At three in the morning, there was still a half-dozen cars before one of the painter’s small hotels that make up one side of the boulevard Berthier. The door of the hotel opened. A group of guests, men and women, went out. Four cars spun right and left and it remained on the avenue only two gentlemen who parted at the corner of rue de Courcelles, where one of them lived. The other decided to walk to the Porte Maillot.
So he crossed the Avenue de Villiers and continued his way on the sidewalk opposite the fortifications. This beautiful winter night, pure and cold, there was pleasure to walk. One breathed well. The footsteps sounded cheerfully.
But after a few minutes he had the unpleasant feeling that he is followed. In fact, turning, he saw the shadow of a man who slipped between the trees. He was not frightened. However he quickened his pace to arrive as quickly as possible the granting of Ternes. But the man ran. Somewhat worried, he thought it more prudent to face him and draw his revolver from his pocket.
He did not have time. The man violently assailed, and immediately a struggle ensued on the deserted boulevard, struggle round the body where he immediately felt he had the disadvantage. He called for help, struggled, and was thrown against a pile of rocks, tight throat, gagged with a handkerchief that his opponent sank into her mouth. His eyes closed, his ears buzzed, and he was losing consciousness when suddenly the grip loosened, and the man who was choking her weight rose to defend in turn against an unexpected attack.
A cane blow on the wrist, a boot kick on the ankle … man pushed two grunts in pain and fled limping and swearing.
Without deigning to pursue the newcomer leaned over and said:
– Are you hurt, sir?
He was not injured but very stunned and unable to stand. Fortunately, one of the employees of the grant, attracted by the cries, ran. A car was required. The man sat there with his savior, and brought him to his house in the Avenue de la Grande Armee.
Outside the door, quite recovered, he was profuse in his thanks.
– I owe you my life, sir, please believe that I will not forget it. I do not want to scare my wife right now, but I want she expresses herself, today, her gratitude.
He asked him to come to lunch and told her his name: Ludovic Imbert, adding:
– Can I know whom I have the honor …
– But certainly, said the other.
And presented himself:
– Arsene Lupin.
* * *
Arsene Lupin had not then this celebrity earned with the Cahorn case, his escape of Santé, and many other resounding exploits. He does not even called Arsene Lupin. The name to which the future held such a chandelier was specifically devised to describe the savior of Mr. Imbert, and one can say that it is in this case he received the baptism of fire. Ready to fight it is true, in full armor, but without resources, without the authority that gives success, Arsene Lupin was an apprentice in a profession where he would soon pass master.
So what thrill of joy when he awoke, when he remembered the invitation of the night! Finally he touched the point! Finally he undertook a work worthy of his strength and talent! Millions of Imbert, what a magnificent prey for an appetite like his!
He made a special toilet, threadbare coat, threadbare trousers, silk hat a little reddish, cuffs and collars effiloqués, strong clean everything, but feeling the misery. As tie, a black ribbon pinned a surprising diamond nuts. And thus attired, he descended the stairs he occupied housing in Montmartre. On the third floor, without stopping, he struck the head of his cane on the door of a closed door. Outside he gained the outer boulevards. A tram passed. There took place, and someone who was walking behind him, the tenant of the third floor, sat down at his side.
After a moment, the man said:
– Well, boss?
– Well, it’s done.
– I lunch.
– You have lunch there!
– You would not, I hope, that I had set free days as valuable as mine? I tore Mr. Ludovic Imbert to certain death you was saving him. Ludovic Imbert is a grateful kind. He invited me to lunch.
A silence, the other ventured:
– So you do not give up?
– My little, Arsene said, if I engineered the little aggression that night, if I took the trouble, at three in the morning, along the fortifications, to lie you down a cane blow on the wrist and a kick on the shin, and might damage this way my only friend, it’s not for now waive the benefit of a life so well organized.
– But the bad rumors about wealth …
– Leash them run. Six months ago I pursue the case, six months for information that I, as I study, I tend my nets, I question the servants, lenders and straw men, six months that I lived in the shadow of the husband and wife. So I know what to expect. That fortune comes from the old Rawford, as they claim, or another source, I affirm that it exists. And since it exists, it is mine.
– By Jove, one hundred million!
