A Fantômas Detective Novel
Fantômas extorts powerful politicians and financiers as part of a plot to rob the Crédit International bank and get rid of Inspector Juve once and for all. When the great detective falls into the macabre snares of the Lord of Terror, the journalist Jerome Fandor in his desperation must seek the help of Lady Beltham, the wayward lover of Fantômas, to save his beloved friend in this, the thirty-fifth book of the series.
“From the imaginative standpoint Fantômas is one of the richest works that exist.”
“Absurd and magnificent lyricism.”
- A Master’s Orders
- Fandor Displays a Fine Obstinacy
- Fantômas’ Scheme
- Juve Intervenes
- Mad, Poor Fellow!
- A Lesson in Police Craft
- Fandor Is Patient!
- Juve’s Thumb
- “Monsieur” or “Madame”?
- The Plot Thickens
- Fandor Contracts a Deplorably Bad Habit
- Double or Nothing
- In One Second
- A Compassionate Jailer
- A Woman’s Heart
- Tit For Tat
- Brought to Bay!
1. A Master’s Orders
“Well, François, anything new today?”
“Not a blessed thing!”
“Your chief back?”
“Not yet… Anyway, it’s all one to me!”—and stretching himself like a man thoroughly tired out, the usher of the Ministry, the official specially attached to the person of the Minister of the Interior, President of the Council, added:
“The chief, quotha! I don’t make much account of him. A Minister, pooh! A Minister’s a chap ain’t clever enough even to keep hold of his job. Here today, gone tomorrow! Look at me! Why, it’s five and thirty years I’ve been here—a lease for life, sir! But the chief, why, in another fortnight, the Chambers belike will have chucked him out. But there, you know how it is, my boy!”—and the man, who had long since lost the feeling of admiration generally accorded to the protagonists of the political world, gave a big laugh, then resumed in confidential tones:
“To start with, our President of the moment is no better than a jack-in-office.”
“Why, you know quite well, come! What does the man owe his place as Minister to? To playing the cunning knave, I tell you, to making it his business to challenge his predecessor on the score of Fantômas, to giving a public undertaking in the House to put a stop to ‘this intolerable scandal’—his very words, as reported in the Officiel.”
“Well, to stop Fantômas, that’s the policemen’s job. And the police can make no hand of it. And the chief, he won’t do any better. So then he’ll have to give it up in favor of somebody else… So there you are! there you are, old man!”
To this the clerk in the ministerial offices who was indulging in this chat with the usher vouchsafed no answer. He had not long been in ministerial employ, and still cherished some feelings of respect for the masters of a day whom the chances and changes of parliamentary intrigue and interpellations in the House installed in temporary power.
Then he began to think things over. It was true, after all, that Didier Maujean, deputy for the Mid-Rhine, owed his promotion to a cleverly worded interpellation as to the “Fantômas scandal.” A week before this, in fact, when the fresh exploits of the grim and gruesome Lord of Terror had become known, when it was reported that once more the scoundrel had escaped arrest, when it was learned that Juve, who was supposed to be defunct, had yet again been checkmated by the criminal, “a raging, tearing” press campaign had been inaugurated. The newspapers, one and all, had vied with each other in proclaiming—the fact was indeed, undeniable—that it was high time to have done with this Monster of Wickedness, that France must be delivered from this Genius of Crime, that in one word, it was outrageous that, in defiance of all efforts of the police, Fantômas should still continue the terrible series of his acts of violence.
Didier Maujean himself had said no more in the Chambers, albeit three or four broad hints had given the House to understand that the deputy for the Mid-Rhine blamed the Ministry for not carrying on the struggle with more energy. No doubt he, no less than others, had been amazed at the result of the division taken after his speech, a vote that overthrew the government, and pointed so clearly to him as the next President of the Council that the very next day he had been summoned to the Elysée by the President of the Republic.
From that moment there could be no mistake about what was expected of him, whether by the Chambers or by the Country. Didier Maujean had won his high post because he had in a way pledged himself to bring about Fantômas’ arrest. But it was a rash promise. Would he succeed in keeping it? Or was he to prove incapable of gaining the day against the abominable and terrifying scoundrel?
