Madness and Genius

Up to that moment Ralph had been feeling but a moderate apprehension. The danger only threatened him and Josephine. For his part, he trusted to his cleverness and lucky star; and as for Josephine, he knew that she was quite capable of defending herself against Beaumagnan.

But Clarice! Confronted by Josephine Balsamo, Clarice was a mere victim at the mercy of the treachery and cruelty of an enemy. And from that moment his fear was mingled with a kind of physical horror, which actually made his hair stand upright on his head and gave him what is vulgarly called gooseflesh. The implacable face of Leonard also added to his fear. He remembered the Widow Rousselin and her crushed fingers.

Truly he had seen clearly ahead when, coming to the meeting-place an hour before, he guessed that the great battle was before him and that he would come to grips with Josephine. Up to now they had had mere skirmishes, mere affairs of outposts. Now it was a struggle to the death between all these opposing forces; and he was confronting them with his hands bound, a rope round his neck, and this additional enfeeblement with which the coming of Clarice afflicted him.

“I’ve a lot to learn yet,” he said to himself with a groan. “I’m chiefly responsible for this horrible situation, and Clarice is once more my victim.”

The young girl stood speechless before the threat of the revolver which Leonard leveled at her. She had come on light feet, as one comes to meet someone one is glad to see again, and had stumbled into the midst of this scene of violence and crime, while the man she loved stood before her bound and motionless.

She stammered: “What’s the matter, Ralph? Why are you tied up like that?”

She stretched out her hands towards him, as much as to ask his help as to offer him hers. But what could either of them do? He noticed her worn features and the extreme lassitude of her bearing; and he could hardly refrain from tears at the thought of the painful confession her father had torn from her.

But, in spite of everything, he said with imperturbable assurance: “I’ve nothing to be frightened of, Clarice, no more have you. Absolutely nothing. I answer for everything.”

She looked round at the others and was astonished to recognize Beaumagnan. She said timidly to Leonard: “What is it you want? This is rather terrifying. Who was it made me come here?”

“I did, Mademoiselle,” said Josephine.

Clarice had already been struck by Josephine’s beauty. A scrap of hope came to her at the thought that nothing but help and protection could come from so beautiful a creature.

“Who are you, Madam? I don’t think I know you,” she said timidly.

“I know you,” said Josephine, whom the grace and sweetness of the young girl seemed to irritate, though she kept her anger under control. “You’re the daughter of Baron d’Etigues. I know, too, that you’re in love with Ralph d’Andresy.”

Clarice blushed but did not deny it.

Josephine said to Leonard: “Go and shut the gate. Put the chain and padlock you brought on it, and set up that old notice-board with ‘Private’ on it.”

“Am I to stay outside?” asked Leonard.

“Yes; I’ve no need of you at the moment,” said Josephine with an air which terrified Ralph. “Stay outside. And see that no one interrupts us⁠—on any account.”

Leonard forced Clarice to sit down on one of the chairs and drew her arms behind her with the intention of tying her wrists to the back of it.

“There’s no need to do that,” said Josephine. “Leave us.”

He did as she bade him.

She looked from one to another of her three victims in turn. All three disarmed and reduced to impotence, she was mistress of the field of battle and on pain of death could impose her inflexible decrees.

Ralph’s eyes never left her; he was trying to discover her intentions and her plans. Her calmness impressed him more than anything. She showed none of that excitement and feverishness which would have, so to speak, disarticulated the conduct of any other woman in her place. There was not a trace of triumph in her attitude. There was rather a certain weariness, as if she had acted under the impulsion of inner forces, which she was not strong enough to discipline. For the first time he divined in her a careless fatalism, as a rule concealed by her smiling beauty, which was perhaps the very essence and explanation of her enigmatic nature.

She sat down on the other chair close to Clarice, and with her eyes on her face said slowly, with a certain dryness and monotony in her intonation: “Three months ago, Mademoiselle, a young woman was secretly abducted on getting out of a train and transported to the Château of La Haie d’Etigues, where there were gathered together, in a large isolated chamber, a dozen of the noblemen of the Caux country. Among them were Beaumagnan, whom you see here, and your father. I will not tell you everything which was said at this meeting and of all the ignominy that was heaped on that young woman by these people who pretended to be her judges. But it came about that after a pretense of a trial, that evening, when the rest of the guests had gone, your father and his cousin de Bennetot carried her to the bottom of the cliff, tied her down in the bottom of a boat with a hole in it and heavily loaded with a big boulder, rowed her out to sea, and there abandoned her.”

Breathless with amazement Clarice stammered: “It isn’t true! It isn’t true!⁠ ⁠… My father would never do such a thing!⁠ ⁠… It isn’t true!”

