Part 8 out of 9
As he studied the map, the master seemed to command not only a sheet of
cardboard, but also the highroad on which a motor car was spinning along,
subject to his despotic will.
He went back to the table and continued:
"The battle was over. And there was no question of its being resumed. My
forty-two worthies found themselves face to face with a conqueror,
against whom revenge is always possible, by fair means or foul, but with
one who had subjugated them in a supernatural manner. There was no other
explanation of the inexplicable facts which they had witnessed. I was a
sorcerer, a kind of marabout, a direct emissary of the Prophet."
Valenglay laughed and said:
"Their interpretation was not so very unreasonable, for, after all, you
must have performed a sleight-of-hand trick which strikes me also as
being little less than miraculous."
"Monsieur le President, do you know a curious short story of Balzac's
called 'A Passion in the Desert?'"
"Well, the key to the riddle lies in that."
"Does it? I don't quite see. You were not under the claws of a tigress.
There, was no tigress to tame in this instance."
"No, but there were women."
"Eh? How do you mean?"
"Upon my word, Monsieur le President," said Don Luis gayly, "I should not
like to shock you. But I repeat that the troop which carried me off on
that week's march included women; and women are a little like Balzac's
tigress, creatures whom it is not impossible to tame, to charm, to break
in, until you make friends of them."
"Yes, yes," muttered the Premier, madly puzzled, "but that needs time."
"I had a week."
"And complete liberty of action."
"No, no, Monsieur le President. The eyes are enough to start with. The
eyes give rise to sympathy, interest, affection, curiosity, a wish to
know you better. After that, the merest opportunity--"
"And did an opportunity offer?"
"Yes, one night. I was fastened up, or at least they thought I was. I
knew that the chief's favourite was alone in her tent close by. I went
there. I left her an hour afterward."
"And the tigress was tamed?"
"Yes, as thoroughly as Balzac's: tamed and blindly submissive."
"But there were several of them?"
"I know, Monsieur le President, and that was the difficulty. I was afraid
of rivalry. But all went well: the favourite was not jealous, far from
it. And then, as I have told you, her submission was absolute. In short,
I had five staunch, invisible friends, resolved to do anything I wanted
and suspected by nobody.
"My plan was being carried out before we reached the last halting-place.
My five secret agents collected all the arms during the night. They
dashed the daggers to the ground and broke them. They removed the bullets
from the pistols. They damped the powder. Everything was ready for
ringing up the curtain."
"My compliments! You are a man of resource. And your scheme was not
lacking in charm. For I take it that your five ladies were pretty?"
Don Luis put on a bantering expression. He closed his eyes, as if to
recall his bliss, and let fall the one word:
The epithet gave rise to a burst of merriment. But Don Luis, as though in
a hurry to finish his story, at once went on:
"In any case, they saved my life, the hussies, and their aid never failed
me. My forty-two watch-dogs, deprived of their arms and shaking with fear
in those solitudes where everything is a trap and where death lies in
wait for you at any minute, gathered round me as their real protector.
When we joined the great tribe to which they belonged I was their actual
chief. And it took me less than three months of dangers faced in common,
of ambushes defeated under my advice, of raids and pillages effected by
my direction, to become the chief also of the whole tribe.
"I spoke their language, I practised their religion, I wore their
dress, I conformed to their customs: alas! had I not five wives?
Henceforward, my dream, which had gradually taken definite shape in my
mind, became possible.
"I sent one of my most faithful adherents to France, with sixty letters
to hand to sixty men whose names and addresses he learned by heart.
Those sixty men were sixty associates whom Arsene Lupin had disbanded
before he threw himself from the Capri cliffs. All had retired from
business, with a hundred thousand francs apiece in ready money and a
small trade or public post to keep them occupied. I had provided one
with a tobacconist's shop, another with a job as a park-keeper, others
with sinecures in the government offices. In short, they were
"To all of them--whether public servants, farmers, municipal
councillors, grocers, sacristans, or what not--I wrote the same letter,
made the same offer, and gave the same instructions in case they should
accept.... Monsieur le President, I thought that, of the sixty, ten or
fifteen at most would come and join me: sixty came, Monsieur le
President, sixty, and not one less! Sixty men punctually arrived at the
"On the day fixed, at the hour named, my old armed cruiser, the
_Ascendam_, which they had brought back, anchored in the mouth of the
Wady Draa, on the Atlantic coast, between Cape Nun and Cape Juby. Two
longboats plied to and fro and landed my friends and the munitions of war
which they had brought with them: camp furniture, quick-firing guns,
ammunition, motor-boats, stores and provisions, trading wares, glass
beads, and cases of gold as well, for my sixty good men and true had
insisted on turning their share of the old profits into cash and on
putting into the new venture the six million francs which they had
received from their governor....
"Need I say more, Monsieur le President? Must I tell you what a chief
like Arsene Lupin was able to attempt seconded by sixty fine fellows of
that stamp and backed by an army of ten thousand well-armed and
well-trained Moorish fanatics? He attempted it; and his success was
"I do not think that there has ever been an idyl like that through which
we lived during those fifteen months, first on the heights of the Atlas
range and then in the infernal plains of the Sahara: an idyl of heroism,
of privation, of superhuman torture and superhuman joy; an idyl of hunger
and thirst, of total defeat and dazzling victory....
"My sixty trusty followers threw themselves into their work with might
and main. Oh, what men! You know them, Monsieur le President du Conseil!
You've had them to deal with, Monsieur le Prefet de Police! The beggars!
Tears come to my eyes when I think of some of them.
"There were Charolais and his son, who distinguished themselves in the
case of the Princesse de Lamballe's tiara. There were Marco, who owed his
fame to the Kesselbach case, and Auguste, who was your chief messenger,
Monsieur le President. There were the Growler and the Masher, who
achieved such glory in the hunt for the crystal stopper. There were the
brothers Beuzeville, whom I used to call the two Ajaxes. There were
Philippe d'Antrac, who was better born than any Bourbon, and Pierre Le
Grand and Tristan Le Roux and Joseph Le Jeune."
"And there was Arsene Lupin," said Valenglay, roused to enthusiasm by
this list of Homeric heroes.
"And there was Arsene Lupin," repeated Don Luis.
He nodded his head, smiled, and continued, in a very quiet voice:
"I will not speak of him, Monsieur le President. I will not speak of him,
for the simple reason that you would not believe my story. What they tell
about him when he was with the Foreign Legion is mere child's play beside
what was to come later. Lupin was only a private soldier. In South
Morocco he was a general. Not till then did Arsene Lupin really show what
he could do. And, I say it without pride, not even I foresaw what that
was. The Achilles of the legend performed no greater feats. Hannibal and
Caesar achieved no more striking results.
"All I need tell you is that, in fifteen months, Arsene Lupin conquered a
kingdom twice the size of France. From the Berbers of Morocco, from the
indomitable Tuaregs, from the Arabs of the extreme south of Algeria, from
the negroes who overrun Senegal, from the Moors along the Atlantic coast,
under the blazing sun, in the flames of hell, he conquered half the
Sahara and what we may call ancient Mauretania.
"A kingdom of deserts and swamps? Partly, but a kingdom all the same,
with oases, wells, rivers, forests, and incalculable riches, a kingdom
with ten million men and a hundred thousand warriors. This is the kingdom
which I offer to France, Monsieur le President du Conseil."
Valenglay did not conceal his amazement. Greatly excited and even
perturbed by what he had learned, looking over his extraordinary visitor,
with his hands clutching at the map of Africa, he whispered:
"Explain yourself; be more precise."
Don Luis answered:
"Monsieur le President du Conseil, I will not remind you of the events of
the last few years. France, resolving to pursue a splendid dream of
dominion over North Africa, has had to part with a portion of the Congo.
I propose to heal the painful wound by giving her thirty times as much as
she has lost. And I turn the magnificent and distant dream into an
immediate certainty by joining the small slice of Morocco which you have
conquered to Senegal at one blow.
"To-day, Greater France in Africa exists. Thanks to me, it is a solid and
compact expanse. Millions of square miles of territory and a coastline
stretching for several thousand miles from Tunis to the Congo, save for a
few insignificant interruptions."
"It's a Utopia," Valenglay protested.
"It's a reality."
"Nonsense! It will take us twenty years' fighting to achieve."
"It will take you exactly five minutes!" cried Don Luis, with
irresistible enthusiasm. "What I offer you is not the conquest of an
empire, but a conquered empire, duly pacified and administered, in full
working order and full of life. My gift is a present, not a future gift.
"I, too, Monsieur le President du Conseil, I, Arsene Lupin, had cherished
a splendid dream. After toiling and moiling all my life, after knowing
all the ups and downs of existence, richer than Croesus, because all the
wealth of the world was mine, and poorer than Job, because I had
distributed all my treasures, surfeited with everything, tired of
unhappiness, and more tired still of happiness, sick of pleasure, of
passion, of excitement, I wanted to do something that is incredible in
the present day: to reign!
"And a still more incredible phenomenon: when this thing was
accomplished, when the dead Arsene Lupin had come to life again as a
sultan out of the Arabian Nights, as a reigning, governing, law-giving
Arsene Lupin, head of the state and head of the church, I determined, in
a few years, at one stroke, to tear down the screen of rebel tribes
against which you were waging a desultory and tiresome war in the north
of Morocco, while I was quietly and silently building up my kingdom at
the back of it.
"Then, face to face with France and as powerful as herself, like a
neighbour treating on equal terms, I would have cried to her, 'It's I,
Arsene Lupin! Behold the former swindler and gentleman burglar! The
Sultan of Adrar, the Sultan of Iguidi, the Sultan of El Djouf, the Sultan
of the Tuaregs, the Sultan of Aubata, the Sultan of Brakna and Frerzon,
all these am I, the Sultan of Sultans, grandson of Mahomet, son of Allah,
I, I, I, Arsene Lupin!'
