Mathias Sandorf/Page 04

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Mathias Sandorf by Jules Verne
Part I, Chapter V-VI
Mathias Sandorf.


Two days afterward Sarcany was installed in the house of Ladislas Zathmar. He had been introduced by Silas Toronthal, and on his introduction had been received by Count Sandorf. The banker and his agent had become accomplices, the object of their schemes being the discovery of a secret which might cost the chiefs of the conspiracy their lives, and the result, as the price of their information, a fortune falling into the pocket of an adventurer, that it might find its way into the strong box of a banker who had reached the point of being unable to honor his engagements.

A formal agreement had been drawn up between Toronthal and Sarcany, according to which the expected profit was to be shared equally. Sarcany was to have sufficient to enable him and his companion, Zirone, to live comfortably at Trieste, and to meet all outgoings and expenses. In exchange and as a guarantee he had handed over to the banker the fac-simile of the message which contained—there could be no doubt—the secret of the conspiracy.

It may, perhaps, be said that Sandorf was imprudent in acting thus. Under such circumstances to introduce a stranger into the house where such important matters were in hand, on the very eve of a rising, of which the signal might be sent at any moment, might seem an act of strange imprudence. But the count had not acted thus without being obliged.

It was necessary that his personal affairs should be put in order now that he was about to enter on a perilous adventure in which he risked his life, or at least exile, if he was obliged to fly in the event of failure. Besides, the introduction of a stranger into Zathmar's house appeared to him calculated to prevent suspicion. He fancied that for some days—and we know that he was not mistaken—there had been spies in the Acquedotto; spies who were no other than Sarcany and Zirone. Were the police of Trieste keeping their eyes on his friends and him and their proceedings? Sandorf might well think so and fear so. If the meeting-place of the conspirators, hitherto so obstinately kept hidden, seemed to him to be suspected, what better means of baffling suspicion could be devised than to admit within it an accountant merely busying himself with accounts? How could the presence of a clerk be dangerous to Zathmar and his guests? In no way. There was no longer any interchange of ciphered correspondence between Trieste and the other towns of Hungary. All the papers relating to the movement had been destroyed. There remained no written trace of the conspiracy. Measures had been taken; Count Sandorf had only to give the signal when the moment arrived. So that the introduction of a clerk into the house, which the government might have under surveillance, was calculated to allay all suspicion. That is to say, the reasoning was just and the precaution good had the clerk been any one else than Sarcany, and his introducer any other than Silas Toronthal.

Sarcany was a past-master in duplicity, and took full advantage of the gifts he possessed—his open face, his frank, clear expression, and his honest, straightforward look. Count Sandorf and his two companions could not but be taken with him, and they were taken with him. In no way did he show or learn that he was in the presence of the chiefs of a conspiracy to raise the Hungarian race in revolt against the Germans. Mathias Sandorf, Stephen Bathory and Ladislas Zathmar seemed at their meetings to be only occupied with discussions on art and science. There was no secret correspondence; there were no mysterious comings and goings about the house. But Sarcany knew what he wanted. The chance he wanted was sure to come in turn and he waited for it.

In entering Zathmar's house Sarcany had but one object in view—to possess himself of the grating that would enable him to decipher the cryptogram; and as no ciphered dispatch arrived at Trieste, he began to ask himself if, for prudential reasons, the grating had been destroyed? This would be rather annoying for him, as all the scaffolding of his scheme was based on his being able to read the letter brought by the pigeon.

Thus, as he worked at putting in order the accounts of Mathias Sandorf, he kept his eyes open; he watched, he spied. Admission to the room where the meetings took place between Zathmar and his companions was not forbidden him. Very often he worked there all alone; and then his eyes and his fingers were occupied in quite-other tasks than making calculations or casting figures. He ferreted among the papers; he opened the drawers by means of skeleton keys made him by Zirone, who was quite an adept in such matters. And all the time he kept a strict watch on Borik, with whom he seemed, somehow, to be quite out of sympathy.

