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"After all, why not celebrate? It's the last day of the year and it won't come again for twelve months."
It was close upon midnight.
Jerome Fandor, reporter on the popular newspaper, La Capitale, was strolling along the boulevard; he had just come from a banquet, one of those official and deadly affairs at which the guests are obliged to listen to interminable speeches. He had drowsed through the evening and at the first opportunity had managed to slip away quickly.
The theatres were just out and the boulevard was crowded with people intent on making a night of it. Numberless automobiles containing the fashionable and rich of Paris blocked the streets. The restaurants were brilliantly illuminated, and as carriages discharged their occupants before the doors, one glimpsed the neat feet and ankles of daintily clad women as they crossed the sidewalk and disappeared inside, following their silk-hatted escorts, conscious of their own importance.
Many years of active service in Paris as chief reporter of La Capitale had brought Jerome Fandor in touch with a good third of those who constitute Parisian society, and rarely did he fail to exchange a nod, a smile, or half a dozen words of friendly greeting whenever he set foot out of doors.
But in spite of his popularity he led a lonely life—many acquaintances, but few close friends. The great exception was Juve, the celebrated detective.
In fact, Fandor's complex and adventurous life was very much bound up with that of the police officer, for they had worked together in solving the mystery of many tragic crimes.
On this particular evening, the reporter became gradually imbued with the general spirit of gaiety and abandon which surrounded him.
"Hang it," he muttered, "I might go and hunt up Juve and drag him off to supper, but I'm afraid I should get a cool reception if I did. He is probably sleeping the sleep of the just and would strongly object to being disturbed. Anyway, sooner or later, I'll probably run into some one I know."
On reaching Drouet Square, he espied an inviting-looking restaurant, brilliantly lit. He was about to make his way to a table when the head waiter stopped him.
"Your name, please!"
"What's that?" replied Fandor.
The waiter answered with ironical politeness:
"I take it for granted you have engaged a table. We haven't a single vacant place left."
Fandor had the same luck at several other restaurants and then began to suffer the pangs of hunger, having, on principle, scarcely touched the heavy dishes served at the banquet.
After wandering aimlessly about, he walked toward the Madeleine and turned off into the Rue Royale in the direction of the Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
As he was passing a discreet looking restaurant with many thick velvet curtains and an imposing array of private automobiles before it, he heard his name called.
He stopped short and turned to see a vision of feminine loveliness standing before him.
"Isabelle de Guerray!" he cried.
"And how are you, my dear boy? Come along in with me."
Fandor had known Isabelle de Guerray when she was a young school teacher just graduated from Sévres. Her career, beginning with a somewhat strange and unorthodox affair with a young man of good family who had killed himself for her, had progressed by rapid strides and her name was frequently cited in the minor newspapers as giving elegant "society" suppers, the guests being usually designated by their initials!
Fandor remarked that the fair Isabelle seemed to be putting on weight, especially round the shoulders and hips, but she still retained a great deal of dash and an ardent look in her eyes, very valuable assets in her profession.
"I have my table here, at Raxim's, you must come and join us," and she added with a sly smile, "Oh—quite platonically—I know you're unapproachable."
A deafening racket was going on in the narrow, oblong room. The habitués of the place all knew each other and the conversation was general. No restraint was observed, so that it was quite permissible to wander about, hat on head and cigar between lips, or take a lady upon one's knees.
Fandor followed Isabelle to a table overloaded with flowers and bottles of champagne. Here and there he recognized old friends from the Latin Quarter or Montmartre, among them Conchita Conchas, a Spanish dancer in vogue the previous winter. A tiny woman, who might have been a girl of fifteen from her figure, but whose face was marked with the lines of dissipation, ran into him and Fandor promptly put his arm round her waist.
"Hello, if it isn't little Souppe!"
"Paws down or I'll scratch," was the sharp reply.
The next moment he was shaking hands with Daisy Kissmi, an English girl who had become quite a feature of Raxim's.
Further on he noticed a pale, bald, and already pot-bellied young man, who was staring with lack-lustre eyes at his whiskey and soda. This premature ruin was listening distraitly to a waiter who murmured mysteriously into his ear.
At the end of the room, surrounded by pretty women, sat the old Duke de Pietra, descendant of a fine old Italian family, and near him Arnold, an actor from the music halls.
The patrons had no choice in regard to the supper, which was settled by the head waiter. Each received a bottle of champagne, Ostend oysters, and, later, large slices of pâté de foie gras, and as the bottles were emptied, intoxication became general, while even the waiters seemed to catch the spirit of abandon. When the Hungarian band had played their most seductive waltzes, the leader came forward to the middle of the room and announced a new piece of his own composition, called "The Singing Fountains." This met with instant applause and laughter.
As the night wore on the noise became positively deafening. A young Jew named Weil invented a new game. He seized two plates and began scraping them together. Many of the diners followed his example.
"Look here," exclaimed Conchita Conchas, leaning familiarly upon Fandor's shoulder, "why don't you give us tickets for to-morrow to hear these famous Fountains?"
Fandor started to explain that the young woman would be in bed and sound asleep when that event took place, but the Spanish girl, without waiting for the answer, had strolled away.
The journalist rose with the intention of making his escape, when a voice directly behind him made him pause.
"Excuse me, but you seem to know all about these 'Singing Fountains.' Will you kindly explain to me what they are? I am a stranger in the city."
Fandor turned and saw a man of about thirty, fair-haired, with a heavy moustache, seated alone at a small table. The stranger was well built and of distinguished appearance. The journalist suppressed a start of amazement.
"Why, it's not surprising that you have not heard of them, they are quite unimportant. On the Place de la Concorde there are two bronze monuments representing Naiads emerging from the fountains. You probably have seen them yourself?"
The stranger nodded, and poured out another glass of champagne.
"Well," continued Fandor, "recently passers-by have fancied they heard sounds coming from these figures. In fact, they declare that the Naiads have been singing. A delightfully poetic and thoroughly Parisian idea, isn't it?"
"Very Parisian indeed."
"The papers have taken it up, and one you probably know by name, La Capitale, has decided to investigate this strange phenomenon."
"What was Conchita asking you just now?"
"Oh, nothing, merely to give her a card for the ceremony."
The conversation continued and turned to other subjects. The stranger ordered more wine and insisted on Fandor joining him. He seemed to be particularly interested in the subject of women and the night life of Paris.
