The Hollow Needle
Part 4 out of 5
some hope. So I am leaving town and shall sleep
at Rennes. You might take the evening train and,
without stopping at Rennes, go on to the little
station of Velines. We would meet at the castle,
which is two miles and a half from the station.
The programme appealed to Beautrelet, and especially the idea that
he would reach the castle at almost the same time as Massiban, for
he feared some blunder on the part of that inexperienced man. He
went back to his friend and spent the rest of the day with him. In
the evening, he took the Brittany express and got out at Velines as
six o'clock in the morning.
He did the two and a half miles, between bushy woods, on foot. He
could see the castle, perched on a height, from a distance: it was a
hybrid edifice, a mixture of the Renascence and Louis Philippe
styles, but it bore a stately air, nevertheless, with its four
turrets and its ivy-mantled draw-bridge.
Isidore felt his heart beat as he approached. Was he really nearing
the end of his race? Did the castle contain the key to the mystery?
He was not without fear. It all seemed too good to be true; and he
asked himself if he was not once more acting in obedience to some
infernal plan contrived by Lupin, if Massiban was not for instance,
a tool in the hands of his enemy. He burst out laughing:
"Tut, tut, I'm becoming absurd! One would really think that Lupin
was an infallible person who foresees everything, a sort of divine
omnipotence against whom nothing can prevail! Dash it all, Lupin
makes his mistakes; Lupin, too, is at the mercy of circumstances;
Lupin has an occasional slip! And it is just because of his slip in
losing the document that I am beginning to have the advantage of
him. Everything starts from that. And his efforts, when all is said,
serve only to repair the first blunder."
And blithely, full of confidence, Beautrelet rang the bell.
"Yes, sir?" said the servant who opened the door.
"Can I see the Baron de Velines?"
And he gave the man his card.
"Monsieur le baron is not up yet, but, if monsieur will wait--"
"Has not some one else been asking for him, a gentleman with a white
beard and a slight stoop?" asked Beautrelet, who knew Massiban's
appearance from the photographs in the newspapers.
"Yes, the gentleman came about ten minutes ago; I showed him into
the drawing room. If monsieur will come this way--"
The interview between Massiban and Beautrelet was of the most
cordial character. Isidore thanked the old man for the first-rate
information which he owed to him and Massiban expressed his
admiration for Beautrelet in the warmest terms. Then they exchanged
impressions on the document, on their prospects of discovering the
book; and Massiban repeated what he had heard at Rennes regarding M.
de Velines. The baron was a man of sixty, who had been left a
widower many years ago and who led a very retired life with his
daughter, Gabrielle de Villemon. This lady had just suffered a cruel
blow through the loss of her husband and her eldest son, both of
whom had died as the result of a motor-car accident.
"Monsieur le baron begs the gentlemen to be good enough to come
The servant led the way to the first floor, to a large, bare-walled
room, very simply furnished with desks, pigeon-holes and tables
covered with papers and account-books.
The baron received them very affably and with the volubility often
displayed by people who live too much alone. They had great
difficulty in explaining the object of their visit.
"Oh, yes, I know, you wrote to me about it, M. Massiban. It has
something to do with a book about a needle, hasn't it, a book which
is supposed to have come down to me from my ancestors?"
"I may as well tell you that my ancestors and I have fallen out.
They had funny ideas in those days. I belong to my own time. I have
broken with the past."
"Yes," said Beautrelet, impatiently, "but have you no recollection
of having seen the book?--"
"Certainly, I said so in my telegram," he exclaimed, addressing M.
Massiban, who, in his annoyance, was walking up and down the room
and looking out of the tall windows. "Certainly--or, at least, my
daughter thought she had seen the title among the thousands of books
that lumber up the library, upstairs--for I don't care about reading
myself--I don't even read the papers. My daughter does, sometimes,
but only when there is nothing the matter with Georges, her
remaining son! As for me, as long as my tenants pay their rents and
my leases are kept up--! You see my account-books: I live in them,
gentlemen; and I confess that I know absolutely nothing whatever
about that story of which you wrote to me in your letter, M.
Isidore Beautrelet, nerve-shattered at all this talk, interrupted
"I beg your pardon, monsieur, but the book--"
"My daughter has looked for it. She looked for it all day
"Well, she found it; she found it a few hours ago. When you
"And where is it?"
"Where is it? Why, she put it on that table--there it is--over
Isidore gave a bound. At one end of the table, on a muddled heap of
papers, lay a little book bound in red morocco. He banged his fist
down upon it, as though he were forbidding anybody to touch it--and
also a little as though he himself dared not take it up.
"Well!" cried Massiban, greatly excited.
"I have it--here it is--we're there at last!"
"But the title--are you sure?--"
"Why, of course: look!"
"Are you convinced? Have we mastered the secret at last?"
"The front page--what does the front page say?"
"Read: The Whole Truth now first exhibited. One hundred copies
printed by myself for the instruction of the Court."
"That's it, that's it," muttered Massiban, in a hoarse voice. "It's
the copy snatched from the flames! It's the very book which Louis
They turned over the pages. The first part set forth the
explanations given by Captain de Larbeyrie in his journal.
"Get on, get on!" said Beautrelet, who was in a hurry to come to the
"Get on? What do you mean? Not at all! We know that the Man with the
Iron Mask was imprisoned because he knew and wished to divulge the
secret of the Royal house of France. But how did he know it? And why
did he wish to divulge it? Lastly, who was that strange personage? A
half-brother of Louis XIV., as Voltaire maintained, or Mattioli, the
Italian minister, as the modern critics declare? Hang it, those are
questions of the very first interest!"
"Later, later," protested Beautrelet, feverishly turning the pages,
as though he feared that the book would fly out of his hands before
he had solved the riddle.
"But--" said Massiban, who doted on historical details.
"We have plenty of time--afterward--let's see the explanation first-
Suddenly Beautrelet stopped. The document! In the middle of a left-
hand page, his eyes saw the five mysterious lines of dots and
figures! He made sure, with a glance, that the text was identical
with that which he had studied so long; the same arrangement of the
signs, the same intervals that permitted of the isolation of the
word demoiselles and the separation of the two words aiguille and
A short note preceded it:
All the necessary indications, it appears, were reduced by King
Louis XIII. into a little table which I transcribe below.
Here followed the table of dots and figures.
Then came the explanation of the document itself. Beautrelet read,
in a broken voice:
As will be seen, this table, even after we have changed the figures
into vowels, affords no light. One might say that, in order to
decipher the puzzle, we must first know it. It is, at most, a clue
given to those who know the paths of the labyrinth.
Let us take this clue and proceed. I will guide you.
The fourth line first. The fourth line contains measurements and
indications. By complying with the indications and noting the
measurements set down, we inevitably attain our object, on
condition, be it understood, that we know where we are and whither
we are going, in a word, that we are enlightened as to the real
meaning of the Hollow Needle. This is what we may learn from the
first three lines. The first is so conceived to revenge myself on
the King; I had warned him, for that matter--
Beautrelet stopped, nonplussed.
"What? What is it?" said Massiban.
"The words don't make sense."
"No more they do," replied Massiban. "'The first is so conceived to
revenge myself on the King--' What can that mean?"
"Damn!" yelled Beautrelet.
"Torn! Two pages! The next two pages! Look at the marks!"
He trembled, shaking with rage and disappointment. Massiban bent
"It is true--there are the ends of two pages left, like bookbinders'
guards. The marks seem pretty fresh. They've not been cut, but torn
out--torn out with violence. Look, all the pages at the end of the
book have been rumpled."
"But who can have done it? Who?" moaned Isidore, wringing his hands.
"A servant? An accomplice?"
"All the same, it may date back to a few months since," observed
"Even so--even so--some one must have hunted out and taken the book-
-Tell me, monsieur," cried Beautrelet, addressing the baron, "is
there no one whom you suspect?"
"We might ask my daughter."
"Yes--yes--that's it--perhaps she will know."
M. de Velines rang for the footman. A few minutes later. Mme. de
Villemon entered. She was a young woman, with a sad and resigned
face. Beautrelet at once asked her:
"You found this volume upstairs, madame, in the library?"
"Yes, in a parcel of books that had not been uncorded."
"And you read it?"
"Yes, last night."
"When you read it, were those two pages missing? Try and remember:
the two pages following this table of figures and dots?"
"No, certainly not," she said, greatly astonished. "There was no
page missing at all."
"Still, somebody has torn--"
"But the book did not leave my room last night."
"And this morning?"
"This morning, I brought it down here myself, when M. Massiban's
arrival was announced."
"Well, I don't understand--unless--but no."
"Georges--my son--this morning--Georges was playing with the book."
She ran out headlong, accompanied by Beautrelet, Massiban and the
baron. The child was not in his room. They hunted in every
direction. At last, they found him playing behind the castle. But
those three people seemed so excited and called him so peremptorily
to account that he began to yell aloud.
Everybody ran about to right and left. The servants were questioned.
It was an indescribable tumult. And Beautrelet received the awful
impression that the truth was ebbing away from him, like water
trickling through his fingers.
