A violent ringing of the bell awakened the concierge of No. 9 Avenue Hoche. She pulled the cord growling:
– I thought the whole world back. It is at least three hours!
Her husband grumbled:
– Maybe it is the doctor.
Indeed, a voice asked:
– Doctor Harel … which floor?
– Third left. But the doctor did not mind the night.
– I have to disturb him.
The man entered the vestibule, mounted one floor, two floors, and, without stopping on the floor of Dr. Harel, continued until the fifth floor. There, he tried two keys. One was operating the lock, the other the locking bolt.
– Perfectly, he murmured, the task is greatly simplified. But before to act, I must secure mu retirement. Let’s see … I naturally have time to ring the doctor and be dismissed by him? Not again … a little patience …
After ten minutes, he came down and hit the tile of the lodge, grumbling against the doctor. They opened him, and he slammed the door behind him. However, this door is not closed point, the man having strongly applied a piece of iron on the strike plate so that the bolt could enter it.
He went so, quietly, unbeknownst janitors. In case of alarm, his retreat was assured.
Quietly he climbed the five floors. In the antechamber, by the light of an electric lantern, he placed his overcoat and hat on one of the chairs, sat down on another, and wrapped her thick boots felt slippers.
– Phew! That’s it … And how easily! I wonder a little why everyone does not choose the comfortable burglar business? With a little skill and reflection, it is not the most charming. A restful business … a father‘s job … Too convenient … even this becomes tedious.
He unfolded a detailed plan of the apartment.
– Let’s go by directing us. Here I see the rectangle of the hallway where I am. On the side of the street, the living room, the den and dining room. No need to waste time there, it seems that the countess has a deplorable taste … not a value trinket! … So, straight to the point … Ah! Here the plot of a corridor, the corridor leading to the rooms. At three meters, I have to meet the closet door to dresses that communicates with the chamber of the countess.
He folded his plan, extinguished his lantern, and entered the hall counting:
– A meter … two meters … three meters … Here’s the door … As everything works out, my God! A simple lock, a small lock, separates me from the room, and, more importantly, I know that this lock is at a forty-three meters from the floor … So, through a small incision that I will practice around, we get rid …
He took from his pocket the necessary instruments, but an idea stopped him.
And if, by chance, this lock was not pushed. Still trying … To what it costs!
He turned the lock button. The door opened.
– My brave Lupin, definitely luck favors you. What do you need now? You know the topography of the area where you are going to operate; you know where the countess hides the black pearl … Therefore, for the black pearl to be your, it is quite simply to be quieter than silence, more invisible than night.
Arsene Lupin employed good half an hour to open the second door, a glazed door leading to the bedroom. But he did so cautiously, that even if the countess had not slept, no equivocation squeak might have been worried her.
According to the information of his plan, he had only to follow the contour of a chaise-longue. This led him to a chair and then at a small table near the bed. On the table there was a stationery box and simply shut up in the box, the black pearl.
He lay down on the mat and followed the contours of the chaise longue. But at the end he stopped to repress the beating of his heart. Although no fear shake him, it was impossible to defeat this kind of nervous anxiety that is experienced in silence too. And he marveled because finally he had lived without emotion most solemn minutes. No danger threatened him. So why her heart was beating it like a crazed bell? Was it that sleeping woman impressed, this life so close to his?
He listened and thought discern the rhythm of breathing. He was reassured by such a friendly presence.
He sought the chair, and then, in small insensitive gestures, crawled toward the table, feeling the shadow of his outstretched arm. His right hand found one of the table legs.
Finally! He only had to stand up, to take the pearl and go away. Fortunately! Because his heart was starting to jump into his chest like a terrified beast, and with such a noise that it seemed impossible that the countess was not awake.
He calmed it in a prodigious momentum will, but, when he tried to get up, his left hand hit an object on the mat he immediately recognized for a torch, a reversed torch; and immediately, another object appeared, a clock, one of those little travel clocks that are covered with a leather sheath.
What? What was happening? He did not understand. This torch, this clock … … why these objects were not in their usual place? Ah! What was happening in the frightening shadow?
