MoboReader> Literature > The Blonde Lady / Being a Record of the Duel of Wits between Arsène Lupin and the English Detective

   Chapter 4 A GLIMMER IN THE DARKNESS

The Blonde Lady / Being a Record of the Duel of Wits between Arsène Lupin and the English Detective By Maurice Leblanc Characters: 37245

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


However impervious to outside influences a man's character may be-and Shears is one of those men upon whom ill-luck takes hardly any hold-there are yet circumstances in which the most undaunted feel the need to collect their forces before again facing the chances of a battle.

"I shall take a holiday to-day," said Shears.

"And I?"

"You, Wilson, must go and buy clothes and shirts and things to replenish our wardrobe. During that time, I shall rest."

"Yes, rest, Shears. I shall watch."

Wilson uttered those three words with all the importance of a sentry placed on outpost duty and therefore exposed to the worst dangers. He threw out his chest and stiffened his muscles. With a sharp eye, he glanced round the little hotel bedroom where they had taken up their quarters.

"That's right, Wilson: watch. I shall employ the interval in preparing a plan of campaign better suited to the adversary whom we have to deal with. You see, Wilson, we were wrong about Lupin. We must start again from the beginning."

"Even earlier, if we can. But have we time?"

"Nine days, old chap: five days more than we want."

* * *

The Englishman spent the whole afternoon smoking and dozing. He did not begin operations until the following morning:

"I'm ready now, Wilson. We can go ahead."

"Let's go ahead," cried Wilson, full of martial ardour. "My legs are twitching to start."

Shears had three long interviews: first, with Ma?tre Detinan, whose flat he inspected through and through; next, with Suzanne Gerbois, to whom he telegraphed to come and whom he questioned about the blonde lady; lastly with S?ur Auguste, who had returned to the Visitation Convent after the murder of Baron d'Hautrec.

At each visit, Wilson waited outside and, after each visit, asked:

"Satisfied?"

"Quite."

"I was sure of it. We're on the right track now. Let's go ahead."

They did a great deal of going. They called at the two mansions on either side of the house in the Avenue Henri-Martin. From there they went on to the Rue Clapeyron and, while he was examining the front of No. 25, Shears continued:

"It is quite obvious that there are secret passages between all these houses.... But what I cannot make out...."

For the first time and in his inmost heart, Wilson doubted the omnipotence of his talented chief. Why was he talking so much and doing so little?

"Why?" cried Shears, replying to Wilson's unspoken thoughts. "Because, with that confounded Lupin, one has nothing to go upon; one works at random. Instead of deriving the truth from exact facts, one has to get at it by intuition and verify it afterward to see if it fits in."

"But the secret passages...?"

"What then? Even if I knew them, if I knew the one which admitted Lupin to his lawyer's study or the one taken by the blonde lady after the murder of Baron d'Hautrec, how much further should I be? Would that give me a weapon to go for him with?"

"Let's go for him, in any case," said Wilson.

He had not finished speaking, when he jumped back with a cry. Something had fallen at their feet: a bag half-filled with sand, which might have hurt them seriously.

Shears looked up: some men were working in a cradle hooked on to the balcony of the fifth floor.

"Upon my word," he said, "we've had a lucky escape! The clumsy beggars! Another yard and we should have caught that bag on our heads. One would really think...."

He stopped, darted into the house, rushed up the staircase, rang the bell on the fifth landing, burst into the flat, to the great alarm of the footman who opened the door, and went out on the balcony. There was no one there.

"Where are the workmen who were here a moment ago?" he asked the footman.

"They have just gone."

"Which way?"

"Why, down the servants' staircase."

Shears leant over. He saw two men leaving the house, leading their bicycles. They mounted and rode away.

"Have they been working on this cradle long?"

"No, only since this morning. They were new men."

Shears joined Wilson down below.

They went home in a depressed mood; and this second day ended in silent gloom.

* * *

They followed a similar programme on the following day. They sat down on a bench in the Avenue Henri-Martin. Wilson, who was thoroughly bored by this interminable wait opposite the three houses, felt driven to desperation:

"What do you expect, Shears? To see Lupin come out?"

