The Strongbox of the Monks

It was but a passing paralysis such as a boxer suffers from a knockout blow. But when Ralph recovered consciousness he found without the slightest surprise that he was in the same situation as Beaumagnan, like him bound, and like him set with his back against the wall.

He was very little more surprised to see Josephine stretched on two chairs in front of the door, a victim of one of those nervous attacks which too violent emotions, too prolonged always brought on. The blow she had struck Ralph had thrown her into one of them. Leonard was tending her, holding a bottle of smelling-salts to her nostrils.

He must have summoned one of his confederates, for Ralph saw the young man enter whom he knew by the name of Dominique, the young man who had looked after the carriage in front of the house of Bridget Rousselin.

“Damn it!” said the newcomer on perceiving the two captives. “There seems to have been a squabble. Beaumagnan! d’Andresy! The chief does strike hard! Result a fainting fit. What?”

“Yes, but it’s nearly over,” growled Leonard.

“What are we to do?”

“Carry her to the carriage and drive her to the Nonchalante,” growled Leonard.

“And what about me?”

“You’re going to keep guard on these two,” said Leonard nodding towards the prisoners.

“Hang it! They’re awkward customers. I don’t like the job,” said Dominique, scowling at them.

Leonard took Josephine by the shoulders, Dominique by the ankles. They raised her and were carrying her out, when, opening her eyes, she said to them in a voice so low that she could not suppose that Ralph’s hearing was fine enough to catch a syllable of what she said:

“No. I’ll walk all right. You will stay here, Leonard. You’re the best man to guard Ralph.”

“Let me knock him on the head and be done with it,” whispered Leonard. “This young fellow will bring us bad luck.”

“I love him,” she murmured.

“But he doesn’t love you any longer.”

“Yes. He will come back to me. Besides, whatever happens, I’m not going to let him go.”

“Then what do you propose to do?” asked Leonard glumly.

“The Nonchalante should be at Caudebec. I’m going to rest there till early tomorrow morning. I must rest.”

“And the treasure? It will need a gang to handle a stone of that size.”

“Tonight I’ll send word to the Corbus to meet me tomorrow at Jumièges. Then I’ll see to Ralph⁠—unless⁠—But don’t bother me any more now. I’m done,” she muttered.

“But what about Beaumagnan?” he persisted.

“We’ll set him free when I have the treasure.”

“Aren’t you afraid that that girl will inform the police? It would be an easy job for them to surround this old lighthouse.”

“Nonsense! Do you think she’s going to put the police on the track of her father and Ralph?” said Josephine.

She sat up on one of the chairs and fell back again with a groan. Some minutes passed. At last with an effort which seemed to exhaust her she succeeded in standing upright, and resting on Dominique, went to Ralph.

“He’s insensible,” she murmured. “Guard him carefully, Leonard, and the other too. If one of them gets away, the game’s up.”

She went away slowly. Leonard accompanied her to the old barouche and in a little while came back, after padlocking the gate. He brought with him a parcel containing food. Then they heard the sound of hoofs on the stony road.

Ralph had already discovered that he was securely bound. He said to himself: “The chief is growing rather feeble. Firstly in talking about the steps she proposes to take before witnesses; secondly in entrusting stout fellows like Beaumagnan and me to the care of a single man. Those are mistakes which prove that she’s in a bad state of health.”

All the same it was true that Leonard’s experience would render any attempt to escape uncommonly difficult.

“Leave those ropes alone,” he said to Ralph as he entered. “If you don’t I’ll plug you on the jaw.”

This formidable jailor took every precaution to make his task easy. After running them through the back of a chair he tied together the ends of the two ropes which bound the prisoners. Then he propped the chair on two legs so that it would fall over easily, and on it he set the dagger that Josephine had given him. If one of the prisoners stirred the chair would fall over.

“You’re less stupid than you look,” said Ralph.

“Shut your mouth or I’ll plug you on the jaw,” said Leonard.

He set about making a meal.

Ralph chanced saying: “I hope you’re enjoying it. If there’s any over, don’t forget me.”

Leonard rose with his fists clenched.

“All right: I’ll shut up,” said Ralph.

Leonard sat down again.

The hours passed. It grew dusk. Beaumagnan appeared to be asleep. Leonard smoked pipe after pipe, Ralph scolded himself for having been so careless as not to have kept an eye on Josephine.

