CHAPTER I : NUMBER 514, SERIES 23 --- 4/10
This talk could have gone on a long time yet. But, twelve days later, M. Gerbois received a letter from Arsene Lupin, marked "Private and confidential," which worried him not a little:
Dear Sir
"The gallery is amusing itself at our expense. Do you not think that the time has come to be serious? I, for my part, have quite made up my mind.
"The position is clear: I hold a ticket which I am not entitled to cash and you are entitled to cash a ticket which you do not hold. Therefore neither of us can do anything without the other.
"Now you would not consent to surrender your rights to me nor I to give up my ticket to you.
"What are we to do?
"I see only one way out of the difficulty: let us divide. Half a million for you, half a million for me. Is not that fair? And would not this judgment of Solomon satisfy the sense of justice in each of us?
"I propose this as an equitable solution, but also an immediate solution. It is not an offer which you have time to discuss, but a necessity before which circumstances compel you to bow. I give you three days for reflection. I hope that, on Friday morning, I may have the pleasure of seeing a discreet advertisement in the agony-column of the Echo de France, addressed to 'M. Ars. Lup.' and containing, in veiled terms, your unreserved assent to the compact which I am suggesting to you. In that event, you will at once recover possession of the ticket and receive the million, on the understanding that you will hand me five hundred thousand francs in a way which I will indicate hereafter.
"Should you refuse, I have taken measures that will produce exactly the same result; but, apart from the very serious trouble which your obstinacy would bring upon you, you would be the poorer by twenty-five thousand francs, which I should have to deduct for additional expenses.
"I am, dear sir,
"Very respectfully yours,
"Arsene Lupin."
M. Gerbois, in his exasperation, was guilty of the colossal blunder of showing this letter and allowing it to be copied. His indignation drove him to every sort of folly:
"Not a penny! He shall not have a penny!" he shouted before the assembled reporters. "Share what belongs to me? Never! Let him tear up his ticket if he likes!"
"Still, half a million francs is better than nothing."
"It's not a question of that, but of my rights; and those rights I shall establish in a court of law."
"Go to law with Arsene Lupin? That would be funny!"
"No, but the Credit Foncier. They are bound to hand me the million."
"Against the ticket or at least against evidence that you bought it?"
"The evidence exists, seeing that Arsene Lupin admits that he stole the desk."
"What judge is going to take Arsene Lupin's word?"
"I don't care, I shall go to law!"
The gallery was delighted. Bets were made, some people being certain that Lupin would bring M. Gerbois to terms, others that he would not go beyond threats. And the people felt a sort of apprehension; for the adversaries were unevenly matched, the one being so fierce in his attacks, while the other was as frightened as a hunted deer.
On Friday, there was a rush for the Echo de France and the agony-column on the fifth page was scanned with feverish eyes. There was not a line addressed to "M. Ars. Lup." M. Gerbois had replied to Arsene Lupin's demands with silence. It was a declaration of war.
That evening the papers contained the news that Mlle. Gerbois had been kidnapped.
The most delightful factor in what I may call the Arsene Lupin entertainment is the eminently ludicrous part played by the police. Everything passes outside their knowledge. Lupin speaks, writes, warns, orders, threatens, carries out his plans, as though there were no police, no detectives, no magistrates, no impediment of any kind in existence. They seem of no account to him whatever. No obstacle enters into his calculations.
And yet the police struggle to do their best. The moment the name of Arsene Lupin is mentioned, the whole force, from top to bottom, takes fire, boils and foams with rage. He is the enemy, the enemy who mocks you, provokes you, despises you, or, even worse, ignores you. And what can one do against an enemy like that?
According to the evidence of the servant, Suzanne went out at twenty minutes to ten. At five minutes past ten, her father, on leaving the college, failed to see her on the pavement where she usually waited for him. Everything, therefore, must have taken place in the course of the short twenty minutes' walk which brought Suzanne from her door to the college, or at least quite close to the college.
Two neighbours declared that they had passed her about three hundred yards from the house. A lady had seen a girl walking along the avenue whose description corresponded with Suzanne's. After that, all was blank.
Inquiries were made on every side. The officials at the railway-stations and the customs-barriers were questioned. They had seen nothing on that day which could relate to the kidnapping of a young girl. However, a grocer at Ville-d'Avray stated that he had supplied a closed motor-car, coming from Paris, with petrol. There was a chauffeur on the front seat and a lady with fair hair?exceedingly fair hair, the witness said?inside. The car returned from Versailles an hour later. A block in the traffic compelled it to slacken speed and the grocer was able to perceive that there was now another lady seated beside the blonde lady whom he had seen first. This second lady was wrapped up in veils and shawls. No doubt it was Suzanne Gerbois.
Consequently, the abduction must have taken place in broad daylight, on a busy road, in the very heart of the town! How? At what spot? Not a cry had been heard, not a suspicious movement observed.
The grocer described the car, a Peugeot limousine, 24 horse-power, with a dark blue body. Inquiries were made, on chance, of Mme. Bob-Walthour, the manageress of the Grand Garage, who used to make a specialty of motor-car elopements. She had, in fact, on Friday morning, hired out a Peugeot limousine for the day to a fair-haired lady, whom she had not seen since.
"But the driver?"
"He was a man called Ernest, whom I engaged the day before on the strength of his excellent testimonials."
"Is he here?"
"No, he brought back the car and has not been here since."
"Can't we get hold of him?"
"Certainly, by applying to the people who recommended him. I will give you the addresses."
The police called on these persons. None of them knew the man called Ernest.
And every trail which they followed to find their way out of the darkness led only to greater darkness and denser fogs.
M. Gerbois was not the man to maintain a contest which had opened in so disastrous a fashion for him. Inconsolable at the disappearance of his daughter and pricked with remorse, he capitulated. An advertisement which appeared in the Echo de France and aroused general comment proclaimed his absolute and unreserved surrender. It was a complete defeat: the war was over in four times twenty-four hours.

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