"And, before taking the little grain of poison that sets one free--for a
man like Arsene Lupin has no right to grow old--I should have signed the
treaty of peace, the deed of gift in which I bestowed a kingdom on
France, signed it, below the flourishes of my grand dignitaries, kaids,
pashas, and marabouts, with my lawful signature, the signature to which I
am fully entitled, which I conquered at the point of my sword and by my
all-powerful will: 'Arsene I, Emperor of Mauretania!'"
Don Luis uttered all these words in a strong voice, but without emphasis,
with the very simple emotion and pride of a man who has done much and who
knows the value of what he has done. There were but two ways of replying
to him: by a shrug of the shoulders, as one replies to a madman, or by
the silence that expresses reflection and approval.
The Prime Minister and the Prefect of Police said nothing, but their
looks betrayed their secret thoughts. And deep down within themselves
they felt that they were in the presence of an absolutely exceptional
specimen of mankind, created to perform immoderate actions and fashioned
by his own hand for a superhuman destiny.
Don Luis continued:
"It was a fine curtain, was it not, Monsieur le President du Conseil? And
the end was worthy of the work. I should have been happy to have had it
so. Arsene Lupin dying on a throne, sceptre in hand, would have been a
spectacle not devoid of glamour. Arsene Lupin dying with his title of
Arsene I, Emperor of Mauretania and benefactor of France: what an
apotheosis! The gods have willed it otherwise. Jealous, no doubt, they
are lowering me to the level of my cousins of the old world and turning
me into that absurd creature, a king in exile. Their will be done! Peace
to the late Emperor of Mauretania. He has strutted and fretted his hour
upon the stage.
"Arsene I is dead: long live France! Monsieur le President du Conseil, I
repeat my offer. Florence Levasseur is in danger. I alone can rescue her
from the monster who is carrying her away. It will take me twenty-four
hours. In return for twenty-four hours' liberty I will give you the
Mauretanian Empire. Do you accept, Monsieur le President du Conseil?"
"Well, certainly, I accept," said Valenglay, laughing. "What do you say,
my dear Desmalions? The whole thing may not be very orthodox, but, hang
it! Paris is worth a mass and the Kingdom of Mauretania is a tempting
morsel. We'll risk the experiment."
Don Luis's face expressed so sincere a joy that one might have thought
that he had just achieved the most brilliant victory instead of
sacrificing a crown and flinging into the gutter the most fantastic dream
that mortal man had ever conceived and realized.
"What guarantees do you require, Monsieur le President?"
"I can show you treaties, documents to prove--"
"Don't trouble. We'll talk about all that to-morrow. Meanwhile, go ahead.
You are free."
The essential word, the incredible word, was spoken.
Don Luis took a few steps toward the door.
"One word more, Monsieur le President," he said, stopping. "Among my
former companions is one for whom I procured a post suited to his
inclinations and his deserts. This man I did not send for to come to
Africa, thinking that some day or other he might be of use to me through
the position which he occupied. I am speaking of Mazeroux, a sergeant in
the detective service."
"Sergeant Mazeroux, whom Caceres denounced, with corroborating evidence,
as an accomplice of Arsene Lupin, is in prison."
"Sergeant Mazeroux is a model of professional honour, Monsieur le
President. I owed his assistance only to the fact that I was helping the
police. I was accepted as an auxiliary and more or less patronized by
Monsieur le Prefet. Mazeroux thwarted me in anything I tried to do that
was at all legal. And he would have been the first to take me by the
collar if he had been so instructed. I ask for his release."
"Monsieur le President, your consent will be an act of justice and I beg
you to grant it. Sergeant Mazerou shall leave France. He can be charged
by the government with a secret mission in the south of Morocco, with the
rank of colonial inspector."
"Agreed," said Valenglay, laughing heartily. And he added, "My dear
Prefect, once we depart from the strictly lawful path, there's no saying
where we come to. But the end justifies the means; and the end which we
have in view is to have done with this loathsome Mornington case."
"This evening everything will be settled," said Don Luis.
"I hope so. Our men are on the track."
"They are on the track, but they have to check that track at every town,
at every village, by inquiries made of every peasant they meet; they have
to find out if the motor has not branched off somewhere; and they are
wasting time. I shall go straight for the scoundrel."
"By what miracle?"
"That must be my secret for the present, Monsieur le President."
"Very well. Is there anything you want?"
"This map of France."
"And a couple of revolvers."
"Monsieur le Prefet will be good enough to ask his inspectors for two
revolvers and to give them to you. Is that all? Any money?"
"No, thank you, Monsieur le President. I always carry a useful fifty
thousand francs in my pocket-book, in case of need."
"In that case," said the Prefect of Police, "I shall have to send some
one with you to the lockup. I presume your pocket-book was among the
things taken from you."
Don Luis smiled:
"Monsieur le Prefet, the things that people can take from me are never of
the least importance. My pocket-book is at the lockup, as you say. But
He raised his left leg, took his boot in his hands and gave a slight
twist to the heel. There was a little click, and a sort of double drawer
shot out of the front of the sole. It contained two sheafs of bank notes
and a number of diminutive articles, such as a gimlet, a watch spring,
and some pills.
"The wherewithal to escape," he said, "to live and--to die. Good-bye,
Monsieur le President."
In the hall M. Desmalions told the inspectors to let their prisoner go
free. Don Luis asked:
"Monsieur le Prefet, did Deputy Chief Weber give you any particulars
about the brute's car?"
"Yes, he telephoned from Versailles. It's a deep-yellow car, belonging to
the Compagnie des Cometes. The driver's seat is on the left. He's wearing
a gray cloth cap with a black leather peak."
"Thank you, Monsieur le Prefet."
And he left the house.
* * * * *
An inconceivable thing had happened. Don Luis was free. Half an hour's
conversation had given him the power of acting and of fighting the
He went off at a run. At the Trocadero he jumped into a taxi.
"Go to Issy-les-Moulineaux!" he cried. "Full speed! Forty francs!"
The cab flew through Passy, crossed the Seine and reached the
Issy-les-Moulineaux aviation ground in ten minutes.
None of the aeroplanes was out, for there was a stiff breeze blowing. Don
Luis ran to the sheds. The owners' names were written over the doors.
"Davanne," he muttered. "That's the man I want."
The door of the shed was open. A short, stoutish man, with a long red
face, was smoking a cigarette and watching some mechanics working at a
monoplane. The little man was Davanne himself, the famous airman.
Don Luis took him aside and, knowing from the papers the sort of man that
he was, opened the conversation so as to surprise him from the start:
"Monsieur," he said, unfolding his map of France, "I want to catch up
some one who has carried off the woman I love and is making for Nantes by
motor. The abduction took place at midnight. It is now about eight
o'clock. Suppose that the motor, which is just a hired taxi with a driver
who has no inducement to break his neck, does an average of twenty miles
an hour, including stoppages--in twelve hours' time--that is to say, at
twelve o'clock--our man will have covered two hundred and forty miles and
reached a spot between Angers and Nantes, at this point on the map."
"Les Ponts-de-Drive," agreed Davanne, who was quietly listening.
"Very well. Suppose, on the other hand, that an aeroplane were to start
from Issy-les-Moulineaux at eight o'clock in the morning and travel at
the rate of sixty miles an hour, without stopping--in four hours'
time--that is to say, at twelve o'clock--it would reach Les
Ponts-de-Drive at the exact same moment as the motor. Am I right?"
"In that case, if we agree, all is well. Does your machine carry a
"Sometimes she does."
"We'll start at once. What are your terms?"
"It depends. Who are you?"
"The devil you are!" exclaimed Davanne, a little taken aback.
"I am Arsene Lupin. You must know the best part of what has happened from
reading about it in the papers. Well, Florence Levasseur was kidnapped
last night. I want to save her. What's your price?"
"That's too much!"
"Perhaps, but the adventure amuses me. It will be an advertisement."
"Very well. But your silence is necessary until to-morrow. I'll buy it.
Here's twenty thousand francs."
Ten minutes later Don Luis was dressed in an airman's suit, cap, and
goggles; and an aeroplane rose to a height of two thousand five hundred
feet to avoid the air currents, flew above the Seine, and darted due west
Versailles, Maintenon, Chartres....
Don Luis had never been up in an aeroplane. France had achieved the
conquest of the air while he was fighting with the Legion and in the
plains of the Sahara. Nevertheless, sensitive though he was to new
impressions--and what more exciting impression could he have than
this?--he did not experience the heavenly delight of the man who for the
first time soars above the earth. What monopolized his thoughts,
strained his nerves, and excited his whole being to an exquisite degree
was the as yet impossible but inevitable sight of the motor which they
Amid the tremendous swarm of things beneath them, amid the unexpected din
of the wings and the engine, in the immensity of the sky, in the infinity
of the horizon, his eyes sought nothing but that, and his ears admitted
no other sound than the hum of the invisible car. His were the mighty and
brutal sensations of the hunter chasing his game. He was the bird of prey
whom the distraught quarry has no chance of escaping.
Nogent-le-Rotrou, La Ferte-Bernard, Le Mans....
The two companions did not exchange a single word. Before him Perenna
saw Davanne's broad back and powerful neck and shoulders. But, by
bending his head a little, he saw the boundless space beneath him; and
nothing interested him but the white ribbon of road that ran from town
to town and from village to village, at times quite straight, as though
a hand had stretched it, and at others lazily winding, broken by a river
or a church.