"If only I could persuade him to come with me," thought Fandor. "I'd show him a stunt or two, and what a scoop it would make … if it could be printed! He certainly is drunk, very drunk, and that may help me."
On the Place de la Concorde, deserted at this late hour, two men, arm in arm, were taking their devious way. They were Fandor and the stranger he had met at Raxim's.
The journalist, with the aid of an extra bottle, had persuaded his new friend to finish the night among the cafés of Montmartre. The sudden change from the overheated restaurant to the cold outside increased the effects of the alcohol and Fandor realized that he himself was far from sober. As his companion seemed to be obsessed with the idea of seeing the Fountains, the journalist piloted him to the Place de la Concorde.
"There you are," he exclaimed, "but you see they're closed. No more singing to-night. Now come and have a drink."
"Good idea, some more champagne."
Fandor hailed a taxi, and ordered the chauffeur to drive to the Place Pigalle. As he was shutting the door, he observed an old beggar, who evidently was afraid to ask for alms. Fandor threw him a coin as the taxi started.
It was three in the morning, and the Place Pigalle was crowded with carriages, porters and a constant ebb and flow of all sorts of people.
The journalist and his companion emerged some time later from one of the best known restaurants, both drunk, especially the stranger, who could scarcely keep his feet.
"Look here, we must go … go… "
"Go to bed," interrupted Fandor.
"No. I know where we can go… ."
"But we've been everywhere."
"We'll go to my rooms … to her rooms … to Susy d'Orsel … she's my girl … d'ye know, she's been expecting me for supper since midnight."
"Of course … there's plenty of room left."
With some difficulty the stranger managed to give the address, 247 Rue de Monceau.
"All right," said Fandor to himself, "we'll have some fun; after all, what do I risk?"
While the taxi shook them violently from side to side, Fandor grew comparatively sober. He examined his companion more closely and was surprised to see how well he carried himself in spite of his condition.
"Well," he summed up, "he certainly has a jag, but it's a royal jag!"
"Now you've forgotten the fish knives and forks! Do you expect my lover to eat with his fingers like that old Chinaman I had for three months last year!"
Susy d'Orsel spoke with a distinct accent of the Faubourg, which contrasted strangely with her delicate and distinguished appearance.
Justine, her maid, stood staring in reply.
"But, Madame, we have lobsters… ."
"What's that got to do with it, they're fish, ain't they?"
The young woman left the table and went into the adjoining room, a small drawing-room, elegantly furnished in Louis XV style.
"Justine," she called.
"Here's another mistake. You mustn't get red orchids. Throw these out… . I want either mauve or yellow ones… . You know those are the official colors of His Majesty."
"Queer taste his … His Majesty has for yellow."
"What's that to do with you. Get a move on, lay the table."
"I left the pâté de foie gras in the pantry with ice round it."
The young woman returned to the dining-room and gave a final glance at the preparations.
"He's a pretty good sort, my august lover." Justine started in surprise.
"August! Is that a new one?"
Susy d'Orsel could hardly repress a smile.
"Mind your own business. What time is it?"
"A quarter to twelve, Madame." And as the girl started to leave the room she ventured:
"I hope M. August won't forget me, to-morrow morning."
"Why, you little idiot, his name isn't August, it's Frederick-Christian! You have about as much sense as an oyster!"
The maid looked so crestfallen at this that Susy added, good-naturedly:
"That's all right, Justine, A Happy New Year anyway, and don't worry. And now get out; His Majesty wants nobody about but me this evening."
Susy d'Orsel, in spite of her physical charms, had found life hard during the earlier years of her career. She had become a mediocre actress merely for the sake of having some profession, and had frequented the night restaurants in quest of a wealthy lover. It was only after a long delay that fortune had smiled upon her, and she had arrived at the enviable position of being the mistress of a King.
Frederick-Christian II, since the death of his father three years previously, reigned over the destinies of the Kingdom of Hesse-Weimar. Young and thoroughly Parisian in his tastes, he felt terribly bored in his middle-class capital and sought every opportunity of going, incognito, to have a little fun in Paris. During each visit he never failed to call upon Susy d'Orsel, and by degrees, coming under the sway of her charms, he made her a sort of official mistress, an honor which greatly redounded to her glory and popularity.
He had installed her in a dainty little apartment in the Rue de Monceau. It was on the third floor and charmingly furnished. In fact, he was in the habit of declaring that his Queen Hedwige, despite all her wealth, was unable to make her apartment half so gracious and comfortable.
Thus it was that Susy d'Orsel waited patiently for the arrival of her royal lover, who had telephoned her he would be with her on the night of December the thirty-first.
The official residence of the King while in Paris was the Royal Palace Hotel, and although in strict incognito, he rarely spent the whole night out. But he intended to make the last night of the year an exception to this rule. As became a gallant gentleman, he had himself seen to the ordering of the supper, and a procession of waiters from the first restaurants of Paris had been busy all the afternoon preparing for the feast.
Suddenly a discreet ring at the bell startled Susy d'Orsel.
"That's queer, I didn't expect the King until one o'clock!" she exclaimed.
She opened the door and saw a young girl standing on the landing.
"Oh, it's you, Mademoiselle Pascal! What are you coming at this hour for?"
"Excuse me, Madame, for troubling you, but I've brought your lace negligée. It took me quite a time to finish, and I thought you'd probably like it as soon as possible."
"Oh, I thought it had already come. I'm very glad you brought it. There would have been a fine row if it hadn't been ready for me to wear this evening."
Susy d'Orsel took the dressmaker into her bedroom and turned on the electric lights. The gown was then unwrapped and displayed. It was of mousseline de soie, trimmed with English point.
Susy examined it with the eye of a connoisseur and then nodded her head.
"It's fine, my girl, you have the fingers of a fairy, but it must put your eyes out."
"It is very hard, Madame, especially working by artificial light, and in winter the days are so short and the work very heavy. That is why I came to you at this late hour."
"Late hour! Why the evening is just beginning for me."
"Our lives are very different, Madame."
"That's right, I begin when you stop, and if your work is hard, mine isn't always agreeable."
The two women laughed and then Susy took off her wrapper and put on the new negligée.
"My royal lover is coming this evening."
"Yes, I know," answered Marie Pascal. "Your table looks very pretty."
