THE FANTOMAS DETECTIVE NOVELS
A NEST OF
AUTHORS OF "FANTOMAS," "THE EXPLOITS OF JUVE," "MESSENGERS OF EVIL," ETC.
Copyright, 1917, by Brentano's
* * * * *
I. SUDDEN DEATH 1
II. DOCUMENT NO. SIX 13
III. BARON NAARBOVECK'S HOUSE 26
IV. A CORDIAL RECEPTION 35
V. THEY ARE NOT AGREED 43
VI. CORPORAL VINSON 51
VII. THE SECOND BUREAU 65
VIII. A SINGER OF THE HALLS 77
IX. WITH THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE 88
X. AUNT PALMYRA 96
XI. THE HOODED CLOAK OF FANTOMAS 104
XII. A TRICK ACCORDING TO FANDOR 115
XIII. JUVE'S STRATAGEM 122
XIV. BEFORE A TOMB 130
XV. THE TRAITOR'S APPRENTICESHIP 138
XVI. AT THE ELYSEE BALL 149
XVII. IN THE STRONGHOLD OF THE ENEMY 158
XVIII. IN THE NAME OF THE LAW! 162
XIX. THE MYSTERIOUS ABBE 171
XX. MAN OR WOMAN 180
XXI. A CORDIAL UNDERSTANDING 187
XXII. HAVE THEY BOLTED? 195
XXIII. LONDON AND PARIS 204
XXIV. AN APPETISER AT ROBERT'S BAR 212
XXV. THE ARREST 218
XXVI. WILHELMINES'S SECRET 225
XXVII. THE TWO VINSONS 232
XXVIII. AT "THE CRYING CALF" 240
XXIX. "I AM TROKOFF" 246
XXX. APPALLING ACCUSATIONS 260
XXXI. A CARAVAN DRAMA 271
XXXII. FREE AND PRISONER 281
XXXIII. RECONCILIATION 292
XXXIV. A FANTOMAS TRICK 298
XXXV. AT THE COUNCIL OF WAR 309
XXXVI. AMBASSADOR! 320
* * * * *
A NEST OF SPIES
She sought in vain!
The young woman, who was finishing her toilette, lost patience. With a look of annoyance she half turned round, crying, "Well, Captain, it is easy to see that you are not accustomed to women's ways!"
This pretty girl's lover, a man about forty, with an energetic countenance, and a broad forehead adorned with sparse locks, was smoking a Turkish cigarette, taking his ease on a divan at the far end of the room.
He jumped up as if moved by a spring.
For some time the captain had followed with his eyes the gestures of his graceful mistress; like a good and attentive lover he guessed what she required. He rushed into the adjoining dressing-room and returned with a little onyx cup in which was a complete assortment of pins.
"There, my pretty Bobinette!" he cried, coming up to the young woman. "This will put me into your good graces again."
She thanked him with a smile; took the needed pins from the cup, and quietly finished dressing.
Bobinette was a red-haired beauty.
The thick braids of her abundant tresses, with their natural waves and curls, fell to where the lines of neck and shoulders meet, their tawny hues enhancing the milky whiteness of her plump flesh. This young creature was of the true Rubens type.
It was half past three in the afternoon of a dull November day. A kind of twilight was darkening the ground floor flat in the quiet rue de Lille, where the two lovers were together.
For some months now Captain Brocq had been on intimate terms with this intoxicating young person, who answered to the nickname "Bobinette." Her features, though irregular, were pleasing. Sprung from the people, Bobinette had tried to remedy this by becoming a past mistress of postures, of attitudes. Like others of her kind, from her very childhood she had learned to adapt herself to whatever company she was in, picking up almost intuitively those shades of taste, of tact, which can transform the most unconsidered daughter of the people into the most fastidious of Parisiennes.
It was the contrary as regards Captain Brocq, an artillery staff-officer and attached to the Ministry of War. Notwithstanding his intellectual capacities and his professional worth, so highly valued by his chiefs, he always remained the man of humble origin, somewhat gauche, timid, who was evidently better fitted to be at the head of a battery on the bastions of a fortress than frequenting the gossipy clubs of officials or society drawing-rooms. Brocq, who had passed out of the Military Academy exceedingly well, had been given an important post recently: a confidential appointment at the Ministry of War. During the first years of his military life Brocq had been entirely preoccupied by his profession. Of a truth, as pretty Bobinette had just told him, he was not at all "a man accustomed to women." This was why, when verging on forty, his heart, as young, as fresh as a student's, had suddenly caught fire when he happened to meet Bobinette.
Who was this woman?
Brocq could not place her with that mathematical exactitude dear to his scientific mind. She puzzled this honest man, who fell deeper and deeper in love with her. Whenever they met, and their first tender effusions were over, the lovers exchanged ideas, and always on the same subject.
* * * * *
Bobinette had completed her toilet. In leisurely fashion she came over to her lover and seated herself beside him. Brocq, who was thinking deeply, remained silent.
"What are you thinking about?" Bobinette suddenly asked, in a chaffing tone. "Have you solved a new problem, or are you thinking of a dark woman?"
Brocq smiled. Amorously he put his arm round the girl's supple figure; drawing her to him, and burying his lips in her abundant and perfumed hair, he murmured tenderly:
"I am thinking of the future, of our future."
"Good gracious me!" replied Bobinette, withdrawing herself from his arms. "You are not going to bore me again with your ideas of marriage?"
The captain made a movement of protestation; but Bobinette went on:
"No, no, old dear, no chains for me! No gag, no muzzle for me! We are both independent, let us remain so! Free! Long live liberty!"
Brocq now got in a word: "In the first place," he said, "you know quite well you would do a very stupid thing if you married me; I have not the usual dowry, far from it! Then I am not of your world. Can you see me in a drawing-room, playing my tricks with the colonel's wife, the general's wife, with the whole blessed lot of them? Zut! I am just what I am, just Bobinette."...
Brocq now got in a word: "In the first place," he observed, "as regards the dowry, you know very well, my pretty Bobinette, that I have already taken steps about it, on your behalf—now don't protest! It gives me pleasure to make your future safe, as far as I can: a modest competence. On the other hand, I am not a society man, and if you wish it."...
The captain drew nearer his mistress and brushed her lips with his moustache.
Bobinette drew back, got up from the divan, stood in front of her lover, erect, arms crossed, her look sullen: "No, I tell you, I wish to be free, my own mistress."...
Brocq grew impatient: "But in spite of your ideas of independence, my poor darling, you are always in a state of servitude! Why, only to give one example, for the last two years you have been content to occupy an inferior position in the house of this Bavarian diplomat—or Austrian—I don't know what he is?"
"Naarboveck?" asked Bobinette, surprised. "But don't imagine that I am the Baron de Naarboveck's servant: still, if it were otherwise, I can't play proud. I can't bring out the title-deeds and pedigree of my ancestors for inspection!"
"It's not a question of that," observed Brocq.
Bobinette had launched forth. She continued:
"But that is the question. You are always imagining that I have things given me to do which lower me. I have told you a hundred times how it was I went to the Naarboveck's. One day the poor man came to the hospital: he was almost beside himself. His daughter Wilhelmine, who is barely nineteen, had just been taken ill—it was typhoid fever—he was obliged to go away and leave her—not a soul in whose care he could leave the child with confidence. I was recommended to Naarboveck. I came, I nursed Wilhelmine. This went on for a month, then for two, then three—now we are the best friends in the world. Wilhelmine is a girl whom I love with all my heart; the baron is an amiable man, all kindness and attention.... It is true that I am now a kind of companion, in an 'inferior' position, as you choose to put it in your absurdly vain and jealous way of looking at things; but, my dear man, there are ways and ways, and I assure you I am treated as one of the family. And, besides, you ought to consider that it was precisely at the Naarboveck receptions we met."
With the utterance of these last words Bobinette glanced at Captain Brocq as if she would annihilate him: the remembrance of their first meeting seemed more odious to her than pleasing.
Brocq, whose eyes were obstinately lowered, saw nothing of this. He suggested: "I am not the only one you have met at M. de Naarboveck's. There is that handsome cuirassier, Henri de Loubersac."...
Bobinette crimsoned. She shrugged her shoulders. "How stupid you are! Lieutenant Henri does not give me a thought, if he comes to the house."...
Brocq interrupted: "Yes, I know he comes on account of the fair Wilhelmine." His tone was conciliatory. Once more he drew Bobinette to him; but she seemed to object more and more strongly to the captain's caresses. Glancing at a clock on the mantelpiece she cried: "Why, it is four o'clock! High time I should leave."
Brocq, who had followed her glance, added, suddenly serious: "My faith! I must call at the Ministry!"
Both rose. Bobinette took up her hat and went to the looking-glass. Brocq exchanged his jacket for a black coat. He went into his study, separated from the other room by a heavy curtain.
"Bobinette!" he called.
That young person responded to his call, but with no show of haste. She found the captain seated before his bureau rummaging in an immense drawer crammed full of papers.
"You know, my little Bobinette, that I have made you my sole legatee," cried the captain, with an adoring look at the pretty girl who suddenly appeared in the doorway. He continued his search among his papers: they were in great disorder.
"I wished to show you—it's a question of spelling your name correctly. You are called Berthe, are you not?"