He made an effort to recover himself, took Mme. de Villemon's arm,
and, followed by the baron and Massiban, led her back to the drawing
room and said:
"The book is incomplete. Very well. There are two pages torn out;
but you read them, did you not, madame?"
"You know what they contained?"
"Could you repeat it to us?"
"Certainly. I read the book with a great deal of curiosity, but
those two pages struck me in particular because the revelations were
so very interesting."
"Well, then, speak madame, speak, I implore you! Those revelations
are of exceptional importance. Speak, I beg of you: minutes lost are
never recovered. The Hollow Needle--"
"Oh, it's quite simple. The Hollow Needle means--"
At that moment, a footman entered the room:
"A letter for madame."
"Oh, but the postman has passed!"
"A boy brought it."
Mme. de Villemon opened the letter, read it, and put her hand to her
heart, turning suddenly livid and terrified, ready to faint.
The paper had slipped to the floor. Beautrelet picked it up and,
without troubling to apologize, read:
Not a word! If you say a word, your son will
never wake again.
"My son--my son!" she stammered, too weak even to go to the
assistance of the threatened child.
Beautrelet reassured her:
"It is not serious--it's a joke. Come, who could be interested?"
"Unless," suggested Massiban, "it was Arsene Lupin."
Beautrelet made him a sign to hold his tongue. He knew quite well,
of course, that the enemy was there, once more, watchful and
determined; and that was just why he wanted to tear from Mme. de
Villemon the decisive words, so long awaited, and to tear them from
her on the spot, that very moment:
"I beseech you, madame, compose yourself. We are all here. There is
not the least danger."
Would she speak? He thought so, he hoped so. She stammered out a few
syllables. But the door opened again. This time, the nurse entered.
She seemed distraught:
"M. Georges--madame--M. Georges--!"
Suddenly, the mother recovered all her strength. Quicker than any of
them, and urged by an unfailing instinct, she rushed down the
staircase, across the hall and on to the terrace. There lay little
Georges, motionless, on a wicker chair.
"Well, what is it? He's asleep!--"
"He fell asleep suddenly, madame," said the nurse. "I tried to
prevent him, to carry him to his room. But he was fast asleep and
his hands--his hands were cold."
"Cold!" gasped the mother. "Yes--it's true. Oh dear, oh dear--IF HE
ONLY WAKES UP!"
Beautrelet put his hand in his trousers pocket, seized the butt of
his revolver, cocked it with his forefinger, then suddenly produced
the weapon and fired at Massiban.
Massiban, as though he were watching the boy's movements, had
avoided the shot, so to speak, in advance. But already Beautrelet
had sprung upon him, shouting to the servants:
"Help! It's Lupin!"
Massiban, under the weight of the impact, fell back into one of the
wicker chairs. In a few seconds, he rose, leaving Beautrelet
stunned, choking; and, holding the young man's revolver in his
"Good!--that's all right!--don't stir--you'll be like that for two
or three minutes--no more. But, upon my word, you took your time to
recognize me! Was my make-up as old Massiban so good as all that?"
He was now standing straight up on his legs, his body squared, in a
formidable attitude, and he grinned as he looked at the three
petrified footmen and the dumbfounded baron:
"Isidore, you've missed the chance of a lifetime. If you hadn't told
them I was Lupin, they'd have jumped on me. And, with fellows like
that, what would have become of me, by Jove, with four to one
He walked up to them:
"Come, my lads, don't be afraid--I shan't hurt you. Wouldn't you
like a sugar-stick apiece to screw your courage up? Oh, you, by the
way, hand me back my hundred-franc note, will you? Yes, yes, I know
you! You're the one I bribed just now to give the letter to your
mistress. Come hurry, you faithless servant."
He took the blue bank-note which the servant handed him and tore it
into tiny shreds:
"The price of treachery! It burns my fingers."
He took off his hat and, bowing very low before Mme. de Villemon:
"Will you forgive me, madame? The accidents of life--of mine
especially--often drive one to acts of cruelty for which I am the
first to blush. But have no fear for your son: it's a mere prick, a
little puncture in the arm which I gave him while we were
questioning him. In an hour, at the most, you won't know that it
happened. Once more, all my apologies. But I had to make sure of
your silence." He bowed again, thanked M. de Velines for his kind
hospitality, took his cane, lit a cigarette, offered one to the
baron, gave a circular sweep with his hat and, in a patronizing
tone, said to Beautrelet:
And he walked away quietly, puffing the smoke of his cigarette into
the servants' faces.
Beautrelet waited for a few minutes. Mme. de Villemon, now calmer,
was watching by her son. He went up to her, with the intention of
making one last appeal to her. Their eyes met. He said nothing. He
had understood that she would never speak now, whatever happened.
There, once more, in that mother's brain, the secret of the Hollow
Needle lay buried as deeply as in the night of the past.
Then he gave up and went away.
It was half-past ten. There was a train at eleven-fifty. He slowly
followed the avenue in the park and turned into the road that led to
"Well, what do you say to that?"
It was Massiban, or rather Lupin, who appeared out of the wood
adjoining the road.
"Was it pretty well contrived, or was it not? Is your old friend
great on the tight-rope, or is he not? I'm sure that you haven't got
over it, eh, and that you're asking yourself whether the so-called
Massiban, member of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres,
ever existed. But, of course, he exists. I'll even show him to you,
if you're good. But, first, let me give you back your revolver.
You're looking to see if it's loaded? Certainly, my lad. There are
five charges left, one of which would be enough to send me ad
patres.--Well, so you're putting it in your pocket? Quite right. I
prefer that to what you did up there.--A nasty little impulse, that,
of yours!--Still, you're young, you suddenly see--in a flash!--that
you've once more been done by that confounded Lupin and that he is
standing there in front of you, at three steps from you--and bang!
You fire!--I'm not angry with you, bless your little heart! To prove
it, I offer you a seat in my 100 h.p. car. Will that suit you?"
He put his fingers to his mouth and whistled.
The contrast was delicious between the venerable appearance of this
elderly Massiban and the schoolboy ways and accent which Lupin was
putting on. Beautrelet could not help laughing.
"He's laughed! He's laughed!" cried Lupin, jumping for joy. "You
see, baby, what you fall short in is the power of smiling; you're a
trifle serious for your age. You're a very likeable boy, you have a
charming candor and simplicity--but you have no sense of humor." He
placed himself in front of him. "Look here, bet you I make you cry!
Do you know how I was able to follow up all your inquiry, how I knew
of the letter Massiban wrote you and his appointment to meet you
this morning at the Chateau de Velines? Through the prattle of your
friend, the one you're staying with. You confide in that idiot and
he loses no time, but goes and tells everything to his best girl.
And his best girl has no secrets for Lupin.--What did I tell you?
I've made you feel, anyhow; your eyes are quite wet!--Friendship
betrayed: that upsets you, eh? Upon my word, you're wonderful! I
could take you in my arms and hug you! You always wear that look of
astonishment which goes straight to my heart.--I shall never forget
the other evening at Gaillon, when you consulted me.--Yes, I was the
old notary!--But why don't you laugh, youngster? As I said, you have
no sense of a joke. Look here, what you want is--what shall I call
it?--imagination, imaginative impulse. Now, I'm full of imaginative
A motor was heard panting not far off. Lupin seized Beautrelet
roughly by the arm and in a cold voice, looking him straight in the
"You're going to keep quiet now, aren't you? You can see there's
nothing to be done. Then what's the use of wasting your time and
energy? There are plenty of highway robbers in the world. Run after
them and let me be--if not!--It's settled, isn't it?"
He shook him as though to enforce his will upon him. Then he
"Fool that I am! You leave me alone? You're not one of those who let
go! Oh, I don't know what restrains me! In half a dozen turns of the
wrist, I could have you bound and gagged--and, in two hours, safe
under lock and key, for some months to come. And then I could twist
my thumbs in all security, withdraw to the peaceful retreat prepared
for me by my ancestors, the Kings of France, and enjoy the treasures
which they have been good enough to accumulate for me. But no, it is
doomed that I must go on blundering to the end. I can't help it, we
all have our weaknesses--and I have one for you. Besides, it's not
done yet. From now until you put your finger into the hollow of the
Needle, a good deal of water will flow under the bridges. Dash it
all, it took me ten days! Me! Lupin! You will want ten years, at
least! There's that much distance between us, after all!"
The motor arrived, an immense closed car. Lupin opened the door and
Beautreiet gave a cry. There was a man inside and that man was
Lupin, or rather Massiban. Suddenly understanding, he burst out
laughing. Lupin said:
"Don't be afraid, he's sound asleep. I promised that you should see
him. Do you grasp the situation now? At midnight, I knew of your
appointment at the castle. At seven in the morning, I was there.
When Massiban passed, I had only to collect him--give him a tiny
prick with a needle--and the thing--was done. Sleep old chap, sleep
away. We'll set you down on the slope. That's it--there--capital--
right in the sun, then you won't catch cold--good! And our hat in
our hand.--Spare a copper, kind gentleman!--Oh. my dear old
Massiban, so you were after Arsene Lupin!"
