– It’s strange that you look like Arsene Lupin, Velmont!
– Do you know him?
– Oh! Like everyone else, from his photographs, none of which is similar to others, but each leaves the impression of an identical appearance … which is yours.
– Horace Velmont seemed rather annoyed.
– Is it not, my dear Devanne! And you’re not the first to remark this, believe it.
– This is the point, insisted Devanne, if you had not been recommended to me by my cousin Estevan, and if you were not the famous painter whom I admire the beautiful sea works, I wonder if I would not warn the police of your presence at Dieppe.
The joke was greeted with general laughter. There was, in the large dining room of the castle of Thibermesnil, besides Velmont: Abbe Gelis, the village priest, and a dozen officers whose regiments maneuvered around, and had responded to the invitation of the banker Georges Devanne and his mother. One of them exclaimed:
– But is it sure that Arsene Lupin was not reported on the coast after his famous coup from the express Paris-Le Havre?
– Absolutely, there are three months of this, and the following week I was introduced to our excellent Velmont at the casino, which has since honoring me a few visits – agreeable preamble to a more serious visit to home that he will make me one of these days … or rather one of these nights!
They laughed again and passed into the old guard room, a large room, very high, which occupies the entire lower part of the tower Guillaume, and where Georges Devanne brought together the incomparable treasures accumulated over the centuries by Sires of Thibermesnil. Credenzas and sideboards, andirons and chandeliers decorate it. Magnificent tapestries hang from the stone walls. The embrasures of the four windows are deep, equipped with benches, and end with cross stained glass ogivals framed by lead. Between the door and the left window, stands a monumental Renaissance-style library, where can be read on the pediment, in gold letters, “Thibermesnil”, and below, the proud family motto: “Do what you want.”
And as they were lighting cigars, Devanne resumed:
– Only, hurry, Velmont, this is the last night you have left.
– Why? Said the painter, who certainly was taking it jokingly.
Devanne was about to reply when his mother gave him a sign. But the excitement of the dinner, the desire to interest his guests, prevailed.
– Bah! He muttered, I can talk now. An indiscretion is no longer to be feared.
They sat around him with great curiosity, and he said, with a satisfied air of someone who announces big news:
– Tomorrow, at four o’clock, Sherlock Holmes, the great English detective for whom there is no mystery, Sherlock Holmes, the most extraordinary decipherer of puzzles that we have ever seen, the prodigious person who seems fabricated from scratch by the imagination of a novelist, Sherlock Holmes will be my host.
They cried. Sherlock Holmes to Thibermesnil. So it was serious? Arsene Lupin is really in the country?
– Arsene Lupin and his gang are not far away. Besides the case of Baron Cahorn, who to attribute the burglaries of Montigny, Gruchet, Crasville, if not to our national thief? Today, is my turn.
– And you are warned, as was the Cahorn Baron?
– The same trick does not succeed twice.
– So? … So here.
He rose, and pointing on one of the shelves of the library, a small empty space between two enormous folios:
– There was a book, a book of the sixteenth century entitled Chronicle of Thibermesnil, and was the castle’s history since its construction by Duke Rollo on the site of a feudal fortress. It contained three engraved plates. One represented a perspective view of the field as a whole, the second in terms of buildings, and the third – I call your attention on it – the line of an underground from which one opens to outside at the first line of the ramparts, and the other ends here, yes, in the same hall where we stand. But this book has been missing since last month.
– Whew! Says Velmont, is a bad sign. Only this is not enough to motivate the intervention of Sherlock Holmes.
– Of course, this would not have been enough if it would not have happened another fact that gives to the one I‘m just telling you all its meaning. There was at the National Library a second exemplary of the Chronicle, and the two exemplaries differed in certain details about the underground, such as establishing a profile and a scale, and various annotations, not printed but written to ink and more or less erased. I knew these features, and I knew that the final route could be restored only by a careful comparison of the two cards. But the day after my exemplary disappeared, the other from the National Library was asked by a reader who prevailed it and it was impossible to determine the conditions under which the theft was made.
Exclamations greeted these words.
– This time, the matter becomes serious.
– Also, this time, said Devanne, police moved and there was a double investigation, which, incidentally, had no result.
– Like any where Arsene Lupin is the object.
– Exactly. Then he came to me to ask for assistance of Sherlock Holmes, who replied that he had the strongest desire to make contact with Arsene Lupin.
– What glory for Arsene Lupin! Said Velmont! But if our national thief, as you call it, does not harbor any Thibermesnil project, Sherlock Holmes will only have to twiddle his thumbs?
– There is something else, and that strongly interest me, the discovery of the underground.
