The Crystal Stopper
Chapter 9: In the Dark
An hotel bedroom at Amiens.
Lupin was recovering a little consciousness for the first time. Clarisse and the Masher were seated by his bedside.
Both were talking; and Lupin listened to them, without opening his eyes. He learned that they had feared for his life, but that all danger was now removed. Next, in the course of the conversation, he caught certain words that revealed to him what had happened in the tragic night at Mortepierre: Daubrecq's descent; the dismay of the accomplices, when they saw that it was not the governor; then the short struggle: Clarisse flinging herself on Daubrecq and receiving a wound in the shoulder; Daubrecq leaping to the bank; the Growler firing two revolver-shots and darting off in pursuit of him; the Masher clambering up the ladder and finding the governor in a swoon:
"True as I live," said the Masher, "I can't make out even now how he did not roll over. There was a sort of hollow at that place, but it was a sloping hollow; and, half dead as he was, he must have hung on with his ten fingers. Crikey, it was time I came!"
Lupin listened, listened in despair. He collected his strength to grasp and understand the words. But suddenly a terrible sentence was uttered: Clarisse, weeping, spoke of the eighteen days that had elapsed, eighteen more days lost to Gilbert's safety.
Eighteen days! The figure terrified Lupin. He felt that all was over, that he would never be able to recover his strength and resume the struggle and that Gilbert and Vaucheray were doomed ... His brain slipped away from him. The fever returned and the delirium.
And more days came and went. It was perhaps the time of his life of which Lupin speaks with the greatest horror. He retained just enough consciousness and had sufficiently lucid moments to realize the position exactly. But he was not able to coordinate his ideas, to follow a line of argument nor to instruct or forbid his friends to adopt this or that line of conduct.
Often, when he emerged from his torpor, he found his hand in Clarisse's and, in that half-slumbering condition in which a fever keeps you, he would address strange words to her, words of love and passion, imploring her and thanking her and blessing her for all the light and joy which she had brought into his darkness.
Then, growing calmer and not fully understanding what he had said, he tried to jest:
"I have been delirious, have I not? What a heap of nonsense I must have talked!"
But Lupin felt by Clarisse's silence that he could safely talk as much nonsense as ever his fever suggested to him. She did not hear. The care and attention which she lavished on the patient, her devotion, her vigilance, her alarm at the least relapse: all this was meant not for him, but for the possible saviour of Gilbert. She anxiously watched the progress of his convalescence. How soon would he be fit to resume the campaign? Was it not madness to linger by his side, when every day carried away a little hope?
Lupin never ceased repeating to himself, with the inward belief that, by so doing, he could influence the course of his illness:
"I will get well ... I will get well..."
And he lay for days on end without moving, so as not to disturb the dressing of his wound nor increase the excitement of his nerves in the smallest degree.
He also strove not to think of Daubrecq. But the image of his dire adversary haunted him; and he reconstituted the various phases of the escape, the descent of the cliff ... One day, struck by a terrible memory, he exclaimed:
"The list! The list of the Twenty-seven! Daubrecq must have it by now ... or else d'Albufex. It was on the table!"
Clarisse reassured him:
"No one can have taken it," she declared. "The Growler was in Paris that same day, with a note from me for Prasville, entreating him to redouble his watch in the Square Lamartine, so that no one should enter, especially d'Albufex..."
"He is wounded. He cannot have gone home."
"Ah, well," he said, "that's all right! ... But you too were wounded..."
"A mere scratch on the shoulder."
Lupin was easier in his mind after these revelations. Nevertheless, he was pursued by stubborn notions which he was unable either to drive from his brain or to put into words. Above all, he thought incessantly of that name of "Marie" which Daubrecq's sufferings had drawn from him. What did the name refer to? Was it the title of one of the books on the shelves, or a part of the title? Would the book in question supply the key to the mystery? Or was it the combination word of a safe? Was it a series of letters written somewhere: on a wall, on a paper, on a wooden panel, on the mount of a drawing, on an invoice?
