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CHAPTER XIX


THE DUKE GOES


WHEN Guerchard joined the Duke in the drawing-room, he had lost his calm air and was looking more than a little nervous. He moved about the room uneasily, fingering the bric-à-brac, glancing at the Duke and looking quickly away from him again. Then he came to a standstill on the hearth-rug with his back to the fireplace.

"Do you think it's quite safe to stand there, at least with your back to the hearth? If Lupin dropped through that opening suddenly, he'd catch you from behind before you could wink twice," said the Duke, in a tone of remonstrance.

"There would always be your Grace to come to my rescue," said Guerchard; and there was an ambiguous note in his voice, while his piercing eyes now rested fixed on the Duke's face. They seemed never to leave it; they explored, and explored it.

"It's only a suggestion," said the Duke. "This is rather nervous work, don't you know."

"Yes; and of course you're hardly fit for it," said Guerchard. "If I'd known about your break-down in your car last night, I should have hesitated about asking you——"

"A break-down?" interrupted the Duke.

"Yes, you left Charmerace at eight o'clock last night. And you only reached Paris at six this morning. You couldn't have had a very high-power car?" said Guerchard.

"I had a 100 h.-p. car," said the Duke.

"Then you must have had a devil of a break-down," said Guerchard.

"Yes, it was pretty bad, but I've known worse," said the Duke carelessly. "It lost me about three hours: oh, at least three hours. I'm not a first-class repairer, though I know as much about an engine as most motorists."

"And there was nobody there to help you repair it?" said Guerchard.

"No; M. Gournay-Martin could not let me have his chauffeur to drive me to Paris, because he was keeping him to help guard the chateau. And of course there was nobody on the road, because it was two o'clock in the morning."

"Yes, there was no one," said Guerchard slowly.

"Not a soul," said the Duke.

"It was unfortunate," said Guerchard; and there was a note of incredulity in his voice.

"My having to repair the car myself?" said the Duke.

"Yes, of course," said Guerchard, hesitating a little over the assent.

The Duke dropped the end of his cigarette into a tray, and took out his case. He held it out towards Guerchard, and said, "A cigarette? or perhaps you prefer your caporal?"

"Yes, I do, but all the same I'll have one," said Guerchard, coming quickly across the room. And he took a cigarette from the case, and looked at it.

"All the same, all this is very curious," he said in a new tone, a challenging, menacing, accusing tone.

"What?" said the Duke, looking at him curiously.

"Everything: your cigarettes . . . the salvias . . . the photograph that Bonavent found in Victoire's prayer-book . . . that man in motoring dress . . . and finally, your break-down," said Guerchard; and the accusation and the threat rang clearer.

The Duke rose from his chair quickly and said haughtily, in icy tones: "M. Guerchard. you've been drinking!"

He went to the chair on which he had set his overcoat and his hat, and picked them up. Guerchard sprang in front of him, barring his way, and cried in a shaky voice: "No; don't go! You mustn't go!"

"What do you mean?" said the Duke, and paused. "What do you mean?"

Guerchard stepped back, and ran his hand over his forehead. He was very pale, and his forehead was clammy to his touch:

"No . . . I beg your pardon . . . I beg your pardon, your Grace . . . I must be going mad," he stammered.

"It looks very like it," said the Duke coldly.

"What I mean to say is," said Guerchard in a halting, uncertain voice, "what I mean to say is: help me . . . I want you to stay here, to help me against Lupin, you understand. Will you, your Grace?"

"Yes, certainly; of course I will, if you want me to," said the Duke, in a more gentle voice. "But you seem awfully upset, and you're upsetting me too. We shan't have a nerve between us soon, if you don't pull yourself together."

"Yes, yes, please excuse me," muttered Guerchard.

"Very good," said the Duke. "But what is it we're going to do?"

Guerchard hesitated. He pulled out his handkerchief, and mopped his forehead: "Well . . . the coronet . . . is it in this case?" he said in a shaky voice, and set the case on the table.

"Of course it is," said the Duke impatiently.

Guerchard opened the case, and the coronet sparkled and gleamed brightly in the electric light: "Yes, it is there; you see it?" said Guerchard.

"Yes, I see it; well?" said the Duke, looking at him in some bewilderment, so unlike himself did he seem.

"We're going to wait," said Guerchard.

"What for?" said the Duke.

