The Crystal Stopper/Chapter VII
THE PROFILE OF NAPOLEON
Soon as the prefect of police, the chief of the criminal-investigation department and the examining-magistrates had left Daubrecq's house, after a preliminary and entirely fruitless inquiry, Prasville resumed his personal search.
He was examining the study and the traces of the struggle which had taken place there, when the portress brought him a visiting-card, with a few words in pencil scribbled upon it.
"Show the lady in," he said.
"The lady has some one with her," said the portress.
"Oh? Well, show the other person in as well."
Clarisse Mergy entered at once and introduced the gentleman with her, a gentleman in a black frock-coat, which was too tight for him and which looked as though it had not been brushed for ages. He was shy in his manner and seemed greatly embarrassed how to dispose of his old, rusty top-hat, his gingham umbrella, his one and only glove and his body generally.
"M. Nicole," said Clarisse, "a private teacher, who is acting as tutor to my little Jacques. M. Nicole has been of the greatest help to me with his advice during the past year. He worked out the whole story of the crystal stopper. I should like him, as well as myself--if you see no objection to telling me--to know the details of this kidnapping business, which alarms me and upsets my plans; yours too, I expect?"
Prasville had every confidence in Clarisse Mergy. He knew her relentless hatred of Daubrecq and appreciated the assistance which she had rendered in the case. He therefore made no difficulties about telling her what he knew, thanks to certain clues and especially to the evidence of the portress.
For that matter, the thing was exceedingly simple. Daubrecq, who had attended the trial of Gilbert and Vaucheray as a witness and who was seen in court during the speeches, returned home at six o'clock. The portress affirmed that he came in alone and that there was nobody in the house at the time. Nevertheless, a few minutes later, she heard shouts, followed by the sound of a struggle and two pistol-shots; and from her lodge she saw four masked men scuttle down the front steps, carrying Daubrecq the deputy, and hurry toward the gate. They opened the gate. At the same moment, a motor-car arrived outside the house. The four men bundled themselves into it; and the motor-car, which had hardly had time to stop, set off at full speed.
"Were there not always two policemen on duty?" asked Clarisse.
"They were there," said Prasville, "but at a hundred and fifty yards' distance; and Daubrecq was carried off so quickly that they were unable to interfere, although they hastened up as fast as they could."
"And did they discover nothing, find nothing?"
"Nothing, or hardly anything... Merely this."
"What is that?"
"A little piece of ivory, which they picked up on the ground. There was a fifth party in the car; and the portress saw him get down while the others were hoisting Daubrecq in. As he was stepping back into the car, he dropped something and picked it up again at once. But the thing, whatever it was, must have been broken on the pavement; for this is the bit of ivory which my men found."
"But how did the four men manage to enter the house?" asked Clarisse.
"By means of false keys, evidently, while the portress was doing her shopping, in the course of the afternoon; and they had no difficulty in secreting themselves, as Daubrecq keeps no other servants. I have every reason to believe that they hid in the room next door, which is the dining-room, and afterward attacked Daubrecq here, in the study. The disturbance of the furniture and other articles proves how violent the struggle was. We found a large-bore revolver, belonging to Daubrecq, on the carpet. One of the bullets had smashed the glass over the mantel-piece, as you see."
Clarisse turned to her companion for him to express an opinion. But M. Nicole, with his eyes obstinately lowered, had not budged from his chair and sat fumbling at the rim of his hat, as though he had not yet found a proper place for it.
Prasville gave a smile. It was evident that he did not look upon Clarisse's adviser as a man of first-rate intelligence:
"The case is somewhat puzzling, monsieur," he said, "is it not?"
"Yes... yes," M. Nicole confessed, "most puzzling."
"Then you have no little theory of your own upon the matter?"
"Well, monsieur le secretaire-general, I'm thinking that Daubrecq has many enemies."
"And that several of those enemies, who are interested in his disappearance, must have banded themselves against him."
"Capital, capital!" said Prasville, with satirical approval. "Capital! Everything is becoming clear as daylight. It only remains for you to furnish us with a little suggestion that will enable us to turn our search in the right direction."
"Don't you think, monsieur le secretaire-general, that this broken bit of ivory which was picked up on the ground..."
"No, M. Nicole, no. That bit of ivory belongs to something which we do not know and which its owner will at once make it his business to conceal. In order to trace the owner, we should at least be able to define the nature of the thing itself."
M. Nicole reflected and then began:
"Monsieur le secretaire-general, when Napoleon I fell from power..."