"You might make me a lace table cloth. We'll talk about it some other time, not this evening; besides, I can't be too extravagant."
The dressmaker took her leave a few moments later and made her way with care in the semi-obscurity down the three flights of stairs.
Marie Pascal was a young girl in the early twenties, fair-haired, blue-eyed and with a graceful figure. Modishly but neatly dressed, she had a reputation in the neighborhood as a model of discretion and virtue.
She worked ceaselessly and being clever with her fingers, she had succeeded in building up so good a trade in the rich and elegant Monceau quarter, that in the busy season she was obliged to hire one or two workwomen to help her.
As she was crossing the court to go to her own room, a voice called her from the porter's lodge.
"Marie Pascal, look here a moment."
A fat woman dressed in her best opened the door of her room which was lit by one flaring gas jet.
Marie Pascal, in spite of her natural kindliness, could scarcely repress a smile.
Madame Ceiron, the concièrge, or, as she was popularly called, "Mother Citron," certainly presented a fantastic appearance.
She was large, shapeless, common, and good-natured. Behind her glasses, her eyes snapped with perpetual sharp humor. She had a mass of gray hair that curled round her wrinkled face, which, with a last remnant of coquetry, she made up outrageously. Her hands and feet were enormous, disproportionate to her figure, although she was well above middle height. She invariably wore mittens while doing the housework.
Mother Citron, however, did very little work; she left that to a subordinate who, for a modest wage, attended to her business and left her free to go out morning, noon and night. She now questioned Marie Pascal with considerable curiosity, and the young girl explained her late errand to deliver the gown to Susy d'Orsel.
"Come in and have a cup of coffee, Mam'zelle Pascal," urged the old woman, as she set out two cups and filled them from a coffee pot on the stove.
Marie Pascal at first refused, but Mother Citron was so insistent that she ended by accepting the invitation. Besides, she felt very grateful to Madame Ceiron for having recommended her to the proprietor of the house, the Marquis de Sérac, an old bachelor who lived on the first floor.
The Marquis had used his good offices to obtain for her an order for laces from the King of Hesse-Weimar. Mother Citron showed a kindly interest in this enterprise.
"Well, did you see the King?"
Marie Pascal hesitated:
"I saw him and I didn't see him."
"Tell me all about it, my dear. Is the lover of our lady upstairs a good-looking man?"
"It's hard to say. So far as I could judge, he seemed to be very handsome. You see, it was like this. After waiting in the lobby of the Royal Palace Hotel for about an hour, I was shown into a large drawing-room; a sort of footman in knee breeches took my laces into the adjoining room where the King was walking up and down. I just caught a glimpse of him from time to time."
"What did he do then?"
"I don't know. He must have liked my laces for he gave me a large order. He didn't seem to pay much attention to them; he picked out three of the samples I sent in and what seemed queer, he also ordered some imitations of them."
The concièrge smiled knowingly.
"I expect the imitations were for his lawful wife, and the real ones for his little friend. Men are all alike. Another cup of coffee?"
"Oh, no, thanks."
"Well, I won't insist; each one to his taste. The life Susy d'Orsel leads wouldn't suit you. And the amount of champagne she gets through!"
"No, I shouldn't care much about that."
"All the same, there's something to be said for it. She has a first-rate position since she got the King … and I get first-rate tips! Take to-night, for instance; I'll bet they'll be carrying on till pretty near dawn. It upsets my habits, but I can't complain. I'll probably get a good New Year's present in the morning."
"Well, as it's very late for me, I'll go up to bed."
"Go ahead, my dear, don't let me keep you."
Marie Pascal had reached the stairs when she turned back.
"Oh, Madame Ceiron, when can I thank the Marquis de Sérac for his kindness in introducing me to Frederick-Christian?"
"No hurry, my child, the Marquis has gone to the country to spend the New Year's day with his relations and he won't be back before next week."
Marie Pascal climbed the stairs to her room on the sixth floor and the concièrge returned to her quarters and settled herself in an armchair.
Susy d'Orsel, tired of waiting for her royal lover, was sound asleep before the fire in her bedroom. Suddenly she was awakened by a loud noise. Still half asleep, she sat up listening. The sounds came from the stairs. Mechanically Susy glanced at the clock, which marked the quarter after three.
"I'll bet it's him, but how late he is!"
As the sounds drew nearer, she added:
"He must be as drunk as a lord! After all, Kings are no better than other men."
She quickly passed to the outer door and listened.
"Why, it sounds as if there were two of them!"
A key fumbled in the lock, then the owner of it apparently gave up the task as hopeless and began ringing the bell.
Susy opened the door and Frederick-Christian staggered in followed by a man who was a total stranger to her.
The latter, bowing in a correct and respectful manner, carried himself with dignity.
The King bubbled over with laughter and leaned on the shoulder of his lady-love.
"Take off your overcoat," she said, at length, and while he was attempting to obey her, she whispered:
"If your Maj … "
Before she could finish the sentence the King put his hand over her mouth.
"My … my … my dear Susy … I'm very fond of you … but don't begin by saying stupid things… . I am here … incog … incognito. Call me your little Cri-Cri, Susy… ."
"My dear," she replied, "introduce me to your friend."
"Eh," cried the King, "if I'm not forgetting the most elementary obligations of the protocol; but after fourteen whiskeys, and good whiskey, too, though I've better here… . Susy don't drink any, she prefers gooseberry syrup … queer taste, isn't it?"
Susy saw the conversation was getting away from the point, so repeated her request:
"Introduce me to your friend."
Frederick-Christian glanced at his companion and then burst out laughing:
"What is your name, anyway?"
Fandor did not need to ask that question of the King. The moment he had set eyes on him in Raxim's he recognized in the sturdy tippler his Majesty Frederick-Christian II, King of Hesse-Weimar, on one of his periodic sprees. It was this fact which had made him break his rule and indulge freely himself.
With a serious air he explained:
"Sum fides Achates!"
"What's that?" cried the King.
Susy d'Orsel now thought both men were equally drunk. She fancied they were having fun with her.
"You know I don't want English spoken here," she said drily.
The King took his mistress round the waist and drew her to him.
"Now don't get angry, my dear, it's only our fun, and besides it's not English, it's Latin … bonus … Latinus … ancestribus … the good Latin of our ancestors!… the Latin of the Kitchen! Cuisinus … autobus … understand?"