"No."

"Or the blonde lady?"

"No."

"What, then?"

"I expect some little thing to happen, some little tiny thing which I can use as a starting-point."

"And, if nothing happens?"

"In that case, something will happen inside myself: a spark that will set us going."

The only incident that broke the monotony of the morning was a rather disagreeable one. A gentleman was coming down the riding-path that separates the two roadways of the avenue, when his horse swerved, struck the bench on which they were sitting and backed against Shears's shoulder.

"Tut, tut!" snarled Shears. "A shade more and I should have had my shoulder smashed."

The rider was struggling with his horse. The Englishman drew his revolver and took aim. But Wilson seized his arm smartly:

"You're mad, Holmlock! Why ... look here ... you'll kill that gentleman!"

"Let go, Wilson ... do let go!"

A wrestle ensued, during which the horseman got his mount under control and galloped away.

"Now you can fire!" exclaimed Wilson, triumphantly, when the man was at some distance.

"But, you confounded fool, don't you understand that that was a confederate of Arsène Lupin's?"

Shears was trembling with rage. Wilson stammered, piteously:

"What do you mean? That gentleman...?"

"Was a confederate of Lupin's, like the workmen who flung that bag at our heads."

"It's not credible!"

"Credible or not, there was a means handy of obtaining a proof."

"By killing that gentleman?"

"By simply bringing down his horse. But for you, I should have got one of Lupin's pals. Do you see now what a fool you've been?"

The afternoon was passed in a very sullen fashion. Shears and Wilson did not exchange a word. At five o'clock, as they were pacing up and down the Rue Clapeyron, taking care, however, to keep away from the houses, three young workingmen came along the pavement singing, arm-in-arm, knocked up against them and tried to continue their road without separating. Shears, who was in a bad temper, pushed them back. There was a short scuffle. Shears put up his fists, struck one of the men in the chest and gave another a blow in the face, whereupon the men desisted and walked away with the third.

"Ah," cried Shears, "I feel all the better for that!... My nerves were a bit strained.... Good business!..."

But he saw Wilson leaning against the wall:

"Hullo, old chap," he said, "what's up? You look quite pale."

Old chap pointed to his arm, which was hanging lifeless by his side, and stammered:

"I don't know ... my arm's hurting me...."

"Your arm?... Badly?"

"Yes ... rather ... it's my right arm...."

He tried to lift it, but could not. Shears felt it, gently at first and then more roughly, "to see exactly," he said, "how much it hurts." It hurt exactly so much that Wilson, on being led to a neighbouring chemist's shop, experienced an immediate need to fall into a dead faint.

The chemist and his assistant did what they could. They discovered that the arm was broken and that it was a case for a surgeon, an operation and a hospital. Meanwhile, the patient was undressed and began to relieve his sufferings by roaring with pain.

"That's all right, that's all right," said Shears, who was holding Wilson's arm. "Just a little patience, old chap ... in five or six weeks, you won't know that you've been hurt.... But I'll make them pay for it, the scoundrels!... You understand.... I mean him especially ... for it's that wretched Lupin who's responsible for this.... Oh, I swear to you that if ever...."

He interrupted himself suddenly, dropped the arm, which gave Wilson such a shock of pain that the poor wretch fainted once more, and, striking his forehead, shouted:

"Wilson, I have an idea.... Could it possibly...?"

He stood motionless, with his eyes fixed before him, and muttered in short sentences:

"Yes, that's it.... It's all clear now ... the explanation staring us in the face.... Why, of course, I knew it only needed a little thought!... Ah, my dear Wilson, this will rejoice your heart!"

And, leaving old chap where he was, he rushed into the street and ran to No. 25.

One of the stones above the door, on the right, bore the inscription: "Destange, architect, 1875."

The same inscription appeared on No. 23. So far, this was quite natural. But what would he find down there, in the Avenue Henri-Martin?

He hailed a passing cab:

"Drive to 134, Avenue Henri-Martin. Go as fast as you can."

