Part 3 out of 4
eagerly. It was addressed to me, and marked: "Urgent."
A letter! A letter addressed to me! Who could have put it in that
place? Nervously, I tore open the envelope, and read:
"From the moment you open this letter, whatever happens, whatever
you may hear, do not move, do not utter one cry. Otherwise you are
I am not a coward, and, quite as well as another, I can face real
danger, or smile at the visionary perils of imagination. But, let
me repeat, I was in an anomalous condition of mind, with my nerves
set on edge by the events of the evening. Besides, was there not,
in my present situation, something startling and mysterious,
calculated to disturb the most courageous spirit?
My feverish fingers clutched the sheet of paper, and I read and re-
read those threatening words: "Do not move, do not utter one cry.
Otherwise, you are doomed."
"Nonsense!" I thought. "It is a joke; the work of some cheerful
I was about to laugh--a good loud laugh. Who prevented me? What
haunting fear compressed my throat?
At least, I would blow out the candle. No, I could not do it. "Do
not move, or you are doomed," were the words he had written.
These auto-suggestions are frequently more imperious than the most
positive realities; but why should I struggle against them? I had
simply to close my eyes. I did so.
At that moment, I heard a slight noise, followed by crackling
sounds, proceeding from a large room used by me as a library. A
small room or antechamber was situated between the library and my
The approach of an actual danger greatly excited me, and I felt a
desire to get up, seize my revolver, and rush into the library. I
did not rise; I saw one of the curtains of the left window move.
There was no doubt about it: the curtain had moved. It was still
moving. And I saw--oh! I saw quite distinctly--in the narrow space
between the curtains and the window, a human form; a bulky mass
that prevented the curtains from hanging straight. And it is
equally certain that the man saw me through the large meshes of the
curtain. Then, I understood the situation. His mission was to
guard me while the others carried away their booty. Should I rise
and seize my revolver? Impossible! He was there! At the least
movement, at the least cry, I was doomed.
Then came a terrific noise that shook the house; this was followed
by lighter sounds, two or three together, like those of a hammer
that rebounded. At least, that was the impression formed in my
confused brain. These were mingled with other sounds, thus
creating a veritable uproar which proved that the intruders were
not only bold, but felt themselves secure from interruption.
They were right. I did not move. Was it cowardice? No, rather
weakness, a total inability to move any portion of my body,
combined with discretion; for why should I struggle? Behind that
man, there were ten others who would come to his assistance.
Should I risk my life to save a few tapestries and bibelots?
Throughout the night, my torture endured. Insufferable torture,
terrible anguish! The noises had stopped, but I was in constant
fear of their renewal. And the man! The man who was guarding me,
weapon in hand. My fearful eyes remained cast in his direction.
And my heart beat! And a profuse perspiration oozed from every
pore of my body!
Suddenly, I experienced an immense relief; a milk-wagon, whose
sound was familiar to me, passed along the boulevard; and, at the
same time, I had an impression that the light of a new day was
trying to steal through the closed window-blinds.
At last, daylight penetrated the room; other vehicles passed along
the boulevard; and all the phantoms of the night vanished. Then I
put one arm out of the bed, slowly and cautiously. My eyes were
fixed upon the curtain, locating the exact spot at which I must
fire; I made an exact calculation of the movements I must make;
then, quickly, I seized my revolver and fired.
I leaped from my bed with a cry of deliverance, and rushed to the
window. The bullet had passed through the curtain and the window-
glass, but it had not touched the man--for the very good reason that
there was none there. Nobody! Thus, during the entire night, I
had been hypnotized by a fold of the curtain. And, during that
time, the malefactors....Furiously, with an enthusiasm that nothing
could have stopped, I turned the key, opened the door, crossed the
antechamber, opened another door, and rushed into the library. But
amazement stopped me on the threshold, panting, astounded, more
astonished than I had been by the absence of the man. All the
things that I supposed had been stolen, furniture, books, pictures,
old tapestries, everything was in its proper place.
It was incredible. I could not believe my eyes. Notwithstanding
that uproar, those noises of removal....I made a tour, I inspected
the walls, I made a mental inventory of all the familiar objects.
Nothing was missing. And, what was more disconcerting, there was
no clue to the intruders, not a sign, not a chair disturbed, not
the trace of a footstep.
"Well! Well!" I said to myself, pressing my hands on my bewildered
head, "surely I am not crazy! I hear something!"
Inch by inch, I made a careful examination of the room. It was in
vain. Unless I could consider this as a discovery: Under a small
Persian rug, I found a card--an ordinary playing card. It was the
seven of hearts; it was like any other seven of hearts in French
playing-cards, with this slight but curious exception: The extreme
point of each of the seven red spots or hearts was pierced by a
hole, round and regular as if made with the point of an awl.
Nothing more. A card and a letter found in a book. But was not
that sufficient to affirm that I had not been the plaything of a
* * * * *
Throughout the day, I continued my searches in the library. It was
a large room, much too large for the requirements of such a house,
and the decoration of which attested the bizarre taste of its
founder. The floor was a mosaic of multicolored stones, formed
into large symmetrical designs. The walls were covered with a
similar mosaic, arranged in panels, Pompeiian allegories, Byzantine
compositions, frescoes of the Middle Ages. A Bacchus bestriding a
cask. An emperor wearing a gold crown, a flowing beard, and
holding a sword in his right hand.
Quite high, after the style of an artist's studio, there was a
large window--the only one in the room. That window being always
open at night, it was probable that the men had entered through it,
by the aid of a ladder. But, again, there was no evidence. The
bottom of the ladder would have left some marks in the soft earth
beneath the window; but there were none. Nor were there any traces
of footsteps in any part of the yard.
I had no idea of informing the police, because the facts I had
before me were so absurd and inconsistent. They would laugh at me.
However, as I was then a reported on the staff of the `Gil Blas,' I
wrote a lengthy account of my adventure and it was published in the
paper on the second day thereafter. The article attracted some
attention, but no one took it seriously. They regarded it as a
work of fiction rather than a story of real life. The Saint-
Martins rallied me. But Daspry, who took an interest in such
matters, came to see me, made a study of the affair, but reached no
A few mornings later, the door-bell rang, and Antoine came to
inform me that a gentleman desired to see me. He would not give
his name. I directed Antoine to show him up. He was a man of
about forty years of age with a very dark complexion, lively
features, and whose correct dress, slightly frayed, proclaimed a
taste that contrasted strangely with his rather vulgar manners.
Without any preamble, he said to me--in a rough voice that confirmed
my suspicion as to his social position:
"Monsieur, whilst in a café, I picked up a copy of the `Gil Blas,'
and read your article. It interested me very much.
"And here I am."
"Yes, to talk to you. Are all the facts related by you quite
"Well, in that case, I can, perhaps, give you some information."
"Very well; proceed."
"No, not yet. First, I must be sure that the facts are exactly as
you have related them."
"I have given you my word. What further proof do you want?"
"I must remain alone in this room."
"I do not understand," I said, with surprise.
"It's an idea that occurred to me when reading your article.
Certain details established an extraordinary coincidence with
another case that came under my notice. If I am mistaken, I shall
say nothing more. And the only means of ascertaining the truth is
by my remaining in the room alone."
What was at the bottom of this proposition? Later, I recalled that
the man was exceedingly nervous; but, at the same time, although
somewhat astonished, I found nothing particularly abnormal about
the man or the request he had made. Moreover, my curiosity was
aroused; so I replied:
"Very well. How much time do you require?"
"Oh! three minutes--not longer. Three minutes, from now, I will
I left the room, and went downstairs. I took out my watch. One
minute passed. Two minutes. Why did I feel so depressed? Why did
those moments seem so solemn and weird? Two minutes and a
half....Two minutes and three quarters. Then I heard a pistol
I bounded up the stairs and entered the room. A cry of horror
escaped me. In the middle of the room, the man was lying on his
left side, motionless. Blood was flowing from a wound in his
forehead. Near his hand was a revolver, still smoking.
