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Arsene Lupin

Arsene Lupin

Author:Arsene Lupin


The rays of the September sun flooded the great halls of the old chateau of the Dukes of Charmerace, lighting up with their mellow glow the spoils of so many ages and many lands, jumbled together with the execrable taste...
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  The rays of the September sun flooded the great halls of the oldchateau of the Dukes of Charmerace, lighting up with their mellow glowthe spoils of so many ages and many lands, jumbled together with theexecrable taste which so often afflicts those whose only standard ofvalue is money. The golden light warmed the panelled walls and oldfurniture to a dull lustre, and gave back to the fading gilt of theFirst Empire chairs and couches something of its old brightness. Itillumined the long line of pictures on the walls, pictures of dead andgone Charmeraces, the stern or debonair faces of the men, soldiers,statesmen, dandies, the gentle or imperious faces of beautiful women.It flashed back from armour of brightly polished steel, and drew dullgleams from armour of bronze. The hues of rare porcelain, of the richinlays of Oriental or Renaissance cabinets, mingled with the hues ofthe pictures, the tapestry, the Persian rugs about the polished floorto fill the hall with a rich glow of colour.

  But of all the beautiful and precious things which the sun-rays warmedto a clearer beauty, the face of the girl who sat writing at a table infront of the long windows, which opened on to the centuries-old turf ofthe broad terrace, was the most beautiful and the most precious.

  It was a delicate, almost frail, beauty. Her skin was clear with thetransparent lustre of old porcelain, and her pale cheeks were onlytinted with the pink of the faintest roses. Her straight nose wasdelicately cut, her rounded chin admirably moulded. A lover of beautywould have been at a loss whether more to admire her clear, germandereyes, so melting and so adorable, or the sensitive mouth, with itsrather full lips, inviting all the kisses. But assuredly he would havebeen grieved by the perpetual air of sadness which rested on thebeautiful face--the wistful melancholy of the Slav, deepened bysomething of personal misfortune and suffering.

  Her face was framed by a mass of soft fair hair, shot with strands ofgold where the sunlight fell on it; and little curls, rebellious to thecomb, strayed over her white forehead, tiny feathers of gold.

  She was addressing envelopes, and a long list of names lay on her lefthand. When she had addressed an envelope, she slipped into it awedding-card. On each was printed:

  "M. Gournay-Martin has the honour to informyou of the marriage of his daughterGermaine to the Duke of Charmerace."

  She wrote steadily on, adding envelope after envelope to the pile readyfor the post, which rose in front of her. But now and again, when theflushed and laughing girls who were playing lawn-tennis on the terrace,raised their voices higher than usual as they called the score, anddistracted her attention from her work, her gaze strayed through theopen window and lingered on them wistfully; and as her eyes came backto her task she sighed with so faint a wistfulness that she hardly knewshe sighed. Then a voice from the terrace cried, "Sonia! Sonia!"

  "Yes. Mlle. Germaine?" answered the writing girl.

  "Tea! Order tea, will you?" cried the voice, a petulant voice, ratherharsh to the ear.

  "Very well, Mlle. Germaine," said Sonia; and having finished addressingthe envelope under her pen, she laid it on the pile ready to be posted,and, crossing the room to the old, wide fireplace, she rang the bell.

  She stood by the fireplace a moment, restoring to its place a rosewhich had fallen from a vase on the mantelpiece; and her attitude, aswith arms upraised she arranged the flowers, displayed the delightfulline of a slender figure. As she let fall her arms to her side, afootman entered the room.

  "Will you please bring the tea, Alfred," she said in a charming voiceof that pure, bell-like tone which has been Nature's most precious giftto but a few of the greatest actresses.

  "For how many, miss?" said Alfred.

  "For four--unless your master has come back."

  "Oh, no; he's not back yet, miss. He went in the car to Rennes tolunch; and it's a good many miles away. He won't be back for anotherhour."

  "And the Duke--he's not back from his ride yet, is he?"

  "Not yet, miss," said Alfred, turning to go.

  "One moment," said Sonia. "Have all of you got your things packed forthe journey to Paris? You will have to start soon, you know. Are allthe maids ready?"

  "Well, all the men are ready, I know, miss. But about the maids, miss,I can't say. They've been bustling about all day; but it takes themlonger than it does us."

  "Tell them to hurry up; and be as quick as you can with the tea,please," said Sonia.

  Alfred went out of the room; Sonia went back to the writing-table. Shedid not take up her pen; she took up one of the wedding-cards; and herlips moved slowly as she read it in a pondering depression.

  The petulant, imperious voice broke in upon her musing.