Turning to the journalist he stretched out his hand:
"Well, my old friend Achates, I'm jolly glad to meet you."
"Achates isn't a real name," cried Susy, still suspicious.
"Achates," explained Fandor, "is an individual belonging to antiquity who became famous in his faithful friendship for his companion and friend, the well-known globe-trotter, Æneas."
"Come and sit down," shouted the King, as he rapped on the table with a bottle of champagne.
"Hurry up, Susy, a plate and glass for my old friend, whose name I don't know … because, you see, he's no more Achates than I am."
"Oh, no, Madame," Fandor hastened to say, "I couldn't think of putting you to the trouble, besides spoiling the effect of your charming table. In fact, I am going home in a few moments."
"Not on your life," shouted the King, "you'll stay to the very end."
"Well, then, a glass of champagne, that's all I'll take."
By degrees Susy had become reassured in regard to the young man. Although slightly drunk, his polite manner and good form pleased her. She took her place on the divan beside the King. Fandor sat opposite them and lighted a cigarette.
Suddenly Susy rose from the table.
"Where are you going?" demanded the King.
"I'll be back in a moment … something must be open. I feel a draught on my legs."
"Why not show us your legs!" cried Frederick-Christian, and turning to the journalist added:
"She's built like a statue … a little marvel."
"I knew it! The hall door was open. I hope nobody has got in."
The King laughed at the idea.
"If anyone did, let him come and join us, the more the merrier."
"I thought I heard a noise," continued Susy, but the King made her sit down again beside him and the supper went on.
As she drank glass after glass of wine, she became more and more amiable toward Fandor. And since the King paid little attention to her caresses, she began a flirtation with the journalist in order to pique him.
This brought a frown from the royal lover, and Susy amused herself between the two men until supper ended and they all adjourned to her boudoir.
Fandor, who had now become more sober, decided it was time to take his leave.
"Suppose you both come and lunch with me to-morrow, will you?" he asked. To this they agreed and it was finally arranged that Fandor should call and pick them up at one o'clock the following day.
The journalist felt his way downstairs in the semi-darkness and was just about to ask the concièrge to let him out when he was startled by seeing a heavy form fall with a thud onto the ground of the inner court.
With a gasp of alarm the young man rushed forward and quickly realized that he was in the presence of a terrible tragedy.
Lying on the ground, inert, was the body of Susy d'Orsel.
The unfortunate girl had fallen from the third floor.
Without hesitating, he lifted the body and finding no sign of life, cried loudly for help.
But the entire house was asleep.
What was to be done?
Immediate action was necessary. After a moment's pause, he decided to take the unfortunate girl back to her own apartment. Arrived at the door, he found it locked on the inside. After ringing for some time, it was opened finally by the King. At the sight of Susy apparently lifeless, her head hanging backward, the King staggered to the wall.
He wanted to ask a question, but the words stuck in his throat.
Fandor entered the bedroom and laying Susy down attempted to undo her corset.
"Vinegar and some water," he ordered.
The King between his drunkenness and his alarm was quite useless, and the journalist, after applying a mirror to the girl's nostrils and lips, with a gesture of despair exclaimed:
"Good God, she is dead!"
However, being unwilling to risk his own judgment, he started to the door to seek aid.
At this moment a violent knocking began and a voice from the hall cried out:
"What's the matter? Is anyone hurt? I'm the concièrge."
"The concièrge! Then, for Heaven's sake, Madame, get a doctor. Mademoiselle d'Orsel has killed herself, or at least she is very badly injured."
The words were scarcely out of Fandor's mouth when the rapidly disappearing footsteps of the concièrge were heard clattering downstairs. Frederick-Christian, in a dazed condition, stood in the dining-room, mechanically drinking a liqueur.
"Look here, what does this mean?" cried Fandor.
The King looked at him with intense stupefaction, trying, it seemed, to co-ordinate his faculties. Then, with a greater calmness than in his condition seemed possible, he replied:
"Why, I haven't the least idea."
"But … what have you done since I left you? You were both seated side by side on the sofa. How did Susy d'Orsel come to fall out of the window? What have you done?"
"I don't know. I didn't budge from the sofa until you rang the bell."
"But … Susy!"
"She left me for a moment. I thought she had gone to see you out."
"That's impossible … she didn't leave you … it's you who … for God's sake, explain!… It's too serious a business."
The King seemed unable to take in the situation. Fandor determined to try a shock. Going close to him he spoke in a low voice:
"I beg your Majesty to tell me."
This had an immediate effect. The King staggered back and stared, wide-eyed.
"I … I don't understand."
"Yes," insisted Fandor, "your Majesty does understand. You know that I am aware in whose presence I am standing. You are Frederick-Christian II, King of Hesse-Weimar… and I, your Majesty, am Jerome Fandor, reporter on La Capitale … a journalist."
The King did not appear to attach much importance to Fandor's words. Peaceably, without haste, he put on his overcoat and hat. Then, picking up his cane, he moved toward the door.
"Here! what are you doing?"
"Yes, I can; it's all right, don't worry, I'll arrange matters."
The King appeared so calmly confident that Fandor stood dumbfounded.
Here certainly was an individual out of the common! The journalist had seen many strange happenings in his adventurous career, but never had he come across such an amazing situation. For now he had no doubt of the guilt of the King. What, however, could have been the motive of such odious savagery? Was it possible he had taken seriously the innocent flirtation between Susy and himself? Had the King taken vengeance upon his mistress in a moment of jealous insanity?
No, that was out of the question.
In spite of his intoxication, Frederick-Christian seemed to be a man of normal temperament, and of a kindly disposition. His face betrayed none of the characteristics of the drink-maddened.
The young man was about to question Frederick-Christian further when the hall door bell rang sharply.
Fandor quickly opened the door and let in two policemen.
"Is it here the tragedy took place?"
"What! You know already?"
"The concièrge notified us, Monsieur."
Then turning to his companion:
"See that no one gets out."
"But I've sent for a doctor… . I must go and find one," cried Fandor.
"That has already been attended to. We are here to ascertain the facts, to make arrests. Where is the victim of the crime?"
As Fandor took the officer into the bedroom he expected at every moment to hear some exclamation at the discovery of the King. But the latter had mysteriously disappeared.