But, in addition to this frightful spectacle, my attention was
attracted by another object. At two feet from the body, upon the
floor, I saw a playing-card. It was the seven of hearts. I picked
it up. The lower extremity of each of the seven spots was pierced
with a small round hole.
* * * * *
A half-hour later, the commissary of police arrived, then the
coroner and the chief of the Sûreté, Mon. Dudouis. I had been
careful not to touch the corpse. The preliminary inquiry was very
brief, and disclosed nothing. There were no papers in the pockets
of the deceased; no name upon his clothes; no initial upon his
linen; nothing to give any clue to his identity. The room was in
the same perfect order as before. The furniture had not been
disturbed. Yet this man had not come to my house solely for the
purpose of killing himself, or because he considered my place the
most convenient one for his suicide! There must have been a motive
for his act of despair, and that motive was, no doubt, the result
of some new fact ascertained by him during the three minutes he was
What was that fact? What had he seen? What frightful secret had
been revealed to him? There was no answer to these questions.
But, at the last moment, an incident occurred that appeared to us
of considerable importance. As two policemen were raising the body
to place it on a stretcher, the left hand thus being disturbed, a
crumpled card fell from it. The card bore these words: "Georges
Andermatt, 37 Rue de Berry."
What did that mean? Georges Andermatt was a rich banker in Paris,
the founder and president of the Metal Exchange which had given
such an impulse to the metallic industries in France. He lived in
princely style; was the possessor of numerous automobiles, coaches,
and an expensive racing-stable. His social affairs were very
select, and Madame Andermatt was noted for her grace and beauty.
"Can that be the man's name?" I asked.
The chief of the Sûreté leaned over him.
"It is not he. Mon. Andermatt is a thin man, and slightly grey."
"But why this card?"
"Have you a telephone, monsieur?"
"Yes, in the vestibule. Come with me."
He looked in the directory, and then asked for number 415.21.
"Is Mon. Andermatt at home?....Please tell him that Mon. Dudouis
wished him to come at once to 102 Boulevard Maillot. Very
Twenty minutes later, Mon. Andermatt arrived in his automobile.
After the circumstances had been explained to him, he was taken in
to see the corpse. He displayed considerable emotion, and spoke,
in a low tone, and apparently unwillingly:
"Etienne Varin," he said.
"You know him?"
"No....or, at least, yes....by sight only. His brother...."
"Ah! he has a brother?"
"Yes, Alfred Varin. He came to see me once on some matter of
business....I forget what it was."
"Where does he live?"
"The two brothers live together--rue de Provence, I think."
"Do you know any reason why he should commit suicide?"
"He held a card in his hand. It was your card with your address."
"I do not understand that. It must have been there by some chance
that will be disclosed by the investigation."
A very strange chance, I thought; and I felt that the others
entertained the same impression.
I discovered the same impression in the papers next day, and
amongst all my friends with whom I discussed the affair. Amid the
mysteries that enveloped it, after the double discovery of the
seven of hearts pierced with seven holes, after the two inscrutable
events that had happened in my house, that visiting card promised
to throw some light on the affair. Through it, the truth may be
revealed. But, contrary to our expectations, Mon. Andermatt
furnished no explanation. He said:
"I have told you all I know. What more can I do? I am greatly
surprised that my card should be found in such a place, and I
sincerely hope the point will be cleared up."
It was not. The official investigation established that the Varin
brothers were of Swiss origin, had led a shifting life under
various names, frequenting gambling resorts, associating with a
band of foreigners who had been dispersed by the police after a
series of robberies in which their participation was established
only by their flight. At number 24 rue de Provence, where the
Varin brothers had lived six years before, no one knew what had
become of them.
I confess that, for my part, the case seemed to me so complicated
and so mysterious that I did not think the problem would ever be
solved, so I concluded to waste no more time upon it. But Jean
Daspry, whom I frequently met at that period, became more and more
interested in it each day. It was he who pointed out to me that
item from a foreign newspaper which was reproduced and commented
upon by the entire press. It was as follows:
"The first trial of a new model of submarine boat, which is
expected to revolutionize naval warfare, will be given in presence
of the former Emperor at a place that will be kept secret until the
last minute. An indiscretion has revealed its name; it is called
The Seven-of-Hearts! That presented a new problem. Could a
connection be established between the name of the sub-marine and
the incidents which we have related? But a connection of what
nature? What had happened here could have no possible relation
with the sub-marine.
"What do you know about it?" said Daspry to me. "The most diverse
effects often proceed from the same cause."
Two days later, the following foreign news item was received and
"It is said that the plans of the new sub-marine `Seven-of-Hearts'
were prepared by French engineers, who, having sought, in vain, the
support of their compatriots, subsequently entered into
negotiations with the British Admiralty, without success."
I do not wish to give undue publicity to certain delicate matters
which once provoked considerable excitement. Yet, since all danger
of injury therefrom has now come to an end, I must speak of the
article that appeared in the `Echo de France,' which aroused so
much comment at that time, and which threw considerable light upon
the mystery of the Seven-of-Hearts. This is the article as it was
published over the signature of Salvator:
"THE AFFAIR OF THE SEVEN-OF-HEARTS.
"A CORNER OF THE VEIL RAISED.
"We will be brief. Ten years ago, a young mining engineer, Louis
Lacombe, wishing to devote his time and fortune to certain studies,
resigned his position he then held, and rented number 102 boulevard
Maillot, a small house that had been recently built and decorated
for an Italian count. Through the agency of the Varin brothers of
Lausanne, one of whom assisted in the preliminary experiments and
the other acted as financial agent, the young engineer was
introduced to Georges Andermatt, the founder of the Metal Exchange.
"After several interviews, he succeeded in interesting the banker
in a sub-marine boat on which he was working, and it was agreed
that as soon as the invention was perfected, Mon. Andermatt would
use his influence with the Minister of Marine to obtain a series of
trials under the direction of the government. For two years, Louis
Lacombe was a frequent visitor at Andermatt's house, and he
submitted to the banker the various improvements he made upon his
original plans, until one day, being satisfied with the perfection
of his work, he asked Mon. Andermatt to communicate with the
Minister of Marine. That day, Louis Lacombe dined at Mon.
Andermatt's house. He left there about half-past eleven at night.
He has not been seen since.
"A perusal of the newspapers of that date will show that the
young man's family caused every possible inquiry to be made, but
without success; and it was the general opinion that Louis Lacombe--
who was known as an original and visionary youth--had quietly left
for parts unknown.
"Let us accept that theory--improbable, though it be,--and let us
consider another question, which is a most important one for our
country: What has become of the plans of the sub-marine? Did Louis
Lacombe carry them away? Are they destroyed?
"After making a thorough investigation, we are able to assert,
positively, that the plans are in existence, and are now in the
possession of the two brothers Varin. How did they acquire such a
possession? That is a question not yet determined; nor do we know
why they have not tried to sell them at an earlier date. Did they
fear that their title to them would be called in question? If so,
they have lost that fear, and we can announce definitely, that the
plans of Louis Lacombe are now the property of foreign power, and
we are in a position to publish the correspondence that passed
between the Varin brothers and the representative of that power.
The `Seven-of-Hearts' invented by Louis Lacombe has been actually
constructed by our neighbor.
"Will the invention fulfill the optimistic expectations of those
who were concerned in that treacherous act?"
And a post-script adds:
"Later.--Our special correspondent informs us that the preliminary
trial of the `Seven-of-Hearts' has not been satisfactory. It is
quite likely that the plans sold and delivered by the Varin
brothers did not include the final document carried by Louis
Lacombe to Mon. Andermatt on the day of his disappearance, a
document that was indispensable to a thorough understanding of the
invention. It contained a summary of the final conclusions of the
inventor, and estimates and figures not contained in the other
papers. Without this document, the plans are incomplete; one the
other hand, without the plans, the document is worthless.
"Now is the time to act and recover what belongs to us. It may
be a difficult matter, but we rely upon the assistance of Mon.