For five days Sarcany's search was useless. Each morning he came with the hope of succeeding; each evening he returned to his hotel without having discovered anything. He feared he was going to fail after all in his criminal enterprise. The conspiracy—if there were a conspiracy, and he could not doubt that there was one—might come to a head at any moment before it had been discovered, and consequently before it had been reported.

“But rather than lose the benefit of a discovery, even without satisfactory proofs, better inform the police,” said Zirone, “and give them a copy of the letter.”

“That is what I am going to do, if necessary,” said Sarcany.

Of course Toronthal was kept informed of all that went on. And it was not without difficulty that the impatience of the banker was duly curbed.

Chance came at last to his assistance. On the first occasion it brought him the message, and now it came to him to show him how the message could be deciphered. It was the last day of May, about four o'clock in the afternoon. Sarcany, according to his custom, was going to leave Zathmar's house at five. He was greatly disappointed that he had advanced no further than on the first day, and that the work he had been doing for Count Sandorf was approaching its end. When the task was finished he would evidently be dismissed with thanks and rewards, and he would have no chance of again entering the house.

Zathmar and his two friends were not at home. There was no one in the house but Borik, and he was busy on the ground-floor. Sarcany, finding himself free to do as he liked, resolved to go into Count Zathmar's room—which he had not yet been able to do—and then search everything he could.

The door was locked. Sarcany with his skeleton keys soon opened it and entered.

Between the two windows opening on to the street there was a writing-desk, whose antique form would have delighted a connoisseur in old furniture. The shut-down front prevented any one inspecting what was inside.

It was the first time Sarcany had the chance of getting near this piece of furniture, and he was not the man to waste his opportunities. To rummage its different drawers he only had to force the front. And this he did with the aid of his instruments, without the lock being in any way injured.

In the fourth drawer under a pile of papers, was a kind of card cut into curious holes. The card caught his attention at once.

“The grating!” he said.

He was not mistaken.

His first idea was to take it with him, but on reflection he saw that its disappearance would awaken suspicion, if Count Zathmar noticed that it had gone.

“Good,” said he to himself; “as I copied the message, so I'll copy the grating, and Toronthal and I can read the dispatch at our ease.”

The grating was merely a square of card about two and a half inches long, divided into thirty-six equal squares. Of these thirty-six equal squares, arranged in six horizontal and vertical lines, like those on a Pythagorean table of six ciphers, twenty-seven were shaded and nine were open—that is to say, nine squares had been cut out of the card and left nine openings in different positions.

Sarcany had to be careful to take the exact size of the grating and the exact position of the nine blank squares. And this he did by tracing the grating on a sheet of white paper and marking on his copy a small cross which he found on the original, and which seemed to distinguish the top side.

The following two paragraphs, footnote and image, critical to following the details of the cipher, were omitted in the Munro edition and have been added (translation of Verne's text) by the redactor.

The disposition of the squares with openings, which allowed the paper on which he traced the contours of the chart to be seen, was—in the first line, three openings occupying places 2, 4 and 6; in the second line, an opening occupying place 5; in the third line, an opening occupying places 3; in the fourth line, two openings occupying places 2 and 5; in the fifth line, an opening occupying place 6; in the sixth line, an opening occupying place 4.

Here, besides, is this grating, in its natural size, of which Sarcany was soon going to make such criminal use, in complicity with the banker Silas Toronthal.[1]

Sandorf Grating.jpg

By means of this grating, which it would be easy to copy on a piece of ordinary card, Sarcany felt that he would have no difficulty in deciphering the fac-simile of the message then in possession of Toronthal; and so he put back the original grating among the papers, as he had found it, left Zathmar's room, left the house, and returned to his hotel.

A quarter of an hour afterward Zirone beheld him enter the room with such a triumphant air that he could not help exclaiming:

“Hallo! What is up? Take care of yourself! You are not so clever in hiding your joy as yon are your grief, and you'll betray yourself, if—”

“Shut up,” answered Sarcany, “and to work without losing a moment.”

“Before we feed?”

“Before we feed.”

And then Sarcany picked up a card of moderate thickness. He cut it according to his tracing so as to obtain a grating of the exact shape of his copy, not forgetting the little cross which showed the right end uppermost. Then he took a rule and divided his rectangle into thirty-six squares, all of equal size. Then of these thirty-six squares, nine were marked as they appeared on the tracing, and cutout with the point of a penknife so as to show through them, when applied to the message, whatever signs or letters were to be read.

