The Crystal Stopper
Chapter 11: The Cross of Lorraine
The moment Lupin had finished lunch, he at once and, so to speak, without transition, recovered all his mastery and authority. The time for joking was past; and he must no longer yield to his love of astonishing people with claptrap and conjuring tricks. Now that he had discovered the crystal stopper in the hiding-place which he had guessed with absolute certainty, now that he possessed the list of the Twenty-seven, it became a question of playing off the last game of the rubber without delay.
It was child's play, no doubt, and what remained to be done presented no difficulty. Nevertheless, it was essential that he should perform these final actions with promptness, decision and infallible perspicacity. The smallest blunder was irretrievable. Lupin knew this; but his strangely lucid brain had allowed for every contingency. And the movements and words which he was now about to make and utter were all fully prepared and matured:
"Growler, the commissionaire is waiting on the Boulevard Gambetta with his barrow and the trunk which we bought. Bring him here and have the trunk carried up. If the people of the hotel ask any questions, say it's for the lady in No. 130."
Then, addressing his other companion:
"Masher, go back to the station and take over the limousine. The price is arranged: ten thousand francs. Buy a chauffeur's cap and overcoat and bring the car to the hotel."
"The money, governor."
Lupin opened a pocketbook which had been removed from Daubrecq's jacket and produced a huge bundle of bank-notes. He separated ten of them:
"Here you are. Our friend appears to have been doing well at the club. Off with you, Masher!"
The two men went out through Clarisse's room. Lupin availed himself of a moment when Clarisse Mergy was not looking to stow away the pocketbook with the greatest satisfaction:
"I shall have done a fair stroke of business," he said to himself. "When all the expenses are paid, I shall still be well to the good; and it's not over yet."
Then turning to Clarisse Mergy, he asked:
"Have you a bag?"
"Yes, I bought one when I reached Nice, with some linen and a few necessaries; for I left Paris unprepared."
"Get all that ready. Then go down to the office. Say that you are expecting a trunk which a commissionaire is bringing from the station cloakroom and that you will want to unpack and pack it again in your room; and tell them that you are leaving."
When alone, Lupin examined Daubrecq carefully, felt in all his pockets and appropriated everything that seemed to present any sort of interest.
The Growler was the first to return. The trunk, a large wicker hamper covered with black moleskin, was taken into Clarisse's room. Assisted by Clarisse and the Growler, Lupin moved Daubrecq and put him in the trunk, in a sitting posture, but with his head bent so as to allow of the lid being fastened:
"I don't say that it's as comfortable as your berth in a sleeping-car, my dear deputy," Lupin observed. "But, all the same, it's better than a coffin. At least, you can breathe. Three little holes in each side. You have nothing to complain of!"
Then, unstopping a flask:
"A drop more chloroform? You seem to love it!..."
He soaked the pad once more, while, by his orders, Clarisse and the Growler propped up the deputy with linen, rugs and pillows, which they had taken the precaution to heap in the trunk.
"Capital!" said Lupin. "That trunk is fit to go round the world. Lock it and strap it."
The Masher arrived, in a chauffeur's livery:
"The car's below, governor."
"Good," he said. "Take the trunk down between you. It would be dangerous to give it to the hotel-servants."
"But if any one meets us?"
"Well, what then, Masher? Aren't you a chauffeur? You're carrying the trunk of your employer here present, the lady in No. 130, who will also go down, step into her motor ... and wait for me two hundred yards farther on. Growler, you help to hoist the trunk up. Oh, first lock the partition-door!"
Lupin went to the next room, closed the other door, shot the bolt, walked out, locked the door behind him and went down in the lift.
In the office, he said:
"M. Daubrecq has suddenly been called away to Monte Carlo. He asked me to say that he would not be back until Tuesday and that you were to keep his room for him. His things are all there. Here is the key."
He walked away quietly and went after the car, where he found Clarisse lamenting:
"We shall never be in Paris to-morrow! It's madness! The least breakdown..."
"That's why you and I are going to take the train. It's safer..."
He put her into a cab and gave his parting instructions to the two men:
"Thirty miles an hour, on the average, do you understand? You're to drive and rest, turn and turn about. At that rate, you ought to be in Paris between six and seven to-morrow evening. But don't force the pace. I'm keeping Daubrecq, not because I want him for my plans, but as a hostage ... and then by way of precaution ... I like to feel that I can lay my hands on him during the next few days. So look after the dear fellow ... Give him a few drops of chloroform every three or four hours: it's his one weakness ... Off with you, Masher ... And you, Daubrecq, don't get excited up there. The roof'll bear you all right ... If you feel at all sick, don't mind ... Off you go, Masher!"