Andermatt. It will be to his interest to explain his conduct which
has hitherto been so strange and inscrutable. He will explain not
only why he concealed these facts at the time of the suicide of
Etienne Varin, but also why he has never revealed the disappearance
of the paper--a fact well known to him. He will tell why, during
the last six years, he paid spies to watch the movements of the
Varin brothers. We expect from him, not only words, but acts. And
at once. Otherwise---"
The threat was plainly expressed. But of what did it consist?
What whip was Salvator, the anonymous writer of the article,
holding over the head of Mon. Andermatt?
An army of reporters attacked the banker, and ten interviewers
announced the scornful manner in which they were treated.
Thereupon, the `Echo de France' announced its position in these
"Whether Mon. Andermatt is willing or not, he will be, henceforth,
our collaborator in the work we have undertaken."
* * * * *
Daspry and I were dining together on the day on which that
announcement appeared. That evening, with the newspapers spread
over my table, we discussed the affair and examined it from every
point of view with that exasperation that a person feels when
walking in the dark and finding himself constantly falling over the
same obstacles. Suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, the door
opened and a lady entered. Her face was hidden behind a think
veil. I rose at once and approached her.
"Is it you, monsieur, who lives here?" she asked.
"Yes, madame, but I do not understand---"
"The gate was not locked," she explained.
"But the vestibule door?"
She did not reply, and it occurred to me that she had used the
servants' entrance. How did she know the way? Then there was a
silence that was quite embarrassing. She looked at Daspry, and I
was obliged to introduce him. I asked her to be seated and explain
the object of her visit. She raised her veil, and I saw that she
was a brunette with regular features and, though not handsome, she
was attractive--principally, on account of her sad, dark eyes.
"I am Madame Andermatt," she said.
"Madame Andermatt!" I repeated, with astonishment.
After a brief pause, she continued with a voice and manner that
were quite easy and natural:
"I have come to see you about that affair--you know. I thought I
might be able to obtain some information---"
"Mon Dieu, madame, I know nothing but what has already appeared in
the papers. But if you will point out in what way I can help you. ..."
"I do not know....I do not know."
Not until then did I suspect that her calm demeanor was assumed,
and that some poignant grief was concealed beneath that air of
tranquility. For a moment, we were silent and embarrassed. Then
Daspry stepped forward, and said:
"Will you permit me to ask you a few questions?"
"Yes, yes," she cried. "I will answer."
"You will answer....whatever those questions may be?"
"Did you know Louis Lacombe?" he asked.
"Yes, through my husband."
"When did you see him for the last time?"
"The evening he dined with us."
"At that time, was there anything to lead you to believe that you
would never see him again?"
"No. But he had spoken of a trip to Russia--in a vague way."
"Then you expected to see him again?"
"Yes. He was to dine with us, two days later."
"How do you explain his disappearance?"
"I cannot explain it."
"And Mon. Andermatt?"
"I do not know."
"Yet the article published in the `Echo de France' indicates---"
"Yes, that the Varin brothers had something to do with his
"Is that your opinion?"
"On what do you base your opinion?"
"When he left our house, Louis Lacombe carried a satchel containing
all the papers relating to his invention. Two days later, my
husband, in a conversation with one of the Varin brothers, learned
that the papers were in their possession."
"And he did not denounce them?"
"Because there was something else in the satchel--something besides
the papers of Louis Lacombe."
"What was it?"
She hesitated; was on the point of speaking, but, finally, remained
silent. Daspry continued:
"I presume that is why your husband has kept a close watch over
their movements instead of informing the police. He hoped to
recover the papers and, at the same time, that compromising article
which has enabled the two brothers to hold over him threats of
exposure and blackmail."
"Over him, and over me."
"Ah! over you, also?"
"Over me, in particular."
She uttered the last words in a hollow voice. Daspry observed it;
he paced to and fro for a moment, then, turning to her, asked:
"Had you written to Louis Lacombe?"
"Of course. My husband had business with him--"
"Apart from those business letters, had you written to Louis
Lacombe....other letters? Excuse my insistence, but it is
absolutely necessary that I should know the truth. Did you write
"Yes," she replied, blushing.
"And those letters came into the possession of the Varin brothers?"
"Does Mon. Andermatt know it?"
"He has not seen them, but Alfred Varin has told him of their
existence and threatened to publish them if my husband should take
any steps against him. My husband was afraid....of a scandal."
"But he has tried to recover the letters?"
"I think so; but I do not know. You see, after that last interview
with Alfred Varin, and after some harsh words between me and my
husband in which he called me to account--we live as strangers."
"In that case, as you have nothing to lose, what do you fear?"
"I may be indifferent to him now, but I am the woman that he has
loved, the one he would still love--oh! I am quite sure of that,"
she murmured, in a fervent voice, "he would still love me if he had
not got hold of those cursed letters----"
"What! Did he succeed?....But the two brothers still defied
"Yes, and they boasted of having a secure hiding-place."
"I believe my husband discovered that hiding-place."
"I believe my husband has discovered that hiding-place."
"Ah! where was it?"
"Here!" I cried in alarm.
"Yes. I always had that suspicion. Louis Lacombe was very
ingenious and amused himself in his leisure hours, by making safes
and locks. No doubt, the Varin brothers were aware of that fact
and utilized one of Lacombe's safes in which to conceal the
letters....and other things, perhaps."
"But they did not live here," I said.
"Before you came, four months ago, the house had been vacant for
some time. And they may have thought that your presence here would
not interfere with them when they wanted to get the papers. But
they did not count on my husband, who came here on the night of 22
June, forced the safe, took what he was seeking, and left his card
to inform the two brothers that he feared them no more, and that
their positions were now reversed. Two days later, after reading
the article in the `Gil Blas,' Etienne Varin came here, remained
alone in this room, found the safe empty, and....killed
After a moment, Daspry said:
"A very simple theory....Has Mon. Andermatt spoken to you since
"Has his attitude toward you changed in any way? Does he appear
more gloomy, more anxious?"
"No, I haven't noticed any change."
"And yet you think he has secured the letters. Now, in my opinion,
he has not got those letters, and it was not he who came here on
the night of 22 June."
"Who was it, then?"
"The mysterious individual who is managing this affair, who holds
all the threads in his hands, and whose invisible but far-reaching
power we have felt from the beginning. It was he and his friends
who entered this house on 22 June; it was he who discovered the
hiding-place of the papers; it was he who left Mon. Andermatt's
card; it is he who now holds the correspondence and the evidence of
the treachery of the Varin brothers."
"Who is he?" I asked, impatiently.
"The man who writes letters to the `Echo de France'....
Salvator! Have not convincing evidence of that fact? Does he not
mention in his letters certain details that no one could know,
except the man who had thus discovered the secrets of the two
"Well, then," stammered Madame Andermatt, in great alarm, "he has
my letters also, and it is he who now threatens my husband. Mon
Dieu! What am I to do?"
"Write to him," declared Daspry. "Confide in him without reserve.
Tell him all you know and all you may hereafter learn. Your
interest and his interest are the same. He is not working against
Mon. Andermatt, but against Alfred Varin. Help him."
"Has your husband the document that completes the plans of Louis
"Tell that to Salvator, and, if possible, procure the document for
him. Write to him at once. You risk nothing."
The advice was bold, dangerous even at first sight, but Madame
Andermatt had no choice. Besides, as Daspry had said, she ran no
risk. If the unknown writer were an enemy, that step would not
aggravate the situation. If he were a stranger seeking to
accomplish a particular purpose, he would attach to those letters
only a secondary importance. Whatever might happen, it was the
only solution offered to her, and she, in her anxiety, was only too
glad to act on it. She thanked us effusively, and promised to keep
In fact, two days later, she sent us the following letter that she
had received from Salvator:
"Have not found the letter, but I will get them. Rest easy. I am
watching everything. S."
I looked at the letter. It was in the same handwriting as the note
I found in my book on the night of 22 June.
