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THE LORD OF TERROR
FANTÔMAS! . . . Ten years ago,—fifteen years ago soon,— it was in 1911,—that brigand’s name, that name so mysterious, so sinister, was on every lip, haunted every man’s thoughts.
Fantômas! . . . Slowly, sitting alone in a darkling room, when the fire is dying and the night falling, first locking and double-locking your door, utter those three syllables! They evoke a sense of mystery; they recall the memory to a nightmare that endured for months, for years, that obsessed the whole world!
Fantômas! . . . The fellow was nowhere and everywhere at one and the same moment. Nothing was secure from his enterprise; nothing could be safeguarded against his rapacity. He mocked at the strongest safes, the most elaborate precautions but moved his mirth. He was the “Robber” of the story-books, the redoubtable master of men’s lives and fortunes . . .
Fantômas! . . . Again is seen that vague, sinister figure,— black clothes, black hood, slender hands in black gloves, everything as before, and, unforgettable, the same stealthy walk and flaming eyes,—eyes now grim and menacing, anon ineffably scornful . . .
In Paris, into the best guarded flat, in the suburbs, into the most carefully locked house, in the provinces, in the open country where sturdy watch-dogs guard the slumbers of the inmates, the man could force his thievish way, folk well remembered, just when and how it pleased his criminal caprice . . .
Fantômas! . . . No human being surely,—rather Robbery personified, Pillage incarnate, Felonious Audacity in the flesh, the very Genius of Evil.
“But come, who and what is this man?” A Minister of State asked the question one day; strong in his consciousness of power, he affected to see in this monster only a common lawbreaker. But the police officer the Statesman had put the question to replied: “Sir, it is . . . He! the all daring, the all capable; there is nothing he cannot do!”
“Nothing he cannot do!”. . . the detective who said the words was named Juve . . . At his side, at his invitation, stood a young man, who nodded his head in agreement. “Yes, nothing he cannot do,” he re-echoed the words. The young man was the Journalist Jérôme Fandor . . . Fantômas! . . . Juve! . . . Fandor! The three names are mutually complementary; you cannot mention one without mentioning the others. It is a special privilege of the land of France to give birth, always in times of crisis, to the sons she has need of. Free, triumphant, ever elusive, never to be identified, unique, there was Fantômas. . . to do battle with him, to answer his insolent challenge, Juve and Fandor.
Juve? A police officer, the King of police officers. No, not one of those secret agents whose task is doubtless useful, but whose very trade is one of dissimulation and deceit. No, but a fighting man, a soldier of a sort, the man who dared to say: “Nothing Fantômas cannot do!” the man who threw down the gauntlet to the Prince of Thieves!
Fandor? A journalist, the reporter who is bent on knowing, even when his life may pay forfeit for the information he craves, the writer whose pen obeys his thought and is ready to confront every peril.
Juve? A man of forty, adroit, astute, subtle of mind, tenacious of purpose.
Fandor? Twenty-five,—all the fire of reckless daring, all the light-heartedness of youth.
Juve? Fandor? Two friends, . . . and Fantômas, the enemy, their common enemy . . . Oh, the astounding memories those names call up! the rage that filled the city when a fresh atrocity of the master’s was made public and Juve and Fandor were stated to be in pursuit of the malefactor and straining every nerve to checkmate his plans!
“He?. . . or they?” men asked each other, “which will win?” But the struggle was never-ending; victory only hastened on another engagement. Fantômas invariably escaped, Fantômas was never caught, never actually taken, the mask never once torn from his face.
Then one day, like a sleeper awaking from a horrid dream, Humanity threw off its panic terror.
Juve and Fandor had brought Fantômas to bay on board one of the powerful steamships that make swift passages across the Atlantic, linking the shores of France and America. The “Gigantic” had left Havre and was at sea when Juve passed the word to a tramp she fell in with off Newfoundland:
“He is with us; he will not come ashore alive, I take my oath to that!”