Zirone sat facing Sarcany, and watched him as he worked. He was deeply interested in the performance, because he thoroughly understood the system of cryptography employed in the correspondence.

“Now that is ingenious,” he said, “highly ingenious, and may be of some use! When I think that each of those empty squares may perhaps hold a million of money—”

“And more!” said Sarcany.

The work was at an end. Sarcany rose and put the cut card into his pocket-book.

“The first thing to-morrow morning I call on Toronthal,” he said.

“Keep an eye on his cash-box.”

“If he has the message, I have the grating!”

“And this time he will have to give it up.”

“He will give it up.”

“And now we can feed?”

“We can feed.”

“Come on, then.”

And Zirone, always blessed with a healthy appetite, did full justice to the excellent meal he had, according to his custom, previously ordered.

In the morning—it was the 1st of June—at eight o'clock, Sarcany presented himself at the bank, and Toronthal gave orders for him to be shown into the office immediately.

“There is the grating,” was all that Sarcany said, as he laid the card on the table.

The banker took it, turned it round and round, jerked his head first to one side then the other, and did not seem at all to share in the confidence of his associate.

“Let us try it,” said Sarcany.

“Well, we'll try it.”

Toronthal took the fac-simile of the message from one of the drawers in his desk and laid it on the table. It may be recollected that the message was composed of eighteen words, each containing six letters—the words being quite unintelligible. It was obvious that each letter ought to correspond with a square of the card; and consequently that the six first words of the message, composed of thirty-six letters, must have been obtained by means of the thirty-six squares.

And in the grating the arrangement of the blank squares had been so ingeniously thought out that for every quarter turn that is, for the four times the blank squares changed their position they came in a different place.

It will seen that this must be so; for if at the first application of the grating to white paper the figures 1 to 9 are inscribed in each blank space, and then, after a quarter turn, the figures 10 to 18, and then after another quarter turn the figures 19 to 27, and then, after another quarter turn, the figures 28 to 36, it will be found that no square has two numbers, and that each of the thirty-six squares is filled in. Sarcany very naturally began on the six first words of the message, intending to make four successive applications of the grating. He then thought of treating the next six, and then the six finals in the same way, and thus use up the eighteen words of the cryptogram.

It need scarcely be said that Sarcany had told Toronthal what he intended to do, and that the banker had approved of the plan.

Would the practice confirm the theory? Therein lay all the interest of the experiment.

The eighteen words of the message were these:

ihnalz zaemen ruiopn
arnuro trvree mtqssl
odxhnp estlev eeuart
aeeeil ennios noupvg
spesdr erssur ouitse
eedgnc toeedt artuee

At first they set to work to decipher the first six words. To do this Sarcany wrote them out on a sheet of white paper, taking care so to space the letters and lines as to bring each letter under one of the squares of the grating.

And this was the result.

i h n a l z
a r n u r o
o d x h n p
a e e e i l
s p e s d r
e e d g n c

Then the grating was placed over the letters so that the little cross was on top, and then through the nine openings there appeared the nine letters shown below, while the other twenty-seven were hidden:

h a z r x e i r g.


Then Sarcany made a quarter turn of the grating from right to left, so as to bring the side with the cross right. And these were the letters that appeared through the spaces:

n o h a l e d e c

At the third attempt the letters visible were these:

n a d n e p e d n

To the astonishment of Toronthal and Sarcany, none of these combinations gave any sense. They endeavored to read them consecutively in the order they had been obtained, but they proved as meaningless as the dispatch itself. Was the message to remain indecipherable?

The fourth application of the grating resulted thus:

i l r u o p e s s

which was as obscure as the others.

In fact, the four words which had been discovered were:


And these meant—Nothing.

Sarcany could not conceal his rage at such a disappointment. The banker shook his head, and remarked, in a slight tone of irony—

“Perhaps that is not the grating!”

Sarcany simply writhed in his chair.

“Let us try again!” he said.

“Try again,” said Toronthal.