Without paying any heed to her indignant protest, Josephine quietly continued: “Without any of the conspirators being aware of it, there was a spectator at that meeting at the château. That spectator kept watch on the two murderers⁠—there’s no other name for them, is there?⁠—followed them, clung to the scuttled boat, and when they abandoned it, rescued their victim. From where did that spectator come? Everything leads us to believe that he passed the previous night and morning in your room, received by you not as a fiancé, since your father refused to hear of his marrying you, but as a lover.”

This accusation and this insult struck Clarice like the blows of a mallet. On the instant she was overwhelmed and incapable of resisting or even of defending herself. Pale and fainting, she lay back in her chair and groaned: “But what a thing to say!”

“But you said it yourself⁠—to your father⁠—the day before yesterday,” said Josephine coldly. “Is there any need for me to go into the whole story and tell you what became of your lover? That very day Ralph d’Andresy abandoned you to follow the woman he had saved from a terrible death. He devoted himself to her, body and soul, won her heart, lived her life, and swore to her never to see you again. He took that oath in the most categorical fashion: ‘I did not love her,’ he said. ‘It was a mere passing flirtation. It is all over.’ Then following a passing misunderstanding between her and him, this woman discovered that he was writing to you, that he wrote the letter which I have here, in which he begged you to forgive him and gave you hopes of the future. You understand now that I have some right to treat you as an enemy?” She paused and added gloomily: “As a mortal enemy.”

Clarice was silent. Terror took possession of her, and she considered with an increasing apprehension the gentle and terrifying countenance of the woman who had taken Ralph from her and declared herself her enemy.

Trembling with pity and careless of exciting the anger of Josephine, Ralph said solemnly: “If I have ever sworn a solemn oath that I am resolved to keep in the face of everything and everyone, Clarice, it is the oath I have sworn that not a hair of your head shall be touched. You have nothing to fear. Inside of ten minutes you shall leave here safe and sound⁠—ten minutes, not more.”

Josephine did not take up the challenge; she continued quietly: “That, then, is the position in which we stand to one another, clearly set forth. Let us get on to the facts; and I’ll be quite brief. Your father, mademoiselle, Beaumagnan and their confederates, were engaged in a common enterprise; for my part, I am seeking the same end and Ralph is seeking it with passionate intensity. From that it comes about that we are waging an unceasing war against one another. Now, all of us have had relations with a woman of the name of Rousselin, who possessed an old casket which we had needed to succeed in that enterprise. She has parted with that casket to another person. We questioned her in the most pressing manner without getting from her the name of that person, who, it appears, had heaped benefits on her and whom she did not wish to compromise by any indiscreet statement. All that we could learn was⁠—it’s an old story, of which I propose to give you main facts, which you will follow with the greatest interest both from our point of view⁠ ⁠… and from your own.”

Ralph began to discern the course that Josephine was taking and the end to which she must inevitably come.

It was so frightful that he said angrily: “No, no: not that! There are things which should never be revealed!”

She did not appear to hear him, and went on inexorably: “This is the story: Twenty-two years, ago, during the war between France and Prussia, two men, who were flying from the invaders and escaping under the guidance of old Rousselin, murdered a servant of the name of Jaubert in order to steal his horse. With that horse they were able to escape. Moreover, they carried away with them a casket that they had also stolen from their victim, which contained jewels of great value. Later old Rousselin, whom they had compelled to accompany them and to whom they had given his share of the booty some worthless rings, came back to his wife at Rouen and almost immediately died there. To such an extent had this murder and his involuntary complicity in it depressed him. Thereupon relations were established between the widow and the murderers, who feared that she might let the truth slip out; and it came about I take it, mademoiselle, that you now understand with whom we are concerned?”

Clarice was listening to this revelation with so painful an air of terror that Ralph exclaimed: “Silence, Josine! Not a word more! What you are doing is in the highest degree vile and absurd. What’s the use of it?”

“The use of it?” she said sharply. “The time has come for the whole truth to be told. You have thrown us, her and me, into opposition. It is only fair that she and I should be on equal terms in our suffering.”

“You’re a perfect savage!” he murmured in a tone of despair.

But Josephine, turning again to Clarice, continued her explanation coldly: “Your father and his cousin de Bennetot kept an eye on the Widow Rousselin; and it is quite clear that she removed to Lillebonne by the instructions of Baron d’Etigues, for it must have been much easier to keep an eye on her there. Then, as the years went on, someone was found, more or less in the know, to carry out this task. This was you, Mademoiselle. The Widow Rousselin became so fond of you that, as far as she was concerned, there was no reason to fear any hostile action. For nothing in the world would she have betrayed the father of the little girl who from time to time came to play at her house. Evidently these visits were secret in order that no thread might link the present with the past, visits for which, sometimes, meetings in the neighborhood of the town were substituted⁠—at the old lighthouse or elsewhere. It was in the course of one of these visits that you saw in her house at Lillebonne the casket that Ralph and I were seeking; and the whim took you to take it away with you to La Haie d’Etigues. When, then, Ralph and I learned from the Widow Rousselin that the casket was in the possession of a person whose name she would not give, that this person had heaped benefits on her, and that they were to meet on a given day at the old lighthouse, we decided at once that it would be enough for us to come there, instead of the Widow Rousselin, to discover part of the truth. And as seen as we saw you appear we became at once convinced that the two murderers were none else but de Bennetot and the Baron d’Etigues; that is to say, the two men who, at a later date, tried to murder me.”

