CHAPTER XVI. ARSENE LUPIN'S THREE MURDERS
A CYCLONE passed through Lupin's brain, a hurricane in which roars of thunder, gusts of wind, squalls of all the distraught elements were tumultuously unchained in the chaotic night.
And great flashes of lightning shot through the darkness. And, by the dazzling gleam of those lightning-flashes, Lupin, scared, shaken with thrills, convulsed with horror, saw and tried to understand.
He did not move, clinging to the enemy's throat, as if his stiffened fingers were no longer able to release their grip. Besides, although he now knew, he had not, so to speak, the exact feeling that it was Dolores. It was still the man in black, Louis de Malreich, the foul brute of the darkness; and that brute he held and did not mean to let go.
But the truth rushed upon the attack of his mind and of his consciousness; and, conquered, tortured with anguish, he muttered:
"Oh, Dolores!... Dolores!..."
He at once saw the excuse: it was madness. She was mad. The sister of Altenheim and Isilda, the daughter of the last of the Malreichs, of the demented mother, of the drunken father, was herself mad. A strange madwoman, mad with every appearance of sanity, but mad nevertheless, unbalanced, brain-sick, unnatural, truly monstrous.
That he most certainly understood! It was homicidal madness. Under the obsession of an object toward which she was drawn automatically, she killed, thirsting for blood, unconsciously, infernally.
She killed because she wanted something, she killed in self-defence, she killed because she had killed before. But she killed also and especially for the sake of killing. Murder satisfied sudden and irresistible appetites that arose in her. At certain seconds in her life, in certain circumstances, face to face with this or that being who had suddenly become the foe, her arm had to strike.
And she struck, drunk with rage, ferociously, frenziedly.
A strange madwoman, not answerable for her murders, and yet so lucid in her blindness, so logical in her mental derangement, so intelligent in her absurdity! What skill, what perseverance, what ginning contrivances, at once abominable and admirable!
And Lupin, in a rapid view, with prodigious keenness of outlook, saw the long array of bloodthirsty adventures and guessed the mysterious paths which Dolores had pursued.
He saw her obsessed and possessed by her husband's scheme, a scheme which she evidently understood only in part. He saw her, on her side, looking for that same Pierre Leduc whom her husband was seeking, looking for him in order to many him and to return, as queen, to that little realm of Veldenz from which her parents had been ignominiously driven.
And he saw her at the Palace Hotel, in the room of her brother, Altenheim, at the time when she was supposed to be at Monte Carlo. He saw her, for days together, spying upon her husband, creeping along the walls, one with the darkness, undistinguishable and unseen in her shadowy disguise.
And, one night, she found Mr. Kesselbach fastened up... and she stabbed him...
And, in the morning, when on the point of being denounced by the floor-waiter... she stabbed him.
And, an hour later, when on the point of being denounced by Chapman, she dragged him to her brother's room... and stabbed him.
All this pitilessly, savagely, with diabolical skill.
And, with the same skill, she communicated by telephone with her two maids, Gertrude and Suzanne, both of whom had arrived from Monte Carlo, where one of them had enacted the part of her mistress. And Dolores, resuming her feminine attire, discarding the fair wig that altered her appearance beyond recognition, went down to the ground-floor, joined Gertrude at the moment when the maid entered the hotel and pretended herself to have just arrived, all ignorant of the tragedy that awaited her.
An incomparable actress, she played the part of the wife whose life is shattered. Every one pitied her. Every one wept for her. Who could have suspected her?
And then came the war with him, Lupin, that barbarous contest, that unparalleled contest which she waged, by turns, against M. Lenormand and Prince Sernine, spending her days stretched on her sofa, ill and fainting, but her nights on foot, scouring the roads indefatigable and terrible.
And the diabolical contrivances: Gertrude and Suzanne, frightened and subdued accomplices, both of them serving her as emissaries, disguising themselves to represent her, perhaps, as on the day when old Steinweg was carried off by Baron Altenheim, in the middle of the Palais de Justice.
And the series of murders: Gourel drowned; Altenheim, her brother, stabbed. Oh, the implacable struggle in the underground passages of the Villa des Glycines, the invisible work performed by the monster in the dark: how clear it all appeared today!
And it was she who tore off his mask as Prince Sernine, she who betrayed him to the police, she who sent him to prison, she who thwarted all his plans, spending her millions to win the battle.
And then events followed faster: Suzanne and Gertrude disappeared, dead, no doubt! Steinweg, assassinated! Isilda, the sister, assassinated!
"Oh, the ignominy, the horror of it!" stammered Lupin, with a start of revulsion and hatred.
He execrated her, the abominable creature. He would have liked to crush her, to destroy her. And it was a stupefying sight, those two beings, clinging to each other, lying motionless in the pale dawn that began to mingle with the shades of the night.
"Dolores.... Dolores...." he muttered, in despair.
He leapt back, terror-stricken, wild-eyed. What was it? What was that? What was that hideous feeling of cold which froze his hands?
"Octave! Octave?" he shouted, forgetting that the chauffeur was not there.
Help, he needed help, some one to reassure him and assist him. He shivered with fright. Oh, that coldness, that coldness of death which he had felt! Was it possible?... Then, during those few tragic minutes, with his clenched fingers, he had....
Violently, he forced himself to look. Dolores did not stir.
He flung himself on his knees and drew her to him.
She was dead.
* * * * *
He remained for some seconds a prey to a sort of numbness in which his grief seemed to be swallowed up. He no longer suffered. He no longer felt rage nor hatred nor emotion of any kind... nothing but a stupid prostration, the sensation of a man who has received a blow with a club and who does not know if he is still alive, if he is thinking, or if he is the sport of a nightmare.
