CHAPTER VII. PARBURY—RIBEIRA—ALTENHEIM
THE girls were playing in the garden, under the supervision of Mlle. Charlotte, Genevieve's new assistant. Mme. Ernemont came out, distributed some cakes among them and then went back to the room which served as a drawing-room and parlor in one, sat down before a writing-desk and began to arrange her papers and account-books.
Suddenly, she felt the presence of a stranger in the room. She turned round in alarm:
"You!" she cried. "Where have you come from? How did you get in?"
"Hush!" said Prince Sernine. "Listen to me and do not let us waste a minute: Genevieve?"
"Calling on Mrs. Kesselbach."
"When will she be here?"
"Not before an hour."
"Then I will let the brothers Doudeville come. I have an appointment with them. How is Genevieve?"
"How often has she seen Pierre Leduc since I went away, ten days ago?"
"Three times; and she is to meet him today at Mrs. Kesselbach's, to whom she introduced him, as you said she must. Only, I may as well tell you that I don't think much of this Pierre Leduc of yours. Genevieve would do better to find some good fellow in her own class of life. For instance, there's the schoolmaster."
"You're mad! Genevieve marry a schoolmaster!"
"Oh, if you considered Genevieve's happiness first...."
"Shut up, Victoire. You're boring me with your cackle. I have no time to waste on sentiment. I'm playing a game of chess; and I move my men without troubling about what they think. When I have won the game, I will go into the question whether the knight, Pierre Leduc, and the queen, Genevieve, have a heart or not."
She interrupted him:
"Did you hear? A whistle...."
"It's the two Doudevilles. Go and bring them in; and then leave us."
As soon as the two brothers were in the room, he questioned them with his usual precision:
"I know what the newspapers have said about the disappearance of Lenormand and Gourel. Do you know any more?"
"No. The deputy-chief, M. Weber, has taken the case in hand. We have been searching the garden of the House of Retreat for the past week; and nobody is able to explain how they can have disappeared. The whole force is in a flutter.... No one has ever seen the like... a chief of the detective-service disappearing, without leaving a trace behind him!"
"The two maids?"
"Gertrude has gone. She is being looked for."
"Her sister Suzanne?"
"M. Weber and M. Formerie have questioned her. There is nothing against her."
"Is that all you have to tell me?"
"Oh, no, there are other things, all the things which we did not tell the papers."
They then described the incidents that had marked M. Lenormand's last two days: the night visit of the two ruffians to Pierre Leduc's villa; next day, Ribeira's attempt to kidnap Genevieve and the chase through the Saint-Cucufa woods; old Steinweg's arrival, his examination at the detective-office in Mrs. Kesselbach's presence, his escape from the Palais....
"And no one knows these details except yourselves?
"Dieuzy knows about the Steinweg incident: he told us of it."
"And they still trust you at the Prefecture of Police?"
"So much so that they employ us openly. M. Weber swears by us."
"Come," said the prince, "all is not lost. If M. Lenormand has committed an imprudence that has cost him his life, as I suppose he did, at any rate he performed some good work first; and we have only to continue it. The enemy has the start of us, but we will catch him up."
"It won't be an easy job, governor."
"Why not? It is only a matter of finding old Steinweg again, for the answer to the riddle is in his hands."
"Yes, but where has Ribeira got old Steinweg tucked away?"
"At his own place, of course."
"Then we should have to know where Ribeira hangs out."
"Well, of course!"
He dismissed them and went to the House of Retreat. Motor-cars were awaiting outside the door and two men were walking up and down, as though mounting guard.
In the garden, near Mrs. Kesselbach's house, he saw Genevieve sitting on a bench with Pierre Leduc and a thick-set gentleman wearing a single eye-glass. The three were talking and none of them saw him. But several people came out of the house: M. Formerie, M. Weber, a magistrate's clerk, and two inspectors. Genevieve went indoors and the gentleman with the eye-glass went up and spoke to the examining-magistrate and the deputy-chief of the detective-service and walked away with them slowly.
Sernine came beside the bench where Pierre Leduc was sitting and whispered:
"Don't move, Pierre Leduc; it's I."
It was the third time that the young man saw Sernine since the awful night at Versailles; and each time it upset him.
"Tell me... who is the fellow with the eye-glass?"
Pierre Leduc turned pale and jabbered. Sernine pinched his arm:
"Answer me, confound it! Who is he?"
"Where does he come from?"
