to the door and saw the lady going down the staircase. He ran after her. A stream of people stopped him at the entrance. When he came outside, he had lost sight of her.

He went back to the room, spoke to Herschmann, introduced himself and asked him about the letter. Herschmann gave it to him. It contained the following simple words, scribbled in pencil and in a handwriting unknown to the financier:

"The blue diamond brings ill-luck. Remember Baron d'Hautrec."

* * *

The tribulations of the blue diamond were not over. Already famous through the murder of Baron d'Hautrec and the incidents at the H?tel Drouot, it attained the height of its celebrity six months later. In the summer, the precious jewel which the Comtesse de Crozon had been at such pains to acquire was stolen.

Let me sum up this curious case, marked by so many stirring, dramatic and exciting episodes, upon which I am at last permitted to throw some light.

On the evening of the tenth of August, M. and Madame de Crozon's guests were gathered in the drawing-room of the magnificent chateau overlooking the Bay of Somme. There was a request for some music. The countess sat down to the piano, took off her rings, which included Baron d'Hautrec's, and laid them on a little table that stood beside the piano.

An hour later, the count went to bed, as did his two cousins, the d'Andelles, and Madame de Réal, an intimate friend of the Comtesse de Crozon, who remained behind with Herr Bleichen, the Austrian consul, and his wife.

They sat and talked and then the countess turned down the big lamp which stood on the drawing-room table. At the same moment, Herr Bleichen put out the two lamps on the piano. There was a second's darkness and groping; then the consul lit a candle and they all three went to their rooms. But, the instant the countess reached hers, she remembered her jewels and told her maid to go and fetch them. The woman returned and placed them on the mantel-piece. Madame de Crozon did not examine them; but, the next morning, she noticed that one of the rings was missing, the ring with the blue diamond.

She told her husband. Both immediately came to the same conclusion: the maid being above suspicion, the thief could be none but Herr Bleichen.

The count informed the central commissary of police at Amiens, who opened an inquiry and arranged discreetly for the house to be constantly watched, so as to prevent the Austrian consul from selling or sending away the ring. The chateau was surrounded by detectives night and day.

A fortnight elapsed without the least incident. Then Herr Bleichen announced his intention of leaving. On the same day, a formal accusation was laid against him. The commissary made an official visit and ordered the luggage to be examined. In a small bag of which the consul always carried the key, they found a flask containing tooth-powder; and, inside the flask, the ring!

Mrs. Bleichen fainted. Her husband was arrested.

My readers will remember the defense set up by the accused. He was unable, he said, to explain the presence of the ring, unless it was there as the result of an act of revenge on the part of M. de Crozon:

"The count ill-treats his wife," he declared, "and makes her life a misery. I had a long conversation with her and warmly urged her to sue for a divorce. The count must have heard of this and revenged himself by taking the ring and slipping it into my dressing-bag when I was about to leave."

The count and countess persisted in their charge. It was an even choice between their explanation and the consul's: both were equally probable. No new fact came to weigh down either scale. A month of gossip, of guess-work and investigations, failed to produce a single element of certainty.

Annoyed by all this worry and unable to bring forward a definite proof of guilt to justify their accusation, M. and Madame de Crozon wrote to Paris for a detective capable of unravelling the threads of the skein. The police sent Ganimard.

For four days the old inspector rummaged and hunted about, strolled in the park, had long talks with the maids, the chauffeur, the gardeners, the people of the nearest post-offices, and examined the rooms occupied by the Bleichen couple, the d'Andelle cousins and Madame de Réal. Then, one morning, he disappeared without taking leave of his hosts.

But, a week later, they received this telegram:

"Please meet me five o'clock to-morrow, Friday afternoon at Thé Japonais, Rue Boissy-d'Anglas.

"Ganimard."

* * *

At five o'clock to the minute, on the Friday, their motor-car drew up in front of 9, Rue Boissy-d'Anglas. The old inspector was waiting for them on the pavement and, without a word of explanation, led them up to the first-floor of the Thé Japonais.

In one of the rooms they found two persons, whom Ganimard introduced to them.

"M. Gerbois, professor at Versailles College, whom, you will remember, Arsène Lupin robbed of half a million.... M. Léonce d'Hautrec, nephew and residuary legatee of the late Baron d'Hautrec."

The four sat down. A few minutes later, a fifth arrived. It was the chief of the detective-service.

M. Dudouis appeared to be in a rather bad temper. He bowed and said:

"Well, what is it, Ganimard? They gave me your telephone message at headquarters. Is it serious?"

"Very serious, chief. In less than an hour, the last adventures in which I have assisted will come to an issue here. I considered that your presence was indispensable."