  "Whatever are you doing, Sonia? Aren't you getting on with thoseletters?" it cried angrily; and Germaine Gournay-Martin came throughthe long window into the hall.

  The heiress to the Gournay-Martin millions carried her tennis racquetin her hand; and her rosy cheeks were flushed redder than ever by thegame. She was a pretty girl in a striking, high-coloured, ratherobvious way--the very foil to Sonia's delicate beauty. Her lips were alittle too thin, her eyes too shallow; and together they gave her arather hard air, in strongest contrast to the gentle, sympathetic faceof Sonia.

  The two friends with whom Germaine had been playing tennis followed herinto the hall: Jeanne Gautier, tall, sallow, dark, with a somewhatmalicious air; Marie Bullier, short, round, commonplace, andsentimental.

  They came to the table at which Sonia was at work; and pointing to thepile of envelopes, Marie said, "Are these all wedding-cards?"

  "Yes; and we've only got to the letter V," said Germaine, frowning atSonia.

  "Princesse de Vernan--Duchesse de Vauvieuse--Marquess--Marchioness?You've invited the whole Faubourg Saint-Germain," said Marie, shufflingthe pile of envelopes with an envious air.

  "You'll know very few people at your wedding," said Jeanne, with aspiteful little giggle.

  "I beg your pardon, my dear," said Germaine boastfully. "Madame deRelzieres, my fiance's cousin, gave an At Home the other day in myhonour. At it she introduced half Paris to me--the Paris I'm destinedto know, the Paris you'll see in my drawing-rooms."

  "But we shall no longer be fit friends for you when you're the Duchessof Charmerace," said Jeanne.

  "Why?" said Germaine; and then she added quickly, "Above everything,Sonia, don't forget Veauleglise, 33, University Street--33, UniversityStreet."

  "Veauleglise--33, University Street," said Sonia, taking a freshenvelope, and beginning to address it.

  "Wait--wait! don't close the envelope. I'm wondering whetherVeauleglise ought to have a cross, a double cross, or a triple cross,"said Germaine, with an air of extreme importance.

  "What's that?" cried Marie and Jeanne together.

  "A single cross means an invitation to the church, a double cross aninvitation to the marriage and the wedding-breakfast, and the triplecross means an invitation to the marriage, the breakfast, and thesigning of the marriage-contract. What do you think the Duchess ofVeauleglise ought to have?"

  "Don't ask me. I haven't the honour of knowing that great lady," criedJeanne.

  "Nor I," said Marie.

  "Nor I," said Germaine. "But I have here the visiting-list of the lateDuchess of Charmerace, Jacques' mother. The two duchesses were onexcellent terms. Besides the Duchess of Veauleglise is rather worn-out,but greatly admired for her piety. She goes to early service threetimes a week."

  "Then put three crosses," said Jeanne.

  "I shouldn't," said Marie quickly. "In your place, my dear, I shouldn'trisk a slip. I should ask my fiance's advice. He knows this world."

  "Oh, goodness--my fiance! He doesn't care a rap about this kind ofthing. He has changed so in the last seven years. Seven years ago hetook nothing seriously. Why, he set off on an expedition to the SouthPole--just to show off. Oh, in those days he was truly a duke."

  "And to-day?" said Jeanne.

  "Oh, to-day he's a regular slow-coach. Society gets on his nerves. He'sas sober as a judge," said Germaine.

  "He's as gay as a lark," said Sonia, in sudden protest.

  Germaine pouted at her, and said: "Oh, he's gay enough when he's makingfun of people. But apart from that he's as sober as a judge."

  "Your father must be delighted with the change," said Jeanne.

  "Naturally he's delighted. Why, he's lunching at Rennes to-day with theMinister, with the sole object of getting Jacques decorated."

  "Well; the Legion of Honour is a fine thing to have," said Marie.

  "My dear! The Legion of Honour is all very well for middle-classpeople, but it's quite out of place for a duke!" cried Germaine.

  Alfred came in, bearing the tea-tray, and set it on a little table nearthat at which Sonia was sitting.

  Germaine, who was feeling too important to sit still, was walking upand down the room. Suddenly she stopped short, and pointing to a silverstatuette which stood on the piano, she said, "What's this? Why is thisstatuette here?"

  "Why, when we came in, it was on the cabinet, in its usual place," saidSonia in some astonishment.

  "Did you come into the hall while we were out in the garden, Alfred?"said Germaine to the footman.

  "No, miss," said Alfred.

  "But some one must have come into it," Germaine persisted.

  "I've not heard any one. I was in my pantry," said Alfred.

  "It's very odd," said Germaine.

  "It is odd," said Sonia. "Statuettes don't move about of themselves."

  All of them stared at the statuette as if they expected it to moveagain forthwith, under their very eyes. Then Alfred put it back in itsusual place on one of the cabinets, and went out of the room.

  Sonia poured out the tea; and over it they babbled about the comingmarriage, the frocks they would wear at it, and the presents Germainehad already received. That reminded her to ask Sonia if any one had yettelephoned from her father's house in Paris; and Sonia said that no onehad.

  "That's very annoying," said Germaine. "It shows that nobody has sentme a present to-day."

  Pouting, she shrugged her shoulders with an air of a spoiled child,which sat but poorly on a well-developed young woman of twenty-three.

  "It's Sunday. The shops don't deliver things on Sunday," said Soniagently.

  But Germaine still pouted like a spoiled child.

  "Isn't your beautiful Duke coming to have tea with us?" said Jeanne alittle anxiously.

  "Oh, yes; I'm expecting him at half-past four. He had to go for a ridewith the two Du Buits. They're coming to tea here, too," said Germaine.

  "Gone for a ride with the two Du Buits? But when?" cried Marie quickly.

  "This afternoon."

  "He can't be," said Marie. "My brother went to the Du Buits' houseafter lunch, to see Andre and Georges. They went for a drive thismorning, and won't be back till late to-night."

  "Well, but--but why did the Duke tell me so?" said Germaine, knittingher brow with a puzzled air.

  "If I were you, I should inquire into this thoroughly. Dukes--well, weknow what dukes are--it will be just as well to keep an eye on him,"said Jeanne maliciously.

  Germaine flushed quickly; and her eyes flashed. "Thank you. I haveevery confidence in Jacques. I am absolutely sure of him," she saidangrily.

  "Oh, well--if you're sure, it's all right," said Jeanne.

  The ringing of the telephone-bell made a fortunate diversion.

  Germaine rushed to it, clapped the receiver to her ear, and cried:"Hello, is that you, Pierre? ... Oh, it's Victoire, is it? ... Ah, somepresents have come, have they? ... Well, well, what are they? ... What!a paper-knife--another paper-knife! ... Another Louis XVI.inkstand--oh, bother! ... Who are they from? ... Oh, from the CountessRudolph and the Baron de Valery." Her voice rose high, thrilling withpride.

  Then she turned her face to her friends, with the receiver still at herear, and cried: "Oh, girls, a pearl necklace too! A large one! Thepearls are big ones!"

  "How jolly!" said Marie.

  "Who sent it?" said Germaine, turning to the telephone again. "Oh, afriend of papa's," she added in a tone of disappointment. "Never mind,after all it's a pearl necklace. You'll be sure and lock the doorscarefully, Victoire, won't you? And lock up the necklace in the secretcupboard.... Yes; thanks very much, Victoire. I shall see youto-morrow."

  She hung up the receiver, and came away from the telephone frowning.

  "It's preposterous!" she said pettishly. "Papa's friends and relationsgive me marvellous presents, and all the swells send me paper-knives.It's all Jacques' fault. He's above all this kind of thing. TheFaubourg Saint-Germain hardly knows that we're engaged."

  "He doesn't go about advertising it," said Jeanne, smiling.

  "You're joking, but all the same what you say is true," said Germaine."That's exactly what his cousin Madame de Relzieres said to me theother day at the At Home she gave in my honour--wasn't it, Sonia?" Andshe walked to the window, and, turning her back on them, stared out ofit.

  "She HAS got her mouth full of that At Home," said Jeanne to Marie in alow voice.

  There was an awkward silence. Marie broke it:

  "Speaking of Madame de Relzieres, do you know that she is on pins andneedles with anxiety? Her son is fighting a duel to-day," she said.

  "With whom?" said Sonia.

  "No one knows. She got hold of a letter from the seconds," said Marie.

  "My mind is quite at rest about Relzieres," said Germaine. "He's afirst-class swordsman. No one could beat him."

  Sonia did not seem to share her freedom from anxiety. Her forehead waspuckered in little lines of perplexity, as if she were puzzling outsome problem; and there was a look of something very like fear in hergentle eyes.

  "Wasn't Relzieres a great friend of your fiance at one time?" saidJeanne.

  "A great friend? I should think he was," said Germaine. "Why, it wasthrough Relzieres that we got to know Jacques."

  "Where was that?" said Marie.

  "Here--in this very chateau," said Germaine.

  "Actually in his own house?" said Marie, in some surprise.