Then, six hours later, a brief cable was despatched from the Nantucket lightship, a message none has ever forgotten:
“S.S. ‘Gigantic’ a total loss; Juve, Fandor and Fantômas among the dead.”
At first men seemed dumbfounded. Dead? dead in a terrible, but commonplace catastrophe, these heroes of melodrama? dead in one common tragedy, he, the thief, and they, the champions of duty. But before long the truth had to be admitted; survivors, picked up by shore boats, gave details. Juve, remaining on board, had gone down with the ship at the very moment he stood face to face with Fantômas and revealed his identity. Fandor had been thrown by Juve willynilly into a boat; but the boat had capsized. Rocked in the cradle of the deep they slept the sleep that knows no waking . . .
No, none could ever forget these telegrams that arrived one after another and the universal commotion and excitement they caused. True, the public mourned Juve and Fandor; each man seemed to have lost one of his own nearest and dearest . . . But oh! the merciful deliverance this disappearance of the odious brigand! Once more security reigned in every home; a common dread was ended for ever. Yes, the man was dead. Never again, as the door opened, would He appear behind it; never again, at the end of the garden, at the corner of the next street, would His grim figure spring up! With him had vanished Terror . . . How sweet the sense of safety, how comforting the certainty of reprieve!
Ten years and more had gone by since then; now the ugly memory was dying out, a memory none wished to keep alive.
Alas! a tragedy is brewing! after truce, the battle is renewed! . . . Is He come to life again?. . . But that is a question we shall not answer. The problem that confronts us is too hard for one man’s solving; to. do that calls for united effort, for the combined acumen and courage of all . . . It is an exact, detailed, impartial inquiry, a grim, uncompromising inquest we are about to institute before the eyes of our readers. Let them study the question; they will pronounce judgment, they will discern the truth, and then . . .
But who is our informant, we shall be asked,—a logical demand! Yet it is one we cannot answer. No, not yet! . . . Later on, perhaps?. . .
Best not anticipate therefore. Here, in plain words, are the facts:
That day, leaping from his car, which had just stopped before the door of the modest dwelling he occupied at Passy, Comte Léon de Vautreuil, holding in his arms a sort of box or casket, ordered his chauffeur:
“Drive to the garage, Jean. I shall not be going out again. Tomorrow we’ll telephone you your orders.”
The Comte spoke in a ringing, cheery voice, cheery too the way he wheeled lightly round on his heels with the quick alertness of a healthy man of fifty or so. Comte Léon de Vautreuil? Under the name, which we disguise a little—the reason will soon be apparent,—our readers will no doubt guess a familiar personality . . . An attaché of yore in Russia, the gentleman in question has now, it is true, quitted the diplomatic service, but his entertainments, his luxury, are widely known, no less than his inexhaustible charities. Moreover, is he not the father of the lovely Josette de Vautreuil, the recognized queen of all the elegant dissipations of Paris? . . .
The Comte strode across the pavement to his door and was ringing the bell when a stranger, very respectably dressed, stepped forward and halted beside him.
“You have something to say, sir?” questioned the other, and the man proceeded to explain:
“I have brought you, Monsieur le Comte, the Insurance policy relating to your new motor?”
“Very good! . . . you have the papers with you?”
“Yes; but I want your signature . . .”
“In that case, let us go into my study.” A footman had meantime opened the door. Rapidly the Comte, still carrying his casket, threw off his overcoat and hat in the corridor on the groundfloor and opened a door, which as an old-time diplomat he always kept locked, and invited the stranger to enter.
A couple of minutes later the official had taken his departure, not having been one second alone in the room. Taking the needful documents from his pocket-book, he had handed them to his host and, the signatures duly affixed, he made for the door with a polite bow.
“Louis, show the gentleman out,” Léon de Vautreuil gave the order to the footman.
This done, the erstwhile attaché re-entered his study, crossed the room, opened the bolted door of another smaller apartment, and called in a cheery voice:
“Josette, Henri, my children, come see what I have brought,—a box that contains over ten millions worth of diamonds . . .”
