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CHAPTER XXI


THE CUTTING OF THE TELEPHONE WIRES


THE door opened, and in came Charolais, bearing a tray.

"Here's your breakfast, master," he said.

"Don't call me master—that's how his men address Guerchard. It's a disgusting practice," said Lupin severely.

Victoire and Charolais were quick laying the table. Charolais kept up a running fire of questions as he did it; but Lupin did not trouble to answer them. He lay back, relaxed, drawing deep breaths. Already his lips had lost their greyness, and were pink; there was a suggestion of blood under the skin of his pale face. They soon had the table laid; and he walked to it on fairly steady feet. He sat down; Charolais whipped off a cover, and said:

"Anyhow, you've got out of the mess neatly. It was a jolly smart escape."

"Oh, yes. So far it's all right," said Lupin. "But there's going to be trouble presently—lots lots of it. I shall want all my wits. We all shall."

He fell upon his breakfast with the appetite but not the manners of a wolf. Charolais went out of the room. Victoire hovered about him, pouring out his coffee and putting sugar into it.

"By Jove, how good these eggs are!" he said. "I think that, of all the thousand ways of cooking eggs, en cocotte is the best."

"Heavens! how empty I was!" he said presently. "What a meal I'm making! It's really a very healthy life, this of mine, Victoire. I feel much better already."

"Oh, yes; it's all very well to talk," said Victoire, in a scolding tone; for since he was better, she felt, as a good woman should, that the time had come to put in a word out of season. "But, all the same, you're trying to kill yourself—that's what you're doing. Just because you're young you abuse your youth. It won't last for ever; and you'll be sorry you used it up before it's time. And this life of lies and thefts and of all kinds of improper things—I suppose it's going to begin all over again. It's no good your getting a lesson. It's just thrown away upon you."

"What I want next is a bath," said Lupin.

"It's all very well your pretending not to listen to me, when you know very well that I'm speaking for your good," she went on, raising her voice a little. "But I tell you that all this is going to end badly. To be a thief gives you no position in the world—no position at all—and when I think of what you made me do the night before last, I'm just horrified at myself."

"We'd better not talk about that—the mess you made of it! It was positively excruciating!" said Lupin.

"And what did you expect? I'm an honest woman, I am!" said Victoire sharply. "I wasn't brought up to do things like that, thank goodness! And to begin at my time of life!"

"It's true, and I often ask myself how you bring yourself to stick to me," said Lupin, in a reflective, quite impersonal tone. "Please pour me out another cup of coffee."

"That's what I'm always asking myself," said Victoire, pouring out the coffee. "I don't know—I give it up. I suppose it is because I'm fond of you."

"Yes, and I'm very fond of you, my dear Victoire," said Lupin, in a coaxing tone.

"And then, look you, there are things that there's no understanding. I often talked to your poor mother about them. Oh, your poor mother! Whatever would she have said to these goings-on?"

Lupin helped himself to another cutlet; his eves twinkled and he said, "I'm not sure that she would have been very much surprised. I always told her that I was going to punish society for the way it had treated her. Do you think she would have been surprised?"

"Oh, nothing you did would have surprised her," said Victoire. "When you were quite a little boy you were always making us wonder. You gave yourself such airs, and you had such nice manners of your own— altogether different from the other boys. And you were already a bad boy, when you were only seven years old, full of all kinds of tricks; and already you had begun to steal."

"Oh, only sugar," protested Lupin.

"Yes, you began by stealing sugar," said Victoire, in the severe tones of a moralist. "And then it was jam, and then it was pennies. Oh, it was all very well at that age—a little thief is pretty enough. But now—when you're twenty-eight years old."

"Really, Victoire, you're absolutely depressing," said Lupin, yawning; and he helped himself to jam.

"I know very well that you're all right at heart," said Victoire. "Of course you only rob the rich, and you've always been kind to the poor. . . . Yes; there's no doubt about it: you have a good heart."

"I can't help it—what about it?" said Lupin, smiling.

"Well, you ought to have different ideas in your head. Why are you a burglar?"

"You ought to try it yourself, my dear Victoire," said Lupin gently; and he watched her with a humorous eye.

"Goodness, what a thing to say!" cried Victoire.

"I assure you, you ought," said Lupin, in a tone of thoughtful conviction. "I've tried everything. I've taken my degree in medicine and in law. I have been an actor, and a professor of Jiu-jitsu. I have even been a member of the detective force, like that wretched Guerchard. Oh, what a dirty world that is! Then I launched out into society. I have been a duke. Well, I give you my word that not one of these professions equals that of burglar—not even the profession of Duke. There is so much of the unexpected in it, Victoire—the splendid unexpected. . . . And then, it's full of variety, so terrible, so fascinating." His voice sank a little, and he added, "And what fun it is!"

