Part 7 out of 9
"Quick, Mazeroux!" he said. "Get out your detective card and ask the
clerk what ticket she's taken. Run, before another passenger comes."
Mazeroux hurried and questioned the ticket clerk and returned:
"Second class for Rouen."
"Take one for yourself."
Mazeroux did so. They found that there was an express due to start in a
minute. When they reached the platform Florence was stepping into a
compartment in the middle of the train.
The engine whistled.
"Get in," said Don Luis, hiding himself as best he could. "Telegraph to
me from Rouen; and I'll join you this evening. Above all, keep your
eyes on her. Don't let her slip between your fingers. She's very
clever, you know."
"But why don't you come yourself, Chief? It would be much better--"
"Out of the question. The train doesn't stop before Rouen; and I
couldn't be back till this evening. The meeting at the Prefect's is at
"And you insist on going?"
"More than ever. There, jump in!"
He pushed him into one of the end carriages. The train started and soon
disappeared in the tunnel.
Then Don Luis flung himself on a bench in a waiting room and remained
there for two hours, pretending to read the newspapers. But his eyes
wandered and his mind was haunted by the agonizing question that once
more forced itself upon him: was Florence guilty or not?
* * * * *
It was five o'clock exactly when Major Comte d'Astrignac, Maitre
Lepertuis, and the secretary of the American Embassy were shown into M.
Desmalions's office. At the same moment some one entered the messengers'
room and handed in his card.
The messenger on duty glanced at the pasteboard, turned his head quickly
toward a group of men talking in a corner, and then asked the newcomer:
"Have you an appointment, sir?"
"It's not necessary. Just say that I'm here: Don Luis Perenna."
A kind of electric shock ran through the little group in the corner; and
one of the persons forming it came forward. It was Weber, the deputy
The two men looked each other straight in the eyes. Don Luis smiled
amiably. Weber was livid; he shook in every limb and was plainly striving
to contain himself.
Near him stood a couple of journalists and four detectives.
"By Jove! the beggars are there for me!" thought Don Luis. "But their
confusion shows that they did not believe that I should have the cheek to
come. Are they going to arrest me?"
Weber did not move, but in the end his face expressed a certain
satisfaction as though he were saying:
"I've got you this time, my fine fellow, and you shan't escape me."
The office messenger returned and, without a word, led the way for Don
Luis. Perenna passed in front of Weber with the politest of bows,
bestowed a friendly little nod on the detectives, and entered.
The Comte d'Astrignac hurried up to him at once, with hands outstretched,
thus showing that all the tittle-tattle in no way affected the esteem in
which he continued to hold Private Perenna of the Foreign Legion. But the
Prefect of Police maintained an attitude of reserve which was very
significant. He went on turning over the papers which he was examining
and conversed in a low voice with the solicitor and the American
Secretary of Embassy.
Don Luis thought to himself:
"My dear Lupin, there's some one going to leave this room with the
bracelets on his wrists. If it's not the real culprit, it'll be you, my
poor old chap."
And he remembered the early part of the case, when he was in the workroom
at Fauville's house, before the magistrates, and had either to deliver
the criminal to justice or to incur the penalty of immediate arrest. In
the same way, from the start to the finish of the struggle, he had been
obliged, while fighting the invisible enemy, to expose himself to the
attacks of the law with no means of defending himself except by
Harassed by constant onslaughts, never out of danger, he had successively
hurried to their deaths Marie Fauville and Gaston Sauverand, two innocent
people sacrificed to the cruel laws of war. Was he at last about to fight
the real enemy, or would he himself succumb at the decisive moment?
He rubbed his hands with such a cheerful gesture that M. Desmalions
could not help looking at him. Don Luis wore the radiant air of a man
who is experiencing a pure joy and who is preparing to taste others
The Prefect of Police remained silent for a moment, as though asking
himself what that devil of a fellow could be so pleased with; then he
fumbled through his papers once more and, in the end, said:
"We have met again, gentlemen, as we did two months ago, to come to a
definite conclusion about the Mornington inheritance. Senor Caceres, the
attache of the Peruvian legation, will not be here. I have received a
telegram from Italy to tell me that Senor Caceres is seriously ill.
However, his presence was not indispensable. There is no one lacking,
therefore--except those, alas, whose claims this meeting would gladly
have sanctioned, that is to say, Cosmo Mornington's heirs."
"There is one other person absent, Monsieur le Prefet." M. Desmalions
looked up. The speaker was Don Luis. The Prefect hesitated and then
decided to ask him to explain.
"Whom do you mean? What person?"
"The murderer of the Mornington heirs."
This time again Don Luis compelled attention and, in spite of the
resistance which he encountered, obliged the others to take notice of
his presence and to yield to his ascendancy. Whatever happened, they had
to listen to him. Whatever happened, they had to discuss with him things
which seemed incredible, but which were possible because he put them
"Monsieur le Prefet," he asked, "will you allow me to set forth the facts
of the matter as it now stands? They will form a natural sequel and
conclusion of the interview which we had after the explosion on the
M. Desmalions's silence gave Don Luis leave to speak. He at once
"It will not take long, Monsieur le Prefet. It will not take long for two
reasons: first, because M. Fauville's confessions remain at our disposal
and we know definitely the monstrous part which he played; and, secondly,
because, after all, the truth, however complicated it may seem, is really
"It all lies in the objection which you, Monsieur le Prefet, made to me
on leaving the wrecked house on the Boulevard Suchet: 'How is it,' you
asked, 'that the Mornington inheritance is not once mentioned in
Hippolyte Fauville's confession?' It all lies in that, Monsieur le
Prefet. Hippolyte Fauville did not say a word about the inheritance; and
the reason evidently is that he did not know of it.
"And the reason why Gaston Sauverand was able to tell me his whole
sensational story without making the least allusion to the inheritance
was that the inheritance played no sort of part in Gaston Sauverand's
story. He, too, knew nothing of it before those events, any more than
Marie Fauville did, or Florence Levasseur. There is no denying the
fact: Hippolyte Fauville was guided by revenge and by revenge alone.
If not, why should he have acted as he did, seeing that Cosmo
Mornington's millions reverted to him by the fullest of rights?
Besides, if he had wished to enjoy those millions, he would not have
begun by killing himself.
"One thing, therefore, is certain: the inheritance in no way affected
Hippolyte Fauville's resolves or actions. And, nevertheless, one after
the other, with inflexible regularity, as if they had been struck down in
the very order called for by the terms of the Mornington inheritance,
they all disappeared: Cosmo Mornington, then Hippolyte Fauville, then
Edmond Fauville, then Marie Fauville, then Gaston Sauverand. First, the
possessor of the fortune; next, all those whom he had appointed his
legatees; and, I repeat, in the very order in which the will enabled them
to lay claim to the fortune!"
"Is it not strange?" asked Perenna, "and are we not bound to suppose that
there was a controlling mind at the back of it all? Are we not bound to
admit that the formidable contest was influenced by that inheritance, and
that, above the hatred and jealousy of the loathsome Fauville, there
loomed a being endowed with even more tremendous energy, pursuing a
tangible aim and driving to their deaths, one by one, like so many
numbered victims, all the unconscious actors in the tragedy of which he
tied and of which he is now untying the threads?"
Don Luis leaned forward and continued earnestly:
"Monsieur le Prefet, the public instinct so thoroughly agrees with me, a
section of the police, with M. Weber, the deputy chief detective at its
head, argues in a manner so exactly identical with my own, that the
existence of that being is at once confirmed in every mind. There had to
be some one to act as the controlling brain, to provide the will and the
energy. That some one was myself. After all, why not? Did not I possess
the condition which was indispensable to make any one interested in the
murders? Was I not Cosmo Mornington's heir?
"I will not defend myself. It may be that outside interference, it may be
that circumstances, will oblige you, Monsieur le Prefet, to take
unjustifiable measures against me; but I will not insult you by believing
for one second that you can imagine the man whose acts you have been able
to judge for the last two months capable of such crimes. And yet the
public instinct is right in accusing me.
"Apart from Hippolyte Fauville, there is necessarily a criminal; and that
criminal is necessarily Cosmo Mornington's heir. As I am not the man,
another heir of Cosmo Mornington exists. It is he whom I accuse, Monsieur
"There is something more than a dead man's will in the wicked business
that is being enacted before us. We thought for a time that there was
only that; but there is something more. I have not been fighting a dead
man all the time; more than once I have felt the very breath of life
strike against my face. More than once I have felt the teeth of the tiger
seeking to tear me.
"The dead man did much, but he did not do everything. And, even then, was
he alone in doing what he did? Was the being of whom I speak merely one
who executed his orders? Or was he also the accomplice who helped him in
his scheme? I do not know. But he certainly continued a work which he
perhaps began by inspiring and which, in any case, he turned to his own
profit, resolutely completed and carried out to the very end. And he did
so because he knew of Cosmo Mornington's will. It is he whom I accuse,
Monsieur le Prefet.
