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The Hollow Needle

7. The Treatise Of The Needle
It is four o'clock in the morning. Isidore has not returned to the Lycee Janson. He has no
intention of returning before the end of the war of extermination which he has declared
against Lupin. This much he swore to himself under his breath, while his friends drove
off with him, all faint and bruised, in a cab.
A mad oath! An absurd and illogical war! What can he do, a single, unarmed stripling,
against that phenomenon of energy and strength? On which side is he to attack him? He
is unassailable. Where to wound him? He is invulnerable. Where to get at him? He is
Four o'clock in the morning. Isidore has again accepted his schoolfellow's hospitality.
Standing before the chimney in his bedroom, with his elbows flat on the mantel-shelf and
his two fists under his chin, he stares at his image in the looking-glass. He is not crying
now, he can shed no more tears, nor fling himself about on his bed, nor give way to
despair, as he has been doing for the last two hours and more. He wants to think, to think
and understand.
And he does not remove his eyes from those same eyes reflected in the glass, as though
he hoped to double his powers of thought by contemplating his pensive image, as though
he hoped to find at the back of that mirrored Beautrelet the unsolvable solution of what
he does not find within himself.
He stands thus until six o'clock, and, little by little, the question presents itself to his mind
with the strictness of an equation, bare and dry and cleared of all the details that
complicate and obscure it.
Yes, he has made a mistake. Yes, his reading of the document is all wrong. The word
aiguille does not point to the castle on the Creuse. Also, the word demoiselles cannot be
applied to Raymonde de Saint- Veran and her cousin, because the text of the document
dates back for centuries.
Therefore, all must be done over again, from the beginning.
One piece of evidence alone would be incontestible: the book published under Louis
XIV. Now of those hundred copies printed by the person who was presumed to be the
Man with the Iron Mask only two escaped the flames. One was purloined by the captain
of the guards and lost. The other was kept by Louis XIV., handed down to Louis XV.,
and burnt by Louis XVI. But a copy of the essential page, the page containing the
solution of the problem, or at least a cryptographic solution, was conveyed to Marie
Antoinette, who slipped it into the binding of her book of hours. What has become of this
paper? Is it the one which Beautrelet has held in his hands and which Lupin recovered