CHAPTER XIV. THE MAN IN BLACK
AT that moment, Arsene Lupin felt the impression, the certainty, that he had been drawn into an ambush, by means which he had not the time to perceive, but of which he guessed the prodigious skill and address. Everything had been calculated, everything ordained; the dismissal of his men, the disappearance or treachery of the servants, his own presence in Mrs. Kesselbach's house.
Clearly, the whole thing had succeeded, exactly as the enemy wished, thanks to circumstances almost miraculously fortunate; for, after all, he might have arrived before the false message had sent his friends away. But then there would have been a battle between his own gang and the Altenheim gang. And Lupin, remembering Malreich's conduct, the murder of Altenheim, the poisoning of the mad girl at Veldenz, Lupin asked himself whether the ambush was aimed at him alone or whether Malreich had not contemplated the possibility of a general scuffle, involving the killing of accomplices who had by this time become irksome to him.
It was an intuition, rather, a fleeting idea, that just passed through his mind. The hour was one for action. He must defend Dolores, the abduction of whom was, in all likelihood, the first and foremost reason of the attack.
He half-opened the casement window on the street and levelled his revolver. A shot, rousing and alarming the neighborhood, and the scoundrels would take to their heels.
"Well, no," he muttered, "no! It shall not be said that I shirked the fight. The opportunity is too good.... And, then, who says that they would run away!... There are too many of them to care about the neighbors."
He returned to Dolores' room. There was a noise downstairs. He listened and, finding that it came from the staircase, he locked the door.
Dolores was crying and throwing herself about the sofa.
He implored her:
"Are you strong enough? We are on the first floor. I could help you down. We can lower the sheets from the window...."
"No, no, don't leave me.... I am frightened.... I haven't the strength... they will kill me.... Oh, protect me!"
He took her in his arms and carried her to the next room. And, bending over her: "Don't move; and keep calm. I swear to you that not one of those men shall touch you, as long as I am alive."
The door of the first room was tried. Dolores, clinging to him with all her might, cried:
"Oh, there they are! There they are!... They will kill you... you are alone!..."
Eagerly, he said:
"No, I am not alone.... You are here.... You are here beside me...."
He tried to release himself. She took his head in her two hands, looked him deep in the eyes and whispered:
"Where are you going? What are you going to do? No... you must not die.... I won't have it... you must live... you must."
She stammered words which he did not catch and which she seemed to stifle between her lips lest he should hear them; and, having spent all her energy, exhausted, she fell back unconscious.
He leant over her and gazed at her for a moment. Softly, lightly, he pressed a kiss upon her hair.
Then he went back to the first room, carefully closed the door between the two and switched on the electric light.
"One second, my lads!" he cried. "You seem in a great hurry to get yourselves smashed to pieces!... Don't you know that Lupin's here? I'll make you dance!"
While speaking, he unfolded a screen in such a way as to hide the sofa on which Mrs. Kesselbach had been lying; and he now spread dresses and coverings over it. The door was on the point of giving way under the blows of the men outside.
"Here I am! Coming! Are you ready? Now, gentlemen, one at a time!..."
He briskly turned the key and drew the bolt.
Shouts, threats, a roar of infuriated animals came through the open doorway.
Yet none of them dared come forward. Before rushing at Lupin, they hesitated, seized with alarm, with fear....
This was what he had reckoned on.
Standing in the middle of the room, full in the light, with outstretched arm, he held between his fingers a sheaf of bank-notes, which he divided, counting them one by one, into seven equal shares. And he calmly said:
"Three thousand francs' reward for each of you, if Lupin is sent to his last account? That's what you were promised, isn't it? Here's double the money!"
He laid the bundles on the table, within reach of the scoundrels.
The Broker roared:
"Humbug! He's trying to gain time. Shoot him down!"
He raised his arm. His companions held him back.
And Lupin continued:
"Of course, this need not affect your plan of campaign. You came here, first, to kidnap Mrs. Kesselbach and, secondly, to lay hands on her jewels. Far be it from me to interfere with your laudable intentions!"
