Two or three times a year, on the occasion of important feasts, such as balls of the Austrian Embassy or the evenings of lady Billingstone, Countess de Dreux-Soubise put on her white shoulders “The Queen’s Necklace”.
It was the famous necklace, the legendary necklace that Böhmer and Bassenge, the crown jewelers, destined to Du Barry, the Cardinal of Rohan-Soubise thought to offer it to Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, and that the adventuress Jeanne de Valois, Countess de la Motte, cut up a night in February 1785, with the help of her husband and their accomplice Retaux de Villette.
Frankly, the mounting only was genuine. Retaux de Villette had kept it, while M. de la Motte and his wife scattered to the four winds the brutally desserties stones, admirable stones so carefully chosen by Böhmer. Later, in Italy, he sold it to Gaston de Dreux-Soubise, nephew and heir of Cardinal, saved by him from ruin at the resounding bankruptcy of Rohan-Guéménée, and that, in memory of his uncle, bought the diamonds who remained in the possession of the English jeweler Jefferys, completed with other much less valuable, but the same size, and managed to reconstitute the wonderful “slavery necklace”, as he was out of the hands of Böhmer and Bassenge.
This historical gem, for almost a century, the Dreux-Soubise were proud. Although various circumstances had greatly reduced their fortune, they preferred to reduce their train home than to alienate the royal and precious relic. In particular the present count clung as one holds the remains of his fathers. As a precaution, he had rented a safe at Crédit Lyonnais for drop off. He was going to seek himself in the afternoon of the day when his wife wanted to adorn, and are deferring himself the next day.
That evening, at the reception of the Palais de Castille, the Countess was a success, and King Christian, in whose honor the party was given, noticed its magnificent beauty. The gems streamed around the graceful neck. The faceted diamonds sparkled and glittered like flames in the clarity of lights. No other she, it seemed, could not have wear with such ease the burden and nobility of such finery.
It was a double triumph, the Count of Dreux tasted deeply, and he congratulated himself when they were back in the room of their old house in the Faubourg Saint-Germain. He was proud of his wife, and perhaps as much jewelery which illustrated his house for four generations. And his wife drew a somewhat childish vanity, but that was certainly the mark of his proud nature.
Not without regret she loosened the collar of his shoulder and handed it to her husband who examined it with admiration, as if he did not know it. Then having returned to its case of red leather with Cardinal’s arms, he went into the next room, kind of alcove rather that he had completely isolated from the chamber and whose only entrance was at the foot of their bed As at other times, he hid it on a fairly high board, amidst hat boxes and piles of linen. He closed the door and undressed.
In the morning, he arose about nine o’clock, intending to go before lunch, to the Credit Lyonnais. He dressed, drank a cup of coffee and went down to the stables. There he gave orders. One of the horses worried him. He had him walk and trot before him in court. Then he went back to his wife.
She had not left the room and her hair, helped by his housemaid. She tells him:
– You go out!
– Yes … for this race …
– Ah! indeed … it’s safer …
He entered the office. But after a few seconds, he asked, without the slightest astonishment anyway:
– Do you have taken it, dear?
– How? But no, I did not take anything.
– You have disturbed it.
– Not at all … I do not even open that door.
It appeared broken, and he stammered, his voice barely intelligible:
– You do not? … It is not you? … Then …
She ran, and sought feverishly, throwing the boxes down and demolishing piles of linen. And the count repeated:
– Inutile … Everything we do is useless … It is here, there, on this board, I’ve put it.
– Maybe you have been wrong.
– It’s here, there, on this board, and not on another.
They lit a candle, as the room was quite dark, and they removed all linen and all objects that encumbered. And when there was nothing left in the office, they had to admit with despair that the famous necklace, the slavery “Queen’s Necklace”, was gone.
Resolute in nature, the Countess, without wasting time in fruitless lamentations, sent word to the Commissioner, Mr Valorbe, they had already had occasion to appreciate the sagacious mind and vision. They put him in power in detail, and immediately he asked:
– Are you sure, Monsieur le Comte, that no one could cross the night your room.
