Part 9 out of 9
"The trick was done and the farce was nearly finished. Act first: Arsene
Lupin saved. Act second: Florence Levasseur saved. Act third and last:
the monster vanquished ... absolutely and with a vengeance!"
Don Luis stood up and contemplated his work with a satisfied eye.
"You look like a sausage, my son!" he cried, yielding at last to his
sarcastic nature and his habit of treating his enemies familiarly. "A
regular sausage! A bit on the thin side, perhaps: a saveloy for poor
people! But there, you don't much care what you look like, I suppose?
Besides, you're rather like that at all times; and, in any case, you're
just the thing for the little display of indoor gymnastics which I have
in mind for you. You'll see: it's an idea of my own, a really original
idea. Don't be impatient: we shan't be long."
He took one of the guns which the cripple had brought to the well and
tied to the middle of the gun the end of a twelve or fifteen yards'
length of rope, fastening the other end to the cords with which the
cripple was bound, just behind his back. He next took his captive round
the body and held him over the well:
"Shut your eyes, if you feel at all giddy. And don't be frightened. I'll
be very careful. Ready?"
He put the cripple down the yawning hole and next took hold of the rope
which he had just fastened. Then, little by little, inch by inch,
cautiously, so that it should not knock against the sides of the well,
the bundle was let down at arm's length.
When it reached a depth of twelve yards or so, the gun stopped its
further descent and there it remained, slung in the dark and in the exact
centre of the narrow circumference.
Don Luis set light to a number of pieces of paper, which went whirling
down, shedding their sinister gleams upon the walls. Then, unable to
resist the craving for a last speech, he leaned over, as the scoundrel
had done, and grinned:
"I selected the place with care, so that you shouldn't catch cold. I'm
bound to look after you, you see. I promised Florence that I wouldn't
kill you; and I promised the French Government to hand you over alive as
soon as possible. Only, as I didn't know what to do with you until
to-morrow morning, I've hung you up in the air.
"It's a pretty trick, isn't it? And you ought to appreciate it, for it's
so like your own way of doing things. Just think: the gun is resting on
its two ends, with hardly an inch to spare. So, if you start wriggling,
or moving, or even breathing too hard, either the barrel or the butt
end'll give way; and down you go! As for me, I've nothing to do with it!
"If you die, it'll be a pretty little case of suicide. All you've got to
do, old chap, is to keep quiet. And the beauty of my little contrivance
is that it will give you a foretaste of the few nights that will precede
your last hour, when they cut off your head. From this moment forward you
are alone with your conscience, face to face with what you perhaps call
your soul, without anything to disturb your silent soliloquy. It's nice
and thoughtful of me, isn't it? ...
"Well, I'll leave you. And remember: not a movement, not a sigh, not a
wink, not a throb of the heart! And, above all, no larks! If you start
larking, you're in the soup. Meditate: that's the best thing you can do.
Meditate and wait. Good-bye, for the present!"
And Don Luis, satisfied with his homily, went off, muttering:
"That's all right. I won't go so far as Eugene Sue, who says that great
criminals should have their eyes put out. But, all the same, a little
corporal punishment, nicely seasoned with fear, is right and proper and
good for the health and morals."
Don Luis walked away and, taking the brick path round the ruins, turned
down a little road, which ran along the outer wall to a clump of fir
trees, where he had brought Florence for shelter.
She was waiting for him, still aching from the horrible suffering which
she had endured, but already in full possession of her pluck, mistress of
herself, and apparently rid of all anxiety as to the issue of the fight
between Don Luis and the cripple.
"It's finished," he said, simply. "To-morrow I will hand him over to
She shuddered. But she did not speak; and he observed her in silence.
It was the first time that they were alone together since they had been
separated by so many tragedies, and next hurled against each other like
sworn enemies. Don Luis was so greatly excited that, in the end, he could
utter only insignificant sentences, having no connection with the
thoughts that came rushing through his mind.
"We shall find the motor car if we follow this wall and then strike off
to the left.... Do you think you can manage to walk so far? ... When
we're in the car, we'll go to Alencon. There's a quiet hotel close to the
chief square. You can wait there until things take a more favourable turn
for you--and that won't be long, as the criminal is caught."