The officials of the Ministry themselves were far from feeling confident on the point. After pondering a while over his fellow-employee’s remarks, the clerk asked again:
“Well, anyway, is he in, your Minister?”—and he pointed to the door of the President’s private room.
“No! don’t know… You look surprised? Well, I’ll tell you a secret, our gallant friend, ever since he undertook to fight Fantômas, is in a bit of a fright, you must know—very natural too! So he makes a point of behaving with all the mystery he can contrive—goes out without telling anyone, comes back the same, by the private stairs. In a word you think he’s here, and he isn’t; you suppose he’s gone away, and he runs into your arms…”
Suddenly the usher started violently, muttering an oath. Someone had just appeared in the anteroom, striding across the floor with rapid steps. It was Didier Maujean. A man of fifty, or barely fifty, a handsome figure still, tall and strong, with a determined look and energetic bearing, he was a fine representative of the man of action, the leader of men.
“Anything new?” he demanded, as he opened the door of his room.
“Nothing, Monsieur le President.”
“My Chief Secretary?”
“Not been here, Monsieur le President.”
“And the Office, have they brought the reports?”
“I have put them with the other papers on the desk, Monsieur le President.”
“Very good!… Oh! take note, I’m not in for anybody.”
“Good, Monsieur le President.”
“Not for anybody, d’you hear… I won’t see anybody whatsoever. You understand?”
“Certainly, Monsieur le President.”
The door of the Minister’s room banged shut next moment, while the usher, with a shrug, turned to his colleague.
“There you see!” he said. “Every night it’s the same. It’s a pose, you must know. ‘The Minister is working,’ that sounds well. And then, only fair to say, he don’t like seeing callers. He receives very few people. Orders are to refer all visitors—even deputies and senators—to the Chief Secretary.”
Another shrug indicated the underling’s private opinion of the politician. Then he continued:
“Say, my boy! a nippy night, eh?”
“Seven below zero, for sure!”
“Luckily the coals cost nothing.”
“And the chimneys draw well.”
“The chimneys in Ministries, old man, always draw well. A good fire’s what all the staff likes,”—and with another stretch and a yawn, the usher planted himself before a stove packed to the throat, and proceeded to warm himself luxuriously, presenting the soles of his boots alternately to the flames.
His companion lit a cigarette.
“On duty till when?” he asked.
“Till he chooses to go.”
“Yes, the Minister… About six, or half-past.”
“Goodbye then for the present. I’ll be off and take a hand at manille at Paul’s.”
“First-rate. I’ll go too. Unless something unforeseen, of course… But there, with a man like that, there’s always a something unforeseen!”—and, left to his own devices, the man went on warming himself.
Little by little, meantime, silence began to reign in the Ministry. Clerks, secretaries, messengers took their departure and the vast edifice in the Place Beauveau little by little assumed the hushed, tranquil aspect of a great house in a provincial town. From beyond the cobbled courtyard that extends in front of the building came the distant sound of the motorcars that roll in a never-ceasing flood along the Rue Saint-Honoré—and that was all.
“Quite true, it is cold tonight,” grumbled the usher to himself. “But there, it’s seasonable weather after all.”
Then he gave a start and listened in surprise. “Why, whoever can be coming now?”
Footsteps were audible on the wide white-marble stairs leading to the first floor, where the private office of the Minister is situated.
“Another fellow on the job!” the usher exclaimed disrespectfully. “Another deputy wanting to see the Chief? Very good! I’ve got my orders: ‘Nobody’!”
The steps came nearer. The official straightened his uniform, stood to attention and came forward to meet the individual who appeared in the doorway. It was a man very elegantly dressed and who seemed, to judge by his calm and confident bearing, to be a familiar figure at the Ministry. Wearing a soft hat pulled well down over the brows, his countenance buried in the high stand-up collar of a magnificent fur coat, he had further wound carelessly round his neck and the lower part of his face a white satin scarf. All this, added to the fact that he was provided with a pair of enormous round spectacles made it impossible to make out the man’s features.
“Who the devil is it?” the usher asked himself, bowing respectfully. Then, fancying he caught sight of something black—beard or cheek—above the scarf, he thought:
“Ah! the negro deputy, I suppose.”
But the newcomer, buttoning the last button of a glove, began to speak:
“Didier Maujean is in, is he not?”
