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My Sherlock Holmes
THE CHEVALIER C. AUGUSTE DUPIN
"It is simple enough as you explain it," I said, smiling. "You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories."
Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. "No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin," he observed. "Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropros remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine."
--A Study in Scarlet
by RICHARD A. LUPOFF
The Incident of the Impecunious Chevalier
It was not by choice but by necessity that I continued to read by oil lamp rather than arranging for the installation of the new gas lighting. In my wanderings throughout the metropolis I had been present at demonstrations of M. Lebon's wondrous invention and especially of the improved thorium and cerium mantle devised by Herr von Welsbach, and thought at length of the pleasure of this brilliant mode of illumination, but the under nourished condition of my purse forbad me to pursue such an alteration in the condition of my lodgings.
Even so, I took comfort of an evening in crouching beside the hearth in my lodgings, a small flame of dried driftwood flickering on the stones, a lamp at my elbow, and a volume in my lap. The pleasures of old age are few and small, nor did I anticipate to experience them for many more months before departing this planet and its life of travail. What fate my Maker might plan for me, once my eyes should close for the last time, I could only wonder and await. The priests might assert that a Day of Judgment awaited. The Theosophists might maintain that the doctrine of Karma would apply to all beings. As for me, the Parisian metropolis and its varied denizens were world enough indeed.
My attention had drifted from the printed page before me and my mind had wandered in the byways of philosophical musings to such an extent that the loud rapping upon my door induced a violent start within my nervous system. My fingers relaxed their grasp upon the book which they held, my eyes opened widely and a loud moan escaped my lips.
With an effort I rose to my feet and made my way through my chill and darkened apartment to answer the summons at the door. I placed myself beside the portal, pulling at the draperies that I kept drawn by day against the inquiring gaze of strangers and by night against the moist chill of the Pa risian winter. Outside my door I perceived an urchin, cap set at an uncouth angle upon his unshorn head, an object or scrap of material clutched in the hand which he was not using to set up his racket on my door.
Lifting an iron bar which I kept beside the door in case of need to defend myself from the invasion of ruffians and setting the latch chain to prevent the door from opening more than a hand's width, I turned the latch and drew the door open far enough to peer out.
The boy who stood upon my stoop could not have been more than ten years of age, ragged of clothing and filthy of visage. The meager light of the passage outside my apartment reflected from his eye, giving an impression of wary suspicion. We studied each other through the narrow opening for long seconds before either spoke. At length I demanded to know his reason for disturbing my musings. He ignored my question, responding to it by speaking my name.
"Yes," I responded, "it is indeed I. Again, I require to know the purpose of your visit."
"I've brought you a message, monsieur," the urchin stated.
"I don't know the gentleman's name," he replied.
"Then what is the message?"
The boy held the object in his hand closer to the opening. I could see now that it was a letter, folded and sealed with wax, and crumpled and covered with grime. It struck me that the boy might have found the paper lying in a gutter and brought it to me as part of a devious scheme, but then I remembered that he had known my name, a feat not likely on the part of a wild street urchin.
"I can't read, monsieur," the child said. "The gentleman gave it me and directed me to your lodging. I know numbers, some, and was able to find your place, monsieur."
"Very well," I assented, "give me the paper."
"I've got to be paid first, monsieur."
The boy's demand was annoying, and yet he had performed a service and was, I suppose, entitled to his pay. Perhaps the mysterious gentleman who had dispatched him had already furnished him with payment, but thiswas a contingency beyond my ability to influence. Telling the child to await my return I closed the door, made my way to the place where I keep my small treasury, and extracted from it a sou coin.
At the doorway once more I exchanged the coin for the paper and sent the child on his way. Returning to the dual illumination of hearth and oil lamp, I broke the seal that held the letter closed and unfolded the sheet of foolscap. The flickering firelight revealed to me the work of a familiar hand, albeit one I had not glimpsed for many years, and a message that was characteristically terse and demanding.
Come at once. A matter of urgency.
The message was signed with a single letter, the initial D.
I rocked back upon my heels, sinking into the old chair which I had used as my comfort and my retreat from the world through the passing decades. I was clad in slippers and robe, nightcap perched upon my head. It has been my plan, following a small meal, to spend an hour reading and then to retire to my narrow bed. Instead, I now garbed myself for the chill of the out-of-doors. Again I raided my own poor treasury and furnished myself with a small reserve of coins. In a short time I had left my apartment and stood upon my stoop, drawing behind me the doorway and turning my key in the lock.
No address had been given in the demanding message, nor was the messenger anywhere to be seen. I could only infer from the lack of information to the contrary that my old friend was still to be located at the lodgings we once had shared, long ago.
It was too far to travel on foot, so I hailed a passing cab, not without difficulty, and instructed the driver as to my destination. He looked at me with suspicion until I repeated the address, 33 Rue Dunôt in the Faubourg St-Germain. He held out his hand and refused to whip up until I had delivered the fare into his possession.
