A question arises, and it was often asked me:
– How have I known Arsene Lupin?
Nobody doubts that I know it. The details that I accumulate about this puzzling man, the irrefutable facts that I present, the new evidence that I bring, my interpretation of certain acts of which it was seen only the external manifestations without penetrating secret reasons or the invisible mechanism, all this proves, if not an intimacy, that the very existence of Lupin would make it impossible, at least friendships and followed confidences.
But how have I known him? Where does this favor of being a historian? Why me and not another?
The answer is easy: the only chance chaired a choice where my merit doesn’t count at all. It was the chance that put me on the road. It was by chance that I was involved in one of his strangest and most mysterious of his adventures, by chance that I was finally actor in a drama of which he was a wonderful director, obscure and complex drama bristling with such adventures that I feel some embarrassment at the time to begin the story.
The first act takes place during the famous night of June 22 to 23 of which much has been said. And, for my part, let us say right away, I attribute the rather abnormal conduct that I held in the occasion to the very special state of mind where I was on my way home. We had dinner with friends at Restaurant Cascade, and throughout the evening, while we smoked and the orchestra played melancholy gypsy waltzes, we had spoken of crimes and thefts, and scary dark intrigues. This is always a bad preparation for sleep.
The Saint-Martin went by automobile. Jean Daspry, – this charming and carefree Daspry which was, six months after, being killed so tragic on the Morocco’s border – Jean Daspry and I returned and I walk through the dark, hot night. When we arrived at the small hotel where I lived for a year in Neuilly, on the boulevard Maillot, he said:
– Do you never afraid?
– What an idea!
– Well, this building is so remote! No neighbors… wasteland… True, I am not a coward, and yet …
– Well, you’re gay, you!
– Oh! I say this as I would say something else. The Saint-Martin impressed me with their stories of brigands.
After shaking my hands he walked away. I took my key and I opened.
– Come! Good, I whispered, Antoine has forgotten to light me a candle.
And suddenly I remembered: Antoine was away, I had given him leave.
Immediately the darkness and silence were unpleasant to me. I went up to my room in the dark, as soon as possible, and immediately, unlike my usual, I turned the key and pushed the bolt.
The flame of the candle returned my self-control. But I took care to draw my revolver from his case, a big long-range gun, and I placed it next to my bed. This precaution completed to reassure me. I lay down and, as usual, to sleep, I took from the night table the book that was waiting for me every night.
I was very surprised. Instead of the paper cutter which I had marked the day before, it was an envelope, sealed with five red wax seals. I seized strongly. She wore as address my name and surname, accompanied by this note: “Urgent.”
A letter! A letter in my name! Who could have put it there? A little nervous, I tore the envelope and read:
“From the time you open this letter, whatever happens, whatever you hear, do not move, do not make a move, do not throw a cry. Otherwise, you are lost.”
I’m not a coward, and, as well as another, I know to stand in front of the real danger, or smile for the chimerical dangers which is terrified imagination. But, I repeat, I was in a situation of abnormal mind, more easily impressionable, nerves on edge. And besides, was there not in all this something disturbing and inexplicable that would have shaken the bravest soul?
My fingers feverishly pressed the paper, and my eyes continually reread the threatening phrase … “Do not make a move … do not throw a shout … otherwise you are lost …” Nonsense! I thought, that’s a joke, a stupid joke.
I was about to laugh, even I wanted to laugh out loud. Who stopped me? What indecisive fear compressed my throat?
At least I have to extinguish the candle. No, I could not extinguish it. “Do not move, or you are lost,” he was wrote.
But why fight against these kinds of autosuggestions often more compelling than the most precise facts? You only had to close your eyes. I closed my eyes.
Meanwhile, a slight noise passed in silence, then crunches. And it came to me that it seemed from a large adjoining room where I had installed my office and which I was separated only by the antechamber.
The approach of real danger overexcited me, and I had the feeling that I was going to get up, grab my gun and rush into this room. I got up point: in front of me, one of the curtains of the left window had stirred.
Doubt was not possible: it had moved. It was still moving! And I saw – oh! I saw this clearly – there was between the curtains and the window in this space too narrow, a human form whose thickness prevented the fabric to fall right.
And the being saw me too, it was sure he saw me through the very large meshes of the stuff. Then I understood everything. While other carried their booty, his mission was to keep me in check. Get up? Grab a gun? Impossible … he was there! The slightest gesture, the slightest cry, and I was lost.
A violent blow shook the house, followed by small strokes grouped by two or three, like a hammer hitting on spikes and bouncing. Or at least that’s what I imagined in the confusion of my brain. And other noises crossed each other, a real uproar which proved that they are not bothered, and that they were safe.
They were right: I did not move. Was it cowardice? No, rather annihilation, total inability to move any of my limbs. Wisdom also because finally why struggle? Behind this man, there were ten others who would come to his call. Would I risk my life to save a few tapestries and some trinkets?
And all night the torture lasted. Intolerable torment, terrible anguish! The noise had stopped, but I kept waiting for it to recommence. And the man! The man watching me, weapon in hand! My frightened eyes never left him. And my heart beat! And sweat dripped from my forehead and my whole body!
And suddenly an inexpressible wellness invades me: a slag car which I knew well the bearing, passed on the boulevard, and I had the same time feel that the dawn slid between the closed shutters and a little day out mingled in the shade.
And the day entered the room. And other cars passed. And all the phantoms of the night vanished.
So I pulled out an arm of the bed, slowly, slyly. Opposite nothing stirred. I looked at the fold of the curtain, at the exact place where he had to be, I gave the true account of the movements that I had to run, and quickly, I grabbed my gun and I fired.
I jumped out of bed with a cry of deliverance, and I jumped on the curtain. The fabric was pierced, the window was pierced. As for the man, I could not reach it … for this reason that there was none.