He watched the car move into the distance and then told the cabman to drive to a post-office, where he dispatched a telegram in these words:
"M. Prasville, Prefecture de Police, Paris:
"Person found. Will bring you document eleven o'clock to-morrow morning. Urgent communication.
Clarisse and Lupin reached the station by half-past two.
"If only there's room!" said Clarisse, who was alarmed at the least thing.
"Room? Why, our berths are booked!"
"By Jacob ... by Daubrecq."
"Why, at the office of the hotel they gave me a letter which had come for Daubrecq by express. It was the two berths which Jacob had sent him. Also, I have his deputy's pass. So we shall travel under the name of M. and Mme. Daubrecq and we shall receive all the attention due to our rank and station. You see, my dear madam, that everything's arranged."
The journey, this time, seemed short to Lupin. Clarisse told him what she had done during the past few days. He himself explained the miracle of his sudden appearance in Daubrecq's bedroom at the moment when his adversary believed him in Italy:
"A miracle, no," he said. "But still a remarkable phenomenon took place in me when I left San Remo, a sort of mysterious intuition which prompted me first to try and jump out of the train--and the Masher prevented me--and next to rush to the window, let down the glass and follow the porter of the Ambassadeurs-Palace, who had given me your message, with my eyes. Well, at that very minute, the porter aforesaid was rubbing his hands with an air of such satisfaction that, for no other reason, suddenly, I understood everything: I had been diddled, taken in by Daubrecq, as you yourself were. Heaps of llttle details flashed across my mind. My adversary's scheme became clear to me from start to finish. Another minute ... and the disaster would have been beyond remedy. I had, I confess, a few moments of real despair, at the thought that I should not be able to repair all the mistakes that had been made. It depended simply on the time-table of the trains, which would either allow me or would not allow me to find Daubrecq's emissary on the railway-platform at San Remo. This time, at last, chance favoured me. We had hardly alighted at the first station when a train passed, for France. When we arrived at San Remo, the man was there. I had guessed right. He no longer wore his hotel-porter's cap and frock-coat, but a jacket and bowler. He stepped into a second-class compartment. From that moment, victory was assured."
"But ... how... ?" asked Clarisse, who, in spite of the thoughts that obsessed her, was interested in Lupin's story.
"How did I find you? Lord, simply by not losing sight of Master Jacob, while leaving him free to move about as he pleased, knowing that he was bound to account for his actions to Daubrecq. In point of fact, this morning, after spending the night in a small hotel at Nice, he met Daubrecq on the Promenade des Anglais. They talked for some time. I followed them. Daubrecq went back to the hotel, planted Jacob in one of the passages on the ground-floor, opposite the telephone-office, and went up in the lift. Ten minutes later I knew the number of his room and knew that a lady had been occupying the next room, No. 130, since the day before. 'I believe we've done it, ' I said to the Growler and the Masher. I tapped lightly at your door. No answer. And the door was locked."
"Well?" asked Clarisse.
"Well, we opened it. Do you think there's only one key in the world that will work a lock? So I walked in. Nobody in your room. But the partition-door was ajar. I slipped through it. Thenceforth, a mere hanging separated me from you, from Daubrecq and from the packet of tobacco which I saw on the chimney-slab."
"Then you knew the hiding-place?"
"A look round Daubrecq's study in Paris showed me that that packet of tobacco had disappeared. Besides..."
"I knew, from certain confessions wrung from Daubrecq in the Lovers' Tower, that the word Marie held the key to the riddle. Since then I had certainly thought of this word, but with the preconceived notion that it was spelt M A R I E. Well, it was really the first two syllables of another word, which I guessed, so to speak, only at the moment when I was struck by the absence of the packet of tobacco."
"What word do you mean?"
"Maryland, Maryland tobacco, the only tobacco that Daubrecq smokes."