"He was a friend of Mr. Kesselbach's. He arrived from Austria, six days ago, and placed himself at Mrs. Kesselbach's disposal."
The police authorities had, meanwhile, gone out of the garden; Baron Altenheim also.
The prince rose and, turning towards the Pavilion de l'Imperatrice, continued:
"Has the baron asked you many questions?"
"Yes, a great many. He is interested in my case. He wants to help me find my family. He appealed to my childhood memories."
"And what did you say?"
"Nothing, because I know nothing. What memories have I? You put me in another's place and I don't even know who that other is."
"No more do I!" chuckled the prince. "And that's just what makes your case so quaint."
"Oh, it's all very well for you to laugh... you're always laughing!... But I'm beginning to have enough of it.... I'm mixed up in a heap of nasty matters... to say nothing of the danger which I run in pretending to be somebody that I am not."
"What do you mean... that you are not? You're quite as much a duke as I am a prince... perhaps even more so.... Besides, if you're not a duke, hurry up and become one, hang it all! Genevieve can't marry any one but a duke! Look at her: isn't she worth selling your soul for?"
He did not even look at Leduc, not caring what he thought. They had reached the house by this time; and Genevieve appeared at the foot of the steps, comely and smiling:
"So you have returned?" she said to the prince. "Ah, that's a good thing! I am so glad.... Do you want to see Dolores?"
After a moment, she showed him into Mrs. Kesselbach's room. The prince was taken aback. Dolores was paler still and thinner than on the day when he saw her last. Lying on a sofa, wrapped up in white stuffs, she looked like one of those sick people who have ceased to struggle against death. As for her, she had ceased to struggle against life, against the fate that was overwhelming her with its blows.
Sernine gazed at her with deep pity and with an emotion which he did not strive to conceal. She thanked him for the sympathy which he showed her. She also spoke of Baron Altenheim, in friendly terms.
"Did you know him before?" he asked.
"Yes, by name, and through his intimacy with my husband."
"I have met an Altenheim who lives in the Rue de Rivoli. Do you think it's the same?"
"Oh, no, this one lives in... As a matter of fact, I don't quite know; he gave me his address, but I can't say that I remember it...."
After a few minutes' conversation, Sernine took his leave. Genevieve was waiting for him in the hall:
"I want to speak to you," she said eagerly, "on a serious matter.... Did you see him?"
"Baron Altenheim.... But that's not his name... or, at least, he has another.... I recognized him... he does not know it."
She dragged him out of doors and walked on in great excitement.
"Calm yourself, Genevieve...."
"He's the man who tried to carry me off.... But for that poor M. Lenormand, I should have been done for.... Come, you must know, for you know everything...."
"Then his real name is..."
"Are you sure?"
"It was no use his changing his appearance, his accent, his manner: I knew him at once, by the horror with which he inspires me. But I said nothing... until you returned."
"You said nothing to Mrs. Kesselbach either?"
"No. She seemed so happy at meeting a friend of her husband's. But you will speak to her about it, will you not? You will protect her.... I don't know what he is preparing against her, against myself.... Now that M. Lenormand is no longer there, he has nothing to fear, he does as he pleases. Who can unmask him?"
"I can. I will be responsible for everything. But not a word to anybody."
They had reached the porter's lodge. The gate was opened. The prince said:
"Good-bye, Genevieve, and be quite easy in your mind. I am there."
He shut the gate, turned round and gave a slight start. Opposite him stood the man with the eye-glass, Baron Altenheim, with his head held well up, his broad shoulders, his powerful frame.
They looked at each other for two or three seconds, in silence. The baron smiled.
Then the baron said:
"I was waiting for you, Lupin."
For all his self-mastery, Sernine felt a thrill pass over him. He had come to unmask his adversary; and his adversary had unmasked him at the first onset. And, at the same time, the adversary was accepting the contest boldly, brazenly, as though he felt sure of victory. It was a swaggering thing to do and gave evidence of no small amount of pluck.
The two men, violently hostile one to the other, took each other's measure with their eyes.
"And what then?" asked Sernine.
"What then? Don't you think we have occasion for a meeting?"
"I want to talk to you."
"What day will suit you?"
"Tomorrow. Let us lunch together at a restaurant."
"Why not at your place?"
"You don't know my address."
"Yes, I do."
With a swift movement, the prince pulled out a newspaper protruding from Altenheim's pocket, a paper still in its addressed wrapper, and said:
"No. 29, Villa Dupont."
"Well played!" said the other. "Then we'll say, tomorrow, at my place."
"Tomorrow, at your place. At what time?"
"I shall be there. Good-bye."
They were about to walk away. Altenheim stopped:
"Oh, one word more, prince. Bring a weapon with you."
"I keep four men-servants and you will be alone."
"I have my fists," said Sernine. "We shall be on even terms."
He turned his back on him and then, calling him back:
"Oh, one word more, baron. Engage four more servants."
"I have thought it over. I shall bring my whip."
At one o'clock the next day, precisely, a horseman rode through the gate of the so-called Villa Dupont, a peaceful, countrified private road, the only entrance to which is in the Rue Pergolese, close to the Avenue du Bois.
It is lined with gardens and handsome private houses; and, right at the end, it is closed by a sort of little park containing a large old house, behind which runs the Paris circular railway. It was here, at No. 29, that Baron Altenheim lived.
Sernine flung the reins of his horse to a groom whom he had sent on ahead and said:
"Bring him back at half-past two."
He rang the bell. The garden-gate opened and he walked to the front-door steps, where he was awaited by two tall men in livery who ushered him into an immense, cold, stone hall, devoid of any ornament. The door closed behind him with a heavy thud; and, great and indomitable as his courage was, he nevertheless underwent an unpleasant sensation at feeling himself alone, surrounded by enemies, in that isolated prison.
"Say Prince Sernine."
The drawing-room was near and he was shown straight in.
"Ah, there you are, my dear prince!" said the baron, coming toward him. "Well, will you believe — Dominique, lunch in twenty minutes. Until then, don't let us be interrupted — will you believe, my dear prince, that I hardly expected to see you?"
"Oh, really? Why?"
"Well, your declaration of war, this morning, is so plain that an interview becomes superfluous."
"My declaration of war?"
The baron unfolded a copy of the Grand Journal and pointed to a paragraph which ran as follows:
"We are authoritatively informed that M. Lenormand's disappearance has roused Arsene Lupin into taking action. After a brief enquiry and following on his proposal to clear up the Kesselbach case, Arsene Lupin has decided that he will find M. Lenormand, alive or dead, and that he will deliver the author or authors of that heinous series of crimes to justice."
"This authoritative pronouncement comes from you, my dear prince, of course?"
"Yes, it comes from me."
"Therefore, I was right: it means war."
Altenheim gave Sernine a chair, sat down himself and said, in a conciliatory tone:
"Well, no, I cannot allow that. It is impossible that two men like ourselves should fight and injure each other. We have only to come to an explanation, to seek the means: you and I were made to understand each other."
"I think, on the contrary, that two men like ourselves are not made to understand each other."
The baron suppressed a movement of impatience and continued:
"Listen to me, Lupin.... By the way, do you mind my calling you Lupin?"
"What shall I call you? Altenheim, Ribeira, or Parbury?"
"Oho! I see that you are even better posted than I thought!... Hang it all, but you're jolly smart!... All the more reason why we should agree."
And, bending toward him, "Listen, Lupin, and ponder my words well; I have weighed them carefully, every one. Look here.... We two are evenly matched.... Does that make you smile? You are wrong: it may be that you possess resources which I do not; but I have others of which you know nothing. Moreover, as you are aware, I have few scruples, some skill and a capacity for changing my personality which an expert like yourself ought to appreciate. In short, the two adversaries are each as good as the other. But one question remains unanswered: why are we adversaries? We are pursuing the same object, you will say? And what then? Do you know what will come of our rivalry? Each of us will paralyze the efforts and destroy the work of the other; and we shall both miss our aim! And for whose benefit? Some Lenormand or other, a third rogue!... It's really too silly."
"It's really too silly, as you say," Sernine admitted. "But there is a remedy."
"What is that?"
"For you to withdraw."
"Don't chaff. I am serious. The proposal which I am going to make is not one to be rejected without examination. Here it is, in two words: let's be partners!"
"Of course, each of us will continue free where his own affairs are concerned. But, for the business in question, let us combine our efforts. Does that suit you? Hand in hand and share alike."
"What do you bring?"
"Yes, you know what I'm worth; I've delivered my proofs. In the alliance which you are proposing, you know the figure, so to speak of my marriage-portion. What's yours?"
"That's not much."
"It's immense. Through Steinweg, we learn the truth about Pierre Leduc. Through Steinweg, we get to know what the famous Kesselbach plan is all about."
Sernine burst out laughing:
"And you need me for that?"