The streets of the metropolis were deserted at this hour, and mostly silent save for an occasional shout of anger or moan of despair--the sounds of the night after even revelers have retired to their homes or elsewhere.
As the cab drew up I exited from it and stood gazing at the old stone structure where the two of us had shared quarters for so long. Behind me I heard the driver grumble, then whip up, then pull away from number 33 with the creak of the wooden axle and the clatter of horse's hooves on cobblestones.
A light appeared in a window and I tried, without success, to espy the form of the person who held it. In a moment the light moved and I knewthat my erstwhile friend was making his way to the door. I presented myself in time to hear the bar withdrawn and to see the door swing open.
Before me stood my old friend, the world's first and greatest consulting detective, the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin. Yet though it was unquestionably he, I was shocked at the ravages that the years had worked upon his once sharp-featured visage and whip-thin frame. He had grown old. The flesh did not so much cover his bones as hang from them. 1 saw that he still wore the smoked-glass spectacles of an earlier age; when he raised them to peer at me his once ferretlike eyes were dim and his hands, once as hard and steady as iron rods, appeared fragile and tremulous.
"Do not stand there like a goose," Dupin commanded, "surely by this time you know the way."
He retreated a pace and 1 entered the apartment which had meant so much to me in those days of our companionship. Characteristically, Dupin uttered not another syllable, but instead led the way through my onetime home. I shut the door behind me, then threw the heavy iron bolt, mindful of the enemies known to seek Dupin's destruction in a former epoch. That any of them still survived was doubtful, that they remained capable of working mischief upon the great mind was close to what Dupin would have deemed "a nil possibility," but still I threw the bolt.
Dupin led the way to his book closet, and within moments it was almost as if the decades had slipped away. He seemed to regain his youthful vigor, and I my former enthusiasm. Not waiting for me to assume the sofa upon which I had so often reclined to peruse musty volumes in past decades Dupin flung himself into his favorite seat. He seized a volume which he had laid face downward, its pages open, upon the arm of his chair.
"Have you seen this?" he demanded angrily, brandishing the volume.
I leaned forward, straining in the gloom to recognize the publication. "It bears no familiarity," I confessed. "It looks but newly arrived, and my reading in recent years has been entirely of an antiquarian nature."
"Of course, of course," Dupin muttered. "I will tell you what it is. I have been reading a volume translated from the English. Its title in our own tongue is Une Étude en Écarlate. The author has divided the work into chapters. I will read to you from a chapter which he entitles ingenuously 'La Science de Déduction.'"
Knowing that there was no stopping Dupin once he was determined upon a course, I settled upon the sofa. The room was not uncomfortable, I was in the company of my ancient friend, I was content.
"I will omit the author's interpolations," Dupin prefaced his reading, "and present to you only the significant portions of his work. Very well, then! 'Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine.'"
With a furious gesture he flung the slim volume across the room against a shelf of volumes, where it struck, its pages fluttering, and fell to the carpet. I knew that the Poe to whom the writer averred was the American journalist who had visited Dupin and myself from time to time, authoring reports of the several mysteries which Dupin had unraveled with, I took pride in recalling, my own modest but not insubstantial assistance.
"What think you of that?" Dupin demanded.
"A cruel assessment," I ventured, "and an inaccurate one. Why, on many occasions I can recall--"
"Indeed, my good friend, you can recall the occasions upon which I interrupted your words to tell you your very thoughts."
"As you have just done," I averred. I awaited further words from Dupin, but they were not at that moment forthcoming so I resumed my speech. "Who is the author of this scurrilous assessment?"
"The author's name matters not. It is the villain whom he quotes, who is of significance."
"And who, may I inquire, might that person be?"
Dupin raised his eyes to the ceiling where smoke from the fireplace, draughty as ever, swirled menacingly. "He is one whom I met some years ago, long after you had departed these quarters, mon ami. I had by then largely retired from my labors as a consulting detective, and of course my reputation had long since reached the islands of fools."
By this time I could see that Dupin was off on a tale, and I settled myself more thoroughly than ever upon the sofa, prepared to listen to the end:
Those were days of tumult in our nation (Dupin said) when danger lurked at every turning and the most ordinary of municipal services were not to be taken for granted. When I received a message from across the Channel I was of course intrigued.
The writer was a young man who professed admiration for my exploits and a desire to learn my methods that he might emulate them in the building of a reputation and a career for himself in his own land. I received manysuch communications in those days, responding to them uniformly that the entire science of detection was but a matter of observation and deduction, and that any man or even woman of ordinary intelligence could match my feats did he or she but apply those faculties with which we are all equipped to their full capacity. But the person who had written to me mentioned a particular case which he had been employed to resolve, and when he described the case my curiosity was piqued.
Your expression tells me that you, too, are aroused by the prospect of this case, and I will tell you what it concerned.
The young man's letter of application hinted only of a treasure of fabu lous value, a cache of gold and gems lost some three centuries, that had become the subject of legend and of fanciful tales, but which he believed to exist in actuality and to be in France, nay, not merely in France but in the environs of Paris itself. Could he but find it he would be wealthy beyond the power of imagination, and if I would but assist him in his quest a portion of it would be mine.