Suddenly a cry escaped him. He hit … oh! How strange, unnamable! But no, no, the fear disturbed his brain. Twenty seconds, thirty seconds, he remained motionless, terrified, sweat on temples. And his fingers kept the feel of this contact.
By a relentless effort, he handed the arm again. His hand again touched the thing, the strange unnameable thing. He fingered it. He wanted that his hand fingered it and render account. It was a hair, a face … and that face was cold, almost icy.
Terrifying as it is the reality, a man like Arsene Lupin dominates it as soon as he became aware. Quickly, he pressed the spring of his lantern. A woman lay before him, covered with blood. Terrible injuries devastated her neck and shoulders. He bent down and examined it. She was dead.
– Dead, dead, he repeated in amazement.
And he looked at those staring eyes, the rictus of the mouth, that livid flesh and blood, all the blood that had poured on the carpet and froze now, thick and black.
Having noted, he turned on the power button, the room was filled with light, and he could see all the signs of a struggle. The bed was completely defeated, the torn blankets and sheets. On the floor, the torch, and the clock – marking eleven twenty hour, and, later, an overturned chair, and everywhere the blood, pools of blood.
– And the black pearl? he whispered.
The stationery box was in its place. He opened quickly. It contained the casket. But the casket was empty.
– Damn, he said, thou hast boasted a bit early for your chance, my friend Arsene Lupin … The countess murdered, the missing black pearl … the situation is not brilliant! Veins, otherwise you risk incurring high heavy responsibilities.
He did not move though.
– Run away? Yes, another one would run away. But Arsene Lupin? Are there not better things to do? Now, proceed in order. After all, your conscience is clear … Suppose you’re police commissioner and you have to investigate … Yes, but for that, we should have a clearer brain. And mine is in a state!
He fell into a chair, her fists clenched against his burning forehead.
* * *
The case of the Avenue Hoche is one of those who most strongly intrigued us lately, and I do certainly should not have told whether the participation of Arsene Lupin would not lighted it in a special day . This participation, there are few who suspect it. Anyway, no one knows the exact case and the curious truth.
Who knew, for having met her at Bois, Zalti Leontine, the former singer, wife and widow of Count Andillot, Zalti whose luxury dazzled Paris some twenty years ago, Zalti, Countess of Andillot, whom her ornaments of diamonds and pearls worth a European reputation? For it was said that she carried on his shoulders the vault of several banking houses and the gold mines of several Australian companies. The great jewelers working for the Zalti as they used to work for kings and queens.
And who remembers the disaster where all these riches were swallowed up? Banking houses and gold mining, the pit devoured everything. The wonderful collection dispersed by the auctioneer, there remained only the famous black pearl. The Black Pearl! That is to say a fortune, if she wanted to sell it.
She did not wanted it. She preferred to restrict, living in a single apartment with her companion, her cook and a servant, rather than sell this priceless gem. There was a reason for this she was not afraid to admit: the black pearl was the gift of an emperor! And almost ruined, reduced to the most mediocre existence, she remained faithful to his partner from the beautiful days.
– While I’m living, she said, I will not leave it.
From morning until evening, she wore it around her neck. At night, she put it in a place known only to herself.
All these facts recalled by the newspapers stimulated curiosity, and, strange to say, but easy to understand for those who have the key to the riddle, it was precisely the arrest of the alleged assassin that complicated mystery and the prolonged emotion. Two days later, in fact, the newspapers published the following news:
“We are told about the arrest of Victor Danegre, the domestic of the Countess of Andillot. The evidence against him is overwhelming. On the cotton oversleeve of his livery vest, that Dudouis, the chief detective, found in his attic, between the box spring and the mattress, there was blood stains. Furthermore, it lacked a coated fabric jacket button. Or this button, during the early raids, had been picked up in the same bed of the victim.
It is likely that after dinner Danegre, instead of returning to his garret, to be slipped into the wardrobe-closet, and that thorugh the glass door he saw the countess hiding the black pearl.
