The Crystal Stopper
Chapter 10: Extra-Dry?
On one of the hills that girdle Nice with the finest scenery in the world, between the Vallon de Saint-Silvestre and the Vallon de La Mantega, stands a huge hotel which overlooks the town and the wonderful Baie des Anges. A crowd flocks to it from all parts, forming a medley of every class and nation.
On the evening of the same Saturday when Lupin, the Growler and the Masher were plunging into Italy, Clarisse Mergy entered this hotel, asked for a bedroom facing south and selected No. 130, on the second floor, a room which had been vacant since that morning.
The room was separated from No. 129 by two partition-doors. As soon as she was alone, Clarisse pulled back the curtain that concealed the first door, noiselessly drew the bolt and put her ear to the second door:
"He is here," she thought. "He is dressing to go to the club ... as he did yesterday."
When her neighbour had gone, she went into the passage and, availing herself of a moment when there was no one in sight, walked up to the door of No. 129. The door was locked.
She waited all the evening for her neighbour's return and did not go to bed until two o'clock. On Sunday morning, she resumed her watch.
The neighbour went out at eleven. This time he left the key in the door.
Hurriedly turning the key, Clarisse entered boldly, went to the partition-door, raised the curtain, drew the bolt and found herself in her own room.
In a few minutes, she heard two chambermaids doing the room in No. 129.
She waited until they were gone. Then, feeling sure that she would not be disturbed, she once more slipped into the other room.
Her excitement made her lean against a chair. After days and nights of stubborn pursuit, after alternate hopes and disappointments, she had at last succeeded in entering a room occupied by Daubrecq. She could look about at her ease; and, if she did not discover the crystal stopper, she could at least hide in the space between the partition-doors, behind the hanging, see Daubrecq, spy upon his movements and surprise his secret.
She looked around her. A travelling-bag at once caught her attention. She managed to open it; but her search was useless.
She ransacked the trays of a trunk and the compartments of a portmanteau. She searched the wardrobe, the writing-table, the chest of drawers, the bathroom, all the tables, all the furniture. She found nothing.
She gave a start when she saw a scrap of paper on the balcony, lying as though flung there by accident:
"Can it be a trick of Daubrecq's?" she thought, out loud. "Can that scrap of paper contain..."
"No," said a voice behind her, as she put her hand on the latch.
She turned and saw Daubrecq.
She felt neither astonishment nor alarm, nor even any embarrassment at finding herself face to face with him. She had suffered too deeply for months to trouble about what Daubrecq could think of her or say, at catching her in the act of spying.
She sat down wearily.
"No, you're out of it, dear friend. As the children say, you're not 'burning' at all. Oh, not a bit of it! And it's so easy! Shall I help you? It's next to you, dear friend, on that little table ... And yet, by Jove, there's not much on that little table! Something to read, something to write with, something to smoke, something to eat ... and that's all ... Will you have one of these candied fruits? ... Or perhaps you would rather wait for the more substantial meal which I have ordered?"
Clarisse made no reply. She did not even seem to listen to what he was saying, as though she expected other words, more serious words, which he could not fail to utter.
He cleared the table of all the things that lay upon it and put them on the mantel-piece. Then he rang the bell.
A head-waiter appeared. Daubrecq asked:
"Is the lunch which I ordered ready?"
"It's for two, isn't it?"
"And the champagne?"
Another waiter brought a tray and laid two covers on the table: a cold lunch, some fruit and a bottle of champagne in an ice-pail.
Then the two waiters withdrew.
"Sit down, dear lady. As you see, I was thinking of you and your cover is laid."
And, without seeming to observe that Clarisse was not at all prepared to do honour to his invitation, he sat down, began to eat and continued:
"Yes, upon my word, I hoped that you would end by consenting to this little private meeting. During the past week, while you were keeping so assiduous a watch upon me, I did nothing but say to myself, 'I wonder which she prefers: sweet champagne, dry champagne, or extra-dry?' I was really puzzled. Especially after our departure from Paris. I had lost your tracks, that is to say, I feared that you had lost mine and abandoned the pursuit which was so gratifying to me. When I went for a walk, I missed your beautiful dark eyes, gleaming with hatred under your hair just touched with gray. But, this morning, I understood: the room next to mine was empty at last; and my friend Clarisse was able to take up her quarters, so to speak, by my bedside. From that moment I was reassured. I felt certain that, on coming back--instead of lunching in the restaurant as usual--I should find you arranging my things to your convenience and suiting your own taste. That was why I ordered two covers: one for your humble servant, the other for his fair friend."