The girl had come forward. She quickly caught sight of a mauve sheet of paper on the blotting-pad. A few lines were traced on it.
"Ah! you wretch!" she cried, while she glanced through the words. She pretended to be angry. "I've caught you! You were writing to a woman! Ho, it starts well:
"'My own darling adored one, how long the hours seem when I await.'"...
Captain Brocq shouted with laughter.
"Ah, here's a joke! Why, it is you who are jealous now!"
Bobinette questioned him with a look. He explained:
"But, you great idiot, don't you understand that I was writing to you, and that only a couple of hours ago! You know I am always afraid you will not come to our meeting-place, and you are always late!"
Bobinette, reassured, now helped Brocq to go through his drawer methodically.
There could be no doubt of it—the captain was a most untidy man. Family letters, papers covered with figures, handwritten military documents, even some bank-notes, were jumbled together in great disorder.
Bobinette noticed her own handwriting on some sheets of paper. How well she knew them!
She feigned anger. "It is abominable to compromise me like this!" she cried. "See! My letters! Love letters! Intimate letters lying about like this! No, decidedly!"...
Brocq put her right. "No, no, my pet! Your precious letters are most carefully preserved by me—put together—see—there they are—there are not many of them—but not one is missing!"
"You are sure of that?"
"I swear it."
Bobinette reflected. The captain, however, returned to the adjoining room, hoping to come across the deed of gift he had set his mind on finding. "Come with me, Bobe!" he called. He opened a little writing desk. He thought his mistress had followed him, but she had remained in the study.
"Bobinette!" he called again, astonished to find himself alone.
Brocq went back.
He collided with the girl who, with a furtive gesture, slipped something into her muff.
"Well," said he.
"Well, what now?" she retorted.
They gazed at each other for a moment in silence.
"What were you doing?" questioned Brocq suspiciously.
"Nothing," answered Bobinette coldly.
But the captain caught hold of her hands. He was uneasy, almost angry: "Tell me!"
The red-haired beauty jumped back with a defiant air: "Very well, then! I have taken my letters, they belong to me! I wish to have them! It disgusts me to think that they are left lying about your rooms. Do you think it funny that your orderly should read them to his country-woman? That your concierge should know all about them? I declare men like you have not a scrap of tact, of nice feeling!"
"Bobinette!" the captain implored her.
"No, no; and again, no!" cried the girl more and more angrily. "I have them. I keep them!"
The captain grew pale. She added, a little more gently:
"But, you great stupid, they are of no importance! I'll give them back to you later—when you are good. You are behaving like a schoolboy! Come, kiss me! Tell your little Bobe that you are not angry with her! If you don't I shall cry!"
Already she was beginning to sob, and great tears were dropping. Captain Brocq, struck dumb, gazed at her sorrowfully. And whilst he clasped her in his arms, anxiety strained at his heart, anguish convulsed his soul. Did she really love him, this woman with her whimsical ways, her independent attitude, this elusive woman who never gave herself entirely? Was he the dupe of a comedy? Did she consent to these meetings three times a week through pity, through sympathy only, or through habit, or, worse still, for some mercenary reason? And this when he himself would have given up everything so that he might not miss them! Ah, if that were the truth! The captain felt an immense void opening in the depths of his lonely soul. He apologised in a low voice, hurriedly, with bent head, humbly, and Bobinette listened with curled lip and haughty air: She bore no malice, she declared. Then, a few moments later, for she was really much upset and did not wish to show it, she hurried away, dropping a hasty kiss on her lover's forehead as a token of peace. How ardently he wished that this peace might last.
"I am very much behind time," she had murmured by way of farewell.
Directly his mistress had gone, Brocq went to the window, watched her turn the corner of the rue de Lille, enter the rue des Saints-Peres, and go towards the quays. While he watched her he was trembling. A roll of paper was sticking out of Bobinette's muff. Brocq knew this paper: its appearance and colour were familiar to him. Nevertheless, his mind was so full of his love affair that he immediately forgot this detail. But, in a minute, the turn of events forced him to recall it.
"In Heaven's Name!" shouted Captain Brocq, as a violent blow from his clenched fist made the scattered papers on his bureau tremble. "By Heaven! It is impossible!"
When he found himself alone, sadly alone in his little flat, Brocq saw it was five o'clock, and more than time to start for the Ministry of War. Hastily putting on overcoat and hat, he had hurried into his study to look for the big leather portfolio he always carried when taking his work from the office to his own home.
Owing to his special knowledge of fortress artillery Brocq had been requested to put the finishing touches to a confidential report on the defences of the eastern forts of Paris and the distribution of the effective forces of the companies of mechanics in time of mobilisation. He had searched feverishly in his drawers for this report, which was of no great bulk. For the last ten minutes he had anxiously searched, but in vain: he could not find a trace of it!
"It is impossible!" he cried. He swore aloud as if the better to convince himself. "The title is in big letters, 'Confidential,' in red, and twice underlined. Oh, it is quite impossible that it should pass under my eyes unperceived!"
Again the distracted man ransacked his papers and shook his portfolio. Almost beside himself with exasperation, he cried: "My excellent Bobinette, by her rummaging, has put the finishing touch to this confusion. Heaven knows, it was bad enough before!"
He paused. Anguish seized him. He fell into an arm-chair, while drops of sweat broke out on his forehead. Suddenly he had remembered the roll of papers sticking out of Bobinette's muff. He uttered a cry: "My God! But supposing!"... He did not put the rest of his thought into words. For an instant he had the idea that through thoughtlessness, by mistake, an involuntary one assuredly, his mistress had taken this document to wrap up her letters ... without suspecting. That was it! No doubt she had carried off with her this secret plan of mobilisation—but if the plan got lost? If it were dropped in the street!
Brocq cursed his untidy ways once more. He would never forgive himself for having allowed that girl to ransack his drawers—but he must act, and at once! He must, without fail, find that mislaid document. Of one thing he was sure—the document was not on the premises. Brocq jumped up. "Good-day, Captain!"
* * * * *
The man in charge at the cabstand, on the quay des Saints-Peres, at the corner of the bridge, saluted Brocq cordially.
Brocq, ghastly pale, his face showing signs of intense anxiety, gasping for breath, asked: "Tell me! Just now, ten, five minutes ago—did you not see a lady—young—she had red hair—did she not pass this way? Come now!"
The cabstand than winked. "My faith, Captain, you are just in time. Only a moment ago a lady, such as you describe, but prettier than that, got into a taxi; she."...
"Ah!" interrupted the captain, "do you know what address she gave?"
"Why, yes I do. I was almost touching her when she spoke to the driver."...
"Faith, what she said was 'Take me to the Bois,' and the cab turned by the Saints-Peres bridge. Probably it went by the Tuileries quay after."
"The number? The number of this taxi?"
"Why, we will ask the policeman at the kiosque: he has certainly entered it, as usual."
Stamping with impatience inside a landaulet whose hood he had had lowered that he might more easily see around him, Brocq had rushed off in pursuit of Bobinette's taxi, 249—B.Z.
Shaking from head to foot, Brocq held in a tight grip his leather portfolio, which contained all the documents he wished to lay before the Ministry of War, less, alas! the mislaid plan of the eastern forts. He scrutinised the Place de la Concorde, the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. He was asking himself why Bobinette, after telling him she must hurry away, had driven to the Bois as if she were one of the leisured crowd? This troubled the lover in him as well as the soldier. Why had he rushed after his mistress in this fashion? What definite reason had he? After all, it was exceedingly improbable, surely, that she had carried away this document without noticing it, for it was composed of three or four large sheets of paper!... In that case, she must have lost it before getting into the taxi. As to supposing for an instant that she had taken it away intentionally—Brocq would not suppose it. Why should he? There was nothing to lead him to think.
But, all the same!...
All the same, the captain had a presentiment, a conviction, an instinctive certainty that, at all costs he must overtake Bobinette—he absolutely must.
Brocq could not have said why. He did not reason about it. He felt: a feeling as indefinable as it was irresistible drove him to pursue, to continue the chase at top speed.
Again and again he had shouted to the astonished chauffeur, who was driving his taxi as fast as the crowded street permitted: "Get on! In the devil's name, go faster—faster!"
Night was falling. The close of this November day was particularly beautiful. Behind the Arc de Triomphe a broad band of red on the horizon reflected the setting sun in its winter glory. The breeze was wafting the last red-brown leaves from the trees, turning them over and over before they fell on the autumnal greensward and the black earth of the empty flower-beds.
Rows of carriages were moving towards the Etoile. As they had cleared the Rond-Point of the Champs-Elysees Brocq uttered a cry of joy. Some fifty yards away his keen eye had caught sight of Bobinette's taxi: he had identified the number.
"There it is!"
He urged the chauffeur to follow it up closely, regardless of consequences.
"A moment more and we shall have caught up the 249," said Brocq to himself. His landaulet was gaining ground.
The crowd of vehicles, the police holding them up where the roads intersected, impeded the advance. Brocq, wild with impatience, could not keep still. At last they reached the Place de l'Etoile. The carriages, conforming to rule, rounded the monument on the right, going more and more slowly owing to the increased crush. But the captain felt relieved; only one cab, drawn by a horse, now separated him from Bobinette's taxi, and assuredly her vehicle and his would be abreast, side by side at the entry to the avenue of the Bois de Boulogne.
