Oh, he's all right in that way, little as he cares about society," said Germaine. "Well, by a miracle my father got cured of his rheumatism here. Jacques fell in love with me; papa made up his mind to buy the chateau; and I demanded the hand of Jacques in marriage."
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Arsène Lupin (Excerpt)
Sonia rose from the writing-table, and went to a bureau, an admirable example of the work of the great English maker, Chippendale. It stood on the other side of the hall between an Oriental cabinet and a sixteenth-century Italian cabinet?for all the world as if it were standing in a crowded curiosity shop?with the natural effect that the three pieces, by their mere incongruity, took something each from the beauty of the other. Sonia raised the flap of the bureau, and taking from one of the drawers a small portfolio, turned over the papers in it and handed a letter to the Duke.
"This is the envelope," she said. "It's addressed to M. Gournay-Martin, Collector, at the Château de Charmérace, Île-et-Vilaine."
The Duke opened the envelope and took out a letter. "It's an odd handwriting," he said.
"Read it?carefully," said Germaine.
It was an uncommon handwriting. The letters of it were small, but perfectly formed. It looked the handwriting of a man who knew exactly what he wanted to say, and liked to say it with extreme precision. The letter ran:
"Please forgive my writing to you without our having been introduced to one another; but I flatter myself that you know me, at any rate, by name."
"There is in the drawing-room next your hall a Gainsborough of admirable quality which affords me infinite pleasure. Your Goyas in the same drawing-room are also to my liking, as well as your Van Dyck. In the further drawing-room I note the Renaissance cabinets?a marvellous pair?the Flemish tapestry, the Fragonard, the clock signed Boulle, and various other objects of less importance. But above all I have set my heart onthat coronet which you bought at the sale of the Marquise de Ferronaye, and which was formerly worn by the unfortunate Princesse de Lamballe. I take the greatest interest in this coronet: in the first place, on account of the charming and tragic memories which it calls up in the mind of a poet passionately fond of history, and in the second place?though it is hardly worth while talking about that kind of thing?on account of its intrinsic value. I reckon indeed that the stones in your coronet are, at the very lowest, worth half a million francs."
"I beg you, my dear sir, to have these different objects properly packed up, and to forward them, addressed to me, carriage paid, to the Batignolles Station. Failing this, I shall Proceed to remove them myself on the night of Thursday, August 7th."
"Please pardon the slight trouble to which I am putting you, and believe me,"
"Yours very sincerely,"
"P.S.?It occurs to me that the pictures have not glass before them. It would be as well to repair this omission before forwarding them to me, and I am sure that you will take this extra trouble cheerfully. I am aware, of course, that some of the best judges declare that a picture loses some of its quality when seen through glass. But it preserves them, and we should always be ready and willing to sacrifice a portion of our own pleasure for the benefit of posterity. France demands it of us.
The Duke laughed, and said "Really, this is extraordinarily funny. It must have made your father laugh."
"Laugh?" said Germaine. "You should have seen his face. He took it seriously enough, I can tell you."
"Not to the point of forwarding the things to Batignoleles, I hope," said the Duke.
"No, but to the point of being driven wild," said Germaine. "And since the police had always been baffled by Lupin, he had the brilliant idea of trying what soldiers could do. The Commandant at Rennes is a great friend of papa's, and papa went to him, and told him about Lupin's letter and what he feared. The colonel laughed at him; but he offered him a corporal and six soldiers to guard his collection on the night of the seventh. It was arranged that they should come from Rennes by the last train so that the burglars should have no warning of their coming. Well, they came, seven picked men?men who had seen service in Tonquin. We gave them supper; and then the corporal posted them in the hall and the two drawing-rooms where the pictures and things were. At eleven we all went to bed, after promising the corporal that, in the event of any fight with the burglars, we would not stir from our rooms. I can tell you I felt awfully nervous. I couldn't get to sleep for ages and ages. Then, when I did, I did not wake till morning. The night had passed absolutely quietly. Nothing out of the common had happened. There had not been the slightest noise. I awoke Sonia and my father. We dressed as quickly as we could, and rushed down to the drawing-room."
She paused dramatically.
"Well?" said the Duke.
"Well, it was done."
"What was done?" said the Duke.
"Everything," said Germaine. "Pictures had gone, tapestries had gone, cabinets had gone, and the clock had gone."
"And the coronet too?" said the Duke.
"Oh, no. That was at the Bank of France. And it was doubtless to make up for not getting it that Lupin stole your portrait. At any rate he didn't say that he was going to steal it in his letter."
"But, come! this is incredible. Had he hypnotized the corporal and the six soldiers? Or had he murdered them all?" said the Duke.
"Corporal? There wasn't any corporal, and there weren't any soldiers. The corporal was Lupin, and the soldiers were part of his gang," said Germaine.
"I don't understand," said the Duke. "The colonel promised your father a corporal and six men. Didn't they come?"
"They came to the railway station all right," said Germaine. "But you know the little inn half-way between the railway station and the château? They stopped to drink there, and at eleven o'clock next morning one of the villagers found all seven of them, along with the footman who was guiding them to the château, sleeping like logs in the little wood half a mile from the inn. Of course the innkeeper could not explain when their wine was drugged. He could only tell us that a motorist, who had stopped at the inn to get some supper, had called the soldiers in and insisted on standing them drinks. They had seemed a little fuddled before they left the inn, and the motorist had insisted on driving them to the château in his car. When the drug took effect he simply carried them out of it one by one, and laid them in the wood to sleep it off."
"Lupin seems to have made a thorough job of it, anyhow," said the Duke.
"I should think so," said Germaine. "Guerchard was sent down from Paris; but he could not find a single clue. It was not for want of trying, for he hates Lupin. It's a regular fight between them, and so far Lupin has scored every point."
"He must be as clever as they make ?em," said the Duke.
"He is," said Germaine. "And do you know, I shouldn't be at all surprised if he's in the neighbourhood now."
"What on earth do you mean?" said the Duke.
"I'm not joking," said Germaine. "Odd things are happening. Some one has been changing the place of things. That silver statuette now?it was on the cabinet, and we found it moved to the piano. Yet nobody had touched it. And look at this window. Some one has broken a pane in it just at the height of the fastening."
"The deuce they have!" said the Duke.
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