"Look here, what are you driving at?" growled the Broker, listening in spite of himself.
"Aha, Broker, I'm beginning to interest you, am I?... Come in, old chap.... Come in, all of you.... There's a draught at the top of those stairs... and such pretty fellows as you mustn't run the risk of catching cold.... What, are we afraid? Why, I'm all by myself!... Come, pull yourselves together, my lambs!"
They entered the room, puzzled and suspicious.
"Shut the door, Broker... we shall be more comfortable. Thanks, old man. Oh, by the way, I see the notes are gone. Therefore we're agreed. How easy it is for honest men to come to terms!"
"Well... and next?"
"Next? Well, as we're partners..."
"Why, haven't you accepted my money? We're working together, old man, and we will carry off the young woman together first and carry off the jewels after."
The Broker grinned:
"Don't want you for that."
"Yes, you do, old man."
"Because you don't know where the jewels are hidden and I do."
"We'll find out."
"Tomorrow. Not tonight."
"Well, let's hear. What do you want?"
"My share of the jewels."
"Why didn't you take the lot, as you know where they are?"
"Can't get at them by myself. There's a way of doing it, but I don't know it. You're here, so I'm making use of you."
The Broker hesitated:
"Share the jewels.... Share the jewels.... A few bits of glass and brass, most likely...."
"You fool!... There's more than a million's worth."
The men quivered under the impression made upon them.
"Very well," said the Broker. "But suppose the Kesselbach gets away? She's in the next room, isn't she?"
"No, she's in here."
Lupin for a moment pulled back one of the leaves of the screen, revealing the heap of dresses and bedclothes which he had laid out on the sofa:
"She's here, fainting. But I shan't give her up till we've divided."
"You can take it or leave it. I don't care if I am alone. You know what I'm good for. So please yourselves...."
The men consulted with one another and the Broker said:
"Where is the hiding-place you're talking of?"
"Under the fireplace. But, when you don't know the secret, you must first lift up the whole chimney-piece, looking-glass, marble and all in a lump, it seems. It's no easy job."
"Pooh, we're a smart lot, we are! Just you wait and see. In five minutes..."
He gave his orders and his pals at once set to work with admirable vigor and discipline. Two of them, standing on chairs, tried to lift the mirror. The four others attacked the fireplace itself. The Broker, on his knees, kept his eyes on the hearth and gave the word of command:
"Cheerily, lads!... Altogether, if you please!... Look out!... One, two... ah, there, it's moving!..."
Standing behind them, with his hands in his pockets, Lupin watched them affectionately and, at the same time, revelled with all his pride, as an artist and master, in this striking proof of his authority, of his might, of the incredible sway which he wielded over others. How could those scoundrels for a second accept that improbable story and lose all sense of things, to the point of relinquishing every chance of the fight in his favor?
He took from his pockets two great massive and formidable revolvers and, calmly, choosing the first two men whom he would bring down and the two who would fall next, he aimed as he might have aimed at a pair of targets in a rifle-gallery.
Two shots together and two more....
Loud yells of pain.... Four men came tumbling down, one after the other, like dolls at a cockshy.
"Four from seven leaves three," said Lupin. "Shall I go on?"
His arms remained outstretched, levelled at the Broker and his two pals.
"You swine!" growled the Broker, feeling for a weapon.
"Hands up, "cried Lupin, "or I fire!... That's it.... Now, you two, take away his toys.... If not... !"
The two scoundrels, shaking with fear, caught hold of their leader and compelled him to submit.
"Bind him!... Bind him, confound it!... What difference does it make to you?... Once I'm gone, you're all free.... Come along, have you finished? The wrists first... with your belts.... And the ankles.... Hurry up!..."
The Broker, beaten and disabled, made no further resistance. While his pals were binding him, Lupin stooped over them and dealt them two terrific blows on the head with the butt-end of his revolver. They sank down in a heap.
"That's a good piece of work," he said, taking breath. "Pity there are not another fifty of them. I was just in the mood.... And all so easily done... with a smile on one's face.... What do you think of it, Broker?"