Standing up in the cab, he urged on the horse, promising the driver tip after tip:

"Faster!... Faster still!"

He was in an agony as he turned the corner of the Rue de la Pompe. Had he caught a glimpse of the truth?

On one of the stones of the house, he read the words: "Destange, architect, 1874." And he found the same inscription-"Destange, architect, 1874"-on each of the adjoining blocks of flats.

* * *

The reaction after this excitement was so great that he sank back into the cab for a few minutes, all trembling with delight. At last a tiny glimmer flickered in the darkness! Amid the thousand intersecting paths in the great, gloomy forest, he had found the first sign of a trail followed by the enemy!

He entered a telephone-office and asked to be put on to the Chateau de Crozon. The countess herself answered.

"Hullo!... Is that you, madame?"

"Is that Mr. Shears? How are things going?"

"Very well. But tell me, quickly.... Hullo! Are you there?..."

"Yes...."

"When was the Chateau de Crozon built?"

"It was burnt down thirty years ago and rebuilt."

"By whom? And in what year?"

"There's an inscription over the front door: 'Lucien Destange, architect, 1877.'"

"Thank you, madame. Good-bye."

"Good-bye."

He went away, muttering:

"Destange.... Lucien Destange.... I seem to know the name...."

He found a public library, consulted a modern biographical dictionary and copied out the reference to "Lucien Destange, born 1840, Grand-Prix de Rome, officer of the Legion of Honour, author of several valuable works on architecture," etc.

He next went to the chemist's and, from there, to the hospital to which Wilson had been moved. Old chap was lying on his bed of pain, with his arm in splints, shivering with fever and slightly delirious.

"Victory! Victory!" cried Shears. "I have one end of the clue."

"What clue?"

"The clue that will lead me to success. I am now treading firm soil, where I shall find marks and indications...."

"Cigarette-ashes?" asked Wilson, whom the interest of the situation was reviving.

"And plenty of other things! Just think, Wilson, I have discovered the mysterious link that connects the three adventures of the blonde lady. Why were the three houses in which the three adventures took place selected by Arsène Lupin?"

"Yes, why?"

"Because those three houses, Wilson, were built by the same architect. It was easy to guess that, you say? Certainly it was.... And that's why nobody thought of it."

"Nobody except yourself."

"Just so! And I now understand how the same architect, by contriving similar plans, enabled three actions to be performed which appeared to be miraculous, though they were really quite easy and simple."

"What luck!"

"It was high time, old chap, for I was beginning to lose patience.... This is the fourth day."

"Out of ten."

"Oh, but from now onward...!"

He could no longer keep his seat, exulting in his gladness beyond his wont:

"Oh, when I think that, just now, in the street, those ruffians might have broken my arm as well as yours! What do you say to that, Wilson?"

Wilson simply shuddered at the horrid thought.

And Shears continued:

"Let this be a lesson to us! You see, Wilson, our great mistake has been to fight Lupin in the open and to expose ourselves, in the most obliging way, to his attacks. The thing is not as bad as it might be, because he only got at you...."

"And I came off with a broken arm," moaned Wilson.

"Whereas it might have been both of us. But no more swaggering. Watched, in broad daylight, I am beaten. Working freely, in the shade, I have the advantage, whatever the enemy's strength may be."

"Ganimard might be able to help you."

"Never! On the day when I can say, 'Arsène Lupin is there; that is his hiding-place; this is how you must set to work to catch him,' I shall hunt up Ganimard at one of the two addresses he gave me, his flat in the Rue Pergolèse, or the Taverne Suisse, on the Place du Chatelet. But till then I shall act alone."

He went up to the bed, put his hand on Wilson's shoulder-the bad shoulder, of course-and said, in a very affectionate voice:

"Take care of yourself, old chap. Your task, henceforth, will consist in keeping two or three of Lupin's men busy. They will waste their time waiting for me to come and inquire after you. It's a confidential task."

"Thank you ever so much," replied Wilson, gratefully. "I shall do my best to perform it conscientiously. So you are not coming back?"