On this ribbon, at some place always closer and closer, were Florence and
He never doubted it! The yellow taxi was continuing its patient and
plucky little effort. Mile after mile, through plains and villages,
fields and forests, it was making Angers, with Les Ponts-de-Drive after,
and, right at the end of the ribbon, the unattainable goal: Nantes,
Saint-Nazaire, the steamer ready to start, and victory for the
He laughed at the idea. As if there could be a question of any victory
but his, the victory of the falcon over its prey, the victory of the
flying bird over the game that runs afoot! Not for a second did he
entertain the thought that the enemy might have slunk away by taking
There are some certainties that are equivalent to facts. And this one
was so great that it seemed to him that his adversaries were obliged
to comply with it. The car was travelling along the road to Nantes.
It would cover an average of twenty miles an hour. And as he himself
was travelling at the rate of sixty miles, the encounter would take
place at the spot named, Les Ponts-de-Drive, and at the hour named,
A cluster of houses, a huge castle, towers, steeples: Angers....
Don Luis asked Davanne the time. It was ten minutes to twelve.
Already Angers was a vanished vision. Once more the open country, broken
up with many-coloured fields. Through it all, a road.
And, on that road, a yellow motor.
The yellow motor! The brute's motor! The motor with Florence Levasseur!
Don Luis's joy contained no surprise. He knew so well that this was bound
Davanne turned round and cried:
"That's the one, isn't it?"
"Yes, go straight for them."
The airship dipped through space and caught up the car almost at once.
Then Davanne slowed his engine and kept at six hundred feet above the car
and a little way behind.
From here they made out all the details. The driver was seated on the
left. He wore a gray cap with a black peak. It was one of the deep-yellow
taxis of the Compagnie des Cometes. It was the taxi which they were
pursuing. And Florence was inside with her abductor.
"At last," thought Don Luis, "I have them!"
They flew for some time, keeping the same distance.
Davanne waited for a signal which Don Luis was in no hurry to give. He
was revelling in the sensation of his power, with a force made up of
mingled pride, hatred, and cruelty. He was indeed the eagle hovering
overhead with its talons itching to rend live flesh. Escaped from the
cage in which he had been imprisoned, released from the bonds that
fastened him, he had come all the way at full flight and was ready to
swoop upon the helpless prey.
He lifted himself in his seat and gave Davanne his instructions:
"Be careful," he said, "not to brush too close by them. They might put a
bullet into us."
Another minute passed.
Suddenly they saw that, half a mile ahead, the road divided into three,
thus forming a very wide open space which was still further extended by
two triangular patches of grass where the three roads met.
"Now?" asked Davanne, turning to Don Luis.
The surrounding country was deserted.
"Off you go!" cried Don Luis.
The aeroplane seemed to shoot down suddenly, as though driven by an
irresistible force, which sent it flying like an arrow toward the mark.
It passed at three hundred feet above the car, and then, all at once,
checking its career, choosing the spot at which it meant to hit the
target, calmly, silently, like a night-bird, steering clear of the trees
and sign-posts, it alighted softly on the grass of the crossroads.
Don Luis sprang out and ran toward the motor, which was coming along at a
rapid pace. He stood in the middle of the road, levelled his two
revolvers, and shouted:
"Stop, or I fire!"
The terrified driver put on both brakes. The car pulled up.
Don Luis rushed to one of the doors.
"Thunder!" he roared, discharging one of his revolvers for no reason and
smashing a window-pane.
There was no one in the car.
"THE SNARE IS LAID. BEWARE, LUPIN!"
The power that had impelled Don Luis to battle and victory was so intense
that it suffered, so to speak, no cheek. Disappointment, rage,
humiliation, torture, were all swallowed up in an immediate desire for
action and information, together with a longing to continue the chase.
The rest was but an incident of no importance, which would soon be very
The petrified taxi-driver was gazing wildly at the peasants coming from
the distant farms, attracted by the sound of the aeroplane. Don Luis took
him by the throat and put the barrel of his revolver to the man's temple:
"Tell me what you know--or you're a dead man."
And when the unhappy wretch began to stammer out entreaties:
"It's no use moaning, no use hoping for assistance.... Those people won't
get here in time. So there's only one way of saving yourself: speak! Last
night a gentleman came to Versailles from Paris in a taxi, left it and
took yours: is that it?"
"The gentleman had a lady with him?"
"And he engaged you to take him to Nantes?"
"But he changed his mind on the way and told you to put him down?"
"Before we got to Mans, in a little road on the right, with a sort of
coach-house, looking like a shed, a hundred yards down it. They both got
"And you went on?"
"He paid me to."
"Five hundred francs. And there was another fare waiting at Nantes that I
was to pick up and bring back to Paris for a thousand francs more."
"Do you believe in that other fare?"
"No. I think he wanted to put people off the scent by sending them after
me to Nantes while he branched off. Still, I had my money."
"And, when you left them, weren't you curious to see what happened?"
"Take care! A movement of my finger and I blow out your brains. Speak!"
"Well, yes, then. I went back on foot, behind a bank covered with trees.
The man had opened the coach-house and was starting a small limousine
car. The lady did not want to get in. They argued pretty fiercely. He
threatened and begged by turns. But I could not hear what they said. She
seemed very tired. He gave her a glass of water, which he drew from a tap
in the wall. Then she consented. He closed the door on her and took his
seat at the wheel."
"A glass of water!" cried Don Luis. "Are you sure he put nothing else
into the glass?"
The driver seemed surprised at the question and then answered:
"Yes, I think he did. He took something from his pocket."
"Without the lady's knowledge?"
"Yes, she didn't see."
Don Luis mastered his horror. After all it was impossible that the
villain had poisoned Florence in that way, at that place, without
anything to warrant so great a hurry. No, it was more likely that he had
employed a narcotic, a drug of some sort which would dull Florence's
brain and make her incapable of noticing by what new roads and through
what towns he was taking her.
"And then," he repeated, "she decided to step in?"
"Yes; and he shut the door and got into the driver's seat. I went
"Before knowing which direction they took?"
"Did you suspect on the way that they thought that they were being
"Certainly. He did nothing but put his head out of the window."
"Did the lady cry out at all?"
"Would you know him again if you saw him?"
"No, I'm sure I shouldn't. At Versailles it was dark. And this morning I
was too far away. Besides, it's curious, but the first time he struck me
as very tall, and this morning, on the contrary, he looked quite a short
man, as though bent in two. I can't understand it at all."
Don Luis reflected. It seemed to him that he had asked all the necessary
questions. Moreover, a gig drawn by a quick-trotting horse was
approaching the crossroads. There were two others behind it. And the
groups of peasants were now quite near. He must finish the business.
He said to the chauffeur:
"I can see by your face that you intend to talk about me. Don't do that,
my man: it would be foolish of you. Here's a thousand-franc note for
you. Only, if you blab, I'll make you repent it. That's all I have to
say to you."
He turned to Davanne, whose machine was beginning to block the traffic,
"Can we start?"
"Whenever you like. Where are we going?"
Paying no attention to the movements of the people coming from every
side, Don Luis unfolded his map of France and spread it out before him.
He experienced a few seconds of anxiety at seeing the complicated tangle
of roads and picturing the infinite number of places to which the villain
might carry Florence. But he pulled himself together. He did not allow
himself to hesitate. He refused even to reflect.
He was determined to find out, and to find out everything, at once,
without clues, without useless consideration, simply by the marvellous
intuition which invariably guided him at any crisis in his life.
And his self-respect also required that he should give Davanne his answer
without delay, and that the disappearance of those whom he was pursuing
should not seem to embarrass him. With his eyes glued to the map, he
placed one finger on Paris and another on Le Mans and, even before he had
asked himself why the scoundrel had chosen that Paris-Le Mans-Angers
route, he knew the answer to the question.
The name of a town had struck him and made the truth appear like a flash
of lightning: Alencon! Then and there, by the light of his memory, he
penetrated the mystery.
"Where are we going? Back again, bearing to the left."
"Any particular place?"
"All right," said Davanne. "Lend a hand, some of you. I can make an easy
start from that field just there."
Don Luis and a few others helped him, and the preparations were soon
made. Davanne tested his engine. Everything was in perfect order.
At that moment a powerful racing car, with a siren yelling like a vicious
animal, came tearing along the Angers Road and promptly stopped. Three
men got out and rushed up to the driver of the yellow taxicab. Don Luis
recognized them. They were Weber, the deputy chief, and the men who had
taken him to the lockup the night before, sent by the Prefect of Police
to follow up the scoundrel's tracks.
They had a brief interchange of words with the cab-driver, which seemed
to put them out; and they kept on gesticulating and plying him with fresh
questions while looking at their watches and consulting their road maps.
Don Luis went up to them. He was unrecognizable, with his head wrapped
in his aviation cap and his face concealed by his goggles. Changing
"The birds have flown, Mr. Deputy Chief," he said.
Weber looked at him in utter amazement,
Don Luis grinned.
"Yes, flown. Our friend from the Ile Saint Louis is an artful dodger,
you know. My lord's in his third motor. After the yellow car of which
you heard at Versailles last night, he took another at Le
The deputy chief opened his eyes in amazement. Who was this person who
was mentioning facts that had been telephoned to police headquarters only
at two o'clock that morning? He gasped:
"But who are you, Monsieur?"
"What? Don't you know me? What's the good of making appointments with
people? You strain every nerve to be punctual, and then they ask you who
you are! Come, Weber, confess that you're doing it to annoy me. Must you
gaze on my features in broad daylight? Here goes!"
He raised his mask.
"Arsene Lupin!" spluttered the detective.
"At your service, young fellow: on foot, in the saddle, and in mid air.
That's where I'm going now. Good-bye."
And so great was Weber's astonishment at seeing Arsene Lupin, whom he had
taken to the lockup twelve hours before, standing in front of him, free,
at two hundred and forty miles from Paris, that Don Luis, as he went back
to Davanne, thought:
"What a crusher! I've knocked him out in one round. There's no hurry. The
referee will count ten at least three times before Weber can say
* * * * *
Davanne was ready. Don Luis climbed into the monoplane. The peasants
pushed at the wheels. The machine started.