"I don't understand."
"Come, old chap, your offer is childish. You have Steinweg in your hands. If you wish for my collaboration, it is because you have not succeeded in making him speak. But for that fact, you would do without my services."
"Well, what of it?"
The two men stood up to each other once more, violent and implacable.
"I refuse," said Sernine. "Lupin requires nobody, in order to act. I am one of those who walk alone. If you were my equal, as you pretend, the idea of a partnership would never have entered your head. The man who has the stature of a leader commands. Union implies obedience. I do not obey."
"You refuse? You refuse?" repeated Altenheim, turning pale under the insult.
"All that I can do for you, old chap, is to offer you a place in my band. You'll be a private soldier, to begin with. Under my orders, you shall see how a general wins a battle... and how he pockets the booty, by himself and for himself. Does that suit, you... Tommy?"
Altenheim was beside himself with fury. He gnashed his teeth:
"You are making a mistake, Lupin!" he mumbled, "you are making a mistake.... I don't want anybody either; and this business gives me no more difficulty than plenty of others which I have pulled off.... What I said was said in order to effect our object more quickly and without inconveniencing each other."
"You're not inconveniencing me," said Lupin, scornfully.
"Look here! If we don't combine, only one of us will succeed."
"That's good enough for me."
"And he will only succeed by passing over the other's body. Are you prepared for that sort of duel, Lupin? A duel to the death, do you understand?... The knife is a method which you despise; but suppose you received one, Lupin, right in the throat?"
"Aha! So, when all is said, that's what you propose?"
"No, I am not very fond of shedding blood.... Look at my fists: I strike... and my man falls.... I have special blows of my own.... But the other one kills... remember... the little wound in the throat.... Ah, Lupin, beware of him, beware of that one!... He is terrible, he is implacable.... Nothing stops him."
He spoke these words in a low voice and with such excitement that Sernine shuddered at the hideous thought of the unknown murderer:
"Baron," he sneered, "one would think you were afraid of your accomplice!"
"I am afraid for the others, for those who bar our road, for you, Lupin. Accept, or you are lost. I shall act myself, if necessary. The goal is too near... I have my hand on it.... Get out of my way, Lupin!"
He was all energy and exasperated will. He spoke forcibly and so brutally that he seemed ready to strike his enemy then and there.
Sernine shrugged his shoulders:
"Lord, how hungry I am!" he said, yawning. "What a time to lunch at!"
The door opened.
"Lunch is served, sir," said the butler.
"Ah, that's good hearing!"
In the doorway, Altenheim caught Sernine by the arm and, disregarding the servant's presence:
"If you take my advice... accept. This is a serious moment in your life... and you will do better, I swear to you, you will do better... to accept...."
"Caviare!" cried Sernine. "Now, that's too sweet of you.... You remembered that you were entertaining a Russian prince!"
They sat down facing each other, with the baron's greyhound, a large animal with long, silver hair, between them.
"Let me introduce Sirius, my most faithful friend."
"A fellow-countryman," said Sernine. "I shall never forget the one which the Tsar was good enough to give me when I had the honor to save his life."
"Ah, you had that honor... a terrorist conspiracy, no doubt?"
"Yes, a conspiracy got up by myself. You must know, this dog — its name, by the way, was Sebastopol...."
The lunch continued merrily. Altenheim had recovered his good humor and the two men vied with each other in wit and politeness. Sernine told anecdotes which the baron capped with others; and it was a succession of stories of hunting, sport and travel, in which the oldest names in Europe were constantly cropping up: Spanish grandees, English lords, Hungarian magyars, Austrian archdukes.
"Ah," said Sernine, "what a fine profession is ours! It brings us into touch with all the best people. Here, Sirius, a bit of this truffled chicken!"
The dog did not take his eyes off him, and snapped at everything that Sernine gave it.
"A glass of Chambertin, prince?"
"With pleasure, baron."
"I can recommend it. It comes from King Leopold's cellar."
"Yes, a present I made myself."
"It's delicious.... What a bouquet!... With this pate de foie gras, it's simply wonderful!... I must congratulate you, baron; you have a first-rate chef."
"My chef is a woman-cook, prince. I bribed her with untold gold to leave Levraud, the socialist deputy. I say, try this hot chocolate-ice; and let me call your special attention to the little dry cakes that go with it. They're an invention of genius, those cakes."
"The shape is charming, in any case," said Sernine, helping himself. "If they taste as good as they look.... Here, Sirius, you're sure to like this. Locusta herself could not have done better."
He took one of the cakes and gave it to the dog. Sirius swallowed it at a gulp, stood motionless for two or three seconds, as though dazed, then turned in a circle and fell to the floor dead.
Sernine started back from his chair, lest one of the footmen should fall upon him unawares. Then he burst out laughing:
"Look here, baron, next time you want to poison one of your friends, try to steady your voice and to keep your hands from shaking.... Otherwise, people suspect you.... But I thought you disliked murder?"
"With the knife, yes," said Altenheim, quite unperturbed. "But I have always had a wish to poison some one. I wanted to see what it was like."
"By Jove, old chap, you choose your subjects well! A Russian prince!"
He walked up to Altenheim and, in a confidential tone, said:
"Do you know what would have happened if you had succeeded, that is to say, if my friends had not seen me return at three o'clock at the latest? Well, at half-past three the prefect of police would have known exactly all that there was to know about the so-called Baron Altenheim; and the said baron would have been copped before the day was out and clapped into jail."
"Pooh!" said Altenheim. "Prison one escapes from... whereas one does not come back from the kingdom where I was sending you."
"True, but you would have to send me there first; and that's not so easy."
"I only wanted a mouthful of one of those cakes."
"Are you quite sure?"
"One thing's certain, my lad: you haven't the stuff yet which great adventurers are made of; and I doubt if you'll ever have it, considering the sort of traps you lay for me. A man who thinks himself worthy of leading the life which you and I have the honor to lead must also be fit to lead it, and, for that, must be prepared for every eventuality: he must even be prepared not to die if some ragamuffin or other tries to poison him.... An undaunted soul in an unassailable body: that is the ideal which he must set before himself... and attain. Try away, old chap. As for me, I am undaunted and unassailable. Remember King Mithridates!"
He went back to his chair:
"Let's finish our lunch. But as I like proving the virtues to which I lay claim, and as, on the other hand, I don't want to hurt your cook's feelings, just pass me that plate of cakes."
He took one of them, broke it in two and held out one half to the baron:
The other gave a movement of recoil.
"Funk!" said Sernine.
And, before the wondering eyes of the baron and his satellites, he began to eat the first and then the second half of the cake, quietly, conscientiously, as a man eats a dainty of which he would hate to miss the smallest morsel.
They met again.
That same evening, Prince Sernine invited Baron Altenheim to dinner at the Cabaret Vatel, with a party consisting of a poet, a musician, a financier and two pretty actresses, members of the Theatre Francais.
The next day, they lunched together in the Bois and, at night, they met at the Opera.
They saw each other every day for a week. One would have thought that they could not do without each other and that they were united by a great friendship, built up of mutual confidence, sympathy and esteem.
They had a capital time, drinking good wine, smoking excellent cigars, and laughing like two madmen.
In reality, they were watching each other fiercely. Mortal enemies, separated by a merciless hatred, each feeling sure of winning and longing for victory with an unbridled will, they waited for the propitious moment: Altenheim to do away with Sernine; and Sernine to hurl Altenheim into the pit which he was digging for him.
Each knew that the catastrophe could not be long delayed. One or other of them must meet with his doom; and it was a question of hours, or, at most, of days.
It was an exciting tragedy, and one of which a man like Sernine was bound to relish the strange and powerful zest. To know your adversary and to live by his side; to feel that death is waiting for you at the least false step, at the least act of thoughtlessness: what a joy, what a delight!
One evening, they were alone together in the garden of the Rue Cambon Club, to which Altenheim also belonged. It was the hour before dusk, in the month of June, at which men begin to dine before the members come in for the evening's card-play. They were strolling round a little lawn, along which ran a wall lined with shrubs. Beyond the shrubs was a small door. Suddenly, while Altenheim was speaking, Sernine received the impression that his voice became less steady, that it was almost trembling. He watched him out of the corner of his eye. Altenheim had his hand in the pocket of his jacket; and Sernine saw that hand, through the cloth, clutch the handle of a dagger, hesitating, wavering, resolute and weak by turns.
O exquisite moment! Was he going to strike? Which would gain the day: the timid instinct that dare not, or the conscious will, intense upon the act of killing?
His chest flung out, his arms behind his back, Sernine waited, with alternate thrills of pleasure and of pain. The baron had ceased talking; and they now walked on in silence, side by side.
