"Good Lord! How my head aches! It feels as though it were made of lead!… I have a fire in my veins and such a thirst! Here and now I make a firm resolution never to give way again to such dissipation. Never again will I drink champagne in such quantities. But, where the deuce am I?… It's still pitch dark!… Ah, I remember … it's outrageous! Help! Help!"
King Frederick-Christian had wakened. At first he experienced the usual unpleasant sensations which follow a night of heavy drinking and then, as his memory returned, he was afraid, horribly afraid.
He recalled his arrival at Susy d'Orsel's apartment in company with the young companion he had picked up at Raxim's and the subsequent supper, and then he broke into a cold sweat as his mind flashed to the picture of Fandor's return with the inanimate body of his mistress in his arms—dead. Yes, she was undoubtedly dead!
And afterwards, what had happened?
"It was you who killed Susy d'Orsel. It was you who threw her out of the window!"
What had happened after that? His mind was a complete blank.
Had these events occurred recently, or a long time ago? His headache and thirst were proof that they could not have been far distant.
"Where am I? Evidently not at the Royal Palace!"
When he first wakened he was lying flat on his back; now he sat up and groped about with his hands. The ground beneath him was cold and hard … a floor of earth. So they had put him in a vault? in a cellar?
The air he breathed was heavy and warm, and the walls of his cell felt damp to the touch. Could he be in prison? That was hardly possible, in such a short time. Besides, he was innocent! As he sat listening, he detected a faint and faraway rumbling sound. It seemed to come from above his head.
As his senses became more fully aroused, an indefinable terror struck to his heart. At all costs he must take some action. He rose suddenly to his feet but before he reached his full height his head struck the roof. The blow was so violent that he fell back again in a fainting condition.
It was not until many hours afterward that he regained his senses sufficiently to make another attempt. This time he proceeded with more caution.
"I am the victim of some gang," he thought. "This Jerome Fandor is probably the leader of a band of cutthroats who, after killing Susy d'Orsel, took advantage of my intoxication to make me unconscious with some narcotic, and then dragged me to the place I am now in."
The King now began to explore the place on his hands and knees, his ears keenly alive to the slightest sound. He crawled around trying to discover the extent and nature of his prison.
The floor appeared to be of hard earth with occasional stretches of cement. The walls were smooth, but whether of stone or metal he could not determine. The height of the ceiling at the point where he lay was not over three feet, but gradually rose, vault-like, until he was able to stand fully upright. Was he buried alive in some kind of tomb? The idea terrified him and he began to shout for help. After many fruitless efforts and completely exhausted, he dropped to the ground overcome with the horror of his situation.
Frederick-Christian now tried to collect his thoughts upon the situation and bring some sort of order to his mind.
Susy d'Orsel was dead …
The King had felt no deep love for the girl. Still, he had been fond of her in a way and her sudden death affected him deeply.
He himself was a prisoner. But a prisoner of whom? Evidently of those who had killed his mistress. Again, in all probability, they did not contemplate killing him since they had had the opportunity to do so and he was still alive and unharmed. This being so, they would not let him die of hunger and thirst.
His watch had stopped and he had no way of measuring the lapse of time; but his attention was called to the fact that the rumbling noises were happening at greater intervals.
"The pulse-beats of a man are separated by intervals of a second," he thought, "and by counting my pulse I can determine the interval between the rumbling, and thus gain some idea of the passing hours."
In the blackness of his cell a thin shaft of light appeared.
The King sprang toward it, but found the light too feeble for him to distinguish surrounding objects by. It entered the cell through a small fissure in one of the walls, and after a few minutes was suddenly withdrawn. Frederick-Christian stumbled forward in the darkness and, after taking a few steps, his feet struck some object lying on the ground. Stooping down, he groped with his hands until they touched something that drew from him an exclamation of joy … he had found a pile of bottles. He seized one and opened it with a corkscrew which lay near by.
One draught and he realized that the bottle contained wine. Thereupon he opened several more but with the same result. To drink them would only increase his thirst. He had the strength to resist the temptation. Again he moved forward and this time ran into a large box. His hand touched something cold. It was meat of some kind. After smelling and tasting it he flung it from him. It was a salt ham.
Hours passed while Frederick-Christian suffered the tortures of hunger and thirst. Cold and tired out, he finally lay down on the ground, writhing with violent pains in his stomach. At length he could stand it no longer, and dragging himself to the box, he seized the ham and began to devour it ravenously. This brought on a maddening thirst, which he tried to quench by long draughts of the wine. Then he became very drunk and so, laughing and crying, he drank until he lost consciousness once more.
"Sire! Can you hear me?"
A sharp voice broke the silence. It seemed to come from a distance.
"Sire, can you hear me?… Answer!"
Frederick-Christian sprang up.
"Who is speaking? Who are you? Help! Help!"
The voice, mocking and authoritative, answered:
"Now, then, keep quiet. I am not within reach, so it is useless to cry for help."
"Scoundrel!" cried the King.
"There's no use in behaving like a child … you won't gain anything by it."
"Pity, pity!… I will make you rich … I will give you anything you ask, only set me at liberty … take me out of this prison or I shall become mad."
"Have you done with your lamentations?"
"I'll be revenged!"
"You killed my mistress, Susy d'Orsel!"
"Yes, I killed her."
"You are Fandor—Jerome Fandor!"
"What you say is absurd."
"And my Kingdom? The Queen, my wife? What is happening?"
"I didn't come here to discuss politics with you. You must be reasonable."
"What do you want with me? Why was I brought here?"
"Ah, now we can discuss the matter together. You ask me what I want. First of all, let me reassure you. I do not intend to kill you. Your death would not be of the slightest use to me. Otherwise I shouldn't hesitate an instant."
"I'm not afraid of death."
"I know that, Sire … you are brave… . I want your diamond."
"Exactly. I am quite aware, Frederick-Christian, that your personal fortune is represented by a diamond of marvelous purity and size. I also know that it is hidden in your Palace. You, alone, know where. I want you to disclose its hiding place to me so that I may go and get it."
"You are stupid, Sire. I repeat, once in possession of the diamond, I will set you at liberty."
"Sire, consider a moment. It would be practically impossible for me to realize anything like the value of the diamond. To sell it I should be obliged to break it into small pieces, and in that case it would scarcely fetch more than twenty millions. Now, I have a better suggestion to offer."
"What is it?"
"You are to give me directions how to find it. Once in my possession, you are free. You will then draw the sum of fifty millions from your bank. As King that will be quite possible. This money you will turn over to me in exchange for your diamond. And don't think you will be able to catch me. I shall take care that the exchange is made without witnesses, and in such a way that I run no risk of arrest. Now, what do you say to my proposition?"
"Very well, then in two hours you will be dead. I pledge my word for it… . And my word has some value. Perhaps you guess who I am."
"I am Fantômas, Sire."
And then in trembling, disjointed sentences, he gave up the secret of the hiding place in his Palace at Glotzbourg.