As you know, while I am of good family I have long been of reduced means, and the prospect of restoring the fortunes of my forebears was an attractive one. My correspondent was reticent as to details in his letters, for 1 wrote back to him seeking further information but was unable to elicit useful data.
At length I permitted him to visit me--yes, in this very apartment. From the first his eccentric nature was manifest. He arrived at a late hour, as late I daresay as you have yourself arrived this night. It was the night before that of the full moon. The air was clear and the sky filled with celestial objects whose illumination, added to that of the moon, approached that of the day.
He sat upon the very sofa where you recline at this moment. No, there is no need to rise and examine the furnishing. You do make me smile, old friend. There is nothing to be learned from that old sofa.
The young man, an Englishman, was of tall and muscular build with a hawklike visage, sharp features, and a sharp, observant mien. His clothing bore the strong odor of tobacco. His hollow eyes suggested his habituation to some stronger stimulant. His movements suggested one who has trained in the boxing ring; more, one who has at least familiarized himself with the Japanese art of baritsu, a subtle form of combat but recently introduced in a few secretive salons in Paris and Berlin, in London, and even in the city of Baltimore in Maryland.
It took me but moments to realize that this was a person of unusual talent, potentially a practitioner of the craft of detection to approach my own level of proficiency. It was obvious to me as we conversed on this topic and that, the politics of our respective nations, the growing incidence of crime which respects neither border nor sea, the advances of science and literature among the Gallic and Anglic races, that he was watching me closely, attempting to draw my measure even as I was, his.
At length, feeling that I had seen all that he would reveal of himself, and growing impatient with his avoidance of the topic that had drawn him to my apartments, I demanded once for all that he describe that which he sought and in the recovery of which he desired my guidance, or else depart from my lodging, having provided me with an hour's diversion and no more.
"Very well, sir," he replied, "I will tell you that I am in search of a bird."
Upon his making this statement I burst into laughter, only to be shocked back to sobriety by the stern expression upon the face of my visitor. "Surely, sir," I exclaimed, "you did not brave the stormy waters of the Channel in search of a grouse or guinea hen."
"No, sir," he replied, "I have come in search of a plain black bird, a bird variously described in the literature as a raven or, more likely, a hawk."
"The feathers of hawks are not black," I replied.
"Indeed, sir, you are correct. The feathers of hawks are not black, nor has this hawk feathers of any color, but the color of this hawk is golden."
"You insult me, sir," I stated angrily.
My visitor raised his eyebrows. "Why say you so?"
"You come to me and speak only in riddles, as if you were humoring a playful child. A hawk that is black but has no feathers and yet is golden. If you do not make yourself more clear you must leave my apartments, and I wish you a speedy return to your country."
He raised a hand placatingly. "I did not wish to offend you, sir, nor to speak in conundrums. Pray, bear with me for a little longer and I will make clear the nature and history of the odd bird which I seek."
I permitted him to continue.
"This was the representation of a bird," quoth he, "the creation of a group of talented metalworkers and gemsmiths, Turkish slaves employed by the Grand Master Villiers de l'Isle d'Adam, of the Order of the Knights of Rhodes. It was crafted in the year 1530, and dispatched by galley from the Isles of Rhodes to Spain, where it was to be presented to the Emperor Charles the Fifth. Its height was as the length of your forearm. It was of solid gold, in the form of a standing hawk or raven, and it was crusted overwith gems of the greatest variety and finest quality. Its value even at the time was immense. Today it would be incalculable!"
He paused, a look in his eyes as if he could envision the fantastic sight of a golden falcon, emeralds for its eyes and rubies for its claws, circling the chamber. Then he resumed his narrative.
He then did something which seemed, at the moment, very peculiar but it which, I would come to realize, was in truth to have been expected of a man such as he. He leaped from his seat upon the cushion and began pacing restlessly around the chamber. At once I inquired as to what had caused such an abrupt alteration in his manner and demeanor, whereupon he turned upon me a visage transformed. The muscles of his face were drawn, his lips were pulled back to expose gleaming teeth, and his eyes, by heaven, his eyes glittered like the eyes of a wild leopard.
"I must visit an apothecary at once," he exclaimed.
In response to this demand I remonstrated with him. "Sir, there is an excellent apothecary shop upon the Rue Dunôt, an easy walk from here, but what is the urgency? A moment ago you were calmly describing a most extraordinary bird. Now you demand directions to the establishment of a chemist."
"It will pass," he responded, most puzzlingly, "it will pass."
He sank once more to his former position upon the sofa and, pressing the heels of his hands to his deep-sunken eyes, paused to draw a deep breath.
"Do you wish to continue?" I inquired.
"Yes, yes. But if you would be so kind, monsieur, as to furnish me with a glass of wine, I would be most grateful."
