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Fantomas
by Pierre Souvestre
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"Come here," he said in an almost inaudible voice; "follow me."

He went into the dressing-room, and picking up the towels that were heaped anyhow on the lower rail of the washstand, he selected a very crumpled one and held it out in front of his son.

"Look at that!" he said in a low, curt tone.

And on the towel, thus held in the light, Charles Rambert saw red stains of blood. The lad started, and was about to burst into some protestation, but Etienne Rambert imperiously checked him.

"Do you still deny it? Unhappy, wretched boy, there is the convincing, irrefutable evidence of your guilt! These stains of blood proclaim it. Something always is overlooked! How are you to explain the presence of this blood-stained linen in your room? Can you still deny that it is proof positive of your guilt?"

"But I do deny it, I do deny it! I don't understand! I know nothing about it!" and once more Charles Rambert collapsed into the arm-chair; the unhappy lad was nothing but a human wreck, with no strength to argue or even utter a word.

His father's eyes rested on him, filled with infinite affection and profoundest pity.

"My poor, poor boy!" the unhappy Etienne Rambert murmured, and added, as if speaking only to himself: "I wonder if you are not entirely responsible—if there are circumstances to plead for you!"

"Do you still accuse me, papa? Do you really believe I am the murderer?"

Etienne Rambert shook his head hopelessly.

"Oh, I wish, I wish," he exclaimed, "that for the honour of our name, and for the sake of those who love us, I could prove you had congenital, hereditary tendencies that made you not responsible! Why could not I have watched over your upbringing? Why has fate decreed that I should only see my son three times at most in eighteen years, and come home to find him—a criminal? Oh, if science could but establish the fact that the child of a tainted mother——"

"Tainted?" Charles exclaimed; "what do you mean?"

"Tainted with a terrible and mysterious disease," Etienne Rambert went on: "a disease before which we are powerless and unarmed—insanity!"

"What?" cried Charles, growing momentarily more distressed and bewildered; "what is that, papa? Are my wits going? My mother insane?" And then he added hopelessly: "My God! You must be right! Often and often I have been amazed by her strange, puzzling looks and behaviour! But I—I have all my proper senses: I know what I am doing!"

"Was it, perhaps, some appalling hallucination," Etienne Rambert suggested: "some moment of irresponsibility?"

But Charles saw what he meant and cut him short.

"No, no, papa! I am not mad! I am not mad! I am not mad!"

In his intense excitement the young fellow never thought of moderating the tone of his voice, but shouted out what was in his mind, shouted it into the silence of the night, heedless of all but this terrible discussion he was having with the father whom he loved. Nor did Etienne Rambert lower his voice: his son's impassioned protest wrung the retort from him:

"Then, Charles, if you are right, your crime is beyond forgiveness! Murderer! Murderer!"

The two men stopped short as a slight sound in the passage caught their attention. A silence fell upon them that they could not break, and they stood dumbfounded, nervous and overwrought.

The door of the room opened very slowly, and a white form appeared against the darkness of the corridor outside.

Robed in a long night-dress, Therese stood there, with hair dishevelled, bloodless lips, and eyes dilated with horror; the child was shaking from head to foot; as if every movement hurt her, she painfully raised her arm and pointed to Charles.

"Therese!" Etienne Rambert muttered: "Therese, you were outside?"

The child's lips moved: she seemed to be making a more than human effort, and a whisper escaped her lips:

"Yes——"

But she could say no more: her eyes rolled, her whole frame tottered, and then, without sign or cry, she fell rigid and unconscious to the floor.



V. "ARREST ME!"

Twelve or thirteen miles from Souillac the main line from Brives to Cahors, which flanks the slope, describes a rather sharp curve. The journey is a particularly picturesque one, and travellers who make it during the daytime have much that is interesting and agreeable to see; but while they are admiring the country, which marks the transition from the severe region of the Limousin to the more laughing landscapes on the confines of the Midi, the train suddenly plunges into a tunnel which runs for half a mile and more through the heart of the mountain slope. Leaving the tunnel, the line continues along the slope, then gradually descends towards Souillac. Two or three miles from that little station, which is a junction, the line runs alongside the highroad to Salignac, skirts for a brief distance the Correze, one of the largest tributaries on the right bank of the Dordogne, and then plunges into the heart of Lot.

Torrential winter rains had seriously affected the railway embankment, particularly near the mouth of the tunnel; a succession of heavy storms in the early part of December had so greatly weakened the ballast that the chief engineers of the Company had been hastily summoned to the scene of the mischief. The experts decided that very important repairs were required close to the Souillac end of the tunnel. It was necessary to put in a complete system of drainage, with underground pipes through which the water that came down from the mountain could escape between the ballast and the side of the rock and so pass underneath the permanent way. The sleepers, too, had been loosened by the bad weather, and some of them had perished so much that the chairs were no longer fast, a matter which was all the more serious because the line described a very sharp curve at that precise spot.

Gangs of first-class navvies had been hurriedly requisitioned, but in spite of the fact that an exceptional rate of wages was paid, a local strike had broken out and for some days all work was stopped. Gradually, however, moderate counsels prevailed and for over a week now, nearly all the men had taken up their tools again. Nevertheless, for a month past, these various circumstances had resulted in all the trains running between Brives and Cahors, being regularly half an hour late. Further, in view of the dangerous state of the line, all engine drivers coming from Brives had received orders to stop their trains two hundred yards from the end of the tunnel, and all drivers coming from Cahors to stop their trains five hundred yards before the entrance to the tunnel, so that should a train appear while any work was going on which rendered it dangerous to pass, it could wait until the work was completed. The order was also issued with the primary object of preventing the workers on the line from being taken by surprise.

* * * * *

Day was just breaking this grey December morning, when the gang of navvies set to work under a foreman, fixing on the down line the new sleepers which had been brought up the day before. Suddenly a shrill whistle was heard, and in the gaping black mouth of the tunnel the light of two lamps became visible; a train bound for Cahors had stopped in accordance with orders, and was calling for permission to pass.

The foreman ranged his men on either side of the down line and walked to a small cabin erected at the mouth of the tunnel, where he pulled the hand-signal so as to show the green light, thereby authorising the train to proceed on its way.

There was a second short, sharp whistle; heavy puffs escaped from the engine, and belching forth a dense volume of black smoke it slowly emerged from the tunnel, followed by a long train of carriages, the windows of which were frosted all over by the cold temperature outside.

A man approached the cabin allotted to the plate-layer in charge of that section of the line in which the tunnel was included.

"I suppose this is the train due at Verrieres at 6.55?" he said carelessly.

"Yes," the plate-layer answered, "but it's late, for the clock down there in the valley struck seven several minutes ago."

The train had gone by: the three red lamps fastened at the end of it were already lost in the morning mist.

The man who spoke to the plate-layer was no other than Francois Paul, the tramp who had been discharged by the magistrate installed at the chateau of Beaulieu, at precisely the same time the day before, after a brief examination. In spite of the deep wrinkle furrowed in his brow the man seemed to make an effort to appear friendly and to want to carry on the conversation.

"There aren't many people in this morning train," he remarked, "specially in the first-class carriages."

The plate-layer appeared in no wise unwilling to postpone for a few moments his tiring and chilly underground patrol; he put down his pick before answering.

"Well, that's not surprising, is it? People who are rich enough to travel first-class always come by the express which gets to Brives at 2.50 A.M."

"I see," said Francois Paul; "that's reasonable: and more practical for travellers to Brives or Cahors. But what about the people who want to get out at Gourdon, or Souillac, or Verrieres, or any of the small stations where the express doesn't stop?"

"I don't know," said the plate-layer; "but I suppose they have to get out at Brives or Cahors and drive, or else travel by the day trains, which are fast to Brives and slow afterwards."

Francois Paul did not press the matter. He lit a pipe and breathed upon his benumbed fingers.

"Hard times, these, and no mistake!"

The plate-layer seemed sorry for him.

"I don't suppose you're an independent gentleman, but why don't you try to get taken on here?" he suggested. "They want hands here."

"Oh, do they?"

"That's the fact; this is the foreman coming along now: would you like me to speak to him for you?"

"No hurry," replied Francois Paul. "'Course, I'm not saying no, but I should like to see what sort of work it is they're doing here: it might not suit me; I shall still have time to get a couple of words with him," and with his eyes on the ground the tramp slowly walked along the embankment away from the plate-layer.

The foreman met and passed him, and came up to the plate-layer at the mouth of the tunnel.

"Well, Michu, how goes it with you? Still got the old complaint?"

"Middling, boss," the worthy fellow answered: "just keeping up, you know. And how's yourself? And the work? When shall you finish? I don't know if you know it, but these trains stopping regularly in my section give me an extra lot of work."

"How's that?" the foreman enquired in surprise.

"The engine drivers take advantage of the stop to empty their ash-pans, and they leave a great heap of mess there in my tunnel, which I'm obliged to clear away. In the ordinary way they dump it somewhere else: where, I don't know, but not in my tunnel, and that's all I care about."

The foreman laughed.

"You're a good 'un, Michu! If I were you I would ask the Company to give me another man or two."

"And do you suppose the Company would?" Michu retorted. "By the way, that poor devil who is going along there, shivering with cold and hunger, was grumbling to me just now, and I advised him to ask you to take him on. What do you think he said? Why, that he would have a look at the work first, and off he went."

"It's a fact, Michu, that it's mighty difficult to come across people who mean business nowadays. It's quite true that I want more hands. But if that chap doesn't ask me to engage him in another minute, I'll kick him out. The embankment is not public property, and I don't trust these rascals who are for ever coming and going among the workmen to see what mischief they can make. I'll go and cast an eye over the bolts and things, for there are all sorts of vagrants about the neighbourhood just now."

