Part 6 out of 9
wanted to know and they meant to know who brought it. The police do not
At twelve o'clock M. Desmalions had coffee served to his subordinates. He
himself took two cups and never ceased walking from one end to the other
of the room, or climbing the staircase that led to the attic, or going
through the passage and hall. Preferring that the watch should be
maintained under the most favourable conditions, he left all the doors
opened and all the electric lights on.
"It has to be dark for the letter to come. You will remember, Monsieur le
Prefet, that the other experiment was tried before and the letter was not
"We will try it again," replied M. Desmalions, who, in spite of
everything, was really afraid of Don Luis's interference, and increased
his measures to make it impossible.
Meanwhile, as the night wore on, the minds of all those present became
impatient. Prepared for the angry struggle as they were, they longed for
the opportunity to show their strength. They made desperate use of their
ears and eyes.
At one o'clock there was an alarm that showed the pitch which the nervous
tension had reached. A shot was fired on the first floor, followed by
shouts. On inquiry, it was found that two detectives, meeting in the
course of a round, had not recognized each other, and one of them had
discharged his revolver in the air to inform his comrades.
In the meantime the crowd outside had diminished, as M. Desmalions
perceived on opening the garden gate. The orders had been relaxed and
sightseers were allowed to come nearer, though they were still kept at a
distance from the pavement.
"It is a good thing that the explosion is due in ten days' time and not
to-night, Monsieur le Prefet; otherwise, all those good people would be
in danger as well as ourselves."
"There will be no explosion in ten days' time, any more than there will
be a letter to-night," said M. Desmalions, shrugging his shoulders. And
he added, "Besides, on that day, the orders will be strict."
It was now ten minutes past two.
At twenty-five minutes past, as the Prefect was lighting a cigar, the
chief detective ventured to joke:
"That's something you will have to do without, next time, Monsieur le
Prefet. It would be too risky."
"Next time," said M. Desmalions, "I shall not waste time in keeping
watch. For I really begin to think that all this business with the
letters is over."
"You can never tell," suggested Mazeroux.
A few minutes more passed. M. Desmalions had sat down. The others also
were seated. No one spoke.
And suddenly they all sprang up, with one movement, and the same
expression of surprise.
A bell had rung.
They at once heard where the sound came from.
"The telephone," M. Desmalions muttered.
He took down the receiver.
"Hullo! Who are you?"
A voice answered, but so distant and so faint that he could only catch an
incoherent noise and exclaimed:
"Speak louder! What is it? Who are you?"
The voice spluttered out a few syllables that seemed to astound him.
"Hullo!" he said. "I don't understand. Please repeat what you said. Who
is it speaking?"
"Don Luis Perenna," was the answer, more distinctly this time.
The Prefect made as though to hang up the receiver; and he growled:
"It's a hoax. Some rotter amusing himself at our expense."
Nevertheless, in spite of himself, he went on in a gruff voice:
"Look here, what is it? You say you're Don Luis Perenna?"
"What do you want?"
"What's the time?"
"What's the time!"
The Prefect made an angry gesture, not so much because of the
ridiculous question as because he had really recognized Don Luis's
voice beyond mistake.
"Well?" he said, controlling himself. "What's all this about?
Where are you?"
"At my house, above the iron curtain, in the ceiling of my study."
"In the ceiling!" repeated the Prefect, not knowing what to think.
"Yes; and more or less done for, I confess."
"We'll send and help you out," said M. Desmalions, who was beginning to
"Later on, Monsieur le Prefet. First answer me. Quickly! If not, I don't
know that I shall have the strength. What's the time?"
"Oh, look here!"
"I beg of you--"
"It's twenty minutes to three."
"Twenty minutes to three!"
It was as though Don Luis found renewed strength in a sudden fit of fear.
His weak voice recovered its emphasis, and, by turns imperious,
despairing, and beseeching, full of a conviction which he did his utmost
to impart to M. Desmalions, he said:
"Go away, Monsieur le Prefet! Go, all of you; leave the house. The house
will be blown up at three o'clock. Yes, yes, I swear it will. Ten days
after the fourth letter means now, because there has been a ten days'
delay in the delivery of the letters. It means now, at three o'clock in
the morning. Remember what was written on the sheet which Deputy Chief
Weber handed you this morning: 'The explosion is independent of the
letters. It will take place at three o'clock in the morning.' At three
o'clock in the morning, to-day, Monsieur le Prefet!" The voice faltered
and then continued:
"Go away, please. Let no one remain in the house. You must believe me. I
know everything about the business. And nothing can prevent the threat
from being executed. Go, go, go! This is horrible; I feel that you do not
believe me--and I have no strength left. Go away, every one of you!"
He said a few more words which M. Desmalions could not make out. Then the
voice ceased; and, though the Prefect still heard cries, it seemed to him
that those cries were distant, as though the instrument were no longer
within the reach of the mouth that uttered them.
He hung up the receiver.
"Gentlemen," he said, with a smile, "it is seventeen to three. In
seventeen minutes we shall all be blown up together. At least, that is
what our good friend Don Luis Perenna declares."
In spite of the jokes with which this threat was met, there was a general
feeling of uneasiness. Weber asked:
"Was it really Don Luis, Monsieur le Prefet?"
"Don Luis in person. He has gone to earth in some hiding-hole in his
house, above the study; and his fatigue and privations seem to have
unsettled him a little. Mazeroux, go and ferret him out--unless this is
just some fresh trick on his part. You have your warrant."
Sergeant Mazeroux went up to M. Desmalions. His face was pallid.
"Monsieur le Prefet, did _he_ tell you that we were going to be
"He did. He relies on the note which M. Weber found in a volume of
Shakespeare. The explosion is to take place to-night."
"At three o'clock in the morning?"
"At three o'clock in the morning--that is to say, in less than a quarter
of an hour."
"And do you propose to remain, Monsieur le Prefet?"
"What next, Sergeant? Do you imagine that we are going to obey that
Mazeroux staggered, hesitated, and then, despite all his natural
deference, unable to contain himself, exclaimed:
"Monsieur le Prefet, it's not a fancy. I have worked with Don Luis. I
know the man. If he tells you that something is going to happen, it's
because he has his reasons."
"No, no, Monsieur le Prefet," Mazeroux pleaded, growing more and more
excited. "I swear that you must listen to him. The house will be blown
up--he said so--at three o'clock. We have a few minutes left. Let us go.
I entreat you, Monsieur le Prefet."
"In other words, you want us to run away."
"But it's not running away, Monsieur le Prefet. It's a simple precaution.
After all, we can't risk--You, yourself, Monsieur le Prefet--"
"That will do."
"But, Monsieur le Prefet, as Don Luis said--"
"That will do, I say!" repeated the Prefect harshly. "If you're afraid,
you can take advantage of the order which I gave you and go off after
Mazeroux clicked his heels together and, old soldier that he was,
"I shall stay here, Monsieur le Prefet."
And he turned and went back to his place at a distance.
* * * * *
Silence followed. M. Desmalions began to walk up and down the room, with
his hands behind his back. Then, addressing the chief detective and the
"You are of my opinion, I hope?" he said.
"Why, yes, Monsieur le Prefet."
"Well, of course! To begin with, that supposition is based on nothing
serious. And, besides, we are guarded, aren't we? Bombs don't come
tumbling on one's head like that. It takes some one to throw them. Well,
how are they to come? By what way?"
"Same way as the letters," the secretary general ventured to suggest.
"What's that? Then you admit--?"
The secretary general did not reply and M. Desmalions did not complete
his sentence. He himself, like the others, experienced that same feeling
of uneasiness which gradually, as the seconds sped past, was becoming
almost intolerably painful.
Three o'clock in the morning! ... The words kept on recurring to his
mind. Twice he looked at his watch. There was twelve minutes left. There
was ten minutes. Was the house really going to be blown up, by the mere
effect of an infernal and all-powerful will?
"It's senseless, absolutely senseless!" he cried, stamping his foot.
But, on looking at his companions, he was amazed to see how drawn their
faces were; and he felt his courage sink in a strange way. He was
certainly not afraid; and the others were no more afraid than he. But all
of them, from the chiefs to the simple detectives, were under the
influence of that Don Luis Perenna whom they had seen accomplishing such
extraordinary feats, and who had shown such wonderful ability throughout
this mysterious adventure.
Consciously or unconsciously, whether they wished it or no, they looked
upon him as an exceptional being endowed with special faculties, a
being of whom they could not think without conjuring up the image of
the amazing Arsene Lupin, with his legend of daring, genius, and
And Lupin was telling them to fly. Pursued and hunted as he was, he
voluntarily gave himself up to warn them of their danger. And the danger
was immediate. Seven minutes more, six minutes more--and the house would
be blown up.
With great simplicity, Mazeroux went on his knees, made the sign of the
cross, and said his prayers in a low voice. The action was so impressive
that the secretary general and the chief detective made a movement as
though to go toward the Prefect of Police.
M. Desmalions turned away his head and continued his walk up and down the
room. But his anguish increased; and the words which he had heard over
the telephone rang in his ears; and all Perenna's authority, his ardent
entreaties, his frenzied conviction--all this upset him. He had seen
Perenna at work. He felt it borne in upon him that he had no right, in
the present circumstances, to neglect the man's warning.
