The Adventure of the Master Thief: Arsène Lupin
The Adventure of the Master Thief: Arsène Lupin
Christmas, what joy it brings, the excitement and the anticipation is positively infectious. Not least brought about by my fiancée, Mary who relished in the season and the community of goodwill it brings. My friend Sherlock Holmes did not share in these excitements, in fact, he positively dismissed the season as frivolous and without purpose or point. He was, after all, a most direct man, focused on his work, anything outside of which, he thought meaningless. I put forward the idea that the celebrations brightened the general mood of the people, lifting its spirits from the bitter cold winter and the short day-light hours.
"Bah humbug!" he said quoting Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' and I noticed a copy on the table by his chair.
"Well, Mary is on her way and I feel I must give you fair warning, she intends to bring you out of the shell of this apartment and take you shopping." Holmes arched his eye brow with an expression of utter distaste.
"Shopping?" said he, and I nodded, "and by what means do you think I am to purchase even the smallest trinket? I have been unemployed and disengaged in work since the business of the waiting man. Scotland Yard took all the credit, failing to mention even the slightest hint of my involvement," said he, bitterly. "I barely made this months rent."
"Don't fear, my surgery is turning over a large income. I can gladly assist you financially, in any way I can." His reaction was a mix of relief and disdain. Accepting charity was abhorrent to him and his own self styled image as a gentleman of London. "You are, after all, in need of some fresh clothes." I gestured to him, hinting at how unkempt he had become. "Your dress and hygiene are, how shall I put this, lacking maintenance." Holmes arched his eyebrow once more and sniffed at the inside of his shirt. He then addressed his attentions to the room.
"It is getting a bit ripe in here."
"All the more reason to clean yourself up, dress and come shopping," Mary interjected as she entered the room. She greeted me with a kiss and went to take a seat on the couch, but found it cluttered with newspapers and some of Holmes's unwashed laundry. Mary paused, hovering there and always the gentleman, in his own way, Holmes leapt from his seat and cleared the couch of the mess.
"Where is Mrs. Hudson?" He said, while engaged in trying to clean up his own mess. It was clear his methodological mind had escaped him somewhat, as he didn't know where to begin.
"The English Rivera. She always vacations there for Christmas," said I.
"She does?" He said, surprised and sat back down in his armchair, giving up on the idea of cleaning the mess. He plucked his pipe and tobacco from the table.
"You have the new Dickens?" Mary said, noticing the book on the very same table..
"Indeed, the new French translation. A frivolous tale. What is it about the public and their irrational concern with ghosts and the supernatural, or to put it another way, the impossible."
"Mr. Holmes, have you no imagination?" Mary asked.
"The keenest in all England. Without it, I wouldn't be able to do my job."
"And what job might you be referring to?" Mary asked, gently teasing him. "John tells me you haven't worked in almost four months." Holmes paused sourly. Mary had hit a tender nerve. There was a brief, but uncomfortable silence and I smiled at Mary, gesturing to her that her forthright question and teasing would not upset Holmes or cause him offence.
"Perhaps these ghost stories are a wish fulfilment of sorts. A desire to look beyond one's own death. Or a way of reconciling grief and regret," Holmes finally said and I sensed he was attempting to avert the conversation away from the reality of his circumstances.
"You intellectualise too much. It's a story, for the purpose of wiling away one's free hours." Holmes pondered this, peering at Mary with a most intrigued and penetrating stare.
"Like I said, a frivolity. Just like this Christmas fiasco."
"Speaking of which and our plans for the day, I was thinking the markets in Camden?"
"But what about," I said to Mary and she looked at me with confusion, "the surprise?"
"We can visit the markets in the afternoon, afterwards," Mary replied.
Holmes peered at us with suspicious eyes as he exhaled smoke. "What on earth are you two talking about?"
"You can either examine the evidence and deduce," I said wryly, throwing back the phrases he'd often said to me, "or you can wash and dress, come out with us and all will become crystal clear."
The surprise we spoke of was to take Holmes to a tailor's and have him fitted for a new suit and top hat. While he grumbled and complained for the most part, I got the sense that he was pleased and grateful of mine and Mary's little Christmas gift. In fact he insisted upon wearing the new suit for the rest of the day. We took tea and lunch in a small café and Mary probed Holmes once more about the ideas presented in Dickens 'A Christmas Carol' tale. I hadn't much clue of literature and its deeper meanings, but the conversation between my fiancée and my friend shed some light on those meanings and I found a marked similarity between the character of Scrooge and Holmes himself. Although he dismissed the idea when Mary subtly suggested the same. Holmes found the whole business of the story and story telling itself manipulative and 'meretricious' as he put it.