"Lupin," said Guerchard.

"Lupin? And you actually do believe that, just as in a fairy tale, when that clock strikes twelve, Lupin will enter and take the coronet?"

"Yes, I do; I do," said Guerchard with stubborn conviction. And he snapped the case to.

"This is most exciting," said the Duke.

"You're sure it doesn't bore you?" said Guerchard huskily.

"Not a bit of it," said the Duke, with cheerful derision. "To make the acquaintance of this scoundrel who has fooled you for ten years is as charming a way of spending the evening as I can think of."

"You say that to me?" said Guerchard with a touch of temper.

"Yes," said the Duke, with a challenging smile. "To you."

He sat down in an easy chair by the table. Guerchard sat down in a chair on the other side of it, and set his elbows on it. They were silent.

Suddenly the Duke said, "Somebody's coming."

Guerchard started, and said: "No, I don't hear any one."

Then there came distinctly the sound of a footstep and a knock at the door.

"You've got keener ears than I," said Guerchard grudgingly. "In all this business you've shown the qualities of a very promising detective." He rose, went to the door, and unlocked it.

Bonavent came in: "I've brought you the handcuffs, sir," he said, holding them out. "Shall I stay with you?"

"No," said Guerchard. "You've two men at the back door, and two at the front, and a man in every room on the ground-floor?"

"Yes, and I've got three men on every other
 

"`Well . . . the coronet . . . is it in this case?' he said in a shaky voice"

 
floor," said Bonavent, in a tone of satisfaction.

"And the house next door?" said Guerchard.

"There are a dozen men in it," said Bonavent. "No communication between the two houses is possible any longer."

Guerchard watched the Duke’s face with intent eyes. Not a shadow flickered its careless serenity.

"If any one tries to enter the house, collar him. If need be, fire on him," said Guerchard firmly. "That is my order; go and tell the others."

"Very good, sir," said Bonavent; and he went out of the room.

"By Jove, we are in a regular fortress," said the Duke.

"It's even more of a fortress than you think, your Grace. I've four men on that landing," said Guerchard, nodding towards the door.

"Oh, have you?" said the Duke, with a sudden air of annoyance.

"You don't like that?" said Guerchard quickly.

"I should jolly well think not," said the Duke. "With these precautions, Lupin will never be able to get into this room at all."

"He'll find it a pretty hard job," said Guerchard, smiling. "Unless he falls from the ceiling, or unless——"

"Unless you're Arsène Lupin," interrupted the Duke.

"In that case, you'd be another, your Grace," said Guerchard.

They both laughed. The Duke rose, yawned, picked up his coat and hat, and said, "Ah, well, I'm off to bed."

"What?" said Guerchard.

"Well," said the Duke, yawning again, "I was staying to see Lupin. As there's no longer any chance of seeing him——"

"But there is . . . there is . . . so stay," cried Guerchard.

"Do you still cling to that notion?" said the Duke wearily.

"We shall see him," said Guerchard.

"Nonsense!" said the Duke.

Guerchard lowered his voice and said with an air of the deepest secrecy: "He's already here, your Grace."

"Lupin? Here?" cried the Duke.

"Yes; Lupin," said Guerchard.

"Where?" cried the astonished Duke.

"He is," said Guerchard.

"As one of your men?" said the Duke eagerly.

"I don't think so," said Guerchard, watching him closely.

"Well, but, well, but—if he's here we've got him. . . . He is going to turn up," said the Duke triumphantly; and he set down his hat on the table beside the coronet.

"I hope so," said Guerchard. "But will he dare to?"

"How do you mean?" said the Duke, with a puzzled air.

"Well, you have said yourself that this is a fortress. An hour ago, perhaps, Lupin was resolved to enter this room, but is he now?"

"I see what you mean," said the Duke, in a tone of disappointment.

"Yes; you see that now it needs the devil's own courage. He must risk everything to gain everything, and throw off the mask. Is Lupin going to throw himself into the wolf's jaws? I dare not think it. What do you think about it?"

Guerchard's husky voice had hardened to a rough harshness; there was a ring of acute anxiety in it, and under the anxiety a faint note of challenge, of a challenge that dare not make itself too distinct. His anxious, challenging eyes burned on the face of the Duke, as if they strove with all intensity to pierce a mask.