Sarcany, having mastered his nervous agitation, began experimenting on the six words forming the second column of the message. Four times did he apply the grating; and these are the four meaningless words that he obtained:


This time Sarcany threw the grating on to the table with an oath.

In curious contrast Toronthal kept quite cool. He was carefully studying the words hitherto obtained, and remained deep in thought.

“Confound all gratings and all who use them!” exclaimed Sarcany, rising.

“Sit down,” said Toronthal.

“Sit down?”

“Yes; and go on.”

Sarcany gave Toronthal a look. Then he sat down, took the grating, and applied it to the last six words of the message, as he had done to the others. He did it mechanically, as though he took no interest in what he was doing.

And the words given by the four applications of the grating were:


That was all. The words were as meaningless as the others.

Sarcany, enraged beyond all bounds, took the paper on which he had written the barbarous words which the grating had yielded, and was about to tear it into tatters, when Toronthal stopped him.

“Do not get excited,” he said.

“Eh!” exclaimed Sarcany, “what can you do with an insolvable logograph like that?”

“Write all those words in a line, one after the other,” said the banker.

“And why?”

“To see.”

Sarcany obeyed, and he obtained the following:


The letters had scarcely been written before Toronthal itched the paper from Sarcany and read it and gave a shout. It was the banker who now lost his head. Sarcany thought he had gone mad.

“Read!” said Toronthal, holding out the paper to Sarcany. “Read!”


“Yes! don't you see that, before thev used the grating, Count Sandorfs correspondents wrote the letter backward?”

Sarcany took the paper, and this is what he read, proceeding from the last letter to the first:

“Tout est pret. Au premier signal que vous nous enverrez de Trieste, tous se leveront en masse pour l'independence de la Hongrie. Xrzah.”

“And the four[4] last letters?” he asked.

“An agreed-upon signature, or something to fill up,” said Toronthal.

“0h, then! `All is ready. At the first signal you send us from Trieste, all of us will rise together for the independence of Hungary!' That is it, is it? Well, we have got them at last!”

“But the police have not got them!”

“That is my business.”

“You will act with great secrecy?”

“That is my business,” said Sarcany. “The Governor of Trieste shall be the only person to know the names of the two honest patriots who have nipped in its bud this conspiracy against the empire of Austria!”

And as he spoke, the mockery of each tone and gesture betrayed the true feeling with which he uttered the words.

“And now I have nothing else to do,” said the banker.

“Nothing,” answered Sarcany, “except to take your share of the profit.”


“When the three heads fall which are worth a million apiece.”

Toronthal and Sarcany bid each other adieu. If they wished to gain anything out of the secret that chance had handed over to them they must be quick and denounce the conspirators before the plot broke out.

Sarcany returned to Zathmar's house as if nothing had occurred, and went on with the accounts. His work was nearly finished. Count Sandorf, in thanking him for the zeal he had shown, told him that he should not require his services after the next eighteen days.

To Sarcany's mind this meant that about that time the signal was to be given from Trieste to the chief Hungarian towns.

He continued, therefore, to watch with the greatest care, but so as to give rise to no suspicion, all that took place in Zathmar's house. And he played his part so well, he seemed so imbued with liberal ideas, and had taken so little pains to hide the invincible repulsion he said he felt for the Germans, that Sandorf had thought of giving him a post later on, when the rising should have made Hungary a free country. It was not so with Borik, who had never got over the first feeling of dislike with which the young man had inspired him.

Sarcany neared his triumph.

It was on the 9th of June that Count Sandorf had agreed with his friends to give the signal, and the 8th had come.

But the informer had been at work.

In the evening, about eight o'clock, the police suddenly entered Zathmar's house. Resistance was impossible. Count Sandorf, Count Zathmar, Professor Bathory, Sarcany himself, who made no protest, and Borik were secretly arrested.

1^  In this fac-simile, all the white squares are openings, while the others are intact.

Footnotes below added by redactor.

2^  Typographical error. Should be zerrevnes.

3^  Typographical error. Last letter should be e, not s.

4^  Translation error. Verne: Et ces cinq dernières lettres?, and these five final letters?