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CHAPTER XII


THE THEFT OF THE PENDANT


THEY stood round the millionaire observing his anguish, with eyes in which shone various degrees of sympathy. As if no longer able to bear the sight of such woe, Sonia slipped out of the room.

The millionaire lamented his loss and abused the thieves by turns, but always at the top of his magnificent voice.

Suddenly a fresh idea struck him. He clapped his hand to his brow and cried: "That eight hundred pounds! Charolais will never buy the Mercrac now! He was not a bona fide purchaser!"

The Duke's lips parted slightly and his eyes opened a trifle wider than their wont. He turned sharply on his heel, and almost sprang into the other drawing-room. There he laughed at his ease.

M. Formery kept saying to the millionaire: "Be calm, M. Gournay-Martin. Be calm! We shall recover your masterpieces. I pledge you my word. All we need is time. Have patience. Be calm!"

His soothing remonstrances at last had their effect. The millionaire grew calm:

"Guerchard?" he said. "Where is Guerchard?"

M. Formery presented Guerchard to him.

"Are you on their track? Have you a clue?" said the millionaire.

"I think," said M. Formery in an impressive tone, "that we may now proceed with the inquiry in the ordinary way."

He was a little piqued by the millionaire's so readily turning from him to the detective. He went to a writing-table, set some sheets of paper before him, and prepared to make notes on the answers to his questions. The Duke came back into the drawing-room; the inspector was summoned. M. Gournay-Martin sat down on a couch with his hands on his knees and gazed gloomily at M. Formery. Germaine, who was sitting on a couch near the door, waiting with an air of resignation for her father to cease his lamentations, rose and moved to a chair nearer the writing-table. Guerchard kept moving restlessly about the room, but noiselessly. At last he came to a standstill, leaning against the wall behind M. Formery.

M. Formery went over all the matters about which he had already questioned the Duke. He questioned the millionaire and his daughter about the Charolais, the theft of the motor-cars, and the attempted theft of the pendant. He questioned them at less length about the composition of their household—the servants and their characters. He elicited no new fact.

He paused, and then he said, carelessly as a mere matter of routine: "I should like to know, M. Gournay-Martin, if there has ever been any other robbery committed at your house?"

"Three years ago this scoundrel Lupin——" the millionaire began violently.

"Yes, yes; I know all about that earlier burglary. But have you been robbed since?" said M. Formery, interrupting him.

"No, I haven't been robbed since that burglary; but my daughter has," said the millionaire.

"Your daughter?" said M. Formery.

"Yes; I have been robbed two or three times during the last three years," said Germaine.

"Dear me! But you ought to have told us about this before. This is extremely interesting, and most important," said M. Formery, rubbing his hands, "I suppose you suspect Victoire?"

"No, I don't," said Germaine quickly. "It couldn't have been Victoire. The last two thefts were committed at the château when Victoire was in Paris in charge of this house."

M. Formery seemed taken aback, and he hesitated, consulting his notes. Then he said: "Good—good. That confirms my hypothesis."

"What hypothesis?" said M. Gournay-Martin quickly.

"Never mind—never mind," said M. Formery solemnly. And, turning to Germaine, he went on: "You say, Mademoiselle, that these thefts began about three years ago?"

"Yes, I think they began about three years ago in August."

"Let me see. It was in the month of August, three years ago, that your father, after receiving a threatening letter like the one he received last night, was the victim of a burglary?" said M. Formery.

"Yes, it was—the scoundrels!" cried the millionaire fiercely.

"Well, it would be interesting to know which of your servants entered your service three years ago," said M. Formery.

"Victoire has only been with us a year at the outside," said Germaine.

"Only a year?" said M. Formery quickly, with an air of some vexation. He paused and added, "Exactly—exactly. And what was the nature of the last theft of which you were the victim?"

"It was a pearl brooch—not unlike the pendant which his Grace gave me yesterday," said Germaine.

"Would you mind showing me that pendant? I should like to see it," said M. Formery.

"Certainly—show it to him, Jacques. You have it, haven't you?" said Germaine, turning to the Duke.

"Me? No. How should I have it?" said the Duke in some surprise. "Haven't you got it?"

"I've only got the case—the empty case," said Germaine, with a startled air.

"The empty case?" said the Duke, with growing surprise.

"Yes," said Germaine. "It was after we came back from our useless journey to the station. I remembered suddenly that I had started without the pendant. I went to the bureau and picked up the case; and it was empty."

"One moment—one moment," said M. Formery. "Didn't you catch this young Bernard Charolais with this case in his hands, your Grace?"

"Yes," said the Duke. "I caught him with it in his pocket."

"Then you may depend upon it that the young rascal had slipped the pendant out of its case and you only recovered the empty case from him," said M. Formery triumphantly.

"No," said the Duke. "That is not so. Nor could the thief have been the burglar who broke open the bureau to get at the keys. For long after both of them were out of the house I took a cigarette from the box which stood on the bureau beside the case which held the pendant. And it occurred to me that the young rascal might have played that very trick on me. I opened the case and the pendant was there."

"It has been stolen!" cried the millionaire; "of course it has been stolen."

"Oh, no, no," said the Duke. "It hasn't been stolen. Irma, or perhaps Mademoiselle Kritchnoff, has brought it to Paris for Germaine."

"Sonia certainly hasn't brought it. It was she who suggested to me that you had seen it lying on the bureau, and slipped it into your pocket," said Germaine quickly.

"Then it must be Irma," said the Duke.

"We had better send for her and make sure," said M. Formery. "Inspector, go and fetch her."

The inspector went out of the room and the Duke questioned Germaine and her father about the journey, whether it had been very uncomfortable, and if they were very tired by it. He learned that they had been so fortunate as to find sleeping compartments on the train, so that they had suffered as little as might be from their night of travel.

M. Formery looked through his notes; Guerchard seemed to be going to sleep where he stood against the wall.

The inspector came back with Irma. She wore the frightened, half-defensive, half-defiant air which people of her class wear when confronted by the authorities. Her big, cow's eyes rolled uneasily.

"Oh, Irma——" Germaine began.

M. Formery cut her short, somewhat brusquely. "Excuse me, excuse me. I am conducting this inquiry," he said. And then, turning to Irma, he added, "Now, don't be frightened, Mademoiselle Irma; I want to ask you a question or two. Have you brought up to Paris the pendant which the Duke of Charmerace gave your mistress yesterday?"

"Me, sir? No, sir. I haven't brought the pendant," said Irma.

"You're quite sure?" said M. Formery.

"Yes, sir; I haven't seen the pendant. Didn't Mademoiselle Germaine leave it on the bureau?" said Irma.

"How do you know that?" said M. Formery.

"I heard Mademoiselle Germaine say that it had been on the bureau. I thought that perhaps Mademoiselle Kritchnoff had put it in her bag."

"Why should Mademoiselle Kritchnoff put it in her bag?" said the Duke quickly.

"To bring it up to Paris for Mademoiselle Germaine," said Irma.

"But what made you think that?" said Guerchard, suddenly intervening.

"Oh, I thought Mademoiselle Kritchnoff might have put it in her bag because I saw her standing by the bureau," said Irma.

"Ah, and the pendant was on the bureau?" said M. Formery.

"Yes, sir," said Irma.

There was a silence. Suddenly the atmosphere of the room seemed to have become charged with an oppression—a vague menace. Guerchard seemed to have become wide awake again. Germaine and the Duke looked at one another uneasily.

"Have you been long in the service of Mademoiselle Gournay-Martin?" said M. Formery.

"Six months, sir," said Irma.

"Very good, thank you. You can go," said M. Formery. "I may want you again presently."

Irma went quickly out of the room with an air of relief.

M. Formery scribbled a few words on the paper before him and then said: "Well, I will proceed to question Mademoiselle Kritchnoff."

"Mademoiselle Kritchnoff is quite above suspicion," said the Duke quickly.

"Oh, yes, quite," said Germaine.

"How long has Mademoiselle Kritchnoff been in your service, Mademoiselle?" said Guerchard.

"Let me think," said Germaine, knitting her brow.

"Can't you remember?" said M. Formery.

"Just about three years," said Germaine.

"That's exactly the time at which the thefts began," said M. Formery.

"Yes," said Germaine, reluctantly.

"Ask Mademoiselle Kritchnoff to come here, inspector," said M. Formery.

"Yes, sir," said the inspector.

"I'll go and fetch her—I know where to find her," said the Duke quickly, moving toward the door.

"Please, please, your Grace," protested Guerchard. "The inspector will fetch her."

The Duke turned sharply and looked at him: "I beg your pardon, but do you——" he said.

"Please don't be annoyed, your Grace," Guerchard interrupted. "But M. Formery agrees with me—it would be quite irregular."

"Yes, yes, your Grace," said M. Formery. "We have our method of procedure. It is best to adhere to it—much the best. It is the result of years of experience of the best way of getting the truth."

"Just as you please," said the Duke, shrugging his shoulders.

The inspector came into the room: "Mademoiselle Kritchnoff will be here in a moment. She was just going out."

"She was going out?" said M. Formery. "You don't mean to say you're letting members of the household go out?"

"No, sir," said the inspector. "I mean that she was just asking if she might go out."

M. Formery beckoned the inspector to him, and said to him in a voice too low for the others to hear:

"Just slip up to her room and search her trunks."

"There is no need to take the trouble," said Guerchard, in the same low voice, but with sufficient emphasis.

"No, of course not. There's no need to take the trouble," M. Formery repeated after him.

The door opened, and Sonia came in. She was still wearing her travelling costume, and she carried her cloak on her arm. She stood looking round her with an air of some surprise; perhaps there was even a touch of fear in it. The long journey of the night before did not seem to have dimmed at all her delicate beauty. The Duke's eyes rested on her in an inquiring, wondering, even searching gaze. She looked at him, and her own eyes fell.

"Will you come a little nearer. Mademoiselle?" said M. Formery. "There are one or two questions——"

"Will you allow me?" said Guerchard, in a tone of such deference that it left M. Formery no grounds for refusal.

M. Formery flushed and ground his teeth. "Have it your own way!" he said ungraciously.

"Mademoiselle Kritchnoff," said Guerchard, in a tone of the most good-natured courtesy, "there is a matter on which M. Formery needs some information. The pendant which the Duke of Charmerace gave Mademoiselle Gournay-Martin yesterday has been stolen."

"Stolen? Are you sure?" said Sonia in a tone of mingled surprise and anxiety.

"Quite sure," said Guerchard. "We have exactly determined the conditions under which the theft was committed. But we have every reason to believe that the culprit, to avoid detection, has hidden the pendant in the travelling-bag or trunk of somebody else in order to——"

"My bag is upstairs in my bedroom, sir," Sonia interrupted quickly. "Here is the key of it."

In order to free her hands to take the key from her wrist-bag, she set her cloak on the back of a couch. It slipped off it, and fell to the ground at the feet of the Duke, who had not returned to his place beside Germaine. While she was groping in her bag for the key, and all eyes were on her, the Duke, who had watched her with a curious intentness ever since her entry into the room, stooped quietly down and picked up the cloak. His hand slipped into the pocket of it; his fingers touched a hard object wrapped in tissue- paper. They closed round it, drew it from the pocket, and, sheltered by the cloak, transferred it to his own. He set the cloak on the back of the sofa, and very softly moved back to his place by Germaine's side. No one in the room observed the movement, not even Guerchard: he was watching Sonia too intently.

Sonia found the key, and held it out to Guerchard.

He shook his head and said: "There is no reason to search your bag—none whatever. Have you any other luggage?"

She shrank back a little from his piercing eyes, almost as if their gaze scared her.

"Yes, my trunk . . . it's upstairs in my bedroom too . . . open."

She spoke in a faltering voice, and her troubled eyes could not meet those of the detective.

"You were going out, I think," said Guerchard gently.

"I was asking leave to go out. There is some shopping that must be done," said Sonia.

"You do not see any reason why Mademoiselle Kritchnoff should not go out, M. Formery, do you?" said Guerchard.

"Oh, no, none whatever; of course she can go out," said M. Formery.

Sonia turned round to go.