Clarice was weeping, her slender form shaken by great sobs. Ralph did not doubt that the crimes of her father were quite unknown to her, but also he did not doubt that these accusations of her enemy suddenly showed her in their true aspect a number of things which up to then had been obscure to her, and compelled her to consider her father a murderer. How heartrending it must be for her! Josephine had truly struck home. With what a frightful knowledge of evil was this executioner torturing her victim! With what a refinement a thousand times more cruel than the physical tortures inflicted on the Widow Rousselin by Leonard was Josine taking vengeance on the innocent Clarice!

“Yes,” she went on in somber accents, “a murderer.⁠ ⁠… His wealth, his château, his horses, all that he has are the fruits of crime. It is so, isn’t it, Beaumagnan? You can also bear witness to this fact, since by means of it obtained your hold over him. Master of a secret that you discovered in some way or other⁠—it does not matter how⁠—you made him act exactly as you bade him and profited by the first crime he had committed and the fact that you could bring it home to him, to compel him to serve you and to murder those who were in your way. I know something about that! What a set of ruffians you are!”

Her eyes sought the eyes of Ralph. He had the impression that she was trying to excuse her own crimes by bringing to light the crimes of Beaumagnan and his confederates.

But he said sternly: “And now? Have you finished? Or are you going on tearing this unfortunate child to pieces? What more do you want?”

“I want her to speak,” said Josephine.

“And if she speaks, will you let her go free?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Then question her,” he said. “What is it you demand? The casket, the key-word inscribed on the inside of the lid? Is that what you want?”

But whether Clarice was willing to answer or not, whether she knew or did not know the truth she seemed incapable of speaking a word, or even of understanding the questions put to her.

Ralph pressed her: “Try to get the better of your grief, Clarice,” he said. “It’s the last trial; and all will be over. Answer, I beg you. There is nothing in what you are called on to tell which can possibly be against your conscience. You have taken no oath of secrecy. You are betraying no one. In that case⁠—”

His gentle, imploring voice was making the young girl feel easier in mind. He became conscious of it and asked: “What has become of that casket? Did you take it to La Haie d’Etigues?”

“Yes,” she murmured in a tone of exhaustion.


“It took my fancy⁠—it was just a whim.”

“Did your father see it?” he said quickly.


“The same day?”

“No. Some days later.”

“Did he take it away from you?” he asked with a note of keener interest in his voice.


“What reason did he give for doing so?”

“None at all.”

“But you had had time to examine it?”


“And you saw an inscription inside the lid, didn’t you?”


“In old characters, wasn’t it? Roughly carved?”


“Did you make it out?”



“No; but I did make it out.”

“And can you remember the inscription?”

She hesitated; then she said doubtfully: “Perhaps.⁠ ⁠… I don’t know.⁠ ⁠… They were Latin words.”

“Latin words? Try to remember them.”

Clarice hesitated again; then she said: “But ought I to? If it’s such an important secret, ought I to reveal it?”

“You may, Clarice. I assure you you may,” he said earnestly. “You may, because the secret belongs to no one. No one in the world has any greater claim to know it than your father, or his friends, or myself. The secret belongs to the person who shall find it out, to the first passerby who shall be able to profit by it.”

She yielded. What Ralph said must be right.

“Yes, yes; no doubt you’re right. But I attached so little importance to that inscription that I can’t remember exactly what it was.⁠ ⁠… It was something to do with a stone and a queen.”

“You must recall it, Clarice; you really must,” he begged, for a sudden fresh overclouding of Josephine’s face made him again anxious.

Slowly, her brow knitted in the effort to remember, correcting herself and contradicting herself, the young girl succeeded in saying:

“Here it is⁠—I remember⁠—this is exactly the sentence that I made out⁠ ⁠… five Latin words⁠ ⁠… in this order:

Ad lapidem currebat olim regina.

She had hardly got the last syllable out when Josephine bent sharply towards her and cried furiously: “It’s a lie! That formula⁠—we’ve known it for ages! Beaumagnan can bear witness to that. We knew it, didn’t we, Beaumagnan? She’s lying, Ralph! She’s lying! The Cardinal mentions those five words in his memorandum; and he considered them of so little importance and so firmly refused to attach any meaning to them that I did not even tell you about them!⁠ ⁠… In days gone by the queen ran to the stone. But where is it, that stone? And who was the queen who ran to it? We’ve been trying to find out for the last twenty years. No, no! There’s something else!”