Daspry was right. Salvator was, indeed, the originator of that
* * * * *
We were beginning to see a little light coming out of the darkness
that surrounded us, and an unexpected light was thrown on certain
points; but other points yet remained obscure--for instance, the
finding of the two seven-of-hearts. Perhaps I was unnecessarily
concerned about those two cards whose seven punctured spots had
appeared to me under such startling circumstances! Yet I could not
refrain from asking myself: What role will they play in the drama?
What importance do they bear? What conclusion must be drawn from
the fact that the submarine constructed from the plans of Louis
Lacombe bore the name of `Seven-of-Hearts'?
Daspry gave little thought to the other two cards; he devoted all
his attention to another problem which he considered more urgent;
he was seeking the famous hiding-place.
"And who know," said he, "I may find the letters that Salvator did
not find--by inadvertence, perhaps. It is improbable that the Varin
brothers would have removed from a spot, which they deemed
inaccessible, the weapon which was so valuable to them."
And he continued to search. In a short time, the large room held
no more secrets for him, so he extended his investigations to the
other rooms. He examined the interior and the exterior, the stones
of the foundation, the bricks in the walls; he raised the slates of
One day, he came with a pickaxe and a spade, gave me the spade,
kept the pickaxe, pointed to the adjacent vacant lots, and said:
I followed him, but I lacked his enthusiasm. He divided the vacant
land into several sections which he examined in turn. At last, in
a corner, at the angle formed by the walls of two neighboring
proprietors, a small pile of earth and gravel, covered with briers
and grass, attracted his attention. He attacked it. I was obliged
to help him. For an hour, under a hot sun, we labored without
success. I was discouraged, but Daspry urged me on. His ardor was
as strong as ever.
At last, Daspry's pickaxe unearthed some bones--the remains of a
skeleton to which some scraps of clothing still hung. Suddenly, I
turned pale. I had discovered, sticking in the earth, a small
piece of iron cut in the form of a rectangle, on which I thought I
could see red spots. I stooped and picked it up. That little iron
plate was the exact size of a playing-card, and the red spots, made
with red lead, were arranged upon it in a manner similar to the
seven-of-hearts, and each spot was pierced with a round hole
similar to the perforations in the two playing cards.
"Listen, Daspry, I have had enough of this. You can stay if it
interests you. But I am going."
Was that simply the expression of my excited nerves? Or was it the
result of a laborious task executed under a burning sun? I know
that I trembled as I walked away, and that I went to bed, where I
remained forty-eight hours, restless and feverish, haunted by
skeletons that danced around me and threw their bleeding hearts at
Daspry was faithful to me. He came to my house every day, and
remained three or four hours, which he spent in the large room,
ferreting, thumping, tapping.
"The letters are here, in this room," he said, from time to time,
"they are here. I will stake my life on it."
On the morning of the third day I arose--feeble yet, but cured. A
substantial breakfast cheered me up. But a letter that I received
that afternoon contributed, more than anything else, to my complete
recovery, and aroused in me a lively curiosity. This was the
"The drama, the first act of which transpired on the night of 22
June, is now drawing to a close. Force of circumstances compel me
to bring the two principal actors in that drama face to face, and I
wish that meeting to take place in your house, if you will be so
kind as to give me the use of it for this evening from nine o'clock
to eleven. It will be advisable to give your servant leave of
absence for the evening, and, perhaps, you will be so kind as to
leave the field open to the two adversaries. You will remember
that when I visited your house on the night of 22 June, I took
excellent care of your property. I feel that I would do you an
injustice if I should doubt, for one moment, your absolute
discretion in this affair. Your devoted,
I was amused at the facetious tone of his letter and also at the
whimsical nature of his request. There was a charming display of
confidence and candor in his language, and nothing in the world
could have induced me to deceive him or repay his confidence with
I gave my servant a theatre ticket, and he left the house at eight
o'clock. A few minutes later, Daspry arrived. I showed him the
"Well?" said he.
"Well, I have left the garden gate unlocked, so anyone can enter."
"And you--are you going away?"
"Not at all. I intend to stay right here."
"But he asks you to go---"
"But I am not going. I will be discreet, but I am resolved to see
what takes place."
"Ma foi!" exclaimed Daspry, laughing, "you are right, and I shall
stay with you. I shouldn't like to miss it."
We were interrupted by the sound of the door-bell.
"Here already?" said Daspry, "twenty minutes ahead of time!
I went to the door and ushered in the visitor. It was Madame
Andermatt. She was faint and nervous, and in a stammering voice,
"My husband....is coming....he has an appointment....
they intend to give him the letters...."
"How do you know?" I asked.
"By chance. A message came for my husband while we were at dinner.
The servant gave it to me by mistake. My husband grabbed it
quickly, but he was too late. I had read it."
"You read it?"
"Yes. It was something like this: `At nine o'clock this evening,
be at Boulevard Maillot with the papers connected with the affair.
In exchange, the letters.' So, after dinner, I hastened here."
"Unknown to your husband?"
"What do you think about it?" asked Daspry, turning to me.
"I think as you do, that Mon. Andermatt is one of the invited
"Yes, but for what purpose?"
"That is what we are going to find out."
I led the m to a large room. The three of us could hide
comfortably behind the velvet chimney-mantle, and observe all that
should happen in the room. We seated ourselves there, with Madame
Andermatt in the centre.
The clock struck nine. A few minutes later, the garden gate
creaked upon its hinges. I confess that I was greatly agitated. I
was about to learn the key to the mystery. The startling events of
the last few weeks were about to be explained, and, under my eyes,
the last battle was going to be fought. Daspry seized the hand of
Madame Andermatt, and said to her:
"Not a word, not a movement! Whatever you may see or hear, keep
Some one entered. It was Alfred Varin. I recognized him at once,
owing to the close resemblance he bore to his brother Etienne.
There was the same slouching gait; the same cadaverous face covered
with a black beard.
He entered with the nervous air of a man who is accustomed to fear
the presence of traps and ambushes; who scents and avoids them. He
glanced about the room, and I had the impression that the chimney,
masked with a velvet portiere, did not please him. He took three
steps in our direction, when something caused him to turn and walk
toward the old mosaic king, with the flowing beard and flamboyant
sword, which he examined minutely, mounting on a chair and
following with his fingers the outlines of the shoulders and head
and feeling certain parts of the face. Suddenly, he leaped from
the chair and walked away from it. He had heard the sound of
approaching footsteps. Mon. Andermatt appeared at the door.
"You! You!" exclaimed the banker. "Was it you who brought me
"I? By no means," protested Varin, in a rough, jerky voice that
reminded me of his brother, "on the contrary, it was your letter
that brought me here."
"A letter signed by you, in which you offered---"
"I never wrote to you," declared Mon. Andermatt.
"You did not write to me!"
Instinctively, Varin was put on his guard, not against the banker,
but against the unknown enemy who had drawn him into this trap. A
second time, he looked in our direction, then walked toward the
door. But Mon. Andermatt barred his passage.
"Well, where are you going, Varin?"
"There is something about this affair I don't like. I am going
home. Good evening."
"No need of that, Mon. Andermatt. I have nothing to say to you."
"But I have something to say to you, and this is a good time to say
"Let me pass."
"No, you will not pass."
Varin recoiled before the resolute attitude of the banker, as he
"Well, then, be quick about it."
One thing astonished me; and I have no doubt my two companions
experienced a similar feeling. Why was Salvator not there? Was he
not a necessary party at this conference? Or was he satisfied to
let these two adversaries fight it out between themselves? At all
events, his absence was a great disappointment, although it did not
detract from the dramatic strength of the situation.
After a moment, Mon. Andermatt approached Varin and, face to face,
eye to eye, said:
"Now, after all these years and when you have nothing more to fear,
you can answer me candidly: What have you done with Louis Lacombe?"
"What a question! AS if I knew anything about him!"