– Absolutely. I have a very light sleeper. Better yet, the door of this room was bolted. I had to pull it this morning when my wife rang the housemaid.
– And there is no other passage that allows to break into the office?
– No window?
– Yes but it is blocked.
– I’d like to realize…
They lit candles, and soon Mr. Valorbe remarked that the window was blocked at mid-height only, with a sideboard, which also did not touch exactly the casements.
– It touch enough, replied M. de Dreux, for it is impossible to move without making much noise.
– And on what gives this window?
– On an interior courtyard.
– And you have one more floor above this?
– Two, but at the domestic level the courtyard is protected by a small mesh grid. That’s why we have so few light.
Moreover, when they had removed the chest, it was found that the window was closed, which would not have been if someone had penetrated from outside.
– Unless, observed the count, that someone is out of our room.
– In which case, you would not have found this lock of the chamber pushed.
The Commissioner thought for a moment, then turned to the Countess:
– Did they know in your surroundings, Madame, that you had to wear this necklace last night?
– Sure, I’ didn’t hide. But nobody knew that we will lock up in this office.
– No one?
– No … Unless …
-I beg you, Madame, please specify. This is a very important point.
She told her husband:
– I was thinking of Henriette.
– Henriette? She ignores this detail like no other.
– Are you certain?
– What is this lady? Asked Mr. Valorbe.
– A convent friend, who got angry with her family to marry a kind of worker. On the death of her husband, I joined with his son, and have furnished for them an apartment in this hotel.
And she added with embarrassment:
– She makes me some services. She is very clever with his hands.
– What floor she lives?
– At ours, not far from the rest … at the end of the corridor … and even, I think… the window of her kitchen…
– It opens on this yard, isn’t it?
– Yes, right in front of ours.
A brief silence followed this statement.
Then Mr. Valorbe asked to be led to Henriette.
They found her in sewing while her son Raoul, a toddler from six to seven years, read at his side. Quite amazed at the wretched apartment that had furnished for her, and which consisted of a room without a fireplace and a small kitchen, the commissioner questioned her. She seemed upset upon learning of the theft committed. The night before, she had herself dressed the countess and fastened the necklace around his neck.
– Lord God! she cried, who would ever tell me?
– And you have no idea? No doubt? It is possible however that the culprit has passed by your room.
She laughed good heart, not even imagine the touch of a suspicion:
– But I have not left my room! I never go out, me. So, you did not see?
She opened the reduced window.
– Hold, there are more than three meters to the opposite ledge.
– Who told you that we consider the hypothesis of a flight operated by that?
– But … The necklace was it not in the office?
– How do you know?
– Well, I always knew that it was put there the night … they spoke before me …
His face, still young, but the sorrows had withered, marked a great sweetness and resignation. However, she was suddenly in the silence, an expression of anguish, as if the danger had threatened. She caught her son against her. The child took her hand and kissed her tenderly.
– I do not suppose, says the Commissioner de Dreux, when they were alone, I do not suppose you suspect her? I trust her. She is the very honestity in person.
– Oh! I totally agree with you, Mr. Valorbe stated. This is at most I had thought of an unconscious complicity. But I recognize that this explanation must be abandoned … especially since it does not solve the problem that we face.
The Commissioner did not push further the investigation, the judge resumed and completed the following days. The servants were questioned, they checked the status of the lock, made experiments on closing and on opening the office window, explored the courtyard from top to bottom … All was useless. The lock was intact. The window could not open or close from outside.
Specifically, searches were aimed Henriette, because, despite everything, they always came back to this side. His life was searched thoroughly, and it was found that, for three years, she was only four times out of the hotel, and four times for races that they could determine. In reality, it served as maid and seamstress at Madame de Dreux, who showed in respect of a rigor that all domestic testified confidentially.