– What, you told us that one of the entries opened on the countryside, the other right in this room!
– Where? In what part of this room? The line representing the underground in the books, leads on one side leads to a small circle together with these two capital “T. G.”, meaning no doubt, isn‘t it, Tower Guillaume. But the tower is round, and could determine at what point of the round begins the drawing line?
Devanne lit a second cigar and poured himself a glass of Benedictine. We pressed him with questions. He smiled, happy of induced interest. Finally he said:
– The secret is lost. No one in the world knows it. From father to son, says the legend, the mighty lords transmitted to their deathbeds, until Geoffroy, last name, was beheaded on the scaffold, 7 Thermidor Year II, in his nineteenth year.
– But, in a century, they had to look for?
– They tried, but in vain. Myself, when I had bought the castle from the great-nephew of conventional Leribourg, I did do some digging. What’s the point? Consider that this tower, surrounded by water, is connected to the castle by a point, and must, therefore, that the underground passes under the old moat. The plan of the National Library also shows a series of four staircases with forty-eight steps, implying a depth of more than ten meters. And the scale annexed to the other plane, fixed distance to two hundred meters. In fact, the whole problem is here, between this floor, the ceiling and the walls. Well, I confess that I hesitate to demolish them.
– And there is no clue?
Abbe Gelis objected:
– Mr. Devanne, we need to state two quotes.
– Oh! Exclaimed Devanne, laughing, the priest is an archive excavator, a great reader of memoirs, and everything related to Thibermesnil passionate him. But the explanation he speaks only serves to confuse the issue.
– But yet?
– Do you insist?
– You must know that it is clear from his reading that two kings of France had the answer to the riddle.
– Two kings of France!
– Henri IV and Louis XVI.
– They are not the first comers. And how Mr. Abbe is he aware? …
– Oh! It is simple, continued Devanne. Two days before the battle of Arques, King Henry IV came to sup and sleep in the castle. At eleven o’clock, Louise de Tancarville, the prettiest lady in Normandy, was introduced to him through the underground with the help of the Duke Edgard, who, on this occasion, gave the family secret. This secret, Henry IV later confided to his minister Sully, who tells the story in his “Royal Crown Economics” without the support of other comments in this incomprehensible sentence:
“The ax spins in the air that trembles, but the wing opens, and it is up to God.”
There was a silence, and Velmont sneered:
– This is not blindingly clear.
– Isn’t it? Mr. priest considers Sully noted by this the answer to the riddle, without betraying the secret of the scribes to whom he dictated his memoirs.
– The hypothesis is ingenious.
– Agree, but what is this ax spinning, and this bird flying?
– And what is up to God?
– And this good Louis XVI, was him also to be visited by a lady, to whom hi did open the underground?
– I do not know. All it is possible to say is that Louis XVI stayed in Thibermesnil in 1784, and the famous iron cupboard, found at the Louvre on the denunciation of Gamain, contained a paper with these words written by him: “Thibermesnil. 2-6-12”
Horace Velmont laughed:
– Victory! The darkness is growing. Two times six is twelve.
– Laugh as you please, Sir, said the abbot, the fact remains that these two quotations contain the solution, and that sooner or later will come someone who will interpret them.
– Sherlock Holmes first, said Devanne … Unless Arsene Lupin ahead of him. What do you think, Velmont?
Velmont stood up, put his hand on Devanne’s shoulder, and said:
– I think that to data provided by your book and by that of the Library, it lacked a piece of information of the highest importance, and you have been kind enough to offer me. I thank you.
– So that?…
– So that now the ax has twirled, the bird having escaped and two times six is twelve, I have only to start working.
– Without losing a minute.
– Without losing a second! I have to do it that night, that is to say before the arrival of Sherlock Holmes I will rob your castle.
– It is a fact that you do not have the time. Do you want me to drive you?
– Up to Dieppe?
– Up to Dieppe. I take this opportunity to bring myself to Mr. and Mrs. Androl and a girl of their friends who arrive by the midnight train.
And addressing the officers, Devanne added:
– Besides we will all meet here tomorrow at lunch, isn’t it, gentlemen? Well, I count on you, since this castle is to be invested by your regiments and taken over on the stroke of eleven hours.
The invitation was accepted, they separated, and a moment later Devanne and Velmont drove by car on the road of Dieppe. Devanne dropped the painter in front of the casino, and went to the station.
At midnight his friends off the train. At half past midnight, the car crossed the doors of Thibermesnil. At one o’clock, after a light supper served in the lounge, all retired. Gradually the lights went out. The great silence of the night enveloped the castle.