“I ought to have been distrusting her all the time,” he said to himself. “I’ve a long way to go yet to make her value me at my true worth. But what decision! What a clear view of the reality! And what a freedom from scruples! Just one single defect which prevents the monster from being perfect⁠—her nervous system of a degenerate. And lucky for me it is today that she has that nervous system, since it will allow me to get to Mesnil-sous-Jumièges before her.”

He had not the slightest doubt that it was possible to escape from Leonard. He had observed that the bonds which bound his ankles were loosened by certain movements, and feeling sure of getting his right leg free, he considered with satisfaction the effect of a kick on the point of Leonard’s jaw. After that, hell for leather to the treasure!

The darkness thickened in the room. Leonard lit a candle, smoked a last pipe, and drank a last glass of wine. After that he became so sleepy that he nodded first to the right and then to the left with such vigor that he nearly fell off his chair. Then he tried holding the candle in his hand in order that the hot wax should fall on it and wake him up. He took a look at the two prisoners, another at the rope that ran through the back of the chair which was to act as an alarm, and went to sleep.

Ralph worked away slowly and gently at the task of freeing himself, not without success. It must be about nine o’clock.

“If I can get away at eleven o’clock,” he said to himself, “I shall reach Lillebonne by midnight, get some supper there, and at three o’clock in the morning arrive at the sacred spot. With the first light of dawn I shall put the strongbox of the monks into my pocket⁠—yes: into my pocket. I’ve no need of the Corbus, or anyone else.”

But at half-past ten he was practically at the same point.

Loose though the ropes were, he could not free his foot from them, and he was beginning to give up hope when of a sudden he thought he heard a slight noise which differed from all the whisperings that break the deep silence of the night, leaves that rustle, birds that flutter among the branches, murmurs of the breeze.

The noise came again; and he was certain that it came from the window he had opened, which Leonard had carelessly pushed to.

Then one side of the window seemed to be moving slowly forward.

Ralph looked at Beaumagnan. He too had heard the noise and was looking at the window.

Then the hot wax of the candle fell on Leonard’s hand; and he awoke. He looked at the bonds of the prisoners and the rope of the alarm and dropped off to sleep again. The noise, which had for the while ceased, came again⁠—it was plain that the movements of their jailor were being carefully watched.

What was going on? It was evident that since the gate was locked someone must have climbed over the wall; and it must be someone familiar with the light house who knew where to find a spot from which the broken glass had been cleared. Who? A peasant? A poacher? Was it a rescuer⁠—some friend of Beaumagnan’s? Or was it just a prowler in the night?

A head appeared, indistinct in the darkness; and then the figure of a woman slipped easily over the sill which was at no great height from the ground.

Before he saw her face, Ralph knew that it was none other than Clarice!

With what pride and delight and thankfulness did he regard her! Josephine had been wrong, quite wrong in supposing her rival too feeble to act. In her anxiety, unable to tear herself away in her fear for his safety, mastering her exhaustion and her fear for herself, she must have lurked in the wood in which the lighthouse stood, and waited for the night.

And now she was attempting the impossible to save the man who had so cruelly betrayed her.

Once more Leonard awoke. But fortunately she was directly behind him. Once more he fell asleep and she moved noiselessly forward till she stood beside him, reached forward, and picked up Josephine’s dagger which lay on the chair which was to act as alarm and add by its jingle to the noise of its fall. Was she going to strike?

Ralph was terrified. Now that the light of the candle clearly illuminated her face, it seemed to him to be set in a cold ferocity. But their eyes met, and she obeyed the unspoken bidding of his will. She did not strike. Ralph bent forward a little so that the rope which ran through the back of the chair hung slack. Beaumagnan, seeing what he would be at, bent forward too.

Then slowly, with a steady hand, she cut the rope.

As luck had it, their enemy did not wake. Had he done so, she would assuredly have killed him. Her eyes, still holding that threat of death, never left him. She bent down, her hand fumbled about for Ralph’s bonds. She freed his wrists.

He whispered: “Give me the knife.”

She handed it to him. But a hand was quicker than his. Beaumagnan who for hours had also been patiently at work, loosening his bonds, snatched the knife from her.

Furious, Ralph gripped his arm. If Beaumagnan loosed himself and got away before he did, farewell all hope of seizing the treasure. There was a desperate struggle, in which either of them put forth all his strength, telling himself that the least noise would wake Leonard.