"Let's go," he said.
The words were spoken in the calmest manner; and it really seemed as if
those who heard them regarded them merely as the sensible conclusion of
a very ordinary state of affairs. They went away without hurry or
disorder, not as fugitives, but as men deliberately obeying the dictates
They stood back at the door to let the Prefect go first.
"No," he said, "go on; I'll follow you."
He was the last out, leaving the electric light full on.
In the hall he asked the chief detective to blow his whistle. When all
the plain-clothesmen had assembled, he sent them out of the house
together with the porter, and shut the door behind him. Then, calling the
detectives who were watching the boulevard, he said:
"Let everybody stand a good distance away; push the crowd as far back
as you can; and be quick about it. We shall enter the house again in
half an hour."
"And you, Monsieur le Prefet?" whispered Mazeroux, "You won't remain
here, I hope?"
"No, that I shan't!" he said, laughing. "If I take our friend Perenna's
advice at all, I may as well take it thoroughly!"
"There is only two minutes left."
"Our friend Perenna spoke of three o'clock, not of two minutes to
He crossed the boulevard, accompanied by his secretary general, the chief
detective, and Mazeroux, and clambered up the slope of the fortifications
opposite the house.
"Perhaps we ought to stoop down," suggested Mazeroux.
"Let's stoop, by all means," said the Prefect, still in a good humour.
"But, honestly, if there's no explosion, I shall send a bullet through my
head. I could not go on living after making myself look so ridiculous."
"There will be an explosion, Monsieur le Prefet," declared Mazeroux.
"What confidence you must have in our friend Don Luis!"
"You have just the same confidence, Monsieur le Prefet."
They were silent, irritated by the wait, and struggling with the absurd
anxiety that oppressed them. They counted the seconds singly, by the
beating of their hearts. It was interminable.
Three o'clock sounded from somewhere.
"You see," grinned M. Desmalions, in an altered voice, "you see! There's
nothing, thank goodness!"
And he growled:
"It's idiotic, perfectly idiotic! How could any one imagine such
Another clock struck, farther away. Then the hour also rang from the roof
of a neighbouring building.
Before the third stroke had sounded they heard a kind of cracking, and,
the next moment, came the terrible blast, complete, but so brief that
they had only, so to speak, a vision of an immense sheaf of flames and
smoke shooting forth enormous stones and pieces of wall, something like
the grand finale of a fireworks display. And it was all over. The volcano
"Look sharp!" shouted the Prefect of Police, darting forward. "Telephone
for the engines, quick, in case of fire!"
He caught Mazeroux by the arm:
"Run to my motor; you'll see her a hundred yards down the boulevard. Tell
the man to drive you to Don Luis, and, if you find him, release him and
bring him here."
"Under arrest, Monsieur le Prefet?"
"Under arrest? You're mad!"
"But, if the deputy chief--"
"The deputy chief will keep his mouth shut. I'll see to that. Be off!"
Mazeroux fulfilled his mission, not with greater speed than if he had
been sent to arrest Don Luis, for Mazeroux was a conscientious man, but
with extraordinary pleasure. The fight which he had been obliged to wage
against the man whom he still called "the chief" had often distressed him
to the point of tears. This time he was coming to help him, perhaps to
save his life.
That afternoon the deputy chief had ceased his search of the house, by M.
Desmalions's orders, as Don Luis's escape seemed certain, and left only
three men on duty. Mazeroux found them in a room on the ground floor,
where they were sitting up in turns. In reply to his questions, they
declared that they had not heard a sound.
He went upstairs alone, so as to have no witnesses to his interview with
the governor, passed through the drawing-room and entered the study.
Here he was overcome with anxiety, for, after turning on the light, the
first glance revealed nothing to his eyes.
"Chief!" he cried, repeatedly. "Where are you, Chief?"
"And yet," thought Mazeroux, "as he telephoned, he can't be far away."
In fact, he saw from where he stood that the receiver was hanging from
its cord; and, going on to the telephone box, he stumbled over bits of
brick and plaster that strewed the carpet. He then switched on the
light in the box as well and saw a hand and arm hanging from the
ceiling above him. The ceiling was broken up all around that arm. But
the shoulder had not been able to pass through; and Mazeroux could not
see the captive's head.
He sprang on to a chair and reached the hand. He felt it and was
reassured by the warmth of its touch.
"Is that you, Mazeroux?" asked a voice that seemed to the sergeant to
come from very far away.
"Yes, it's I. You're not wounded, are you? Nothing serious?"
"No, only stunned--and a bit faint--from hunger.... Listen to me."
"Open the second drawer on the left in my writing-desk.... You'll find--"
"An old stick of chocolate."
"Do as I tell you, Alexandre; I'm famished."
Indeed, Don Luis recovered after a moment or two and said, in a
"That's better. I can wait now. Go to the kitchen and fetch me some bread
and some water."
"I'll be back at once, Chief."
"Not this way. Come back by Florence Levasseur's room and the secret
passage to the ladder which leads to the trapdoor at the top."
And he told him how to make the stone swing out and how to enter the
hollow in which he had expected to meet with such a tragic end.
The thing was done in ten minutes. Mazeroux cleared the opening, caught
hold of Don Luis by the legs and pulled him out of his hole.
"Oh, dear, oh dear!" he moaned, in a voice full of pity. "What a
position, Chief! How did you manage it all? Yes, I see: you must have dug
down, where you lay, and gone on digging--for more than a yard! And it
took some pluck, I expect, on an empty stomach!"
When Don Luis was seated in his bedroom and had swallowed a few bits of
bread and drunk what he wanted, he told his story:
"Yes, it took the devil's own pluck, old man. By Jingo! when a chap's
ideas are whirling in his head and he can't use his brain, upon my word,
all he asks is to die? And then there was no air, you see. I couldn't
breathe. I went on digging, however, as you saw, went on digging while I
was half asleep, in a sort of nightmare. Just look: my fingers are in a
jelly. But there, I was thinking of that confounded business of the
explosion and I wanted to warn you at all costs, and I dug away at my
tunnel. What a job! And then, oof! I felt space at last!
"I got my hand through and next my arm. Where was I? Why, over the
telephone, of course! I knew that at once by feeling the wall and finding
the wires. Then it took me quite half an hour to get hold of the
instrument. I couldn't reach it with my arm.
"I managed at last with a piece of string and a slip-knot to fish up the
receiver and hold it near my mouth, or, say, at ten inches from my mouth.
And then I shouted and roared to make my voice carry; and, all the time,
I was in pain. And then, at last, my string broke.... And then--and
then--I hadn't an ounce of strength left in my body. Besides, you fellows
had been warned; and it was for you to get yourselves out of the mess."
He looked at Mazeroux and asked him, as though certain of the reply:
"The explosion took place, didn't it?"
"At three o'clock exactly?"
"And of course M. Desmalions had the house cleared?"
"At the last minute?"
"At the last minute."
Don Luis laughed and said:
"I knew he would wait about and not give way until the crucial moment.
You must have had a bad time of it, my poor Mazeroux, for of course you
agreed with me from the start."
He kept on eating while he talked; and each mouthful seemed to bring back
a little of his usual animation.
"Funny thing, hunger!" he said. "Makes you feel so light-headed. I must
practise getting used to it, however."
"At any rate, Chief, no one would believe that you have been fasting for
nearly forty-eight hours."
"Ah, that comes of having a sound constitution, with something to fall
back upon! I shall be a different man in half an hour. Just give me time
to shave and have a bath."
When he had finished dressing, he sat down to the breakfast of eggs
and cold meat which Mazeroux had prepared for him; and then,
getting up, said:
"Now, let's be off."
"But there's no hurry, Chief. Why don't you lie down for a few hours? The
Prefect can wait."
"You're mad! What about Marie Fauville?"
"Why, of course! Do you think I'm going to leave her in prison, or
Sauverand, either? There's not a second to lose, old chap."
Mazeroux thought to himself that the chief had not quite recovered his
wits yet. What? Release Marie Fauville and Sauverand, one, two, three,
just like that! No, no, it was going a bit too far.
However, he took down to the Prefect's car a new Perenna, merry, brisk,
and as fresh as though he had just got out of bed.
"Very flattering to my pride," said Don Luis to Mazeroux, "most
flattering, that hesitation of the Prefect's, after I had warned him over
the telephone, followed by his submission at the decisive moment. What a
hold I must have on all those jokers, to make them sit up at a sign from
little me! 'Beware, gentlemen!' I telephone to them from the bottomless
pit. 'Beware! At three o'clock, a bomb!' 'Nonsense!' say they. 'Not a bit
of it!' say I. 'How do you know?' 'Because I do.' 'But what proof have
you?' 'What proof? That I say so.' 'Oh, well, of course, if you say so!'
And, at five minutes to three, out they march. Ah, if I wasn't built up
They came to the Boulevard Suchet, where the crowd was so dense that they
had to alight from the car. Mazeroux passed through the cordon of police
protecting the approaches to the house and took Don Luis to the slope
across the road.
"Wait for me here, Chief. I'll tell the Prefect of Police."