"Why should I?" asked Shears, coldly.

"No ... you're quite right ... you're quite right.... I'm going on as well as can be expected. You might do one thing for me, Holmlock: give me a drink."

"A drink?"

"Yes, I'm parched with thirst; and this fever of mine...."

"Why, of course! Wait a minute."

He fumbled about among some bottles, came upon a packet of tobacco, filled and lit his pipe and, suddenly, as though he had not even heard his friend's request, walked away, while old chap cast longing glances at the water-bottle beyond his reach.

* * *

"Is M. Destange at home?"

The butler eyed the person to whom he had opened the door of the house-the magnificent house at the corner of the Place Malesherbes and the Rue Montchanin-and, at the sight of the little gray-haired, ill-shaven man, whose long and far from immaculate frock-coat matched the oddity of a figure to which nature had been anything but kind, replied, with due scorn:

"M. Destange may be at home or he may be out. It depends. Has monsieur a card?"

Monsieur had no card, but he carried a letter of introduction and the butler had to take it to M. Destange, whereupon M. Destange ordered the newcomer to be shown in.

He was ushered into a large circular room, which occupied one of the wings of the house and which was lined with books all round the walls.

"Are you M. Stickmann?" asked the architect.

"Yes, sir."

"My secretary writes that he is ill and sends you to continue the general catalogue of my books, which he began under my direction, and of the German books in particular. Have you any experience of this sort of work?"

"Yes, sir, a long experience," replied Stickmann, in a strong Teutonic accent.

In these conditions, the matter was soon settled; and M. Destange set to work with his new secretary without further delay.

Holmlock Shears had carried the citadel.

In order to escape Lupin's observation and to obtain an entrance into the house which Lucien Destange occupied with his daughter Clotilde, the illustrious detective had been obliged to take a leap in the dark, to resort to untold stratagems, to win the favour and confidence of a host of people under endless different names, in short, to lead forty-eight hours of the most complex life.

The particulars which he had gathered were these: M. Destange, who was in failing health and anxious for rest, had retired from business and was living among the architectural books which it had been his hobby to collect. He had no interest left in life beyond the handling and examining of those old dusty volumes.

As for his daughter Clotilde, she was looked upon as eccentric. She spent her days, like her father, in the house, but in another part of it, and never went out.

"This is all," thought Shears, as he wrote down the titles of the books in his catalogue, to M. Destange's dictation, "this is all more or less indefinite; but it is a good step forward. I am bound to discover the solution of one at least of these exciting problems: is M. Destange an accomplice of Arsène Lupin's? Does he see him now? Are there any papers relating to the building of the three houses? Will these papers supply me with the address of other properties, similarly faked, which Lupin may have reserved for his own use and that of his gang?"

M. Destange an accomplice of Arsène Lupin's! This venerable man, an officer of the Legion of Honour, working hand in hand with a burglar! The presumption was hardly tenable. Besides, supposing that they were accomplices, how did M. Destange come to provide for Arsène Lupin's various escapes thirty years before they occurred, at a time when Arsène was in his cradle?

No matter, the Englishman stuck to his guns. With his prodigious intuition, with that instinct which is all his own, he felt a mystery surrounding him. This was perceptible by small signs, which he could not have described with precision, but which impressed him from the moment when he first set foot in the house.

On the morning of the second day, he had as yet discovered nothing of interest. He first saw Clotilde Destange at two o'clock, when she came to fetch a book from the library. She was a woman of thirty, dark, with slow and silent movements; and her features bore the look of indifference of those who live much within themselves. She exchanged a few words with M. Destange and left the room without so much as glancing at Shears.

The afternoon dragged on monotonously. At five o'clock, M. Destange stated that he was going out. Shears remained alone in the circular gallery that ran round the library, half-way between floor and ceiling. It was growing dark and he was preparing to leave, in his turn, when he heard a creaking sound and, at the same time, felt that there was some one in the room. Minute followed slowly upon minute. And, suddenly, he started: a shadow had emerged from the semidarkness, quite close to him, on the balcony. Was it credible? How long had this unseen person been keeping him company? And where did he come from?

