The Crystal Stopper
Chapter 8: The Lovers' Tower

 

The torture-chamber showed beneath him. It was a large, irregular room, divided into unequal portions by the four wide, massive pillars that supported its arched roof. A smell of damp and mildew came from its walls and from its flags moistened by the water that trickled from without. Its appearance at any time must have been gruesome. But, at that moment, with the tall figures of Sebastiani and his sons, with the slanting gleams of light that fell between the pillars, with the vision of the captive chained down upon the truckle-bed, it assumed a sinister and barbarous aspect.

Daubrecq was in the front part of the room, four or five yards down from the window at which Lupin lurked. In addition to the ancient chains that had been used to fasten him to his bed and to fasten the bed to an iron hook in the wall, his wrists and ankles were girt with leather thongs; and an ingenious arrangement caused his least movement to set in motion a bell hung to the nearest pillar.

A lamp placed on a stool lit him full in the face.

The Marquis d'Albufex was standing beside him. Lupin could see his pale features, his grizzled moustache, his long, lean form as he looked at his prisoner with an expression of content and of gratified hatred.

A few minutes passed in profound silence. Then the marquis gave an order:

"Light those three candles, Sebastiani, so that I can see him better."

And, when the three candles were lit and he had taken a long look at Daubrecq, he stooped over him and said, almost gently:

"I can't say what will be the end of you and me. But at any rate I shall have had some deuced happy moments in this room. You have done me so much harm, Daubrecq! The tears you have made me shed! Yes, real tears, real sobs of despair ... The money you have robbed me of! A fortune! ... And my terror at the thought that you might give me away! You had but to utter my name to complete my ruin and bring about my disgrace! ... Oh, you villain!..."

Daubrecq did not budge. He had been deprived of his black glasses, but still kept his spectacles, which reflected the light from the candles. He had lost a good deal of flesh; and the bones stood out above his sunken cheeks.

"Come along," said d'Albufex. "The time has come to act. It seems that there are rogues prowling about the neighbourhood. Heaven forbid that they are here on your account and try to release you; for that would mean your immediate death, as you know ... Is the trapdoor still in working order, Sebastiani?"

Sebastiani came nearer, knelt on one knee and lifted and turned a ring, at the foot of the bed, which Lupin had not noticed. One of the flagstones moved on a pivot, disclosing a black hole.

"You see," the marquis continued, "everything is provided for; and I have all that I want at hand, including dungeons: bottomless dungeons, says the legend of the castle. So there is nothing to hope for, no help of any kind. Will you speak?"

Daubrecq did not reply; and he went on:

"This is the fourth time that I am questioning you, Daubrecq. It is the fourth time that I have troubled to ask you for the document which you possess, in order that I may escape your blackmailing proceedings. It is the fourth time and the last. Will you speak?"

The same silence as before. D'Albufex made a sign to Sebastiani. The huntsman stepped forward, followed by two of his sons. One of them held a stick in his hand.

"Go ahead," said d'Albufex, after waiting a few seconds.

Sebastiani slackened the thongs that bound Daubrecq's wrists and inserted and fixed the stick between the thongs.

"Shall I turn, monsieur le marquis?"

A further silence. The marquis waited. Seeing that Daubrecq did not flinch, he whispered:

"Can't you speak? Why expose yourself to physical suffering?"

No reply.

"Turn away, Sebastiani."

Sebastiani made the stick turn a complete circle. The thongs stretched and tightened. Daubrecq gave a groan.

"You won't speak? Still, you know that I won't give way, that I can't give way, that I hold you and that, if necessary, I shall torture you till you die of it. You won't speak? You won't? ... Sebastiani, once more."

The huntsman obeyed. Daubrecq gave a violent start of pain and fell back on his bed with a rattle in his throat.

"You fool!" cried the marquis, shaking with rage. "Why don't you speak? What, haven't you had enough of that list? Surely it's somebody else's turn! Come, speak ... Where is it? One word. One word only ... and we will leave you in peace ... And, to-morrow, when I have the list, you shall be free. Free, do you understand? But, in Heaven's name, speak! ... Oh, the brute! Sebastiani, one more turn."

Sebastiani made a fresh effort. The bones cracked.

"Help! Help!" cried Daubrecq, in a hoarse voice, vainly struggling to release himself. And, in a spluttering whisper, "Mercy ... mercy."

It was a dreadful sight ... The faces of the three sons were horror-struck. Lupin shuddered, sick at heart, and realized that he himself could never have accomplished that abominable thing. He listened for the words that were bound to come. He must learn the truth. Daubrecq's secret was about to be expressed in syllables, in words wrung from him by pain. And Lupin began to think of his retreat, of the car which was waiting for him, of the wild rush to Paris, of the victory at hand.

"Speak," whispered d'Albufex. "Speak and it will be over."

"Yes ... yes..." gasped Daubrecq.

"Well... ?"

"Later ... to-morrow..."