It was really a huge joke to see the two Massibans face to face, one
asleep with his head on his chest, the other seriously occupied in
paying him every sort of attention and respect:
"Pity a poor blind man! There, Massiban, here's two sous and my
visiting-card. And now, my lads, off we go at the fourth speed. Do
you hear, driver? You've got to do seventy-five miles an hour. Jump
in, Isidore. There's a full sitting of the Institute to-day, and
Massiban is to read a little paper, on I don't know what, at half-
past three. Well, he'll read them his little paper. I'll dish them
up a complete Massiban, more real than the real one, with my own
ideas, on the lacustrine inscriptions. I don't have an opportunity
of lecturing at the Institute ever day!--Faster, chauffeur: we're
only doing seventy-one and a half!--Are you afraid? Remember you're
with Lupin!--Ah, Isidore, and then people say that life is
monotonous! Why, life's an adorable thing, my boy; only one has to
know--and I know--. Wasn't it enough to make a man jump out of his
skin for joy, just now, at the castle, when you were chattering with
old Velines and I, up against the window, was tearing out the pages
of the historic book? And then, when you were questioning the Dame
de Villemon about the Hollow Needle! Would she speak? Yes, she
would--no, she wouldn't--yes--no. It gave me gooseflesh, I assure
you.--If she spoke, I should have to build up my life anew, the
whole scaffolding was destroyed.--Would the footman come in time?
Yes--no--there he is.--But Beautrelet will unmask me! Never! He's
too much of a flat! Yes, though--no--there, he's done it--no, he
hasn't--yes--he's eyeing me--that's it--he's feeling for his
revolver!--Oh, the delight of it!--Isidore, you're talking too much,
you'll hurt yourself!--Let's have a snooze, shall we?--I'm dying of
Beautrelet looked at him. He seemed almost asleep already. He slept.
The motor-car, darting through space, rushed toward a horizon that
was constantly reached and as constantly retreated. There was no
impression of towns, villages, fields or forests; simply space,
space devoured, swallowed up.
Beautrelet looked at his traveling companion, for a long time, with
eager curiosity and also with a keen wish to fathom his real
character through the mask that covered it. And he thought of the
circumstances that confined them, like that, together, in the close
contact of that motor car. But, after the excitement and
disappointment of the morning, tired in his turn, he too fell
When he woke, Lupin was reading. Beautrelet leant over to see the
title of the book. It was the Epistolae ad Lucilium of Seneca the
FROM CAESAR TO LUPIN
Dash it all, it took me ten days! Me! Lupin!
You will want ten years, at least!--
These words, uttered by Lupin after leaving the Chateau de Velines,
had no little influence on Beautrelet's conduct.
Though very calm in the main and invariably master of himself,
Lupin, nevertheless, was subject to moments of exaltation, of a more
or less romantic expansiveness, at once theatrical and good-humored,
when he allowed certain admissions to escape him, certain imprudent
speeches which a boy like Beautrelet could easily turn to profit.
Rightly or wrongly. Beautrelet read one of these involuntary
admissions into that phrase. He was entitled to conclude that, if
Lupin drew a comparison between his own efforts and Beautrelet's in
pursuit of the truth about the Hollow Needle, it was because the two
of them possessed identical means of attaining their object, because
Lupin had no elements of success different from those possessed by
his adversary. The chances were alike. Now, with the same chances,
the same elements of success, the same means, ten days had been
enough for Lupin.
What were those elements, those means, those chances? They were
reduced, when all was said, to a knowledge of the pamphlet published
in 1815, a pamphlet which Lupin, no doubt, like Massiban, had found
by accident and thanks to which he had succeeded in discovering the
indispensable document in Marie Antoinette's book of hours.
Therefore, the pamphlet and the document were the only two
fundamental facts upon which Lupin had relied. With these he had
built up the whole edifice. He had had no extraneous aid. The study
of the pamphlet and the study of the document--full stop--that was
Well, could not Beautrelet confine himself to the same ground? What
was the use of an impossible struggle? What was the use of those
vain investigations, in which, even supposing that he avoided the
pitfalls that were multiplied under his feet, he was sure, in the
end, to achieve the poorest of results?
His decision was clear and immediate; and, in adopting it, he had
the happy instinct that he was on the right path. He began by
leaving his Janson-de-Sailly schoolfellow, without indulging in
useless recriminations, and, taking his portmanteau with him, went
and installed himself, after much hunting about, in a small hotel
situated in the very heart of Paris. This hotel he did not leave for
days. At most, he took his meals at the table d'hote. The rest of
the time, locked in his room, with the window-curtains close-drawn,
he spent in thinking.
"Ten days," Arsene Lupin had said.
Beautrelet, striving to forget all that he had done and to remember
only the elements of the pamphlet and the document, aspired eagerly
to keep within the limit of those ten days. However the tenth day
passed and the eleventh and the twelfth; but, on the thirteenth day,
a gleam lit up his brain and, very soon, with the bewildering
rapidity of those ideas which develop in us like miraculous plants,
the truth emerged, blossomed, gathered strength. On the evening of
the thirteenth day, he certainly did not know the answer to the
problem, but he knew, to a certainty, one of the methods which Lupin
had, beyond a doubt, employed.
It was a very simple method, hinging on this one question: Is there
a link of any sort uniting all the more or less important historic
events with which the pamphlet connects the mystery of the Hollow
The great diversity of these events made the question difficult to
answer. Still, the profound examination to which Beautrelet applied
himself ended by pointing to one essential characteristic which was
common to them all. Each one of them, without exception, had
happened within the boundaries of the old kingdom of Neustria, which
correspond very nearly with those of our present-day Normandy. All
the heroes of the fantastic adventure are Norman, or become Norman,
or play their part in the Norman country.
What a fascinating procession through the ages! What a rousing
spectacle was that of all those barons, dukes and kings, starting
from such widely opposite points to meet in this particular corner
of the world! Beautrelet turned the pages of history at haphazard:
it was Rolf, or Rou, or Rollo, first Duke of Normandy, who was
master of the secret of the Needle, according to the treaty of
It was William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England,
whose bannerstaff was pierced like a needle!
It was at Rouen that the English burnt Joan of Arc, mistress of the
And right at the beginning of the adventure, who is that chief of
the Caleti who pays his ransom to Caesar with the secret of the
Needle but the chief of the men of the Caux country, which lies in
the very heart of Normandy?
The supposition becomes more definite. The field narrows. Rouen, the
banks of the Seine, the Caux country: it really seems as though all
roads lead in that direction. Two kings of France are mentioned more
particularly, after the secret is lost by the Dukes of Normandy and
their heirs, the kings of England, and becomes the royal secret of
France; and these two are King Henry IV., who laid siege to Rouen
and won the battle of Arques, near Dieppe, and Francis I., who
founded the Havre and uttered that suggestive phrase:
"The kings of France carry secrets that often decide the fate of
Rouen, Dieppe, the Havre: the three angles of the triangle, the
three large towns that occupy the three points. In the centre, the
The seventeenth century arrives. Louis XIV. burns the book in which
a person unknown reveals the truth. Captain de Larbeyrie masters a
copy, profits by the secret thus obtained, steals a certain number
of jewels and dies by the hand of highway murderers. Now at which
spot is the ambush laid? At Gaillon! At Gaillon, a little town on
the road leading from Havre, Rouen or Dieppe to Paris!
A year later, Louis XIV. buys a domain and builds the Chateau de
l'Aiguille. Where does he select his site? In the Midlands of
France, with the result that the curious are thrown off the scent
and do not hunt about in Normandy.
Rouen, Dieppe, the Havre--the Cauchois triangle--everything lies
there. On one side, the sea; on another, the Seine: on the third,
the two valleys that lead from Rouen to Dieppe.
A light flashed across Beautrelet's mind. That extent of ground,
that country of the high tablelands which run from the cliffs of the
Seine to the cliffs of the Channel almost invariably constituted the
field of operations of Arsene Lupin. For ten years, it was just this
district which he parcelled out for his purposes, as though he had
his haunt in the very centre of the region with which, the legend of
the Hollow Needle was most closely connected.
The affair of Baron Cahorn? [Footnote: The Seven of Hearts, by
Maurice Leblanc. II; Arsene Lupin in Prison]Or the banks of the
Seine, between Rouen and the Havre.
The Thibermenil case? [Footnote: The Seven of Hearts. IX: Holmlock
Shears Arrives Too Late.] At the other end of the tableland, between
Rouen and Dieppe.
The Gruchet, Montigny, Crasville burglaries? In the midst of the
Where was Lupin going when he was attacked and bound hand and foot,
in his compartment by Pierre Onfrey, the Auteuil murderer?
[Footnote: The Seven of Hearts. IV: The Mysterious Railway-
passenger.] To Rouen.
Where was Holmlock Shears, Lupin's prisoner, put on board ship?