Clarice, trembling with fear, sank to her knees, quite as much in order not to fall to the ground as to beseech them.

But Beaumagnan’s wound, slight though it was, rendered him incapable of prolonged resistance. He let go the knife.

At that very moment Leonard moved his head, opened his eyes, and gazed at the picture before him, the two men half risen, clinging to one another in a fighting attitude, Clarice on her knees.

His gaze rested on it several seconds, several terrible seconds, for there was no doubt that, seeing what they were at, he would shoot them down, and rid himself of them. But his open eyes did not see them; they were blinded by the clouds of sleep. His eyelids closed down again over them before the consciousness of what they rested on came to him.

Thereupon Ralph cut through the rest of his bonds. He was free. As Clarice rose, trembling, to her feet, he whispered: “Be quick! Escape!”

She shook her head and pointed to Beaumagnan.

It was plain that she was not going to leave him behind her, a prisoner exposed to the vengeance of Leonard.

Ralph protested; but he could not move her.

Tiring of the conflict, he handed the knife to Beaumagnan.

“She’s right,” he said in a whisper. “One must play fair. Here you are. Free yourself. And afterwards let each look out for himself. What?”

He followed Clarice to the window. One after the other, they slipped over the sill. Once in the enclosure, she took his hand and led him to a gap in the wall.

He helped her through it.

But when he had climbed through it himself, he no longer saw anyone.

“Clarice!” he cried. “Where are you?”

The wood lay in the darkness of a starless night. He heard a rustling among the undergrowth on his right. He plunged into it in pursuit and ran into tree-trunks and brushes that barred his way. He was compelled to return to the path.

“She flies from me,” he said to himself sadly. “When I was a prisoner, she risked everything to free me. Now that I am free, she does not want to set eyes on me again. My treachery, that monster Josephine, and the whole disgusting business have filled her with horror.”

As he regained the path, someone came tumbling over the wall. It was Beaumagnan, escaping in his turn. Then of a sudden reports of a revolver banged out from some quarter. Leonard had rushed to the gap and was firing at random into the wood. Ralph made haste to get out of range.

So, at about eleven o’clock at night, the three adversaries started from the same point to get to the Queen’s stone, more than thirty miles away. What were their different mean of getting there? Everything depended on that.

On the one side were Beaumagnan and Leonard, both of them well provided with confederates, and at the head of powerful organizations. Beaumagnan’s friends must be waiting for him; Leonard had but to get to Josephine; the spoil belonged to whichever was quickest. But Ralph was the youngest and most active. If he had not made the mistake of leaving his bicycle at Lillebonne, every chance would have been in his favor.

It must be admitted that he instantly abandoned his search for Clarice and that the pursuit of the treasure became his only care. Walking and running he covered the seven miles to Lillebonne in less than an hour. It was a little before midnight that he awoke the porter of his hotel, made a hasty meal. Then, having wrapped up two small dynamite cartridges in brown paper and thrust them into his pocket, he mounted his machine. Neatly rolled up and fastened below the handlebar was a canvas bag in which to bring away the spoil.

He made the following calculations: “From Lillebonne to Mesnil-sous-Jumièges is about twenty-five miles. I ought to be there before daybreak. The moment it is light I shall find the block of granite and blow it up with the dynamite. It is possible that Josephine or Beaumagnan may surprise me in the middle of the operation. In that case I go halves. All the worse for the third party.”

Having passed Caudebec-en-Caux, he followed along the rising ground the road which runs through the woods and meadows to the Seine. Just as on the day on which he had first made love to Josephine, the Nonchalante was there, looming large through the dim light. He saw that the window of the cabin which she occupied was lit up.

“She must be dressing,” he said to himself. “Her carriage will be coming for her. Perhaps Leonard has got to her and made her start sooner than she intended. Too late, my lady!”

He drove on the machine as hard as he could. But half an hour later, as he was riding down a steep hill, he felt his wheel meet some obstacle; and he flew over the handles, over a heap of stones by the road side, and came to a stop scratched and bruised, but with no bones broken, in a thick and thorny bush twenty feet down the hill.

Two men⁠—he saw them dimly⁠—came out of the bushes and hurried to his bicycle.

“It was him! It must have been him! The rope got the machine! I told you it would,” cried Oscar de Bennetot in a tone of great excitement.

“Yes. But where’s he got to?” growled Godfrey d’Etigues.