Nevertheless, it seemed to him that an act of justice had taken place, and it did not for a second occur to him that it was he who had taken life. No, it was not he. It was outside him and his will. It was destiny, inexorable destiny that had accomplished the work of equity by slaying the noxious beast.
Outside, the birds were singing. Life was recommencing under the old trees, which the spring was preparing to bring into bud. And Lupin, waking from his torpor, felt gradually welling up within him an indefinable and ridiculous compassion for the wretched woman, odious, certainly, abject and twenty times criminal, but so young still and now... dead.
And he thought of the tortures which she must have undergone in her lucid moments, when reason returned to the unspeakable madwoman and brought the sinister vision of her deeds.
"Protect me... I am so unhappy!" she used to beg.
It was against herself that she asked to be protected, against her wild-beast instincts, against the monster that dwelt within her and forced her to kill, always to kill.
"Always?" Lupin asked himself.
And he remembered the night, two days since, when, standing over him, with her dagger raised against the enemy who had been harassing her for months, against the indefatigable enemy who had run her to earth after each of her crimes, he remembered that, on that night, she had not killed. And yet it would have been easy: the enemy lay lifeless and powerless. One blow and the implacable struggle was over. No, she had not killed, she too had given way to feelings stronger than her own cruelty, to mysterious feelings of pity, of sympathy, of admiration for the man who had so often mastered her.
No, she had not killed, that time. And now, by a really terrifying vicissitude of fate, it was he who had killed her.
"I have taken life!" he thought, shuddering from head to foot. "These hands have killed a living being; and that creature is Dolores!... Dolores!... Dolores!..."
He never ceased repeating her name, her name of sorrow, and he never ceased staring at her, a sad, lifeless thing, harmless now, a poor hunk of flesh, with no more consciousness than a little heap of withered leaves or a little dead bird by the roadside.
Oh! how could he do other than quiver with compassion, seeing that of those two, face to face, he was the murderer, and she, who was no more, the victim?
"Dolores!... Dolores!... Dolores!..."
* * * * *
The daylight found Lupin seated beside the dead woman, remembering and thinking, while his lips, from time to time, uttered the disconsolate syllables:
He had to act, however, and, in the disorder of his ideas, he did not know how to act nor with what act to begin:
"I must close her eyes first," he said.
The eyes, all empty, filled only with death, those beautiful gold-spangled eyes, had still the melancholy softness that gave them their charm. Was it possible that those eyes were the eyes of a monster? In spite of himself and in the face of the implacable reality, Lupin was not yet able to blend into one single being those two creatures whose images remained so distinct at the back of his brain.
He stooped swiftly, lowered the long, silky eyelids, and covered the poor distorted face with a veil.
Then it seemed to him that Dolores was farther away and that the man in black was really there, this time, in his dark clothes, in his murderer's disguise.
He now ventured to touch her, to feel in her clothes. In an inside pocket were two pocket-books. He took one of them and opened it. He found first a letter signed by Steinweg, the old German. It contained the following lines:
"Should I die before being able to reveal the terrible secret, let it be known that the murderer of my friend Kesselbach is his wife, whose real name is Dolores de Malreich, sister to Altenheim and sister to Isilda.
"The initials L. and M. relate to her. Kesselbach never, in their private life, called his wife Dolores, which is the name of sorrow, but Letitia, which denotes joy, L. M. — Letitia de Malreich — were the initials inscribed on all the presents which he used to give her, for instance, on the cigarette-case which was found at the Palace Hotel and which belonged to Mrs. Kesselbach. She had contracted the smoking-habit on her travels.
"Letitia! She was indeed the joy of his life for four years, four years of lies and hypocrisy, in which she prepared the death of the man who loved her so well and who trusted her so whole-heartedly.
"Perhaps I ought to have spoken at once. I had not the courage, in memory of my old friend Kesselbach, whose name she bore.
"And then I was afraid.... On the day when I unmasked her, at the Palais de Justice, I read my doom in her eyes.
"Will my weakness save me?"
"Him also," thought Lupin, "him also she killed!... Why, of course, he knew too much!... The initials... that name, Letitia... the secret habit of smoking!"
And he remembered the previous night, that smell of tobacco in her room.
He continued his inspection of the first pocket-book. There were scraps of letters, in cipher, no doubt handed to Dolores by her accomplices, in the course of their nocturnal meetings. There were also addresses on bits of paper, addresses of milliners and dressmakers, but addresses also of low haunts, of common hotels.... And names... twenty, thirty names... queer names: Hector the Butcher, Armand of Grenelle, the Sick Man....
But a photograph caught Lupin's eye. He looked at it. And, at once, as though shot from a spring, dropping the pocket-book, he bolted out of the room, out of the chalet and rushed into the park.
He had recognized the portrait of Louis de Malreich, the prisoner at the Sante!
Not till then, not till that exact moment did he remember: the execution was to take place next day.
And, as the man in black, as the murderer was none other than Dolores Kesselbach, Louis de Malreich's name was really and truly Leon Massier and he was innocent!
Innocent? But the evidence found in his house, the Emperor's letters, all, all the things that accused him beyond hope of denial, all those incontrovertible proofs?
Lupin stopped for a second, with his brain on fire:
"Oh," he cried, "I shall go mad, I, too! Come, though, I must act... the sentence is to be executed... tomorrow... tomorrow at break of day."
He looked at his watch:
"Ten o'clock.... How long will it take me to reach Paris? Well... I shall be there presently... yes, presently, I must.... And this very evening I shall take measures to prevent.... But what measures? How can I prove his innocence?... How prevent the execution? Oh, never mind! Once I am there, I shall find a way. My name is not Lupin for nothing!... Come on!..."
He set off again at a run, entered the castle and called out:
"Pierre! Pierre!... Has any one seen M. Pierre Leduc?... Oh, there you are!... Listen...."
