CHAPTER V. M. LENORMAND AT WORK
ON THE morning of the 31st of May, all the newspapers reminded their readers that Lupin, in a letter addressed to M. Lenormand, had announced the escape of the messenger Jerome for that date. And one of them summed up the situation, as it then stood, in very able terms:
"The horrible carnage at the Palace Hotel took place as far back as the 17th of April. What has been discovered since? Nothing.
"There were three clues: the cigarette-case, the initials L. and M. and the parcel of clothes left behind in the office of the hotel. What advantage has been taken of these clues? None.
"It appears that the police suspect one of the visitors who was staying on the first floor and who disappeared in a doubtful manner. Have they found him? Have they established his identity? No.
"The tragedy, therefore, remains as mysterious as at the beginning, the gloom is impenetrable.
"To complete the picture, we are told that dissension prevails between the prefect of police and his subordinate, M. Lenormand, and that the latter, finding himself less vigorously supported by the prime minister, virtually sent in his resignation several days ago. According to our information, the conduct of the Kesselbach case is now in the hands of the deputy-chief of the detective-service, M. Weber, a personal enemy of M. Lenormand's.
"In short, disorder and confusion reign; and then in the face of Lupin, who stands for method, energy and steadfastness of mind.
"What conclusion do we draw from these facts? Briefly, this: Lupin will release his accomplice today, the 31st of May, as he foretold."
This conclusion, which was echoed in all the other newspapers, was also the conclusion at which the general public had arrived. And we must take it that the threat was not considered devoid of importance in high places, for the prefect of police and, in the absence of M. Lenormand, who was said to be unwell, the deputy-chief of the detective-service, M. Weber, had adopted the most stringent measures, both at the Palais de Justice and at the Sante Prison, where the prisoner was confined.
They did not dare, for sheer reasons of shame, to suspend on that particular day the examinations conducted daily by M. Formerie; but, from the prison to the Boulevard du Palais, a regular mobilization of police-forces guarded the streets along the line.
To the intense astonishment of one and all, the 31st of May passed and the threatened escape did not take place.
One thing did happen, an attempt to execute the plan, as was betrayed by a block of tramway-cars, omnibuses and drays along the road taken by the prison-van and the unaccountable breaking of one of the wheels of the van itself. But the attempt assumed no more definite form.
Lupin, therefore, had met with a check. The public felt almost disappointed and the police triumphed loudly.
On the next day, Saturday, an incredible rumour spread through the Palais and the newspaper-offices: Jerome the messenger had disappeared.
Was it possible? Although the special editions confirmed the news, people refused to believe it. But, at six o'clock, a note published by the Depeche du Soir made it official:
"We have received the following communication signed by Arsene Lupin. The special stamp affixed to it, in accordance with the circular which Lupin recently sent to the press, guarantees the genuineness of the document:
"'To the Editor of the Depeche du Soir.
"'Pray make my apologies to the public for not keeping my word yesterday. I remembered, at the last moment, that the 31st of May fell on a Friday! Could I set my friend at liberty on a Friday? I did not think it right to assume that responsibility.
"'I must also apologize for not on this occasion explaining, with my customary frankness, how this little event was managed. My process is so ingenious and so simple that I fear lest, if I revealed it, every criminal should be inspired by it. How surprised people will be on the day when I am free to speak! "Is that all?" I shall be asked. That is all; but it had to be thought of.
"'Permit me to be, Sir,
"'Your obedient servant,
An hour later, M. Lenormand was rung up on the telephone and informed that Valenglay, the prime minister, wished to see him at the Ministry of the Interior.
"How well you're looking, my dear Lenormand! And I who thought that you were ill and dared not leave your room!"
"I am not ill, Monsieur le President."
"So you were sulking in your tent!... But you were always a bad-tempered fellow."
"I confess to the bad temper, Monsieur le President, but not to the sulking."
"But you stay at home! And Lupin takes advantage of it to release his friends...."
"How could I stop him?"