"I accuse him at the very least of that part of the crimes and felonies
which cannot be attributed to Hippolyte Fauville. I accuse him of
breaking open the drawer of the desk in which Maitre Lepertuis, Cosmo
Mornington's solicitor, had put his client's will. I accuse him of
entering Cosmo Mornington's room and substituting a phial containing a
toxic fluid for one of the phials of glycero-phosphate which Cosmo
Mornington used for his hypodermic injections. I accuse him of playing
the part of a doctor who came to certify Cosmo Mornington's death and of
delivering a false certificate. I accuse him of supplying Hippolyte
Fauville with the poison which killed successively Inspector Verot,
Edmond Fauville, and Hippolyte Fauville himself. I accuse him of arming
and turning against me the hand of Gaston Sauverand, who, acting under
his advice and his instructions, tried three times to take my life and
ended by causing the death of my chauffeur. I accuse him of profiting by
the relations which Gaston Sauverand had established with the infirmary
in order to communicate with Marie Fauville, and of arranging for Marie
Fauville to receive the hypodermic syringe and the phial of poison with
which the poor woman was able to carry out her plans of suicide."
Perenna paused to note the effect of these charges. Then he went on:
"I accuse him of conveying to Gaston Sauverand, by some unknown means,
the newspaper cuttings about Marie Fauville's death and, at the same
time, foreseeing the inevitable results of his act. To sum up, therefore,
without mentioning his share in the other crimes--the death of Inspector
Verot, the death of my chauffeur--I accuse him of killing Cosmo
Mornington, Edmond Fauville, Hippolyte Fauville, Marie Fauville, and
Gaston Sauverand; in plain words, of killing all those who stood between
the millions and himself. These last words, Monsieur le Prefet, will tell
you clearly what I have in my mind.
"When a man does away with five of his fellow creatures in order to
secure a certain number of millions, it means that he is convinced that
this proceeding will positively and mathematically insure his entering
into possession of the millions. In short, when a man does away with a
millionaire and his four successive heirs, it means that he himself is
the millionaire's fifth heir. The man will be here in a moment."
It was a spontaneous exclamation on the part of the Prefect of Police,
who was forgetting the whole of Don Luis Perenna's powerful and closely
reasoned argument, and thinking only of the stupefying apparition which
Don Luis announced. Don Luis replied:
"Monsieur le Prefet, his visit is the logical outcome of my accusations.
Remember that Cosmo Mornington's will explicitly states that no heir's
claim will be valid unless he is present at to-day's meeting."
"And suppose he does not come?" asked the Prefect, thus showing that Don
Luis's conviction had gradually got the better of his doubts.
"He will come, Monsieur le Prefet. If not, there would have been no sense
in all this business. Limited to the crimes and other actions of
Hippolyte Fauville, it could be looked upon as the preposterous work of a
madman. Continued to the deaths of Marie Fauville and Gaston Sauverand,
it demands, as its inevitable outcome, the appearance of a person who, as
the last descendant of the Roussels of Saint-Etienne and consequently as
Cosmo Mornington's absolute heir, taking precedence of myself, will come
to claim the hundred millions which he has won by means of his incredible
"And suppose he does not come?" M. Desmalions once more exclaimed, in a
more vehement tone.
"Then, Monsieur le Prefet, you may take it that I am the culprit; and you
have only to arrest me. This day, between five and six o'clock, you will
see before you, in this room, the person who killed the Mornington heirs.
It is, humanly speaking, impossible that this should not be so.
Consequently, the law will be satisfied in any circumstances. He or I:
the position is quite simple."
M. Desmalions was silent. He gnawed his moustache thoughtfully and walked
round and round the table, within the narrow circle formed by the others.
It was obvious that objections to the supposition were springing up in
his mind. In the end, he muttered, as though speaking to himself:
"No, no. For, after all, how are we to explain that the man should have
waited until now to claim his rights?"
"An accident, perhaps, Monsieur le Prefet, an obstacle of some kind. Or
else--one can never tell--the perverse longing for a more striking
sensation. And remember, Monsieur le Prefet, how minutely and subtly the
whole business was worked. Each event took place at the very moment
fixed by Hippolyte Fauville. Cannot we take it that his accomplice is
pursuing this method to the end and that he will not reveal himself
until the last minute?"
M. Desmalions exclaimed, with a sort of anger:
"No, no, and again no! It is not possible. If a creature monstrous enough
to commit such a series of murders exists, he will not be such a fool as
to deliver himself into our hands."
"Monsieur le Prefet, he does not know the danger that threatens him if he
comes here, because no one has even contemplated the theory of his
existence. Besides, what risk does he run?"
"What risk? Why, if he has really committed those murders--"
"He has committed them, Monsieur le Prefet. He has _caused_ them to be
committed, which is a different thing. And you now see where the man's
unsuspected strength lies! He does not act in person. From the day
when the truth appeared to me, I have succeeded in gradually
discovering his means of action, in laying bare the machinery which he
controls, the tricks which he employs. He does not act in person.
There you have his method. You will find that it is the same
throughout the series of murders.
"In appearance, Cosmo Mornington died of the results of a carelessly
administered injection. In reality, it was this man who caused the
injection to prove fatal. In appearance, Inspector Verot was killed by
Hippolyte Fauville. In reality, it must have been this man who contrived
the murder by pointing out the necessity to Fauville and, so to speak,
guiding his hand. And, in the same way, in appearance, Fauville killed
his son and committed suicide; Marie Fauville committed suicide; Gaston
Sauverand committed suicide. In reality, it was this man who wanted them
dead, who prompted them to commit suicide, and who supplied them with the
means of death.
"There you have the method, and there, Monsieur le Prefet, you have
the man." And, in a lower voice, that contained a sort of
apprehension, he added, "I confess that never before, in the course of
a life that has been full of strange meetings, have I encountered a
more terrifying person, acting with more devilish ability or greater
His words created an ever-increasing sensation among his hearers. They
really saw that invisible being. He took shape in their imaginations.
They waited for him to arrive. Twice Don Luis had turned to the door and
listened. And his action did more than anything else to conjure up the
image of the man who was coming.
M. Desmalions said:
"Whether he acted in person or caused others to act, the law, once it has
hold of him, will know how to--"
"The law will find it no easy matter, Monsieur le Prefet! A man of his
powers and resource must have foreseen everything, even his arrest, even
the accusation of which he would be the subject; and there is little to
be brought against him but moral charges without proofs."
"Then you think--"
"I think, Monsieur le Prefet, that the thing will be to accept his
explanations as quite natural and not to show any distrust. What you
want is to know who he is. Later on, before long, you will be able to
The Prefect of Police continued to walk round the table. Major
d'Astrignac kept his eyes fixed on Perenna, whose coolness amazed him.
The solicitor and the secretary of Embassy seemed greatly excited. In
fact nothing could be more sensational than the thought that filled all
their minds. Was the abominable murderer about to appear before them?
"Silence!" said the Prefect, stopping his walk.
Some one had crossed the anteroom.
There was a knock at the door.
The office messenger entered, carrying a card-tray. On the tray was a
letter; and in addition there was one of those printed slips on which
callers write their name and the object of their visit.
M. Desmalions hastened toward the messenger. He hesitated a moment before
taking up the slip. He was very pale. Then he glanced at it quickly.
"Oh!" he said, with a start.
He looked toward Don Luis, reflected, and then, taking the letter, he
said to the messenger:
"Is the bearer outside?"
"In the anteroom, Monsieur le Prefet."
"Show the person in when I ring."
The messenger left the room.
M. Desmalions stood in front of his desk, without moving. For the second
time Don Luis met his eyes; and a feeling of perturbation came over him.
What was happening?
With a sharp movement the Prefect of Police opened the envelope which he
held in his hand, unfolded the letter and began to read it.
The others watched his every gesture, watched the least change of
expression on his face. Were Perenna's predictions about to be fulfilled?
Was a fifth heir putting in his claim?
The moment he had read the first lines, M. Desmalions looked up and,
addressing Don Luis, murmured:
"You were right, Monsieur. This is a claim."
"On whose part, Monsieur le Prefet?" Don Luis could not help asking.
M. Desmalions did not reply. He finished reading the letter. Then he read
it again, with the attention of a man weighing every word. Lastly, he
"MONSIEUR LE PREFET:
"A chance correspondence has revealed to me the existence of an unknown
heir of the Roussel family. It was only to-day that I was able to
procure the documents necessary for identifying this heir; and, owing to
unforeseen obstacles, it is only at the last moment that I am able to
send them to you _by the person whom they concern_. Respecting a secret
which is not mine and wishing, as a woman, to remain outside a business
in which I have been only accidentally involved, I beg you, Monsieur le
Prefet, to excuse me if I do not feel called upon to sign my name to
So Perenna had seen rightly and events were justifying his forecast. Some
one was putting in an appearance within the period indicated. The claim
was made in good time. And the very way in which things were happening at
the exact moment was curiously suggestive of the mechanical exactness
that had governed the whole business.
The last question still remained: who was this unknown person, the
possible heir, and therefore the five or six fold murderer? He was
waiting in the next room. There was nothing but a wall between him
and the others. He was coming in. They would see him. They would know
who he was.
The Prefect suddenly rang the bell.
A few tense seconds elapsed. Oddly enough, M. Desmalions did not remove
his eyes from Perenna. Don Luis remained quite master of himself, but
restless and uneasy at heart.