"You do know! You and your brother were his constant companions,
almost lived with him in this very house. You knew all about his
plans and his work. And the last night I ever saw Louis Lacombe,
when I parted with him at my door, I saw two men slinking away in
the shadows of the trees. That, I am ready to swear to."
"Well, what has that to do with me?"
"The two men were you and your brother."
"The best proof is that, two days later, you yourself showed me the
papers and the plans that belonged to Lacombe and offered to sell
them. How did these papers come into your possession?"
"I have already told you, Mon. Andermatt, that we found them on
Louis Lacombe's table, the morning after his disappearance."
"That is a lie!"
"The law will prove it."
"Why did you not appeal to the law?"
"Why? Ah! Why---," stammered the banker, with a slight display of
"You know very well, Mon. Andermatt, if you had the least certainty
of our guilt, our little threat would not have stopped you."
"What threat? Those letters? Do you suppose I ever gave those
letters a moment's thought?"
"If you did not care for the letters, why did you offer me
thousands of francs for their return? And why did you have my
brother and me tracked like wild beasts?"
"To recover the plans."
"Nonsense! You wanted the letters. You knew that as soon as you
had the letters in your possession, you could denounce us. Oh! no,
I couldn't part with them!"
He laughed heartily, but stopped suddenly, and said:
"But, enough of this! We are merely going over old ground. We
make no headway. We had better let things stand as they are."
"We will not let them stand as they are," said the banker, "and
since you have referred to the letters, let me tell you that you
will not leave this house until you deliver up those letters."
"I shall go when I please."
"You will not."
"Be careful, Mon. Andermatt. I warn you---"
"I say, you shall not go."
"We will see about that," cried Varin, in such a rage that Madame
Andermatt could not suppress a cry of fear. Varin must have heard
it, for he now tried to force his way out. Mon. Andermatt pushed
him back. Then I saw him put his hand into his coat pocket.
"For the last time, let me pass," he cried.
"The letters, first!"
Varin drew a revolver and, pointing it at Mon. Andermatt, said:
"Yes or no?"
The banker stooped quickly. There was the sound of a pistol-shot.
The weapon fell from Varin's hand. I was amazed. The shot was
fired close to me. It was Daspry who had fired it at Varin,
causing him to drop the revolver. In a moment, Daspry was standing
between the two men, facing Varin; he said to him, with a sneer:
"You were lucky, my friend, very lucky. I fired at your hand and
struck only the revolver."
Both of them looked at him, surprised. Then he turned to the
banker, and said:
"I beg your pardon, monsieur, for meddling in your business; but,
really, you play a very poor game. Let me hold the cards."
Turning again to Varin, Daspry said:
"It's between us two, comrade, and play fair, if you please.
Hearts are trumps, and I play the seven."
Then Daspry held up, before Varin's bewildered eyes, the little
iron plate, marked with the seven red spots. It was a terrible
shock to Varin. With livid features, staring eyes, and an air of
intense agony, the man seemed to be hypnotized at the sight of it.
"Who are you?" he gasped.
"One who meddles in other people's business, down to the very
"What do you want?"
"What you brought here tonight."
"I brought nothing."
"Yes, you did, or you wouldn't have come. This morning, you
received an invitation to come here at nine o'clock, and bring with
you all the papers held by you. You are here. Where are the
There was in Daspry's voice and manner a tone of authority that I
did not understand; his manner was usually quite mild and
conciliatory. Absolutely conquered, Varin placed his hand on one
of his pockets, and said:
"The papers are here."
"All of them?"
"All that you took from Louis Lacombe and afterwards sold to Major
"Are these the copies or the originals?"
"I have the originals."
"How much do you want for them?"
"One hundred thousand francs."
"You are crazy," said Daspry. "Why, the major gave you only twenty
thousand, and that was like money thrown into the sea, as the boat
was a failure at the preliminary trials."
"They didn't understand the plans."
"The plans are not complete."
"Then, why do you ask me for them?"
"Because I want them. I offer you five thousand francs--not a sou
"Ten thousand. Not a sou less."
"Agreed," said Daspry, who now turned to Mon. Andermatt, and said:
"Monsieur will kindly sign a check for the amount."
"But....I haven't got---"
"Your check-book? Here it is."
Astounded, Mon. Andermatt examined the check-book that Daspry
handed to him.
"It is mine," he gasped. "How does that happen?"
"No idle words, monsieur, if you please. You have merely to sign."
The banker took out his fountain pen, filled out the check and
signed it. Varin held out his hand for it.
"Put down your hand," said Daspry, "there is something more."
Then, to the banker, he said: "You asked for some letters, did you
"Yes, a package of letters."
"Where are they, Varin?"
"I haven't got them."
"Where are they, Varin?"
"I don't know. My brother had charge of them."
"They are hidden in this room."
"In that case, you know where they are."
"How should I know?"
"Was it not you who found the hiding-place? You appear to be as
well informed....as Salvator."
"The letters are not in the hiding-place."
Varin looked at him, defiantly. Were not Daspry and Salvator the
same person? Everything pointed to that conclusion. If so, Varin
risked nothing in disclosing a hiding-place already known.
"Open it," repeated Daspry.
"I have not got the seven of hearts."
"Yes, here it is," said Daspry, handing him the iron plate. Varin
recoiled in terror, and cried:
"No, no, I will not."
"Never mind," replied Daspry, as he walked toward the bearded king,
climbed on a chair and applied the seven of hearts to the lower
part of the sword in such a manner that the edges of the iron plate
coincided exactly with the two edges of the sword. Then, with the
assistance of an awl which he introduced alternately into each of
the seven holes, he pressed upon seven of the little mosaic stones.
As he pressed upon the seventh one, a clicking sound was heard, and
the entire bust of the King turned upon a pivot, disclosing a large
opening lined with steel. It was really a fire-proof safe.
"You can see, Varin, he safe is empty."
"So I see. Then, my brother has taken out the letters."
Daspry stepped down from the chair, approached Varin, and said:
"Now, no more nonsense with me. There is another hiding-place.
Where is it?"
"There is none."
"Is it money you want? How much?"
"Monsieur Andermatt, are those letters worth then thousand francs
"Yes," said the banker, firmly.
Varin closed the safe, took the seven of hearts and placed it again
on the sword at the same spot. He thrust the awl into each of the
seven holes. There was the same clicking sound, but this time,
strange to relate, it was only a portion of the safe that revolved
on the pivot, disclosing quite a small safe that was built within
the door of the larger one. The packet of letters was here, tied
with a tape, and sealed. Varin handed the packet to Daspry. The
latter turned to the banker, and asked:
"Is the check ready, Monsieur Andermatt?"
"And you have also the last document that you received from Louis
Lacombe--the one that completes the plans of the sub-marine?"
The exchange was made. Daspry pocketed the document and the
checks, and offered the packet of letters to Mon. Andermatt.
"This is what you wanted, Monsieur."
The banker hesitated a moment, as if he were afraid to touch those
cursed letters that he had sought so eagerly. Then, with a nervous
movement, he took them. Close to me, I heard a moan. I grasped
Madame Andermatt's hand. It was cold.
"I believe, monsieur," said Daspry to the banker, "that our
business is ended. Oh! no thanks. It was only by a mere chance
that I have been able to do you a good turn. Good-night."
Mon. Andermatt retired. He carried with him the letters written by
his wife to Louis Lacombe.
"Marvelous!" exclaimed Daspry, delighted. "Everything is coming
our way. Now, we have only to close our little affair, comrade.
You have the papers?"
"Here they are--all of them."
Daspry examined them carefully, and then placed them in his pocket.
"Quite right. You have kept your word," he said.
"The two checks? The money?" said Varin, eagerly.
"Well, you have a great deal of assurance, my man. How dare you
ask such a thing?"
"I ask only what is due to me."
"Can you ask pay for returning papers that you stole? Well, I
Varin was beside himself. He trembled with rage; his eyes were
"The money....the twenty thousand...." he stammered.
"Impossible! I need it myself."
