CHAPTER I : NUMBER 514, SERIES 23 --- 8/10
Arsene Lupin took up the two bundles one after the other, counted twenty-five notes from each of them and, handing the lawyer the fifty bank-notes thus obtained, said:
"M. Gerbois' share of your fee, my dear maitre, and Arsene Lupin's. We owe you that."
"You owe me nothing," said Maitre Detinan.
"What! After all the trouble we've given you!"
"You forget the pleasure it has been to me to take that trouble."
"You mean to say, my dear maitre, that you refuse to accept anything from Arsene Lupin. That's the worst," he sighed, "of having a bad reputation." He held out the fifty thousand francs to the professor. "Monsieur, let me give you this in memory of our pleasant meeting: it will be my wedding-present to Mlle. Gerbois."
M. Gerbois snatched at the notes, but protested:
"My daughter is not being married."
"She can't be married if you refuse your consent. But she is dying to be married."
"What do you know about it?"
"I know that young ladies often cherish dreams without Papa's consent. Fortunately, there are good geniuses, called Arsene Lupin, who discover the secret of those charming souls hidden away in their writing-desks."
"Did you discover nothing else?" asked Maitre Detinan. "I confess that I am very curious to know why that desk was the object of your attentions."
"Historical reasons, my dear maitre. Although, contrary to M. Gerbois' opinion, it contained no treasure beyond the lottery-ticket, of which I did not know, I wanted it and had been looking for it for some time. The desk, which is made of yew and mahogany, decorated with acanthus-leaf capitals, was found in Marie Walewska's discreet little house at Boulogne-sur-Seine and has an inscription on one of the drawers: 'Dedicated to Napoleon I., Emperor of the French, by his most faithful servant, Mancion.' Underneath are these words, carved with the point of a knife: 'Thine, Marie.' Napoleon had it copied afterward for the Empress Josephine, so that the writing-desk which people used to admire at the Malmaison and which they still admire at the Garde-Meuble is only an imperfect copy of the one which now forms part of my collection."
M. Gerbois sighed:
"Oh, dear! If I had only known this at the shop, how willingly I would have let you have it!"
Arsene Lupin laughed:
"Yes; and you would, besides, have had the appreciable advantage of keeping the whole of number 514, series 23, for yourself."
"And you would not have thought of kidnapping my daughter, whom all this business must needs have upset."
"All what business?"
"The abduction ..."
"But, my dear sir, you are quite mistaken. Mlle. Gerbois was not abducted."
"My daughter was not abducted!"
"Not at all. Kidnapping, abduction implies violence. Now Mlle. Gerbois acted as a hostage of her own free will."
"Of her own free will!" repeated the professor, in confusion.
"And almost at her own request! Why, a quick-witted young lady like Mlle. Gerbois, who, moreover, harbours a secret passion at the bottom of her heart, was hardly likely to refuse the opportunity of securing her dowry. Oh, I assure you it was easy enough to make her understand that there was no other way of overcoming your resistance!"
Maitre Detanin was greatly amused. He put in:
"You must have found a difficulty in coming to terms. I can't believe that Mlle. Gerbois allowed you to speak to her."
"I didn't. I have not even the honour of knowing her. A lady of my acquaintance was good enough to undertake the negotiations."
"The blonde lady in the motor-car, I suppose?" said Maitre Detinan.
"Just so. Everything was settled at the first interview near the college. Since then, Mlle. Gerbois and her new friend have been abroad, have visited Belgium and Holland in the most agreeable and instructive manner for a young girl. However, she will tell you everything herself...."