[Footnote: Arsene Lupin versus Holmlock Shears, by Maurice Leblanc,
Chapter V: Kidnapped.] Near the Havre.
And what was the scene of the whole of the present tragedy?
Ambrumesy, on the road between the Havre and Dieppe.
Rouen, Dieppe, the Havre: always the Cauchois triangle.
And so, a few years earlier, possessing the pamphlet and knowing the
hiding-place in which Marie Antoinette had concealed the document,
Arsene Lupin had ended by laying his hand on the famous book of
hours. Once in possession of the document, he took the field,
"found" and settled down as in a conquered country.
Beautrelet took the field.
He set out in genuine excitement, thinking of the same journey which
Lupin had taken, of the same hopes with which he must have throbbed
when he thus went in search of the tremendous secret which was to
arm him with so great a power. Would his, Beautrelet's efforts have
the same victorious results?
He left Rouen early in the morning, on foot, with his face very much
disguised and his bag at the end of a stick on his shoulder, like an
apprentice doing his round of France. He walked straight to Duclair,
where he lunched. On leaving this town, he followed the Seine and
practically did not lose sight of it again. His instinct,
strengthened, moreover, by numerous influences, always brought him
back to the sinuous banks of the stately river. When the Chateau du
Malaquis was robbed, the objects stolen from Baron Cahorn's
collection were sent by way of the Seine. The old carvings removed
from the chapel at Ambrumesy were carried to the Seine bank. He
pictured the whole fleet of pinnaces performing a regular service
between Rouen and the Havre and draining the works of art and
treasures from a countryside to dispatch them thence to the land of
"I'm burning! I'm burning!" muttered the boy, gasping under the
truth, which came to him in a mighty series of shocks and took away
The checks encountered on the first few days, did not discourage
him. He had a firm and profound belief in the correctness of the
supposition that was guiding him. It was bold, perhaps, and
extravagant; no matter: it was worthy of the adversary pursued. The
supposition was on a level with the prodigious reality that bore the
name of Lupin. With a man like that, of what good could it be to
look elsewhere than in the domain of the enormous, the exaggerated,
Jumieges, the Mailleraye, Saint-Wandrille, Caudebec, Tancarville,
Quillebeuf were places filled with his memories. How often he must
have contemplated the glory of their Gothic steeples or the splendor
of their immense ruins!
But the Havre, the neighborhood of the Havre drew Isidore like a
"The kings of France carry secrets that often decide the fate of
Cryptic words which, suddenly, for Beautrelet, shone bright with
clearness! Was this not an exact statement of the reasons that
determined Francis I. to create a town on this spot and was not the
fate of the Havre-de-Grace linked with the very secret of the
"That's it, that's it," stammered Beautrelet, excitedly. "The old
Norman estuary, one of the essential points, one of the original
centres around which our French nationality was formed, is completed
by those two forces, one in full view, alive, known to all, the new
port commanding the ocean and opening on the world; the other dim
and obscure, unknown and all the more alarming, inasmuch as it is
invisible and impalpable. A whole side of the history of France and
of the royal house is explained by the Needle, even as it explains
the whole story of Arsene Lupin. The same sources of energy and
power supply and renew the fortunes of kings and of the adventurer."
Beautrelet ferreted and snuffed from village to village, from the
river to the sea, with his nose in the wind, his ears pricked,
trying to compel the inanimate things to surrender their deep
meaning. Ought this hill-slope to be questioned? Or that forest? Or
the houses of this hamlet? Or was it among the insignificant phrases
spoken by that peasant yonder that he might hope to gather the one
little illuminating word?
One morning, he was lunching at an inn, within sight of Honfleur,
the old city of the estuary. Opposite him was sitting one of those
heavy, red-haired Norman horse-dealers who do the fairs of the
district, whip in hand and clad in a long smock-frock. After a
moment, it seemed to Beautrelet that the man was looking at him with
a certain amount of attention, as though he knew him or, at least,
was trying to recognize him.
"Pooh," he thought, "there's some mistake: I've never seen that
merchant before, nor he me."
As a matter of fact, the man appeared to take no further interest in
him. He lit his pipe, called for coffee and brandy, smoked and
When Beautrelet had finished his meal, he paid and rose to go. A
group of men entered just as he was about to leave and he had to
stand for a few seconds near the table at which the horse-dealer
sat. He then heard the man say in a low voice:
"Good-afternoon, M. Beautrelet."
Without hesitation, Isidore sat down beside the man and said:
"Yes, that is my name--but who are you? How did you know me?"
"That's not difficult--and yet I've only seen your portrait in the
papers. But you are so badly--what do you call it in French--so
He had a pronounced foreign accent and Beautrelet seemed to
perceive, as he looked at him, that he too wore a facial disguise
that entirely altered his features.
"Who are you?" he repeated. "Who are you?"
The stranger smiled:
"Don't you recognize me?"
"No, I never saw you before."
"Nor I you. But think. The papers print my portrait also--and pretty
often. Well, have you got it?"
It was an amusing and, at the same time, a significant meeting. The
boy at once saw the full bearing of it. After an exchange of
compliments, he said to Shears:
"I suppose that you are here--because of 'him'?"
"So--so--you think we have a chance--in this direction."
"I'm sure of it."
Beautrelet's delight at finding that Shears's opinion agreed with
his own was not unmingled with other feelings. If the Englishman
attained his object, it meant that, at the very best, the two would
share the victory; and who could tell that Shears would not attain
"Have you any proofs? Any clues?"
"Don't be afraid," grinned the Englishman, who understood his
uneasiness. "I am not treading on your heels. With you, it's the
document, the pamphlet: things that do not inspire me with any great
"And with you?"
"With me, it's something different."
"Should I be indiscreet, if--?"
"Not at all. You remember the story of the coronet, the story of the
Duc de Charmerac?" [Footnote: Arsene Lupin, play in four acts, by
Maurice Leblanc and Francis de Croisset.]
"You remember Victoire, Lupin's old foster-mother, the one whom my
good friend Ganimard allowed to escape in a sham prison-van?"
"I have found Victoire's traces. She lives on a farm, not far from
National Road No. 25. National Road No. 25 is the road from the
Havre to Lille. Through Victoire I shall easily get at Lupin."
"It will take long."
"No matter! I have dropped all my cases. This is the only one I care
about. Between Lupin and me, it's a fight--a fight to the death."
He spoke these words with a sort of ferocity that betrayed all his
bitterness at the humiliations which he had undergone, all his
fierce hatred of the great enemy who had tricked him so cruelly.
"Go away, now," he whispered, "we are observed. It's dangerous. But
mark my words: on the day when Lupin and I meet face to face, it
will be--it will be tragic."
Beautrelet felt quite reassured on leaving Shears: he need not fear
that the Englishman would gain on him. And here was one more proof
which this chance interview had brought him: the road from the Havre
to Lille passes through Dieppe! It is the great seaside road of the
Caux country, the coast road commanding the Channel cliffs! And it
was on a farm near this road that Victoire was installed, Victoire,
that is to say, Lupin, for one did not move without the other, the
master without the blindly devoted servant.
"I'm burning! I'm burning!" he repeated to himself. "Whenever
circumstances bring me a new element of information, it confirms my
supposition. On the one hand, I have the absolute certainty of the
banks of the Seine; on the other, the certainty of the National
Road. The two means of communication meet at the Havre, the town of
Francis I., the town of the secret. The boundaries are contracting.
The Caux country is not large; and, even so, I have only the western
portion of the Caux country to search."
He set to work with renewed stubbornness:
"Anything that Lupin has found," he kept on saying to himself,
"there is no reason for my not finding."
Certainly, Lupin had some great advantage over him, perhaps a
thorough acquaintance with the country, a precise knowledge of the
local legends, or less than that, a memory: invaluable advantages
these, for he, Beautrelet, knew nothing, was totally ignorant of the
country, which he had first visited at the time of the Ambrumesy
burglary and then only rapidly, without lingering.
But what did it matter? Though he had to devote ten years of his
life to this investigation, he would carry it to a successful issue.
Lupin was there. He could see him, he could feel him there. He
expected to come upon him at the next turn of the road, on the skirt
of the next wood, outside the next village. And, though continually
disappointed, he seemed to find in each disappointment a fresh
reason for persisting.
Often, he would fling himself on the slope by the roadside and
plunge into wild examination of the copy of the document which he
always carried on him, a copy, that is to say, with vowels taking
the place of the figures:
e . a . a . . e . . e . a . . a . .
a . . . e . e . . e . oi . e . . e .
. ou . . e . o . . . e . . e . o . . e
[Illustration: drawing of an outline of paper with writing and
drawing on it--numbers, dots, some letters, signs and symbols...]
ai . ui . . e . . eu . e
Often, also, according to his habit, he would lie down flat on his
stomach in the tall grass and think for hours. He had time enough.
The future belonged to him.
With wonderful patience, he tramped from the Seine to the sea, and
from the sea to the Seine, going gradually farther, retracing his
steps and never quitting the ground until, theoretically speaking,
there was not a chance left of gathering the smallest particle upon
He studied and explored Montivilliers and Saint-Romani and Octeville
and Gonneville and Criquetot.