I rose and proceeded to the wine cupboard, from which I drew a dust coated bottle of my second-best vintage. In those days as in these, as you are of course aware, I saw fit to maintain my own household, without benefit of servant or staff. I poured a glass for my guest and he tossed it off as one would a draught of water, extending the emptied goblet for a second portion, which I forthwith poured. This he studied, lifted to his lips and sipped, then placed carefully upon the taboret before him.
"Do you wish to continue your narration?" I inquired.
"If you please," he responded, "I beg your indulgence for my outburst. I am not, I must confess, entirely well."
"Should the need arise," I assured him, "M. Konstantinides, the chemist, is qualified to provide specifics for all known illnesses. The hour islate and he would by now have closed his establishment for the night and retired to his chamber, but I could rouse him in your behalf."
"You are gracious, sir. I trust that will prove unnecessary, but I am nonetheless grateful." Once more he paused as if to gather his thoughts, then launched upon a further exposition. "I will not trouble you with every detail of the peregrinations of the golden falcon, save to point out that within our own generation it had passed into the possession of the Carlist movement in Spain."
To this statement I nodded. "Wars of succession are tiresome, but it seems they will be with us always, does it not? I was struck by the recent surrender of Señor Maroto's Basque followers after their lengthy and strenuous resistance."
"You are well informed, sir! If you are familiar with the fate of the Basque Carlists, then you would know that Señor Ramón Cabrera has continued the struggle in Catalonia."
"He is also in dire straits, is he not?"
"Yes, it appears that Her Majesty Isabella the Second is at last about to reap the harvest of the Salic Law invoked by her royal father. But I fear I am boring you, M. Dupin."
"Not so much boring as stimulating my curiosity. Surely, sir, you did not travel here from London merely to relate the saga of a fabulous bird and then digress upon the politics of the Spanish succession. How are these things related, for surely that must be the case. If you would be so kind as to come to the point, then."
"Indeed." He bowed his head, then raised it once more. "You are aware, surely, that Don Carlos has sympathizers here in France. You were perhaps not aware that Señor Cabrera had sent an agent on a dangerous and secretive mission, to traverse the passes of the Pyrenees and make his way to the chateau of a French sympathizer, no less a personage than the Duc de Lagny."
"I am familiar with Lagny," I confessed. "I have had the pleasure of being introduced to His Grace and to Her Grace the Duchess. Their chateau is of noteworthy architecture. But of the Duke's Carlist sympathies I must confess profound ignorance.
"That is not surprising, sir. The Duke is known, if I may make a small play on words, for his reclusiveness."
He paused to sip once more at his, or perhaps I should say, my, wine. "Regarding the golden bird as an omen and token of majesty, and sensingthe imminent defeat of the Carlist cause, Señor Cabrera had sent the bird to Lagny. rather than have it fall into the hands of his niece's followers."
"And you wish me to assist you in retrieving the bird from the chateau of the Duc de Lagny?" I asked.
"That is my mission."
"You are in the employ of Her Majesty Isabella?"
"I am in the employ of one whose identity I am not at liberty to disclose." He rose to his feet. "If you will assist me--for my knowledge of the French countryside and culture is limited--you will receive, shall I say, sir, a reward of royal proportions."
"You wish me to accompany you to the chateau of the Duke," I objected, "there to obtain from his custody the fabled bird. What causes you to believe that he will relinquish it?"
"You have my assurance, monsieur, the Duke will be eager to part with that which he safeguards upon receiving proof of the identity of my employers."
"You have such proof with you?" I demanded.
"I have, sir," he insisted. "Upon this fact I give you my solemn assur ance.
Unable to deny an interest in obtaining a share of the lucre to which he referred, and perhaps attracted to an extent by the lure of the romantic story he had spun, I agreed, at the least, to accompany him to Lagny. I have told you already that the hour of my guest's arrival was an unconventionally late one, and his disquisitive manner of speech had caused the hours to pass before our bargain, such as it might be, was struck.
At length I excused myself and proceeded to the front parlor of my apartment. The act of drawing back the draperies confirmed that which I had already suspected, namely, that dawn had broken and a new day was upon us. Feeling impelled to violate my custom and venture forth from my lodgings in the light of day, I urged my visitor to the stoop, drew shut the door behind us, and locked it. We set out on foot to the apothecary shop of M. Konstantinides. Here my guest purchased a preparation and induced it into his own system.
I was by no means unfamiliar with the effects of various stimulants and depressants upon the human organism, but even so I will own that I was startled at the strength and portion taken by this nearly skeletal Englishman. At once his air of distress left him and his visage assumed an altogether more friendly and optimistic appearance than had previously beenthe case. He paid M. Konstantinides his fee, adding a generous overage thereto, and then, turning to me, suggested that we set out for Lagny.
Our journey was not a difficult one. We hired a hackney carriage and negotiated a fare all the way to the village of Lagny, the sum being paid from my guest's purse, and proceeded eastward from the capital. It was necessary to pause but once at an inn, where we procured a loaf, a cheese, and bottle, my English guest and I dining in democratic fashion with the hackman.