"And criminals, too," said old Michu. "I suppose you have heard of the murder up at the chateau of Beaulieu?"

"Rather! My men are talking of nothing else. But you are right, Michu, I will get a closer look at all strangers, and at your friend in particular."

The foreman stopped abruptly; he had been examining the foot of the embankment, and was standing quite still, watching. The plate-layer followed his glance, and also stood fixed. After a few moments' silence the two men looked at each other and smiled. In the half-light of the valley they had seen the outline of a gendarme; he was on foot and appeared to be looking for somebody, while making no attempt to remain unseen himself.

"Good!" whispered Michu; "that's sergeant Doucet: I know him by his stripes. They say the murder was not committed by anyone belonging to this part of the country; everybody was fond of the Marquise de Langrune."

"Look! Look!" the foreman broke in, pointing to the gendarme who was slowly climbing up the embankment. "It looks as if the sergeant were making for the gentleman who was looking for work just now and hoped he would not find it. The sergeant's got a word for him, eh, what?"

"That might be," said Michu after a moment's further watching. "That chap has a villainous, ugly face. One can tell from the way he's dressed that he don't belong to our parts."

The two men waited with utmost interest to see what was going to happen.

Sergeant Doucet reached the top of the embankment at last and hurried past the navvies, who stopped their work to stare inquisitively after the representative of authority. Fifty yards beyond them, Francois Paul, wrapped in thought, was walking slowly down towards the station of Verrieres. Hearing the sound of steps behind him, he turned. When he saw the sergeant he frowned. He glanced rapidly about him and saw that while he was alone with the gendarme, so that no one could overhear what they said, however loudly they might speak, they were yet in such a position that every sign and movement they made would be perfectly visible to whoever might watch them. And as the gendarme paused a few paces from him and—remarkable fact—seemed to be on the point of bringing his hand to his cap in salute, the mysterious tramp rapped out:

"I thought I said no one was to disturb me, sergeant?"

The sergeant took a pace forward.

"I beg your pardon, Inspector, but I have important news for you."

For this Francois Paul, whom the sergeant thus respectfully addressed as Inspector, was no other than an officer of the secret police who had been sent down to Beaulieu the day before from head-quarters in Paris.

He was no ordinary officer. As if M. Havard had had an idea that the Langrune affair would prove to be puzzling and complicated, he had singled out the very best of his detectives, the most expert inspector of them all—Juve. It was Juve who for the last forty-eight hours had been prowling about the chateau of Beaulieu disguised as a tramp, and had had himself arrested with Bouzille that he might prosecute his own investigations without raising the slightest suspicion as to his real identity.

Juve made a face expressive of his vexation at the over-deferential attitude of the sergeant.

"Do pay attention!" he said low. "We are being watched. If I must go back with you, pretend to arrest me. Slip the handcuffs on me!"

"I beg your pardon, Inspector: I don't like to," the gendarme answered.

For all reply, Juve turned his back on him.

"Look here," he said, "I will take a step or two forward as if I meant to run away; then you must put your hand on my shoulder roughly, and I will stumble; when I do, slip the bracelets on."

From the mouth of the tunnel the plate-layer, the foreman and the navvies all followed with their eyes the unintelligible conversation passing between the gendarme and the tramp a hundred yards away. Suddenly they saw the man try to get off and the sergeant seize him almost simultaneously. A few minutes later the individual, with his hands linked together in front of him, was obediently descending the steep slope of the embankment, by the gendarme's side, and then the two men disappeared behind a clump of trees.

"I understand why that chap was not very keen on getting taken on here," said the foreman. "His conscience was none too easy!"

As they walked briskly in the direction of Beaulieu Juve asked the sergeant:

"What has happened at the chateau, then?"

"They know who the murderer is, Inspector," the sergeant answered. "Little Mlle. Therese——"



VI. "FANTOMAS, IT IS DEATH!"

Hurrying back towards the chateau with the sergeant, Juve ran into M. de Presles outside the park gate. The magistrate had just arrived from Brives in a motor-car which he had commandeered for his personal use during the last few days.

"Well," said Juve in his quiet, measured tones, "have you heard the news?" And as the magistrate looked at him in surprise he went on: "I gather from your expression that you have not. Well, sir, if you will kindly fill up a warrant we will arrest M. Charles Rambert."

Juve briefly repeated to the magistrate what the sergeant had reported to him, and the sergeant added a few further details. The three men had now reached the foot of the steps before the house and were about to go up when the door of the chateau was opened and Dollon appeared. He hurried towards them, with unkempt hair and haggard face, and excitedly exclaimed:

"Didn't you meet the Ramberts? Where are they? Where are they?"

The magistrate, who was bewildered by what Juve had told him, was trying to form a coherent idea of the whole sequence of events, but the detective realised the situation at once, and turned to the sergeant.

"The bird has flown," he said. The sergeant threw up his hands in dismay.

* * * * *

Inside the hall Juve and M. de Presles ordered Dollon to give them an exact account of the discovery made by Therese in the course of the previous night.

"Well, gentlemen," said the old fellow, who was greatly upset by the discovery of the murderer of the Marquise de Langrune, "when I got to the chateau early this morning I found the two old servants, Marie and Louise, entirely occupied attending to the young mistress. Marie slept in an adjoining room to hers last night, and was awakened about five o'clock by the poor child's inarticulate cries. Mlle. Therese was bathed in perspiration; her face was all drawn and there were dark rings under her eyes; she was sleeping badly and evidently having a dreadful nightmare. She half woke up several times and muttered some unintelligible words to Marie, who thought that it was the result of over-excitement. But about six o'clock, just as I arrived, Mlle. Therese really woke up, and bursting into a fit of sobbing and crying, repeated the names of her grandmother and the Ramberts and the Baronne de Vibray. She kept on saying, 'The murderer! the murderer!' and making all sorts of signs of terror, but we were not able to get from her a clear statement of what it was all about. I felt her pulse and found she was very feverish, and Louise prepared a cooling drink, which she persuaded her to take. In about twenty minutes—it was then nearly half-past six—Mlle. Therese quietened down, and managed to tell us what she had heard during the night, and the dreadful interview and conversation between M. Rambert and his son which she had seen and overheard."

"What did you do then?" enquired M. de Presles.

"I was dreadfully upset myself, sir, and I sent Jean, the coachman, to Saint-Jaury to fetch the doctor and also to let Sergeant Doucet know. Sergeant Doucet got here first; I told him all I knew, and then I went upstairs with the doctor to see Mlle. Therese."

The magistrate turned to the police-sergeant and questioned him.

"Directly M. Dollon told me his story," the sergeant replied, "I thought it my duty to report to M. Juve, who I knew was not far from the chateau, on his way to Verrieres: M. Juve told me last night that he meant to explore that part in the early morning. I left Morand on duty at the entrance to the chateau, with orders to prevent either of the Ramberts from leaving."

"And Morand did not see them going away?" the magistrate asked.

Juve had already divined what had happened, and replied for the sergeant.

"Morand did not see them go out for the obvious reason that they had left long before—in the middle of the night, directly after their altercation: in a word, before Mlle. Therese woke up." He turned to the sergeant. "What has been done since then?"

"Nothing, Inspector."

"Well, sergeant," said Juve. "I imagine his worship will order you to send out your men at once after the runaways." As a matter of courtesy he glanced at the magistrate as if asking for his approval, but he only did so out of politeness, for he took it for granted.

"Of course!" said the magistrate; "please do so at once." The sergeant turned on his heel and left the hall.

"Where is Mlle. Therese?" M. de Presles asked Dollon, who was standing nervously apart.

"She is sleeping quietly just now, sir," said the steward, coming forward. "The doctor is with her, and would rather she were not disturbed, if you have no objection."

"Very well," said the magistrate. "Leave us, please," and Dollon also went away.

Juve and M. de Presles looked at one another. The magistrate was the first to break the silence.

"So it is finished?" he remarked. "So this Charles Rambert is the culprit?"

Juve shook his head.

"Charles Rambert? Well, he ought to be the culprit."

"Why that reservation?" enquired the magistrate.

"I say 'ought to be,' for all the circumstances point to that conclusion, and yet in my bones I don't believe he is."

"Surely the presumptions of his guilt, his pseudo-confession, or at least his silence in face of his father's formal accusation, may make us sure he is," said M. de Presles.

"There are some presumptions in favour of his innocence too," Juve replied, but with a slight hesitation.

The magistrate pressed his point.

"Your investigations formally demonstrated the fact that the crime was committed by some person who was inside the house."

"Possibly," said Juve, "but not certainly. The probabilities do not allow us to assert it as a fact."

"Explain yourself."

"Not so fast, sir," Juve replied, and getting up he added: "There is nothing for us to do here, sir; shall we go up to the room Charles Rambert occupied?"

M. de Presles followed the detective, and the two men went into the room, which was as plainly furnished as that of any young girl. The magistrate installed himself comfortably in an easy chair and lighted a cigar, while Juve walked up and down, scrutinising everything with quick, sharp glances, and began to talk:

"I said 'not so fast' just now, sir, and I will tell you why: in my opinion there are two preliminary points in this affair which it is important to clear up: the nature of the crime, and the motive which can have actuated the criminal. Let us take up these two points, and first of all ask ourselves how the murder of the Marquise de Langrune ought to be 'classified' in the technical sense. The first conclusion which must be impressed upon the mind of any observant person who has visited the scene of the crime and examined the corpse of the victim is, that this murder must be placed in the category of crapulous crimes. The murderer seems to have left the implicit mark of his character upon his victim; the very violence of the blows dealt shows that he is a man of the lower orders, a typical criminal, a professional."

