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

   Chapter 5 KIDNAPPED

The Blonde Lady / Being a Record of the Duel of Wits between Arsène Lupin and the English Detective By Maurice Leblanc Characters: 44158

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Holmlock Shears restrained his feelings. What was the use of protesting, of accusing those two men? Short of proofs, which he did not possess and which he would not waste time in looking for, no one would take his word.

With nerves on edge and fists tight-clenched, he had but one thought, that of not betraying his rage and disappointment before the triumphant Ganimard. He bowed politely to those two mainstays of society, the brothers Leroux, and went downstairs.

In the hall he turned toward a small, low door, which marked the entrance to the cellar, and picked up a small red stone: it was a garnet.

Outside, he looked up and read, close to the number of the house, the inscription: "Lucien Destange, architect, 1877." He saw the same inscription on No. 42.

"Always that double outlet," he thought. "Nos. 40 and 42 communicate. Why did I not think of it before? I ought to have stayed with the policemen all night."

And, addressing them, he said, pointing to the door of the next house:

"Did two people go out by that door while I was away?"

"Yes, sir; a lady and gentleman."

He took the arm of the chief-inspector and led him along:

"M. Ganimard, you have enjoyed too hearty a laugh to be very angry with me for disturbing you like this ..."

"Oh, I'm not angry with you at all."

"That's right. But the best jokes can't go on forever and I think we must put an end to this one."

"I am with you."

"This is our seventh day. It is absolutely necessary that I should be in London in three days hence."

"I say! I say!"

"I shall be there, though, and I beg you to hold yourself in readiness on Tuesday night."

"For an expedition of the same kind?" asked Ganimard, chaffingly.

"Yes, of the same kind."

"And how will this one end?"

"In Lupin's capture."

"You think so."

"I swear it, on my honour."

Shears took his leave and went to seek a short rest in the nearest hotel, after which, refreshed and full of confidence, he returned to the Rue Chalgrin, slipped two louis into the hand of the concierge, made sure that the brothers Leroux were out, learned that the house belonged to a certain M. Harmingeat and, carrying a candle, found his way down to the cellar through the little door near which he had picked up the garnet.

At the foot of the stairs, he picked up another of exactly the same shape.

"I was right," he thought. "This forms the communication.... Let's see if my skeleton-key opens the door of the cellar that belongs to the ground-floor tenant.... Yes, capital.... Now let's examine these wine-bins.... Aha, here are places where the dust has been removed ... and footprints on the floor!..."

A slight sound made him prick up his ears. He quickly closed the door, blew out his candle and hid behind a stack of empty wine-cases. After a few seconds, he noticed that one of the iron bins was turning slowly on a pivot, carrying with it the whole of the piece of wall to which it was fastened. The light of a lantern was thrown into the cellar. An arm appeared. A man entered.

He was bent in two, like a man looking for something. He fumbled in the dust with his finger-tips, and, several times, he straightened himself and threw something into a cardboard box which he carried in his left hand. Next, he removed the marks of his footsteps, as well as those left by Lupin and the blonde lady, and went back to the wine-bin.

He gave a hoarse cry and fell. Shears had leapt upon him. It was the matter of a moment and, in the simplest way possible, the man found himself stretched on the floor, with his ankles fastened together and his wrists bound.

The Englishman stooped over him:

"How much will you take to speak?... To tell what you know?"

The man replied with so sarcastic a smile that Shears understood the futility of his question. He contented himself with exploring his captive's pockets, but his investigations produced nothing more than a bunch of keys, a pocket-handkerchief and the little cardboard box used by the fellow and containing a dozen garnets similar to those which Shears had picked up. A poor booty!

Besides, what was he to do with the man? Wait until his friends came to his assistance and hand them all over to the police? What was the good? What advantage could he derive from it against Lupin?

He was hesitating, when a glance at the box made him come to a decision. It bore the address of Léonard, jeweler, Rue de la Paix.

He resolved simply to leave the man where he was. He pushed back the bin, shut the cellar-door and left the house. He went to a post-office and telegraphed to M. Destange that he could not come until the next day. Then he went on to the jeweler and handed him the garnets:

"Madame sent me with these stones. They came off a piece of jewelry which she bought here."

Shears had hit the nail on the head. The jeweler replied:

"That's right.... The lady telephoned to me. She will call here herself presently."

* * *

It was five o'clock before Shears, standing on the pavement, saw a lady arrive, wrapped in a thick veil, whose appearance struck him as suspicious. Through the shop-window he saw her place on the counter an old-fashioned brooch set with garnets.

She went away almost at once, did a few errands on foot, walked up toward Clichy and turned down streets which the Englishman did not know. At nightfall, he followed her, unperceived by the concierge, into a five-storeyed house built on either side of the doorway and therefore containing numberless flats. She stopped at a door on the second floor and went in.