Ralph made haste to scramble up through the bushes to the top of the high embankment.

They heard him; but they could not see him. They rushed after him, cursing furiously. But they had little chance of finding him in that darkness.

Then Beaumagnan’s voice came faintly from below: “Don’t bother about him! We’ve no time to waste! Smash his machine! That puts him out of action.”

They made haste to obey. Ralph heard them go bustling down to the road. Then he heard them stamping on the wheels of his bicycle.

Then Beaumagnan said: “Come on! The horse has rested long enough. We’ve got to get there quickly. Confound this wound of mine. The bandage has shifted; I’m bleeding like a pig.”

Apparently they did as he bade them, for half a minute later there came a crunching of wheels and a carriage started and went down the hill at a good pace. Indomitable, Ralph took the canvas bag from the wreck of his bicycle, and set off after it at a steady trot.

He was furious. Nothing in the world would have induced him to abandon the struggle. It was no longer merely a matter of millions and millions which would make the rest of his life magnificent, his vanity was up in arms. Having solved the insoluble enigma, he must be the first to arrive at the goal. Not to be there, not to seize the treasure, to let someone else take it, would have been an intolerable humiliation to the day of his death.

So, indefatigable, he toiled on behind the carriage, and not so far behind it either, buoyed up by the thought that the enigma was not yet solved in its entirety, that his adversaries, like himself, had yet to find the actual place in which the block of granite stood; and in that darkness it was going to take time. While they were doing it, he might once more get the better of them.

Then Fortune relented and helped him. As he entered Jumièges he saw in front of him the wavering light of a lantern, heard the tinkle of a bell, and, where as his adversaries had gone straight through the village, he dropped into a quiet walk. Then he met the priest of Jumièges, who, accompanied by a small boy, was returning from administering extreme unction. Ralph dropped into step beside him, asked where he could find an inn, and in the course of their talk as they went in the direction of that inn, pretending that he was an archæologist, spoke of a curious stone which he had been told he would find in the neighborhood.

“The dolmen of the queen, or something of that kind, they told me it was called,” said Ralph. “You ought to know that object of interest, Monsieur le curé?”

“Of course I do, monsieur,” said the priest. “I’m pretty sure that it must be what we call Agnes Sorel’s stone.”

“It’s at Mesnil-sous-Jumièges, isn’t it?” asked Ralph.

“That’s where it is, about two and a half miles away. But it’s hardly an object of interest⁠—just a group of small rocks emerging from a mound, the tallest of which is three or four feet above the Seine.”

“It’s on common land, isn’t it?” said Ralph.

“It was a few years ago, but the Commune sold it to one of my parishioners, a M. Simon Thuilard who wished to extend his meadow-land.”

Immensely pleased, Ralph took his leave of the priest, provided with minute directions for finding the stone. They enabled him to avoid the big village of Jumièges, plunge into the network of winding roads which lead to Mesnil-sous-Jumièges, with the result that he got ahead of his adversaries.

“If they haven’t taken the precaution to provide themselves with a guide, they’re certain to miss their way,” he said to himself. “It is impossible to take a carriage straight, such a dark night as this. And then how are they to pick the right road? Where are they to look for the stone? Beaumagnan is exhausted and Godfrey d’Etigues is hardly intelligent enough to find it by himself. I fancy I win this hand.”

At a few minutes to three, he crossed the fence which ran round the property of Simon Thuilard.

A couple of matches showed him the path across the meadow. At the end of it he came to an embankment, which seemed to him of recent construction, along the side of the river. He arrived at the right end of it and moved down it to the left. Then, not wishing to use up all his matches, he waited for the dawn.

Already there was a strip of gray sky along the edge of the Eastern horizon.

He waited, full of a pleasant emotion which wreathed his lips with a smile. The block of granite was near him, not many feet away. For centuries, at this very hour of the night perhaps, the monks had come furtively to this very spot on the broad earth to bury their treasure. One by one, priors and treasurers had come by the subterranean passage which led from the abbey to the Manor. Others doubtless had come in boats along the old river of Normandy which ran through Paris and ran through Rouen, the waves of which broke against the estates of three of the seven sacred abbeys.

And now he, Ralph d’Andresy, was a sharer of the great secret. He was the heir of the thousands and thousands of monks who had worked in those distant ages, sown throughout the length and breadth of France and gathered in their harvest without a pause. What a miracle! To have at his age such a dream come true! To be an equal of the most powerful and to rule among the lords of the world!