– Put it in ten, or even five, anyway! There are large packages of shares in the safe. That’s the devil if, one day or another, I do not get my hands on the key.
The tram stopped Place de l’Etoile. The man murmured:
– So, for now?
– For the moment, nothing to do. I will notify you. We have the time.
Five minutes later, Arsene Lupin climbed the grand staircase of the Hotel Imbert, and Ludovic presented it to his wife. Gervaise was a good little woman, all round, very talkative. She gave Lupin the best reception.
– I wanted us to be alone to celebrate our savior, she said.
And from the beginning they treated “our savior” as an old time friend. For dessert intimacy was complete, and confidences went well underway. Arsene told his life, the life of his father, integrates magistrate, the sorrows of his childhood, the difficulties of the present. Gervaise, in turn, said his youth, his marriage, the kindness of the old Brawford, the one hundred million she had inherited, the obstacles that delayed taking possession, she had to borrow contracted at exorbitant rates, his endless trouble with Brawford nephews, and oppositions! and receivers! finally all!
– Think so, Mr. Lupin, the titles are there, next, in the office of my husband, and if we detach a single coupon, we lose everything! They are there, in our safe, and we can not touch it!
A slight tremor shook Mr. Lupin to the idea of this neighborhood. And it was the distinct feeling that Mr. Lupin would never have enough elevation of soul to experience the same scruples as the good lady.
Ah! They are there, he muttered, dry throat.
– They are there.
The relationships begun under such auspices could only form closer nodes. Gently questioned, Arsene Lupin confessed his poverty, his distress. On the spot, the unfortunate boy was appointed private secretary of the two spouses, at a salary of a hundred and fifty francs a month. He would continue to live with him, but he would come every day to take work orders and, for convenience, it was put at his disposal, such as cabinet work, one of the second floor rooms.
He chooses. By what an excellent chance that she found above Ludovic office?
* * *
Arsene was soon to realize that his secretary position furiously like a sinecure. In two months, he had only four insignificant letters to copy and was only called once in the office of his boss, which allowed him only once to officially contemplate that safe. In addition, he noted that the holder of this sinecure was not to be judged worthy of inclusion with the deputy Anquety or barrister Grouvel, because it omitted to invite him to the famous social functions.
He does not complain, preferring more to keep his modest little place in the shade and stood aloof, happy and free. Besides, he did not waste his time. He initially made a number of clandestine visits to Ludovic office and presented his respects to the safe, which remained not less tightly closed. It was a huge block of cast iron and steel, with a forbidding aspect, and against what could not rely either limes or tendrils nor Monsignor clamps.
Arsene Lupin was not stubborn.
– Where the power fails, the trick succeeded, he said. The key is to have an eye and an ear in the place.
He took the necessary steps, and after painstaking and painful tests across the floor of his room, he introduced a lead pipe which led to the ceiling of the office between two moldings of the cornice. By this pipe, tube and acoustic telescope, he hoped to see and hear.
Since then he lived on his belly on his floor. And indeed he often saw the Imbert conferencing before the safe, compulsant records and handling files. When they turned the four buttons successively commanding the lock, he tried to find out the number, the number of notches passing. He watched their gestures, he watched their words. What were they doing in the key? Will they hide?
One day he came down quickly, having seen them coming out of the room without closing the safe. And he entered resolutely. They returned.
– Oh excuse me, he said, I was wrong door.
But Gervaise rushed, and drawing him:
– Come in then, Mr. Lupin, so enter, aren’t you at home here? You will advise us. What securities do we sell? From the Outdoor or annuity?
– But, the opposition? Lupin objected, very surprised.
– Oh! It does not hit all securities.
She opened the door. On the shelves were piled portfolios belted by straps. She seized one. But her husband protested.
– No, no, Gervaise, it would be crazy to sell Outdoor. It will go up … While the annuity is highest. What do you think, my dear friend?
The dear friend had no opinion, though he advised the sacrifice of the annuity. Then she took another bundle, and in this bundle at random paper. It was a title 3% of 1374 francs. Ludovic put it in his pocket. In the afternoon, accompanied by his secretary, he sold it by a stockbroker and touched forty-six thousand francs.
Whatever might have said Gervaise, Arsene Lupin did not feel at home. On the contrary, its location in the hotel Imbert filled him with surprise. On various occasions, he could see that the servants did not know his name. They called him sir. Ludovic always designated him as follows: “You will prevent Monsieur… Did Monsieur arrive?” Why this enigmatic name?
Moreover, after the initial enthusiasm, the Imbert barely spoke to him, and while treating him with the respect due to a benefactor, never occupied at him! It seemed to regard him as an original that does not like being intrusive, and was respected his isolation as though this isolation was a rule drawn up by him, a whim on his part. Once he passed in the hallway, he heard Gervaise who said to two gentlemen:
– He’s such a wild!
Be it, he thought, I am a savage. And renouncing to explain the oddities of these people, he continued the implementation of its plan. He became convinced that he must not rely on chance or on thoughtlessness of Gervaise that did not leave the key of the safe, and who, moreover, had never carried away this key without first scrambled the letters of the lock. So he had to act.
An event rushed things, the violent campaign against Imbert by some newspapers. They were accused of swindling. Arsene Lupin attended the vicissitudes of the drama, the household agitations, and he realized that, delaying further, he would lose everything.
Five days later, instead of going away at about six o’clock as he usually did, he locked himself in his room. They was assumed he left. He, lay on the floor and watched Ludovic office.
After five evenings, the favorable opportunity he was waiting was not produced, so he went in the middle of the night, through the back door that served the court. He had a key.
But on the sixth day he learned that the Imbert, in response to the malicious insinuations of their enemies, had proposed to open the trunk and took stock.
– It’s for tonight, thought Lupin.
And indeed, after dinner Ludovic sat in his office. Gervaise joined him. They began to flip through the records of the trunk.
An hour passed, then another hour. He heard the servants who went to bed. Now there was no one on the first floor. Midnight. The Imbert continued their work.
– Come on, muttered Lupin.
He opened his window. It overlooked the courtyard, and space, by the moonless and starless night, was obscure. He took from his cupboard a knotted rope that secures the railing of the balcony, stepped over and dropped gently slide, with the help of a gutter to the window beneath his. It was the office, and the thick veil fleece of curtains hid the room. Standing on the balcony, he stood for a moment, listening and eyes alert.
Reassured by the silence, he slightly pushed the two crossed. If no one had taken care to check, they had to yield to the effort, for him, during the afternoon, had turned the hasp so that it no longer should enter the keepers.
Casement gave way. Then, with infinite care, he half opened them further. As soon as he could drag his head, he stopped. A little light filtered between the aching joints curtains: he saw Gervaise and Ludovic sitting beside the trunk.
They only exchanged occasional words in a low voice, absorbed in their work. Arsene calculated the distance that separated him from them, establish the exact movements he would have to do to reduce them one after the other to impotence, before they had time to call for help and was about to rush when Gervaise said:
– As the room has cooled for a while! I’m going to go to bed. And you?
– I want to finish.
– Finish! But you need all the night.
– But no, an hour at most.
She retired. Twenty minutes, thirty minutes passed. Arsene pushed the window a little. The curtains twitched. He still pushed. Ludovic turned, and seeing the curtains swollen by the wind got up to close the window …
There was not a sound, not even a semblance of fight. In some specific gestures, and without doing him any harm, Arsene stunned him, wrapped his head with curtain, tied up, so that Ludovic does not even distinguished the face of his attacker.
Then, quickly, he walked to the trunk, grabbed two portfolios he put it under his arm, left the office, went downstairs, crossed the yard and opened the door. A car parked in the street.
– Take that first, he said to the driver, and follow me.
He returned to the office. In two trips they emptied the safe. Then Arsene went to her room, removed the rope, erased all trace of his passage. It was over.
A few hours later, Arsene Lupin, assisted by his companion, operated the despoliation of the portfolios. He felt no disappointment, having expected to find that the fortune of Imbert did not have the importance attributed to him. Millions are not counted in the hundreds or even dozens. But finally the total still formed a very respectable figure, and it was excellent values, railway bonds, state funds, Suez, North mines, etc.
He declared himself satisfied.
– Of course, he says, there will be a rude waste when the time comes to negotiate. We will face opposition, and it will take more than once liquidate cheaply. Anyone, with this first down payment, I will undertake to live the way I want … and realize some dreams that are dear to my heart.