No one! So, all night I had been hypnotized by a curtain fold! Meanwhile, criminals … Angrily, a momentum that nothing could have stopped, I turned the key in the lock, I opened my door, I crossed the antechamber, opened another door, and I rushed in the room.
But a stupor nailed me on the threshold, panting, stunned, amazed even more than I had been in the absence of the man: nothing was missing. All the things I assumed removed, furniture, paintings, old silk and old velvet, all these things were in their place!
Incomprehensible spectacle! I could not believe my eyes! Yet this noise, these noises of move… I walked around the room, I inspected the walls, I pricked up my inventory of all the objects that I knew so well. Nothing was missing! And what disconcerted me most was that there nothing revealed now the passage of the criminals, no clue, not a chair disturbed, not a trace of steps.
“Let’s see, let’s see, I was saying to me taking my head in his hands, I am not, however, crazy! I heard correctly! …”
Inch by inch, with the most meticulous methods of investigation, I examined the room. It was in vain. Or rather … but could I consider this a discovery? Under a small Persian carpet thrown on the floor, I picked up a card, a playing card. It was a seven of heart, like every seven heart of French gaming cards, but that caught my attention by a curious detail. The ends of each of the seven red marks in the shape of heart was pierced by a hole, round and regular hole like practiced by the end of a punch.
That is all. A card and a letter found in a book. Apart from that, nothing. Was it enough to say that I had not been the plaything of a dream?
* * *
All day, I continued my research in the lounge. It was a large piece out of proportion to the smallness of the hotel, whose ornamentation attested the bizarre taste of the man who had designed. The floor was made of a mosaic of small colored stones, forming large symmetrical designs. The same mosaic covered walls, arranged in panels, Pompeiian allegories, Byzantine compositions, frescoes of the Middle Ages. A Bacchus straddled a barrel. An emperor crowned with gold, with flowing beard, holding a sword in his right hand.
At the top, a bit like a workshop, stood out the unique and wide window. This window being always open at night, it was likely that the men had been there, using a ladder. But again, no certainty. The amounts of the scale would have left traces on the beat floor of the court: there were none. The herb of wasteland that surrounded the hotel should have been freshly trodden: it was not.
I confess that I never had the idea to speak to the police, so the facts he would have had to expose were inconsistent and absurd. They would have laughed at me. But two days later, it was my chronicle day of Gil Blas, where I was writing then. Obsessed with my adventure, I told all along.
The article did not go unnoticed, but I could hardly one took him seriously, and to consider it rather a fantasy than a real story. The Saint-Martin mocked me. Daspry, however, which was not without a certain competence in such matters, came to see me, I explain to him the matter and he studied it… no more success elsewhere.
But the following morning, the stamp of the gate rang, and Antoine came to tell me that a gentleman wished to speak to me. He did not want to give his name. I asked him to come up.
He was a man of about forty, very brown, energetic face, and whose own, but worn clothes, announced a concern for elegance contrasted with his rather vulgar ways.
Without preamble, he told me – haired husky voice, with accents that confirmed me the social situation of the individual:
– Sir, traveling, in a café, Gil Blas fell under my eyes. I read your article. It interested me … a lot.
– I thank you.
– And I came back.
– Yes, to talk to you. All the facts you have told are they accurate?
– Absolutely accurate.
– There is none that is your invention?
– Not a single one.
– In that case I might have information to provide.
– I’m listening.
– What, no?
– Before talking, I must check whether they are correct.
– And to check?
– It is necessary that I remain alone in this room.
I looked at him in surprise.
– I do not see very well …
– It’s an idea I had while reading your article. Certain details establish a truly extraordinary coincidence with another adventure that chance has revealed. If I was wrong, it is better that I keep silence. And the only way to know is that I remain alone …
What was there in that? Later I remembered that, in formulating, the man had a worried, anxious expression of countenance. But at the time, although a little surprised, I found nothing particularly unusual about the request. And such a curiosity stimulated me!
– OK. How much do you need time?
– Oh! Three minutes, not more. Within three minutes, I will join you.
I left the room. Below, I took my watch. A minute passed. Two minutes … Why I felt oppressed? Why those moments they seemed to me more solemn than others?
Two and a half minutes … Two minutes … Three quarters. Suddenly a shot rang out.
In a few strides I climbed the steps and entered. A cry of horror escaped me.
In the middle of the room the man lay motionless, lying on the left side. Blood ran from his skull, brains mixed with debris. Near his fist, a revolver, steaming.
A convulsion shook him, and that was all.
But even more than this appalling spectacle, something struck me, something that I had not called for help right away, and I did not throw myself on my knees to see if the man was breathing. Steps away from him on the ground, there was a seven of heart!
I picked it up. The seven ends of the seven red marks were pierced by a hole …
* * *
Half an hour later, the police commissioner of Neuilly arrived, then the coroner and the chief detective, Dudouis. I was taken good care not to touch the corpse. Nothing could distort the initial findings.
They were short, even shorter as they first discovered nothing, or very little. In the pockets of the dead no paper, no name on his clothing, no initial on his laundry. All in all, not a clue able to establish his identity. And in the room the same order as before. The furniture had not been disturbed, and the objects had kept their old position. Yet this man had not come home with the sole intention of killing himself, and because he thought that my home was better suited than any other to his suicide! There was a reason that determined him to commit this act of despair, and this reason itself resulted from a new fact, found by him during the three minutes he had spent alone.
What fact? What had he seen? What surprised him? What a terrible secret he had penetrated? No assumption was permitted.
But at the last moment, an incident occurred which seemed to us of considerable interest. As two officers bowed to lift and carry the corpse on a stretcher, they found that the left hand, previously closed and tense, had relaxed, and a crumpled business card, escaped.
This card was Georges Andermatt, rue de Berry, 37.
What did that mean? Georges Andermatt was a big Paris banker, founder and chairman of the Metal Factory that has given such impetus to metallurgical industries of France. He lived in great style, with mail coach, automobiles, racing stable. The meetings were well attended and was quoted Madame Andermatt for his grace and beauty.