Two minutes later, the Englishman put his luck to the test and, one after the other, carefully tried the keys on the bunch of which he had obtained possession. The fourth key fitted the lock.

Through the darkness that filled them, he saw rooms which were absolutely empty, like those of an unoccupied flat, with all the doors standing open. But the light of a lamp filtered through from the end of a passage; and, approaching on tip-toe, through the glass door that separated the drawing-room from an adjoining bedroom he saw the veiled lady take off her dress and hat, lay them on the one chair which the room contained and slip on a velvet tea-gown.

And he also saw her walk up to the chimney-piece and push an electric bell. And one-half of the panel to the right of the chimney moved from its position and slipped along the wall into the thickness of the next panel. As soon as the gap was wide enough, the lady passed through ... and disappeared, taking the lamp with her.

The system was a simple one. Shears employed it. He found himself walking in the dark, groping his way; but suddenly his face came upon something soft. By the light of a match, he saw that he was in a little closet filled with dresses and clothes hanging from metal bars. He thrust his way through and stopped before the embrasure of a door closed by a tapestry hanging or, at least, by the back of a hanging. And, his match being now burnt out, he saw light piercing through the loose and worn woof of the old stuff.

Then he looked.

The blonde lady was there, before his eyes, within reach of his hand.

She put out the lamp and turned on the electric switch. For the first time, Shears saw her face in the full light. He gave a start. The woman whom he had ended by overtaking after so many shifts and turns was none other than Clotilde Destange.

* * *

Clotilde Destange, the murderess of Baron d'Hautrec and the purloiner of the blue diamond! Clotilde Destange the mysterious friend of Arsène Lupin! The blonde lady, in short!

"Why, of course," he thought, "I'm the biggest blockhead that ever lived! Just because Lupin's friend is fair and Clotilde dark, I never thought of connecting the two women! As though the blonde lady could afford to continue fair after the murder of the baron and the theft of the diamond!"

Shears saw part of the room, an elegant lady's boudoir, adorned with light hangings and valuable knick-knacks. A mahogany settee stood on a slightly-raised platform. Clotilde had sat down on it and remained motionless, with her head between her hands. And soon he noticed that she was crying. Great tears flowed down her pale cheeks, trickled by her mouth, fell drop by drop on the velvet of her bodice. And more tears followed indefinitely, as though springing from an inexhaustible source. And no sadder sight was ever seen than that dull and resigned despair, which expressed itself in the slow flowing of the tears.

But a door opened behind her. Arsène Lupin entered.

They looked at each other for a long time, without exchanging a word. Then he knelt down beside her, pressed his head to her breast, put his arms round her; and there was infinite tenderness and great pity in the gesture with which he embraced the girl. They did not move. A soft silence united them, and her tears flowed less abundantly.

"I so much wanted to make you happy!" he whispered.

"I am happy."

"No, for you're crying. And your tears break my heart, Clotilde."

Yielding, in spite of herself, to the sound of his coaxing voice, she listened, greedy of hope and happiness. A smile softened her face, but, oh, so sad a smile! He entreated her:

"Don't be sad, Clotilde; you have no reason, you have no right to be sad."

She showed him her white, delicate, lissom hands, and said, gravely:

"As long as these hands are mine, Maxime, I shall be sad."

"But why?"

"They have taken life."

Maxime cried:

"Hush, you must not think of that! The past is dead; the past does not count."

And he kissed her long white hands and she looked at him with a brighter smile, as though each kiss had wiped out a little of that hideous memory:

"You must love me, Maxime, you must, because no woman will ever love you as I do. To please you, I have acted, I am still acting not only according to your orders, but according to your unspoken wishes. I do things against which all my instincts and all my conscience revolt; but I am unable to resist.... All that I do I do mechanically, because it is of use to you and you wish it ... and I am ready to begin again to-morrow ... and always."

He said, bitterly:

"Ah, Clotilde, why did I ever mix you up in my adventurous life? I ought to have remained the Maxime Bermond whom you loved five years ago and not have let you know ... the other man that I am."

She whispered very low!

"I love that other man too; and I regret nothing."

"Yes, you regret your past life, your life in the light of day."

"I regret nothing, when you are there!" she said, passionately. "There is no such thing as guilt, no such thing as crime, when my eyes see you. What do I care if I am unhappy away from you and if I suffer and cry and loathe all that I do! Your love wipes out everything.... I accept everything.... But you must love me!"

"I do not love you because I must, Clotilde, but simply because I love you."

"Are you sure?" she asked, trustingly.

"I am as sure of myself as I am of you. Only, Clotilde, my life is a violent and feverish one and I cannot always give you as much time as I should wish."