The officer surveyed the body of the young woman and seemed in doubt how to begin his interrogatory. Suddenly his attention was diverted to the vestibule, where whispering was going on.
Both men quickly returned to the hall door and Fandor overheard the final words of a third person who had entered the room, evidently the concièrge. She was saying:
"It must be 'him' … only treat him politely … he isn't like an ordinary … "
Upon seeing the journalist the old woman stopped abruptly and made him a deep bow.
"Ah, it's you, Madame," cried Fandor, "well, have you brought a doctor?"
"We're looking for one, Monsieur," replied the old woman, "but to-night they seem to be all out enjoying themselves."
One of the officers turned to Fandor and spoke with evident embarrassment.
"It might be better if Monsieur would tell us exactly what happened. On account of possible annoyances … besides, the business is too important … and then the Government … "
Fandor explained briefly all he knew. He was careful not to mention the King by name, leaving it to his Majesty to disclose his own identity when the time came.
"Then Monsieur means to say that a third person was present?" one of the officers asked.
"Of course!" replied Fandor.
"And where is this third person?"
The officer looked decidedly skeptical and the journalist began to grow uneasy.
"He was here with me just now; probably he's in one of the other rooms. Why don't you search?"
But the search disclosed nobody.
What on earth had become of the King? thought Fandor. He couldn't have jumped out of the window. The servant's staircase came into his mind, but the door to that he found locked.
"It is useless for Monsieur to say more; kindly come with us to the police station."
"After all, Monsieur was alone with the little lady," added the concièrge.
Fandor went rapidly to the dining-room. He would show the three places at the table. But suddenly he remembered his refusal to take a plate. There were only two places laid.
The two officers now held him gently by each arm and began to walk away with him.
"Don't make any noise, please," they urged, "we must avoid all scandal."
Without quite understanding what was happening, Fandor obeyed.
The first faint light of dawn was filtering through the dusty windows of the police station.
Sergeant Masson, pushing aside the game of dominoes he had been playing with his subordinate, declared:
"I must go and see the chief."
"At his house?" demanded the other in a tone of alarm.
"Yes; after all, if I catch it for waking him that won't be so bad as having him come here at ten."
The sergeant rose and stretched himself. He had entire charge of the Station and was responsible for all arrests. As a rule he felt himself equal to the task, but this time the tragedy of the Rue Monceau and the peculiar circumstances surrounding it seemed too much of a burden to bear alone.
Ought he to have arrested the individual now at the Station? Had he been sufficiently tactful? What was to be done now?
"Yes, I'm going to see the chief," he repeated, "besides, I shan't be gone long. Anything that 'he' asks for let him have, you understand?"
It was about five-thirty, and the sky threatened snow. The air was fresh and not too cold. A few milk carts were the only vehicles in the streets. Porters were busy brushing off the sidewalks. Paris was making her toilette. Sergeant Masson stopped at a small house in a quiet street and mounted to the third floor. There he hesitated. The wife of the chief was known for her sharp temper. However, there was nothing to be done but ring, and this he did in a timid manner.
In a few moments he heard the door-chain withdrawn, and a woman's voice cried:
"Who is there?"
"It is I, Madame, Sergeant Masson."
"Well, what do you want?"
"The chief is wanted at the Station right away."
At these words the door opened wide and the woman stood revealed. She was about forty, dressed in her wrapper and with her hair still in curl papers.
"Louis must go to the Station?" she demanded.
"Yes, Madame, an arrest has been made … "
"He must go to the Station?" she repeated in a menacing tone.
Sergeant Masson retreated to the landing. He simply nodded his head.
"But he is there! He told me he was! Ah, I see how it is!… He's been lying again. He's been running after women … all right, he'll pay for it when he gets home!"
The door shut with a bang and the lady disappeared.
"What an idiot I've been," muttered the discomfited sergeant. "I ought to have known better. Of course he's not with his wife, he's with his mistress!"
Several minutes later he reached another apartment in a neighboring street.
This time he had no misgivings and congratulated himself upon his professional cleverness in tracking his man down.
The same performance was gone through. A ring at the bell brought an answer to the door.
"Who is there?" said a man's voice.
"It is I … Sergeant Masson."
The door was opened and a young man stood in the hall. He was about thirty and wore an undershirt and drawers.
The sergeant shrank back; he would have been glad if he could have disappeared in the walls. The chief's secretary stood before him.
"I was … was looking … " he stammered.
The secretary interrupted with a smile.
"No, he's not here. In fact, we are rarely found together."
Then putting a hand on the sergeant's shoulder:
"As gentleman to gentleman, I count on your discretion."
The door shut softly and the sergeant turned sadly and went back to the Station, pondering over the personal annoyance this general post at night occasioned him.
He was greeted on his return by a few sharp words.
"Ah, there you are, Masson!… At last!… An event of the first importance occurs, an amazing scandal breaks out and you desert your post… . It's always the way if I'm not here to look after things. I shall have to report you, you know. Where have you been?"
The speaker was a man still quite young, who wore the ribbon of the Legion of Honor. It was the chief himself. On the way home from some late party he had dropped into the Station out of simple curiosity.
Was he awake or was he dreaming?
Fandor felt stiff all over, his head was heavy and his mind a blank… . And then came a thirst, a devouring, insatiable thirst.
Where he was and how he had arrived there were things past his comprehension.
So far as the feeble light permitted, he made out the room to contain the furnishings of an office, and by degrees, as his mind cleared, he recalled with a start his arrest.
He was at the police station.
But why in this particular room? The walls were hung with sporting prints. Bookshelves, a comfortable sofa, upon which he had spent the night, all these indicated nothing less than the private office of the chief.
And then he recalled with what consideration he had been conducted hither. Evidently they took him for an intimate friend of the King. Nevertheless, he was under arrest for murder, or at least as an accomplice to a murder.
"After all," he thought, "the truth will come to light, they'll capture the murderer and my innocence will be established.
"Besides, didn't the King promise to see me through. Probably before this he has already taken steps for my release."
He then decided to call out:
"Is there anyone here?"
Scarcely had Fandor spoken when a man entered, who, after a profound bow to the journalist, drew the curtains apart.
"You are awake, Monsieur?"
Fandor was amazed. What charming manners the police had!
"Oh, yes, I'm awake, but I feel stiff all over."