"How? Why, Lupin's trick was of the plainest. In accordance with his usual method, he announced the date of the escape beforehand; everybody believed in it; an apparent attempt was planned; the escape was not made; and, on the next day, when nobody is thinking about it — whoosh! — the bird takes flight."
"Monsieur le President," said the chief of the detective-service, solemnly, "Lupin disposes of such means that we are not in a position to prevent what he has decided on. The escape was mathematically certain. I preferred to pass the hand... and leave the laughter for others to face."
"It's a fact that Monsieur le Prefet de Police and M. Weber cannot be enjoying themselves at the present moment.... But, when all is said, can you explain to me, M. Lenormand..."
"All that we know, Monsieur le President, is that the escape took place from the Palais de Justice. The prisoner was brought in a prison-van and taken to M. Formerie's room. He left M. Formerie's room, but he did not leave the Palais de Justice. And yet nobody knows what became of him."
"It's most bewildering."
"And has nothing else been discovered?"
"Yes. The inner corridor leading to the examining magistrates' rooms was blocked by an absolutely unprecedented crowd of prisoners, warders, counsel and doorkeepers; and it was discovered that all those people had received forged notices to appear at the same hour. On the other hand, not one of the examining-magistrates who were supposed to have summoned them sat in his room that day; and this because of forged notices from the public prosecutor's office, sending them to every part of Paris... and of the outskirts."
"Is that all?"
"No. Two municipal guards and a prisoner were seen to cross the courtyards. A cab was waiting for them outside and all three stepped in.
"And your supposition, Lenormand, your opinion.
"My supposition, Monsieur le President, is that the two municipal guards were accomplices who, profiting by the disorder in the corridor, took the place of the three warders. And my opinion is that this escape succeeded only through such special circumstances and so strange a combination of facts that we must look upon the most unlikely cases of complicity as absolutely certain. Lupin, for that matter, has connections at the Palais that balk all our calculations. He has agents in your ministry. He has agents at the Prefecture of Police. He has agents around me. It is a formidable organization, a detective-service a thousand times more clever, more daring, more varied and more supple than that under my own orders."
"And you stand this, Lenormand?"
"No, I do not."
"Then why this slackness on your part since the beginning of the case? What have you done against Lupin?"
"I have prepared for the struggle."
"Ah, capital! And, while you were preparing, he was acting."
"So was I."
"And do you know anything?"
"I know a great deal."
Leaning on his stick, M. Lenormand took a little contemplative walk across the spacious room. Then he sat down opposite Valenglay, brushed the facings of his olive-green coat with his finger-tips, settled his spectacles on his nose and said, plainly:
"M. le President, I hold three trump-cards in my hand. First, I know the name under which Arsene Lupin is hiding at this moment, the name under which he lived on the Boulevard Haussmann, receiving his assistants daily, reconstructing and directing his gang."
"But then why, in heaven's name, don't you arrest him?"
"I did not receive these particulars until later. The prince — let us call him Prince Dash — has disappeared. He is abroad, on other business."
"And, if he does not return..."
"The position which he occupies, the manner in which he has flung himself into the Kesselbach case, necessitate his return and under the same name."
"Monsieur le President, I come to my second trump. I have at last discovered Pierre Leduc."
"Or rather Lupin discovered him, and before disappearing, settled him in a little villa in the neighborhood of Paris."
"By Jove! But how did you know..."
"Oh, easily! Lupin has placed two of his accomplices with Pierre Leduc, to watch him and defend him. Now these accomplices are two of my own detectives, two brothers whom I employ in the greatest secrecy and who will hand him over to me at the first opportunity!"
"Well done you! So that..."
"So that, as Pierre Leduc, we may say, is the central point of the efforts of all those who are trying to solve the famous Kesselbach secret, I shall, sooner or later, through Pierre Leduc, catch, first, the author of the treble murder, because that miscreant substituted himself for Mr. Kesselbach in the accomplishment of an immense scheme and because Mr. Kesselbach had to find Pierre Leduc in order to be able to accomplish that scheme; and, secondly, Arsene Lupin, because Arsene Lupin is pursuing the same object."
"Splendid! Pierre Leduc is the bait which you are throwing to the enemy."
"And the fish is biting, Monsieur le President. I have just had word that a suspicious person was seen, a short time ago, prowling round the little villa where Pierre Leduc is living under the protection of my officers. I shall be on the spot in four hours."
"And the third trump, Lenormand?"
"Monsieur le President, a letter arrived yesterday, addressed to Mr. Rudolf Kesselbach, which I intercepted...."
"Intercepted, eh? You're getting on!"
"Yes, I intercepted it, opened it and kept it for myself. Here it is. It is dated two months back. It bears the Capetown postmark and contains these words: 'My dear Rudolf, I shall be in Paris on the 1st of June and in just as wretched a plight as when you came to my assistance. But I have great hopes of this Pierre Leduc affair of which I told you. What a strange story it is! Have you found the man I mean? Where do we stand? I am most anxious to know.' The letter is signed, 'Steinweg.' The first of June," continued M. Lenormand, "is today. I have ordered one of my inspectors to hunt me out this Steinweg. I have no doubt that he will succeed."
"Nor I, no doubt at all," cried Valenglay, rising from his chair, "and I make you every apology, my dear Lenormand, and my humble confession: I was on the point of letting you slide... for good and all! Tomorrow—I was expecting the prefect of police and M. Weber."
"I knew that, Monsieur le President."
"But for that, should I have put myself out? You now see my plan of campaign. On the one side, I am setting traps in which the murderer will be caught sooner or later. Pierre Leduc or Steinweg will deliver him into my hands. On the other side, I am on Arsene Lupin's heels. Two of his agents are in my pay and he believes them to be his most devoted helpers. In addition to this, he is working for me, because he is pursuing the perpetrator of the threefold crime as I am. Only, he imagines that he is dishing me, whereas it is I who am dishing him. So I shall succeed, but on one condition...."
"What is that?"
"That I am given free scope and allowed to act according to the needs of the moment, without troubling about the public, who are growing impatient, or my superiors, who are intriguing against me."
"In that case, Monsieur le President, in a few days from this I shall be the victor... or I shall be dead."
At Saint-Cloud. A little villa situated on one of the highest points of the upland, in an unfrequented road.
It was eleven o'clock at night. M. Lenormand left his car at Saint-Cloud and walked cautiously along the road. A shadow appeared.
"Is that you, Gourel?"
"Did you tell the brothers Doudeville that I was coming?"
"Yes, your room is ready, you can go to bed and sleep... unless they try to carry off Pierre Leduc tonight, which would not surprise me, considering the behavior of the fellow whom the Doudevilles saw."
They walked across the garden, softly entered the house and went up to the first floor. The two brothers, Jean and Jacques Doudeville, were there.
"No news of Prince Sernine?" asked Lenormand.
"What about Pierre Leduc?"
"He spends the whole day lying flat on his back in his room on the ground-floor, or else in the garden. He never comes up to see us."
"Is he better?"
"Much better. The rest has made a great change in his appearance."
"Is he wholly devoted to Lupin?"
"To Prince Sernine, rather, for he does not suspect that the two are one and the same man. At least, I suppose so. One never knows, with him. He does not speak at all. Oh, he's a queer fish! There's only one person who has the gift of cheering him up, of making him talk and even laugh. That's a young girl from Garches, to whom Prince Sernine introduced him. Genevieve Ernemont her name is. She has been here three times already... she was here today." He added, jestingly, "I believe there's a little flirting going on.... It's like his highness Prince Sernine and Mrs. Kesselbach.... It seems he's making eyes at her!... That devil of a Lupin!"
M. Lenormand did not reply. But it was obvious that all these details, to which he seemed to attach no importance, were noted in the recesses of his memory, to be used whenever he might need to draw the logical inferences from them. He lit a cigar, chewed it without smoking it, lit it again and dropped it.
He asked two or three more questions and then, dressed as he was, threw himself on his bed:
"If the least thing happens, let me be awakened.... If not, I shall sleep through the night... Go to your posts, all of you."
The others left the room.
An hour passed, two hours.
Suddenly, M. Lenormand felt some one touch him and Gourel said to him:
"Get up, chief; they have opened the gate."
"One man or two?"
"I only saw one... the moon appeared just then... he crouched down against a hedge."
"And the brothers Doudeville?"
"I sent them out by the back. They will cut off his retreat when the time comes."
Gourel took M. Lenormand's hand, led him downstairs and then into a little dark room:
"Don't stir, chief; we are in Pierre Leduc's dressing-room. I am opening the door of the recess in which his bed stands.... Don't be afraid... he has taken his veronal as he does every evening... nothing can wake him. Come this way.... It's a good hiding-place, isn't it?... These are the curtains of his bed.... From here you can see the window and the whole side of the room between the window and the bed."
The casement stood open and admitted a vague light, which became very precise at times, when the moon burst through her veil of clouds. The two men did not take their eyes from the empty window-frame, feeling certain that the event which they were awaiting would come from that side.
A slight, creaking noise...
"He is climbing the trellis," whispered Gourel.
"Is it high?"
"Six feet or so."
The creaking became more distinct.
"Go, Gourel," muttered M. Lenormand, "find the Doudevilles, bring them back to the foot of the wall and bar the road to any one who tries to get down this way."
Gourel went. At the same moment, a head appeared at the level of the window. Then a leg was flung over the balcony. M. Lenormand distinguished a slenderly-built man, below the middle height, dressed in dark colours and without a hat.
The man turned and, leaning over the balcony, looked for a few seconds into space, as though to make sure that no danger threatened him. Then he stooped down and lay at full length on the floor. He appeared motionless. But soon M. Lenormand realized that the still blacker shadow which he formed against the surrounding darkness was coming forward, nearer.
It reached the bed.
M. Lenormand had an impression that he could hear the man's breathing and, at the same time, that he could just see his eyes, keen, glittering eyes, which pierced the darkness like shafts of fire and which themselves could see through that same darkness.
Pierre Leduc gave a deep sigh and turned over.
A fresh silence....
The man had glided along the bed with imperceptible movements and his dark outline now stood out against the whiteness of the sheets that hung down to the floor.
M. Lenormand could have touched him by putting out his arm. This time, he clearly distinguished the breathing, which alternated with that of the sleeper, and he had the illusion that he also heard the sound of a heart beating.
Suddenly, a flash of light.... The man had pressed the spring of an electric lantern; and Pierre Leduc was lit full in the face, but the man remained in the shade, so that M. Lenormand was unable to see his features.
All that he saw was something that shone in the bright space; and he shuddered. It was the blade of a knife; and that thin, tapering knife, more like a stiletto than a dagger, seemed to him identical with the weapon which he had picked up by the body of Chapman, Mr. Kesselbach's secretary.
He put forth all his will-power to restrain himself from springing upon the man. He wanted first to know what the man had come to do.
The hand was raised. Was he going to strike? M. Lenormand calculated the distance in order to stop the blow.... But no, it was not a murderous gesture, but one of caution. The hand would only fall if Pierre Leduc stirred or tried to call out And the man bent over the sleeper, as though he were examining something.
"The right cheek," thought M. Lenormand, "the scar on the right cheek.... He wants to make sure that it is really Pierre Leduc."
The man had turned a little to one side, so that only his shoulders were visible. But his clothes, his overcoat, were so near that they brushed against the curtains behind which M. Lenormand was hiding.
"One movement on his part," thought the chief detective, "a thrill of alarm; and I shall collar him."
But the man, entirely absorbed in his examination, did not stir. At last, after shifting the dagger to the hand that held the lantern, he raised the sheet, at first hardly at all, then a little more, then more still, until the sleeper's left arm was uncovered and the hand laid bare. The flash of the lantern shone upon the hand. The fingers lay outspread. The little finger was cut on the second joint.
