The search would have, perhaps, been carried to the most ignominious lengths, but for the intervention of a middle-aged man of rather distinguished appearance, who wore a white cravat and gold spectacles, and was sitting quite at home by the fire.
He started with surprise, and seemed much agitated, when he saw Prosper brought in by the bailiffs; he stepped forward, and seemed about to speak to him, then suddenly changed his mind, and sat down again.
In spite of his own troubles, Prosper could not help seeing that this man kept his eyes fastened upon him. Did he know him? Vainly did he try to recollect having met him before.
This man, treated with all the deference due to a chief, was no less a personage than M. Lecoq, a celebrated member of the detective corps.
When the men who were searching Prosper were about to take off his boots, saying that a knife might be concealed in them. M. Lecoq waved them aside with an air of authority, and said:
"You have done enough."
He was obeyed. All the formalities being ended, the unfortunate cashier was taken to a narrow cell; the heavily barred door was swung to and locked upon him; he breathed freely; at last he was alone.
Yes, he believed himself to be alone. He was ignorant that a prison is made of glass, that the accused is like a miserable insect under the microscope of an entomologist. He knew not that the walls have stretched ears and watchful eyes.
He was so sure of being alone that he at once gave vent to his suppressed feelings, and, dropping his mask of impassibility, burst into a flood of tears. His long-restrained anger now flashed out like a smouldering fire.
In a paroxysm of rage he uttered imprecations and curses. He dashed himself against the prison-walls like a wild beast in a cage.
Prosper Bertomy was not the man he appeared to be.
This haughty, correct gentleman had ardent passions and a fiery temperament.
One day, when he was about twenty-four years of age, he had become suddenly fired by ambition. While all of his desires were repressed, imprisoned in his low estate, like an athlete in a strait-jacket, seeing around him all these rich people with whom money assumed the place of the wand in the fairy-tale, he envied their lot.
He studied the beginnings of these financial princes, and found that at the starting-point they possessed far less than himself.
How, then, had they succeeded? By force of energy, industry, and assurance.
He determined to imitate and excel them.
From this day, with a force of will much less rare than we think, he imposed silence upon his instincts. He reformed not his morals, but his manners; and so strictly did he conform to the rules of decorum, that he was regarded as a model of propriety by those who knew him, and had faith in his character; and his capabilities and ambition inspired the prophecy that he would be successful in attaining eminence and wealth.
And the end of all was this: imprisoned for robbery; that is, ruined!
For he did not attempt to deceive himself. He knew that, guilty or innocent, a man once suspected is as ineffaceably branded as the shoulder of a galley-slave.
Therefore what was the use of struggling? What benefit was a triumph which could not wash out the stain?
When the jailer brought him his supper, he found him lying on his pallet, with his face buried in the pillow, weeping bitterly.
Ah, he was not hungry now! Now that he was alone, he fed upon his own bitter thoughts. He sank from a state of frenzy into one of stupefying despair, and vainly did he endeavor to clear his confused mind, and account for the dark cloud gathering about him; no loop-hole for escape did he discover.
The night was long and terrible, and for the first time he had nothing to count the hours by, as they slowly dragged on, but the measured tread of the patrol who came to relieve the sentinels. He was wretched.
At dawn he dropped into a sleep, a heavy, oppressive sleep, which was more wearisome than refreshing; from which he was startled by the rough voice of the jailer.
"Come, monsieur," he said, "it is time for you to appear before the judge of instruction."
He jumped up at once, and, without stopping to repair his disordered toilet, said:
"Come on, quick!"
The constable remarked, as they walked along:
"You are very fortunate in having your case brought before an honest man."
He was right.
Endowed with remarkable penetration, firm, unbiased, equally free from false pity and excessive severity, M. Patrigent possessed in an eminent degree all the qualities necessary for the delicate and difficult office of judge of instruction.
Perhaps he was wanting in the feverish activity which is sometimes necessary for coming to a quick and just decision; but he possessed unwearying patience, which nothing could discourage. He would cheerfully devote years to the examination of a case; he was even now engaged on a case of Belgian bank-notes, of which he did not collect all the threads, and solve the mystery, until after four years' investigation.
Thus it was always to his office that they brought the endless lawsuits, half-finished inquests, and tangled cases.
This was the man before whom they were taking Prosper; and they were taking him by a difficult road.
He was escorted along a corridor, through a room full of policemen, down a narrow flight of steps, across a kind of cellar, and then up a steep staircase which seemed to have no terminus.
Finally he reached a long narrow galley, upon which opened many doors, bearing different numbers.
The custodian of the unhappy cashier stopped before one of these doors, and said:
"Here we are; here your fate will be decided."
At this remark, uttered in a tone of deep commiseration, Prosper could not refrain from shuddering.
It was only too true, that on the other side of this door was a man upon whose decision his freedom depended.
Summoning all his courage, he turned the door-knob, and was about to enter when the constable stopped him.
"Don't be in such haste," he said; "you must sit down here, and wait till your turn comes; then you will be called."
The wretched man obeyed, and his keeper took a seat beside him.
Nothing is more terrible and lugubrious than this gallery of the judges of instruction.
Stretching the whole length of the wall is a wooden bench blackened by constant use. This bench has for the last ten years been daily occupied by all the murderers, thieves, and suspicious characters of the Department of the Seine.
Sooner or later, fatally, as filth rushes to a sewer, does crime reach this gallery, this dreadful gallery with one door opening on the galleys, the other on the scaffold. This place was vulgarly and pithily denominated by a certain magistrate as the great public wash-house of all the dirty linen in Paris.
When Prosper reached the gallery it was full of people. The bench was almost entirely occupied. Beside him, so close as to touch his shoulder, sat a man with a sinister countenance, dressed in rags.
Before each door, which belonged to a judge of instruction, stood groups of witnesses talking in an undertone.
Policemen were constantly coming and going with prisoners. Sometimes, above the noise of their heavy boots, tramping along the flagstones, could be heard a woman's stifled sobs, and looking around you would see some poor mother or wife with her face buried in her handkerchief, weeping bitterly.
At short intervals a door would open and shut, and a bailiff call out a name or number.
This stifling atmosphere, and the sight of so much misery, made the cashier ill and faint; he was feeling as if another five minutes' stay among these wretched creatures would make him deathly sick, when a little old man dressed in black, wearing the insignia of his office, a steel chain, cried out:
The unhappy man arose, and, without knowing how, found himself in the office of the judge of instruction.
For a moment he was blinded. He had come out of a dark room; and the one in which he now found himself had a window directly opposite the door, so that a flood of light fell suddenly upon him.
This office, like all those on the gallery, was of a very ordinary appearance, small and dingy.
The wall was covered with cheap dark green paper, and on the floor was a hideous brown carpet, very much worn.
Opposite the door was a large desk, filled with bundles of law-papers, behind which was seated the judge, facing those who entered, so that his face remained in the shade, while that of the prisoner or witness whom he questioned was in a glare of light.
At the right, before a little table, sat a clerk writing, the indispensable auxiliary of the judge.
But Prosper observed none of these details: his whole attention was concentrated upon the arbiter of his fate, and as he closely examined his face he was convinced that the jailer was right in calling him an honorable man.
M. Patrigent's homely face, with its irregular outline and short red whiskers, lit up by a pair of bright, intelligent eyes, and a kindly expression, was calculated to impress one favorably at first sight.
"Take a seat," he said to Prosper.
This little attention was gratefully welcomed by the prisoner, for he had expected to be treated with harsh contempt. He looked upon it as a good sign, and his mind felt a slight relief.
M. Patrigent turned toward the clerk, and said:
"We will begin now, Sigault; pay attention."
"What is your name?" he then asked, looking at Prosper.
"Auguste Prosper Bertomy."
"How old are you?"
"I shall be thirty the 5th of next May."
"What is your profession?"
"I am—that is, I was—cashier in M. Andre Fauvel's bank."
The judge stopped to consult a little memorandum lying on his desk. Prosper, who followed attentively his every movement, began to be hopeful, saying to himself that never would a man so unprejudiced have the cruelty to send him to prison again.
After finding what he looked for, M. Patrigent resumed the examination.
"Where do you live?"