She was listening to him now and in the greatest terror. So Daubrecq knew that he was spied upon! For a whole week he had seen through her and all her schemes!
In a low voice, anxious-eyed, she asked:
"You did it on purpose, did you not? You only went away to drag me with you?"
"Yes," he said.
"But why? Why?"
"Do you mean to say that you don't know?" retorted Daubrecq, laughing with a little cluck of delight.
She half-rose from her chair and, bending toward him, thought, as she thought each time, of the murder which she could commit, of the murder which she would commit. One revolver-shot and the odious brute was done for.
Slowly her hand glided to the weapon concealed in her bodice.
"One second, dear friend ... You can shoot presently; but I beg you first to read this wire which I have just received."
She hesitated, not knowing what trap he was laying for her; but he went on, as he produced a telegram:
"It's about your son."
"Gilbert?" she asked, greatly concerned.
"Yes, Gilbert ... Here, read it."
She gave a yell of dismay. She had read:
"Execution on Tuesday morning."
And she at once flung herself on Daubrecq, crying:
"It's not true! ... It's a lie ... to madden me ... Oh, I know you: you are capable of anything! Confess! It won't be on Tuesday, will it? In two days! No, no ... I tell you, we have four days yet, five days, in which to save him ... Confess it, confess it!"
She had no strength left, exhausted by this fit of rebellion; and her voice uttered none but inarticulate sounds.
He looked at her for a moment, then poured himself out a glass of champagne and drank it down at a gulp. He took a few steps up and down the room, came back to her and said:
"Listen to me, darling..."
The insult made her quiver with an unexpected energy. She drew herself up and, panting with indignation, said:
"I forbid you ... I forbid you to speak to me like that. I will not accept such an outrage. You wretch!..."
He shrugged his shoulders and resumed:
"Pah, I see you're not quite alive to the position. That comes, of course, because you still hope for assistance in some quarter. Prasville, perhaps? The excellent Prasville, whose right hand you are ... My dear friend, a forlorn hope ... You must know that Prasville is mixed up in the Canal affair! Not directly: that is to say, his name is not on the list of the Twenty-seven; but it is there under the name of one of his friends, an ex-deputy called Vorenglade, Stanislas Vorenglade, his man of straw, apparently: a penniless individual whom I left alone and rightly. I knew nothing of all that until this morning, when, lo and behold, I received a letter informing me of the existence of a bundle of documents which prove the complicity of our one and only Prasville! And who is my informant? Vorenglade himself! Vorenglade, who, tired of living in poverty, wants to extort money from Prasville, at the risk of being arrested, and who will be delighted to come to terms with me. And Prasville will get the sack. Oh, what a lark! I swear to you that he will get the sack, the villain! By Jove, but he's annoyed me long enough! Prasville, old boy, you've deserved it..."
He rubbed his hands together, revelling in his coming revenge. And he continued:
"You see, my dear Clarisse ... there's nothing to be done in that direction. What then? What straw will you cling to? Why, I was forgetting: M. Arsene Lupin! Mr. Growler! Mr. Masher! ... Pah, you'll admit that those gentlemen have not shone and that all their feats of prowess have not prevented me from going my own little way. It was bound to be. Those fellows imagine that there's no one to equal them. When they meet an adversary like myself, one who is not to be bounced, it upsets them and they make blunder after blunder, while still believing that they are hoodwinking him like mad. Schoolboys, that's what they are! However, as you seem to have some illusions left about the aforesaid Lupin, as you are counting on that poor devil to crush me and to work a miracle in favour of your innocent Gilbert, come, let's dispel that illusion. Oh! Lupin! Lord above, she believes in Lupin! She places her last hopes in Lupin! Lupin! Just wait till I prick you, my illustrious windbag!"
He took up the receiver of the telephone which communicated with the hall of the hotel and said:
"I'm No. 129, mademoiselle. Would you kindly ask the person sitting opposite your office to come up to me? ... Huh! ... Yes, mademoiselle, the gentleman in a gray felt hat. He knows. Thank you, mademoiselle."