"Oh, you're mad! ... What are you talking about: to-morrow? ... Sebastiani, another turn!"

"No, no!" yelled Daubrecq. "Stop!"

"Speak!"

"Well, then ... the paper ... I have hidden the paper..."

But his pain was too great. He raised his head with a last effort, uttered incoherent words, succeeded in twice saying, "Marie ... Marie..." and fell back, exhausted and lifeless.

"Let go at once!" said d'Albufex to Sebastiani. "Hang it all, can we have overdone it?"

But a rapid examination showed him that Daubrecq had only fainted. Thereupon, he himself, worn out with the excitement, dropped on the foot of the bed and, wiping the beads of perspiration from his forehead, stammered:

"Oh, what a dirty business!"

"Perhaps that's enough for to-day," said the huntsman, whose rough face betrayed a certain emotion. "We might try again to-morrow or the next day..."

The marquis was silent. One of the sons handed him a flask of brandy. He poured out half a glass and drank it down at a draught:

"To-morrow?" he said. "No. Here and now. One little effort more. At the stage which he has reached, it won't be difficult." And, taking the huntsman aside, "Did you hear what he said? What did he mean by that word, 'Marie'? He repeated it twice."

"Yes, twice," said the huntsman. "Perhaps he entrusted the document to a person called Marie."

"Not he!" protested d'Albufex. "He never entrusts anything to anybody. It means something different."

"But what, monsieur le marquis?"

"We'll soon find out, I'll answer for it."

At that moment, Daubrecq drew a long breath and stirred on his couch.

D'Albufex, who had now recovered all his composure and who did not take his eyes off the enemy, went up to him and said:

"You see, Daubrecq, it's madness to resist ... Once you're beaten, there's nothing for it but to submit to your conqueror, instead of allowing yourself to be tortured like an idiot ... Come, be sensible."

He turned to Sebastiani:

"Tighten the rope ... let him feel it a little that will wake him up ... He's shamming death..." Sebastiani took hold of the stick again and turned until the cord touched the swollen flesh. Daubrecq gave a start.

"That'll do, Sebastiani," said the marquis. "Our friend seems favourably disposed and understands the need for coming to terms. That's so, Daubrecq, is it not? You prefer to have done with it? And you're quite right!"

The two men were leaning over the sufferer, Sebastiani with his hand on the stick, d'Albufex holding the lamp so as to throw the light on Daubrecq's face: "His lips are moving ... he's going to speak. Loosen the rope a little, Sebastiani: I don't want our friend to be hurt ... No, tighten it: I believe our friend is hesitating ... One turn more ... stop! ... That's done it! Oh, my dear Daubrecq, if you can't speak plainer than that, it's no use! What? What did you say?"

Arsene Lupin muttered an oath. Daubrecq was speaking and he, Lupin, could not hear a word of what he said! In vain, he pricked up his ears, suppressed the beating of his heart and the throbbing of his temples: not a sound reached him.

"Confound it!" he thought. "I never expected this. What am I to do?"

He was within an ace of covering Daubrecq with his revolver and putting a bullet into him which would cut short any explanation. But he reflected that he himself would then be none the wiser and that it was better to trust to events in the hope of making the most of them.

Meanwhile the confession continued beneath him, indistinctly, interrupted by silences and mingled with moans. D'Albufex clung to his prey:

"Go on! ... Finish, can't you?..."

And he punctuated the sentences with exclamations of approval:

"Good! ... Capital! ... Oh, how funny! ... And no one suspected? ... Not even Prasville? ... What an ass! ... Loosen a bit, Sebastiani: don't you see that our friend is out of breath? ... Keep calm, Daubrecq ... don't tire yourself ... And so, my dear fellow, you were saying..."

That was the last. There was a long whispering to which d'Albufex listened without further interruption and of which Arsene Lupin could not catch the least syllable. Then the marquis drew himself up and exclaimed, joyfully:

"That's it! ... Thank you, Daubrecq. And, believe me, I shall never forget what you have just done. If ever you're in need, you have only to knock at my door and there will always be a crust of bread for you in the kitchen and a glass of water from the filter. Sebastiani, look after monsieur le depute as if he were one of your sons. And, first of all, release him from his bonds. It's a heartless thing to truss one's fellow-man like that, like a chicken on the spit!"

"Shall we give him something to drink?" suggested the huntsman.

"Yes, that's it, give him a drink."

Sebastiani and his sons undid the leather straps, rubbed the bruised wrists, dressed them with an ointment and bandaged them. Then Daubrecq swallowed a few drops of brandy.

"Feeling better?" said the marquis. "Pooh, it's nothing much! In a few hours, it won't show; and you'll be able to boast of having been tortured, as in the good old days of the Inquisition. You lucky dog!"

He took out his watch. "Enough said! Sebastiani, let your sons watch him in turns. You, take me to the station for the last train."

"Then are we to leave him like that, monsieur le marquis, free to move as he pleases?"