* * *
But the moon spreaded the clouds that veiled it, and, by two windows, white light filled the room. It lasted only a moment. Soon the moon hid behind the curtain of the hills. And it was dark. The silence grew thicker from the shade. Just from time to time, the furniture creaking disturbed it, or the rustle of reeds on the pond which bathes the old walls of its green waters.
The clock ticked the endless string of seconds. It struck two o’clock. Then again, the seconds fell early and monotonous in the heavy peace of the night. Then three o’clock struck.
And suddenly something snapped, like the warning during the passage of a train. And a fine stream of light cross the room from side to side, like an arrow that would leave behind it a glittering trail. It flowed from the central groove of a pilaster which rests, right, the library pediment. He first stopped on the opposite panel in a bright circle, then he walked all around like a worried look that scrutinizes the shade, and then he fainted to spring again, while a section of the library turned on itself and unmasked a large aperture, shaped vault.
A man entered holdinging an electric lantern. Another man and a third emerged wearing a coil of rope and different instruments. The first inspected the room, listened and said:
– Call; the comrades.
Eight comrades came by subway, strong men, energetic faces. And the move began.
It was fast. Arsene Lupin passed from one piece of furniture to another, examined it, and, according to its dimensions or its artistic value, forgive it or ordered:
– Take it!
And the object was removed, swallowed by the gaping mouth of the tunnel, shipped in the bowels of the earth.
And so were retracted six armchairs and six chairs Louis XV, and Aubusson tapestries, and chandeliers signed Gouthière and two Fragonard, and a Nattier, and a bust by Houdon, and statuettes. Sometimes Lupin would linger before a beautiful chest or a splendid picture and sigh:
– Too heavy, this… too big… what a pity!
And he continued his expertise.
In forty minutes the show was “unencumbered” in the words of Arsene. And all this was accomplished in admirable order, without any noise, as if all the objects handled by these men had been lined with thick cotton.
He then said to the last of them that was leaving, carrying a cartel signed Boulle:
– Inutile to return. It is understood, isn‘t it, that as soon as the truck is loaded, you whisked away to the barn Roquefort.
– But you, boss?
– Leaves me the motorcycle.
The man left, he pushed back the mobile segment of the library, then, having removed the traces of the move, erased the footprints, lifted a door and entered a gallery that served as communication between the tower and the castle. In the middle there was a window, and it was because of this showcase that Arsene Lupin had continued his investigations.
It contained marvels, a unique collection of watches, snuff-boxes, rings, chatelaines, miniatures of the most beautiful work. With tongs he forced the lock, and it he had an inexpressible pleasure to seize these jewels of gold and silver, these small works of a precious and delicate art.
He had, spent slung around his neck, a large canvas bag specially designed for these deals. He fills it. And he also fills the pockets of his jacket, his pants and his jacket. And he closed his left arm on a stack of these beads reticles so appreciated by our ancestors, and that the current fashion find it so passionately … when a slight noise caught his ear.
He listened; he was not mistaken, the noise became clearer.
And suddenly he remembered: at the end of the gallery, an interior stairs leading to an apartment, unoccupied so far, but that was from that evening reserved for this girl that Devanne had been searching in Dieppe, with her Androl friends.
With a quick movement, he pressed the spring of his lantern with the finger: she extinguished. He had barely climbed the recess of a window that at the top of the stairs the door was opened and a faint glow lit up the gallery.
He had the sensation – because, half-hidden by a curtain, he saw nothing – that a person down the first steps carefully. He hoped she would not go further. However, she went down and walked several steps into the room. But she screamed. No doubt she had seen the broken window, three-quarters empty.
By scent, he recognized the presence of a woman. Her clothes almost brushed the curtain that concealed him, and it seemed to him that he heard the heart beat of this woman, and she also sensed the presence of another, behind her in the shadows, within reach of her hand … He thought, “She’s afraid… she’ll go … it’s impossible that she did not go.” She didn’t. The candle trembling in his hand, she was strengthened. She turned, hesitated a moment, seemed to listen to the frightening silence, then, suddenly, parted the curtain.
They saw each other.
Arsene murmured, upset:
– You … You … Miss.
It was Miss Nelly.
Miss Nelly! The passenger of Transatlantic, which had mingled his dreams with the dreams of the young man during this unforgettable journey, one that had witnessed his arrest, and who, rather than betray him, had this nice gesture to throw into the sea the camera where he had hidden the jewelry and banknotes … Miss Nelly! Dear and smiling creature whose image had so often saddened and delighted his long hours in prison!
Chance was so prodigious that put them in the presence of each other in this castle at this hour of the night, they never moved and uttered not a word, stunned, as if hypnotized by the fantastic appearance they were the one to the other.