"North-northeast," Don Luis ordered. "Ninety miles an hour. Ten
"We've the wind against us," said Davanne.
"Five thousand francs extra for the wind," shouted Don Luis.
He admitted no obstacle in his haste to reach Damigni. He now understood
the whole thing and, harking back to the very beginning, he was surprised
that his mind had never perceived the connection between the two
skeletons hanging in the barn and the series of crimes resulting from the
Mornington inheritance. Stranger still, how was it that the almost
certain murder of Langernault, Hippolyte Fauville's old friend, had not
afforded him all the clues which it contained? The crux of the sinister
plot lay in that.
Who could have intercepted, on Fauville's behalf, the letters of
accusation which Fauville was supposed to write to his old friend
Langernault, except some one in the village or some one who had lived in
And now everything was clear. It was the nameless scoundrel who had
started his career of crime by killing old Langernault and then the
Dedessuslamare couple. The method was the same as later on: it was not
direct murder, but anonymous murder, murder by suggestion. Like
Mornington the American, like Fauville the engineer, like Marie, like
Gaston Sauverand, old Langernault had been craftily done away with and
the Dedessuslamare couple driven to commit suicide in the barn.
It was from there that the tiger had come to Paris, where later he was to
find Fauville and Cosmo Mornington and plot the tragic affair of the
And it was there that he was now returning!
There was no doubt about that. To begin with, the fact that he had
administered a narcotic to Florence constituted an indisputable proof.
Was he not obliged to put Florence to sleep in order to prevent her from
recognizing the landscape at Alencon and Damigni, or the Old Castle,
which she had explored with Gaston Sauverand?
On the other hand, the Le Mans-Angers-Nantes route, which had been taken
to put the police on a false track, meant only an extra hour or two, at
most, for any one motoring to Alencon. Lastly, that coach-house near a
big town, that limousine waiting, ready charged with petrol, showed that
the villain, when he intended to visit his retreat, took the precaution
of stopping at Le Mans, in order to go from there, in his limousine, to
Langernault's deserted estate.
He would therefore reach his lair at ten o'clock that morning. And he
would arrive there with Florence Levasseur dead asleep!
The question forced itself upon him, the terrible persistent
question--what did he mean to do with Florence Levasseur?
"Faster! Faster!" cried Don Luis.
Now that he knew the scoundrel's haunt, the man's scheme became
hideously evident to him. Feeling himself hunted down, lost, an object
of hatred and terror to Florence, whose eyes were now opened to the true
state of things, what plan could he have in mind except his invariable
plan of murder?
"Faster!" cried Don Luis. "We're making no headway. Go faster,
Florence murdered! Perhaps the crime was not yet accomplished. No, it
could not be! Killing takes time. It is preceded by words, by the offer
of a bargain, by threats, by entreaties, by a wholly unspeakable scene.
But the thing was being prepared, Florence was going to die!
Florence was going to die by the hand of the brute who loved her. For he
loved her: Don Luis had an intuition of that monstrous love; and he was
bound to believe that such a love could only end in torture and
Sable ... Sille-le-Guillaume....
The earth sped beneath them. The trees and houses glided by like shadows.
And then Alencon.
It was hardly more than a quarter to two when they landed in a meadow
between the town and Damigni. Don Luis made inquiries. A number of motor
cars had passed along the road to Damigni, including a small limousine
driven by a gentleman who had turned down a crossroad. And this crossroad
led to the woods at the back of Langernault's estate, the Old Castle.
Don Luis's conviction was so firm that, after taking leave of Davanne, he
helped him to start on his homeward flight. He had no further need of
him. He needed nobody. The final duel was at hand.
He ran along, guided by the tracks of the tires in the dust, and followed
the crossroad. To his great surprise this road went nowhere near the wall
behind the barn from which he had jumped a few weeks before. After
clearing the woods, Don Luis came out into a large untilled space where
the road turned back toward the estate and ended at an old two-winged
gate protected with iron sheets and bars.
The limousine had gone in that way.
"And I must get in this way, too," thought Don Luis. "I must get in at
all costs and immediately, without wasting time in looking for an opening
or a handy tree."
Now the wall was thirteen feet high at this spot. Don Luis got in. How he
managed it, by what superhuman effort, he himself could not have said
after he had done it.
Somehow or other, by hanging on to invisible projections, by digging a
knife which he had borrowed from Davanne into the interstices between the
stones, he managed it.
And when he was on the other side he discovered the tracks of the tires
running to the left, toward a part of the grounds which he did not know,
more undulating than the other and broken up with little hills and ruined
buildings covered with thick curtains of ivy.
Deserted though the rest of the park was, this portion seemed much more
uncivilized, in spite of the ragged remains of box and laurel hedges
that stood here and there amidst the nettles and brambles, and the
luxuriant swarm of tall wild-flowers, valerian, mullein, hemlock,
foxglove, and angelica.
Suddenly, on turning the corner of an old hedge of clipped yews, Don Luis
saw the limousine, which had been left, or, rather, hidden there in a
hollow. The door was open. The disorder of the inside of the car, the rug
hanging over the footboard, a broken window, a cushion on the floor, all
bore witness to a struggle. The scoundrel had no doubt taken advantage of
the fact that Florence was asleep to tie her up; and on arriving, when he
tried to take her out of the car, Florence must have clutched at
everything that offered.
Don Luis at once verified the correctness of his theory. As he went along
the very narrow, grass-grown path that led up the slope, he saw that the
grass was uniformly pressed down.
"Oh, the villain!" he thought. "The villain! He doesn't carry his victim,
he drags her!"
If he had listened only to his instinct, he would have rushed to
Florence's rescue. But his profound sense of what to do and what to avoid
saved him from committing any such imprudence. At the first alarm, at the
least sound, the tiger would have throttled his prey. To escape this
hideous catastrophe, Don Luis must take him by surprise and then and
there deprive him of his power of action. He controlled himself,
therefore, and slowly and cautiously mounted the incline.
The path ran upward between heaps of stones and fallen buildings, and
among clumps of shrubs overtopped by beeches and oaks. The place was
evidently the site of the old feudal castle which had given the estate
its name; and it was here, near the top, that the scoundrel had selected
one of his retreats.
The trail continued over the trampled herbage. And Don Luis even caught
sight of something shining on the ground, in a tuft of grass. It was a
ring, a tiny and very simple ring, consisting of a gold circlet and two
small pearls, which he had often noticed on Florence's finger. And the
fact that caught his attention was that a blade of grass passed and
repassed and passed a third time through the inside of the ring, like a
ribbon that had been rolled round it deliberately.
"It's a clear signal," said Perenna to himself. "The villain probably
stopped here to rest; and Florence, bound up; but with her fingers free,
was able to leave this evidence of her passage."
So the girl still hoped. She expected assistance. And Don Luis reflected
with emotion that it was perhaps to him that this last desperate appeal
Fifty steps farther--and this detail pointed to the rather curious
fatigue experienced by the scoundrel--there was a second halt and a
second clue, a flower, a field-sage, which the poor little hand had
picked and plucked of its petals. Next came the print of the five fingers
dug into the ground, and next a cross drawn with a pebble. And in this
way he was able to follow, minute by minute, all the successive stages of
the horrible journey.
The last stopping-place was near. The climb became steeper and rougher.
The fallen stones occasioned more frequent obstacles. On the right the
Gothic arches, the remains of a chapel, stood out against the blue sky.
On the left was a strip of wall with a mantelpiece still clinging to it.
Twenty steps farther Don Luis stopped. He seemed to hear something.
He listened. He was not mistaken. The sound was repeated, and it was the
sound of laughter. But such an awful laugh! A strident laugh, evil as the
laughter of a devil, and so shrill! It was more like the laugh of a
woman, of a madwoman.
Again silence. Then another noise, the noise of an implement striking the
ground, then silence again.
And this was happening at a distance which Don Luis estimated at a
The path ended in three steps cut in the earth. At the top was a fairly
large plateau, also encumbered with rubbish and ruins. In the centre,
opposite Don Luis, stood a screen of immense laurels planted in a
semicircle. The marks of trodden grass led up to it.
Don Luis was a little surprised, for the screen presented an impenetrable
outline. He walked on and found that there had once been a cutting, and
that the branches had ended by meeting again. They were easy to push
aside; and it was through here that the scoundrel must have passed. To
all appearances he was there now, at the end of his journey, not far
away, occupied in some sinister task.
Indeed the air was rent by a chuckle, so close by that Don Luis gave a
start and felt as if the scoundrel were laughing beforehand at his
intervention. He remembered the letter with the 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 the same moment
the ground will open beneath your feet. The place of your death is
chosen. The snare is laid. Beware, Lupin!
The whole letter passed through his brain, with its formidable threat.
And he felt a shiver of fear. But no fear could stay the man that he was.
He had already taken hold of the branches with his hands and was clearing
a way for himself.
He stopped. A last bulwark of leaves hid him from sight. He pulled some
of them aside at the level of his eyes.
And he saw ...
First of all, he saw Florence, alone at this moment, lying on the
ground, bound, at thirty yards in front of him; and he at once
perceived, to his intense delight, from certain movements of her head
that she was still alive. He had come in time. Florence was not dead.
She would not die. That was a certainty against which nothing could
prevail. Florence would not die.
Then he examined the things around. To the right and left of where he
stood the screen of laurels curved and embraced a sort of arena in which,
among yews that had once been clipped into cones, lay capitals, columns,
broken pieces of arches and vaults, obviously placed there to adorn the
formal garden that had been laid out on the ruins of the ancient
In the middle was a small circular space reached by two narrow paths, one
of which presented the same traces of trodden grass and was a
continuation of that by which Don Luis had come, while the other
intersected the first at right angles and joined the two ends of the
screen of shrubs.
Opposite was a confused heap of broken stones and natural rocks, cemented
with clay, bound together by the roots of gnarled trees, the whole
forming at the back of the picture a small, shallow grotto, full of
crevices that admitted the light. The floor, which Don Luis could easily
distinguish, consisted of three or four flagstones.
Florence Levasseur lay inside this grotto, bound hand and foot, looking
like the victim of some mysterious sacrifice about to be performed on the
altar of the grotto, in the amphitheatre of this old garden closed by the
wall of tall laurels and overlooked by a pile of ancestral ruins.
In spite of the distance, Don Luis was able to make out every detail of
her pale face. Though convulsed with anguish, it still retained a certain
serenity, an expression of waiting and even of expectancy, as if
Florence, believing, until the last moment, in the possibility of a
miracle, had not yet relinquished all hope of life.
Nevertheless, though she was not gagged, she did not call for help.
Perhaps she thought that it was useless, and that the road which she had
strewn with the marks of her passing was more likely to bring assistance
to her side than cries, which the villain would soon have stifled.
Strange to say, it seemed to Don Luis as if the girl's eyes were
obstinately fixed on the very spot where he was hiding. Possibly she
suspected his presence. Possibly she foresaw his help.
Suddenly Don Luis clutched one of his revolvers and half raised his arm,
ready to take aim. The sacrificer, the butcher, had just appeared, not
far from the altar on which the victim lay.
He came from between two rocks, of which a bush marked the intervening
space, which apparently afforded but a very low outlet, for he still
walked as though bent double, with his head bowed and his long arms
swinging so low as to touch the ground.
He went to the grotto and gave his horrible chuckle:
"You're still there, I see," he said. "No sign of the rescuer? Perseus is
a little late, I fear. He'd better hurry!"
The tone of his voice was so shrill that Don Luis heard every word, and
so odd, so unhuman, that it gave him a feeling of physical discomfort.
He gripped his revolver tightly, prepared to shoot at the first
"He'd better hurry!" repeated the scoundrel, with a laugh. "If not, all
will be over in five minutes. You see that I'm a man of method, eh,
Florence, my darling?"
He picked up something from the ground. It was a stick shaped like a
crutch. He put it under his left arm and, still bent in two, began to
walk like a man who has not the strength to stand erect. Then suddenly
and with no apparent cause to explain his change of attitude, he drew
himself up and used his crutch as he would a cane. He then walked round
the outside of the grotto, making a careful inspection, the meaning of
which escaped Don Luis for the time.
He was of a good height in this position; and Don Luis easily
understood why the driver of the yellow taxi, who had seen him under
two such different aspects, was unable to say whether he was very tall
or very short.
But his legs, slack and unsteady, gave way beneath him, as if any
prolonged exertion were beyond his power. He relapsed into his
The man was a cripple, smitten with some disease that affected his powers
of locomotion. He was excessively thin. Don Luis also saw his pallid
face, his cavernous cheeks, his hollow temples, his skin the colour of
parchment: the face of a sufferer from consumption, a bloodless face.
When he had finished his inspection, he came up to Florence and said:
"Though you've been very good, baby, and haven't screamed so far, we'd
better take our precautions and remove any possibility of a surprise by
giving you a nice little gag to wear, don't you think?"
He stooped over her and wound a large handkerchief round the lower part
of her face. Then, bending still farther down, he began to speak to her
in a very low voice, talking almost into her ear. But wild bursts of
laughter, horrible to hear, interrupted this whispering.
Feeling the imminence of the danger, dreading some movement on the
wretch's part, a sudden murderous attack, the prompt prick of a poisoned
needle, Don Luis had levelled his revolver and, confident of his skill,
What was happening over there? What were the words spoken? What infamous
bargain was the villain proposing to Florence? At what shameful price
could she obtain her release?
The cripple stepped back angrily, shouting in furious accents:
"But don't you understand that you are done for? Now that I have nothing
more to fear, now that you have been silly enough to come with me and
place yourself in my power, what hope have you left? To move me, perhaps:
is that it? Because I'm burning with passion, you imagine--? Oh, you
never made a greater mistake, my pet! I don't care a fig if you do die.
Once dead, you cease to count....
"What else? Perhaps you consider that, being crippled, I shall not have
the strength to kill you? But there's no question of my killing you,
Florence. Have you ever known me kill people? Never! I'm much too big a
coward, I should be frightened, I should shake all over. No, no,
Florence, I shan't touch you, and yet--
"Here, look what's going to happen, see for yourself. I tell you the
thing's managed in my own style.... And, whatever you do, don't be
afraid. It's only a preliminary warning."
He had moved away and, helping himself with his hands, holding on to the
branches of a tree, he climbed up the first layers of rock that formed
the grotto on the right. Here he knelt down. There was a small pickaxe
lying beside him. He took it and gave three blows to the nearest heap of
stones. They came tumbling down in front of the grotto.
Don Luis sprang from his hiding-place with a roar of terror. He had
suddenly realized the position: The grotto, the accumulation of boulders,
the piles of granite, everything was so placed that its equilibrium could
be shattered at any moment, and that Florence ran the risk of being
buried under the rubbish. It was not a question, therefore, of slaying
the villain, but of saving Florence on the spot.
He was halfway across in two or three seconds. But here, in one of those
mental flashes which are even quicker than the maddest rush, he became
aware that the tracks of trampled grass did not cross the central circus
and that the scoundrel had gone round it. Why? That was one of the
questions which instinct, ever suspicious, puts, but which reason has not
the time to answer. Don Luis went straight ahead. And he had no sooner
set foot on the place than the catastrophe occurred.
It all happened with incredible suddenness, as though he had tried to
walk on space and found himself hurled into it. The ground gave way
beneath him. The clods of grass separated, and he fell.
He fell down a hole which was none other than the mouth of a well four
feet wide at most, the curb of which had been cut down level with the
ground. Only this was what took place: as he was running very fast, his
impetus flung him against the opposite wall in such a way that his
forearms lay on the outer ledge and his hands were able to clutch at the
roots of plants.
So great was his strength that he might just have been able to drag
himself up by his wrists. But responding to the attack, the scoundrel had
at once hurried to meet his assailant and was now standing at ten paces
from Don Luis, threatening him with his revolver:
"Don't move!" he cried, "or I'll smash you!"
Don Luis was thus reduced to helplessness, at the risk of receiving the
Their eyes met for a few seconds. The cripple's were burning with fever,
like the eyes of a sick man.
Crawling along, watching Don Luis's slightest movement, he came and
squatted beside the well. The revolver was levelled in his outstretched
hand. And his infernal chuckle rang out again:
"Lupin! Lupin! That's done it! Lupin's dive!... What a mug you must be! I
warned you, you know, warned you in blood-red ink. Remember my words:
'The place of your death is chosen. The snare is laid. Beware, Lupin!'
And here you are! So you're not in prison? You warded off that stroke,
you rogue, you! Fortunately, I foresaw events and took my precautions.
What do you say to it? What do you think of my little scheme? I said to
myself, 'All the police will come rushing at my heels. But there's only
one who's capable of catching me, and that's Lupin. So we'll show him the
way, we'll lead him on the leash all along a little path scraped clean by
the victim's body.'
"And then a few landmarks, scattered here and there. First, the fair
damsel's ring, with a blade of grass twisted round it; farther on a
flower without its petals; farther on the marks of five fingers in the
ground; next, the sign of the cross.' No mistaking them, was there? Once
you thought me fool enough to give Florence time to play
Hop-o'-my-Thumb's game, it was bound to lead you straight to the mouth of
the well, to the clods of turf which I dabbed across it, last month, in
anticipation of this windfall.
"Remember: 'The snare is laid.' And a snare after my own style, Lupin;
one of the best! Oh, I love getting rid of people with their kind
assistance. We work together like friends and partners. You've caught the
notion, haven't you?
"I don't do my own job. The others do it for me, hanging themselves or
giving themselves careless injections--unless they prefer the mouth of a
well, as you seem to do, Lupin. My poor old chap, what a sticky mess
you're in! I never saw such a face, never, on my word! Florence, do look
at the expression on your swain's mobile features!"
He broke off, seized with a fit of laughter that shook his outstretched
arm, imparted the most savage look to his face, and set his legs jerking
under his body like the legs of a dancing doll. His enemy was growing
weaker before his eyes. Don Luis's fingers, which had first gripped the
roots of the grass, were now vainly clutching the stones of the wall. And
his shoulders were sinking lower and lower into the well.
"We've done it!" spluttered the villain, in the midst of his convulsions
of merriment. "Lord, how good it is to laugh! Especially when one so
seldom does. Yes, I'm a wet blanket, I am; a first-rate man at a funeral!
You've never seen me laugh, Florence, have you? But this time it's really
too amusing. Lupin in his hole and Florence in her grotto; one dancing a
jig above the abyss and the other at her last gasp under her mountain.
What a sight!
"Come, Lupin, don't tire yourself! What's the use of those grimaces?
You're not afraid of eternity, are you? A good man like you, the Don
Quixote of modern times! Come, let yourself go. There's not even any
water in the well to splash about in. No, it's just a nice little slide
into infinity. You can't so much as hear the sound of a pebble when you
drop it in; and just now I threw a piece of lighted paper down and lost
sight of it in the dark. Brrrr! It sent a cold shiver down my back!
"Come, be a man. It'll only take a moment; and you've been through worse
than that! ... Good, you nearly did it then. You're making up your mind
to it.... I say, Lupin! ... Lupin! ... Aren't you going to say good-bye?