"At No. 39, Rue Chaptal, for the last four years. Before that time I lived at No. 7, Boulevard des Batignolles."
"Where were you born?"
"At Beaucaire in the Department of the Gard."
"Are your parents living?"
"My mother died two years ago; my father is still living."
"Does he live in Paris?"
"No, monsieur: he lives at Beaucaire with my sister, who married one of the engineers of the Southern Canal."
It was in broken tones that Prosper answered these last questions. There are moments in the life of a man when home memories encourage and console him; there are also moments when he would be thankful to be without a single tie, and bitterly regrets that he is not alone in the world.
M. Patrigent observed the prisoner's emotion, when he spoke of his parents.
"What is your father's calling?" he continued.
"He was formerly superintendent of the bridges and canals; then he was employed on the Southern Canal, with my brother-in-law; now he has retired from business."
There was a moment's silence. The judge had turned his chair around, so that, although his head was apparently averted, he had a good view of the workings of Prosper's face.
"Well," he said, abruptly, "you are accused of having robbed M. Fauvel of three hundred and fifty thousand francs."
During the last twenty-four hours the wretched young man had had time to familiarize himself with the terrible idea of this accusation; and yet, uttered as it was in this formal, brief tone, it seemed to strike him with a horror which rendered him incapable of opening his lips.
"What have you to answer?" asked the judge.
"That I am innocent, monsieur; I swear that I am innocent!"
"I hope you are," said M. Patrigent, "and you may count upon me to assist you to the extent of my ability in proving your innocence. You must have defence, some facts to state; have you not?"
"Ah, monsieur, what can I say, when I cannot understand this dreadful business myself? I can only refer you to my past life."
The judge interrupted him:
"Let us be specific; the robbery was committed under circumstances that prevent suspicion from falling upon anyone but M. Fauvel and yourself. Do you suspect anyone else?"
"You declare yourself to be innocent, therefore the guilty party must be M. Fauvel."
Prosper remained silent.
"Have you," persisted the judge, "any cause for believing that M. Fauvel robbed himself?"
The prisoner preserved a rigid silence.
"I see, monsieur," said the judge, "that you need time for reflection. Listen to the reading of your examination, and after signing it you will return to prison."
The unhappy man was overcome. The last ray of hope was gone. He heard nothing of what Sigault read, and he signed the paper without looking at it.
He tottered as he left the judge's office, so that the keeper was forced to support him.
"I fear your case looks dark, monsieur," said the man, "but don't be disheartened; keep up your courage."
Courage! Prosper had not a spark of it when he returned to his cell; but his heart was filled with anger and resentment.
He had determined that he would defend himself before the judge, that he would prove his innocence; and he had not had time to do so. He reproached himself bitterly for having trusted to the judge's benevolent face.
"What a farce," he angrily exclaimed, "to call that an examination!"
It was not really an examination, but a mere formality.
In summoning Prosper, M. Patrigent obeyed Article 93 of the Criminal Code, which says, "Every suspected person under arrest must be examined within twenty-four hours."
But it is not in twenty-four hours, especially in a case like this, with no evidence or material proof, that a judge can collect the materials for an examination.
To triumph over the obstinate defence of a prisoner who shuts himself up in absolute denial as if in a fortress, valid proofs are needed. These weapons M. Patrigent was busily preparing. If Prosper had remained a little longer in the gallery, he would have seen the same bailiff who had called him come out to the judge's office, and cry out:
The witness, who was awaiting his turn, and answered the call for number three, was M. Fauvel.
The banker was no longer the same man. Yesterday he was kind and affable in his manner: now, as he entered the judge's room, he seemed irritated. Reflection, which usually brings calmness and a desire to pardon, brought him anger and a thirst for vengeance.
The inevitable questions which commence every examination had scarcely been addressed to him before his impetuous temper gained the mastery, and he burst forth in invectives against Prosper.
M. Patrigent was obliged to impose silence upon him, reminding him of what was due to himself, no matter what wrongs he had suffered at the hands of his clerk.
Although he had very slightly examined Prosper, the judge was now scrupulously attentive and particular in having every question answered. Prosper's examination had been a mere formality, the stating and proving a fact. Now it related to collecting the attendant circumstances and the most trifling particulars, so as to group them together, and reach a just conclusion.
"Let us proceed in order," said the judge, "and pray confine yourself to answering my questions. Did you ever suspect your cashier of being dishonest?"
"Certainly not. Yet there were reasons which should have made me hesitate to trust him with my funds."
"M. Bertomy played cards. I have known of his spending whole nights at the gaming table, and losing immense sums of money. He was intimate with an unprincipled set. Once he was mixed up with one of my clients, M. de Clameran, in a scandalous gambling affair which took place at the house of some disreputable woman, and wound up by being tried before the police court."
For some minutes the banker continued to revile Prosper.
"You must confess, monsieur," interrupted the judge, "that you were very imprudent, if not culpable, to have intrusted your safe to such a man."
"Ah, monsieur, Prosper was not always thus. Until the past year he was a model of goodness. He lived in my house as one of my family; he spent all of his evenings with us, and was the bosom friend of my eldest son Lucien. One day, he suddenly left us, and never came to the house again. Yet I had every reason to believe him attached to my niece Madeleine."
M. Patrigent had a peculiar manner of contracting his brows when he thought he had discovered some new proof. He now did this, and said:
"Might not this admiration for the young lady have been the cause of M. Bertomy's estrangement?"
"How so?" said the banker with surprise. "I was willing to bestow Madeleine upon him, and, to be frank, was astonished that he did not ask for her hand. My niece would be a good match for any man, and he should have considered himself fortunate to obtain her. She is beautiful, and her dowry will be half a million."
"Then you can see no motive for your cashier's conduct?"
"It is impossible for me to account for it. I have, however, always supposed that Prosper was led astray by a young man whom he met at my house about this time, M. Raoul de Lagors."
"Ah! and who is this young man?"
"A relative of my wife; a very attractive, intelligent young man, somewhat wild, but rich enough to pay for his follies."
The judge wrote the name Lagors at the bottom of an already long list on his memorandum.
"Now," he said, "we are coming to the point. You are sure that the theft was not committed by anyone in your house?"
"Quite sure, monsieur."
"You always kept your key?"
"I generally carried it about on my person; and, whenever I left it at home, I put it in the secretary drawer in my chamber."
"Where was it the evening of the robbery?"
"In my secretary."
"Excuse me for interrupting you," said M. Fauvel, "and to permit me to tell you that, to a safe like mine, the key is of no importance. In the first place, one is obliged to know the word upon which the five movable buttons turn. With the word one can open it without the key; but without the word—"
"And you never told this word to anyone?"
"To no one, monsieur, and sometimes I would have been puzzled to know myself with what word the safe had been closed. Prosper would change it when he chose, and, if he had not informed me of the change, would have to come and open it for me."
"Had you forgotten it on the day of the theft?"
"No: the word had been changed the day before; and its peculiarity struck me."
"What was it?"
"Gypsy, g, y, p, s, y," said the banker, spelling the name.
M. Patrigent wrote down this name.
"One more question, monsieur: were you at home the evening before the robbery?"
"No; I dined and spent the evening with a friend; when I returned home, about one o'clock, my wife had retired, and I went to bed immediately."
"And you were ignorant of the amount of money in the safe?"
"Absolutely. In conformity with my positive orders, I could only suppose that a small sum had been left there over-night; I stated this fact to the commissary in M. Bertomy's presence, and he acknowledged it to be the case."
"Perfectly correct, monsieur: the commissary's report proves it." M. Patrigent was for a time silent. To him everything depended upon this one fact, that the banker was unaware of the three hundred and fifty thousand francs being in the safe, and Prosper had disobeyed orders by placing them there over-night; hence the conclusion was very easily drawn.
Seeing that his examination was over, the banker thought that he would relieve his mind of what was weighing upon it.
"I believe myself above suspicion, monsieur," he began, "and yet I can never rest easy until Bertomy's guilt has been clearly proved. Calumny prefers attacking a successful man: I may be calumniated: three hundred and fifty thousand francs is a fortune capable of tempting even a rich man. I would be obliged if you would have the condition of my banking-house examined. This examination will prove that I could have no interest in robbing my own safe. The prosperous condition of my affairs—"
"That is sufficient, monsieur."
