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Chapter 19 FREE!

After a brief inspection, a cry of surprise rose to his lips.

"Good Lord!… there he is! Frederick-Christian."

It was indeed the King—a prisoner in the hollow foundations of the Singing Fountains.

"Sire, Sire!"

The King slept on. But his sleep seemed troubled; he breathed in gasps.

"Sire! Sire! Wake up! I have come to save you! Upon my word, that is what might be called a royal sleep."

The journalist's words made no impression on the sleeping monarch, so, ignoring all formality, he laid hands upon the King and gave him a violent shaking.

"For Heaven's sake, try to recognize me … speak to me … I am Jerome Fandor … I've come to save you."

In leaning over the sleeping man, Fandor suddenly got a whiff of his breath and then drew back, amazed.

"Why, he's drunk! As drunk as a lord! Where the deuce did he get it?… Ah, these empty bottles!… Wine!… and ham … no wonder! What on earth shall I do with him now? How can I get him out of here? I can't leave him in the hands of the cutthroats who have imprisoned him… . But if I do take him away, how the devil will Juve and I be able to catch the accomplices of Fantômas, if he has any?"

"Juve!"

The very name of the detective gave him an inspiration.

"Yes, that's the only way out of it … first of all, I must save the King, get him out of danger, and then arrange a trap to catch my gang." Fandor deliberated a moment.

"There's no doubt I shall run the risk of being killed in his place, but that's a risk I shall have to take."

And then a smile spread over the journalist's features.

"What an idiot I am! After all, there's no danger … it was a happy thought of mine leaving that note for Juve … he'll come to-morrow at the latest … that gives me the rest of the night."

Fandor's ruse, its daring and its almost unheard of devotion, appeared to him quite natural. It was simply to set the King at liberty and remain himself in his place.

While he undoubtedly ran the risk of a bullet in his body, yet the carefully drawn plan he had left in Juve's rooms would enable the detective to find his prison without difficulty.

 

The first problem that presented itself was to get the drunken King away.

Frederick-Christian lay, an inert mass, quite incapable of rendering any assistance. Fandor began by drawing himself up to the opening and taking a look around. The Place de la Concorde was deserted.

"Well, to work!" he cried. "There is nothing for me to do but to haul him out, then put the body of the statue back in place… . If in three days nothing happens, why I shall be free to leave. The ham will keep me going, and as for the wine … Ah! an idea!"

The journalist seized half a dozen of the empty bottles, climbed out and filled them with water; returning, he drew from his pocket a thin silk cord he had taken from Juve's room. By its aid and with a strength of which his slender figure gave no evidence, he succeeded in hauling the King up to the open air.

"And now for another foot bath," exclaimed Fandor; "saving Kings is a sorry business."

Having waded again through the icy water of the basin, Fandor carried the unconscious monarch upon his shoulders and deposited his burden on the sidewalk. He was about to regain his dungeon when he suddenly paused:

"The deuce! I was forgetting! When he becomes sober again, he'll have forgotten all about his adventure … he'll kick up a row at the Royal Palace… . I must warn him."

Fandor took out his notebook, wrote a few lines which he enclosed in an envelope and pinned it upon the King's coat. Upon the envelope was written:

"I am to read this when I wake."

His next proceeding was to blow a shrill whistle.

"It's your turn now, my dear Wulf … you won't find the fair unknown you expect, but you'll get back your Prince, slightly the worse for wear."

The journalist now swung the statue back in place, exclaiming:

"Au revoir, Monsieur, I'm off to take your place … sorry I can't stay to see the meeting with Wulf … he'll find his King somewhat changed… . I ought to have given you my moustache and beard."

 

Fandor passed a horrible night. He was obliged to economize the use of his electric lamp, which was only capable of giving several hours of light, so after a careful survey of his lodging, he extinguished it and lay down to get what rest he could.

"Not much fun for the King here!" he thought, "it's devilish monotonous … can't see anything, and nothing to hear … hold on, I can distinguish three separate noises, the plash of the water from the fountains, the rumble of carriages, and that heavy sound can only be the passage of trains from the North-South in the tunnel, which if I mistake not is right under my prison … and these Singing Fountains … they are accounted for by the King howling when he got drunk … but what about the night Susy d'Orsel was killed?… The King wasn't here then, and yet they were heard singing?"

Fandor was not long in reaching the solution of the mystery.

"What a fool I am!… the murder of Susy d'Orsel, the imprisonment of the King, are both the work of Fantômas! Fantômas must have known this hiding place a long time ago… . It was he who tried the experiment of making the statues sing to find out whether the sound could be heard above… . And to think that this monster has been arrested by Juve! And without me, too!… I shall have only the glory of showing up a few of his accomplices, and if they don't come in two or three days, why, I shall clear out."

Fandor rose and went toward the base of the naiad.

"It's still dark. I might just as well get a breath of fresh air."

With a gymnastic leap, the journalist reached the body of the statue and switched on his electric light. He made a horrible discovery. To reach the King he had maneuvered the statue from the outside. He realized now that it was impossible to open it from the inside. In his daring folly he had shut himself in and possibly condemned himself to the most terrible torture.

Now he began a struggle to regain his liberty. He tore his fingers and broke his nails in vain despairing efforts … at length he gave up, beaten. He was irrevocably a prisoner. When he realized his situation he sank to the ground, a cry escaping his lips:

"Juve! Juve! If only Juve finds my letter. If only he comes to save me!"