At night, he knocked at the peasants' doors and asked for a lodging.
After dinner, they smoked together and chatted. He made them tell
him the stories which they told one another on the long winter
nights. And he never omitted to insinuate, slily:
"What about the Needle? The legend of the Hollow Needle? Don't you
"Upon my word, I don't--never heard of it--"
"Just think--an old wives' tale--something that has to do with a
needle. An enchanted needle, perhaps.--I don't know--"
Nothing. No legend, no recollection. And the next morning he walked
blithely away again.
One day, he passed through the pretty village of Saint-Jouin, which
overlooks the sea, and descending among the chaos of rocks that have
slipped from cliffs, he climbed up to the tableland and went in the
direction of the dry valley of Bruneval, Cap d'Antifer and the
little creek of Belle-Plage. He was walking gaily and lightly,
feeling a little tired, perhaps, but glad to be alive, so glad,
even, that he forgot Lupin and the mystery of the Hollow Needle and
Victoire and Shears, and interested himself in the sight of nature:
the blue sky, the great emerald sea, all glittering in the sunshine.
Some straight slopes and remains of brick walls, in which he seemed
to recognize the vestiges of a Roman camp, interested him. Then his
eyes fell upon a sort of little castle, built in imitation of an
ancient fort, with cracked turrets and Gothic windows. It stood on a
jagged, rugged, rising promontory, almost detached from the cliff. A
barred gate, flanked by iron hand-rails and bristling spikes,
guarded the narrow passage.
Beautrelet succeeded in climbing over, not without some difficulty.
Over the pointed door, which was closed with an old rusty lock, he
read the words:
FORT DE FREFOSSE
He did not attempt to enter, but, turning to the right, after going
down a little slope, he embarked upon a path that ran along a ridge
of land furnished with a wooden handrail. Right at the end was a
cave of very small dimensions, forming a sort of watch-tower at the
point of the rock in which it was hollowed out, a rock falling
abruptly into the sea.
There was just room to stand up in the middle of the cave.
Multitudes of inscriptions crossed one another on the walls. An
almost square hole, cut in the stone, opened like a dormer window on
the land side, exactly opposite Fort Frefosse, the crenellated top
of which appeared at thirty or forty yards' distance.
Beautrelet threw off his knapsack and sat down. He had had a hard
and tiring day. He fell asleep for a little. Then the cool wind that
blew inside the cave woke him up. He sat for a few minutes without
moving, absent-minded, vague-eyed. He tried to reflect, to recapture
his still torpid thoughts. And, as he recovered his consciousness,
he was on the point of rising, when he received the impression that
his eyes, suddenly fixed, suddenly wide-open, saw--
A thrill shook him from head to foot. His hands clutched
convulsively and he felt the beads of perspiration forming at the
roots of his hair:
"No, no," he stammered. "It's a dream, an hallucination. Let's look:
it's not possible!"
He plunged down on his knees and stooped over. Two huge letters,
each perhaps a foot long, appeared cut in relief in the granite of
the floor. Those two letters, clumsily, but plainly carved, with
their corners rounded and their surface smoothed by the wear and
tear of centuries, were a D and an F.
D and F! Oh, bewildering miracle! D and F: just two letters of the
document! Oh, Beautrelel had no need to consult it to bring before
his mind that group of letters in the fourth line, the line of the
measurements and indications! He knew them well! They were inscribed
for all time at the back of his pupils, encrusted for good and all
in the very substance of his brain!
He rose to his feet, went down the steep road, climbed back along
the old fort, hung on to the spikes of the rail again, in order to
pass, and walked briskly toward a shepherd whose flock was grazing
some way off on a dip in the tableland:
"That cave, over there--that cave--"
His lips trembled and he tried to find the words that would not
come. The shepherd looked at him in amazement. At last, Isidore
"Yes, that cave--over there--to the right of the fort. Has it a
"Yes, I should think so. All the Etretat folk like to call it the
"What?--What?--What's that you say?"
"Why, of course--it's the Chambre des Demoiselles."
Isidore felt like flying at his throat, as though all the truth
lived in that man and he hoped to get it from him at one swoop, to
tear it from him.
The Demoiselles! One of the words, one of the only three known words
of the document!
A whirlwind of madness shook Beautrelet where he stood. And it rose
all around him, blew upon him like a tempestuous squall that came
from the sea, that came from the land, that came from every
direction and whipped him with great lashes of the truth.
He understood. The document appeared to him in its real sense. The
Chambre des Demoiselles--Etretat--
"That's it," he thought, his brain filled with light, "it must be
that. But why didn't I guess earlier?"
He said to the shepherd, in a low voice:
"That will do--go away--you can go--thank you."
The man, not knowing what to think, whistled to his dog and went.
Left alone, Beautrelet returned to the fort. He had almost passed it
when, suddenly, he dropped to the ground and lay cowering against a
piece of wall. And, wringing his hands, he thought:
"I must be mad! If 'he' were to see me! Or his accomplices! I've
been moving about for an hour--!"
He did not stir another limb.
The sun went down. Little by little, the night mingled with the day,
blurring the outline of things.
Then, with little imperceptible movements, flat on his stomach,
gliding, crawling, he crept along one of the points of the
promontory to the extreme edge of the cliff.
He reached it. Stretching out his hands, he pushed aside some tufts
of grass and his head appeared over the precipice.
Opposite him, almost level with the cliff, in the open sea rose an
enormous rock, over eighty yards high, a colossal obelisk, standing
straight on its granite base, which showed at the surface of the
water, and tapering toward the summit, like the giant tooth of a
monster of the deep. White with the dirty gray white of the cliff,
the awful monolith was streaked with horizontal lines marked by
flint and displaying the slow work of the centuries, which had
heaped alternate layers of lime and pebble-stone one atop of the
Here and there, a fissure, a break; and, wherever these occurred, a
scrap of earth, with grass and leaves.
And all this was mighty and solid and formidable, with the look of
an indestructible thing against which the furious assault of the
waves and storms could not prevail. And it was definite and
permanent and grand, despite the grandeur of the cliffy rampart that
commanded it, despite the immensity of the space in which it stood.
Beautrelet's nails dug into the soil like the claws of an animal
ready to leap upon its prey. His eyes penetrated the wrinkled
texture of the rock, penetrated its skin, so it seemed to him, its
very flesh. He touched it, felt it, took cognizance and possession
of it, absorbed and assimilated it.
The horizon turned crimson with all the flames of the vanished sun;
and long, red clouds, set motionless in the sky, formed glorious
landscapes, fantastic lagoons, fiery plains, forests of gold, lakes
of blood, a whole glowing and peaceful phantasmagoria.
The blue of the sky grew darker. Venus shone with a marvelous
brightness; then other stars lit up, timid as yet.
And Beautrelet suddenly closed his eyes and convulsively pressed his
folded arms to his forehead. Over there--oh, he felt as though he
would die for joy, so great was the cruel emotion that wrung his
heart!--over there, almost at the top of the Needle of Etretat, a
little below the extreme point round which the sea-mews fluttered, a
thread of smoke came filtering through a crevice, as though from an
invisible chimney, a thread of smoke rose in slow spirals in the
calm air of the twilight.
The Etretat Needle was hollow!
Was it a natural phenomenon, an excavation produced by internal
cataclysms or by the imperceptible action of the rushing sea and the
soaking rain? Or was it a superhuman work executed by human beings,
Gauls, Celts, prehistoric men?
These, no doubt, were insoluble questions; and what did it matter?
The essence of the thing was contained in this fact: The Needle was
hollow. At forty or fifty yards from that imposing arch which is
called the Porte d'Aval and which shoots out from the top of the
cliff, like the colossal branch of a tree, to take root in the
submerged rocks, stands an immense limestone cone; and this cone is
no more than the shell of a pointed cap poised upon the empty
A prodigious revelation! After Lupin, here was Beautrelet
discovering the key to the great riddle that had loomed over more
than twenty centuries! A key of supreme importance to whoever
possessed it in the days of old, in those distant times when hordes
of barbarians rode through and overran the old world! A magic key
that opens the cyclopean cavern to whole tribes fleeing before the
enemy! A mysterious key that guards the door of the most inviolable
shelter! An enchanted key that gives power and ensures
Because he knows this key, Caesar is able to subdue Gaul. Because
they know it, the Normans force their sway upon the country and,
from there, later, backed by that support, conquer the neighboring
island, conquer Sicily, conquer the East, conquer the new world!
Masters of the secret, the Kings of England lord it over France,
humble her, dismember her, have themselves crowned at Paris. They
lose the secret; and the rout begins.
Masters of the secret, the Kings of France push back and overstep
the narrow limits of their dominion, gradually founding a great
nation and radiating with glory and power. They forget it or know
not how to use it; and death, exile, ruin follow.
