The Secret Tomb
THE SECRET TOMB
BY MAURICE Le BLANC
CREATOR OF "ARSENE LUPIN"
GEORGE W. GAGE
THE MACAULAY COMPANY
By THE MACAULAY COMPANY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
THE SECRET TOMB
THE CH¬TEAU DE ROBOREY
Under a sky heavy with stars and faintly brighter for a low-hangingsickle moon, the gipsy caravan slept on the turf by the roadside, itsshutters closed, its shafts stretched out like arms. In the shadow ofthe ditch nearby a stertorous horse was snoring.
Far away, above the black crest of the hills, a bright streak of skyannounced the coming of the dawn. A church clock struck four. Here andthere a bird awoke and began to sing. The air was soft and warm.
Abruptly, from the interior of the caravan, a woman's voice cried:
A head was thrust out of the little window which looked out over thebox under the projecting roof.
"A nice thing this! I thought as much! The rascal has decamped in thenight. The little beast! Nice discipline this is!"
Other voices joined in the grumbling. Two or three minutes passed,then the door in the back of the caravan opened and a shadowy figuredescended the five steps of the ladder while two tousled heads appearedat the side window.
"Dorothy! Where are you going?"
"To look for Saint-Quentin!" replied the shadowy figure.
"But he came back with you from your walk last night; and I saw himsettle down on the box."
"You can see that he isn't there any longer, Castor."
"Where is he?"
"Patience! I'm going to bring him back to you by the ears."
But two small boys in their shirts came tumbling down the steps of thecaravan and implored her:
"No, no, mummy Dorothy! Don't you go away by yourself in thenight-time. It's dangerous...."
"What are you making a fuss about, Pollux? Dangerous? It's no businessof yours!"
She smacked them and kicked them gently, and brought them quickly backto the caravan into which they climbed. There, sitting on the stool,she took their two heads, pressed them against her face, and kissedthem tenderly.
"No ill feeling, children. Danger? I'll find Saint-Quentin in half anhour from now."
"A nice business!... Saint-Quentin!... A beggar who isn't sixteen!"
"While Castor and Pollux are twenty—taken together!" retorted Dorothy.
"But what does he want to go traipsing about like this at night for?And it isn't the first time either.... Where is it he makes theseexpeditions to?"
"To snare rabbits," she said. "There's nothing wrong in it, you see.But come, there's been talk enough about it. Go to by-by again, boys.And above all, Castor and Pollux, don't fight. D'you hear? And nonoise. The Captain's asleep; and he doesn't like to be disturbed, theCaptain doesn't."
She took herself off, jumped over the ditch, crossed a meadow, inwhich her feet splashed up the water in the puddles, and gained apath which wound through a copse of young trees which only reachedher shoulders. Twice already, the evening before, strolling with hercomrade Saint-Quentin, she had followed this half-formed path, so thatshe went briskly forward without hesitating. She crossed two roads,came to a stream, the white pebbly bottom of which gleamed under thequiet water, stepped into it, and walked up it against the current, asif she wished to hide her tracks, and when the first light of day beganto invest objects with clear shapes, darted forth afresh through thewoods, light, graceful, not very tall, her legs bare below a very shortskirt from which streamed behind her a flutter of many-colored ribbons.
She ran, with effortless ease, surefooted, with never a chance ofspraining an ankle, over the dead leaves, among the flowers of earlyspring, lilies of the valley, violet anemones, or white narcissi.
Her black hair, not very long, was divided into two heavy masseswhich flapped like two wings. Her smiling face, parted lips, dilatednostrils, her half-closed eyes proclaimed all her delight in herswift course through the fresh air of the morning. Her neck, long andflexible, rose from a blouse of gray linen, closed by a kerchief oforange silk. She looked to be fifteen or sixteen years old.
The wood came to an end. A valley lay before her, sunk between twowalls of rock and turning off abruptly. Dorothy stopped short. She hadreached her goal.
Facing her, on a pedestal of granite, cleanly cut down, and not morethan a hundred feet in diameter, rose the main building of a ch‚teau,which though it lacked grandeur of style itself, yet drew from itsposition and the impressive nature of its construction an air of beinga seigniorial residence. To the right and left the valley, narrowed totwo ravines, appeared to envelop it like an old-time moat. But in frontof Dorothy the full breadth of the valley formed a slightly undulatingglacis, strewn with boulders and traversed by hedges of briar, whichended at the foot of the almost vertical cliff of the granite pedestal.
"A quarter to five striking," murmured the young girl. "Saint-Quentinwon't be long."
She crouched down behind the enormous trunk of an uprooted tree andwatched with unwinking eyes the line of demarcation between the ch‚teauitself and its rocky base.
A narrow shelf of rock lengthened this line, running below the windowsof the ground floor; and there was a spot in this exiguous cornice atwhich there came to an end a slanting fissure in the face of the cliff,very narrow, something of the nature of a crevice in the face of a wall.