The scoundrel lay cursing. Lupin said:
"Cheer up, old man! Console yourself with the thought that you are helping in a good action, the rescue of Mrs. Kesselbach. She will thank you in person for your gallantry."
He went to the door of the second room and opened it:
"What's this?" he said, stopping on the threshold, taken aback, dumfounded.
The room was empty. He went to the window, saw a ladder leaning against the balcony, a telescopic steel ladder, and muttered:
"Kidnapped... kidnapped... Louis de Malreich.... Oh, the villain!..."
* * * * *
He reflected for a minute, trying to master his anguish of mind, and said to himself that, after all, as Mrs. Kesselbach seemed to be in no immediate danger, there was no cause for alarm.
But he was seized with a sudden fit of rage and flew at the seven scoundrels, gave a kick or two to those of the wounded who stirred, felt for his banknotes and put them back in his pocket, then gagged the men's mouths and tied their hands with anything that he could find — blind-cords, curtain-loops, blankets and sheets reduced to strips — and, lastly, laid in a row on the carpet, in front of the sofa, seven bundles of humanity, packed tight together and tied up like so many parcels:
"Mummies on toast!" he chuckled. "A dainty dish for those who like that sort of thing!... You pack of fools, how does this suit you, eh? There you are, like corpses at the Morgue.... Serves you right for attacking Lupin, Lupin the protector of the widow and orphan!... Are you trembling? Quite unnecessary, my lambs! Lupin never hurt a fly yet!... Only, Lupin is a decent man, he can't stand vermin; and the Lupin knows his duty. I ask you, is life possible with a lot of scamps like you about? Think of it: no respect for other people's lives; no respect for property, for laws, for society; no conscience; no anything! What are we coming to? Lord, what are we coming to?"
Without even taking the trouble to lock them in, he left the room, went down the street and walked until he came to his taxi. He sent the driver in search of another and brought both cabs back to Mrs. Kesselbach's house.
A good tip, paid in advance, avoided all tedious explanations. With the help of the two men, he carried the seven prisoners down and plumped them anyhow, on one another's knees, into the cabs. The wounded men yelled and moaned. He shut the doors, shouting:
"Mind your hands!"
He got up beside the driver of the front cab.
"Where to?" asked the man.
"36, Quai des Orfevers: the detective-office."
The motors throbbed, the drivers started the gear and the strange procession went scooting down the slopes of the Trocadero.
In the streets, they passed a few vegetable-carts. Men carrying long poles were turning out the street-lamps.
There were stars in the sky. A cool breeze was wafted through the air.
Lupin sang aloud:
The Place de la Concorde, the Louvre.... In the distance, the dark bulk of Notre Dame.... He turned round and half opened the door:
"Having a good time, mates? So am I, thank you. It's a grand night for a drive and the air's delicious!..."
They were now bumping over the ill-paved quays. And soon they arrived at the Palais de Justice and the door of the detective-office.
"Wait here," said Lupin to the two drivers, "and be sure you look after your seven fares."
He crossed the outer yard and went down the passage on the right leading to the rooms of the central office. He found the night inspectors on duty.
"A bag, gentlemen," he said, as he entered, "a fine bag too. Is M. Weber here? I am the new commissary of police for Auteuil."
"M. Weber is in his flat. Do you want him sent for?"
"Just one second. I'm in a hurry. I'll leave a line for him."
He sat down at a table and wrote:
"My dear Weber,
"I am bringing you the seven scoundrels composing Altenheim's gang, the men who killed Gourel (and plenty of others) and who killed me as well, under the name of M. Lenormand.
"That only leaves their leader unaccounted for. I am going to effect his arrest this minute. Come and join me. He lives in the Rue Delaizement, at Neuilly and goes by the name of Leon Massier. "Kind regards.
"Chief of the Detective-service."
He sealed the letter:
"Give that to M. Weber. It's urgent. Now I want seven men to receive the goods. I left them on the quay."
On going back to the taxis, he was met by a chief inspector:
"Ah, it's you M. Leboeuf!" he said. "I've made a fine haul.... The whole of Altenheim's gang.... They're there in the taxi-cabs."