An invisible kingdom, in mid-water and at ten fathoms from land! An
unknown fortress, taller than the towers of Notre Dame and built
upon a granite foundation larger than a public square! What strength
and what security! From Paris to the sea, by the Seine. There, the
Havre, the new town, the necessary town. And, sixteen miles thence,
the Hollow Needle, the impregnable sanctuary!
It is a sanctuary and also a stupendous hiding-place. All the
treasures of the kings, increasing from century to century, all the
gold of France, all that they extort from the people, all that they
snatch from the clergy, all the booty gathered on the battle-fields
of Europe lie heaped up in the royal cave. Old Merovingian gold
sous, glittering crown-pieces, doubloons, ducats, florins, guineas;
and the precious stones and the diamonds; and all the jewels and all
the ornaments: everything is there. Who could discover it? Who could
ever learn the impenetrable secret of the Needle? Nobody.
And Lupin becomes that sort of really disproportionate being whom we
know, that miracle incapable of explanation so long as the truth
remains in the shadow. Infinite though the resources of his genius
be, they cannot suffice for the mad struggle which he maintains
against society. He needs other, more material resources. He needs a
sure place of retreat, he needs the certainty of impunity, the peace
that allows of the execution of his plans.
Without the Hollow Needle, Lupin is incomprehensible, a myth, a
character in a novel, having no connection with reality.
Master of the secret--and of such a secret!--he becomes simply a man
like another, but gifted with the power of wielding in a superior
manner the extraordinary weapon with which destiny has endowed him.
So the Needle was hollow.
It remained to discover how one obtained access to it.
From the sea, obviously. There must be, on the side of the offing,
some fissure where boats could land at certain hours of the tide.
But on the side of the land?
Beautrelet lay until ten o'clock at night hanging over the
precipice, with his eyes riveted on the shadowy mass formed by the
pyramid, thinking and pondering with all the concentrated effort of
Then he went down to Etretat, selected the cheapest hotel, dined,
went up to his room and unfolded the document.
It was the merest child's play to him now to establish its exact
meaning. He at once saw that the three vowels of the word Etretat
occurred in the first line, in their proper order and at the
necessary intervals. This first line now read as follows:
e . a . a .. etretat . a ..
What words could come before Etretat? Words, no doubt, that referred
to the position of the Needle with regard to the town. Now the
Needle stood on the left, on the west--He ransacked his memory and,
recollecting that westerly winds are called vents d'aval on the
coast and that the nearest porte was known as the Porte d'Aval, he
"En aval d'Etretat . a .."
The second line was that containing the word Demoiselles and, at
once seeing, in front of that word, the series of all the vowels
that form part of the words la chambre des, he noted the two
"En aval d'Etretat. La Chambre des Demoiselles."
The third line gave him more trouble; and it was not until some
groping that, remembering the position, near the Chambre des
Demoiselles, of the Fort de Frefosse, he ended by almost completely
reconstructing the document:
"En aval d'Etretat. La Chambre des Demoiselles. Sous le Fort de
Frefosse. L'Aiguille creuse."
These were the four great formulas, the essential and general
formulas which you had to know. By means of them, you turned en
aval, that is to say, below or west of Etretat, entered the Chambre
des Demoiselles, in all probability passed under Fort Frefosse and
thus arrived at the Needle.
How? By means of the indications and measurements that constituted
the fourth line:
[Illustration: drawing of an outline of paper with writing and
drawing on it--numbers, dots, some letters, signs and symbols...]
These were evidently the more special formulas to enable you to find
the outlet through which you made your way and the road that led to
Beautrelet at once presumed--and his surmise was no more than the
logical consequence of the document--that, if there really was a
direct communication between the land and the obelisk of the Needle,
the underground passage must start from the Chambre des Demoiselles,
pass under Fort Frefosse, descend perpendicularly the three hundred
feet of cliff and, by means of a tunnel contrived under the rocks of
the sea, end at the Hollow Needle.
Which was the entrance to the underground passage? Did not the two
letters D and F, so plainly cut, point to it and admit to it, with
the aid, perhaps, of some ingenious piece of mechanism?
The whole of the next morning, Isidore strolled about Etretat and
chatted with everybody he met, in order to try and pick up useful
information. At last, in the afternoon, he went up the cliff.
Disguised as a sailor, he had made himself still younger and, in a
pair of trousers too short for him and a fishing jersey, he looked a
mere scape-grace of twelve or thirteen.
As soon as he entered the cave, he knelt down before the letters.
Here a disappointment awaited him. It was no use his striking them,
pushing them, manipulating them in every way: they refused to move.
And it was not long, in fact, before he became aware that they were
really unable to move and that, therefore, they controlled no
And yet--and yet they must mean something! Inquiries which he had
made in the village went to show that no one had ever been able to
explain their existence and that the Abbe Cochet, in his valuable
little book on Etretat,[Footnote: Les Origines d'Etretat. The Abbe
Cochet seems to conclude, in the end, that the two letters are the
initials of a passer-by. The revelations now made prove the fallacy
of the theory.] had also tried in vain to solve this little puzzle.
But Isidore knew what the learned Norman archaeologist did not know,
namely, that the same two letters figured in the document, on the
line containing the indications. Was it a chance coincidence:
Impossible. Well, then--?
An idea suddenly occurred to him, an idea so reasonable, so simple
that he did not doubt its correctness for a second. Were not that D
and that F the initials of the two most important words in the
document, the words that represented--together with the Needle--the
essential stations on the road to be followed: the Chambre des
Demoiselles and Fort Frefosse: D for Demoiselles, F for Frefosse:
the connection was too remarkable to be a mere accidental fact.
In that case, the problem stood thus: the two letters D F represent
the relation that exists between the Chambre des Demoiselles and
Fort Frefosse, the single letter D, which begins the line,
represents the Demoiselles, that is to say, the cave in which you
have to begin by taking up your position, and the single letter F,
placed in the middle of the line, represents Frefosse, that is to
say, the probable entrance to the underground passage.
Between these various signs, are two more: first, a sort of
irregular rectangle, marked with a stripe in the left bottom corner,
and, next, the figure 19, signs which obviously indicate to those
inside the cave the means of penetrating beneath the fort.
The shape of this rectangle puzzled Isidore. Was there around him,
on the walls of the cave, or at any rate within reach of his eyes,
an inscription, anything whatever, affecting a rectangular shape?
He looked for a long time and was on the point of abandoning that
particular scent when his eyes fell upon the little opening, pierced
in the rock, that acted as a window to the chamber.
Now the edges of this opening just formed a rectangle: corrugated,
uneven, clumsy, but still a rectangle; and Beautrelet at once saw
that, by placing his two feet on the D and the F carved in the stone
floor--and this explained the stroke that surmounted the two letters
in the document--he found himself at the exact height of the window!
He took up his position in this place and gazed out. The window
looking landward, as we know, he saw, first, the path that connected
the cave with the land, a path hung between two precipices; and,
next, he caught sight of the foot of the hillock on which the fort
stood. To try and see the fort, Beautrelet leaned over to the left
and it was then that he understood the meaning of the curved stripe,
the comma that marked the left bottom corner in the document: at the
bottom on the left-hand side of the window, a piece of flint
projected and the end of it was curved like a claw. It suggested a
regular shooter's mark. And, when a man applied his eye to this
mark, he saw cut out, on the slope of the mound facing him, a
restricted surface of land occupied almost entirely by an old brick
wall, a remnant of the original Fort Frefosse or of the old Roman
oppidum built on this spot.
Beautrelet ran to this piece of wall, which was, perhaps, ten yards
long. It was covered with grass and plants. There was no indication
of any kind visible. And yet that figure 19?
He returned to the cave, took from his pocket a ball of string and a
tape-measure, tied the string to the flint corner, fastened a pebble
at the nineteenth metre and flung it toward the land side. The
pebble at most reached the end of the path.
"Idiot that I am!" thought Beautrelet. "Who reckoned by metres in
those days? The figure 19 means 19 fathoms [Footnote: The toise, or
fathom, measured 1.949 metres.--Translator's Note.] or nothing!"
Having made the calculation, he ran out the twine, made a knot and
felt about on the piece of wall for the exact and necessarily one
point at which the knot, formed at 37 metres from the window of the
Demoiselles, should touch the Frefosse wall. In a few moments, the
point of contact was established. With his free hand, he moved aside
the leaves of mullein that had grown in the interstices. A cry
escaped him. The knot, which he held pressed down with his fore-
finger, was in the centre of a little cross carved in relief on a
brick. And the sign that followed on the figure 19 in the document
was a cross!
It needed all his will-power to control the excitement with which he
was overcome. Hurriedly, with convulsive fingers, he clutched the
cross and, pressing upon it, turned it as he would have turned the
spokes of a wheel. The brick heaved. He redoubled his effort; it
moved no further. Then, without turning, he pressed harder. He at
once felt the brick give way. And, suddenly, there was the click of
a bolt that is released, the sound of a lock opening and, on the
right of the brick, to the width of about a yard, the wall swung
round on a pivot and revealed the orifice of an underground passage.