– Could this be the name of the dead? I whispered.
The chief detective bent.
– It is not him. Mr. Andermatt is a pale man, and slightly gray.
– But why this card?
– Do you have the phone, sir?
– Yes, in the hall. Please, accompany me.
He looked in the phone book and asked for 415.21.
– Mr. Andermatt is he at home? – Please tell him Dudouis requests him to come in haste to 102 Boulevard Maillot. It’s urgent.
Twenty minutes later, Mr. Andermatt descended from his car. We explained to him the reasons that required his intervention, and then brought him before the corpse.
It was a moment of emotion which contracted his face, and spoke in a low voice, as if speaking in spite of himself:
– Étienne Varin.
– Do you know him?
– No … Or at least … but yes, of view only. His brother…
– He has a brother?
– Yes, Alfred Varin … His brother came once ask me … I do not know how about …
– Where does he live?
– The two brothers lived together … rue de Provence, I think.
– And you do not suspect why it was killed?
– Not at all.
– However, this card he held in his hand? … Your card with your address!
– I do not understand anything. It is obviously a coincidence that the investigation will tell us.
A curious coincidence in any case, I thought, and I felt that we experienced all the same impression.
This impression, I found her in the newspapers the next day, and in all those of my friends with whom I conversed about the adventure. Amid the mysteries that complicated, after the double discovery, so disconcerting, this seven of heart pierced seven times, after the two events as enigmatic both of it which had been my home theater, this business card finally seemed to promise a little light. Through it we will arrive at the truth.
But, contrary to expectations, Mr. Andermatt provides no guidance.
– I said what I knew, he repeated. What more could you want? I am the first amazed that this card was found there, and I wait like everyone else that this be clarified.
It was not. The investigation established that the Varin brothers, original Swiss, had led under different names an eventful life, frequenting casinos in relationships with a foreign band monitored by the police, and who had dispersed after a series of burglaries that their participation was only established later. At number 24 of the Rue de Provence, where the Varin brothers had indeed lived six years ago, no one knew what had become.
I confess that, for my part, this case seemed so confused that I do not believe in the possibility of a solution, and I tried to think no more about. But Jean Daspry, the contrary, that I saw many at that time, was fascinated every day.
It was he who pointed out to me the echo of a foreign newspaper reproduced by all the press and commented:
“It will proceed in the presence of the emperor, and in a place that is held secret until the last minute, the first tests of a submarine that should revolutionize future conditions of naval warfare. An indiscretion has revealed the name: it is called The Seven of Heart.”
Seven of heart! Was this encounter by chance? Or should we establish a link between the name of the submarine and the incidents we talked about? But a connection of what nature? What was going on here could in no way connect with what was happening there.
– What do you know? Daspry told me. The most diverse effects often come from a single cause.
Two days later, another echo reached us:
“It is claimed that the plans of Seven of Heart, the submarine whose experiences will take place shortly, were executed by French engineers. These engineers, who unsuccessfully sought the support of their compatriots would then be sent, without success, to the British Admiralty. We give these new with all reserve.”
I dare not overstate on extremely sensitive facts, which caused, we remember, so considerable emotion. However, since all danger of complications departed, I must speak well of the article of the Écho de France, which then made so much noise, and threw himself on the matter of the Seven of heart, as it was called, some clearness… confused.
Here it is, as appeared under the signature of Salvator:
The Case of Seven of Heart. The veil lifted.
“We will be brief. It was ten years ago, a young mining engineer, Louis Lacombe, wishing to devote his time and fortune to studies he pursued, resigned, and rented at number 102 boulevard Maillot, a small hotel that an Italian count had recently build and decorate. Through two individuals, Varin brothers, of Lausanne, one assisted him in his experiences as a trainer and the other sponsors sought him, he entered into relations with H. Georges Andermatt, who founded the Metal Factory.
After several interviews, he managed to interest him in a submarine project he was working on, and it was agreed that, upon finalization of the invention, Mr. Andermatt would use his influence to obtain from the Ministry marine a series of tests.
For two years Louis Lacombe assiduously frequented the Andermatt hotel and submitted to the banker the improvements he brought to the project, until, satisfied himself of his work, finding the definitive formula he sought, he begged Mr. Andermatt to start the campaign.
That day, Louis Lacombe dined at Andermatt. He went in the evening to half past eleven. Since then no one has seen him.
In reading the newspapers of the time, we would see that the family of the young man went to court and the prosecution worried. But it does not lead to any certainty, and usually it was agreed that Louis Lacombe, who passed for an original and whimsical boy, had gone on a trip without telling anyone.
Let us accept this unlikely hypothesis. But a question arises, capital for our country: what happened to the submarine’s plans? Louis Lacombe has carried them? Are they destroyed?
From the very serious investigation that we carried, it follows that such plans exist. The brothers Varin had them in their hands. How? We have not been able to establish, as we do not know why they did not try to sell them earlier. Did they fear we should ask them how they had in their possession? Anyway this fear did not persist, and we can say with certainty this: Louis Lacombe plans are the property of a foreign power, and we are able to publish the correspondence on this subject between the brothers Varin and the representative of that power. Currently Seven of Heart imagined by Louis Lacombe is constructed by our neighbors.
Will the reality meet the optimistic expectations of those who were involved in this betrayal? We have, to expect the opposite, reasons that event, we would like to believe, will fool none. “
And a postscript added:
“Last hour. – We hoped for good reason. Our specific information allow us to announce that the testing of Seven of Heart were not satisfactory. It is quite probable that plan delivered by the Varin brothers lacked the last document brought by Louis Lacombe to Mr. Andermatt the night he disappeared, essential document to the full understanding of the project, kind of summary where we find the definitive findings, assessments and measures contained in the other papers. Without this document the plans are imperfect; as well as without the plans, the document is useless.