Brocq loved Bobinette dearly, but frankly, if for a joke or inadvertently she had carried off the document, he would give her a piece of his mind. He would let her know that it would not do to play tricks with things of that sort. Nevertheless, his heart was wrung with anxiety.
Supposing Bobinette had noticed nothing—if the document had fallen in the street?
Suddenly the poor fellow saw Bobinette's taxi cut across the line of carriages to the right and turn into the Avenue de la Grand-Armee.
Brocq's chauffeur did not seem to have noticed this: he continued in the direction of the Bois de Boulogne.
"Oh, you idiot!" shouted the captain. And, in order to give his instructions as rapidly as possible, he leaned almost entirely out of the vehicle.
* * * * *
But a second or two had passed when the chauffeur stopped dead, that he might see what had happened to his fare. Something must have happened, for Brocq had abruptly stopped short in the midst of his directions. He had collapsed on the cushions of the taxi, and remained motionless.
Other vehicles surrounded the automobile. Some ladies passing in a victoria noticed the captain.
"Look, my dear," exclaimed one of them, "do you see how pale that man is? He seems to be ill!"...
At the same moment, the pedestrians were struck by the officer's strange attitude. Brocq had suddenly subsided in a heap on the cushion, his head had fallen to one side, his mouth was open, his eyes were closed: he seemed to have fainted.
A crowd gathered at once.
The chauffeur got down, shook his fare by the arm, and the arm was inert.
The crowd increased.
"A doctor!" cried a voice. "It is plain that this man is ill!"
A man stepped out from the crowd. His hair was white, he wore a decoration ribbon, and he had descended from a private brougham. With an air of authority he made his way through the curious onlookers, and when a constable came forward he said: "Kindly make these people stand away. I am Professor Barrell of the School of Medicine."
There was a murmur of respectful sympathy among the onlookers, for the professor was famous.
This master of medicine with a sure hand had undone the collar, the cravat of the mysterious sufferer, half opened his overcoat, put his ear to the patient's heart, then, straightening himself, considered the face attentively, not without a certain amount of stupefaction.
The constable made a suggestion: "Had we not better take this individual to a chemist's?"
Professor Barrell replied in a low voice: "To a chemist's? Do so if you wish ... but it is useless ... you would do better to go to the police-station: this unfortunate man is dead—it is a case of sudden death." The medical man added some technical words which this guardian of the peace did not understand.
DOCUMENT NUMBER SIX
"Hullo!... Am I speaking to Headquarters of Police?"
"To the sergeant?... Good!... It is the superintendent of the Wagram Quarter who is telephoning.... They have just brought here the body of an officer who has died suddenly, Place de l'Etoile, and I want you to send me one of your inspectors.... This officer was the bearer of important documents.... I must send them direct to the military authorities.... Hullo!... Good.... You will send me someone immediately?... An inspector will be here in ten minutes?... Splendid!... Very good!"
The superintendent hung up the telephone receiver and turned to the policeman, who stood motionless awaiting orders. He was visibly embarrassed.
The police superintendent of the Wagram Quarter was a man of decisive action. He possessed in the highest degree the quality, the most precious of all for those of the police force, whose functions call them to intervene continually in the most surprising adventures—presence of mind.
A few minutes before this the taxi with its tragic burden had stopped at his police-station, and the men on duty had carried in the body of the unfortunate captain.
Called in all haste, the sergeant had immediately made a rapid investigation. He examined the documents in the victim's portfolio.
"Here's a go!" he muttered—"'State of munition supplies!' 'Orders for the eastern fortresses!' I do not want to keep such important documents longer than I can help."
He had immediately telephoned to Headquarters. Reassured by the sergeant's reply, the superintendent turned to the policeman.
"You have made out your report?" he asked curtly.
The honest guardian of the peace touched his cap, looked perplexed, and scratched his head.
"Not yet, Monsieur. No time, Monsieur. But I will write it out at once."
The superintendent smiled at his embarrassed subordinate. "Suppose we do it together!"
"Let us see now! The deceased was a captain—isn't that so? The papers found in his portfolio and the name written on it let us know that he was called Brocq, and that he was attached to the Ministry. So much for his identity. We will not trouble about his domicile, the Place will tell us that! Now let us go into the details of the accident—tell me, my man, exactly how his death occurred!"
Again the worthy guardian of the peace scratched his head with an anxious look.
"I saw nothing of it, Monsieur," he replied.
"And the taxi-driver? You have his deposition?"
"He did not see anything either, Monsieur."
"Call this chauffeur."
A few minutes after, the superintendent dismissed the chauffeur. A short interrogation revealed that the taxi-driver had not only seen nothing, but that he could do nothing to help the enquiry.
The superintendent recalled the honest policeman.
"Come now! You are certain that the victim died immediately?"
"Well, you see, Monsieur, while I was dispersing the crowd, a doctor came up, and it was he who told me how the dead man died!"
"This doctor did not point out to you the cause of death?"
"No, Monsieur. But he gave me his card."
The policeman drew from the pocket of his tunic a dirty note-book. He took a card from it and handed it to his chief. "There, Monsieur!"
The magistrate looked at the name. Professor Barrell, of the School of Medicine. Turning the card, he read aloud a few words in pencil:
"Sudden death, which seems due to a phenomenon of inhibition."...
"This professor did not explain what he meant by 'death due to inhibition'?"
"Annoying!... I do not know what that means."
The superintendent was about to continue his enquiry when there was a knock at his office door.
A policeman informed him respectfully: "There is an inspector, Monsieur, from Headquarters detective department who asks to see you on urgent business—he declares you have sent for him."
"Tell him to come in."
No sooner had this personage from "Headquarters detective department" appeared in the doorway, than the superintendent rose, and advanced with outstretched hands.
"You, Juve! I am delighted to see you! How are you?"
It was, in truth, the celebrated detective, Juve.
Juve had altered but little. He was always the same man; rather thick-set, vigorous, astonishingly alive, agile, as youthful as ever, in spite of his moustache turning grey, in spite of his rounded shoulders which, at moments, seemed to bend under the weight of the toils and fatigues of the past.
This magic name evoked memories of terrible stories, stories of dangers encountered, endured, overcome; of brave deeds; of desperate struggles with the worst criminals.
Juve! He was the man who, for ten years, had represented to all, ability, audacity, limitless daring! He was the man who best knew how to employ wiles and stratagems to secure the triumph of society in the incessant combat it had to sustain against the innumerable soldiers of the army of crime.
* * * * *
When the terrible Dollon affair had come to an end, Juve had been blamed officially, and the detective could not help feeling angry and exasperated, for, after all, if he had failed, he ought not to have been treated as a culprit. Not a soul had had the slightest suspicion of how the affair had ended. Not one of them knew the incredible truth—how the marvellous, the redoubtable, the incredible Fantomas had elected to make his escape at the very moment when Juve was preparing to put the handcuffs on him.
And the detective, disheartened, but determined not to give up the fight against this deep-dyed criminal whom he had been pursuing for years, had asked for a few weeks' holiday, had lain snug, then had returned to his post at Headquarters, had made a point of keeping in the background, only awaiting the moment when he could resume his hunt for the ruffian whom he looked on as a personal enemy.
Since then, nothing had happened to put him on the track of Fantomas. No crime had been committed in circumstances which could leave him to think that this elusive murderer was involved in it.
Our detective had begun to ask himself if, not having been fortunate enough to arrest this king of assassins, he had not at any rate succeeded in unmasking him, in compelling him to fly for his life, in putting him out of power to do harm.
* * * * *
Rapidly the superintendent put Juve in possession of the incidents which had led him to telephone to Headquarters.
"You have done well," said Juve. "Have you the portfolio of this dead man?"
"Here it is, my friend."
Juve opened it.
"If you will allow it, Monsieur, I am going to make a complete list of the contents. This list I shall leave with you. I shall take a copy: that I shall deposit at the office of the Chief of Staff, obtaining a receipt for it. This will relieve both you and myself of all further responsibility on this head."
For some moments Juve and the superintendent occupied themselves in going over the papers of the dead man. Suddenly the detective got up, and, holding a paper in his hand, began walking up and down the room.
"You have read that?" he asked, turning to the superintendent.
"What is it? No."
The superintendent read:
"Inventory of the documents which were submitted to me by the Second Bureau of the Staff Headquarters, for which I have signed a receipt, and I have undertaken to return and deliver them up to the Second Bureau of the Staff Headquarters, Monday, November 7th, when given a receipt to that effect."
"Well, what of it?"
"Well," replied Juve. "Compare the documents given on this list with those we have found in this portfolio ... they tally."...
"Of course. That only proves, I imagine, that this officer died at the very moment when he was on the way to his office to return the papers entrusted to him. What do you see surprising in that?"
Juve shook his head. "I see, Monsieur, that what I feared is true: yes, this is certainly the list of documents contained in this portfolio, but."...
"But, one is missing!"
The two men checked the papers of Captain Brocq. Juve was right. There was a document missing—Number Six.
"Whew!" murmured the superintendent. "How are we to know whether this document has been dropped in the taxi, or has already been returned by the captain, or whether."...
"Or whether it has been stolen from him," finished Juve.
The supposition which the detective had put into words was so grave, so terrible, so weighty in its consequence that the superintendent cried, in a shaking voice:
"Robbed! Robbed! But by whom? Where? How? On the way from the Place de l'Etoile here? While the body was being brought to the police station?... Juve, it's incredible!"