"Let's go," she said.
He dared not offer to help her. For that matter, she stepped out firmly
and her graceful body swung from her hips with the same even rhythm as
usual. Don Luis once again felt all his old admiration and all his ardent
love for her. And yet that had never seemed more remote than at this
moment when he had saved her life by untold miracles of energy.
She had not vouchsafed him a word of thanks nor yet one of those milder
glances which reward an effort made; and she remained the same as on the
first day, the mysterious creature whose secret soul he had never
understood, and upon whom not even the storm of terrible events had cast
the faintest light.
What were her thoughts? What were her wishes? What aim was she pursuing?
These were obscure problems which he could no longer hope to solve.
Henceforth each of them must go his own way in life and each of them
could only remember the other with feelings of anger and spite.
"No!" he said to himself, as she took her place in the limousine. "No!
The separation shall not take place like that. The words that have to be
spoken between us shall be spoken; and, whether she wishes or not, I will
tear the veil that hides her."
* * * * *
The journey did not take long. At Alencon Don Luis entered Florence in
the visitors' book under the first name that occurred to him and left her
to herself. An hour later he came and knocked at her door.
This time again he had not the courage at once to ask her the question
which he had made up his mind to put to her. Besides, there were other
points which he wished to clear up.
"Florence," he said, "before I hand over that man, I should like to know
what he was to you."
"A friend, an unhappy friend, for whom I felt pity," she declared. "I
find it difficult to-day to understand my compassion for such a monster.
But, some years ago, when I first met him, I became attached to him
because of his wretchedness, his physical weakness, and all the symptoms
of death which he bore upon him even then. He had the opportunity of
doing me a few services; and, though he led a hidden life, which worried
me in certain respects, he gradually and without my knowing it acquired a
considerable influence over me.
"I believed in his insight, in his will, in his absolute devotion; and,
when the Mornington case started, it was he, as I now realize, who guided
my actions and, later, those of Gaston Sauverand. It was he who compelled
me to practise lying and deceit, persuading me that he was working for
Marie Fauville's safety. It was he who inspired us with such suspicion of
yourself and who taught us to be so silent, where he and his affairs were
concerned, that Gaston Sauverand did not even dare mention him in his
interview with you.
"I don't know how I can have been so blind. But it was so. Nothing opened
my eyes. Nothing made me suspect for a moment that harmless, ailing
creature, who spent half his life in hospitals or nursing-homes, who
underwent every possible sort of operation, and who, if he did sometimes
speak to me of his love, must have known that he could not hope to--"
Florence did not finish her sentence. Her eyes had encountered Don Luis's
eyes; and she received a deep impression that he was not listening to
what she said. He was looking at her; and that was all. The words she
uttered passed unheard.
To Don Luis any explanation concerning the tragedy itself mattered
nothing, so long as he was not enlightened on the one point that
interested him, on Florence's private thoughts about himself, thoughts of
aversion, of contempt. Outside that, anything that she could say was vain
He went up to her and, in a low voice, said:
"Florence, you know what I feel for you, do you not?"
She blushed, taken aback, as though the question was the very last that
she expected to hear. Nevertheless, she did not lower her eyes, and she
"Yes, I know."
"But, perhaps," he continued, more eagerly, "you do not know how deeply I
feel it? Perhaps you do not know that my life has no other aim but you?"
"I know that also," she said.
"Then, if you know it," he said, "I must conclude that it was just that
which caused your hostility to me. From the beginning I tried to be your
friend and I tried only to defend you. And yet from the beginning I felt
that for you I was the object of an aversion that was both instinctive
and deliberate. Never did I see in your eyes anything but coldness,
dislike, contempt, and even repulsion.
"At moments of danger, when your life or your liberty was at stake, you
risked committing any imprudence rather than accept my assistance. I was
the enemy, the man to be distrusted, the man capable of every infamy, the
man to be avoided, and to be thought of only with a sort of dread. Isn't
that hatred? Is there anything but hatred to explain such an attitude?"