Once again that terrible rage filled her, that rage which did not manifest itself in a raised voice of incoherent words but in an agitation altogether interior, which one divined from certain symptoms and above all from the unusual and abnormal cruelty of her words.

Bending over the young girl she cried: “You lie!⁠ ⁠… You lie!⁠ ⁠… There is one word which sums up the meaning of those five.⁠ ⁠… What is it?⁠ ⁠… There’s a key-word.⁠ ⁠… A single key-word.⁠ ⁠… What is it?”

Terrorized, Clarice lost the power of utterance.

“Think, Clarice,” Ralph implored her. “Try to remember.⁠ ⁠… Besides those five words, did you not see something else?”

“I don’t know.⁠ ⁠… I don’t think so,” moaned the young girl.

“Try to remember.⁠ ⁠… You must remember. Your safety depends on it!” he cried.

But the very tone of his voice and his frightened tenderness for Clarice exasperated Josephine.

She gripped the young girl’s arm and cried: “Speak! If you don’t⁠—”

Clarice stuttered incoherently. Josephine blew a shrill blast on her whistle.

Almost on the instant Leonard stood on the threshold of the door.

Josephine said, in terrible, inexorable accents: “Take her away, Leonard, and question her!”

Ralph jerked in his bonds and cried furiously: “You coward! You wretch! What are you going to do? Are you really the lowest of women? Leonard, if you touch that child, I swear by God that one day or another⁠—”

“How frightened you are for her!” snarled Josephine. “How the idea of her suffering does upset you! You were certainly born to understand one another, you two.⁠ ⁠… The daughter of a murderer and a thief! Yes, a thief!” she said, turning to Clarice. “This fine lover of yours is nothing but a thief! He has always made his living by theft. As a child, he was a thief! To give you flowers, to give you that little engagement ring you wear on your finger, he stole! He’s a burglar and a swindler. Why, his very name, that pretty name of Andresy, was simply a theft. Ralph d’Andresy? I should think so! Arsène Lupin, that’s his real name. Keep him, Clarice; he will become famous. Oh, I’ve seen him at work, this lover of yours! A master! A marvel of cunning! What a pretty couple you two will make if I don’t take a hand in the game! What a child of destiny yours will be, son of Arsène Lupin, grandson of Baron Godfrey!”

This idea of their child added flames to her fury. The madness of evil was unchained.

“Get on, Leonard!” she cried.

“You savage beast!” shouted Ralph, beside himself. “What a horror! You have indeed torn off the mask! There’s no longer any need for you to act your comedy! That’s what you really are⁠—an executioner!”

But there was no holding her; she was set in her barbarous desire to hurt and torture the young girl. With her own hands she pushed Clarice, whom Leonard was dragging towards the door.

“Coward! Monster!” Ralph yelled. “A hair of her head, look you⁠—a single hair! It means death for the two of you! Loose her, you monsters!”

He strained so violently against his bonds that all the apparatus devised by Beaumagnan to hold him smashed. The worm-eaten shutter tore from its hinges and fell in pieces into the room behind him.

There was a moment of anxiety in the opposing camp.

But the ropes, though loosened, were strong and hampered him sufficiently to render him helpless. Nevertheless Leonard drew his revolver and pressed it against Clarice’s temple.

“If he makes another step, a single movement, blow her brains out!” cried Josephine.

Ralph did not stir. He did not doubt that Leonard would carry out that order and that his slightest gesture meant instant death to Clarice. Then?⁠ ⁠… Then must he resign himself to her fate? Were there no means of saving her?

Josephine gazed somberly at him; then she said: “Come: you understand the situation and you’re going to behave yourself.”

“No,” he replied, wholly master of himself. “No; but I’m considering.”

“Considering what?” she sneered.

“I promised her that she should go free and that she had nothing to fear. I mean to keep my promise.”

“You’re a little late about it, aren’t you?” she said and sneered again.

“No, Josephine: you’re going to let her go.”

She turned to Leonard and said: “What are you wasting time for? Be quick about it!”

“Stop!” said Ralph in a tone ringing with such a certainty of being obeyed that she hesitated.

“Stop and let her go,” he repeated. “You hear, Josephine? I wish you to let her go. It isn’t a matter of postponing the infamous thing you propose to do or of abandoning it. It’s a matter of instantly letting Clarice d’Etigues go and opening that door for her to go through.”

It must be that he was wholly sure of himself and that his will rested on truly extraordinary grounds for him to formulate it with so imperious a solemnity. Even Leonard himself was impressed and stood undecided; while Clarice, who had not grasped the full horror of their intention, appeared to take comfort.

Josephine, taken aback, murmured: “Words⁠—just words. Some fresh ruse⁠—”

“Facts,” he declared, “or rather one fact which dominates everything and before which you will have to give way.”