"Then why do you read them?" Mary asked, taking a sip of her tea.
"It passes the time and keeps my mind away from..." He trailed off, unsure of bringing up his vice in the company of Mary. I interjected, suggesting we move on to the markets in Camden.
The air was thick with the smell of roasting chestnuts, the citrus fruits and spices from mulled wine sellers and the sound of indistinct chatter and market traders calling out. Holmes trailed behind us as we passed through the crowds. Mary was revealing in it, even the bitter wind and snow didn't dampen her spirits.
Holmes had always found crowds difficult. On two occasions I had witnessed him fall into a panic attack of the most distressing nature and he later confessed to me the reasons. He claimed there was too much information for his active mind to cope with and he found it difficult to put all this in the back ground and concentrate on the present moment. He likened it to a thousand musical instruments playing all at once without a conductor to orchestrate. I remarked, with surprise, at how a man graced with such intelligence couldn't select which information was meaningful and that which was meaningless. When focused on one problem he found it easy, but when all the information was meaningless, there was no place for his mind to fix itself. Later, he had designed a method to cope with this and as we walked through the market I noticed he was applying this self styled method. He would fix his gaze upon me and walk in-step behind. Mary led the way, and bought numerous items, trinkets and food. It was getting late when we happened upon a man, his dress was unkempt and I noticed a suspicious air about him. He sat cross-legged on a mat behind a large box, on this box were three cards and he would offer any passer-by double their money if they could find the solitary queen amongst the three playing cards.
"Up today, down tomorrow. Rich man's luck and poor man's sorrow. Maybe you win, maybe you lose. It all depends on what you choose. If you pick the queen, then you win. If you pick a black card, you play again. Find the Lady! Find the Lady! Cherchez la femme!" The man said, in a distinct American accent. He caught Mary's eye and blinded by her gay enthusiasm of the day, she insisted that she play. I took a glance back at Holmes who was watching, greatly intrigued as he stood behind us. Mary had already laid money out on the man's box when I looked back.
"Up today, down tomorrow. Rich man's luck and poor man's sorrow. Maybe you win, maybe you lose. It all depends on what you choose. If you pick the queen, then you win. If you pick a black card, you play again. Find the Lady! Find the Lady! Cherchez la femme!" He said again, as he shuffled the cards with deft and swift skill. He laid the three cards face down on the box and Mary studied them for a brief moment.
"That one," she said pointing to the card on the left. The man revealed it as an ace.
"Sorry, Miss, perhaps another try?" I was about to take Mary's hand and guide her away, fearful that she would lose a month's income in such folly, when to my very great surprise, Holmes stopped me and pleaded my silence with forefinger held to his lips.
The man dealt again and sure enough, Mary picked the wrong card. To my relief she gave up and moved to walk away. Then, further to my surprise Holmes himself laid money on the box. The man glared at him at the astonishing amount. A twenty pound note, no less.
"Very good, sir," said the man and showed him the queen of hearts, turned it over and shuffled the cards, uttering the same patter he had previously. "Cherchez la femme!" He exclaimed.
Holmes studied the cards, then studied the man for a long moment. So long, in fact, the man began to get impatient. "Cherchez la femme!" He said again, with an irritable tone and a slight look toward another unkempt looking man who had played and won previous to Mary. After another long moment Holmes pointed out the centre card. The man was notably reluctant to reveal it, he took another look at his shill, who shrugged, defeated, and then both men ran. The dealer grabbed the twenty pound note on his way. Not to be outdone, Holmes kicked out just in time, catching the man's trailing leg and the dealer fell to the snow covered cobbles in a heap. Holmes pounced upon him and snatched back the twenty pound note and then called out for the police. There were gasps of shock from the crowd that had gathered. Holmes kept the man pinned to the ground up until a police officer came and arrested him.
On our journey back to 221b, I asked how Holmes knew which card was the lady, since the dealer's slight of hand was so quick.