– And the rest?
– You can burn it, child. These piles of paper were good in the safe. For us, it’s useless. As for the securities, we will shut them quietly in the placard, and we will wait for the right moment.
The next day Arsene thought that no reason prevented him from returning to the hotel Imbert. But reading newspapers revealed to him this unexpected news: Ludovic and Gervaise had disappeared.
The trunk opening took place with great solemnity. The magistrates found there what Arsene Lupin had left … a few things.
* * *
These are the facts, and this is the explanation that gives to some of them the intervention of Arsene Lupin. I like his own story, one day he was in a confidential vein.
That day, he was walking up and down in my office, and his eyes had a slight fever that I did not know them.
– Sum all, I said, this is your best shot?
Without answering directly, he continued:
– There are in that case impenetrable secrets. Thus, even after the explanation I gave you, sill a lot of obscurity! Why this escape? Why have they not taken advantage of the help that I brought them involuntarily? It was so easy to say, “One hundred million were in the trunk. They are gone because it was stolen!”
– They lost their heads.
– Yes, well, they lost the head … On the other hand, it is true …
– It is true?…
– No, nothing.
Why this reticence? He had not said everything, it was visible, and what he had not said he was reluctant to say. I was intrigued. I think that the matter was serious to determine an hesitation in such a man.
I asked him questions at random.
– Did you see them after?
– And it did not happen to feel you, in respect of these two unfortunate, some pity?
– I! He uttered with a start.
His revolt astonished me. Did I just hit? I insisted:
– Of course. Without you, they would perhaps be able to face danger … or at least from the filled pockets.
– Remorse, is that what you attribute to me, isn‘t it?
He struck violently on my table.
– So, you think I should feel remorse?
– Name it remorse or regret, in short any feeling …
– Any feeling for people …
– For people you’ve stolen a fortune.
– What fortune?
– Finally … Two or three bundles of securities …
– These two or three bundles of securities! I robbed them packets of securities, isn‘t it? Part of their heritage? This is my fault? That is my crime?
“But, damn it, my dear, so you have not guessed they were false, those securities? … You hear?
THEY WERE FALSE!
I looked at him, stunned.
– False, the four or five million.
– False, he cried angrily arch-wrong! The obligations, state funds, paper, just paper! Not a penny, I did not draw a penny the whole block! And you ask me to feel remorse? But it is they who should have! They drove me like a common galore! They plucked me like the last of their dupes, and most stupid!
A real anger agitated him, made of resentment and wounded pride.
– But, from one end to the other, I got the worst of it! Within the first hour! Do you know the role that I played in this case, or rather the part they made me play? That of Andrew Rawford! Yes, my dear, and I didn’t see the fire! It is after, by newspapers, and bringing some of the details, when I realized. While I pretended to be the benefactor, the man who risked his life to rescue him, them, they made me look like a Rawford! Is it not wonderful? This original who had his room on the second floor, this wild that they showed by far, was Rawford, and Rawford was me! And thanks to me, thanks to the confidence that I inspired under the name Rawford, they lent from the bankers, and the notaries committed their clients to lend! Huh, what school for a beginner! Ah! I swear that the lesson has served me!
He stopped suddenly, grabbed my arm, and told me in a tone of exasperation where it was easy to feel the nuances of irony and admiration, he said that ineffable sentence:
– My dear, at the moment, Gervaise Imbert owes me fifteen hundred francs!
For once, I could not help laughing. It was really a top buffoonery. And he himself had an access of frank gaiety.
– Yes, my dear, fifteen hundred francs! Not only I have not seen the first penny of my salary, but she borrowed from me fifteen hundred francs! All my savings of young man! And do you know why? You’ll never guess … For charity! As I tell you! For alleged unfortunate she relieved unbeknownst to Ludovic! And so I was fooled! Is pretty funny, huh? Arsene Lupin swindled fifteen hundred francs, and swindled by the good lady to whom he had stolen four million fake titles! And so many combinations, effort and brilliant stratagems it took me to get to this beautiful result! It’s the only time I was deceived into my life. But damn, I’ve been really deceived on that occasion, on a large scale! …
Translated by Nicolae Sfetcu