“Did… the Minister… Monsieur le President”… stammered the official for the first time in his life perhaps, taken aback. He was not, for his part, over and above respectful towards the President of the Council; but, to make up, he was well drilled in the ultra-deferential forms of address usual in ministerial circles. The President of the Council was for all men, in the regular course, either “His Excellence,” or “Monsieur le Ministre,” or else “Monsieur le President.” Never, never in all his days had he heard anybody dare to speak so cavalierly by his plain name of the great man of the Place Beauveau.
Absolutely dumbfounded, the usher could only stare the harder when the visitor addressed him once more:
“Well? are you dumb? I am asking if Maujean is in.”
Then the usher rose to the occasion. Coldly he replied:
“I do not understand whom Monsieur means… I am attached to the person of His Excellence the Pres…”
“Very well! You are a stickler for forms and ceremonies, I see. You are quite right… But what matter? Announce me…”
“To His Excellence?…”
“Obviously! Don’t play the idiot…”
“Play the idiot?… I?… But…”
“Enough! Do what I tell you.”
Then suddenly the usher struck his forehead. Yes, he had been behaving like a raw recruit in the service. Of course, this visitor with his impolite, contemptuous ways, why, of course he was just a madman, a poor lunatic at large! Alas, men of the sort are no uncommon visitors at the Ministry. As a rule they never penetrated so far as the anteroom of the President’s Office; they were always stopped first. This individual however, had evidently pushed his way past. There was nothing left but to get him out again…
“If Monsieur will go with me?” the usher invited.
“No need. I am in a hurry. I will wait here.”
“But, sir, my orders…”
“I know! I know!… There are no orders apply to me.”
“My man, I am not patient. When I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed on the instant. Go and announce me!”
“Or I go straight in… And that would be regrettable…”
The stranger had taken a step forward in the direction of the Minister’s apartment.
Intrepidly François barred his way. “But, sir, you cannot pass in like that,” he stammered. “To begin with, whom am I to announce?”
“True! I have not mentioned my name. I am so much in the habit of being recognized by people.”
The visitor gave a little shrug as he spoke. François, later on, was to relate how he had seen him draw himself up sharply, actually turn to stone, it seemed, so stiff, so rigid became the man’s attitude.
“Announce me!” he repeated the command. “I am Fantômas.”
Hardly were the dread syllables uttered before François sprang back, staggering, swaying on his feet, all but falling…
Fantômas! The grim name, this name that rang out like a death knell, this name that evoked the memory of so many terrifying mysteries, so many appalling tragedies, so many daring atrocities, struck him helpless and speechless. Yet the name, this name of the Lord of Terror, had been spoken in the most natural of tones, in a gentle, perfectly untroubled voice. Nonetheless it had resounded from wall to wall of the apartment, seeming to fill it, seeming to awaken echoes hitherto unsuspected.
“Fantômas! Fantômas!” the usher repeated. A cold sweat beaded his brow. He thought:
“No! no! It is not He! It cannot be He!… It is a madman—yes, a madman!”
But already the other had made a movement, a single movement. Stepping up to the usher, he laid a hand on his shoulder, forcing him to stand up and look him in the face.
“Come, I am waiting!” he said.
Then, docile, beaten, tamed, with chattering teeth, thinking himself the victim of a hideous nightmare, the wretched man obeyed and moved toward the Minister’s door. No! all doubt was gone. It was verily and indeed “Fantômas” standing there in the anteroom! It was truly the Lord of Terror who was demanding an audience with the President! No! the usher could doubt no longer. Had he not felt the stranger’s blazing eyes fasten upon his with a look whose fierce imperiousness there was no withstanding. Then, as he dropped his eyes, had he not caught a glimpse between the edges of the fur coat of the visitor’s costume—a suit of black tights, clinging close to the figure, the dress of legendary horror.
From that moment the unhappy man knew no more what he did, what he wished, what he thought even! It was Fantômas! and Fantômas was ordering him to announce him to the President of the Council! He was in desperation, but he never dreamed of refusing obedience, so utterly astounded his acts henceforth were those of a mere automaton.
“Very good! very good!” he faltered in a choking voice, as with tottering limbs he dragged himself to the door of the Chief’s room and opened it with a trembling hand.