The Duke looked at him curiously, as if he were trying to divine what he would be at, but with a careless curiosity, as if it were a matter of indifference to him what the detective's object was; then he said carelessly: "Well, you ought to know better than I. You have known him for ten years . . ." He paused, and added with just the faintest stress in his tone, "At least, by reputation."

The anxiety in the detective's face grew plainer, it almost gave him the air of being unnerved; and he said quickly, in a jerky voice: "Yes, and I know his way of acting too. During the last ten years I have learnt to unravel his intrigues—to understand and anticipate his manoeuvres. . . . Oh, his is a clever system! . . . Instead of lying low, as you'd expect, he attacks his opponent . . . openly. . . . He confuses him—at least, he tries to." He smiled a half-confident, a half-doubtful smile, "It is a mass of entangled, mysterious combinations. I've been caught in them myself again and again. You smile?"

"It interests me so," said the Duke, in a tone of apology.

"Oh, it interests me," said Guerchard, with a snarl. "But this time I see my way clearly. No more tricks—no more secret paths . . . We're fighting in the light of day." He paused, and said in a clear, sneering voice, "Lupin has pluck, perhaps, but it's only thief's pluck."

"Oh, is it?" said the Duke sharply, and there was a sudden faint glitter in his eyes.

"Yes; rogues have very poor qualities," sneered Guerchard.

"One can't have everything," said the Duke quietly; but his languid air had fallen from him.

"Their ambushes, their attacks, their fine tactics aren't up to much," said Guerchard, smiling contemptuously.

"You go a trifle too far, I think," said the Duke, smiling with equal contempt.

They looked one another in the eyes with a long, lingering look. They had suddenly the air of fencers who have lost their tempers, and are twisting the buttons off their foils.

"Not a bit of it, your Grace," said Guerchard; and his voice lingered on the words "your Grace" with a contemptuous stress. "This famous Lupin is immensely overrated."

"However, he has done some things which aren't half bad," said the Duke, with his old charming smile.

He had the air of a duelist drawing his blade lovingly through his fingers before he falls to.

"Oh, has he?" said Guerchard scornfully.

"Yes; one must be fair. Last night's burglary, for instance: it is not unheard of, but it wasn't half bad. And that theft of the motorcars: it was a neat piece of work," said the Duke in a gentle, insolent voice, infinitely aggravating.

Guerchard snorted scornfully.

"And a robbery at the British Embassy, another at the Treasury, and a third at M. Lepine's—all in the same week—it wasn't half bad, don't you know?" said the Duke, in the same gentle, irritating voice.

"Oh, no, it wasn't. But——"

"And the time when he contrived to pass as Guerchard—the Great Guerchard—do you remember that?" the Duke interrupted. "Come, come—to give the devil his due—between ourselves—it wasn't half bad."

"No," snarled Guerchard. "But he has done better than that lately. . . . Why don't you speak of that?"

"Of what?" said the Duke.

"Of the time when he passed as the Duke of Charmerace," snapped Guerchard.

"What! Did he do that?" cried the Duke; and then he added slowly, "But, you know, I'm like you—I'm so easy to imitate."

"What would have been amusing, your Grace, would have been to get as far as actual marriage," said Guerchard more calmly.

"Oh, if he had wanted to," said the Duke; and he threw out his hands. "But you know—married life—for Lupin."

"A large fortune . . . a pretty girl," said Guerchard, in a mocking tone.

"He must be in love with some one else," said the Duke.

"A thief, perhaps," sneered Guerchard.

"Like himself. . . . And then, if you wish to know what I think, he must have found his fiancée rather trying," said the Duke, with his charming smile.

"After all, it's pitiful—heartrending, you must admit it, that, on the very eve of his marriage, he was such a fool as to throw off the mask. And yet at bottom it's quite logical; it's Lupin coming out through Charmerace. He had to grab at the dowry at the risk of losing the girl," said Guerchard, in a reflective tone; but his eyes were intent on the face of the Duke.

"Perhaps that's what one should call a marriage of reason," said the Duke, with a faint smile.