These questions, to which he was unable to find a reply, obsessed and exhausted him.
One morning Arsene Lupin woke feeling a great deal better. The wound was closed, the temperature almost normal. The doctor, a personal friend, who came every day from Paris, promised that he might get up two days later. And, on that day, in the absence of his accomplices and of Mme. Mergy, all three of whom had left two days before, in quest of information, he had himself moved to the open window.
He felt life return to him with the sunlight, with the balmy air that announced the approach of spring. He recovered the concatenation of his ideas; and facts once more took their place in his brain in their logical sequence and in accordance with their relations one to the other.
In the evening he received a telegram from Clarisse to say that things were going badly and that she, the Growler and the Masher were all staying in Paris. He was much disturbed by this wire and had a less quiet night. What could the news be that had given rise to Clarisse's telegram?
But, the next day, she arrived in his room looking very pale, her eyes red with weeping, and, utterly worn out, dropped into a chair:
"The appeal has been rejected," she stammered.
He mastered his emotion and asked, in a voice of surprise:
"Were you relying on that?"
"No, no," she said, "but, all the same ... one hopes in spite of one's self."
"Was it rejected yesterday?"
"A week ago. The Masher kept it from me; and I have not dared to read the papers lately."
"There is always the commutation of sentence," he suggested.
"The commutation? Do you imagine that they will commute the sentence of Arsene Lupin's accomplices?"
She ejaculated the words with a violence and a bitterness which he pretended not to notice; and he said:
"Vaucheray perhaps not ... But they will take pity on Gilbert, on his youth..."
"They will do nothing of the sort."
"How do you know?"
"I have seen his counsel."
"You have seen his counsel! And you told him..."
"I told him that I was Gilbert's mother and I asked him whether, by proclaiming my son's identity, we could not influence the result ... or at least delay it."
"You would do that?" he whispered. "You would admit..."
"Gilbert's life comes before everything. What do I care about my name! What do I care about my husband's name!"
"And your little Jacques?" he objected. "Have you the right to ruin Jacques, to make him the brother of a man condemned to death?"
She hung her head. And he resumed:
"What did the counsel say?"
"He said that an act of that sort would not help Gilbert in the remotest degree. And, in spite of all his protests, I could see that, as far as he was concerned, he had no illusions left and that the pardoning commission are bound to find in favour of the execution."
"The commission, I grant you; but what of the president of the Republic?"
"The president always goes by the advice of the commission."
"He will not do so this time."
"And why not?"
"Because we shall bring influence to bear upon him."
"By the conditional surrender of the list of the Twenty-seven!"
"Have you it?"
"No, but I shall have it."
His certainty had not wavered. He made the statement with equal calmness and faith in the infinite power of his will.
She had lost some part of her confidence in him and she shrugged her shoulders lightly:
"If d'Albufex has not purloined the list, one man alone can exercise any influence; one man alone: Daubrecq."
She spoke these words in a low and absent voice that made him shudder. Was she still thinking, as he had often seemed to feel, of going back to Daubrecq and paying him for Gilbert's life?
"You have sworn an oath to me," he said. "I'm reminding you of it. It was agreed that the struggle with Daubrecq should be directed by me and that there would never be a possibility of any arrangement between you and him."
"I don't even know where he is. If I knew, wouldn't you know?"
It was an evasive answer. But he did not insist, resolving to watch her at the opportune time; and he asked her, for he had not yet been told all the details:
"Then it's not known what became of Daubrecq?"
"No. Of course, one of the Growler's bullets struck him. For, next day, we picked up, in a coppice, a handkerchief covered with blood. Also, it seems that a man was seen at Aumale Station, looking very tired and walking with great difficulty. He took a ticket for Paris, stepped into the first train and that is all..."
"He must be seriously wounded," said Lupin, "and he is nursing himself in some safe retreat. Perhaps, also, he considers it wise to lie low for a few weeks and avoid any traps on the part of the police, d'Albufex, you, myself and all his other enemies."