"What do you deduce that from?" M. de Presles enquired.

"Simply from the nature of the wound. You saw it, as I did. Mme. de Langrune's throat was almost entirely severed by the blade of some cutting instrument. The breadth and depth of the wound absolutely prove that it was not made with one stroke; the murderer must have gone amok and dealt several blows—have gone on striking even when death had finished his work, or at least was quite inevitable; that shows clearly that the murderer belongs to a class of individuals who feel no repugnance for their horrid work, but who kill without horror, and even without excitement. Again, the nature of the wound shows that the murderer is a strong man; you no doubt know that weak men with feeble muscles strike 'deep' by choice, that is to say with a pointed weapon and aiming at a vital organ, whereas powerful murderers have a predilection for blows dealt 'superficially,' and for broad, ghastly wounds. Besides, that is only following a natural law; a weak man finesses with death, tries to make sure of it at some precise point, penetrating the heart or severing an artery; a brutal man does not care where he hits, but trusts to his own brute strength to achieve his purpose.

"We have next to determine the sort of weapon with which the murder was committed. We have not got it, at any rate up to the present; I have given orders for the drains to be emptied, and the pond to be dragged and the shrubberies to be searched, but, whether our search is crowned with success or not, I am convinced that the instrument was a knife, one of those common knives with a catch lock that apaches always carry. If the murderer had had a weapon whose point was its principal danger, he would have stabbed, and stabbed to the heart, instead of cutting; but he used the edge, the part of a knife that is most habitually used, and he actually cut. When the first wound was made he did not strike anywhere else, but continued working away at the wound and enlarging it. It is a point of capital importance that this murder was committed with a knife, not with a dagger or stiletto, and therefore this is a crapulous crime."

"And what conclusion do you draw from the fact that the crime is a crapulous one?" the magistrate proceeded to enquire.

"Merely that it cannot have been committed by Charles Rambert," Juve answered very gravely. "He is a young man who has been well brought up, he comes of very good stock, and his age makes it most improbable that he can be a professional criminal."

"Obviously, obviously!" murmured the magistrate, not a little embarrassed by the keen logic of the detective.

"And now let us consider the motive or motives of the crime," Juve continued. "Why did the man commit this murder?"

"Doubtless for purposes of robbery," said the magistrate.

"What did he want to steal?" Juve retorted. "As a matter of fact, Mme. de Langrune's diamond rings and watch and purse were all found on her table, in full view of everybody; in the drawers that had been broken open I found other jewels, over twenty pounds in gold and silver, and three bank-notes in a card-case. What is your view, sir, of a crapulous robber who sees valuables like that within his reach, and who does not take them?"

"It is certainly surprising," the magistrate admitted.

"Very surprising; and goes to show that although the crime in itself is a common, sordid one, the criminal may have had higher, or at any rate different, aspirations from those which would lead an ordinary ruffian to commit murder for the sake of robbery. The age and social position and personality of Mme. de Langrune make it very unlikely that she had enemies, or was the object of vengeance, and therefore if she was got rid of, it was very likely that she might be robbed—but robbed of what? Was there something more important than money or jewels to be got? I frankly admit that although I put the question I am at a loss how to answer it."

"Obviously," murmured the magistrate again, still more puzzled by all these logical deductions.

Juve proceeded with the development of his ideas.

"And now suppose we are face to face with a crime committed without any motive, as a result of some morbid impulse, a by no means uncommon occurrence, monomania or temporary insanity?

"In that case, although, in consequence of the crapulous nature of the crime, I had previously dismissed the very serious presumption of guilt attaching to young Rambert, I should be inclined to reconsider my opinion and think it possible that he might be the culprit. We know very little about the young fellow from the physiological point of view; in fact we don't know him at all; but it seems that his family is not altogether normal, and I understand that his mother's mental condition is precarious. If for a moment we regard Charles Rambert as a hysterical subject, we can associate him with the murder of the Marquise de Langrune without thereby destroying our case that the crime is a crapulous one, for a man of only medium physical strength, when suffering from an attack of mental alienation, has his muscular power increased at least tenfold during his paroxysms. Under such influence as that Charles Rambert might have committed murder with all the fierce brutality of a giant!

"But I shall soon be in possession of absolutely accurate knowledge as to the muscular strength of the murderer," Juve proceeded. "Quite lately M. Bertillon invented a marvellous dynamometer which enables us not only to ascertain what kind of lever has been used to force a lock or a piece of furniture, but also to determine the exact strength of the individual who used the tools. I have taken samples of the wood from the broken drawer, and I shall soon have exact information."

"That will be immensely important," M. de Presles agreed. "Even if it does away with our present certainty of Charles Rambert's guilt, we shall be able to find out whether the murder was committed by any other occupant of the house—still assuming that it was committed by some member of the household."

"With regard to that," said Juve, "we can proceed with our method of deduction and eliminate from our field of observation everybody who has a good alibi or other defence; it will be so much ground cleared. For my own part I find it impossible to suspect the two old maidservants, Louise and Marie; the tramps whom we have detained and subsequently released are too simple-minded, elementary people to have been capable of devising the minute precautions which demonstrate the subtle cleverness of the man who murdered the Marquise. Then there is Dollon; but I imagine you will agree with me in thinking that his alibi removes him from suspicion—more especially as the medical evidence proves that the murder was committed during the night, between two and three o'clock."

"Only M. Etienne Rambert is left," the magistrate put in, "and about nine o'clock that evening he left the d'Orsay station in the slow train which reaches Verrieres at 6.55 A.M. He spent the whole night in the train, for he certainly arrived by that one. He could not have a better alibi."

"Not possibly," Juve replied. "So we need only trouble ourselves with Charles Rambert," and warming up to the subject the detective proceeded to pile up a crushing indictment against the young man. "The crime was committed so quietly that not the faintest sound was heard; therefore the murderer was in the house; he went to the Marquise's room and announced his arrival by a cautious tap on the door; the Marquise then opened the door to him, and was not surprised to see him, for she knew him quite well; he went into her room with her and——"

"Oh, come, come!" M. de Presles broke in; "you are romancing now, M. Juve; you forget that the bedroom door was forced, the best proof of that being the bolt, which was found wrenched away and hanging literally at the end of the screws."

"I was expecting you to say that, sir," said Juve with a smile. "But before I reply I should like to show you something rather quaint." He led the way across the passage and went into the bedroom of the Marquise, where order had now been restored; the dead body had been removed to the library, which was transformed into a chapelle ardente, and two nuns were watching over it there. "Have a good look at this bolt," he said to M. de Presles. "Is there anything unusual about it?"

"No," said the magistrate.

"Yes, there is," said Juve; "the slide-bolt is out, as when the bolt is fastened, but the socket into which the slide-bolt slips to fasten the door to the wall is intact. If the bolt really had been forced, the socket would have been wrenched away too." Juve next asked M. de Presles to look closely at the screws that were wrenched halfway out of the door. "Do you see anything on those?"

The magistrate pointed to their heads.

"There are tiny scratches on them," he said, rather hesitatingly, for in his inmost heart he knew the detective's real superiority over himself, "and from those I must infer that the screws have not been wrenched out by the pressure exerted on the bolt, but really unscrewed, and therefore——"

"And therefore," Juve broke in, "this is a mere blind, from which we may certainly draw the conclusion that the murderer wished to make us believe that the door was forced, whereas in reality it was opened to him by the Marquise. Therefore the murderer was personally known to her!"

"The murderer was personally known to her," he repeated. "Now I should like to remind you of young Charles Rambert's equivocal behaviour in the course of the evening that preceded the crime. It struck President Bonnet and shocked the priest. I also recall his hereditary antecedents, his mothers insanity, and finally——" Juve broke off abruptly and unceremoniously dragged the magistrate out of the room and into Charles Rambert's bedroom. He hurried into the dressing-room adjoining, went down on his knees on the floor, and laid a finger on the middle of the oil-cloth that was laid over the boards. "What do you see there, sir?" he demanded.

The magistrate adjusted his eyeglass and, looking at the place indicated by the detective, saw a little black stain; he wetted his finger, rubbed it on the spot, and then, holding up his hand, observed that the tip of his finger was stained red.

"It is blood," he muttered.

"Yes, blood," said Juve, "and I gather from this that the story of the blood-stained towel which M. Rambert senior found among his son's things, and the sight of which so greatly impressed Mlle. Therese, was not an invention on that young lady's part, but really existed; and it forms the most damning evidence possible against the young man. He obviously washed his hands after the crime in the water from the tap over this wash-hand basin here, but one drop of blood falling on the towel and dripping on to the floor has been enough to give him away."

The magistrate nodded.

"It is conclusive," he said. "You have just proved to demonstration, M. Juve, that Charles Rambert is the guilty party. It is beyond argument. It is conclusive—conclusive!"

There were a couple of seconds of silence, and then Juve suddenly said "No!"

"No!" he repeated; "it is quite true that we can adduce perfectly logical arguments to show that the murder was committed by some member of the household and that, therefore, Charles Rambert is the only possible culprit; but we can adduce equally logical arguments to show that the crime was committed by some person who got in from outside: there is nothing to prove that he did not walk into the house through the front door."

"The door was locked," said the magistrate.

"That's nothing," said Juve with a laugh. "Don't forget that there isn't such a thing as a real safety lock nowadays—since all locks can be opened with an outside key. If I had found one of the good old-fashioned catch locks on the door, such as they used to make years ago, I should have said to you: nobody got in, because the only way to get through a door fastened with one of those locks is to break the door down. But here we have a lock that can be opened with a key. Now the key does not exist of which one cannot get an impression, and there is not such a thing as an impression from which one cannot manufacture a false key. The murderer could easily have got into the house with a duplicate key."