The door opened. The messenger showed some one in.
It was Florence Levasseur.
WEBER TAKES HIS REVENGE
Don Luis was for one moment amazed. Florence Levasseur here! Florence,
whom he had left in the train under Mazeroux's supervision and for whom
it was physically impossible to be back in Paris before eight o'clock in
Then, despite his bewilderment, he at once understood. Florence, knowing
that she was being followed, had drawn them after her to the Gare
Saint-Lazare and simply walked through the railway carriage, getting out
on the other platform, while the worthy Mazeroux went on in the train to
keep his eye on the traveller who was not there.
But suddenly the full horror of the situation struck him. Florence was
here to claim the inheritance; and her claim, as he himself had said, was
a proof of the most terrible guilt.
Acting on an irresistible impulse, Don Luis leaped to the girl's side,
seized her by the arm and said, with almost malevolent force:
"What are you doing here? What have you come for? Why did you not
let me know?"
M. Desmalions stepped between them. But Don Luis, without letting go of
the girl's arm, exclaimed:
"Oh, Monsieur le Prefet, don't you see that this is all a mistake? The
person whom we are expecting, about whom I told you, is not this one. The
other is keeping in the background, as usual. Why it's impossible that
"I have no preconceived opinion on the subject of this young lady," said
the Prefect of Police, in an authoritative voice. "But it is my duty to
question her about the circumstances that brought her here; and I shall
certainly do so."
He released the girl from Don Luis's grasp and made her take a seat. He
himself sat down at his desk; and it was easy to see how great an
impression the girl's presence made upon him. It afforded so to speak an
illustration of Don Luis's argument.
The appearance on the scene of a new person, laying claim to the
inheritance, was undeniably, to any logical mind, the appearance on the
scene of a criminal who herself brought with her the proofs of her
crimes. Don Luis felt this clearly and, from that moment, did not take
his eyes off the Prefect of Police.
Florence looked at them by turns as though the whole thing was the most
insoluble mystery to her. Her beautiful dark eyes retained their
customary serenity. She no longer wore her nurse's uniform; and her gray
gown, very simply cut and devoid of ornaments, showed her graceful
figure. She was grave and unemotional as usual.
M. Desmalions said:
"Explain yourself, Mademoiselle."
"I have nothing to explain, Monsieur le Prefet. I have come to you on an
errand which I am fulfilling without knowing exactly what it is about."
"What do you mean? Without knowing what it is about?"
"I will tell you, Monsieur le Prefet. Some one in whom I have every
confidence and for whom I entertain the greatest respect asked me to hand
you certain papers. They appear to concern the question which is the
object of your meeting to-day."
"The question of awarding the Mornington inheritance?"
"You know that, if this claim had not been made in the course of the
present sitting, it would have had no effect?"
"I came as soon as the papers were handed to me."
"Why were they not handed to you an hour or two earlier?"
"I was not there. I had to leave the house where I am staying, in a
Perenna did not doubt that it was his intervention that upset the enemy's
plans by causing Florence to take to flight.
The Prefect continued:
"So you are ignorant of the reasons why you received the papers?"
"Yes, Monsieur le Prefet."
"And evidently you are also ignorant of how far they concern you?"
"They do not concern me, Monsieur le Prefet."
M. Desmalions smiled and, looking into Florence's eyes, said, plainly:
"According to the letter that accompanies them, they concern you
intimately. It seems that they prove, in the most positive manner, that
you are descended from the Roussel family and that you consequently have
every right to the Mornington inheritance."
The cry was a spontaneous exclamation of astonishment and protest.
And she at once went on, insistently:
"I, a right to the inheritance? I have none at all, Monsieur le Prefet,
none at all. I never knew Mr. Mornington. What is this story? There is
She spoke with great animation and with an apparent frankness that would
have impressed any other man than the Prefect of Police. But how could he
forget Don Luis's arguments and the accusation made beforehand against
the person who would arrive at the meeting?
"Give me the papers," he said.
She took from her handbag a blue envelope which was not fastened down and
which he found to contain a number of faded documents, damaged at the
folds and torn in different places.
He examined them amid perfect silence, read them through, studied them
thoroughly, inspected the signatures and the seals through a magnifying
glass, and said:
"They bear every sign of being genuine. The seals are official."
"Then, Monsieur le Prefet--?" said Florence, in a trembling voice.
"Then, Mademoiselle, let me tell you that your ignorance strikes me as
And, turning to the solicitor, he said:
"Listen briefly to what these documents contain and prove. Gaston
Sauverand, Cosmo Mornington's heir in the fourth line, had, as you know,
an elder brother, called Raoul, who lived in the Argentine Republic. This
brother, before his death, sent to Europe, in the charge of an old nurse,
a child of five who was none other than his daughter, a natural but
legally recognized daughter whom he had had by Mlle. Levasseur, a French
teacher at Buenos Ayres.
"Here is the birth certificate. Here is the signed declaration written
entirely in the father's hand. Here is the affidavit signed by the old
nurse. Here are the depositions of three friends, merchants or
solicitors at Buenos Ayres. And here are the death certificates of the
father and mother.
"All these documents have been legalized and bear the seals of the French
consulate. For the present, I have no reason to doubt them; and I am
bound to look upon Florence Levasseur as Raoul Sauverand's daughter and
Gaston Sauverand's niece."
"Gaston Sauvarand's niece? ... His niece?" stammered Florence.
The mention of a father whom she had, so to speak, never known, left her
unmoved. But she began to weep at the recollection of Gaston Sauverand,
whom she loved so fondly and to whom she found herself linked by such a
Were her tears sincere? Or were they the tears of an actress able to play
her part down to the slightest details? Were those facts really revealed
to her for the first time? Or was she acting the emotions which the
revelation of those facts would produce in her under natural conditions?
Don Luis observed M. Desmalions even more narrowly than he did the girl,
and tried to read the secret thoughts of the man with whom the decision
lay. And suddenly he became certain that Florence's arrest was a matter
resolved upon as definitely as the arrest of the most monstrous criminal.
Then he went up to her and said:
She looked at him with her tear-dimmed eyes and made no reply.
Slowly, he said:
"To defend yourself, Florence--for, though I am sure you do not know it,
you are under that obligation--you must understand the terrible position
in which events have placed you.
"Florence, the Prefect of Police has been led by the logical outcome of
those events to come to the final conclusion that the person entering
this room with an evident claim to the inheritance is the person who
killed the Mornington heirs. You entered the room, Florence, and you are
undoubtedly Cosmo Mornington's heir."
He saw her shake from head to foot and turn as pale as death.
Nevertheless, she uttered no word and made no gesture of protest.
He went on:
"It is a formal accusation. Do you say nothing in reply?"
She waited some time and then declared:
"I have nothing to say. The whole thing is a mystery. What would you have
me reply? I do not understand!"
Don Luis stood quivering with anguish in front of her. He stammered:
"Is that all? Do you accept?"
After a second, she said, in an undertone:
"Explain yourself, I beg of you. What you mean, I suppose, is that, if I
do not reply, I accept the accusation?"
She seemed to be suffering hideously. Her beautiful features were
distorted with fear. To her mind, prison evidently represented the
torments undergone by Marie and Sauverand. It must mean despair, shame,
death, all those horrors which Marie and Sauverand had been unable to
avoid and of which she in her turn would become the victim.
An awful sense of hopelessness overcame her, and she moaned:
"How tired I am! I feel that there is nothing to be done! I am stifled by
the mystery around me! Oh, if I could only see and understand!"
There was another long pause. Leaning over her, M. Desmalions studied her
face with concentrated attention. Then, as she did not speak, he put his
hand to the bell on his table and struck it three times.
Don Luis did not stir from where he stood, with his eyes despairingly
fixed on Florence. A battle was raging within him between his love and
generosity, which led him to believe the girl, and his reason, which
obliged him to suspect her. Was she innocent or guilty? He did not know.
Everything was against her. And yet why had he never ceased to love her?
Weber entered, followed by his men. M. Desmalions spoke to him and
pointed to Florence. Weber went up to her.
"Florence!" said Don Luis.
She looked at him and looked at Weber and his men; and, suddenly,
realizing what was coming, she retreated, staggered for a moment,
bewildered and fainting, and fell back in Don Luis's arms:
"Oh, save me, save me! Do save me!"
The action was so natural and unconstrained, the cry of distress so
clearly denoted the alarm which only the innocent can feel, that Don
Luis was promptly convinced. A fervent belief in her lightened his
heart. His doubts, his caution, his hesitation, his anguish: all these
vanished before a certainty that dashed upon him like an irresistible
wave. And he cried:
"No, no, that must not be! Monsieur le Prefet, there are things that
cannot be permitted--"
He stooped over Florence, whom he was holding so firmly in his arms that
nobody could have taken her from him. Their eyes met. His face was close
to the girl's. He quivered with emotion at feeling her throbbing, so
weak, so utterly helpless; and he said to her passionately, in a voice
too low for any but her to hear:
"I love you, I love you.... Ah, Florence, if you only knew what I feel:
how I suffer and how happy I am! Oh, Florence, I love you, I love you--"
Weber had stood aside, at a sign from the Prefect, who wanted to witness
the unexpected conflict between those two mysterious beings, Don Luis
Perenna and Florence Levasseur.