The sun drew low in the sky behind us as we approached Lagny. I was able, by drawing upon my memory of earlier days, to direct the hackman past the village to the chateau of the Duke. It was a tall and rambling structure of ancient Gothic construction; as we neared the chateau the sun's guttering rays painted its walls as if with a palette of flame. We debouched from the carriage and instructed the hackman to return to the village and to return for us in the morning.
He asked in his rude yet charmingly colorful way, "And who's to pay for me sups and me snooze, ye two toffs?"
"We shall indeed," my English guest responded, dropping a handful of coins onto the coach box, upon which the hackman whipped up and departed.
The Chateau de Lagny, if I may so describe it, radiated an air of age and decadence. As my guest and I stood gazing at its façade he turned to me and asked a peculiar question. "What do you hear, my dear Dupin?"
Perhaps I ought to have taken offense at this unwonted familiarity, but instead I chose to deal with his query. I cocked an ear, gave list carefully to whatever sounds there might be emanating from the chateau, then made my reply "I hear nothing."
"Precisely!" the Englishman exclaimed.
"And what, sir, is the object of this schoolmasterly exchange?" I inquired.
"Sir--" He smiled. "--would one not expect to hear the bustle of life in such a setting as this? The neigh of horses from the stables, the cry of servants and workers, mayhap the sound of revelers? None of this, I repeat, none of it do we hear. Only a silence, M. Dupin, only an eerie, deathlike silence."
For once I was forced to concede that my visitor had scored a point upon me. I acknowledged as much, to which he perhaps grudgingly conceded that I was yet the master and he the eager pupil. He refrained from commenting upon the looming day when the pupil might outstrip the master in achievement, nor was I prepared to do so.
Arm in arm we approached the main entryway of the chateau. We car ried, of course, walking sticks, and I permitted my companion to raise his and strike heavily upon the great wooden door. To my astonishment no servant appeared to grant us entry. Instead, the door swung slowly open and the two of us set foot upon the flagging on the château's foyer.
At first nothing appeared out of the way, but in moments our nostrils were assailed by the unmistakable odor of decomposition. Exchanging glances but not a word, we drew kerchiefs from our respective pockets and knotted them over our nostrils and mouths. I turned toward my companion and observed him, hatted and masked like a highwayman. Full well I knew that my own appearance was as sinister as his.
The first cadaver we encountered was that of a liveried footman. First instructing my guest to maintain careful watch lest violence appear from within the chateau, I knelt over the still form. Had the stench not been evidence enough of death, the condition of the footman's body would have fully convinced the veriest of laymen. He had been struck down from behind. He lay upon his face, the back of his head crushed, the pooled gore already beginning to crawl with insects.
Turning aside to draw a breath of clear air, or at any rate of air more clear than that surrounding the cadaver, I examined the clothing of the deceased in search of a clue as to the motive for his murder, but discovered nothing.
Proceeding through the house my associate and I found, in turn, the remains of maids, cooks, laundresses, and an elderly male servant whom we took to be the majordomo of the establishment. But what had happened, and where was the master of the chateau?
Him we found in the stables behind the chateau. Surrounded by stable men lay M. le Duc. The hearty nobleman whose company I had enjoyed more than once had been treated disgustingly. It was obvious from the con dition of the remains that the Duke had been tortured. His hands were bound behind his back and his face showed the discolorations caused by the application of a heated implement. Surely the intention had been to force from him the location of the fabled golden bird. Marks upon his torso were enough to sicken the viewer, while the final, fatal attack had come in the form of a sharpened blade drawn across his belly, exposing his vital organs and inducing the ultimate exsanguination.
Her Grace the Duchess had been treated in similar fashion. I will not describe the indignities which had been visited upon her. One prayed only that her more delicate frame had reached its limits and that she had beengranted the mercy of a death more rapid and less agonizing that that of her husband.
Horses and dogs, like the human inhabitants of the estate, lay at random, slaughtered every one.
"Is this the work of Señor Cabrera and his men?" I asked.
"More likely of the servants of Isabella," my guest replied. "The deaths of these unfortunate persons and their beasts are to be regretted, but of immediate concern is the whereabouts of the bird." He stood over first one cadaver, then another, studying them as would a student of medicine the dissected remains of a beast.
"It appears unlikely that the secret was divulged," he suggested at length. "Obviously the Duke was tortured and dispatched first, for such a nobleman as he would not have permitted his lady to be treated as we see her to have been. Nor, I would infer, did the Duchess know the where abouts of the bird, for once her husband was deceased, she would have had no reason to protect the secret. On the contrary, having presumably seen her attackers, she would have sought to survive in order to exact revenge for the murder of her husband."
His callous attitude toward the carnage we had only just beheld was appalling, but then the English are known to a cold-blooded race, and it may be that this Englishman felt a degree of sympathy and outrage that he did not show. Very well, then. When the hackman returned for us on the morrow, I would inform the mayor of the village of Lagny of our terrible discovery. The brutal criminals responsible would be sought and, one hoped, brought to face their fate beneath the guillotine in due course. But my guest was right, at least to the extent that our own presence at the Château de Lagny had been brought about by the report of the presence of the bird.