The magistrate raised a further objection.

"If the murderer had got in from outside he would inevitably have left some traces round about the chateau, but there aren't any."

"Yes there are," Juve retorted. "First of all there is this piece of an ordnance map which I found yesterday between the chateau and the embankment." He took it from his pocket as he spoke. "It is an odd coincidence that this scrap shows the neighbourhood of the chateau of Beaulieu."

"That doesn't prove anything," said the magistrate. "To find a piece of a map of our district in our district is the most natural thing possible. Now if you were to discover the rest of this map in anybody's possession, then——"

"You may rest assured that I shall try to do so with the least possible delay," said Juve gently. "But this is not the only argument I have to support my theory. This morning, when I was walking near the embankment, I found some very suspicious footprints. It is true there are any number of footprints near the end of the Verrieres tunnel, where the navvies are at work. But at the other end of the tunnel, where there is no occasion for anyone to pass by, I found that the earth of the embankment, which was crisp with the frost, had been disturbed, showing that someone had clambered up the embankment; the tips of his shoes had been driven into the earth, and I could see distinctly where his feet had been placed; but unfortunately the soil there is so dry that the footprints were too faint for me to hope to be able to identify the maker of them. But the fact remains that someone did climb up the embankment, someone who was making for the railway."

The magistrate did not seem to be impressed by Juve's discovery.

"And pray what conclusion do you think ought to be drawn from that?" he enquired.

Juve sat down in an easy chair, threw back his head and closed his eyes as if he were about to indulge in a long soliloquy, and began to express his thoughts aloud.

"Suppose we were to combine the two hypotheses into one; to wit, that the murderer was in the chateau prior to the accomplishment of the crime and left the chateau directly it was accomplished. What should you say, sir, of a criminal completing his deed, then hurrying over the couple of miles that separate Beaulieu from the railway, and catching a passing train, and on his way climbing the embankment at the spot where I found the footprints I mentioned."

"I should say," the magistrate replied, "that you can't jump into a moving train as you can into a passing tram, and further, that at night none but express trains run between Brives and Cahors."

"All right," said Juve: "I will merely point out that owing to the work on the line at present, all trains have stopped at the beginning of the tunnel for the last two months. If the murderer had planned to escape in that way he might very well have been aware of this regular stoppage."

The magistrates confidence was a little shaken by these new deductions on the part of the detective, but he submitted yet another objection.

"We have not found any traces round about the chateau."

"Strictly speaking, no, we have not," Juve admitted; "but it is clear that if the murderer walked on the grass, and he probably did so, he walked on it during the night, that is to say, before the morning dew. Now everybody knows that when the dew rises in the early morning, grass that has been bent down by any passing man or animal, stands up again in its original position, thereby destroying all traces; so if the murderer did walk on the lawn when he was getting away, nobody could tell that he had done so. Nevertheless, on the lawn in front of the window of the room where the murder was committed I have observed, not exactly footprints, but signs that the earth has been disturbed at that spot. I imagine that if I were to jump out of a first floor window on to the soft surface of a lawn, and wanted to efface the marks of my boots, I should smooth the earth and the grass around them in just the same way that the little piece of lawn I speak of seems to have been smoothed."

"I should like to have a look at that," said M. de Presles.

"Well, there's no difficulty about it," Juve replied. "Come along."

The two men hurried down the staircase and out of the house. When they reached the patch of grass which the inspector said had been "made up," they crouched down and scrutinised it closely. Just by the side of the grass, even overhanging it a little, a large rhubarb plant outspread its thick, dentelated leaves almost parallel with the soil. Juve happened to glance casually at the nearest leaf, and uttered an exclamation of surprise and gratification.

"Gad, here's something interesting!" and he drew the magistrate's attention to some little pilules of earth with which the plant was peppered.

"What is that?" enquired M. de Presles.

"Earth," said Juve, who had swept the top of the leaf with the palm of his hand; "ordinary earth, like the rest ten inches below, on the grass."

"Well, what about it?" said the puzzled magistrate.

"Well," said Juve with a smile, "I imagine that ordinary earth, or any kind of earth, has no power to move of its own volition, much less to jump up ten inches into the air and settle on the top of a leaf, even a rhubarb leaf! So I conclude that since this earth did not get here by itself it was brought here. How? That is very simple! Somebody has jumped on to the grass there, M. de Presles; he has removed the marks of his feet by smoothing the earth with his hands; the earth soiled his hands, and he rubbed one against the other quite mechanically; the earth which was on his hands fell off in little balls on to the rhubarb leaf, and remained there for us to discover. And so it is certain—this is one proof more—that even if the murderer did not get in from outside, he did at any rate take to flight after he had committed the crime."

"So it can't be Charles Rambert after all," said the magistrate.

"It 'ought to be' Charles Rambert!" was Juve's baffling reply.

The magistrate waxed irritable.

"My dear sir, your everlasting contradictions end by being rather absurd! You have hardly finished building up one laborious theory before you start knocking it down again. I fail to understand you."

Juve smiled at M. de Presles' sudden irritability, but quickly became grave again.

"I am anxious not to be led away by any preconceived opinion. I put the hypothesis that so and so is guilty, and examine all the arguments in support of that theory; then I submit that the crime was committed by somebody else, and proceed in the same way. My method certainly has the objection that it confronts every argument with a diametrically opposite one, but we are not concerned with establishing any one case in preference to another—it is the truth, and nothing else, that we have to discover."

"And that is tantamount to saying that in spite of the overwhelming circumstantial evidence, and in spite of the fact that he has run away, Charles Rambert is innocent?"

"Charles Rambert is the culprit, sir," Juve replied brightly. "If he were not, whom else could we possibly suspect?"

The detective's placidity and his perpetual self-contradictions exasperated M. de Presles. He held his tongue, and was silently revolving the case in his mind when Juve made yet one more suggestion.

"There is one final hypothesis which I feel obliged to put before you. Do you realise, sir, that this is a typical Fantomas crime?"

M. de Presles shrugged his shoulders as the detective pronounced this half-mythical name.

"Upon my word, M. Juve, I should never have expected you to invoke Fantomas! Why, Fantomas is the too obvious subterfuge, the cheapest device for investing a case with mock honours. Between you and me, you know perfectly well that Fantomas is merely a legal fiction—a lawyers' joke. Fantomas has no existence in fact!"

Juve stopped in his stride. He paused a moment before replying; then spoke in a restrained voice, but with an emphasis on his words that always marked him when he spoke in all seriousness.

"You are wrong to laugh, sir; very wrong. You are a magistrate and I am only a humble detective inspector, but you have three or four years' experience, perhaps less, while I have fifteen years' work behind me. I know that Fantomas does exist, and I do anything but laugh when I suspect his intervention in a case."

M. de Presles could hardly conceal his surprise, and Juve went on:

"No one has ever said of me, sir, that I was a coward. I have looked death in the eyes; I have often hunted and arrested criminals who would not have had the least hesitation in doing away with me. There are whole gangs of rascals who have vowed my death. All manner of horrible revenges threaten me to-day. For all that I have the most complete indifference! But when people talk to me of Fantomas, when I fancy that I can detect the intervention of that genius of crime in any case, then, M. de Presles, I am in a funk! I tell you frankly I am in a funk. I am frightened, because Fantomas is a being against whom it is idle to use ordinary weapons; because he has been able to hide his identity and elude all pursuit for years; because his daring is boundless and his power unmeasurable; because he is everywhere and nowhere at once and, if he has had a hand in this affair, I am not even sure that he is not listening to me now! And finally, M. de Presles, because every one whom I have known to attack Fantomas, my friends, my colleagues, my superior officers, have one and all, one and all, sir, been beaten in the fight! Fantomas does exist, I know, but who is he? A man can brave a danger he can measure, but he trembles when confronted with a peril he suspects but cannot see."

"But this Fantomas is not a devil," the magistrate broke in testily; "he is a man like you and me!"

"You are right, sir, in saying he is a man; but I repeat, the man is a genius! I don't know whether he works alone or whether he is the head of a gang of criminals; I know nothing of his life; I know nothing of his object. In no single case yet has it been possible to determine the exact part he has taken. He seems to possess the extraordinary gift of being able to slay and leave no trace. You don't see him; you divine his presence: you don't hear him; you have a presentiment of him. If Fantomas is mixed up in this present affair, I don't know if we ever shall succeed in clearing it up!"

M. de Presles was impressed in spite of himself by the detective's earnestness.

"But I suppose you are not recommending me to drop the enquiry, are you, Juve?"

The detective forced a laugh that did not ring quite true.

"Come, come, sir," he answered, "I told you just now that I was frightened, but I never said I was a coward. You may be quite sure I shall do my duty, to the very end. When I first began—and that was not yesterday, nor yet the day before—to realise the importance and the power of this Fantomas, I took an oath, sir, that some day I would discover his identity and effect his arrest! Fantomas is an enemy of society, you say? I prefer to regard him first and foremost as my own personal enemy! I have declared war on him, and I am ready to lose my skin in the war if necessary, but by God I'll have his!"

Juve ceased. M. de Presles also was silent. But the magistrate was still sceptical, despite the detective's strange utterance, and presently he could not refrain from making a gentle protest and appeal.

"Do please bring in a verdict against someone, M. Juve, for really I would rather believe that your Fantomas is—a creation of the imagination!"

Juve shrugged his shoulders, seemed to be arriving at a mighty decision, and began:

"You are quite right, sir, to require me to draw some definite conclusion, even if you are not right in denying the existence of Fantomas. So I make the assertion that the murderer is——"

* * * * *

The sound of hurrying steps behind them made both men turn round. A postman, hot and perspiring, was hurrying to the chateau; he had a telegram in his hand.