So there is still time to act and take back what is ours. For this very difficult task, we rely heavily on the assistance of Mr. Andermatt. He will have to explain at heart the inexplicable of his conduct from the beginning. He will say not only why he did not tell what he knew at the time of the suicide of Etienne Varin, but also why he never revealed the disappearance of the papers which he was aware. He will say why, for six years, he monitored the Varin brothers by officers in his pay.
We expect him, not words, but deeds. If not…”
The threat was brutal. But what was it? What means of intimidation Salvator, … the anonymous author of the article, had over Mr. Andermatt?
A swarm of reporters attacked the banker, and ten interviews expressed the disdain with which he responded to that notice. Whereupon, the correspondent of the Écho de France retaliated by these three lines:
“That Mr. Andermatt wants or not, it is now our collaborator in the work we do.”
* * *
The day when appeared this replica, Daspry and I dined together. The evening newspapers spread over my table, we discussed the matter and examine every angle with this irritation that we would feel to walk in the shadows forever and always face the same obstacles.
And suddenly, without my servant had warned me, without any warning whatsoever, the door opened and a lady came in, covered with a thick veil.
I got up immediately and went forward. She says to me:
– It’s you, sir, that habit here?
– Yes, Madam, but I confess …
– The gate on the boulevard was not closed, she explained.
– But the hall door?
She did not answer, and I thought she had to go around by the back stairs. So she knew the way?
There was a little embarrassed silence. She looked Daspry. Despite myself, as I’d had done in a salon, I introduced him. Then I asked her to sit down and explain to me the purpose of his visit.
She took off her veil and I saw that she was brown, regular face, and, if not beautiful, at least from an infinite charm, which came mostly from his eyes, serious and painful eyes.
She simply said:
– I am Madame Andermatt.
– Madam Andermatt! I repeated, more and more astonished.
Another silence. And she said in a quiet voice, and the quietest air:
– I am coming for this case … you know. I thought I could maybe have some information from you …
– My God, Madam, I do not know any more than what the newspapers said. Please specify how I can be useful.
– I do not know … I do not know …
Only then I had the intuition that her calm was artificial, and that under that air of perfect security, hid a great disorder. And we were silent, too embarrassed one than the other.
But Daspry, which had not ceased to observe, approached and said:
– Do you allow me, Madam, to ask you some questions?
– Oh yes, she cried, I will speak.
– You talk … whatever those questions?
– Mo matter.
He thought and said:
– Do you know Louis Lacombe?
– Yes, by my husband.
– When did you see him last time?
– The night he dined with us.
-That evening, nothing could give you to think that you would see him for the last time?
– No. He had hinted at a trip to Russia, but so vaguely!
– You were counting so see him again?
– Two days later for dinner.
– And how do you explain his disappearance?
– I do not explain it.
– And Mr. Andermatt?
– I do not know.
– However …
– Do not ask me that.
– The article from Écho de France seems to say …
– What it seems to say is that the Varin brothers are no strangers to this disappearance.
– This is your opinion?
– On what basis your conviction?
– In leaving us, Louis Lacombe carried a briefcase containing all the papers relating to his project. Two days later, there was between my husband and one of the Varin brothers, the one who lives, an interview during which my husband acquired proof that the papers were in the hands of the two brothers.
– And he has not denounced them?
– Why not?
– Because in the towel was anything but the papers of Louis Lacombe.
She hesitated, was about to answer, then finally silent. Daspry continued:
– So, here it is the cause for which your husband, without warning the police, was monitoring the two brothers. He hoped both paper and take this… compromising thing with which the brothers exercised over him a kind of blackmail.
– On him … and me.
– Ah! On you, too?
– On me, mainly.
She uttered these three words in a hoarse voice. Daspry watched, took a few steps, and returning to it:
– Do you have written to Louis Lacombe?
– Certainly … My husband was in relationships …
– In addition to these official letters, have not you written to Louis Lacombe … other letters. Excuse my insistence, but it is essential that I know the whole truth. Did you write other letters?
Blushing, she murmured:
– And these are the letters that had the Varin brothers?
– Mr. Andermatt therefore knows?
– He has not seen them, but Alfred Varin has revealed to him the existence, threatening to publish them if my husband was against them. My husband was afraid … he shrunk from scandal.
– Only he made every effort to wrest these letters.
– He made everything possible … at least, I suppose, because, from this last interview with Alfred Varin, and after some very strong words he addressed to me, there had between my husband and me no longer privacy, nor confidence. We live like two strangers.
– In this case, if you have nothing to lose, what do you fear?
– Even if I became indifferent to him, I am the one he loved, the one he would still have loved. Oh! This, I am sure, she murmured in a fiery voice, he would still have loved me, if it was not seized these cursed letters …
– What! If he would have succeeded … But the two brothers still defied him?
– Yes, and they boasted even, it seems, to have a safe hiding place.
– I have every reason to believe that my husband discovered that hiding!
– Come on! Where it was?
– Yes, and I’d always suspected. Louis Lacombe, ingenious, passionate about mechanics, amused, in his spare time, to make chests and locks. The brothers Varin had surprise and, subsequently, use one of these caches to hide the letters … and other things too, no doubt.
– But they do not live here, I cried.
– Up your arrival, four months ago, this building remained unoccupied. It is therefore likely that they turned it, and they thought also that your presence would not interfere with the day where they would need to remove all papers. But they reckoned on it without my husband that, on the night of June 22 to 23, forced the safe, took … what he wanted, and left his card to show the brothers that he had no more to fear them and that the roles changed. Two days later, alerted by the article of Gil Blas, Etienne Varin presented itself at home in a hurry, remained alone in the room, found the empty chest … and killed himself.
After a moment, Daspry asked:
– It’s a simple supposition, isn’t it? Mr. Andermatt did not tell you?