We would seek it, and if it was here, I knew that we would find it.
"Let us proceed to locate the golden bird," I announced to my guest. "So splendid an object should be conspicuous to the eye of anyone save a blind man."
"Perhaps not," the Englishman demurred. "I will confess, my dear Dupin, that I have withheld from you one item in the history and description of the bird."
I demanded that he enlighten me at once, and in what for him passed for a direct response, he complied. "You have doubtlessly noticed that in my descriptions of the bird I have referred to it both as golden and as black."
"I have done so, sir. You may in fact recall my bringing this discrepancyto your attention, and your pledge to reconcile the conflicting descriptions. If you please, this would seem an excellent time to do so."
"Very well, then. The bird as originally created by the captive Turkish craftsmen, of solid gold virtually encrusted with precious stones, was considered too attractive a target. At some point in its history--I confess to ignorance of the exact date--it was coated in a black substance, a thick, tarry pigment, so that it now resembles nothing more than a sculpture of ebony in the form of a standing hawk."
"What leads you to believe that the bird is still in the chateau? Even if the Duke and Duchess died without revealing the secret of its hiding place to their enemies, those villains might still have searched the chateau until they found the bird. But look about you, sir, and you will see that we are surrounded by a scene not merely of carnage, but of despoliation. It is obvious that the château has been ransacked. You did not yourself know of the bird's hiding place? Your employers did not inform you?"
"My employers did not themselves know the hiding place. It was the Duke himself who chose that, after the messengers had left."
"Then for all we know, the bird has flown."
"No, sir." The Englishman shook his head. "By the condition of the bodies, even in winter, this horror occurred at least four days ago, before I left London. I would have received word, had the villains succeeded. They have committed these horrendous crimes in vain. You may rest assured that the bird is still here. But where?"
"Let us consider," I suggested. "The interior of the chateau and even, to the extent that we have searched, of the outbuildings, have been torn apart. Furniture is demolished, pictures and tapestries torn from walls. The Duke's library has been despoiled, his priceless collection of ancient manuscripts and rare volumes reduced to worthless rubble. Even a suit of ancient armor has been thrown from its stand so that it lies in pieces upon the flagging. The invaders of the chateau may be monsters, but they are not unintelligent nor yet are they lacking in thoroughness."
I paused, awaiting further comment by the Englishman, but none was forthcoming. I observed him closely and perceived that he was perspiring freely and that he alternately clenched and loosened his fists almost as one suffering a fit.
"If the bird is still on the estate," I resumed, "yet it is not within the chateau or its outbuildings, logic dictates its location to us. Consider this, young man. We have eliminated the partial contents of our list of possibilities.Having done so, we are drawn irresistibly to the conclusion that the remaining possibilities must contain the solution to our puzzle. Do you follow the thread of ratiocination which I have laid before you?"
He seemed to relax, as if the fit had passed. He drew a cloth from a pocket of his costume and wiped the perspiration from his brow. He acknowledged the irrefutable nature of my argument.
"But," he continued, "I fail to see the next step in your procedure."
"You disappoint me," I uttered. "Very well. If you will please follow me."
I retreated to the main entry hall of the chateau, and thence to the terrace outside. I proceeded still farther, my boots leaving a trail behind me in the heavy dew that had accumulated upon the lush lawn surrounding the chateau. The moon had attained fullness, and the sky above Lagny was even more impressive than that above the metropolis had been.
"Do you look upon the château," I instructed my pupil, for I had so come to regard the Englishman.
He stood beside me and gazed at the structure, its stone pediments rendered in pale chiaroscuro by the light streaming from the heavens. "What see you?" I asked him.
"Why, the Château de Lagny," he replied at once.
"Indeed. What else do you see?"
The young Englishman pursed his lips with the appearance of impatience. "Only that, sir. The stable and other outbuildings are concealed by the bulk of the château."
"Indeed," I nodded. I spoke no more, awaiting further comment by the other. There ensued a lengthy silence.
Finally, in a tone of impatience, my student spoke once more. "The lawn before the château. The woods which surround us. The moon, the stars. A tiny cloud in the southwest."
I nodded. "Very good. More."
"For the love of God, Dupin, what more is there to see?"
"Only that which is vital to our mission," I replied.
As I watched, the Englishman raised his eyes once more, then froze. "I see a row of birds perched upon the parapet of the château."
"My good fellow!" I exclaimed, "it appears now possible that you may have the makings of a detective. Further, I urge you, do not satisfy yourself with merely seeing, but observe, observe, observe, and report!"
He stood silent and motionless for some time, then took an action which won my admiration. Although we stood ankle-deep in the dew-soakedgrass before the château, there was nearby a driveway used by car riages approaching and departing the estate. Our own cabman had fol lowed this path, and it was my expectation that he would utilize it once more upon his return for us in the morning.