Don Luis unloosed his arms and placed the girl in a chair. Then, putting
his two hands on her shoulders, face to face with her, he said:
"Though you do not understand, Florence, I am beginning to understand a
good deal; and I can already almost see my way in the mystery that
terrifies you. Florence, listen to me. It is not you who are doing all
this, is it? There is somebody else behind you, above you--somebody who
gives you your instructions, isn't there, while you yourself don't know
where he is leading you?"
"Nobody is instructing me. What do you mean? Explain."
"Yes, you are not alone in your life. There are many things which you do
because you are told to do them and because you think them right and
because you do not know their consequences or even that they can have any
consequences. Answer my question: are you absolutely free? Are you not
yielding to some influence?"
The girl seemed to have come to herself, and her face recovered some of
its usual calmness. Nevertheless, it seemed as if Don Luis's question
made an impression on her.
"No," she said, "there is no influence--none at all--I'm sure of it."
He insisted, with growing eagerness:
"No, you are not sure; don't say that. Some one is dominating you without
your knowing it. Think for a moment. You are Cosmo Mornington's heir,
heir to a fortune which you don't care about, I know, I swear! Well, if
you don't want that fortune, to whom will it belong? Answer me. Is there
any one who is interested or believes himself interested in seeing you
rich? The whole question lies in that. Is your life linked with that of
some one else? Is he a friend of yours? Are you engaged to him?"
She gave a start of revolt.
"Oh, never! The man of whom you speak is incapable--"
"Ah," he cried, overcome with jealousy, "you confess it! So the man of
whom I speak exists! I swear that the villain--"
He turned toward M. Desmalions, his face convulsed with hatred. He made
no further effort to contain himself:
"Monsieur le Prefet, we are in sight of the goal. I know the road that
will lead us to it. The wild beast shall be hunted down to-night, or
to-morrow at least. Monsieur le Prefet, the letter that accompanied those
documents, the unsigned letter which this young lady handed you, was
written by the mother superior who manages a nursing-home in the Avenue
"By making immediate inquiries at that nursing-home, by questioning the
superior and confronting her with Mlle. Levasseur, we shall discover the
identity of the criminal himself. But we must not lose a minute, or we
shall be too late and the wild beast will have fled."
His outburst was irresistible. There was no fighting against the violence
of his conviction. Still, M. Desmalions objected:
"Mlle. Levasseur could tell us--"
"She will not speak, or at least not till later, when the man has been
unmasked in her presence. Monsieur le Prefet, I entreat you to have the
same confidence in me as before. Have not all my promises been fulfilled?
Have confidence, Monsieur le Prefet; cast aside your doubts. Remember how
Marie Fauville and Gaston Sauverand were overwhelmed with charges, the
most serious charges, and how they succumbed in spite of their innocence.
"Does the law wish to see Florence Levasseur sacrificed as the two others
were? And, besides, what I ask for is not her release, but the means to
defend her--that is to say, an hour or two's delay. Let Deputy Chief
Weber be responsible for her safe custody. Let your detectives go with
us: these and more as well, for we cannot have too many to capture the
loathsome brute in his lair."
M. Desmalions did not reply. After a brief moment he took Weber
aside and talked to him for some minutes. M. Desmalions did not seem
very favourably disposed toward Don Luis's request. But Weber was
heard to say:
"You need have no fear, Monsieur le Prefet. We run no risk."
And M. Desmalions yielded.
A few moments later Don Luis Perenna and Florence Levasseur took their
seats in a motor car with Weber and two inspectors. Another car, filled
with detectives, followed.
The hospital was literally invested by the police force and Weber
neglected none of the precautions of a regular siege.
The Prefect of Police, who arrived in his own car, was shown by the
manservant into the waiting-room and then into the parlour, where the
mother superior came to him at once. Without delay or preamble of any
sort he put his questions to her, in the presence of Don Luis, Weber,
"Reverend mother," he said, "I have a letter here which was brought to
me at headquarters and which tells me of the existence of certain
documents concerning a legacy. According to my information, this letter,
which is unsigned and which is in a disguised hand, was written by you.
Is that so?"
The mother superior, a woman with a powerful face and a determined air,
replied, without embarrassment:
"That is so, Monsieur le Prefet. As I had the honour to tell you in my
letter, I would have preferred, for obvious reasons, that my name should
not be mentioned. Besides, the delivery of the documents was all that
mattered. However, since you know that I am the writer, I am prepared to
answer your questions."
M. Desmalions continued, with a glance at Florence:
"I will first ask you, Reverend Mother, if you know this young lady?"
"Yes, Monsieur le Prefet. Florence was with us for six months as a nurse,
a few years ago. She gave such satisfaction that I was glad to take her
back this day fortnight. As I had read her story in the papers, I simply
asked her to change her name. We had a new staff at the hospital, and it
was therefore a safe refuge for her."
"But, as you have read the papers, you must be aware of the accusations
"Those accusations have no weight, Monsieur le Prefet, with any one who
knows Florence. She has one of the noblest characters and one of the
strictest consciences that I have ever met with."
The Prefect continued:
"Let us speak of the documents, Reverend Mother. Where do they
"Yesterday, Monsieur le Prefet, I found in my room a communication in
which the writer proposed to send me some papers that interested Florence
"How did any one know that she was here?" asked M. Desmalions,
"I can't tell you. The letter simply said that the papers would be at
Versailles, at the _poste restante_, in my name, on a certain day--that
is to say, this morning. I was also asked not to mention them to anybody
and to hand them at three o'clock this afternoon to Florence Levasseur,
with instructions to take them to the Prefect of Police at once. I was
also requested to have a letter conveyed to Sergeant Mazeroux."
"To Sergeant Mazeroux! That's odd."
"That letter appeared to have to do with the same business. Now, I am
very fond of Florence. So I sent the letter, and this morning went to
Versailles and found the papers there, as stated. When I got back,
Florence was out. I was not able to hand them to her until her return, at
about four o'clock."
"Where were the papers posted?"
"In Paris. The postmark on the envelope was that of the Avenue Niel,
which happens to be the nearest office to this."
"And did not the fact of finding that letter in your room strike you
"Certainly, Monsieur le Prefet, but no stranger than all the other
incidents in the matter."
"Nevertheless," continued M. Desmalions, who was watching Florence's pale
face, "nevertheless, when you saw that the instructions which you
received came from this house and that they concerned a person living in
this house, did you not entertain the idea that that person--"
"The idea that Florence had entered the room, unknown to me, for such a
purpose?" cried the superior. "Oh, Monsieur le Prefet, Florence is
incapable of doing such a thing!"
The girl was silent, but her drawn features betrayed the feelings of
alarm that upset her.
Don Luis went up to her and said:
"The mystery is clearing, Florence, isn't it? And you are suffering in
consequence. Who put the letter in Mother Superior's room? You know,
don't you? And you know who is conducting all this plot?"
She did not answer. Then, turning to the deputy chief, the Prefect said:
"Weber, please go and search the room which Mlle. Levasseur occupied."
And, in reply to the nun's protest:
"It is indispensable," he declared, "that we should know the reasons why
Mlle. Levasseur preserves such an obstinate silence."
Florence herself led the way. But, as Weber was leaving the room, Don
"Take care, Deputy Chief!"
"Take care? Why?"
"I don't know," said Don Luis, who really could not have said why
Florence's behaviour was making him uneasy. "I don't know. Still, I
Weber shrugged his shoulders and, accompanied by the superior, moved
away. In the hall he took two men with him. Florence walked ahead. She
went up a flight of stairs and turned down a long corridor, with rooms on
either side of it, which, after turning a corner, led to a short and very
narrow passage ending in a door.
This was her room. The door opened not inward, into the room, but
outward, into the passage. Florence therefore drew it to her, stepping
back as she did so, which obliged Weber to do likewise. She took
advantage of this to rush in and close the door behind her so quickly
that the deputy chief, when he tried to grasp the handle, merely
struck the air.
He made an angry gesture:
"The baggage! She means to burn some papers!"
And, turning to the superior:
"Is there another exit to the room?"
He tried to open the door, but she had locked and bolted it. Then he
stood aside to make way for one of his men, a giant, who, with one blow
of his fist, smashed a panel.
Weber pushed by him, put his arm through the opening, drew the bolt,
turned the key, pulled open the door and entered.
Florence was no longer in her room. A little open window opposite showed
the way she had taken.
"Oh, curse my luck!" he shouted. "She's cut off!"
And, hurrying back to the staircase, he roared over the balusters:
"Watch all the doors! She's got away! Collar her!"
M. Desmalions came hurrying up. Meeting the deputy, he received his
explanations and then went on to Florence's room. The open window looked
out on a small inner yard, a sort of well which served to ventilate a
part of the house. Some rain-pipes ran down the wall. Florence must have
let herself down by them. But what coolness and what an indomitable will
she must have displayed to make her escape in this manner!
The detectives had already distributed themselves on every side to bar
the fugitive's road. It soon became manifest that Florence, for whom they
were hunting on the ground floor and in the basement, had gone from the
yard into the room underneath her own, which happened to be the mother
superior's; that she had put on a nun's habit; and that, thus disguised,
she had passed unnoticed through the very men who were pursuing her.