It was at most five minutes the Comte had been at home. He alone was in possession of the keys of his study. No one had entered unaccompanied by himself. He had never quitted the room. . . .
In the little chamber adjacent the two young people he had addressed, his daughter Josette and her fiancé Henri Tardoux, sprang to their feet and hurried to the door. But on reaching the threshold, they halted in alarm, transfixed by amazement . . . The Comte stood by his desk, his face as pale as death, his limbs trembling. With outstretched arms he pointed to the door communicating with the corridor, muttering in a hoarse voice:
“There, look there! look there!”
On the white panel of the door, a writing stood out, perfectly legible, for it was traced in printed characters and in red ink:
“If you wish to save your life and the lives of those dear to you, you will hand over to me voluntarily the half of the diamonds entrusted to you.” There was no signature . . .
For some seconds a heavy silence reigned in the Comte’s working room. Each was striving to unravel the mystery of this strange message. What did it exactly mean? How could it have been written there? Henri Tardoux was the first to recover some degree of calmness. From boyhood upwards a friend of his fiancée and looked upon by M. de Vautreuil as a son, he need not fear being indiscreet. More than that, as assistant to Marsonval, the famous savant, and a noted scientist himself, trained in habits of accuracy and precision, he was always wont to act calmly and logically. The young man demanded:
“Now, father, to begin with, what diamonds do you mean?”
“Diamonds I have here, . . . in this box . . . They have been entrusted to me by Russian refugees to be sold . . .”
“They were entrusted to you secretly?”
“Secretly, yes! . . . Nobody could possibly be aware of the thing . . . at least I imagine so.”
“And no one had protested against the sale?”
“Oh, nobody! . . .”
“Then this writing must have been done by some evil-intentioned person?”
“But no one of the sort could have got in here, by God!”
As he spoke these last words, Léon de Vautreuil raised his arms to heaven with a gesture of impotent anger. Moreover the ex-diplomat must needs have been greatly upset to allow himself even the mild oath he had just indulged in.
But Henri Tardoux fell silent; his prospective father-in-law’s remark had impressed him strongly. Better than anyone he knew for certain the study was always kept locked. How then allow that a robber, be he who he might, could have found his way into this well-guarded room without leaving any trace of his doings?
After a brief moment for reflection, Henri Tardoux went on:
“Anyhow, father, seeing the writing’s there, somebody put it there . . . So . . .”
“So?. . .”
“So we must discover who?. . . You’ve had no one here?”
“Yes I have,—an Insurance official. But I never left him out of my sight. What’s more, the writing is not a foot from the floor, . . . and I’m positive he never stooped down.”
“Never mind! suppose you ’phoned to the Company?”
But casting a look at his timepiece, the diplomat objected:
“Too late now,—ten past six; the offices will be closed.”
“Besides,” he insisted, “it’s not that fellow at all. Deuce take it, I must have seen him writing. Evidently someone got in while I was away.”
“But, father,” stammered Josette, “that’s impossible. Louis was outside in the corridor all the while . . . Henri and I, we’ve been for the last four hours together in the small salon. So both doors have been continuously under observation . . .”
“And no visitor has called?. . . no tradesman?”
“At the front door, no; at the kitchen door I cannot say . . . But Victoire has never left her kitchen . . .”
Without answering the girl, Léon de Vautreuil left the room, making almost at a run for the kitchen regions, presided over by a stalwart cook, a female “cordon bleu,” one of those worthies who carry on the fine old traditions of French good living.
“Victoire,” panted her master; “has anyone been? have you had any tradesman in? Answer me, sharp’s the word! it’s vastly important.”
With arms akimbo and quite unconcerned,—the woman had been in the same place twenty years and knew she was above reproach,—Victoire retorted:
“Anyone been here? ’Pon my soul, no, not so much as a cat. Barring Bouzille, of course . . . But why ever does Monsieur ask the question?”
But the diplomat was off again:
“My odd jobs man, to be sure,” declared Victoire, “a half-witted creature I’ve employed this last five years to stack the coals and get up the wood.”
