The Hollow Needle
9. Open, Sesame!
The Etretat Needle was hollow!
Was it a natural phenomenon, an excavation produced by internal cataclysms or by the
imperceptible action of the rushing sea and the soaking rain? Or was it a superhuman
work executed by human beings, Gauls, Celts, prehistoric men?
These, no doubt, were insoluble questions; and what did it matter? The essence of the
thing was contained in this fact: The Needle was hollow. At forty or fifty yards from that
imposing arch which is called the Porte d'Aval and which shoots out from the top of the
cliff, like the colossal branch of a tree, to take root in the submerged rocks, stands an
immense limestone cone; and this cone is no more than the shell of a pointed cap poised
upon the empty waters!
A prodigious revelation! After Lupin, here was Beautrelet discovering the key to the
great riddle that had loomed over more than twenty centuries! A key of supreme
importance to whoever possessed it in the days of old, in those distant times when hordes
of barbarians rode through and overran the old world! A magic key that opens the
cyclopean cavern to whole tribes fleeing before the enemy! A mysterious key that guards
the door of the most inviolable shelter! An enchanted key that gives power and ensures
Because he knows this key, Caesar is able to subdue Gaul. Because they know it, the
Normans force their sway upon the country and, from there, later, backed by that support,
conquer the neighboring island, conquer Sicily, conquer the East, conquer the new world!
Masters of the secret, the Kings of England lord it over France, humble her, dismember
her, have themselves crowned at Paris. They lose the secret; and the rout begins.
Masters of the secret, the Kings of France push back and overstep the narrow limits of
their dominion, gradually founding a great nation and radiating with glory and power.
They forget it or know not how to use it; and death, exile, ruin follow.
An invisible kingdom, in mid-water and at ten fathoms from land! An unknown fortress,
taller than the towers of Notre Dame and built upon a granite foundation larger than a
public square! What strength and what security! From Paris to the sea, by the Seine.
There, the Havre, the new town, the necessary town. And, sixteen miles thence, the
Hollow Needle, the impregnable sanctuary!
It is a sanctuary and also a stupendous hiding-place. All the treasures of the kings,
increasing from century to century, all the gold of France, all that they extort from the
people, all that they snatch from the clergy, all the booty gathered on the battle-fields of
Europe lie heaped up in the royal cave. Old Merovingian gold sous, glittering crown-
pieces, doubloons, ducats, florins, guineas; and the precious stones and the diamonds; and