“What does that mean?” asked Josephine, more and more disturbed. “What is it you want?”

“I don’t want⁠—I demand.”


“The immediate liberty of Clarice. The liberty of leaving this place without either you or Leonard stirring a foot.”

She burst out laughing and asked: “Is that all?”

“That’s all.”

“And in exchange you offer me?”

“The key-word of the enigma!”

She quivered and said: “You know it, then?”


The drama had suddenly undergone a complete change. From all the furious antagonism which flung them into conflict with one another, from the hatred and fury of love and jealousy, there seemed to come clear only their anxiety about the great enterprise. The obsession of vengeance passed into the background of Josephine’s mind. The thousands and thousands of jewels were, as Ralph had willed, once more gleaming before her eyes.

Beaumagnan raised himself painfully into a sitting posture and was listening with all his ears.

Leaving Clarice to the care of her confederate, Josine stepped nearer to Ralph, and said: “Is it sufficient to know the key-word of the enigma?”

“No,” he said with decision. “It is still necessary to interpret it. The meaning of the formula is hidden behind a veil; and the first thing to do is to pierce that veil.”

“And have you done it?”

“Yes. I already had some ideas about the matter. Just now, all at once, the truth flashed on me.”

She knew that he was not the man to joke at such a juncture.

“Tell me about it,” she said, “and Clarice shall go.”

“Let her go first and I’ll tell you my idea. Of course I won’t reveal it with a rope round my neck and my hands bound, but free and in no way hampered.”

“But it’s absurd!” she protested. “You revolutionize the whole situation. As it is it’s absolutely in my power to do what I like.”

“Not now,” he declared. “Now you depend on me and it is for me to dictate the conditions.”

She shrugged her shoulders and looked round the room somewhat helplessly, then she was obliged to say: “Swear to speak the exact truth. Swear it by the tomb of your mother.”

He said calmly: “By the tomb of my mother I swear to you that twenty minutes after Clarice has crossed this threshold I will show you the exact place where that block of granite is, that is to say, the hiding-place of the treasure accumulated by the monks of the abbeys of France.”

She tried to thrust off the incredible fascination that Ralph was of a sudden exercising over her with this fabulous offer, and cried in a tone of revolt: “No, no! It’s a trap! You know nothing at all!”

“Not only do I know, but I’m not the only one to know,” he said.

“Who else knows?”

“Beaumagnan and the Baron.”

“Impossible!” she cried.

“Think a little,” he said quietly. “The day before yesterday Beaumagnan was at La Haie d’Etigues. Why? Because the Baron had recovered the casket and they studied the inscription together. Then, if there are not only the five words mentioned by the Cardinal, if there is also the word, the magic word which sums them up and gives the key to the mystery, they have seen it and they know it.”

“What does that matter?” she said, gazing at Beaumagnan. “I hold him safely enough.”

“But you do not hold Godfrey d’Etigues; and perhaps at this very minute he is on the spot with his cousin, the two of them sent in advance by Beaumagnan to explore the spot and make preparations for carrying off the treasure. Do you understand the danger? Do you understand that the loss of a minute may mean the loss of the game?”

She held out fiercely, crying: “I win it if Clarice speaks.”

“She will not speak⁠—for the excellent reason that she has told you all she knows,” he said in a tone that carried conviction.

“Be it so, but then do you speak yourself, since you have been so foolish as to make this disclosure. Why should I set her free? Why should I obey you? As long as Clarice is in the hands of Leonard, I have only to will to drag from you everything you know.”

He shook his head. “No,” he said. “That danger is passed; that storm is at a distance. Perhaps, as a matter of fact, you have only to will; but equally as a matter of fact, you can no longer will that. You have no longer the strength to will it.”

And it was true; and he was certain of it. Hard, cruel, “infernal,” as Beaumagnan had said, but none the less a woman and subject to failure of nerve, she committed her evil deeds rather on impulse than by a deliberate effort of will⁠—in an access of madness and hysteria, which was followed by a kind of lassitude, by enfeeblement as much moral as physical. Ralph was sure that at that very moment she was suffering from such a reaction.

“Come, Josephine: be consistent,” he said. “You have staked your life on this card, the conquest of boundless riches. Are you going to throw away the fruit of all your efforts when I offer you those riches?”

Her resistance was weakening. But she protested: “I don’t trust you.”

“That isn’t true. You know quite well that I keep my promises. If you hesitate⁠—but you do not hesitate. In your heart of hearts, you have made your decision; and it is the right one.”

She remained thoughtful for a moment, then with a gesture which signified: “After all, I shall lay my hands on the girl again. My vengeance is only postponed,” she said: “By the memory of your mother?”

“By the memory of my mother, by all that is left me of honesty and honor, I will throw complete light on the matter.”

“So be it,” she said. “But you and that girl will not exchange a single word apart.”