Florence did not answer at once. She seemed to be putting off the moment
at which to speak the words that rose to her lips. Her face, thin and
drawn with weariness and pain, was gentler than usual.
"Yes," she said, "there are other things than hatred to explain that
Don Luis was dumfounded. He did not quite understand the meaning of the
reply; but Florence's tone of voice disconcerted him beyond measure, and
he also saw that Florence's eyes no longer wore their usual scornful
expression and that they were filled with smiling charm. And it was the
first time that Florence had smiled in his presence.
"Speak, speak, I entreat you!" he stammered.
"I mean to say that there is another feeling which explains coldness,
mistrust, fear, and hostility. It is not always those whom we detest that
we avoid with the greatest fear; and, if we avoid them, it is often
because we are afraid of ourselves, because we are ashamed, because we
rebel and want to resist and want to forget and cannot--"
She stopped; and, when he wildly stretched out his arms to her, as if
beseeching her to say more and still more, she nodded her head, thus
telling him that she need not go on speaking for him to read to the
very bottom of her soul and discover the secret of love which she kept
Don Luis staggered on his feet. He was intoxicated with happiness, almost
suffered physical pain from that unexpected happiness. After the horrible
minutes through which he had passed amid the impressive surroundings of
the Old Castle, it appeared to him madness to admit that such
extraordinary bliss could suddenly blossom forth in the commonplace
setting of that room at a hotel.
He could have longed for space around him, forest, mountains, moonlight,
a radiant sunset, all the beauty and all the poetry of the earth. With
one rush, he had reached the very acme of happiness. Florence's very life
came before him, from the instant of their meeting to the tragic moment
when the cripple, bending over her and seeing her eyes filled with tears,
"She's crying! She's crying! What madness! But I know your secret,
Florence! And you're crying! Florence, Florence, you yourself want to
It was a secret of love, a passionate impulse which, from the first day,
had driven her all trembling toward Don Luis. Then it had bewildered her,
filled her with fear, appeared to her as a betrayal of Marie and
Sauverand and, by turns urging her toward and drawing her away from the
man whom she loved and whom she admired for his heroism and loyalty,
rending her with remorse and overwhelming her as though it were a crime,
had ended by delivering her, feeble and disabled, to the diabolical
influence of the villain who coveted her.
Don Luis did not know what to do, did not know in what words to express
his rapture. His lips trembled. His eyes filled with tears. His nature
prompted him to take her in his arms, to kiss her as a child kisses, full
on the lips, with a full heart. But a feeling of intense respect
paralyzed his yearning. And, overcome with emotion, he fell at Florence's
feet, stammering words of love and adoration.
Next morning, a little before eight o'clock, Valenglay was talking in his
own flat to the Prefect of Police, and asked:
"So you think as I do, my dear Prefect? He'll come?"
"I haven't the least doubt of it, Monsieur le President. And he will come
with the same punctuality that has been shown throughout this business.
He will come, for pride's sake, at the last stroke of eight."
"You think so?"
"Monsieur le President, I have been studying the man for months. As
things now stand, with Florence Levasseur's life in the balance, if he
has not smashed the villain whom he is hunting down, if he does not bring
him back bound hand and foot, it will mean that Florence Levasseur is
dead and that he, Arsene Lupin, is dead."
"Whereas Lupin is immortal," said Valenglay, laughing. "You're right.
Besides, I agree with you entirely. No one would be more astonished than
I if our good friend was not here to the minute. You say you were rung up
from Angers yesterday?"
"Yes, Monsieur le President. My men had just seen Don Luis Perenna. He
had gone in front of them, in an aeroplane. After that, they telephoned
to me again from Le Mans, where they had been searching a deserted
"You may be sure that the search had already been made by Lupin, and that
we shall know the results. Listen: eight o'clock!"
At the same moment they heard the throbbing of a motor car. It stopped
outside the house; and the bell rang almost immediately after. Orders had
been given beforehand. The door opened and Don Luis Perenna was shown in.
To Valenglay and the Prefect of Police his arrival was certainly not
unexpected, for they had just been saying that they would have been
surprised if he had not come. Nevertheless, their attitude showed that
astonishment which we all experience in the face of events that seem to
pass the bounds of human possibility.