Not a smile, not a word of thanks? Au revoir, Lupin, an revoir--"
He ceased. He watched for the appalling end which he had so cleverly
prepared and of which all the incidents were following close on one
another in accordance with his inflexible will.
It did not take long. The shoulders had gone down; the chin; and then the
mouth convulsed with the death-grin; and then the eyes, drunk with
terror; and then the forehead and the hair: the whole head, in short, had
The cripple sat gazing wildly, as though in ecstasy, motionless, with an
expression of fierce delight, and without a word that could trouble the
silence and interrupt his hatred.
At the edge of the abyss nothing remained but the hands, the obstinate,
stubborn, desperate, heroic hands, the poor, helpless hands which alone
still lived, and which, gradually, retreating toward death, yielded and
fell back and let go.
The hands had slipped. For a moment the fingers held on like claws. So
natural was the effort which they made that it looked as if they did not
even yet despair, unaided, of resuscitating and bringing back to the
light of day the corpse already entombed in the darkness. And then they
in their turn gave way. And then--and then, suddenly, there was nothing
more to be seen and nothing more to be heard.
The cripple started to his feet, as though released by a spring, and
yelled with delight:
"Oof! That's done it! Lupin in the bottomless pit! One more adventure
Turning in Florence's direction, he once more danced his dance of death.
He raised himself to his full height and then suddenly crouched down
again, throwing about his legs like the grotesque, ragged limbs of a
scarecrow. And he sang and whistled and belched forth insults and hideous
Then he came back to the yawning mouth of the well and, standing some way
off, as if still afraid to come nearer, he spat into it three times.
Nor was this enough for his hatred. There were some broken pieces of
statuary on the ground. He took a carved head, rolled it along the grass,
and sent it crashing down the well. A little farther away was a stack of
old, rusty cannon balls. These also he rolled to the edge and pushed in.
Five, ten, fifteen cannon balls went scooting down, one after the other,
banging against the walls with a loud and sinister noise which the echo
swelled into the angry roar of distant thunder.
"There, take that, Lupin! I'm sick of you, you dirty cad!
That's for the spokes you put in my wheel, over that damned
inheritance! ... Here, take this, too!... And this!... And
this!... Here's a chocolate for you in case you're hungry.... Do you
want another? Here you are, old chap! catch!"
He staggered, seized with a sort of giddiness, and had to squat on his
haunches. He was utterly spent. However, obeying a last convulsion, he
still found the strength to kneel down by the well, and leaning over the
darkness, he stammered, breathlessly:
"Hi! I say! Corpse! Don't go knocking at the gate of hell at once!... The
little girl's joining you in twenty minutes.... Yes, that's it, at four
o'clock.... You know I'm a punctual man and keep my appointments to the
minute.... She'll be with you at four o'clock exactly.
"By the way, I was almost forgetting: the inheritance--you know,
Mornington's hundred millions--well, that's mine. Why, of course! You
can't doubt that I took all my precautions! Florence will explain
everything presently.... It's very well thought out--you'll
He could not get out another word. The last syllables sounded more
like hiccoughs. The sweat poured from his hair and his forehead, and
he sank to the ground, moaning like a dying man tortured by the last
throes of death.
He remained like that for some minutes, with his head in his hands,
shivering all over his body. He appeared to be suffering everywhere, in
each anguished muscle, in each sick nerve. Then, under the influence of a
thought that seemed to make him act unconsciously, one of his hands crept
spasmodically down his side, and, groping, uttering hoarse cries of pain,
he managed to take from his pocket and put to his lips a phial out of
which he greedily drank two or three mouthfuls.
He at once revived, as though he had swallowed warmth and strength. His
eyes grew calmer, his mouth shaped itself into a horrible smile. He
turned to Florence and said:
"Don't flatter yourself, pretty one; I'm not gone yet, and I've plenty of
time to attend to you. And then, after that, there'll be no more worries,
no more of that scheming and fighting that wears one out. A nice, quiet,
uneventful life for me! ... With a hundred millions one can afford to
take life easy, eh, little girl? ... Come on, I'm feeling much better!"
It was time for the second act of the tragedy. Don Luis Perenna's death
was to be followed by that of Florence. Like some monstrous butcher, the
cripple passed from one to the other with no more compassion than if he
were dealing with the oxen in a slaughter-house.
Still weak in his limbs, he dragged himself to where the girl lay,
took a cigarette from a gun-metal case, and, with a final touch of
"When this cigarette is quite burnt out, Florence, it will be your turn.
Keep your eyes on it. It represents the last minutes of your life reduced
to ashes. Keep your eyes on it, Florence, and think.
"I want you to understand this: all the owners of the estate, and old
Langernault in particular, have always considered that the heap of rocks
and stones overhanging your head was bound to fall to pieces sooner or
later. And I myself, for years, with untiring patience, believing in a
favourable opportunity, have amused myself by making it crumble away
still more, by undermining it with the rain water, in short, by working
at it in such a way that, upon my word, I can't make out how the thing
keeps standing at all. Or, rather, I do understand.
"The few strokes with the pickaxe which I gave it just now were merely
intended for a warning. But I have only to give one more stroke in the
right place, and knock out a little brick wedged in between two lumps of
stone, for the whole thing to tumble to the ground like a house of cards.
"A little brick, Florence," he chuckled, "a tiny little brick which
chance placed there, between two blocks of stone, and has kept in
position until now. Out comes the brick, down come the blocks, and
there's your catastrophe!"
He took breath and continued:
"After that? After that, Florence, this: either the smash will take
place in such a way that your body will not even be in sight, if any one
should dream of coming here to look for you, or else it will be partly
visible, in which case I shall at once cut and destroy the cords with
which you are tied.
"What will the law think then? Simply that Florence Levasseur, a fugitive
from justice, hid herself in a grotto which fell upon her and crushed
her. That's all. A few prayers for the rash creature's soul, and not
"As for me--as for me, when my work is done and my sweetheart dead--I
shall pack my traps, carefully remove all the traces of my coming, smooth
every inch of the trampled grass, jump into my motor car, sham death for
a little while, and then put in a sensational claim for the hundred
He gave a little chuckle, took two or three puffs at his cigarette, and
"I shall claim the hundred millions and I shall get them. That's the
prettiest part of it. I shall claim them because I'm entitled to them;
and I explained to you just now before Master Lupin came interfering,
how, from the moment that you were dead, I had the most undeniable legal
right to them. And I shall get them, because it is physically impossible
to bring up the least sort of proof against me."
He moved closer.
"There's not a charge that can hurt me. Suspicions, yes, moral
presumptions, clues, anything you like, but not a scrap of material
evidence. Nobody knows me. One person has seen me as a tall man, another
as a short man. My very name is unknown. All my murders have been
committed anonymously. All my murders are more like suicides, or can be
explained as suicides.
"I tell you the law is powerless. With Lupin dead, and Florence Levasseur
dead, there's no one to bear witness against me. Even if they arrested
me, they would have to discharge me in the end for lack of evidence. I
shall be branded, execrated, hated, and cursed; my name will stink in
people's nostrils, as if I were the greatest of malefactors. But I shall
possess the hundred millions; and with that, pretty one, I shall possess
the friendship of all decent men!
"I tell you again, with Lupin and you gone, it's all over. There's
nothing left, nothing but some papers and a few little things which I
have been weak enough to keep until now, in this pocket-book here, and
which would be enough and more than enough to cost me my head, if I did
not intend to burn them in a few minutes and send the ashes to the bottom
of the well.
"So you see, Florence, all my measures are taken. You need not hope
for compassion from me, nor for help from anywhere else, since no one
knows where I have brought you, and Arsene Lupin is no longer alive.
Under these conditions, Florence, make your choice. The ending is in
your own hands: either you die, absolutely and irrevocably, or you
accept my love."
There was a moment of silence, then:
"Answer me yes or no. A movement of your head will decide your fate. If
it's no, you die. If it's yes, I shall release you. We will go from here
and, later, when your innocence is proved--and I'll see to that--you
shall become my wife. Is the answer yes, Florence?"
He put the question to her with real anxiety and with a restrained
passion that set his voice trembling. His knees dragged over the
flagstones. He begged and threatened, hungering to be entreated and, at
the same time, almost eager for a refusal, so great was his natural
"Is it yes, Florence? A nod, the least little nod, and I shall believe
you implicitly, for you never lie and your promise is sacred. Is it yes,
Florence? Oh, Florence, answer me! It is madness to hesitate. Your life
depends on a fresh outburst of my anger. Answer me! Here, look, my
cigarette is out. I'm throwing it away, Florence. A sign of your head: is
the answer yes or no?"
He bent over her and shook her by the shoulders, as if to force her to
make the sign which he asked for. But suddenly seized with a sort of
frenzy, he rose to his feet and exclaimed:
"She's crying! She's crying! She dares to weep! But, wretched girl, do
you think that I don't know what you're crying for? I know your secret,
pretty one, and I know that your tears do not come from any fear of
dying. You? Why, you fear nothing! No, it's something else! Shall I tell
you your secret? Oh, I can't, I can't--though the words scorch my lips.
Oh, cursed woman, you've brought it on yourself! You yourself want to
die, Florence, as you're crying--you yourself want to die--"
While he was speaking he hastened to get to work and prepare the horrible
tragedy. The leather pocket-book which he had mentioned as containing the
papers was lying on the ground; he put it in his pocket. Then, still
trembling, he pulled off his jacket and threw it on the nearest bush.
Next, he took up the pickaxe and climbed the lower stones, stamping with
rage and shouting:
"It's you who have asked to die, Florence! Nothing can prevent it now.
I can't even see your head, if you make a sign. It's too late! You
asked for it and you've got it! Ah, you're crying! You dare to cry!