"Where did you find them?"
"Hard at work kidnapping Mrs. Kesselbach and robbing her house. But I'll tell you all about it when the time comes."
The chief inspector took him aside and, with the air of surprise:
"I beg your pardon, monsieur, but I was sent for to see the commissary of police for Auteuil. And I don't seem to... Whom have I the honor of addressing?"
"Somebody who is making you a handsome present of seven hooligans of the finest quality."
"Still, I should like to know...."
He nimbly tripped the chief inspector up, ran to the Rue de Rivoli, jumped into a passing taxi-cab and drove to the Porte des Ternes.
The Route de la Revolte was close by. He went to No. 3.
* * * * *
For all his coolness and self-command, Arsene Lupin was unable to control his excitement. Would he find Dolores Kesselbach? Had Louis de Malreich taken her either to his own place or to the Broker's shed?
Lupin had taken the key of the shed from the Broker, so that it was easy for him, after ringing and walking across the different yards, to open the door and enter the lumber-shop.
He switched on his lantern and took his bearings. A little to the right was the free space in which he had seen the accomplices hold their last confabulation. On the sofa mentioned by the Broker he saw a black figure, Dolores lay wrapped in blankets and gagged.
He helped her up.
"Ah, it's you, it's you!" she stammered. "They haven't touched you!"
And, rising and pointing to the back of the shop:
"There... he went out that side... I heard him.... I am sure.... You must go... please!"
"I must get you away first," he said.
"No, never mind me... go after him.... I entreat you.... Strike him!"
Fear, this time, instead of dejecting her, seemed to be giving her unwonted strength; and she repeated, with an immense longing to place her terrible enemy in his power:
"Go after him first.... I can't go on living like this.... You must save me from him.... I can't go on living...."
He unfastened her bonds, laid her carefully on the sofa and said:
"You are right.... Besides, you have nothing to fear here.... Wait for me, I shall come back."
As he was going away, she caught hold of his hand:
"But you yourself?"
"If that man..."
It was as though she dreaded for Lupin the great, final contest to which she was exposing him and as though, at the last moment, she would have been glad to hold him back.
"Thank you, have no fear. What have I to be afraid of? He is alone."
And, leaving her, he went to the back of the shed. As he expected, he found a ladder standing against the wall which brought him to the level of the little window through which he had watched the scoundrels hold their meeting. It was the way by which Malreich had returned to his house in the Rue Delaizement.
He, therefore, took the same road, just as he had done a few hours earlier, climbed into the loft of the other coach-house and down into the garden. He found himself at the back of the villa occupied by Malreich.
Strange to say, he did not doubt, for a moment that Malreich was there. He would meet him inevitably; the formidable battle which they were waging against each other was nearing its end. A few minutes more and, one way or another, all would be over.
He was amazed, on grasping the handle of a door, to find that the handle turned and the door opened under his pressure. The villa was not even locked.
He passed through a kitchen, a hall and up a staircase; and he walked deliberately, without seeking to deaden the sound of his footsteps.
On the landing, he stopped. The perspiration streamed from his forehead; and his temples throbbed under the rush of his blood. Nevertheless, he remained calm, master of himself and conscious of his least thoughts. He laid two revolvers on a stair:
"No weapons," he said to himself. "My hands only, just the effort of my two hands.... That's quite enough.... That will be better...."
Opposite him were three doors. He chose the middle one, turned the handle and encountered no obstacle. He went in. There was no light in the room, but the rays of the night entered through the wide-open window and, amid the darkness, he saw the sheets and the white curtains of the bed.
And somebody was standing beside it.
He savagely cast the gleam of his lantern upon that form.
The pallid face of Malreich, his dim eyes, his cadaverous cheek-bones, his scraggy neck....
And all this stood motionless, opposite him, at five steps' distance; and he could not have said whether that dull face, that death-face, expressed the least terror or even a grain of anxiety.
Lupin took a step forward... and a second... and a third....
The man did not move.
