The confessions of Arsène Lupin. The gentleman thief (English Edition)

The text below is the excerpt of the book  The confessions of Arsène Lupin. The gentleman thief ( ISBN: 9781646997107 ), written by  Maurice Leblanc , published by  de Vecchi / DVE ediciones .

Edith Swan Neck

“Arsène Lupin, what’s your real opinion of Inspector Ganimard?”

“A very high one, my dear fellow.”

“An extremely high one?” Then why do you never miss a chance of turning him into ridicule?”

“It’s a bad habit, and I’m sorry about that. However, what can I say? That’s the way the world works. Here’s a decent detective chap, here’s a whole pack of decent men, who stand for law and order, who protect us against the Apaches, who risk their lives for honest people like you and me and we have nothing to give them in return but flouts and gibes. It’s preposterous!”

“Bravo, Lupin! you’re talking like a respectable taxpayer!”

“What else am I? I may have a particular view on other people’s property, but I assure you that it’s very different when my own is at stake. By Jove, it’s not good to get hold of what I own! Then I’m out for blood! Aha! It’s “my” pocket, “my” money, “my” watch … hands off! I have the soul of a conservative, my dear fellow, the instinct of a retired tradesman and the respect due to any kind of tradition and authority. And that is why Ganimard inspires me with no little gratitude and esteem.”

“But not much admiration?”

“A lot of admiration also. Over and above the fearless courage that comes naturally to all these gentlemen of the Criminal Investigation Department, Ganimard possesses very sterling qualities: decision, insight and judgement. I looked at him on the job. He’s somebody when all’s said. Do you know the Edith Swan-neck story, as it was called?”

“I know as much as everybody knows.”

“That means you have no idea. Well, that job was, I daresay, the one which I thought out most cleverly, with the utmost care and the utmost precaution, the one which I shrouded in the greatest darkness and mystery, the one which it took the biggest generalship to carry through. This was a regular chess match, played according to strict scientific and mathematical rules. And yet Ganimard ended by unravelling the knot. Thanks to him, they know the truth today on the Quai des Orfèvres. And it is a very unusual truth, I assure you.”

“May I hope to hear it?”

“Certainly … one of these days … When I get a chance… but the Brunelli is dancing at the Opera tonight and if she were not to see me in my stall …!”I didn’t spend much time with Lupin. It is hard for him to confess when it suits him. It was only gradually, by snatches, by odds and ends of confidences that I was able to obtain the different incidents and to piece the story together in all its details.

The key features are well known and I will only refer to the facts. Three years ago, when the Brest train reached Rennes, the door of one of the baggage vans was found smashed. This van was booked by Colonel Sparmiento, a rich Brazilian who was travelling with his wife on the same train. It contained a full set of wall hangings. The case in which one of them was packed had been shattered open and the tapestry had vanished.

Colonel Sparmiento started legal proceedings against the railway company, claiming heavy damages, including for the stolen tapestry and also for the loss in value which the whole collection suffered as a consequence of the theft.

The police started their investigation. The company offered a great award. Two weeks later, a letter which had come undone in the post was opened by the authorities and revealed the fact that the theft had been carried out under the direction of Arsène Lupin and that a package was to leave the next day for the United States. The same evening, the tapestry is discovered in a trunk placed in the cloakroom at the Saint-Lazare station.

As a result, the scheme had a mishap. Lupin felt the disappointment so much that he vented his ill humour in a communication to Colonel Sparmiento, ending with the following words, which were clear enough for anybody:

“It was very considerate of me to take only one. Next time, I’ll take the Twelve. “Verbum sap.”

“A. L.”

Colonel Sparmiento had been living for some months in a house located at the end of a small garden at the corner of the Rue de la Faisanderie and the Rue Dufresnoy. He was a rather thick-set, broad-shouldered man, with black hair and swarthy skin, always well and quietly dressed. He was married to an extremely pretty but delicate British woman, who was very upset about the tapestry business. From the beginning, she implored her husband to sell them for what they were going to get. The colonel had been far too forcible and tenacious to give in to what he was entitled to describe as feminine fantasies. He sold nothing, but redoubled his precautions and took every measure that would make an attempted burglary impossible.

First of all, to be able to confine his watch to the facade of the garden, he fortified all the windows on the ground floor and the first floor overlooking Rue Dufresnoy. He then enlisted the services of a firm that specialized in protecting private houses against theft. Every window inthe gallery in which the tapestries were hung had invisible burglar alarms, the position of which was known only by himself. These, at least touch, turned on all the electric lights and set a whole system of bells and gongs to sound.

What is more, the insurance companies to which he applied refused to grant policies to any considerable amount unless he consented to let three men, supplied by the companies and paid by himself, occupy the ground floor of his house every night. They chose for that purpose three ex-detectives, proven and trustworthy men, all of whom hated Lupin like poison. As for the servants, the colonel had known them for years and was ready to take responsibility for them.

After taking these actions and organizing the defence of the house as though it were a fortress, the colonel gave a great reception, a sort of private view, to which he invited the members of both his clubs, as well as a certain number of ladies, journalists, art patrons and critics.

They felt like they were walking through the garden door like they were entering a prison. The three private detectives, posted at the foot of the stairs, asked for each visitor’s invitation card and eyed him up and down warily, making him feel as though they were going to search his pockets or take his fingerprints.

The colonel, who received his guests on the first floor, made apologies with a laugh and seemed delighted at the opportunity of explaining the arrangements which he had invented to secure the safety of his hangings. His wife stood by him, looking charmingly young and pretty, fair-haired, pale and sinuous, with a sad and gentle expression, the expression of resignation often worn by those who are threatened by fate.

When all the guests had arrived, the garden gates and the hall doors were closed. Then everybody filed into the middle gallery, which was reached through two steel doors, while its windows, with their huge shutters, were secured by iron bars. This was where the twelve tapestries were kept.

They were incomparable works of art and, taking inspiration from the famous Bayeux tapestry, attributed to Queen Matilda, they represented the history of the Norman conquest. They had been ordered in the fourteenth century by the descendant of a man-at-arms in William the Conqueror’s army were executed by Jehan Gosset, a famous Arras weaver and were discovered, five hundred years later, in an old Breton manor house. When the colonel learnt of this, he made a deal for fifty thousand francs. They were worth tenfold.

But the finest of the twelve tapestries composing the set, the most uncommon because the subject had not been treated by Queen Matilda, was the one which Arsène Lupin had stolen and which had been so fortunately recovered. It represented Edith Swan-neck on the battlefield of Hastings, seeking among the dead for the body of her beloved Harold, last of the Saxon kings.

The guests were lost in enthusiasm over this tapestry, over the natural beauty of the design, over the faded colours, over the lifelike grouping of the figures and the pitiful sadness of the scene. Poor Edith Gooseneck bent over like an overweight lily. Her white dress reflected the features of her languid figure. Her long, slender hands were extended as a sign of terror and supplication. And nothing could be more mournful than her profile, over which flickered the most dejected and despairing of smiles.

«A heartbreaking smile», noted one of the critics, to whom the others listened with deference.

“A very charming smile, besides, and it reminds me, Colonel, of the smile of Ms Sparmiento.”

And seeing that the observation seemed to meet with unanimous approval, he developed his idea: “There are other points of resemblance that struck me at once, such as the very graceful curve of the neck and the delicacy of the hands … and also something about the figure, about the general attitude….”

“What you say is so true,” said the colonel, “that I confess that it is this resemblance which has determined me to buy the hangings. And there was another reason, which was that, by some strange coincidence, my wife’s name turns out to be Edith. I have called her Edith Swan-neck ever since.” And the colonel added, with a laugh, “I hope that the coincidence will stop at this and that my dear Edith will never have to go in search of her true love’s body, like her prototype.”

He laughed as he said these words, but his laugh met with no echo, and we find the same impression of embarrassing silence in all the accounts of the evening that appeared during the next few days. The people who stood beside him did not know what to say. One of them tried to jest: “Your name isn’t Harold, Colonel?”

“No, thank you,” he said, with continued cheerfulness. “No, that’s not my name; nor am I in the least like the Saxon king.”

Everybody has since agreed in asserting that, at that moment, as the colonel finished speaking, the first alarm rang from the windows-the right or the middle window: opinions differ on this point – rang short and shrill on a single note. The sound of the alarm bell was followed by an exclamation of terror by Ms Sparmiento, who grabbed her husband’s arm. He shouted, “what is it? What does this mean?”

The guests stayed motionless, their eyes riveted on the windows. The Colonel reiterated: “What does this mean? I can’t figure it out. No one but myself knows where that bell is fixed….”

And, at that very instant – here again, the evidence is unanimous – at that, the moment came unexpectedly, absolute darkness, followed immediately by the maddening noise of all the bells and all the gongs, from top to bottom of the house, in every room and at every window.

For a few seconds, a foolish disorder, a madness, reigned. The women screamed. The men punched with their fists on the closed doors. They hustled and fought. People fell on the floor and were stomped on. It was like a panicked crowd, afraid of menacing flames or a shell explosion. And over the tumult came the voice of the colonel, crying out, “Silence!…don’t move!… it’s all right!… the switch is right there in the corner… hang on a minute… here!”

He had pushed his way through his guests and reached a corner of the gallery; and, all at once, the electric light blazed up again, while the pandemonium of bells stopped. Then, in the sudden light, an odd sight met the eyes. Two women had blacked out. Ms Sparmiento, hanging to her husband’s arm, with her knees dragging on the floor, and livid in the face, seemed half dead. The men, pale, with their neckties awry, appeared as if they had all been in the wars.

“The tapestries are there!“ exclaimed one of them.

There was a big surprise as if the disappearance of the hangings had to be the natural result and the only plausible explanation of the incident. Nothing was moved, though. Some valuable pictures, hanging from the walls, were still there. And, although the same sound had reverberated all over the house, although all the rooms had been thrown into darkness, the detectives had seen no one entering or trying to enter.

“As a matter of fact,” said the colonel, “only the windows of the gallery have alarms. Nobody but myself understands how they work, and I had not set them yet.”

People laughed loudly at how they had been frightened, but they laughed without conviction and in a more or less shamefaced fashion, for each of them was keenly alive to the absurdity of his conduct. And they had only one thought — to get out of that house where, say what you say, the atmosphere was agonizing.

Two journalists remained, however, and the colonel joined them, having taken care of Edith and handed her over to his servants. The three of them, along with the detectives, did a search that did not lead to the discovery of anything of any interest. Then the colonel sent for some champagne and the result was that it was not until a late hour – to be exact, a quarter to three in the morning – that the journalists left, the colonel retired to his quarters, and the detectives withdrew to the room, which had been set up for them on the ground floor.

They took the watch in turn, a watch consisting, in the first place, in staying awake and, then, in looking around the garden and visiting the gallery at regular intervals. These orders were scrupulously carried out, except between five and seven in the morning, when sleep gained control and the men ceased to make their rounds. But it was daylight outdoors. In fact, if there had been any bells, wouldn’t they have woke up?

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