And Lupin began to laugh:
"Wasn't it silly? And, at the same time, wasn't it clever of Daubrecq? We looked everywhere, we ransacked everything. Didn't I unscrew the brass sockets of the electric lights to see if they contained a crystal stopper? But how could I have thought, how could any one, however great his perspicacity, have thought of tearing off the paper band of a packet of Maryland, a band put on, gummed, sealed, stamped and dated by the State, under the control of the Inland Revenue Office? Only think! The State the accomplice of such an act of infamy! The Inland R-r-r-revenue Awfice lending itself to such a trick! No, a thousand times no! The Regie [*] is not perfect. It makes matches that won't light and cigarettes filled with hay. But there's all the difference in the world between recognizing that fact and believing the Inland Revenue to be in league with Daubrecq with the object of hiding the list of the Twenty-seven from the legitimate curiosity of the government and the enterprising efforts of Arsene Lupin! Observe that all Daubrecq had to do, in order to introduce the crystal stopper, was to bear upon the band a little, loosen it, draw it back, unfold the yellow paper, remove the tobacco and fasten it up again. Observe also that all we had to do, in Paris, was to take the packet in our hands and examine it, in order to discover the hiding-place. No matter! The packet itself, the plug of Maryland made up and passed by the State and by the Inland Revenue Office, was a sacred, intangible thing, a thing above suspicion! And nobody opened it. That was how that demon of a Daubrecq allowed that untouched packet of tobacco to lie about for months on his table, among his pipes and among other unopened packets of tobacco. And no power on earth could have given any one even the vaguest notion of looking into that harmless little cube. I would have you observe, besides..." Lupin went on pursuing his remarks relative to the packet of Maryland and the crystal stopper. His adversary's ingenuity and shrewdness interested him all the more inasmuch as Lupin had ended by getting the better of him. But to Clarisse these topics mattered much less than did her anxiety as to the acts which must be performed to save her son; and she sat wrapped in her own thoughts and hardly listened to him.
* The department of the French excise which holds the
monopoly for the manufacture and sale of tobacco, cigars,
cigarettes and matches--Translator's Note.
"Are you sure," she kept on repeating, "that you will succeed?"
"But Prasville is not in Paris."
"If he's not there, he's at the Havre. I saw it in the paper yesterday. In any case, a telegram will bring him to Paris at once."
"And do you think that he has enough influence?"
"To obtain the pardon of Vaucheray and Gilbert personally. No. If he had, we should have set him to work before now. But he is intelligent enough to understand the value of what we are bringing him and to act without a moment's delay."
"But, to be accurate, are you not deceived as to that value?"
"Was Daubrecq deceived? Was Daubrecq not in a better position than any of us to know the full power of that paper? Did he not have twenty proofs of it, each more convincing than the last? Think of all that he was able to do, for the sole reason that people knew him to possess the list. They knew it; and that was all. He did not use the list, but he had it. And, having it, he killed your husband. He built up his fortune on the ruin and the disgrace of the Twenty-seven. Only last week, one of the gamest of the lot, d'Albufex, cut his throat in a prison. No, take it from me, as the price of handing over that list, we could ask for anything we pleased. And we are asking for what? Almost nothing ... less than nothing ... the pardon of a child of twenty. In other words, they will take us for idiots. What! We have in our hands..."
He stopped. Clarisse, exhausted by so much excitement, sat fast asleep in front of him.
They reached Paris at eight o'clock in the morning.
Lupin found two telegrams awaiting him at his flat in the Place de Clichy.
One was from the Masher, dispatched from Avignon on the previous day and stating that all was going well and that they hoped to keep their appointment punctually that evening. The other was from Prasville, dated from the Havre and addressed to Clarisse:
"Impossible return to-morrow Monday morning. Come to my office five o'clock. Reckon on you absolutely."
"Five o'clock!" said Clarisse. "How late!"
"It's a first-rate hour," declared Lupin.
"If the execution is to take place to-morrow morning: is that what you mean to say? ... Don't be afraid to speak out, for the execution will not take place."
"You haven't read the newspapers and you are not to read them. Nothing that they can say matters in the least. One thing alone matters: our interview with Prasville. Besides..."
He took a little bottle from a cupboard and, putting his hand on Clarisse's shoulder, said:
"Lie down here, on the sofa, and take a few drops of this mixture."
"What's it for?"
"It will make you sleep for a few hours ... and forget. That's always so much gained."
"No, no," protested Clarisse, "I don't want to. Gilbert is not asleep. He is not forgetting."
"Drink it," said Lupin, with gentle insistence. She yielded all of a sudden, from cowardice, from excessive suffering, and did as she was told and lay on the sofa and closed her eyes. In a few minutes she was asleep.
Lupin rang for his servant:
"The newspapers ... quick! ... Have you bought them?"
"Here they are, governor."
Lupin opened one of them and at once read the following lines:
"ARSENE LUPIN'S ACCOMPLICES"
"We know from a positive source that Arsene Lupin's accomplices, Gilbert and Vaucheray, will be executed to-morrow, Tuesday, morning. M. Deibler has inspected the scaffold. Everything is ready."
He raised his head with a defiant look.
"Arsene Lupin's accomplices! The execution of Arsene Lupin's accomplices! What a fine spectacle! And what a crowd there will be to witness it! Sorry, gentlemen, but the curtain will not rise. Theatre closed by order of the authorities. And the authorities are myself!"