Hanging up the receiver, he turned to Clarisse:
"Don't be afraid. The man is discretion itself. Besides, it's the motto of his trade: 'Discretion and dispatch.' As a retired detective, he has done me a number of services, including that of following you while you were following me. Since our arrival in the south, he has been less busy with you; but that was because he was more busy elsewhere. Come in, Jacob."
He himself opened the door, and a short, thin man, with a red moustache, entered the room.
"Please tell this lady, Jacob, in a few brief words, what you have done since Wednesday evening, when, after letting her get into the train-de-luxe which was taking me from the Gare de Lyon to the south, you yourself remained on the platform at the station. Of course, I am not asking how you spent your time, except in so far as concerns the lady and the business with which I entrusted you."
Jacob dived into the inside-pocket of his jacket and produced a little note-book of which he turned over the pages and read them aloud in the voice of a man reading a report:
"Wednesday evening, 8.15. Gare de Lyon. Wait for two gents, Growler and Masher. They come with another whom I don't know yet, but who can only be M. Nicole. Give a porter ten francs for the loan of his cap and blouse. Accost the gents and tell them, from a lady, 'that they were gone to Monte Carlo.' Next, telephone to the porter at the Hotel Franklin. All telegrams sent to his boss and dispatched by said boss will be read by said hotel-porter and, if necessary, intercepted.
"Thursday. Monte Carlo. The three gents search the hotels.
"Friday. Flying visits to La Turbie, the Cap d'Ail, Cap Martin. M. Daubrecq rings me up. Thinks it wiser to send the gents to Italy. Make the porter of the Hotel Franklin send them a telegram appointing a meeting at San Remo.
"Saturday. San Remo. Station platform. Give the porter of the Ambassadeurs-Palace ten francs for the loan of his cap. The three gents arrive. They speak to me. Explain to them that a lady traveller, Mme. Mergy, is going on to Genoa, to the Hotel Continental. The gents hesitate. M. Nicole wants to get out. The others hold him back. The train starts. Good luck, gents! An hour later, I take the train for France and get out at Nice, to await fresh orders."
Jacob closed his note-book and concluded:
"That's all. To-day's doings will be entered this evening."
"You can enter them now, M. Jacob. '12 noon. M. Daubrecq sends me to the Wagon-Lits Co. I book two berths in the Paris sleeping-car, by the 2.48 train, and send them to M. Daubrecq by express messenger. Then I take the 12.58 train for Vintimille, the frontier-station, where I spend the day on the platform watching all the travellers who come to France. Should Messrs. Nicole, Growler and Masher take it into their heads to leave Italy and return to Paris by way of Nice, my instructions are to telegraph to the headquarters of police that Master Arsene Lupin and two of his accomplices are in train number so-and-so."
While speaking, Daubrecq led Jacob to the door. He closed it after him, turned the key, pushed the bolt and, going up to Clarisse, said:
"And now, darling, listen to me."
This time, she uttered no protest. What could she do against such an enemy, so powerful, so resourceful, who provided for everything, down to the minutest details, and who toyed with his adversaries in such an airy fashion? Even if she had hoped till then for Lupin's interference, how could she do so now, when he was wandering through Italy in pursuit of a shadow?
She understood at last why three telegrams which she had sent to the Hotel Franklin had remained unanswered. Daubrecq was there, lurking in the dark, watching, establishing a void around her, separating her from her comrades in the fight, bringing her gradually, a beaten prisoner, within the four walls of that room.
She felt her weakness. She was at the monster's mercy. She must be silent and resigned.
He repeated, with an evil delight:
"Listen to me, darling. Listen to the irrevocable words which I am about to speak. Listen to them well. It is now 12 o'clock. The last train starts at 2.48: you understand, the last train that can bring me to Paris to-morrow, Monday, in time to save your son. The evening-trains would arrive too late. The trains-de-luxe are full up. Therefore I shall have to start at 2.48. Am I to start?"
"Our berths are booked. Will you come with me?"
"You know my conditions for interfering?"
"Do you accept them?"
"You will marry me?"
Oh, those horrible answers! The unhappy woman gave them in a sort of awful torpor, refusing even to understand what she was promising. Let him start first, let him snatch Gilbert from the engine of death whose vision haunted her day and night ... And then ... and then ... let what must come come...
He burst out laughing: