Arsène Lupin/Chapter IX

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THE examining magistrate came into the room. He was a plump and pink little man, with very bright eyes. His bristly hair stood up straight all over his head, giving it the appearance of a broad, dapple-grey clothes-brush. He appeared to be of the opinion that Nature had given the world the toothbrush as a model of what a moustache should be; and his own was clipped to that pattern.

"The Duke of Charmerace, M. Formery," said the inspector.

The little man bowed and said, "Charmed, charmed to make your acquaintance, your Grace—though the occasion—the occasion is somewhat painful. The treasures of M. Gournay-Martin are known to all the world. France will deplore his losses." He paused, and added hastily, "But we shall recover them—we shall recover them."

The Duke rose, bowed, and protested his pleasure at making the acquaintance of M. Formery.

"Is this the scene of the robbery, inspector?" said M. Formery; and he rubbed his hands together with a very cheerful air.

"Yes, sir," said the inspector. "These two rooms seem to be the only ones touched, though of course we can't tell till M. Gournay-Martin arrives. Jewels may have been stolen from the bedrooms."

"I fear that M. Gournay-Martin won't be of much help for some days," said the Duke. "When I left him he was nearly distracted; and he won't be any better after a night journey to Paris from Charmerace. But probably these are the only two rooms touched, for in them M. Gournay-Martin had gathered together the gems of his collection. Over the doors hung some pieces of Flemish tapestry—marvels—the composition admirable—the colouring delightful."

"It is easy to see that your Grace was very fond of them," said M. Formery.

"I should think so," said the Duke. "I looked on them as already belonging to me, for my father-in-law was going to give them to me as a wedding present."

"A great loss—a great loss. But we will recover them, sooner or later, you can rest assured of it. I hope you have touched nothing in this room. If anything has been moved it may put me off the scent altogether. Let me have the details, inspector."

The inspector reported the arrival of the Duke at the police-station with Arsène Lupin's letter to M. Gournay-Martin; the discovery that the keys had been changed and would not open the door of the house; the opening of it by the locksmith; the discovery of the concierge and his wife gagged and bound.

"Probably accomplices," said M. Formery.

"Does Lupin always work with accomplices?" said the Duke. "Pardon my ignorance—but I've been out of France for so long—before he attained to this height of notoriety."

"Lupin—why Lupin?" said M. Formery sharply.

"Why, there is the letter from Lupin which my future father-in-law received last night; its arrival was followed by the theft of his two swiftest motor-cars; and then, these signatures on the wall here," said the Duke in some surprise at the question.

"Lupin! Lupin! Everybody has Lupin on the brain!" said M. Formery impatiently. "I'm sick of hearing his name. This letter and these signatures are just as likely to be forgeries as not."

"I wonder if Guerchard will take that view," said the Duke.

"Guerchard? Surely we're not going to be cluttered up with Guerchard. He has Lupin on the brain worse than any one else."

"But M. Gournay-Martin particularly asked me to send for Guerchard if I arrived too late to prevent the burglary. He would never forgive me if I had neglected his request: so I telephoned for him—to the Prefecture of Police," said the Duke.

"Oh, well, if you've already telephoned for him. But it was unnecessary—absolutely unnecessary," said M. Formery sharply.

"I didn't know," said the Duke politely.

"Oh, there was no harm in it—it doesn't matter," said M. Formery in a discontented tone with a discontented air.

He walked slowly round the room, paused by the windows, looked at the ladder, and scanned the garden:

"Arsène Lupin," he said scornfully. "Arsène Lupin doesn't leave traces all over the place. There's nothing but traces. Are we going to have that silly Lupin joke all over again?"

"I think, sir, that this time joke is the word, for this is a burglary pure and simple," said the inspector.

"Yes, it's plain as daylight," said M. Formery "The burglars came in by this window, and they went out by it."

He crossed the room to a tall safe which stood before the unused door. The safe was covered with velvet, and velvet curtains hung before its door. He drew the curtains, and tried the handle of the door of the safe. It did not turn; the safe was locked.

"As far as I can see, they haven't touched this," said M. Formery.

"Thank goodness for that," said the Duke. "I believe, or at least my fiancée does, that M. Gournay-Martin keeps the most precious thing in his collection in that safe—the coronet."

"What! the famous coronet of the Princesse de Lamballe?" said M. Formery.

"Yes," said the Duke.

"But according to your report, inspector, the letter signed 'Lupin' announced that he was going to steal the coronet also."

"It did—in so many words," said the Duke.

"Well, here is a further proof that we're not dealing with Lupin. That rascal would certainly have put his threat into execution, M. Formery," said the inspector.

"Who's in charge of the house?" said M. Formery.

"The concierge, his wife, and a housekeeper—a woman named Victoire," said the inspector.

"I'll see to the concierge and his wife presently. I've sent one of your men round for their dossier. When I get it I'll question them. You found them gagged and bound in their bedroom?"

"Yes, M. Formery; and always this imitation of Lupin—a yellow gag, blue cords, and the motto, 'I take, therefore I am,' on a scrap of cardboard—his usual bag of tricks."

"Then once again they're going to touch us up in the papers. It's any odds on it," said M. Formery gloomily. "Where's the housekeeper? I should like to see her."

"The fact is, we don't know where she is," said the inspector.

"You don't know where she is?" said M. Formery.

"We can't find her anywhere," said the inspector.

"That's excellent, excellent. We've found the accomplice," said M. Formery with lively delight; and he rubbed his hands together. "At least, we haven't found her, but we know her."

"I don't think that's the case," said the Duke. "At least, my future father-in-law and my fiancée had both of them the greatest confidence in her. Yesterday she telephoned to us at the Château de Charmerace. All the jewels were left in her charge, and the wedding presents as they were sent in."

"And these jewels and wedding presents—have they been stolen too?" said M. Formery.

"They don't seem to have been touched," said the Duke, "though of course we can't tell till M. Gournay-Martin arrives. As far as I can see, the burglars have only touched these two drawing-rooms."

"That's very annoying," said M. Formery.

"I don't find it so," said the Duke, smiling.

"I was looking at it from the professional point of view," said M. Formery. He turned to the inspector and added, "You can't have searched thoroughly. This housekeeper must be somewhere about—if she's really trustworthy. Have you looked in every room in the house?"

"In every room—under every bed—in every corner and every cupboard," said the inspector.

"Bother!" said M. Formery. "Are there no scraps of torn clothes, no blood-stains, no traces of murder, nothing of interest?"

"Nothing!" said the inspector.

"But this is very regrettable," said M. Formery. "Where did she sleep? Was her bed unmade?"

"Her room is at the top of the house," said the inspector. "The bed had been slept in, but she does not appear to have taken away any of her clothes."

"Extraordinary! This is beginning to look a very complicated business," said M. Formery gravely.

"Perhaps Guerchard will be able to throw a little more light on it," said the Duke.

M. Formery frowned and said, "Yes, yes. Guerchard is a good assistant in a business like this. A little visionary, a little fanciful—wrong-headed, in fact; but, after all, he is Guerchard. Only, since Lupin is his bugbear, he's bound to find some means of muddling us up with that wretched animal. You're going to see Lupin mixed up with all this to a dead certainty, your Grace."

The Duke looked at the signatures on the wall. "It seems to me that he is pretty well mixed up with it already," he said quietly.

"Believe me, your Grace, in a criminal affair it is, above all things, necessary to distrust appearances. I am growing more and more confident that some ordinary burglars have committed this crime and are trying to put us off the scent by diverting our attention to Lupin."

The Duke stooped down carelessly and picked up a book which had fallen from a table.

"Excuse me, but please—please—do not touch anything," said M. Formery quickly.

"Why, this is odd," said the Duke, staring at the floor.

"What is odd?" said M. Formery.

"Well, this book looks as if it had been knocked off the table by one of the burglars. And look here; here's a footprint under it—a footprint on the carpet," said the Duke.

M. Formery and the inspector came quickly to the spot. There, where the book had fallen, plainly imprinted on the carpet, was a white footprint. M. Formery and the inspector stared at it.

"It looks like plaster. How did plaster get here?" said M. Formery, frowning at it.

"Well, suppose the robbers came from the garden," said the Duke.

"Of course they came from the garden, your Grace. Where else should they come from?" said M. Formery, with a touch of impatience in his tone.