Juve was walking up and down, up and down. "I don't like affairs of this sort, in which officers are involved, and most particularly officers connected with the Second Bureau of the Military Staff: they require the most careful handling.... You never know where they will lead. These officers are, owing to their functions, the masters of all the military defences of France.... Confound it!"
Juve stopped short. "You had better let me see the body of this poor fellow."
The superintendent led Juve towards one of the rooms, where the corpse of Captain Brocq was: it had been laid down on the floor. Pious hands had lighted a mortuary candle, and, in view of the position held by the dead man, two of the police staff were keeping watch and ward until someone came to claim the body of the deceased.
Juve examined the corpse. "A fine fellow!" he said quietly.
He turned to the superintendent.
"You told me just now that Prof. Barrell chanced to be present at the moment of death?"
"That is so."
"What did he suppose was the cause of death?"
The superintendent smiled. "Now you have it! Possibly you can throw light on it, my dear Juve, for I could hardly make head or tail of his diagnostic. The professor claims that death is due to a phenomenon of inhibition. What does that mean exactly?"
Juve shrugged his shoulders.
"Inhibition!... Peuh!... It is a learned word—very learned!"...
"Which means to say?"... pressed the superintendent.
"It does not mean anything."
Juve's tone was a mixture of contempt and anger. The superintendent was staggered. Juve's anger increased.
"It does not mean anything," he repeated. "Inhibition! Inhibition! It is the term reserved for deaths that are unexplained and inexplicable: it is the term with which science covers herself when she does not wish to confess her ignorance."
The magistrate was smiling now.
"So then, Juve, you conclude that Professor Barrell has declared that this officer had died through inhibition because, in fact, he was ignorant of the cause of death?"
"Exactly!" snapped Juve.
He was kneeling on the floor, bending over the body. Slowly, minutely, he was examining it with his keen eyes, by the flickering light of the mortuary candle.
He had examined successively the face of the dead man, then the arms, the trunk, the shoulders, the whole body. He did not utter a word.
"What are you looking for in particular, Juve?"
"The cause of this inhibition," replied the detective, who pronounced the word with unconcealed anger and resentment. He seemed to harbour some subtle rancour regarding the doctor. Suddenly he got up and, turning to the policeman, commanded:
"Undress this body!"
The superintendent interposed.
"It will be useful for your report."
"Come, now! In what way?"
"For that," said Juve, pointing a finger at the officer's short coat....
"That? How that?... I don't see anything," protested the superintendent.
Juve knelt down again, and made a sign to the superintendent to do likewise.
"Look, Monsieur! Just bend down and look at this tiny graze on the cloth."
"Does that not tell you anything?"
"No it does not."
Juve rose and repeated his order. "Unclothe this corpse!"
Then, turning to the superintendent, he added:
"What that tells me is, that this man has been killed by a shot from a gun or a revolver."
"Oh, come, now!"
"You will see."...
"The garment is not pierced."...
Juve began to smile.
"Monsieur," said he, "you must know that arms of high penetrating power, firing projectiles of small diameter, grooved projectiles, cause only the slightest graze in the materials they pass through: the damage is almost imperceptible. Numerous experiments have demonstrated this. You see the passage of the projectile is so rapid, its gyratory movement so accelerated, that, in some way, the threads of the fabric are not broken: they are only pushed aside. They come together again after the passage of the ball, and unless a very careful examination is made, one would never know that a projectile had perforated the material."
The two policemen were undressing the corpse.
Scarcely had they undone the waistcoat than the shirt of the unfortunate man was seen to have a spot of blood on it, in the region of the heart.
"See," cried Juve. "It is just as I said: a ball of small diameter, propelled by a formidable power of penetration, has caused immediate death, producing a wound which has hardly bled at all, so precise and clean has the wound been!"
Juve again bent over the corpse.
"It is plain to see that this officer's death has been caused by a ball in the heart, right in the centre of the heart."
The superintendent now protested:
"But what you are telling us, Juve, is terrible, it is inadmissible! How could this person have committed suicide without having been seen in the act by someone? Without anyone finding his revolver? And that at the very moment when he leaned out of the window of the vehicle to give the chauffeur his instructions?"
Juve did not seem disposed to answer this. But, after remaining silent for a minute or two, he took the superintendent by the arm in familiar fashion, and drawing him away said: "Let us return to your office, I have a couple of words to say to you."
When the superintendent and the detective had entered the room, when they were alone together, when the detective had made sure that the double door was shut tight, and that not a soul could hear them, Juve, his hands resting on the writing-table, looked the superintendent straight in the face. The latter, having seated himself in his chair, waited for the detective to speak.
"We are thoroughly agreed, Monsieur, are we not, regarding the conditions of the accident?... This officer has been shot through the heart, when he was crossing the Place de l'Etoile in a vehicle, and at the precise moment when he leaned over the door of that vehicle, and this, without anyone having seen or heard what happened?"
"Yes, Juve, that is so. This suicide is incomprehensible!"
"It is not a case of suicide, Monsieur."...
"What is it, then?"
"This man has been killed by a shot from a gun, a shot fired from a distance. No one saw the assassin do the deed: the Place de l'Etoile was crowded with people. It was a shot fired from a distance, because of an important point, Monsieur. The deceased was attached to the Second Bureau of the Ministry of War. At the time of his death he was the bearer of important documents: one of these important documents is missing! I assure you, Monsieur, this not only determines the fact of the crime, but furnishes us with the motive for that crime!"
The superintendent of police stared at Juve, speechless. At last he said:
"But it is impossible! Absolutely impossible, I tell you! What you are inventing now is impossible!... You forget that a shot from a gun, a shot from so powerful a weapon, makes a noise. Why, deuce take it, the detonation must be heard!"
"No, Monsieur! There are now weapons which are perfectly silent. For example, there are guns in which liquefied carbonic acid is used, which fires a projectile at more than 800 yards, and all that can be heard is a sharp snap when the projectile speeds off."...
"But, look here, Juve! Such a crime as this partakes of the nature of a romance! The criminal must have taken aim in the midst of a crowd! Who, do you suppose, would have been mad enough to attempt it? What scoundrel would ever have run such a risk?"
Juve, very calm, very much master of himself, was standing in front of the superintendent. His arms were crossed: he seemed to defy him, as though he knew beforehand that in him he was to encounter the incredulity of the average person.
"You ask me," replied he, "what criminal could be daring enough to do this? What criminal would have carried out such a murder successfully? Sir, that murderer's name is synonymous with all the maddest attempts, with every kind of atrocity, with every species of cruelty, with all the talents!"...
"And, it is."...
Juve suddenly stopped short, as if he were afraid of the word he was about to pronounce.
"By jove!" he declared, "if I knew the name of the guilty person, I would go and arrest him!"...
* * * * *
While the unfortunate Captain Brocq collapsed inside his carriage, mortally struck by the mysterious shot, pretty Bobinette, who could have had no idea of the accident to her lover, following hard in her wake, continued her drive. She ordered her chauffeur to stop at the riding-alley which passes behind the Chinese Pavilion.
A lingering ray of sunshine still illuminated the thickets of the Bois, but already those out for an airing were hastening towards the city, when Bobinette, discharging her taxi, entered the little path which runs beside the equestrian's track.
She seemed full of the joy of life, stepping smartly along, appreciating the pleasure of this quick, free, independent walk. Soon, however, her pace slackened. She spied an unoccupied seat, looked at her watch, and sat down. She cast a sharp glance towards the far end of the path.
"We are both up to time," she murmured, recognising a figure still some distance away.
Bobinette drew from her muff a small roll of papers.
The advancing person was a seedy-looking individual, stooping, seemingly bent under the weight of a bulky accordion. He looked about sixty; his long white beard, untrimmed and badly neglected, disguised the lower half of his face, while his luxuriant moustache, and his long hair, arranged artist fashion, largely hid the upper part of his countenance.
A beggar? Not at all! This personage would most certainly have spurned such an epithet with a gesture of offended disdain. Live by charity? Not he! Was not his accordion there to show that he possessed a regular means of livelihood? He claimed to be a musician.
He was well known throughout one quarter of Paris, was this poor old man who chanced to be passing along that path in the Bois de Boulogne. He was a perfect specimen of the unsettled type of human being, savagely enamoured of liberty, going from court to court playing with wearied arms the ballads of the moment, indifferent to their melodies, to their rhythms, to their beauties, to their ugliness.... No one knew his real name. They called him Vagualame; for his plaintive notes inspired sad thoughts and an indefinable trouble of the nerves in those unlucky enough to listen to him for a time. This nickname stuck to him.
He was quite a Parisian type, this Vagualame: one of those faces at once odd and classic, such as one comes across in numbers on the pavements, known to all the world, without anyone knowing exactly who they are, how they live, where they go, or whence they come....
* * * * *
The old man had, on his side, caught sight of Bobinette. He hastened towards her as fast as his legs permitted; and as soon as he was near enough to speak to her without raising his voice, he questioned her:
"Well?" It was the interrogation of a master to a subordinate.
"Well?" he repeated. His tone was anxious.
Bobinette calmed the old man's apprehensions with a nod. "It's done," said she.