"Well?" cried the Prime Minister eagerly.
"It's done, Monsieur le President."
"Have you collared the scoundrel?"
"By Jove!" said Valenglay. "You're a fine fellow!" And he went on to ask,
"An ogre, of course? An evil, undaunted brute?--"
"No, Monsieur le President, a cripple, a degenerate, responsible for his
actions, certainly, but a man in whom the doctors will find every form of
wasting illness: disease of the spinal cord, tuberculosis, and all the
rest of it."
"And is that the man whom Florence Levasseur loved?"
"Monsieur le President!" Don Luis violently protested. "Florence never
loved that wretch! She felt sorry for him, as any one would for a
fellow-creature doomed to an early death; and it was out of pity that she
allowed him to hope that she might marry him later, at some time in the
"Are you sure of that?"
"Yes, Monsieur le President, of that and of a good deal more besides, for
I have the proofs in my hands." Without further preamble, he continued:
"Monsieur le President, now that the man is caught, it will be easy for
the police to find out every detail of his life. But meanwhile I can sum
up that monstrous life for you, looking only at the criminal side of it,
and passing briefly over three murders which have nothing to do with the
story of the Mornington case.
"Jean Vernocq was born at Alencon and brought up at old M. Langernault's
expense. He got to know the Dedessuslamare couple, robbed them of their
money and, before they had time to lodge a complaint against the unknown
thief, took them to a barn in the village of Damigni, where, in their
despair, stupefied and besotted with drugs, they hanged themselves.
"This barn stood in a property called the Old Castle, belonging to M.
Langernault, Jean Vernocq's protector, who was ill at the time. After his
recovery, as he was cleaning his gun, he received a full charge of shot
in the abdomen. The gun had been loaded without the old fellow's
knowledge. By whom? By Jean Vernocq, who had also emptied his patron's
cash box the night before ...
"In Paris, where he went to enjoy the little fortune which he had thus
amassed, Jean Vernocq bought from some rogue of his acquaintance papers
containing evidence of Florence Levasseur's birth and of her right to all
the inheritance of the Roussel family and Victor Sauverand, papers which
the friend in question had purloined from the old nurse who brought
Florence over from America. By hunting around, Jean Vernocq ended by
discovering first a photograph of Florence and then Florence herself.
"He made himself useful to her and pretended to be devoted to her, giving
up his whole life to her service. At that time he did not yet know what
profit he could derive from the papers stolen from the girl or from his
relations with her.
"Suddenly everything became different. An indiscreet word let fall by a
solicitor's clerk told him of a will in Maitre Lepertuis's drawer which
would be interesting to look at. He obtained a sight of it by bribing the
clerk, who has since disappeared, with a thousand-franc note. The will,
as it happened, was Cosmo Mornington's; and in it Cosmo Mornington
bequeathed his immense wealth to the heirs of the Roussel sisters and of
"Jean Vernocq saw his chance. A hundred million francs! To get hold of
that sum, to obtain riches, luxury, power, and the means of buying health
and strength from the world's great healers, all that he had to do was
first to put away the different persons who stood between the inheritance
and Florence, and then, when all the obstacles were overcome, to make
Florence his wife.
"Jean Vernocq went to work. He had found among the papers of Hippolyte
Fauville's old friend Langernault particulars relating to the Roussel
family and to the discord that reigned in the Fauville household. Five
persons, all told, were in his way: first, of course, Cosmo Mornington;
next, in the order of their claims, Hippolyte Fauville, his son Edmond,
his wife Marie, and his cousin Gaston Sauverand.
"With Cosmo Mornington, the thing was easy enough. Introducing himself to
the American as a doctor, Jean Vernocq put poison into one of the phials
which Mornington used for his hypodermic injections.
"But in the case of Hippolyte Fauville, whose good will he had secured
through his acquaintance with old Langernault, and over whose mind he
soon obtained an extraordinary influence, he had a greater difficulty to
contend with. Knowing on the one hand that the engineer hated his wife
and on the other that he was stricken with a fatal disease, he took
occasion, after the consultation with the specialist in London, to
suggest to Fauville's terrified brain the incredible plan of suicide of
which you were subsequently able to trace the Machiavellian execution.