"Does either of you gentlemen know M. Juve?" he asked.

"My name is Juve," said the detective, and he took the telegram and tore the envelope open. He glanced through it and then handed it to the magistrate.

"Please read that, sir," he said.

The telegram was from the Criminal Investigation Department, and ran as follows:

* * * * *

"Return immediately to Paris. Are convinced that extraordinary crime lies behind disappearance of Lord Beltham. Privately, suspect Fantomas' work."



VII. THE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION DEPARTMENT

"Does M. Gurn live here, please?"

Mme. Doulenques, the concierge at No. 147 rue Levert, looked at the enquirer and saw a tall, dark man with a heavy moustache, wearing a soft hat and a tightly buttoned overcoat, the collar of which was turned up to his ears.

"M. Gurn is away, sir," she answered; "he has been away for some little time."

"I know," said the stranger, "but still I want to go up to his rooms if you will kindly go with me."

"You want——" the concierge began in surprise and doubt. "Oh, I know; of course you are the man from the what's-its-name company, come for his luggage? Wait a bit; what is the name of that company? Something funny—an English name, I fancy."

The woman left the door, which she had been holding just ajar, and went to the back of her lodge; she looked through the pigeon-holes where she kept the tenants' letters ready sorted, and picked out a soiled printed circular addressed to M. Gurn. She was busy putting on her spectacles when the stranger drew near and from over her shoulder got a glimpse of the name for which she was looking. He drew back again noiselessly, and said quietly:

"I have come from the South Steamship Company."

"Yes, that's it," said the concierge, laboriously spelling out the words: "the South—what you said. I can never pronounce those names. Rue d'Hauteville, isn't it?"

"That's it," replied the man in the soft hat in pleasant, measured tones.

"Well, it's very plain that you don't bustle much in your place," the concierge remarked. "I've been expecting you to come for M. Gurn's things for nearly three weeks; he told me you would come a few days after he had gone. However, that's your business."

Mme. Doulenques cast a mechanical glance through the window that looked on to the street, and then surveyed the stranger from top to toe; he seemed to be much too well dressed to be a mere porter.

"But you haven't got any handcart or truck," she exclaimed. "You're not thinking of carrying the trunks on your shoulder, are you? Why, there are at least three or four of them—and heavy!"

The stranger paused before answering, as though he found it necessary to weigh each word.

"As a matter of fact I merely wanted to get an idea of the size of the luggage," he said quietly. "Will you show me the things?"

"If I must, I must," said the concierge with a heavy sigh. "Come up with me: it's the fifth floor," and as she climbed the stairs she grumbled: "It's a pity you didn't come when I was doing my work: I shouldn't have had to climb a hundred stairs a second time then; it counts up at the end of the day, and I'm not so young as I was."

The stranger followed her up the stairs, murmuring monosyllabic sympathy, and regulating his pace by hers. Arrived at the fifth floor, the concierge drew a key from her pocket and opened the door of the flat.

It was a small modest place, but quite prettily decorated. The door on the landing opened into a tiny sort of anteroom, from which one passed into a front room furnished with little but a round table and a few arm-chairs. Beyond this was a bedroom, almost filled by the large bed, which was the first thing one saw on entering, and on the right there was yet another room, probably a little office. Both the first room, which was a kind of general living room, and the bedroom had wide windows overlooking gardens as far as one could see. An advantage of the flat was that it had nothing opposite, so that the occupant could move about with the windows open if he liked, and yet have nothing to fear from the inquisitiveness of neighbours.

The rooms had been shut up for several days, since the tenant had gone away indeed, and there was a stuffy smell about them, mingled with a strong smell of chemicals.

"I must air the place," the concierge muttered, "or else M. Gurn won't be pleased when he comes back. He always says he is too hot and can't breathe in Paris."

"So he does not live here regularly?" said the stranger, scanning the place curiously as he spoke.

"Oh, no, sir," the concierge answered. "M. Gurn is a kind of commercial traveller and is often away, sometimes for a month or six weeks together," and the gossiping woman was beginning a long and incoherent story when the stranger interrupted her, pointing to a silver-framed photograph of a young woman he had noticed on the mantelpiece.

"Is that Mme. Gurn?"

"M. Gurn is a bachelor," Mme. Doulenques replied. "I can't fancy him married, with his roaming kind of life."

"Just a little friend of his, eh?" said the man in the soft hat, with a wink and a meaning smile.

"Oh, no," said the concierge, shaking her head. "That photograph is not a bit like her."

"So you know her, then?"

"I do and I don't. That's to say, when M. Gurn is in Paris, he often has visits from a lady in the afternoon: a very fashionable lady, I can tell you, not the sort that one often sees in this quarter. Why, the woman who comes is a society lady, I am sure: she always has her veil down and passes by my lodge ever so fast, and never has any conversation with me; free with her money, too: it's very seldom she does not give me something when she comes."

The stranger seemed to find the concierge's communications very interesting, but they did not interrupt his mental inventory of the room.

"In other words, your tenant does not keep too sharp an eye on his money?" he suggested.

"No, indeed: the rent is always paid in advance, and sometimes M. Gurn even pays two terms in advance because he says he never can tell if his business won't be keeping him away when the rent falls due."

Just then a deep voice called up the staircase:

"Concierge: M. Gurn: have you any one of that name in the house?"

"Come up to the fifth floor," the concierge called back to the man. "I am in his rooms now," and she went back into the flat. "Here's somebody else for M. Gurn," she exclaimed.

"Does he have many visitors?" the stranger enquired.

"Hardly any, sir: that's why I'm so surprised."

Two men appeared; their blue blouses and metal-peaked caps proclaimed them to be porters. The concierge turned to the man in the soft hat.

"I suppose these are your men, come to fetch the trunks?"

The stranger made a slight grimace, seemed to hesitate and finally made up his mind to remain silent.

Rather surprised to see that the three men did not seem to be acquainted with each other, the concierge was about to ask what it meant, when one of the porters addressed her curtly:

"We've come from the South Steamship Company for four boxes from M. Gurn's place. Are those the ones?" and taking no notice of the visitor in the room, the man pointed to two large trunks and two small boxes which were placed in a corner of the room.

"But aren't you three all together?" enquired Mme. Doulenques, visibly uneasy.

The stranger still remained silent, but the first porter replied at once.

"No; we have nothing to do with the gentleman. Get on to it, mate! We've no time to waste!"

Anticipating their action, the concierge got instinctively between the porters and the luggage: so too did the man in the soft hat.

"Pardon," said he politely but peremptorily. "Please take nothing away."

One of the porters drew a crumpled and dirty memorandum book from his pocket and turned over the pages, wetting his thumb every time. He looked at it attentively and then spoke.

"There's no mistake: this is where we were told to come," and again he signed to his mate. "Let's get on with it!"

The concierge was puzzled. She looked first at the mysterious stranger, who was as quiet and silent as ever, and then at the porters, who were beginning to be irritated by these incomprehensible complications.

Mme. Doulenques' mistrust waxed greater, and she sincerely regretted being alone on the fifth floor with these strangers, for the other occupants of this floor had gone off to their daily work long ago. Suddenly she escaped from the room, and called shrilly down the stairs:

"Madame Aurore! Madame Aurore!"

The man in the soft hat rushed after her, seized her gently but firmly by the arm, and led her back into the room.

"I beg you, madame, make no noise: do not call out!" he said in a low tone. "Everything will be all right. I only ask you not to create a disturbance."

But the concierge was thoroughly alarmed by the really odd behaviour of all these men, and again screamed at the top of her voice:

"Help! Police!"

The first porter was exasperated.

"It's unfortunate to be taken for thieves," he said with a shrug of his shoulders. "Look here, Auguste, just run down to the corner of the street and bring back a gendarme. The gentleman can explain to the concierge in his presence, and then we shall be at liberty to get on with our job."

Auguste hastened to obey, and several tense moments passed, during which not a single word was exchanged between the three people who were left together.

Then heavy steps were heard, and Auguste reappeared with a gendarme. The latter came swaggering into the room with a would-be majestic air, and solemnly and pompously enquired:

"Now then, what's all this about?"

At sight of the officer every countenance cleared. The concierge ceased to tremble; the porter lost his air of suspicion. Both were beginning to explain to the representative of authority, when the man in the soft hat waved them aside, stepped up to the guardian of the peace and looking him straight in the eyes, said:

"Criminal Investigation Department! Inspector Juve!"

The gendarme, who was quite unprepared for this announcement, stepped back a pace and raised his eyes towards the man who addressed him: then suddenly raised his hand to his kepi and came to attention.

"Beg pardon, Inspector, I didn't recognise you! M. Juve! And you have been in this division a long time too!" He turned angrily to the foremost porter. "Step forward, please, and let's have no nonsense!"

Juve, who had thus disclosed his identity as a detective, smiled, seeing that the gendarme assumed that the South Steamship Company's porter was a thief.

"That's all right," he said. "Leave the man alone. He's done no harm."

"Then who am I to arrest?" the puzzled gendarme asked.

The concierge broke in to explain: she had been much impressed by the style and title of the stranger.

"If the gentleman had told me where he came from I would certainly never have allowed anyone to go for a gendarme."

Inspector Juve smiled.

"If I had told you who I was just now, madame, when you were, quite naturally, so upset, you would not have believed me. You would have continued to call out. Now, I am particularly anxious to avoid any scandal or noise at the present moment. I rely on your discretion." He turned to the two porters, who were dumb with amazement and could make nothing of the affair. "As for you, my good fellows, I must ask you to leave your other work and go back at once to your office in the rue d'Hauteville and tell your manager—what is his name?"