"That is easily understood, and I hope you will pardon … You see, I didn't happen to be at the station … and when I got here … why, I didn't like to wake you."
"They take me for a friend of the King of Hesse-Weimar," thought Fandor.
"You did perfectly right, Monsieur … "
"M. Perrajas, District Commissioner of Police … and the circumstances being such … the unfortunate circumstances … I imagine it was better that you did not return immediately to your apartment … in fact, I have given the necessary orders and in a few moments … the time to get a carriage … I can, of course, rely upon the discretion of my men who, besides, are ignorant of … "
"Oh, that's all right."
Fandor replied in a non-committal tone. It would be wiser to avoid any compromising admission. A carriage!—what carriage, doubtless the Black Maria to take him to prison. And what did he mean by 'the discretion of his men?'
"Well," thought Fandor, "he can count upon me. I shan't publish anything yet. And after all, it's going to be very hard for me to prove my innocence. Since I must rely on the King getting me out of this hole, it would be very foolish of me to give him away."
"Besides," continued the officer, "I have had the concièrge warned; she has received the most positive orders … and no reporter will be allowed to get hold of … "
The officer became confused in his explanation.
"The incidents of last night," added Fandor.
A knock at the door and Sergeant Masson entered.
"The coupé is ready."
"Very well, Sergeant."
Fandor rose and was about to put on his overcoat, but the man darted forward and helped him on with it.
"Do you wish me to come with you, Monsieur, or would you prefer to return alone?"
"Oh, alone, thanks, don't trouble yourself."
The door was opened wide by the polite officer and Fandor passed through the main hall of the Station, where everyone rose and bowed. Getting into his carriage, he was disagreeably surprised to see an individual who appeared to be a plain clothes man sitting on the seat. In addition a police cyclist fell in behind the carriage as escort.
"Where the devil are they going to take me?" he wondered.
To his intense surprise, they stopped ten minutes later at the Royal Palace, the most luxurious hotel in Paris.
With infinite deference he was then conducted to the elevator and taken to the first floor.
"Well, this lets me out," thought Fandor. "Evidently the King has sent for me … in a few minutes I shall be free … what a piece of luck!"
He was shown into a sumptuous apartment and there left to his own devices.
"Wonder what's become of Frederick-Christian," he muttered, after a wait of twenty minutes. "It's worse than being at the dentist's."
As the room was very warm, Fandor removed his overcoat and began an investigation of his surroundings. Upon a table lay several illustrated papers and picking one up he seated himself comfortably in an armchair and began to read.
Some minutes later a Major-domo entered the room with much ceremony and silently presented him with a card. This turned out to be a menu.
"Well, they're not going to let me starve anyway," he thought, "and as long as the King has asked me to breakfast, I'll accept his invitation."
Choosing several dishes at random, he returned the menu, and the man, bowing deeply, inquired:
"Where shall we serve breakfast? In the boudoir?"
"Yes, in the boudoir."
The bow ended the interview and Fandor was once more left alone. But not for long. Close upon the heels of the first, a second man entered and handed the journalist a telegram and withdrew.
"Ah, now I shall get some explanation of all this mystery! This should come from the King… . Has he got my name?… No!… the Duke of Haworth … evidently the name of the individual I am supposed to represent."
Fandor tore open the telegram and then stared in surprise. Not one word of it could he make out. It was in cipher!
"Why the deuce was this given to me!… what does the whole thing mean? Is it possible they take me for… ."
Paris rises very late indeed on New Year's Day. The night before is given up to family reunions, supper parties and every kind of jollification. So the year begins with a much needed rest. The glitter and racket of the streets gives place to a death-like stillness. Shops are shut and the cafés are empty. Paris sleeps. There is an exception to this rule: Certain unfortunate individuals are obliged to rise at day-break, don their best clothes, their uniforms and make their way to the four corners of the town to pay ceremonial calls.
These are the Government officials representing the army, the magistracy, the parliament, the municipality—all must pay their respects to their chiefs. For this hardship they receive little sympathy, as it is generally understood that while they have to work hard on New Year's Day, they do nothing for the rest of the year.
The somnolence of Paris, however, only extends until noon. At that hour life begins again. It is luncheon time.
This New Year's Day differed in no wise from others, and during the afternoon the streets were thronged with people.
A pale sun showed in the gray winter sky and the crowd seemed to be converging toward the Place de la Concorde. Suddenly the blare of a brass band on the Rue Royale brought curious heads to the windows.
A procession headed by a vari-colored banner was marching toward the banks of the Seine. The participants wore a mauve uniform with gold trimmings and upon the banner was inscribed in huge letters:
LA CAPITALE THE GREAT EVENING PAPER
With some difficulty the musicians reached the Obelisk and at the foot of the monument they formed a circle, while at a distance the crowd awaited developments.
In the front rank two young women were standing.
One of them seemed to be greatly amused at the gratuitous entertainment, the other appeared preoccupied and depressed.
"Come, Marie Pascal, don't be so absent-minded. You look as if you were at a funeral."
The other, a workgirl, tried to smile and gave a deep sigh.
"I'm sorry, Mademoiselle Rose, to be out of sorts, but I feel very upset."
Two police officers tried to force their way to the musicians and after some difficulty they succeeded in arresting the flute and the trombone players.
This act of brutality occasioned some commotion and the crowd began to murmur.
The employés of La Capitale now brought up several handcarts and improvised a sort of platform. Gentlemen in frock coats then appeared on the scene and gathered round it. One or two were recognized and pointed out by the crowd.
"There's M. Dupont, the deputy and director of La Capitale."
A red-faced young man with turned up moustaches was pronounced to be M. de Panteloup, the general manager of the paper.
As a matter of fact, those who read La Capitale had been advised through its columns that an attempt would be made to solve the mystery of the Singing Fountains, which had intrigued Paris for so many weeks. A small army of newsboys offered the paper for sale during the ceremony. Marie Pascal bought a copy and read it eagerly.
"They haven't a word about the affair yet," she cried.
At that moment the powerful voice of M. de Panteloup was heard:
"You are now going to hear an interesting speech by the celebrated archivist and paleographer, M. Anastasius Baringouin, who, better than anyone else, can explain to you the strange enigma of the Singing Fountains."
An immense shout of laughter greeted the orator as he mounted the steps to the stage. He was an old man, very wrinkled and shaky, wearing a high hat much too large for his head. He was vainly trying to settle his glasses upon a very red nose. In a thin, sharp voice, he began:
"The phenomenon of the Singing Fountains is not, as might be supposed, wholly unexpected. Similar occurrences have already been noted and date back to remote antiquity. Formerly a stone statue was erected in the outskirts of the town of Thebes to the memory of Memnon. When the beams of the rising sun struck it, harmonious sounds were heard to issue from it. At first this peculiarity was attributed to some form of trickery, a secret spring or a hidden keyboard. But upon further research, it was demonstrated that the sounds arose from purely physical and natural causes."
The crowd which hitherto had listened in silence to the orator now began to show signs of impatience.
"What the dickens is he gassing about?" shouted some one in the street.
As the savant paid no attention to these signs the band struck up a military march. Finally when order was re-established M. Panteloup himself mounted the platform.
"This fountain, ladies and gentlemen," he began in a powerful voice, "was built in 1836 at a cost of a million and a half francs. In the twenty-four hours its output is 6,716 cubic yards of water. It is composed, as you can see, of a basin of polished stone, decorated by six tritons and nereids, each holding a fish in its mouth from which the water flows out. Thus far there is nothing unusual and it is therefore with justifiable surprise that we discover the fact that at certain moments these fountains actually sing. Are we in the presence of a phenomenon similar to that recalled just now by M. Anastasius Baringouin? Are we, at the beginning of the twentieth century—the century of Science and Precision—victims of hallucination or sorcery? This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we are about to investigate, and we will begin by consulting the celebrated clairvoyant, Madame Gabrielle de Smyrne."
A murmur of approbation greeted the pretty prophetess as she appeared, but at the same moment a police officer followed by fifteen men pushed his way to the foot of the platform and ordered M. Panteloup to cease attracting a crowd. The latter, however, was equal to the occasion. After lifting his hand for silence he shouted the famous cry:
"We are here by the will of the people, we shall not go away except by force."
The crowd cheered, and with the voices mingled the barking of dogs.
"Ladies and gentlemen," continued M. Panteloup, "you hear the wonderful police dogs of Neuilly, Turk and Bellone. They are coming to help us to scent out the mystery."
This was to be the termination of the ceremony, but an unlooked for addition to the program appeared in the person of one of those Parisian "Natural Men" or "Primitive Men."
He was a very old, long-bearded man and wore a white robe. He went by the name of Ouaouaoua, and his portrait had been published in all city papers. A hush came over the crowd and then in the silence a vague metallic murmur was heard above the splash of the water.
This time there was no mistake. The Fountains were singing.
Thousands of witnesses were present and could testify to that fact.
The crowd at once associated the arrival of Ouaouaoua with the music from the Fountains, and he was acclaimed the hero of the occasion.
M. de Panteloup, seized with a happy inspiration, shook hands with Ouaouaoua and pinned on his white robe the gold medal of La Capitale.
Proceedings were, however, summarily brought to a stop at this point. The prefect of the police drove up and his men scattered the crowd in all directions.
Ten minutes after the Place de la Concorde had assumed its usual aspect and the tritons and nereids continued to pour out their 6,716 cubic yards of water every twenty-four hours.
M. Vicart, sub-director of the Police Department, was in an execrable humor.
In all his long career such a thing had never happened before. In spite of the established rule, he had been deprived of his New Year holiday, which he usually spent in visits to governmental officials capable of influencing his advancement.
He had been ordered to his office. His morning had been spent in endless discussions with M. Annion, his director. Numerous telegrams, interviews, work of all kinds instead of his customary rest. Besides, he had received from his friends only 318 visiting cards instead of 384, last year's number. It was most annoying. He was engaged in recounting his cards when a clerk announced the visit of detective Juve.
"Send him in at once."
In a few moments Juve entered.
Juve had not changed. In spite of his forty-odd years, he was still young looking, active, persevering and daring.
For some time past he had been left very much to his own devices in his tracking of the elusive Fantômas, and he was rarely called in to assist in the pursuit of other criminals. Therefore he realized that it was an affair of the very first importance which called for his presence in M. Vicart's office.
The detective found M. Vicart seated at his desk in the badly lighted room.
"My dear Juve, you are probably surprised at being sent for to-day."
"A little … yes."
"Well, you probably know that the King of Hesse-Weimar, Frederick-Christian II, has been staying incognito in Paris?"
Juve nodded. He did not think it necessary to mention the incident that had occasioned this visit.
"Now, Christian II has, or rather had, a mistress, Susy d'Orsel, a demi-mondaine. Were you aware of that?"
"No, what of it?"
"This woman has been murdered … or rather … has not been murdered … you understand, Juve, has not been murdered."
"Has not been murdered, very well!"
"Now, this woman who has not been murdered threw herself out of the window last night at three o'clock; in a word, she committed suicide, at the precise moment when Frederick-Christian was taking supper with her … you grasp my meaning?"
"No, I don't. What are you trying to get at?"
"Why, it's as clear as day, Juve … the scandal! especially as the local magistrate had the stupidity to arrest the King."
"The King has been arrested … I don't understand! Then it wasn't suicide?"
"That is what must be established."
"And I am to take charge of the investigation?"
"I put it in your hands."
When M. Vicart had explained the circumstances of the case, Juve summed up:
"In a word, Frederick-Christian II went to see his mistress last night, she threw herself out of the window, the King was arrested for murder; he put in a denial, claiming that a third person was present, this third person escaped, an inadmissible hypothesis, since nobody saw him and the door to the servant's staircase was locked … this morning the King was set at liberty, and we have now to find out whether a crime was really committed or whether it was a case of suicide… . Is that it?"
"That is it! But you're going ahead pretty fast. You don't realize, Juve, the seriousness of the supposition you formulate so freely… . You must know whether it's murder or suicide! Of course! Of course!… but you are too precise… . A King a murderer … that isn't possible. There would be terrible diplomatic complications… . It's a case of suicide… . Susy d'Orsel committed suicide beyond a doubt."
Juve smiled slightly.
"That has to be proved, hasn't it?"
"Certainly it must be proved. The accident happened at number 247 Rue de Monceau. Go there, question the concièrge … the only witness… . In a word, bring us the proof of suicide in written form. We can then send a report to the press and stifle the threatened scandal."