– His attitude against you has not changed? He has not appeared to you darker, more anxious?
– And you think that this would be if he had found the letters! For me, it does not have them. For me, it is not he who came here.
– But who then?
– The mysterious figure who led this business, which held every thread, and directs it towards a goal that we only glimpsed through so many complications, the mysterious character whose one feels the visible action and omnipotent since the first hour. It was he and his friends who entered this hotel on June 22, it was he who discovered the cache, it was he who left the Mr. Andermatt card, it is he who holds the correspondence and proof of the treachery of the Varin brothers.
– Who, him? I interrupted, not without impatience.
– The correspondent of the Écho de France, by God, that Salvator! Is it not glaringly obvious? Does not he give details in his article that, alone, can know the man who penetrated the secrets of the two brothers?
– In this case, stammered Madam Andermatt, with terror, he has also my letters, and he in turn threatens my husband! What to do, my God!
– Write to him, declared plainly Daspry, confide in him bluntly; tell him everything you know and everything you can learn.
– What do you say!
– Your interest is the same as his. There is no doubt that he acts against the survivor of the two brothers. It is not against Mr. Andermatt he seeks weapons, but against Alfred Varin. Help him.
– Does your husband this document that complements and allows the use of Louis Lacombe plans?
– Prevent Salvator. If necessary, try to procure the document. In short, enter into correspondence with him. What do you risk?
The advice was bold, dangerous even at first sight, but Madam Andermatt had little choice. As well as Daspry said, what she risked? If the stranger was an enemy, this approach does not aggravate the situation. If it was a stranger who was pursuing a particular purpose, he should not attach to these letters of secondary importance.
Anyway, there was an idea, and Madam Andermatt, in dismay, was very happy to support it. She thanked us effusively, and promised to keep us informed.
Two days later, in fact, she sent us word that she received in response:
“The letters were not there. But I have them, be assured. I watch everything. S. “
I took the paper. He was the writing of the notice that had been introduced in my bedside book, the evening of June 22
Daspry was right, Salvator was indeed the great organizer of this business.
* * *
In truth, we begin to discern some light among the darkness that surrounded us and some points are illuminated in an unexpected light. But others remained obscure, such as the discovery of seven of heart! For my part, I kept going back there, perhaps more intrigued by these two cards whose seven pierced small figures had struck my eyes in so troubling circumstances. What role they played in the drama? What importance should be attributed to them? What conclusion should we draw from the fact that submarine built on Louis Lacombe plans was called Seven of Heart?
Daspry, he cared little of both cards, entirely dedicated to the study of another problem whose solution seemed more urgent to him, he tirelessly seeking the famous hiding place.
– And who knows, he said, if I would not find the letters that Salvator didn’t find… inadvertently maybe. It is so little believable that the Varin brothers have taken a place they assumed inaccessible, the weapon they knew its inestimable value.
And he sought. The great hall soon have no secrets for him, he extended his investigations to all other parts of the pavilion: he peered inside and outside, he examined the stone and brick walls, he raised the slates roof.
One day, he arrived with a pick and shovel, gave me the spade, kept the pick and designating the wasteland:
– Come ahead.
I followed him without enthusiasm. He divided the field into sections that successively inspected. But in a corner, the angle formed by the walls of two adjacent properties, a heap of rubble and stones, covered with brambles and weeds, caught his attention. He attacked.
I had to help. For an hour in the sun, we were working for nothing. But when, under the isolated stones, we reached the ground itself, and we ripped it, the Daspry pickaxe laid bare bones, remains of a skeleton around which still were fraying clothing scraps.
And suddenly I felt myself grow pale. I saw stuck in the ground a small iron plate, cut into a rectangle and where I seemed to distinguish red spots. I stooped. That was it: the plate had the dimensions of a playing card, and red spots, a red minium eaten in places, were seven in number, arranged as the seven points of a seven of heart, and pierced with a hole at each of the seven ends.
– Listen, Daspry, I’m tired of all these stories. Good for you if you are interested. I am leaving.
Was it emotion? Was it the fatigue of work performed under a sun too rough, I staggered by leaving, and I had to go to bed, where I remained forty-eight hours, feverish and burning, obsessed by skeletons that danced around me and threw themselves at the head with their bloody hearts.
Daspry was faithful to me. Every day he gave me three or four hours, that he spent, it is true, in the great hall, poking, bumping, and tapping.
– The letters are there in the room, he tell me from time to time, they are there. I put my hand in fire.
– Leave me alone, I replied exasperated.
The third morning, I got up still quite weak, but healed. A substantial breakfast cheered me. But a small letter I received about five o’clock contributed, more than anything, to my complete recovery, so my curiosity was, and yet again, stung.
The letter contained these words:
The drama whose first act happened on the night of June 22 to 23, coming to its conclusion. The force of circumstances requiring me to put in the presence of each other the two main characters of this drama and this confrontation takes place at your home, I would be very grateful to you to rent me your home for this evening. It would be better, of 9:00 to 11:00, that your servant would go out of the house, and yourself would have extreme kind as to leave the field open to opponents. You were able to find out, on the night of 22 to 23 June, that I pushed scrupulous respect for everything that belongs to you. For my part, I should be insulting you if I doubted for a moment of your absolute discretion with regard to the person who signs.
There was in this letter a tone of polite irony, and in the request it expressed a pretty fancy, as I reveled. It was a charming casualness, and my correspondent seemed so sure of my acquiescence! Nothing in the world I had not wanted to disappoint him or answer his confidence with ingratitude.
At eight o’clock, my servant, whom I had offered a place for theater, had just come out when Daspry arrived. I showed her the little letter.
– Well? He asked me.
– Well, I leave open the gate of the garden, so that they can enter.
– And you go away?
– Never ever!
– But since he asked …
– He asked my discretion. I’ll be discreet. But I furiously like to see what will happen.
– My God, you’re right, and I am too. I thought we did not bother.