Holding out to him the roll of paper, she added: "I could only get them at the last minute; but I've got them, and I don't fancy he suspects anything."
As Bobinette uttered these last words, the old accordion player chuckled sneeringly:
"So that's what you think? As a matter of fact, it is evident that he suspects nothing now!"
The way in which the old man pronounced the word "now" puzzled the girl.
"What do you mean?"
"Captain Brocq is dead."
Although she did not love her lover much, at this startling piece of news Bobinette had jumped up, wringing her hands in horror. She grew strangely pale.
"Yes, dead!" replied Vagualame coldly. "Kindly sit down please! See to it that you play your part! You are a young woman speaking to an old beggar, and you are not to forget it."
Bobinette sat down mechanically. She questioned him, and her voice was trembling.
"Dead? What has happened, then?"
"What has happened is that you have played the fool! Brocq saw clearly that you had stolen the document from him."
"Yes, he saw it! I had my suspicions, fortunately!... Then this cursed captain threw himself into a taxi and followed you.... At the moment when your own auto turned on the Place de l'Etoile, his was going to meet it! Brocq was already hailing you, and you would have been caught without a doubt had I not come to the rescue."
"Great Heavens! What have you done?"
"I have just told you. Clic-clac! A bullet in his heart, and he remains on the spot."...
Bobinette was dumbfounded. She did not speak for a minute or two. Then she asked anxiously:
"But where were you?"
"That does not concern you!"
"What must I say, then, if, by chance, I am questioned?"
"What must you say! The truth."...
"I am to confess that I knew him?"
Vagualame tapped his foot impatiently.
"How stupid you are! There is one thing you must understand. At the present moment it is almost certain that this good fellow's identity has been established. The devil's in it if some policeman is not at his domicile already and if enquiry is not being made into the life of Captain Brocq. To learn that he is on terms of acquaintanceship with your patron, de Naarboveck, is child's play! To prove that he has received a visit from you to-day, to prove that you were his mistress—or, at the very least that you had come on an errand from Naarboveck's daughter, Wilhelmine, why anybody can discover that! To-morrow you will read the details in all the papers, for the reporters are going to get hold of this affair: it is inevitable! Consequently, do you not deny anything: it would only compromise you to no good purpose. You will say."...
Vagualame stopped short. He raised the accordion which he carried slung over his shoulder, saying in a whisper:
"People are coming. I leave you. I will see you again, if necessary. Do not be anxious. I take all on my own shoulders. Attention!" And suddenly changing his tone, he began to speak in a voice calculated to excite pity:
"Grateful thanks, kind lady! The good God will rain blessings on you for it.... I thank you, kind lady!"
Vagualame moved off.
BARON NAARBOVECK'S HOUSE
Despite the gusty wind and squalls of icy rain which deluged Paris, despite the early morning hour, although it was one of those first dark days of November which depress humanity, Jerome Fandor, the journalist, editorial contributor to the popular evening paper La Capitale, was in a gay mood, and showed it by singing at the top of his voice, at the risk of rousing the neighbourhood.
In his very comfortable little flat, rue Richer, where he had lived for a number of years, the young journalist was coming and going busily: cupboards, drawers, wardrobes, were opened wide, garments, piles of linen, were spread about in all the rooms. On the dining-room table a large travelling bag lay open: into this, with the aid of his housekeeper, Jerome Fandor was feverishly packing the spare things he required, and was talking in joking fashion with his old servant, Angelique.
Presently she asked, rather anxiously:
"Are you likely to be away a long time, sir?"
The journalist shook his head and murmured:
"I should like to be, but you don't suppose we journalists get holidays of that sort!"
Still anxious, Angelique went on:
"Perhaps you intend to change your housekeeper when you return, Monsieur Fandor? Nevertheless——"
"You are really mad, Angelique! Have I not told you twenty times that I am going away for a fortnight's holiday? Never for a moment have I thought of getting rid of you—quite the contrary! I am delighted with the way you do your work. There now! I shall go by way of Monaco—I promise to put five francs on the red for you!"
"On the red?" questioned old Angelique.
"Yes. It's a game. If red's the winner there will be a present for you! Hurry off now and bring up my trousers!"
Whilst his housekeeper hastened downstairs, Fandor went to the window and, with a questioning glance, considered the dull grey sky.
"Disgusting weather!" he murmured. "But what do I care for that? I am going to the sun of the South—ah, to the sun!" He laughed a great laugh of satisfaction. How he had looked forward to this holiday, how he had longed for it!—this holiday he was going to take now, after two-and-twenty months of uninterrupted work! During those months, in his capacity of chief reporter to La Capitale, scarcely a day had passed without his having some move to make, some strange happening to clear up, even some criminal to pursue; for Jerome Fandor belonged to that species of active and restless beings who are ceaselessly at work, ready for action, bent on doing things: an activity due partly to temperament, partly to conscience. Added to this, his profession interested him enormously.
At the commencement of his career—and that of journalism is a ticklish one—he had been greatly helped by Juve, whose knowledge and advice had been invaluable to him. Fandor had been involved—particularly during the last few years—in the most sensational crimes, in the most mysterious affairs, and, whether by chance or voluntarily, he had played a real part in them. He had not been content to take up the position of onlooker and historian only.
Fandor had made his post an important one: he had to be seriously reckoned with. He had enemies, adversaries far from contemptible, and time and again the journalist who, with his friend Juve, had taken part in terrible man-hunts, had attracted towards himself venomous hatreds, all the more disquieting in that his adversaries were of those who keep in the shade and never come into the open for a face-to-face tussle.
Finally, and above all, Fandor, coupled with his friend, detective Juve, had either distinguished himself gloriously or covered himself with ridicule, but in either case he had attracted public attention by his epic combats with the most deadly personality of the age—the elusive Fantomas.
But our holiday-making journalist, whistling the latest air, all the rage, gave no thought to all that. He was reveling in the idea that a few hours hence he would be installed in a comfortable sleeping compartment, to awake next morning on the wonderful Cote d'Azur, inundated with light, drenched in the perfume of tropical flowers, bathed in the radiance of eternal summer.
Ah, then, eight hundred miles and more would separate him from the offices of La Capitale, of the police stations, of wretched dens and hovels with their pestilential smells, would separate him from this everlasting bad weather, from the cold, the wet, which were the ordinary concomitants of his daily existence. To the devil with all that! No more copy to feed printer and paper with! No more people to be interviewed! Hurrah! Here were the holidays! It was leave of absence, and liberty.
The telephone bell rang.
Fandor hesitated a moment. Should he answer it?
According to custom, the journalist "had left" the evening before: he could plead his leave, which was in order, and say, like Louis XIV, "After me the deluge!"
This famous saying would have suited the moment, for it was at that instant precisely that an inky cloud burst over Paris and emptied torrents of water over the darkened city.
Perhaps a friend had rung him up—or it was a mistake! So arguing, Fandor unhooked the receiver.
Having listened a moment, he instinctively adopted a more respectful attitude, as if his interlocutor at the other end of the line could see him.
Fandor replied in quick monosyllables, closing the conversation with these words:
"Agreed. Presently, then chief."
As the journalist hung up the receiver his expression changed: he frowned, and pulling at his moustache with a nervous hand, fretting and fuming.
"Hang it! It only wanted this," he grumbled.
Fandor had been called up by M. Dupont, of L'Aube, the well-known opportunist deputy, who was the manager of La Capitale as well. M. Dupont was only a nominal manager, and generally contented himself with writing up his editorial without even taking it to the office. He left the real management to his son-in-law, whose function was that of editor-in-chief. Thus Fandor had been extremely astonished when his "Head," as he was called in the editorial department, had rung him up.
M. Dupont had summoned him to the Chamber of Deputies, for three o'clock in the afternoon: his chief wished to give him some information for an article on a matter which interested him particularly. Fandor was puzzled, anxious.
What could it be? The chief could not know that he was taking his holiday.
"Bah!" said he, "Dupont evidently does not know. I will go to our meeting-place and will explain my approaching departure to him, and the devil's in it if he does not pass on this bit of reporting to one of my colleagues!"
"Madame Angelique," continued Fandor in a joyous voice, turning to the breathless old housekeeper who had just come back laden with parcels, "Get me lunch quickly. Then you must strap up my portmanteau. This evening I am going to make off, whatever happens!"
* * * * *
For two hours, interminable hours they seemed, Fandor had waited for M. Dupont in the Hall des Perdus of the Palais-Bourbon. The deputy was at a sitting of the Chamber. If the ushers were to be believed, the discussion was likely to go on interminably. Several times our young journalist had thought he would simply make off without word said, excusing himself on the score of a misunderstanding when eight hundred odd miles lay between him and the directorial thunders. But he was too scrupulous a journalist, too professionally honest to follow the prompting of his desires.
[Footnote 1: Hall of the Wandering Footsteps.]
So, champing his bit, Fandor had stood his ground.
As he was looking at his watch for the hundred and fiftieth time, he quickly rose and hastened towards two men who came out of a corridor: they were M. Dupont and a personage whom Fandor recognised at once. He bowed respectfully to them, shaking hands with the cordial M. Dupont, who said to his companion:
"My dear Minister, let me present to you my young collaborator, Jerome Fandor."
"It is a name not unknown to me," replied the minister; then, having innumerable calls on his time, he quickly disappeared.