In the paling heaven the Great Bear was fading. You divined, rather than saw, the luminous point of Alcor, the cabalistic star which, in the vast expanse of the Heavens, corresponded to the little block of granite on which Ralph was about to lay the hand of the conqueror. The stream babbled against the bank in quiet little waves. The surface of the river rose out of the darkness in shining patches of light.

He walked along the embankment. He began to discern the contours and colors of things. A solemn instant! His heart was beating quickly. Then of a sudden thirty yards away he saw a mound of ground which scarcely rose above the level of the meadow, and in which, among the grass which covered it rose some points of gray rock.

“It’s there!” he murmured, moved to the very depths of his being. “It’s there! I have reached the goal!”

His hands were fumbling with the dynamite cartridges in his pocket and his eyes were seeking wildly the higher stone of which that priest of Jumièges had spoken. Was it this one, or that? A few seconds would be enough for him to introduce the cartridge into the cracks which earth and plants choked. Three minutes later he would be heaping the diamonds and rubies into the bag which he took from his knapsack. If there remained a few crumbs among the debris all the better for his enemies.

He walked forward and the nearer he came to it the more the mound took on an appearance which did not at all conform to what he expected. There was no higher stone.⁠ ⁠… There was no block which, in days gone by, would have afforded to her whom they called the Lady of Beauty, a seat from which to look for the arrival of the royal barque round the corner of the reach of the river. Nothing rose above the mound⁠—on the contrary its top was level. What had happened? Had some sudden rush of the river, or some storm lately changed a spot which the storms of ages had respected? or had⁠—

In two bounds Ralph crossed the ten paces which separated him from the mound.

An oath burst from his lips. The horrible truth was clear to his eyes. The center of the mound had been disembowled. The block of granite, the legendary block was indeed there, but smashed asunder into fragments, its debris on every side of a gaping hole full of blackened pebbles and tufts of grass. Not a single jewel! Not a scrap of gold or silver! The enemy had passed that way.

Ralph did not stand before this paralyzing spectacle for more than a minute. Motionless, speechless, he studied it absentmindedly, and mechanically gathered in all the traces and evidence of the work that had been done some hours before; he marked the prints of a woman’s heel; but he refused to draw from them the only logical conclusion. He walked away from it, lit a cigarette and sat down on the bank of the dyke on the edge of the river.

He did not wish to think. The defeat, and above all the fashion in which it had been inflicted on him, was too painful for him to suffer himself to study its causes and effects. At such moments one can only strive to retain one’s coolness. But, in spite of everything, the events of the preceding afternoon and evening forced themselves on his attention. Whether he wished it, or not, the actions of Josephine Balsamo unfolded themselves before his mind. He saw her striving firmly against that nervous attack and recovering all the energy necessary at such a juncture. Rest when the hour of destiny had struck? Not she! Had he rested? And Beaumagnan, wounded as he was, had he allowed himself the slightest respite? No! And Josephine Balsamo would never make such a mistake. Before nightfall she had reached the meadow with her agents; and then in the daylight and later by the light of lanterns, she had directed their work. And when he, Ralph, had divined her presence behind the curtained window of her cabin, she was not making ready for the final expedition; she had returned from it, once more victorious because she never allowed mischances, futile hesitation, or superfluous scruples to prove an obstacle between her and the immediate execution of her designs.

For more than twenty minutes, letting himself relax from his fatigue in the warmth of the sun which rose above the hills on the opposite bank, Ralph considered the bitter reality into which had sunk his dreams of domination. He must indeed have been deeply absorbed in those bitter reflections not to hear the noise of a carriage which stopped in the road and see the three men who got out of it, climb over the fence and cross the meadow till the very moment at which one of them, on reaching the mound, uttered a cry of anguish.

It was Beaumagnan; his two friends were supporting him.

If the disappointment of Ralph was deep, what must have been the despair of a man who had staked all his life on the mysterious treasure! Livid, with starting eyes, the bandage which ran across his shoulder oozing blood, he gazed stupidly, as at the most horrible of spectacles, at the spot on which the miraculous stone had been violated. One would have said that the world was falling in ruins about his feet and that he was gazing into a gulf of terror and horror.

Ralph came forward and murmured: “Her work.”