"One moment," said Guerchard, coming forward. "You've only got that wrist-bag with you?"

"Yes," said Sonia. "I have my money and my handkerchief in it." And she held it out to him.

Guerchard's keen eyes darted into it; and he muttered, "No point in looking in that. I don't suppose any one would have had the audacity——" and he stopped.

Sonia made a couple of steps toward the door, turned, hesitated, came back to the couch, and picked up her cloak.

There was a sudden gleam in Guerchard's eyes—a gleam of understanding, expectation, and triumph. He stepped forward, and holding out his hands, said: "Allow me."

"No, thank you," said Sonia. "I'm not going to put it on."

"No . . . but it's possible . . . some one may have . . . have you felt in the pockets of it? That one, now? It seems as if that one——"

He pointed to the pocket which had held the packet.

Sonia started back with an air of utter dismay; her eyes glanced wildly round the room as if seeking an avenue of escape; her fingers closed convulsively on the pocket.

 
Arsene Lupin, by Maurice Lebanc

"`I beg you, mademoiselle,' interrupted Guerchard. ' We are sometimes obliged——'"

 

"But this is abominable!" she cried. "You look as if——"

"I beg you, mademoiselle," interrupted Guerchard. "We are sometimes obliged——"

"Really, Mademoiselle Sonia," broke in the Duke, in a singularly clear and piercing tone, "I cannot see why you should object to this mere formality."

"Oh, but—but——" gasped Sonia, raising her terror-stricken eyes to his.

The Duke seemed to hold them with his own; and he said in the same clear, piercing voice, "There isn't the slightest reason for you to be frightened."

Sonia let go of the cloak, and Guerchard, his face all alight with triumph, plunged his hand into the pocket. He drew it out empty, and stared at it, while his face fell to an utter, amazed blankness.

"Nothing? nothing?" he muttered under his breath. And he stared at his empty hand as if he could not believe his eyes.

By a violent effort he forced an apologetic smile on his face, and said to Sonia: "A thousand apologies, mademoiselle."

He handed the cloak to her. Sonia took it and turned to go. She took a step towards the door, and tottered.

The Duke sprang forward and caught her as she was falling.

"Do you feel faint?" he said in an anxious voice.

"Thank you, you just saved me in time," muttered Sonia.

"I'm really very sorry," said Guerchard.

"Thank you, it was nothing. I'm all right now," said Sonia, releasing herself from the Duke's supporting arm.

She drew herself up, and walked quietly out of the room.

Guerchard went back to M. Formery at the writing-table.

"You made a clumsy mistake there, Guerchard," said M. Formery, with a touch of gratified malice in his tone.

Guerchard took no notice of it: "I want you to give orders that nobody leaves the house without my permission," he said, in a low voice.

"No one except Mademoiselle Kritchnoff, I suppose," said M. Formery, smiling.

"She less than any one," said Guerchard quickly.

"I don't understand what you're driving at a bit," said M. Formery. "Unless you suppose that Mademoiselle Kritchnoff is Lupin in disguise."

Guerchard laughed softly: "You will have your joke, M. Formery," he said.

"Well, well, I'll give the order," said M. Formery, somewhat mollified by the tribute to his humour.

He called the inspector to him and whispered a word in his ear. Then he rose and said: "I think, gentlemen, we ought to go and examine the bedrooms, and, above all, make sure that the safe in M. Gournay-Martin's bedroom has not been tampered with."

"I was wondering how much longer we were going to waste time here talking about that stupid pendant," grumbled the millionaire; and he rose and led the way.

"There may also be some jewel-cases in the bedrooms," said M. Formery. "There are all the wedding presents. They were in charge of Victoire." said Germaine quickly. "It would be dreadful if they had been stolen. Some of them are from the first families in France."

"They would replace them . . . those paper-knives," said the Duke, smiling.

Germaine and her father led the way. M. Formery, Guerchard, and the inspector followed them. At the door the Duke paused, stopped, closed it on them softly. He came back to the window, put his hand in his pocket, and drew out the packet wrapped in tissue-paper.

He unfolded the paper with slow, reluctant fingers, and revealed the pendant.