“What is it?” demanded a peremptory voice.
“Monsieur le President, a visitor…”
“I am not in for anybody.”
“Monsieur le President, your pardon, but…”
“Not for anybody, do you hear?”
“But it is…”
“Come, can’t you understand?”
“It is… it is Fantômas!”
Then, at one bound, upsetting his chair behind him, Didier Maujean sprang to his feet. A livid pallor had spread over his features, as in a hoarse voice he demanded:
“What? What do you say?… Speak out, do!”—and with the words he put his hand to his neck with the frantic gesture of a man choking. Then, while the old usher stood motionless, trembling in every limb, tottering on his feet, manifestly fighting to stave off a fit of giddiness, the door behind him opened and a man appeared in the room—Fantômas.
The Arch-Criminal advanced one pace, one pace only at first, into the great room. Well knowing his mere presence sufficed to freeze with horror all who saw him, he made no haste. Once inside the door, he turned around and shut it to after him, locking it carefully; then he stepped forward again.
Neither usher nor Minister moved. Eyes riveted on the terrifying figure, they seemed literally incapable of act or thought of any kind. Then, in the same deliberate fashion, Fantômas spoke.
“Your permission, Maujean?” he asked courteously, and deposited his hat on a chair. He unwound the scarf from his neck; he threw open the heavy fur coat, took it off and tossed on the same seat on which he next threw down carelessly the spectacles he had worn.
And then, then only, it was He, really and truly He, the dread hero of legend and hair-raising story, the monster who was the very embodiment of panic terror. His muscular form clad in the close-fitting suit of black, black gloved and black shod, moving noiselessly, thanks to the felt soles of his shoes, he stood there in the middle of the President’s own room, a figure of terror, a shape of darkness and black Night, a portent of Crime—a figure without a face, for he wore a hood whose flowing folds concealed his features.
Then he spoke again:
“I am here, Maujean!” he declared. “I have come to see you. What orders am I to give you…?” But now it seemed the Minister was recovering something of his presence of mind. He was a man of energy, a fighter, was the President. Clenching his fists, shaking with rage from head to foot, he threw himself back towards the wall where a whole battery of electric bell-pushes was installed. The intention was clear enough, but clearer, sharper yet, Fantômas’ answer to the gesture:
“What childishness!” he growled. “Come, come, the wires are cut, of course! What did you expect?”
The Minister staggered. But he recovered his balance promptly and strode to his desk, where he fumbled with feverish haste in a drawer. Facing him, Fantômas calmly sat down, while the Minister whipped out a revolver and leveled it.
“Charge drawn!” chanted Fantômas. “What! so simple as all that?”
The Browning dropped from the statesman’s hand; he felt himself at his visitor’s mercy.
But a fresh access of courage, a new defiance, stirred within him. Was he not in his own Ministry? Was he not guarded by hundreds of police, soldiers, attendants? He had only to cry for help, and they would hear and hurry to the rescue! He opened his mouth, but no sound left his lips.
“Why, no!” Fantômas had warned him coolly. “You will shout in vain! All those about you are fast asleep… No one must overhear the orders I am here to give you… Look you, that servant even is one too many…”—and the unhappy President saw a sight he would never forget.
With lightning rapidity Fantômas was on his feet. In his hand he held a vial, the contents of which he emptied on a wad of cotton wool. Then, turning away his own head, so as not to inhale the vapor rising from the compress, he darted upon the usher François. In the fraction of a second the wad was under the usher’s nose—and the man had fallen, a lifeless mass!
“There!” observed Fantômas, “a capital way, you see, Maujean, to rid oneself of interlopers. Chloride of ethyl they call it. It puts a man to sleep before even he has time to realize what they are doing to him. And it is quite harmless… But to proceed to serious matters. You are listening?”
Mechanically the President of the Council nodded. The callous calm of his visitor held him spellbound. Clinging to his desk with both hands, he had ceased even to think of resistance. What orders was Fantômas about to give him? Was the Torturer perhaps on the point of flying at his throat?
“I am not going to put you out for long,” resumed the brigand quietly. “I have just two words to say to you… Besides, you must be very busy; you have sworn to have me arrested, have you not?… Hmm! it is a heavy task, do I not say true?”