M. Patrigent was well informed of the high standing of the banker, and knew almost as much of his affairs as did M. Fauvel himself.
He asked him to sign his testimony, and then escorted him to the door of his office, a rare favor on his part.
When M. Fauvel had left the room, Sigault indulged in a remark.
"This seems to be a very cloudy case," he said; "if the cashier is shrewd and firm, it will be difficult to convict him."
"Perhaps it will," said the judge, "but let us hear the other witnesses before deciding."
The person who answered to the call for number four was Lucien, M. Fauvel's eldest son.
He was a tall, handsome young man of twenty-two. To the judge's questions he replied that he was very fond of Prosper, was once very intimate with him, and had always regarded him as a strictly honorable man, incapable of doing anything unbecoming a gentleman.
He declared that he could not imagine what fatal circumstances could have induced Prosper to commit a theft. He knew he played cards, but not to the extent that was reported. He had never known him to indulge in expenses beyond his means.
In regard to his cousin Madeleine, he replied:
"I always thought that Prosper was in love with Madeleine, and, until yesterday, I was certain he would marry her, knowing that my father would not oppose their marriage. I have always attributed the discontinuance of Prosper's visits to a quarrel with my cousin, but supposed they would end by becoming reconciled."
This information, more than that of M. Fauvel, threw light upon Prosper's past life, but did not apparently reveal any evidence which could be used in the present state of affairs.
Lucien signed his deposition, and withdrew.
Cavaillon's turn for examination came next. The poor fellow was in a pitiable state of mind when he appeared before the judge.
Having, as a great secret, confided to a friend his adventure with the detective, and being jeered at for his cowardice in giving up the note, he felt great remorse, and passed the night in reproaching himself for having ruined Prosper.
He endeavored to repair, as well as he could, what he called his treason.
He did not exactly accuse M. Fauvel, but he courageously declared that he was the cashier's friend, and that he was as sure of his innocence as he was of his own.
Unfortunately, besides his having no proofs to strengthen his assertions, these were deprived of any value by his violent professions of friendship for the accused.
After Cavaillon, six or eight clerks of the Fauvel bank successively defiled in the judge's office; but their depositions were nearly all insignificant.
One of them, however, stated a fact which the judge carefully noted. He said he knew that Prosper had speculated on the Bourse through the medium of M. Raoul de Lagors, and had gained immense sums.
Five o'clock struck before the list of witnesses summoned for the day was exhausted. But the task of M. Patrigent was not yet finished. He rang for his bailiff, who instantly appeared, and said to him:
"Go at once, and bring Fanferlot here."
It was some time before the detective answered the summons. Having met a colleague on the gallery, he thought it his duty to treat him to a drink; and the bailiff had found it necessary to bring him from the little inn at the corner.
"How is it that you keep people waiting?" said the judge, when he entered bowing and scraping. Fanferlot bowed more profoundly still.
Despite his smiling face, he was very uneasy. To prosecute the Bertomy case alone, it required a double play that might be discovered at any moment; to manage at once the cause of justice and his own ambition, he ran great risks, the least of which was the losing of his place.
"I have a great deal to do," he said, to excuse himself, "and have not wasted any time."
And he began to give a detailed account of his movements. He was embarrassed, for he spoke with all sorts of restrictions, picking out what was to be said, and avoiding what was to be left unsaid. Thus he gave the history of Cavaillon's letter, which he handed to the judge; but he did not breathe a word of Madeleine. On the other hand, he gave biographical details, very minute indeed, of Prosper and Mme. Gypsy, which he had collected from various quarters during the day.
As he progressed the conviction of M. Patrigent was strengthened.
"This young man is evidently guilty," he said. Fanferlot did not reply; his opinion was different, but he was delighted that the judge was on the wrong track, thinking that his own glory would thereby be the greater when he discovered the real culprit. True, this grand discovery was as far off as it had ever been; but Fanferlot was hopeful.
After hearing all he had to tell, the judge dismissed Fanferlot, telling him to return the next day.
"Above all," he said, as Fanferlot left the room, "do not lose sight of the girl Gypsy; she must know where the money is, and can put us on the track."
Fanferlot smiled cunningly.
"You may rest easy about that, monsieur; the lady is in good hands."
Left to himself, although the evening was far advanced, M. Patrigent continued to busy himself with the case, and to arrange that the rest of the depositions should be made.
This case had actually taken possession of his mind; it was, at the same time, puzzling and attractive. It seemed to be surrounded by a cloud of mystery, and he determined to penetrate and dispel it.
The next morning he was in his office much earlier than usual. On this day he examined Mme. Gypsy, recalled Cavaillon, and sent again for M. Fauvel. For several days he displayed the same activity.
Of all the witnesses summoned, only two failed to appear.
One was the office-boy sent by Prosper to bring the money from the city bank; he was ill from a fall.
The other was M. Raoul de Lagors.
But their absence did not prevent the file of papers relating to Prosper's case from daily increasing; and on the ensuing Monday, five days after the robbery, M. Patrigent thought he held in his hands enough moral proof to crush the accused.
While his whole past was the object of the most minute investigations, Prosper was in prison, in a secret cell.
The two first days had not appeared very long.
He had requested, and been granted, some sheets of paper, numbered, which he was obliged to account for; and he wrote, with a sort of rage, plans of defence and a narrative of justification.
The third day he began to be uneasy at not seeing anyone except the condemned prisoners who were employed to serve those confined in secret cells, and the jailer who brought him his food.
"Am I not to be examined again?" he would ask.
"Your turn is coming," the jailer invariably answered.
Time passed; and the wretched man, tortured by the sufferings of solitary confinement which quickly breaks the spirit, sank into the depths of despair.
"Am I to stay here forever?" he moaned.
No, he was not forgotten; for on Monday morning, at one o'clock, an hour when the jailer never came, he heard the heavy bolt of his cell pushed back.
He ran toward the door.
But the sight of a gray-headed man standing on the sill rooted him to the spot.
"Father," he gasped, "father!"
"Your father, yes!"
Prosper's astonishment at seeing his father was instantly succeeded by a feeling of great joy.
A father is one friend upon whom we can always rely. In the hour of need, when all else fails, we remember this man upon whose knees we sat when children, and who soothed our sorrows; and although he can in no way assist us, his presence alone comforts and strengthens.
Without reflecting, Prosper, impelled by tender feeling, was about to throw himself on his father's bosom.
M. Bertomy harshly repulsed him.
"Do not approach me!" he exclaimed.
He then advanced into the cell, and closed the door. The father and son were alone together, Prosper heart-broken, crushed; M. Bertomy angry, almost threatening.
Cast off by this last friend, by his father, the miserable young man seemed to be stupefied with pain and disappointment.
"You too!" he bitterly cried. "You, you believe me guilty? Oh, father!"
"Spare yourself this shameful comedy," interrupted M. Bertomy: "I know all."
"But I am innocent, father; I swear it by the sacred memory of my mother."
"Unhappy wretch," cried M. Bertomy, "do not blaspheme!"
He seemed overcome by tender thoughts of the past, and in a weak, broken voice, he added:
"Your mother is dead, Prosper, and little did I think that the day would come when I could thank God for having taken her from me. Your crime would have killed her, would have broken her heart!"
After a painful silence, Prosper said:
"You overwhelm me, father, and at the moment when I need all my courage; when I am the victim of an odious plot."
"Victim!" cried M. Bertomy, "victim! Dare you utter your insinuations against the honorable man who has taken care of you, loaded you with benefits, and had insured you a brilliant future! It is enough for you to have robbed him; do not calumniate him."
"For pity's sake, father, let me speak!"
"I suppose you would deny your benefactor's kindness. Yet you were at one time so sure of his affection, that you wrote me to hold myself in readiness to come to Paris and ask M. Fauvel for the hand of his niece. Was that a lie too?"
"No," said Prosper in a choked voice, "no."
"That was a year ago; you then loved Mlle. Madeleine; at least you wrote to me that you—"
"Father, I love her now, more than ever; I have never ceased to love her."
M. Bertomy made a gesture of contemptuous pity.
"Indeed!" he cried, "and the thought of the pure, innocent girl whom you loved did not prevent your entering upon a path of sin. You loved her: how dared you, then, without blushing, approach her presence after associating with the shameless creatures with whom you were so intimate?"
"For Heaven's sake, let me explain by what fatality Madeleine—"
"Enough, monsieur, enough. I told you that I know everything. I saw M. Fauvel yesterday; this morning I saw the judge, and 'tis to his kindness that I am indebted for this interview. Do you know what mortification I suffered before being allowed to see you? I was searched and made to empty all of my pockets, on suspicion of bringing you arms!"
Prosper ceased to justify himself, but in a helpless, hopeless way, dropped down upon a seat.
"I have seen your apartments, and at once recognized the proofs of your crime. I saw silk curtains hanging before every window and door, and the walls covered with pictures. In my father's house the walls were whitewashed; and there was but one arm-chair in the whole house, and that was my mother's. Our luxury was our honesty. You are the first member of our family who has possessed Aubusson carpets; though, to be sure, you are the first thief of our blood."
At this last insult Prosper's face flushed crimson, but he remained silent and immovable.
"But luxury is necessary now," continued M. Bertomy, becoming more excited and angry as he went on, "luxury must be had at any price. You must have the insolent opulence and display of an upstart, without being an upstart. You must support worthless women who wear satin slippers lined with swan's-down, like those I saw in your rooms, and keep servants in livery—and you steal! And bankers no longer trust their safe-keys with anybody; and every day honest families are disgraced by the discovery of some new piece of villainy."
M. Bertomy suddenly stopped. He saw that his son was not in a condition to hear any more reproaches.
"But I will say no more," he said. "I came here not to reproach, but to, if possible, save the honor of our name, to prevent it from being published in the papers bearing the names of thieves and murderers. Stand up and listen to me!"
At the imperious tone of his father, Prosper arose. So many successive blows had reduced him to a state of torpor.
"First of all," began M. Bertomy, "how much have you remaining of the stolen three hundred and fifty thousand francs?"
"Once more, father," replied the unfortunate man in a tone of hopeless resignation, "once more I swear I am innocent."
"So I supposed you would say. Then our family will have to repair the injury you have done M. Fauvel."
"What do you mean?"
"The day he heard of your crime, your brother-in-law brought me your sister's dowry, seventy thousand francs. I succeeded in collecting a hundred and forty thousand francs more. This makes two hundred and ten thousand francs which I have brought with me to give to M. Fauvel."
This threat aroused Prosper from his torpor.
"You shall do nothing of the kind!" he cried with unrestrained indignation.
"I will do so before the sun goes down this day. M. Fauvel will grant me time to pay the rest. My pension is fifteen hundred francs. I can live upon five hundred, and am strong enough to go to work again; and your brother-in-law—"
M. Bertomy stopped short, frightened at the expression of his son's face. His features were contracted with such furious rage that he was scarcely recognizable, and his eyes glared like a maniac's.
"You dare not disgrace me thus!" he cried; "you have no right to do it. You are free to disbelieve me yourself, but you have no right for taking a step that would be a confession of guilt, and ruin me forever. Who and what convinces you of my guilt? When cold justice hesitates, you, my father, hesitate not, but, more pitiless than the law, condemn me unheard!"
"I only do my duty."
"Which means that I stand on the edge of a precipice, and you push me over. Do you call that your duty? What! between strangers who accuse me, and myself who swear that I am innocent, you do not hesitate? Why? Is it because I am your son? Our honor is at stake, it is true; but that is only the more reason why you should sustain me, and assist me to defend myself."
Prosper's earnest, truthful manner was enough to unsettle the firmest convictions, and make doubt penetrate the most stubborn mind.
"Yet," said M. Bertomy in a hesitating tone, "everything seems to accuse you."
"Ah, father, you do not know that I was suddenly banished from Madeleine's presence; that I was compelled to avoid her. I became desperate, and tried to forget my sorrow in dissipation. I sought oblivion, and found shame and disgust. Oh, Madeleine, Madeleine!"
He was overcome with emotion; but in a few minutes he started up with renewed violence in his voice and manner.
"Everything is against me!" he exclaimed, "but no matter. I will justify myself or perish in the attempt. Human justice is liable to error; although innocent, I may be convicted: so be it. I will undergo my penalty; but people are not kept galley-slaves forever."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, father, that I am now another man. My life, henceforth, has an object, vengeance! I am the victim of a vile plot. As long as I have a drop of blood in my veins, I will seek its author. And I will certainly find him; and then bitterly shall he expiate all of my cruel suffering. The blow came from the house of Fauvel, and I will live to prove it."
"Take care: your anger makes you say things that you will repent hereafter."
"Yes, I see, you are going to descant upon the probity of M. Andre Fauvel. You will tell me that all the virtues have taken refuge in the bosom of this patriarchal family. What do you know about it? Would this be the first instance in which the most shameful secrets are concealed beneath the fairest appearances? Why did Madeleine suddenly forbid me to think of her? Why has she exiled me, when she suffers as much from our separation as I myself, when she still loves me? For she does love me. I am sure of it. I have proofs of it."
The jailer came to say that the time allotted to M. Bertomy had expired, and that he must leave the cell.
A thousand conflicting emotions seemed to rend the old man's heart.
Suppose Prosper were telling the truth: how great would be his remorse, if he had added to his already great weight of sorrow and trouble! And who could prove that he was not sincere?
The voice of this son, of whom he had always been so proud, had aroused all his paternal affection, so violently repressed. Ah, were he guilty, and guilty of a worse crime, still he was his son, his only son!
His countenance lost its severity, and his eyes filled with tears.
He had resolved to leave, as he had entered, stern and angry: he had not the cruel courage. His heart was breaking. He opened his arms, and pressed Prosper to his heart.
"Oh, my son!" he murmured. "God grant you have spoken the truth!"
Prosper was triumphant: he had almost convinced his father of his innocence. But he had not time to rejoice over this victory.
The cell-door again opened, and the jailer's gruff voice once more called out:
"It is time for you to appear before the court."
He instantly obeyed the order.
But his step was no longer unsteady, as a few days previous: a complete change had taken place within him. He walked with a firm step, head erect, and the fire of resolution in his eye.
He knew the way now, and he walked a little ahead of the constable who escorted him.
As he was passing through the room full of policemen, he met the man with gold spectacles, who had watched him so intently the day he was searched.
"Courage, M. Prosper Bertomy," he said: "if you are innocent, there are those who will help you."
Prosper started with surprise, and was about to reply, when the man disappeared.
"Who is that gentleman?" he asked of the policeman.
"Is it possible that you don't know him?" replied the policeman with surprise. "Why, it is M. Lecoq, of the police service."
"You say his name is Lecoq?"
"You might as well say 'monsieur,'" said the offended policeman; "it would not burn your mouth. M. Lecoq is a man who knows everything that he wants to know, without its ever being told to him. If you had had him, instead of that smooth-tongued imbecile Fanferlot, your case would have been settled long ago. Nobody is allowed to waste time when he has command. But he seems to be a friend of yours."
"I never saw him until the first day I came here."
"You can't swear to that, because no one can boast of knowing the real face of M. Lecoq. It is one thing to-day, and another to-morrow; sometimes he is a dark man, sometimes a fair one, sometimes quite young, and then an octogenarian: why, not seldom he even deceives me. I begin to talk to a stranger, paf! the first thing I know, it is M. Lecoq! Anybody on the face of the earth might be he. If I were told that you were he, I should say, 'It is very likely.' Ah! he can convert himself into any shape and form he chooses. He is a wonderful man!"
The constable would have continued forever his praises of M. Lecoq, had not the sight of the judge's door put an end to them.
This time, Prosper was not kept waiting on the wooden bench: the judge, on the contrary, was waiting for him.
M. Patrigent, who was a profound observer of human nature, had contrived the interview between M. Bertomy and his son.
He was sure that between the father, a man of such stubborn honor, and the son, accused of theft, an affecting scene would take place, and this scene would completely unman Prosper, and make him confess.
He determined to send for him as soon as the interview was over, while all his nerves were vibrating with terrible emotions: he would tell the truth, to relieve his troubled, despairing mind.
His surprise was great to see the cashier's bearing; resolute without obstinacy, firm and assured without defiance.