He took him on one side and jerked out, in imperious tones:
"Listen, Dolores is not here,... Yes, she was called away on urgent business... she left last night in my motor.... I am going too.... Don't interrupt, not a word!... A second lost means irreparable harm.... You, send away all the servants, without any explanation. Here is money. In half an hour from now, the castle must be empty. And let no one enter it until I return.... Not you either, do you understand?... I forbid you to enter the castle.... I'll explain later... serious reasons. Here, take the key with you.... Wait for me in the village...."
And once more, he darted away.
Five minutes later, he was with Octave. He jumped into the car:
* * * * *
The journey was a real race for life or death. Lupin, thinking that Octave was not driving fast enough, took the steering-wheel himself and drove at a furious, break-neck speed. On the road, through the villages, along the crowded streets of the towns they rushed at sixty miles an hour. People whom they nearly upset roared and yelled with rage: the meteor was far away, was out of sight.
"G— governor," stammered Octave, livid with dismay, "we shall be stuck!"
"You, perhaps, the motor, perhaps; but I shall arrive!" said Lupin.
He had a feeling as though it were not the car that was carrying him, but he carrying the car and as though he were cleaving space by dint of his own strength, his own will-power. Then what miracle could prevent his arriving, seeing that his strength was inexhaustible, his will-power unbounded?
"I shall arrive because I have got to arrive," he repeated.
And he thought of the man who would die, if he did not arrive in time to save him, of the mysterious Louis de Malreich, so disconcerting with his stubborn silence and his expressionless face.
And amid the roar of the road, under the trees whose branches made a noise as of furious waves, amid the buzzing of his thoughts, Lupin, all the same, strove to set up an hypothesis. And this hypothesis became gradually more defined, logical, probable, certain, he said to himself, now that he knew the hideous truth about Dolores and saw all the resources and all the odious designs of that crazy mind:
"Yes, it was she who contrived that most terrible plot against Malreich. What was it she wanted? To marry Pierre Leduc, whom she had bewitched, and to become the sovereign of the little principality from which she had been banished. The object was attainable, within reach of her hand. There was one sole obstacle.... I, Lupin, who, for weeks and weeks, persistently barred her road; I, whom she encountered after every murder; I, whose perspicacity she dreaded; I, who would never lay down my arms before I had discovered the culprit and found the letters stolen from the Emperor.... Well, the culprit should be Louis de Malreich, or rather, Leon Massier. Who was this Leon Massier? Did she know him before her marriage? Had she been in love with him? It is probable; but this, no doubt, we shall never know. One thing is certain, that she was struck by the resemblance to Leon Massier in figure and stature which she might attain by dressing up like him, in black clothes, and putting on a fair wig. She must have noticed the eccentric life led by that lonely man, his nocturnal expeditions, his manner of walking in the streets and of throwing any who might follow him off the scent. And it was in consequence of these observations and in anticipation of possible eventualities that she advised Mr. Kesselbach to erase the name of Dolores from the register of births and to replace it by the name of Louis, so that the initials might correspond with those of Leon Massier.... The moment arrived at which she must act; and thereupon she concocted her plot and proceeded to put it into execution. Leon lived in the Rue Delaizement. She ordered her accomplices to take up their quarters in the street that backed on to it. And she herself told me the address of Dominique the head-waiter, and put me on the track of the seven scoundrels, knowing perfectly well that, once on the track, I was bound to follow it to the end, that is to say, beyond the seven scoundrels, till I came up with their leader, the man who watched them and who commanded them, the man in black, Leon Massier, Louis de Malreich.... As a matter of fact, I came up with the seven scoundrels first. Then what would happen? Either I should be beaten or we should all destroy one another, as she must have hoped, that night in the Rue des Vignes. In either case Dolores would have been rid of me. But what really happened was this: I captured the seven scoundrels. Dolores fled from the Rue des Vignes. I found her in the Broker's shed. She sent me after Leon Massier, that is to say, Louis de Malreich. I found in his house the Emperor's letters, which she herself had placed there, and I delivered him to justice and I revealed the secret communication, which she herself had caused to be made, between the two coachhouses, and I produced all the evidence which she herself had prepared, and I proved, by means of documents which she herself had forged, that Leon Massier had stolen the social status of Leon Massier and that his real name was Louis de Malreich.... And Louis de Malreich was sentenced to death.... And Dolores de Malreich, victorious at last, safe from all suspicion once the culprit was discovered, released from her infamous and criminal past, her husband dead, her brother dead, her sister dead, her two maids dead, Steinweg dead, delivered by me from her accomplices, whom I handed over to Weber all packed up, delivered, lastly, from herself by me, who was sending the innocent man whom she had substituted for herself to the scaffold, Dolores de Malreich, triumphant, rich with the wealth of her millions and loved by Pierre Leduc, Dolores de Malreich would sit upon the throne of her native grand-duchy.... Ah," cried Lupin, beside himself with excitement, "that man shall not die! I swear it as I live: he shall not die!"
"Look out, governor," said Octave, scared, "we are near the town now.... the outskirts... the suburbs...."
"What shall I care?"
"But we shall topple over.... And the pavement is greasy... we are skidding...."
"Take care.... Look ahead...."
"A tram-car, at the turn...."
"Let it stop!"
"Do slow down, governor!"
"But we have no room to pass!"
"We shall get through."
"We can't get through."
"Yes, we can."
A crash... outcries.... The motor had run into the tram-car, cannoned against a fence, torn down ten yards of planking and, lastly, smashed itself against the corner of a slope.
"Driver, are you disengaged?"
Lupin, lying flat on the grass of the slope, had hailed a taxicab.
He scrambled to his feet, gave a glance at his shattered car and the people crowding round to Octave's assistance and jumped into the cab:
"Go to the Ministry of the Interior, on the Place Beauvau... Twenty francs for yourself...."