Again Pierre Leduc made a movement. The light was immediately put out; and, for an instant, the man remained beside the bed, motionless, standing straight up. Would he make up his mind to strike? M. Lenormand underwent the agony of the crime which he could so easily prevent, but which he did not want to forestall before the very last second.
A long, a very long silence. Suddenly, he saw or rather fancied that he saw an arm uplifted. Instinctively he moved, stretching his hand above the sleeper. In making this gesture, he hit against the man.
A dull cry. The fellow struck out at space, defended himself at random and fled toward the window. But M. Lenormand had leapt upon him and had his two aims around the man's shoulders.
He at once felt him yielding and, as the weaker of the two, powerless in Lenormand's hands, trying to avoid the struggle and to slip from between his arms. Lenormand, exerting all his strength, held him flat against his chest, bent him in two and stretched him on his back on the floor.
"Ah, I've got him, I've got him!" he muttered triumphantly.
And he felt a singular elation at imprisoning that terrifying criminal, that unspeakable monster, in his irresistible grip. He felt him living and quivering, enraged and desperate, their two lives mingled, their breaths blended:
"Who are you?" he asked. "Who are you? You'll have to speak...."
And he clasped the enemy's body with still greater force, for he had an impression that that body was diminishing between his arms, that it was vanishing. He gripped harder... and harder....
And suddenly he shuddered from head to foot. He had felt, he still felt a tiny prick in the throat.... In his exasperation, he gripped harder yet: the pain increased! And he observed that the man had succeeded in twisting one arm round, slipping his hand to his chest and holding the dagger on end. The arm, it was true, was incapable of motion; but the closer M. Lenormand tightened his grip, the deeper did the point of the dagger enter the proffered flesh.
He flung back his head a little to escape the point: the point followed the movement and the wound widened.
Then he moved no more, remembering the three crimes and all the alarming, atrocious and prophetic things represented by that same little steel needle which was piercing his skin and which, in its turn, was implacably penetrating....
Suddenly, he let go and gave a leap backwards. Then, at once, he tried to resume the offensive. It was too late. The man flung his legs across the window-sill and jumped.
"Look out, Gourel!" he cried, knowing that Gourel was there, ready to catch the fugitive.
He leant out. A crunching of pebbles... a shadow between two trees, the slam of the gate.... And no other sound... no interference....
Without giving a thought to Pierre Leduc, he called:
No answer. The great silence of the countryside at night....
In spite of himself, he continued to think of the treble murder, the steel dagger. But no, it was impossible, the man had not had time, had not even had the need to strike, as he had found the road clear.
M. Lenormand jumped out in his turn and, switching on his lantern, recognized Gourel lying on the ground:
"Damn it!" he swore. "If they've killed him, they'll have to pay dearly for it."
But Gourel was not dead, only stunned; and, a few minutes later, he came to himself and growled:
"Only a blow of the fist, chief... just a blow of the fist which caught me full in the chest. But what a fellow!"
"There were two of them then?"
"Yes, a little one, who went up, and another, who took me unawares while I was watching."
"And the Doudevilles?"
"Haven't seen them."
One of them, Jacques, was found near the gate, bleeding from a punch in the jaw; the other a little farther, gasping for breath from a blow full on the chest.
"What is it? What happened?" asked M. Lenormand.
Jacques said that his brother and he had knocked up against an individual who had crippled them before they had time to defend themselves.
"Was he alone?"
"No; when he passed near us, he had a pal with him, shorter than himself."
"Did you recognize the man who struck you?"
"Judging by the breadth of his shoulders, I thought he might be the Englishman of the Palace Hotel, the one who left the hotel and whose traces we lost."
"Yes, Major Parbury."
After a moment's reflection, M. Lenormand said:
"There is no doubt possible. There were two of them in the Kesselbach case: the man with the dagger, who committed the murders, and his accomplice, the major!"
"That is what Prince Sernine thinks," muttered Jacques Doudeville.
"And tonight," continued the chief detective, "it is they again: the same two." And he added, "So much the better. The chance of catching two criminals is a hundred times greater than the chance of catching one."