"Well," he said, "have you reflected?"
"Not being guilty, monsieur, I had nothing to reflect upon."
"Ah, I see the prison has not been a good counsellor; you forget that sincerity and repentance are the first things necessary to obtain the indulgence of the law."
"I crave no indulgence, monsieur."
M. Patrigent looked vexed, and said:
"What would you say if I told you what had become of the three hundred and fifty thousand francs?"
Prosper shook his head sadly.
"If it were known, monsieur, I would not be here, but at liberty."
This device had often been used by the judge, and generally succeeded; but, with a man so thoroughly master of himself, there was small chance of success. It had been used at a venture, and failed.
"Then you persist in accusing M. Fauvel?"
"Him, or someone else."
"Excuse me: no one else, since he alone knew the word. Had he any interest in robbing himself?"
"I can think of none."
"Well, now I will tell you what interest you had in robbing him."
M. Patrigent spoke as a man who was convinced of the facts he was about to state; but his assurance was all assumed.
He had relied upon crushing, at a blow, a despairing wretched man, and was nonplussed by seeing him appear as determined upon resistance.
"Will you be good enough to tell me," he said, in a vexed tone, "how much you have spent during the last year?"
Prosper did not find it necessary to stop to reflect and calculate.
"Yes, monsieur," he answered, unhesitatingly: "circumstances made it necessary for me to preserve the greatest order in my wild career; I spent about fifty thousand francs."
"Where did you obtain them?"
"In the first place, twelve thousand francs were left to me by my mother. I received from M. Fauvel fourteen thousand francs, as my salary, and share of the profits. By speculating in stocks, I gained eight thousand francs. The rest I borrowed, and intend repaying out of the fifteen thousand francs which I have deposited in M. Fauvel's bank."
The account was clear, exact, and could be easily proved; it must be a true one.
"Who lent you the money?"
"M. Raoul de Lagors."
This witness had left Paris the day of the robbery, and could not be found; so, for the time being, M. Patrigent was compelled to rely upon Prosper's word.
"Well," he said, "I will not press this point; but tell me why, in spite of the formal order of M. Fauvel, you drew the money from the Bank of France the night before, instead of waiting till the morning of the payment?"
"Because M. de Clameran had informed me that it would be agreeable, necessary even, for him to have his money early in the morning. He will testify to that fact, if you summon him; and I knew that I should reach my office late."
"Then M. de Clameran is a friend of yours?"
"By no means. I have always felt repelled by him; but he is the intimate friend of M. Lagors."
While Sigault was writing down these answers, M. Patrigent was racking his brain to imagine what could have occurred between M. Bertomy and his son, to cause this transformation in Prosper.
"One more thing," said the judge: "how did you spend the evening, the night before the crime?"
"When I left my office, at five o'clock, I took the St.-Germain train, and went to Vesinet, M. de Lagors's country seat, to carry him fifteen hundred francs which he had asked for; and, finding him not at home, I left it with his servant."
"Did he tell you that M. de Lagors was going away?"
"No, monsieur. I did not know that he had left Paris."
"Where did you go when you left Vesinet?"
"I returned to Paris, and dined at a restaurant with a friend."
"You are silent," said M. Patrigent; "then I shall tell you how you employed your time. You returned to your rooms in the Rue Chaptal, dressed yourself, and attended a soiree given by one of those women who style themselves dramatic artistes, and who are a disgrace to the stage; who receive a hundred crowns a year, and yet keep their carriages, at Mlle. Wilson's."
"You are right, monsieur."
"There is heavy playing at Wilson's?"
"You are in the habit of visiting places of this sort. Were you not connected in some way with a scandalous adventure which took place at the house of a woman named Crescenzi?"
"I was summoned to testify, having witnessed a theft."
"Gambling generally leads to stealing. And did you not play baccarat at Wilson's, and lose eighteen hundred francs?"
"Excuse me, monsieur, only eleven hundred."
"Very well. In the morning you paid a note of a thousand francs."
"Moreover, there remained in your desk five hundred francs, and you had four hundred in your purse when you were arrested. So that altogether, in twenty-four hours, four thousand five hundred francs—"
Prosper was not discountenanced, but stupefied.
Not being aware of the powerful means of investigation possessed by the law, he wondered how in so short a time the judge could have obtained such accurate information.
"Your statement is correct, monsieur," he said finally.
"Where did all this money come from? The evening before you had so little that you were obliged to defer the payment of a small bill."
"The day to which you allude, I sold through an agent some bonds I had, about three thousand francs; besides, I took from the safe two thousand francs in advance on my salary."
The prisoner had given clear answers to all the questions put to him, and M. Patrigent thought he would attack him on a new point.
"You say you have no wish to conceal any of your actions; then why did you write this note to one of your companions?" Here he held up the mysterious note.
This time the blow struck. Prosper's eyes dropped before the inquiring look of the judge.
"I thought," he stammered, "I wished—"
"You wished to screen this woman?"
"Yes, monsieur; I did. I knew that a man in my condition, accused of a robbery, has every fault, every weakness he has ever indulged in, charged against him as a great crime."
"Which means that you knew that the presence of a woman at your house would tell very much against you, and that justice would not excuse this scandalous defiance of public morality. A man who respects himself so little as to associate with a worthless woman, does not elevate her to his standard, but he descends to her base level."
"I suppose you know who the woman is, whom you permit to bear the honest name borne by your mother?"
"Mme. Gypsy was a governess when I first knew her. She was born at Oporto, and came to France with a Portuguese family."
"Her name is not Gypsy; she has never been a governess, and she is not a Portuguese."
Prosper began to protest against this statement; but M. Patrigent shrugged his shoulders, and began looking over a large file of papers on his desk.
"Ah, here it is," he said, "listen: Palmyre Chocareille, born at Paris in 1840, daughter of James Chocareille, undertaker's assistant, and of Caroline Piedlent, his wife."
Prosper looked vexed and impatient; he did not know that the judge was reading him this report to convince him that nothing can escape the police.
"Palmyre Chocareille," he continued, "at twelve years of age was apprenticed to a shoemaker, and remained with him until she was sixteen. Traces of her for one year are lost. At the age of seventeen she is hired as a servant by a grocer on the Rue St. Denis, named Dombas, and remains there three months. She lives out during this same year, 1857, at eight different places. In 1858 she entered the store of a fan-merchant in Choiseul Alley."
As he read, the judge watched Prosper's face to observe the effect of these revelations.
"Toward the close of 1858 she was employed as a servant by Madame Munes, and accompanied her to Lisbon. How long she remained in Lisbon, and what she did while she remained there, is not reported. But in 1861 she returned to Paris, and was sentenced to three months' imprisonment for assault and battery. Ah, she returned from Portugal with the name of Nina Gypsy."
"But I assure you, monsieur," Prosper began.
"Yes, I understand; this history is less romantic, doubtless, than the one related to you; but then it has the merit of being true. We lose sight of Palmyre Chocareille, called Gypsy, upon her release from prison, but we meet her again six months later, having made the acquaintance of a travelling agent named Caldas, who became infatuated with her beauty, and furnished her a house near the Bastille. She assumed his name for some time, then she deserted him to devote herself to you. Did you ever hear of this Caldas?"
"This foolish man so deeply loved this creature that her desertion drove him almost insane from grief. He was a very resolute man, and publicly swore that he would kill his rival if he ever found him. The current report afterward was, that he committed suicide. He certainly sold the furniture of the House occupied by Chocareille, and suddenly disappeared. All the efforts made to discover him proved fruitless."
The judge stopped a moment as if to give Prosper time for reflection, and then slowly said:
"And this is the woman whom you made your companion, the woman for whom you robbed the bank!"
Once more M. Patrigent was on the wrong track, owing to Fanferlot's incomplete information.
He had hoped that Prosper would betray himself by uttering some passionate retort when thus wounded to the quick; but he remained impassible. Of all the judge said to him his mind dwelt upon only one word—Caldas, the name of the poor travelling agent who had killed himself.
"At any rate," insisted M. Patrigent, "you will confess that this girl has caused your ruin."
"I cannot confess that, monsieur, for it is not true."