“Not a word,” he said readily. “Besides, I’ve nothing to say to her that anyone may not hear. Set her free⁠—that’s all I want.”

She gave the order: “Loose the girl, Leonard, and take those ropes off him.”

Leonard’s face wore an expression of strong disapproval. But he was too well-disciplined to protest. He left Clarice and cut the bonds which still crippled Ralph.

Ralph’s behavior was not of the most fitting considering the seriousness of the occasion. He stretched his legs, performed two or three exercises with his arms, and took several deep breaths.

“I like this better,” he said cheerfully. “I’ve no vocation for playing at prisoners. To deliver the good and punish the evil, that’s what really interests me. Tremble, Leonard.”

He turned to Clarice and said: “I beg you to forgive me for all that has happened. It shall never occur again, you may be sure of it. Henceforth you’re under my protection. Do you feel strong enough to get home?”

“Yes⁠—yes,” she said. “But what about you?”

“Oh, me⁠—I do not run any risk. Your safety was the essential thing. But I’m afraid that you won’t be able to walk far.”

“I haven’t far to walk. Yesterday my father brought me to stay with one of my friends; and he is to fetch me tomorrow.”

“Is it near here?”


“Well, say no more about it. Any information you give will be used against you.”

He conducted her to the door and told Leonard to unlock the padlock and open the gate.

When Leonard had done so, Ralph said to Clarice: “Be prudent, and fear nothing, absolutely nothing, either on your own account or on mine. We shall meet again when the right hour strikes; and it will not be long striking whatever be the obstacles which separate us now.”

He shut the door after her. Clarice was saved.

Then he had the cheek to say: “What an adorable creature!”

In after days, when Arsène Lupin related this incident in his great struggle with Josephine Balsamo, he could not refrain from laughing.

“Yes,” he would say. “I laugh now as I laughed at the moment; and I remember that for the first time I executed one of those little dances which have often served me since to mark most difficult victories⁠ ⁠… and that victory was devilishly difficult.

“In truth I was overjoyed. Clarice free, everything appeared to me to be accomplished. I lit a cigarette, and as Josephine planted herself before me to recall our bargain, I had the bad manners to blow a cloud of smoke right into her face.”

“ ‘Bounder!’ she muttered.

“The epithet with which I retorted was really disgraceful. My excuse is that my tone was more roguish than coarse. And then⁠—and then⁠—have I any need of excuses? Have I any need to analyze the violent and contradictory feelings with which that woman inspired me? I do not pride myself on my psychology where she was concerned, or of having behaved like a gentleman to her. I loved her and at the same time detested her furiously. And after her attack on Clarice my disgust and contempt had become boundless. I no longer saw even the admirable mask of her beauty, but only that which lay beneath it; and it was a kind of carnivorous beast which suddenly appeared to me as I flung that abominable insult at her in the middle of my pirouette.”

Arsène Lupin could laugh afterwards. Nevertheless it was a dangerous moment, and there is no doubt that for two pins either Josephine or Leonard would have blown his brains out.

She muttered through her closed teeth: “Oh, how I do hate you!”

“Not more than I hate you,” he sneered.

“Bear in mind that Josephine Balsamo has not quite finished with that Clarice of yours,” she retorted in a tone of sinister threatening.

“Nor has Ralph d’Andresy finished with her,” he said quickly.

“Scoundrel!” she muttered. “You deserve⁠—”

“A bullet through my head,” he said, laughing. “It’s out of the question.”

“Don’t you defy me too far, Ralph!”

“It’s out of the question, I tell you,” he repeated. “I am literally sacred. I am the gentleman who stands for a thousand millions. Destroy me and the thousand millions slip through your fingers, O daughter of Cagliostro! Every cell in my brain corresponds to a precious stone. A little bullet hole in it and you will call in vain on the spirit of your father! Not a sou for little Josine! I repeat, my darling, that I am taboo, as they say in Polynesia. Taboo from head to foot! Go down on your knees and kiss my hand. That’s the best thing you can possibly do.”

He opened the window which looked over the enclosure, took a deep breath, and said: “This place is perfectly suffocating. Leonard has a decidedly musty smell. Do you make a point of your executioner’s keeping his hand on that revolver in his pocket?”

She stamped her foot and exclaimed: “Enough of this fooling! You laid down your conditions; you know mine.”

“Your money or your life!”

“Speak, and speak at once!”

“What a hurry you’re in!” he said in a mocking voice. “In the first place I fixed a delay of twenty minutes, to be quite sure that Clarice should be out of reach of your claws; and it is not nearly twenty minutes since she went. Besides⁠—”

“Besides what?”

“Besides, how can you expect me to solve in five seconds the problem that so many people have been nearly bursting themselves in their efforts to solve for years and years?”

She was immensely taken aback and cried fiercely: “What do you mean?”

“My meaning is quite simple. I want a little time for reflection.”

“Reflection? What for?”