Did he see? Did he understand? It was as though the man's eyes were gazing into space and that he thought himself possessed by an hallucination, rather than looking upon a real image.
One more step....
"He will defend himself," thought Lupin, "he is bound to defend himself."
And Lupin thrust out his arms.
The man did not make a movement. He did not retreat; his eyelids did not blink.
The contact took place.
And it was Lupin, scared and bewildered, who lost his head. He knocked the man back upon his bed, stretched him at full length, rolled him in the sheets, bound him in the blankets and held him under his knee, like a prey... whereas the man had not made the slightest movement of resistance.
"Ah!" shouted Lupin, drunk with delight and satisfied hatred. "At last I have crushed you, you odious brute! At last I am the master!"
He heard a noise outside, in the Rue Delaizement; men knocking at the gate. He ran to the window and cried:
"Is that you, Weber? Already? Well done! You are a model servant! Break down the gate, old chap, and come up here; delighted to see you!"
In a few minutes, he searched his prisoner's clothes, got hold of his pocket-book, cleared the papers out of the drawers of the desk and the davenport, flung them on the table and went through them.
He gave a shout of joy: the bundle of letters was there, the famous bundle of letters which he had promised to restore to the Emperor.
He put back the papers in their place and went to the window:
"It's all finished, Weber! You can come in! You will find Mr. Kesselbach's murderer in his bed, all ready tied up.... Good-bye, Weber!"
And Lupin, tearing down the stairs, ran to the coachhouse and went back to Dolores Kesselbach, while Weber was breaking into the villa.
Single-handed, he had arrested Altenheim's seven companions!
And he had delivered to justice the mysterious leader of the gang, the infamous monster, Louis de Malreich!
A young man sat writing at a table on a wide wooden balcony.
From time to time, he raised his head and cast a vague glance toward the horizon of hills, where the trees, stripped by the autumn, were shedding their last leaves over the red roofs of the villas and the lawns of the gardens. Then he went on writing.
Presently he took up his paper and read aloud:
Nos jours s'en vont a la derive,
Comme emportes par un courant
Qui les pousse vers une rive
Ou l'on n'aborde qu'en mourant.
(Our days go by, adrift, adrift,
Borne along by current swift
That urges them toward the strand
Where not until we die, we land.)
"Not so bad," said a voice behind him. "Mme. Amable Tastu might have written that, or Mrs. Felicia Hemans. However, we can't all be Byrons or Lamartines!"
"You!... You!..." stammered the young man, in dismay.
"Yes, I, poet, I myself, Arsene Lupin come to see his dear friend Pierre Leduc."
Pierre Leduc began to shake, as though shivering with fever. He asked, in a low voice:
"Has the hour come?"
"Yes, my dear Pierre Leduc: the hour has come for you to give up, or rather to interrupt the slack poet's life which you have been leading for months at the feet of Genevieve Ernemont and Mrs. Kesselbach and to perform the part which I have allotted to you in my play... oh, a fine play, I assure you, thoroughly well-constructed, according to all the canons of art, with top notes, comic relief and gnashing of teeth galore! We have reached the fifth act; the grand finale is at hand; and you, Pierre Leduc, are the hero. There's fame for you!"
The young man rose from his seat:
"And suppose I refuse?"
"Yes, suppose I refuse? After all, what obliges me to submit to your will? What obliges me to accept a part which I do not know, but which I loathe in advance and feel ashamed of?"
"Idiot!" repeated Lupin.
And forcing Pierre Leduc back into his chair, he sat down beside him and, in the gentlest of voices:
"You quite forget, my dear young man, that you are not Pierre Leduc, but Gerard Baupre. That you bear the beautiful name of Pierre Leduc is due to the fact that you, Gerard Baupre, killed Pierre Leduc and robbed him of his individuality."
The young man bounded with indignation:
"You are mad! You know as well as I do that you conceived the whole plot...."
"Yes, I know that, of course; but the law doesn't know it; and what will the law say when I come forward with proof that the real Pierre Leduc died a violent death and that you have taken his place?"
The young man, overwhelmed with consternation, stammered:
"No one will believe you.... Why should I have done that? With what object?"