Faltering, broken with emotion, Miss Nelly had to sit down.
He remained standing in front of her. And gradually, over the interminable seconds passed, he was aware of the impression he was to give at this moment, arms full of curios, swollen pockets and his bag filled to bursting. Great confusion came over, and he blushed to be there, in that ugly posture of the thief taken in the act. For her, now, whatever happened, he was the thief, one who puts his hand into the pockets of others, who crochets the doors and enters furtively.
One of the watches rolled on the carpet, another also. And other things slipped from his arms, he did not know how to keep it. Then, abruptly deciding, he dropped on the chair some of the objects, emptied his pockets and took off his bag.
He felt more at ease with Nelly, and took a step toward her with the intention of talking to him. But she had a gesture of recoil, then rose strongly, as taken of fright, and rushed to the living room. The door closed behind her, he rejoined. She was there, prohibited, trembling, and her eyes gazed with terror the huge room devastated.
Immediately he said:
– With three o’clock, tomorrow, everything will be replaced … The objects will be brought back…
She did not answer, and he repeated:
– Tomorrow, at three o’clock, I pledge … Nothing in the world can not help but keep my promise … Tomorrow, at three …
A long silence hung over them. He dared not break, and emotion of the girl caused her real suffering. Slowly, without a word, he walked away from her.
And he thought:
– Let her go away! … That she feels free to go! … That she is not afraid of me! …
But suddenly she trembled and stammered:
– Listen … … I hear footsteps walking …
He looked at her in astonishment. She seemed upset, like on the approach of danger.
– I hear nothing, he said, and still …
– What! But we have to run away … fast, run …
– To run … Why?
– It is necessary … necessary … Ah! Do not stay…
With a stroke she ran to the entrance of the gallery and listened. No, there was nobody. Perhaps the noise was it from outside? … She waited a second, then, reassured, turned.
Arsene Lupin was gone.
* * *
At the very moment Devanne saw the pillage of his castle, and he thought: it is Velmont who did it, and Velmont is none other than Arsene Lupin. Everything is well explained, and nothing could be explained otherwise. This idea had touching him, so unlikely was that Velmont was not at all Velmont, that is to say, the famous painter, the comrade from the circle of his cousin Estevan. And when the police sergeant, immediately notified, appeared, Devanne did not even think to tell him that absurd assumption.
All morning it was, at Thibermesnil, an indescribable going back and forth. The gendarmes, the policeman, the police commissioner of Dieppe, the villagers, all these people fidgeted in the hallways or in the park or around the castle. The approach of the troops to maneuver, the crackle of rifles, added to the picturesque scene.
The initial research provided no evidence. The windows had not been broken or the doors fractured, no doubt the move was made by the secret passage. Yet, on the carpet no footprints, on the walls no unusual mark.
Only one thing, unexpected and denoting well Arsene Lupin‘s fancy: the famous Chronicle of the sixteenth century had resumed his old place, and beside, there was a similar book, which was none other than the stolen copy of the National Library.
At eleven o’clock the officers arrived. Devanne received them gayly- some trouble due to the loss of such artistic treasures, but his fortune enabled him to endure without bad-humor. His friends of Androl and Nelly went down.
The presentations made, it was discovered that he lacked a guest, Horace Velmont. Would he come?
His absence had aroused the suspicions of Georges Devanne. But at noon precisely, he entered. Devanne exclaimed:
– At the good time! Here you are!
– I’m late?
– No, but you could not be … after a night so agitated! Because, you heard the news?
– What news?
– You have robbed the castle.
– Come on!
– As I tell you. But first offer your arm to Miss Underdown, and we sit down to eat … Mademoiselle, allow me …
He pauses, struck by the disorder of the girl. Then suddenly remembering:
– It’s true, by the way, you have traveled with Arsene Lupin, once … before his arrest … The resemblance surprises you, doesn‘t it?
She did not reply. Before her Velmont was smiling. He bowed, she took his arm. He took her to his place and sat down opposite her.
During lunch they spoke only of Arsene Lupin, the furniture removed, the underground, of Sherlock Holmes. At the end of the meal only, as theye approached other subjects, Velmont joined in the conversation. He was alternately funny and serious turn, eloquent and witty. And everything he said, he seemed to say only to interest the girl. Very absorbed, she seemed not to hear.
They served coffee on the terrace overlooking the courtyard and the French garden of the side of the main facade. In the middle of the lawn, the regimental band began to play, and the crowd of peasants and soldiers spread through the alleys of the park.