"Fun!" cried Victoire.

"Yes . . . these rich men, these swells in their luxury—when one relieves them of a bank-note, how they do howl! . . . You should have seen that fat old Gournay-Martin when I relieved him of his treasures—what an agony! You almost heard the death-rattle in his throat. And then the coronet! In the derangement of their minds—and it was sheer derangement, mind you—already prepared at Charmerace, in the derangement of Guerchard, I had only to put out my hand and pluck the coronet. And the joy, the ineffable joy of enraging the police! To see Guerchard's furious eyes when I downed him. . . . And look round you!" He waved his hand round the luxurious room. "Duke of Charmerace! This trade leads to everything . . . to everything on condition that one sticks to it . . . .I tell you, Victoire, that when one cannot be a great artist or a great soldier, the only thing to be is a great thief!"

"Oh, be quiet!" cried Victoire. "Don't talk like that. You're working yourself up; you're intoxicating yourself! And all that, it is not Catholic. Come, at your age, you ought to have one idea in your head which should drive out all these others, which should make you forget all these thefts. . . . Love . . . that would change you, I'm sure of it. That would make another man of you. You ought to marry."

"Yes . . . perhaps . . . that would make another man of me. That's what I've been thinking. I believe you're right," said Lupin thoughtfully.

"Is that true? Have you really been thinking of it?" cried Victoire joyfully.

"Yes," said Lupin, smiling at her eagerness. "I have been thinking about it—seriously."

"No more messing about—no more intrigues. But a real woman . . . a woman for life?" cried Victoire.

"Yes," said Lupin softly; and his eyes were shining in a very grave face.

"Is it serious—is it real love, dearie?" said Victoire. "What's she like?"

"She's beautiful," said Lupin.

"Oh, trust you for that. Is she a blonde or a brunette?"

"She's very fair and delicate—like a princess in a fairy tale," said Lupin softly.

"What is she? What does she do?" said Victoire.

"Well, since you ask me, she's a thief," said Lupin with a mischievous smile.

"Good Heavens!" cried Victoire.

"But she's a very charming thief," said Lupin; and he rose smiling.

He lighted a cigar, stretched himself and yawned: "She had ever so much more reason for stealing than ever I had," he said. "And she has always hated it like poison."

"Well, that's something," said Victoire; and her blank and fallen face brightened a little.

Lupin walked up and down the room, breathing out long luxurious puffs of smoke from his excellent cigar, and watching Victoire with a humorous eye. He walked across to his book-shelf, and scanned the titles of his books with an appreciative, almost affectionate smile.

"This is a very pleasant interlude," he said languidly. "But I don't suppose it's going to last very long. As soon as Guerchard recovers from the shock of learning that I spent a quiet night in my ducal bed as an honest duke should, he'll be getting to work with positively furious energy, confound him! I could do with a whole day's sleep—twenty-four solid hours of it."

"I'm sure you could, dearie," said Victoire sympathetically.

"The girl I'm going to marry is Sonia Kritchnoff," he said.

"Sonia? That dear child! But I love her already!" cried Victoire. "Sonia, but why did you say she was a thief? That was a silly thing to say."

"It's my extraordinary sense of humour," said Lupin.

The door opened and Charolais bustled in: "Shall I clear away the breakfast?" he said.

Lupin nodded; and then the telephone bell rang. He put his finger on his lips and went to it.

"Are you there?" he said. "Oh, it's you, Germaine. . . . Good morning. . . . Oh, yes, I had a good night—excellent, thank you. . . . You want to speak to me presently? . . . You're waiting for me at the Ritz?"

"Don't go—don't go—it isn't safe," said Victoire, in a whisper.

"All right, I'll be with you in about half an hour, or perhaps three-quarters. I'm not dressed yet . . . but I'm ever so much more impatient than you . . . good-bye for the present." He put the receiver on the stand,

"It's a trap," said Charolais.

"Never mind, what if it is? Is it so very serious?" said Lupin. "There'll be nothing but traps now; and if I can find the time I shall certainly go and take a look at that one."

"And if she knows everything? If she's taking her revenge . . . if she's getting you there to have you arrested?" said Victoire.

"Yes, M. Formery is probably at the Ritz with Gournay-Martin. They're probably all of them there, weighing the coronet," said Lupin, with a chuckle.