He stopped to think and continued:
"What has happened at Mortepierre since Daubrecq's escape? Has there been no talk in the neighbourhood?"
"No, the rope was removed before daybreak, which proves that Sebastiani or his sons discovered Daubrecq's flight on the same night. Sebastiani was away the whole of the next day."
"Yes, he will have informed the marquis. And where is the marquis himself?"
"At home. And, from what the Growler has heard, there is nothing suspicious there either."
"Are they certain that he has not been inside Daubrecq's house?"
"As certain as they can be."
"Have you seen Prasville?"
"Prasville is away on leave. But Chief-inspector Blanchon, who has charge of the case, and the detectives who are guarding the house declare that, in accordance with Prasville's instructions, their watch is not relaxed for a moment, even at night; that one of them, turn and turn about, is always on duty in the study; and that no one, therefore, can have gone in."
"So, on principle," Arsene Lupin concluded, "the crystal stopper must still be in Daubrecq's study?"
"If it was there before Daubrecq's disappearance, it should be there now."
"And on the study-table."
"On the study-table? Why do you say that?"
"Because I know," said Lupin, who had not forgotten Sebastiani's words.
"But you don't know the article in which the stopper is hidden?"
"No. But a study-table, a writing-desk, is a limited space. One can explore it in twenty minutes. One can demolish it, if necessary, in ten."
The conversation had tired Arsene Lupin a little. As he did not wish to commit the least imprudence, he said to Clarisse:
"Listen. I will ask you to give me two or three days more. This is Monday, the 4th of March. On Wednesday or Thursday, at latest, I shall be up and about. And you can be sure that we shall succeed."
"And, in the meantime..."
"In the meantime, go back to Paris. Take rooms, with the Growler and the Masher, in the Hotel Franklin, near the Trocadero, and keep a watch on Daubrecq's house. You are free to go in and out as you please. Stimulate the zeal of the detectives on duty."
"Suppose Daubrecq returns?"
"If he returns, that will be so much the better: we shall have him."
"And, if he only passes?"
"In that case, the Growler and the Masher must follow him."
"And if they lose sight of him?"
Lupin did not reply. No one felt more than he how fatal it was to remain inactive in a hotel bedroom and how useful his presence would have been on the battlefield! Perhaps even this vague idea had already prolonged his illness beyond the ordinary limits.
"Go now, please."
There was a constraint between them which increased as the awful day drew nigh. In her injustice, forgetting or wishing to forget that it was she who had forced her son into the Enghien enterprise, Mme. Mergy did not forget that the law was pursuing Gilbert with such rigour not so much because he was a criminal as because he was an accomplice of Arsene Lupin's. And then, notwithstanding all his efforts, notwithstanding his prodigious expenditure of energy, what result had Lupin achieved, when all was said? How far had his intervention benefited Gilbert?
After a pause, she rose and left him alone.
The next day he was feeling rather low. But on the day after, the Wednesday, when his doctor wanted him to keep quiet until the end of the week, he said:
"If not, what have I to fear?"
"A return of the fever."
"No. The wound is pretty well healed."
"Then I don't care. I'll go back with you in your car. We shall be in Paris by mid-day."
What decided Lupin to start at once was, first, a letter in which Clarisse told him that she had found Daubrecq's traces, and, also, a telegram, published in the Amiens papers, which stated that the Marquis d'Albufex had been arrested for his complicity in the affair of the canal.
Daubrecq was taking his revenge.
Now the fact that Daubrecq was taking his revenge proved that the marquis had not been able to prevent that revenge by seizing the document which was on the writing-desk in the study. It proved that Chief-inspector Blanchon and the detectives had kept a good watch. It proved that the crystal stopper was still in the Square Lamartine.
It was still there; and this showed either that Daubrecq had not ventured to go home, or else that his state of health hindered him from doing so, or else again that he had sufficient confidence in the hiding-place not to trouble to put himself out.