On the other side of the boulevard, under the pale morning sky in which a
few black clouds still lingered, Don Luis saw the havoc wrought by the
explosion. It was apparently not so great as he had expected. Some of the
ceilings had fallen in and their rubbish showed through the yawning
cavities of the windows; but the house remained standing. Even Fauville's
built-out annex had not suffered overmuch, and, strange to say, the
electric light, which the Prefect had left burning on his departure, had
not gone out. The garden and the road were covered with stacks of
furniture, over which a number of soldiers and police kept watch.
"Come with me, Chief," said Mazeroux, as he fetched Don Luis and led him
toward the engineer's workroom.
A part of the floor was demolished. The outer walls on the left, near the
passage, were cracked; and two workmen were fixing up beams, brought from
the nearest timber yard, to support the ceiling. But, on the whole, the
explosion had not had the results which the man who prepared it must have
M. Desmalions was there, together with all the men who had spent the
night in the room and several important persons from the public
prosecutor's office. Weber, the deputy chief detective, alone had gone,
refusing to meet his enemy.
Don Luis's arrival caused great excitement. The Prefect at once came up
to him and said:
"All our thanks, Monsieur. Your insight is above praise. You have
saved our lives; and these gentlemen and I wish to tell you so most
emphatically. In my case, it is the second time that I have to
"There is a very simple way of thanking me, Monsieur le Prefet," said Don
Luis, "and that is to allow me to carry out my task to the end."
"Yes, Monsieur le Prefet. My action of last night is only the beginning.
The conclusion is the release of Marie Fauville and Gaston Sauverand."
M. Desmalions smiled.
"Am I asking too much, Monsieur le Prefet?"
"One can always ask, but the request should be reasonable. And the
innocence of those people does not depend on me."
"No; but it depends on you, Monsieur le Prefet, to let them know if I
prove their innocence to you."
"Yes, I agree, if you prove it beyond dispute."
Don Luis's calm assurance impressed M. Desmalions in spite of everything
and even more than on the former occasions; and he suggested:
"The results of the hasty inspection which we have made will perhaps help
you. For instance, we are certain that the bomb was placed by the
entrance to the passage and probably under the boards of the floor."
"Please do not trouble, Monsieur le Prefet. These are only secondary
details. The great thing now is that you should know the whole truth, and
that not only through words."
The Prefect had come closer. The magistrate and detectives were standing
round Don Luis, watching his lips and movements with feverish impatience.
Was it possible that that truth, as yet so remote and vague, in spite of
all the importance which they attached to the arrests already effected,
was known at last?
It was a solemn moment. Every one was on tenterhooks. The manner in which
Don Luis had foretold the explosion lent the value of an accomplished
fact to his predictions; and the men whom he had saved from the terrible
catastrophe were almost ready to accept as certainties the most
improbable statements which a man of his stamp might make.
"Monsieur le Prefet," he said, "you waited in vain last night for the
fourth letter to make its appearance. We shall now be able, by an
unexpected miracle of chance, to be present at the delivery of the
letter. You will then know that it was the same hand that committed all
the crimes--and you will know whose hand that was."
And, turning to Mazeroux:
"Sergeant, will you please make the room as dark as you can? The
shutters are gone; but you might draw the curtains across the windows
and close the doors. Monsieur le Prefet, is it by accident that the
electric light is on?"
"Yes, by accident. We will have it turned out."
"One moment. Have any of you gentlemen a pocket lantern about you? Or,
no, it doesn't matter. This will do."
There was a candle in a sconce. He took it and lit it.
Then he switched off the electric light.
There was a half darkness, amid which the flame of the candle flickered
in the draught from the windows. Don Luis protected the flame with his
hand and moved to the table.
"I do not think that we shall be kept waiting long," he said. "As I
foresee it, there will be only a few seconds before the facts speak for
themselves and better than I could do."
Those few seconds, during which no one broke the silence, were
unforgettable. M. Desmalions has since declared, in an interview in which
he ridicules himself very cleverly, that his brain, over-stimulated by
the fatigues of the night and by the whole scene before him, imagined the
most unlikely events, such as an invasion of the house by armed
assailants, or the apparition of ghosts and spirits.
He had the curiosity, however, he said, to watch Don Luis. Sitting on
the edge of the table, with his head thrown a little back and his
eyes roaming over the ceiling, Don Luis was eating a piece of bread
and nibbling at a cake of chocolate. He seemed very hungry, but quite
at his ease.
The others maintained that tense attitude which we put on at moments of
great physical effort. Their faces were distorted with a sort of
grimace. They were haunted by the memory of the explosion as well as
obsessed by what was going to happen. The flame of the candle cast
shadows on the wall.
More seconds elapsed than Don Luis Perenna had said, thirty or forty
seconds, perhaps, that seemed endless. Then Perenna lifted the candle a
little and said:
"There you are."
They had all seen what they now saw almost as soon as he spoke. A letter
was descending from the ceiling. It spun round slowly, like a leaf
falling from a tree without being driven by the wind. It just touched Don
Luis and alighted on the floor between two legs of the table.
Picking up the paper and handing it to M. Desmalions, Don Luis said:
"There you are, Monsieur le Prefet. This is the fourth letter, due
M. Desmalions looked at him without understanding, and looked from him to
the ceiling. Perenna said:
"Oh, there's no witchcraft about it; and, though no one has thrown that
letter from above, though there is not the smallest hole in the ceiling,
the explanation is quite simple!"
"Quite simple, is it?" said M. Desmalions.
"Yes, Monsieur le Prefet. It all looks like an extremely complicated
conjuring trick, done almost for fun. Well, I say that it is quite
simple--and, at the same time, terribly tragic. Sergeant Mazeroux, would
you mind drawing back the curtains and giving us as much light as
While Mazeroux was executing his orders and M. Desmalions glancing at the
fourth letter, the contents of which were unimportant and merely
confirmed the previous ones, Don Luis took a pair of steps which the
workmen had left in the corner, set it up in the middle of the room and
climbed to the top, where, seated astride, he was able to reach the
It consisted of a broad, circular band in brass, beneath which was a
festoon of crystal pendants. Inside were three lamps placed at the
corners of a brass triangle concealing the wires.
He uncovered the wires and cut them. Then be began to take the whole
fitting to pieces. To hasten matters, he asked for a hammer and broke up
the plaster all round the clamps that held the chandelier in position.
"Lend me a hand, please," he said to Mazeroux.
Mazeroux went up the steps; and between them they took hold of the
chandelier and let it slide down the uprights. The detectives caught it
and placed it on the table with some difficulty, for it was much heavier
than it looked.
On inspection, it proved to be surmounted by a cubical metal box,
measuring about eight inches square, which box, being fastened inside the
ceiling between the iron clamps, had obliged Don Luis to knock away the
plaster that concealed it.
"What the devil's this?" exclaimed M. Desmalions.
"Open it for yourself, Monsieur le Prefet: there's a lid to it,"
M. Desmalions raised the lid. The box was filled with springs and wheels,
a whole complicated and detailed mechanism resembling a piece of
"By your leave, Monsieur le Prefet," said Don Luis.
He took out one piece of machinery and discovered another beneath it,
joined to the first by the gearing of two wheels; and the second was more
like one of those automatic apparatuses which turn out printed slips.
Right at the bottom of the box, just where the box touched the
ceiling, was a semicircular groove, and at the edge of it was a letter
ready for delivery.
"The last of the five letters," said Don Luis, "doubtless continuing the
series of denunciations. You will notice, Monsieur le Prefet, that the
chandelier originally had a fourth lamp in the centre. It was obviously
removed when the chandelier was altered, so as to make room for the
letters to pass."
He continued his detailed explanations:
"So the whole set of letters was placed here, at the bottom. A clever
piece of machinery, controlled by clockwork, took them one by one at the
appointed time, pushed them to the edge of the groove concealed between
the lamps and the pendants, and projected them into space."
None of those standing around Don Luis spoke, and all of them seemed
perhaps a little disappointed. The whole thing was certainly very clever;
but they had expected something better than a trick of springs and
wheels, however surprising.
"Have patience, gentlemen," said Don Luis. "I promised you something
ghastly; and you shall have it."
"Well, I agree," said the Prefect of Police, "that this is where the
letters started from. But a good many points remain obscure; and, apart
from this, there is one fact in particular which it seems impossible to
understand. How were the criminals able to adapt the chandelier in this
way? And, in a house guarded by the police, in a room watched night and
day, how were they able to carry out such a piece of work without being
seen or heard?"
"The answer is quite easy, Monsieur le Prefet: the work was done before
the house was guarded by the police."
"Before the murder was committed, therefore?"
"Before the murder was committed."
"And what is to prove to me that that is so?"
"You have said so yourself, Monsieur le Prefet: because it could not have
"But do explain yourself, Monsieur!" cried M. Desmalions, with a gesture
of irritation. "If you have important things to tell us, why delay?"
"It is better, Monsieur le Prefet, that you should arrive at the truth in
the same way as I did. When you know the secret of the letters, the truth
is much nearer than you think; and you would have already named the
criminal if the horror of his crime had not been so great as to divert
all suspicion from him."