– Besides, said the judge, who, after a week, came to the same conclusions with the Commissioner, assuming that we know the culprit, and we’re not there, we do would have to know how the theft was committed. We are blocked to the right and left by two obstacles: a door and a closed window. The mystery is twofold! How has it been possible to introduce, and how, which was much harder, did he escaped, leaving behind a closed lock door and a closed window?
After four months of investigation, the secret idea of judge was this: Mr. and Mrs. de Dreux, pressed by the need for money, which, in fact, were considerable, had sold the Queen’s Necklace. He dismissed the case.
The theft of the precious jewel of Dreux-Soubise was a blow that they remembered long time. Their credit being no longer supported by the kind of condition that was such a treasure, they found themselves facing more demanding creditors and less favorable lenders. They had to cut to the heart, alienate, mortgage. In short, they would have been ruined if two large extended family heirlooms had saved them.
They also suffered in their pride, as if they had lost a quarter of nobility. And, strangely enough, it was his old school friend the countess revenged. She felt a real grudge against him and openly accused her. She relegated her first on the floor of the servants, then dismissed her overnight.
And life flowed without notable events. They traveled a lot.
One fact should be noted at this time. A few months after the departure of Henriette, the countess received a letter from her which fills her with wonder:
I can not thank you. For it is you, is it not, who sent me this? It can be only you. Nobody else knows my retirement at the bottom of this small village. If I am wrong, I apologize, and hold at least the expression of my gratitude for your past kindness … “
What did she mean? The present or past favors of the countess to her were reduced to many injustices. What are these thanks?
Summoned to explain herself, she replied that she had received by mail, in a non-registered and no-charged envelope, two banknotes one thousand each. The envelope, which she sent in response, was postmarked Paris and wore only his address, traced visibly by a disguised handwriting.
Whence came these two thousand francs? Who sent them? Justice inquired. But what path to follow from this darkness?
And the same fact was repeated twelve months after. And a third time; and a fourth time; and every year for six years, with the difference that the fifth and sixth year, doubled the sum, which allowed Henriette, fell suddenly ill, to heal as befitted.
Another difference: the mail administration having seized a post letters under the pretext that she was not charged, the last two letters were sent by the regulation, the first dated from Saint-Germain, the other Suresnes. The sender first signed Anquety, then Péchard. The addresses he gave were false.
After six years, Henriette died. The mystery remained intact.
* * *
All these events are public. The case was from those that fascinates opinion, and it is a strange fate than this of necklace, which, after the upset of France in the late eighteenth century, still aroused so much emotion a century later. But what I will say is ignored by all except the main stakeholders and some persons to whom the Count demanded absolute secrecy. As it is likely that sooner or later they will miss their promise, I have no qualms about revealing the theft, simultaneously with the key to the riddle, the explanation of the letter published in the newspaper the day before yesterday morning, extraordinary letter which added, if possible, some shade and mystery to the obscurities of this drama.
There are five days ago. Among the guests who lunched with Mr. de Dreux-Soubise, there were his two nieces and his cousin, and, as men, the president of Essaville, Deputy Bochas, Chevalier Floriani, whom the count had known in Sicily, and General Marquis de Rouzières, an old comrade from circle.
After dinner, the ladies served coffee, and the gentlemen had the authorization of a cigarette, provided not to desert the salon. They talked. One of the girls had fun doing the cards and telling fortunes. Then it came to talking about famous crimes. And it is here that Mr. de Rouzières, who never missed an opportunity to tease the Count, recalled the adventure of the collar, topic of conversation that Mr. de Dreux abhorred.
Immediately everyone gave his opinion. Each one began in his way. And, of course, contradicted all assumptions, all equally inadmissible.
– And you, Sir, asked the Countess the Chevalier Floriani, what is your opinion?
– Oh I have no opinion, Madame.
They protested. Precisely the chevalier will tell brilliantly various adventures which he had been involved with his father, a magistrate at Palermo, and which had affirmed his judgment and taste for these issues.
– I admit, he said, it happened to me to succeed when more skillful had given up. But to consider myself a Sherlock Holmes … And, I hardly know what it is.