We must say that, so far, no evidence is coming to confirm that supposition. Anyway, another point remains obscure. At seven in the morning, Danegre went to tobacconist from the Boulevard de Courcelles: the first concierge, then tobacconist testified in this regard. On the other hand, the cook of the Countess and her companion, both of which lie at the end of the hallway, say at eight o’clock, when they were awakened, the door of the hall and the kitchen door were closed and double-locked. For twenty years serving the countess, these two people are above suspicion. So one wonders how Danegre could leave the apartment. Had he make another key? The statement will clarify these points.”
The instruction clears absolutely nothing, on the contrary. It was learned that Victor Danegre was a dangerous recidivist, an alcoholic and a rake, that a knife does not frighten him. But the case itself seemed, as it was studied, wrapped by thicker darkness and more inexplicable contradictions.
First a young lady of Sinclèves, cousin and sole heir of the victim, said the countess, a month before his death, had told her in one of her letters how she hid the black pearl. The day after she received the letter, she noted the disappearance. Who stole it?
For their part, caretakers told they had opened the door to an individual, which was mounted at Dr. Harel. The doctor was questioned. No one had come to him. So who was this individual? An accomplice?
This assumption of an accomplice was adopted by the press and by the public. Ganimard, the old Chief Inspector Ganimard defended him, not without reason.
– There is Lupin down there, he said to the judge.
– Bah! Retorted the judge, you see him everywhere, your Lupin.
– I see him everywhere, because he is everywhere.
– Tell us rather that you see him every time something does not seem very clear to you. Moreover, in this case, notice this: the crime was committed at eleven twenty in the evening, as evidenced by the clock, and the night visit, denounced by the janitors, took place at three in the morning.
Justice often obeys those who drives of belief that compels events to bend to the first given explanation. The deplorable antecedents of Victor Danegre, recidivist, drunk and debauched, influenced the judge, and although no new circumstance might corroborate two or three indices originally discovered, nothing could shake him. He buckled his instruction. Within weeks, the proceedings began.
They were embarrassed and languid. The President directed it without ardor. The Public Prosecution attacked softly. In these circumstances, counsel for Danegre had beautiful game. He showed the gaps and impossibilities of the charge. Zero physical evidence existed. Who had forged the key, the indispensable key without which Danegre, after his departure, could not close the double-locked apartment door? Who had seen this key, and what had become? Who had seen the knife of the assassin, and what had become?
And, in any case, concluded the lawyer, you have to prove that this is my client who killed. Prove that the author of theft and crime is not that mysterious character who broke into the house at three in the morning. The clock struck eleven, you say? And after? Isn‘t possible to put the needles of a clock at a time that suits you?
Victor Danegre was acquitted.
* * *
He was released from prison on a Friday at the close of day, gaunt, depressed by six months cell. The instruction, loneliness, the debates, the jury’s deliberations, all that had filled him with a morbid dread. During the night, horrible nightmares, visions of the scaffold haunted him. He was shaking with fever and terror.
Under the name of Anatole Dufour, he rented a small room on the heights of Montmartre, and lived at random tasks, tinkering right and left.
Pathetic life! Engaged three times by three different bosses, he was recognized and fired to the spot.
Often he saw, or thought he saw, that men were following him, police men, he doubted point, which did not give up dropping him into some trap. And ahead he felt the rude embrace of the hand that would take him by the collar.
One evening he dined at a catering in neighborhood, when someone moved in front of him. It was an individual of about forty, wearing a black coat of doubtful cleanliness. He ordered soup, vegetables and a liter of wine.
And when he had eaten the soup, he turned his eyes and gazed Danegre.
Danegre paled. For sure this individual was one of his followers for weeks. What did he want from him? Danegre tried to get up. He could not. His legs staggered beneath him.
The man poured himself a glass of wine and filled the glass of Danegre.
– We toast, comrade?
– Yes … yes … your health, comrade.
– Your health, Victor Danegre.
The other jumped:
– I! … I … but no … I swear …
– You swear to me what? That you are not you? The domestic of the Countess?
– Domestic – what? My name is Dufour. Ask the boss.
– Dufour, Anatole, yes, for the boss, but Danegre for justice, Victor Danegre.