He hesitated a moment, reflecting; then he said, "How silly you are! If they wanted to arrest me, if they had the material proof which they haven't got, Guerchard would be here already!"

"Then why did they chase you last night?" said Charolais.

"The coronet," said Lupin. "Wasn't that reason enough? But, as it turned out, they didn't catch me: and when the detectives did come here, they disturbed me in my sleep. And that me was ever so much more me than the man they followed. And then the proofs . . . they must have proofs. There aren't any—or rather, what there are, I've got!" He pointed to a small safe let into the wall. "In that safe are the coronet, and, above all, the death certificate of the Duke of Charmerace . . . everything that Guerchard must have to induce M. Formery to proceed. But still, there is a risk—I think I'd better have those things handy in case I have to bolt."

He went into his bedroom and came back with the key of the safe and a kit-bag. He opened the safe and took out the coronet, the real coronet of the Princesse de Lamballe, and along with it a pocket- book with a few papers in it. He set the pocket-book on the table, ready to put in his coat-pocket when he should have dressed, and dropped the coronet into the kit-bag.

"I'm glad I have that death certificate; it makes it much safer," he said. "If ever they do nab me, I don't wish that rascal Guerchard to accuse me of having murdered the Duke. It might prejudice me badly. I've not murdered anybody yet."

"That comes of having a good heart," said Victoire proudly.

"Not even the Duke of Charmerace," said Charolais sadly. "And it would have been so easy when he was ill—just one little draught. And he was in such a perfect place—so out of the way—no doctors."

"You do have such disgusting ideas, Charolais," said Lupin, in a tone of severe reproof.

"Instead of which you went and saved his life," said Charolais, in a tone of deep discontent; and he went on clearing the table.

"I did, I did: I had grown quite fond of him," said Lupin, with a meditative air. "For one thing, he was so very like one. I'm not sure that he wasn't even better-looking."

"No; he was just like you," said Victoire, with decision. "Any one would have said you were twin brothers."

"It gave me quite a shock the first time I saw his portrait," said Lupin. "You remember, Charolais? It was three years ago, the day, or rather the night, of the first Gournay-Martin burglary at Charmerace. Do you remember?"

"Do I remember?" said Charolais. "It was I who pointed out the likeness to you. I said, 'He's the very spit of you, master.' And you said, 'There's something to be done with that, Charolais.' And then off you started for the ice and snow and found the Duke, and became his friend; and then he went and died, not that you'd have helped him to, if he hadn't."

"Poor Charmerace. He was indeed grand seigneur. With him a great name was about to be extinguished. . . . Did I hesitate? . . . No. . . . I continued it," said Lupin.

He paused and looked at the clock. "A quarter to eight," he said, hesitating. "Shall I telephone to Sonia, or shall I not? Oh, there's no hurry; let the poor child sleep on. She must be worn out after that night-journey and that cursed Guerchard's persecution yesterday. I'll dress first, and telephone to her afterwards. I'd better be getting dressed, by the way. The work I've got to do can't be done in pyjamas. I wish it could; for bed's the place for me. My wits aren't quite as clear as I could wish them to deal with an awkward business like this. Well, I must do the best I can with them."

He yawned and went to the bedroom, leaving the pocket-book on the table.

"Bring my shaving-water, Charolais, and shave me," he said, pausing; and he went into the bedroom and shut the door.

"Ah," said Victoire sadly, "what a pity it is! A few years ago he would have gone to the Crusades; and to-day he steals coronets. What a pity it is!"

"I think myself that the best thing we can do is to pack up our belongings," said Charolais. "And I don't think we've much time to do it either. This particular game is at an end, you may take it from me."

"I hope to goodness it is: I want to get back to the country," said Victoire.

He took up the tray; and they went out of the room. On the landing they separated; she went upstairs and he went down. Presently he came up with the shaving water and shaved his master; for in the house in University Street he discharged the double functions of valet and butler. He had just finished his task when there came a ring at the front-door bell.

"You'd better go and see who it is," said Lupin.

"Bernard is answering the door," said Charolais. "But perhaps I'd better keep an eye on it myself; one never knows."

He put away the razor leisurely, and went. On the stairs he found Bonavent, mounting—Bonavent, disguised in the livery and fierce moustache of a porter from the Ritz.

"Why didn't you come to the servants' entrance?" said Charolais, with the truculent air of the servant of a duke and a stickler for his master's dignity.

"I didn't know that there was one," said Bonavent humbly.

"Well, you ought to have known that there was; and it's plain enough to see. What is it you want?" said Charolais.

"I've brought a letter—a letter for the Duke of Charmerace," said Bonavent.