“A labourer in fact.”
“A chap does odd jobs, as I’m telling Monsieur,—a Jack-of-all-trades, why certainly! . . . Says he’s a ‘finder of articles lost or mislaid,’ a ‘dog’s funeral-furnisher,’ a ‘drowner for life-savers to rescue’ . . . A shuffler, eh? Well, well, knows his own business best, I reckon.”
“Victoire, listen to me! This fellow, this Bouzille, did you let him out of your sight for one second?”
“One second, why no, sir; and for why, ’cause I’d naught for him to do to-day. I planked him outdoors right away,— beg pardon if I talk too free, sir.”
Léon de Vautreuil stayed to hear no more. Followed by his daughter who had accompanied him, he returned to his working-room, where he found Henri Tardoux, thus left alone, on his knees examining the mysterious writing through a magnifying glass.
“Nobody has been!” announced the diplomat. “Louis, no less than Victoire, is above suspicion . . . It’s maddening, maddening!”
Then suddenly, laying his hand upon his brow, Léon de Vautreuil added:
“Anyway, it’s a little joke I mean to see to the bottom of, I take my oath to that! . . . You are dining here, Henri?”
“Impossible, father, I have a course of lectures to prepare . . .”
“Goodbye then, my boy . . . I’ll leave you with Josette. See you again to-morrow, shall we not?”
As he thus changed the conversation and in a way dismissed his daughter’s lover, leaving the investigation they had started on unfinished, Léon de Vautreuil displayed a feverish haste. In fact no sooner were Henri and Josette out of the room than the diplomat sank seemingly exhausted into an arm-chair.
“Heavens! am I going mad?. . . A dreadful thought has just flashed across my brain! . . . But no, it cannot be! ‘He’ is dead, dead and done with! . . .”
Then springing up again and running to the casket, he opened it with trembling fingers. The box was intact; the diamonds had not been touched.
“I was afraid,” muttered the Comte; “yes, I was afraid,— and I am afraid still!”
Then, opening his safe, he laid the jewels on one of the shelves and relocked the triple secret safety-locks with the most minute care.
Meantime, in the adjoining room, Henri Tardoux, already oblivious of the mysterious incident that had occurred, was taking leave of his fiancée, scolding her a little the while:
“Come, promise me to be sensible!” he rated the girl; “I don’t want to see your eyes red any more . . . You promise?. . . very good, I trust you, dear!” —and two minutes after receiving the promise, he was gone.
Oh, no! don’t think there was any serious quarrel. Nothing of the kind; if Josette’s eyes were red, this was because the child, of a highly impressionable nature, could not get over the loss of an aunt who had brought her up and from whom she had been parted a week before on the old lady’s sailing for Brazil on important business connected with family money matters.
Josette’s persistent grief seemed exaggerated in Henri Tardoux’s eyes,—and it may be he was not far wrong. Making his way home to the Villa Montmorency, the little house he occupied at Auteuil, he rapidly ate the dinner served by the old manservant who made up the whole domestic establishment, and entered his drawingroom, now transformed into a laboratory and crammed with books and scientific apparatus. Then he fell to thinking about Josette’s sorrow:
“Truly I should never wish,” the young man growled, “even in thought, to insult an old lady. But, all the same, I cannot understand Josette’s keen regret for that rather crossgrained individual, who did all she could to annoy us. Mlle. Eléonore was a curse,—and that’s the plain truth!”
Lighting a cigarette, he proceeded:
“She made a point of managing everything, meddling in everything, criticizing everything . . . ’Pon my word, I cannot regret her departure! . . . Josette may very well have been upset as she watched the steamer leave harbour with her aunt on board; well and good! but to burst into sobs every time she sets eyes on one of her portraits,—that’s a thing I can’t stomach!”