– Not true! Not true! They lied to you.
The newcomer took from his pocket a card and handed it. Victor read: “Grimaudan, former inspector of the National Police. Confidential information.” He shuddered.
– You are from the police?
– I’m no more, but I liked this job, and I continue in a more lucrative …. I unearth from time to time gold business… like yours.
– Yes, yours, it is an exceptional case, however, if you’ll put a little complacent.
– And if I do not put?
– You have to. You are in a situation where you can not refuse me anything.
A dull apprehension invaded Victor Danegre. He asked:
– What is it? … Talk.
– OK, replied the other, get it over with. In short, here it is, I am sent by Miss Sinclèves.
– The heiress of the Countess of Andillot.
– Well, Miss Sinclèves asked me to ask you the black pearl.
– The black pearl?
– The one you stole.
– But I did not!
– You’ve got it.
– If I had it, it would be me the murderer.
– It‘s you the murderer.
Danegre tried to laugh.
– Fortunately, my good sir, the Court was not of the same opinion. All jurors, you hear, recognized me innocent. And when someone has his conscience and esteem of twelve good men …
The ex-inspector seized his arm:
– Enough, my little. Listen to me carefully and weigh my words, they are worth. Danegre, three weeks before the crime, you have stolen from the stove the key that opens the back door, and you did make a similar key at Outard, the locksmith, 244, rue Oberkampf.
– Not true, not true, scolded Victor, nobody saw this key … it does not exist.
– There it is.
After a pause, Grimaudan continued:
– You killed the countess with a ring knife bought in the bazaar of the République, the same day you order your key. The blade is triangular and a recessed by a groove.
– It’s a joke, all this, you talk at random. Nobody saw the knife.
– Here it is.
Victor Danegre had a recoil gesture. The ex-inspector continued:
– There are over rust spots. Does it need to explain the origin?
– And after that? … You have a key and a knife … Who can say that they belong to me?
– The locksmith first, and then the employee from which you purchased the knife. I have already refreshed their memory. In front of you, they will be sure to recognize you.
He spoke curtly and harshly, with terrifying accuracy. Danegre was convulsed with fear. Neither the judge nor the presiding judge nor the General Advocate had not tightened him so close, they did not see some things so clear that himself did not discern more clearly.
However, he still tried to play indifference.
– If that’s all your evidence!
– I still have it. You are gone, after the crime, by the same way. But in the middle of the wardrobe-closet, took by fright, you had to lean against the wall for balance.
– How do you know? Victor stammered … nobody can know.
– The justice, no, any of these gentlemen prosecutors couldn’t come to the idea to light a candle and examine the walls. But if they would did, they would see on the white plaster a slight red mark, however enough sharp to find the imprint of the front side of your thumb, your thumb damp by blood that you placed against the wall. And you are aware that anthropometry is one of the main means of identification.
Victor Danegre was livid. Beads of sweat ran down his forehead on the table. He considered with crazy eyes that strange man who evoked his crime as if he had been an invisible witness.
He looked down, defeated, helpless. For months he was fighting against everybody. Against that man, he felt that there was nothing to do.
– If I give you back the pearl, he stammered, how much will you give me?
– What! You’re making fun! I would give you something which is worth thousands and hundreds of thousands, and I would have nothing?
– Yes, your life.
The miserable shuddered. Grimaudan added, in a tone almost gentle:
– Come, Danegre, that pearl has no value for you. You can not sell it. What good to keep?
– There are receivers of stolen goods … and one day or another, at any price …
– One day or another, it will be too late.
– Why? But because justice has put the hands on you, and this time, with the evidence I can provide, the knife, the key, the indication of thumb, you are finished, my good man.
Victor clutched his head with both hands and thought. He felt lost, in fact, hopelessly lost, and at the same time, severe fatigue invaded, an immense need of rest and abandonment.
– When you need it?
– This evening, an hour.
– If not?
– Otherwise, I put the letter in the mail where Miss Sinclèves denounce you to the prosecutor.
Danegre poured two glasses of wine which he drank in rapid succession, then rising:
– Pay the bill, and here we go … I’ve had enough of this cursed affair.