"Well, why don't you strike?" cried the prince, impatiently. He had stopped and, turning to his companion: "Strike!" he said. "This is the time or never. There is no one to see you. You can slip out through that little door; the key happens to be hanging on the wall; and good-bye, baron... unseen and unknown!... But, of course, all this was arranged... you brought me here.... And you're hesitating! Why on earth don't you strike?"
He looked him straight in the eyes. The other was livid, quivering with impotent strength.
"You milksop!" Sernine sneered. "I shall never make anything of you. Shall I tell you the truth? Well, you're afraid of me. Yes, old chap, you never feel quite sure what may happen to you when you're face to face with me. You want to act, whereas it's my acts, my possible acts that govern the situation. No, it's quite clear that you're not the man yet to put out my star!"
He had not finished speaking when he felt himself seized round the throat and dragged backward. Some one hiding in the shrubbery, near the little door, had caught him by the head. He saw a hand raised, armed with a knife with a gleaming blade. The hand fell; the point of the knife caught him right in the throat.
At the same moment Altenheim sprang upon him to finish him off; and they rolled over into the flower-borders. It was a matter of twenty or thirty seconds at most. Powerful and experienced wrestler as he was, Altenheim yielded almost immediately, uttering a cry of pain. Sernine rose and ran to the little door, which had just closed upon a dark form. It was too late. He heard the key turn in the lock. He was unable to open it.
"Ah, you scoundrel!" he said. "The day on which I catch you will be the day on which I shed my first blood! That I swear to God!..."
He went back, stooped and picked up the pieces of the knife, which had broken as it struck him.
Altenheim was beginning to move. Sernine asked:
"Well, baron, feeling better? You didn't know that blow, eh? It's what I call the direct blow in the solar plexus; that is to say, it snuffs out your vital sun like a candle. It's clean, quick, painless... and infallible. Whereas a blow with a dagger...? Pooh! A man has only to wear a little steel-wove gorget, as I do, and he can set the whole world at defiance, especially your little pal in black, seeing that he always strikes at the throat, the silly monster!... Here, look at his favorite plaything.... smashed to atoms!"
He offered him his hand:
"Come, get up, baron. You shall dine with me. And do please remember the secret of my superiority: an undaunted soul in an unassailable body."
He went back to the club rooms, reserved a table for two, sat down on a sofa, and while waiting for dinner, soliloquized, under his breath:
"It's certainly an amusing game, but it's becoming dangerous. I must get it over... otherwise those beggars will send me to Paradise earlier than I want to go. The nuisance is that I can't do anything before I find old Steinweg, for, when all is said, old Steinweg is the only interesting factor in the whole business; and my one reason for sticking to the baron is that I keep on hoping to pick up some clue or other. What the devil have they done with him? Altenheim is in daily communication with him: that is beyond a doubt; it is equally beyond a doubt that he is doing his utmost to drag out of him what he knows about the Kesselbach scheme. But where does he see him? Where has he got him shut up? With friends? In his own house, at 29, Villa Dupont?"
He reflected for some time, then lit a cigarette, took three puffs at it and threw it away. This was evidently a signal, for two young men came and sat down beside him. He did not seem to know them, but he conversed with them by stealth. It was the brothers Doudeville, got up that day like men of fashion.
"What is it, governor?"
"Take six of our men, go to 29, Villa Dupont and make your way in."
"The devil! How?"
"In the name of the law. Are you not detective-inspectors? A search...."
"But we haven't the right...."
"And the servants? If they resist?"
"There are only four of them."
"If they call out?"
"They won't call out."
"If Altenheim returns?"
"He won't return before ten o'clock. I'll see to it. That gives you two hours and a half, which is more than you require to explore the house from top to bottom. If you find old Steinweg, come and tell me."
Baron Altenheim came up. Sernine went to meet him:
"Let's have some dinner, shall we? That little incident in the garden has made me feel hungry. By the way, my dear baron, I have a few bits of advice to give you...."
They sat down to table.
After dinner, Sernine suggested a game of billiards. Altenheim accepted. When the game was over, they went to the baccarat-room. The croupier was just shouting:
"There are fifty louis in the bank. Any bids?"
"A hundred louis," said Altenheim.
Sernine looked at his watch. Ten o'clock. The Doudevilles had not returned. The search, therefore, had been fruitless.
"Banco," he said.
Altenheim sat down and dealt the cards:
"Six. I lose," said Sernine. "Shall I double the stakes?"
"Very well," said the baron.
He dealt out the cards.
"Eight," said Sernine.