And with a sudden laugh, the young man extracted a photograph from his pocket-book, as he resumed:
“True, the portraits of my lady Eléonore must be getting scarce! Every time I come across one, I pocket it,—another chance the less of seeing Josette in tears!” —and gazing without the smallest twinge of conscience at the fruit of his dishonesty, the young man observed:
“This photo is the most like the original, I think, of any in existence. That comic little hat, that quaint hooded cape, those prying eyes and sly smile . . . it is Eléonore de Vautreuil to the life!”
But next minute he was repentant:
“After all I’m in the wrong; after all the woman deserves respect, her faults were those of her years and old age is venerable. Moreover, I am indebted to the old lady for one happy moment, the moment when I saw her go, when I watched her boat steam out of harbour! Now I know her to be on the open sea, thousands of miles away, I ought to be indulgent to her weaknesses. So I wish you a good passage, Mademoiselle Eléonore!”
Still smiling, Henri Tardoux laid the picture on his table, intending to deal with it later, and buried himself in a scientific volume. Suddenly he looked up, startled by the sound of footsteps, light but distinct, that had reached his ears. But his servant was gone home and he believed himself to be alone in the house.
“Théodore?. . . is that you, my man?” he demanded, raising his voice. “Are you still about the place?”
There was no answer; but the noise went on. Next minute the door opened slowly . . . Henri Tardoux was on his feet in an instant; his heart stopped dead, a cold sweat broke out on his brow, in sheer amazement at what he saw. The person who had entered the room, who was moving towards him, before whom he fell back in consternation, he recognized at the first glance, he knew her no less by her clothes than by the face.
Yet it was impossible, he was convinced it was impossible, she should be there!
It was the traveller returned! It was Mlle. Eléonore de Vautreuil, whom he had himself escorted to Havre, whom he had seen depart with his own eyes, who was at sea at that very moment in mid-Atlantic!
At the moment, in the brief instant, when he recognized the woman he had seen with his own eyes starting on her travels, Henri Tardoux, his face as white as paper, asked himself the question: was he not losing his wits? This was his first thought. Eléonore de Vautreuil was thousands of miles away, on the open sea. It was therefore impossible she could be there, standing before him, in his room. An impossibility is an impossibility. If he thought otherwise, it meant he was going mad. But this impossibility was there, before his eyes! And as he gazed at the figure, he could neither deny nor doubt the reality of what he beheld!
The figure was advancing, her feet scarce brushing the carpet,—was close upon him! . . .
Doubt was no longer possible; and the young man strove to explain the thing as a case of mistaken identity,—it was not the returned traveller, this old dame who stood there, it was some one else like her! But no mere likeness could have deceived his senses; from childhood he had known Mlle. Eléonore, no mistake was possible.
Or was it an hallucination? But this hypothesis was equally untenable; he was too keenly aware of what was happening. He compared the portrait on the table with the face before him; no mere hallucination could have endured the test.
What was it then? A spasm of anguished fear, a mortal terror, shook him, and he asked himself: “A ghost? was it a ghost, a phantom, a spirit materialized?”
But Science, noble, self-respecting Science, has never accorded her sanction to the belief in spiritual visitants from another world, abandoning such-like chimæras to charlatans, sciolists, pseudo-scientists out for self-advertisement and notoriety.
Meantime Mlle. Eléonore had reached his desk; standing there and lightly bending over it, she seemed, poising a pencil in her hand, to be trying to write, but without succeeding . . .
Then the young man revolted against the witness of his own eyes; what he beheld was an impossibility; therefore, he told himself, “I do not see it! I am in a bad dream.” But he was a brave man, and pulling himself together, and mastering his panic, he resolved to convince himself of the error of vision he was labouring under.
In a toneless voice he called: “Mademoiselle!” and again, “Mademoiselle!”
But his visitor did not seem to hear. Then he took a step forward, and suddenly, firmly believing no one was there, that he was the victim of a mistake, he raised his fist and dealt the phantom a mighty blow.
He thought to strike the empty air; but his fist fell on a body,—a human body! More than that, there, before his eyes, staggering under the weight of his blow, the apparition sank a helpless mass on the floor, without a cry.
Henri Tardoux could control his nerves no longer, and knew not what he did. Striding over the body of his victim, he fled from the room, banged to the door behind him and turned the key in the lock.