"And does this apply also to the presence of Dieuzy and Folenfant, whom I see below, hanging round the door?"

"Yes, chief."

"And what for? Is somebody to be arrested? What a melodramatic display! Well, Ganimard, say what you have to say."

Ganimard hesitated for a few moments and then, with the evident intention of impressing his hearers, said:

"First of all, I wish to state that Herr Bleichen had nothing to do with the theft of the ring."

"Oh," said M. Dudouis, "that's a mere statement ... and a serious one!"

And the count asked:

"Is this ... discovery the only thing that has come of your exertions?"

"No, sir. Two days after the theft, three of your guests happened to be at Crécy, in the course of a motor-trip. Two of them went on to visit the famous battlefield, while the third hurried to the post-office and sent off a little parcel, packed up and sealed according to the regulations and insured to the value of one hundred francs."

M. de Crozon objected:

"There is nothing out of the way in that."

"Perhaps you will think it less natural when I tell you that, instead of the real name, the sender gave the name of Rousseau and that the addressee, a M. Beloux, residing in Paris, changed his lodgings on the very evening of the day on which he received the parcel, that is to say, the ring."

"Was it one of my d'Andelle cousins, by any chance?" asked the count.

"No, it was neither of those gentlemen."

"Then it was Mme. de Réal?"

"Yes."

The countess, in amazement, exclaimed:

"Do you accuse my friend Mme. de Réal?"

"A simple question, madame," replied Ganimard. "Was Mme. de Réal present at the sale of the blue diamond?"

"Yes, but in a different part of the room. We were not together."

"Did she advise you to buy the ring?"

The countess collected her memory:

"Yes ... as a matter of fact.... I think she was the first to mention it to me."

"I note your answer, madame," said Ganimard. "So it is quite certain that it was Mme. de Réal who first spoke to you of the ring and advised you to buy it."

"Still ... my friend is incapable...."

"I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon, Mme. de Réal is only your chance acquaintance and not an intimate friend, as the newspapers stated, thus diverting suspicion from her. You have only known her since last winter. Now I can undertake to prove to you that all that she has told you about herself, her past, her connections is absolutely false; that Mme. Blanche de Réal did not exist before she met you; and that she has ceased to exist at this present moment."

"Well?" said M. Dudouis, "what next?"

"What next?" echoed Ganimard.

"Yes, what next?... This is all very interesting; but what has it to do with the case? If Mme. de Réal took the ring, why was it found in Herr Bleichen's tooth-powder? Come, Ganimard! A person who takes the trouble to steal the blue diamond keeps it. What have you to answer to that?"

"I, nothing. But Mme. de Réal will answer."

"Then she exists?"

"She exists ... without existing. In a few words, here it is: three days ago, reading the paper which I read every day, I saw at the head of the list of arrivals at Trouville, 'H?tel Beaurivage, Mme. de Réal,' and so on.... You can imagine that I was at Trouville that same evening, questioning the manager of the Beaurivage. According to the description and certain clues which I gathered, this Mme. de Réal was indeed the person whom I was looking for, but she had gone from the hotel, leaving her address in Paris, 3, Rue du Colisée. On Wednesday, I called at that address and learnt that there was no Madame de Réal, but just a woman called Réal, who lived on the second floor, followed the occupation of a diamond-broker and was often away. Only the day before, she had come back from a journey. Yesterday, I rang at her door and, under a false name, offered my services to Mme. de Réal as an intermediary to introduce her to people who were in a position to buy valuable stones. We made an appointment to meet here to-day for a first transaction."

"Oh, so you expect her?"

"At half-past five."

"And are you sure?..."

"That it is Mme. de Réal of the Chateau de Crozon? I have indisputable proofs. But ... hark!... Folenfant's signal!..."

A whistle had sounded. Ganimard rose briskly:

"We have not a moment to lose. M. and Madame de Crozon, go into the next room, please. You too, M. d'Hautrec ... and you also, M. Gerbois.... The door will remain open and, at the first sign, I will ask you to intervene. Do you stay, chief, please."

"And, if anyone else comes in?" asked M. Dudouis.

"No one will. This is a new establishment and the proprietor, who is a friend of mine, will not let a living soul come up the stairs ... except the blonde lady."

"The blonde lady? What do you mean?"

"The blonde lady herself, chief, the friend and accomplice of Arsène Lupin, the mysterious blonde lady, against whom I have positive proofs, but against whom I want, over and above those and in your presence, to collect the evidence of all the people whom she has robbed."

He leant out of the window:

"She is coming.... She has gone in.... She can't escape now: Folenfant and Dieuzy are guarding the door.... The blonde lady is ours, chief; we've got her!"