"Come, be reasonable, and don't get excited. It won't do you any
Daspry seized his arm so forcibly, that Varin uttered a cry of
pain. Daspry continued:
"Now, you can go. The air will do you good. Perhaps you want me
to show you the way. Ah! yes, we will go together to the vacant lot
near here, and I will show you a little mound of earth and stones
and under it---"
"That is false! That is false!"
"Oh! no, it is true. That little iron plate with the seven spots
on it came from there. Louis Lacombe always carried it, and you
buried it with the body--and with some other things that will prove
very interesting to a judge and jury."
Varin covered his face with his hands, and muttered:
"All right, I am beaten. Say no more. But I want to ask you one
question. I should like to know---"
"What is it?"
"Was there a little casket in the large safe?"
"Was it there on the night of 22 June?"
"What did it contain?"
"Everything that the Varin brothers had put in it--a very pretty
collection of diamonds and pearls picked up here and there by the
"And did you take it?"
"Of course I did. Do you blame me?"
"I understand....it was the disappearance of that casket that
caused my brother to kill himself."
"Probably. The disappearance of your correspondence was not a
sufficient motive. But the disappearance of the casket....Is
that all you wish to ask me?"
"One thing more: your name?"
"You ask that with an idea of seeking revenge."
"Parbleu! The tables may be turned. Today, you are on top.
"It will be you."
"I hope so. Your name?"
The man staggered, as though stunned by a heavy blow. Those two
words had deprived him of all hope.
Daspry laughed, and said:
"Ah! did you imagine that a Monsieur Durand or Dupont could manage
an affair like this? No, it required the skill and cunning of
Arsène Lupin. And now that you have my name, go and prepare your
revenge. Arsène Lupin will wait for you."
Then he pushed the bewildered Varin through the door.
"Daspry! Daspry!" I cried, pushing aside the curtain. He ran to
"What? What's the matter?"
"Madame Andermatt is ill."
He hastened to her, caused her to inhale some salts, and, while
caring for her, questioned me:
"Well, what did it?"
"The letters of Louis Lacombe that you gave to her husband."
He struck his forehead and said:
"Did she think that I could do such a thing!...But, of course
she would. Imbecile that I am!"
Madame Andermatt was now revived. Daspry took from his pocket a
small package exactly similar to the one that Mon. Andermatt had
"Here are your letters, Madame. These are the genuine letters."
"The others are the same, rewritten by me and carefully worded.
Your husband will not find anything objectionable in them, and will
never suspect the substitution since they were taken from the safe
in his presence."
"But the handwriting---"
"There is no handwriting that cannot be imitated."
She thanked him in the same words she might have used to a man in
her own social circle, so I concluded that she had not witnessed
the final scene between Varin and Arsène Lupin. But the surprising
revelation caused me considerable embarrassment. Lupin! My club
companion was none other than Arsène Lupin. I could not realize
it. But he said, quite at his ease:
"You can say farewell to Jean Daspry."
"Yes, Jean Daspry is going on a long journey. I shall send him to
Morocco. There, he may find a death worth of him. I may say that
that is his expectation."
"But Arsène Lupin will remain?"
"Oh! Decidedly. Arsène Lupin is simply at the threshold of his
career, and he expects---"
I was impelled by curiosity to interrupt him, and, leading him away
from the hearing of Madame Andermatt, I asked:
"Did you discover the smaller safe yourself--the one that held the
"Yes, after a great deal of trouble. I found it yesterday
afternoon while you were asleep. And yet, God knows it was simple
enough! But the simplest things are the ones that usually escape
our notice." Then, showing me the seven-of-hearts, he added: "Of
course I had guessed that, in order to open the larger safe, this
card must be placed on the sword of the mosaic king."
"How did you guess that?"
"Quite easily. Through private information, I knew that fact when
I came here on the evening of 22 June---"
"After you left me---"
"Yes, after turning the subject of our conversation to stories of
crime and robbery which were sure to reduce you to such a nervous
condition that you would not leave your bed, but would allow me to
complete my search uninterrupted."
"The scheme worked perfectly."
"Well, I knew when I came here that there was a casket concealed in
a safe with a secret lock, and that the seven-of-hearts was the key
to that lock. I had merely to place the card upon the spot that
was obviously intended for it. An hour's examination showed me
where the spot was."
"Observe the fellow in mosaic."
"The old emperor?"
"That old emperor is an exact representation of the king of hearts
on all playing cards."
"That's right. But how does the seven of hearts open the larger
safe at one time and the smaller safe at another time? And why did
you open only the larger safe in the first instance? I mean on the
night of 22 June."
"Why? Because I always placed the seven of hearts in the same way.
I never changed the position. But, yesterday, I observed that by
reversing the card, by turning it upside down, the arrangement of
the seven spots on the mosaic was changed."
"Of course, parbleu! But a person has to think of those things."
"There is something else: you did not know the history of those
letters until Madame Andermatt---"
"Spoke of them before me? No. Because I found in the safe, besides
the casket, nothing but the correspondence of the two brothers
which disclosed their treachery in regard to the plans."
"Then it was by chance that you were led, first, to investigate the
history of the two brothers, and then to search for the plans and
documents relating to the sub-marine?"
"Simply by chance."
"For what purpose did you make the search?"
"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed Daspry, laughing, "how deeply interested you
"The subject fascinates me."
"Very well, presently, after I have escorted Madame Andermatt to a
carriage, and dispatched a short story to the `Echo de France,' I
will return and tell you all about it."
He sat down and wrote one of those short, clear-cut articles which
served to amuse and mystify the public. Who does not recall the
sensation that followed that article produced throughout the entire
"Arsène Lupin has solved the problem recently submitted by
Salvator. Having acquired possession of all the documents and
original plans of the engineer Louis Lacombe, he has placed them in
the hands of the Minister of Marine, and he has headed a
subscription list for the purpose of presenting to the nation the
first submarine constructed from those plans. His subscription is
twenty thousand francs."
"Twenty thousand francs! The checks of Mon. Andermatt?" I
exclaimed, when he had given me the paper to read.
"Exactly. It was quite right that Varin should redeem his
* * * * *
And that is how I made the acquaintance of Arsène Lupin. That is
how I learned that Jean Daspry, a member of my club, was none other
than Arsène Lupin, gentleman-thief. That is how I formed very
agreeable ties of friendship with that famous man, and, thanks to
the confidence with which he honored me, how I became his very
humble and faithful historiographer.
VII. MADAME IMBERT'S SAFE
At three o'clock in the morning, there were still half a dozen
carriages in front of one of those small houses which form only the
side of the boulevard Berthier. The door of that house opened, and
a number of guests, male and female, emerged. The majority of them
entered their carriages and were quickly driven away, leaving
behind only two men who walked down Courcelles, where they parted,
as one of them lived in that street. The other decided to return
on foot as far as the Porte-Maillot. It was a beautiful winter's
night, clear and cold; a night on which a brisk walk is agreeable
But, at the end of a few minutes, he had the disagreeable
impression that he was being followed. Turning around, he saw a
man sulking amongst the trees. He was not a coward; yet he felt it
advisable to increase his speed. Then his pursuer commenced to
run; and he deemed it prudent to draw his revolver and face him.
But he had no time. The man rushed at him and attacked him
violently. Immediately, they were engaged in a desperate struggle,
wherein he felt that his unknown assailant had the advantage. He
called for help, struggled, and was thrown down on a pile of
gravel, seized by the throat, and gagged with a handkerchief that
his assailant forced into his mouth. His eyes closed, and the man
who was smothering him with his weight arose to defend himself
against an unexpected attack. A blow from a cane and a kick from a
boot; the man uttered two cries of pain, and fled, limping and
cursing. Without deigning to pursue the fugitive, the new arrival
stooped over the prostrate man and inquired:
"Are you hurt, monsieur?"
He was not injured, but he was dazed and unable to stand. His
rescuer procured a carriage, placed him in it, and accompanied him
to his house on the avenue de la Grande-Armée. On his arrival
there, quite recovered, he overwhelmed his saviour with thanks.
