CHAPTER I : NUMBER 514, SERIES 23 --- 3/10
A few minutes later, he dispatched this telegram:
"Credit Foncier,
"Rue Capucines,
"Am owner number 514, series 23; oppose by every legal method payment to any other person.
At almost the same time, the Credit Foncier received another telegram:
"Number 514, series 23, is in my possession.
"Arsene Lupin."
Whenever I sit down to tell one of the numberless adventures which compose the life of Arsene Lupin, I feel a genuine embarrassment, because it is quite clear to me that even the least important of these adventures is known to every one of my readers. As a matter of fact, there is not a move on the part of "our national thief," as he has been happily called, but has been described all over the country, not an exploit but has been studied from every point of view, not an action but has been commented upon with an abundance of detail generally reserved for stories of heroic deeds.
Who, for instance, does not know that strange case of the blonde lady, with the curious episodes which were reported under flaring headlines as "NUMBER 514, SERIES 23!" ... "THE MURDER IN THE AVENUE HENRI-MARTIN!" ... and "THE BLUE DIAMOND!" ... What an excitement there was about the intervention of Holmlock Shears, the famous English detective! What an effervescence surrounded the varying fortunes that marked the struggle between those two great artists! And what a din along the boulevards on the day when the newsboys shouted:
"Arrest of Arsene Lupin!"
My excuse is that I can supply something new: I can furnish the key to the puzzle. There is always a certain mystery about these adventures: I can dispel it. I reprint articles that have been read over and over again; I copy out old interviews: but all these things I rearrange and classify and put to the exact test of truth. My collaborator in this work is Arsene Lupin himself, whose kindness to me is inexhaustible. I am also under an occasional obligation to the unspeakable Wilson, the friend and confidant of Holmlock Shears.
My readers will remember the Homeric laughter that greeted the publication of the two telegrams. The name of Arsene Lupin alone was a guarantee of originality, a promise of amusement for the gallery. And the gallery, in this case, was the whole world.
An inquiry was immediately set on foot by the Credit Foncier and it was ascertained that number 514, series 23, had been sold by the Versailles branch of the Credit Lyonnais to Major Bressy of the artillery. Now the major had died of a fall from his horse; and it appeared that he told his brother officers, some time before his death, that he had been obliged to part with his ticket to a friend.
"That friend was myself," declared M. Gerbois.
"Prove it," objected the governor of the Credit Foncier.
"Prove it? That's quite easy. Twenty people will tell you that I kept up constant relations with the major and that we used to meet at the cafe on the Place d'Armes. It was there that, one day, to oblige him in a moment of financial embarrassment, I took his ticket off him and gave him twenty francs for it."
"Have you any witnesses to the transaction?"
"Then upon what do you base your claim?"
"Upon the letter which he wrote me on the subject."
"What letter?"
"A letter pinned to the ticket."
"Produce it."
"But it was in the stolen writing-desk!"
"Find it."
The letter was communicated to the press by Arsene Lupin. A paragraph inserted in the Echo de France?which has the honour of being his official organ and in which he seems to be one of the principal shareholders?announced that he was placing in the hands of Maitre Detinan, his counsel, the letter which Major Bressy had written to him, Lupin, personally.
There was a burst of delight: Arsene Lupin was represented by counsel! Arsene Lupin, respecting established customs, had appointed a member of the bar to act for him!
The reporters rushed to interview Maitre Detinan, an influential radical deputy, a man endowed with the highest integrity and a mind of uncommon shrewdness, which was, at the same time, somewhat skeptical and given to paradox.
Maitre Detinan was exceedingly sorry to say that he had never had the pleasure of meeting Arsene Lupin, but he had, in point of fact, received his instructions, was greatly flattered at being selected, keenly alive to the honour shown him and determined to defend his client's rights to the utmost. He opened his brief and without hesitation showed the major's letter. It proved the sale of the ticket, but did not mention the purchaser's name. It began, "My dear friend," simply.
"'My dear friend' means me," added Arsene Lupin, in a note enclosing the major's letter. "And the best proof is that I have the letter."
The bevy of reporters at once flew off to M. Gerbois, who could do nothing but repeat:
"'My dear friend' is no one but myself. Arsene Lupin stole the major's letter with the lottery-ticket."
"Tell him to prove it," was Lupin's rejoinder to the journalists.
"But he stole the desk!" exclaimed M. Gerbois in front of the same journalists.
"Tell him to prove it!" retorted Lupin once again.
And a delightful entertainment was provided for the public by this duel between the two owners of number 514, series 23, by the constant coming and going of the journalists and by the coolness of Arsene Lupin as opposed to the frenzy of poor M. Gerbois.
Unhappy man! The press was full of his lamentations! He confessed the full extent of his misfortunes in a touchingly ingenuous way:
"It's Suzanne's dowry, gentlemen, that the villain has stolen!... For myself, personally, I don't care; but for Suzanne! Just think, a million! Ten hundred thousand francs! Ah, I always said the desk contained a treasure!"
He was told in vain that his adversary, when taking away the desk, knew nothing of the existence of the lottery-ticket and that, in any case, no one could have foreseen that this particular ticket would win the first prize. All he did was to moan:
"Don't talk to me; of course he knew!... If not, why should he have taken the trouble to steal that wretched desk?"
"For unknown reasons, but certainly not to get hold of a scrap of paper which, at that time, was worth the modest sum of twenty francs."
"The sum of a million! He knew it.... He knows everything!... Ah, you don't know the sort of a man he is, the ruffian!... He hasn't defrauded you of a million, you see!..."

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