Like a madman, Beautrelet seized the iron door in which the bricks
were sealed, pulled it back, violently and closed it. Astonishment,
delight, the fear of being surprised convulsed his face so as to
render it unrecognizable. He beheld the awful vision of all that had
happened there, in front of that door, during twenty centuries; of
all those people, initiated into the great secret, who had
penetrated through that issue: Celts, Gauls, Romans, Normans,
Englishmen, Frenchmen, barons, dukes, kings--and, after all of them,
Arsene Lupin--and, after Lupin, himself, Beautrelet. He felt that
his brain was slipping away from him. His eyelids fluttered. He fell
fainting and rolled to the bottom of the slope, to the very edge of
His task was done, at least the task which he was able to accomplish
alone, with his unaided resources.
That evening, he wrote a long letter to the chief of the detective
service, giving a faithful account of the results of his
investigations and revealing the secret of the Hollow Needle. He
asked for assistance to complete his work and gave his address.
While waiting for the reply, he spent two consecutive nights in the
Chambre des Demoiselles. He spent them overcome with fear, his
nerves shaken with a terror which was increased by the sounds of the
night. At every moment, he thought he saw shadows approach in his
direction. People knew of his presence in the cave--they were
coming--they were murdering him!
His eyes, however, staring madly before them, sustained by all the
power of his will, clung to the piece of wall.
On the first night, nothing stirred; but, on the second, by the
light of the stars and a slender crescent-moon, he saw the door open
and figures emerge from the darkness: he counted two, three, four,
five of them.
It seemed to him that those five men were carrying fairly large
loads. He followed them for a little way. They cut straight across
the fields to the Havre road; and he heard the sound of a motor car
He retraced his steps, skirting a big farm. But, at the turn of the
road that ran beside it, he had only just time to scramble up a
slope and hide behind some trees. More men passed--four, five men--
all carrying packages. And, two minutes later, another motor
This time, he had not the strength to return to his post; and he
went back to bed.
When he woke and had finished dressing, the hotel waiter brought him
a letter. He opened it. It contained Ganimard's card.
"At last!" cried Beautrelet, who, after so hard a campaign, was
really feeling the need of a comrade-in-arms.
He ran downstairs with outstretched hands. Ganimard took them,
looked at him for a moment and said:
"You're a fine fellow, my lad!"
"Pooh!" he said. "Luck has served me."
"There's no such thing as luck with 'him,'" declared the inspector,
who always spoke of Lupin in a solemn tone and without mentioning
He sat down:
"So we've got him!"
"Just as we've had him twenty times over," said Beautrelet,
"Yes, but to-day--"
"To-day, of course, the case is different. We know his retreat, his
stronghold, which means, when all is said, that Lupin is Lupin. He
can escape. The Etretat Needle cannot."
"Why do you suppose that he will escape?" asked Ganimard, anxiously.
"Why do you suppose that he requires to escape?" replied Beautrelet.
"There is nothing to prove that he is in the Needle at present. Last
night, eleven of his men left it. He may be one of the eleven."
"You are right. The great thing is the Hollow Needle. For the rest,
let us hope that chance will favor us. And now, let us talk."
He resumed his serious voice, his self-important air and said:
"My dear Beautrelet, I have orders to recommend you to observe the
most absolute discretion in regard to this matter."
"Orders from whom?" asked Beautrelet, jestingly. "The prefect of
"Higher than that."
"The prime minister?"
Ganimard lowered his voice:
"Beautrelet, I was at the Elysee last night. They look upon this
matter as a state secret of the utmost gravity. There are serious
reasons for concealing the existence of this citadel--reasons of
military strategy, in particular. It might become a revictualling
centre, a magazine for new explosives, for lately-invented
projectiles, for anything of that sort: the secret arsenal of
France, in fact."
"But how can they hope to keep a secret like this? In the old days,
one man alone held it: the king. To-day, already, there are a good
few of us who know it, without counting Lupin's gang."
"Still, if we gained only ten years', only five years' silence!
Those five years may be--the saving of us."
"But, in order to capture this citadel, this future arsenal, it will
have to be attacked, Lupin must be dislodged. And all this cannot be
done without noise."
"Of course, people will guess something, but they won't know.
Besides, we can but try."
"All right. What's your plan?"
"Here it is, in two words. To begin with, you are not Isidore
Beautrelet and there's no question of Arsene Lupin either. You are
and you remain a small boy of Etretat, who, while strolling about
the place, caught some fellows coming out of an underground passage.
This makes you suspect the existence of a flight of steps which cuts
through the cliff from top to bottom."
"Yes, there are several of those flights of steps along the coast.
For instance, to the right of Etretat, opposite Benouville, they
showed me the Devil's Staircase, which every bather knows. And I say
nothing of the three or four tunnels used by the fishermen."
"So you will guide me and one-half of my men. I shall enter alone,
or accompanied, that remains to be seen. This much is certain, that
the attack must be delivered that way. If Lupin is not in the
Needle, we shall fix up a trap in which he will be caught sooner or
later. If he is there--"
"If he is there, he will escape from the Needle by the other side,
the side overlooking the sea."
"In that case, he will at once be arrested by the other half of my
"Yes, but if, as I presume, you choose a moment when the sea is at
low ebb, leaving the base of the Needle uncovered, the chase will be
public, because it will take place before all the men and women
fishing for mussels, shrimps and shell-fish who swarm on the rocks
"That is why I just mean to select the time when the sea is full."
"In that case, he will make off in a boat."
"Ah, but I shall have a dozen fishing-smacks, each of which will be
commanded by one of my men, and we shall collar him--"
"If he doesn't slip through your dozen smacks, like a fish through
"All right, then I'll sink him."
"The devil you will! Shall you have guns?"
"Why, of course! There's a torpedo-boat at the Havre at this moment.
A telegram from me will bring her to the Needle at the appointed
"How proud Lupin will be! A torpedo-boat! Well, M. Ganimard, I see
that you have provided for everything. We have only to go ahead.
When do we deliver the assault?"
"No, by daylight, at the flood-tide, as the clock strikes ten in the
Under his show of gaiety, Beautrelet concealed a real anguish of
mind. He did not sleep until the morning, but lay pondering over the
most impracticable schemes, one after the other.
Ganimard had left him in order to go to Yport, six or seven miles
from Etretat, where, for prudence's sake, he had told his men to
meet him, and where he chartered twelve fishing smacks, with the
ostensible object of taking soundings along the coast.
At a quarter to ten, escorted by a body of twelve stalwart men, he
met Isidore at the foot of the road that goes up the cliff.
At ten o'clock exactly, they reached the skirt of wall. It was the
At ten o'clock exactly.
"Why, what's the matter with you, Beautrelet?" jeered Ganimard.
"You're quite green in the face!"
"It's as well you can't see yourself, Ganimard," the boy retorted.
"One would think your last hour had come!"
They both had to sit down and Ganimard swallowed a few mouthfuls of
"It's not funk," he said, "but, by Jove, this is an exciting
business! Each time that I'm on the point of catching him, it takes
me like that in the pit of the stomach. A dram of rum?"
"And if you drop behind?"
"That will mean that I'm dead."
"B-r-r-r-r! However, we'll see. And now, open, sesame! No danger of
our being observed, I suppose?"
"No. The Needle is not so high as the cliff, and, besides, there's a
bend in the ground where we are."
Beautrelet went to the wall and pressed upon the brick. The bolt was
released and the underground passage came in sight.
By the gleam of the lanterns which they lit, they saw that it was
cut in the shape of a vault and that both the vaulting and the floor
itself were entirely covered with bricks.
They walked for a few seconds and, suddenly, a staircase appeared.
Beautrelet counted forty-five brick steps, which the slow action of
many footsteps had worn away in the middle.
"Blow!" said Ganimard, holding his head and stopping suddenly, as
though he had knocked against something.
"What is it?"
"Bother!" muttered Beautrelet, looking at it. "And not an easy one
to break down either. It's just a solid block of iron."
"We are done," said Ganimard. "There's not even a lock to it."
"Exactly. That's what gives me hope."
"A door is made to open; and, as this one has no lock, that means
that there is a secret way of opening it."
"And, as we don't know the secret--"
"I shall know it in a minute."
"By means of the document. The fourth line has no other object but
to solve each difficulty as and when it crops up. And the solution
is comparatively easy, because it's not written with a view to
throwing searchers off the scent, but to assisting them."
"Comparatively easy! I don't agree with you," cried Ganimard, who
had unfolded the document. "The number 44 and a triangle with a dot
in it: that doesn't tell us much!"
"Yes, yes, it does! Look at the door. You see it's strengthened, at
each corner, with a triangular slab of iron; and the slabs are fixed
with big nails. Take the left-hand bottom slab and work the nail in
the corner: I'll lay ten to one we've hit the mark."
"You've lost your bet," said Ganimard, after trying.