"M. Wooland," one of the men replied.

"Good: tell M. Wooland that I want to see him here at the earliest possible moment; and tell him to bring with him all the papers he has that refer to M. Gurn. And not a word to anyone about all this, please, especially in this neighbourhood. Take my message to your manager, and that's all."

* * * * *

The porters had left hurriedly for the rue d'Hauteville and a quarter of an hour went by. The detective had requested the concierge to ask the Madame Aurore to whom she had previously appealed so loudly for help, to take her place temporarily in the lodge. Juve kept Mme. Doulenques upstairs with him partly to get information from her, and partly to prevent her from gossiping downstairs.

While he was opening drawers and ransacking furniture, and plunging his hand into presses and cupboards, Juve asked the concierge to describe this tenant of hers, M. Gurn, in whom he appeared to be so deeply interested.

"He is a rather fair man," the concierge told him, "medium height, stout build, and clean shaven like an Englishman; there is nothing particular about him: he is like lots of other people."

This very vague description was hardly satisfactory. The detective told the policeman to unscrew the lock on a locked trunk, and gave him a small screw-driver which he had found in the kitchen. Then he turned again to Mme. Doulenques who was standing stiffly against the wall, severely silent.

"You told me that M. Gurn had a lady friend. When used he to see her?"

"Pretty often, when he was in Paris; and always in the afternoon. Sometimes they were together till six or seven o'clock, and once or twice the lady did not come down before half-past seven."

"Used they to leave the house together?"

"No, sir."

"Did the lady ever stay the night here?"

"Never, sir."

"Yes: evidently a married woman," murmured the detective as if speaking to himself.

Mme. Doulenques made a vague gesture to show her ignorance on the point.

"I can't tell you anything about that, sir."

"Very well," said the detective; "kindly pass me that coat behind you."

The concierge obediently took down a coat from a hook and handed it to Juve who searched it quickly, looked it all over and then found a label sewn on the inside of the collar: it bore the one word Pretoria.

"Good!" said he, in an undertone; "I thought as much."

Then he looked at the buttons; these were stamped on the under side with the name Smith.

The gendarme understood what the detective was about, and he too examined the clothes in the first trunk which he had just opened.

"There is nothing to show where these things came from, sir," he remarked. "The name of the maker is not on them."

"That's all right," said Juve. "Open the other trunk."

While the gendarme was busy forcing this second lock Juve went for a moment into the kitchen and came back holding a rather heavy copper mallet with an iron handle, which he had found there. He was looking at this mallet with some curiosity, balancing and weighing it in his hands, when a sudden exclamation of fright from the gendarme drew his eyes to the trunk, the lid of which had just been thrown back. Juve did not lose all his professional impassivity, but even he leaped forward like a flash, swept the gendarme to one side, and dropped on his knees beside the open box. A horrid spectacle met his eyes. For the trunk contained a corpse!

The moment Mme. Doulenques caught sight of the ghastly thing, she fell back into a chair half fainting, and there she remained, unable to move, with her body hunched forward, and haggard eyes fixed upon the corpse, of which she caught occasional glimpses as the movements of Juve and the gendarme every now and then left the shocking thing within the trunk exposed to her view.

Yet there was nothing especially gruesome or repellent about the corpse. It was the body of a man of about fifty years of age, with a pronounced brick-red complexion, and a lofty brow, the height of which was increased by premature baldness. Long, fair moustaches drooped from the upper lip almost to the top of the chest. The unfortunate creature was doubled up in the trunk, with knees bent and head forced down by the weight of the lid. The body was dressed with a certain fastidiousness, and it was obviously that of a man of fashion and distinction; there was no wound to be seen. The calm, quiet face suggested that the victim had been taken by surprise while in the full vigour of life and killed suddenly, and had not been subjected to the anguish of a fight for life or to any slow agony.

Juve half turned to the concierge.

"When did you see M. Gurn last? Exactly, please: it is important."

Mme. Doulenques babbled something unintelligible and then, as the detective pressed her, made an effort to collect her scattered wits.

"Three weeks ago at least, sir: yes, three weeks exactly; no one has been here since, I will swear."

Juve made a sign to the gendarme, who understood, and felt the body carefully.

"Quite stiff, and hard, sir," he said; "yet there is no smell from it. Perhaps the cold——"

Juve shook his head.

"Even severe cold could not preserve a body in that condition for three weeks, and it's not cold now, but there is this:" and he showed his subordinate a small yellowish stain just at the opening of the collar, close to the Adam's apple, which, in spite of the comparative thinness of the body, was very much developed.

Juve took the corpse under the arm-pits and raised it gently, wishing to examine it closely, but anxious, also, not to alter its position. On the nape of the neck was a large stain of blood, like a black wen and as big as a five-shilling piece, just above the last vertebra of the spinal column.

"That's the explanation," the detective murmured, and carefully replacing the body he continued his investigation. With quick, clever hands he searched the coat pockets and found the watch in its proper place. Another pocket was full of money, chiefly small change, with a few louis. But Juve looked in vain for the pocket-book which the man had doubtless been in the habit of carrying about with him: the pocket-book probably containing some means of identification.

The inspector merely grunted, got up, began pacing the room, and questioned the concierge.

"Did M. Gurn have a motor-car?"

"No, sir," she replied, looking surprised. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, for no particular reason," said the inspector with affected indifference, but at the same time he was contemplating a large nickel pump that lay on a what-not, a syringe holding perhaps half a pint, like those that chauffeurs use. He looked at it steadfastly for several minutes. His next question was addressed to the gendarme who was still on his knees by the trunk.

"We have found one yellow stain on the neck; you will very likely find some more. Have a look at the wrists and the calves of the legs and the stomach. But do it carefully, so as not to disturb the body." While the gendarme began to obey his chief's order, carefully undoing the clothing on the corpse, Juve looked at the concierge again.

"Who did the work of this flat?"

"I did, sir."

Juve pointed to the velvet curtain that screened the door between the little anteroom and the room in which they were.

"How did you come to leave that curtain unhooked at the top, without putting it to rights?"

Mme. Doulenques looked at it.

"It's the first time I've seen it like that," she said apologetically; "the curtain could not have been unhooked when I did the room last without my noticing it. Anyhow, it hasn't been like that long. I ought to say that as M. Gurn was seldom here I didn't do the place out thoroughly very often."

"When did you do it out last?"

"Quite a month ago."

"That is to say M. Gurn went away a week after you last cleaned the place up?"

"Yes, sir."

Juve changed the subject, and pointed to the corpse.

"Tell me, madame, did you know that person?"

The concierge fought down her nervousness and for the first time looked at the unfortunate victim with a steady gaze.

"I have never seen him before," she said, with a little shudder.

"And so, when that gentleman came up here, you did not notice him?" said the inspector gently.

"No, I did not notice him," she declared, and then went on as if answering some question which occurred to her own mind. "And I wonder I didn't, for people very seldom enquired for M. Gurn; of course when the lady was with him M. Gurn was not at home to anybody. This—this dead man must have come straight up himself."

Juve nodded, and was about to continue his questioning when the bell rang.

"Open the door," said Juve to the concierge, and he followed her to the entrance of the flat, partly fearing to find some intruder there, partly hoping to see some unexpected person whose arrival might throw a little light upon the situation.

At the opened door Juve saw a young man of about twenty-five, an obvious Englishman with clear eyes and close-cropped hair. With an accent that further made his British origin unmistakable, the visitor introduced himself:

"I am Mr. Wooland, manager of the Paris branch of the South Steamship Company. It seems that I am wanted at M. Gurn's flat on the fifth floor of this house, by desire of the police."

Juve came forward.

"I am much obliged to you for putting yourself to this inconvenience, sir: allow me to introduce myself: M. Juve, an Inspector from the Criminal Investigation Department. Please come in."

Solemn and impassive, Mr. Wooland entered the room; a side glance suddenly showed him the open trunk and the dead body, but not a muscle of his face moved. Mr. Wooland came of a good stock, and had all that admirable self-possession which is the strength of the powerful Anglo-Saxon race. He looked at the inspector in somewhat haughty silence, waiting for him to begin.

"Will you kindly let me know, sir, the instructions your firm had with regard to the forwarding of the baggage which you sent for to this flat of M. Gurn's this morning?"

"Four days ago, Inspector," said the young man, "on the 14th of December to be precise, the London mail brought us a letter in which Lord Beltham, who had been a client of ours for several years, instructed us to collect, on the 17th of December, that is, to-day, four articles marked H. W. K., 1, 2, 3 and 4, from M. Gurn's apartments, 147 rue Levert. He informed us that the concierge had orders to allow us to take them away."

"To what address were you to despatch them?"

"Our client instructed us to forward the trunks by the first steamer to Johannesburg, where he would send for them; we were to send two invoices with the goods as usual; the third invoice was to be sent to London, Box 63, Charing Cross Post Office."

Juve made a note of Box 63, Charing Cross in his pocket-book.

"Addressed to what name or initials?"

"Simply Beltham."

"Good. There are no other documents relating to the matter?"

"No, I have nothing else," said Mr. Wooland.

The young fellow relapsed into his usual impassive silence. Juve watched him for a minute or two and then said:

"You must have heard the various rumours current in Paris three weeks ago, sir, about Lord Beltham. He was a very well-known personage in society. Suddenly he disappeared; his wife left nothing undone to give the matter the widest publicity. Were you not rather surprised when you received a letter from Lord Beltham four days ago?"

Mr. Wooland was not disconcerted by the rather embarrassing question.