"It has to do with the way the cards are held and tossed to the table. The dealer will pick up one of the cards with one hand, and two in the other. This is the key: although it appears that the dealer is tossing the lowermost card to the table. In actuality he can toss either the top or the bottom card at will. Thus, once he does so, and begins mixing up the cards, the mark will be following the wrong card from the beginning. I merely followed the correct card from the outset. I laid up the twenty pound note, my last twenty pounds, by the way, in full knowledge that his shill would not be able to better my original bid."
"But surely the dealer should not have taken such a high stake in the first instance, if he knew his shill couldn't top the bid?"
"Your use of the word, surely, is rather presumptuous of the man's intelligence."
"You think he is intelligent," he said, arching his eye brow and smirking..
Dusk had fallen on Baker Street, and Holmes's apartment. Mary had gone to visit with her mother and father and I found myself at a loose end. A seldom opportunity to spend the evening with my friend. One of my patients had given me a very rare and high proof bottle of Absinthium as both Christmas gift and for my successful diagnosis of the the ailment that had plagued him for such a long time. A strange gift, I remarked at the time. It was certainly a drink Holmes might appreciate, better that, than his usual and solitary vice.
"I do wish the gentleman would have the courage to knock on my door," said Holmes, suddenly. He had been looking out of the window for a least an hour, occasionally pausing to light a cigarette or sip the green drink.
"What gentleman?" I asked, rousing from a brief slumber, in all probability brought on by the absinthe and being unaccustomed to the effects of alcohol. I do not indulge in it, often.
"He has been wandering up and down the street gazing up at my window for the best part of an hour. If it wasn't for his gentlemanly attire I would swear the man was prowling." I joined Holmes at the window and immediately saw the man he was referring to. He was tall and very slender and he mopped his brow regularly and by all accounts seemed to be talking to himself as he passed to and fro under the gaslight. If not for Holmes's astute assumptions I would have thought the man mad.
"Obviously a Marquis, definitely 'high born'. I wonder what vexes him so?" Holmes remarked gulping back the last of the green liquid in his glass. "Must be that letter he is carrying and re-reading." I watched the man for some minutes and suddenly realised who he was.
"Why that's the Marquis De Marian."
"It is?" Holmes, responded, surprised at my most definite and assured observation.
"Yes, he relinquished public life some ten years ago. He lives alone in a large castle on the boarder between Hampshire and Surrey. A 'mad reclusive' some call him and he has a notable reputation for buying and commissioning artists at outrageously high prices. He hasn't and doesn't venture out of his estate without good reason and even then he is hard pressed."
"Most intriguing," Holmes said, as he lit his tobacco pipe. "Well I do wish he would come inside, the man is likely to catch his death and I am now bursting to evaluate him and the problem that troubles him."
The Marquis remained outside for another half an hour and Holmes paced the room in an uncontrollable frustration.
"My God," he exclaimed, "must he keep us waiting. If he doesn't knock at my door in the next five minutes I will go outside and shake it out of him."
"That would be an ill advised course of action."
"Yes, yes, he is likely to run scared all the way back to Hampshire," he growled. "He does have the advantage of me, patience is not one of my virtues."
"Indeed." I said, and sat back down on the armchair by the fire.
"Do you perchance know or have any incline as to the man's reasons for his self-styled exile?"
"I expect it was a woman. 'Cherchez la femme' as the saying goes," said he. "Perhaps she died too soon, perhaps she left him. But why would she leave such a marriage and all its wealth and high standing?" Holmes had gotten to thinking his thoughts aloud and I knew better than to interrupt. "Perhaps she found his character distasteful, but I hardly think the man is an abusive brute of any kind. So slender and gaunt as he is.. I wonder if he even married her, does he still wear the ring?" He peered out of the window once more, studied him and growled. He paced in yet more frustrated silence then flopped down on the couch, utterly exasperated. A moment later the expected knock at the door finally came.
"At last!" Holmes shouted, he gathered his composure and then bounded out of the door and down the stairwell.
Not moments later, Holmes presented the man as he led him into our messy lounge.
"May I present the Marquis De Marian. This is my friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson," said Holmes with a marked delight and lofty tone in his voice. The Marquis nodded timidly and I noted throughout the whole interview that he had distinct trouble in making eye contact and tended to look either down at his feet or over both mine and Holmes's shoulder when speaking. Holmes noted previously that he was slender and gaunt, but the true picture when seen at close quarters was much more pronounced. The man looked positively malnourished and his fine cut clothing hung from his body like a great coat over a skeleton.