M. Desmalions looked at him attentively. He felt the importance of
Perenna's every word and he was really anxious.
"Then, according to you," he said, "those letters accusing Madame
Fauville and Gaston Sauverand were placed there with the sole object of
ruining both of them?"
"Yes, Monsieur le Prefet."
"And, as they were placed there before the crime, the plot must have been
schemed before the murder?"
"Yes, Monsieur le Prefet, before the murder. From the moment that we
admit the innocence of Mme. Fauville and Gaston Sauverand, we are obliged
to conclude that, as everything accuses them, this is due to a series of
deliberate acts. Mme. Fauville was out on the night of the murder: a
plot! She was unable to say how she spent her time while the murder was
being committed: a plot! Her inexplicable drive in the direction of La
Muette and her cousin Sauverand's walk in the neighbourhood of the house:
plots! The marks left in the apple by those teeth, by Mme. Fauville's own
teeth: a plot and the most infernal of all!
"I tell you, everything is plotted beforehand, everything is, so to
speak, prepared, measured out, labelled, and numbered. Everything takes
place at the appointed time. Nothing is left to chance. It is a work very
nicely pieced together, worthy of the most skilful artisan, so solidly
constructed that outside happenings have not been able to throw it out of
gear; and that the scheme works exactly, precisely, imperturbably, like
the clockwork in this box, which is a perfect symbol of the whole
business and, at the same time, gives a most accurate explanation of it,
because the letters denouncing the murderers were duly posted before the
crime and delivered after the crime on the dates and at the hours
M. Desmalions remained thinking for a time and then objected:
"Still, in the letters which he wrote, M. Fauville accuses his wife."
"We must therefore admit either that he was right in accusing her or that
the letters are forged?"
"They are not forged. All the experts have recognized M. Fauville's
Don Luis did not finish his sentence; and M. Desmalions felt the breath
of the truth fluttering still nearer round him.
The others, one and all as anxious as himself, were silent. He muttered:
"I do not understand--"
"Yes, Monsieur le Prefet, you do. You understand that, if the sending of
those letters forms an integrate part of the plot hatched against Mme.
Fauville and Gaston Sauverand, it is because their contents were prepared
in such a way as to be the undoing of the victims."
"What! What! What are you saying?"
"I am saying what I said before. Once they are innocent, everything that
tells against them is part of the plot."
Again there was a long silence. The Prefect of Police did not conceal
his agitation. Speaking very slowly, with his eyes fixed on Don Luis's
eyes, he said:
"Whoever the culprit may be, I know nothing more terrible than this work
"It is an even more improbable work than you can imagine, Monsieur le
Prefet," said Perenna, with growing animation, "and it is a hatred of
which you, who do not know Sauverand's confession, cannot yet estimate
the violence. I understood it completely as I listened to the man; and,
since then, all my thoughts have been overpowered by the dominant idea of
that hatred. Who could hate like that? To whose loathing had Marie
Fauville and Sauverand been sacrificed? Who was the inconceivable person
whose perverted genius had surrounded his two victims with chains so
"And another idea came to my mind, an earlier idea which had already
struck me several times and to which I have already referred in Sergeant
Mazeroux's presence: I mean the really mathematical character of the
appearance of the letters. I said to myself that such grave documents
could not be introduced into the case at fixed dates unless some primary
reason demanded that those dates should absolutely be fixed. What
reason? If a _human_ agency had been at work each time, there would
surely have been some irregularity dependent on this especially after
the police had become cognizant of the matter and were present at the
delivery of the letters.
"Well," Perenna continued, "in spite of every obstacle, the letters
continued to come, as though they could not help it. And thus the reason
of their coming gradually dawned upon me: they came mechanically, by some
invisible process set going once and for all and working with the blind
certainty of a physical law. This was a case not of a conscious
intelligence and will, but just of material necessity.... It was the
clash of these two ideas--the idea of the hatred pursuing the innocent
and the idea of that machinery serving the schemes of the 'hater'--it was
their clash that gave birth to the little spark of light. When brought
into contact, the two ideas combined in my mind and suggested the
recollection that Hippolyte Fauville was an engineer by profession!"
The others listened to him with a sort of uneasy oppression. What was
gradually being revealed of the tragedy, instead of relieving the
anxiety, increased it until it became absolutely painful.
M. Desmalions objected:
"Granting that the letters arrived on the dates named, you will
nevertheless have noted that the hour varied on each occasion.
"That is to say, it varied according as we watched in the dark or not,
and that is just the detail which supplied me with the key to the
riddle. If the letters--and this was an indispensable precaution, which
we are now able to understand--were delivered only under cover of the
darkness, it must be because a contrivance of some kind prevented them
from appearing when the electric light was on, and because that
contrivance was controlled by a switch inside the room. There is no
other explanation possible.
"We have to do with an automatic distributor that delivers the
incriminating letters which it contains by clockwork, releasing them only
between this hour and that on such and such a night fixed in advance and
only at times when the electric light is off. You have the apparatus
before you. No doubt the experts will admire its ingenuity and confirm my
assertions. But, given the fact that it was found in the ceiling of this
room, given the fact that it contained letters written by M. Fauville, am
I not entitled to say that it was constructed by M. Fauville, the
Once more the name of M. Fauville returned, like an obsession; and each
time the name stood more clearly defined. It was first M. Fauville; then
M. Fauville, the engineer; then M. Fauville, the electrical engineer. And
thus the picture of the "hater," as Don Luis said, appeared in its
accurate outlines, giving those men, used though they were to the
strangest criminal monstrosities, a thrill of terror. The truth was now
no longer prowling around them. They were already fighting with it, as
you fight with an adversary whom you do not see but who clutches you by
the throat and brings you to the ground.
And the Prefect of Police, summing up all his impressions, said, in a
"So M. Fauville wrote those letters in order to ruin his wife and the man
who was in love with her?"
"In that case--"
"Knowing, at the same time, that he was threatened with death, he wished,
if ever the threat was realized, that his death should be laid to the
charge of his wife and her friend?"
"And, in order to avenge himself on their love for each other and to
gratify his hatred of them both, he wanted the whole set of facts to
point to them as guilty of the murder of which he would be the victim?"
"So that--so that M. Fauville, in one part of his accursed work,
was--what shall I say?--the accomplice of his own murder. He dreaded
death. He struggled against it. But he arranged that his hatred should
gain by it. That's it, isn't it? That's how it is?"
"Almost, Monsieur le Prefet. You are following the same stages by which I
travelled and, like myself, you are hesitating before the last truth,
before the truth which gives the tragedy its sinister character and
deprives it of all human proportions."
The Prefect struck the table with his two fists and, in a sudden fit of
"It's ridiculous! It's a perfectly preposterous theory! M. Fauville
threatened with death and contriving his wife's ruin with that
Machiavellian perseverance? Absurd! The man who came to my office, the
man whom you saw, was thinking of only one thing: how to escape dying! He
was obsessed by one dread alone, the dread of death.
"It is not at such moments," the Prefect emphasized, "that a man fits up
clockwork and lays traps, especially when those traps cannot take effect
unless he dies by foul play. Can you see M. Fauville working at his
automatic machine, putting in with his own hands letters which he has
taken the pains to write to a friend three months before and intercept,
arranging events so that his wife shall appear guilty and saying,
'There! If I die murdered, I'm easy in my mind: the person to be
arrested will be Marie!'
"No, you must confess, men don't take these gruesome precautions. Or, if
they do--if they do, it means that they're sure of being murdered. It
means that they agree to be murdered. It means that they are at one with
the murderer, so to speak, and meet him halfway. In short, it means--"
He interrupted himself, as if the sentences which he had spoken had
surprised him. And the others seemed equally disconcerted. And all of
them unconsciously drew from those sentences the conclusions which they
implied, and which they themselves did not yet fully perceive.
Don Luis did not remove his eyes from the Prefect, and awaited the
M. Desmalions muttered:
"Come, come, you are not going to suggest that he had agreed--"
"I suggest nothing, Monsieur le Prefet," said Don Luis. "So far, you have
followed the logical and natural trend of your thoughts; and that brings
you to your present position."
"Yes, yes, I know, but I am showing you the absurdity of your theory. It
can't be correct, and we can't believe in Marie Fauville's innocence
unless we are prepared to suppose an unheard-of thing, that M. Fauville
took part in his own murder. Why, it's laughable!"
And he gave a laugh; but it was a forced laugh and did not ring true.
"For, after all," he added, "you can't deny that that is where we stand."
"I don't deny it."
"Well, M. Fauville, as you say, took part in his own murder."
This was said in the quietest possible fashion, but with an air of such
certainty that no one dreamed of protesting. After the work of deduction
and supposition which Don Luis had compelled his hearers to undertake,
they found themselves in a corner which it was impossible for them to
leave without stumbling against unanswerable objections.
There was no longer any doubt about M. Fauville's share in his own death.
But of what did that share consist? What part had he played in the
tragedy of hatred and murder? Had he played that part, which ended in the
sacrifice of his life, voluntarily or under compulsion? Who, when all was
said and done, had served as his accomplice or his executioner?