The Englishman strode to the driveway, bent, and lifted a handful of gravel. He threw back his cape so as to free his arm and flung the gravel at the birds perched upon the parapet. I was impressed by the strength and accuracy of his arm,
With an angry outcry several of the birds flew from their perch. They were silhouetted against the night sky, their form limned in a drab black against the glittering stars and clear darkness of the heavens. One of them passed across the face of the full, brilliant moon, its widespread wings and the shining disk behind it creating the illusion that the bird was as large as the legendary Pegasus.
My student and I remained motionless, observing the behavior of the aerial creatures. They were more annoyed than frightened by the clattering pebbles, or so I inferred, for it took mere moments for the plurality of the creatures to return to their former places, midst an audible flapping of feathery wings and grumbling calls.
The Englishman bent and lifted another handful of gravel, drew back his arm and flung the stones at the birds. Once more his action evoked an angry response, most of the birds crying out in annoyance and flapping away from their perch. By now the solution to the mystery of the missing hawk was apparent.
"Good work," I congratulated my student. "It is clear that you have grasped the difference between observing and merely seeing, and have observed that which is necessary to locate your prey."
A small indication of pleasure made itself visible upon his face, the momentary upward twitching of the corners of his mouth by a few millimeters. Without uttering a word he seated himself upon the grass and proceeded to remove his boots and stockings. I watched in equal silence as he strode to the outer wall of the château.
It has been my expectation that he would return to the interior of the structure and seek access to the roof by means of interior staircases. Instead, to my amazement, after studying the wall with its closely fitted stones and creeping ivy, he proceeded to climb the exterior of the château, using his powerful fingers and almost orangutan-like toes to assure his grasp. As he advanced his cape flapped about his form like two huge wings.
As he approached the parapet he called out to the winged creatures perched there, making a peculiar sound unlike any I had previously heard. Without preliminary, the avians watching his advance extended their wings and rose from the château, disappearing into the blackness that surrounded them. All save one. A single bird remained stationary, silhouetted against the starry domain.
The strange, almost inhuman, being into which my erstwhile visitor had transformed himself, perched now beside the sole remaining avian, so high above the earth that a single slip, I could see, would plunge him to a certain doom. Yet no sound reached me from this strange personage, nor any indication of fear.
He lifted the unmoving bird from its place and in a moment it disappeared beneath his cloak. I could only infer that he had come prepared with an extra section of leather belting or rope, concealed until now by his outer garments.
Then as I stood aghast he lowered himself to lie flat upon the parapet, then reached over its edge to gain a handhold on the stone wall, then slid from his safe perch and proceeded to climb down the wall of the château, headfirst, the bird secured beneath his clothing. His appearance, for all the world, was that of a gigantic bat.
When he reached the greensward he righted himself and drew the bird from beneath his cape. "I thank you, my dear Dupin, for the lessons you have given me, equally in observation and in deduction. Our prey is recovered."
So saying he held the black bird toward me. Even through its black coating I could make out the shape of its feathers, its claws, its beak and its eyes. It was clearly a magnificent example of the sculptor's art. My student asked me to hold the figurine while he once more donned his stockings and boots. The weight of the black bird was so great that I felt even greater astonishment at his ability to descend the wall of the château with it strapped beneath his clothing.
We spent what little remained of the night exploring the interior of the château, utilizing torches which remained from that sad structure's happier era. The only clues that we uncovered were further evidence of the brutality of the invaders who had slaughter the Duke and Duchess as well as their retainers, all in a futile attempt to learn the whereabouts of the treasure which my pupil and I now possessed.
With morning our hackman arrived, somewhat the worse for wear and, one inferred, for the consumption of excessive amounts of spirit. I instructedhim to take us to the village of Lagny, where we concealed the bird inside the boot of the hack, promising the hackman a generous tip in exchange for his silence. We thereupon made a full report of our gory findings at the château, making no mention of the bird. The reason we gave for our visit to the château was the truthful one that I was an old acquaintance of the Duke and Duchess and had been eager to introduce to them my visitor from England.
The mayor of the village of Lagny and the chef des gendarmes were duly horrified by our descriptions, but permitted us to depart for Paris upon our pledge to provide what information and assistance we could, should these be called for at a later stage of their investigation.
In due course the hack pulled up at my lodgings in the Faubourg St Germain. A light snow had fallen in the metropolis, and I picked my way carefully to my door lest I slip and fall to the stones. Exhausted by the activities of the past day and night, I turned my key in the lock of my lodg ings and pushed the door open so that my guest and I might enter. When we did so we were confronted by an unanticipated sight. My quarters had been ransacked. Furniture was overturned, drawers were pulled from their places and inverted upon the floor. The carpeting had been torn up and rolled back to permit a search for trapdoors or loosened boards.