"Idiot! The object is so self-evident that Weber himself could have perceived it. You lie when you say that you will not accept a part which you do not know. You know your part quite well. It is the part which Pierre Leduc would have played were he not dead."
"But Pierre Leduc, to me, to everybody, was only a name. Who was he? Who am I?"
"What difference can that make to you?"
"I want to know. I want to know what I am doing!"
"And, if you know, will you go straight ahead?"
"Yes, if the object of which you speak is worth it."
"If it were not, do you think I would take all this trouble?"
"Who am I? Whatever my destiny, you may be sure that I shall prove worthy of it. But I want to know. Who am I?" Arsine Lupin took off his hat, bowed and said: "Hermann IV., Grand-duke of Zweibrucken-Veldenz, Prince of Berncastel, Elector of Treves and lord of all sorts of places."
* * * * *
Three days later, Arsene Lupin took Mrs. Kesselbach away in a motor-car in the direction of the frontier. The journey was accomplished in silence, Lupin remembered with emotion Dolores's terrified conduct and the words which she spoke in the house in the Rue des Vignes, when he was about to defend her against Altenheim's accomplices. And she must have remembered also, for she remained embarrassed and evidently perturbed in his presence.
In the evening they reached a small castle, all covered with creepers and flowers, roofed with an enormous slate cap and standing in a large garden full of ancestral trees.
Here Mrs. Kesselbach found Genevieve already installed, after a visit to the neighboring town, where she had engaged a staff of servants from among the country-people.
"This will be your residence, madame," said Lupin. "You are at Bruggen Castle. You will be quite safe here, while waiting the outcome of these events. I have written to Pierre Leduc and he will be your guest from tomorrow."
He started off again at once, drove to Veldenz and handed over to Count von Waldemar the famous letters which he had recaptured:
"You know my conditions, my dear Waldemar," said Lupin. "The first and most important thing is to restore the House of Zweibrucken-Veldenz and to reinstate the Grand-duke Hermann IV., in the grand-duchy."
"I shall open negotiations with the Council of Regency today. According to my information, it will not be a difficult matter. But this Grand-duke Hermann...."
"His Royal Highness is at present staying at Bruggen Castle, under the name of Pierre Leduc. I will supply all the necessary proofs of his identity."
That same evening, Lupin took the road back to Paris, with the intention of actively hurrying on the trial of Malreich and the seven scoundrels.
* * * * *
It would be wearisome to recapitulate the story of the case: the facts, down to the smallest details, are in the memory of one and all. It was one of those sensational events which still form a subject of conversation and discussion among the weather-beaten laborers in the remotest villages.
But what I wish to recall is the enormous part played by Lupin in the conduct of the case and in the incidents appertaining to the preliminary inquiry. As a matter of fact, it was he who managed the inquiry. From the very start, he took the place of the authorities, ordering police-searches, directing the measures to be taken, prescribing the questions to be put to the prisoners, assuming the responsibility for everything.
We can all remember the universal amazement when, morning after morning, we read in the papers those letters, so irresistible in their masterly logic, signed, by turns:
"ARSENE LUPIN, Examining-magistrate."
"ARSENE LUPIN, Public Prosecutor:'
"ARSENE LUPIN, Minister of Justice."
"ARSENE LUPIN, Copper."
He flung himself into the business with a spirit, an ardor, a violence, even, that was astonishing in one usually so full of light-hearted chaff and, when all was said, so naturally disposed by temperament to display a certain professional indulgence.
No, this time he was prompted by hatred.
He hated Louis de Malreich, that bloodthirsty scoundrel, that foul brute, of whom he had always been afraid and who, even beaten, even in prison, still gave him that sensation of dread and repugnance which one feels at the sight of a reptile.
Besides, had not Malreich had the audacity to persecute Dolores?
"He has played and lost," said Lupin. "He shall pay for it with his head."
That was what he wanted for his terrible enemy: the scaffold, the bleak, dull morning when the blade of the guillotine slides down and kills....