"In this way and with a single effort, anonymously, so to speak, and
without appearing in the business, without Fauville's even suspecting the
action brought to bear upon him, Jean Vernocq procured the deaths of
Fauville and his son, and got rid of Marie and Sauverand by the devilish
expedient of causing the charge of murder, of which no one could accuse
him, to fall upon them. The plan succeeded.
"There was only one hitch at the present time: the intervention of
Inspector Verot. Inspector Verot died. And there was only one danger in
the future: the intervention of myself, Don Luis Perenna, whose conduct
Vernocq was bound to foresee, as I was the residuary legatee by the terms
of Cosmo Mornington's will. This danger Vernocq tried to avert first by
giving me the house on the Place du Palais-Bourbon to live in and
Florence Levasseur as a secretary, and next by making four attempts to
have me assassinated by Gaston Sauverand.
"He therefore held all the threads of the tragedy in his hands. Able to
come and go as he pleased in my house, enforcing himself upon Florence
and later upon Gaston Sauverand by the strength of his will and the
cunning of his character, he was within sight of the goal.
"When my efforts succeeded in proving the innocence of Marie Fauville and
Gaston Sauverand, he did not hesitate: Marie Fauville died; Gaston
"So everything was going well for him. The police pursued me. The police
pursued Florence. No one suspected him. And the date fixed for the
payment of the inheritance was at hand.
"This was two days ago. At that time, Jean Vernocq was in the midst of
the fray. He was ill and had obtained admission to the nursing-home in
the Avenue des Ternes. From there he conducted his operations, thanks to
his influence over Florence Levasseur and to the letters addressed to the
mother superior from Versailles. Acting under the superior's orders and
ignorant of the meaning of the step which she was taking, Florence went
to the meeting at the Prefect's office, and herself brought the documents
relating to her.
"Meanwhile, Jean Vernocq left the private hospital and took refuge near
the Ile Saint-Louis, where he awaited the result of an enterprise which,
at the worst, might tell against Florence, but which did not seem able to
compromise him in any case.
"You know the rest, Monsieur le President," said Don Luis, concluding his
statement. "Florence, staggered by the sudden revelation of the part
which she had unconsciously taken in the matter, and especially by the
terrible part played by Jean Vernocq, ran away from the nursing-home
where the Prefect had brought her at my request. She had but one thought:
to see Jean Vernocq, demand an explanation of him, and hear what he had
to say in his defence. That same evening he carried her away by motor, on
the pretence of giving her proofs of his innocence. That is all, Monsieur
Valenglay had listened with growing interest to this gruesome story of
the most malevolent genius conceivable to the mind of man. And he heard
it perhaps without too great disgust, because of the light which it threw
by contrast upon the bright, easy, happy, and spontaneous genius of the
man who had fought for the good cause.
"And you found them?" he asked.
"At three o'clock yesterday afternoon, Monsieur le President. It was
time. I might even say that it was too late, for Jean Vernocq began by
sending me to the bottom of a well, and by crushing Florence under a
block of stone."
"Oh, so you're dead, are you?"
"Yes, Monsieur le President."
"But why did that villain want to do away with Florence Levasseur? Her
death destroyed his indispensable scheme of matrimony."
"It takes two to get married, Monsieur le President, and Florence
"Some time ago Jean Vernocq wrote a letter leaving all that he possessed
to Florence Levasseur. Florence, moved by pity for him, and not realizing
the importance of what she was doing, wrote a similar letter leaving her
property to him. This letter constitutes a genuine and indisputable will
in favor of Jean Vernocq.
"As Florence was Cosmo Mornington's legal and settled heiress by the mere
fact of her presence at yesterday's meeting with the documents proving
her descent from the Roussel family, her death caused her rights to pass
to her own legal and settled heir.
"Jean Vernocq would have come into the money without the possibility of
any litigation. And, as you would have been obliged to discharge him
after his arrest, for lack of evidence against him, he would have led a
quiet life, with fourteen murders on his conscience--I have added them
up--but with a hundred million francs in his pocket. To a monster of his
stamp, the one made up for the other."