However Nelly remembered the promise of Arsene Lupin: “At three o’clock everything will be there, I am committed.”
At three o’clock! and the points of the big clock that adorned the right wing marked two forty. She watched them against her will at any time. And she also looked Velmont swinging peacefully in a comfortable rocking chair.
Two hours and fifty… two hours and fifty-five … a kind of impatience, anxiety mingled, hugged the girl. Was it admissible that the miracle might be fulfilled, and that it might be fulfilled minute fixed, while the castle, the courtyard, the campaign were filled with people, and that right now the public prosecutor and the investigating judge continued their investigation?
And yet … yet, Arsene Lupin had promised with such solemnity! This will be as he said, she thought, impressed by all that there was, in this man, power, authority and certainty. And it no longer seemed a miracle, but a natural event which should happen by the force of things.
A second, their eyes met. She blushed and looked away.
Three hours … The first shot sounded, the second shot, the third … Horace Velmont took out his watch, looked up at the clock, then put his watch in his pocket. A few seconds passed. And now the crowd parted, around the lawn, giving passage to two cars that had just crossed the gate of the park, drawn one and the other two horses. They were these vans that go following the regiments and bear the canteens of the officers and bags of the soldiers. They stopped at the porch. A quartermaster-sergeant leaped from one of the seats and asked M. Devanne.
Devanne ran up and down the steps. Under the covers, he saw neatly arranged, well wrapped, his furniture, paintings, art objects.
To questions put to him, the quartermaster replied by showing the order he had received from the adjutant service and that this sergeant took it, in the morning, during the report. By this order, the second company of the fourth battalion had to provide that movable objects left at the crossroads of Halleux, Forest of Arques, were brought to three hours to Georges Devanne, owner of Castle Thibermesnil. Signed: the colonel Beauvel.
– At the intersection, said the sergeant, everything was ready, lined up on the grass and in the care … of passersby. It seemed funny, but what! The order was adamant.
One of the officers examined the signature: it was perfectly imitated, but false.
The music had stopped playing, they emptied the vans, reinstated the furniture.
Amid this turmoil, Nelly was left alone at the end of the terrace. She was grave and anxious, agitated by confused thoughts that she was not trying to clear. Suddenly, she saw Velmont approaching. She wished to avoid him, but the angle of the balustrade that borders the terrace surrounded on two sides, and a line of big boxes shrubs, orange trees, oleander and bamboo, left her as retreat only the path where the young man was advancing. She did not move. A ray of sunlight trembled on her golden hair, shaken by the frail leaves of a bamboo. Someone spoke very low:
– I kept my promise that night.
Arsene Lupin was with her, and around them there was no one.
He repeated, with an hesitant attitude, timid voice:
– I kept my promise that night.
He expected a word of thanks, a gesture which at least should prove her interest to act. She was silent.
This contempt angered Arsene Lupin, and at the same time, he had a deep sense of all that separated him from Nelly, now that she knew the truth. He wanted to exonerate himself, find excuses, show his life in what it had bold and big. But, beforehand, the words crumpled him, and he felt the absurdity and insolence of any explanation. Then he whispered sadly, invaded by a flood of memories:
– As the past is far away! Do you remember the long hours on the deck of Provence. Ah! … yes, you had then, like now, a rose in hand, a pale rose like this … I requested it… you had not seemed to hear. .. However, after your departure, I found the rose … probably forgotten … I kept it…
She did not answer yet. She seemed far away from him. He continued:
– In the memory of those hours, not thinking about what you know. That the past connects to the present! I am not the one you saw that night, but the old one, and your eyes look at me, not even for a second, as they looked at me … I beg you … Do am I no longer the same?
She raised her eyes as he asked, and looked at him. Then without a word, she put her finger on a ring he wore on the index. One could see the ring only, but the kitten back inside consisted of a wonderful ruby.
Arsene Lupin blushed. This ring belonged to Georges Devanne.
He smiled bitterly:
– You are right. What has been always will be. Arsene Lupin is and can only be Arsene Lupin, and between you and him, it can not even be a memory … Forgive me … I should have realized that my presence alone with you is an outrage …
He stood aside along the railing, hat in hand. Nelly passed him. He was tempted to hold her, to implore. Boldness failed him, and he watched her as in the distant day when she was crossing the bridge on the New York dock. She mounted the steps leading to the door. Another moment his slender figure loomed among the marble vestibule. He did not see her anymore.
A cloud obscured the sun. Lupin watched, motionless, the trace of small footprint in the sand. Suddenly he started: on the bamboo fund against which Nelly had relied lay rose, the pale pink that he had not dared to ask her … Missed probably, too? But deliberately or inadvertently forgotten?