"Nine," said the baron, laying his cards down.
Sernine turned on his heels, muttering:
"That costs me three hundred louis, but I don't mind; it fixes him here."
Ten minutes later his motor set him down in front of 29, Villa Dupont; and he found the Doudevilles and their men collected in the hall:
"Have you hunted out the old boy?"
"Dash it! But he must be somewhere or other. Where are the four servants?"
"Over there, in the pantry, tied up, with the cook as well."
"Good. I would as soon they did not see me. Go all you others. Jean, stay outside and keep watch: Jacques, show me over the house."
He quickly ran through the cellar, the ground floor, the first and second floors and the attic. He practically stopped nowhere, knowing that he would not discover in a few minutes what his men had not been able to discover in three hours. But he carefully noted the shape and the arrangement of the rooms, and looked for some little detail which would put him on the scent.
When he had finished, he returned to a bedroom which Doudeville had told him was Altenheim's, and examined it attentively:
"This will do," he said, raising a curtain that concealed a dark closet, full of clothes. "From here I can see the whole of the room."
"But if the baron searches the house?"
"Why should he?"
"He will know that we have been here, through his servants."
"Yes, but he will never dream that one of us is putting up here for the night. He will think that the attempt failed, that is all, so I shall stay."
"And how will you get out?"
"Oh, that's asking me more than I can tell you! The great thing was to get in. Here I am, and here I stay. Go, Doudeville, and shut the doors as you go."
He sat down on a little box at the back of the cupboard. Four rows of hanging clothes protected him. Except in the case of a close investigation, he was evidently quite safe.
Two hours passed. He heard the dull sound of a horse's hoofs and the tinkling of a collar-bell. A carriage stopped, the front door slammed and almost immediately he heard voices, exclamations, a regular outcry that increased, probably, as each of the prisoners was released from his gag.
"They are explaining the thing to him," he thought. "The baron must be in a tearing rage. He now understands the reason for my conduct at the club tonight and sees that I have dished him nicely.... Dished? That depends.... After all, I haven't got Steinweg yet.... That is the first thing that he will want to know: did they get Steinweg? To find this out, he will go straight to the hiding-place. If he goes up, it means that the hiding-place is upstairs. If he goes down, then it is in the basement."
He listened. The sound of voices continued in the rooms on the ground floor, but it did not seem as if any one were moving. Altenheim must be cross-examining his confederates. It was half an hour before Sernine heard steps mounting the staircase.
"Then it must be upstairs," he said to himself. "But why did they wait so long?"
"Go to bed, all of you," said Altenheim's voice.
The baron entered his room with one of his men and shut the door:
"And I am going to bed, too, Dominique. We should be no further if we sat arguing all night."
"My opinion is," said the other, "that he came to fetch Steinweg."
"That is my opinion, too; and that's why I'm really enjoying myself, seeing that Steinweg isn't here."
"But where is he, after all? What have you done with him?"
"That's my secret; and you know I keep my secrets to myself. All that I can tell you is that he is in safe keeping, and that he won't get out before he has spoken."
"So the prince is sold?"
"Sold is the word. And he has had to fork out to attain this fine result! Oh, I've had a good time tonight I... Poor prince!"
"For all that," said the other, "we shall have to get rid of him."
"Make your mind easy, old man; that won't take long. Before a week's out you shall have a present of a pocket-book made out of Lupin-skin. But let me go to bed now. I'm dropping with sleep."
There was a sound of the door closing. Then Sernine heard the baron push the bolt, empty his pockets, wind up his watch and undress. He seemed in a gay mood, whistling and singing, and even talking aloud:
"Yes, a Lupin-skin pocket-book... in less than a week... in less than four days!... Otherwise he'll eat us up, the bully!... No matter, he missed his shot tonight.... His calculation was right enough, though... Steinweg was bound to be here.... Only, there you are!..."
He got into bed and at once switched off the light.
Sernine had come forward as far as the dividing curtain, which he now lifted slightly, and he saw the vague light of the night filtering through the windows, leaving the bed in profound darkness.
He hesitated. Should he leap out upon the baron, take him by the throat and obtain from him by force and threats what he had not been able to obtain by craft? Absurd? Altenheim would never allow himself to be intimidated.
"I say, he's snoring now," muttered Sernine. "Well, I'm off. At the worst, I shall have wasted a night."
He did not go. He felt that it would be impossible for him to go, that he must wait, that chance might yet serve his turn.