"I will begin an immediate investigation," he replied, smiling, "and M. Vicart, you may depend upon me to use all means in my power to clear up the affair … entirely and impartially."
When Juve had gone, M. Vicart realized a sense of extreme uneasiness.
"Impartially!… the deuce!"
Hurriedly he left his office and made his way through the halls to his chief, M. Annion. His first care must be to cover his own responsibility in the matter.
M. Annion, cold and impassive, listened to his recital in silence and then broke out:
"You have committed a blunder, M. Vicart. I told you this morning to put a detective on the case who would bring us a report along the lines that we desire. I pointed out to you the gravity of the situation."
"But … " protested M. Vicart.
"Let me finish… . I thought I had made myself quite clear on that point and now, you actually give the commission to Juve!"
"Exactly, Monsieur! I gave Juve the commission because he is our most expert detective."
"That I don't deny, and therefore Juve is certain to discover the truth! It is an unpardonable blunder."
At this moment a clerk entered with a telegram. M. Annion opened it quickly and read it.
"Ah! this is enough to bring about the fall of the Ministry. Listen!"
"The Minister of Hesse-Weimar to the Secretary of the Interior, Place Beauvau, Paris—Numerous telegrams addressed to his Majesty the King of Hesse-Weimar, at present staying incognito at the Royal Palace Hotel, Avenue des Champs Elysées, remainunanswered, in spite of their extreme urgence. The Minister of Hesse-Weimar begs the Secretary of the Interior of France to kindly make inquiries and to send him the assurance that his Majesty the King of Hesse-Weimar is in possession of these diplomatic telegrams."
M. Annion burst out.
"There now! Pretty soon they'll be accusing us of intercepting the telegrams … Frederick-Christian doesn't answer! How can I help that! I suppose he's weeping over the death of his mistress. And now that fellow Juve has taken a hand in it! I tell you. Monsieur Vicart, we're in a nice fix!"
While M. Annion was unburdening his mind to M. Vicart, Juve left the Ministry whistling a march, and hailed a cab to take him to the Rue Monceau.
He quite understood what was required of him, but his professional pride, his independence and his innate honesty of purpose determined him to ferret out the truth regardless of consequences.
As a matter of fact, the presence of the King in Paris was, in part, to render a service to Juve himself.
If, therefore, the hypothesis of suicide could be verified, Juve would be able to be of use to the King; if, on the other hand, it had to be rejected, his report would prove that fact.
On arriving at the Rue de Monceau, Juve went straight to the concièrge's office and having shown his badge, began to question her:
"Tell me, Madame Ceiron, did you see the King when he came to pay his visit to his mistress?"
"No, Monsieur. I saw nothing at all. I was in bed … the bell rang, I opened the door … the King called out as usual, 'the Duke of Haworth'—it's the name he goes by—and then he went upstairs, but I didn't see him."
"Was he alone?"
"Ah, that's what everyone asks me! Of course he was alone … the proof being that when they went up and found poor Mlle. Susy, nobody else was there, so … "
"All right. Now, tell me, did Mlle. Susy d'Orsel expect any other visitor? Any friend?"
"Nobody that I knew of … at least that's what she said to her lace-maker—one of my tenants … a very good young girl, Mlle. Marie Pascal—She said like this—'I'm expecting my lover,' but she mentioned nobody else."
"And this Marie Pascal is the last person who saw Susy d'Orsel alive, excepting, of course, the King? The servants had gone to bed?"
"Oh, Monsieur, the maid wasn't there. Justine came down about eleven, she said good-night to me as she went by … while Marie Pascal didn't go up before eleven-thirty or a quarter to twelve."
"Very well, I'll see Mlle. Pascal later. Another question, Mme. Ceiron: did any of your tenants leave the house after the crime … I mean after the death?"
"Mlle. Susy d'Orsel's apartment is reached by two staircases. Do you know if the door to the one used by the servants was locked?"
"That I can't tell you, Monsieur, all I know is that Justine generally locked it when she went out."
"And while you were away hunting the doctor and the police, did you leave the door of the house open?"
"Ah, no, Monsieur, to begin with, I didn't go out. I have a telephone in my room, besides I never leave the door open."
"Is Justine in her room now?"
"No, I have the key, which means that she's out … she's probably looking after funeral arrangements of the poor young girl."
"Mlle. d'Orsel had no relations?"
"I don't think so, Monsieur."
"Is Marie Pascal in?"
"Yes … sixth floor to the right at the end of the hall."
"Then I will go up and see her. Thanks very much for your information, Madame."
"You're very welcome, Monsieur. Ah, this wretched business isn't going to help the house. I still have two apartments unrented."
Juve did not wait to hear the good woman's lamentations but hurriedly climbed the flights of stairs and knocked on the door indicated.
It was opened by a young girl.
"Mademoiselle Marie Pascal?"
"Can I see you for a couple of minutes? I am a detective and have charge of investigating the death of Mlle. d'Orsel."
Mlle. Pascal led the way into her modest room, which was bright and sunny with a flowered paper on the walls, potted plants and a bird-cage. She then began a recital of the interview she had had with Susy. This threw no fresh light upon the case and at the end, Juve replied:
"To sum it up, Mademoiselle, you know only one thing, that Mlle. d'Orsel was waiting for her lover, that she told you she was not very happy, but did not appear especially sad or cast down … in fact, neither her words nor her attitude showed any thought of attempted suicide. Am I not right?"
Marie Pascal hesitated; she seemed worried over something; at length she spoke up:
"I do know more."
Juve, to cover the young girl's confusion, had turned his head away while putting the last question.
"Why," he remarked, "you can see Mlle. d'Orsel's apartment from your windows!"
"Yes, Monsieur, and that … "
"Were you in bed when the suicide took place?"
"No … I was not in bed, I saw … "
"Ah! You saw! What did you see?"
"Monsieur, I haven't spoken to a soul about it; in fact, I'm not sure I wasn't mistaken, it all happened so quickly… . I was getting a breath of fresh air at the window, I noticed her apartment was lighted up, I could see that through the curtains, and I said to myself, her lover must have arrived."
"Well, what then?"
"Then suddenly some one pulled back the hall-window curtains, then the window was flung open and I thought I saw a man holding Mlle. d'Orsel by the shoulders … she was struggling but without crying out … finally he threw her out of the window, then the light was extinguished and I saw nothing more."
"But you called for help?"