He struck his chest violently, with an arrogant gesture:
"The authorities are myself!"
At twelve o'clock Lupin received a telegram which the Masher had sent from Lyons:
"All well. Goods will arrive without damage."
At three o'clock Clarisse woke. Her first words were:
"Is it to be to-morrow?"
He did not answer. But she saw him look so calm and smiling that she felt herself permeated with an immense sense of peace and received the impression that everything was finished, disentangled, settled according to her companion's will.
They left the house at ten minutes past four. Prasville's secretary, who had received his chief's instructions by telephone, showed them into the office and asked them to wait. It was a quarter to five.
Prasville came running in at five o'clock exactly and, at once, cried:
"Have you the list?"
"Give it me."
He put out his hand. Clarisse, who had risen from her chair, did not stir.
Prasville looked at her for a moment, hesitated and sat down. He understood. In pursuing Daubrecq, Clarisse Mergy had not acted only from hatred and the desire for revenge. Another motive prompted her. The paper would not be handed over except upon conditions.
"Sit down, please," he said, thus showing that he accepted the discussion.
Clarisse resumed her seat and, when she remained silent, Prasville said:
"Speak, my friend, and speak quite frankly. I do not scruple to say that we wish to have that paper."
"If it is only a wish," remarked Clarisse, whom Lupin had coached in her part down to the least detail, "if it is only a wish, I fear that we shall not be able to come to an arrangement."
"The wish, obviously, would lead us to make certain sacrifices."
"Every sacrifice," said Mme. Mergy, correcting him.
"Every sacrifice, provided, of course, that we keep within the bounds of acceptable requirements."
"And even if we go beyond those bounds," said Clarisse, inflexibly.
Prasville began to lose patience:
"Come, what is it all about? Explain yourself."
"Forgive me, my friend, but I wanted above all to mark the great importance which you attach to that paper and, in view of the immediate transaction which we are about to conclude, to specify--what shall I say?--the value of my share in it. That value, which has no limits, must, I repeat, be exchanged for an unlimited value."
"Agreed," said Prasville, querulously.
"I presume, therefore, that it is unnecessary for me to trace the whole story of the business or to enumerate, on the one hand, the disasters which the possession of that paper would have allowed you to avert and, on the other hand, the incalculable advantages which you will be able to derive from its possession?"
Prasville had to make an effort to contain himself and to answer in a tone that was civil, or nearly so:
"I admit everything. Is that enough?"
"I beg your pardon, but we cannot explain ourselves too plainly. And there is one point that remains to be cleared up. Are you in a position to treat, personally?"
"How do you mean?"
"I want to know not, of course, if you are empowered to settle this business here and now, but if, in dealing with me, you represent the views of those who know the business and who are qualified to settle it."
"Yes," declared Prasville, forcibly.
"So that I can have your answer within an hour after I have told you my conditions?"
"Will the answer be that of the government?"
Clarisse bent forward and, sinking her voice:
"Will the answer be that of the Elysee?"
Prasville appeared surprised. He reflected for a moment and then said:
"It only remains for me to ask you to give me your word of honour that, however incomprehensible my conditions may appear to you, you will not insist on my revealing the reason. They are what they are. Your answer must be yes or no."
"I give you my word of honour," said Prasville, formally.
Clarisse underwent a momentary agitation that made her turn paler still. Then, mastering herself, with her eyes fixed on Prasville's eyes, she said:
"You shall have the list of the Twenty-seven in exchange for the pardon of Gilbert and Vaucheray."
Prasville leapt from his chair, looking absolutely dumbfounded:
"The pardon of Gilbert and Vaucheray? Of Arsene Lupin's accomplices?"
"Yes," she said.
"The murderers of the Villa Marie-Therese? The two who are due to die to-morrow?"
"Yes, those two," she said, in a loud voice. "I ask? I demand their pardon."
"But this is madness! Why? Why should you?"
"I must remind you, Prasville, that you gave me your word..."
"Yes ... yes ... I know ... But the thing is so unexpected..."
"Why? For all sorts of reasons!"
"Well ... well, but ... think! Gilbert and Vaucheray have been sentenced to death!"
"Send them to penal servitude: that's all you have to do."
"Impossible! The case has created an enormous sensation. They are Arsene Lupin's accomplices. The whole world knows about the verdict."
"Well, we cannot, no, we cannot go against the decrees of justice."
"You are not asked to do that. You are asked for a commutation of punishment as an act of mercy. Mercy is a legal thing."
"The pardoning-commission has given its finding..."