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   Chapter 3 HOLMLOCK SHEARS OPENS HOSTILITIES

The Blonde Lady / Being a Record of the Duel of Wits between Arsène Lupin and the English Detective By Maurice Leblanc Characters: 42476

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"What can I get you, gentlemen?"

"Anything you please," replied Arsène Lupin, in the voice of a man who takes no interest in his food. "Anything you please, but no meat or wine."

The waiter walked away, with a scornful air.

I exclaimed:

"Do you mean to say that you are still a vegetarian?"

"Yes, more than ever," said Lupin.

"From taste? Conviction? Habit?"

"For reasons of health."

"And do you never break your rule?"

"Oh, yes ... when I go out to dinner, so as not to appear eccentric."

We were dining near the Gare du Nord, inside a little restaurant where Arsène Lupin had invited me to join him. He is rather fond of telegraphing to me, occasionally, in the morning and arranging a meeting of this kind in some corner or other of Paris. He always arrives in the highest spirits, rejoicing in life, unaffectedly and good-humouredly, and always has some surprising anecdote to tell me, some memory, the story of some adventure that I have not heard before.

That evening, he seemed to me to let himself go even more than usual. He laughed and chatted with a singular animation and with that delicate irony which is all his own, an irony devoid of bitterness, light and spontaneous. It was a pleasure to see him like that, and I could not help expressing my satisfaction.

"Oh, yes," he cried, "I have days when everything seems delightful, when life bubbles in me like an infinite treasure which I can never exhaust. And yet goodness knows that I live without counting!"

"Too much so, perhaps."

"The treasure is infinite, I tell you! I can spend myself and squander myself, I can fling my strength and my youth to the four winds of heaven and I am only making room for greater and more youthful strength.... And then, really, my life is so beautiful!... I need only have the wish-isn't it so?-to become, from one day to the next, anything: an orator, a great manufacturer, a politician.... Well, I swear to you, the idea would never enter my head! Arsène Lupin I am, Arsène Lupin I remain. And I search history in vain for a destiny to compare with mine, fuller, more intense.... Napoleon? Yes, perhaps.... But then it is Napoleon at the end of his imperial career, during the campaign in France, when Europe was crushing him and when he was wondering whether each battle was not the last which he would fight."

Was he serious? Was he jesting? The tone of his voice had grown more eager and he continued:

"Everything's there, you see: danger! The uninterrupted impression of danger! Oh, to breathe it like the air one breathes, to feel it around one, blowing, roaring, lying in wait, approaching!... And, in the midst of the storm, to remain calm ... not to flinch!... If you do, you are lost.... There is only one sensation to equal it, that of the chauffeur driving his car. But that drive lasts for a morning, whereas mine lasts all through life!"

"How lyrical we are!" I cried. "And you would have me believe that you have no special reason for excitement!"

He smiled.

"You're a shrewd enough psychologist," he replied. "There is something more, as you say."

He poured out a tumbler of water, drank it down and asked:

"Have you seen the Temps to-day?"

"No."

"Holmlock Shears was to have crossed the Channel this afternoon; he arrived in Paris at six."

"The devil he did! And why?"

"He's taking a little trip at the expense of the Crozons, Hautrec's nephew and the Gerbois fellow. They all met at the Gare du Nord and went on to see Ganimard. The six of them are in conference at this moment."

Notwithstanding the immense curiosity with which he inspires me, I never venture to question Arsène Lupin as to the acts of his private life until he has spoken of them to me himself. It is a matter of discretion on my part, with which I never compound. Besides, at that time, his name had not yet been mentioned, at least not publicly, in connection with the blue diamond. I waited patiently, therefore. He continued:

"The Temps also prints an interview with that excellent Ganimard, according to which a certain blonde lady, said to be my friend, is supposed to have murdered Baron d'Hautrec and tried to steal his famous ring from Madame de Crozon. And it goes without saying that he accuses me of being the instigator of both these crimes."

A slight shiver passed through me. Could it be true? Was I to believe that the habit of theft, his mode of life, the sheer logic of events had driven this man to murder? I looked at him. He seemed so calm! His eyes met mine so frankly!

I examined his hands: they were modelled with infinite daintiness, were really inoffensive hands, the hands of an artist.

"Ganimard is a lunatic," I muttered.

He protested:

"Not a bit of it, not a bit of it! Ganimard is shrewd enough ... sometimes he's even quick-witted."

"Quick-witted!"

"Yes, yes. For instance, this interview is a masterstroke. First, he announces the coming of his English rival, so as to put me on my guard and make Shears's task more difficult. Secondly, he specifies the exact point to which he has carried the case, so that Shears may enjoy only the benefit of his own discoveries. That's fair fighting."

"Still you have two adversaries to deal with now; and such adversaries!"

"Oh, one of them doesn't count."

"And the other?"

"Shears? Oh, I admit that he's more of a match for me; but that's just what I love and why you see me in such good spirits. To begin with, there's the question of my vanity: they consider that I'm worth asking the famous Englishman to meet. Next, think of the pleasure which a fighter like myself must take in the prospect of a duel with Holmlock Shears. Well, I shall have to exert myself to the utmost. For I know the fellow: he won't retreat a step."

"He's a clever man."

"A very clever man. As a detective, I doubt if his equal exists, or has ever existed. Only, I have one advantage over him, which is that he's attacking, while I'm on the defensive. Mine is the easier game to play. Besides ..." He gave an imperceptible smile before completing his phrase. "Besides, I know his way of fighting, and he does not know mine. And I have a few sly thrusts in store for him which will give him something to think about...."

He tapped the table lightly with his fingers and flung out little sentences with a delighted air:

"Arsène Lupin versus Holmlock Shears! France versus England.... Revenge for Trafalgar at last!... Ah, the poor wretch ... he little thinks that I am prepared ... and a Lupin armed...."

He stopped suddenly, seized with a fit of coughing, and hid his face in his napkin, as though something had gone down the wrong way.

"What is it?" I asked. "A crumb?... Why don't you take some water?"

"No, it's not that," he gasped.

"What, then?"

"I want air."

"Shall I open the window?"

"No, I shall go out.... Quick, give me my hat and coat.... I'm off!"

"But what does it all mean?"

"You see the taller of those two men who have just come in? Well, I want you to keep on my left as we go out, to prevent his seeing me."

"The one sitting behind you?..."

"Yes.... For personal reasons, I prefer.... I'll tell you why outside...."

"But who is it?"

"Holmlock Shears."

He made a violent effort to overcome his agitation, as though he felt ashamed of it, put down his napkin, drank a glass of water and then, quite recovered, said, with a smile:

"It's funny, isn't it? I'm not easily excited but this unexpected meeting...."

"What are you afraid of, seeing that no one can recognize you under all your transformations? I myself, each time I see you, feel as if I were with a new person."

"He will recognize me," said Arsène Lupin. "He saw me only once,[1] but I felt that he saw me for life and that what he saw was not my appearance, which I can always alter, but the very being that I am.... And then ... and then ... I wasn't prepared.... What a curious meeting!... In this little restaurant!..."

"Well," said I, "shall we go?"

"No ... no...."

"What do you propose to do?"

"The best thing will be to act frankly ... to trust him."

"You can't be serious?"

"Oh, but I am.... Besides, it would be a good thing to question him, to know what he knows.... Ah, there, I feel that his eyes are fixed on my neck, on my shoulders.... He's trying to think ... to remember...."

He reflected. I noticed a mischievous smile on his lips; and then, obeying, I believe, some whim of his frivolous nature rather than the needs of the position itself, he rose abruptly, spun round on his heels and, with a bow, said, gaily:

"What a stroke of luck! Who would have thought it?... Allow me to introduce my friend."

For a second or two, the Englishman was taken aback. Then he made an instinctive movement, as though he were ready to fling himself upon Arsène Lupin. Lupin shook his head:

"That would be a mistake ... to say nothing of the bad taste of it ... and the uselessness!"

The Englishman turned his head from side to side, as though looking for assistance.

"That's no better.... And also, are you quite sure that you are entitled to lay hands upon me? Come, be a sportsman!"

The display of sportsmanlike qualities was not particularly tempting on this occasion. Nevertheless, it probably appeared to Shears to be the wisest course; for he half rose and coldly introduced his companion:

"Mr. Wilson, my friend and assistant ... M. Arsène Lupin."

Wilson's stupefaction made us all laugh. His eyes and mouth, both wide open, drew two streaks across his expansive face, with its skin gleaming and tight-stretched like an apple's, while his bristly hair stood up like so many thick-set, hardy blades of grass.

"Wilson, you don't seem able to conceal your bewilderment at one of the most natural incidents in the world," grinned Holmlock Shears, with a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

Wilson stammered:

"Why ... why don't you arrest him?"

"Don't you see, Wilson, that the gentleman is standing between the door and myself and at two steps from the door. Before I moved a finger, he would be outside."

"Don't let that stand in your way," said Lupin.