"Why not? You don't imagine that we are going to keep him here to the day of his death? No, Daubrecq, sleep quietly. I shall go to your place tomorrow afternoon; and, if the document is where you told me, a telegram shall be sent off at once and you shall be set free. You haven't told me a lie, I suppose?"

He went back to Daubrecq and, stooping over him again:

"No humbug, eh? That would be very silly of you. I should lose a day, that's all. Whereas you would lose all the days that remain to you to live. But no, the hiding-place is too good. A fellow doesn't invent a thing like that for fun. Come on, Sebastiani. You shall have the telegram to-morrow."

"And suppose they don't let you into the house, monsieur le marquis?"

"Why shouldn't they?"

"The house in the Square Lamartine is occupied by Prasville's men."

"Don't worry, Sebastiani. I shall get in. If they don't open the door, there's always the window. And, if the window won't open, I shall arrange with one of Prasville's men. It's a question of money, that's all. And, thank goodness, I shan't be short of that, henceforth! Good-night, Daubrecq."

He went out, accompanied by Sebastiani, and the heavy door closed after them.

Lupin at once effected his retreat, in accordance with a plan which he had worked out during this scene.

The plan was simple enough: to scramble, by means of his rope, to the bottom of the cliff, take his friends with him, jump into the motor-car and attack d'Albufex and Sebastiani on the deserted road that leads to Aumale Station. There could be no doubt about the issue of the contest. With d'Albufex and Sebastiani prisoners; it would be an easy matter to make one of them speak. D'Albufex had shown him how to set about it; and Clarisse Mergy would be inflexible where it was a question of saving her son.

He took the rope with which he had provided himself and groped about to find a jagged piece of rock round which to pass it, so as to leave two equal lengths hanging, by which he could let himself down. But, when he found what he wanted, instead of acting swiftly--for the business was urgent--he stood motionless, thinking. His scheme failed to satisfy him at the last moment.

"It's absurd, what I'm proposing," he said to himself. "Absurd and illogical. How can I tell that d'Albufex and Sebastiani will not escape me? How can I even tell that, once they are in my power, they will speak? No, I shall stay. There are better things to try ... much better things. It's not those two I must be at, but Daubrecq. He's done for; he has not a kick left in him. If he has told the marquis his secret, there is no reason why he shouldn't tell it to Clarisse and me, when we employ the same methods. That's settled! We'll kidnap the Daubrecq bird." And he continued, "Besides, what do I risk? If the scheme miscarries, Clarisse and I will rush off to Paris and, together with Prasville, organize a careful watch in the Square Lamartine to prevent d'Albufex from benefiting by Daubrecq's revelations. The great thing is for Prasville to be warned of the danger. He shall be."

The church-clock in a neighbouring village struck twelve. That gave Lupin six or seven hours to put his new plan into execution. He set to work forthwith.

When moving away from the embrasure which had the window at the bottom of it, he had come upon a clump of small shrubs in one of the hollows of the cliff. He cut away a dozen of these, with his knife, and whittled them all down to the same size. Then he cut off two equal lengths from his rope. These were the uprights of the ladder. He fastened the twelve little sticks between the uprights and thus contrived a rope-ladder about six yards long.

When he returned to this post, there was only one of the three sons beside Daubrecq's bed in the torture-chamber. He was smoking his pipe by the lamp. Daubrecq was asleep.

"Hang it!" thought Lupin. "Is the fellow going to sit there all night? In that case, there's nothing for me to do but to slip off..."

The idea that d'Albufex was in possession of the secret vexed him mightily. The interview at which he had assisted had left the clear impression in his mind that the marquis was working "on his own" and that, in securing the list, he intended not only to escape Daubrecq's activity, but also to gain Daubrecq's power and build up his fortune anew by the identical means which Daubrecq had employed.

That would have meant, for Lupin, a fresh battle to wage against a fresh enemy. The rapid march of events did not allow of the contemplation of such a possibility. He must at all costs spike the Marquis d'Albufex' guns by warning Prasville.

However, Lupin remained held back by the stubborn hope of some incident that would give him the opportunity of acting.

The clock struck half-past twelve.

It struck one.

The waiting became terrible, all the more so as an icy mist rose from the valley and Lupin felt the cold penetrate to his very marrow.

He heard the trot of a horse in the distance:

"Sebastiani returning from the station," he thought.

But the son who was watching in the torture-chamber, having finished his packet of tobacco, opened the door and asked his brothers if they had a pipeful for him. They made some reply; and he went out to go to the lodge.

And Lupin was astounded. No sooner was the door closed than Daubrecq, who had been so sound asleep, sat up on his couch, listened, put one foot to the ground, followed by the other, and, standing up, tottering a little, but firmer on his legs than one would have expected, tried his strength.

"Well" said Lupin, "the beggar doesn't take long recovering. He can very well help in his own escape. There's just one point that ruffles me: will he allow himself to be convinced? Will he consent to go with me? Will he not think that this miraculous assistance which comes to him straight from heaven is a trap laid by the marquis?"

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