A few minutes after, in one of the little sitting-rooms reserved for Parliamentary Commissions, the manager of La Capitale was conversing with his chief reporter.
"It was not to present me to the minister that you sent for me, my dear Chief—unless you intend to get me an appointment as sub-prefect, in which case."...
"In which case?" questioned M. Dupont gently.
Fandor's reply was frank.
"In which case, even before being nominated, I should tender you my resignation: it is not a profession which tempts me much!"
"Reassure yourself, Fandor, I have no intention whatever of sending you to live in the provinces: but if I asked you to see me here, it was with reference to a very delicate affair about which I mean to give you instructions—I insist on this word."
"Good," thought Fandor. "It's all up with my holiday!"
He tried to ask this question before his chief went into details, but M. Dupont interrupted him with a movement of his hand.
"You will leave for your holiday a few hours later, my dear fellow, and you can take eight days in addition."
Fandor bowed. He could not dispute his chief's decision—and he had gained by this arrangement.
"My dear Fandor," said his chief, coming to the main point, "we published yesterday evening, as you, of course, know, a short paragraph on the death of an artillery officer, Captain Brocq.... There is something mysterious about his death. Captain Brocq who, owing to his functions, was attached to the Second Bureau of the Staff Headquarters, that is to say, the Intelligence Department, was in touch with different sets of people: it would be interesting to get some information about them. I mentioned this just now to the Minister of War, and to the Minister for Home Affairs: both are agreed, that, without making too much noise about this incident, we should institute enquiries, discreet, of course, but also pretty exhaustive. You are the only man on the paper possessed of the necessary tact and ability to carry the thing through successfully."
* * * * *
An hour later, under the pouring rain, Fandor, with turned-up trousers, his greatcoat collar raised, was walking stoically along the Esplanade des Invalides, which was feebly lighted by a few scarcely visible gas-jets. He reached the other side of the Place a la rue Fabert; looked at the number of the first house in front of him, followed the pavement a moment, turning his back on the Seine, then reached the Avenue de la Tour-Maubourg by way of the rue de l'Universite.
Fandor repeated to himself the final words of his chief's instructions.
"Interview Baron de Naarboveck; get into touch with a young person called Bobinette; find out who and what are the frequenters of the house where this well-known diplomat lives."
Our journalist was not anxious as to the result of his interview; it was not his first experience of the kind, and this time his task was rendered especially easy, owing to the letter of introduction which M. Dupont had given him, in order that he might have a talk with M. de Naarboveck, who lived in a sumptuous mansion in the rue Fabert.
Fandor did not go straight ahead to this interview: his method was not so simple. After identifying the front of the house, wishing to know the immediate neighbourhood thoroughly, he went all round the mass of houses which limited the rue de l'Universite; he went through the Avenue de la Tour-Maubourg, in order to discover whether the house was double or single, if it had one or two exits. Fandor was too much a detective at heart to neglect the smallest detail.
His inspection was soon done. The house possessed two entrances; that in the Avenue de la Tour-Maubourg was for the use of the servants and common folk only. The front door opened on the rue Fabert. A courtyard at the back separated it from the Avenue de la Tour-Maubourg.
The house consisted of three storeys, and a ground-floor approached by a few steps.
Fandor returned to the Esplanade des Invalides, and walked up and down under the trees for some time, watching the comings and goings of the neighbourhood. At a quarter to seven he had looked at his watch, and, not seeing any light in the first-floor rooms, the shutters of which were not yet closed, he concluded that the inmates had probably not come in.
Just then Fandor saw an automobile, a very elegant limousine, draw up before M. de Naarboveck's house. A man of a certain age descended from it, and vanished in the shadow of a doorway: the door had opened as the carriage stopped.
"That's de Naarboveck," thought Fandor.
Then he saw the carriage turn and move away.
"The carriage goes in: the master does not go out again," deduced Fandor.
A short time after, the chauffeur, having taken off his livery, came out of the house and went away.
"Good," remarked Fandor. "The man I am after will not budge from the house to-night."
The next to enter were two young women: then some twenty minutes passed. The rooms on the first floor were lit up, one after the other. The house was waking up. Fandor was making up his mind to ring when a motor-car brought a fourth person to the door. It was a young man, smart, distinguished-looking, very fair, wearing a long thin drooping moustache: movements and appearance spoke his profession: an officer in mufti, beyond question.
Fandor once more encircled the house; he had reached the door opening on to the Avenue de la Tour-Maubourg when he saw a confectioner's boy slip into the house.
"M. Dupont told me de Naarboveck lived alone with his daughter, therefore he has people dining with him this evening," reasoned the journalist. He then decided to dine himself, and return an hour and a half later. Naarboveck well dined and wined could give him more time, and would be the easier to interview.
Three-quarters of an hour later Fandor left the humble eating-house, where he had dined badly in the company of coachmen and house-servants, but fully informed as to the private and public existence of the person he was going to interview. He had set his host and his table neighbours gossiping to such purpose that he could tell at what time de Naarboveck rose in the morning, what his habits were, if he fasted on Fridays, and what he paid for his cigars.
* * * * *
"Monsieur de Naarboveck, if you please?"
Jerome Fandor had rung the bell of the front entrance in the rue Fabert. It was just striking nine. A house-porter of the correct stamp appeared.
"He lives here, Monsieur."
Fandor offered his card, and the letter of introduction from M. Dupont.
"Please see that these are handed to Monsieur de Naarboveck, and find out if he can receive me."
The porter, having decided that the visitor was too well dressed to be left waiting on the steps, signed to the young man to follow him. The porter rang, and a footman in undress livery immediately appeared, and took card and letter from the porter.
The servant looked consideringly at Fandor's name engraved on the card, stared at this unknown visitor, hoping he would definitely state the purpose of his visit, but the journalist remained impassive, and as his profession was not indicated on his card the servant had to be satisfied with his own curiosity.
"Kindly wait here a moment," said the footman, in a fairly civil tone of voice. "I will see if my master is at home."
Fandor remained alone in a vast hall, furnished after the Renaissance manner. Costly tapestries covered the walls with their imposing pictures, their sumptuously woven epics.
The footman quickly returned.
"Will Monsieur kindly follow me?"
Relieved of his overcoat, Fandor obeyed.
One side of the hall opened on a great double staircase, the white stone of which, turned grey with the passing of time, softened by a thick carpet and ornamented by a marvellous balustrade of delicately wrought iron-work, a masterpiece of the XVIIth century.
The lackey opened a door which gave access to a magnificent reception-room, sparsely furnished with pieces of the best Louis XIV period. Mirrors reflected the canvases of famous painters, family pictures of immense artistic value, and still more valuable as souvenirs.
Traversing this fine apartment, they passed through other drawing rooms furnished in perfect taste. Fandor reached the smoking-room at last, where Empire furniture was judiciously mingled with pieces made for comfort after the English fashion, the tawny leather of which harmonised marvellously with the blood-red of the ancient mahogany and with its ancient bronzes.
The lackey pointed to a chair and disappeared.
"By jove!" said Fandor, half aloud, "this fine fellow has done himself well in the way of a dwelling-place!"
The journalist's reflections were interrupted by the entrance of an exceedingly elegant young lady.
Fandor rose and saluted this charming apparition.
A CORDIAL RECEPTION
The journalist had naturally expected to see Monsieur de Naarboveck enter the room: in his stead came this pretty girl.
"Be seated, I beg, Monsieur," she entreated.
"She is his daughter," thought Fandor. "I am given the go-by: the diplomatist is not going to see me! I am sorry for that, but, on the other hand, here is this delicious creature."
"You asked to see Monsieur de Naarboveck, did you not? It is for an interview, no doubt. Monsieur de Naarboveck makes it a point of honour never to get himself written about in the newspapers, therefore you must not be surprised."...
The charming girl paused.
Fandor bowed and smiled. He said to himself:
"I shall have to listen for five minutes to this delightful person assuring me that her father does not wish to talk; after that he will come himself, and will tell me all I want to know."...
Thus he listened with divided attention to the pretty creature's words. Then he interjected:
"Monsieur, your father."...
His companion smiled.
"Excuse me!" she said at once. "You have made a mistake: I am not Mademoiselle Wilhelmine de Naarboveck, as you seem to imagine. I am merely her companion: I dare add, a friend of the house. They call me Mademoiselle Berthe."...
"Bobinette!" cried Fandor, almost in spite of himself. He immediately regretted this too familiar interjection; but that young person did not take offence.
"They certainly do call me that—my intimates, at least," she added with a touch of malice.
Fandor made his apology in words at once playful and correct. He must do all in his power to make himself agreeable, fascinating, that he might get into the good graces of this girl; for she was the very person whom it behooved him to interrogate regarding the mysterious adventure, the outcome of which had been the death of Captain Brocq.
Bobinette had answered Fandor's polite remarks by protesting that she was not in the least offended at his familiar mode of address.
"Alas, Monsieur," she had declared, in a tone slightly sad, "I am too much afraid that my name, the pet name my friends use, will become very quickly known to the public; for, I suppose, what you have come to see M. Naarboveck about is to ask him for information regarding this sad affair we have all been thinking so much about."
"Now we have come to it!" thought Fandor.
He was going to take the lead in this conversation, but the young woman did not give him time.
She continued in a rapid tone, on one note, almost as if she had repeated a lesson learned by heart.