A stamp stroke interrupted.
– Already? He murmured, and twenty minutes early! Impossible.
From the hallway, I pulled the cord that opened the gate. A woman’s silhouette crossed the garden: Madam Andermatt.
She seemed upset, and she stammered suffocating:
– My husband … he just … he has an appointment … we must give him the letters …
– How do you know? I said to him.
– By chance. A word that my husband received during dinner.
– A little letter?
– A phone message. The servant gave it to me by mistake. My husband took it at once, but it was too late … I had read.
– You had read …
– This roughly: “At nine o’clock this evening, be at Boulevard Maillot with the documents concerning the business. In exchange, the letters.” After dinner, I went back up to my house and I went out.
-With the knowledge of Mr. Andermatt?
Daspry looked at me.
– What do you think?
– I think what you think, that Mr. Andermatt is one of the invited opponents.
– By who? And for what purpose?
– It’s what we’ll learn.
I led them into the hall.
We could, if needed, held every three under the mantle of the fireplace, and we hide behind the velvet curtain. We settled. Madam Andermatt sat between us. By the curtain slots we saw the entire room.
Nine o’clock struck. A few minutes later the garden gate creaked on its hinges.
I admit that I was not without experiencing some anxiety and a new fever overexcited me. I was about to know the answer to the riddle! The bewildering adventure whose adventures unfolded before me for weeks, would finally take its true meaning, and that is before me that the battle was going to be held.
Daspry seized the hand of Madam Andermatt and whispered:
– Especially, not a movement! Whatever you hear or see, remain unmoved.
Someone entered. And I recognized immediately, to his resemblance with Etienne Varin, his brother Alfred. Same heavy gait, same earthy face overgrown with beard.
He entered the worried look of a man who is accustomed to fear ambushes around him, who scents and avoids them. At a glance he embraced the room, and I had the impression that this chimney hidden by a velvet door was unpleasant to him. He took three steps on our side. But an idea, perhaps more pressing, kept as it veered toward the wall, stopped before the old king mosaic, with the flowing beard and flamboyant sword, and examined at length, on a chair, following with the finger the contour of the shoulders and of the figure, and palpating parts of the image.
But suddenly he jumped from his chair and walked away from the wall. Footsteps echoed. On the threshold Mr. Andermatt appeared.
The banker uttered a cry of surprise.
– You! You! It was you who called me?
– I? But not all, protested Varin in a broken voice that reminded me of his brother, is your letter made me come.
– My letter!
– A letter signed by you, in which you offer me …
– I have not written you.
– You did not write me!
Instinctively Varin warned, not against the banker, but against the unknown enemy who had drawn him into this trap. A second time his eyes turned to our side, and quickly he headed for the door.
Mr. Andermatt barred his way.
– What are you doing, Varin?
– There is netherworld that I do not like. I am leaving. Good evening.
– A moment!
– Come, Monsieur Andermatt, do not insist, we have nothing to say.
– We have a lot to say and the opportunity is too good …
– Let me pass.
– No, no, no, you will not pass.
Varin back, intimidated by the resolute attitude of the banker, and he muttered:
– So, quickly, let us talk, and it’s over!
One thing surprised me, and I had no doubt that my two companions éprouvassent the same disappointment. How could that Salvator was not there? Would it not entered into his plans to intervene? And the only confrontation between banker and Varin seemed to him enough? I was greatly troubled. Because of his absence, this duel, combined by him, wanted by him, took the tragic appearance of events that arouses and control the strict order of destiny, and the force that clashed with each other these two men impressed especially as it lay outside them.
After a while, Mr. Andermatt approached Varin and, in the face, eye to eye:
– Now that years have passed, and you have nothing to fear, answer me honestly, Varin. What have you done with Louis Lacombe?
– What a question! As if I could know what he has become!
– You know it! You know it! Your brother and you, you were attached to his feet, you lived close by him, in the same house where we are. You knew all the work of all its projects. And last evening, Varin, when I accompanied Louis Lacombe to my door, I saw two silhouettes that were hidden in the shadows. That I am ready to swear.
– And afterwards, what you have sworn?
– It was your brother and you, Varin.
– Prove it.
– But the best proof is that, two days later, you yourself showed me the papers and plans you had collected from the towel of Lacombe, and you proposed me to sell me. How were these papers in your possession?
– I told you, Monsieur Andermatt, we found them on Louis Lacombe same table the next morning after his disappearance.
– It is not true.
– Prove it.
– The Court could prove it.
– Why did not you send to justice?
– What for? Ah! What for…
He paused, looking sad. And the other said:
– See you, Monsieur Andermatt, if you had any certainty, it is not the small threat that we made you who have prevented …
– What threat? These letters? Do you imagine that I ever thought for a moment? …
– If you do not believe these letters, why have you offered me hundreds and thousands to get them back? And why, since, don’t you hunt us down like animals, my brother and me?
– To resume plans which I wanted.
– Come then! It was for the letters. Once in possession of letters, you would denounce us. More often than I myself would be functus!
He had a laugh that stopped suddenly.
– But that’s enough. We will keep saying the same words, than we will not be advanced. Therefore we leave it at that.
– We do not stop there, said the banker, and since you mentioned the letters, you will not leave here until you have made me.
– I will go out.
– No, no.
– Listen, Monsieur Andermatt, I suggest you …
– You will not get out.
– We will see, Varin said with such rage that Madam Andermatt stifled a faint cry.
He had to hear it, because he wanted to go from strength. Mr. Andermatt violently repelled. Then I saw him slip his hand in his jacket pocket.
– One last time!
– The letters first.
Varin drew a gun and aimed Mr. Andermatt:
– Yes or no?
The banker stooped quickly.
A shot gushes. The weapon fell.
I was stunned. It was close to me that the shot had sprung! And it was Daspry which, a gun bullet, had blown the weapon from the hand of Alfred Varin!