"Good evening, a pleasure to meet you," I said as the Marquis nervously took a seat on the couch. His knee trembled as he sat and he, although slight, rocked back and forth. The man looked as if he was in a constant state of mortal terror. His hair was greying and he couldn't have been more than five and thirty years, if that.
"Perhaps you would like a drink?" I asked, and gestured toward the bottle of absinthe.
"Thank you kindly, Doctor, but I'm... I... I don't."
"Please, call me Watson," I replied in attempt to put the Marquis at ease as much as possible. During this brief exchange Holmes stood observing every inch of the Marquis.
"How was the carriage ride, this morn?"
"We made good time."
"And how is the Northumblerland Hotel?"
The Marquis started with fear, glaring in shock at Holmes. "How did you know?"
"And the gardens at castle Marian must be quite delightful. Have you had the opportunity to visit any of London's fine art galleries yet?" The Marquis' look of shock turned to one of blind terror and he stood up abruptly.
"Mr. Holmes, have you been following me? If you have it is not appreciated and I shall leave immediately and not engage you further, despite..."
"Your problem." Holmes said, finishing his sentence for him. "Please, sit, sit. Don't trouble yourself so much. I merely observed a number of facts and came to my conclusions. It's all in plain sight." The Marquis responded with an intrigued, yet still fearful look. "The match-book sneaking out of your pocket, told me you are staying in the Northumblerland Hotel. The dirt under your fingernails and the dirt stained calluses on your fingers told me you are an avid gardener."
"But how did you know of my interest in art and painting?"
"The paint spatters on your shoes. Very unusual colours. And it also tells me you left this morning in great haste. You didn't have the time or the care to notice what shoes you wore as you dressed. And the folded guide in your pocket confirmed to me that you planned on visiting the galleries. That, and your reputation precedes you."
"For buying and commissioning artists at outrageously high prices. Simplicity itself." Holmes said triumphantly and with a warm smile. The Marquis sat back down on the couch and his mood eased considerably. "So, what is your problem? I imagine it concerns the letter you hold in your palm."
"It does indeed, Mr. Holmes." And with that he handed the letter to Holmes, who read it aloud.
You can make the matter an easy one or make it hard one. I leave it to you. I have greatly admired two paintings currently in your possession (the Asshai by Verne and the Cantela by Michelano), paintings which I myself used to own before my circumstances took a turn for the worse. On the date of the 27th of December. In order to best facilitate this transition of property I suggest you leave the two paintings wrapped and secured outside your front door. That is, if you chose the easy path. The hard path will put you under great stress and undue worry, and I do not wish to add to the trauma you have already gone through, but needs must.
Thanking you graciously.
"Monsiuer Holmes I implore you to help me, my paintings are my life and those two, the most prized in all my collection."
Holmes remained silent, in thought, his eyes fixed on the Marquis with most piercing glare.
"It is a very bold move, but not to worry. Thieves, after all are not in the habit of announcing their plans to their victims. It makes little to no sense," I said, feeling that the silence needed to be broken.
"Have you informed the police?" Holmes asked.
"I have, they dismissed my problem and the threat. So I come to you."
"Well it would seem there is honour amongst thieves," my friend said smiling, his thumbs fixed upon either side of his nose tapping two forefingers together. Holmes remained silent for longer than the Marquis could bear and full of nerves, he shouted. "Please, Mr. Holmes, you must help me. I will offer you a full five thousand pounds in advance, any expenses and a further ten thousand if you can protect the two paintings."
Holmes dropped his hands and raised his eye brows as he regarded the man. I almost spat out my drink at the amount he was offering.
"It is rather singular. As Watson says, thieves are not accustomed to informing their victims... unless..." He trailed off in thought once again.
"Unless? Unless what?" The Marquis said, desperately.
"Unless he means to take the paintings on a date other than the 27th. Perhaps he means to trick you, to focus your attentions on that one day. Lulling you into a false sense of security on the days surrounding the 27th."
"Then you must come to my castle at once. Up until such time, I and the paintings are secure."
"But... but...?" I said, fearing that my plans to spend it with Mary's family may be interrupted.
"I planned to spend Christmas with Mary and her family."
"You don't have to come." Holmes said and addressed the Marquis again.
"Where are the paintings stored at present?"
"Normally they are housed in the basement of the castle, but since receiving the letter I've had my servant secure them in a turret, the highest point of the house, there is only one way in and one way out."