"Oh, M. Nicole, oh, a lesson in French history!"
"Only a sentence, monsieur le secretaire-general, just one sentence which I will ask your leave to complete. When Napoleon I fell from power, the Restoration placed a certain number of officers on half-pay. These officers were suspected by the authorities and kept under observation by the police. They remained faithful to the emperor's memory; and they contrived to reproduce the features of their idol on all sorts of objects of everyday use; snuff-boxes, rings, breast-pins, pen-knives and so on."
"Well, this bit comes from a walking-stick, or rather a sort of loaded cane, or life-preserver, the knob of which is formed of a piece of carved ivory. When you look at the knob in a certain way, you end by seeing that the outline represents the profile of the Little Corporal. What you have in your hand, monsieur le secretaire-general, is a bit of the ivory knob at the top of a half-pay officer's life-preserver."
"Yes," said Prasville, examining the exhibit, "yes, I can make out a profile... but I don't see the inference..."
"The inference is very simple. Among Daubrecq's victims, among those whose names are inscribed on the famous list, is the descendant of a Corsican family in Napoleon's service, which derived its wealth and title from the emperor and was afterward ruined under the Restoration. It is ten to one that this descendant, who was the leader of the Bonapartist party a few years ago, was the fifth person hiding in the motor-car. Need I state his name?"
"The Marquis d'Albufex?" said Prasville.
"The Marquis d'Albufex," said M. Nicole.
M. Nicole, who no longer seemed in the least worried with his hat, his glove and his umbrella, rose and said to Prasville:
"Monsieur le secretaire-general, I might have kept my discovery to myself, and not told you of it until after the final victory, that is, after bringing you the list of the Twenty-seven. But matters are urgent. Daubrecq's disappearance, contrary to what his kidnappers expect, may hasten on the catastrophe which you wish to avert. We must therefore act with all speed. Monsieur le secretaire-general, I ask for your immediate and practical assistance."
"In what way can I help you?" asked Prasville, who was beginning to be impressed by his quaint visitor.
"By giving me, to-morrow, those particulars about the Marquis d'Albufex which it would take me personally several days to collect."
Prasville seemed to hesitate and turned his head toward Mme. Mergy. Clarisse said:
"I beg of you to accept M. Nicole's services. He is an invaluable and devoted ally. I will answer for him as I would for myself."
"What particulars do you require, monsieur?" asked Prasville.
"Everything that concerns the Marquis d'Albufex: the position of his family, the way in which he spends his time, his family connections, the properties which he owns in Paris and in the country."
"After all, whether it's the marquis or another, Daubrecq's kidnapper is working on our behalf, seeing that, by capturing the list, he disarms Daubrecq."
"And who says, monsieur le secretaire-general, that he is not working on his own behalf?"
"That is not possible, as his name is on the list."
"And suppose he erases it? Suppose you then find yourself dealing with a second blackmailer, even more grasping and more powerful than the first and one who, as a political adversary, is in a better position than Daubrecq to maintain the contest?"
The secretary-general was struck by the argument. After a moment's thought, he said:
"Come and see me in my office at four o'clock tomorrow. I will give you the particulars. What is your address, in case I should want you?"
"M. Nicole, 25, Place de Clichy. I am staying at a friend's flat, which he has lent me during his absence."
The interview was at an end. M. Nicole thanked the secretary-general, with a very low bow, and walked out, accompanied by Mme. Mergy:
"That's an excellent piece of work," he said, outside, rubbing his hands. "I can march into the police-office whenever I like, and set the whole lot to work."
Mme. Mergy, who was less hopefully inclined, said:
"Alas, will you be in time? What terrifies me is the thought that the list may be destroyed."
"Goodness gracious me, by whom? By Daubrecq?"
"No, but by the marquis, when he gets hold of it."
"He hasn't got it yet! Daubrecq will resist long enough, at any rate, for us to reach him. Just think! Prasville is at my orders!"
"Suppose he discovers who you are? The least inquiry will prove that there is no such person as M. Nicole."
"But it will not prove that M. Nicole is the same person as Arsene Lupin. Besides, make yourself easy. Prasville is not only beneath contempt as a detective: he has but one aim in life, which is to destroy his old enemy, Daubrecq. To achieve that aim, all means are equally good; and he will not waste time in verifying the identity of a M. Nicole who promises him Daubrecq. Not to mention that I was brought by you and that, when all is said, my little gifts did dazzle him to some extent. So let us go ahead boldly."