He settled himself in the taxi and continued:
"No, no, he shall not die! No, a thousand times no, I will not have that on my conscience! It is bad enough to have been tricked by a woman and to have fallen into the snare like a schoolboy.... That will do! No more blunders for me! I have had that poor wretch arrested.... I have had him sentenced to death.... I have brought him to the foot of the scaffold... but he shall not mount it!... Anything but that! If he mounts the scaffold, there will be nothing left for me but to put a bullet through my head."
They were approaching the toll-house. He leant out:
"Twenty francs more, driver, if you don't stop."
And he shouted to the officials:
"Detective — service!"
They passed through.
"But don't slow down, don't slow down, hang it!" roared Lupin. "Faster!... Faster still! Are you afraid of running over the old ladies? Never mind about them! I'll pay the damage!"
In a few minutes, they were at the Ministry of the Interior. Lupin hurried across the courtyard and ran up the main staircase. The waiting-room was full of people. He scribbled on a sheet of paper, "Prince Sernine," and, hustling a messenger into a corner, said:
"You know me, don't you? I'm Lupin. I procured you this berth; a snug retreat for your old age, eh? Only, you've got to show me in at once. There, take my name through. That's all I ask of you. The premier will thank you, you may be sure of that... and so I will.... But, hurry you fool! Valenglay is expecting me...."
Ten seconds later, Valenglay himself put his head through the door of his room and said:
"Show the prince in."
Lupin rushed into the room, slammed the door and, interrupting the premier, said:
"No, no set phrases, you can't arrest me.... It would mean ruining yourself and compromising the Emperor.... No, it's not a question of that. Look here. Malreich is innocent.... I have discovered the real criminal.... It's Dolores Kesselbach. She is dead. Her body is down there. I have undeniable proofs. There is no doubt possible. It was she...."
He stopped. Valenglay seemed not to understand.
"But, look here, Monsieur le President, we must save Malreich.... Only think... a judicial error!... An innocent man guillotined!... Give your orders... say you have fresh information... anything you please... but, quick, there is no time to lose...."
Valenglay looked at him attentively, then went to a table, took up a newspaper and handed it to him, pointing his finger at an article as he did so.
Lupin cast his eye at the head-line and read:
"EXECUTION OF THE MONSTER"
"Louis de Malreich underwent the death-penalty this morning...."
He read no more. Thunderstruck, crushed, he fell into the premier's chair with a moan of despair....
How long he remained like that he could not say. When he was outside again, he remembered a great silence and then Valenglay bending over him and sprinkling water on his forehead. He remembered, above all, the premier's hushed voice whispering:
"Listen... you won't say anything about this will you? Innocent, perhaps, I don't say not.... But what is the use of revelations, of a scandal? A judicial error can have serious consequences. Is it worthwhile?... A rehabilitation? For what purpose? He was not even sentenced under his own name. It is the name of Malreich which is held up to public execration... the name of the real criminal, as it happens.... So..."
And, pushing Lupin gradually toward the door, he said:
"So go.... Go back there.... Get rid of the corpse.... And let not a trace remain, eh? Not the slightest trace of all this business.... I can rely on you, can I not?"
And Lupin went back. He went back like a machine, because he had been told to do so and because he had no will left of his own.
He waited for hours at the railway-station. Mechanically, he ate his dinner, took a ticket and settled down in a compartment.
He slept badly. His brain was on fire between nightmares and half-waking intervals in which he tried to make out why Malreich had not defended himself:
"He was a madman... surely... half a madman.... He must have known her formerly... and she poisoned his life... she drove him crazy.... So he felt he might as well die.... Why defend himself?"
The explanation only half satisfied him, and he promised himself sooner or later to clear up the riddle and to discover the exact part which Massier had played in Dolores' life. But what did it matter for the moment? One fact alone stood out clearly, which was Massier's madness, and he repeated, persistently:
"He was a madman... Massier was undoubtedly mad. Besides, all those Massiers... a family of madmen...."
He raved, mixing up names in his enfeebled brain.
But, on alighting at Bruggen Station, in the cool, moist air of the morning, his consciousness revived. Things suddenly assumed a different aspect. And he exclaimed:
"Well, after all, it was his own look-out! He had only to protest.... I accept no responsibility.... It was he who committed suicide.... He was only a dumb actor in the play.... He has gone under.... I am sorry.... But it can't be helped!"
The necessity for action stimulated him afresh. Wounded, tortured by that crime of which he knew himself to be the author for all that he might say, he nevertheless looked to the future:
"Those are the accidents of war," he said. "Don't let us think about it. Nothing is lost. On the contrary! Dolores was the stumbling-block, since Pierre Leduc loved her. Dolores is dead. Therefore Pierre Leduc belongs to me. And he shall marry Genevieve, as I have arranged! And he shall reign! And I shall be the master! And Europe, Europe is mine!"
He worked himself up, reassured, full of sudden confidence, and made feverish gestures as he walked along the road, whirling an imaginary sword, the sword of the leader whose will is law, who commands and triumphs:
"Lupin, you shall be king! You shall be king, Arsene Lupin!"
He inquired in the village of Bruggen and heard that Pierre Leduc had lunched yesterday at the inn. Since then, he had not been seen.
"Oh?" asked Lupin. "Didn't he sleep here?"
"But where did he go after his lunch?"
"He took the road to the castle."
Lupin walked away in some surprise. After all, he had told the young man to lock the doors and not to return after the servants had gone.
He at once received a proof that Pierre had disobeyed him: the park gates were open.
He went in, hunted all over the castle, called out. No reply.
Suddenly, he thought of the chalet. Who could tell? Perhaps Pierre Leduc, worrying about the woman he loved and driven by ah intuition, had gone to look for her in that direction. And Dolores' corpse was there!
Greatly alarmed, Lupin began to run.
At first sight, there seemed to be no one in the chalet.