It was a strange prisoner whom the examining-magistrate questioned for months on end between the four walls of his room, a strange figure, that bony man, with the skeleton face and the lifeless eyes!
He seemed quite out of himself. His thoughts were not there, but elsewhere. And he cared so little about answering!
"My name is Leon Massier."
That was the one sentence to which he confined himself.
And Lupin retorted.
"You lie. Leon Massier, born at Perigueux, left fatherless at the age of ten, died seven years ago. You took his papers. But you forgot his death-certificate. Here it is."
And Lupin sent a copy of the document to the public prosecutor.
"I am Leon Massier," declared the prisoner, once again.
"You lie," replied Lupin. "You are Louis de Malreich, the last surviving descendant of a small French noble who settled in Germany in the eighteenth century. You had a brother who called himself Parbury, Ribeira and Altenheim, by turns: you killed your brother. You had a sister, Isilda de Malreich: you killed your sister."
"I am Leon Massier."
"You lie. You are Malreich. Here is your birth-certificate. Here are your brother's and your sister's."
And Lupin sent the three certificates.
Apart from the question of his identity, Malreich, crushed, no doubt, by the accumulation of proofs brought up against him, did not defend himself. What could he say? They had forty notes written in his own hand — a comparison of the handwritings established the fact — written in his own hand to the gang of his accomplices, forty notes which he had omitted to tear up after taking them back. And all these notes were orders relating to the Kesselbach case, the capture of M. Lenormand and Gourel, the pursuit of old Steinweg, the construction of the underground passages at Garches and so on. What possibility was there of a denial?
One rather odd thing baffled the law officers. The seven scoundrels, when confronted with their leader, all declared that they did not know him, because they had never seen him. They received his instructions either by telephone, or else in the dark, by means of those same little notes which Malreich slipped into their hands without a word.
But, for the rest, was not the existence of the communication between the villa in the Rue Delaizement and the Broker's shed an ample proof of complicity? From that spot, Malreich saw and heard. From that spot, the leader watched his men.
Discrepancies? Apparently irreconcilable facts? Lupin explained them all away. In a celebrated article, published on the morning of the trial, he took up the case from the start, revealed what lay beneath it, unravelled its web, showed Malreich, unknown to all, living in the room of his brother, the sham Major Parbury, passing unseen along the passages of the Palace Hotel and murdering Mr. Kesselbach, murdering Beudot the floor-waiter, murdering Chapman the secretary.
The trial lingers in the memory. It was both terrifying and gloomy: terrifying because of the atmosphere of anguish that hung over the crowd of onlookers and the recollection of crime and blood that obsessed their minds: gloomy, heavy, darksome, stifling because of the tremendous silence observed by the prisoner.
Not a protest, not a movement, not a word. A face of wax that neither saw nor heard. An awful vision of impassive calmness! The people in court shuddered. Their distraught imaginations conjured up a sort of supernatural being rather than a man, a sort of genie out of the Arabian Nights, one of those Hindu gods who symbolize all that is ferocious, cruel, sanguinary and pernicious.
As for the other scoundrels, the people did not even look at them, treated them as insignificant supers overshadowed by that stupendous leader.
The most sensational evidence was that given by Mrs. Kesselbach. To the general astonishment and to Lupin's own surprise, Dolores, who had answered none of the magistrate's summonses and who had retired to an unknown spot, Dolores appeared, a sorrow-stricken widow, to give damning evidence against her husband's murderer.
She gazed at him for many seconds and then said, simply:
"That is the man who entered my house in the Rue des Vignes, who carried me off and who locked me up in the Broker's shed. I recognize him."
"On your oath?"
"I swear it before God and man."
Two days later, Louis de Malreich, alias Leon Massier was sentenced to death. And his overpowering personality may be said to have absorbed that of his accomplices to such an extent that they received the benefit of extenuating circumstances.
"Louis de Malreich have you nothing to say?" asked the presiding judge.
He made no reply.
One question alone remained undecided in Lupin's eyes: why had Malreich committed all those crimes? What did he want? What was his object?
Lupin was soon to understand; and the day was not far off when, gasping with horror, struck, mortally smitten with despair, he would know the awful truth.