"I owe you my life, monsieur, and I shall not forget it. I do not
wish to alarm my wife at this time of night, but, to-morrow, she
will be pleased to thank you personally. Come and breakfast with
us. My name is Ludovic Imbert. May I ask yours?"
And he handed Mon. Imbert a card bearing the name: "Arsène Lupin."
* * * * *
At that time, Arsène Lupin did not enjoy the celebrity which the
Cahorn affair, his escape from the Prison de la Santé, and other
brilliant exploits, afterwards gained for him. He had not even
used the name of Arsène Lupin. The name was specially invented to
designate the rescuer of Mon. Imbert; that is to say, it was in
that affair that Arsène Lupin was baptized. Fully armed and ready
for the fray, it is true, but lacking the resources and authority
which command success, Arsène Lupin was then merely an apprentice
in a profession wherein he soon became a master.
With what a thrill of joy he recalled the invitation he received
that night! At last, he had reached his goal! At last, he had
undertaken a task worth of his strength and skill! The Imbert
millions! What a magnificent feast for an appetite like his!
He prepared a special toilet for the occasion; a shabby frock-coat,
baggy trousers, a frayed silk hat, well-worn collar and cuffs, all
quite correct in form, but bearing the unmistakable stamp of
poverty. His cravat was a black ribbon pinned with a false
diamond. Thus accoutred, he descended the stairs of the house in
which he lived at Montmartre. At the third floor, without
stopping, he rapped on a closed door with the head of his cane. He
walked to the exterior boulevards. A tram-car was passing. He
boarded it, and some one who had been following him took a seat
beside him. It was the lodger who occupied the room on the third
floor. A moment later, this man said to Lupin:
"Well, it is all fixed."
"I am going there to breakfast."
"Certainly. Why not? I rescued Mon. Ludovic Imbert from certain
death at your hands. Mon. Imbert is not devoid of gratitude. He
invited me to breakfast."
There was a brief silence. Then the other said:
"But you are not going to throw up the scheme?"
"My dear boy," said Lupin, "When I arranged that little case of
assault at battery, when I took the trouble at three o'clock in the
morning, to rap you with my cane and tap you with my boot at the
risk of injuring my only friend, it was not my intention to forego
the advantages to be gained from a rescue so well arranged and
executed. Oh! no, not at all."
"But the strange rumors we hear about their fortune?"
"Never mind about that. For six months, I have worked on this
affair, investigated it, studied it, questioned the servants, the
money-lenders and men of straw; for six months, I have shadowed the
husband and wife. Consequently, I know what I am talking about.
Whether the fortune came to them from old Brawford, as they
pretend, or from some other source, I do not care. I know that it
is a reality; that it exists. And some day it will be mine."
"Bigre! One hundred millions!"
"Let us say ten, or even five--that is enough! They have a safe
full of bonds, and there will be the devil to pay if I can't get my
hands on them."
The tram-car stopped at the Place de l'Etoile. The man whispered
"What am I to do now?"
"Nothing, at present. You will hear from me. There is no hurry."
Five minutes later, Arsène Lupin was ascending the magnificent
flight of stairs in the Imbert mansion, and Mon. Imbert introduced
him to his wife. Madame Gervaise Imbert was a short plump woman,
and very talkative. She gave Lupin a cordial welcome.
"I desired that we should be alone to entertain our saviour," she
From the outset, they treated "our saviour" as an old and valued
friend. By the time dessert was served, their friendship was well
cemented, and private confidences were being exchanged. Arsène
related the story of his life, the life of his father as a
magistrate, the sorrows of his childhood, and his present
difficulties. Gervaise, in turn, spoke of her youth, her marriage,
the kindness of the aged Brawford, the hundred millions that she
had inherited, the obstacles that prevented her from obtaining the
enjoyment of her inheritance, the moneys she had been obliged to
borrow at an exorbitant rate of interest, here endless contentions
with Brawford's nephews, and the litigation! the injunctions! in
"Just think of it, Monsieur Lupin, the bonds are there, in my
husband's office, and if we detach a single coupon, we lose
everything! They are there, in our safe, and we dare not touch
Monsieur Lupin shivered at the bare idea of his proximity to so
much wealth. Yet he felt quite certain that Monsieur Lupin would
never suffer from the same difficulty as his fair hostess who
declared she dare not touch the money.
"Ah! they are there!" he repeated, to himself; "they are there!"
A friendship formed under such circumstances soon led to closer
relations. When discreetly questioned, Arsène Lupin confessed his
poverty and distress. Immediately, the unfortunate young man was
appointed private secretary to the Imberts, husband and wife, at a
salary of one hundred francs a month. He was to come to the house
every day and receive orders for his work, and a room on the second
floor was set apart as his office. This room was directly over
Mon. Imbert's office.
Arsène soon realized that his position as secretary was essentially
a sinecure. During the first two months, he had only four
important letters to recopy, and was called only once to Mon.
Imbert's office; consequently, he had only one opportunity to
contemplate, officially, the Imbert safe. Moreover, he noticed
that the secretary was not invited to the social functions of the
employer. But he did not complain, as he preferred to remain,
modestly, in the shade and maintain his peace and freedom.
However, he was not wasting any time. From the beginning, he made
clandestine visits to Mon. Imbert's office, and paid his respects
to the safe, which was hermetically closed. It was an immense
block of iron and steel, cold and stern in appearance, which could
not be forced open by the ordinary tools of the burglar's trade.
But Arsène Lupin was not discouraged.
"Where force fails, cunning prevails," he said to himself. "The
essential thing is to be on the spot when the opportunity occurs.
In the meantime, I must watch and wait."
He made immediately some preliminary preparations. After careful
soundings made upon the floor of his room, he introduced a lead
pipe which penetrated the ceiling of Mon. Imbert's office at a
point between the two screeds of the cornice. By means of this
pipe, he hoped to see and hear what transpired in the room below.
Henceforth, he passed his days stretched at full length upon the
floor. He frequently saw the Imberts holding a consultation in
front of the safe, investigating books and papers. When they
turned the combination lock, he tried to learn the figures and the
number of turns they made to the right and left. He watched their
movements; he sought to catch their words. There was also a key
necessary to complete the opening of the safe. What did they do
with it? Did they hide it?
One day, he saw them leave the room without locking the safe. He
descended the stairs quickly, and boldly entered the room. But
they had returned.
"Oh! excuse me," said, "I made a mistake in the door."
"Come in, Monsieur Lupin, come in," cried Madame Imbert, "are you
not at home here? We want your advice. What bonds should we sell?
The foreign securities or the government annuities?"
"But the injunction?" said Lupin, with surprise.
"Oh! it doesn't cover all the bonds."
She opened the door of the safe and withdrew a package of bonds.
But her husband protested.
"No, no, Gervaise, it would be foolish to sell the foreign bonds.
They are going up, whilst the annuities are as high as they ever
will be. What do you think, my dear friend?"
The dear friend had no opinion; yet he advised the sacrifice of the
annuities. Then she withdrew another package and, from it, she
took a paper at random. It proved to be a three-per-cent annuity
worth two thousand francs. Ludovic placed the package of bonds in
his pocket. That afternoon, accompanied by his secretary, he sold
the annuities to a stock-broker and realized forty-six thousand
Whatever Madame Imbert might have said about it, Arsène Lupin did
not feel at home in the Imbert house. On the contrary, his
position there was a peculiar one. He learned that the servants
did not even know his name. They called him "monsieur." Ludovic
always spoke of him in the same way: "You will tell monsieur. Has
monsieur arrived?" Why that mysterious appellation?
Moreover, after their first outburst of enthusiasm, the Imberts
seldom spoke to him, and, although treating him with the
consideration due to a benefactor, they gave him little or no
attention. They appeared to regard him as an eccentric character
who did not like to be disturbed, and they respected his isolation
as if it were a stringent rule on his part. On one occasion, while
passing through the vestibule, he heard Madame Imbert say to the
"He is such a barbarian!"