He eagerly seized. Petals get detached. He picked up one by one as relics …
– Come, he thought, I have nothing more to do here. Consider retirement. Especially if Sherlock Holmes is mixed in, it could be bad.
* * *
The park was deserted. However, near the pavilion that controls the entrance, stood a group of gendarmes. He plunged into the thicket, climbed the perimeter wall and took, to get to the nearest railway station, a trail that meandered among the fields. He had not walked for ten minutes that the path narrows, enclosed between two slopes, and as it happened in this defile, someone was coming from the opposite direction.
He was a man of about fifty years perhaps, strong enough, shaved face, and whose costume specified the foreign appearance. He carried in his hand a heavy cane, and a bag hung from his neck.
They met. The stranger said, with a barely noticeable English accent:
– Excuse me, sir … is it here the road to the castle?
– Straight ahead, sir, and left as soon as you cornered. They are waiting for you impatiently.
– Yes, my friend Devanne announced soon your visit last night.
– So much the worse for M. Devanne if he talked too much.
– And I’m happy to be the first to greet you. Sherlock Holmes has no more ardent admirer than myself.
There was in his voice an imperceptible tinge of irony that he immediately regretted, as Sherlock Holmes considered him from the feet to the head, and a look at once so enveloping and so acute, Arsene Lupin was the impression of being seized, imprisoned and registered by that look, more accurately and more essentially than he had ever been by any camera.
– The picture is taken, he thought. No need to disguise myself with this man there. Only … did he recognize me?
They greeted. But footsteps rang, the sound of horses prancing in a steel rattling. These were the gendarmes. The two men had to stick against the bank, in the tall grass, to avoid being rushed. The gendarmes passed, and as they were following at a distance, it was long enough. And Lupin thought:
– All depends on the question, did he recognize me? If so, there are many chances that it abuses the situation. The problem is scary.
When the last horseman had exceeded, Sherlock Holmes stood up and, without saying anything, brushed his clothes soiled with dust. The strap of her bag was embarrassed a thorn branch. Lupin hurried. A second yet they examined. And if someone could surprise them at that moment, it had been a moving spectacle that the first meeting of these two men, so strange, so powerfully armed, both truly superior and destined fatally by their special abilities face like two equal forces that the order of things pushing against each other through space.
Then the Englishman said:
– I thank you sir.
– Anytime at your service, said Lupin.
They parted. Lupin walked to the station, Sherlock Holmes to the castle.
The investigating judge and prosecutor were left after fruitless searches, and it was expected Sherlock Holmes with a curiosity that justified his great reputation. They were a bit disappointed by his aspect of good citizen, which differed so profoundly from the image they had of him. He had nothing of the romantic hero, the mysterious and diabolical character evoking in us the idea of Sherlock Holmes. Devanne, however, exclaimed full of exuberance:
– Finally, Master, it is you! What happiness! It was so long ago that I hoped … I am almost glad of all that has happened, because it is my pleasure to see you. But about, how did you come?
– By train!
– What a pity! However I sent you my car at the landing.
– An official arrival, isn‘t it? With drum and music! Great way to facilitate my work, grumbled the Englishman.
This engaging tone disconcerted Devanne that, trying to joke, said:
– The task, fortunately, is easier than I had written to you.
– And why?
– Because the theft took place that night.
– If you had not announced my visit, sir, it is likely that the theft would not take place that night.
– And when?
– Tomorrow, or another day.
– And in this case?
– Lupin would have been trapped.
– And my furniture?
– Would not have been taken.
– My furniture is here.
– It was returned to three hours.
– By Lupin?
– By two military vans.
Sherlock Holmes violently pulled his hat on his head and adjusted his bag; but Devanne, exclaimed, anxiously:
– What are you doing?
– I am leaving.
– And why?
– Your furniture is there, Arsene Lupin is far away. My role is over.
– But I absolutely need your help, dear sir. What happened yesterday can be repeated tomorrow, since we ignore the most important, how Arsene Lupin came in, how it came out, and why, a few hours later, he proceeded to that refund.
– Ah! You don’t know …
The idea of a secret to be discovered softens Sherlock Holmes.
– OK, let’s check. But soon, isn‘t it? And, whenever possible, alone.
The phrase clearly referred to assistants. Devanne understood and introduced the Englishman in the living room. In a dry tone, in phrases that seemed counted in advance, and how sparingly! Holmes asked him questions about the previous evening, the guests who were there, the regulars of the castle. Then he examined the two volumes of the Chronicle, compared the maps of the underground, repeated the citations identified by Father Gelis, and asked:
– It was yesterday, for the first time, when you talked about these two citations?
– You never communicated it to Mr. Horace Velmont?
– Good. Call for your automobile. I’m leaving in an hour.
– In an hour!
– Arsene Lupin did not take more to solve the problem you asked him.
– I! … I asked him …
– Well! Yes, Arsene Lupin and Velmont is the same.
– I thought so … Ah! The scoundrel!
– Or, last night, at ten o’clock, you provided Lupin the elements of truth that were missing him and he was looking for weeks. And in the course of the night, Lupin has found the time to understand, to unite his gang and rob you. I claim to be as expeditious.
He walked from one end to the other of the room by reflecting and then sat down, crossed his long legs and closed his eyes.
Devanne waited, quite embarrassed.
– Does he sleep? Or he thought?
Just in case he went out to give orders. When he returned he saw him at the bottom of the stairs of the gallery, kneeling and scrutinizing the carpet.
– What is it then?
– Look … there … these candle stains …
– Yes, indeed … and all fresh …
– And you can also see the top of the stairs, and even more around this showcase that Arsene Lupin has fractured, and he had taken the ornaments to place on that chair.
– And you conclude?
– Nothing. All these facts explain undoubtedly he made restitution. But this is one side of the question that I do not have time to address. The bottom line is the route of the underground.
– You always hope …
– I do not hope, I know. There is, isn‘t it, a chapel at two or three hundred meters from the castle?
– A ruined chapel, where the tomb of Duke Rollo is.
– Tell your driver to expect us near this chapel.
– My driver is not back yet … They would have informd me … But from what I see, you think that the underground is leading to the chapel. Which clue …
Sherlock Holmes interrupted him:
– I beg you, sir, to bring me a ladder and a lantern.
– Ah! you need a lantern and a ladder?
– It seems so, since I ask for them.
Devanne, somewhat taken aback by the rude logic, rang. Both objects were brought.
The orders then succeed with rigor and precision of military commands.
– Apply this ladder against the library, to the left of the word Thibermesnil …
Devanne pitched the ladder and the Englishman continued:
– More left … right … Stop! … Go up … Ok … All the letters of the word are in relief, isn‘t it?
– Let us deal with the letter H. Does it turn in one way or the other?
Devanne seized the letter H, and exclaimed:
– But yes, it moves! To the right, and a quadrant! So how did you get it? …
Without answering, Sherlock Holmes continued:
– Can you, from where you are, to meet the letter R? Yes … Stir it several times, as you would with a lock that can shoot and which is removed.
Devanne shook the letter R. To his amazement, he performed an internal triggering.
– Perfect, says Sherlock Holmes. You have to slip your ladder at the other end, that is to say at the end of the word Thibermesnil … Well … And now, if I’m not mistaken, if things are done as they should, the letter L will open like desk.
With a certain solemnity, Devanne seized the letter L. The letter L opened, but Devanne ran down his ladder, because the whole section of the library between the first and last letters of the word, turned on itself and discovered the opening of the underground.
Sherlock Holmes uttered, phlegmatic:
– Are you hurt?
– No, no, said Devanne while was standing up, not hurt, but bewildered, I agree … These letters that move … This underground gaping …
– Why? Is it not exactly in line with the quotation from Sully?
– In what way, sir?
– Damn! The H spins, the R shuddered and L opens … and that is what has allowed Henry to receive Miss Tancarville at an unusual hour.
– But Louis XVI? asked Devanne stunned.
– Louis XVI was great smith and skillful locksmith. I read a “Treaty on combination locks” attributed to him. From Thibermesnil, it was behaving as a good courtier to show his master this mechanical masterpiece. For the record, the king wrote: 2-6-12, that is to say, HRL, second, sixth and twelfth letter of the word.
– Ah! Perfect, I begin to understand … But now … If I understand how to leave this room, I can not explain how Lupin could enter. For, note well, he was out of him.
Sherlock Holmes lit the lantern and walked a few steps into the underground.
– Look, the entire mechanism is apparent here, as the springs of a clock, and all letters meet there backwards. Lupin therefore had only to play with them this side of the bulkhead.
– What proof?
– What proof? See this oil spill. Lupin had even predicted that the wheels would need to be greased, Sherlock Holmes said not without admiration.
– But then he knew the other way?
– As I know. Follow me.
– In the underground?
– Are you afraid?
– No, but are you sure you recognize it?
– Eyes closed.
They went down first twelve steps, then twelve, and twelve other two more times. Then they reached a long corridor with brick walls marked by the successive restorations and that oozing in places. The floor was wet.
– We go in the pond, noticed Devanne, not reassured.