"What a fall!" said Guerchard, in a taunting voice. "To be expected, eagerly, at the Princess's to-morrow evening, and to pass the evening in a police-station . . . to have intended in a month's time, as the Duke of Charmerace, to mount the steps of the Madeleine with all pomp and to fall down the father-in-law's staircase this evening—this very evening"—his voice rose suddenly on a note of savage triumph—"with the handcuffs on! What? Is that a good enough revenge for Guerchard—for that poor old idiot, Guerchard? The rogues' Brummel in a convict's cap! The gentleman-burglar in a gaol! For Lupin it's only a trifling annoyance, but for a duke it's a disaster! Come, in your turn, be frank: don't you find that amusing?"

The Duke rose quietly, and said coldly, "Have you finished?"

"Do you?" cried Guerchard; and he rose and faced him.

"Oh, yes; I find it quite amusing," said the Duke lightly.

"And so do I," cried Guerchard.

"No; you're frightened," said the Duke calmly.

"Frightened!" cried Guerchard, with a savage laugh.

"Yes, you're frightened," said the Duke. "And don't think, policeman, that because I'm familiar with you, I throw off a mask. I don't wear one. I've none to throw off. I am the Duke of Charmerace."

"You lie! You escaped from the Santé four years ago. You are Lupin! I recognize you now."

"Prove it," said the Duke scornfully.

"I will!" cried Guerchard.

"You won't. I am the Duke of Charmerace."

Guerchard laughed wildly.

"Don't laugh. You know nothing—nothing, dear boy," said the Duke tauntingly.

"Dear boy?" cried Guerchard triumphantly, as if the word had been a confession.

"What do I risk?" said the Duke, with scathing contempt. "Can you arrest me? . . . You can arrest Lupin . . . but arrest the Duke of Charmerace, an honourable gentleman, member of the Jockey Club, and of the Union, residing at his house, 34 B, University Street . . . arrest the Duke of Charmerace, the fiancé of Mademoiselle Gournay-Martin?"

"Scoundrel!" cried Guerchard, pale with sudden, helpless fury.

"Well, do it," taunted the Duke. "Be an ass. . . . Make yourself the laughing-stock of Paris . . . call your coppers in. Have you a proof—one single proof? Not one."

"Oh, I shall get them," howled Guerchard, beside himself.

"I think you may," said the Duke coolly. "And you might be able to arrest me next week . . . the day after to-morrow perhaps . . . perhaps never . . . but not to-night, that's certain."

"Oh, if only somebody could hear you!" gasped Guerchard.

"Now, don't excite yourself," said the Duke. "That won't produce any proofs for you. . . . The fact is, M. Formery told you the truth when he said that, when it is a case of Lupin, you lose your head. Ah, that Formery—there is an intelligent man if you like."

"At all events, the coronet is safe . . . to-night——"

"Wait, my good chap . . . wait," said the Duke slowly; and then he snapped out: "Do you know what's behind that door?" and he flung out his hand towards the door of the inner drawing-room, with a mysterious, sinister air.

"What?" cried Guerchard; and he whipped round and faced the door, with his eyes starting out of his head.

"Get out, you funk!" said the Duke, with a great laugh.

"Hang you!" said Guerchard shrilly.

"I said that you were going to be absolutely pitiable," said the Duke, and he laughed again cruelly.

"Oh, go on talking, do!" cried Guerchard, mopping his forehead.

"Absolutely pitiable," said the Duke, with a cold, disquieting certainty. "As the hand of that clock moves nearer and nearer midnight, you will grow more and more terrified." He paused, and then shouted violently, "Attention!"

Guerchard jumped; and then he swore.

"Your nerves are on edge," said the Duke, laughing.

"Joker!" snarled Guerchard.

"Oh, you're as brave as the next man. But who can stand the anguish of the unknown thing which is bound to happen? . . . I'm right. You feel it, you're sure of it. At the end of these few fixed minutes an inevitable, fated event must happen. Don't shrug your shoulders, man; you're green with fear."

The Duke was no longer a smiling, cynical dandy. There emanated from him an impression of vivid, terrible force. His voice had deepened. It thrilled with a consciousness of irresistible power; it was overwhelming, paralyzing. His eyes were terrible.

"My men are outside . . . I'm armed," stammered Guerchard.

"Child! Bear in mind . . . bear in mind that it is always when you have foreseen everything, arranged everything, made every combination . . . bear in mind that it is always then that some accident dashes your whole structure to the ground," said the Duke, in the same deep, thrilling voice." Remember that it is always at the very moment at which you are going to triumph that he beats you, that he only lets you reach the top of the ladder to throw you more easily to the ground."