And suddenly drawn between the two adversaries, facing Varin, he sneered:
– You’re lucky, my friend, a rough lucky. It is the hand I was aiming for, and that’s the gun I reach.
Both were gazing motionless and confused. He said to the banker:
– You will excuse me, sir, to meddle in what does not concern me. But really you play your game with too much awkwardness. Let me hold the cards.
Turning to the other:
– Between us, comrade. And smoothly, I beg you. The trump is heart, and I play seven.
And, three inches of the nose, it stuck to it the iron plate where the seven red dots were marked.
Never was given to me to see such upheaval. Pale, wide-eyed, features twisted with anguish, the man seemed mesmerized by the image before him.
– Who are you? he stammered.
– I have already said, a man who takes care of what does not concern him … but who cares deeply.
– What do you want?
– All that you brought.
– I’ve brought nothing.
– If otherwise, you would not have come. You received this morning a word summoning you here for nine hours, and directing you to bring all the papers that you had. Now, here you are. Where are the papers?
There was in the voice of Daspry, there was in his attitude, an authority that disconcerted me a whole new way of acting in this man rather usual nonchalant and soft. Absolutely conquered, Varin appointed one of his pockets.
– The papers are there.
– Are there all?
– All those you have found in the towel of Louis Lacombe and that you sold to Major von Lieben?
– The copy or original?
– The original.
– How much do you want?
– One hundred thousand.
– You are mad. Major gave you only twenty thousand. Twenty thousand thrown into the water, since the tests have failed.
– We did not know how to use the plans.
– The plans are incomplete.
– Then why do you ask me?
– I need it. I offer you five thousand francs. Not a penny more.
– Ten thousand. Not a penny less.
Daspry returned to Mr. Andermatt.
– Please sign a check, sir.
– But … Is that I did not …
– Your booklet? Here it is.
Bewildered, Mr. Andermatt fingered the booklet handed to him by Daspry.
– It’s good to me … How is it?
– No empty words, I beg you, dear Sir, you have to sign.
The banker took out his fountain pen and signed. Varin put out his hand.
– Hang off, said Daspry, all is not over.
And addressing the banker:
– There was talk also of letters, that you claim?
– Yes, a packet of letters.
– Where are they, Varin?
– I do not have them.
– Where are they, Varin?
– I do not know. It was my brother who was in charge.
– They are hidden here in this room.
– In this case, you know where they are.
– How would I know?
– Well, is it not you who visited the hiding? You seem so knowledgeable … as Salvator.
– The letters are not in the cache.
– They are.
– Open it.
Varin had a defiant look. Daspry and Salvator were really a single one, as everything seemed to presume? If so, he risked nothing by showing a known hideout. If not it was useless …
– Open it, repeated Daspry.
– I do not have a seven of heart.
– Yes, that one, says Daspry, holding the iron plate.
Varin recoiled, terrified:
– No … no … I do not want …
– Never mind…
Daspry walked to the old monarch with the flowing beard, mounted a chair and applied the seven heart at the bottom of the sword against the guard, and so that the edges of the plate covered exactly the two edges of the sword. Then, with the help of a punch, that he alternately introduced in all seven holes at the end of the seven points of heart, he weighed seven small stones of the mosaic. At the seventh down small stone, a trigger occurred, and all the king’s bust turned, exposing a large opening made as a chest with iron coatings and two shiny steel spokes.
– You see, Varin, the safe is empty.
– Indeed … It means that my brother took the letters.
Daspry returned to the man and said:
– Do not play with me at the end. There is another hideout. Where is it?
– There is not any other.
– Do you want money? How many?
– Ten thousand.
– Monsieur Andermatt, these letters are they worth ten thousand francs for you?
– Yes, said the banker loudly.
Varin closed the safe, took the seven of heart, not without visible repugnance, and applied it to the sword against the guard, and just in one place. Successively he thrust the punch at the end of the seven points of heart. He performed a second trigger, but this time, something unexpected, it was only part of the chest that turned a small safe unmasking practiced within the thickness of the door that closed the largest one.
The packet of letters was here, tied with string and sealed. Varin gave it to Daspry. He asked:
– The check is ready, Monsieur Andermatt?
– And you also have the last document that you hold in Louis Lacombe, and which complements the submarine’s plans?
The exchange was made. Daspry pocketed the document and check, and offered the package to Mr. Andermatt.
– Here it is what you wanted, sir.
The banker hesitated a moment, as if afraid to touch those cursed pages he had sought with so much bitterness. Then, with a nervous gesture, he took them.
Near me I heard a groan. I grabbed the hand of Madam Andermatt: it was freezing.
And Daspry told the banker:
– I believe, sir, that our conversation is over. Oh! No thanks, I implore you. The only chance would that I could be useful.
Mr. Andermatt withdrew. He carried the letters from his wife to Louis Lacombe.
– Perfect, exclaimed Daspry an enchanted air, everything works out for the best. We just have to complete our business, comrade. Do you have the papers?
– That’s all.
Daspry consulted them, examined them carefully, and hid them in his pocket.
– Perfect, you have kept your word.
– But …
– But what?
– Both checks? … Money? …
– Well, you have aplomb, my man. How dare you claim!
– I demands what is due to me.
– On therefore owes you something for papers that you stole?
But the man seemed out of it. He trembled with rage, his eyes bloodshot.
– The money… The twenty thousand … … he stammered.
– Impossible … I need it.
– The money! …
– Come on, be reasonable, let your dagger quiet.
He grabbed his arm so hard that the other screamed in pain, and he added:
– Go away, comrade, the air will do you good. Do you want me to accompany you? We will go through the wasteland, and I’ll show you a pile of stones under which …
– It is not true! It is not true!
– But yes, it’s true. This little iron plate with the seven red dots is just from there. She never left Louis Lacombe, remember? Your brother and you have it buried with the corpse … and other things that will appeal enormously justice.