"But do you possess all the proofs?" asked Valenglay eagerly.
"Here they are," said Perenna, producing the pocket-book which he had
taken out of the cripple's jacket. "Here are letters and documents which
the villain preserved, owing to a mental aberration common to all great
criminals. Here, by good luck, is his correspondence with Hippolyte
Fauville. Here is the original of the prospectus from which I learned
that the house on the Place du Palais-Bourbon was for sale. Here is a
memorandum of Jean Vernocq's journeys to Alencon to intercept Fauville's
letters to old Langernault.
"Here is another memorandum showing that Inspector Verot overheard a
conversation between Fauville and his accomplice, that he shadowed
Vernocq and robbed him of Florence Levasseur's photograph, and that
Vernocq sent Fauville in pursuit of him. Here is a third memorandum,
which is just a copy of the two found in the eighth volume of Shakespeare
and which proves that Jean Vernocq, to whom that set of Shakespeare
belonged, knew all about Fauville's machination. Here are his
correspondence with Caceres, the Peruvian attache, and the letters
denouncing myself and Sergeant Mazeroux, which he intended to send to the
"But need I say more, Monsieur le President? You have the complete
evidence in your hands. The magistrates will find that all the
accusations which I made yesterday, before the Prefect of Police, were
"And he?" cried Valenglay. "The criminal? Where is he?"
"Outside, in a motor car, in his motor car, rather."
"Have you told my men?" asked M. Desmalions anxiously.
"Yes, Monsieur le Prefet. Besides, the fellow is carefully tied up. Don't
be alarmed. He won't escape."
"Well, you've foreseen every contingency," said Valenglay, "and the
business seems to me to be finished. But there's one problem that remains
unexplained, the one perhaps that interested the public most. I mean the
marks of the teeth in the apple, the teeth of the tiger, as they have
been called, which were certainly Mme. Fauville's teeth, innocent though
she was. Monsieur le Prefet declares that you have solved this problem."
"Yes, Monsieur le President, and Jean Vernocq's papers prove that I was
right. Besides, the problem is quite simple. The apple was marked with
Mme. Fauville's teeth, but Mme. Fauville never bit the apple."
"Monsieur le President, Hippolyte Fauville very nearly said as much when
he mentioned this mystery in his posthumous confession."
"Hippolyte Fauville was a madman."
"Yes, but a lucid madman and capable of reasoning with the most appalling
logic. Some years ago, at Palermo, Mme. Fauville had a very bad fall,
hitting her mouth against the marble top of a table, with the result that
a number of her teeth, in both the upper and the lower jaw, were
loosened. To repair the damage and to make the gold plate intended to
strengthen the teeth, a plate which Mme. Fauville wore for several
months, the dentist, as usual, took an impression of her mouth.
"M. Fauville happened to have kept the mould; and he used it to print the
marks of his wife's teeth in the cake of chocolate shortly before his
death and in the apple on the night of his death. When this was done, he
put the mould with the other things which the explosion was meant to, and
Don Luis's explanation was followed by a silence. The thing was so simple
that the Prime Minister was quite astonished. The whole tragedy, the
whole charge, everything that had caused Marie's despair and death and
the death of Gaston Sauverand: all this rested on an infinitely small
detail which had occurred to none of the millions and millions of people
who had interested themselves so enthusiastically in the mystery of the
teeth of the tiger.
The teeth of the tiger! Everybody had clung stubbornly to an apparently
invincible argument. As the marks on the apple and the print of Mme.
Fauville's teeth were identical, and as no two persons in the world were
able, in theory or practice, to produce the same print with their teeth,
Mme. Fauville must needs be guilty.
Nay, more, the argument seemed so absolute that, from the day on which
Mme. Fauville's innocence became known, the problem had remained
unsolved, while no one seemed capable of conceiving the one paltry idea:
that it was possible to obtain the print of a tooth in another way than
by a live bite of that same tooth!
