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The Blonde Lady / Being a Record of the Duel of Wits between Arsène Lupin and the English Detective By Maurice Leblanc Characters: 49442

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Holmlock Shears and Wilson were seated on either side of the fireplace in Shears's sitting-room. The great detective's pipe had gone out. He knocked the ashes into the grate, re-filled his briar, lit it, gathered the skirts of his dressing-gown around his knees, puffed away and devoted all his attention to sending rings of smoke curling gracefully up to the ceiling.

Wilson watched him. He watched him as a dog, rolled up on the hearth-rug, watches its master, with wide-open eyes and unblinking lids, eyes which have no other hope than to reflect the expected movement on the master's part. Would Shears break silence? Would he reveal the secret of his present dreams and admit Wilson to the realm of meditation into which he felt that he was not allowed to enter uninvited?

Shears continued silent.

Wilson ventured upon a remark:

"Things are very quiet. There's not a single case for us to nibble at."

Shears was more and more fiercely silent; but the rings of tobacco-smoke became more and more successful and any one but Wilson would have observed that Shears obtained from this the profound content which we derive from the minor achievements of our vanity, at times when our brain is completely void of thought.

Disheartened, Wilson rose and walked to the window. The melancholy street lay stretched between the gloomy fronts of the houses, under a dark sky whence fell an angry and pouring rain. A cab drove past; another cab. Wilson jotted down their numbers in his note-book. One can never tell!

The postman came down the street, gave a treble knock at the door; and, presently, the servant entered with two registered letters.

"You look remarkably pleased," said Wilson, when Shears had unsealed and glanced through the first.

"This letter contains a very attractive proposal. You were worrying about a case: here is one. Read it."

Wilson took the letter and read:

"18, Rue Murillo,

Paris.

"Sir:

"I am writing to ask for the benefit of your assistance and experience. I have been the victim of a serious theft and all the investigations attempted up to the present would seem to lead to nothing.

"I am sending you by this post a number of newspapers which will give you all the details of the case; and, if you are inclined to take it up, I shall be pleased if you will accept the hospitality of my house and if you will fill in the enclosed signed check for any amount which you like to name for your expenses.

"Pray, telegraph to inform me if I may expect you and believe me to be, sir,

"Yours very truly,

"Baron Victor d'Imblevalle."

"Well," said Shears, "this comes just at the right time: why shouldn't I take a little run to Paris? I haven't been there since my famous duel with Arsène Lupin and I shan't be sorry to re-visit it under rather more peaceful conditions."

He tore the cheque into four pieces and, while Wilson, whose arm had not yet recovered from the injury received in the course of the aforesaid encounter, was inveighing bitterly against Paris and all its inhabitants, he opened the second envelope.

A movement of irritation at once escaped him; he knitted his brow as he read the letter and, when he had finished, he crumpled it into a ball and threw it angrily on the floor.

"What's the matter?" exclaimed Wilson, in amazement.

He picked up the ball, unfolded it and read, with ever-increasing stupefaction:

My dear Ma?tre:

"You know my admiration for you and the interest which I take in your reputation. Well, accept my advice and have nothing to do with the case in which you are asked to assist. Your interference would do a great deal of harm, all your efforts would only bring about a pitiable result and you would be obliged publicly to acknowledge your defeat.

"I am exceedingly anxious to spare you this humiliation and I beg you, in the name of our mutual friendship, to remain very quietly by your fireside.

"Give my kind remembrances to Dr. Wilson and accept for yourself the respectful compliments of

"Yours most sincerely,

"Arsène Lupin."

"Arsène Lupin!" repeated Wilson, in bewilderment.

Shears banged the table with his fist:

"Oh, I'm getting sick of the brute! He laughs at me as if I were a schoolboy! I am publicly to acknowledge my defeat, am I? Didn't I compel him to give up the blue diamond?"

"He's afraid of you," suggested Wilson.

"You're talking nonsense! Arsène Lupin is never afraid; and the proof is that he challenges me."

"But how does he come to know of Baron d'Imblevalle's letter?"

"How can I tell? You're asking silly questions, my dear fellow!"

"I thought ... I imagined...."

"What? That I am a sorcerer?"

"No, but I have seen you perform such marvels!"

"No one is able to perform marvels.... I no more than another. I make reflections, deductions, conclusions, but I don't make guesses. Only fools make guesses."

Wilson adopted the modest attitude of a beaten dog and did his best, lest he should be a fool, not to guess why Shears was striding angrily up and down the room. But, when Shears rang for the servant and asked for his travelling-bag, Wilson thought himself entitled, since this was a material fact, to reflect, deduce and conclude that his chief was going on a journey.

The same mental operation enabled him to declare, in the tone of a man who has no fear of the possibility of a mistake:

"Holmlock, you are going to Paris."

"Possibly."

"And you are going to Paris even more in reply to Lupin's challenge than to oblige Baron d'Imblevalle."

"Possibly."

"Holmlock, I will go with you."

"Aha, old friend!" cried Shears, interrupting his walk. "Aren't you afraid that your left arm may share the fate of the right?"

"What can happen to me? You will be there."

"Well said! You're a fine fellow! And we will show this gentleman that he may have made a mistake in defying us so boldly. Quick, Wilson, and meet me at the first train."

"Won't you wait for the newspapers the baron mentions?"

"What's the good?"

"Shall I send a telegram?"

"No. Arsène Lupin would know I was coming and I don't wish him to. This time, Wilson, we must play a cautious game."

* * *

That afternoon, the two friends stepped on board the boat at Dover. They had a capital crossing. In the express from Calais to Paris, Shears indulged in three hours of the soundest sleep, while Wilson kept a good watch at the door of the compartment and meditated with a wandering eye.

Shears woke up feeling happy and well. The prospect of a new duel with Arsène Lupin delighted him; and he rubbed his hands with the contented air of a man preparing to taste untold joys.

"At last," exclaimed Wilson, "we shall feel that we're alive!"

And he rubbed his hands with the same contented air.

At the station, Shears took the rugs, and, followed by Wilson carrying the bags-each his burden!-handed the tickets to the collector and walked gaily into the street.

"A fine day, Wilson.... Sunshine!... Paris is dressed in her best to receive us."

"What a crowd!"

"So much the better, Wilson: we stand less chance of being noticed. No one will recognize us in the midst of such a multitude."

"Mr. Shears, I believe?"

He stopped, somewhat taken aback. Who on earth could be addressing him by name?

A woman was walking beside him, or rather a girl whose exceedingly simple dress accentuated her well-bred appearance. Her pretty face wore a sad and anxious expression. She repeated:

"You must be Mr. Shears, surely?"

He was silent, as much from confusion as from the habit of prudence, and she asked for the third time:

"Surely I am speaking to Mr. Shears?"

"What do you want with me?" he asked, crossly, thinking this a questionable meeting.

She placed herself in front of him:

"Listen to me, Mr. Shears: it is a very serious matter. I know that you are going to the Rue Murillo."

"What's that?"

"I know.... I know.... Rue Murillo.... No. 18. Well, you must not ... no, you must not go.... I assure you, you will regret it. Because I tell you this, you need not think that I am interested in any way. I have a reason; I know what I am saying."

He tried to push her aside. She insisted:

"I entreat you; do not be obstinate.... Oh, if I only knew how to convince you! Look into me, look into the depths of my eyes ... they are sincere ... they speak the truth...."

Desperately, she raised her eyes, a pair of beautiful, grave and limpid eyes that seemed to reflect her very soul. Wilson nodded his head:

"The young lady seems quite sincere," he said.

"Indeed I am," she said beseechingly, "and you must trust me...."

"I do trust you, mademoiselle," replied Wilson.

"Oh, how happy you make me! And your friend trusts me too, does he not? I feel it.... I am sure of it! How glad I am! All will be well!... Oh, what a good idea I had! Listen, Mr. Shears: there's a train for Calais in twenty minutes.... Now, you must take it.... Quick, come with me: it's this way and you have not much time."

She tried to drag Shears with her. He seized her by the arm and, in a voice which he strove to make as gentle as possible, said: "Forgive me, mademoiselle, if I am not able to accede to your wish; but I never turn aside from a task which I have undertaken."

"I entreat you.... I entreat you.... Oh, if you only knew!"

He passed on and walked briskly away.

Wilson lingered behind and said to the girl:

"Be of good hope.... He will see the thing through to the end.... He has never yet been known to fail...."

And he ran after Shears to catch him up.

HOLMLOCK SHEARS

VERSUS

ARSèNE LUPIN

These words, standing out in great black letters, struck their eyes at the first steps they took. They walked up to them: a procession of sandwich-men was moving along in single file. In their hands they carried heavy ferruled canes, with which they tapped the pavement in unison as they went; and their boards bore the above legend in front and a further huge poster at the back which read:

THE SHEARS-LUPIN CONTEST

ARRIVAL OF

THE ENGLISH CHAMPION

THE GREAT DETECTIVE

GRAPPLES WITH

THE RUE MURILLO MYSTERY

FULL DETAILS

éCHO DE FRANCE

Wilson tossed his head:

"I say, Holmlock, I thought we were travelling incognito! I shouldn't be astonished to find the Republican Guard waiting for us in the Rue Murillo, with an official reception and champagne!"

"When you try to be witty, Wilson," snarled Shears, "you're witty enough for two!"

He strode up to one of the men with apparent intention of taking him in his powerful hands and tearing him and his advertisement to shreds. Meanwhile, a crowd gathered round the posters, laughing and joking.

Suppressing a furious fit of passion, Shears said to the man:

"When were you hired?"

"This morning."

"When did you start on your round?"

"An hour ago."

"But the posters were ready?"

"Lord, yes! They were there when we came to the office this morning."

So Arsène Lupin had foreseen that Shears would accept the battle! Nay, more, the letter written by Lupin proved that he himself wished for the battle and that it formed part of his intentions to measure swords once more with his rival. Why? What possible motive could urge him to re-commence the contest?

Holmlock Shears showed a momentary hesitation. Lupin must really feel very sure of victory to display such insolence; and was it not falling into a trap to hasten like that in answer to the first call? Then, summoning up all his energy:

"Come along, Wilson! Driver, 18, Rue Murillo!" he shouted.

And, with swollen veins and fists clenched as though for a boxing-match, he leapt into a cab.