All these questions came crowding upon the minds of M. Desmalions and the
others. They thought of nothing but of how to solve them, and Don Luis
could feel certain that his solution was accepted beforehand. From that
moment he had but to tell his story of what had happened without fear of
contradiction. He did so briefly, after the manner of a succinct report
limited to essentials:
"Three months before the crime, M. Fauville wrote a series of letters
to one of his friends, M. Langernault, who, as Sergeant Mazeroux will
have told you, Monsieur le Prefet, had been dead for several years, a
fact of which M. Fauville cannot have been ignorant. These letters were
posted, but were intercepted by some means which it is not necessary
that we should know for the moment. M. Fauville erased the postmarks
and the addresses and inserted the letters in a machine constructed for
the purpose, of which he regulated the works so that the first letter
should be delivered a fortnight after his death and the others at
intervals of ten days.
"At this moment it is certain that his plan was concerted down to the
smallest detail. Knowing that Sauverand was in love with his wife,
watching Sauverand's movements, he must obviously have noticed that his
detested rival used to pass under the windows of the house every
Wednesday and that Marie Fauville would go to her window.
"This is a fact of the first importance, one which was exceedingly
valuable to me; and it will impress you as being equal to a material
proof. Every Wednesday evening, I repeat, Sauverand used to wander round
the house. Now note this: first, the crime prepared by M. Fauville was
committed on a Wednesday evening; secondly, it was at her husband's
express request that Mme. Fauville went out that evening to go to the
opera and to Mme. d'Ersinger's."
Don Luis stopped for a few seconds and then continued:
"Consequently, on the morning of that Wednesday, everything was ready,
the fatal clock was wound up, the incriminating machinery was working to
perfection, and the proofs to come would confirm the immediate proofs
which M. Fauville held in reserve. Better still, Monsieur le Prefet, you
had received from him a letter in which he told you of the plot hatched
against him, and he implored your assistance for the morning of the next
day--that is to say, _after his death_!
"Everything, in short, led him to think that things would go according to
the 'hater's' wishes, when something occurred that nearly upset his
schemes: the appearance of Inspector Verot, who had been sent by you,
Monsieur le Prefet, to collect particulars about the Mornington heirs.
What happened between the two men? Probably no one will ever know. Both
are dead; and their secret will not come to life again. But we can at
least say for certain that Inspector Verot was here and took away with
him the cake of chocolate on which the teeth of the tiger were seen for
the first time, and also that Inspector Verot succeeded, thanks to
circumstances with which we are unacquainted, in discovering M.
"This we know," explained Don Luis, "because Inspector Verot said so in
his own agonizing words; because it was through him that we learned that
the crime was to take place on the following night; and because he had
set down his discoveries in a letter which was stolen from him.
"And Fauville knew it also, because, to get rid of the formidable enemy
who was thwarting his designs, he poisoned him; because, when the poison
was slow in acting, he had the audacity, under a disguise which made him
look like Sauverand and which was one day to turn suspicion against
Sauverand, he had the audacity and the presence of mind to follow
Inspector Verot to the Cafe du Pont-Neuf, to purloin the letter of
explanation which Inspector Verot wrote you, to substitute a blank sheet
of paper for it, and then to ask a passer-by, who might become a witness
against Sauverand, the way to the nearest underground station for
Neuilly, where Sauverand lived! There's your man, Monsieur le Prefet."
Don Luis spoke with increasing force, with the ardour that springs from
conviction; and his logical and closely argued speech seemed to conjure
up the actual truth,
"There's your man, Monsieur le Prefet," he repeated. "There's your
scoundrel. And the situation in which he found himself was such, the fear
inspired by Inspector Verot's possible revelations was such, that, before
putting into execution the horrible deed which he had planned, he came to
the police office to make sure that his victim was no longer alive and
had not been able to denounce him.
"You remember the scene, Monsieur le Prefet, the fellow's agitation and
fright: 'To-morrow evening,' he said. Yes, it was for the morrow that he
asked for your help, because he knew that everything would be over that
same evening and that next day the police would be confronted with a
murder, with the two culprits against whom he himself had heaped up the
charges, with Marie Fauville, whom he had, so to speak, accused in
"That was why Sergeant Mazeroux's visit and mine to his house, at nine
o'clock in the evening, embarrassed him so obviously. Who were those
intruders? Would they not succeed in shattering his plan? Reflection
reassured him, even as we, by our insistence, compelled him to give way."
"After all, what he did care?" asked Perenna.
"His measures were so well taken that no amount of watching could destroy
them or even make the watchers aware of them. What was to happen would
happen in our presence and unknown to us. Death, summoned by him, would
do its work.... And the comedy, the tragedy, rather, ran its course. Mme.
Fauville, whom he was sending to the opera, came to say good-night. Then
his servant brought him something to eat, including a dish of apples.
Then followed a fit of rage, the agony of the man who is about to die and
who fears death and a whole scene of deceit, in which he showed us his
safe and the drab-cloth diary which was supposed to contain the story of
the plot. ... That ended matters.
"Mazeroux and I retired to the hall passage, closing the door after us;
and M. Fauville remained alone and free to act. Nothing now could prevent
the fulfilment of his wishes. At eleven o'clock in the evening, Mme.
Fauville--to whom no doubt, in the course of the day, imitating
Sauverand's handwriting, he had sent a letter--one of those letters which
are always torn up at once, in which Sauverand entreated the poor woman
to grant him an interview at the Ranelagh--Mme. Fauville would leave the
opera and, before going to Mme. d'Ersinger's party, would spend an hour
not far from the house.
"On the other hand, Sauverand would be performing his usual Wednesday
pilgrimage less than half a mile away, in the opposite direction. During
this time the crime would be committed.
"Both of them would come under the notice of the police, either by M.
Fauville's allusions or by the incident at the Cafe du Pont-Neuf; both of
them, moreover, would be incapable either of providing an alibi or of
explaining their presence so near the house: were not both of them bound
to be accused and convicted of the crime? ... In the most unlikely event
that some chance should protect them, there was an undeniable proof lying
ready to hand in the shape of the apple containing the very marks of
Marie Fauville's teeth! And then, a few weeks later, the last and
decisive trick, the mysterious arrival at intervals of ten days, of the
letters denouncing the pair. So everything was settled.
"The smallest details were foreseen with infernal clearness. You
remember, Monsieur le Prefet, that turquoise which dropped out of my
ring and was found in the safe? There were only four persons who
could have seen it and picked it up. M. Fauville was one of them.
Well, he was just the one, whom we all excepted; and yet it was he
who, to cast suspicion upon me and to forestall an interference which
he felt would be dangerous, seized the opportunity and placed the
turquoise in the safe! ...
"This time the work was completed. Fate was about to be fulfilled.
Between the 'hater' and his victims there was but the distance of one
act. The act was performed. M. Fauville died."
Don Luis ceased. His words were followed by a long silence; and he felt
certain that the extraordinary story which he had just finished telling
met with the absolute approval of his hearers. They did not discuss, they
believed. And yet it was the most incredible truth that he was asking
them to believe.
M. Desmalions asked one last question.
"You were in that passage with Sergeant Mazeroux. There were detectives
outside the house. Admitting that M. Fauville knew that he was to be
killed that night and at that very hour of the night, who can have
killed him and who can have killed his son? There was no one within
these four walls."
"There was M. Fauville."
A sudden clamour of protests arose. The veil was promptly torn; and the
spectacle revealed by Don Luis provoked, in addition to horror, an
unforeseen outburst of incredulity and a sort of revolt against the too
kindly attention which had been accorded to those explanations. The
Prefect of Police expressed the general feeling by exclaiming:
"Enough of words! Enough of theories! However logical they may seem, they
lead to absurd conclusions."
"Absurd in appearance, Monsieur le Prefet; but how do we know that M.
Fauville's unheard-of conduct is not explained by very natural reasons?
Of course, no one dies with a light heart for the mere pleasure of
revenge. But how do we know that M. Fauville, whose extreme emaciation
and pallor you must have noted as I did, was not stricken by some mortal
illness and that, knowing himself doomed--"
"I repeat, enough of words!" cried the Prefect. "You go only by
suppositions. What I want is proofs, a proof, only one. And we are still
waiting for it."
"Here it is, Monsieur le Prefet."
"Eh? What's that you say?"
"Monsieur le Prefet, when I removed the chandelier from the plaster that
supported it, I found, outside the upper surface of the metal box, a
sealed envelope. As the chandelier was placed under the attic occupied by
M. Fauville's son, it is evident that M. Fauville was able, by lifting
the boards of the floor in his son's room, to reach the top of the
machine which he had contrived. This was how, during that last night, he
placed this sealed envelope in position, after writing on it the date of
the murder, '31 March, 11 P.M.,' and his signature, 'Hippolyte
M. Desmalions opened the envelope with an eager hand. His first glance at
the pages of writing which it contained made him give a start.
"Oh, the villain, the villain!" he said. "How was it possible for such a
monster to exist? What a loathsome brute!"
In a jerky voice, which became almost inaudible at times owing to his
amazement, he read:
"The end is reached. My hour is striking. Put to sleep by me, Edmond is
dead without having been roused from his unconsciousness by the fire of
the poison. My own death-agony is beginning. I am suffering all the
tortures of hell. My hand can hardly write these last lines. I suffer,
how I suffer! And yet my happiness is unspeakable.