Varin covered his face with his furious fists. Then he said:
– Well. I’m rolled. Let’s stop talking about it. However, a word … one word … I wonder …
– I listen.
– Was it in that trunk, the larger of the two, a case?
– When you came here the night of June 22 to 23, it was there?
– It contained? …
– All that the Varin brothers had locked, a pretty collection of jewels, diamonds and pearls, picked up here and there by those brothers.
– And you took it?
– Well! Put yourself in my shoes.
– So … It’s due to the disappearance of the case that my brother killed himself?
– Maybe. The disappearance of your correspondence with Major von Lieben would not have sufficed. But the disappearance of the case … Is that all you had to ask me?
– This again: your name?
– You say this as if you had ideas of revenge.
– Of course! Luck changes. Today you are the strongest. Tomorrow …
– It will be you.
– I should hope so. Your name?
– Arsene Lupin.
– Arsene Lupin!
The man staggered, as stunned by a heavy blow. It was as if these two words deprived him of all hope. Daspry laughed.
– Ah! that, do you imagine that Mr. Durand or Dupont could have combined this whole big deal? Come on, there needed at least one Arsene Lupin. And now that you’re informed, my boy, you will prepare your revenge. Arsene Lupin is waiting for you.
And he pushed him out without another word.
* * *
– Daspry, Daspry, I shouted, giving him again, and in spite of myself, the name under which I had known him.
I pulled the velvet curtain.
– What? What is it?
– Madam Andermatt is ill.
He hastened, made him smelling salts and, while nursing her, asked me:
– Well, what has happened, then?
– The letters, I said … the letters of Louis Lacombe that you gave to her husband!
He struck his forehead.
– She thought I had done that! … Yes, after all, she could believe it. Fool that I am!
Madame Andermatt, revived, listened avidly. He went out of his wallet a small package in all respects similar to that which had prevailed Mr. Andermatt.
– Here are your letters, Madame, the true ones.
– But … the others?
– The other are the same as these, but copied by me this night, and carefully arranged. Your husband will be most pleased to read that he did not doubt the substitution, since everything seemed to happen before his eyes …
– The writing…
– There is no writing that I can not imitate.
She thanked him, with the same words of gratitude she had addressed to a man of his world, and I saw that she had not have heard the last words exchanged between Varin and Arsene Lupin.
I looked not without embarrassment, not knowing what to say to this old friend who was revealed to me in one day so unexpected. Lupin! He was Lupin! My circle classmate was none other than Lupin! I could not believe it. But he, very comfortable:
– You can say goodbye to John Daspry.
– Yes, Jean Daspry goes on a trip. I send it in Morocco. It is quite possible that there is an end worthy of him. I even admit that it is his intention.
– But Arsene Lupin left?
– Oh! More than ever. Arsene Lupin is still at the beginning of his career, and he hopes …
An irresistible impulse of curiosity threw myself at him, and driving him away some distance from Madame Andermatt:
– You have therefore ended up discovering the second hiding place, one where the packet of letters was?
– I have had enough trouble! It is only yesterday afternoon, while you were lying. And yet, God knows how easy it was! But the simplest things are the things that we think last.
And showing me the seven of heart:
– I guessed that, to open the large chest, you had to press the card against the sword of the man in mosaic …
– How did you guess that?
– Easily. For my particular information, I knew coming here, June 22 in the evening …
– After leaving me …
Yes, and after you ended by conversations in such a nervous and impressionable state of mind that you would inevitably let me act as I please, without leaving your bed.
– The reasoning was correct.
– I knew then, by coming here, that there was a hidden cassette in a secret lock box, and the seven of heart was the key, the word of this lock. It was no more than seven heart flatten it to a place that was clearly reserved for him. An hour of checking was enough.
– One hour!
– Take a look at the fellow in mosaic.
– The old emperor?
– This old emperor is the exact representation of the king of heart of all card games, Charlemagne.
– Really … But why the seven of heart opens sometimes the big chest and sometimes the small one? And why did you first opened the big chest?
– What for? But because I always persisted in placing the seven of heart in the same direction. Only yesterday I realized that turning it, that is to say by putting the seventh item, the middle, in the air instead of putting it down, the disposal of seven points changed.
– Obviously, Egad, but still had to think about it.
– Another thing: you did not know the history of letters until Madame Andermatt …
– She spoke in front of me? Yes, I do. I had found in the trunk, in addition to the case, the correspondence of the two brothers, correspondence that put me on the path of their betrayal.
– Sum in all, it was by chance that you first reconstruct the history of the two brothers, and seek the submarine’s plans and documents?
– By chance.
– But what purpose you are looking for? …
Daspry interrupted me with a laugh:
– My God! As this matter interests you!
– It excites me.
– Well, soon, when reappointing Madam. Andermatt and bringing to the Écho de France the word I am going to write, I will return and we will go into detail.
He sat down and wrote one of those little terse notes where fantasy of the character entertains himself. Who does not remember the noise made by it around the world?
“Arsene Lupin solved the problem posed by Salvator lately. Master of all original documents and plans of the engineer Louis Lacombe, he forwarded them in the hands of the Minister of the Navy. On that occasion he opened a subscription in order to offer the state the first submarine constructed according to these plans. And he enrolled himself at the head of this subscription to the sum of twenty thousand francs.”
– The twenty thousand francs of Mr. Andermatt’s checks? I said, when he gave me the paper to read.
– Of course. It was fair that Varin partly redeem his treason.
* * *
And that’s how I met Arsene Lupin. Here’s how I knew that Jean Daspry, my circle comrade, worldly relationship, was none other than Arsene Lupin, the gentleman burglar. Here’s how I formed friendships with our very pleasant great man, and how, little by little, thanks to the confidence he wants to honor me, I became his most humble, faithful and very grateful historian.
Translated by Nicolae Sfetcu