The evening before, during their walk, Saint-Quentin had said, hisfinger pointing at the fissure:
"Those people believe themselves to be perfectly secure; and yetnothing could be easier than to haul one's self up along that crackto one of the windows. ... Look; there's one which is actuallyhalf-open ... the window of some pantry."
Dorothy had no doubt whatever that the idea of climbing the granitepedestal had gripped Saint-Quentin and that that very night he hadstolen away to attempt it. What had become of him after the attempt?Had there not been some one in the room he had entered? Knowing nothingof the place he was exploring nor of the dwellers in it, had he not lethimself be taken? Or was he merely waiting for the break of day?
She was greatly troubled. For all that she could see no sign of a pathalong the ravine, some countryman might come along at the very momentat which Saint-Quentin took the risk of making his descent, a far moredifficult business than climbing up.
Of a sudden she quivered. One might have said that in thinking of thismischance she had brought it on them. She heard the sound of heavyfootfalls coming along the ravine and making for its main entrance.She buried herself among the roots of the tree and they hid her. A mancame in sight. He was wearing a long blouse; his face was encircledand hidden by a gray muffler; old, furred gloves covered his hands; hecarried a gun on his arm, a mattock over his shoulder.
She thought that he must be a sportsman, or rather a poacher, for hewalked with an uneasy air, looking carefully about him, like one whofeared to be seen, and who was carefully changing his usual bearing.But he came to a standstill near the wall fifty or sixty yards fromthe spot at which Saint-Quentin had made the ascent, and studied theground, turning over some flat stones and bending down over them.
At last he made up his mind and seizing one of these slabs by itsnarrower end, he raised it and set it up on end in such a manner thatit was balanced after the fashion of a cromlech. So doing he uncovereda hole which had been hollowed out in the center of the deep imprintleft by the slab. Then he took his mattock and set about enlarging it,removing the earth very quietly, evidently taking great care to make nonoise.
A few minutes more slipped away. Then the inevitable event whichDorothy had at once desired and feared took place. The window of thech‚teau, through which Saint-Quentin had climbed the night before,opened; and there appeared a long body clad in a long black coat,its head covered with a high hat, which, even at that distance, wereplainly shiny, dirty, and patched.
Squeezed flat against the wall, Saint-Quentin lowered himself from thewindow and succeeded in setting his two feet on the rocky shelf. Onthe instant Dorothy, who was at the back of the man in the blouse, wason the point of rising and making a warning signal to her comrade. Themovement was useless. The man had perceived what looked to be a blackdevil clinging to the face of the cliff, and dropping his mattock, heslipped into the hole.
For his part, Saint-Quentin, absorbed in his job of getting down, waspaying no attention to what was going on below him, and could only haveseen it by turning round, which was practically impossible. Uncoiling arope, which he had, without doubt, picked up in the mansion, he ran itround a pillar of the balcony of the window in such a fashion that thetwo ends hung down the face of the cliff an equal distance. With thehelp of this double rope the descent presented no difficulty.
Without losing a second, Dorothy, uneasy at being no longer able tosee the man in a blouse, sprang from her hiding-place and raced to thehole. As she got a view of it, she smothered a cry. At the bottom ofthe hole, as at the bottom of a trench, the man, resting the barrel ofhis gun on the rampart of earth he had thrown up, was about to takedeliberate aim at the unconscious climber.
Call out? Warn Saint-Quentin? That was to precipitate the event,to make her presence known and find herself engaged in an unequalstruggle with an armed adversary. But do something she must. Up thereSaint-Quentin was availing himself of the fissure in the face of thecliff, for all the world as if he were descending the shaft of achimney. The whole of him stuck out, a black and lean silhouette. Hishigh hat had been crushed down, concertina fashion, right on to hisears.
The man set the butt of his gun against his shoulder and took aim.Dorothy leapt forward and flung herself at the stone which stood upbehind him and with the impetus of her spring and all her weight behindher outstretched hands, shoved it. It was badly balanced, gave at theshock, and toppled over, closing the excavation like a trap-door ofstone, crushing the gun, and imprisoning the man in the blouse. Theyoung girl got just a glimpse of his head as it bent and his shouldersas they were thrust down into the hole.
She thought that the attack was only postponed, that the enemy wouldlose no time in getting out of his grave, and dashed at full speed tothe bottom of the fissure at which she arrived at the same time asSaint-Quentin.
"Quick ... quick!" she cried. "We must bolt!"
In a flurry, he dragged down the rope by one of the ends, mumbling ashe did so:
"What's up? What d'you want? How did you know I was here?"
She gripped his arm and tugged at it.
"Bolt, idiot!... They've seen you!... They were going to take a shot atyou!... Quick!