The hallway leads to a staircase of twelve steps, followed by three others stairs of twelve steps they went up painfully, and they emerged into a small cavity carved into the rock. The path was not going away.
– Deuce, murmured Sherlock Holmes, nothing but bare walls, it becomes embarrassing.
– If you go back, murmured Devanne, because, well, I do not see the need to learn more. I am edified.
But, lifting his head, the Englishman gave a sigh of relief: on top of them repeated the same mechanism from the entrance. He had only to maneuver the three letters. A granite block toppled. It was, on the other hand, the tombstone of Duke Rollo, engraved with twelve embossed letters “Thibermesnil”. And they found themselves in the small chapel in ruins that the Englishman had designated.
– “And we are going to God”, that is to say to the chapel, he said, bringing the end of the quotation.
– Is it possible, cried Devanne, confused by the clairvoyance and vivacity of Sherlock Holmes, is it possible that this simple indication was enough for you?
– Bah! said the Englishman, it was even useless. On the copy of the National Library, the line ends left, you know, a circle, and right, you know, a small cross, but so erased that it can be seen with the magnifying glass only. That cross obviously means the chapel where we are.
Poor Devanne could not believe his ears.
– It’s incredible, miraculous, yet a cinch! How nobody ever pierced the mystery?
– Because no one has ever met the three or four required elements, that is to say the two books and quotations … Nobody but Arsene Lupin and myself.
– But, me too, objected Devanne, and Abbe Gelis … We both knew as much as you, and yet …
Mioster Devanne, everybody is not able to decipher the puzzles.
– But ten years ago I seek. And you, in ten minutes …
– Bah! The habit…
They come out of the chapel, and the Englishman exclaimed:
– Look, a car is waiting!
– But it’s mine!
– Yours? But I thought the driver had not returned.
– In fact … and I wonder …
They walked up to the car, and Devanne, questioning the driver:
– Edouard, who gave you the order to come here?
– But, replied the man, it was Mr. Velmont.
– Mr. Velmont? So you’ve met him?
– Close to the station, and he told me to go to the chapel.
– To go to the chapel! But why?
– To expect Monsieur … and the friend of Monsieur.
Devanne and Sherlock Holmes looked each other. Devanne said:
– He understood that the enigma would be a game for you. The tribute is tricky.
– A contented smile narrowed the thin lips of the detective. The tribute pleased. He said, shaking his head:
– A smart man. I knew it as soon as I saw him.
– So you have seen him?
– We crossed earlier.
– And you knew it was Horace Velmont, I mean Arsene Lupin?
– No, but I did not take long to guess … a certain irony on his part.
– And you let him escape?
– Well, yes … I had the best part yet … five gendarmes who passed.
– But, damn it! It was now or never to take advantage …
– Of course, sir, said the Englishman, haughtily, when there is an adversary like Arsene Lupin, Sherlock Holmes does not take advantage of the opportunities… it gives birth to it…
But time pressed, and since Lupin had the nice touch to send the automobile, it was necessary to profit without delay. Devanne and Sherlock Holmes settled deep in the comfortable limousine. Edward started the car. Fields, clumps of trees marching. The soft undulations of Caux is smoothed before them. Suddenly, Devanne’s eyes were drawn to a small package placed in one of the pockets.
– Hey, what is it? A package! And for whom? But this is for you.
– For me?
– Read this “To Mr. Sherlock Holmes, from Arsene Lupin.”
The Englishman seized the package, removed the two sheets of paper that enveloped it. It was a watch.
– Aoh! He said, accompanying the exclamation with an angry gesture …
– A watch, said Devanne, is it by chance? …
The Englishman did not answer.
– What! this is your watch! Arsene Lupin returns your watch! But if return it to you it means that he had taken … He took your watch! Ah! It is good, that one, the watch of Sherlock Holmes spirited away by Arsene Lupin! My God, that’s funny! No, true … you will excuse me … but it’s stronger than me.
He laughed uproariously, unable to contain himself. And while he laughed, he declared, sounding confident:
– Oh! He is a smart man, indeed.
The Englishman did not flinch. Until Dieppe, he did not utter a word, his eyes fixed on the receding horizon. His silence was terrible, unfathomable, more violent than the most ferocious rage. On landing, he said simply, without anger this time, but in a tone one felt all the will and all the energy of the character:
– Yes, he is a smart man, and a man upon whom I will have the pleasure to place my hand, that I hold out to you, Mr. Devanne. And I thought, you know, Arsene Lupin and Sherlock Holmes will meet again one day or another … Yes, the world is too small for them never meet … and that day …
Translate by Nicolae Sfetcu