"Of course I had heard of Lord Beltham's disappearance, but it was not for me to form any official opinion about it. I am a business man, sir, not a detective. Lord Beltham might have disappeared voluntarily or the reverse: I was not asked to say which. When I got his letter I simply decided to carry out the orders it contained. I should do the same again in similar circumstances."

"Are you satisfied that the order was sent by Lord Beltham?"

"I have already told you, sir, that Lord Beltham had been a client of ours for several years; we have had many similar dealings with him. This last order which we received from him appeared to be entirely above suspicion: identical in form and in terms with the previous letters we had had from him." He took a letter out of his pocket-book, and handed it to Juve. "Here is the order, sir; if you think proper you can compare it with similar documents filed in our office in the rue d'Hauteville"; and as Juve was silent, Mr. Wooland, with the utmost dignity, enquired: "Is there any further occasion for me to remain here?"

"Thank you, sir, no," Juve replied. Mr. Wooland made an almost imperceptible bow and was on the point of withdrawing when the detective stayed him once more. "M. Wooland, did you know Lord Beltham?"

"No, sir: Lord Beltham always sent us his orders by letter; once or twice he has spoken to us over the telephone, but he never came to our office, and I have never been to his house."

"Thank you very much," said Juve, and with a bow Mr. Wooland withdrew.

* * * * *

With meticulous care Juve replaced every article which he had moved during his investigations. He carefully shut the lid of the trunk, thus hiding the unhappy corpse from the curious eyes of the gendarme and the still terrified Mme. Doulenques. Then he leisurely buttoned his overcoat and spoke to the gendarme.

"Stay here until I send a man to relieve you; I am going to your superintendent now." At the door he called the concierge. "Will you kindly go down before me, madame? Return to your lodge, and please do not say a word about what has happened to anyone whatever."

"You can trust me, sir," the worthy creature murmured, and Juve walked slowly away from the house with head bowed in thought.

There could be no doubt about it: the body in the trunk was that of Lord Beltham! Juve knew the Englishman quite well. But who was the murderer?

"Everything points to Gurn," Juve thought, "and yet would an ordinary murderer have dared to commit such a crime as this? Am I letting my imagination run away with me again? I don't know: but it seems to me that about this murder, committed in the very middle of Paris, in a crowded house where yet nobody heard or suspected anything, there is an audacity, a certainty of impunity, and above all a multiplicity of precautions, that are typical of the Fantomas manner!" He clenched his fists and an evil smile curled his lips as he repeated, like a threat, the name of that terrible and most mysterious criminal, of whose hellish influence he seemed to be conscious yet once again. "Fantomas! Fantomas! Did Fantomas really commit this murder? And if he did, shall I ever succeed in throwing light upon this new mystery, and learning the secret of that tragic room?"



VIII. A DREADFUL CONFESSION

While Juve was devoting his marvellous skill and incomparable daring to the elucidation of the new case with which the Criminal Investigation Department had entrusted him in Paris, things were marching at Beaulieu, where the whole machinery of the law was being set in motion for the discovery and arrest of Charles Rambert.

* * * * *

With a mighty clatter and racket Bouzille came down the slope and stopped before old mother Chiquard's cottage. He arrived in his own equipage, and an extraordinary one it was!

Bouzille was mounted upon a tricycle of prehistoric design, with two large wheels behind and a small steering wheel in front, and a rusty handle-bar from which all the plating was worn off. The solid rubber tyres which once had adorned the machine had worn out long ago, and were now replaced by twine twisted round the felloes of the wheels; this was for ever fraying away and the wheels were fringed with a veritable lace-work of string. Bouzille must have picked up this impossible machine for an old song at some local market, unless perhaps some charitable person gave it to him simply to get rid of it. He styled this tricycle his "engine," and it was by no means the whole of his equipage. Attached to the tricycle by a stout rope was a kind of wicker perambulator on four wheels, which he called his "sleeping-car," because he stored away in it all the bits of rag he picked up on his journeys, and also his very primitive bedding and the little piece of waterproof canvas under which he often slept in the open air. Behind the sleeping-car was a third vehicle, the restaurant-car, consisting of an old soap box mounted on four solid wooden wheels, which were fastened to the axles by huge conical bolts; in this he kept his provisions; lumps of bread and fat, bottles and vegetables, all mixed up in agreeable confusion. Bouzille made quite long journeys in this train of his, and was well known throughout the south-west of France. Often did the astonished population see him bent over his tricycle, with his pack on his back, pedalling with extraordinary rapidity down the hills, while the carriages behind him bumped and jumped over the inequalities in the surface of the road until it seemed impossible that they could retain their equilibrium.

Old mother Chiquard had recognised the cause of the racket. The healthy life of the country had kept the old woman strong and active in spite of the eighty-three years that had passed over her head, and now she came to her door, armed with a broom, and hailed the tramp in angry, threatening tones.

"So it's you, is it, you thief, you robber of the poor! It's shocking, the way you spend your time in evil doing! What do you want now, pray?"

Slowly and sheepishly and with head bowed, Bouzille approached mother Chiquard, nervously looking out for a whack over the head with the broom the old lady held.

"Don't be cross," he pleaded when he could get in a word; "I want to come to an arrangement with you, mother Chiquard, if it can be done."

"That's all according," said the old woman, eyeing the tramp with great mistrust; "I haven't much faith in arrangements with you: rascals like you always manage to do honest folk."

Mother Chiquard turned back into her cottage; it was no weather for her to stop out of doors, for a strong north wind was blowing, and that was bad for her rheumatism. Bouzille deliberately followed her inside and closed the door carefully behind him. Without ceremony he walked up to the hearth, where a scanty wood fire was burning, and put down his pack so as to be able to rub his hands more freely.

"Miserable weather, mother Chiquard!"

The obstinate old lady stuck to her one idea.

"If it isn't miserable to steal my rabbit, this is the finest weather that ever I saw!"

"You make a lot of fuss about a trifle," the tramp protested, "especially since you will be a lot the better by the arrangement I'm going to suggest."

The notion calmed mother Chiquard a little, and she sat down on a form, while Bouzille took a seat upon the table.

"What do you mean?" the old woman enquired.

"Well," said Bouzille, "I suppose your rabbit would have fetched a couple of shillings in the market; I've brought you two fowls that are worth quite eighteen-pence each, and if you will give me some dinner at twelve o'clock I will put in a good morning's work for you."

Mother Chiquard looked at the clock upon the wall; it was eight o'clock. The tramp's proposal represented four hours' work, which was not to be despised; but before striking the bargain she insisted on seeing the fowls. These were extracted from the pack; tied together by the feet, and half suffocated, the unfortunate creatures were not much to look at, but they would be cheap, which was worth considering.

"Where did you get these fowls?" mother Chiquard asked, more as a matter of form than anything else, for she was pretty sure they had not been honestly come by.

Bouzille put his finger to his lip.

"Hush!" he murmured gently; "that's a secret between me and the poultry. Well, is it a go?" and he held out his hand to the old lady.

She hesitated a moment and then made up her mind.

"It's a go," she said, putting her horny fingers into the man's hard palm. "You shall chop me some wood first, and then go down to the river for the rushes I have put in to soak; they must be well swollen by this time."

Bouzille was glad to have made it up with mother Chiquard, and pleased at the prospect of a good dinner at midday; he opened the cottage door, and leisurely arranged a few logs within range of the axe with which he was going to split them; mother Chiquard began to throw down some grain to the skinny and famished fowls that fluttered round her.

"I thought you were in prison, Bouzille," she said, "over stealing my rabbit, and also over that affair at the chateau of Beaulieu."

"Oh, those are two quite different stories," Bouzille replied. "You mustn't mix them up together on any account. As for the chateau job, every tramp in the district has been run in: I was copped by M'sieu Morand the morning after the murder; he took me into the kitchen of the chateau and Mme. Louise gave me something to eat. There was another chap there with me, a man named Francois Paul who doesn't belong to these parts; between you and me, I thought he was an evil-looking customer who might easily have been the murderer, but it doesn't do to say that sort of thing, and I'm glad I held my tongue because they let him go. I heard no more about it, and five days later I went back to Brives to attend the funeral of the Marquise de Langrune. That was a ceremony if you like! The church all lighted up, and all the nobility from the neighbourhood present. I didn't lose my time, for I knew all the gentlemen and ladies and took the best part of sixteen shillings, and the blind beggar who sits on the steps of the church called me all the names he could put his tongue to!"

The tramp's story interested mother Chiquard mightily, but her former idea still dominated her mind.

"So they didn't punish you for stealing my rabbit?"

"Well, they did and they didn't," said Bouzille, scratching his head. "M'sieu Morand, who is an old friend of mine, took me to the lock-up at Saint-Jaury, and I was to have gone next morning to the court at Brives, where I know the sentence for stealing domestic animals is three weeks. That would have suited me all right just now, for the prison at Brives is quite new and very comfortable, but that same night Sergeant Doucet shoved another man into the clink with, me at Saint-Jaury, a raving lunatic who started smashing everything up, and tried to tear my eyes out. Naturally, I gave him as good as I got, and the infernal row we made brought in the sergeant. I told him the chap wanted to throttle me, and he was nonplussed, for he couldn't do anything with the man, who was fairly mad, and couldn't leave me alone there with him. So at last the sergeant took me to one side and told me to hook it and not let him see me again. So there it is."

While he was chattering like this Bouzille had finished the job set him by mother Chiquard, who meanwhile had peeled some potatoes and poured the soup on the bread. He wiped his brow, and seeing the brimming pot, gave a meaning wink and licked his tongue.

"I'll make the fire up, mother Chiquard; I'm getting jolly hungry."

"So you ought to be, at half-past eleven," the old woman replied. "Yes, we'll have dinner, and you can get the rushes out afterwards."