He walked round the table and sat down so that the Englishman was between him and the door, thus placing himself at his mercy. Wilson looked at Shears to see if he might admire this piece of pluck. Shears remained impenetrable. But, after a moment, he called.

"Waiter!"

The waiter came up.

"Four whiskeys and sodas."

Peace was signed ... until further orders. Soon after, seated all four round one table, we were quietly chatting.

* * *

[1] See The Seven of Hearts, by Maurice Leblanc. Chapter IX: Holmlock Shears Arrives Too Late.

* * *

Holmlock Shears is a man ... of the sort one meets every day. He is about fifty years of age and looks like a decent City clerk who has spent his life keeping books at a desk. He has nothing to distinguish him from the ordinary respectable Londoner, with his clean-shaven face and his somewhat heavy appearance, nothing except his terribly keen, bright, penetrating eyes.

And then, of course, he is Holmlock Shears, that is to say, a sort of miracle of intuition, of insight, of perspicacity, of shrewdness. It is as though nature had amused herself by taking the two most extraordinary types of detective that fiction had invented, Poe's Dupin and Gaboriau's Lecoq, in order to build up one in her own fashion, more extraordinary yet and more unreal. And, upon my word, any one hearing of the adventures which have made the name of Holmlock Shears famous all over the world must feel inclined to ask if he is not a legendary person, a hero who has stepped straight from the brain of some great novel-writer, of a Conan Doyle, for instance.

He at once, when Arsène Lupin asked him how long he meant to stay, led the conversation into its right channel and replied:

"That depends upon yourself, M. Lupin."

"Oh," exclaimed the other, laughing, "if it depended on me, I should ask you to take to-night's boat back."

"To-night is rather early. But I hope in a week or ten days...."

"Are you in such a hurry?"

"I am very busy. There's the robbery at the Anglo-Chinese Bank; and Lady Eccleston has been kidnapped, as you know.... Tell me, M. Lupin, do you think a week will do?"

"Amply, if you confine yourself to the two cases connected with the blue diamond. It will just give me time to take my precautions, supposing the solution of those two mysteries to give you certain advantages over me that might endanger my safety."

"Yes," said the Englishman, "I expect to have gained those advantages in a week or ten days."

"And to have me arrested on the eleventh?"

"On the tenth, at the very latest."

Lupin reflected and, shaking his head:

"It will be difficult ... it will be difficult...."

"Difficult, yes, but possible and, therefore, certain...."

"Absolutely certain," said Wilson, as though he himself had clearly perceived the long series of operations which would lead his friend to the result announced.

Holmlock Shears smiled:

"Wilson, who knows what he is talking about, is there to confirm what I say." And he went on, "Of course, I have not all the cards in my hands, because the case is already a good many months old. I have not the factors, the clues upon which I am accustomed to base my inquiries."

"Such as mud-stains and cigarette-ashes," said Wilson, with an air of importance.

"But, in addition to the remarkable conclusions arrived at by M. Ganimard, I have at my service all the articles written on the subject, all the evidence collected and, consequently, a few ideas of my own regarding the mystery."

"A few views suggested to us either by analysis or hypothesis," added Wilson, sententiously.

"Would it be indiscreet," said Arsène Lupin, in the deferential tone which he adopted toward Shears, "would it be indiscreet to ask what general opinion you have been able to form?"

It was really most stimulating to see those two men seated together, with their elbows on the table, arguing solemnly and dispassionately, as though they were trying to solve a steep problem or to come to an agreement on some controversial point. And this was coupled with a very delicate irony, which both of them, as experts and artists, thoroughly enjoyed. As for Wilson, he was in the seventh heaven.

Shears slowly filled his pipe, lit it and said:

"I consider that this case is infinitely less complicated than it appears at first sight."

"Very much less," echoed Wilson, faithfully.

"I say the case, for, in my opinion, there is but one case. The death of Baron d'Hautrec, the story of the ring and-don't let us forget that-the mystery of number 514, series 23, are only the different aspects of what we may call the puzzle of the blonde lady. Now, in my opinion, what lies before me is simply to discover the link which connects these three phases of the same story, the particular fact which proves the uniformity of the three methods. Ganimard, who is a little superficial in his judgments, sees this uniformity in the faculty of disappearing, in the power of coming and going unseen. This intervention of miracles does not satisfy me."

"Well?"

"Well, according to me," said Shears, decidedly, "the characteristic shared by the three incidents lies in your manifest and evident, although hitherto unperceived intention to have the affair performed on a stage which you have previously selected. This points to something more than a plan on your part: a necessity rather, a sine qua non of success."

"Could you give a few particulars?"