"Baron de Naarboveck, Monsieur, cannot tell you anything that you do not already know, except—and there is no secret about it—that Captain Brocq used to come here pretty regularly. He has dined with the Baron frequently, and they have worked at several things together.... Several of his friends, officers, have been received here as well: M. de Naarboveck is very fond of company."...
"And then he has a daughter, has he not?" interrupted Fandor.
"Mademoiselle Wilhelmine, yes."
Fandor nearly added:
"A daughter to get married."
It seemed clear to him, that in spite of her timid and reserved airs, this red-haired beauty seemed to like the idea of playing a part in the drama.
"Mademoiselle," questioned Fandor, "it has been reported that yesterday afternoon you had occasion to meet Captain Brocq, some hours before his sad end?"
The young woman stared fixedly at the journalist, as if to read his thoughts, as if to divine whether or not he knew that not only had she met Captain Brocq, but had spent some time with him alone.
Fandor did know it, but he remained impenetrable.
Bobinette, very much mistress of herself, said quite simply:
"It is a fact Monsieur, that I did see Captain Brocq yesterday. I had to give him a message."
"You will think me very inquisitive," continued Fandor, who pretended not to look at the young woman, in order to put her more at her ease, but who, in reality, did not lose a single change of expression on her pretty face, for he could watch its reflection in a mirror. "You will think me very inquisitive, but could you tell me the nature of ... this communication?"
Bobinette replied, quite naturally:
"To be sure I can, Monsieur. Baron de Naarboveck is giving an entertainment here shortly, and the captain was going to take part in it. As he was very much of an artist we counted on his doing some menus in colour for us: I simply went to see him with a message from Mademoiselle Wilhelmine."...
The conversation stopped short.
Fandor had turned around quickly. Behind him—doubtless he had been there for some moments—a man was standing. Fandor had not heard him enter the room. He was a man of a certain age. His moustache was quite white: he wore the whiskers and imperial of 1850.
Fandor recognised Baron Naarboveck. He was going to apologise for not having noticed his entrance, but de Naarboveck smiled at the journalist with apparent cordiality.
"Pardon me, Monsieur Fandor, for not having received you myself, but I had a guest: moreover, Mademoiselle Berthe must have told you what my views are regarding interviews."...
Fandor made a slight gesture. The baron continued:
"Oh, they are definite, unalterable! But that will not prevent you from taking a cup of coffee with us, I feel sure. I have the highest esteem for Monsieur Dupont, and the terms in which he has recommended you to me are such that, from now on, I have not the slightest hesitation in treating you as one of ourselves, as a friend."
Monsieur Naarboveck put his hand familiarly on the young journalist's shoulder, and led him into the next room.
It was a library: a very lofty room. It was soberly and elegantly furnished. Before a great chimney-piece of wood, two young people were standing, and were chatting very much at their ease.
They paused when Fandor entered.
Close behind followed Mademoiselle Berthe.
Fandor bowed to the two young people.
Naarboveck made the introductions:
"Monsieur Jerome Fandor—Mademoiselle de Naarboveck, my daughter—Monsieur de Loubersac, lieutenant of cuirassiers."
Silence reigned after these formal introductions. If Fandor was in certain measure satisfied with the turn the conversation had taken, he was really bored by this involuntary intrusion into a family gathering which mattered little to him. He felt he had been caught. How the devil was he going to escape from this wasp's nest? His eye fell on a timepiece. Seeing the hour, he thought:
"Had it not been for this Brocq fellow, and that fool of a Dupont, I should now be in the train asleep, and rolling along towards Dijon!"...
Mademoiselle de Naarboveck, with the ease of a well-bred woman, offered the journalist a cup of boiling hot coffee.
Mademoiselle Berthe suggested sugar.
Monsieur de Naarboveck, as if he had suddenly remembered something, said to him:
"But you bear a name which recalls many things, Monsieur Jerome Fandor! It was you, of course, famous journalist that you are, who, some time ago, was in constant pursuit of a mysterious ruffian whom they called Fantomas?"
Fandor, a little embarrassed, smiled. It seemed to him something quite abnormal to hear Fantomas mentioned in this gathering, so simple, so natural, so commonplace.
Surely, this criminal, his adventures, the police, and even reporting, must partake of the fantastic, the imaginary—it must all be Greek to such conventional people.
Nevertheless, as Monsieur de Naarboveck spoke, Mademoiselle Berthe drew close to the journalist and gazed at him with curiosity.
"But tell me, Monsieur, may I ask you a question? Perhaps it is my turn to be inquisitive—but then, so were you just now!"
Fandor laughed. Decidedly this young and pretty person was charming.
"I am certainly bound to reply to you as you wish, Mademoiselle!"
Nodding with a mischievous look, and casting a glance at the Baron asking his approval—he signified his consent by a nod—she demanded with an innocently curious air:
"Do tell me, Monsieur, who this Fantomas is?"
Fandor stood speechless.
Ah, this question, which this young woman had asked so naturally, as if it referred to the most simple thing in the world, how often had he asked himself that same question? During how many sleepless nights had his mind not been full of it? And he had never been able to find a satisfactory answer to "Who is Fantomas?"
Fandor had been asking this question for years. He had, after a fashion, vowed his existence to the search for this mysterious individual. How often, and often, in the course of his investigation, in the midst of his struggles with criminals during his long talks and conferences with Juve, had he not thought that he had run the bandit to earth, identified him, was going to drag his personality out into the broad light of day—and then, suddenly, Fantomas had disappeared.
Fantomas had made a mock of him, of Juve, of the police, of everybody!
For weeks, for months, all trace of him was lost completely; then one fine day he would produce a drama, it might be a big drama, which took public opinion captive, it might be a drama in appearance insignificant, and then each one saw and followed traces which were more or less normal and ordinarily probable. Fandor and Juve, Fandor alone, or Juve isolated, following the indications which only their perspicacity enabled them to discover, still and always felt the presence, the trace of this monster, this being so enigmatical, so indefinable, who was terrorising humanity.
Then implacable and dangerous pursuits, redoubtable struggles, were the order of their days and nights.
Juve, Fandor, the representatives of justice, one and all, united to reduce the circle in which this ruffian revolved, and at the moment they were about to catch him, he would fade away, leaving them as their only spoil, the temporary personality with which he had clothed himself, and under which he had momentarily deigned to make himself known.
Now behold, here was this little red-haired creature, Bobinette, who asked for the solution of this formidable, incomprehensible, unprecedented thing, wanted it straight away.
"Who is Fantomas?"
Fandor's attitude, his expression showed how surprised he was at such a question.
M. de Naarboveck emphasised and justified the journalist's astonishment.
Then, in a rather dry, hard voice, Monsieur de Loubersac gave his opinion:
"My dear Baron, don't you think that for several years past we have been made sufficient fools of with all these Fantomas tales? For my part, I don't believe a word of them! Such a powerful criminal has no chance nowadays, that is to say, if he exists. One must see life in its true proportions and recognise that it is very commonplace."...
"But, Monsieur," interrupted Mademoiselle Berthe, who, covered with blushes, scarcely dared raise her eyes to the handsome lieutenant, "but, Monsieur, for all that, Fantomas has been much talked about!"
The young officer looked the red-haired beauty up and down, bestowing on her but a cursory glance. Fandor noticed that Bobinette was greatly troubled by it. Following this little by-play, he immediately got a very clear impression that if the lieutenant did not consider the pretty girl worthy of much consideration, she, on her side, seemed very much influenced by all that this elegant and handsome young officer said or did.
Fandor had noticed, too, while the talk went on, that Mademoiselle de Naarboveck was deeply moved, and looked sorrowful. She was a graceful girl, in all the freshness and brilliancy of her twenty years, with large eyes, soft and luminous. Her natural disposition was evidently a bright and gay one, but this evening sadness overshadowed her, and to such a point that, in spite of her efforts to be lively and pleasant, she could not hide her sad preoccupation.
M. de Naarboveck, who had been watching Fandor closely, said to him, in a low voice:
"Wilhelmine has been very much upset by this terrible accident which has overtaken our friend, Captain Brocq, and we."...
Just then, the harsh sarcastic tones of de Loubersac broke in afresh:
"In conclusion," exclaimed the lieutenant, "I maintain that Fantomas is an invention, a more or less original one, I am ready to admit, but an invention of not the least practical interest. Just an invention of the detectives, this Fantomas; or, it may be of the journalists only, who have made the gaping public swallow this hocus-pocus pill—this enormous pill!" The lieutenant stared at Fandor defiantly. "And let me add, I speak from knowledge, for, up to a certain point, I know all these individuals!"
Fandor was not in the least impressed by the lieutenant's aggressive declarations. He regarded him calmly—there was a touch of irony in his gaze: at the same time, he did not clearly understand de Loubersac's last phrase.
The excellent Monsieur de Naarboveck murmured in his ear:
"De Loubersac, you know, has to do with the Second Bureau at the Ministry of War: the statistics department."...
* * * * *
It was only at half past eleven that Fandor had been able to tear himself away from the de Naarboveck house.
Fandor wandered on the boulevards a long time before he returned to his flat.
On his table, near his portmanteau ready strapped for departure, he found the Railway Guide lying open at the page showing the lines from Paris to the Cote d'Azur! He would not look at the seductive time-table. He rushed to his portmanteau, undid the straps in furious haste, dragged out his clothes, which he flung to the four quarters of the room. For the moment he was in a towering rage.