He was standing almost above the grotto, on the right. His anger made him
draw himself to his full height. He looked horrible, hideous, atrocious.
His eyes filled with blood as he inserted the bar of the pickaxe between
the two blocks of granite, at the spot where the brick was wedged in.
Then, standing on one side, in a place of safety, he struck the brick,
struck it again. At the third stroke the brick flew out.
What happened was so sudden, the pyramid of stones and rubbish came
crashing with such violence into the hollow of the grotto and in front of
the grotto, that the cripple himself, in spite of his precautions, was
dragged down by the avalanche and thrown upon the grass. It was not a
serious fall, however, and he picked himself up at once, stammering:
Though he had so carefully prepared the catastrophe, and brought it about
with such determination, its results seemed suddenly to stagger him. He
hunted for the girl with terrified eyes. He stooped down and crawled
round the chaos shrouded in clouds of dust. He looked through the
interstices. He saw nothing.
Florence was buried under the ruins, dead, invisible, as be had
"Dead!" he said, with staring eyes and a look of stupor on his face.
"Dead! Florence is dead!"
Once again he lapsed into a state of absolute prostration, which
gradually slackened his legs, brought him to the ground and paralyzed
him. His two efforts, following so close upon each other and ending in
disasters of which he had been the immediate witness, seemed to have
robbed him of all his remaining energy.
With no hatred in him, since Arsene Lupin no longer lived, with no love,
since Florence was no more, he looked like a man who has lost his last
motive for existence.
Twice his lips uttered the name of Florence. Was he regretting his
friend? Having reached the last of that appalling series of crimes, was
he imagining the several stages, each marked with a corpse? Was something
like a conscience making itself felt deep down in that brute? Or was it
not rather the sort of physical torpor that numbs the sated beast of
prey, glutted with flesh, drunk with blood, a torpor that is almost
Nevertheless, he once more repeated Florence's name, and tears rolled
down his cheeks.
He lay long in this condition, gloomy and motionless; and when, after
again taking a few sips of his medicine, he went back to his work, he
did so mechanically, with none of that gayety which had made him hop
on his legs and set about his murder as though he were going to a
He began by returning to the bush from which Lupin had seen him emerge.
Behind this bush, between two trees, was a shelter containing tools and
arms, spades, rakes, guns, and rolls of wire and rope.
Making several journeys, he carried them to the well, intending to throw
them down it before he went away. He next examined every particle of the
little mound up which he had climbed, in order to make sure that he was
not leaving the least trace of his passage.
He made a similar examination of those parts of the lawn on which he had
stepped, except the path leading to the well, the inspection of which he
kept for the last. He brushed up the trodden grass and carefully smoothed
the trampled earth.
He was obviously anxious and seemed to be thinking of other things, while
at the same time mechanically doing those things which a murderer knows
by force of habit that it is wise to do.
One little incident seemed to wake him up. A wounded swallow fell to the
ground close by where he stood. He stooped, caught it, and crushed it in
his hands, kneading it like a scrap of crumpled paper. And his eyes shone
with a savage delight as he gazed at the blood that trickled from the
poor bird and reddened his hands.
But, when he flung the shapeless little body into a furze bush, he saw on
the spikes in the bush a hair, a long, fair hair; and all his depression
returned at the memory of Florence.
He knelt in front of the ruined grotto. Then, breaking two sticks
of wood, he placed the pieces in the form of a cross under one of
As he was bending over, a little looking-glass slipped from his waistcoat
pocket and, striking a pebble, broke. This sign of ill luck made a great
impression on him, He cast a suspicious look around him and, shivering
with nervousness, as though he felt threatened by the invisible powers,
"I'm afraid--I'm afraid. Let's go away--"
His watch now marked half-past four. He took his jacket from the shrub on
which he had hung it, slipped his arms into the sleeves, and put his hand
in the right-hand outside pocket, where he had placed the pocket-book
containing his papers:
"Hullo!" he said, in great surprise. "I was sure I had--"
He felt in the left outside pocket, then in the handkerchief-pocket,
then, with feverish excitement, in both the inside pockets. The
pocket-book was not there. And, to his extreme amazement, all the
other things which he was absolutely certain that he had left in the
pockets of his jacket were gone: his cigarette-case, his box of
matches, his notebook.
He was flabbergasted. His features became distorted. He spluttered
incomprehensible words, while the most terrible thought took hold of his
mind so forcibly as to become a reality: there was some one within the
precincts of the Old Castle.
There was some one within the precincts of the Old Castle! And this some
one was now hiding near the ruins, in the ruins perhaps! And this some
one had seen him! And this some one had witnessed the death of Arsene
Lupin and the death of Florence Levasseur! And this some one, taking
advantage of his heedlessness and knowing from his words that the papers
existed, had searched his jacket and rifled the pockets!
His eyes expressed the alarm of a man accustomed to work in the darkness
unperceived, and who suddenly becomes aware that another's eyes have
surprised him at his hateful task and that he is being watched in every
movement for the first time in his life.
Whence did that look come that troubled him as the daylight troubles a
bird of the night? Was it an intruder hiding there by accident, or an
enemy bent upon his destruction? Was it an accomplice of Arsene Lupin, a
friend of Florence, one of the police? And was this adversary satisfied
with his stolen booty, or was he preparing to attack him?
The cripple dared not stir. He was there, exposed to assault, on open
ground, with nothing to protect him against the blows that might come
before he even knew where the adversary was.
At last, however, the imminence of the danger gave him back some of his
strength. Still motionless, he inspected his surroundings with an
attention so keen that it seemed as if no detail could escape him. He
would have sighted the most indistinct shape among the stones of the
ruined pile, or in the bushes, or behind the tall laurel screen.
Seeing nobody, he came along, supporting himself on his crutch. He walked
without the least sound of his feet or of the crutch, which probably had
a rubber shoe at the end of it. His raised right hand held a revolver.
His finger was on the trigger. The least effort of his will, or even less
than that, a spontaneous injunction of his instinct, was enough to put a
bullet into the enemy.
He turned to the left. On this side, between the extreme end of the
laurels and the first fallen rocks, there was a little brick path which
was more likely the top of a buried wall. The cripple followed this path,
by which the enemy might have reached the shrub on which the jacket hung
without leaving any traces.
The last branches of the laurels were in his way, and he pushed them
aside. There was a tangled mass of bushes. To avoid this, he skirted the
foot of the mound, after which he took a few more steps, going round a
huge rock. And then, suddenly, he started back and almost lost his
balance, while his crutch fell to the ground and his revolver slipped
from his hand.
What he had seen, what he saw, was certainly the most terrifying sight
that he could possibly have beheld. Opposite him, at ten paces distance,
with his hands in his pockets, his feet crossed, and one shoulder
resting lightly against the rocky wall, stood not a man: it was not a
man, and could not be a man, for this man, as the cripple knew, was
dead, had died the death from which there is no recovery. It was
therefore a ghost; and this apparition from the tomb raised the
cripple's terror to its highest pitch.
He shivered, seized with a fresh attack of fever and weakness. His
dilated pupils stared at the extraordinary phenomenon. His whole being,
filled with demoniacal superstition and dread, crumpled up under the
vision to which each second lent an added horror.
Incapable of flight, incapable of defence, he dropped upon his knees.
And he could not take his eyes from that dead man, whom hardly an hour
before he had buried in the depths of a well, under a shroud of iron
Arsene Lupin's ghost!
A man you take aim at, you fire at, you kill. But a ghost! A thing which
no longer exists and which nevertheless disposes of all the supernatural
powers! What was the use of struggling against the infernal machinations
of that which is no more? What was the use of picking up the fallen
revolver and levelling it at the intangible spirit of Arsene Lupin?
And he saw an incomprehensible thing occur: the ghost took its hands out
of its pockets. One of them held a cigarette-case; and the cripple
recognized the same gun-metal case for which he had hunted in vain. There
was therefore not a doubt left that the creature who had ransacked the
jacket was the very same who now opened the case, picked out a cigarette
and struck a match taken from a box which also belonged to the cripple!
O miracle! A real flame came from the match! O incomparable marvel!
Clouds of smoke rose from the cigarette, real smoke, of which the cripple
at once knew the particular smell!
He hid his head in his hands. He refused to see more. Whether ghost
or optical illusion, an emanation from another world, or an image
born of his remorse and proceeding from himself, it should torture
his eyes no longer.
But he heard the sound of a step approaching him, growing more and more
distinct as it came closer! He felt a strange presence moving near him!
An arm was stretched out! A hand fell on his shoulder! That hand clutched
his flesh with an irresistible grip! And he heard words spoken by a voice
which, beyond mistake, was the human and living voice of Arsene Lupin!
"Why, my dear sir, what a state we're getting ourselves into! Of course,
I understand that my sudden return seems an unusual and even an
inconvenient proceeding, but still it does not do to be so uncontrollably
impressed. Men have seen much more extraordinary things than that, such
as Joshua staying the sun, and more sensational disasters, such as the
Lisbon earthquake of 1755.
"The wise man reduces events to their proper proportions and judges them,
not by their action upon his own destiny, but by the way in which they
influence the fortunes of the world. Now confess that your little mishap
is purely individual and does not affect the equilibrium of the solar
system. You know what Marcus Aurelius says, on page 84, of Charpentier's
The cripple had plucked up courage to raise his head; and the real state
of things now became so obviously apparent that he could no longer get
away from the undeniable fact: Arsene Lupin was not dead! Arsene Lupin
whom he had hurled into the bowels of the earth and crushed as surely as
an insect is crushed with a hammer; Arsene Lupin was not dead!
How to explain so astounding a mystery the cripple did not even stop to
wonder. One thing alone mattered: Arsene Lupin was not dead. Arsene Lupin
looked and spoke as a living man does. Arsene Lupin was not dead. He
breathed, he smiled, he talked, he lived!