And the man went down the steps and turned in the direction of a large o

ak cupboard. Crouching on his knees behind the tapestry that covered the rail of the gallery, Shears watched and saw the man rummage among the papers with which the cupboard was crammed. What was he looking for?

And, suddenly, the door opened and Mlle. Destange entered quickly, saying to some one behind her:

"So you have quite changed your mind about going out, father?... In that case, I'll turn on the light.... Wait a minute ... don't move."

* * *

The man closed the doors of the cupboard and hid himself in the embrasure of a broad window, drawing the curtains in front of him. How was it that Mlle. Destange did not see him! How was it that she did not hear him? She calmly switched on the electric light and stood back for her father to pass.

They sat down side by side. Mlle. Destange opened a book which she had brought with her and began to read.

"Has your secretary gone?" she said, presently.

"Yes ... so it seems...."

"Are you still satisfied with him?" she continued, as if in ignorance of the real secretary's illness and of the arrival of Stickmann in his stead.

"Quite ... quite...."

M. Destange's head dropped on his chest. He fell asleep.

A moment elapsed. The girl went on reading. But one of the window curtains was moved aside and the man slipped along the wall, toward the door, an action which made him pass behind M. Destange, but right in front of Clotilde and in such a way that Shears was able to see him plainly. It was Arsène Lupin!

The Englishman quivered with delight. His calculations were correct, he had penetrated to the very heart of the mystery and Lupin was where he had expected to find him.

Clotilde, however, did not stir, although it was impossible that a single movement of that man had escaped her. And Lupin was close to the door and had his arm stretched toward the handle, when his clothes grazed a table and something fell to the ground. M. Destange woke with a start. In a moment, Arsène Lupin was standing before him, smiling, hat in hand.

"Maxime Bermond!" cried M. Destange, in delight. "My dear Maxime!... What stroke of good luck brings you here to-day?"

"The wish to see you and Mlle. Destange."

"When did you come back?"

"Yesterday."

"Are you staying to dinner?"

"Thank you, no, I am dining out with some friends."

"Come to-morrow, then. Clotilde, make him come to-morrow. My dear Maxime!... I was thinking of you only the other day."

"Really?"

"Yes, I was arranging my old papers, in that cupboard, and I came across our last account."

"Which one?"

"The Avenue Henri-Martin account."

"Do you mean to say you keep all that waste paper? What for?"

The three moved into a little drawing-room which was connected with the round library by a wide recess.

"Is it Lupin?" thought Shears, seized with a sudden doubt.

All the evidence pointed to him, but it was another man as well; a man who resembled Arsène Lupin in certain respects and who, nevertheless, preserved his distinct individuality, his own features, look and complexion.

Dressed for the evening, with a white tie and a soft-fronted shirt following the lines of his body, he talked gaily, telling stories which made M. Destange laugh aloud and which brought a smile to Clotilde's lips. And each of these smiles seemed a reward which Arsène Lupin coveted and which he rejoiced at having won. His spirits and gaiety increased and, imperceptibly, at the sound of his clear and happy voice, Clotilde's face brightened up and lost the look of coldness that tended to spoil it.

"They are in love," thought Shears. "But what on earth can Clotilde Destange and Maxime Bermond have in common? Does she know that Maxime is Arsène Lupin?"

He listened anxiously until seven o'clock, making the most of every word spoken. Then, with infinite precautions, he came down and crossed the side of the room where there was no danger of his being seen from the drawing-room.

* * *

Once outside, after assuring himself that there was no motor-car or cab waiting, he limped away along the Boulevard Malesherbes. Then he turned down a side street, put on the overcoat which he carried over his arm, changed the shape of his hat, drew himself up and, thus transformed, returned to the square, where he waited, with his eyes fixed on the door of the H?tel Destange.

Arsène Lupin came out almost at once and walked, down the Rue de Constantinople and the Rue de Londres, toward the centre of the town. Shears followed him at a hundred yards' distance.