She at once grew terrified.

"What is it? A fresh danger? Tell me, quick!"

"Oh, nothing serious as yet. Still...."

"Still what...?"

"Well, he is on our track."

"Shears?"

"Yes. It was he who set Ganimard at me at the Restaurant Hongrois. It was he who posted the two policemen in the Rue Chalgrin last night. The proof is that Ganimard searched the house this morning and Shears was with him. Besides...."

"Besides what?"

"Well, there is something more: one of our men is missing, Jeanniot."

"The concierge?"

"Yes."

"Why, I sent him to the Rue Chalgrin this morning to pick up some garnets which had fallen from my brooch."

"There is no doubt about it, Shears has caught him in a trap."

"Not at all. The garnets were brought to the jeweler in the Rue de la Paix."

"Then what has become of Jeanniot since?"

"Oh, Maxime, I'm so frightened!"

"There's no cause for alarm. But I admit that the position is very serious. How much does he know? Where is he hiding? His strength lies in his isolation. There is nothing to betray him."

"Then what have you decided on?"

"Extreme prudence, Clotilde. Some time ago I made up my mind to move my things to the refuge you know of, the safe refuge. The intervention of Shears hastens the need. When a man like Shears is on a trail, we may take it that he is bound to follow that trail to the end. So I have made all my preparations. The removal will take place on the day after to-morrow, Wednesday. It will be finished by midday. By two o'clock I shall be able myself to leave, after getting rid of the last vestige of our occupation, which is no small matter. Until then ..."

"Yes...?"

"We must not see each other and no one must see you, Clotilde. Don't go out. I fear nothing for myself. But I fear everything where you're concerned."

"It is impossible for that Englishman to get at me."

"Everything is possible to him and I am not easy in my mind. Yesterday, when I was nearly caught by your father, I had come to search the cupboard which contains M. Destange's old ledgers. There is danger there. There is danger everywhere. I feel that the enemy is prowling in the shade and drawing nearer and nearer. I know that he is watching us ... that he is laying his nets around us. It is one of those intuitions which never fail me."

"In that case," said she, "go, Maxime, and think no more about my tears. I shall be brave and I will wait until the danger is over. Good-bye, Maxime."

She gave him a long kiss. And she herself pushed him outside. Shears heard the sound of their voices grow fainter in the distance.

Boldly, excited by the need of action, toward and against everything, which had been stimulating him since the day before, he made his way to a passage, at the end of which was a staircase. But, just as he was going down, he heard the sound of a conversation below and thought it better to follow a circular corridor which brought him to another staircase. At the foot of this staircase, he was greatly surprised to see furniture the shape and position of which he already knew. A door stood half open. He entered a large round room. It was M. Destange's library.

"Capital! Splendid!" he muttered. "I understand everything now. The boudoir of Clotilde, that is to say, the blonde lady, communicates with one of the flats in the next house and the door of that house is not in the Place Malesherbes, but in an adjoining street, the Rue Montchanin, if I remember right.... Admirable! And now I see how Clotilde Destange slips out to meet her sweetheart while keeping up the reputation of a person who never leaves the house. And I also see how Arsène Lupin popped out close to me, yesterday evening, in the gallery: there must be another communication between the flat next door and this library...." And he concluded, "Another faked house. Once again, no doubt, 'Destange, architect!' And what I must now do is to take advantage of my presence here to examine the contents of the cupboard ... and obtain all the information I can about the other faked houses."

Shears went up to the gallery and hid behind the hangings of the rail. He stayed there till the end of the evening. A man-servant came to put out the electric lights. An hour later, the Englishman pressed the spring of his lantern and went down to the cupboard. As he knew, it contained the architect's old papers, files, plans, estimates and account-books. At the back stood a row of ledgers, arranged in chronological order.

He took down the more recent volumes one by one and at once looked through the index-pages, more particularly under the letter H. At last, finding the word "Harmingeat" followed by the number 63, he turned up page 63 and read:

"Harmingeat, 40, Rue Chalgrin."

There followed a detailed statement of works executed for this customer, with a view to the installation of a central heating-apparatus in his property. And in the margin was this note:

"See file M. B."

"I knew it," muttered Shears. "File M. B. is the one I want. When I have been through that, I shall know the whereabouts of M. Lupin's present abode."

The small hours had struck before he found file M. B. It consisted of fifteen pages. One was a copy of the page concerning M. Harmingeat of the Rue Chalgrin. Another contained a detailed account of works executed for M. Vatinel, the owner of 25, Rue Clapeyron. A third was devoted to Baron d'Hautrec, 134, Avenue Henri-Martin; a fourth to the Chateau de Crozon; and the eleven others to different Paris landlords.

Shears took down the list of eleven names and addresses and then restored the papers to their place, opened a window and jumped out into the deserted square, taking care to close the shutters behind him.

On reaching his room at the hotel, he lit his pipe with the gravity which he always applied to that ceremony and, enveloped in clouds of smoke, studied the conclusions to be drawn from file M. B., or, to be more exact, the file devoted to Maxime Bermond, alias Arsène Lupin.

At eight o'clock, he sent Ganimard an express letter:

"I shall probably call on you in the Rue Pergolèse this morning and place in your charge a person whose capture is of the highest importance. In any case, stay at home to-night and until twelve o'clock to-morrow, Wednesday, morning; and arrange to have thirty men at your disposal."

Then he went down the boulevard, picked out a motor-cab with a driver whose good-humoured but unintelligent face took his fancy and drove to the Place Malesherbes, fifty yards beyond the H?tel Destange.

"Close the hood, my man," he said, to the driver, "turn up the collar of your fur, for it's a cold wind, and wait for me patiently. Start your engine in an hour and a half from now. The moment I get in again, drive straight to the Rue Pergolèse."

With his foot on the doorstep of the house, he had a last moment of hesitation. Was it not a mistake to take so much trouble about the blonde lady, when Lupin was completing his preparations for departure? And would he not have done better, with the aid of his list of houses, to begin by finding out where his adversary lived?

"Pooh!" he said. "When the blonde lady is my prisoner, I shall be master of the situation."

And he rang the bell.

* * *

He found M. Destange waiting in the library. They worked together for a little while and Shears was seeking a pretext to go up to Clotilde's room, when the girl entered, said good-morning to her father, sat down in the little drawing-room and began to write letters.

From where he was sitting, Shears could see her as she bent over the table and, from time to time, meditated with poised pen and a thoughtful face. He waited and then, taking up a volume, said to M. Destange:

"Oh, this is the book which Mlle. Destange asked me to give her when I found it."

He went into the little room, stood in front of Clotilde, in such a way that her father could not see her, and said:

"I am M. Stickmann, M. Destange's new secretary."

"Oh?" she said, without moving. "Has my father changed his secretary?"

"Yes, mademoiselle, and I should like to speak to you."

"Take a seat, monsieur; I have just finished."

She added a few words to her letter, signed it, sealed the envelope, pushed back her papers, took up the telephone, asked to be put on to her dressmaker, begged her to hurry on a travelling-cloak which she needed urgently and then, turning to Shears:

"I am at your service, monsieur. But cannot our conversation take place before my father?"

"No, mademoiselle, and I will even entreat you not to raise your voice. It would be better that M. Destange should not hear us."

"Better for whom?"

"For you, mademoiselle."

"I will not permit a conversation which my father cannot hear."

"And yet you must permit this one."

They both rose, with their eyes fixed on each other. And she said:

"Speak, monsieur."

Still standing, he began:

"You must forgive me if I am inaccurate in a few less important particulars. I will vouch for the general correctness of what I am going to say."

"No speeches, I beg. Facts."

He felt, from this abrupt interruption, that the girl was on her guard and he continued:

"Very well, I will come straight to the point. Five years ago, your father happened to meet a M. Maxime Bermond, who introduced himself as a contractor ... or an architect, I am not sure which. In any case, M. Destange took a liking to this young man and, as the state of his health no longer allowed him to attend to his business, he entrusted to M. Bermond the execution of a few orders which he had accepted to please some old customers and which appeared to him to come within the scope of his assistant's capacity."

Shears stopped. It seemed to him that the girl had grown paler. Still, she answered with the greatest calmness.

"I know nothing of the things about which you are talking, monsieur, and I am quite unable to see how they can interest me."

"They interest you in so far, mademoiselle, that M. Maxime Bermond's real name, which you know as well as I do, is Arsène Lupin."

She burst out laughing:

"Nonsense! Arsène Lupin? M. Maxime Bermond's name is Arsène Lupin?"

"As I have the honour to inform you, mademoiselle, and, since you refuse to understand me unless I speak plainly, I will add that Arsène Lupin, to accomplish his designs, has found in this house a friend, more than a friend, a blind and ... passionately devoted accomplice."

She rose and, betraying no emotion or, at least, so little emotion that Shears was impressed by her extraordinary self-control, said:

"I do not know the reason for your behaviour, monsieur, and I have no wish to know it. I will ask you, therefore, not to add another word and to leave the room."

"I had no intention, mademoiselle, of imp

osing my presence upon you indefinitely," said Shears, as calmly as herself. "Only I have resolved not to leave this house alone."

"And who is going with you, monsieur?"

"You!"

"I?"

"Yes, mademoiselle, we shall leave this house together, and you will accompany me without a word, without a protest."

The strange feature of this scene was the absolute coolness of the two adversaries. To judge by their attitudes and the tone of their voices, it might have been a courteous discussion between two people who differ in opinion, rather than an implacable duel between two powerful wills.

Through the great open recess, M. Destange could be seen in the round library, handling his books with leisurely movements.

Clotilde sat down again with a slight shrug of the shoulders. Holmlock Shears took out his watch:

"It is now half-past ten. We will start in five minutes."

"And, if I refuse?"

"If you refuse, I shall go to M. Destange and tell him ..."

"What?"

"The truth. I shall describe to him the false life led by Maxime Bermond and the double life of his accomplice."

"Of his accomplice?"

"Yes, of the one known as the blonde lady, the lady whose hair was once fair."

"And what proofs will you give him?"

"I shall take him to the Rue Chalgrin and show him the passage which Arsène Lupin, when managing the works, made his men construct between Nos. 40 and 42, the passage employed by the two of you on the night before last."

"Next?"

"Next, I shall take M. Destange to Ma?tre Detinan's. We will go down the servants' staircase which you ran down, with Arsène Lupin, to escape Ganimard. And we will both look for the doubtless similar means of communication with the next house, which has its entrance on the Boulevard des Batignolles and not in the Rue Clapeyron."

"Next?"

"Next, I shall take M. Destange to the Chateau de Crozon and it will be easy for him, who knows the nature of the works executed by Arsène Lupin at the time of the restoration of the Chateau, to discover the secret passages which Arsène Lupin made his men construct. He will find that these passages enabled the blonde lady to enter Madame de Crozon's room at night and take the blue diamond from the chimney and, a fortnight later, to enter Herr Bleichen's room and hide the blue diamond at the bottom of a flask ... a rather queer thing to do, I admit: perhaps it was a woman's petty vengeance; I do not know and it makes no difference."

"Next?"

"Next," said Holmlock Shears, in a more serious voice, "I shall take M. Destange to 134, Avenue Henri-Martin, and together we will try to discover how Baron d'Hautrec...."

"Hush, hush!" stammered the girl, in sudden dismay. "You must not...! Do you dare to say it was I...? Do you accuse me...?"

"I accuse you of killing Baron d'Hautrec."

"No, no; this is monstrous!"

"You killed Baron d'Hautrec, mademoiselle. You entered his service under the name of Antoinette Bréhat, with the intention of robbing him of the blue diamond, and you killed him."

Again she murmured, breaking down and reduced to entreaties:

"Hush, monsieur, I beg.... As you know so much, you must also know that I did not murder the baron."

"I did not say that you murdered him, mademoiselle. Baron d'Hautrec was subject to fits of insanity which only S?ur Auguste was able to check. She has told me this herself. He must have thrown himself upon you in her absence; and it was in the course of the ensuing struggle that you struck at him, in self-defence. Appalled by what you had done, you rang the bell and fled, without even taking from his finger the blue diamond which you had come to secure. A moment later, you returned with one of Lupin's accomplices, a man-servant in the next house, lifted the baron on to his bed and arranged the room ... but still without daring to take the blue diamond. That's what happened. Therefore, I repeat, you did not murder the baron. And yet it was your hands that killed him."

She was holding them clasped before her forehead, her slim, white, delicate hands, and she kept them long like that, motionless. Then, uncrossing her fingers, she showed her sorrow-stricken face and said:

"And you mean to tell all this to my father?"

"Yes; and I shall tell him that I have as witnesses Mlle. Gerbois, who will recognize the blonde lady, S?ur Auguste, who will recognize Antoinette Bréhat, the Comtesse de Crozon, who will recognize Mme. de Réal. That is what I shall tell him."

"You will not dare!" she said, recovering her presence of mind, in the face of immediate danger.

He rose and took a step toward the library. Clotilde stopped him:

"One moment, monsieur."

She reflected and, now fully mistress of herself, asked, very calmly:

"You are Holmlock Shears, are you not?"

"Yes."

"What do you want with me?"

"What do I want? I have entered upon a contest with Arsène Lupin from which I must emerge the winner. Pending a result which cannot be far distant, I am of opinion that a hostage as valuable as yourself will give me a considerable advantage over my adversary. You shall go with me, therefore, mademoiselle, and I will place you under the care of a friend of mine. As soon as my object is attained, you shall be set free."

"Is that all?"

"That is all. I do not belong to the police of your country and consequently I claim no ... no justiciary rights."

Her mind appeared made up. However, she asked for a moment's delay. Her eyelids closed and Shears stood watching her, suddenly grown calm, almost indifferent to the perils that threatened her.

"I wonder," thought the Englishman, "if she believes herself to be in danger? Probably not, with Lupin to protect her. With Lupin there, nothing can happen to her, she thinks: Lupin is omnipotent, Lupin is infallible.... Mademoiselle," he said aloud, "I spoke of five minutes: it is now more than thirty."

"May I go to my room, monsieur, and fetch my things?"

"If you like, mademoiselle, I will go and wait for you in the Rue Montchanin. I am a great friend of Jeanniot, the concierge."

"Ah, so you know...!" she said, with visible dismay.

"I know a great many things."

"Very well. Then I will ring."

The servant brought her hat and cloak and Shears said:

"You must give M. Destange some reason to explain our departure and the reason must be enough, in case of need, to explain your absence for two or three days."

"That is unnecessary. I shall be back presently."

Again, they exchanged a defiant glance, skeptical, both of them, and smiling.

"How you trust him!" said Shears.

"Blindly."

"Whatever he does is right, is it not? Whatever he wishes is realized. And you approve of everything and are prepared to do everything for his sake."

"I love him," she said, with a tremor of passion.

"And you believe that he will save you?"

She shrugged her shoulders and, going up to her father, told him:

"I am robbing you of M. Stickmann. We are going to the National Library."

"Will you be back to lunch?"

"Perhaps ... or more likely not ... but don't worry about me, in any case...."

And, in a firm voice, she said to Shears:

"I am ready, monsieur."

"Without reserve?" he whispered.

"With my eyes closed."

"If you try to escape, I shall shout and call for help, you will be arrested and it will mean prison. Don't forget that there is a warrant out against the blonde lady."

"I swear to you on my honour that I will make no attempt to escape."

"I believe you. Let us go."

They left the house together, as he had foretold.

* * *

The motor-cab had turned round and was waiting in the square. They could see the driver's back and his cap, which was almost covered by the upturned collar of his fur. As they approached, Shears heard the humming of the engine. He opened the door, asked Clotilde to step in and sat down beside her.

The car started with a jerk and soon reached the outer boulevards, the Avenue Hoche, the Avenue de la Grande-Armée.

Shears was thinking out his plans:

"Ganimard is at home.... I shall leave the girl with him.... Shall I tell him who she is? No, he would take her straight to the police-station, which would put everything out. As soon as I am alone, I will consult the M. B. list and set out on my chase. And, to-night, or to-morrow morning at latest, I shall go to Ganimard, as arranged, and deliver Arsène Lupin and his gang to him."

He rubbed his hands, glad to feel that his object was at last within his reach and to see that there was no serious obstacle in the way. And, yielding to a need for expansion, which was not in keeping with his usual nature, he said:

"Forgive me, mademoiselle, for displaying so much satisfaction. It was a difficult fight and I find my success particularly agreeable."

"A legitimate success, monsieur, in which you have every right to rejoice."

"Thank you. But what a funny way we are going! Didn't the man understand?"

At that moment, they were leaving Paris by the Porte de Neuilly. What on earth!... After all, the Rue Pergolèse was not outside the fortifications!

Shears let down the glass:

"I say, driver, you're going wrong.... Rue Pergolèse!..."

The man made no reply. Shears repeated, in a louder voice:

"I'm telling you to go to the Rue Pergolèse."

The man took no notice.

"Look here, my man, are you deaf? Or are you doing it on purpose?... This isn't where I told you to go.... Rue Pergolèse, do you hear!... Turn round at once and look sharp about it!"

Still no reply. The Englishman began to be alarmed. He looked at Clotilde: a queer smile was playing on the girl's lips.

"What are you laughing at?" he stormed. "This doesn't affect ... it has nothing to say to...."

"Nothing in the very least," she replied.

Suddenly, he was taken aback by an idea. Half rising from his seat, he attentively scrutinized the man on the box. His shoulders were slimmer, his movements easier.... A cold sweat broke out on Shears's forehead, his hands contracted, while the most hideous conviction forced itself upon his mind: the man was Arsène Lupin.

* * *

"Well, Mr. Shears, what do you think of this little drive?"

"It's delightful, my dear sir, really delightful," replied Shears.

Perhaps he had never in his life made a more tremendous effort than it cost him to utter those words without a tremor in his voice, without anything that could betray the exasperation that filled his whole being. But, the minute after, he was carried away by a sort of formidable reaction; and a torrent of rage and hatred burst its banks, overcame his will, and made him suddenly draw his revolver and point it at Mlle. Destange.

"Lupin, if you don't stop this minute, this second, I fire at mademoiselle!"

"I advise you to aim at the cheek if you want to hit the temple," said Lupin, without turning his head.

Clotilde called out:

"Don't go too fast, Maxime! The pavement is very slippery, and you know how timid I am!"

She was still smiling, with her eyes fixed on the cobbles with which the road bristled in front of the car.

"Stop him, tell him to stop!" shouted Shears beside himself with fury. "You can see for yourself that I am capable of anything!"

The muzzle of the revolver grazed her hair.

"How reckless Maxime is!" she murmured. "We are sure to skid, at this rate."

Shears replaced the revolver in his pocket and seized the handle of the door, preparing to jump out, in spite of the absurdity of the act.

"Take care, Mr. Shears," said Clotilde. "There's a motor-car behind us."

He leant out. A car was following them, an enormous car, fierce-looking, with its pointed bonnet, blood-red in colour, and the four men in furs inside it.

"Ah," he said, "I'm well guarded! We must have patience!"

He crossed his arms on his chest, with the proud submission of those who bow and wait when fate turns against them. And while they crossed the Seine and tore through Suresnes, Rueil and Chatou, motionless and resigned, without anger or bitterness, he thought only of discovering by what miracle Arsène Lupin had put himself in the driver's place. That the decent fellow whom he had picked out that morning on the boulevard could be an accomplice, posted there of set purpose, he refused to admit. And yet Arsène Lupin must have received a warning and that only after the moment when he, Shears, had threatened Clotilde, for no one suspected his plan before. Now from that moment Clotilde and he had not left each other's presence.

Suddenly, he remembered the girl's telephoning to her dressmaker. And, all at once, he understood. Even before he spoke, at the very moment when he asked for an interview as M. Destange's new secretary, she had scented danger, guessed the visitor's name and object and, coolly, naturally, as though she were really doing what she appeared to do, had summoned Lupin to her aid, under the pretense of speaking to one of her tradespeople and by means of a formula known to themselves alone.

How Arsène Lupin had come, how that motor-cab in waiting, with its throbbing engine, had aroused his suspicion, how he had bribed the driver: all this mattered little. What interested Shears almost to the point of calming his rage was the recollection of that moment in which a mere woman, a woman in love, it is true, mastering her nerves, suppressing her instinct, controlling the features of her face and the expression of her eyes, had humbugged old Holmlock Shears.

What was he to do against a man served by such allies, a man who, by the sheer ascendancy of his authority, inspired a woman with such a stock of daring and energy?

They re-crossed the Seine and climbed the slope of Saint-Germain; but, five hundred yards beyond the town, the cab slowed down. The other car came up with it and the two stopped alongside. There was no one about.

"Mr. Shears," said Lupin, "may I trouble you to change cars? Ours is really so very slow!..."

"Certainly," said Shears, all the more politely, as he had no choice.

"Will you also permit me to lend you this fur, for we shall be going pretty fast, and to offer you a couple of sandwiches?... Yes, yes, take them: there's no telling when you will get any dinner."

The four men had alighted. One of them came up and, as he had taken off the goggles which disguised him, Shears recognized the gentleman in the frock-coat whom he had seen at the Restaurant Hongrois. Lupin gave him his instructions:

"Take the cab back to the driver from whom I hired it. You will find him waiting in the first wine-shop on the right in the Rue Legendre. Pay him the second thousand francs I promised him. Oh, I was forgetting: you might give Mr. Shears your goggles!"

He spoke a few words to Mlle. Destange, then took his seat at the wheel and drove off, with Shears beside him and one of his men behind.

Lupin had not exaggerated when saying that they would go "pretty fast." They travelled at a giddy pace from the first. The horizon rushed toward them, as though attracted by a mysterious force, and disappeared at the same moment, as though swallowed up by an abyss into which other things-trees, houses, plains and forests-plunged with the tumultuous speed of a torrent rushing down to the pool below.

Shears and Lupin did not exchange a word. Above their heads, the leaves of the poplars made a great noise as of waves, punctuated by the regular spacing of the trees. And town after town vanished from sight: Mantes, Vernon, Gaillon. From hill to hill, from Bon-Secours to Canteleu, Rouen, with her suburbs, her harbour, her miles upon miles of quays, Rouen seemed no more than the high-street of a market-town. And they rushed through Duclair, through Caudebec, through the Pays de Caux, skimming over its hills and plains in their powerful flight, through Lillebonne, through Quille-beuf. And, suddenly, they were on the bank of the Seine, at the end of a small quay, alongside which lay a steam-yacht, built on sober and powerful lines, with black smoke curling up from her funnel.

The car stopped. They had covered over a hundred miles in two hours.

* * *

A man dressed in a blue pea-jacket came forward and touched his gold-laced cap.

"Well done, captain!" said Lupin. "Did you get my telegram?"

"Yes, sir."

"Is the Hirondelle ready?"

"Quite ready, sir."

"In that case, Mr. Shears...?"