"This happiness dates back to my visit to London, with Edmond, four
months ago. Until then, I was dragging on the most hideous existence,
hiding my hatred of the woman who detested me and who loved another,
broken down in health, feeling myself already eaten up with an
unrelenting disease, and seeing my son grow daily more weak and languid.
"In the afternoon I consulted a great physician and I no longer had the
least doubt left: the malady that was eating into me was cancer. And I
knew besides that, like myself, my son Edmond was on the road to the
grave, incurably stricken with consumption.
"That same evening I conceived the magnificent idea of revenge. And such
a revenge! The most dreadful of accusations made against a man and a
woman in love with each other! Prison! The assizes! Penal servitude! The
scaffold! And no assistance possible, not a struggle, not a hope!
Accumulated proofs, proofs so formidable as to make the innocent
themselves doubt their own innocence and remain hopelessly and helplessly
dumb. What a revenge!... And what a punishment! To be innocent and to
struggle vainly against the very facts that accuse you, the very
certainty that proclaims you guilty.
"And I prepared everything with a glad heart. Each happy thought, each
invention made me shout with laughter. Lord, how merry I was! You would
think that cancer hurts: not a bit of it! How can you suffer physical
pain when your soul is quivering with delight? Do you think I feel the
hideous burning of the poison at this moment?
"I am happy. The death which I have inflicted on myself is the beginning
of their torment. Then why live and wait for a natural death which to
them would mean the beginning of their happiness? And as Edmond had to
die, why not save him a lingering illness and give him a death which
would double the crime of Marie and Sauverand?
"The end is coming. I had to break off: the pain was too much for me. Now
to pull myself together.... How silent everything is! Outside the house
and in the house are emissaries of the police watching over my crime. At
no great distance, Marie, in obedience to my letter, is hurrying to the
trysting place, where her beloved will not come. And the beloved is
roaming under the windows where his darling will not appear.
"Oh, the dear little puppets whose string I pull! Dance! Jump! Skip!
Lord, what fun they are! A rope round your neck, sir; and, madam, a rope
round yours. Was it not you, sir, who poisoned Inspector Verot this
morning and followed him to the Cafe du Pont-Neuf, with your grand ebony
walking-stick? Why, of course it was! And at night the pretty lady
poisons me and poisons her stepson. Prove it? Well, what about this
apple, madam, this apple which you did _not_ bite into and which all the
same will be found to bear the marks of your teeth? What fun! Dance!
"And the letters! The trick of my letters to the late lamented
Langernault! That was my crowning triumph. Oh, the joy of it, when I
invented and constructed my little mechanical toy! Wasn't it nicely
thought out? Isn't it wonderfully neat and accurate? On the appointed
day, click, the first letter! And, ten days after, click, the second
letter! Come, there's no hope for you, my poor friends, you're nicely
done for. Dance! Jump! Skip!
"And what amuses me--for I am laughing now--is to think that nobody will
know what to make of it. Marie and Sauverand guilty: of that there is not
the least doubt. But, outside that, absolute mystery.
"Nobody will know nor ever will know anything. In a few weeks' time, when
the two criminals are irrevocably doomed, when the letters are in the
hands of the police, on the 25th, or, rather, at 3 o'clock on the morning
of the 26th of May, an explosion will destroy every trace of my work. The
bomb is in its place. A movement entirely independent of the chandelier
will explode it at the hour aforesaid.
"I have just laid beside it the drab-cloth manuscript book in which I
pretended that I wrote my diary, the phials containing the poison, the
needles which I used, an ebony walking-stick, two letters from Inspector
Verot, in short, anything that might save the culprits. Then how can any
one know? No, nobody will know nor ever will know anything.
"Unless--unless some miracle happens--unless the bomb leaves the walls
standing and the ceiling intact. Unless, by some marvel of
intelligence and intuition, a man of genius, unravelling the threads
which I have tangled, should penetrate to the very heart of the riddle
and succeed, after a search lasting for months and months, in
discovering this final letter.
"It is for this man that I write, well knowing that he cannot exist.
But, after all, what do I care? Marie and Sauverand will be at the
bottom of the abyss by then, dead no doubt, or in any case separated
forever. And I risk nothing by leaving this evidence of my hatred in the
hands of chance.
"There, that's finished. I have only to sign. My hand shakes more and
more. The sweat is pouring from my forehead in great drops. I am
suffering the tortures of the damned and I am divinely happy! Aha, my
friends, you were waiting for my death!
"You, Marie, imprudently let me read in your eyes, which watched me
stealthily, all your delight at seeing me so ill! And you were both of
you so sure of the future that you had the courage to wait patiently for
my death! Well, here it is, my death! Here it is and there are you,
united above my grave, linked together with the handcuffs. Marie, be the
wife of my friend Sauverand. Sauverand, I bestow my spouse upon you. Be
joined together in holy matrimony. Bless you, my children!
"The examining magistrate will draw up the contract and the executioner
will read the marriage service. Oh, the delight of it! I suffer
agonies--but oh, the delight! What a fine thing is hatred, when it makes
death a joy! I am happy in dying. Marie is in prison. Sauverand is
weeping in the condemned man's cell. The door opens....
"Oh, horror! the men in black! They walk up to the bed: 'Gaston
Sauverand, your appeal is rejected. Courage! Be a man!' Oh, the cold,
dark morning--the scaffold! It's your turn, Marie, your turn! Would you
survive your lover? Sauverand is dead: it's your turn. See, here's a
rope for you. Or would you rather have poison? Die, will you, you hussy!
Die with your veins on fire--as I am doing, I who hate you--hate
M. Desmalions ceased, amid the silent astonishment of all those present.
He had great difficulty in reading the concluding lines, the writing
having become almost wholly shapeless and illegible.
He said, in a low voice, as he stared at the paper: "'Hippolyte
Fauville,' The signature is there. The scoundrel found a last remnant
of strength to sign his name clearly. He feared that a doubt might be
entertained of his villainy. And indeed how could any one have
And, looking at Don Luis, he added:
"It needed, to solve the mystery, a really exceptional power of insight
and gifts to which we must all do homage, to which I do homage. All the
explanations which that madman gave have been anticipated in the most
accurate and bewildering fashion."
Don Luis bowed and, without replying to the praise bestowed upon
"You are right, Monsieur le Prefet; he was a madman, and one of the most
dangerous kind, the lucid madman who pursues an idea from which nothing
will make him turn aside. He pursued it with superhuman tenacity and with
all the resources of his fastidious mind, enslaved by the laws of
"Another would have killed his victims frankly and brutally. He set his
wits to work to kill at a long date, like an experimenter who leaves to
time the duty of proving the excellence of his invention. And he
succeeded only too well, because the police fell into the trap and
because Mme. Fauville is perhaps going to die."
M. Desmalions made a gesture of decision. The whole business, in fact,
was past history, on which the police proceedings would throw the
necessary light. One fact alone was of importance to the present: the
saving of Marie Fauville's life.
"It's true," he said, "we have not a minute to lose. Mme. Fauville must
be told without delay. At the same time, I will send for the examining
magistrate; and the case against her is sure to be dismissed at once."
He swiftly gave orders for continuing the investigations and verifying
Don Luis's theories. Then, turning to Perenna:
"Come, Monsieur," he said. "It is right that Mme. Fauville should thank
her rescuer. Mazeroux, you come, too."
The meeting was over, that meeting in the course of which Don Luis had
given the most striking proofs of his genius. Waging war, so to speak,
upon the powers beyond the grave, he had forced the dead man to reveal
his secret. He disclosed, as though he had been present throughout, the
hateful vengeance conceived in the darkness and carried out in the tomb.
* * * * *
M. Desmalions showed all his admiration by his silence and by certain
movements of his head. And Perenna took a keen enjoyment in the strange
fact that he, who was being hunted down by the police a few hours ago,
should now be sitting in a motor car beside the head of that same force.
Nothing threw into greater relief the masterly manner in which he had
conducted the business and the importance which the police attached to
the results obtained. The value of his collaboration was such that they
were willing to forget the incidents of the last two days. The grudge
which Weber bore him was now of no avail against Don Luis Perenna.
M. Desmalions, meanwhile, began briefly to review the new solutions, and
he concluded by still discussing certain points.
"Yes, that's it ... there is not the least shadow of a doubt.... We
agree.... It's that and nothing else. Still, one or two things remain
obscure. First of all, the mark of the teeth. This, notwithstanding the
husband's admission, is a fact which we cannot neglect."
"I believe that the explanation is a very simple one, Monsieur le Prefet.
I will give it to you as soon as I am able to support it with the
"Very well. But another question: how is it that Weber, yesterday
morning, found that sheet of paper relating to the explosion in Mlle.
"And how was it," added Don Luis, laughing, "that I found there the list
of the five dates corresponding with the delivery of the letters?"
"So you are of my opinion?" said M. Desmalions. "The part played by Mlle.
Levasseur is at least suspicious."
