CHAPTER III : Holmlock Shears Opens Hostilities 4/4

They remained long staring at each other, without exchanging a word, dumbfounded, stupefied. The air was torn by the horn of a motor-car. A breath of wind rustled through the leaves. And Shears did not stir, his fingers still fixed in Wilson's throat, which continued to emit an ever fainter rattle.

And, suddenly, Shears, overcome with rage, let go his friend, but only to seize him by the shoulders and shake him frantically:

"What are you doing here? Answer me!... What are you here for?... Who told you to hide in the shrubbery and watch me?"

"Watch you?" groaned Wilson. "But I didn't know it was you."

"Then what? Why are you here? I told you to go to bed."

"I did go to bed."

"I told you to go to sleep."

"I did."

"You had no business to wake up."

"Your letter...."

"What letter?"

"The letter from you which a commissionaire brought me at the hotel."

"A letter from me? You're mad!"

"I assure you."

"Where is the letter?"

Wilson produced a sheet of note-paper and, by the light of his lantern, Shears read, in amazement:

"Get up at once, Wilson, and go to the Avenue Henri-Martin as fast as you can. The house is empty. Go in, inspect it, make out an exact plan and go back to bed.

"Holmlock Shears."
"I was busy measuring the rooms," said Wilson, "when I saw a shadow in the garden. I had only one idea...."

"To catch the shadow.... The idea was excellent.... Only, look here, Wilson," said Shears, helping his friend up and leading him away, "next time you get a letter from me, make sure first that it's not a forgery."

"Then the letter was not from you?" asked Wilson, who began to have a glimmering of the truth.

"No, worse luck!"

"Who wrote it, then?"

"Arsene Lupin."

"But with what object?"

"I don't know, and that's just what bothers me. Why the deuce should he take the trouble to disturb your night's rest? If it were myself, I could understand, but you.... I can't see what interest...."

"I am anxious to get back to the hotel."

"So am I, Wilson."

They reached the gate. Wilson, who was in front, took hold of one of the bars and pulled it:

"Hullo!" he said. "Did you shut it?"

"Certainly not: I left the gate ajar."

"But ..."

Shears pulled in his turn and then frantically flung himself upon the lock. An oath escaped him:

"Damn it all! It's locked!... The gate's locked!"

He shook the gate with all his might, but, soon realizing the hopelessness of his exertions, let his arms fall to his sides in discouragement and jerked out:

"I understand the whole thing now: it's his doing! He foresaw that I should get out at Creil and he laid a pretty little trap for me, in case I should come to start my inquiry to-night. In addition, he had the kindness to send you to keep me company in my captivity. All this to make me lose a day and also, no doubt, to show me that I would do much better to mind my own business...."

"That is to say that we are his prisoners."

"You speak like a book. Holmlock Shears and Wilson are the prisoners of Arsene Lupin. The adventure is beginning splendidly.... But no, no, I refuse to believe...."

A hand touched his shoulder. It was Wilson's hand.

"Look," he said. "Up there ... a light...."

It was true: there was a light visible through one of the windows on the first floor.

They both raced up, each by his own staircase, and reached the door of the lighted room at the same time. A candle-end was burning in the middle of the floor. Beside it stood a basket, from which protruded the neck of a bottle, the legs of a chicken and half a loaf of bread.

Shears roared with laughter:

"Splendid! He gives us our supper. It's an enchanted palace, a regular fairy-land! Come, Wilson, throw off that dismal face. This is all very amusing."

"Are you sure it's very amusing?" moaned Wilson, dolefully.

"Sure?" cried Shears, with a gaiety that was too boisterous to be quite natural. "Of course I'm sure! I never saw anything more amusing in my life. It's first-rate farce.... What a master of chaff this Arsene Lupin is!... He tricks you, but he does it so gracefully!... I wouldn't give my seat at this banquet for all the gold in the world.... Wilson, old chap, you disappoint me. Can I have been mistaken in you? Are you really deficient in that nobility of character which makes a man bear up under misfortune? What have you to complain of? At this moment, you might be lying with my dagger in your throat ... or I with yours in mine ... for that was what you were trying for, you faithless friend!"

He succeeded, by dint of humour and sarcasm, in cheering up the wretched Wilson and forcing him to swallow a leg of the chicken and a glass of wine. But, when the candle had gone out and they had to stretch themselves on the floor to sleep, with the wall for a pillow, the painful and ridiculous side of the situation became apparent to them. And their slumbers were sad.

In the morning, Wilson woke aching in every bone and shivering with cold. A slight sound caught his ear: Holmlock Shears, on his knees, bent in two, was examining grains of dust through his lens and inspecting certain hardly perceptible chalk-marks, which formed figures which he put down in his note-book.

Escorted by Wilson, who seemed to take a particular interest in this work, he studied each room and found similar chalk-marks in two of the others. He also observed two circles on some oak panels, an arrow on a wainscoting and four figures on four steps of the staircase.

After an hour spent in this way, Wilson asked:

"The figures are correct, are they not?"