Beaumagnan did not answer him. There was no doubt whatever that it was her work. Must it not be that the image of that woman mingled with everything disastrous and overwhelming, with every cataclysm charged with infernal suffering?

Had he any need, like his companions, to leap into the hole and ransack its chaos for some forgotten scrap of the treasure? No! After the passage of the sorceress there was nothing but dust and ashes. She was the great scourge which devastates and slays. She was the very incarnation of the Principle of Evil. She was nothingness and death!

He drew himself to his full height, always theatrical and romantic in his most natural attitudes, gazed round him with dolorous eyes, then, of a sudden, crossed himself, and drove into his breast the blade of a dagger⁠—of the dagger which belonged to Josephine Balsamo.

The action was so sudden and so unexpected that no one could have prevented it. Before his friends and Ralph had even grasped what he had done, Beaumagnan tumbled into the hole among the debris of what had been the strongbox of the monks.

His friends sprang to him.

He was still breathing and he muttered: “A priest⁠—a priest.”

De Bennetot hurried away. Some peasants passed. He questioned them and sprang into the carriage.

On his knees beside his chief, Godfrey d’Etigues was praying and striking his breast. Doubtless Beaumagnan had revealed to him that Josephine Balsamo was still alive and knew all his crimes. The suicide of his chief on the top of that revelation had shattered his mind. His face was convulsed with terror.

Ralph bent down over Beaumagnan and in slow and measured accents said: “I swear to you that I will find her. I swear to you that I will take the treasure from her.”

Love and hate still persisted in the heart of the dying man. Such words alone could prolong his existence for a few fleeting minutes. At the hour of his agony, in the shattering of all his dreams, he clung desperately to every chance of reprisal and vengeance.

His eyes summoned Ralph, who bent down lower and heard him mutter: “Clarice⁠—Clarice d’Etigues⁠—you must marry her. Listen⁠—Clarice is not the daughter of the Baron⁠—he confessed it to me⁠—she is the daughter of another woman he loved.”

Ralph said solemnly: “I swear to you I will marry her⁠—I swear it.”

“Godfrey!” said Beaumagnan.

The Baron went on praying. Ralph laid a hand on his shoulder and made him bend down to catch Beaumagnan’s faint utterance.

“Clarice is to marry d’Andresy. I wish it.”

“Yes, yes,” said the Baron, incapable of resistance.

“Swear it.”

“I swear it.”

“By your eternal salvation?”

“By my eternal salvation.”

“You will give him your money that he may avenge us⁠—all the wealth you have stolen. Swear it!” said Beaumagnan.

“By the eternal salvation,” said the Baron.

“He knows all your crimes. He has proofs of them,” Beaumagnan continued. “If you do not obey me, he will hand you over to the police.”

“I will obey.”

“May you be accursed, if you do not,” said Beaumagnan.

His voice was growing fainter broken by harsh gasps between which the words came more and more indistinct. Bent down, with his ear a little above his mouth, Ralph just caught them.

“You’ll pursue her, Ralph.⁠ ⁠… You must tear the jewels from her.⁠ ⁠… She’s a devil.⁠ ⁠… Listen.⁠ ⁠… I have discovered.⁠ ⁠… At Havre.⁠ ⁠… She has a vessel.⁠ ⁠… The Glowworm.⁠ ⁠… Listen.”

He was at the very end of his strength. Nevertheless Ralph yet heard:

“Go.⁠ ⁠… At once.⁠ ⁠… Hunt her down.⁠ ⁠… This very day.”

His eyes closed, the death rattle began.

Godfrey d’Etigues still went on beating his breast, on his knees at the bottom of the hole.

Ralph left them.

That evening one of the Paris papers published in its final issue the following paragraph:

M. Beaumagnan, a barrister well known in militant royalist circles, whose death in Spain had already been reported by mistake, committed suicide this morning at a village in Normandy of the name of Mesnil-sous-Jumièges, on the banks of the Seine. The reasons for this suicide are absolutely mysterious. Two of his friends, Baron d’Etigues and M. Oscar de Bennetot, who were with him, declare that they were spending the night at the château de Tancarville, where they were staying for some days, when Monsieur Beaumagnan awoke them. He was wounded and in a state of great agitation. He insisted on their harnessing a horse to a dogcart and driving at once to Jumièges and from there to a meadow near Mesnil-sous-Jumièges. Why? Why this nocturnal expedition to a lonely meadow? Why this suicide? Questions to which they can give no answer.