"And now, confound it! That Brocq affair is not clear! It's no use my trying to persuade myself to the contrary! There is some mystery about it! Those officers! This diplomat! And then this questionable person, neither servant, nor lady accustomed to good society, who has to me all the appearance of playing not merely a double role, but at the least a triple, perhaps a quadruple!... Good old Fandor, there's nothing for it, if you want to go South, but to see friend Juve and get some light on it all."
Having come to this conclusion, Fandor went to bed. He could not sleep. There was one word which ceaselessly formed itself in luminous letters before his mind's eye—a word he dare not articulate. It was a synthetic word which brought into a collected whole facts and ideas; it was the summing up of his presentiments, of his conclusions, of his fears; the word which said all without defining anything, but permitted everything to be inferred: that word was—Spying!
THEY ARE NOT AGREED
As one who had the privilege of free entry to the house, Fandor opened the front door of Juve's flat with the latchkey he possessed as a special favour, traversed the semi-darkness of the corridor and went towards his friend's study.
He raised the curtain, opened the door half-way, and caught sight of Juve at his desk.
"Don't disturb yourself, it is only Fandor!"
The detective was absorbed in the letter he was writing to such a degree that he had never even heard the journalist enter. At the sound of his voice Juve started.
"What! You! I thought you had flown yesterday, flown South!"
Fandor smiled a woeful smile.
"I did expect to get away yesterday evening. Juve, in my calling, as in yours, it is the height of stupidity to make plans. You see! Here I am still—stuck here!"
Juve nodded assent.
"Well, what then?" he asked.
"Well, what do you think, Juve?"
The detective leaned back in his chair and considered his young friend.
"Well, my dear Fandor, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"
Fandor did not seem much disposed to answer. He had taken off his hat and overcoat. Now he drew from his pocket a cigarette-case. He selected one and lighted it carefully, seeming to find a veritable delight in the first whiffs which he sent towards the ceiling.
"It's a fine day, Juve!"
The detective, more and more astonished, considered the journalist with the utmost attention.
"What's the matter with you, Fandor?" he said at last.
"Why are you carrying on like this? Why are you not on your travels?... Without being inquisitive, I suppose you have your head full of other things than the state of the weather?"
"And you, Juve?"
"Juve, I ask you why you are so upset?"
The detective folded his arms.
"My word, Fandor, but you are losing your head. You think, then, that I am thoroughly upset?"
"Juve, you look like a death's-head!"
"Juve, you have not been to bed!"
"I have not been to bed, have I not? How do you know that?"
Fandor approached the writing-table and pointed to the corner, where a series of half-smoked cigarettes were ranged side by side.
"Ah, I do not doubt, Juve, but that they tidy up your study every morning; but, here are twenty-five cigarette ends, lying side by side: you certainly have not smoked all those in one morning, consequently you have lighted them during the night, and consequently you have not gone to bed."
Juve's tone was bantering.
"Continue, little one, you interest me."
"And, to cap it all, the ends of your cigarettes have been chewed, bitten, mangled,—an indisputable sign of high nervous tension—therefore."...
"Therefore, Juve, I ask what is wrong with you—that's all!"
The detective fixed the journalist with a piercing look, trying to guess what he was aiming at. But Fandor was too good a pupil of Juve to let him have the slightest inkling of his feelings. There was an enigmatic smile on his lips whilst he awaited Juve's reply.
The detective quickly decided to speak out.
"I am looking into a very serious affair which interests me greatly."
This did not satisfy Fandor. He seated himself on the corner of the writing-table and considered his friend.
"See now, Juve, answer me if you can see your way to it.... Your attitude makes me sure that important things are in the air: you are in a very emotional condition, and that for some reason I have not fathomed. Can I be useful to you? Will you not let me share this secret?"
"Will you tell me yours?"
"In three minutes."
Juve sat for a few minutes deep in thought. Then in a changed voice, a solemn voice with a sharp note in it, he said:
"You know about Captain Brocq's sudden death, of course?... Let me tell you that I have discovered it was an assassination. It's this affair I am giving all my attention to."
When there was mention of the Brocq affair, Fandor started. Here was a strange coincidence. Since last night had not his own mind been distressed by the mysteries he divined in this strange death? And now here was Juve also upset by his examination of this same affair.
Fandor drew up a chair, placed himself astride it, facing Juve, putting his elbows on the back and holding his head between his hands.
"You are looking into this Brocq affair, Juve?... Very well! So am I!... You have read my articles?"
"They are very interesting."
"They lack conclusiveness, however!... But, as things are, I could not do better, not having any precise information and facts to go upon. Are you quite certain about the facts yourself? Do you know who has struck the blow?"
"Don't you suspect, Fandor?"
Juve did not give him time to reply. He half rose from his seat, and, bending close to Fandor, looked him straight in the eyes.
"Tell me, my boy! Suppose that after six months of truce, six months of tranquillity, your whole existence is again violently upset? If you understood that the efforts and dangers and struggles and tenacity of six long years were entirely wasted, and that the results you thought you had achieved did not exist—that you had to begin all over again—that once more you had to play a match with not only your life for stakes, but your honour as well—tell me, Fandor, would you not be stirred to your depths?"
Our journalist feigned indifference: it was the best way to draw Juve on, he well knew.
"What do you mean, Juve?"
"What do I mean, my boy? You shall hear! Do you know who killed Captain Brocq?"
At this sinister name Fandor jumped up as though thunderstruck.
"Fantomas?... You accuse Fantomas of having killed Captain Brocq?"
Juve nodded assent.
The two men stared at each other in horror-struck silence.
What a flood of memories, horrid, menacing, that name evoked! There flashed through Fandor's mind all that he knew of the atrocities which could be imputed to Fantomas. He seemed to live over again the recent years of continual struggle, of almost daily contest with the mysterious criminal—Fantomas!... But had not Juve declared—and not so long ago—after the drama of rue Norvins, when the elusive monster had been driven to flight—had not Juve declared that Fantomas had vanished for good and all! Now, at this precise moment, he was accusing this criminal of a fresh crime!... Fandor thought, too, of the conclusions he had himself arrived at, whilst studying the Brocq affair from his own point of view: that it was a drama of spies and spying.... Surely either he was mistaken—or Juve was!... Was it a murder, or a political assassination?... No longer pretending indifference, he questioned Juve anxiously:
[Footnote 2: See The Exploits of Juve, vol. ii, Fantomas Series.]
"You accuse Fantomas? In the name of death and destruction, why?"
Juve had regained his self-possession. By pronouncing the word "Fantomas," by giving utterance to his secret fears, he had relieved his feelings.
"Fandor!" said he, in a quiet voice: "Consider carefully all the details and circumstances of this drama! In open day, on one of the most frequented promenades of Paris, an officer falls mortally wounded when passing in a taxicab, going possibly to some appointed meeting-place in one of the restaurants of the Bois. His taxi is surrounded by a crowd of vehicles, and without having time even to see his attacker, without anyone having seen him, Brocq collapses, mortally wounded, killed as though in battle, by a shot, a mysterious shot, fired from a weapon of the most perfect kind.... Come now, Fandor! Is that not a crime worthy of Fantomas?"
But the journalist was not convinced.
"True, this crime is worthy of Fantomas, but I do not think Fantomas has committed it.... You go too far, Juve! You are the victim of your hobby. Believe me, you exaggerate—you cannot trace every strange and subtle crime to this criminal!"
"If you do not attribute this crime to Fantomas, then at whose door do you lay it?" demanded the detective, who was well aware that he must guard against being the victim of a Fantomas obsession.
"Juve," replied Fandor, "I have been charged by Dupont to look into the Brocq affair, and have had to postpone my holiday to do it—that is how you see me this morning.... Well, I have begun my enquiry, and am trying to find out the exact truth regarding this unfortunate officer's death.... I have visited certain of his relations, interviewed the people who have known him, I have been able to get into touch with this Bobinette, who seems to be the last person who approached him a little before his assassination, and I have also arrived at a conclusion."
"And that is—Fandor?"
"A conclusion, Juve, which does not involve Fantomas in the slightest degree, a conclusion which, I assure you, has the advantage of being more certain, plainer, more absolutely definite than yours."...
"And that is—Fandor?"
"Juve, this officer belonged to the Second Bureau of the Staff Officer's Headquarters."...
"Juve, when an officer of the Second Bureau disappears in such tragic conditions, do you know what one presumes to be the reason of that disappearance?"
"Juve, I assert that if Captain Brocq is dead it is because there is a spy in the pay of a foreign power, who, being under supervision, perhaps on the point of being arrested, has resolved that the captain must die in order to save himself.... A document has been stolen, and it is precisely this fact which makes me disbelieve in the intervention of Fantomas."...
"You do not believe me, Juve?"
The detective shrugged his shoulders.
"No, I do not think you are right.... In the first place, Fantomas is capable of everything—capable of the theft of a document for which a foreign power would pay him very highly, just as there is no other kind of theft he is not capable of.... And then, dear boy, a spy, a traitor in the pay of a foreign power would not dare to attempt the crime to which we are giving all our attention—not in that particular way at any rate. There is only one person who would risk that—Fantomas."