"Very well," he said to himself, "I am a barbarian."
And, without seeking to solve the question of their strange
conduct, he proceeded with the execution of his own plans. He had
decided that he could not depend on chance, nor on the negligence
of Madame Imbert, who carried the key of the safe, and who, on
locking the safe, invariably scattered the letters forming the
combination of the lock. Consequently, he must act for himself.
Finally, and incident precipitated matters; it was the vehement
campaign instituted against the Imberts by certain newspapers that
accused the Imberts of swindling. Arsène Lupin was present at
certain family conferences when this new vicissitude was discussed.
He decided that if he waited much longer, he would lose everything.
During the next five days, instead of leaving the house about six
o'clock, according to his usual habit, he locked himself in his
room. It was supposed that he had gone out. But he was lying on
the floor surveying the office of Mon. Imbert. During those five
evenings, the favorable opportunity that he awaited did not take
place. He left the house about midnight by a side door to which he
held the key.
But on the sixth day, he learned that the Imberts, actuated by the
malevolent insinuations of their enemies, proposed to make an
inventory of the contents of the safe.
"They will do it to-night," thought Lupin.
And truly, after dinner, Imbert and his wife retired to the office
and commenced to examine the books of account and the securities
contained in the safe. Thus, one hour after another passed away.
He heard the servants go upstairs to their rooms. No one now
remained on the first floor. Midnight! The Imberts were still at
"I must get to work," murmured Lupin.
He opened his window. It opened on a court. Outside, everything
was dark and quiet. He took from his desk a knotted rope, fastened
it to the balcony in front of his window, and quietly descended as
far as the window below, which was that of the of Imbert's office.
He stood upon the balcony for a moment, motionless, with attentive
ear and watchful eye, but the heavy curtains effectually concealed
the interior of the room. He cautiously pushed on the double
window. If no one had examined it, it ought to yield to the
slightest pressure, for, during the afternoon, he had so fixed the
bolt that it would not enter the staple.
The window yielded to his touch. Then, with infinite care, he
pushed it open sufficiently to admit his head. He parted the
curtains a few inches, looked in, and saw Mon. Imbert and his wife
sitting in front of the safe, deeply absorbed in their work and
speaking softly to each other at rare intervals.
He calculated the distance between him and them, considered the
exact movements he would require to make in order to overcome them,
one after the other, before they could call for help, and he was
about to rush upon them, when Madame Imbert said:
"Ah! the room is getting quite cold. I am going to bed. And you,
He calculated the distance between him and them, considered the
exact movements he would require to make in order to overcome them,
one after the other, before they could call for help, and he was
about to rush upon them, when Madame Imbert said:
"Ah! the room is getting quite cold. I am going to bed. And you,
"I shall stay and finish."
"Finish! Why, that will take you all night."
"Not at all. An hour, at the most."
She retired. Twenty minutes, thirty minutes passed. Arsène pushed
the window a little farther open. The curtains shook. He pushed
once more. Mon. Imbert turned, and, seeing the curtains blown by
the wind, he rose to close the window.
There was not a cry, not the trace of struggle. With a few precise
moments, and without causing him the least injury, Arsène stunned
him, wrapped the curtain about his head, bound him hand and foot,
and did it all in such a manner that Mon. Imbert had no opportunity
to recognize his assailant.
Quickly, he approached the safe, seized two packages that he placed
under his arm, left the office, and opened the servants' gate. A
carriage was stationed in the street.
"Take that, first--and follow me," he said to the coachman. He
returned to the office, and, in two trips, they emptied the safe.
Then Arsène went to his own room, removed the rope, and all other
traces of his clandestine work.
A few hours later, Arsène Lupin and his assistant examined the
stolen goods. Lupin was not disappointed, as he had foreseen that
the wealth of the Imberts had been greatly exaggerated. It did not
consist of hundreds of millions, nor even tens of millions. Yet it
amounted to a very respectable sum, and Lupin expressed his
"Of course," he said, "there will be a considerable loss when we
come to sell the bonds, as we will have to dispose of them
surreptitiously at reduced prices. In the meantime, they will rest
quietly in my desk awaiting a propitious moment."
Arsène saw no reason why he should not go to the Imbert house the
next day. But a perusal of the morning papers revealed this
startling fact: Ludovic and Gervaise Imbert had disappeared.
When the officers of the law seized the safe and opened it, they
found there what Arsène Lupin had left--nothing.
* * * * *
Such are the facts; and I learned the sequel to them, one day, when
Arsène Lupin was in a confidential mood. He was pacing to and fro
in my room, with a nervous step and a feverish eye that were
unusual to him."
"After all," I said to him, "it was your most successful venture."
Without making a direct reply, he said:
"There are some impenetrable secrets connected with that affair;
some obscure points that escape my comprehension. For instance:
What caused their flight? Why did they not take advantage of the
help I unconsciously gave them? It would have been so simple to
say: `The hundred millions were in the safe. They are no longer
there, because they have been stolen.'"
"They lost their nerve."
"Yes, that is it--they lost their nerve...On the other hand, it
"What is true?"
What was the meaning of Lupin's reticence? It was quite obvious
that he had not told me everything; there was something he was
loath to tell. His conduct puzzled me. It must indeed be a very
serious matter to cause such a man as Arsène Lupin even a momentary
hesitation. I threw out a few questions at random.
"Have you seen them since?"
"And have you never experienced the slightest degree of pity for
those unfortunate people?"
"I!" he exclaimed, with a start.
His sudden excitement astonished me. Had I touched him on a sore
spot? I continued:
"Of course. If you had not left them alone, they might have been
able to face the danger, or, at least, made their escape with full
"What do you mean?" he said, indignantly. "I suppose you have an
idea that my soul should be filled with remorse?"
"Call it remorse or regrets--anything you like---"
"They are not worth it."
"Have you no regrets or remorse for having stolen their fortune?"
"The packages of bonds you took from their safe."
"Oh! I stole their bonds, did I? I deprived them of a portion of
their wealth? Is that my crime? Ah! my dear boy, you do not know
the truth. You never imagined that those bonds were not worth the
paper they were written on. Those bonds were false--they were
counterfeit--every one of them--do you understand? THEY WERE
I looked at him, astounded.
"Counterfeit! The four or five millions?"
"Yes, counterfeit!" he exclaimed, in a fit of rage. "Only so many
scraps of paper! I couldn't raise a sou on the whole of them! And
you ask me if I have any remorse. THEY are the ones who should
have remorse and pity. They played me for a simpleton; and I fell
into their trap. I was their latest victim, their most stupid
He was affected by genuine anger--the result of malice and wounded
pride. He continued:
"From start to finish, I got the worst of it. Do you know the part
I played in that affair, or rather the part they made me play?
That of André Brawford! Yes, my boy, that is the truth, and I
never suspected it. It was not until afterwards, on reading the
newspapers, that the light finally dawned in my stupid brain.
Whilst I was posing as his "saviour," as the gentleman who had
risked his life to rescue Mon. Imbert from the clutches of an
assassin, they were passing me off as Brawford. Wasn't that
splendid? That eccentric individual who had a room on the second
floor, that barbarian that was exhibited only at a distance, was
Brawford, and Brawford was I! Thanks to me, and to the confidence
that I inspired under the name of Brawford, they were enabled to
borrow money from the bankers and other money-lenders. Ha! what an
experience for a novice! And I swear to you that I shall profit by
He stopped, seized my arm, and said to me, in a tone of
"My dear fellow, at this very moment, Gervaise Imbert owes me
fifteen hundred francs."
I could not refrain from laughter, his rage was so grotesque. He
was making a mountain out of a molehill. In a moment, he laughed
himself, and said:
"Yes, my boy, fifteen hundred francs. You must know that I had not
received one sou of my promised salary, and, more than that, she
had borrowed from me the sum of fifteen hundred francs. All my