They rushed outside. But it was now dark; and every search was bound to
be vain in so populous a quarter.
The Prefect of Police made no effort to conceal his displeasure. Don Luis
was also greatly disappointed at this flight, which thwarted his plans,
and enlarged openly upon Weber's lack of skill.
"I told you so, Deputy Chief! You should have taken your precautions.
Mlle. Levasseur's attitude ought to have warned you. She evidently knows
the criminal and wanted to go to him, ask him for explanations and, for
all we can tell, save him, if he managed to convince her. And what will
happen between them? When the villain sees that he is discovered, he will
be capable of anything."
M. Desmalions again questioned the mother superior and soon learned that
Florence, before taking refuge in the nursing-home, had spent forty-eight
hours in some furnished apartments on the Ile Saint-Louis.
The clue was not worth much, but they could not neglect it. The Prefect
of Police, who retained all his doubts with regard to Florence and
attached extreme importance to the girl's capture, ordered Weber and his
men to follow up this trail without delay. Don Luis accompanied the
Events at once showed that the Prefect of Police was right. Florence had
taken refuge in the lodging-house on the Ile Saint-Louis, where she had
engaged a room under an assumed name. But she had no sooner arrived than
a small boy called at the house, asked for her, and went away with her.
They went up to her room and found a parcel done up in a newspaper,
containing a nun's habit. The thing was obvious.
Later, in the course of the evening, Weber succeeded in discovering the
small boy. He was the son of the porter of one of the houses in the
neighbourhood. Where could he have taken Florence? When questioned, he
definitely refused to betray the lady who had trusted him and who had
cried when she kissed him. His mother entreated him. His father boxed his
ears. He was inflexible.
In any case, it was not unreasonable to conclude that Florence had not
left the Ile Saint-Louis or its immediate vicinity. The detectives
persisted in their search all the evening. Weber established his
headquarters in a tap room where every scrap of information was
brought to him and where his men returned from time to time to receive
his orders. He also remained in constant communication with the
At half-past ten a squad of detectives, sent by the Prefect, placed
themselves at the deputy chief's disposal. Mazeroux, newly arrived from
Rouen and furious with Florence, joined them.
The search continued. Don Luis had gradually assumed its management; and
it was he who, so to speak, inspired Weber to ring at this or that door
and to question this or that person.
At eleven o'clock the hunt still remained fruitless; and Don Luis was the
victim of an increasing and irritating restlessness. But, shortly after
midnight, a shrill whistle drew all the men to the eastern extremity of
the island, at the end of the Quai d'Anjou.
Two detectives stood waiting for them, surrounded by a small crowd of
onlookers. They had just learned that, some distance farther away, on the
Quai Henri IV, which does not form part of the island, a motor car had
pulled up outside a house, that there was the noise of a dispute, and
that the cab had subsequently driven off in the direction of Vincennes.
They hastened to the Quai Henri IV and at once found the house. There was
a door on the ground floor opening straight on the pavement. The taxi had
stopped for a few minutes in front of this door. Two persons, a woman and
a man leading her along, had left the ground floor flat. When the door of
the taxi was shut, a man's voice had shouted from the inside:
"Drive down the Boulevard Saint-Germain and along the quays. Then take
the Versailles Road."
But the porter's wife was able to furnish more precise particulars.
Puzzled by the tenant of the ground floor, whom she had only seen once,
in the evening, who paid his rent by checks signed in the name of Charles
and who but very seldom came to his apartment, she had taken advantage of
the fact that her lodge was next to the flat to listen to the sound of
voices. The man and the woman were arguing. At one moment the man cried,
in a louder tone:
"Come with me, Florence. I insist upon it; and I will give you every
proof of my innocence to-morrow morning. And, if you nevertheless
refuse to become my wife, I shall leave the country. All my
preparations are made."
A little later he began to laugh and, again raising his voice, said:
"Afraid of what, Florence? That I shall kill you perhaps? No, no, have
The portress had heard nothing more. But was this not enough to justify
Don Luis caught hold of the deputy chief:
"Come along! I knew it: the man is capable of anything. It's the tiger!
He means to kill her!"
He rushed outside, dragging the deputy toward the two police
motors waiting five hundred yards down. Meanwhile, Mazeroux was
trying to protest:
"It would be better to search the house, to pick up some clues--"
"Oh," shouted Don Luis, increasing his pace, "the house and the clues
will keep! ... But he's gaining ground, the ruffian--and he has Florence
with him--and he's going to kill her! It's a trap! ... I'm sure of it--"
He was shouting in the dark, dragging the two men along with
They neared the motors.
"Get ready!" he ordered as soon as he was in sight. "I'll drive myself."
He tried to get into the driver's seat. But Weber objected and pushed him
"Don't trouble--the chauffeur knows his business. He'll drive faster than
Don Luis, the deputy chief, and two detectives crowded into the cab;
Mazeroux took his seat beside the chauffeur.
"Versailles Road!" roared Don Luis.
The car started; and he continued:
"We've got him! You see, it's a magnificent opportunity. He must be going
pretty fast, but without forcing the pace, because he doesn't think we're
after him. Oh, the villain, we'll make him sit up! Quicker, driver! But
what the devil are we loaded up like this for? You and I, Deputy Chief,
would have been enough. Hi, Mazeroux, get down and jump into the other
car! That'll be better, won't it, Deputy? It's absurd--"
He interrupted himself; and, as he was sitting on the back seat, between
the deputy chief and a detective, he rose toward the window and muttered:
"Why, look here, what's the idiot doing? That's not the road! I say, what
does this mean?"
A roar of laughter was the only answer. It came from Weber, who was
shaking with delight. Don Luis stifled an oath and, making a tremendous
effort, tried to leap from the car. Six hands fell upon him and held him
motionless. The deputy chief had him by the throat. The detectives
clutched his arms. There was no room for him to struggle within the
restricted space of the small car; and he felt the cold iron of a
revolver on his temple.
"None of your nonsense," growled Weber, "or I'll blow out your brains, my
boy! Aha! you didn't expect this! It's Weber's revenge, eh?"
And, when Perenna continued to wriggle, he went on, in a
"You'll have only yourself to blame, mind!... I'm going to count three:
"But what's it all about?" bellowed Don Luis.
"Prefect's orders, received just now."
"To take you to the lockup if the Florence girl escaped us again."
"Have you a warrant?"
"And what next?"
"What next? Nothing: the Sante--the examining magistrate--"
"But, hang it all, the tiger's making tracks meanwhile! Oh, rot! Is it
possible to be so dense? What mugs those fellows are! Oh, dash it!"
He was fuming with rage, and when he saw that they were driving into
the prison yard, he gathered all his strength, knocked the revolver
out of the deputy's hand, and stunned one of the detectives with a
blow of his fist.
But ten men came crowding round the doors. Resistance was useless. He
understood this, and his rage increased.
"The idiots!" he shouted, while they surrounded him and searched him at
the door of the office. "The rotters! The bunglers! To go mucking up a
job like that! They can lay hands on the villain if they want to, and
they lock up the honest man--while the villain makes himself scarce! And
he'll do more murder yet! Florence! Florence ..."
Under the lamp light, in the midst of the detectives holding him, he was
magnificent in his helpless violence.
They dragged him away. With an unparalleled display of strength, he drew
himself up, shook off the men who were hanging on to him like a pack of
hounds worrying some animal at bay, got rid of Weber, and accosted
Mazeroux in familiar tones. He was gloriously masterful, almost calm, so
wholly did he appear to control his seething rage. He gave his orders in
breathless little sentences, curt as words of command.
"Mazeroux, run around to the Prefect's. Ask him to ring up Valenglay:
yes, the Prime Minister. I want to see him. Have him informed. Ask the
Prefect to say it's I: the man who made the German Emperor play his game.
My name? He knows. Or, if he forgets, the Prefect can tell him my name."
He paused for a second or two; and then, calmer still, he declared:
"Arsene Lupin! Telephone those two words to him and just say this:
'Arsene Lupin wishes to speak to the Prime Minister on very important
business.' Get that through to him at once. The Prime Minister would be
very angry if he heard afterward that they had neglected to communicate
my request. Go, Mazeroux, and then find the villain's tracks again."
The governor of the prison had opened the jail book.
"You can enter my name, Monsieur le Directeur," said Don Luis. "Put down
The governor smiled and said:
"I should find a difficulty in putting down any other. It's on the
warrant: 'Arsene Lupin, alias Don Luis Perenna.'"
Don Luis felt a little shudder pass through him at the sound of those
words. The fact that he was arrested under the name of Arsene Lupin made
his position doubly dangerous.
"Ah," he said, "so they've resolved--"
"I should think so!" said Weber, in a tone of triumph. "We've resolved to
take the bull by the horns and to go straight for Lupin. Plucky of us,
eh? Never fear, we'll show you something better than that!"
Don Luis did not flinch. Turning to Mazeroux again, he said:
"Don't forget my instructions, Mazeroux."