"It's like the egg of Columbus," said Valenglay, laughing. "It had to be
"You are right, Monsieur le President. People don't think of those
things. Here is another instance: may I remind you that during the period
when Arsene Lupin was known at the same time as M. Lenormand and as
Prince Paul Sernine, no one noticed that the name Paul Sernine was merely
an anagram of Arsene Lupin? Well, it's just the same to-day: Luis Perenna
also is an anagram of Arsene Lupin. The two names are composed of the
same eleven letters, neither more nor less. And yet, although it was the
second time, nobody thought of making that little comparison. The egg of
Columbus again! It had to be thought of!"
Valenglay was a little surprised at the revelation. It seemed as if that
devil of a man had sworn to puzzle him up to the last moment and to
bewilder him by the most unexpected sensational news. And how well this
last detail depicted the fellow, a queer mixture of dignity and
impudence, of mischief and simplicity, of smiling chaff and disconcerting
charm, a sort of hero who, while conquering kingdoms by most incredible
adventures, amused himself by mixing up the letters on his name so as to
catch the public napping!
The interview was nearly at an end. Valenglay said to Perenna:
"Monsieur, you have done wonders in this business and ended by keeping
your word and handing over the criminal. I also will keep my word. You
"I thank you, Monsieur le President. But what about Sergeant Mazeroux?"
"He will be released this morning. Monsieur le Prefet de Police has
arranged matters so that the public do not know of the arrest of either
of you. You are Don Luis Perenna. There is no reason why you should not
remain Don Luis Perenna."
"And Florence Levasseur, Monsieur le President?"
"Let her go before the examining magistrate of her own accord. He is
bound to discharge her. Once free and acquitted of any charge or even
suspicion, she will certainly be recognized as Cosmo Mornington's legal
heiress and will receive the hundred millions."
"She will not keep it, Monsieur le President."
"How do you mean?"
"Florence Levasseur doesn't want the money. It has been the cause of
unspeakably awful crimes. She hates the very thought of it."
"Cosmo Mornington's hundred millions will be wholly devoted to
making roads and building schools in the south of Morocco and the
"In the Mauretanian Empire which you are giving us?" said Valenglay,
laughing. "By Jove, it's a fine work and I second it with all my heart.
An empire and an imperial budget to keep it up with! Upon my word, Don
Luis has behaved well to his country, and has handsomely paid the
debts--of Arsene Lupin!"
* * * * *
A month later Don Luis Perenna and Mazeroux embarked in the yacht which
had brought Don Luis to France. Florence was with them. Before sailing
they heard of the death of Jean Vernocq, who had managed to poison
himself in spite of all the precautions taken to prevent him.
On his arrival in Africa, Don Luis Perenna, Sultan of Mauretania, found
his old associates and accredited Mazeroux to them and to his grand
dignitaries. He organized the government to follow on his abdication and
precede the annexation of the new empire by France, and he had several
secret interviews on the Moorish border with General Leauty, commanding
the French troops, interviews in the course of which they thought out all
the measures to be executed in succession so as to lend to the conquest
of Morocco an appearance of facility which would otherwise be difficult
The future was now assured. Soon the thin screen of rebellious tribes
standing between the French and the pacified districts would fall to
pieces, revealing an orderly empire, provided with a regular
constitution, with good roads, schools, and courts of law, a flourishing
empire in full working order.
Then, when his task was done, Don Luis abdicated.
* * * * *
He has now been back for over two years. Every one remembers the stir
caused by his marriage with Florence Levasseur. The controversy was
renewed; and many of the newspapers clamoured for Arsene Lupin's arrest.
But what could the authorities do?
Although nobody doubted who he really was, although the name of Arsene
Lupin and the name of Don Luis Perenna consisted of the same letters, and
people ended by remarking the coincidence, legally speaking, Arsene Lupin
was dead and Don Luis Perenna was alive; and there was no possibility of
bringing Arsene Lupin back to life or of killing Don Luis Perenna.
He is to-day living in the village of Saint-Maclou, among those charming
valleys which run down to the Oise. Who does not know his modest little
pink-washed house, with its green shutters and its garden filled with
bright flowers? People make up parties to go there from Paris on Sundays,
in the hope of catching a sight, through the elder hedges, of the man who
was Arsene Lupin, or of meeting him in the village square.