And as he spoke a smile hovered over the Arch-Criminal’s lips.
* * * * *
Fantômas broke into a laugh, but his mirth ceased suddenly, and it was in a grave, serious voice, just tinged with a note of anger, that he proceeded:
“You wish to have me arrested, my dear Minister. Well, it is a highly praiseworthy aspiration. Let me tell you this: I am greatly interested in your character and admire your courage. For, as a fact, I realize of course that you have declared war upon me, that we two are mortal enemies; one is bound to destroy the other, either you or I must inevitably have the last word…”
As the villain spoke, the Minister could not restrain a shudder. He knew himself entirely at the mercy of the Lord of Terror. Without hope of succor, alone with him in his room, disarmed, he could not help thinking that, if Fantômas wanted to murder him, nothing could be easier. And what a triumph it would be for the scoundrel, if tomorrow the startled universe heard how the Minister who had been rash enough to promise the defeat of the Arch-Criminal had fallen at his hand in the sanctity of his own ministerial mansion. Was not this a prospect to tempt the Lord of Terror to do the deed? Was he not about to spring up and fly at his victim’s throat?
But Fantômas only folded his arms calmly.
“Yes!” he resumed, “your purpose interests me vastly—amuses me even. It adds a spice of novelty to my existence. You will understand, Maujean, I must have adversaries to match my own prowess. Ho, ho! the President of Council my antagonist! An original situation, truly!”
His voice dropped its bantering tone and suddenly grew grave.
“Not altogether a new situation, however!” he declared. “There is a precedent. You remember my struggle with another President of the Council, Désiré Ferrant?… Unhappy man! I had to kill him!…”
Fantômas made a pause. Didier Maujean felt the cold sweat beading his temples. How, alas! was this terrible scene to end? He had the impression that Fantômas was playing with him like a cat with a mouse it has caught between its claws. At first it pretends to spare its prisoner, then suddenly it kills it… Was Fantômas going to kill him?
The brigand continued:
“Désiré Ferrant acted foolishly, however. He was not accommodating. He thought he was stronger than I… Hmm! I hope we shall understand each other better… But you do not answer me?…”
There was a silence. The Minister’s throat was so stiff and dry he could not have articulated one word. Presently Fantômas shrugged his shoulders.
“My good sir,” he began again, in a tone of insulting familiarity, “you give me a poor welcome. I really thought you would be enchanted to make my acquaintance. We are going to join battle. Is it not diverting to see each other first, with no one by, as friends… Why, yes! as friends!”
He gave a short laugh of biting irony, then resumed in a changed voice:
“But I see you do not appreciate my company. Very good. I will not insist. Let us to the point that brought me here…”
He drew himself up. Abandoning the careless attitude he had affected so far, he stood laying his black gloved hands on the edge of the Minister’s desk and leaning over it so close the President could almost feel the man’s breath on his cheeks. Now a somber fury seemed to prompt the brigand’s words:
“I have come to demand a head of you…”
“A head?” gasped Didier Maujean.
“Exactly so… And you are going to give it me…”
“Let me finish… You are going to give it me, my dear enemy, because if you do not satisfy my polite request, I shall have to resort to acts which I should deeply regret… Let me tell you this: in case of disobedience on your part, I should revenge myself by attacking Madame Didier Maujean…”
“Attacking my wife?”
“I can only contemplate such a course with great reluctance. Be compliant, and all will be well… Besides, I would have you realize this: I accept your challenge, out of… well, say dilettantism!… because it amuses me. But this by no means implies that I place myself altogether at your disposal. I remain the Master, understand that! It is therefore the orders of a Master you are going to execute.”
This time Didier Maujean vouchsafed no answer. Each of the fellow’s words added fuel to his anger, increased his fury and bewilderment. What! he was Minister of the Interior, President of the Council! Absolute power was lodged in his hands, and he was to listen to and obey a Master’s orders! The unfortunate man felt his brain reeling.
“These,” resumed Fantômas, “are the orders in question. My dear Minister, you see before you a chagrined man—a man deeply wounded in his pride, in his self-esteem… Oh! I know such feelings are unworthy of me, but what would you have? I admit their existence frankly… You excuse me, do you not?”