"Easily. For instance, from the commencement of your contest with M. Gerbois, it was evident that Ma?tre Detinan's flat was the place selected by you, the inevitable place at which you were all to meet. No place seemed quite as safe to you, so much so that you made what one might almost call a public appointment there with the blonde lady and Mlle. Gerbois."

"The daughter of the professor," explained Wilson.

"Let us now speak of the blue diamond. Did you try to get hold of it during all the years that Baron d'Hautrec had it in his possession? No. But the baron moves into his brother's house: six months later, Antoinette Bréhat appears upon the scene and the first attempt is made.... You fail to secure the diamond and the sale takes place, amid great excitement, at the H?tel Drouot. Is the sale free? Is the richest bidder sure of getting the diamond? Not at all. At the moment when Herschmann is about to become the owner, a lady has a threatening letter thrust into his hand and the diamond goes to the Comtesse de Crozon, who has been worked upon and influenced by the same lady. Does it vanish at once? No: you lack the facilities. So an interval ensues. But the countess moves to her country-house. This is what you were waiting for. The ring disappears."

"To reappear in the tooth-powder of Bleichen, the consul," objected Lupin. "How odd!"

"Come, come!" said Shears, striking the table with his fist. "Tell that to the marines. You can take in fools with that, but not an old fox like me."

"What do you mean?"

Shears took his time, as though he wished to save up his effect. Then he said:

"The blue diamond found in the tooth-powder is an imitation diamond. The real one you kept."

Arsène Lupin was silent for a moment and then, with his eyes fixed on the Englishman, said very simply:

"You're a great man, sir."

"Isn't he?" said Wilson, emphatically and gaping with admiration.

"Yes," said Lupin, "everything becomes cleared up and appears in its true sense. Not one of the examining magistrates, not one of the special reporters who have been exciting themselves about these cases has come half as near the truth. I look upon you as a marvel of insight and logic."

"Pooh!" said the Englishman, flattered at the compliment paid him by so great an expert. "It only needed a little thought."

"It needed to know how to use one's thought; and there are so few who do know. But, now that the field of surmise has been narrowed and the ground swept clear...."

"Well, now, all that I have to do is to discover why the three cases were enacted at 25, Rue Clapeyron, at 134, Avenue Henri-Martin and within the walls of the Chateau de Crozon. The whole case lies there. The rest is mere talk and child's play. Don't you agree?"

"I agree."

"In that case, M. Lupin, am I not right in saying that I shall have finished my business in ten days?"

"In ten days, yes, the whole truth will be known."

"And you will be arrested."

"No."

"No?"

"For me to be arrested there would have to be a conjunction of such unlikely circumstances, a series of such stupefying pieces of ill-luck, that I cannot admit the possibility."

"What neither circumstances nor luck may be able to effect, M. Lupin, can be brought about by one man's will and persistence."

"If the will and persistence of another man do not oppose an invincible obstacle to that plan, Mr. Shears."

"There is no such thing as an invincible obstacle, M. Lupin."

The two exchanged a penetrating glance, free from provocation on either side, but calm and fearless. It was the clash of two swords about to open the combat. It sounded clear and frank.

"Joy!" cried Lupin. "Here's a man at last! An adversary is a rara avis at any time; and this one is Holmlock Shears! We shall have some sport."

"You're not afraid?" asked Wilson.

"Very nearly, Mr. Wilson," said Lupin, rising, "and the proof is that I am going to hurry to make good my retreat ... else I might risk being caught napping. Ten days, we said, Mr. Shears?"

"Ten days. This is Sunday. It will all be over by Wednesday week."

"And I shall be under lock and key?"

"Without the slightest doubt."

"By Jove! And I was congratulating myself on my quiet life! No bothers, a good, steady little business, the police sent to the right about and a comforting sense of the general sympathy that surrounds me.... We shall have to change all this! It is the reverse of the medal.... After sunshine comes rain.... This is no time for laughing! Good-bye."

"Look sharp!" said Wilson, full of solicitude on behalf of a person whom Shears inspired with such obvious respect. "Don't lose a minute."

"Not a minute, Mr. Wilson, except to tell you how pleased I have been to meet you and how I envy the leader who has an assistant so valuable as yourself."

Courteous bows were exchanged, as between two adversaries on the fencing-ground who bear each other no hatred, but who are constrained by fate to fight to the death. And Lupin took my arm and dragged me outside:

"What do you say to that, old fellow? There's a dinner that will be worth describing in your memoirs of me!"

He closed the door of the restaurant and, stopping a little way off:

"Do you smoke?"

"No, but no more do you, surely."

"No more do I."