"I believe that everything will be cleared up, Monsieur le Prefet, and
that you need now only question Mme. Fauville and Gaston Sauverand in
order to dispel these last obscurities and remove all suspicion from
"And then," insisted M. Desmalions, "there is one more fact that strikes
me as odd. Hippolyte Fauville does not once mention the Mornington
inheritance in his confession. Why? Did he not know of it? Are we to
suppose that there is no connection, beyond a mere casual coincidence,
between the series of crimes and that bequest?"
"There, I am entirely of your opinion, Monsieur le Prefet. Hippolyte
Fauville's silence as to that bequest perplexes me a little, I confess.
But all the same I look upon it as comparatively unimportant. The main
thing is Fauville's guilt and the prisoners' innocence."
Don Luis's delight was pure and unbounded. From his point of view, the
sinister tragedy was at an end with the discovery of the confession
written by Hippolyte Fauville. Anything not explained in those lines
would be explained by the details to be supplied by Mme. Fauville,
Florence Levasseur, and Gaston Sauverand. He himself had lost all
interest in the matter.
The car drew up at Saint-Lazare, the wretched, sordid old prison which is
still waiting to be pulled down.
The Prefect jumped out. The door was opened at once.
"Is the prison governor there?" he asked. "Quick! send for him,
Then, unable to wait, he at once hastened toward the corridors leading to
the infirmary and, as he reached the first-floor landing, came up against
the governor himself.
"Mme. Fauville," he said, without waste of time. "I want to see her--"
But he stopped short when he saw the expression of consternation on the
prison governor's face.
"Well, what is it?" he asked. "What's the matter?"
"Why, haven't you heard, Monsieur le Prefet?" stammered the governor. "I
telephoned to the office, you know--"
"Speak! What is it?"
"Mme. Fauville died this morning. She managed somehow to take poison."
M. Desmalions seized the governor by the arm and ran to the infirmary,
followed by Perenna and Mazeroux.
He saw Marie Fauville lying on a bed in one of the rooms. Her pale face
and her shoulders were stained with brown patches, similar to those
which had marked the bodies of Inspector Verot, Hippolyte Fauville, and
his son Edmond.
Greatly upset, the Prefect murmured:
"But the poison--where did it come from?"
"This phial and syringe were found under her pillow, Monsieur le Prefet."
"Under her pillow? But how did they get there? How did they reach her?
Who gave them to her?"
"We don't know yet, Monsieur le Prefet."
M. Desmalions looked at Don Luis. So Hippolyte Fauville's suicide had not
put an end to the series of crimes! His action had done more than aim at
Marie's death by the hand of the law: it had now driven her to take
poison! Was it possible? Was it admissible that the dead man's revenge
should still continue in the same automatic and anonymous manner?
Or rather--or rather, was there not some other mysterious will which
was secretly and as audaciously carrying on Hippolyte Fauville's
* * * * *
Two days later came a fresh sensation: Gaston Sauverand was found dying
in his cell. He had had the courage to strangle himself with his
bedsheet. All efforts to restore him to life were vain.
On the table near him lay a half-dozen newspaper cuttings, which had been
passed to him by an unknown hand. All of them told the news of Marie
THE HEIR TO THE HUNDRED MILLIONS
On the fourth evening after the tragic events related, an old
cab-driver, almost entirely hidden in a huge great-coat, rang at
Perenna's door and sent up a letter to Don Luis. He was at once shown
into the study on the first floor. Hardly taking time to throw off his
great-coat, he rushed at Don Luis:
"It's all up with you this time, Chief!" he exclaimed. "This is no moment
for joking: pack up your trunks and be off as quick as you can!"
Don Luis, who sat quietly smoking in an easy chair, answered:
"Which will you have, Mazeroux? A cigar or a cigarette?"
Mazeroux at once grew indignant.
"But look here, Chief, don't you read the papers?"
"In that case, the situation must appear as clear to you as it does to me
and everybody else. During the last three days, since the double suicide,
or, rather, the double murder of Marie Fauville and her cousin Gaston
Sauverand, there hasn't been a newspaper but has said this kind of thing:
'And, now that M. Fauville, his son, his wife, and his cousin Gaston
Sauverand are dead, there's nothing standing between Don Luis Perenna and
the Mornington inheritance!'
"Do you understand what that means? Of course, people speak of the
explosion on the Boulevard Suchet and of Fauville's posthumous
revelations; and they are disgusted with that dirty brute of a Fauville;
and they don't know how to praise your cleverness enough. But there is
one fact that forms the main subject of every conversation and every
"Now that the three branches of the Roussel family are extinct, who
remains? Don Luis Perenna. In default of the natural heirs, who inherits
the property? Don Luis Perenna."
"That's what people are saying, Chief. They say that this series of
murders and atrocities cannot be the effort of chance coincidences, but,
on the contrary, points to the existence of an all-powerful will which
began with the murder of Cosmo Mornington and ended with the capture of
the hundred millions. And to give a name to that will, they pitch on the
nearest, that of the extraordinary, glorious, ill-famed, bewildering,
mysterious, omnipotent, and ubiquitous person who was Cosmo Mornington's
intimate friend and who, from the beginning, has controlled events and
pieced them together, accusing and acquitting people, getting them
arrested, and helping them to escape.
"They say," he went on hurriedly, "that he manages the whole business and
that, if he works it in accordance with his interests, there are a
hundred millions waiting for him at the finish. And this person is Don
Luis Perenna, in other words, Arsene Lupin, the man with the unsavoury
reputation whom it would be madness not to think of in connection with so
colossal a job."
"That's what they say, Chief; I'm only telling you. As long as Mme.
Fauville and Gaston Sauverand were alive, people did not give much
thought to your claims as residuary legatee. But both of them died. Then,
you see, people can't help remarking the really surprising persistence
with which luck looks after Don Luis Perenna's interests. You know the
legal maxim: _fecit cui prodest_. Who benefits by the disappearance of
all the Roussel heirs? Don Luis Perenna."
"The scoundrel: that's the word which Weber goes roaring out all along
the passages of the police office and the criminal investigation
department. You are the scoundrel and Florence Levasseur is your
accomplice. And hardly any one dares protest.
"The Prefect of Police? What is the use of his defending you, of his
remembering that you have saved his life twice over and rendered
invaluable services to the police which he is the first to appreciate?
What is the use of his going to the Prime Minister, though we all know
that Valenglay protects you?
"There are others besides the Prefect of Police! There are others besides
the Prime Minister! There's the whole of the detective office, there's
the public prosecutor's staff, there's the examining magistrate, the
press and, above all, public opinion, which has to be satisfied and which
calls for and expects a culprit. That culprit is yourself or Florence
Levasseur. Or, rather, it's you and Florence Levasseur."
Don Luis did not move a muscle of his face. Mazeroux waited a moment
longer. Then, receiving no reply, he made a gesture of despair.
"Chief, do you know what you are compelling me to do? To betray my duty.
Well, let me tell you this: to-morrow morning you will receive a summons
to appear before the examining magistrate. At the end of your
examination, whatever questions may have been put to you and whatever you
may have answered, you will be taken straight to the lockup. The warrant
is signed. That is what your enemies have done."
"And that's not all. Weber, who is burning to take his revenge, has asked
for permission to watch your house from this day onward, so that you may
not slip away as Florence Levasseur did. He will be here with his men in
an hour's time. What do you say to that, Chief?"
Without abandoning his careless attitude, Don Luis beckoned to Mazeroux.
"Sergeant, just look under that sofa between the windows."
Don Luis was serious. Mazeroux instinctively obeyed. Under the sofa was a
"Sergeant, in ten minutes, when I have told my servants to go to bed,
carry the portmanteau to 143 _bis_ Rue de Rivoli, where I have taken a
small flat under the name of M. Lecocq."
"What for, Chief? What does it mean?"
"It means that, having no trustworthy person to carry that portmanteau
for me, I have been waiting for your visit for the last three days."
"Why, but--" stammered Mazeroux, in his confusion.
"Why but what?"
"Had you made up your mind to clear out?"
"Of course I had! But why hurry? The reason I placed you in the detective
office was that I might know what was being plotted against me. Since you
tell me that I'm in danger, I shall cut my stick."
And, as Mazeroux looked at him with increasing bewilderment, he tapped
him on the shoulder and said severely:
"You see, Sergeant, that it was not worth while to disguise yourself as a
cab-driver and betray your duty. You should never betray your duty,
Sergeant. Ask your own conscience: I am sure that it will judge you
according to your deserts."
Don Luis had spoken the truth. Recognizing how greatly the deaths of
Marie Fauville and Sauverand had altered the situation, he considered it
wise to move to a place of safety. His excuse for not doing so before was
that he hoped to receive news of Florence Levasseur either by letter or
by telephone. As the girl persisted in keeping silence, there was no
reason why Don Luis should risk an arrest which the course of events made
And in fact his anticipations were correct. Next morning Mazeroux came to
the little flat in the Rue de Rivoli looking very spry.
"You've had a narrow escape, Chief. Weber heard this morning that the
bird had flown. He's simply furious! And you must confess that the tangle
is getting worse and worse. They're utterly at a loss at headquarters.
They don't even know how to set about prosecuting Florence Levasseur.