And it was so certainly life that the scoundrel saw before him that,
obeying a sudden impulse of his nature and of his hatred for life, he
flattened himself to his full length, reached his revolver, seized it,
He fired; but it was too late. Don Luis had caused the weapon to swerve
with a kick of his boot. Another kick sent it flying out of the
The villain ground his teeth with fury and at once began hurriedly to
fumble in his pockets.
"Is this what you're looking for, sir?" asked Don Luis, holding up a
hypodermic syringe filled with a yellow fluid. "Excuse me, but I was
afraid lest you should prick yourself by mistake. That would have been a
fatal prick, would it not? And I should never have forgiven myself."
The cripple was disarmed. He hesitated for a moment, surprised that the
enemy did not attack him more violently, and sought to profit by the
delay. His small, blinking eyes wandered around him, looking for
something to throw. But an idea seemed to strike him and to restore his
confidence little by little; and, in a new and really unexpected fit of
delight, he indulged in one of his loudest chuckles:
"And what about Florence?" he shouted. "Don't forget Florence! For I've
got you there! I can miss you with my revolver and you can steal my
poison; but I have another means of hitting you, right in the heart. You
can't live without Florence, can you? Florence's death means your own
sentence, doesn't it? If Florence is dead, you'll put the rope round your
own neck, won't you, won't you, won't you?"
"Yes. If Florence were to die, I could not survive her!"
"She is dead!" cried the scoundrel, with a renewed burst of merriment,
hopping about on his knees. "She's dead, quite, quite dead! What am I
saying? She's more than dead! A dead person retains the appearance of a
live one for a time; but this is much better: there's no corpse here,
Lupin; just a mess of flesh and bone!
"The whole scaffolding of rocks has come down on top of her! You can
picture it, eh? What a sight! Come, quick, it's your turn to kick the
bucket. Would you like a length of rope? Ha, ha, ha! It's enough to make
one die with laughing. Didn't I say that you'd meet at the gates of hell?
Quick, your sweetheart's waiting for you. Do you hesitate? Where's your
old French politeness? You can't keep a lady waiting, you know. Hurry up,
Lupin! Florence is dead!"
He said this with real enjoyment, as though the mere word of death
appeared to him delicious.
Don Luis had not moved a muscle. He simply nodded his head and said:
"What a pity!"
The cripple seemed petrified. All his joyous contortions, all his
triumphal pantomime, stopped short. He blurted out:
"Eh? What did you say?"
"I say," declared Don Luis, preserving his calm and courteous demeanour
and refraining from echoing the cripple's familiarity, "I say, my dear
sir, that you have done very wrong. I never met a finer nature nor one
more worthy of esteem than that of Mlle. Levasseur. The incomparable
beauty of her face and figure, her youth, her charm, all these deserved a
better treatment. It would indeed be a matter for regret if such a
masterpiece of womankind had ceased to be."
The cripple remained astounded. Don Luis's serene manner dismayed him. He
said, in a blank voice:
"I tell you, she has ceased to be. Haven't you seen the grotto? Florence
no longer exists!"
"I refuse to believe it," said Don Luis quietly. "If that were so,
everything would look different. The sky would be clouded; the birds
would not be singing; and nature would wear her mourning garb. But the
birds are singing, the sky is blue, everything is as it should be: the
honest man is alive; and the rascal is crawling at his feet. How could
Florence be dead?"
A long silence followed upon these words. The two enemies, at three paces
distance, looked into each other's eyes: Don Luis still as cool as ever,
the cripple a prey to the maddest anguish. The monster understood.
Obscure as the truth was, it shone forth before him with all the light of
a blinding certainty: Florence also was alive! Humanly and physically
speaking, the thing was not possible; but the resurrection of Don Luis
was likewise an impossibility; and yet Don Luis was alive, with not a
scratch on his face, with not a speck of dust on his clothes.
The monster felt himself lost. The man who held him in the hollow of his
implacable hand was one of those men whose power knows no bounds. He was
one of those men who escape from the jaws of death and who triumphantly
snatch from death those of whom they have taken charge.
The monster retreated, dragging himself slowly backward on his knees
along the little brick path.
He retreated. He passed by the confused heap of stones that covered the
place where the grotto had been, and did not turn his eyes in that
direction, as if he were definitely convinced that Florence had come
forth safe and sound from the appalling sepulchre.
He retreated. Don Luis, who no longer had his eyes fixed on him, was busy
unwinding a coil of rope which he had picked up, and seemed to pay no
further attention to him.
And suddenly, after a glance at his enemy, he spun round, drew himself up
on his slack legs with an effort, and started running toward the well.
He was twenty paces from it. He covered one half, three quarters of the
distance. Already the mouth opened before him. He put out his arms, with
the movement of a man about to dive, and shot forward.
His rush was stopped. He rolled over on the ground, dragged back
violently, with his arms fixed so firmly to his body that he was
unable to stir.
It was Don Luis, who had never wholly lost sight of him, who had made a
slip-knot to his rope and who had lassoed the cripple at the moment when
he was going to fling himself down the abyss. The cripple struggled for a
few moments. But the slip-knot bit into his flesh. He ceased moving.
Everything was over.
Then Don Luis Perenna, holding the other end of the lasso, came up to him
and bound him hand and foot with what remained of the rope. The operation
was carefully performed. Don Luis repeated it time after time, using the
coils of rope which the cripple had brought to the well and gagging him
with a handkerchief. And, while applying himself to his work, he
explained, with affected politeness:
"You see, sir, people always come to grief through excessive
self-confidence. They never imagine that their adversaries can have
resources which they themselves do not possess. For instance, when you
got me to fall into your trap, how could you have supposed, my dear sir,
that a man like myself, a man like Arsene Lupin, hanging on the brim of a
well, with his arms resting on the brim and his feet against the inner
wall, would allow himself to drop down it like the first silly fool that
"Look here: you were fifteen or twenty yards away; and do you think that
I had not the strength to leap out nor the courage to face the bullets of
your revolver, when it was a question of saving Florence Levasseur's life
and my own? Why, my poor sir, the tiniest effort would have been enough,
"My reason for not making the effort was that I had something better to
do, something infinitely better. I will tell you why, that is, if you
care to know. Do you?
"Well, then, at the very first moment, my knees and feet, propped against
the inner wall, had smashed in a thick layer of plaster which closed up
an old excavation in the well; and this I at once perceived. It was a
stroke of luck, wasn't it? And it changed the whole situation. My plan
was settled at once. While I went on acting my little part of the
gentleman about to tumble down an abyss, putting on the most scared face,
the most staring eyes, the most hideous grin, I enlarged that excavation,
taking care to throw the chunks of plaster in front of me in such a way
that their fall made no noise. When the moment came, at the very second
when my swooning features vanished before your eyes, I simply jumped into
my retreat, thanks to a rather plucky little wriggle of the loins.
"I was saved, because the retreat was dug out on the side where you were
moving and because, being dark itself, it east no light. All that I now
had to do was to wait.
"I listened quietly to your threatening speeches. I let the things you
flung down the well go past me. And, when I thought you had gone back to
Florence, I was preparing to leave my refuge, to return to the light of
day, and to fall upon you from behind, when--"
Don Luis turned the cripple over, as though he were a parcel which he was
tying up with string, and continued:
"Have you ever been to Tancarville, the old feudal castle in Normandy, on
the banks of the Seine? Haven't you? Well, you must know that, outside
the ruins of the keep, there is an old well which, like many other wells
of the period, possesses the peculiarity of having two openings, one at
the top, facing the sky, and the other a little lower down, hollowed out
sideways in the wall and leading to one of the rooms of the keep.
"At Tancarville this second opening is nowadays closed with a grating.
Here it was walled up with a layer of small stones and plaster. And it
was just the recollection of Tancarville that made me stay, all the more
as there was no hurry, since you had had the kindness to inform me that
Florence would not join me in the next world until four o'clock. I
therefore inspected my refuge and soon realized that, as I had already
felt by intuition, it was the foundation of a building which was now
demolished and which had the garden laid out on its ruins.
"Well, I went on, groping my way and following the direction which, above
ground, would have taken me to the grotto. My presentiments were not
deceived. A gleam of daylight made its way at the top of a staircase of
which I had struck the bottom step. I went up it and heard the sound of
Don Luis turned the cripple over and over and was pretty rough about it.
Then he resumed:
"I wish to impress upon you, my dear sir, that the upshot would have been
exactly similar if I had attacked you directly and from the start in the
open air. But, having said this, I confess that chance favoured me to
some purpose. It has often failed me, in the course of our struggle, but
this time I had no cause to complain.
"I felt myself in such luck that I never doubted for a second that,
having found the entrance to the subterranean passage, I should also find
the way out. As a matter of fact, I had only to pull gently at the slight
obstacle of a few stacked bricks which hid the opening in order to make
my exit amid the remains of the castle keep.
"Guided by the sound of your voice, I slipped through the stones and thus
reached the back of the grotto in which Florence lay. Amusing, wasn't it?
"You can imagine what fun it was to hear you make your little speeches:
'Answer me, yes or no, Florence. A movement of your head will decide your
fate. If it's yes, I shall release you. If it's no, you die. Answer me,
Florence! A sign of your head: is the answer yes or no?' And the end,
above all, was delicious, when you scrambled to the top of the grotto and
started roaring from up there: 'It's you who have asked to die, Florence.
You asked for it and you've got it!'
"Just think what a joke it was: at that moment there was no one in the
grotto! Not a soul! With one effort, I had drawn Florence toward me and
put her under shelter. And all that you were able to crush with your
avalanche of rocks was one or two spiders, perhaps, and a few flies
dozing on the flagstones.