"Yet she is the occasion of your extravagance. Listen." The judge here drew a bill from the file of papers. "During December you paid her dressmaker, Van Klopen, for two walking dresses, nine hundred francs; one evening dress, seven hundred francs; one domino, trimmed with lace, four hundred francs."
"I spent this money cheerfully, but nevertheless I was not especially attached to her."
M. Patrigent shrugged his shoulders.
"You cannot deny the evidence," said he. "I suppose you will also say that it was not for this girl's sake you ceased spending your evenings at M. Fauvel's?"
"I swear that she was not the cause of my ceasing to visit M. Fauvel's family."
"Then why did you cease, suddenly, your attentions to a young lady whom you confidently expected to marry, and whose hand you had written to your father to demand for you?"
"I had reasons which I cannot reveal," answered Prosper with emotion.
The judge breathed freely; at last he had discovered a vulnerable point in the prisoner's armor.
"Did Mlle. Madeleine banish you?"
Prosper was silent, and seemed agitated.
"Speak," said M. Patrigent; "I must tell you that this circumstance is one of the most important in your case."
"Whatever the cost may be, on this subject I am compelled to keep silence."
"Beware of what you do; justice will not be satisfied with scruples of conscience."
M. Patrigent waited for an answer. None came.
"You persist in your obstinacy, do you? Well, we will go on to the next question. You have, during the last year, spent fifty thousand francs. Your resources are at an end, and your credit is exhausted; to continue your mode of life was impossible. What did you intend to do?"
"I had no settled plan. I thought it might last as long as it would, and then I——"
"And then you would draw from the safe!"
"Ah, monsieur, if I were guilty, I should not be here! I should never have been such a fool as to return to the bank; I should have fled."
M. Patrigent could not restrain a smile of satisfaction, and exclaimed:
"Exactly the argument I expected you to use. You showed your shrewdness precisely by staying to face the storm, instead of flying the country. Several recent suits have taught dishonest cashiers that flight abroad is dangerous. Railways travel fast, but telegrams travel faster. A French thief can be arrested in London within forty-eight hours after his description has been telegraphed. Even America is no longer a refuge. You remained prudently and wisely, saying to yourself, 'I will manage to avoid suspicion; and, even if I am found out, I shall be free again after three or five years' seclusion, with a large fortune to enjoy.' Many people would sacrifice five years of their lives for three hundred and fifty thousand francs."
"But monsieur, had I calculated in the manner you describe, I should not have been content with three hundred and fifty thousand francs; I should have waited for an opportunity to steal half a million. I often have that sum in charge."
"Oh! it is not always convenient to wait."
Prosper was buried in deep thought for some minutes.
"Monsieur," he finally said, "there is one detail I forgot to mention before, and it may be of importance."
"Explain, if you please."
"The office messenger whom I sent to the Bank of France for the money must have seen me tie up the bundle, and put it away in the safe. At any rate, he knows that I left the bank before he did."
"Very well; the man shall be examined. Now you can return to your cell; and once more I advise you to consider the consequences of your persistent denial."
M. Patrigent thus abruptly dismissed Prosper because he wished to immediately act upon this last piece of information.
"Sigault," said he as soon as Prosper had left the room, "is not this Antonin the man who was excused from testifying because he sent a doctor's certificate declaring him too ill to appear?"
"It is, monsieur."
"Where doe he live?"
"Fanferlot says he was so ill that he was taken to the hospital—the Dubois Hospital."
"Very well. I am going to examine him to-day, this very hour. Take your pen and paper, and send for a carriage."
It was some distance from the Palais de Justice to the Dubois Hospital; but the cabman, urged by the promise of a large fee, made his sorry jades fly as if they were blooded horses.
Would Antonin be able to answer any questions?
The physician in charge of the hospital said that, although the man suffered horribly from a broken knee, his mind was perfectly clear.
"That being the case, monsieur," said the judge, "I wish to examine him, and desire that no one be admitted while he makes his deposition."
"Oh! you will not be intruded upon, monsieur; his room contains four beds, but they are just now unoccupied."
When Antonin saw the judge enter, followed by a little weazened man in black, with a portfolio under his arm, he at once knew what he had come for.
"Ah," he said, "monsieur comes to see me about M. Bertomy's case?"
M. Patrigent remained standing by the sick-bed while Sigault arranged his papers on a little table.
In answer to the usual questions, the messenger swore that he was named Antonin Poche, was forty years old, born at Cadaujac (Gironde), and was unmarried.
"Now," said the judge, "are you well enough to clearly answer any questions I may put?"
"Did you, on the 27th of February, go to the Bank of France for the three hundred and fifty thousand francs that were stolen?"
"At what hour did you return with the money?"
"It must have been five o'clock when I got back."
"Do you remember what M. Bertomy did when you handed him the notes? Now, do not be in a hurry; think before you answer."
"Let me see: first he counted the notes, and made them into four packages; then he put them in the safe; and then—it seems to me—and then he locked the safe; and, yes, I am not mistaken, he went out!"
He uttered these last words so quickly, that, forgetting his knee, he half started up, but, with a cry of pain, sank back in bed.
"Are you sure of what you say?" asked the judge.
M. Patrigent's solemn tone seemed to frighten Antonin.
"Sure?" he replied with marked hesitation, "I would bet my head on it, yet I am not sure!"
It was impossible for him to be more decided in his answers. He had been frightened. He already imagined himself in difficulty, and for a trifle would have retracted everything.
But the effect was already produced; and when they retired M. Patrigent said to Sigault:
"This is a very important piece of evidence."
The Archangel Hotel, Mme. Gypsy's asylum, was the most elegant building on the Quai St. Michel.
A person who pays her fortnight's board in advance is treated with consideration at this hotel.
Mme. Alexandre, who had been a handsome woman, was now stout, laced till she could scarcely breathe, always over-dressed, and fond of wearing a number of flashy gold chains around her fat neck.
She had bright eyes and white teeth; but, alas, a red nose. Of all her weaknesses, and Heaven knows she had indulged in every variety, only one remained; she loved a good dinner, washed down with plenty of good wine.
She also loved her husband; and, about the time M. Patrigent was leaving the hospital, she began to be worried that her "little man" had not returned to dinner. She was about to sit down without him, when the hotel-boy cried out:
"Here is monsieur."
And Fanferlot appeared in person.
Three years before, Fanferlot had kept a little office of secret intelligence; Mme. Alexandre was a trader without a license in perfumery and toilet articles, and, finding it necessary to watch some of her suspicious customers, engaged Fanferlot's services; this was the origin of their acquaintance.
If they went through the marriage ceremony for the good of the mayoralty and the church, it was because they imagined it would, like a baptism, wash out the sins of the past.
Upon this momentous day, Fanferlot gave up his secret intelligence office, and entered the police, where he had already been occasionally employed, and Mme. Alexandre retired from trade.
Uniting their savings, they hired and furnished the "Archangel," which they were now carrying on prosperously well, esteemed by their neighbors, who were ignorant of Fanferlot's connection with the police force.
"Why, how late you are, my little man!" she exclaimed, as she dropped her knife and fork, and rushed forward to embrace him.
He received her caresses with an air of abstraction.
"My back is broken," he said. "I have been the whole day playing billiards with Evariste, M. Fauvel's valet, and allowed him to win as often as he wished, a man who does not know what 'the pool' is! I became acquainted with him yesterday, and now I am his best friend. If I wish to enter M. Fauvel's service in Antonin's place, I can rely upon M. Evariste's good word."
"What, you be an office messenger? you?"
"Of course I would. How else am I to get an opportunity of studying my characters, if I am not on the spot to watch them all the time?"
"Then the valet gave you no news?"
"He gave me none that I could make use of, and yet I turned him inside out, like a glove. This banker is a remarkable man; you don't often meet with one of his sort nowadays. Evariste says he has not a single vice, not even a little defect by which his valet could gain ten sous. He neither smokes, drinks, nor plays; in fact, he is a saint. He is worth millions, and lives as respectably and quietly as a grocer. He is devoted to his wife, adores his children, is lavishly hospitable, and seldom goes into society."
"Then his wife is young?"
"She must be about fifty."
Mme. Alexandre reflected a minute, then asked:
"Did you inquire about the other members of the family?"