M. Lenormand attended to his men, had them put to bed and looked to see if the assailants had dropped anything or left any traces. He found nothing and went back to bed again himself.
In the morning, as Gourel and the Doudevilles felt none the worse for their injuries, he told the two brothers to scour the neighborhood and himself set but with Gourel for Paris, in order to hurry matters on and give his orders.
He lunched in his office. At two o'clock, he heard good news. One of his best detectives, Dieuzy, had picked up Steinweg, Rudolf Kesselbach, correspondent, as the German was stepping out of a train from Marseilles.
"Is Dieuzy there?"
"Yes, chief," said Gourel. "He's here with the German."
"Have them brought in to me."
At that moment, the telephone-bell rang. It was Jean Doudeville, speaking from the post-office at Garches. The conversation did not take long: "Is that you, Jean? Any news?"
"Yes, chief, Major Parbury...."
"We have found him. He has become a Spaniard and has darkened his skin. We have just seen him. He was entering the Garches free-school. He was received by that young lady... you know, the girl who knows Prince Sernine, Genevieve Ernemont."
M. Lenormand let go the receiver, made a grab at his hat, flew into the passage, met Dieuzy and the German, shouted to them to meet him in his office at six o'clock, rushed down the stairs, followed by Gourel and two inspectors whom he picked up on the way, and dived into a taxi-cab:
"Quick as you can to Garches... ten francs for yourself!"
He stopped the car a little before the Pare de Villeneuve, at the turn of the lane that led to the school. Jean Doudeville was waiting for him and at once exclaimed:
"He slipped away, ten minutes ago, by the other end of the lane."
"No, with the girl."
M. Lenormand took Doudeville by the collar:
"Wretch! You let him go! But you ought to have... you ought to have..."
"My brother is on his track."
"A lot of good that will do us! He'll stick your brother. You're no match for him, either of you!"
He himself took the steering-wheel of the taxi, and resolutely drove into the lane, regardless of the cart-ruts and of the bushes on each side. They soon emerged on a parish-road, which took them to a crossway where five roads met. M. Lenormand, without hesitation chose the one on the left, the Saint-Cucufa Road. As a matter of fact, at the top of the slope that runs down to the lake, they met the other Doudeville brother, who shouted:
"They are in a carriage... half a mile away."
The chief did not stop. He sent the car flying down the incline, rushed along the bends, drove round the lake and suddenly uttered an exclamation of triumph. Right at the top of a little hill that stood in front of them, he had seen the hood of a carriage.
Unfortunately, he had taken the wrong road and had to back the machine. When he reached the place where the roads branched, the carriage was still there, stationary. And, suddenly, while he was turning, he saw a girl spring from the carriage. A man appeared on the step. The girl stretched out her arm. Two reports rang out.
She had taken bad aim, without a doubt, for a head looked round the other side of the hood and the man, catching sight of the motor-cab, gave his horse a great lash with the whip and it started off at a gallop. The next moment, a turn of the road hid the carriage from sight.
M. Lenormand finished his tacking in a few seconds, darted straight up the incline, passed the girl without stopping and turned round boldly. He found himself on a steep, pebbly forest road, which ran down between dense woods and which could only be followed very slowly and with the greatest caution. But what did he care! Twenty yards in front of him, the carriage, a sort of two-wheeled cabriolet, was dancing over the stones, drawn, or rather held back, by a horse which knew enough only to go very carefully, feeling its way and taking no risks. There was nothing to fear; escape was impossible.
And the two conveyances went shaking and jolting down-hill. At one moment, they were so close together that M. Lenormand thought of alighting and running with his men. But he felt the danger of putting on the brake on so steep a slope; and he went on, pressing the enemy closely, like a prey which one keeps within sight, within touch....
"We've got him, chief, we've got him!" muttered the inspectors, excited by the unexpected nature of the chase.
At the bottom, the way flattened out into a road that ran towards the Seine, towards Bougival. The horse, on reaching level ground, set off at a jog-trot, without hurrying itself and keeping to the middle of the road.