But there was a fresh blow in store for him. The sergeant did not answer
his remark. Don Luis watched him closely and once more gave a start. He
had just perceived that Mazeroux also was surrounded by men who were
holding him tight. And the poor sergeant stood silently shedding tears.
Weber's liveliness increased.
"You'll have to excuse him, Lupin. Sergeant Mazeroux accompanies you to
prison, though not in the same cell."
"Ah!" said Don Luis, drawing himself up. "Is Mazeroux put into jail?"
"Prefect's orders, warrant duly executed."
"And on what charge?"
"Accomplice of Arsene Lupin."
"Mazeroux my accomplice? Get out! Mazeroux? The most honest man that
"The most honest man that ever lived, as you say. That didn't prevent
people from going to him when they wanted to write to you or prevent him
from bringing you the letters. Which proves that he knew where you were
hanging out. And there's a good deal more which we'll explain to you,
Lupin, in good time. You'll have plenty of fun, I assure you."
Don Luis murmured:
"My poor Mazeroux!"
Then, raising his voice, he said:
"Don't cry, old chap. It's just a matter of the remainder of the night.
Yes, I'll share my cards with you and we'll turn the king and mark game
in a very few hours. Don't cry. I've got a much finer berth waiting for
you, a more honourable and above all a more lucrative position. I have
just what you want.
"You don't imagine, surely, that I wasn't prepared for this! Why, you
know me! Take it from me: I shall be at liberty to-morrow, and the
government, after setting you free, will pitch you into a colonelcy or
something, with a marshal's pay attached to it. So don't cry, Mazeroux."
Then, addressing Weber, he said to him in the voice of a principal giving
an order, and knowing that the order will be executed without discussion:
"Monsieur, I will ask you to fulfil the confidential mission which I was
entrusting to Mazeroux. First, inform the Prefect of Police that I have a
communication of the very highest importance to make to the Prime
Minister. Next, discover the tiger's tracks at Versailles before the
night is over. I know your merit, Monsieur, and I rely entirely upon your
diligence and your zeal. Meet me at twelve o'clock to-morrow."
And, still maintaining his attitude of a principal who has given his
instructions, he allowed himself to be taken to his cell.
It was ten to one. For the last fifty minutes the enemy had been bowling
along the highroad, carrying off Florence like a prey which it now seemed
impossible to snatch from him.
The door was locked and bolted.
Don Luis reflected:
"Even presuming that Monsieur le Prefect consents to ring up Valenglay,
he won't do so before the morning. So they've given the villain eight
hours' start before I'm free. Eight hours! Curse it!"
He thought a little longer, then shrugged his shoulders with the air of
one who, for the moment, has nothing better to do than wait, and flung
himself on his mattress, murmuring:
In spite of his usual facility for sleep, Don Luis slept for three hours
at most. He was racked with too much anxiety; and, though his plan of
conduct was worked out mathematically, he could not help foreseeing all
the obstacles which were likely to frustrate that plan. Of course, Weber
would speak to M. Desmalions. But would M. Desmalions telephone to
"He is sure to telephone," Don Luis declared, stamping his foot. "It
doesn't let him in for anything. And at the same time, he would be
running a big risk if he refused, especially as Valenglay must have
been consulted about my arrest and is obviously kept informed of all
He next asked himself what exactly Valenglay could do, once he was told.
For, after all, was it not too much to expect that the head of the
government, that the Prime Minister, should put himself out to obey the
injunctions and assist the schemes of M. Arsene Lupin?
"He will come!" he cried, with the same persistent confidence. "Valenglay
doesn't care a hang for form and ceremony and all that nonsense. He will
come, even if it is only out of curiosity, to learn what the Kaiser's
friend can have to say to him. Besides, he knows me! I am not one of
those beggars who inconvenience people for nothing. There's always
something to be gained by meeting me. He'll come!"
But another question at once presented itself to his mind. Valenglay's
coming in no way implied his consent to the bargain which Perenna meant
to propose to him. And even if Don Luis succeeded in convincing him, what
risks remained! How many doubtful points to overcome! And then the
possibilities of failure!
Would Weber pursue the fugitive's motor car with the necessary decision
and boldness? Would he get on the track again? And, having got on the
track, would he be certain not to lose it?
And then--and then, even supposing that all the chances were favourable,
was it not too late? Taking for granted that they hunted down the wild
beast, that they drove him to bay, would he not meanwhile have killed his
prey? Knowing himself beaten, would a monster of that kind hesitate to
add one more murder to the long list of his crimes?
And this, to Don Luis, was the crowning terror. After all the
difficulties which, in his stubbornly confident imagination, he had
managed to surmount, he was brought face to face with the horrible vision
of Florence being sacrificed, of Florence dead!
"Oh, the torture of it!" he stammered. "I alone could have succeeded; and
they shut me up!"
He hardly put himself out to inquire into the reasons for which M.
Desmalions, suddenly changing his mind, had consented to his arrest, thus
bringing back to life that troublesome Arsene Lupin with whom the police
had not hitherto cared to hamper themselves. No, that did not interest
him. Florence alone mattered. And the minutes passed; and each minute
wasted brought Florence nearer to her doom.
He remembered a similar occasion when, some years before, he waited in
the same way for the door of his cell to open and the German Emperor to
appear. But how much greater was the solemnity of the present moment!
Before, it was at the very most his liberty that was at stake. This time
it was Florence's life which fate was about to offer or refuse him.
"Florence! Florence!" he kept repeating, in his despair.
He no longer had a doubt of her innocence. Nor did he doubt that the
other loved her and had carried her off not so much for the hostage of
a coveted fortune as for a love spoil, which a man destroys if he
cannot keep it.
He was suffering from an extraordinary fit of depression. His defeat
seemed irretrievable. There was no question of hastening after Florence,
of catching the murderer. Don Luis was in prison under his own name of
Arsene Lupin; and the whole problem lay in knowing how long he would
remain there, for months or for years!
It was then that he fully realized what his love for Florence meant. He
perceived that it took the place in his life of his former passions, his
craving for luxury, his desire for mastery, his pleasure in fighting, his
ambition, his revenge. For two months he had been struggling to win her
and for nothing else. The search after the truth and the punishment of
the criminal were to him no more than means of saving Florence from the
dangers that threatened her.
If Florence had to die, if it was too late to snatch her from the enemy,
in that case he might as well remain in prison. Arsene Lupin spending the
rest of his days in a convict settlement was a fitting end to the spoilt
life of a man who had not even been able to win the love of the only
woman he had really loved.
It was a passing mood and, being totally opposed to Don Luis's nature,
finished abruptly in a state of utter confidence which no longer admitted
the least particle of anxiety or doubt. The sun had risen. The cell
gradually became filled with daylight. And Don Luis remembered that
Valenglay reached his office on the Place Beauveau at seven o'clock in
From this moment he felt absolutely calm. Coming events presented an
entirely different aspect to him, as though they had, so to speak, turned
right round. The contest seemed to him easy, the facts free from
complications. He understood as clearly as if the actions had been
performed that his will could not but be obeyed. The deputy chief must
inevitably have made a faithful report to the Prefect of Police. The
Prefect of Police must inevitably that morning have transmitted Arsene
Lupin's request to Valenglay.
Valenglay would inevitably give himself the pleasure of an interview with
Arsene Lupin. Arsene Lupin would inevitably, in the course of that
interview, obtain Valenglay's consent. These were not suppositions, but
certainties; not problems awaiting solution, but problems already solved.
Starting from A and continuing along B and C, you arrive, whether you
wish it or not, at D.
Don Luis began to laugh:
"Come, come, Arsene, old chap, remember that you brought Mr. Hohenzollern
all the way from his Brandenburg Marches. Valenglay does not live as far
as that, by Jove! And, if necessary, you can put yourself out a
little.... That's it: I'll consent to take the first step. I will go and
call on M. de Beauveau. M. Valenglay, it is a pleasure to see you."
He went gayly to the door, pretending that it was open and that he had
only to walk through to be received when his turn came.
He repeated this child's play three times, bowing low and long, as though
holding a plumed hat in his hand, and murmuring:
At the fourth time, the door opened, and a warder appeared.
Don Luis said, in a ceremonious tone:
"I hope I have not kept the Prime Minister waiting?"
There were four inspectors in the corridor.
"Are these gentlemen my escort?" he asked. "That's right. Announce Arsene
Lupin, grandee of Spain, his most Catholic Majesty's cousin. My lords, I
follow you. Turnkey, here are twenty crowns for your pains, my friend."
He stopped in the corridor.
"By Jupiter, no gloves; and I haven't shaved since yesterday!"
The inspectors had surrounded him and were pushing him a little roughly.
He seized two of them by the arm. They groaned.
"That'll teach you," he said. "You've no orders to thrash me, have you?
Nor even to handcuff me? That being so, young fellows, behave!"
The prison governor was standing in the hall.
"I've had a capital night, my dear governor," said Don "Your C.T.C. rooms
are the very acme of comfort. I'll see that the Lockup Arms receives a
star in the 'Baedeker.' Would you like me to write you a testimonial in
your jail book? You wouldn't? Perhaps you hope to see me again? Sorry, my
dear governor, but it's impossible. I have other things to do."
A motor car was waiting in the yard. Don Luis stepped in with the four
"Place Beauveau," he said to the driver.