He lit a cigarette with a wax match which he waved several times to put it out. But he at once flung away the cigarette, ran across the road and joined two men who had emerged from the shadow, as though summoned

by a signal. He talked to them for a few minutes on the opposite pavement and then returned to me:

"I beg your pardon; but I shall have my work cut out with that confounded Shears. I swear, however, that he has not done with Lupin yet.... By Jupiter, I'll show the fellow the stuff I'm made of!... Good night.... The unspeakable Wilson is right: I have not a minute to lose."

He walked rapidly away.

Thus ended that strange evening, or, at least that part of it with which I had to do. For many other incidents occurred during the hours that followed, events which the confidences of the others who were present at that dinner have fortunately enabled me to reconstruct in detail.

* * *

At the very moment when Lupin left me, Holmlock Shears took out his watch and rose in his turn:

"Twenty to nine. At nine o'clock, I am to meet the count and countess at the railway station."

"Let's go!" cried Wilson, tossing off two glasses of whiskey in succession.

They went out.

"Wilson, don't turn your head.... We may be followed: if so, let us act as though we don't care whether we are or not.... Tell me, Wilson, what's your opinion: why was Lupin in that restaurant?"

Wilson, without hesitation, replied:

"To get some dinner."

"Wilson, the longer we work together, the more clearly I perceive the constant progress you are making. Upon my word, you're becoming amazing."

Wilson blushed with satisfaction in the dark; and Shears resumed:

"Yes, he went to get some dinner and then, most likely, to make sure if I am really going to Crozon, as Ganimard says I am, in his interview. I shall leave, therefore, so as not to disappoint him. But, as it is a question of gaining time upon him, I shall not leave."

"Ah!" said Wilson, nonplussed.

"I want you, old chap, to go down this street. Take a cab, take two cabs, three cabs. Come back later to fetch the bags which we left in the cloak room and then drive as fast as you can to the élysée-Palace."

"And what am I to do at the élysée-Palace?"

"Ask for a room, go to bed, sleep the sleep of the just and await my instructions."

* * *

Wilson, proud of the important task allotted to him, went off. Holmlock Shears took his ticket at the railway station and entered the Amiens express, in which the Comte and Comtesse de Crozon had already taken their seats.

He merely bowed to them, lit a second pipe and smoked it placidly, standing, in the corridor.

The train started. Ten minutes later, he came and sat down beside the countess and asked:

"Have you the ring on you, madame?"

"Yes."

"Please let me look at it."

He took it and examined it:

"As I thought: it is a faked diamond."

"Faked?"

"Yes, by a new process which consists in subjecting diamond-dust to enormous heat until it melts ... whereupon it is simply reformed into a single diamond."

"Why, but my diamond is real!"

"Yes, yours; but this is not yours."

"Where is mine, then?"

"In the hands of Arsène Lupin."

"And this one?"

"This one was put in its place and slipped into Herr Bleichen's tooth-powder flask, where you found it."

"Then it's an imitation?"

"Absolutely."

Nonplussed and overwhelmed, the countess said nothing more, while her husband, refusing to believe the statement, turned the jewel over and over in his fingers. She finished by stammering out:

"But it's impossible! Why didn't they just simply take it? And how did they get it?"

"That's just what I mean to try to discover."

"At Crozon?"

"No, I shall get out at Creil and return to Paris. That's where the game between Arsène Lupin and myself must be played out. The tricks will count the same, wherever we make them; but it is better that Lupin should think that I am out of town."

"Still ..."

"What difference can it make to you, madame? The main object is your diamond, is it not?"

"Yes."

"Well, set your mind at rest. Only a little while ago, I gave an undertaking which will be much more difficult to keep. On the word of Holmlock Shears, you shall have the real diamond back."

The train slowed down. He put the imitation diamond in his pocket and opened the carriage-door. The count cried:

"Take care; that's the wrong side!"

"Lupin will lose my tracks this way, if he's having me shadowed. Good-bye."

A porter protested. The Englishman made for the station-master's office. Fifty minutes later, he jumped into a train which brought him back to Paris a little before midnight.

He ran across the station into the refreshment room, went out by the other door and sprang into a cab:

"Drive to the Rue Clapeyron."

After making sure that he was not being followed, he stopped the cab at the commencement of the street and began to make a careful examination of the house in which Ma?tre Detinan lived and of the two adjoining houses. He paced off certain distances and noted the measurements in his memorandum book:

"Now drive to the Avenue Henri-Martin."

He dismissed his cab at the corner of the avenue and the Rue de la Pompe, walked along the pavement to No. 134 and went through the same performance in front of the house which Baron d'Hautrec had occupied and the two houses by which it was hemmed in on either side, measuring the width of their respective frontages and calculating the depth of the little gardens in front of the houses.

The avenue was deserted and very dark under its four rows of trees, amid which an occasional gas-jet seemed to struggle vainly against the thickness of the gloom. One of these lamps threw a pale light upon a part of the house and Shears saw the notice "To Let" hanging on the railings, saw the two neglected walks that encircled the miniature lawn and the great empty windows of the uninhabited house.

"That's true," he thought. "There has been no tenant since the baron's death.... Ah, if I could just get in and make a preliminary visit!"

The idea no sooner passed through his mind than he wanted to put it into execution. But how to manage? The height of the gate made it impossible for him to climb it. He took an electric lantern from his pocket, as well as a skeleton key which he always carried. To his great surprise, he found that one of the doors of the gate was standing ajar. He, therefore, slipped into the garden, taking care not to close the gate behind him. He had not gone three steps, when he stopped. A glimmer of light had passed along one of the windows on the second floor.

And the glimmer passed along a second window and a third, while he was able to see nothing but a shadow outlined against the walls of the rooms. And the glimmer descended from the second floor to the first and, for a long time, wandered from room to room.

"Who on earth can be walking about, at one in the morning, in the house where Baron d'Hautrec was murdered?" thought Shears, feeling immensely interested.

There was only one way of finding out, which was to enter the house himself. He did not hesitate. But the man must have seen him as he crossed the belt of light cast by the gas-jet and made his way to the steps, for the glimmer suddenly went out and Shears did not see it again.

He softly tried the door at the top of the steps. It was open also. Hearing no sound, he ventured to penetrate the darkness, felt for the knob of the baluster, found it and went up one floor. The same silence, the same darkness continued to reign.

On reaching the landing, he entered one of the rooms and went to the window, which showed white in the dim light of the night outside. Through the window, he caught sight of the man, who had doubtless gone down by another staircase and out by another door and was now slipping along the shrubs, on the left, that lined the wall separating the two gardens:

"Dash it!" exclaimed Shears. "He'll escape me!"

He rushed downstairs and leapt into the garden, with a view to cutting off the man's retreat. At first, he saw no one; and it was some seconds before he distinguished, among the confused heap of shrubs, a darker form which was not quite stationary.

The Englishman paused to reflect. Why had the fellow not tried to run away when he could easily have done so? Was he staying there to spy, in his turn, upon the intruder who had disturbed him in his mysterious errand?

"In any case," thought Shears, "it is not Lupin. Lupin would be cleverer. It must be one of his gang."

Long minutes passed. Shears stood motionless, with his eyes fixed upon the adversary who was watching him. But, as the adversary was motionless too and as the Englishman was not the man to hang about doing nothing, he felt to see if the cylinder of his revolver worked, loosened his dagger in its sheath and walked straight up to the enemy, with the cool daring and the contempt of danger which make him so formidable.

A sharp sound: the man was cocking his revolver. Shears rushed into the shrubbery. The other had no time to turn: the Englishman was upon him. There was a violent and desperate struggle, amid which Shears was aware that the man was making every effort to draw his knife. But Shears, stimulated by the thought of his coming victory and by the fierce longing to lay hold at once of this accomplice of Arsène Lupin's, felt an irresistible strength welling up within himself. He threw his adversary, bore upon him with all his weight and, holding him down with his five fingers clutching at his throat like so many claws, he felt for his electric lantern with the hand that was free, pressed the button and threw the light upon his prisoner's face:

"Wilson!" he shouted, in terror.

"Holmlock Shears!" gasped a hollow, stifled voice.

* * *

They remained long staring at each other, without exchanging a word, dumbfounded, stupefied. The air was torn by the horn of a motor-car. A breath of wind rustled through the leaves. And Shears did not stir, his fingers still fixed in Wilson's throat, which continued to emit an ever fainter rattle.

And, suddenly, Shears, overcome with rage, let go his friend, but only to seize him by the shoulders and shake him frantically:

"What are you doing here? Answer me!... What are you here for?... Who told you to hide in the shrubbery and watch me?"

"Watch you?" groaned Wilson. "But I didn't know it was you."

"Then what? Why are you here? I told you to go to bed."

"I did go to bed."

"I told you to go to sleep."

"I did."

"You had no business to wake up."

"Your letter...."

"What letter?"

"The letter from you which a commissionaire brought me at the hotel."

"A letter from me? You're mad!"

"I assure you."

"Where is the letter?"

Wilson produced a sheet of note-paper and, by the light of his lantern, Shears read, in amazement:

"Get up at once, Wilson, and go to the Avenue Henri-Martin as fast as you can. The house is empty. Go in, inspect it, make out an exact plan and go back to bed.

"Holmlock Shears."

"I was busy measuring the rooms," said Wilson, "when I saw a shadow in the garden. I had only one idea...."

"To catch the shadow.... The idea was excellent.... Only, look here, Wilson," said Shears, helping his friend up and leading him away, "next time you get a letter from me, make sure first that it's not a forgery."

"Then the letter was not from you?" asked Wilson, who began to have a glimmering of the truth.

"No, worse luck!"

"Who wrote it, then?"

"Arsène Lupin."

"But with what object?"

"I don't know, and that's just what bothers me. Why the deuce should he take the trouble to disturb your night's rest? If it were myself, I could understand, but you.... I can't see what interest...."

"I am anxious to get back to the hotel."

"So am I, Wilson."

They reached the gate. Wilson, who was in front, took hold of one of the bars and pulled it:

"Hullo!" he said. "Did you shut it?"

"Certainly not: I left the gate ajar."

"But ..."

Shears pulled in his turn and then frantically flung himself upon the lock. An oath escaped him:

"Damn it all! It's locked!... The gate's locked!"

He shook the gate with all his might, but, soon realizing the hopelessness of his exertions, let his arms fall to his sides in discouragement and jerked out:

"I understand the whole thing now: it's his doing! He foresaw that I should get out at Creil and he laid a pretty little trap for me, in case I should come to start my inquiry to-night. In addition, he had the kindness to send you to keep me company in my captivity. All this to make me lose a day and also, no doubt, to show me that I would do much better to mind my own business...."

"That is to say that we are his prisoners."

"You speak like a book. Holmlock Shears and Wilson are the prisoners of Arsène Lupin. The adventure is beginning splendidly.... But no, no, I refuse to believe...."

A hand touched his shoulder. It was Wilson's hand.

"Look," he said. "Up there ... a light...."

It was true: there was a light visible through one of the windows on the first floor.

They both raced up, each by his own staircase, and reached the door of the lighted room at the same time. A candle-end was burning in the middle of the floor. Beside it stood a basket, from which protruded the neck of a bottle, the legs of a chicken and half a loaf of bread.

Shears roared with laughter:

"Splendid! He gives us our supper. It's an enchanted palace, a regular fairy-land! Come, Wilson, throw off that dismal face. This is all very amusing."

"Are you sure it's very amusing?" moaned Wilson, dolefully.

"Sure?" cried Shears, with a gaiety that was too boisterous to be quite natural. "Of course I'm sure! I never saw anything more amusing in my life. It's first-rate farce.... What a master of chaff this Arsène Lupin is!... He tricks you, but he does it so gracefully!... I wouldn't give my seat at this banquet for all the gold in the world.... Wilson, old chap, you disappoint me. Can I have been mistaken in you? Are you really deficient in that nobility of character which makes a man bear up under misfortune? What have you to complain of? At this moment, you might be lying with my dagger in your throat ... or I with yours in mine ... for that was what you were trying for, you faithless friend!"

He succeeded, by dint of humour and sarcasm, in cheering up the wretched Wilson and forcing him to swallow a leg of the chicken and a glass of wine. But, when the candle had gone out and they had to stretch themselves on the floor to sleep, with the wall for a pillow, the painful and ridiculous side of the situation became apparent to them. And their slumbers were sad.

In the morning, Wilson woke aching in every bone and shivering with cold. A slight sound caught his ear: Holmlock Shears, on his knees, bent in two, was examining grains of dust through his lens and inspecting certain hardly perceptible chalk-marks, which formed figures which he put down in his note-book.

Escorted by Wilson, who seemed to take a particular interest in this work, he studied each room and found similar chalk-marks in two of the others. He also observed two circles on some oak panels, an arrow on a wainscoting and four figures on four steps of the staircase.

After an hour spent in this way, Wilson asked:

"The figures are correct, are they not?"

"I don't know if they're correct," replied Shears, whose good temper had been restored by these discoveries, "but, at any rate, they mean something."

"Something very obvious," said Wilson. "They represent the number of planks in the floor."

"Oh!"

"Yes. As for the two circles, they indicate that the panels sound hollow, as you can see by trying, and the arrow points to show the direction of the dinner-lift."

Holmlock Shears looked at him in admiration:

"Why, my dear chap, how do you know all this? Your perspicacity almost makes me ashamed of myself."