"Then the figure 44 must mean--"
In a low voice, reflecting as he spoke, Beautrelet continued:
"Let me see--Ganimard and I are both standing on the bottom step of
the staircase--there are 45. Why 45, when the figure in the document
is 44? A coincidence? No. In all this business, there is no such
thing as a coincidence, at least not an involuntary one. Ganimard,
be so good as to move one step higher up. That's it, don't leave
this forty-fourth step. And now I will work the iron nail. And the
trick's done, or I'll eat my boots!"
The heavy door turned on its hinges. A fairly spacious cavern
appeared before their eyes.
"We must be exactly under Fort Frefosse," said Beautrelet. "We have
passed through the different earthy layers by now. There will be no
more brick. We are in the heart of the solid limestone."
The room was dimly lit by a shaft of daylight that came from the
other end. Going up to it, they saw that it was a fissure in the
cliff, contrived in a projecting wall and forming a sort of
observatory. In front of them, at a distance of fifty yards, the
impressive mass of the Needle loomed from the waves. On the right,
quite close, was the arched buttress of the Porte d'Aval and, on the
left, very far away, closing the graceful curve of a large inlet,
another rocky gateway, more imposing still, was cut out of the
cliff; the Manneporte, [Footnote: Magna porta.] which was so wide
and tall that a three-master could have passed through it with all
sail set. Behind and everywhere, the sea.
"I don't see our little fleet," said Beautrelet.
"I know," said Ganimard. "The Porte d'Aval hides the whole of the
coast of Etretat and Yport. But look, over there, in the offing,
that black line, level with the water--"
"That's our fleet of war, Torpedo-boat No. 25. With her there, Lupin
is welcome to break loose--if he wants to study the landscape at the
bottom of the sea."
A baluster marked the entrance to the staircase, near the fissure.
They started on their way down. From time to time, a little window
pierced the wall of the cliff; and, each time, they caught sight of
the Needle, whose mass seemed to them to grow more and more
A little before reaching high-water level, the windows ceased and
all was dark.
Isidore counted the steps aloud. At the three hundred and fifty-
eight, they emerged into a wider passage, which was barred by
another iron door strengthened with slabs and nails.
"We know all about this," said Beautrelet. "The document gives us
357 and a triangle dotted on the right. We have only to repeat the
The second door obeyed like the first. A long, a very long tunnel
appeared, lit up at intervals by the gleam of a lantern swung from
the vault. The walls oozed moisture and drops of water fell to the
ground, so that, to make walking easier a regular pavement of planks
had been laid from end to end.
"We are passing under the sea," said Beautrelet. "Are you coming,
Without replying, the inspector ventured into the tunnel, followed
the wooden foot-plank and stopped before a lantern, which he took
"The utensils may date back to the Middle Ages, but the lighting is
modern," he said. "Our friends use incandescent mantles."
He continued his way. The tunnel ended in another and a larger cave,
with, on the opposite side, the first steps of a staircase that led
"It's the ascent of the Needle beginning," said Ganimard. "This is
But one of his men called him:
"There's another flight here, sir, on the left."
And, immediately afterward, they discovered a third, on the right.
"The deuce!" muttered the inspector. "This complicates matters. If
we go by this way, they'll make tracks by that."
"Shall we separate?" asked Beautrelet.
"No, no--that would mean weakening ourselves. It would be better for
one of us to go ahead and scout."
"I will, if you like--"
"Very well, Beautrelet, you go. I will remain with my men--then
there will be no fear of anything. There may be other roads through
the cliff than that by which we came and several roads also through
the Needle. But it is certain that, between the cliff and the
Needle, there is no communication except the tunnel. Therefore they
must pass through this cave. And so I shall stay here till you come
back. Go ahead, Beautrelet, and be prudent: at the least alarm,
scoot back again."
Isidore disappeared briskly up the middle staircase. At the
thirtieth step, a door, an ordinary wooden door, stopped him. He
seized the handle turned it. The door was not locked.
He entered a room that seemed to him very low owing to its immense
size. Lit by powerful lamps and supported by squat pillars, with
long vistas showing between them, it had nearly the same dimensions
as the Needle itself. It was crammed with packing cases and
miscellaneous objects--pieces of furniture, oak settees, chests,
credence-tables, strong-boxes--a whole confused heap of the kind
which one sees in the basement of an old curiosity shop.
On his right and left, Beautrelet perceived the wells of two
staircases, the same, no doubt, that started from the cave below. He
could easily have gone down, therefore, and told Ganimard. But a new
flight of stairs led upward in front of him and he had the curiosity
to pursue his investigations alone.
Thirty more steps. A door and then a room, not quite so large as the
last, Beautrelet thought. And again, opposite him, an ascending
flight of stairs.
Thirty steps more. A door. A smaller room.
Beautrelet grasped the plan of the works executed inside the Needle.
It was a series or rooms placed one above the other and, therefore,
gradually decreasing in size. They all served as store-rooms.
In the fourth, there was no lamp. A little light filtered in through
clefts in the walls and Beautrelet saw the sea some thirty feet
At that moment, he felt himself so far from Ganimard that a certain
anguish began to take hold of him and he had to master his nerves
lest he should take to his heels. No danger threatened him, however,
and the silence around him was even so great that he asked himself
whether the whole Needle had not been abandoned by Lupin and his
"I shall not go beyond the next floor," he said to himself.
Thirty stairs again and a door. This door was lighter in
construction and modern in appearance. He pushed it open gently,
quite prepared for flight. There was no one there. But the room
differed from the others in its purpose. There were hangings on the
walls, rugs on the floor. Two magnificent sideboards, laden with
gold and silver plate, stood facing each other. The little windows
contrived in the deep, narrow cleft were furnished with glass panes.
In the middle of the room was a richly-decked table, with a lace-
edged cloth, dishes of fruits and cakes, champagne in decanters and
flowers, heaps of flowers.
Three places were laid around the table.
Beautrelet walked up. On the napkins were cards with the names of
the party. He read first:
"Mme. Arsene Lupin."
He took up the third card and started back with surprise. It bore
his own name:
THE TREASURES OF THE KINGS OF FRANCE
A curtain was drawn back.
"Good morning, my dear Beautrelet, you're a little late. Lunch was
fixed for twelve. However, it's only a few minutes--but what's the
matter? Don't you know me? Have I changed so much?"
In the course of his fight with Lupin, Beautrelet had met with many
surprises and he was still prepared, at the moment of the final
catastrophe, to experience any number of further emotions; but the
shock which he received this time was utterly unexpected. It was not
astonishment, but stupefaction, terror. The man who stood before
him, the man whom the brutal force of events compelled him to look
upon as Arsene Lupin, was--Valmeras! Valmeras, the owner of the
Chateau de l'Aiguille! Valmeras, the very man to whom he had applied
for assistance against Arsene Lupin! Valmeras, his companion on the
expedition to Crozant! Valmeras, the plucky friend who had made
Raymonde's escape possible by felling one of Lupin's accomplices, or
pretending to fell him, in the dusk of the great hall! And Valmeras
"You--you--So it's you!" he stammered.
"Why not?" exclaimed Lupin. "Did you think that you knew me for good
and all because you had seen me in the guise of a clergyman or under
the features of M. Massiban? Alas, when a man selects the position
in society which I occupy, he must needs make use of his little
social gifts! If Lupin were not able to change himself, at will,
into a minister of the Church of England or a member of the Academy
of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, it would be a bad lookout for
Lupin! Now Lupin, the real Lupin, is here before you, Beautrelet!
Take a good look at him."
"But then--if it's you--then--Mademoiselle--"
"Yes, Beautrelet, as you say--"
He again drew back the hanging, beckoned and announced:
"Mme. Arsene Lupin."
"Ah," murmured the lad, confounded in spite of everything, "Mlle. de
"No, no," protested Lupin. "Mme. Arsene Lupin, or rather, if you
prefer, Mme. Louis Valmeras, my wedded wife, married to me in
accordance with the strictest forms of law; and all thanks to you,
my dear Beautrelet."
He held out his hand to him.
"All my acknowledgements--and no ill will on your side, I trust?"
Strange to say, Beautrelet felt no ill will at all, no sense of
humiliation, no bitterness. He realized so strongly the immense
superiority of his adversary that he did not blush at being beaten
by him. He pressed the offered hand.
"Luncheon is served, ma'am."
A butler had placed a tray of dishes on the table.
"You must excuse us, Beautrelet: my chef is away and we can only
give you a cold lunch."
Beautrelet felt very little inclined to eat. He sat down, however,
and was enormously interested in Lupin's attitude. How much exactly
did he know? Was he aware of the danger he was running? Was he
ignorant of the presence of Ganimard and his men?
And Lupin continued:
"Yes, thanks to you, my dear friend. Certainly, Raymonde and I loved
each other from the first. Just so, my boy--Raymonde's abduction,
her imprisonment, were mere humbug: we loved each other. But neither
she nor I, when we were free to love, would allow a casual bond at
the mercy of chance, to be formed between us. The position,
therefore, was hopeless for Lupin. Fortunately, it ceased to be so
if I resumed my identity as the Louis Valmeras that I had been from
a child. It was then that I conceived the idea, as you refused to
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