* * *

Almost at that moment, a woman appeared upon the threshold, a tall, thin woman, with a very pale face and violent golden hair.

Ganimard was stifled by such emotion that he stood dumb, incapable of articulating the least word. She was there, in front of him, at his disposal! What a victory over Arsène Lupin! And what a revenge! And, at the same time, that victory seemed to him to have been won with such ease that he wondered whether the blonde lady was not going to slip through his fingers, thanks to one of those miracles which Lupin was in the habit of performing.

She stood waiting, meanwhile, surprised at the silence, and looked around her without disguising her uneasiness.

"She will go! She will disappear!" thought Ganimard, in dismay.

Suddenly, he placed himself between her and the door. She turned and tried to go out.

"No, no," he said. "Why go?"

"But, monsieur, I don't understand your ways. Let me pass...."

"There is no reason for you to go, madame, and every reason, on the contrary, why you should stay."

"But ..."

"It's no use, you are not going."

Turning very pale, she sank into a chair and stammered:

"What do you want?"

Ganimard triumphed. He had got the blonde lady. Mastering himself, he said:

"Let me introduce the friend of whom I spoke to you, the one who would like to buy some jewels ... especially diamonds. Did you obtain the one you promised me?"

"No ... no.... I don't know.... I forget...."

"Oh, yes.... Just try.... Someone you knew was to bring you a coloured diamond.... 'Something like the blue diamond,' I said, laughing, and you answered, 'Exactly. I may have what you want.' Do you remember?"

She was silent. A little wristbag which she was holding in her hand fell to the ground. She picked it up quickly and pressed it to her. Her fingers trembled a little.

"Come," said Ganimard. "I see that you do not trust us, Madame de Réal. I will set you a good example and let you see what I have got to show."

He took a piece of paper from his pocketbook and unfolded it:

"Here, first of all, is some of the hair of Antoinette Bréhat, torn out by the baron and found clutched in the dead man's hand. I have seen Mlle. de Gerbois: she has most positively recognized the colour of the hair of the blonde lady ... the same colour as yours, for that matter ... exactly the same colour."

Mme. de Réal watched him with a stupid expression, as though she really did not grasp the sense of his words. He continued:

"And now here are two bottles of scent. They are empty, it is true, and have no labels; but enough of the scent still clings to them to have enabled Mlle. Gerbois, this very morning, to recognize the perfume of the blonde lady who accompanied her on her fortnight's excursion. Now, one of these bottles comes from the room which Mme. de Réal occupied at the Chateau de Crozon and the other from the room which you occupied at the H?tel Beaurivage."

"What are you talking about?... The blonde lady ... the Chateau de Crozon...."

The inspector, without replying, spread four sheets of paper on the table.

"Lastly," he said, "here, on these four sheets, we have a specimen of the handwriting of Antoinette Bréhat, another of the lady who sent a note to Baron Herschmann during the sale of the blue diamond, another of Mme. de Réal, at the time of her stay at Crozon, and the fourth ... your own, madame ... your name and address given by yourself to the hall-porter of the H?tel Beaurivage at Trouville. Now, please compare these four handwritings. They are one and the same."

"But you are mad, sir, you are mad! What does all this mean?"

"It means, madame," cried Ganimard, with a great outburst, "that the blonde lady, the friend and accomplice of Arsène Lupin, is none other than yourself."

He pushed open the door of the next room, rushed at M. Gerbois, shoved him along by the shoulders and, planting him in front of Mme. Réal:

"M. Gerbois, do you recognize the person who took away your daughter and whom you saw at Ma?tre Detinan's?"

"No."

There was a commotion of which every one felt the shock. Ganimard staggered back:

"No?... Is it possible?... Come, just think...."

"I have thought.... Madame is fair, like the blonde lady ... and pale, like her ... but she doesn't resemble her in the least."

"I can't believe it ... a mistake like that is inconceivable.... M. d'Hautrec, do you recognize Antoinette Bréhat?"

"I have seen Antoinette Bréhat at my uncle's ... this is not she."

"And madame is not Mme. de Réal, either," declared the Comte de Crozon.

This was the finishing stroke. It stunned Ganimard, who stood motionless, with hanging head and shifting eyes. Of all his contrivances, nothing remained. The whole edifice was tumbling about his shoulders.

M. Dudouis rose:

"I must beg you to forgive us, madame. There has been a regrettable confusion of identities, which I will ask you to forget. But what I cannot well understand is your agitation ... the strangeness of your manner since you arrived...."

"Why, monsieur, I was frightened ... there is over a hundred thousand francs' worth of jewels in my bag ... and your friend's attitude was not very reassuring."