The Englishman looked around him, saw a group of people seated outside a café, another a little nearer, hesitated for a moment and then, realizing that, before any one could interfere, he would be seized, forced on board and packed off at the bottom of the hold, he crossed the foot-plank and followed Lupin into the captain's cabin.

It was roomy, specklessly clean and shone brightly with its varnished wainscoting and gleaming brass.

Lupin closed the door and, without beating about the bush, said to Shears, almost brutally:

"Tell me exactly how much you know."

"Everything."

"Everything? I want details."

His voice had lost the tone of politeness, tinged with irony, which he adopted toward the Englishman. Instead, it rang with the imperious accent of the master who is accustomed to command and accustomed to see every one bow before his will, even though it be a Holmlock Shears.

They eyed each other now from head to foot as enemies, declared and passionate enemies.

Lupin resumed, with a touch of nervousness:

"You have crossed my path, sir, on several occasions. Each occasion has been one too many; and I am tired of wasting my time avoiding the traps you lay for me. I warn you, therefore, that my conduct toward you will depend upon your answer. How much exactly do you know?"

"Everything, I tell you."

Arsène Lupin mastered his annoyance and jerked out:

"I will tell you what you know. You know that, under the name of Maxime Bermond, I ... 'touched up' fifteen houses built by M. Destange."

"Yes."

"Of those fifteen houses, you know four."

"Yes."

"And you have a list of the eleven others."

"Yes."

"You made out the list at M. Destange's, last night, no doubt."

"Yes."

"And, as you presume that, among those eleven properties, there must inevitably be one which I keep for my own needs and those of my friends, you have instructed Ganimard to take the field and discover my retreat."

"No."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I am acting alone and that I intended to take the field alone."

"So I have nothing to fear, seeing that I have you in my hands."

"You have nothing to fear so long as I remain in your hands."

"You mean to say that you will not remain?"

"I do."

Arsène Lupin went up to Holmlock Shears and placed his hand very gently on the Englishman's shoulder:

"Listen to me, sir. I am not in the mood for argument and you, unfortunately for yourself, are not in a position to check me. Let us put an end to this."

"Yes, let us."

"You shall give me your word of honour not to attempt to escape from this boat until she reaches English waters."

"I give you my word of honour that I shall attempt to escape by every means in my power," said Shears, nothing daunted.

"But, dash it all, you know I have only to speak a word to reduce you to helplessness! All these men obey me blindly. At a sign from me, they will put a chain round your neck...."

"Chains can be broken."

"And throw you overboard at ten miles from the coast."

"I can swim."

"Well said," cried Lupin, laughing. "Heaven forgive me, but I lost my temper! Accept my apology, ma?tre ... and let us conclude. Will you allow me to seek the necessary measures for my safety and that of my friends?"

"Any measures you like. But they are useless."

"Agreed. Still, you will not mind if I take them?"

"It's your duty."

"To work, then."

Lupin opened the door and called the captain and two of the crew. The latter seized the Englishman and, after searching him, bound his legs together and tied him down in the captain's berth.

"That will do," ordered Lupin. "Really, sir, nothing short of your obstinancy and the exceptional gravity of the circumstances would have allowed me to venture...."

The sailors withdrew. Lupin said to the captain:

"Captain, one of the crew must remain in the cabin to wait on Mr. Shears and you yourself must keep him company as much as you can. Let him be treated with every consideration. He is not a prisoner, but a guest. What is the time by your watch, captain?"

"Five minutes past two."

Lupin looked at his own watch and at a clock which hung on the cabin-wall:

"Five minutes past two?... Our watches agree. How long will it take you to reach Southampton?"

"Nine hours, without hurrying."

"Make it eleven. You must not touch land before the departure of the steamer which leaves Southampton at midnight and is due at the Havre at eight in the morning. You understand, captain, do you not? I repeat: it would be exceedingly dangerous for us all if this gentleman returned to France by the steamer; and you must not arrive at Southampton before one o'clock in the morning."

"Very well, sir."

"Good-bye, ma?tre," said Lupin, turning to Shears. "We shall meet next year, in this world or another."

"Let's say to-morrow."

A few minutes later, Shears heard the car drive away and the engines of the Hirondelle at once began to throb with increased force. The yacht threw off her moorings. By three o'clock they had left the estuary of the Seine and entered the Channel. At that moment, Holmlock Shears lay sound asleep in the berth to which he was fastened down.

* * *

On the following morning, the tenth and last day of the war between the two great rivals, the écho de France published this delicious paragraph:

"A decree of expulsion was pronounced by Arsène Lupin yesterday against Holmlock Shears, the English detective. The decree was published at noon and executed on the same day. Shears was landed at Southampton at one o'clock this morning."

* * *

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