* * * * *
For the moment, although the thought of it constantly hovered over his mind, he ceased to occupy himself with the Malreich case. Resolved to get a new skin, as he put it; reassured, on the other hand, as to the fate of Mrs. Kesselbach and Genevieve, over whose peaceful existence he watched from afar; and, lastly, kept informed by Jean Doudeville, whom he had sent to Veldenz, of all the negotiations that were being pursued between the court of Berlin and the regent of Zweibrucken-Veldenz, he employed all his time in winding up the past and preparing for the future.
The thought of the different life which he wished to lead under the eyes of Mrs. Kesselbach filled him with new ambitions and unexpected sentiments, in which the image of Dolores played a part, without his being able to tell exactly how or why.
In a few weeks, he got rid of all the proofs that could have compromised him sooner or later, all the traces that could have led to his ruin. He gave each of his old companions a sum of money sufficient to keep them from want for the rest of their lives and said good-bye to them, saying that he was going to South America.
One morning, after a night of careful thought and a deep study of the situation, he cried:
"It's done. There's nothing to fear now. The old Lupin is dead. Make way for the young one."
His man brought him a telegram from Germany. It contained the news for which he had been waiting. The Council of Regency, greatly influenced by the Court of Berlin, had referred the question to the electors; and the electors, greatly influenced by the Council of Regency, had declared their unshaken attachment to the old dynasty of the Veldenz. Count von Waldemar was deputed, together with three delegates selected from the nobility, the army and the law, to go to Bruggen Castle, carefully to establish the identity of the Grand-duke Hermann IV. and to make all the arrangements with His Royal Highness for his triumphal entry into the principality of his fathers, which was to take place in the course of the following month.
"This time, I've pulled it off," said Lupin to himself. "Mr. Kesselbach's great scheme is being realized. All that remains for me to do is to make Waldemar swallow Pierre Leduc; and that is child's play. The banns between Genevieve and Pierre shall be published tomorrow. And it shall be the grand-duke's affianced bride that will be presented to Waldemar."
Full of glee, he started in his motor for Bruggen Castle.
He sang in the car, he whistled, he chatted to his chauffeur:
"Octave, do you know whom you have the honor of driving? The master of the world I... Yes, old man, that staggers you, eh? Just so, but it's the truth. I am the master of the world."
He rubbed his hands and went on soliloquizing:
"All the same, it was a long job. It's a year since the fight began. True, it was the most formidable fight I ever stood to win or lose.... By Jupiter, what a war of giants!" And he repeated, "But this time, I've pulled it off! The enemies are in the water. There are no obstacles left between the goal and me. The site is free: let us build upon it! I have the materials at hand, I have the workmen: let us build, Lupin! And let the palace be worthy of you!"
He stopped the car at a few hundred yards from the castle, so that his arrival might create as little fuss as possible, and said to Octave:
"Wait here for twenty minutes, until four o'clock, and then drive in. Take my bags to the little chalet at the end of the park. That's where I shall sleep."
At the first turn of the road, the castle appeared in sight, standing at the end of a dark avenue of lime trees. From the distance, he saw Genevieve passing on the terrace.
His heart was softly stirred:
"Genevieve, Genevieve," he said, fondly. "Genevieve... the vow which I made to the dying mother is being fulfilled as well.... Genevieve a grand-duchess!... And I, in the shade, watching over her happiness... and pursuing the great schemes of Arsene Lupin!"
He burst out laughing, sprang behind a cluster of trees that stood to the left of the avenue and slipped along the thick shrubberies. In this way, he reached the castle without the possibility of his being seen from the windows of the drawing-room or the principal bedrooms.
He wanted to see Dolores before she saw him and pronounced her name several times, as he had pronounced Genevieve's, but with an emotion that surprised himself:
He stole along the passages and reached the dining-room. From this room, through a glass panel, he could see half the drawing-room.
He drew nearer.
Dolores was lying on a couch; and Pierre Leduc, on his knees before her, was gazing at her with eyes of ecstasy....