"Give it to me," said Charolais. "I'll take it to him."

"No, no; I'm to give it into the hands of the Duke himself and to nobody else," said Bonavent.

"Well, in that case, you'll have to wait till he's finished dressing," said Charolais.

They went on up to the stairs into the ante-room. Bonavent was walking straight into the smoking-room.

"Here! where are you going to? Wait here," said Charolais quickly. "Take a chair; sit down."

Bonavent sat down with a very stolid air, and Charolais looked at him doubtfully, in two minds whether to leave him there alone or not. Before he had decided there came a thundering knock on the front door, not only loud but protracted. Charolais looked round with a scared air; and then ran out of the room and down the stairs.

On the instant Bonavent was on his feet, and very far from stolid. He opened the door of the smoking-room very gently and peered in. It was empty. He slipped noiselessly across the room, a pair of clippers ready in his hand, and cut the wires of the telephone. His quick eye glanced round the room and fell on the pocket-book on the table. He snatched it up, and slipped it into the breast of his tunic. He had scarcely done it—one button of his tunic was still to fasten—when the bedroom door opened, and Lupin came out:

"What do you want?" he said sharply; and his keen eyes scanned the porter with a disquieting penetration.

"I've brought a letter to the Duke of Charmerace, to be given into his own hands," said Bonavent, in a disguised voice.

"Give it to me," said Lupin, holding out his hand.

"But the Duke?" said Bonavent, hesitating.

"I am the Duke," said Lupin.

Bonavent gave him the letter, and turned to go.

"Don't go," said Lupin quietly. "Wait, there may be an answer."

There was a faint glitter in his eyes; but Bonavent missed it.

Charolais came into the room, and said, in a grumbling tone, "A run-away knock. I wish I could catch the brats; I'd warm them. They wouldn't go fetching me away from my work again, in a hurry, I can tell you."

Lupin opened the letter, and read it. As he read it, at first he frowned; then he smiled; and then he laughed joyously. It ran:


"Sir,
"M. Guerchard has told me everything. With regard to Sonia I have judged you: a man who loves a thief can be nothing but a
rogue. I have two pieces of news to announce to you: the death of the Duke of Charmerace, who died three years ago, and my intention of becoming engaged to his cousin and heir, M. de Relzières, who will assume the title and the arms."

"For Mademoiselle Gournay-Martin,

"Her maid, Irma."


"She does write in shocking bad taste," said Lupin, shaking his head sadly. "Charolais, sit down and write a letter for me."

"Me?" said Charolais.

"Yes; you. It seems to be the fashion in financial circles; and I am bound to follow it when a lady sets it. Write me a letter," said Lupin.

Charolais went to the writing-table reluctantly, sat down, set a sheet of paper on the blotter, took a pen in his hand, and sighed painfully.

"Ready?" said Lupin; and he dictated:


"Mademoiselle,"
"I have a very robust constitution, and my indisposition will very soon be over. I shall have the honour of sending, this afternoon, my humble wedding present to the future Madame de Relzières.
:"For Jacques de Bartut, Marquis de Relzières, Prince of Virieux, Duke of Charmerace.

"His butler, Arsène."


"Shall I write Arsène?" said Charolais, in a horrified tone.

"Why not?" said Lupin. "It's your charming name, isn't it?"

Bonavent pricked up his ears, and looked at Charolais with a new interest.

Charolais shrugged his shoulders, finished the letter, blotted it, put it in an envelope, addressed it, and handed it to Lupin.

"Take this to Mademoiselle Gournay-Martin," said Lupin, handing it to Bonavent.

Bonavent took the letter, turned, and had taken one step towards the door when Lupin sprang. His arm went round the detective's neck; he jerked him backwards off his feet, scragging him.

"Stir, and I'll break your neck!" he cried in a terrible voice; and then he said quietly to Charolais, "Just take my pocket-book out of this fellow's tunic."

Charolais, with deft fingers, ripped open the detective's tunic, and took out the pocket-book.

"This is what they call Jiu-jitsu, old chap! You'll be able to teach it to your colleagues," said Lupin. He loosed his grip on Bonavent, and knocked him straight with a thump in the back, and sent him flying across the room. Then he took the pocket-book from Charolais and made sure that its contents were untouched.

"Tell your master from me that if he wants to bring me down he'd better fire the gun himself," said Lupin contemptuously. "Show the gentleman out, Charolais."

Bonavent staggered to the door, paused, and turned on Lupin a face livid with fury.

"He will be here himself in ten minutes," he said.

"Many thanks for the information," said Lupin quietly.