In any case, there was no doubt as to the course to be pursued: Lupin must act and he must act smartly. He must forestall Daubrecq and get hold of the crystal stopper.
When they had crossed the Bois de Boulogne and were nearing the Square Lamartine, Lupin took leave of the doctor and stopped the car. The Growler and the Masher, to whom he had wired, met him.
"Where's Mme. Mergy?" he asked.
"She has not been back since yesterday; she sent us an express message to say that she saw Daubrecq leaving his cousins' place and getting into a cab. She knows the number of the cab and will keep us informed."
"No other news?"
"Yes, the Paris-Midi says that d'Albufex opened his veins last night, with a piece of broken glass, in his cell at the Sante. He seems to have left a long letter behind him, confessing his fault, but accusing Daubrecq of his death and exposing the part played by Daubrecq in the canal affair."
"Is that all?"
"No. The same paper stated that it has reason to believe that the pardoning commission, after examining the record, has rejected Vaucheray and Gilbert's petition and that their counsel will probably be received in audience by the president on Friday."
Lupin gave a shudder.
"They're losing no time," he said. "I can see that Daubrecq, on the very first day, put the screw on the old judicial machine. One short week more ... and the knife falls. My poor Gilbert! If, on Friday next, the papers which your counsel submits to the president of the Republic do not contain the conditional offer of the list of the Twenty-seven, then, my poor Gilbert, you are done for!"
"Come, come, governor, are you losing courage?"
"I? Rot! I shall have the crystal stopper in an hour. In two hours, I shall see Gilbert's counsel. And the nightmare will be over."
"Well done, governor! That's like your old self. Shall we wait for you here?"
"No, go back to your hotel. I'll join you later."
They parted. Lupin walked straight to the house and rang the bell.
A detective opened the door and recognized him:
"M. Nicole, I believe?"
"Yes," he said. "Is Chief-inspector Blanchon here?"
"Can I speak to him?"
The man took him to the study, where Chief-inspector Blanchon welcomed him with obvious pleasure.
"Well, chief-inspector, one would say there was something new?"
"M. Nicole, my orders are to place myself entirely at your disposal; and I may say that I am very glad to see you to-day."
"Because there is something new."
"Something very serious."
"Daubrecq has returned."
"Eh, what!" exclaimed Lupin, with a start. "Daubrecq returned? Is he here?"
"No, he has gone."
"And did he come in here, in the study?"
"And you did not prevent him?"
"What right had I?"
"And you left him alone?"
"By his positive orders, yes, we left him alone."
Lupin felt himself turn pale. Daubrecq had come back to fetch the crystal stopper!
He was silent for some time and repeated to himself:
"He came back to fetch it ... He was afraid that it would be found and he has taken it ... Of course, it was inevitable ... with d'Albufex arrested, with d'Albufex accused and accusing him, Daubrecq was bound to defend himself. It's a difficult game for him. After months and months of mystery, the public is at last learning that the infernal being who contrived the whole tragedy of the Twenty-Seven and who ruins and kills his adversaries is he, Daubrecq. What would become of him if, by a miracle, his talisman did not protect him? He has taken it back."
And, trying to make his voice sound firm, he asked:
"Did he stay long?"
"Twenty seconds, perhaps."
"What! Twenty seconds? No longer?"
"What time was it?"
"Could he have known of the Marquis d'Albufex' suicide by then?"
"Yes. I saw the special edition of the Paris-Midi in his pocket."
"That's it, that's it," said Lupin. And he asked, "Did M. Prasville give you no special instructions in case Daubrecq should return?"
"No. So, in M. Prasville's absence, I telephoned to the police-office and I am waiting. The disappearance of Daubrecq the deputy caused a great stir, as you know, and our presence here has a reason, in the eyes of the public, as long as that disappearance continues. But, now that Daubrecq has returned, now that we have proofs that he is neither under restraint nor dead, how can we stay in the house?"