Every picture was pulled from the wall and thrown to the floor, includ ing that of my friend and idol the great Vidocq. Shocked and offended by the invasion of my quarters I proceeded to examine their contents, assess ing the damage and grieving for the destruction of precious mementos of a long career. I clutched my head and expostulated my outrage.
Drawing myself together at length and hoping in some manner to mitigate the harm which had been done I turned to confer with my visitor, only to find that he had disappeared without a trace.
I flew to the doorway and exited my premises. The hack had of course departed long since, but a row of dark footprints showed in the fresh snow. Following without heed to the risk of falling I dashed the length of the Rue Dunôt. At length I found myself standing upon the doorstep of the establishment of M. Konstantinides. I sounded the bell repeatedly but without response, then pounded upon the door. Neither light nor movement could be seen from within the shop, nor was there response of any sort to my summons.
At once the meaning of these events burst upon my tortured brain. The Englishman was a dope fiend, the Greek apothecary the supplier of his evil chemicals. How Konstantinides has obtained knowledge of the bird wasunfathomable, but it was at his behest rather than that of either the Carlists or the Bourbons that I had been recruited.
Konstantinides had ransacked my lodgings merely as a distraction, to hold my attention while the Englishman brought the bird to his shop. By now, even though mere minutes had passed, it was a certainty that both the Englishman and the Greek, along with the black bird, were gone from the Faubourg and would not be found within the environs of Paris.
What would become of the bird, of the English detective, of the Greek chemist, were mysteries for the years to come. And now at last (Dupin completed his narrative) I learn of the further career of my student, and of the scorn with which he repays my guidance.
As I sat, mortified by my friend and mentor's humiliation, I saw him clutching the small volume from which he had read the cruel words as if it were a dagger with which he planned to take his own life. All the while he had been telling his tale I had been carried away by the narrative, to another time and place, a time and place when Dupin was young and in his prime. But now I had returned to the present and saw before me a man enfeebled by the passage of the years and the exigencies of a cruel existence.
"What became of the bird?" I inquired. "Did it disappear entirely?"
Dupin shook his head. "The apothecary shop of the Greek Konstantinides was reopened by a nephew. Of the elder Konstantinides nothing was ever again heard, or if it was, it was held inviolate in the bosom of the family. I attempted to learn from the nephew the whereabouts of his uncle and of the Englishman, as well as of the bird itself, but the younger Konstantinides pled ignorance of the fate the two men, as well as that the bird. For two generations now the shop has remained in the family, and the secret, if secret there is, remains sealed in their bosom."
I nodded my understanding. "And so you never again heard of your pupil, the strange Englishman?"
Dupin waved the book at me. "You see, old friend? He has become, as it were, the new Dupin. His fame spreads across the seas and around the globe. Did he but make the meanest acknowledgment of his debt to me, I would be satisfied. My material needs are met by the small pension arranged by our old friend G--of the Metropolitan Police Force. My memories are mine, and your own writings have given me my small share of fame."
"The very least I could do, Dupin, I assure you."
There followed a melancholy silence during which I contemplated the sad state to which my friend had fallen. At length he heaved a sigh pregnant with despair. "Perhaps," he began, then lapsed, then again began, "perhaps it would be of interest to the discerning few to learn of a few of my other undertakings."
Shaking my head I responded, "Already have I recorded them, Dupin. There was the case of the murders in the Rue Morgue, that of the purloined letter, and even your brilliant solution of the mystery of Marie Roget."
"Those are not the cases to which I refer," Dupin demurred.
"I know of no others, save, of course that which you have narrated to me this night."
Upon hearing my words, Dupin permitted himself one of rare smiles which I have ever seen upon his countenance. "There have been many others, dear friend," he informed me, "many indeed."
Astonished, I begged him to enumerate a few such.
"There were the puzzle of the Tsaritsa's false emerald, the adventure of Wade the American gunrunner, the mystery of the Algerian herbs, the incident of the Bahamian fugitive and the runaway hot-air balloon, and of course the tragedy of the pharaoh's jackal."
"I shall be eager to record these, Dupin. Is the list thus complete?"
"By no means, old friend. That is merely the beginning. Such reports may in some small way assuage the pain of being aged and forgotten, replaced on the stage of detection by a newer generation of sleuths. And, I suspect, the few coins which your reports may add to your purse will not be unwelcome."
"They will not," I was forced to concede.
"But this--" Dupin waved the book once more. "--this affront strikes to my heart. As bitter as wormwood and as sharp as a two-edged sword, so sayeth the proverb."
"Dupin," I said, "you will not be forgotten. This English prig has clearly copied your methods, even to the degree of enlisting an assistant and amanuensis who bears a certain resemblance to myself. Surely justice forbids that the world forget the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin!"
"Not forget?" my friend mumbled. "Not forget? The pupil will live in fame forever while the master becomes but a footnote to the history of detection. Ah, my friend, my dear, dear friend, but the world in which we live is unjust."
"It was ever thus, Dupin," I concurred, "it was ever thus."
MY SHERLOCK HOLMES. Copyright © 2003 by Michael Kurland. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y 10010.