"Well, at the end of the garden they're building a house," said the Duke.

"Of course, of course," said M. Formery, taking him up quickly. "The burglars came here with their boots covered with plaster. They've swept away all the other marks of their feet from the carpet; but whoever did the sweeping was too slack to lift up that book and sweep under it. This footprint, however, is not of great importance, though it is corroborative of all the other evidence we have that they came and went by the garden. There's the ladder, and that table half out of the window. Still, this footprint may turn out useful, after all. You had better take the measurements of it, inspector. Here's a foot-rule for you. I make a point of carrying this foot-rule about with me, your Grace. You would be surprised to learn how often it has come in useful."

He took a little ivory foot-rule from his waist-coat pocket, and gave it to the inspector, who fell on his knees and measured the footprint with the greatest care.

"I must take a careful look at that house they're building. I shall find a good many traces there, to a dead certainty," said M. Formery.

The inspector entered the measurements of the footprint in his note-book. There came the sound of a knocking at the front door.

"I shall find footprints of exactly the same dimensions as this one at the foot of some heap of plaster beside that house," said M. Former; with an air of profound conviction, pointing through the window to the house building beyond the garden.

A policeman opened the door of the drawing-room and saluted.

"If you please, sir, the servants have arrived from Charmerace," he said.

"Let them wait in the kitchen and the servants' offices," said M. Formery. He stood silent, buried in profound meditation, for a couple of minutes. Then he turned to the Duke and said, "What was that you said about a theft of motor-cars at Charmerace?"

"When he received the letter from Arsène Lupin, M. Gournay-Martin decided to start for Paris at once," said the Duke. "But when we sent for the cars we found that they had just been stolen. M. Gournay-Martin's chauffeur and another servant were in the garage gagged and bound. Only an old car, a hundred horse-power Mercrac, was left. I drove it to Paris, leaving M. Gournay-Martin and his family to come on by train."

"Very important—very important indeed," said M. Formery. He thought for a moment, and then added. "Were the motor-cars the only things stolen? Were there no other thefts?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, there was another theft, or rather an attempt at theft," said the Duke with some hesitation. "The rogues who stole the motor-cars presented themselves at the château under the name of Charolais—a father and three sons—on the pretext of buying the hundred-horse-power Mercrac. M. Gournay-Martin had advertised it for sale in the Rennes Advertiser. They were waiting in the big hall of the château, which the family uses as the chief living-room, for the return of M. Gournay-Martin. He came; and as they left the hall one of them attempted to steal a pendant set with pearls which I had given to Mademoiselle Gournay-Martin half an hour before. I caught him in the act and saved the pendant."

"Good! good! Wait—we have one of the gang—wait till I question him," said M. Formery, rubbing his hands; and his eyes sparkled with joy.

"Well, no; I'm afraid we haven't," said the Duke in an apologetic tone,

"What! We haven't? Has he escaped from the police? Oh, those country police!" cried M. Formery.

"No; I didn't charge him with the theft," said the Duke.

"You didn't charge him with the theft?" cried M. Formery, astounded.

"No; he was very young and he begged so hard. I had the pendant. I let him go," said the Duke.

"Oh, your Grace, your Grace! Your duty to society!" cried M. Formery.

"Yes, it does seem to have been rather weak," said the Duke; "but there you are. It's no good crying over spilt milk."

M. Formery folded his arms and walked, frowning, backwards and forwards across the room.

He stopped, raised his hand with a gesture commanding attention, and said, "I have no hesitation in saying that there is a connection—an intimate connection—between the thefts at Charmerace and this burglary!"

The Duke and the inspector gazed at him with respectful eyes—at least, the eyes of the inspector were respectful; the Duke's eyes twinkled.

"I am gathering up the threads," said M. Formery. "Inspector, bring up the concierge and his wife. I will question them on the scene of the crime. Their dossier should be here. If it is, bring it up with them; if not, no matter; bring them up without it."

The inspector left the drawing-room. M. Formery plunged at once into frowning meditation.

"I find all this extremely interesting," said the Duke.

"Charmed! Charmed!" said M. Formery, waving his hand with an absent-minded air.