It was a delicious moment for the Englishman. He sniffed the air greedily, like a good hound scenting a fresh trail. It really seemed infinitely sweet to him to be following his adversary. It was no longer he that was watched, but Arsène Lupin, the invisible Arsène Lupin. He kept him, so to speak, fastened at the end of his eyes, as though with unbreakable bonds. And he revelled in contemplating, among the other pedestrians, this prey which belonged to him.

But a curious incident soon struck him: in the centre of the space that separated Arsène Lupin and himself, other people were going in the same direction, notably two tall fellows in bowler hats on the left pavement, while two others, in caps, were following on the right pavement, smoking cigarettes as they went.

This might be only a coincidence. But Shears was more surprised when the four men stopped as Lupin entered a tobacconist's shop; and still more when they started again as he came out, but separately, each keeping to his own side of the Chaussée d'Antin.

"Confound it!" thought Shears. "He's being shadowed!"

The idea that others were on Arsène Lupin's track, that others might rob him not of the glory-he cared little for that-but of the huge pleasure, the intense delight of conquering unaided the most formidable enemy that he had ever encountered: this idea exasperated him. And yet there was no possibility of a mistake: the men wore that look of detachment, that too-natural look which distinguishes persons who, while regulating their gait by another's, endeavour to remain unobserved.

"Does Ganimard know more than he pretends?" muttered Shears. "Is he making game of me?"

He felt inclined to accost one of the four men, with a view to acting in concert with him. But as they approached the boulevard, the crowd became denser: he was afraid of losing Lupin and quickened his pace. He turned into the boulevard just as Lupin had his foot on the step of the Restaurant Hongrois, at the corner of the Rue du Helder. The door was open and Shears, sitting on a bench on the boulevard, on the opposite side of the road, saw him take his seat at a table laid with the greatest luxury and decorated with flowers, where he was warmly welcomed by three men in evening clothes and two beautifully-dressed ladies who had been waiting for him.

Shears looked for the four rough fellows and saw them scattered among the groups of people who were listening to the Bohemian band of the neighbouring café. Strange to say, they appeared to be not nearly so much interested in Arsène Lupin as in the people surrounding them.

Suddenly, one of them took a cigarette from his case and addressed a gentleman in a frock-coat and tall hat. The gentleman offered a light from his cigar and Shears received the impression that they were talking at greater length than the mere lighting of a cigarette demanded. At last the gentleman went up the steps and glanced into the restaurant. Seeing Lupin, he walked up to him, exchanged a few words with him and selected a table close at hand; and Shears realized that he was none other than the horseman of the Avenue Henri-Martin.

Now he understood. Not only was Arsène not being shadowed, but these men were members of his gang! These men were watching over his safety! They were his bodyguard, his satellites, his vigilant escort. Wherever the master ran any danger, there his accomplices were, ready to warn him, ready to defend him. The four men were accomplices! The gentleman in the frock-coat was an accomplice!

A thrill passed through the Englishman's frame. Would he ever succeed in laying hands on that inaccessible person? The power represented by an association of this kind, ruled by such a chief, seemed boundless.

He tore a leaf from his note-book, wrote a few lines in pencil, put the note in an envelope and gave it to a boy of fifteen who had lain down on the bench beside him:

"Here, my lad, take a cab and give this letter to the young lady behind the bar at the Taverne Suisse on the Place du Chatelet. Be as quick as you can."

He handed him a five-franc piece. The boy went off.

* * *

Half an hour elapsed. The crowd had increased and Shears but occasionally caught sight of Lupin's followers. Then some one grazed against him and a voice said in his ear:

"Well, Mr. Shears, what can I do for you?"

"Is that you, M. Ganimard?"

"Yes; I got your note. What is it?"

"He's there."

"What's that you say?"

"Over there ... inside the restaurant.... Move a little to the right.... Do you see him?"

"No."

"He is filling the glass of the lady on his left."

"But that's not Lupin."

"Yes, it is."