"Confess, then, that you are Lupin," muttered Guerchard.

"I thought you were sure of it," said the Duke in a jeering tone.

Guerchard dragged the handcuffs out of his pocket, and said between his teeth, "I don't know what prevents me, my boy."

The Duke drew himself up, and said haughtily, "That's enough."

"What?" cried Guerchard.

"I say that that's enough," said the Duke sternly. "It's all very well for me to play at being familiar with you, but don't you call me 'my boy.'"

"Oh, you won't impose on me much longer," muttered Guerchard; and his bloodshot, haggard eyes scanned the Duke's face in an agony, an anguish of doubting impotence.

"If I'm Lupin, arrest me," said the Duke.

"I'll arrest you in three minutes from now, or the coronet will be untouched," cried Guerchard in a firmer tone.

"In three minutes from now the coronet will have been stolen; and you will not arrest me," said the Duke, in a tone of chilling certainty.

"But I will! I swear I will!" cried Guerchard.

"Don't swear any foolish oaths! . . . There are only two minutes left," said the Duke; and he drew a revolver from his pocket.

"No, you don't!" cried Guerchard, drawing a revolver in his turn.

"What's the matter?" said the Duke, with an air of surprise. "You haven't forbidden me to shoot Lupin. I have my revolver ready, since he's going to come. . . . There’s only a minute left."

"There are plenty of us," said Guerchard; and he went towards the door.

"Funk!" said the Duke scornfully.

Guerchard turned sharply. "Very well," he said, "I'll stick it out alone."

"How rash!" sneered the Duke.

Guerchard ground his teeth. He was panting; his bloodshot eyes rolled in their sockets; the beads of cold sweat stood out on his forehead. He came back towards the table on unsteady feet, trembling from head to foot in the last excitation of the nerves. He kept jerking his head to shake away the mist which kept dimming his eyes.

"At your slightest gesture, at your slightest movement, I'll fire," he said jerkily, and covered the Duke with his revolver.

"I call myself the Duke of Charmerace. You will be arrested to-morrow!" said the Duke, in a compelling, thrilling voice.

"I don't care a curse!" cried Guerchard.

"Only fifty seconds!" said the Duke.

"Yes, yes," muttered Guerchard huskily. And his eyes shot from the coronet to the Duke, from the Duke to the coronet.

"In fifty seconds the coronet will be stolen," said the Duke.

"No!" cried Guerchard furiously.

"Yes," said the Duke coldly.

"No! no! no!" cried Guerchard.

Their eyes turned to the clock.

To Guerchard the hands seemed to be standing still. He could have sworn at them for their slowness.

Then the first stroke rang out; and the eyes of the two men met like crossing blades. Twice the Duke made the slightest movement. Twice Guerchard started forward to meet it.

At the last stroke both their hands shot out. Guerchard's fell heavily on the case which held the coronet. The Duke's fell on the brim of his hat; and he picked it up.

Guerchard gasped and choked. Then he cried triumphantly:

"I have it; now then, have I won? Have I been fooled this time? Has Lupin got the coronet?"

"It doesn't look like it. But are you quite sure?" said the Duke gaily.

"Sure?" cried Guerchard.

"It's only the weight of it," said the Duke, repressing a laugh. "Doesn't it strike you that it's just a trifle light?"

"What?" cried Guerchard.

"This is merely an imitation." said the Duke, with a gentle laugh.

"Hell and damnation!" howled Guerchard. "Bonavent! Dieusy!"

The door flew open, and half a dozen detectives rushed in.

Guerchard sank into a chair, stupefied, paralyzed; this blow, on the top of the strain of the struggle with the Duke, had broken him.

"Gentlemen," said the Duke sadly, "the coronet has been stolen."

They broke into cries of surprise and bewilderment, surrounding the gasping Guerchard with excited questions.

The Duke walked quietly out of the room.

Guerchard sobbed twice; his eyes opened, and in a dazed fashion wandered from face to face; he said faintly: "Where is he?"

"Where's who?" said Bonavent.

"The Duke—the Duke!" gasped Guerchard.

"Why, he's gone!" said Bonavent.

Guerchard staggered to his feet and cried hoarsely, frantically: "Stop him from leaving the house! Follow him! Arrest him! Catch him before he gets home!"