Night had fallen. The two men went down the Rue Lepic and followed the exterior boulevards heading towards Étoile. They walked silently, Victor, very tired and hunched.
At the Park Monceau, he said:
– It’s on the side of the house …
– Egad! You are out in, before your arrest, only to go to the tobacco shop.
– Here we are, said Danegre, in a hollow voice.
They passed the garden gate and crossed the street with a tobacco shop in the corner. Danegre stopped a few steps away. His legs wobbled. He fell on a bench.
– Well? asked his companion.
– It’s here.
– It’s here! What are you talking about?
– Yes, there, before us.
– In front of us! Say, Danegre, it should not be …
– I‘m telling you it’s there.
– Between two pavers.
– Which ones?
– Search for it.
– Which ones? Grimaudan repeated.
Victor did not answer.
– Ah! Perfect, you want me to pose, my man.
– No … But … I will die of misery.
– And then, you hesitate? Come, I’ll be good prince. How many do you need?
– As to take my steerage ticket for America.
– And a hundred – for the first expenses.
– You will get two. Talk.
– See the pavement, to the right of the sewer. It is between the twelfth and thirteenth.
– In the creek?
– Yes, down the sidewalk.
Grimaudan looked around. Trams passed, people passed by. But bah! Who could doubt it? …
He opened his knife and planted it between the twelfth and thirteenth pad.
– And if it is not there?
– If no one saw me bend down and push, it is still there.
Could it be that she was there! The black pearl thrown in the mud of a creek, available to first come! The black pearl … a fortune!
– At what depth?
– Ten centimeters, approximately.
He dug the wet sand. The tip of his knife struck something. With his fingers he widened the hole.
He saw the black pearl.
– Look, here are your two hundred francs. I will send you your ticket for America.
The next day, Écho de France published this news, which was reproduced by newspapers around the world:
Since yesterday, the famous black pearl is in the hands of Arsene Lupin who has taken from the murderer of the Countess of Andillot. Soon, facsimiles of this precious gem will be exhibited in London, St. Petersburg, Calcutta, Buenos Aires and New York.
Arsene Lupin expects the proposals that will be made to him by his correspondents.
* * *
– And that’s how the crime is always punished and virtue rewarded, says Arsene Lupin, when he revealed to me the bottom of the case.
– And that is how, as Grimaudan, the former inspector of the National Police, you were chosen by fate to deprive the criminal of his benefit package.
– Right. And I admit that this is an adventure which I am most proud of. The forty minutes I spent in the apartment of the countess, having found his death, are among the most amazing and deepest of my life. In forty minutes, entangled in the most impossible situation, I reconstructed the crime, I became certain, with some indications, that the culprit could be only a servant of the countess. Finally, I understood that, to have the pearl, it was needed that that domestic was arrested, so I left the vest button, but it should not reveal against him irrefutable evidence of his guilt – and I picked up the knife left on the carpet, the key forgotten on the lock, closed the double locked door, and erased the traces of fingers on the plaster of the wardrobe-closet. To me, this was one of those lightning …
– Of genius, I interrupted.
– Of genius, if you will, and who had not lit the brain of anybody. Guess in one second the two terms of the problem – an arrest and an acquittal – using the formidable apparatus of justice to haywire my man, to besot him, in short, to put him in such a state of mind that once free it would inevitably, fatally, fall into the trap a little rude that I handed him! …
– A little? Say much, because he was in no danger.
– Oh! None, because any acquittal is final.
– Poor devil…
– Poor devil … Victor Danegre! You do not think he‘s a murderer? He would have been the last immorality to remain to him the black pearl. He lives, remember, Danegre lives!
– And the black pearl is yours.
He put it out of a secret pocket of his wallet, examined it, stroked it with his fingers and, with emotion in his eyes, he sighed:
– What is the boyar, what is the fool and vain rajah that will possess this treasure? To what American billionaire is destined the small piece of beauty and luxury that adorned the white shoulders of Léontine Zalti, Countess of Andillot? …
Translated by Nicolae Sfetcu