"I assure you.... And yet.... Well, it may be.... Oh, the rascal, how like himself he is!" muttered Ganimard, innocently. "And who are the others? Accomplices?"

"No, the lady beside him is Lady Cliveden. The other is the Duchess of Cleath; and, opposite her, is the Spanish Ambassador in London."

Ganimard took a step toward the road. But Shears held him back:

"Don't be so reckless: you are alone."

"So is he."

"No, there are men on the boulevard mounting guard.... Not to mention that gentleman inside the restaurant...."

"But I have only to take him by the collar and shout his name to have the whole restaurant on my side, all the waiters...."

"I would rather have a few detectives."

"That would set Lupin's friends off.... No, Mr. Shears, we have no choice, you see."

He was right and Shears felt it. It was better to make the attempt and take advantage of the exceptional circumstances. He contented himself with saying to Ganimard:

"Do your best not to be recognized before you can help it."

He himself slipped behind a newspaper-kiosk, without losing sight of Arsène Lupin who was leaning over Lady Cliveden, smiling.

The inspector crossed the street, looking straight before him, with his hands in his pockets. But, the moment he reached the opposite pavement, he veered briskly round and sprang up the steps.

A shrill whistle sounded.... Ganimard knocked up against the head-waiter, who suddenly blocked the entrance and pushed him back with indignation, as he might push back any intruder whose doubtful attire would have disgraced the luxury of the establishment. Ganimard staggered. At the same moment, the gentleman in the frock-coat came out. He took the part of the inspector and began a violent discussion with the head-waiter. Both of them had hold of Ganimard, one pushing him forward, the other back, until, in spite of all his efforts and angry protests, the unhappy man was hustled to the bottom of the steps.

A crowd gathered at once. Two policemen, attracted by the excitement, tried to make their way through; but they encountered an incomprehensible resistance and were unable to get clear of the shoulders that pushed against them, the backs that barred their progress.

And, suddenly, as though by enchantment, the way was opened!... The head-waiter, realizing his mistake, made the most abject apologies; the gentleman in the frock-coat withdrew his assistance; the crowd parted, the policemen passed in; and Ganimard rushed toward the table with the six guests.... There were only five left! He looked round: there was no way out except the door.

"Where is the person who was sitting here?" he shouted to the five bewildered guests. "Yes, there were six of you.... Where is the sixth?"

"M. Destro?"

"No, no: Arsène Lupin!"

A waiter stepped up:

"The gentleman has just gone up to the mezzanine floor."

Ganimard flew upstairs. The mezzanine floor consisted of private rooms and had a separate exit to the boulevard!

"It's no use now," groaned Ganimard. "He's far away by this time!"

* * *

He was not so very far away, two hundred yards at most, in the omnibus running between the Bastille and the Madeleine, which lumbered peacefully along behind its three horses, crossing the Place de l'Opéra and going down the Boulevard des Capucines. Two tall fellows in bowler hats stood talking on the conductor's platform. On the top, near the steps, a little old man sat dozing: it was Holmlock Shears.

And, with his head swaying from side to side, rocked by the movement of the omnibus, the Englishman soliloquized:

"Ah, if dear old Wilson could see me now, how proud he would be of his chief!... Pooh, it was easy to foresee, from the moment when the whistle sounded that the game was up and that there was nothing serious to be done, except to keep a watch around the restaurant! But that devil of a man adds a zest to life, and no mistake!"

On reaching the end of the journey, Shears leant over, saw Arsène Lupin pass out in front of his guards and heard him mutter:

"At the étoile."

"The étoile, just so: an assignation. I shall be there. I'll let him go ahead in that motor-cab, while I follow his two pals in a four-wheeler."

The two pals went off on foot, made for the étoile and rang at the door of No 40, Rue Chalgrin, a house with a narrow frontage. Shears found a hiding place in the shadow of a recess formed by the angle of that unfrequented little street.

One of the two windows on the ground floor opened and a man in a bowler hat closed the shutters. The window space above the shutters was lit up.