We turned to the master of the house. Going against heart he had to summarize the facts. The chevalier listened, reflected, asked a few questions, and whispered:
– It’s funny … at first glance it does not seem that the thing is so difficult to guess.
The count shrugged. But others hastened around the chevalier, and he replied in a tone a little dogmatic:
– In general, to trace the perpetrator of a crime or theft, you must determine how that crime or theft was committed, or at least may have been committed. In the present case, nothing more simple in my opinion, because we are facing not several hypotheses, but a certainty, a single, rigorous certainty, such as: the individual could enter through the door of the room or the office window. Now, it does not open, from the outside, a locked door. So he entered the window.
– It was closed and it was found closed, declared plainly Mr. de Dreux.
– For this, continued Floriani, without noticing the interruption, he needed only to build a bridge or board between the balcony of the kitchen and edge of the window, and as soon as the case…
– But I repeat that the window was closed! cried the count, impatiently.
This time Floriani had to answer. He did it with the greatest tranquility, as a man that such insignificant objection did not disorder.
– I want to believe it was, but there are not a transom?
– How do you know?
– First it is almost a rule in hotels of that era. And then he must be so, since otherwise the flight is inexplicable.
– In fact, there is one, but it was closed, as the window. It is not even paying attention.
– It’s wrong. Because if you had been paying attention, obviously yo would have seen that it was open.
– And how?
– I suppose that, like all others, it opens by means of a braided wire, provided with a ring at its lower end?
– And this ring hung between the cross and the chest?
– Yes, but I do not understand …
– Here. Through a slit in the tile, it was possible, using any instrument, put an iron rod provided with a hook, grab the ring, weigh and open.
– Perfect! Perfect! You arrange all this with ease! You only forget one thing, dear sir, is that there was no slit in the tile.
– There was a slit.
– Come on! We would have seen it.
– To see it you have to look, and you did not look. The slit exists, it is physically impossible that it does not exist along the tile, against the mastic… vertically, of course …
The count rose. He seemed very excited. He paced two or three times the living room with a nervous step, and, approaching Floriani:
– Nothing has changed up there since that day … no one has set foot in this office.
– In that case, sir, it is open to you to make sure that my explanation is consistent with reality.
– It does not match any of the facts that justice has recognized. You have seen nothing, you know nothing, and you’re going against everything we have seen and everything we know.
Floriani did not seem to notice the point of irritation of the count, and he said, smiling:
– My God, sir, I try to see clearly, that’s all. If I am wrong, prove me my mistake.
– Without further delay … I admit that over time your sureness…
M. de Dreux still mumbled a few words, then suddenly walked to the door and went out.
Not a word was spoken. They waited anxiously, as if, really, a parcel of truth would appear. And the silence was extremely serious.
Finally, the count appeared in the doorway. He was pale and strangely agitated. He told his friends in a trembling voice:
– I beg your pardon, sir … the revelations are so unexpected … I never thought …
His wife eagerly asked:
– Speak… I beg you … What is it?
– The gap exists … in the place … even indicated along the tile …
He suddenly grabbed the arm of the chevalier and said in an imperious tone:
– And now, sir, continue … I recognize that you are right so far, but now … It’s not over … answer … what has happened in your opinion?
Floriani gently pulled away and after a moment said:
– Well, I think, here it is what happened. The individual, knowing that Madame de Dreux was going to the ball with the collar, threw his bridge during your absence. Through the window he watched you and saw you hiding the treasure. As soon as you left, he cut the glass and pulled the ring.
– Well, but the distance is too great for it to have been able, through the transom, reach the handle of the window.
– If he could not open it, is that he came through the transom himself.
– Impossible; there is not enough to introduce a thin man there.
– So this is not a man.
– Certainly. If the passage is too narrow for a man, it must be either a child.
– A child!
– Do you not tell me that your friend Henriette had a son!
– In fact … a son named Raoul.
– It is highly probable that it is that Raoul who committed the theft.
– What proof do you have?
– What proof! … There is no lack of evidence … For example …
He paused and thought for a few seconds. Then he continued:
– As, for example, this bridge, it is not to believe that the child brought it from outside and carry it without one seeing him. He had to use what was available. In the office where Henriette has his kitchen, there was, isn’t it, the shelves on the wall where was laid the pans?
– Two shelves, as far as I can remember.
– It should be ensured if these boards are really attached to wooden battens that support them. Otherwise we would be allowed to think that a child pulled the nail then attached to one another. Perhaps also, since there was a blast, we find the stove hook he had to use to open the transom.
Without a word the count went out, and this time the assistants felt point same little anxiety of the unknown they had experienced the first time. They knew, they knew absolutely, that Floriani forecasts were accurate. It was from this man a sense of certainty so rigorous that hr was listened not as if the facts was deduced from each other, but as if he told of the events whose authenticity was easy to check gradually.
And no one was surprised when, returning, the count said:
– It’s the child well, that’s him, all attest.
– Did you see the boards … the hook?
– I have seen … the boards were pulled the nail… the hook is still there.
But Madame de Dreux-Soubise cried:
– It‘s him … You mean rather that it is his mother. Henriette is the only culprit. She will have her son …
– No, affirmed the chevalier, the mother is not to blame.
– Come on! Yhey lived in the same room, the child could not have acted without the knowledge of Henrietta.
– They lived in the same room, but everything happened in the next room, at night, while the mother was asleep.
– And the necklace? said the count, they would have found it in the bags of the child.
– Sorry! he went out. The same morning you surprised him in front of his desk, he came from school, and maybe justice, instead of exhausting its resources against the innocent mother, would it have been better inspired by raiding over there, in the child’s desk, among his textbooks.
– Well, but these two thousand francs that Henriette received each year, is it not the best sign of complicity?
– If complice, would she have thanked you for the money? And then, she was watched, isn’t it? While the child is free, he has every opportunity to run to the nearby town to confer with any dealer and sell it at a low price a diamond, two diamonds, as applicable under … only that sending money will be made in Paris, whereby it will start the following year.
An indefinable uneasiness oppressed the Dreux-Soubise and their guests. Really there was in tone, in the attitude of Floriani, other than the certainty that, from the beginning, had so annoyed the count. There were as of irony, and irony that seemed rather hostile than sympathetic and friendly as he had agreed.
The count affected to laugh.
– All this has an ingenuity that delights me, my compliments. What a brilliant imagination!
– But no, no, cried Floriani with more gravity, it is not imagination, I recall the circumstances that were inevitably such that I show.
– What do you know?
– What you yourself have told me. I picture the life of the mother and child down there, deep in the province, the mother becomes ill, the tricks and the inventions of the child to sell the jewels and save his mother or at least soften his last moments. Evil prevails. She dies. Years pass. The child grows up, becomes a man. And then – and this time, I will admit that my imagination is given free rein – I suppose that this man feels the need to return to the places where he spent his childhood, he revisit them, he found them who suspected, accused his mother … do you think the value of such a poignant interview in the old house, where took place the events of the drama?
His words echoed a few seconds in the anxious silence, on the face of Mr. and Mrs. de Dreux read a desperate effort to understand, together with fear, the anxiety to understand. Count murmured:
– Who are you, sir?
– I? But the chevalier Floriani, whom you met at Palermo, and you have been good enough to invite home several times already.
– So what means this story?
– Oh! But nothing! This is a simple game for me. I try to figure the joy that the son of Henriette, if he still exists, would have to say that was the only culprit, and he was because his mother was ill, about to lose the domestic place… where she lived, and because the child suffered to see her mother unhappy.
He spoke with a suppressed emotion, half raised and leaning to the countess. There was no doubt. The chevalier Floriani was none other than the son of Henriette. Everything in his attitude, in his words, proclaimed. Besides, was it not his obvious intention, even his will to be recognized as such?
The count hesitated. What behavior he would take against the bold character? Ring? Cause a scandal? Unmask the man who had once robbed him? But it was so long! And who would admit this absurd story of the child guilty? No, it was better to accept the situation, pretending to not understand the true meaning of the point. And the count, approaching Floriani, exclaimed playfully:
– Very funny, very curious, your novel. I swear it excites me. But according to you, what has become of this good young man, this example of son? I hope it does not stop in a such beautiful way.
– Oh! Certainly not.
– Isn‘t it! After such a beginning! Take the Necklace of the Queen to six years, the famous necklace that coveted Marie Antoinette!
– And take it, noted Floriani, lending himself to the game of the count, take it without costing him the slightest inconvenience, without anyone having the idea to examine the state of the tiles or think that the lip of the window is too clean, he had wiped the rim to erase the traces of his passage on the thick dust … Admit that there was something to admire of a boy of his age. It is so easy? There is therefore only to will and to reach out? … Well, he wanted …
– And he reached out his hand.
– Both hands, said the chevalier, laughing.
There was a chill. What mystery was hiding the life of this so-called Floriani? How extraordinary was to be the existence of this adventurer, great thief when six years old, and that today, by a dilettante refinement in search of emotion, or at most to satisfy a feeling of resentment, was braving his victim at home, audaciously, foolishly, and yet with all the correction of a visiting gentleman!
He got up and approached the countess to leave. She repressed a cringe. He smiles.
– Oh! Madam, you are afraid! I would have gone too far with my little salon sorcerer comedy!
She controlled herself, and replied as casually slightly mocking:
– Not at all, Sir. In fact, the legend of that dutiful son interested me a lot, and I am pleased that my necklace was the occasion of a brilliant destiny. But do not you think that the son of this woman …, this Henrietta, especially obeyed his vocation?
He shuddered, feeling the point, and replied:
– I am convinced, and even had to be a serious vocation so that the child do not become a loser.
– And how?
– Of course, you know, most of the stones were false. There was, really, some good diamonds bought from the British jeweler, the others were sold one by one according to the hard necessities of life.
– It was always the Queen’s Necklace, Monsieur, said the countess, haughtily, and that, it seems to me, is what Henriette’s son could not understand.
– He had to understand, Madame, that, true or false, the necklace was primarily a object of parade, a symbol.
Mr. de Dreux gestured. His wife warned him immediately.
– Sir, she said, if the man you are referring to has any decency …
She stopped, intimidated by Floriani calm look.
– If this man has any decency …
She felt she would gain nothing to talk to him that way, and despite herself, despite her anger and indignation, trembling of humiliated pride, she said almost politely:
– Sir, legend is that Retaux de Villette, when he had the Queen’s Necklace in his hands and took out all the diamonds with Jeanne de Valois, did not dare to touch the mount. He understood that the diamonds were simply the ornament, the accessory, but the mount was the essential work, the very creation of the artist, and he respected it. Do you think this man has understood as well?
– I do not doubt that the mount exists. The child respected it.
– Well, sir, if you happen to meet him, tell him that he unjustly keeps one of these relics owned and glory of some families, and that he was able to strip the stones without the Queen’s Necklace cease to belong to the house of Dreux-Soubise. It is our like our name, like our honor.
The chevalier replied simply:
– I will tell him, Madame.
He bowed to her, saluted the count, greeted one after the other all present persons and retired.
* * *
Four days later, Madame de Dreux found on the table of his bedroom a case of red leather with the arms of Cardinal. She opened. It was the slavery Necklace of the Queen.
But as all things must, in the life of a man eager for unity and logic, contribute to the same goal – and a little gimmicky is never harmful – the day after the Écho de France published these sensational lines:
“The Queen’s Necklace, the famous historic jewel stolen once to the family of Dreux-Soubise, was found by Arsene Lupin. Arsene Lupin was quick to return it to its rightful owners. One can only applaud this delicate and chivalrous attention.”
Translated by Nicolae Sfetcu