"No, Rue Vineuse," said one of the detectives, correcting him.
"Oho!" said Don Luis. "His Excellency's private residence! His Excellency
prefers that my visit should be kept secret. That's a good sign. By the
way, dear friends, what's the time?"
His question remained unanswered. And as the detectives had drawn the
blinds, he was unable to consult the clocks in the street.
* * * * *
It was not until he was at Valenglay's, in the Prime Minister's little
ground-floor flat near the Trocadero, that he saw a clock on the
"A quarter to seven!" he exclaimed. "Good! There's not been much
Valenglay's study opened on a flight of steps that ran down to a
garden filled with aviaries. The room itself was crammed with books
A bell rang, and the detectives went out, following the old maidservant
who had shown them in. Don Luis was left alone.
He was still calm, but nevertheless felt a certain uneasiness, a longing
to be up and doing, to throw himself into the fray; and his eyes kept on
involuntarily returning to the face of the clock. The minute hand seemed
endowed with extraordinary speed.
At last some one entered, ushering in a second person. Don Luis
recognized Valenglay and the Prefect of Police.
"That's it," he thought. "I've got him."
He saw this by the sort of vague sympathy perceptible on the old
Premier's lean and bony face. There was not a sign of arrogance, nothing
to raise a barrier between the Minister and the suspicious individual
whom he was receiving: just a manifest, playful curiosity and sympathy,
It was a sympathy which Valenglay had never concealed, and of which he
even boasted when, after Arsene Lupin's sham death, he spoke of the
adventurer and the strange relations between them.
"You have not changed," he said, after looking at him for some time.
"Complexion a little darker, a trifle grayer over the temples,
And putting on a blunt tone, he asked:
"And what is it you want?"
"An answer first of all, Monsieur le President du Conseil. Has Deputy
Chief Weber, who took me to the lockup last night, traced the motor cab
in which Florence Levasseur was carried off?"
"Yes, the motor stopped at Versailles. The persons inside it hired
another cab which is to take them to Nantes. What else do you ask for,
besides that answer?"
"My liberty, Monsieur le President."
"At once, of course?" said Valenglay, beginning to laugh.
"In thirty or thirty-five minutes at most."
"At half-past seven, eh?"
"Half-past seven at latest, Monsieur le President."
"And why your liberty?"
"To catch the murderer of Cosmo Mornington, of Inspector Verot, and of
the Roussel family."
"Are you the only one that can catch him?"
"Still, the police are moving. The wires are at work. The murderer will
not leave France. He shan't escape us."
"You can't find him."
"Yes, we can."
"In that case he will kill Florence Levasseur. She will be the
scoundrel's seventh victim. And it will be your doing."
Valenglay paused for a moment and then resumed:
"According to you, contrary to all appearances, and contrary to the
well-grounded suspicions of Monsieur le Prefet de Police, Florence
Levasseur is innocent?"
"Oh, absolutely, Monsieur le President!"
"And you believe her to be in danger of death?"
"She is in danger of death."
"Are you in love with her?"
Valenglay experienced a little thrill of enjoyment. Lupin in love! Lupin
acting through love and confessing his love! But how exciting!
"I have followed the Mornington case from day to day and I know every
detail of it. You have done wonders, Monsieur. It is evident that, but
for you, the case would never have emerged from the mystery that
surrounded it at the start. But I cannot help noticing that there are
certain flaws in it.
"These flaws, which astonished me on your part, are more easy to
understand when we know that love was the primary motive and the object
of your actions. On the other hand, and in spite of what you say,
Florence Levasseur's conduct, her claims as the heiress, her unexpected
escape from the hospital, leave little doubt in our minds as to the part
which she is playing."
Don Luis pointed to the clock:
"Monsieur le Ministre, it is getting late."
Valenglay burst out laughing.
"I never met any one like you! Don Luis Perenna, I am sorry that I am not
some absolute monarch. I should make you the head of my secret police."
"A post which the German Emperor has already offered me."
"And I refused it."
Valenglay laughed heartily; but the clock struck seven. Don Luis began to
grow anxious. Valenglay sat down and, coming straight to the point, said,
in a serious voice:
"Don Luis Perenna, on the first day of your reappearance--that is to
say, at the very moment of the murders on the Boulevard Suchet--Monsieur
le Prefet de Police and I made up our minds as to your identity. Perenna
"I have no doubt that you understood the reason why we did not wish to
bring back to life the dead man that you were, and why we granted you a
sort of protection. Monsieur le Prefet de Police was entirely of my
opinion. The work which you were pursuing was a salutary work of justice;
and your assistance was so valuable to us that we strove to spare you any
sort of annoyance. As Don Luis Perenna was fighting the good fight, we
left Arsene Lupin in the background. Unfortunately--"
Valenglay paused again and declared:
"Unfortunately, Monsieur le Prefet de Police last night received a
denunciation, supported by detailed proofs, accusing you of being
"Impossible!" cried Don Luis. "That is a statement which no one is able
to prove by material evidence. Arsene Lupin is dead."
"If you like," Valenglay agreed. "But that does not show that Don Luis
Perenna is alive."
"Don Luis Perenna has a duly legalized existence, Monsieur le President."
"Perhaps. But it is disputed."
"By whom? There is only one man who would have the right; and to accuse
me would be his own undoing. I cannot believe him to be stupid enough--"
"Stupid enough, no; but crafty enough, yes."
"You mean Caceres, the Peruvian attache?"
"But he is abroad!"
"More than that: he is a fugitive from justice, after embezzling the
funds of his legation. But before leaving the country he signed a
statement that reached us yesterday evening, declaring that he faked up a
complete record for you under the name of Don Luis Perenna. Here is your
correspondence with him and here are all the papers establishing the
truth of his allegations. Any one will be convinced, on examining them,
first, that you are not Don Luis Perenna, and, secondly, that you are
Don Luis made an angry gesture.
"That blackguard of a Caceres is a mere tool," he snarled. "The other
man's behind him, has paid him, and is controlling his actions. It's the
scoundrel himself; I recognize his touch. He has once more tried to get
rid of me at the decisive moment."
"I am quite willing to believe it," said the Prime Minister. "But as all
these documents, according to the letter that came with them, are only
photographs, and as, if you are not arrested this morning, the originals
are to be handed to a leading Paris newspaper to-night, we are obliged to
take note of the accusation."
"But, Monsieur le President," exclaimed Don Luis, "as Caceres is abroad
and as the scoundrel who bought the papers of him was also obliged to
take to flight before he was able to execute his threats, there is no
fear now that the documents will be handed to the press."
"How do we know? The enemy must have taken his precautions. He may have
"He has none."
"How do we know?"
Don Luis looked at Valenglay and said:
"What is it that you really wish to say, Monsieur le President?"
"I will tell you. Although pressure was brought to bear upon us by
Caceres's threats, Monsieur le Prefet de Police, anxious to see all
possible light shed on the plot played by Florence Levasseur, did not
interfere with your last night's expedition. As that expedition led to
nothing, he determined, at any rate, to profit by the fact that Don Luis
had placed himself at our disposal and to arrest Arsene Lupin.
"If we now let him go the documents will certainly be published; and
you can see the absurd and ridiculous position in which that will place
us in the eyes of the public. Well, at this very moment, you ask for
the release of Arsene Lupin, a release which would be illegal, uncalled
for, and inexcusable. I am obliged, therefore, to refuse it, and I do
He ceased; and then, after a few seconds, he added:
"Unless?" asked Don Luis.
"Unless--and this is what I wanted to say--unless you offer me in
exchange something so extraordinary and so tremendous that I could
consent to risk the annoyance which the absurd release of Arsene Lupin
would bring down upon my head."
"But, Monsieur le President, surely, if I bring you the real criminal,
the murderer of--"
"I don't need your assistance for that."
"And if I give you my word of honour, Monsieur le President, to return
the moment my task is done and give myself up?"
Valenglay struck the table with his fist and, raising his voice,
addressed Don Luis with a certain genial familiarity:
"Come, Arsene Lupin," he said, "play the game! If you really want to have
your way, pay for it! Hang it all, remember that after all this business,
and especially after the incidents of last night, you and Florence
Levasseur will be to the public what you already are: the responsible
actors in the tragedy; nay, more, the real and only criminals. And it is
now, when Florence Levasseur has taken to her heels, that you come and
ask me for your liberty! Very well, but damn it, set a price to it and
don't haggle with me!"
"I am not haggling, Monsieur le President," declared Don Luis, in a very
straightforward manner and tone. "What I have to offer you is certainly
much more extraordinary and tremendous than you imagine. But if it were
twice as extraordinary and twice as tremendous, it would not count once
Florence Levasseur's life is in danger. Nevertheless, I was entitled to
try for a less expensive transaction. Of this your words remove all hope.
I will therefore lay my cards upon the table, as you demand, and as I had
made up my mind to do."
He sat down opposite Valenglay, in the attitude of a man treating with
another on equal terms.
"I shall not be long. A single sentence, Monsieur le President,
will express the bargain which I am proposing to the Prime Minister
of my country."