"And what would you have me do? Sit in guard outside or inside this turret indefinitely?"
"Ten thousand pounds. In advance." The Marquis said, bettering his previous offer.
"It does sound most intriguing, but as Watson says, it is Christmas and material possessions are... there is more to life, don't you think?"
"Fifteen thousand pounds, any expenses and a further fifteen thousand if you are successful. My final offer." I remained silent, simply stunned at the lengths this Marquis would go to protect these two pieces of art. I had not seen them, in fact had not been aware of their existence until that day and I wondered at the beauty and majesty of these pieces of work.
" Thank you, Mr. Holmes. I cannot tell you what a relief it is."
"You already have."
"I have?" The Marquis's expression was full of confusion.
"Your body language. One can make ninety three conclusions through a man's actions and only seven in his words." I, as well as the Marquis didn't fully comprehend what Holmes said and the silence of our confusion was interrupted by the Marquis getting up from the couch.
"My carriage awaits." He said, making his way to the door.
"You expect me to come this very instant?"
"You can sleep in the carriage." The Marquis said, with an air of confidence and insistence that defied his earlier disposition. Holmes and myself looked on as he made his way through the door and down the stairs. He then turned his glance to me and arched his eye brow in his singular fashion.
I joined Holmes two days later on the morning of the 26th of December. The train ride took a little less than three hours. I busied myself by reading and enjoying the passing countryside through my window. The train was quiet and most pleasant, for I had a booth all to myself. The castle was pleasant too, a thin layer of snow covered the ground and the rolling fields and hills beyond. It wasn't quite so large as I might have expected. A square moat surrounded its white stone walls and the grey turrets shot up into the sky like spikes piercing the very clouds. It was nestled in a forest of trees at the depth of a shallow valley and clean white gravelled road lead down a short incline to its gates. The Marquis's man servant, an Indian man, greeted me and led me inside to Holmes.
"Watson, thank God you're here." Holmes said as I met him. He wasn't usually inclined to proclamations of this kind, ones that included the word 'God', so I knew instantly the situation must have been desperate. "This Marquis is insane. He has me permanently situated in this turret, waiting. If one wasn't so assured of myself I'd swear I was a character in some lurid Gothic horror story."
"Holmes, you must calm down."
"I'm perfectly calm!" He said, as we ascended a stone spiral staircase his voice echoing around the stone walls. A gentle breeze fluttered the firelight emanating from the torches that illuminated our ascent. Holmes was so on edge I feared he had succumbed to a panic attack of some sort or perhaps it was the mere anger of frustration.
"Where is the Marquis?" I asked.
"Shut away in his work space. The man has been there ever since we arrived. You said he was a recluse, but you underestimated the level."
Finally, we reached the very peak of the stone spiral staircase and a heavy wooden door leading into the room. It creaked as Holmes pushed it open. The room wasn't especially luxurious, but everything a man could need was contained within. A bookshelf, a small bed, a fireplace and two armchairs positioned before it. There was even a small rack of wine and a rope cord that once pulled, the servant would arrive and tender to a request for food and such like. The paintings Holmes and I had been commissioned to protect sat in a corner, bound in a heavy cloth sheet, and were always within our eye-line. Unless both I and Holmes left the room there was no conceivable way for an intruder to steal them, for there was only a small slit of a window in the stone walls and man or woman or even child would find it impossible to climb through, let alone scale the turret walls to reach it. It all seemed like easy work, a simple matter of passing the time until the 27th day of December had passed. We sat down in the armchairs by the fireplace and Holmes told me of his initial arrival at the castle.
"The introduction was brief and the man seemed urgent to leave my presence. I insisted upon studying every room in the house. Most provided little interest, except, the basement where he keeps his collection and I was confounded to find not one of them was displayed, all were wrapped in cloth, like the two specimens there," said he, pointing out the paintings we were employed to guard. "and they were piled like wooden pallets on the floor of the basement. I wondered as to his intent and asked.
"Why buy and commission so many artists and paintings only to keep them buried, shouldn't they be on display for people to enjoy them?" He didn't respond and merely looked down at his feet. The basement, I concluded used to be a wine cellar.
"How did you know that?" I interceded.
"Why, the disused racks in the corner."
"Anything else of note?"