"But your continual absences?..."

"Surely my occupation demands them?"

M. Dudouis had no reply to make. He turned to his subordinate:

"You have made your inquiries with a deplorable want of thoroughness, Ganimard, and your behaviour toward madame just now was uncouth. You shall give me an explanation in my office."

The interview was over and the chief of the detective service was about to take his leave, when a really disconcerting thing happened. Mme. Réal went up to the inspector and said:

"Do I understand your name to be M. Ganimard?... Did I catch the name right?"

"Yes."

"In that case, this letter must be for you. I received it this morning, addressed as you see: 'M. Justin Ganimard, care of Mme. Réal.' I thought it was a joke, as I did not know you under that name, but I have no doubt the writer, whoever he is, knew of your appointment."

By a singular intuition, Justin Ganimard was very nearly seizing the letter and destroying it. He dared not do so, however, before his superior and he tore open the envelope. The letter contained the following words, which he uttered in a hardly intelligible voice:

"There was once a Blonde Lady, a Lupin and a Ganimard. Now the naughty Ganimard wanted to harm the pretty Blonde Lady and the good Lupin did not wish it. So the good Lupin, who was anxious for the Blonde Lady to become friends with the Comtesse de Crozon, made her take the name of Mme. de Réal, which is the same-or nearly-as that of an honest tradeswoman whose hair is golden and her features pale. And the good Lupin said to himself, 'If ever the naughty Ganimard is on the track of the Blonde Lady, how useful it will be for me to shunt him on to the track of the honest tradeswoman!' A wise precaution, which has borne fruit. A little note sent to the naughty Ganimard's newspaper, a bottle of scent forgotten on purpose at the H?tel Beaurivage by the real Blonde Lady, Mme. Réal's name and address written by the real Blonde Lady in the visitors' book at the hotel, and the trick is done. What do you say to it, Ganimard? I wanted to tell you the story in detail, knowing that, with your sense of humour, you would be the first to laugh at it. It is, indeed, a pretty story and I confess that, for my part, it has diverted me vastly.

"My best thanks to you, then, my dear friend, and kind regards to that capital M. Dudouis.

"Arsène Lupin."

"But he knows everything!" moaned Ganimard, who did not think of laughing. "He knows things that I have not told to a soul! How could he know that I would ask you to come, chief? How could he know that I had discovered the first scent-bottle?... How could he know?..."

He stamped about, tore his hair, a prey to the most tragic distress.

M. Dudouis took pity on him:

"Come, Ganimard, console yourself. We must try to do better next time."

And the chief detective went away, accompanied by Mme. Réal.

* * *

Ten minutes elapsed, while Ganimard read Lupin's letter over and over again and M. and Mme. de Crozon, M. d'Hautrec and M. Gerbois sustained an animated conversation in a corner. At last, the count crossed over to the inspector and said:

"The upshot of all this, my dear sir, is that we are no further than we were."

"Pardon me. My inquiry has established the fact that the blonde lady is the undoubted heroine of these adventures and that Lupin is directing her. That is a huge step forward."

"And not the smallest use to us. If anything, it makes the mystery darker still. The blonde lady commits murder to steal the blue diamond and does not steal it. She steals it and does so to get rid of it for another's benefit."

"What can I do?"

"Nothing, but some one else might...."

"What do you mean?"

The count hesitated, but the countess said, point blank:

"There is one man, one man only, in my opinion, besides yourself, who would be capable of fighting Lupin and reducing him to cry for mercy. M. Ganimard, would you very much mind if we called in the assistance of Holmlock Shears?"

He was taken aback:

"No ... no ... only ... I don't exactly understand...."

"Well, it's like this: all this mystery is making me quite ill. I want to know where I am. M. Gerbois and M. d'Hautrec have the same wish and we have come to an agreement to apply to the famous English detective."

"You are right, madame," said the inspector, with a loyalty that did him credit; "you are right. Old Ganimard is not clever enough to fight against Arsène Lupin. The question is, will Holmlock Shears be more successful? I hope so, for I have the greatest admiration for him.... Still ... it's hardly likely...."

"It's hardly likely that he will succeed?"

"That's what I think. I consider that a duel between Holmlock Shears and Arsène Lupin can only end in one way. The Englishman will be beaten."

"In any case, can he rely on you?"

"Certainly, madame. I will assist him to the very best of my power."

"Do you know his address?"

"Yes; 219, Parker Street."

* * *

That evening, the Comte and Comtesse de Crozon withdrew the charge against Herr Bleichen and a collective letter was addressed to Holmlock Shears.

* * *

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