He is there, with his hair just touched with gray, his still youthful
features, and a young man's bearing; and Florence is there, too, with her
pretty figure and the halo of fair hair around her happy face, unclouded
by even the shadow of an unpleasant recollection.
Very often visitors come and knock at the little wooden gate. They are
unfortunate people imploring the master's aid, victims of oppression,
weaklings who have gone under in the struggle, reckless persons who have
been ruined by their passions.
For all these Don Luis is full of pity. He gives them his full
attention, the help of his far-seeing advice, his experience, his
strength, and even his time, disappearing for days and weeks to fight
the good fight once more.
And sometimes also it is an emissary from the Prefect's office or some
subordinate of the police who comes to submit a complex case to his
judgment. Here again Don Luis applies the whole of his wonderful mind to
In addition to this, in addition to his old books on ethics and
philosophy, to which he has returned with such pleasure, he cultivates
his garden. He dotes on his flowers. He is proud of them. He takes prizes
at the shows; and the success is still remembered of the treble
carnation, streaked red and yellow, which he exhibited as the "Arsene
But he works hardest at certain large flowers that blossom in summer.
During July and the first half of August they fill two thirds of his lawn
and all the borders of his kitchen-garden. Beautiful, decorative plants,
standing erect like flag-staffs, they proudly raise their spiky heads of
all colours: blue, violet, mauve, pink, white.
They are lupins and include every variety: Cruikshank's lupin, the
two-coloured lupin, the scented lupin, and the last to appear, Lupin's
lupin. They are all there, resplendent, in serried ranks like an army of
soldiers, each striving to outstrip the others and to hold up the
thickest and gaudiest spike to the sun. They are all there; and, at the
entrance to the walk that leads to their motley beds, is a streamer with
this device, taken from an exquisite sonnet of Jose Maria de Heredia:
"And in my kitchen-garden lupins grow."
You will say that this is a confession. But why not?
In the evening, when a few privileged neighbours meet at his
house--the justice of the peace, the notary, Major Comte d'Astrignac,
who has also gone to live at Saint-Maclou--Don Luis is not afraid to
speak of Arsene Lupin.
"I used to see a great deal of him," he says. "He was not a bad man. I
will not go so far as to compare him with the Seven Sages, or even to
hold him up as an example to future generations, but still we must judge
him with a certain indulgence.
"He did a vast amount of good and a moderate amount of harm. Those who
suffered through him deserved what they got; and fate would have punished
them sooner or later if he had not forestalled her. Between a Lupin who
selected his victims among the ruck of wicked rich men and some big
company promoter who deliberately ruins numbers of poor people, would you
hesitate for a moment? Does not Lupin come out best?
"And, on the other hand, what a host of good actions! What countless
proofs of disinterested generosity! A burglar? I admit it. A swindler? I
don't deny it. He was all that. But he was something more than that. And,
while he amused the gallery with his skill and ingenuity, he roused the
general enthusiasm in other ways.
"People laughed at his practical jokes, but they loved his pluck, his
courage, his adventurous spirit, his contempt for danger, his shrewd
insight, his unfailing good humour, his reckless energy: all qualities
that stood out at a period when the most active virtues of our race had
reached their zenith, the period of the motor car and the aeroplane....
"One day," he said, as a joke, "I should like my epitaph to read, 'Here
lies Arsene Lupin, adventurer.'" That was quite correct. He was a master
"And, if the spirit of adventure led him too often to put his hand in
other people's pockets, it also led him to battlefields where it gives
those who are worthy opportunity to fight and win titles of distinction
which are not within reach of all. It was there that he gained his. It is
there that you should see him at work, spending his strength braving
death, and defying destiny. And it is because of this that you must
forgive him, even if he did sometimes get the better of a commissary of
police or steal the watch of an examining magistrate. Let us show some
indulgence to our professors of energy."
And, nodding his head, Don Luis concludes:
"Then, you see, he had another virtue which is not to be despised. It is
a virtue for which we should be grateful to him in these gray days of
ours: he knew how to smile!"