Next minute the young man had left the house and was running through the deserted streets of Auteuil, making for the station of the Ceinture railway. The weather had changed; a fine, cool rain was falling that calmed his excitement.
“I am only fit for Charenton!” he exclaimed suddenly. It was ten o’clock at night or thereabouts and here he was, hatless, in slippers and indoor lounge-coat, wandering about out of doors. He would go back home; but no, that he could not do.
“No, no!” he reflected, “I am not mad, really. Only I have locked up at, home . . . some one who is not there! I will go on to Rippert’s house; he shall go back with me,—and see what I have seen!”
And as he hurried thither, he recalled the details, at once positive and self-contradictory. He was convinced that Mlle. Eléonore was on the sea; he had himself escorted the traveller to the ship, he had seen her set sail . . .
And yet, and yet he knew his fist had actually struck somebody . . . and this somebody he was convinced was Eléonore de Vautreuil,—which was impossible!
Louis Rippert, Assistant Secretary in the office of the Préfecture de Police, was one of Henri Tardoux’s best chums, albeit their characters showed marked points of difference. While Marsonval’s assistant was sober-minded, hard-working, scornful of all frivolous amusements, the public servant was, on the contrary, a light-hearted pleasure-seeker, devoted to fashionable entertainments and elegant dissipations.
Returning from a dinner at the club wearing his dinner-jacket, vexed at having to give up his game of bridge to devote the evening to a tedious report, Louis Rippert at the same moment his friend was gazing at the most baffling of apparitions, had just reached home in anything but a good temper.
“Here I am, Mary,” he said, accosting the pretty, smart maid who had run forward to open at his ring. “Anything new? No one rung up on the ’phone? And the dog?”
At the same time his eyes explored a dark corner of the entrance-hall, where a dog-kennel could be vaguely discerned. But the girl had her answer ready:
“Dead, sir! . . . The poor beast suffered dreadfully . . .”
“And the vet. could do nothing?”
“Nothing, sir. Monsieur Barbézieux said he had been called in too late . . .”.
Without deigning an answer, the young man, greatly put out at his dog’s death, his friend and fellow-sportsman, was turning to enter his working-room when he asked suddenly:
“What have you done with him? We must ’phone . . .”
“No need, sir; Bouzille, the dog’s undertaker, has removed the body . . .”
“The ‘undertaker’ . . . what yarn’s that you’re telling me?”
“Beg pardon, sir, but the neighbours have nicknamed him that. When a dog dies, he takes on the job of getting rid of the carcase for the animal’s master . . . So I thought . . .”
But a loud peal at the doorbell interrupted the young woman’s discourse, and two minutes after, Louis Rippert was questioning his friend Henri Tardoux in bantering tones:
“Halloa, old man! What the devil’s up? In your slippers? without a hat?. . . And your teeth chattering? Speak out, do; ’pon my soul, you make me feel uneasy.”
The other had thrown himself into an arm-chair; sitting there, elbows on knees, head between his two hands, he replied in a hollow voice:
“Listen to me, Louis, I am going to speak out. But you mustn’t think I’m mad . . .”
“Yes! . . . I am not mad! I’m not! . . . But . . .”
“Come now, look me in the face! You’ve been drinking? . . . What is happening?”
“My dear old Louis, there’s happening something I dare not tell you in words . . . Come with me, and you shall see for yourself.”
“See what? and where are you taking me?”
“To my house . . .”
“To your house? and what’s doing at your house, pray?”
“What’s doing? Why, this: I’ve just downed with a blow of my fist somebody who can’t possibly be there!— my fiancée’s aunt, Eléonore de Vautreuil, yes, Eléonore de Vautreuil, who sailed for Brazil, as I told you myself!”
But at this announcement Louis Rippert could not help but laugh out loud.
“What d’you say?” he demanded. “A jolly good thing you warned me you weren’t mad!”