The next day the Havre papers published accounts of an incident which are summed up fairly well in the following article:

Last night Prince Lavosneff, who had come to Havre to try a yacht which he had recently purchased, witnessed a terrible drama. He was returning to the French coast when he saw a column of flame about a mile and a half away and heard a loud explosion⁠—an explosion, by the way, which was heard at several places along the coast. The Prince at once steered his yacht towards the spot at which this sinister incident had taken place, and there he found fragments of a wreck. On one of them was a sailor whom they succeeded in rescuing. But they had hardly the time to learn from him that the wrecked vessel was called the Glowworm and belonged to the Countess of Cagliostro, when all at once he sprang overboard again crying: “There she is! There she is!”

By the light of the ship’s lanterns they perceived another fragment of the wreck, to which a woman was clinging, with her head just above the water. The man succeeded in swimming to her and getting hold of her. But she clung to him so tightly that she prevented him using his arms, and the two of them sank. All efforts to find them were vain.

On his return to Havre Prince Lavosneff made a deposition to this effect, which was also signed by four of his crew.

The paper added:

Later information leads us to believe that the Countess of Cagliostro was an adventuress well known under the name of Pellegrini and sometimes also under the name of Balsamo. Wanted by the police, who had two or three times just missed capturing her in localities in the Caux country, where she had recently been operating, she must have decided to go abroad, and in this way perished with her confederates in the wreck of her yacht, the Glowworm. We must also mention, with all proper reservations, that there is a rumor to the effect that there is a close connection between certain adventures of the Countess of Cagliostro and the mysterious drama at Mesnil-sous-Jumièges. There is a story going about of treasure unearthed and stolen, of plots and documents of great antiquity. But at this point we enter the domain of fable. We will stop therefore and leave it to justice to throw light on the affair.

On the afternoon of the day on which this article appeared, that is to say exactly sixty hours after the drama at Mesnil-sous-Jumièges, Ralph entered the study of the Baron Godfrey at Haie d’Etigues, the study into which he had made his way one night four months before. How many roads had he traversed since that night and how many years older had he grown than the stripling he then was!

At a small table the two cousins were drinking, at a considerable pace, a bottle of brandy.

Without beating about the bush, Ralph said: “I have come to claim the hand of Mademoiselle d’Etigues.”

He was hardly wearing the correct costume in which to ask a lady’s hand in marriage. He was hatless and dressed in an old fisherman’s jersey and trousers much too short for him which revealed his bare feet in grass shoes without any laces.

But Ralph’s costume and his errand were of very little interest to Godfrey d’Etigues. Hollow-eyed, with the face of one of the damned, he held out towards Ralph a bundle of newspapers and groaned:

“Have you seen them? The Countess?”

“Yes, I know all that,” said Ralph.

He detested the man; and he could not refrain from adding: “All the better for you. What? The definite death of Josephine Balsamo must have lifted a heavy burden from your mind.”

“But the sequel⁠—the consequences!” stammered the Baron.

“What consequences?” said Ralph.

“The law. It’s sure to try to get at the bottom of this business. People are already saying that Josephine Balsamo was mixed up with the suicide of Beaumagnan. If the police get hold of all the threads of the affair they will go further⁠—to the very end of it.”

“Yes,” said Ralph in a jeering tone, “to the Widow Rousselin and the murder of Jaubert. That’s to say to you and cousin de Bennetot.”

The two men shuddered. Ralph set their minds at rest.

“You can drink at your ease, both of you,” he said. “Justice will not throw any light on this dark story, for the excellent reason that it will do its best on the contrary to bury it in oblivion. Beaumagnan was protected by powers who like neither scandal nor the light of day. The business will be hushed up. The thing that troubles me much more is not the action of the law⁠—”

“What is it?” said the Baron.

“The vengeance of Josephine Balsamo,” said Ralph somberly.

“But if she’s dead⁠—”

“Even dead, she is formidable,” said Ralph gravely. “And that’s why I am here. There is at the bottom of the park a small keeper’s lodge. I’m going to install myself in it⁠—till our marriage. Inform Clarice that I am here and tell her to allow no one to visit her⁠—not even me. Perhaps however she will accept this present from me since we are engaged; and I beg you to give it to her from me.”

And he handed to the astonished Baron a huge sapphire, of an incomparable fineness, and cut as they used to cut precious stones in an earlier age.