Again he seemed to be bantering his victim. For sure, the Lord of Terror had spoken truthfully when he declared this visit amused him. How fail to find it diverting, to speak in this fashion to the powerful and influential politician?
“I am chagrined,” he went on, “because like a simpleton, like a fool—let us give things their right names—I have let myself be checkmated by Juve. Yes, you can see I make no attempt to hide my defeats. Juve has cajoled me—I say so openly. At first I did not believe in his death. Then a doubt assailed me. Then, as I watched the inauguration of the monument erected to his memory, I was convinced he had really perished. In one word Juve has made me feel a fool. Well, that is a chagrin I intend to exact vengeance for… It is Juve’s head I have come to demand of you.”
The Minister nearly sank through the floor. Doubtless he too nourished something of a personal grievance against Juve, for had he not actually spoken at the dedication of the famous monument Fantômas had referred to? Doubtless he was rather angry with that celebrated police officer, who the better to fight Fantômas had had the effrontery to pass for dead, never hesitating in this way to make a mock of all the authorities. Yet, at the same time, could he fail to agree that Juve was a hero? A hundred times, a thousand times over, had not Juve risked his life to vanquish the Lord of Terror? Juve, Fandor, the two names were on every lip as the symbol of courage, gallantry, an utter contempt for danger, no less than of skill and daring.
And lo! Fantômas was demanding Juve’s “head.” And he demanded it with threats, presuming to dictate “orders,” declaring he would wreak vengeance on Madame Didier Maujean if he was not obeyed! Under the shock of these reflections the politician felt as though just awaking from a bad dream. Fear, consternation more exactly, had held him helpless, incapable of resistance. But suddenly he roused himself. He was ready to defy Fantômas, to do his duty. He was not a very courageous man, no doubt, but he was a man of violent temper, capable of those fits of fury that startle and baffle an adversary.
“Enough!” he shouted hoarsely. “Juve is a hero. How dare you order me to become a murderer? I would sooner fall under your blows myself than accept your disgraceful terms.
Suddenly the President of the Council checked himself. Facing him he saw Fantômas lying back in his seat laughing unrestrainedly.
“That is a good one!” he hiccoughed, in the voice of a man tickled in the course of conversation by some totally unexpected repartee.
“A good one?” Didier Maujean repeated the words. “What do you mean?”
“Upon my word! You really suppose I am asking you to kill Juve?”
“You ask me for his head?”
“So you think I employ others to carry out the executions I deem needful? Oh! but such proceedings are worthy of your Judges, Mister President. Yes, they must have executioners… I, I Fantômas, master of all men and all things, act for myself!”
“I don’t understand,” bleated the Minister.
“You are going to understand, poor devil… No! I do not ask you to murder Juve. No, no! A thousand times no! Juve shall die by my hand, at my time, when I decide it is to be… What I ask of you is to cashier him; it is his head as a functionary I demand, that is all!”—and as he said the words, it seemed Fantômas had no wish now to laugh and joke. Beneath the folds of his hood his blazing eyes—eyes that seemed of very fire, whose full glare no man had ever dared to confront, flashed fiercer yet.
“Cashier him!” he repeated. “That is all I wish, but that I insist on. Continually I find Juve and Fandor in my path. For Fandor, let him be! He is laughable, diverting, young, little to be feared without Juve… Besides, the necessary steps have been taken in his case. But Juve sets my nerves aquiver. One never knows what he will be at. All means are good in his eyes… See here, shall I make an admission? Well, he is my match! Yes, in his own way, he is capable of the same reckless daring—or almost—that is part of my nature! So, I insist on being rid of him. I thought…”
Fantômas dropped his voice. He resumed, emphasizing his words one by one:
“I thought at first, Didier Maujean, it was best, seeing you have declared war on me, to destroy you without pity, to make an example. Afterwards, I pardoned you. At bottom, your attitude is dictated by political motives. It is neither formidable nor spontaneous. Juve, on the contrary, is a deadly enemy. So I am here to offer you a friendly bargain—and to give you your orders. Dismiss Juve, have him recalled, and I will spare you… Disregard my wish, however, disobey my orders, and I will direct my attack on Madame Maujean… You understand me?”
The President of the Council nodded. Yes, it was quite true, he understood. That Fantômas, indeed, should wish to rid himself of Juve did not surprise, could not surprise him. But how resign himself to this monstrous situation, to the presence of the Lord of Terror in his own private room in his own Ministry, to the fashion in which the scoundrel calmly gave him his instructions. He thought to himself:
“I am bound to say yes, in any case. An oath of this sort binds one to nothing. I must get myself out of the hole for the moment. But tomorrow I shall be free to act as…”
But the President of the Council was not given time to conclude his mental calculation. It seemed as though Fantômas guessed his inmost thoughts.
“Of course,” the brigand resumed, “if I pay good heed to your oath, it is only right, my dear Maujean, that you, on your side, pay good heed to my threats. I give you three days to place Juve on the retired list. If in three days it is not an accomplished fact, I give you fair warning to order your mourning. Your obstinacy will have killed your wife. There! You must know that I have never yet uttered such threats in fun and that my plans are always realized. No need to say more, I imagine.”
The Minister made no reply. Once more he felt himself helpless. Was it not, in very fact, true that Fantômas’ threats were invariably made good? Was it not proved alas! established beyond all doubt that no device, no measure of precaution, no ruse could hinder the villain from striking down whomsoever he chose to strike.
Didier was still without a word when Fantômas rose to go.
“Now I am leaving you,” he announced coldly. “I have no further orders to give you… Still, by-the-bye, it may interest you to know that I have a magnificent piece of work in view. Yes, one of those astounding successes that make me famous. So you see that we, you and I, are going to join battle for a prize that is well worth the while. Well, you hear what I say?… What’s the matter with you now?”
Fantômas went a step nearer, and broke into a smile. Behind the great desk the President had collapsed in his armchair. He was half fainting.
“A silly fellow, no doubt of it,” grunted Fantômas. “Pooh! he must at any rate have secretaries with brains? It will always be a diverting game to play.”
Composedly he resumed his fur coat, wrapped his satin scarf round his neck, put on his spectacles again and pulled down his hat over his eyes. He seemed in no way hurried, taking his time about these preparations. Perhaps he was thinking?
Suddenly he exclaimed in a low voice:
“Anyway, the usher will be a good half-hour yet before he wakes up. Come now, I don’t like leaving the Minister without someone to look after him. Suppose I give the alarm? He will be opening his eyes in three or four minutes, for sure,”—and the brigand crossed the room and made for the desk. He tore a leaf from a paper block, seized the statesman’s fountain pen and wrote two or three lines which he left in a conspicuous place so that Didier Maujean must see them on coming to himself.
This done, Fantômas opened the door and left the room. In the antechamber an usher was on duty, in place of François, whose absence had been noted. The man had no reason for stopping a distinguished visitor who had just enjoyed the honor of an interview with the President of the Council. He bowed obsequiously and Fantômas passed out. Two minutes more and the Lord of Terror was mounting a superb motorcar standing in the Place Beauveau and was borne swiftly away.
Almost at the same instant the President of the Council, recovering from his swoon, caught sight of the lines traced for his benefit by the brigand.
“It is half-past five,” Fantômas had written, “and I am forced to leave you, my dear Maujean. I have an appointment with a financier, whom I count upon clearing out forthwith. You will excuse me, I am sure… In case you want anything on waking, I make a point of letting you know you can ring without any difficulty. Your bells are in perfect working order! Your revolver is duly loaded, and nobody in the Ministry is asleep, barring your usher François. I was lying when I told you I had taken these precautions. But there, what would you have? necessity knows no law… In fact, I felt sure, in the panic my visit would have thrown you into, it would never occur to you to doubt my statements!”
“The scoundrel!” groaned the Minister. Then he went on in a broken voice:
“And now, what am I going to do? Whatever am I going to do?”
He thought of Juve—the excellent Juve the whole world looked upon and acclaimed as a veritable hero, and he thought too of his wife—his wife whom he adored, and who indeed fully merited this adoration.
(End of Chapter 1 of Fantômas Captured)
This Antipodes edition, first published in 2017, is a republication of the work first published by Stanley Paul & Co, London, in 1926. The original translation has been altered to reflect modern spelling and usage.
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