"I don't know if they're correct," replied Shears, whose good temper had been restored by these discoveries, "but, at any rate, they mean something."

"Something very obvious," said Wilson. "They represent the number of planks in the floor."


"Yes. As for the two circles, they indicate that the panels sound hollow, as you can see by trying, and the arrow points to show the direction of the dinner-lift."

Holmlock Shears looked at him in admiration:

"Why, my dear chap, how do you know all this? Your perspicacity almost makes me ashamed of myself."

"Oh, it's very simple," said Wilson, bursting with delight. "I made those marks myself last night, in consequence of your instructions ... or rather Lupin's instructions, as the letter I received from you came from him."

I have little doubt that, at that moment, Wilson was in greater danger than during his struggle with Shears in the shrubbery. Shears felt a fierce longing to wring his neck. Mastering himself with an effort, he gave a grin that pretended to be a smile and said:

"Well done, well done, that's an excellent piece of work; most useful. Have your wonderful powers of analysis and observation been exercised in any other direction? I may as well make use of the results obtained."

"No; that's all I did."

"What a pity! The start was so promising! Well, as things are, there is nothing left for us to do but go."

"Go? But how?"

"The way respectable people usually go: through the gate."

"It's locked."

"We must get it opened."

"Whom by?"

"Would you mind calling those two policemen walking down the avenue?"

"But ..."

"But what?"

"It's very humiliating.... What will people say, when they learn that you, Holmlock Shears, and I, Wilson, have been locked up by Arsene Lupin?"

"It can't be helped, my dear fellow; they will laugh like anything," replied Shears, angrily, with a frowning face. "But we can't go on living here forever, can we?"

"And you don't propose to try anything?"

"Not I!"

"Still, the man who brought the basket of provisions did not cross the garden either in coming or going. There must, therefore, be another outlet. Let us look for it, instead of troubling the police."

"Ably argued. Only you forget that the whole police of Paris have been hunting for this outlet for the past six months and that I myself, while you were asleep, examined the house from top to bottom. Ah, my dear Wilson, Arsene Lupin is a sort of game we are not accustomed to hunt: he leaves nothing behind him, you see...."

Holmlock Shears and Wilson were let out at eleven o'clock and ... taken to the nearest police-station, where the commissary, after cross-questioning them severely, released them with the most exasperating pretences of courtesy:

"Gentlemen, I am grieved beyond measure at your mishap. You will have a poor opinion of our French hospitality. Lord, what a night you must have spent! Upon my word, Lupin might have shown you more consideration!"

They took a cab to the Elysee-Palace. Wilson went to the office and asked for the key of his room.

The clerk looked through the visitors' book and replied, in great surprise:

"But you gave up your room this morning, sir!"

"What do you mean? How did I give up my room?"

"You sent us a letter by your friend."

"What friend?"

"Why, the gentleman who brought us your letter.... Here it is, with your card enclosed."

Wilson took the letter and the enclosure. It was certainly one of his visiting-cards and the letter was in his writing:

"Good Lord!" he muttered. "Here's another nasty trick." And he added, anxiously, "What about the luggage?"

"Why, your friend took it with him."

"Oh!.... So you gave it to him?"

"Certainly, on the authority of your card."

"Just so ... just so...."

They both went out and wandered down the Champs-Elysees, slowly and silently. A fine autumn sun filled the avenue. The air was mild and light.

At the Rond-Point, Shears lit his pipe and resumed his walk. Wilson cried:

"I can't understand you, Shears; you take it so calmly! The man laughs at you, plays with you as a cat plays with a mouse ... and you don't utter a word!"

Shears stopped and said:

"I'm thinking of your visiting-card, Wilson."


"Well, here is a man, who, by way of preparing for a possible struggle with us, obtains specimens of your handwriting and mine and has one of your cards ready in his pocketbook. Have you thought of the amount of precaution, of perspicacity, of determination, of method, of organization that all this represents?"

"You mean to say ..."

"I mean to say, Wilson, that, to fight an enemy so formidably armed, so wonderfully equipped?and to beat him?takes ... a man like myself. And, even then, Wilson," he added, laughing, "one does not succeed at the first attempt, as you see!"

At six o'clock, the Echo de France published the following paragraph in its special edition:

"This morning, M. Thenard, the commissary of police of the 16th division, released Messrs. Holmlock Shears and Wilson, who had been confined, by order of Arsene Lupin, in the late Baron d'Hautrec's house, where they spent an excellent night.

"They were also relieved of their luggage and have laid an information against Arsene Lupin.

"Arsene Lupin has been satisfied with giving them a little lesson this time; but he earnestly begs them not to compel him to adopt more serious measures."

"Pooh!" said Holmlock Shears, crumpling up the paper. "Schoolboy tricks! That's the only fault I have to find with Lupin ... he's too childish, too fond of playing to the gallery.... He's a street arab at heart!"

"So you continue to take it calmly, Shears?"

"Quite calmly," replied Shears, in a voice shaking with rage. "What's the use of being angry? I am so certain of having the last word!"

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