"I felt a cool pocket of air when passing close to the back wall. It was unusual, since the room, by the Marquis's own diligence was kept at the same temperature as the rest of the castle."
"Given the room's previous occupation, I would expect as much."
"How do you mean?" Holmes asked, puffing on his pipe and peering at me with that familiar stare.
"It was a wine cellar, as you have already concluded. Wine has to kept at room temperature. Does it not?"
"Excellent, Watson, excellent," said he and paused in contemplation. "I believe there is, or may be some psychological reason to this Marquis's hoarding."
"And what might you think that would be?"
"I believe it is a woman as I conjectured at my own apartment when we first encountered the man. In his bedroom and in his own work space I noted a portrait of her and a kodac of the woman. Remarkably beautiful, with a subtle smile that could rival the Mona Lisa. I asked about her and the instant I did the Marquis became flustered and he shuddered at her memory."
"An acquaintance I no longer have reason to keep company with.," he said.
"And following that he insisted I take my leave and go to my duty in guarding the paintings. I might add his artistic work, the Marquis's own paintings are, how shall I put this? Lacking. I'm no connoisseur, but even the layman wouldn't want such portraits on his walls. He is either buying these paintings in some futile attempt to reconcile with this female acquaintance, he told me she is also an amateur painter. Or, he is buying every painting on the market in order to promote himself and his own work. None of which he has sold. A small detail I'm sure, but one of interest."
"Indeed," said I.
"Good Lord, Watson are you dozing off?" I sat up an adjusted myself in the arm chair.
"The surroundings are rather cosy."
"Watson, Watson, Watson," said he, in the most condescending tone and one that made me feel like a child who had disappointed his parent.
"Sorry." As I adjusted myself in the seat once more, I felt the square edges of a pack of cards I had in my waistcoat pocket. I fished them out and presented them. "Perhaps a game to occupy our time." Holmes glared at me and arched an eye brow.
"Very well." I dealt and we played a few hands. Holmes's brow pinched in a concentration that suggested his mind was occupied on not just the cards, the game and his own tactics, but something else too. We played in silence for ten or twenty minutes, only the crackling and spitting of fire against wood coming from the fireplace.
"If there is one thing I find most deplorable about this occupation I have chosen, it's the waiting. Waiting for a client with an interesting problem and then when one arrives there is yet more waiting. All part an parcel, I guess," said he. I merely nodded and played my hand with mild triumph. I had won the game. Holmes peered down at the table between us and the cards laid upon it and I swear I could see his mind working, like the gears of some great machine.
"Slight of hand," he declared, the volume of his voice was as if he were an actor projecting his voice to an audience. I looked at him, confused and in the next beat he charged out of the armchair and stormed out of the room. I gave chase after him.
"Holmes, what on earth?" He stopped dead in his tracks and turned, his face caught by the light of one of the fire torches on the wall.
"Misdirection, Watson, the whole matter is one of misdirection. Like the parlour trick magician we encountered in Camden. Simplicity itself," he said. Then whirled around, his footsteps pounding out an echoing rhythm down the stone stairwell. He stopped yet again, allowing me to catch up.
"The date, Watson, the date?"
"Why, the 27th..."
"Watson, it's past midnight. Which..."
"Which would make it the 28th," said he, finishing both my thought and the sentence.
Henceforth, I ran, following Holmes through the corridors and complex stairwells eventually ending up in the Marquis's basement. Both he and I stopped, panting profusely and when I caught my breath I looked on aghast. The cloth wrapped paintings in the basement Holmes had described earlier to me had all gone. Vanished, without a trace. Holmes flashed his look all around. He would appear to have been, outdone, out-shined by this Arsène Lupin.
"The pocket of air," he exclaimed and charged toward the back wall. There, he and myself scaled the bricks and the mortar with our eyes and fingers and low and behold, we discovered a secret door. Holmes searched for the latch or lever that would open it and during this short time the Marquis had entered. Upon seeing the empty basement he clutched at his heart in the most dire panic attack and in the next instant collapsed to the floor. I rushed to attend to him and applied some rudimentary techniques of my own invention to revive him from his collapse. Holmes, meanwhile had found the latch and the secret stone door at the back wall opened with slow speed and a rumbling creak. He disappeared through the door and the tunnel beyond. It was the last I saw of him until dawn.
The Marquis, I am afraid to say, died within the next few minutes. My medical conclusion, a heart attack, but I believe it was brought on by sheer stress, paranoia and that indefinable trauma of grief. The loss of his collection was the final straw and the man's body and mind had given up on this mortal existence. I spent the best part of three hours attempting to revive him, with smelling salts, the kiss of life, but all were for naught and I gave up, declaring the man dead in my medical capacity. Messages and telegraphs were sent for assistance, but none came as the Marquis's man servant had vanished much like the paintings in his basement.
Holmes returned to the castle as the morning mists dwelling upon the woods and the castle were in their thickest, and as we approached a waiting carriage he explained his adventures in the chase for Arsène Lupin.
"I gave chase through the tunnel, his running footsteps always thirty yards ahead of me, I could not gain a visual description other than the black coat tails that flayed behind him as he ran. The tunnel was long and maintained a curved edge and many corners, he was always beyond my field of vision. I noted as a ran, multiple tracks in the ground leading both up and down the tunnel. They suggested he had accomplices and that he had been sneaking out the paintings one by one over the course of many days. This was confirmed when I reached the end of the tunnel and came upon a ladder that led upward. In my haste I lost my footing on two separate occasions and nearly fell. The ladder upward was of a remarkable height. Once I had scaled it, it led me out of a trap door, of sorts and onto a field beyond both the moat and the woods surrounding the castle. There, I saw a horse and carriage, the paintings where piled within and although I am in good training it was beyond me and my running legs to match the pace of the two horses. This Arsène Lupin flashed a look back at me as the coach charged away and the man had the gall to wave and smile. I was left alone in those snowy fields, defeated."
"Defeated? Surely not. We can inform the galleries of London and any collector of the fine arts of this theft and the paintings. If any one should find itself on offer, the police shall be notified."
Holmes pondered this, not heartened or satisfied as to my suggestion. "The Marquis has no heir, nor kin, the paintings are or should be in the public domain and this Arsène Lupin will surely have a fence and launder the paintings under a network or alias. It will take time and is now a matter under the auspices of the police. Not our own. But I do not doubt our paths will come across this Lupin again. Or, I hope so."
"Hope so?" I said.
"One rarely comes across a criminal that is equal to my skills, or indeed better minded than I." I regarded him with much surprise. "Well, Watson, do you not relish finding a disease or some ailment that is illusive to your skills in detecting it? Do you not gain a certain amount of professional intrigue and curiosity, and ultimately satisfaction at discovering it's cure? Do you not learn from such practices?"
"Why yes, I suppose I do."
"Then this Arsène Lupin, is the criminal disease of England and I am the cure." I smiled at his bold confidence.
"Even so, I do not forget to have compassion and empathy for the victims. The Marquis, I'm afraid to say, died just after you began your chase in the tunnel." He regarded me with silence.
"Yes I suppose, that would be your, area." A glum silence hung within the carriage as we made our way to the train station and back to London and I sensed a certain regret within Holmes's disposition. Perhaps he envied me and my social skills. Not to say that he wasn't completely devoid of them himself, but to him it was part of the landscape of his work and if given the choice he would turn away from social interaction and social graces.
On the train he further told me of the matter of this hidden door. A rather unique quirk, heralding from the late 16th century and the beginning of Queen Elizabeth I's reign. A time when Priests of the Catholic faith were persecuted by law and found quick escape through such tunnels, 'Priest holes', they were called.
Holmes's astronomically large advance had already been paid, the second half however was refused him as the Marquis failed to draw up legal contract of his promise and his lawyers were steadfast as they claimed Holmes and myself had failed in our efforts, despite the fact the two paintings we were employed to protect were not stolen. A small matter and we didn't let it dampen our spirits or hopes for the new year. To my surprise, considering our failure to capture Arsène Lupin we found ourselves in much demand in the next year and one or two of the Marquis's paintings did turn up and were sold to galleries. The trail leading to Lupin, however, drew dead ends and this master thief, Arsène Lupin, remains at large.
Myself, Mary and Holmes spent new year's eve in joyous abandon, Holmes footing the bill for dinner and dancing at one of London's most luxurious restaurants and to my shock he even engaged in a dance with Mary, on Mary's insistence and my good hearted permission. He was most graceful and elegant and both I and Mary were taken aback at his skill. He dismissed our compliments with modesty and as the bells and the crowds chimed in the new year, Holmes sat at a table in the most melancholy thought, perhaps vexed at his defeat or lost in some memory of the past.