* * *

The Rue Murillo is lined with luxurious private residences, the backs of which look out upon the Parc Monceau. No. 18 is one of the handsomest of these houses; and Baron d'Imblevalle, who occupies it with his wife and children, has furnished it in the most sumptuous style, as befits an artist and millionaire. There is a courtyard in front of the house, skirted on either side by the servants' offices. At the back, a garden mingles the branches of its trees with the trees of the park.

The two Englishmen rang the bell, crossed the courtyard and were admitted by a footman, who showed them into a small drawing-room at the other side of the house.

They sat down and took a rapid survey of the many valuable objects with which the room was filled.

"Very pretty things," whispered Wilson. "Taste and fancy.... One can safely draw the deduction that people who have had the leisure to hunt out these articles are persons of a certain age ... fifty, perhaps...."

He did not have time to finish. The door opened and M. d'Imblevalle entered, followed by his wife.

Contrary to Wilson's deductions, they were both young, fashionably dressed and very lively in speech and manner. Both were profuse in thanks:

"It is really too good of you! To put yourself out like this! We are almost glad of this trouble since it procures us the pleasure...."

"How charming those French people are!" thought Wilson, who never shirked the opportunity of making an original observation.

"But time is money," cried the baron. "And yours especially, Mr. Shears. Let us come to the point! What do you think of the case? Do you hope to bring it to a satisfactory result?"

"To bring the case to a satisfactory result, I must first know what the case is."

"Don't you know?"

"No; and I will ask you to explain the matter fully, omitting nothing. What is it a case of?"

"It is a case of theft."

"On what day did it take place?"

"On Saturday," replied the baron. "On Saturday night or Sunday morning."

"Six days ago, therefore. Now, pray, go on."

"I must first tell you that my wife and I, though we lead the life expected of people in our position, go out very little. The education of our children, a few receptions, the beautifying of our home: these make up our existence; and all or nearly all our evenings are spent here, in this room, which is my wife's boudoir and in which we have collected a few pretty things. Well, on Saturday last, at about eleven o'clock, I switched off the electric light and my wife and I retired, as usual, to our bedroom."

"Where is that?"

"The next room: that door over there. On the following morning, that is to say, Sunday, I rose early. As Suzanne-my wife-was still asleep, I came into this room as gently as possible, so as not to awake her. Imagine my surprise at finding the window open, after we had left it closed the evening before!"

"A servant...?"

"Nobody enters this room in the morning before we ring. Besides, I always take the precaution of bolting that other door, which leads to the hall. Therefore the window must have been opened from the outside. I had a proof of it, besides: the second pane of the right-hand casement, the one next to the latch, had been cut out."

"And the window?"

"The window, as you perceive, opens on a little balcony surrounded by a stone balustrade. We are on the first floor here and you can see the garden at the back of the house and the railings that separate it from the Parc Monceau. It is certain, therefore, that the man came from the Parc Monceau, climbed the railings by means of a ladder and got up to the balcony."

"It is certain, you say?"

"On either side of the railings, in the soft earth of the borders, we found holes left by the two uprights of the ladder; and there were two similar holes below the balcony. Lastly, the balustrade shows two slight scratches, evidently caused by the contact of the ladder."

"Isn't the Parc Monceau closed at night?"

"Closed? No. But, in any case, there is a house building at No. 14. It would have been easy to effect an entrance that way."

Holmlock Shears reflected for a few moments and resumed:

"Let us come to the theft. You say it was committed in the room where we now are?"

"Yes. Just here, between this twelfth-century Virgin and that chased-silver tabernacle, there was a little Jewish lamp. It has disappeared."

"And is that all?"

"That is all."

"Oh!... And what do you call a Jewish lamp?"

"It is one of those lamps which they used to employ in the old days, consisting of a stem and of a receiver to contain the oil. This receiver had two or more burners, which held the wicks."

"When all is said, objects of no great value."

"Just so. But the one in question formed a hiding-place in which we had made it a practice to keep a magnificent antique jewel, a chimera in gold, set with rubies and emeralds and worth a great deal of money."

"What was your reason for this practice?"

"Upon my word, Mr. Shears, I should find it difficult to tell you! Perhaps we just thought it amusing to have a hiding-place of this kind."

"Did nobody know of it?"

"Nobody."

"Except, of course, the thief," objected Shears. "But for that, he would not have taken the trouble to steal the Jewish lamp."

"Obviously. But how could he know of it, seeing that it was by an accident that we discovered the secret mechanism of the lamp?"

"The same accident may have revealed it to somebody else: a servant ... a visitor to the house.... But let us continue: have you informed the police?"

"Certainly. The examining-magistrate has made his inquiry. The journalistic detectives attached to all the big newspapers have made theirs. But, as I wrote to you, it does not seem as though the problem had the least chance of ever being solved."

Shears rose, went to the window, inspected the casement, the balcony, the balustrade, employed his lens to study the two scratches on the stone and asked M. d'Imblevalle to take him down to the garden.

When they were outside, Shears simply sat down in a wicker chair and contemplated the roof of the house with a dreamy eye. Then he suddenly walked toward two little wooden cases with which, in order to preserve the exact marks, they had covered the holes which the uprights of the ladder had left in the ground, below the balcony. He removed the cases, went down on his knees and, with rounded back and his nose six inches from the ground, searched and took his measurements. He went through the same performance along the railing, but more quickly.

That was all.

* * *

They both returned to the boudoir, where Madame d'Imblevalle was waiting for them.

Shears was silent for a few minutes longer and then spoke these words:

"Ever since you began your story, monsieur le baron, I was struck by the really too simple side of the offence. To apply a ladder, remove a pane of glass, pick out an object and go away: no, things don't happen so easily as that. It is all too clear, too plain."

"You mean to say...?"

"I mean to say that the theft of the Jewish lamp was committed under the direction of Arsène Lupin."

"Arsène Lupin!" exclaimed the baron.

"But it was committed without Arsène Lupin's presence and without anybody's entering the house.... Perhaps a servant slipped down to the balcony from his garret, along a rain-spout which I saw from the garden."

"But what evidence have you?"

"Arsène Lupin would not have left the boudoir empty-handed."

"Empty-handed! And what about the lamp?"

"Taking the lamp would not have prevented him from taking this snuff-box, which, I see, is studded with diamonds, or this necklace of old opals. It would require but two movements more. His only reason for not making those movements was that he was not here to make them."

"Still, the marks of the ladder?"

"A farce! Mere stage-play to divert suspicions!"

"The scratches on the balustrade?"

"A sham! They were made with sandpaper. Look, here are a few bits of paper which I picked up."

"The marks left by the uprights of the ladder?"

"Humbug! Examine the two rectangular holes below the balcony and the two holes near the railings. The shape is similar, but, whereas they are parallel here, they are not so over there. Measure the space that separates each hole from its neighbour: it differs in the two cases. Below the balcony, the distance is nine inches. Beside the railings, it is eleven inches."

"What do you conclude from that?"

"I conclude, since their outline is identical, that the four holes were made with one stump of wood, cut to the right shape."

"The best argument would be the stump of wood itself."

"Here it is," said Shears. "I picked it up in the garden, behind a laurel-tub."

* * *

The baron gave in. It was only forty minutes since the Englishman had entered by that door; and not a vestige remained of all that had been believed so far on the evidence of the apparent facts themselves. The reality, a different reality, came to light, founded upon something much more solid: the reasoning faculties of a Holmlock Shears.

"It is a very serious accusation to bring against our people, Mr. Shears," said the baroness. "They are old family servants and not one of them is capable of deceiving us."

"If one of them did not deceive you, how do you explain that this letter was able to reach me on the same day and by the same post as the one you sent me?"

And he handed her the letter which Arsène Lupin had written to him.

Madame d'Imblevalle was dumbfounded:

"Arsène Lupin!... How did he know?"

"Did you tell no one of your letter?"

"No one," said the baron. "The idea occurred to us the other evening, at dinner."

"Before the servants?"

"There were only our two children. And even then ... no, Sophie and Henrietta were not at table, were they Suzanne?"

Madame d'Imblevalle reflected and declared:

"No, they had gone up to mademoiselle."

"Mademoiselle?" asked Shears.

"The governess, Alice Demun."

"Doesn't she have her meals with you?"

"No, she has them by herself, in her room."

Wilson had an idea:

"The letter written to my friend Holmlock Shears was posted?"

"Naturally."

"Who posted it?"

"Dominique, who has been with me as my own man for twenty years," replied the baron. "Any search in that direction would be waste of time."

"Time employed in searching is never wasted," stated Wilson, sententiously.

This closed the first inquiries and Shears asked leave to withdraw.

An hour later, at dinner, he saw Sophie and Henrietta, the d'Imblevalles' children, two pretty little girls of eight and six respectively. The conversation languished. Shears replied to the pleasant remarks of the baron and his wife in so surly a tone that they thought it better to keep silence. Coffee was served. Shears swallowed the contents of his cup and rose from his chair.

At that moment, a servant entered with a telephone message for him. Shears opened it and read:

"Accept my enthusiastic admiration. Results obtained by you in so short a time make my head reel. I feel quite giddy.

"Arsène Lupin."

He could not suppress a gesture of annoyance and, showing the telegram to the baron:

"Do you begin to believe," he said, "that your walls have eyes and ears?"

"I can't understand it," murmured M. d'Imblevalle, astounded.

"Nor I. But what I do understand is that not a movement takes place here unperceived by him. Not a word is spoken but he hears it."

* * *

That evening, Wilson went to bed with the easy conscience of a man who has done his duty and who has no other business before him than to go to sleep. So he went to sleep very quickly and was visited by beautiful dreams, in which he was hunting down Lupin all by himself and just on the point of arresting him with his own hand; and the feeling of the pursuit was so lifelike that he woke up.

Some one was touching his bed. He seized his revolver:

"Another movement, Lupin, and I shoot!"

"Steady, old chap, steady on!"

"Hullo, is that you, Shears? Do you want me?"

"I want your eyes. Get up...."

He led him to the window:

"Look over there ... beyond the railings...."

"In the park?"

"Yes. Do you see anything?"

"No, nothing."

"Try again; I am sure you see something."

"Oh, so I do: a shadow ... no, two!"

"I thought so: against the railings.... See, they're moving.... Let's lose no time."

Groping and holding on to the banister, they made their way down the stairs and came to a room that opened on to the garden steps. Through the glass doors, they could see the two figures still in the same place.

"It's curious," said Shears. "I seem to hear noises in the house."

"In the house? Impossible! Everbody's asleep."

"Listen, though...."

At that moment, a faint whistle sounded from the railings and they perceived an undecided light that

seemed to come from the house.

"The d'Imblevalles must have switched on their light," muttered Shears. "It's their room above us."

"Then it's they we heard, no doubt," said Wilson. "Perhaps they are watching the railings."

A second whistle, still fainter than the first.

"I can't understand, I can't understand," said Shears, in a tone of vexation.

"No more can I," confessed Wilson.

Shears turned the key of the door, unbolted it and softly pushed it open.

A third whistle, this time a little deeper and in a different note. And, above their heads, the noise grew louder, more hurried.

"It sounds rather as if it were on the balcony of the boudoir," whispered Shears.

He put his head between the glass doors, but at once drew back with a stifled oath. Wilson looked out in his turn. Close to them, a ladder rose against the wall, leaning against the balustrade of the balcony.

"By Jove!" said Shears. "There's some one in the boudoir. That's what we heard. Quick, let's take away the ladder!"

But, at that moment, a form slid from the top to the bottom, the ladder was removed and the man who carried it ran swiftly toward the railings, to the place where his accomplices were waiting. Shears and Wilson had darted out. They came up with the man as he was placing the ladder against the railings. Two shots rang out from the other side.

"Wounded?" cried Shears.

"No," replied Wilson.

He caught the man around the body and tried to throw him. But the man turned, seized him with one hand and, with the other, plunged a knife full into his chest. Wilson gave a sigh, staggered and fell.

"Damnation!" roared Shears. "If they've done for him, I'll do for them!"

He laid Wilson on the lawn and rushed at the ladder. Too late: the man had run up it and, in company with his accomplices, was fleeing through the shrubs.

"Wilson, Wilson, it's not serious, is it? Say it's only a scratch!"

The doors of the house opened suddenly. M. d'Imblevalle was the first to appear, followed by the men-servants carrying candles.

"What is it?" cried the baron. "Is Mr. Wilson hurt?"

"Nothing; only a scratch," repeated Shears, endeavouring to delude himself into the belief.

Wilson was bleeding copiously and his face was deathly pale. Twenty minutes later, the doctor declared that the point of the knife had penetrated to within a quarter of an inch of the heart.

"A quarter of an inch! That Wilson was always a lucky dog!" said Shears, summing up the situation, in an envious tone.

"Lucky ... lucky...." grunted the doctor.

"Why, with his strong constitution, he'll be all right...."

"After six weeks in bed and two months' convalescence."

"No longer?"

"No, unless complications ensue."

"Why on earth should there be any complications?"

Fully reassured, Shears returned to M. d'Imblevalle in the boudoir. This time, the mysterious visitor had not shown the same discretion. He had laid hands without shame on the diamond-studded snuff-box, on the opal necklace and, generally, on anything that could find room in the pockets of a self-respecting burglar.

The window was still open, one of the panes had been neatly cut out and a summary inquiry held at daybreak showed that the ladder came from the unfinished house and that the burglars must have come that way.

"In short," said M. d'Imblevalle, with a touch of irony in his voice, "it is an exact repetition of the theft of the Jewish lamp."

"Yes, if we accept the first version favoured by the police."

"Do you still refuse to adopt it? Doesn't this second theft shake your opinion as regards the first?"

"On the contrary, it confirms it."

"It seems incredible! You have the undoubted proof that last night's burglary was committed by somebody from the outside and you still maintain that the Jewish lamp was stolen by one of our people?"

"By some one living in the house."

"Then how do you explain...?"

"I explain nothing, monsieur: I establish two facts, which resemble each other only in appearance, I weigh them separately and I am trying to find the link that connects them."

His conviction seemed so profound, his actions based upon such powerful motives, that the baron gave way:

"Very well. Let us go and inform the commissary of the police."

"On no account!" exclaimed the Englishman, eagerly. "On no account whatever! The police are people whom I apply to only when I want them."

"Still, the shots...?"

"Never mind the shots!"

"Your friend...."

"My friend is only wounded.... Make the doctor hold his tongue.... I will take all the responsibility as regards the police."

* * *

Two days elapsed, devoid of all incident, during which Shears pursued his task with a minute care and a conscientiousness that was exasperated by the memory of that daring onslaught, perpetrated under his eyes, despite his presence and without his being able to prevent its success. He searched the house and garden indefatigably, talked to the servants and paid long visits to the kitchen and stables. And, though he gathered no clue that threw any light upon the subject, he did not lose courage.

"I shall find what I am looking for," he thought, "and I shall find it here. It is not a question now, as in the case of the blonde lady, of walking at hap-hazard and of reaching, by roads unknown to me, an equally unknown goal. This time I am on the battlefield itself. The enemy is no longer the invisible, elusive Lupin, but the flesh-and-blood accomplice who moves within the four walls of this house. Give me the least little particular, and I know where I stand."

This little particular, from which he was to derive such remarkable consequences, with a skill so prodigious that the case of the Jewish Lamp may be looked upon as one in which his detective genius bursts forth most triumphantly, this little particular he was to obtain by accident.

* * *

On the third day, entering the room above the boudoir, which was used as a schoolroom for the children, he came upon Henriette, the smaller of the two. She was looking for her scissors.