"Oh, it's very simple," said Wilson, bursting with delight. "I made those marks myself last night, in consequence of your instructions ... or rather Lupin's instructions, as the letter I received from you came from him."

I have little doubt that, at that moment, Wilson was in greater danger than during his struggle with Shears in the shrubbery. Shears felt a fierce longing to wring his neck. Mastering himself with an effort, he gave a grin that pretended to be a smile and said:

"Well done, well done, that's an excellent piece of work; most useful. Have your wonderful powers of analysis and observation been exercised in any other direction? I may as well make use of the results obtained."

"No; that's all I did."

"What a pity! The start was so promising! Well, as things are, there is nothing left for us to do but go."

"Go? But how?"

"The way respectable people usually go: through the gate."

"It's locked."

"We must get it opened."

"Whom by?"

"Would you mind calling those two policemen walking down the avenue?"

"But ..."

"But what?"

"It's very humiliating.... What will people say, when they learn that you, Holmlock Shears, and I, Wilson, have been locked up by Arsène Lupin?"

"It can't be helped, my dear fellow; they will laugh like anything," replied Shears, angrily, with a frowning face. "But we can't go on living here forever, can we?"

"And you don't propose to try anything?"

"Not I!"

"Still, the man who brought the basket of provisions did not cross the garden either in coming or going. There must, therefore, be another outlet. Let us look for it, instead of troubling the police."

"Ably argued. Only you forget that the whole police of Paris have been hunting for this outlet for the past six months and that I myself, while you were asleep, examined the house from top to bottom. Ah, my dear Wilson, Arsène Lupin is a sort of game we are not accustomed to hunt: he leaves nothing behind him, you see...."

* * *

Holmlock Shears and Wilson were let out at eleven o'clock and ... taken to the nearest police-station, where the commissary, after cross-questioning them severely, released them with the most exasperating pretences of courtesy:

"Gentlemen, I am grieved beyond measure at your mishap. You will have a poor opinion of our French hospitality. Lord, what a night you must have spent! Upon my word, Lupin might have shown you more consideration!"

They took a cab to the élysée-Palace. Wilson went to the office and asked for the key of his room.

The clerk looked through the visitors' book and replied, in great surprise:

"But you gave up your room this morning, sir!"

"What do you mean? How did I give up my room?"

"You sent us a letter by your friend."

"What friend?"

"Why, the gentleman who brought us your letter.... Here it is, with your card enclosed."

Wilson took the letter and the enclosure. It was certainly one of his visiting-cards and the letter was in his writing:

"Good Lord!" he muttered. "Here's another nasty trick." And he added, anxiously, "What about the luggage?"

"Why, your friend took it with him."

"Oh!.... So you gave it to him?"

"Certainly, on the authority of your card."

"Just so ... just so...."

They both went out and wandered down the Champs-élysèes, slowly and silently. A fine autumn sun filled the avenue. The air was mild and light.

At the Rond-Point, Shears lit his pipe and resumed his walk. Wilson cried:

"I can't understand you, Shears; you take it so calmly! The man laughs at you, plays with you as a cat plays with a mouse ... and you don't utter a word!"

Shears stopped and said:

"I'm thinking of your visiting-card, Wilson."

"Well?"

"Well, here is a man, who, by way of preparing for a possible struggle with us, obtains specimens of your handwriting and mine and has one of your cards ready in his pocketbook. Have you thought of the amount of precaution, of perspicacity, of determination, of method, of organization that all this represents?"

"You mean to say ..."

"I mean to say, Wilson, that, to fight an enemy so formidably armed, so wonderfully equipped-and to beat him-takes ... a man like myself. And, even then, Wilson," he added, laughing, "one does not succeed at the first attempt, as you see!"

* * *

At six o'clock, the écho de France published the following paragraph in its special edition:

"This morning, M. Thénard, the commissary of police of the 16th division, released Messrs. Holmlock Shears and Wilson, who had been confined, by order of Arsène Lupin, in the late Baron d'Hautrec's house, where they spent an excellent night.

"They were also relieved of their luggage and have laid an information against Arsène Lupin.

"Arsène Lupin has been satisfied with giving them a little lesson this time; but he earnestly begs them not to compel him to adopt more serious measures."

"Pooh!" said Holmlock Shears, crumpling up the paper. "Schoolboy tricks! That's the only fault I have to find with Lupin ... he's too childish, too fond of playing to the gallery.... He's a street arab at heart!"

"So you continue to take it calmly, Shears?"

"Quite calmly," replied Shears, in a voice shaking with rage. "What's the use of being angry? I am so certain of having the last word!"

* * *

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