"Certainly. The younger son is in the army. The elder son, Lucien, lives with his parents, and is as proper as a young lady; so good, indeed, that he is stupid."
"And what about the niece?"
"Evariste could tell me nothing about her."
Mme. Alexandre shrugged her fat shoulders.
"If you have discovered nothing, it is because there is nothing to be discovered. Still, do you know what I would do, if I were you?"
"I would consult with M. Lecoq."
Fanferlot jumped up as if he had been shot.
"Now, that's pretty advice! Do you want me to lose my place? M. Lecoq does not suspect that I have anything to do with the case, except to obey his orders."
"Nobody told you to let him know you were investigating it on your own account. You can consult him with an air of indifference, as if you were not at all interested; and, after you have got his opinion, you can take advantage of it."
The detective weighed his wife's words, and then said:
"Perhaps you are right; yet M. Lecoq is so devilishly shrewd, that he might see through me."
"Shrewd!" echoed Mme. Alexandre, "shrewd! All of you at the police office say that so often, that he has gained his reputation by it: you are just as sharp as he is."
"Well, we will see. I will think the matter over; but, in the meantime, what does the girl say?"
The "girl" was Mme. Nina Gypsy.
In taking up her abode at the Archangel, the poor girl thought she was following good advice; and, as Fanferlot had never appeared in her presence since, she was still under the impression that she had obeyed a friend of Prosper's. When she received her summons from M. Patrigent, she admired the wonderful skill of the police in discovering her hiding-place; for she had established herself at the hotel under a false, or rather her true name, Palmyre Chocareille.
Artfully questioned by her inquisitive landlady, she had, without any mistrust, confided her history to her.
Thus Fanferlot was able to impress the judge with the idea of his being a skilful detective, when he pretended to have discovered all this information from a variety of sources.
"She is still upstairs," answered Mme. Alexandre. "She suspects nothing; but to keep her in her present ignorance becomes daily more difficult. I don't know what the judge told her, but she came home quite beside herself with anger. She wanted to go and make a fuss at M. Fauvel's; then she wrote a letter which she told Jean to post for her; but I kept it to show you."
"What!" interrupted Fanferlot, "you have a letter, and did not tell me before? Perhaps it contains the clew to the mystery. Give it to me, quick."
Obeying her husband, Mme. Alexandre opened a little cupboard, and took out a letter which she handed to him.
"Here, take it," she said, "and be satisfied."
Considering that she used to be a chambermaid, Palmyre Chocareille, since become Mme. Gypsy, wrote a good letter.
It bore the following address, written in a free, flowing hand:
FOR M. L. DE CLAMERAN,
Forge-Master, Hotel du Louvre.
To be handed to M. Raoul de Lagors.
(In great haste.)
"Oh, ho!" said Fanferlot, accompanying his exclamation with a little whistle, as was his habit when he thought he had made a grand discovery. "Oh, ho!"
"Do you intend to open it?" questioned Mme. Alexandre.
"A little bit," said Fanferlot, as he dexterously opened the envelope.
Mme. Alexandre leaned over her husband's shoulder, and they both read the following letter:
"MONSIEUR RAOUL—Prosper is in prison, accused of a robbery which he never committed. I wrote to you three days ago."
"What!" interrupted Fanferlot, "this silly girl wrote, and I never saw the letter?"
"But, little man, she must have posted it herself, the day she went to the Palais de Justice."
"Very likely," said Fanferlot propitiated. He continued reading:
"I wrote to you three days ago, and have no reply. Who will help Prosper if his best friends desert him? If you don't answer this letter, I shall consider myself released from a certain promise, and without scruple will tell Prosper of the conversation I overheard between you and M. de Clameran. But I can count on you, can I not? I shall expect you at the Archangel day after to-morrow, between twelve and four.
The letter read, Fanferlot at once proceeded to copy it.
"Well!" said Mme. Alexandre, "what do you think?"
Fanferlot was delicately resealing the letter when the door of the hotel office was abruptly opened, and the boy twice whispered, "Pst! Pst!"
Fanferlot rapidly disappeared into a dark closet. He had barely time to close the door before Mme. Gypsy entered the room.
The poor girl was sadly changed. She was pale and hollow-cheeked, and her eyes were red with weeping.
On seeing her, Mme. Alexandre could not conceal her surprise.
"Why, my child, you are not going out?"
"I am obliged to do so, madame; and I come to ask you to tell anyone that may call during my absence to wait until I return."
"But where in the world are you going at this hour, sick as you are?"
For a moment Mme. Gypsy hesitated.
"Oh," she said, "you are so kind that I am tempted to confide in you; read this note which a messenger just now brought to me."
"What!" cried Mme. Alexandre perfectly aghast: "a messenger enter my house, and go up to your room!"
"Is there anything surprising in that?"
"Oh, oh, no! nothing surprising."
And in a tone loud enough to be heard in the closet she read the note:
"A friend of Prosper who can neither receive you, nor present himself at your house, is very anxious to speak to you. Be in the stage-office opposite the Saint Jacques tower, to-night at nine precisely, and the writer will approach, and tell you what he has to say.
"I have appointed this public place for the rendezvous so as to relieve your mind of all fear."
"And you are going to this rendezvous?"
"But it is imprudent, foolish; it is a snare to entrap you."
"It makes no difference," interrupted Gypsy. "I am so unfortunate already that I have nothing more to dread. Any change would be a relief."
And, without waiting to hear any more, she went out. The door had scarcely closed upon Mme. Gypsy, before Fanferlot bounced out of the closet.
The mild detective was white with rage, and swore violently.
"What is the meaning of this?" he cried. "Am I to stand by and have people walking over the Archangel, as if it were a public street?"
Mme. Alexandre stood trembling, and dared not speak.
"Was ever such impudence heard of before!" he continued. "A messenger comes into my house, and goes upstairs without being seen by anybody! I will look into this. And the idea of you, Mme. Alexandre, you, a sensible woman, being idiotic enough to persuade that little viper not to keep the appointment!"
"But, my dear—"
"Had you not sense enough to know that I would follow her, and discover what she is attempting to conceal? Come, make haste, and help me, so that she won't recognize me."
In a few minutes Fanferlot was completely disguised by a thick beard, a wig, and one of those long linen blouses worn by dishonest workmen, who go about seeking labor, and, at the same time, hoping they may not find any.
"Have you your handcuffs?" asked the solicitous Mme. Alexandre.
"Yes, yes: make haste and put that letter to M. de Clameran in the post-office, and—and keep good watch."
And without waiting for his wife's reply, who cried out, "Good luck!" Fanferlot darted into the street.
Mme. Gypsy had ten minutes' start of him; but he ran up the street he knew she must have taken, and overtook her near the Change Bridge.
She was walking with the uncertain gait of a person who, impatient to be at a rendezvous, has started too soon, and is obliged to occupy the intervening time; she would walk very rapidly, then retrace her footsteps, and proceed slowly.
On Chatelet Place she strolled up and down several times, read the theatre-bills, and finally took a seat on a bench. One minute before a quarter of nine, she entered the stage-office, and sat down.
A moment after, Fanferlot entered; but, as he feared that Mme. Gypsy might recognize him in spite of his heavy beard, he took a seat at the opposite end of the room, in a dark corner.
"Singular place for a conversation," he thought, as he watched the young woman. "Who in the world could have made this appointment in a stage-office? Judging from her evident curiosity and uneasiness, I could swear she has not the faintest idea for whom she is waiting."
Meanwhile, the office was gradually filling with people. Every minute a man would shriek out the destination of an omnibus which had just arrived, and the bewildered passengers would rush in to get tickets, and inquire when the omnibus would leave.
As each new-comer entered, Gypsy would tremble, and Fanferlot would say, "This is he!"
Finally, as the Hotel-de-Ville clock was striking nine, a man entered, and, without going to the ticket-window, walked directly up to Gypsy, bowed, and took a seat beside her.
He was a medium-sized man, rather stout, with a crimson face, and fiery-red whiskers. His dress was that of a well-to-do merchant, and there was nothing in his manner or appearance to excite attention.
Fanferlot watched him eagerly.
"Well, my friend," he said to himself, "in future I shall recognize you, no matter where we meet; and this very evening I will find out who you are."