"You know," she said to Shears, "I make papers too, like the one you got the other evening."

"The other evening?"

"Yes, after dinner. You got a paper with strips on it ... you know, a telegram.... Well, I make them too."

She went out. To any one else, these words would have represented only the insignificant observation of a child; and Shears himself listened without paying much attention and continued his inspection. But, suddenly, he started running after the child, whose last phrase had all at once impressed him. He caught her at the top of the staircase and said:

"So you stick strips on to paper also, do you?"

Henriette, very proudly, declared:

"Yes, I cut out the words and stick them on."

"And who taught you that pretty game?"

"Mademoiselle ... my governess.... I saw her do it. She takes words out of newspapers and sticks them on...."

"And what does she do with them?"

"Makes telegrams and letters which she sends off."

Holmlock Shears returned to the schoolroom, singularly puzzled by this confidence and doing his utmost to extract from it the inferences of which it allowed.

There was a bundle of newspapers on the mantel-piece. He opened them and saw, in fact, that there were groups of words or lines missing, regularly and neatly cut out. But he had only to read the words that came before or after to ascertain that the missing words had been removed with the scissors at random, evidently by Henriette. It was possible that, in the pile of papers, there was one which mademoiselle had cut herself. But how was he to make sure?

Mechanically, Shears turned the pages of the lesson-books heaped up on the table and of some others lying on the shelves of a cupboard. And suddenly a cry of joy escaped him. In a corner of the cupboard, under a pile of old exercise-books, he had found a children's album, a sort of picture alphabet, and, in one of the pages of this album, he had seen a gap.

He examined the page. It gave the names of the days of the week: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and so on. The word "Saturday" was missing. Now the Jewish Lamp was stolen on a Saturday night.

* * *

Shears felt that little clutch at his heart which always told him, in the plainest manner possible, when he had hit upon the knotty point of a mystery. That grip of truth, that feeling of certainty never deceived him.

He hastened to turn over the pages of the album, feverishly and confidently. A little further on came another surprise.

It was a page consisting of capital letters followed by a row of figures.

Nine of the letters and three of the figures had been carefully removed.

Shears wrote them down in his note-book, in the order which they would have occupied, and obtained the following result:

C D E H N O P R Z-237

"By Jove!" he muttered. "There's not much to be made out of that, at first sight."

Was it possible to rearrange these letters and, employing them all, to form one, two or three complete words?

Shears attempted to do so in vain.

One solution alone suggested itself, returned continually to the point of his pencil and, in the end, appeared to him the right one, because it agreed with the logic of the facts and also corresponded with the general circumstances.

Admitting that the page in the album contained each of the letters of the alphabet once and once only, it was probable, it was certain that he had to do with incomplete words and that these words had been completed with letters taken from other pages. Given these conditions, and allowing for the possibility of a mistake, the puzzle stood thus:

R E P O N D . Z-CH-237

The first word was clear: "Rêpondez, reply." An E was missing, because the letter E, having been once used, was no longer available.

As for the last, unfinished word, it undoubtedly formed, with the number 237, the address which the sender gave to the receiver of the letter. He was advised to fix the day for Saturday and asked to send a reply to C H 237.

Either C H 237 was the official number of a poste restante or else the two letters C H formed part of an incomplete word. Shears turned over the leaves of the album: nothing had been cut from any of the following pages. He must, therefore, until further orders, be content with the explanation hit upon.

* * *

"Isn't it fun?"

Henriette had returned.

He replied:

"Yes, great fun! Only, haven't you any other papers?... Or else some words ready cut out, for me to stick on?"

"Papers?... No.... And then mademoiselle wouldn't like it."

"Mademoiselle?"

"Yes, mademoiselle has scolded me already."

"Why?"

"Because I told you things ... and she says you must never tell things about people you are fond of."

"You were quite right to tell me."

Henriette seemed delighted with his approval, so much so that, from a tiny canvas bag pinned on to her frock, she took a few strips of stuff, three buttons, two lumps of sugar and, lastly, a square piece of paper which she held out to Shears:

"There, I'll give it you all the same." It was the number of a cab, No. 8279.

"Where did you get this from?"

"It fell out of her purse."

"When?"

"On Sunday, at mass, when she was taking out some coppers for the collection."

"Capital! And now I will tell you how not to get scolded. Don't tell mademoiselle that you have seen me."

* * *

Shears went off in search of M. d'Imblevalle and asked him straight out about mademoiselle.

The baron gave a start:

"Alice Demun!... Would you think?... Oh, impossible!"

"How long has she been in your service?"

"Only twelve months, but I know no quieter person nor any in whom I place more confidence."

"How is it that I have not yet seen her?"

"She was away for two days."

"And at present?"

"Immediately on her return, she took up her position by your friend's bedside. She is a first-rate nurse ... gentle ... attentive. Mr. Wilson seems delighted with her."

"Oh!" said Shears, who had quite omitted to inquire after old chap's progress.

He thought for a moment and asked:

"And did she go out on Sunday morning?"

"The day after the robbery?"

"Yes."

The baron called his wife and put the question to her. She replied:

"Mademoiselle took the children to the eleven o'clock mass, as usual."

"But before that?"

"Before? No.... Or rather.... But I was so upset by the theft!... Still, I remember that, on the evening before, she asked leave to go out on Sunday morning ... to see a cousin who was passing through Paris, I think. But surely you don't suspect her?"

"Certainly not. But I should like to see her."

He went up to Wilson's room. A woman dressed like a hospital nurse, in a long gray linen gown, was stooping over the sick man and giving him a draught. When she turned round, Shears recognized the girl who had spoken to him outside the Gare du Nord.

* * *

Not the slightest explanation passed between them. Alice Demun smiled gently, with her grave and charming eyes, without a trace of embarrassment. The Englishman wanted to speak, tried to utter a syllable or two and was silent. Then she resumed her task, moved about peacefully before Shears's astonished eyes, shifted bottles, rolled and unrolled linen bandages and again gave him her bright smile.

Shears turned on his heels, went downstairs, saw M. d'Imblevalle's motor in the courtyard, got into it and told the chauffeur to drive him to the yard at Levallois of which the address was marked on the cab-ticket given him by the child. Duprêt, the driver who had taken out No. 8279 on Sunday morning, was not there and Shears sent back the motor-car and waited until he came to change horses.

Duprêt the driver said yes, he had taken up a lady near the Parc Monceau, a young lady in black, with a big veil on her: she seemed very excited.

"Was she carrying a parcel?"

"Yes, a longish parcel."

"And where did you drive her to?"

"Avenue des Ternes, at the corner of the Place Saint-Ferdinand. She stayed for ten minutes or so; and then we went back to the Parc Monceau."

"Would you know the house again, in the Avenue des Ternes?"

"Rather! Shall I take you there?"

"Presently. Go first to 36, Quai des Orfèvres."

At the police headquarters he had the good fortune to come upon Chief-Inspector Ganimard:

"Are you disengaged, M. Ganimard?"

"If it's about Lupin, no."

"It is about Lupin."

"Then I shan't stir."

"What! You give up...!"

"I give up the impossible. I am tired of this unequal contest of which we are certain to have the worst. It's cowardly, it's ridiculous, it's anything you please.... I don't care! Lupin is stronger than we are. Consequently, there's nothing to do but give in."

"I'm not giving in!"

"He'll make you give in like the rest of us."

"Well, it's a sight that can't fail to please you."

"That's true enough," said Ganimard, innocently. "And, as you seem to want another beating, come along!"

Ganimard and Shears stepped into the cab. They told the driver to stop a little way before he came to the house and on the other side of the avenue, in front of a small café. They sat down outside it, among tubs of laurels and spindle-trees. The light was beginning to wane.

"Waiter!" said Shears. "Pen and ink!"

He wrote a note and, calling the waiter again, said:

"Take this to the concierge of the house opposite. It's the man in the cap smoking his pipe in the gateway."

The concierge hurried across and, after Ganimard had announced himself as a chief-inspector, Shears asked if a young lady in black had called at the house on Sunday morning.

"In black? Yes, about nine o'clock: it's the one who goes up to the second floor."

"Do you see much of her?"

"No, but she's been oftener lately: almost every day during the past fortnight."

"And since Sunday?"

"Only once ... without counting to-day."

"What! Has she been to-day?"

"She's there now."

"She's there now?"

"Yes, she came about ten minutes ago. Her cab is waiting on the Place Saint-Ferdinand, as usual. I passed her in the gateway."

"And who is the tenant of the second floor?"

"There are two: a dressmaker, Mademoiselle Langeais, and a gentleman who hired a couple of furnished rooms, a month ago, under the name of Bresson."

"What makes you say 'under the name'?"

"I have an idea that it's an assumed name. My wife does his rooms: well, he hasn't two articles of clothing marked with the same initials."

"How does he live?"

"Oh, he's almost always out. Sometimes, he does not come home for three days together."

"Did he come in on Saturday night?"

"On Saturday night?... Wait, while I think.... Yes, he came in on Saturday night and hasn't stirred out since."

"And what sort of a man is he?"

"Faith, I couldn't say. He changes so! He's tall, he's short, he's fat, he's thin ... dark and fair. I don't always recognize him."

Ganimard and Shears exchanged glances.

"It's he," muttered Ganimard. "It must be he."

For a moment, the old detective experienced a real agitation, which betrayed itself by a deep breath and a clenching of the fists.

Shears too, although more master of himself, felt something clutching at his heart.

"Look out!" said the concierge. "Here comes the young lady."

As he spoke, mademoiselle appeared in the gateway and crossed the square.

"And here is M. Bresson."

"M. Bresson? Which is he?"

"The gentleman with a parcel under his arm."

"But he's taking no notice of the girl. She is going to her cab alone."

"Oh, well, I've never seen them together."

The two detectives rose hurriedly. By the light of the street-lamps, they recognized Lupin's figure, as he walked away in the opposite direction to the square.

"Which will you follow?" asked Ganimard.

"'Him,' of course. He's big game."

"Then I'll shadow the young lady," suggested Ganimard.

"No, no," said the Englishman quickly, not wishing to reveal any part of the case to Ganimard. "I know where to find the young lady when I want her.... Don't leave me."

* * *

At a distance and availing themselves of the occasional shelter of the passers-by and the kiosks, Ganimard and Shears set off in pursuit of Lupin. It was an easy enough pursuit, for he did not turn round and walked quickly, with a slight lameness in the right leg, so slight that it needed the eye of a trained observer to perceive it.

"He's pretending to limp!" said Ganimard. And he continued, "Ah, if we could only pick up two or three policemen and pounce upon the fellow! As it is, here's a chance of our losing him."

But no policeman appeared in sight before the Porte des Ternes; and, once the fortifications were passed, they could not reckon on the least assistance.

"Let us separate," said Shears. "The place is deserted."

They were on the Boulevard Victor-Hugo. They each took a different pavement and followed the line of the trees.

They walked like this for twenty minutes, until the moment when Lupin turned to the left and along the Seine. Here they saw him go down to the edge of the river. He remained there for a few seconds, during which they were unable to distinguish his movements. Then he climbed up the bank again and returned by the way he had come. They pressed back against the pillars of a gate. Lupin passed in front of them. He no longer carried a parcel.

And, as he moved away, another figure appeared from behind the corner of a house and slipped in between the trees.

Shears said, in a low voice:

"That one seems to be following him too."

"Yes, I believe I saw him before, as we came."

The pursuit was resumed, but was now complicated by the presence of this figure. Lupin followed the same road, passed through the Porte des Ternes again, and entered the house on the Place Saint-Ferdinand.

The concierge was closing the door for the night when Ganimard came up:

"You saw him, I suppose?"

"Yes, I was turning off the gas on the stairs. He has bolted his door."

"Is there no one with him?"

"No one: he doesn't keep a servant ... he never has his meals here."

"Is there no back staircase?"

"No."

Ganimard said to Shears:

"The best thing will be for me to place myself outside Lupin's door, while you go to the Rue Demours and fetch the commissary of police. I'll give you a line for him."

Shears objected:

"Suppose he escapes meanwhile?"

"But I shall be here!..."

"Single-handed, it would be an unequal contest between you and him."

"Still, I can't break into his rooms. I'm not entitled to, especially at night."

Shears shrugged his shoulders:

"Once you've arrested Lupin, no one will haul you over the coals for the particular manner in which you effected the arrest. Besides, we may as well ring the bell, what! Then we'll see what happens."

They went up the stairs. There was a double door on the left of the landing. Ganimard rang the bell.

Not a sound. He rang again. No one stirred.

"Let's go in," muttered Shears.

"Yes, come along."

Nevertheless, they remained motionless, irresolute. Like people who hesitate before taking a decisive step, they were afraid to act; and it suddenly seemed to them impossible that Arsène Lupin should be there, so near to them, behind that frail partition, which they could smash with a blow of their fists. They both of them knew him too well, demon that he was, to admit that he would allow himself to be nabbed so stupidly. No, no, a thousand times no; he was not there. He must have escaped, by the adjoining houses, by the roofs, by some suitably prepared outlet; and, once again, the shadow of Arsène Lupin was all that they could hope to lay hands upon.

They shuddered. An imperceptible sound, coming from the other side of the door, had, as it were, grazed the silence. And they received the impression, the certainty that he was there after all, separated from them by that thin wooden partition, and that he was listening to them, that he heard them.

What were they to do? It was a tragic situation. For all their coolness as old stagers of the police, they were overcome by so great an excitement that they imagined they could hear the beating of their own hearts.

Ganimard consulted Shears with a silent glance and then struck the door violently with his fist.

A sound of footsteps was now heard, a sound which there was no longer any attempt to conceal.

Ganimard shook the door. Shears gave an irresistible thrust with his shoulder and burst it open; and they both rushed in.

Then they stopped short. A shot resounded in the next room. And another, followed by the thud of a falling body.

When they entered, they saw the man lying with his face against the marble of the mantel-piece. He gave a convulsive movement. His revolver slipped from his hand.

Ganimard stooped and turned the dead man's head, it was covered with blood, which trickled from two large wounds in the cheek and temple.

"There's no recognizing him," he whispered.

"One thing is certain," said Shears. "It's not 'he.'"

"How do you know? You haven't even examined him."

The Englishman sneered:

"Do you think Arsène Lupin is the man to kill himself?"

"Still, we believed we knew him outside."

"We believed, because we wanted to believe. The fellow besets our minds."

"Then it's one of his accomplices."

"Arsène Lupin's accomplices do not kill themselves."

"Then who is it?"

They searched the body. In one pocket, Holmlock Shears found an empty note-case; in another, Ganimard found a few louis. There were no marks on his linen or on his clothes.

The trunks-a big box and two bags-contained nothing but personal effects. There was a bundle of newspapers on the mantel-piece. Ganimard opened them. They all spoke of the theft of the Jewish lamp.

An hour later, when Ganimard and Shears left the house, they knew no more about the strange individual whom their intervention had driven to suicide.

Who was he? Why had he taken his life? What link connected him with the disappearance of the Jewish lamp? Who was it that dogged his steps during his walk? These were all complicated questions ... so many mysteries.

* * *

Holmlock Shears went to bed in a very bad temper. When he woke, he received an express letter couched in these words:

"Arsène Lupin begs to inform you of his tragic decease in the person of one Bresson and requests the honour of your company at his funeral, which will take place, at the public expense, on Thursday, the 25th of June."

* * *

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