All the same, three minutes later, when, point by point, with that precision and particularity of detail only men of Science can compass, Henri Tardoux had recounted to his comrade the incomprehensible adventure that had befallen him, Louis Rippert, for all his scepticism, felt his mind troubled . . . Not of course that for one instant he took for gospel the story told him by Josette’s fiancé! He could not, and would not, believe that Mlle. de Vautreuil had visited his friend’s house. No, the impossible could not happen! Yet he was bound to admit that his companion was in full possession of his senses, that he was in fact neither mad nor drunk!
“Do you realize, I ask you,” the young man of Science insisted. “I hit out . . . she fell . . . Yet I know she is not there, she cannot be there at all!”
Meanwhile Louis Rippert was pacing the room excitedly.
“My dear fellow,” he kept reiterating, “it cannot have been Mlle. de Vautreuil you struck; that is out of the question. You suffered an hallucination? h’m, not likely! . . . However, you are right, we must know the truth. Let’s go then by all means . . . just a moment to get a revolver and . . .”
“A revolver?. . . what for?”
“Why, to kill her, good Lord! this too enterprising traveller!”—and Louis Rippert indulged in another guffaw.
But his friend protested. “No, no,” he begged him, “leave your gun behind. I’m thinking . . . Yes, it was she; I feel certain now of what I say . . . And an accident quickly happens; you might fire in your agitation, and kill her.”
“But you say she’s on the high seas?”
“But she’s there, I tell you,—without being there at all! . . .”
Then, dumbfounded at what he was saying, the statements he heard coming from his own lips, Henri Tardoux struck his forehead wildly as he cried:
“I’ve lost my head, I admit I have; I’m going out of my mind!” To say the truth, Louis Rippert too was beginning to ask himself fairly and squarely if his old friend’s reason had not suddenly gone under, when piercing screams, outcries of the wildest terror startled the two young men.
“Good God! it’s Mary!” cried the girl’s master, who had instantly recognized his servant’s voice. Then, pushing his comrade to one side, the Assistant Secretary, foreboding some unknown catastrophe, dashed out into the corridor, yelling:
“Mary! Mary, I say! whatever is the matter?”
The words froze on the young man’s lips. Stretched on the floor of the ante-room, his young handmaid was writhing in the crisis of a fierce attack of hysterics . . . Near her, looking confused and embarrassed, stood an old man, a beggarman in appearance, muttering unintelligible explanations. Louis Rippert had had no time to gather the meaning of the strange scene when, with a terrible cry and a face convulsed with fear, he found himself knocked over, hurled to earth, struck full in the chest—by a dog!
It was a superb spaniel with a lovely black and white spotted coat; evidently mad with delight, the animal, after making its spring at Rippert’s shoulders, was now frisking round the room, waving his bushy tail and yapping with pleasure.
“My dog! . . . my dog Cheeper, that was dead . . . Yes, it is Cheeper!” stammered the Assistant Secretary in a toneless voice.
Then the beggarman was heard protesting against things in general:
“You trust old Bouzille . . . Why, here’s a pretty go ’pon my word! . . . Ain’t I the chap what finds articles lost ?—and I’ve found your tyke again, I have! . . . But there, if as how the dawg’s got to be lost again, why, I’m in that job too.”
So saying, Bouzille took a step to his rear, and slipping through the half-open door, effected a judicious, silent and rapid retreat.
Not a doubt but the resurrection of the dead dog (but had the beast ever been really dead?) would have struck an infinitely less tragic note in the minds of all who were later on to seek the explanation of this fresh mystery, if they had been aware how Bouzille, as he made off, shook his old sides in a fit of silent self-satisfied merriment.
“To think of it!” he was muttering to himself. “Sure enough, I can’t make a guess what’s happened . . . Anyhow I know enough not to worry my head about it all! Dead dorgs come to life again indeed! There’s only damned fools . . . or your scientific guys to believe such-like tales!”
Bouzille was a hard judge of humanity, and entertained a special contempt for men of Science. But he had his own good reasons doubtless for being sceptical as to Cheeper’s resurrection.
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