"Pierre! Pierre!" he cried.
Hearing no sound, he entered the front passage and the room which he had occupied.
He stopped short, rooted to the threshold.
Above Dolores' corpse, hung Pierre Leduc, with a rope round his neck, dead.
* * * * *
Lupin impatiently pulled himself together from head to foot. He refused to yield to a single gesture of despair. He refused to utter a single violent word. After the cruel blows which fate had dealt him, after Dolores' crimes and death, after Massier's execution, after all those disturbances and catastrophes, he felt the absolute necessity of retaining all his self-command. If not, his brain would undoubtedly give way....
"Idiot!" he said, shaking his fist at Pierre Leduc. "You great idiot, couldn't you wait? In ten years we should have had Alsace-Lorraine again!"
To relieve his mind, he sought for words to say, for attitudes; but his ideas escaped him and his head seemed on the point of bursting.
"Oh, no, no!" he cried. "None of that, thank you! Lupin mad too! No, old chap! Put a bullet through your head, if you like; and, when all is said, I don't see any other way out. But Lupin driveling, wheeled about in a bath-chair... no! Style, old fellow, finish in style!"
He walked up and down, stamping his feet and lifting his knees very high, as certain actors do when feigning madness. And he said:
"Swagger, my lad, swagger! The eyes of the gods are upon you! Lift up your head! Pull in your stomach, hang it! Throw out your chest!... Everything is breaking up around you. What do you care?... It's the final disaster, I've played my last card, a kingdom in the gutter, I've lost Europe, the whole world ends in smoke.... Well... and what of it? Laugh, laugh! Be Lupin, or you're in the soup.... Come, laugh! Louder than that, louder, louder! That's right!... Lord, how funny it all is! Dolores, old girl, a cigarette!"
He bent down with a grin, touched the dead woman's face, tottered for a second and fell to the ground unconscious.
* * * * *
After lying for an hour, he came to himself and stood up. The fit of madness was over; and, master of himself, with relaxed nerves, serious and silent, he considered the position.
He felt that the time had come for the irrevocable decisions that involve a whole existence. His had been utterly shattered, in a few days, under the assault of unforeseen catastrophes, rushing up, one after the other, at the very moment when he thought his triumph assured. What should he do? Begin again? Build up everything again? He had not the courage for it. What then?
The whole morning, he roamed tragically about the park and gradually realized his position in all its slightest details. Little by little, the thought of death enforced itself upon him with inflexible rigor.
But, whether he decided to kill himself or to live, there was first of all a series of definite acts which he was obliged to perform. And these acts stood out clearly in his brain, which had suddenly become quite cool.
The mid-day Angelus rang from the church-steeple.
"To work!" he said, firmly.
He returned to the chalet in a very calm frame of mind, went to his room, climbed on a stool, and cut the rope by which Pierre Leduc was hanging:
"You poor devil!" he said. "You were doomed to end like that, with a hempen tie around your neck. Alas, you were not made for greatness: I ought to have foreseen that and not hooked my fortune to a rhymester!"
He felt in the young man's clothes and found nothing. But, remembering Dolores' second pocket-book, he took it from the pocket where he had left it.
He gave a start of surprise. The pocket-book contained a bundle of letters whose appearance was familiar to him; and he at once recognized the different writings.
"The Emperor's letters!" he muttered, slowly. "The old chancellor's letters! The whole bundle which I myself found at Leon Massier's and which I handed to Count von Waldemart... How did it happen?... Did she take them in her turn from that blockhead of a Waldemar?" And, suddenly, slapping his forehead, "Why, no, the blockhead is myself. These are the real letters! She kept them to blackmail the Emperor when the time came. And the others, the ones which I handed over, are copies, forged by herself, of course, or by an accomplice, and placed where she knew that I should find them.... And I played her game for her, like a mug! By Jove, when women begin to interfere... !"
There was only a piece of pasteboard left in the pocket-book, a photograph. He looked at it. It was his own.
"Two photographs... Massier and I... the two she loved best, no doubt... For she loved me.... A strange love, built up of admiration for the adventurer that I am, for the man who, by himself, put away the seven scoundrels whom she had paid to break my head! A strange love! I felt it throbbing in her the other day, when I told her my great dream of omnipotence. Then, really, she had the idea of sacrificing Pierre Leduc and subjecting her dream to mine. If the incident of the mirror had not taken place, she would have been subdued. But she was afraid. I had my hand upon the truth. My death was necessary for her salvation and she decided upon it." He repeated several times, pensively, "And yet she loved me.... Yes, she loved me, as others have loved me... others to whom I have brought ill-luck also.... Alas, all those who love me die!... And this one died too, strangled by my hand.... What is the use of living?... What is the use of living?" he asked again, in a low voice. "Is it not better to join them, all those women who have loved me... and who have died of their love... Sonia, Raymonde, Clotilde, Destange, Miss Clarke?..."
He laid the two corpses beside each other, covered them with the same sheet, sat down at a table and wrote:
"I have triumphed over everything and I am beaten. I have reached the goal and I have fallen. Fate is too strong for me.... And she whom I loved is no more. I shall die also."
And he signed his name:
He sealed the letter and slipped in into a bottle which he flung through the window, on the soft ground of a flower-border.
Next, he made a great pile on the floor with old newspapers, straw and shavings, which he went to fetch in the kitchen. On the top of it he emptied a gallon of petrol. Then he lit a candle and threw it among the shavings.
A flame at once arose and other flames leapt forth, quick, glowing, crackling.
"Let's clear out," said Lupin. "The chalet is built of wood, it will all flare up like a match. And, by the time they come from the village, break down the gates and run to this end of the park, it will be too late. They will find ashes, the remains of two charred corpses and, close at hand, my farewell letter in a bottle.... Good-bye, Lupin! Bury me simply, good people, without superfluous state... a poor man's funeral... No flowers, no wreaths.... Just a humble cross and a plain epitaph: 'Here lies Arsene Lupin, adventurer."
He made for the park wall, climbed over it, and turning round, saw the flames soaring up to the sty.
* * * * *
He wandered back toward Paris on foot, bowed down by destiny, with despair in his heart. And the peasants were amazed at the sight of this traveller who paid with bank-notes for his fifteen-penny meals.
Three foot-pads attacked him one evening in the forest. He defended himself with his stick and left them lying for dead....
He spent a week at an inn. He did not know where to go.... What was he to do? What was there for him to cling to? He was tired of life. He did not want to live....
* * * * *
"Is that you?"
Mme. Ernemont stood in her little sitting-room in the villa at Garches, trembling, scared and livid, staring at the apparition that faced her.
Lupin!... It was Lupin.
"You!" she said. "You!... But the papers said..."
He smiled sadly:
"Yes, I am dead."
"Well, then... well, then..." she said, naively.
"You mean that, if I am dead, I have no business here. Believe me, I have serious reasons, Victoire."
"How you have changed!" she said, in a voice full of pity.
"A few little disappointments.... However, that's over.... Tell me, is Genevieve in?"
She flew at him, in a sudden rage:
"You leave her alone, do you hear? Genevieve? You want to see Genevieve, to take her back? Ah, this time I shall not let her out of my sight! She came back tired, white as a sheet, nervous; and the color has hardly yet returned to her cheeks. You shall leave her alone, I swear you shall."
He pressed his hand hard on the old woman's shoulder:
"I will — do you understand? — I will speak to her."
"I mean to speak to her."
He pushed her about. She drew herself up and, crossing her arms:
"You shall pass over my dead body first, do you hear? The child's happiness lies in this house and nowhere else.... With all your ideas of money and rank, you would only make her miserable. Who is this Pierre Leduc of yours? And that Veldenz of yours? Genevieve a grand-duchess! You are mad. That's no life for her!... You see, after all, you have thought only of yourself in this matter. It was your power, your fortune you wanted. The child you don't care a rap about. Have you so much as asked yourself if she loved your rascally grand-duke? Have you asked yourself if she loved anybody? No, you just pursued your object, that is all, at the risk of hurting Genevieve and making her unhappy for the rest of her life.... Well, I won't have it! What she wants is a simple, honest existence, led in the broad light of day; and that is what you can't give her. Then what are you here for?"
He seemed to waver, but, nevertheless, he murmured in a low voice and very sadly:
"It is impossible that I should never see her again, it is impossible that I should not speak to her...."
"She believes you dead."
"That is exactly what I do not want! I want her to know the truth. It is a torture to me to think that she looks upon me as one who is no more. Bring her to me, Victoire."
He spoke in a voice so gentle and so distressed that she was utterly moved, and said:
"Listen.... First of all, I want to know.... It depends upon what you intend to say to her.... Be frank, my boy.... What do you want with Genevieve?"
He said, gravely:
"I want to say this: 'Genevieve, I promised your mother to give you wealth, power, a fairy-like existence. And, on the day when I had attained my aim, I would have asked you for a little place, not very far from you. Rich and happy, you would have forgotten — yes, I am sure of it — you would have forgotten who I am, or rather who I was. Unfortunately, fate has been too strong for me. I bring you neither wealth nor power. And it is I, on the contrary, who have need of you. Genevieve, will you help me?'"
"To do what?" asked the old woman, anxiously.
"Oh!" she said. "Has it come to that, my poor boy?..."
"Yes," he answered, simply, without any affectation of sorrow, "yes, it has come to that. Three human beings are just dead, killed by me, killed by my hands. The burden of the memory is more than I can bear. I am alone. For the first time in my life, I need help. I have the right to ask that help of Genevieve. And her duty is to give it to me.... If not..."
"Then all is over."
The old woman was silent, pale and quivering with emotion. She once more felt all her affection for him whom she had fed at her breast and who still and in spite of all remained "her boy." She asked:
"What do you intend to do with her?"
"We shall go abroad. We will take you with us, if you like to come...."
"But you forget... you forget...."
"She will forget it too. She will understand that I am no longer the man I was, that I do not wish to be."
"Then, really, what you wish is that she should share your life, the life of Lupin?"
"The life of the man that I shall be, of the man who will work so that she may be happy, so that she may marry according to her inclination. We will settle down in some nook or other. We will struggle together, side by side. And you know what I am capable of...."
She repeated, slowly, with her eyes fixed on his:
"Then, really, you wish her to share Lupin's life?"
He hesitated a second, hardly a second, and declared, plainly:
"Yes, yes, I wish it, I have the right!"
"You wish her to abandon all the children to whom she has devoted herself, all this life of work which she loves and which is essential to her happiness?"
"Yes, I wish it, it is her duty."
The old woman opened the window and said:
"In that case, call her."
Genevieve was in the garden, sitting on a bench. Four little girls were crowding round her. Others were playing and running about.
He saw her full-face. He saw her grave, smiling eyes. She held a flower in her hand and plucked the petals one by one and gave explanations to the attentive and eager children. Then she asked them questions. And each answer was rewarded with a kiss to the pupil.
Lupin looked at her long, with infinite emotion and anguish. A whole leaven of unknown feelings fermented within him. He had a longing to press that pretty girl to his breast, to kiss her and tell her how he respected and loved her. He remembered the mother, who died in the little village of Aspremont, who died of grief.
"Call her," said Victoire. "Why don't you call her?"
He sank into a chair and stammered:
"I can't.... I can't do it.... I have not the right.... It is impossible.... Let her believe me dead.... That is better...."
He wept, his shoulders shaking with sobs, his whole being overwhelmed with despair, swollen with an affection that arose in him, like those backward flowers which die on the very day of their blossoming.
The old woman knelt down beside him and, in a trembling voice, asked:
"She is your daughter, is she not?"
"Yes, she is my daughter."
"Oh, my poor boy!" she said, bursting into tears. "My poor boy!..."
EPILOGUE. THE SUICIDE
"TO horse!" said the Emperor. He corrected himself, on seeing the magnificent ass which they brought him:
"To donkey, rather! Waldemar, are you sure this animal is quiet to ride and drive?"
"I will answer for him as I would for myself, Sire," declared the count.
"In that case, I feel safe," said the Emperor, laughing. And, turning to the officers with him, "Gentlemen, to horse!"
The market-place of the village of Capri was crowded with sight-seers, kept back by a line of Italian cara-biniers, and, in the middle, all the donkeys of the place, which had been requisitioned to enable the Emperor to go over that island of wonders.
"Waldemar," said the Emperor, taking the head of the cavalcade, "what do we begin with?"
"With Tiberius's Villa, Sire."
They rode under a gateway and then followed a roughly-paved path, rising gradually to the eastern promontory of the island.
The Emperor laughed and enjoyed himself and good-humoredly chaffed the colossal Count von Waldemar, whose feet touched the ground on either side of the unfortunate donkey borne down under his weight.
In three-quarters of an hour, they arrived first at Tiberius's Leap, an enormous rock, a thousand feet high, from which the tyrant caused his victims to be hurled into the sea....
The Emperor dismounted, walked up to the handrail and took a glance at the abyss. Then he went on foot to the ruins of Tiberius's Villa, where he strolled about among the crumbling halls and passages.
He stopped for a moment.
There was a glorious view of the point of Sorrento and over the whole island of Capri. The glowing blue of the sea outlined the beautiful curve of the bay; and cool perfumes mingled with the scent of the citron-trees.
"The view is finer still, Sire," said Waldemar, "from the hermit's little chapel, at the summit."
"Let us go to it."
But the hermit himself descended by a steep path. He was an old man, with a hesitating gait and a bent back. He carried the book in which travellers usually write down their impressions.
He placed the book on a stone seat.
"What am I write?" asked the Emperor.
"Your name, Sire, and the date of your visit... and anything you please."
The Emperor took the pen which the hermit handed him and bent down to write.
"Take care, Sire, take care!"
Shouts of alarm... a great crash from the direction of the chapel.... The Emperor turned round. He saw a huge rock come rolling down upon him like a whirlwind.
At the same moment, he was seized round the body by the hermit and flung to a distance of ten yards away.
The rock struck against the stone seat where the Emperor had been standing a quarter of a second before and smashed the seat into fragments. But for the hermit, the Emperor would have been killed.
He gave him his hand and said, simply:
The officers flocked round him.
"It's nothing, gentlemen.... We have escaped with a fright... though it was a fine fright, I confess.... All the same, but for the intervention of this worthy man..."
And, going up to the hermit:
"What is your name, my friend?"
The hermit had kept his head concealed in his hood. He pushed it back an inch or so and, in a very low voice, so as to be heard by none but the Emperor, he said:
"The name of a man, Sire, who is very pleased that you have shaken him by the hand."
The Emperor gave a start and stepped back. Then, at once controlling himself:
"Gentlemen," he said to the officers, "I will ask you to go up to the chapel. More rocks can break loose; and it would perhaps be wise to warn the authorities of the island. You will join me later. I want to thank this good man."
He walked away, accompanied by the hermit. When they were alone, he said:
"I had to speak to you, Sire. If I had asked for an audience... would you have granted my request? I preferred to act directly and I intended to make myself known while Your Imperial Majesty was signing the book, when that stupid accident..."
"Well?" said the Emperor.
"The letters which I gave Waldemar to hand to you, Sire, are forgeries."
Hie Emperor made a gesture of keen annoyance:
"Forgeries? Are you sure?"
"Absolutely sure, Sire."
"Yet that Malreich..."'.
"Malreich was not the culprit."
"Then who was?"
"I must beg Your Imperial Majesty to treat my answer as secret and confidential. The real culprit was Mrs. Kesselbach."
"Kesselbach's own wife?"
"Yes, Sire. She is dead now. It was she who made or caused to be made the copies which are in your possession. She kept the real letters."
"But where are they?" exclaimed the Emperor. "That is the important thing! They must be recovered at all costs! I attach the greatest value to those letters...."
"Here they are, Sire."
The Emperor had a moment of stupefaction. He looked at Lupin, looked at the letters, then at Lupin again and pocketed the bundle without examining it.
Clearly, this man was puzzling him once more. Where did this scoundrel spring from who, possessing so terrible a weapon, handed it over like that, generously, unconditionally? It would have been so easy for him to keep the letters and to make such use of them as he pleased! No, he had given his promise and he was keeping his word.
And the Emperor thought of all the astounding things which that man had done.
"The papers said that you were dead," he said.
"Yes, Sire. In reality, I am dead. And the police of my country, glad to be rid of me, have buried the charred and unrecognizable remains of my body."
"Then you are free?"
"As I always have been."
"And nothing attaches you to anything?"
"In that case..."
The Emperor hesitated and then, explicitly:
"In that case, enter my service. I offer you the command of my private police. You shall be the absolute master. You shall have full power, even over the other police."
"I am a Frenchman."
There was a pause. The Emperor was evidently pleased with the answer. He said:
"Still, as you say that no link attaches you..."
"That is, one, Sire, which nothing can sever." And he added, laughing, "I am dead as a man, but alive as a Frenchman. I am sure that Your Imperial Majesty will understand."
The Emperor took a few steps up and down. Then he said:
"I should like to pay my debt, however. I heard that the negotiations for the grand-duchy of Veldenz were broken off...."
"Yes, Sire. Pierre Leduc was an imposter. He is dead."
"What can I do for you? You have given me back those letters.... You have saved my life.... What can I do?"
"You insist upon my remaining your debtor?"
The Emperor gave a last glance at that strange man who set himself up in his presence as his equal. Then he bowed his head slightly and walked away without another word.
"Aha, Majesty, I've caught you this time!" said Lupin, following him with his eyes. And, philosophically, "No doubt it's a poor revenge... and would rather have recovered Alsace-Lorraine.... But still..."
He interrupted himself and stamped his foot on the ground:
"You confounded Lupin! Will you never change, will you always remain hateful and cynical to the last moment of your existence? Be serious, hang it all! The time has come, now or never, to be serious!"
He climbed the path that leads to the chapel and stopped at the place where the rock had broken loose. He burst out laughing:
"It was a good piece of work and His Imperial Majesty's officers did not know what to make of it. But how could they guess that I myself loosened that rock, that, at the last moment, I gave the decisive blow of the pick-axe and that the aforesaid rock rolled down the path which I had made between it and... an emperor whose life I was bent on saving?"
"Ah, Lupin, what a complex mind you have. All that trouble because you had sworn that this particular Majesty should shake you by the hand! A lot of good it has done you! 'An Emperor's hand five fingers has, no more,' as Victor Hugo might have said.
He entered the chapel and, with a special key, opened the low door of a little sacristy. On a heap of straw, lay a man, with his hands and legs bound and a gag in his mouth.
"Well, my friend, the hermit," said Lupin, "it wasn't so very long, was it? Twenty-four hours at the most.... But I have worked jolly hard on your behalf! Just think, you have saved the Emperor's life! Yes, old chap. You are the man who saved the Emperor's life. I have made your fortune, that's what I've done. They'll build a cathedral for you and put up a statue to you when you're dead and gone. Here, take your things."
The hermit, nearly dead with hunger, staggered to his feet. Lupin quickly put on his own clothes and said:
"Farewell, O worthy and venerable man. Forgive me for this little upset. And pray for me. I shall need it. Eternity is opening its gate wide to me. Farewell."
He stood for a few moments on the threshold of the chapel. It was the solemn moment at which one hesitates, in spite of everything, before the terrible end of all things. But his resolution was irrevocable and, without further reflection, he darted out, ran down the slope, crossed the level ground of Tiberius's Leap and put one leg over the hand-rail:
"Lupin, I give you three minutes for play-acting. 'What's the good?' you will say. 'There is nobody here.' Well... and what about you? Can't you act your last farce for yourself? By Jove, the performance is worth it.... Arsene Lupin, heroic comedy in eighty scenes.... The curtain rises on the death-scene... and the principal part is played by Lupin in person.... 'Bravo, Lupin!'... Feel my heart, ladies and gentlemen... seventy beats to the minute.... And a smile on my lips.... 'Bravo, Lupin! Oh, the rogue, what cheek he has.'... Well, jump, my lord.... Are you ready? It's the last adventure, old fellow. No regrets? Regrets? What for, heavens above? My life was splendid. Ah, Dolores, Dolores, if you had not come into it, abominable monster that you were!...... And you, Malreich, why did you not speak?... And you, Pierre Leduc.... Here I am!... My three dead friends, I am about to join you.... Oh, Genevieve, my dear Genevieve!... Here, have you done, you old play-actor?... Right you are! Right you are! I'm coming....
He pulled his other leg over, looked down the abyss at the dark and motionless sea and, raising his head:
"Farewell, immortal and thrice-blessed nature! Moritur us te salutal! Farewell, all that is beautiful on earth! Farewell, splendor of things. Farewell, life!"
He flung kisses to space, to the sky, to the sun.... Then, folding his arms, he took the leap.
* * * * *
Sidi-bel-Abbes. The barracks of the Foreign Legion. An adjutant sat smoking and reading his newspaper in a small, low-ceilinged room.
Near him, close to the window opening on the yard, two great devils of non-commissioned officers were jabbering in guttural French, mixed with Teutonic phrases.
The door opened. Some one entered. It was a slightly-built man, of medium height, smartly-dressed. The adjutant rose, glared angrily at the intruder and growled:
"I say, what on earth is the orderly up to?... And you, sir, what do you want?"
This was said frankly, imperiously.
The two non-coms burst into a silly laugh. The man looked at them askance.
"In other words, you wish to enlist in the Legion?" asked the adjutant.
"Yes, but on one condition."
"Conditions, by Jove! What conditions?"
"That I am not left mouldering here. There is a company leaving for Morocco. I'll join that."
One of the non-coms gave a fresh chuckle and was heard to say:
"The Moors are in for a bad time. The gentleman's enlisting."
"Silence!" cried the man, "I don't stand being laughed at."
His voice sounded harsh and masterful. The non-com, a brutal-looking giant, retorted:
"Here, recruity, you'd better be careful how you talk to me, or..."
"You'll get something you won't like, that's all!"
The man went up to him, took him round the waist, swung him over the ledge of the window and pitched him into the yard. Then he said to the other:
"Go away." The other went away.
The man at once returned to the adjutant and said:; "Lieutenant, pray be so good as to tell the major that Don Luis Perenna, a Spanish grandee and a Frenchman at heart, wishes to take service in the Foreign Legion. Go, my friend."
The flabbergasted adjutant did not move.
"Go, my friend, and go at once. I have no time to waste."
The adjutant rose, looked at his astounding visitor with a bewildered eye and went out in the tamest fashion.
Then Lupin lit a cigarette and, sitting down in the adjutant's chair, said, aloud:
"As the sea refused to have anything to say to me, or rather as I, at the last moment, refused to have anything to say to the sea, we'll go and see if the bullets of the Moors are more compassionate. And, in any case, it will be a smarter finish.... Face the enemy, Lupin, and all for France!..." .