With infinite precautions, he took four or five coats and great-coats from their hooks, laid them on the floor, made himself comfortable and, with his back to the wall, went peacefully to sleep.
The baron was not an early riser. A clock outside was striking nine when he got out of bed and rang for his servant.
He read the letters which his man brought him, splashed about in his tub, dressed without saying a word and sat down to his table to write, while Dominique was carefully hanging up the clothes of the previous day in the cupboard and Sernine asking himself, with his fists ready to strike:
"I wonder if I shall have to stave in this fellow's solar plexus?"
At ten o'clock the baron was ready:
"Leave me," said he to the servant.
"There's just this waistcoat...."
"Leave me, I say. Come back when I ring... not before."
He shut the door himself, like a man who does not trust others, went to a table on which a telephone was standing and took down the receiver:
"Hullo!... Put me on to Garches, please, mademoiselle.... Very well, I'll wait till you ring me up...."
He sat down to the instrument.
The telephone-bell rang.
"Hullo!" said Altenheim. "Is that Garches?... Yes, that's right.... Give me number 38, please, mademoiselle...."
A few seconds later, in a lower voice, as low and as distinct as he could make it, he began:
"Are you 38?... It's I speaking; no useless words.... Yesterday?... Yes, you missed him in the garden.... Another time, of course; but the thing's becoming urgent... He had the house searched last night.... I'll tell you about it.... Found nothing, of course.... What?... Hullo!... No, old Steinweg refuses to speak.... Threats, promises, nothing's any good.... Hullo!... Yes, of course, he sees that we can do nothing.... We know just a part of the Kesselbach scheme and of the story of Pierre Leduc... He's the only one who has the answer to the riddle.... Oh, he'll speak all right; that I'll answer for... this very night, too... If not... What?... Well, what can we do? Anything rather than let him escape! Do you want the prince to bag him from us? As for the prince, we shall have to cook his goose in three days from now.... You have an idea?... Yes, that's a good idea.... Oh, oh, excellent! I'll see to it.... When shall we meet? Will Tuesday do? Right you are. I'll come on Tuesday... at two o'clock.... Good-bye."
He replaced the receiver and went out.
A few hours later, while the servants were at lunch, Prince Sernine strolled quietly out of the Villa Dupont, feeling rather faint in the head and weak in the knees, and, while making for the nearest restaurant, he thus summed up the situation:
"So, on Tuesday next, Altenheim and the Palace Hotel murderer have an appointment at Garches, in a house with the telephone number 38. On Tuesday, therefore, I shall hand over the two criminals to the police and set M. Lenormand at liberty. In the evening, it will be old Steinweg's turn; and I shall learn, at last, whether Pierre Leduc is the son of a pork-butcher or not and whether he will make a suitable husband for Genevieve. So be it!" .
At eleven o'clock on Tuesday morning Valenglay, the prime minister, sent for the prefect of police and M. Weber, the deputy-chief of the detective-service, and showed them an express letter which he had just received:
"Monsieur le President du Conseil,"
"Knowing the interest which you take in M. Lenormand, I am writing to inform you of certain facts which chance has revealed to me.
"M. Lenormand is locked up in the cellars of the Villa des Glycines at Garches, near the House of Retreat.
"The ruffians of the Palace Hotel have resolved to murder him at two o'clock today... "If the police require my assistance, they will find me at half-past one in the garden of the House of Retreat, or at the garden-house occupied by Mrs. Kesselbach, whose friend I have the honor to be.
"I am, Monsieur le President du Conseil,
"Your obedient servant,
"This is an exceedingly grave matter, my dear M. Weber," said Valenglay. "I may add that we can have every confidence in the accuracy of Prince Sernine's statements. I have often met him at dinner. He is a serious, intelligent man...."
"Will you allow me, Monsieur le rodent," asked the deputy-chief detective, "to show you another letter which I also received this morning?"
"About the same case?"
"Let me see it."
He took the letter and read:
"This is to inform you that Prince Paul Sernine, who calls himself Mrs. Kesselbach's friend, is really Arsene Lupin.
"One proof will be sufficient: Paul Sernine is the anagram of Arsene Lupin. Not a letter more, not a letter less.
And M. Weber added, while Valenglay stood amazed:
"This time, our friend Lupin has found an adversary who is a match for him. While he denounces the other, the other betrays him to us. And the fox is caught in the trap!"
"What do you propose to do?"
"Monsieur le President, I shall take two hundred men with me!"