Clarisse always recovered confidence in Lupin's presence. The future seemed less appalling to her; and she admitted, she forced herself to admit, that the chances of saving Gilbert were not lessened by that hideous death-sentence. But he could not prevail upon her to return to Brittany. She wanted to fight by his side. She wanted to be there and share all his hopes and all his disappointments.
The next day the inquiries of the police confirmed what Prasville and Lupin already knew. The Marquis d'Albufex had been very deeply involved in the business of the canal, so deeply that Prince Napoleon was obliged to remove him from the management of his political campaign in France; and he kept up his very extravagant style of living only by dint of constant loans and makeshifts. On the other hand, in so far as concerned the kidnapping of Daubrecq, it was ascertained that, contrary to his usual custom, the marquis had not appeared in his club between six and seven that evening and had not dined at home. He did not come back until midnight; and then he came on foot.
M. Nicole's accusation, therefore, was receiving an early proof. Unfortunately--and Lupin was no more successful in his own attempts --it was impossible to obtain the least clue as to the motor-car, the chauffeur and the four people who had entered Daubrecq's house. Were they associates of the marquis, compromised in the canal affair like himself? Were they men in his pay? Nobody knew.
The whole search, consequently, had to be concentrated upon the marquis and the country-seats and houses which he might possess at a certain distance from Paris, a distance which, allowing for the average speed of a motor-car and the inevitable stoppages, could be put at sixty to ninety miles.
Now d'Albufex, having sold everything that he ever had, possessed neither country-houses nor landed estates.
They turned their attention to the marquis' relations and intimate friends. Was he able on this side to dispose of some safe retreat in which to imprison Daubrecq?
The result was equally fruitless.
And the days passed. And what days for Clarisse Mergy! Each of them brought Gilbert nearer to the terrible day of reckoning. Each of them meant twenty-four hours less from the date which Clarisse had instinctively fixed in her mind. And she said to Lupin, who was racked with the same anxiety:
"Fifty-five days more... Fifty days more... What can one do in so few days?... Oh, I beg of you... I beg of you..."
What could they do indeed? Lupin, who would not leave the task of watching the marquis to any one but himself, practically lived without sleeping. But the marquis had resumed his regular life; and, doubtless suspecting something, did not risk going away.
Once alone, he went down to the Duc de Montmaur's, in the daytime. The duke kept a pack of boar-hounds, with which he hunted the Forest of Durlaine. D'Albufex maintained no relations with him outside the hunt.
"It is hardly likely," said Prasville, "that the Duc de Montmaur, an exceedingly wealthy man, who is interested only in his estates and his hunting and takes no part in politics, should lend himself to the illegal detention of Daubrecq the deputy in his chateau."
Lupin agreed; but, as he did not wish to leave anything to chance, the next week, seeing d'Albufex go out one morning in riding-dress, he followed him to the Gare du Nord and took the same train.
He got out at Aumale, where d'Albufex found a carriage at the station which took him to the Chateau de Montmaur.
Lupin lunched quietly, hired a bicycle and came in view of the house at the moment when the guests were going into the park, in motor-cars or mounted. The Marquis d'Albufex was one of the horsemen.
Thrice, in the course of the day, Lupin saw him cantering along. And he found him, in the evening, at the station, where d'Albufex rode up, followed by a huntsman.
The proof, therefore, was conclusive; and there was nothing suspicious on that side. Why did Lupin, nevertheless, resolve not to be satisfied with appearances? And why, next day, did he send the Masher to find out things in the neighbourhood of Montmaur? It was an additional precaution, based upon no logical reason, but agreeing with his methodical and careful manner of acting.
Two days later he received from the Masher, among other information of less importance, a list of the house-party at Montmaur and of all the servants and keepers.
One name struck him, among those of the huntsmen. He at once wired:
"Inquire about huntsman Sebastiani."
The Masher's answer was received the next day:
"Sebastiani, a Corsican, was recommended to the Duc de Montmaur by the Marquis d'Albufex. He lives at two or three miles from the house, in a hunting-lodge built among the ruins of the feudal stronghold which was the cradle of the Montmaur family."
"That's it," said Lupin to Clarisse Mergy, showing her the Masher's letter. "That name, Sebastiani, at once reminded me that d'Albufex is of Corsican descent. There was a connection..."
"Then what do you intend to do?"
"If Daubrecq is imprisoned in those ruins, I intend to enter into communication with him."
"He will distrust you."
"No. Lately, acting on the information of the police, I ended by discovering the two old ladies who carried off your little Jacques at Saint-Germain and who brought him, the same evening, to Neuilly. They are two old maids, cousins of Daubrecq, who makes them a small monthly allowance. I have been to call on those Demoiselles Rousselot; remember the name and the address: 134 bis, Rue du Bac. I inspired them with confidence, promised them to find their cousin and benefactor; and the elder sister, Euphrasie Rousselot, gave me a letter in which she begs Daubrecq to trust M. Nicole entirely. So you see, I have taken every precaution. I shall leave to-night."
"We, you mean," said Clarisse.
"Can I go on living like this, in feverish inaction?" And she whispered, "I am no longer counting the days, the thirty-eight or forty days that remain to us: I am counting the hours."
Lupin felt that her resolution was too strong for him to try to combat it. They both started at five o'clock in the morning, by motor-car. The Growler went with them.
So as not to arouse suspicion, Lupin chose a large town as his headquarters. At Amiens, where he installed Clarisse, he was only eighteen miles from Montmaur.
At eight o'clock he met the Masher not far from the old fortress, which was known in the neighbourhood by the name of Mortepierre, and he examined the locality under his guidance.
On the confines of the forest, the little river Ligier, which has dug itself a deep valley at this spot, forms a loop which is overhung by the enormous cliff of Mortepierre.
"Nothing to be done on this side," said Lupin. "The cliff is steep, over two hundred feet high, and the river hugs it all round."
Not far away they found a bridge that led to the foot of a path which wound, through the oaks and pines, up to a little esplanade, where stood a massive, iron-bound gate, studded with nails and flanked on either side by a large tower.
"Is this where Sebastiani the huntsman lives?" asked Lupin.
"Yes," said the Masher, "with his wife, in a lodge standing in the midst of the ruins. I also learnt that he has three tall sons and that all the four were supposed to be away for a holiday on the day when Daubrecq was carried off."
"Oho!" said Lupin. "The coincidence is worth remembering. It seems likely enough that the business was done by those chaps and their father."
Toward the end of the afternoon Lupin availed himself of a breach to the right of the towers to scale the curtain. From there he was able to see the huntsman's lodge and the few remains of the old fortress: here, a bit of wall, suggesting the mantel of a chimney; further away, a water-tank; on this side, the arches of a chapel; on the other, a heap of fallen stones.
A patrol-path edged the cliff in front; and, at one of the ends of this patrol-path, there were the remains of a formidable donjon-keep razed almost level with the ground.
Lupin returned to Clarisse Mergy in the evening. And from that time he went backward and forward between Amiens and Mortepierre, leaving the Growler and the Masher permanently on the watch.
And six days passed. Sebastiani's habits seemed to be subject solely to the duties of his post. He used to go up to the Chateau de Montmaur, walk about in the forest, note the tracks of the game and go his rounds at night.
But, on the seventh day, learning that there was to be a meet and that a carriage had been sent to Aumale Station in the morning, Lupin took up his post in a cluster of box and laurels which surrounded the little esplanade in front of the gate.
At two o'clock he heard the pack give tongue. They approached, accompanied by hunting-cries, and then drew farther away. He heard them again, about the middle of the afternoon, not quite so distinctly; and that was all. But suddenly, amid the silence, the sound of galloping horses reached his ears; and, a few minutes later, he saw two riders climbing the river-path.
He recognized the Marquis d'Albufex and Sebastiani. On reaching the esplanade, they both alighted; and a woman--the huntsman's wife, no doubt--opened the gate. Sebastiani fastened the horses' bridles to rings fixed on a post at a few yards from Lupin and ran to join the marquis. The gate closed behind them.
Lupin did not hesitate; and, though it was still broad daylight, relying upon the solitude of the place, he hoisted himself to the hollow of the breach. Passing his head through cautiously, he saw the two men and Sebastiani's wife hurrying toward the ruins of the keep.
The huntsman drew aside a hanging screen of ivy and revealed the entrance to a stairway, which he went down, as did d'Albufex, leaving his wife on guard on the terrace.
There was no question of going in after them; and Lupin returned to his hiding-place. He did not wait long before the gate opened again.
The Marquis d'Albufex seemed in a great rage. He was striking the leg of his boot with his whip and mumbling angry words which Lupin was able to distinguish when the distance became less great:
"Ah, the hound!... I'll make him speak... I'll come back to-night... to-night, at ten o'clock, do you hear, Sebastiani?... And we shall do what's necessary... Oh, the brute!"
Sebastiani unfastened the horses. D'Albufex turned to the woman:
"See that your sons keep a good watch... If any one attempts to deliver him, so much the worse for him. The trapdoor is there. Can I rely upon them?"
"As thoroughly as on myself, monsieur le marquis," declared the huntsman. "They know what monsieur le marquis has done for me and what he means to do for them. They will shrink at nothing."
"Let us mount and get back to the hounds," said d'Albufex.
So things were going as Lupin had supposed. During these runs, d'Albufex, taking a line of his own, would push off to Mortepierre, without anybody's suspecting his trick. Sebastiani, who was devoted to him body and soul, for reasons connected with the past into which it was not worth while to inquire, accompanied him; and together they went to see the captive, who was closely watched by the huntsman's wife and his three sons.
"That's where we stand," said Lupin to Clarisse Mergy, when he joined her at a neighbouring inn. "This evening the marquis will put Daubrecq to the question--a little brutally, but indispensably--as I intended to do myself."
"And Daubrecq will give up his secret," said Clarisse, already quite upset.
"I'm afraid so."
"I am hesitating between two plans," said Lupin, who seemed very calm. "Either to prevent the interview..."
"By forestalling d'Albufex. At nine o'clock, the Growler, the Masher and I climb the ramparts, burst into the fortress, attack the keep, disarm the garrison... and the thing's done: Daubrecq is ours."
"Unless Sebastiani's sons fling him through the trapdoor to which the marquis alluded..."
"For that reason," said Lupin, "I intend to risk that violent measure only as a last resort and in case my other plan should not be practicable."
"What is the other plan?"
"To witness the interview. If Daubrecq does not speak, it will give us the time to prepare to carry him off under more favourable conditions. If he speaks, if they compel him to reveal the place where the list of the Twenty-seven is hidden, I shall know the truth at the same time as d'Albufex, and I swear to God that I shall turn it to account before he does."
"Yes, yes," said Clarisse. "But how do you propose to be present?"
"I don't know yet," Lupin confessed. "It depends on certain particulars which the Masher is to bring me and on some which I shall find out for myself."
He left the inn and did not return until an hour later as night was falling. The Masher joined him.
"Have you the little book?" asked Lupin.
"Yes, governor. It was what I saw at the Aumale newspaper-shop. I got it for ten sous."
"Give it me."
The Masher handed him an old, soiled, torn pamphlet, entitled, on the cover, A Visit to Mortepierre, 1824, with plans and illustrations.
Lupin at once looked for the plan of the donjon-keep.
"That's it," he said. "Above the ground were three stories, which have been razed, and below the ground, dug out of the rock, two stories, one of which was blocked up by the rubbish, while the other... There, that's where our friend Daubrecq lies. The name is significant: the torture-chamber... Poor, dear friend!... Between the staircase and the torture-chamber, two doors. Between those two doors, a recess in which the three brothers obviously sit, gun in hand."
"So it is impossible for you to get in that way without being seen."
"Impossible... unless I come from above, by the story that has fallen in, and look for a means of entrance through the ceiling... But that is very risky..."
He continued to turn the pages of the book. Clarisse asked:
"Is there no window to the room?"
"Yes," he said. "From below, from the river--I have just been there --you can see a little opening, which is also marked on the plan. But it is fifty yards up, sheer; and even then the rock overhangs the water. So that again is out of the question."
He glanced through a few pages of the book. The title of one chapter struck him: The Lovers' Towers. He read the opening lines:
"In the old days, the donjon was known to the people of the neighbourhood as the Lovers' Tower, in memory of a fatal tragedy that marked it in the Middle Ages. The Comte de Mortepierre, having received proofs of his wife's faithlessness, imprisoned her in the torture-chamber, where she spent twenty years. One night, her lover, the Sire de Tancarville, with reckless courage, set up a ladder in the river and then clambered up the face of the cliff till he came to the window of the room. After filing the bars, he succeeded in releasing the woman he loved and bringing her down with him by means of a rope. They both reached the top of the ladder, which was watched by his friends, when a shot was fired from the patrol-path and hit the man in the shoulder. The two lovers were hurled into space...."
There was a pause, after he had read this, a long pause during which each of them drew a mental picture of the tragic escape. So, three or four centuries earlier, a man, risking his life, had attempted that surprising feat and would have succeeded but for the vigilance of some sentry who heard the noise. A man had ventured! A man had dared! A man done it!
Lupin raised his eyes to Clarisse. She was looking at him... with such a desperate, such a beseeching look! The look of a mother who demanded the impossible and who would have sacrificed anything to save her son.
"Masher," he said, "get a strong rope, but very slender, so that I can roll it round my waist, and very long: fifty or sixty yards. You, Growler, go and look for three or four ladders and fasten them end to end."
"Why, what are you thinking of, governor?" cried the two accomplices. "What, you mean to... But it's madness!"
"Madness? Why? What another has done I can do."
"But it's a hundred chances to one that you break your neck."
"Well, you see, Masher, there's one chance that I don't."
"That's enough, my friends. Meet me in an hour on the river-bank."
The preparations took long in the making. It was difficult to find the material for a fifty-foot ladder that would reach the first ledge of the cliff; and it required an endless effort and care to join the different sections.
At last, a little after nine o'clock, it was set up in the middle of the river and held in position by a boat, the bows of which were wedged between two of the rungs, while the stern was rammed into the bank.
The road through the river-valley was little used, and nobody came to interrupt the work. The night was dark, the sky heavy with moveless clouds.
Lupin gave the Masher and the Growler their final instructions and said, with a laugh:
"I can't tell you how amused I am at the thought of seeing Daubrecq's face when they proceed to take his scalp or slice his skin into ribbons. Upon my word, it's worth the journey."
Clarisse also had taken a seat in the boat. He said to her:
"Until we meet again. And, above all, don't stir. Whatever happens, not a movement, not a cry."
"Can anything happen?" she asked.
"Why, remember the Sire de Tancarville! It was at the very moment when he was achieving his object, with his true love in his arms, that an accident betrayed him. But be easy: I shall be all right."
She made no reply. She seized his hand and grasped it warmly between her own.
He put his foot on the ladder and made sure that it did not sway too much. Then he went up.
He soon reached the top rung.
This was where the dangerous ascent began, a difficult ascent at the start, because of the excessive steepness, and developing, mid-way, into an absolute escalade.
Fortunately, here and there were little hollows, in which his feet found a resting-place, and projecting stones, to which his hands clung. But twice those stones gave way and he slipped; and twice he firmly believed that all was lost. Finding a deeper hollow, he took a rest. He was worn out, felt quite ready to throw up the enterprise, asked himself if it was really worth while for him to expose himself to such danger:
"I say!" he thought. "Seems to me you're showing the white feather, Lupin, old boy. Throw up the enterprise? Then Daubrecq will babble his secret, the marquis will possess himself of the list, Lupin will return empty-handed, and Gilbert..."
The long rope which he had fastened round his waist caused him needless inconvenience and fatigue. He fixed one of the ends to the strap of his trousers and let the rope uncoil all the way down the ascent, so that he could use it, on returning, as a hand-rail.
Then he once more clutched at the rough surface of the cliff and continued the climb, with bruised nails and bleeding fingers. At every moment he expected the inevitable fall. And what discouraged him most was to hear the murmur of voices rising from the boat, murmur so distinct that it seemed as though he were not increasing the distance between his companions and himself.
And he remembered the Sire de Tancarville, alone, he too, amid the darkness, who must have shivered at the noise of the stones which he loosened and sent bounding down the cliff. How the least sound reverberated through the silence! If one of Daubrecq's guards was peering into the gloom from the Lovers' Tower, it meant a shot... and death.
And he climbed... he climbed... He had climbed so long that he ended by imagining that the goal was passed. Beyond a doubt, he had slanted unawares to the right or left and he would finish at the patrol-path. What a stupid upshot! And what other upshot could there be to an attempt which the swift force of events had not allowed him to study and prepare?
Madly, he redoubled his efforts, raised himself by a number of yards, slipped, recovered the lost ground, clutched a bunch of roots that came loose in his hand, slipped once more and was abandoning the game in despair when, suddenly, stiffening himself and contracting his whole frame, his muscles and his will, he stopped still: a sound of voices seemed to issue from the very rock which he was grasping.
He listened. It came from the right. Turning his head, he thought that he saw a ray of light penetrating the darkness of space. By what effort of energy, by what imperceptible movements he succeeded in dragging himself to the spot he was never able exactly to realize. But suddenly he found himself on the ledge of a fairly wide opening, at least three yards deep, which dug into the wall of the cliff like a passage, while its other end, much narrower, was closed by three bars.
Lupin crawled along. His head reached the bars. And he saw...