“To get the solution,” he said coolly.

“What? You don’t know it?”

“The key-word to the enigma? Of course I don’t.”

“Then you lied!”

“Don’t let’s get theatrical, Josephine,” he said again in a tone of mockery.

“You lied, because you swore⁠—”

“By the tomb of my poor mother,” he said, smiling. “And I stick to it. But you must not get things mixed up. I did not swear that I knew the truth, I swore that I would tell you the truth.”

“To tell it, you must know it.”

“To know one must reflect, and you don’t give me any time! Let’s have a little silence, please! And first of all, let Leonard loose the butt of his revolver. It puts me off.”

Even more than his jokes, the tone of insolent mockery in which he uttered them set Josephine’s teeth on edge. She felt herself surpassed, and realizing the danger to her vanity she said:

“Take your time about it. I know you. You will keep your promise.”

“Ah! You’re going to try kindness on me! I never could resist kindness.⁠ ⁠… Boy, writing materials! Fine handmade paper, a pen made out of a hummingbird’s quill, the blood of a full-grown negress, and a piece of candied peel, as the poet says.”

He drew the pencil from his pocketbook and a visiting-card on which some words were already written in a particular order. He drew some lines to join these words to one another, then on the reverse he wrote the Latin formula:

“Ad lapidem currebat olim regina.”

“Dog-Latin of the worst,” he murmured. “I fancy that if I had been in the place of those good monks, I should have found better Latin and got quite as good a result. Nevertheless we must take it as we find it. So the queen rode at a gallop towards the block.⁠ ⁠… The queen rode⁠ ⁠… Look at your watch, Josephine.”

He was no longer laughing. For a minute or two perhaps, not more, his face was set in an expression of gravity, and his eyes, seemingly fixed on the void, showed an immense effort of meditation. He perceived, however, that Josine was regarding him with a look of admiration and boundless confidence, and he smiled on her with an absentminded air without breaking the thread of his ideas.

Motionless in his bonds, his face haggard with anxiety, Beaumagnan listened. Was it really a fact that the tremendous secret was about to be divulged?

Two or three more minutes passed in a dead silence. Then Josephine murmured: “What’s the matter with you, Ralph? You look quite wrought up.”

“Yes; I am,” he said. “All this story of all this treasure hidden in a block of stone, in full view of everyone who comes near it, is in all conscience strange enough. But it’s nothing, Josine, nothing at all compared with the idea which dominates the story. You cannot imagine how strange it is⁠—and how beautiful! What poetry and what simplicity!”

He was silent for a moment; then he declared sententiously: “Josine, the monks of the middle ages were duffers.” He looked round on the three of them and added: “Goodness, yes; pious personages, but, I repeat it at the risk of shaking your faith, duffers! Just consider: if a great financier took it into his head to protect his strongbox by writing on it, ‘You are forbidden to open it,’ you would reckon him a duffer, wouldn’t you? Well, the method that these monks chose to protect their treasure is very nearly as ingenuous.”

“No⁠—no⁠—it is incredible!” she murmured. “You have guessed wrong! You’re making a mistake!”

“Duffers too, all those who have sought for it and found nothing. Blind souls! Narrow minds! What? You, Leonard, Godfrey d’Etigues, Beaumagnan, their friends, the whole of the Society of Jesus, the Archbishop of Rouen, you had these five words under your eyes; and it was not enough! Why, hang it all, a board-school child solves problems as difficult as this!”

She raised the objection: “But, before everything, it was a matter of one word and not of five.”

“But it’s there; the word’s there, confound it! When I told you a little while ago that the possession of the casket must have revealed the indispensable word to the Baron and Beaumagnan, I just wanted to frighten you and make you loose your hold on Clarice, for these gentlemen were simply puzzled. But the indispensable word is there, all right. It’s there, mixed with the five Latin words. Instead of blanching as you all did in the face of this vague formula you ought, quite naively, to have read it, to have put the first five letters together, and to have studied the word composed of those five initials.”

“But we thought of that,” she said quickly. “It’s the word ALCOR, isn’t it?”

“Yes: the word ALCOR.”

“Well, what about it?”

“What about it? But it contains everything, that word does! Do you know what it means?” he said impatiently.

“It’s an Arabian word which means a ‘test.’ ”

“And which the Arabs and all other people use to designate what?”

“A star.”

“What star?”

“One of the stars in the constellation of the Great Bear. But that’s of no importance. What relation could there be⁠—”

Ralph’s lips were wreathed with a smile of pity; and he said patiently: “Of course it’s quite evident that the name of the star could not have any relation with the situation of a block of stone in the open country. One clings to this silly conclusion; and on that side all effort comes to an end. But it is exactly that which struck me when I got the word ALCOR from the five initials of the Latin inscription. Master of the magic word, the talismanic word, and having besides observed that the whole affair turned round the number seven⁠—seven abbeys, seven monks, seven branches of the candlestick, seven stones of seven colors set in seven rings⁠—at once, d’you hear? at once by a kind of reflex action of my mind I knew that the star ALCOR was part of the constellation of the Great Bear; and the problem was solved.”