A violent effort shook the taxi. It appeared, instead of rolling, to proceed by bounds, like a darting fawn, and, slipping by the roadside slope, ready to smash any obstacle, it caught up the carriage, came level with it, passed it....
An oath from M. Lenormand... shouts of fury.... The carriage was empty!
The carriage was empty. The horse was going along peacefully, with the reins on its back, no doubt returning to the stable of some inn in the neighborhood, where it had been hired for the day....
Suppressing his inward rage, the chief detective merely said:
"The major must have jumped out during the few seconds when we lost sight of the carriage, at the top of the descent."
"We have only to beat the woods, chief, and we are sure..."
"To return empty-handed. The beggar is far away by this time. He's not one of those who are caught twice in one day. Oh, hang it all, hang it all!"
They went back to the young girl, whom they found in the company of Jacques Doudeville and apparently none the worse for her adventure. M. Lenormand introduced himself, offered to take her back home and at once questioned her about the English major, Parbury.
She expressed astonishment:
"He is neither English nor a major; and his name is not Parbury."
"Then what is his name?"
"Juan Ribeira. He is a Spaniard sent by his government to study the working of the French schools."
"As you please. His name and his nationality are of no importance. He is the man we are looking for. Have you known him long?"
"A fortnight or so. He had heard about a school which I have founded at Garches and he interested himself in my experiment to the extent of proposing to make me an annual grant, on the one condition that he might come from time to time to observe the progress of my pupils. I had not the right to refuse..."
"No, of course not; but you should have consulted your acquaintances. Is not Prince Sernine a friend of yours? He is a man of good counsel."
"Oh, I have the greatest confidence in him; but he is abroad at present."
"Did you not know his address?"
"No. And, besides, what could I have said to him? That gentleman behaved very well. It was not until today... But I don't know if..."
"I beg you, mademoiselle, speak frankly. You can have confidence in me also."
"Well, M. Ribeira came just now. He told me that he had been sent by a French lady who was paying a short visit to Bougival, that this lady had a little girl whose education she would like to entrust to me and that she wished me to come and see her without delay. The thing seemed quite natural. And, as this is a holiday and as M. Ribeira had hired a carriage which was waiting for him at the end of the road, I made no difficulty about accepting a seat in it."
"But what was his object, after all?"
She blushed and said:
"To carry me off, quite simply. He confessed it to me after half an hour...."
"Do you know nothing about him?"
"Does he live in Paris?"
"I suppose so."
"Has he ever written to you? Do you happen to have a few lines in his handwriting, anything which he left behind, that may serve us as a clue?"
"No clue at all.... Oh, wait a minute... but I don't think that has any importance...."
"Speak, speak... please...."
"Well, two days ago, the gentleman asked permission to use my typewriting machine; and he typed out — with difficulty, for he evidently had no practice — a letter of which I saw the address by accident."
"What was the address?"
"He was writing to the Journal and he put about twenty stamps into the envelope."
"Yes.... the agony-column, no doubt," said M. Lenormand.
"I have today's number with me, chief," said Gourel.
M. Lenormand unfolded the sheet and looked at the eighth page. Presently, he gave a start. He had read the following sentence, printed with the usual abbreviation:
"To any person knowing Mr. Steinweg. Advertiser wishes to know if he is in Paris and his address. Reply through this column."
"Steinweg!" exclaimed Gourel. "But that's the very man whom Dieuzy is bringing to you!"
"Yes, yes," said M. Lenormand, to himself, "it's the man whose letter to Mr. Kesselbach I intercepted, the man who put Kesselbach on the track of Pierre Leduc.... So they, too, want particulars about Pierre Leduc and his past?... They, too, are groping in the dark?..."
He rubbed his hands: Steinweg was at his disposal. In less than an hour, Steinweg would have spoken. In less than an hour, the murky veil which oppressed him and which made the Kesselbach case the most agonizing and the most impenetrable that he had ever had in hand: that veil would be torn asunder.