In ten minutes' time, a gentleman came and rang at the same door; and, immediately afterward, another person. And, at last, a motor-cab drew up and Shears saw two people get out: Arsène Lupin and a lady wrapped in a cloak and a thick veil.

"The blonde lady, I presume," thought Shears, as the cab drove away.

He waited for a moment, went up to the house, climbed on to the window-ledge and, by standing on tip-toe, succeeded in peering into the room through that part of the window which the shutters failed to cover.

Arsène Lupin was leaning against the chimney and talking in an animated fashion. The others stood round and listened attentively. Shears recognized the gentleman in the frock-coat and thought he recognized the head-waiter of the restaurant. As for the blonde lady, she was sitting in a chair, with her back turned toward him.

"They are holding a council," he thought. "This evening's occurrences have alarmed them and they feel a need to discuss things.... Oh, if I could only catch them all at one swoop!"

One of the accomplices moved and Shears leapt down and fell back into the shadow. The gentleman in the frock-coat and the head-waiter left the house. Then the first floor was lit up and some one closed the window-shutters. It was now dark above and below.

"He and she have remained on the ground floor," said Holmlock to himself. "The two accomplices live on the first story."

He waited during a part of the night without stirring from his place, fearing lest Arsène Lupin should go away during his absence. At four o'clock in the morning, seeing two policemen at the end of the street, he went up to them, explained the position and left them to watch the house.

Then he went to Ganimard's flat in the Rue Pergolèse and told the servant to wake him.

"I've got him again."

"Arsène Lupin?"

"Yes."

"If you haven't got him any better than you did just now, I may as well go back to bed. However, let's go and see the commissary."

They went to the Rue Mesnil and, from there, to the house of the commissary, M. Decointre. Next, accompanied by half a dozen men, they returned to the Rue Chalgrin.

"Any news?" asked Shears of the two policemen watching the house.

"No, sir; none."

The daylight was beginning to show in the sky when the commissary, after disposing his men, rang and entered the lodge of the concierge. Terrified by this intrusion, the woman, all trembling, said that there was no tenant on the ground floor.

"What do you mean; no tenant?" cried Ganimard.

"No, it's the people on the first floor, two gentlemen called Leroux.... They have furnished the apartment below for some relations from the country...."

"A lady and gentleman?"

"Yes."

"Did they come with them last night?"

"They may have.... I was asleep.... I don't think so, though, for here's the key-they didn't ask for it."

With this key, the commissary opened the door on the other side of the passage. The ground floor flat contained only two rooms: they were empty.

"Impossible!" said Shears. "I saw them both here."

The commissary grinned:

"I dare say; but they are not here now."

"Let us go to the first floor. They must be there."

"The first floor is occupied by two gentlemen called Leroux."

"We will question the two gentleman called Leroux."

They all went upstairs and the commissary rang. At the second ring, a man, who was none other than one of the bodyguards, appeared in his shirt-sleeves and, with a furious air:

"Well, what is it? What's all this noise about; what do you come waking people up for?"

But he stopped in confusion:

"Lord bless my soul!... Am I dreaming? Why, it's M. Decointre!... And you too, M. Ganimard? What can I do for you?"

There was a roar of laughter. Ganimard was splitting with a fit of merriment which doubled him up and seemed to threaten an apoplectic fit:

"It's you, Leroux!" he spluttered out. "Oh, that's the best thing I ever heard: Leroux, Arsène Lupin's accomplice!... It'll be the death of me, I know it will!... And where's your brother, Leroux? Is he visible?"

"Are you there, Edmond? It's M. Ganimard come to pay us a visit."

Another man came forward, at the sight of whom Ganimard's hilarity increased still further:

"Well, I never! Dear, dear me! Ah, my friends, you're in a nice pickle.... Who would have suspected it? It's a good thing that old Ganimard keeps his eyes open and still better that he has friends to help him ... friends who have come all the way from England!"

And, turning to Shears, he said:

"Mr. Shears, let me introduce Victor Leroux, detective-inspector, one of the best in the iron brigade.... And Edmond Leroux, head-clerk in the Finger-print Department...."

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares