blows. And, suddenly, his pickaxe, which, until then, had encountered no resistance, struck against a harder material and rebounded. There was a sound of something falling in; and all that remained of the altar went tumbling into the gap after the block of stone which had been struck by the pickaxe. Beautrelet bent forward. A puff of cold air rose to his face. He lit a match and moved it from side to side over the gap:
“The staircase begins farther forward than I expected, under the entrance-flags, almost. I can see the last steps, there, right at the bottom.”
“Is it deep?”
“Three or four yards. The steps are very high—and there are some missing.”
“It is hardly likely,” said M. Filleul, “that the accomplices can have had time to remove the body from the cellar, when they were engaged in carrying off Mlle. de Saint-Veran—during the short absence of the gendarmes. Besides, why should they?—No, in my opinion, the body is here.”
A servant brought them a ladder. Beautrelet let it down through the opening and fixed it, after groping among the fallen fragments. Holding the two uprights firmly:
“Will you go down, M. Filleul?” he asked.
The magistrate, holding a candle in his hand, ventured down the ladder. The Comte de Gesvres followed him and Beautrelet, in his turn, placed his foot on the first rung.
Mechanically, he counted eighteen rungs, while his eyes examined the crypt, where the glimmer of the candle struggled against the heavy darkness. But, at the bottom, his nostrils were assailed by one of those foul and violent smells which linger in the memory for many a long day. And, suddenly, a trembling hand seized him by the shoulder.
“Well, what is it?”
“B-beautrelet,” stammered M. Filleul. “B-beau-trelet—”
He could not get a word out for terror.
“Come, Monsieur le Juge d’Instruction, compose yourself!”
“Beautrelet—he is there—”
“Yes—there was something under the big stone that broke off the altar—I pushed the stone—and I touched—I shall never—shall never forget.—”
“Where is it?”
“On this side.—Don’t you notice the smell?—And then look—see.”
He took the candle and held it towards a motionless form stretched upon the ground.
“Oh!” exclaimed Beautrelet, in a horror-stricken tone.
The three men bent down quickly. The corpse lay half-naked, lean, frightful. The flesh, which had the greenish hue of soft wax, appeared in places through the torn clothes. But the most hideous thing, the thing that had drawn a cry of terror from the young man’s lips, was the head, the head which had just been crushed by the block of stone, the shapeless head, a repulsive mass in which not one feature could be distinguished.
Beautrelet took four strides up the ladder and fled into the daylight and the open air.
M. Filleul found him again lying flat on the around, with his hands glued to his face:
“I congratulate you, Beautrelet,” he said. “In addition to the discovery of the hiding-place, there are two points on which I have been able to verify the correctness of your assertions. First of all, the man on whom Mlle. de Saint-Veran fired was indeed Arsène Lupin, as you said from the start. Also, he lived in Paris under the name of Etienne de Vaudreix. His linen is marked with the initials E. V. That ought to be sufficient proof, I think: don’t you?”
Isidore did not stir.
“Monsieur le Comte has gone to have a horse put to. They’re sending for Dr. Jouet, who will make the usual examination. In my opinion, death must have taken place a week ago, at least. The state of decomposition of the corpse—but you don’t seem to be listening—”
“What I say is based upon absolute reasons. Thus, for instance—”
M. Filleul continued his demonstrations, without, however, obtaining any more manifest marks of attention. But M. de Gesvres’s return interrupted his monologue. The Comte brought two letters.
Kim Harrison, Martin H. Greenberg
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