“Solved? How?”

“Hang it all. Because the constellation of the Great Bear is formed of exactly seven principal stars! Seven! Always the number seven! Do you begin to see the connection? Or am I to point out to you once more that if the Arabs chose and if the astronomers since accepted that designation of ALCOR, it is because this quite small star which is scarcely visible serves as a test, do you understand, as a test? To demonstrate that a certain person has good eyesight because they can see it with the naked eye. ALCOR is what you must see, what you must look for, the hidden thing, the concealed treasure, the invisible block of stone into which one slips the precious stones. It is the strong box.”

Josephine, in a fever of excitement at the nearness of the great revelation, murmured: “I don’t understand.”

Ralph pulled forward a chair into a position between Leonard and the window which he had opened with the very distinct intention of escaping the moment it be came necessary, and sat down on it. As he spoke he was keeping a close watch on Leonard, who persistently kept his hand on the revolver in his pocket.

“Well, you’re going to understand,” he said. “It’s as clear as the day, as spring water! Look.”

He showed them the visiting card which he still held in his hand.

“Look. I’ve had this on me for weeks. From the beginning of our search I looked up in an atlas the exact position of the seven abbeys, of which I have written the names on this card. Here they are, all seven of them, in the different positions in which they stand in regard to one another. Therefore all I had to do just now, as soon as I knew the word, was to join the seven points by lines to reach this unexpected conclusion, Josephine, this marvellous, colossal, and yet very natural conclusion that the figure so formed exactly represents the Great Bear. Do you grasp this really astonishing truth? The seven abbeys of the Caux country, the seven primordial abbeys into which flowed the riches of Christian France, were placed in the same positions as the seven principal stars in the Great Bear. There is no mistake about this. You have only to take an atlas and join them by lines. It is the cabalistic design of the Great Bear.

“After that the truth at once became clear. At the very spot at which ALCOR is found in the Heavenly figure the block of stone will inevitably be found a little to the right below the abbey which corresponds to that star, that is to say a little to the right below the abbey of Jumièges, formerly the most powerful and richest of the abbeys of Normandy. It’s a mathematical certainty. The block of stone is there and nowhere else. Thereupon two facts stand out uncommonly clear, in fact they stare you in the face: firstly that a little to the southeast of Jumièges, scarcely a league away from it, there is, at the hamlet of Mesnil-sous-Jumièges, quite close to the Seine, the ruins of the Manor of Agnes Sorel, the mistress of King Charles VII; secondly that the abbey communicated with that manor by a subterranean passage of which you can still see the entrance. The conclusion is that the legendary block of stone is near the Manor of Agnes Sorel, on the bank of the Seine, and the inscription doubtless means that the mistress of the King, his Queen of Love, ran towards this block of stone, of the precious contents of which she was ignorant, and sat down on it to watch the royal barque glide down the old river of Normandy.

Ad lapidem currebat olim regina.

A common, deep silence united Ralph and Josephine. The veil was raised. The light of day swept away the darkness. Between them it appeared that all hatred had ceased. There was a truce to the implacable conflicts which divided them and nothing remained but an immense astonishment at having so penetrated the forbidden regions of the mysterious past that time and space defended against human curiosity.

Sitting near Josephine, his eyes fixed on the picture which he had drawn, Ralph continued in a low voice with a restrained exaltation:

“Yes, those monks were very imprudent to trust such a secret to the guard of so transparent a word. But what ingenious and charming poets they were! What a delightful thought to associate Heaven itself with their earthly belongings! Masters of contemplation, great astronomers like their Chaldean ancestors they drew their inspiration from on high; the courses of the stars guided their existence; and they called on the constellations themselves to watch over their treasures. Who knows if the situation of their seven abbeys was not chosen at the beginning of things to reproduce on the soil of Normandy the gigantic figure of the Great Bear? Who knows⁠—”

The lyric effusion of Ralph was truly justified; but he could not bring it to its proper end. If he was distrusting Leonard, he had forgotten Josephine. Suddenly she struck him on the head with her life preserver.

It was indeed the last thing he was looking for, although he knew that these treacherous attacks were a habit of hers. Stunned, he doubled up on his chair, then fell on his knees, then rolled over and lay prone.

He murmured in a shaky voice: “It’s true, begad! I was no longer taboo.” Then with the guttersnipe’s chuckle which he doubtless inherited from his father, Theophrastus Lupin, he said again: “The damned jade! Not even respect for genius! You savage little beast, have you indeed a stone where your heart should be?⁠ ⁠… All the worse for you, Josephine. We would have shared the treasure. Now I’ll keep the lot of it.”

He lost consciousness.