  "Yes; actually here. Isn't life funny?" said Germaine. "If, a fewmonths after his father's death, Jacques had not found himself hard-up,and obliged to dispose of this chateau, to raise the money for hisexpedition to the South Pole; and if papa and I had not wanted anhistoric chateau; and lastly, if papa had not suffered from rheumatism,I should not be calling myself in a month from now the Duchess ofCharmerace."

  "Now what on earth has your father's rheumatism got to do with yourbeing Duchess of Charmerace?" cried Jeanne.

  "Everything," said Germaine. "Papa was afraid that this chateau wasdamp. To prove to papa that he had nothing to fear, Jacques, en grandseigneur, offered him his hospitality, here, at Charmerace, for threeweeks."

  "That was truly ducal," said Marie.

  "But he is always like that," said Sonia.

  "Oh, he's all right in that way, little as he cares about society,"said Germaine. "Well, by a miracle my father got cured of hisrheumatism here. Jacques fell in love with me; papa made up his mind tobuy the chateau; and I demanded the hand of Jacques in marriage."

  "You did? But you were only sixteen then," said Marie, with somesurprise.

  "Yes; but even at sixteen a girl ought to know that a duke is a duke. Idid," said Germaine. "Then since Jacques was setting out for the SouthPole, and papa considered me much too young to get married, I promisedJacques to wait for his return."

  "Why, it was everything that's romantic!" cried Marie.

  "Romantic? Oh, yes," said Germaine; and she pouted. "But betweenourselves, if I'd known that he was going to stay all that time at theSouth Pole--"

  "That's true," broke in Marie. "To go away for three years and stayaway seven--at the end of the world."

  "All Germaine's beautiful youth," said Jeanne, with her malicious smile.

  "Thanks!" said Germaine tartly.

  "Well, you ARE twenty-three. It's the flower of one's age," said Jeanne.

  "Not quite twenty-three," said Germaine hastily. "And look at thewretched luck I've had. The Duke falls ill and is treated atMontevideo. As soon as he recovers, since he's the most obstinateperson in the world, he resolves to go on with the expedition. He setsout; and for an age, without a word of warning, there's no more news ofhim--no news of any kind. For six months, you know, we believed himdead."

  "Dead? Oh, how unhappy you must have been!" said Sonia.

  "Oh, don't speak of it! For six months I daren't put on a light frock,"said Germaine, turning to her.

  "A lot she must have cared for him," whispered Jeanne to Marie.

  "Fortunately, one fine day, the letters began again. Three months ago atelegram informed us that he was coming back; and at last the Dukereturned," said Germaine, with a theatrical air.

  "The Duke returned," cried Jeanne, mimicking her.

  "Never mind. Fancy waiting nearly seven years for one's fiance. Thatwas constancy," said Sonia.

  "Oh, you're a sentimentalist, Mlle. Kritchnoff," said Jeanne, in a toneof mockery. "It was the influence of the castle."

  "What do you mean?" said Germaine.

  "Oh, to own the castle of Charmerace and call oneself Mlle.Gournay-Martin--it's not worth doing. One MUST become a duchess," saidJeanne.

  "Yes, yes; and for all this wonderful constancy, seven years of it,Germaine was on the point of becoming engaged to another man," saidMarie, smiling.

  "And he a mere baron," said Jeanne, laughing.

  "What? Is that true?" said Sonia.

  "Didn't you know, Mlle. Kritchnoff? She nearly became engaged to theDuke's cousin, the Baron de Relzieres. It was not nearly so grand."

  "Oh, it's all very well to laugh at me; but being the cousin and heirof the Duke, Relzieres would have assumed the title, and I should havebeen Duchess just the same," said Germaine triumphantly.

  "Evidently that was all that mattered," said Jeanne. "Well, dear, Imust be off. We've promised to run in to see the Comtesse de Grosjean.You know the Comtesse de Grosjean?"

  She spoke with an air of careless pride, and rose to go.

  "Only by name. Papa used to know her husband on the Stock Exchange whenhe was still called simply M. Grosjean. For his part, papa preferred tokeep his name intact," said Germaine, with quiet pride.

  "Intact? That's one way of looking at it. Well, then, I'll see you inParis. You still intend to start to-morrow?" said Jeanne.

  "Yes; to-morrow morning," said Germaine.

  Jeanne and Marie slipped on their dust-coats to the accompaniment ofchattering and kissing, and went out of the room.

  As she closed the door on them, Germaine turned to Sonia, and said: "Ido hate those two girls! They're such horrible snobs."

  "Oh, they're good-natured enough," said Sonia.

  "Good-natured? Why, you idiot, they're just bursting with envy ofme--bursting!" said Germaine. "Well, they've every reason to be," sheadded confidently, surveying herself in a Venetian mirror with a pettedchild's self-content.