"You must have read about it in the papers. The examining magistrate
maintains that, as Fauville committed suicide and killed his son Edmond,
Florence Levasseur has nothing to do with the matter. In his opinion the
case is closed on that side. Well, he's a good one, the examining
magistrate! What about Gaston Sauverand's death? Isn't it as clear as
daylight that Florence had a hand in it, as well as in all the rest?
"Wasn't it in her room, in a volume of Shakespeare, that documents were
found relating to M. Fauville's arrangements about the letters and the
explosion? And then--"
Mazeroux interrupted himself, frightened by the look in Don Luis's eyes
and realizing that the chief was fonder of the girl then ever. Guilty or
not, she inspired him with the same passion.
"All right," said Mazeroux, "we'll say no more about it. The future will
bear me out, you'll see."
* * * * *
The days passed. Mazeroux called as often as possible, or else telephoned
to Don Luis all the details of the two inquiries that were being pursued
at Saint-Lazare and at the Sante Prison.
Vain inquiries, as we know. While Don Luis's statements relating to the
electric chandelier and the automatic distribution of the mysterious
letters were found to be correct, the investigation failed to reveal
anything about the two suicides.
At most, it was ascertained that, before his arrest, Sauverand had tried
to enter into correspondence with Marie through one of the tradesmen
supplying the infirmary. Were they to suppose that the phial of poison
and the hypodermic syringe had been introduced by the same means? It was
impossible to prove; and, on the other hand, it was impossible to
discover how the newspaper cuttings telling of Marie's suicide had found
their way into Gaston Sauverand's cell.
And then the original mystery still remained, the unfathomable mystery of
the marks of teeth in the apple. M. Fauville's posthumous confession
acquitted Marie. And yet it was undoubtedly Marie's teeth that had marked
the apple. The teeth that had been called the teeth of the tiger were
certainly hers. Well, then!
In short, as Mazeroux said, everybody was groping in the dark, so much
so that the Prefect, who was called upon by the will to assemble the
Mornington heirs at a date not less than three nor more than four months
after the testator's decease, suddenly decided that the meeting should
take place in the course of the following week and fixed it for the
ninth of June.
He hoped in this way to put an end to an exasperating case in which the
police displayed nothing but uncertainty and confusion. They would decide
about the inheritance according to circumstances and then close the
proceedings. And gradually people would cease to talk about the wholesale
slaughter of the Mornington heirs; and the mystery of the teeth of the
tiger would be gradually forgotten.
It was strange, but these last days, which were restless and feverish
like all the days that come before great battles--and every one felt that
this last meeting meant a great battle--were spent by Don Luis in an
armchair on his balcony in the Rue de Rivoli, where he sat quietly
smoking cigarettes, or blowing soap-bubbles which the wind carried toward
the garden of the Tuileries.
Mazeroux could not get over it.
"Chief, you astound me! How calm and careless you look!"
"I am calm and careless, Alexandre."
"But what do you mean? Doesn't the case interest you? Don't you intend to
avenge Mme. Fauville and Sauverand? You are openly accused and you sit
here blowing soap-bubbles!"
"There's no more delightful pastime, Alexandre."
"Shall I tell you what I think, Chief? You've discovered the solution of
"Perhaps I have, Alexandre, and perhaps I haven't."
Nothing seemed to excite Don Luis. Hours and hours passed; and he did not
stir from his balcony. The sparrows now came and ate the crumbs which he
threw to them. It really seemed as if the case was coming to an end for
him and as if everything was turning out perfectly.
But, on the day of the meeting, Mazeroux entered with a letter in his
hand and a scared look on his face.
"This is for you, Chief. It was addressed to me, but with an envelope
inside it in your name. How do you explain that?"
"Quite easily, Alexandre. The enemy is aware of our cordial relations;
and, as he does not know where I am staying--"
"I'll tell you to-morrow evening."
Don Luis opened the envelope and read the following words, written
in red ink:
"There's still time, Lupin. Retire from the contest. If not, it means
your death, too. When you think that your object is attained, when your
hand is raised against me and you utter words of triumph, at that same
moment the ground will open beneath your feet. The place of your death is
chosen. The snare is laid. Beware, Lupin."
Don Luis smiled.
"Good," he said. "Things are taking shape,"
"Do you think so, Chief?"
"I do. And who gave you the letter?"
"Ah, we've been lucky for once, Chief! The policeman to whom it was
handed happened to live at Les Ternes, next door to the bearer of the
letter. He knows the fellow well. It was a stroke of luck, wasn't it?"
Don Luis sprang from his seat, radiant with delight.
"What do you mean? Out with it! You know who it is?"
"The chap's an indoor servant employed at a nursing-home in the Avenue
"Let's go there. We've no time to lose."
"Splendid, Chief! You're yourself again."
"Well, of course! As long as there was nothing to do I was waiting for
this evening and resting, for I can see that the fight will be
tremendous. But, as the enemy has blundered at last, as he's given me a
trail to go upon, there's no need to wait, and I'll get ahead of him.
Have at the tiger, Mazeroux!"
* * * * *
It was one o'clock in the afternoon when Don Luis and Mazeroux arrived at
the nursing-home in the Avenue des Ternes. A manservant opened the door.
Mazeroux nudged Don Luis. The man was doubtless the bearer of the letter.
And, in reply to the sergeant's questions, he made no difficulty about
saying that he had been to the police office that morning.
"By whose orders?" asked Mazeroux.
"The mother superior's."
"The mother superior?"
"Yes, the home includes a private hospital, which is managed by nuns."
"Could we speak to the superior?"
"Certainly, but not now: she has gone out."
"When will she be in?"
"Oh, she may be back at any time!"
The man showed them into the waiting-room, where they spent over an hour.
They were greatly puzzled. What did the intervention of that nun mean?
What part was she playing in the case?
People came in and were taken to the patients whom they had called to
see. Others went out. There were also sisters moving silently to and fro
and nurses dressed in their long white overalls belted at the waist.
"We're not doing any good here, Chief," whispered Mazeroux.
"What's your hurry? Is your sweetheart waiting for you?"
"We're wasting our time."
"I'm not wasting mine. The meeting at the Prefect's is not till five."
"What did you say? You're joking, Chief! You surely don't intend to
go to it."
"Why not? Well, the warrant--"
"The warrant? A scrap of paper!"
"A scrap of paper which will become a serious matter if you force the
police to act. Your presence will be looked upon as a provocation--"
"And my absence as a confession. A gentleman who comes into a hundred
millions does not lie low on the day of the windfall. So I must attend
that meeting, lest I should forfeit my claim. And attend it I will."
A stifled cry was heard in front of them; and a woman, a nurse, who was
passing through the room, at once started running, lifted a curtain, and
Don Luis rose, hesitating, not knowing what to do. Then, after four or
five seconds of indecision, he suddenly rushed to the curtain and down
a corridor, came up against a large, leather-padded door which had
just closed, and wasted more time in stupidly fumbling at it with
When he had opened it, he found himself at the foot of a back staircase.
Should he go up it? On the right, the same staircase ran down to the
basement. He went down it, entered a kitchen and, seizing hold of the
cook, said to her, in an angry voice:
"Has a nurse just gone out this way?"
"Do you mean Nurse Gertrude, the new one?"
"Yes, yes, quick! she's wanted upstairs."
"Who wants her?"
"Oh, hang it all, can't you tell me which way she went?"
"Through that door over there."
Don Luis darted away, crossed a little hall, and rushed out on to the
Avenue des Ternes.
"Well, here's a pretty race!" cried Mazeroux, joining him.
Don Luis stood scanning the avenue. A motor bus was starting on the
little square hard by, the Place Saint-Ferdinand.
"She's inside it," he declared. "This time, I shan't let her go."
He hailed a taxi.
"Follow that motor bus, driver, at fifty yards' distance."
"Is it Florence Levasseur?" asked Mazeroux.
"A nice thing!" growled the sergeant. And, yielding to a sudden
outburst: "But, look here, Chief, don't you see? Surely you're not as
blind as all that!"
Don Luis made no reply.
"But, Chief, Florence Levasseur's presence in the nursing-home proves as
clearly as A B C that it was she who told the manservant to bring me that
threatening letter for you! There's not a doubt about it: Florence
Levasseur is managing the whole business.
"You know it as well as I do. Confess! It's possible that, during the
last ten days, you've brought yourself, for love of that woman, to look
upon her as innocent in spite of the overwhelming proofs against her. But
to-day the truth hits you in the eye. I feel it, I'm sure of it. Isn't it
so, Chief? I'm right, am I not? You see it for yourself?"
This time Don Luis did not protest. With a drawn face and set eyes he
watched the motor bus, which at that moment was standing still at the
corner of the Boulevard Haussmann.
"Stop!" he shouted to the driver.
The girl alighted. It was easy to recognize Florence Levasseur under her
nurse's uniform. She cast round her eyes as if to make sure that she was
not being followed, and then took a cab and drove down the boulevard and
the Rue de la Pepiniere, to the Gare Saint-Lazare.
Don Luis saw her from a distance climbing the steps that run up from the
Cour de Rome; and, on following her, caught sight of her again at the
ticket office at the end of the waiting hall.