And, looking Valenglay straight in the eyes, he said slowly, syllable
"In exchange for twenty-four hours' liberty and no more, undertaking on
my honour to return here to-morrow morning and to return here either with
Florence, to give you every proof of her innocence, or without her, to
constitute myself a prisoner, I offer you--"
He took his time and, in a serious voice, concluded:
"I offer you a kingdom, Monsieur le President du Conseil."
The sentence sounded bombastic and ludicrous, sounded silly enough to
provoke a shrug of the shoulders, sounded like one of those sentences
which only an imbecile or a lunatic could utter. And yet Valenglay
remained impassive. He knew that, in such circumstances as the present,
the man before him was not the man to indulge in jesting.
And he knew it so fully that, instinctively, accustomed as he was to
momentous political questions in which secrecy is of the utmost
importance, he cast a glance toward the Prefect of Police, as though M.
Desmalions's presence in the room hindered him.
"I positively insist," said Don Luis, "that Monsieur le Prefet de Police
shall stay and hear what I have to say. He is better able than any one
else to appreciate the value of it; and he will bear witness to its
correctness in certain particulars."
"Speak!" said Valenglay.
His curiosity knew no bounds. He did not much care whether Don Luis's
proposal could have any practical results. In his heart he did not
believe in it. But what he wanted to know was the lengths to which that
demon of audacity was prepared to go, and on what new prodigious
adventure he based the pretensions which he was putting forward so calmly
Don Luis smiled:
"Will you allow me?" he asked.
Rising and going to the mantelpiece, he took down from the wall a
small map representing Northwest Africa. He spread it on the table,
placed different objects on the four corners to hold it in position,
"There is one matter, Monsieur le President, which puzzled Monsieur le
Prefet de Police and about which I know that he caused inquiries to be
made; and that matter is how I employed my time, or, rather, how Arsene
Lupin employed his time during the last three years of his service with
the Foreign Legion."
"Those inquiries were made by my orders," said Valenglay.
"And they led--?"
"So that you do not know what I did during my captivity?"
"I will tell you, Monsieur le President. It will not take me long."
Don Luis pointed with a pencil to a spot in Morocco marked on the map.
"It was here that I was taken prisoner on the twenty-fourth of July. My
capture seemed queer to Monsieur le Prefet de Police and to all who
subsequently heard the details of the incident. They were astonished that
I should have been foolish enough to get caught in ambush and to allow
myself to be trapped by a troop of forty Berber horse. Their surprise is
justified. My capture was a deliberate move on my part.
"You will perhaps remember, Monsieur le President, that I enlisted in the
Foreign Legion after making a fruitless attempt to kill myself in
consequence of some really terrible private disasters. I wanted to die,
and I thought that a Moorish bullet would give me the final rest for
which I longed.
"Fortune did not permit it. My destiny, it seemed, was not yet fulfilled.
Then what had to be was. Little by little, unknown to myself, the thought
of death vanished and I recovered my love of life. A few rather striking
feats of arms had given me back all my self-confidence and all my desire
"New dreams seized hold of me. I fell a victim to a new ideal. From day
to day I needed more space, greater independence, wider horizons, more
unforeseen and personal sensations. The Legion, great as my affection was
for the plucky fellows who had welcomed me so cordially, was no longer
enough to satisfy my craving for activity.
"One day, without thinking much about it, in a blind prompting of my
whole being toward a great adventure which I did not clearly see, but
which attracted me in a mysterious fashion, one day, finding myself
surrounded by a band of the enemy, though still in a position to fight, I
allowed myself to be captured.
"That is the whole story, Monsieur le President. As a prisoner, I was
free. A new life opened before me. However, the incident nearly turned
out badly. My three dozen Berbers, a troop detached from an important
nomad tribe that used to pillage and put to ransom the districts lying on
the middle chains of the Atlas Range, first galloped back to the little
cluster of tents where the wives of their chiefs were encamped under the
guard of some ten men. They packed off at once; and, after a week's march
which I found pretty arduous, for I was on foot, with my hands tied
behind my back, following a mounted party, they stopped on a narrow
upland commanded by rocky slopes and covered with skeletons mouldering
among the stones and with remains of French swords and other weapons.
"Here they planted a stake in the ground and fastened me to it. I
gathered from the behaviour of my captors and from a few words which I
overheard that my death was decided on. They meant to cut off my ears,
nose, and tongue, and then my head.
"However, they began by preparing their repast. They went to a well close
by, ate and drank and took no further notice of me except to laugh at me
and describe the various treats they held in store for me.... Another
night passed. The torture was postponed until the morning, a time that
suited them better. At break of day they crowded round me, uttering yells
and shouts with which were mingled the shrill cries of the women.
"When my shadow covered a line which they had marked on the sand the
night before, they ceased their din, and one of them, who was to perform
the surgical operations prescribed for me, stepped forward and ordered me
to put out my tongue. I did so. He took hold of it with a corner of his
burnous and, with his other hand, drew his dagger from its sheath.
"I shall never forget the ferocity, coupled with ingenuous delight, of
his expression, which was like that of a mischievous boy amusing himself
by breaking a bird's wings and legs. Nor shall I ever forget the man's
stupefaction when he saw that his dagger no longer consisted of anything
but the pommel and a harmless and ridiculously small stump of the blade,
just long enough to keep it in its sheath. His fury was revealed by a
splutter of curses and he at once rushed at one of his friends and
snatched his dagger from him.
"The same stupefaction followed: this dagger was also broken off at the
hilt. The next thing was a general tumult, in which one and all
brandished their knives. But all of them uttered howls of rage.
"There were forty-five men there; and their forty-five knives were
smashed.... The chief flew at me as if holding me responsible for this
incomprehensible phenomenon. He was a tall, lean old man, slightly
hunchbacked, blind of one eye, hideous to look upon. He aimed a huge
pistol point blank at my head and he struck me as so ugly that I burst
out laughing in his face. He pulled the trigger. The pistol missed fire.
He pulled it again. The pistol again missed fire....
"All of them at once began to dance around the stake to which I was
fastened. Gesticulating wildly, hustling one another and roaring like
thunder, they levelled their various firearms at me: muskets, pistols,
carbines, old Spanish blunderbusses. The hammers clicked. But the
muskets, pistols, carbines, and blunderbusses did not go off!
"It was a regular miracle. You should have seen their faces. I never
laughed so much in my life; and this completed their bewilderment.
"Some ran to the tents for more powder. Others hurriedly reloaded their
arms, only to meet with fresh failure, while I did nothing but laugh and
laugh! The thing could not go on indefinitely. There were plenty of other
means of doing away with me. They had their hands to strangle me with,
the butt ends of their muskets to smash my head with, pebbles to stone me
with. And there were over forty of them!
"The old chief picked up a bulky stone and stepped toward me, his
features distorted with hatred. He raised himself to his full height,
lifted the huge block, with the assistance of two of his men, above my
head and dropped it--in front of me, on the stake! It was a staggering
sight for the poor old man. I had, in one second, unfastened my bonds and
sprung backward; and I was standing at three paces from him, with my
hands outstretched before me, and holding in those outstretched hands the
two revolvers which had been taken from me on the day of my capture!
"What followed was the business of a few seconds. The chief now began
to laugh as I had laughed, sarcastically. To his mind, in the disorder
of his brain, those two revolvers with which I threatened him could
have no more effect than the useless weapons which had spared my life.
He took up a large pebble and raised his hand to hurl it at my face.
His two assistants did the same. And all the others were prepared to
follow his example.
"'Hands down!' I cried, 'or I fire!' The chief let fly his stone. At the
same moment three shots rang out. The chief and his two men fell dead to
the ground. 'Who's next?' I asked, looking round the band.
"Forty-two Moors remained. I had eleven bullets left. As none of the men
budged, I slipped one of my revolvers under my arm and took from my
pocket two small boxes of cartridges containing fifty more bullets. And
from my belt I drew three great knives, all of them nicely tapering and
pointed. Half of the troop made signs of submission and drew up in line
behind me. The other half capitulated a moment after. The battle was
over. It had not lasted four minutes."
ARSENE I EMPEROR OP MAURETANIA
Don Luis ceased. A smile of amusement played round his lips. The
recollection of those four minutes seemed to divert him immensely.
Valenglay and the Prefect of Police, who were neither of them men to be
unduly surprised at courage and coolness, had listened to him,
nevertheless, and were now looking at him in bewildered silence. Was it
possible for a human being to carry heroism to such unlikely lengths?
Meanwhile, he went up to the other side of the chimney and pointed to a
larger map, representing the French roads.
"You told me, Monsieur le President, that the scoundrel's motor car had
left Versailles and was going toward Nantes?"
"Yes; and all our arrangements are made to arrest him either on the way,
or else at Nantes or at Saint-Nazaire, where he may intend to take ship."
Don Luis Perenna followed with his forefinger the road across France,
stopping here and there, marking successive stages. And nothing could
have been more impressive than this dumb show.
The man that he was, preserving his composure amid the overthrow of all
that he had most at heart, seemed by his calmness to dominate time and
circumstances. It was as though the murderer were running away at one end
of an unbreakable thread of which Don Luis held the other, and as though
Don Luis could stop his flight at any time by a mere movement of his
finger and thumb.