The inspector entered the drawing-room followed by the concierge and his wife. He handed a paper to M. Formery. The concierge, a bearded man of about sixty, and his wife, a somewhat bearded woman of about fifty-five, stared at M. Formery with fascinated, terrified eyes. He sat down in a chair, crossed his legs, read the paper through, and then scrutinized them keenly.

"Well, have you recovered from your adventure?" he said.

"Oh, yes, sir," said the concierge. "They hustled us a bit, but they did not really hurt us."

"Nothing to speak of, that is," said his wife. "But all the same, it's a disgraceful thing that an honest woman can't sleep in peace in her bed of a night without being disturbed by rascals like that. And if the police did their duty things like this wouldn't happen. And I don't care who hears me say it."

"You say that you were taken by surprise in your sleep?" said M. Formery. "You say you saw nothing, and heard nothing?"

"There was no time to see anything or hear anything. They trussed us up like greased lightning," said the concierge.

"But the gag was the worst," said the wife. "To lie there and not be able to tell the rascals what I thought about them!"

"Didn't you hear the noise of footsteps in the garden?" said M. Formery.

"One can't hear anything that happens in the garden from our bedroom," said the concierge.

"Even the night when Mlle. Germaine's great Dane barked from twelve o'clock till seven in the morning, all the household was kept awake except us; but bless you, sir, we slept like tops," said his wife proudly.

"If they sleep like that it seems rather a waste of time to have gagged them," whispered the Duke to the inspector.

The inspector grinned, and whispered scornfully, "Oh, them common folks; they do sleep like that, your Grace."

"Didn't you hear any noise at the front door?" said M. Formery.

"No, we heard no noise at the door," said the concierge.

"Then you heard no noise at all the whole night?" said M. Formery.

"Oh, yes, sir, we heard noise enough after we'd been gagged," said the concierge.

"Now, this is important," said M. Formery. "What kind of a noise was it?"

"Well, it was a bumping kind of noise," said the concierge. "And there was a noise of footsteps, walking about the room."

"What room? Where did these noises come from?" said M. Formery.

"From the room over our heads—the big drawing-room," said the concierge.

"Didn't you hear any noise of a struggle, as if somebody was being dragged about—no screaming or crying?" said M. Formery.

The concierge and his wife looked at one another with inquiring eyes.

"No, I didn't," said the concierge.

"Neither did I," said his wife.

M. Formery paused. Then he said, "How long have you been in the service of M. Gournay-Martin?"

"A little more than a year," said the concierge.

M. Formery looked at the paper in his hand, frowned, and said severely, "I see you've been convicted twice, my man."

"Yes, sir, but——"

"My husband's an honest man, sir—perfectly honest," broke in his wife. "You've only to ask M. Gournay-Martin; he'll——"

"Be so good as to keep quiet, my good woman," said M. Formery; and, turning to her husband, he went on: "At your first conviction you were sentenced to a day's imprisonment with costs; at your second conviction you got three days' imprisonment."

"I'm not going to deny it, sir," said the concierge; "but it was an honourable imprisonment."

"Honourable?" said M. Formery.

"The first time, I was a gentleman's servant, and I got a day's imprisonment for crying, 'Hurrah for the General Strike!'—on the first of May."

"You were a valet? In whose service?" said M. Formery.

"In the service of M. Genlis, the Socialist leader."

"And your second conviction?" said M. Formery.

"It was for having cried in the porch of Ste. Clotilde, 'Down with the cows!'—meaning the police, sir," said the concierge.

"And were you in the service of M. Genlis then?" said M. Formery.

"No, sir; I was in the service of M. Bussy-Rabutin, the Royalist deputy."

"You don't seem to have very well-defined political convictions," said M. Formery.

"Oh, yes, sir, I have," the concierge protested. "I'm always devoted to my masters; and I have the same opinions that they have—always."

"Very good; you can go," said M. Formery.

The concierge and his wife left the room, looking as if they did not quite know whether to feel relieved or not.

"Those two fools are telling the exact truth, unless I'm very much mistaken," said M. Formery.

"They look honest enough people," said the Duke.

"Well, now to examine the rest of the house," said M. Formery.

"I'll come with you, if I may," said the Duke.

"By all means, by all means," said M. Formery.

"I find it all so interesting," said the Duke.