Mother Chiquard was the proud free-holder of a little cottage that was separated from the bank of the Dordogne by the high road between Martel and Montvalent. Round the cottage she had a small orchard, and opposite, through a gap in the trees, was a view of the yellow waters of the Dordogne and the chain of hills that stood up on the far side of the river. Living here summer and winter, with her rabbits and her fowls, mother Chiquard earned a little money by making baskets; but she was crippled with rheumatism, and was miserable every time she had to go down to the river to pull out the bundles of rushes that she put there to soak; the work meant not merely an hour's paddling in mud up to the knees, but also a fortnight's acute agony and at least a shilling for medicine. So whoever wanted to make a friend of the old woman only had to volunteer to get the rushes out for her.

As he ate, Bouzille told mother Chiquard of his plans for the coming spring.

"Yes," he said, "since I'm not doing any time this winter I'm going to undertake a long journey." He stopped munching for a second and paused for greater effect. "I am going to Paris, mother Chiquard!" Then, seeing that the old lady was utterly dumbfounded by the announcement, he leant his elbows on the table and looked at her over his empty plate. "I've always had one great desire—to see the Eiffel Tower: that idea has been running in my head for the last fifteen years. Well, now I'm going to gratify the wish. I hear you can get a room in Paris for twopence-halfpenny a night, and I can manage that."

"How long will it take you to get there?" enquired the old woman, immensely impressed by Bouzille's venturesome plan.

"That depends," said the tramp. "I must allow quite three months with my train. Of course if I got run in on the way for stealing, or as a rogue and vagabond, I couldn't say how long it would take."

The meal was over, and the old woman was quietly washing up her few plates and dishes, when Bouzille, who had gone down to the river to fetch the rushes, suddenly called shrilly to mother Chiquard.

"Mother Chiquard! Mother Chiquard! Come and look! Just fancy, I've earned twenty-five francs!"

The summons was so urgent, and the news so amazing, that the old lady left her house and hurried across the road to the river bank. She saw the tramp up to his waist in the water, trying, with a long stick, to drag out of the current a large object which was not identifiable at a first glance. To all her enquiries Bouzille answered with the same delighted cry, "I have earned twenty-five francs," too intent on bringing his fishing job to a successful issue even to turn round. A few minutes later he emerged dripping from the water, towing a large bundle to the safety of the bank. Mother Chiquard drew nearer, greatly interested, and then recoiled with a shriek of horror.

Bouzille had fished out a corpse!

It was a ghastly sight: the body of a very young man, almost a boy, with long, slender limbs; the face was so horribly swollen and torn as to be shapeless. One leg was almost entirely torn from the trunk. Through rents in the clothing strips of flesh were trailing, blue and discoloured by their long immersion in the water. On the shoulders and back of the neck were bruises and stains of blood. Bouzille, who was quite unaffected by the ghastliness of the object and still kept up his gay chant "I have fished up a body, I've earned twenty-five francs," observed that there were large splinters of wood, rotten from long immersion, sticking in some of the wounds. He stood up and addressed mother Chiquard who, white as a sheet, was watching him in silence.

"I see what it is: he must have got caught in some mill wheel: that's what has cut him up like that."

Mother Chiquard shook her head uneasily.

"Suppose it was a murder! That would be an ugly business!"

"It's no good my looking at him any more," said Bouzille. "I don't recognise him; he's not from the country."

"That's sure," the old woman agreed. "He's dressed like a gentleman."

The two looked at each other in silence. Bouzille was not nearly so complacent as he had been a few minutes before. The reward of twenty-five francs prompted him to go at once to inform the police; the idea of a crime, suggested by the worthy woman, disturbed him greatly, and all the more because he thought it was well founded. Another murder in the neighbourhood would certainly vex the authorities, and put the police in a bad temper. Bouzille knew from experience that the first thing people do after a tragedy is to arrest all the tramps, and that if the police are at all crotchety they always contrive to get the tramps sentenced for something else. He had had a momentary inclination to establish his winter quarters in prison, but since then he had formed the plan of going to Paris, and liberty appealed to him more. He reached a sudden decision.

"I'll punt him back into the water!"

But mother Chiquard stayed him, just as he was putting his idea into execution.

"You mustn't: suppose somebody has seen us already? It would land us in no end of trouble!"

Half an hour later, convinced that it was his melancholy duty, Bouzille left two-thirds of his train in mother Chiquard's custody, got astride his prehistoric tricycle and slowly pedalled off towards Saint-Jaury.

* * * * *

New Year's Day is a melancholy and a tedious one for everybody whose public or private relations do not make it an exceptionally interesting one. There is the alteration in the date, for one thing, which is provocative of thought, and there is the enforced idleness for another, coming upon energetic folk like a temporary paralysis and leaving them nothing but meditation wherewith to employ themselves.

Juve, comfortably installed in his own private study, was realising this just as evening was falling on this first of January. He was a confirmed bachelor, and for several years had lived in a little flat on the fifth floor of an old house in the rue Bonaparte. He had not gone out to-day, but though he was resting he was not idle. For a whole month past he had been wholly engrossed in his attempt to solve the mystery surrounding the two cases on which he was engaged, the Beltham case, and the Langrune case, and his mind was leisurely revolving round them now as he sat in his warm room before a blazing wood fire, and watched the blue smoke curl up in rings towards the ceiling. The two cases were very dissimilar, and yet his detective instinct persuaded him that although they differed in details their conception and execution emanated not only from one single brain but also from one hand. He was convinced that he was dealing with a mysterious and dangerous individual, and that while he himself was out in the open he was fighting a concealed and invisible adversary; he strove to give form and substance to the adversary, and the name of Fantomas came into his mind. Fantomas! What might Fantomas be doing now, and, if he had a real existence, as the detective most firmly believed, how was he spending New Year's Day?

A sharp ring at the bell startled him from his chair, and not giving his man-servant time to answer it, he went himself to the door and took from a messenger a telegram which he hastily tore open and read:

"Have found in the Dordogne drowned body of young man, face unrecognisable, from description possibly Charles Rambert. Please consider situation and wire course you will take."

The telegram had been handed in at Brives and was signed by M. de Presles.

"Something fresh at last," the detective muttered. "Drowned in the Dordogne, and face unrecognisable! I wonder if it really is Charles Rambert?"

Since M. Etienne Rambert and his son had disappeared so unaccountably, the detective naturally had formulated mentally several hypotheses, but he had arrived at no conclusion which really satisfied his judgment. But though their flight had not surprised him greatly, he had been rather surprised that the police had not been able to find any trace of them, for rightly or wrongly Juve credited them with a good deal of cleverness and power. So it was by no means unreasonable to accept the death of the fugitives as explanation of the failure of the police to find them. However, this was a fresh development of the case, and he was about to draft a reply to M. de Presles when once more the bell rang sharply.

This time Juve did not move, but listened while his man spoke to the visitor. It was an absolute rule of Juve's never to receive visitors at his flat. If anyone wanted to see him on business, he was to be found almost every day in his office at head-quarters about eleven in the morning; to a few people he was willing to give appointments at a quiet and discreet little cafe in the boulevard Saint-Michel; but he invited no one to his own rooms except one or two of his own relations from the country, and even they had to be provided with a password before they could obtain admission. So now, to all the entreaties of the caller, Juve's servant stolidly replied with the assurance that his master would see no one; yet the visitor's insistence was so great that at last the servant was prevailed upon to bring in his card, albeit with some fear as to the consequences for himself. But to his extreme relief and surprise, Juve, when he had read the name engraved upon the card, said sharply:

"Bring him in here at once!"

And in another couple of seconds M. Etienne Rambert was in the room!

The old gentleman who had fled so mysteriously a few days before, taking with him the son over whom so dread a charge was hanging, bowed deferentially to the detective, with the pitiful mien of one who is crushed beneath the burden of misfortune. His features were drawn, his face bore the stamp of deepest grief, and in his hand he held an evening paper, which in his agitation he had crumpled almost into a ball.

"Tell me, sir, if it is true," he said in low trembling tones. "I have just read that."

Juve pointed to a chair, took the paper mechanically, and smoothing it out, read, below a large head-line, "Is this a sequel to the Beaulieu Crime?" a story similar to that he had just gathered from M. de Presles' telegram.

Juve contemplated M. Etienne Rambert in silence for a few minutes, and then, without replying directly to his visitor's first question, asked him a question in that quiet voice of his, the wonderful indifferent tonelessness of which concealed the least clue to his inmost thoughts.

"Why do you come to me, sir?"

"To find out, sir," the old man answered.

"To find out what?"

"If that poor drowned corpse is—my son's: is my poor Charles!"

"It is rather you who can tell me, sir," said Juve, impassive as ever.

There was a pause. Despite his emotion, M. Rambert seemed to be thinking deeply. Suddenly he appeared to make an important decision, and raising his eyes to the detective he spoke very slowly:

"Have pity, sir, on a broken-hearted father. Listen to me: I have a dreadful confession to make!"

Juve drew his chair close to M. Etienne Rambert.

"I am listening," he said gently, and M. Etienne Rambert began his "dreadful confession."



IX. ALL FOR HONOUR

Society had mustered in force at the Cahors Law Courts, where the Assizes were about to be held. Hooting motor-cars and antiquated coaches drawn by pursy horses were arriving every minute, bringing gentry from the great houses in the neighbourhood, squireens and well-to-do country people, prosperous farmers and jolly wine-growers, all of them determined not to miss "the trial" that was causing such immense excitement because the principal figure in it was well known as a friend of one of the oldest families in those parts; and because he was not merely a witness, nor even the victim, but actually the defendant in the case, although he had been admitted to bail in the interval by order of the court.

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