Despite his intent listening, he could not hear a word spoken by the stranger or Gypsy. All he could do was to judge by their pantomime and countenances, what the subject of their conversation might be.
When the stout man bowed and spoke to her, the girl looked so surprised that it was evident she had never seen him before. When he sat down by her, and said a few words, she jumped up with a frightened look, as if seeking to escape. A single word and look made her resume her seat. Then, as the stout man went on talking, Gypsy's attitude betrayed great apprehension. She positively refused to do something; then suddenly she seemed to consent, when he stated a good reason for her so doing. At one moment she appeared ready to weep, and the next her pretty face was illumined by a bright smile. Finally, she shook hands with him, as if she was confirming a promise.
"What can all that mean?" said Fanferlot to himself, as he sat in his dark corner, biting his nails. "What an idiot I am to have stationed myself so far off!"
He was thinking how he could manage to approach nearer without arousing their suspicions, when the fat man arose, offered his arm to Mme. Gypsy, who accepted it without hesitation, and together they walked toward the door.
They were so engrossed with each other, that Fanferlot thought he could, without risk, follow them; and it was well he did; for the crowd was dense outside, and he would soon have lost them.
Reaching the door, he saw the stout man and Gypsy cross the pavement, approach a hackney-coach, and enter it.
"Very good," muttered Fanferlot, "I've got them now. There is no use of hurrying any more."
While the coachman was gathering up his reins, Fanferlot prepared his legs; and, when the coach started, he followed in a brisk trot, determined upon following it to the end of the earth.
The cab went up the Boulevard Sebastopol. It went pretty fast; but it was not for nothing that Fanferlot had won the name of "Squirrel." With his elbows glued to his sides, and holding his breath, he ran on.
By the time he had reached the Boulevard St. Denis, he began to get breathless, and stiff from a pain in his side. The cabman abruptly turned into the Rue Faubourg St. Martin.
But Fanferlot, who, at eight years of age, had been familiar with every street in Paris, was not to be baffled: he was a man of resources. He seized the springs of the coach, raised himself up by the strength of his wrists, and hung on behind, with his legs resting on the axle-tree of the back wheels. He was not quite comfortable, but then, he no longer ran the risk of being distanced.
"Now," he chuckled, behind his false beard, "you may drive as fast as you please, M. Cabby."
The man whipped up his horses, and drove furiously along the hilly street of the Faubourg St. Martin.
Finally the cab stopped in front of a wine-store, and the driver jumped down from his seat, and went in.
The detective also left his uncomfortable post, and crouching in a doorway, waited for Gypsy and her companion to get out, with the intention of following closely upon their heels.
Five minutes passed, and still there were no signs of them.
"What can they be doing all this time?" grumbled the detective.
With great precautions, he approached the cab, and peeped in.
Oh, cruel deception! it was empty!
Fanferlot felt as if someone had thrown a bucket of ice-water over him; he remained rooted to the spot with his mouth stretched, the picture of blank bewilderment.
He soon recovered his wits sufficiently to burst forth in a volley of oaths, loud enough to rattle all the window-panes in the neighborhood.
"Tricked!" he said, "fooled! Ah! but won't I make them pay for this!"
In a moment his quick mind had run over the gamut of possibilities, probable and improbable.
"Evidently," he muttered, "this fellow and Gypsy entered one door, and got out of the other; the trick is simple enough. If they resorted to it, 'tis because they feared being watched. If they feared being watched, they have uneasy consciences: therefore—"
He suddenly interrupted his monologue as the idea struck him that he had better attempt to find out something from the driver.
Unfortunately, the driver was in a very surly mood, and not only refused to answer, but shook his whip in so threatening a manner that Fanferlot deemed it prudent to beat a retreat.
"Oh, Lord," he muttered, "perhaps he and the driver are one and the same!"
But what could he do now, at this time of night? He could not imagine. He walked dejectedly back to the quay, and it was half-past eleven when he reached his own door.
"Has the little fool returned?" he inquired of Mme. Alexandre, the instant she opened the door for him.
"No; but here are two large bundles which have come for her."
Fanferlot hastily opened the bundles.
They contained three calico dresses, some coarse shoes, and some linen caps.
"Well," said the detective in a vexed tone, "now she is going to disguise herself. Upon my word, I am getting puzzled! What can she be up to?"
When Fanferlot was sulkily walking down the Faubourg St. Martin, he had fully made up his mind that he would not tell his wife of his discomfiture.
But once at home, confronted with a new fact of a nature to negative all his conjectures, his vanity disappeared. He confessed everything—his hopes so nearly realized, his strange mischance, and his suspicions.
They talked the matter over, and finally decided that they would not go to bed until Mme. Gypsy, from whom Mme. Alexandre was determined to obtain an explanation of what had happened, returned. At one o'clock the worthy couple were about giving over all hope of her re-appearance, when they heard the bell ring.
Fanferlot instantly slipped into the closet, and Mme. Alexandre remained in the office to received Gypsy.
"Here you are at last, my dear child!" she cried. "Oh, I have been so uneasy, so afraid lest some misfortune had happened!"
"Thanks for your kind interest, madame. Has a bundle been sent here for me?"
Poor Gypsy's appearance had strikingly changed; she was very sad, but not as before dejected. To her melancholy of the last few days, had succeeded a firm and generous resolution, which was betrayed in her sparkling eyes and resolute step.
"Yes, two bundles came for you; here they are. I suppose you saw M. Bertomy's friend?"
"Yes, madame; and his advice has so changed my plans, that, I regret to say, I must leave you to-morrow."
"Going away to-morrow! then something must have happened."
"Oh! nothing that would interest you, madame."
After lighting her candle at the gas-burner, Mme. Gypsy said "Good-night" in a very significant way, and left the room.
"And what do you think of that, Mme. Alexandre?" questioned Fanferlot, emerging from his hiding-place.
"It is incredible! This girl writes to M. de Clameran to meet her here, and then does not wait for him."
"She evidently mistrusts us; she knows who I am."
"Then this friend of the cashier must have told her."
"Nobody knows who told her. I shall end by believing that I am among a gang of thieves. They think I am on their track, and are trying to escape me. I should not be at all surprised if this little rogue has the money herself, and intends to run off with it to-morrow."
"That is not my opinion; but listen to me: you had better take my advice, and consult M. Lecoq."
Fanferlot meditated awhile, then exclaimed.
"Very well; I will see him, just for your satisfaction; because I know that, if I have discovered nothing, neither has he. But, if he undertakes to be domineering, it won't do; for, if he shows his insolence to me, I will make him know his place!"
Notwithstanding this brave speech, the detective passed an uneasy night, and at six o'clock the next morning he was up—it was necessary to rise very early if he wished to catch M. Lecoq at home—and, refreshed by a cup of strong coffee, he directed his steps toward the dwelling of the celebrated detective.
Fanferlot the Squirrel certainly was not afraid of his patron, as he called him; for he started out with his nose in the air, and his hat cocked on one side.
But by the time he reached the Rue Montmartre, where M. Lecoq lived, his courage had vanished; he pulled his hat over his eyes, and hung his head, as if looking for relief among the paving-stones. He slowly ascended the steps, pausing several times, and looking around as if he would like to fly.
Finally he reached the third floor, and stood before a door decorated with the arms of the famous detective—a cock, the symbol of vigilance—and his heart failed him so that he had scarcely the courage to ring the bell.
The door was opened by Janouille, M. Lecoq's old servant, who had very much the manner and appearance of a grenadier. She was as faithful to her master as a watch-dog, and always stood ready to attack anyone who did not treat him with the august respect which she considered his due.
"Well, M. Fanferlot," she said, "you come in time for once in your life. Your patron wants to see you."
Upon this announcement, Fanferlot was seized with a violent desire to retreat. By what chance could Lecoq want anything of him?
While he thus hesitated, Janouille seized him by the arm, and pulled him in, saying:
"Do you want to take root there? Come along, your patron is waiting for you."
In the middle of a large room curiously furnished, half library and half green-room, was seated at a desk the same person with gold spectacles, who had said to Prosper at the police-office, "Have courage."
This was M. Lecoq in his official character.
Upon Fanferlot's entrance, as he advanced respectfully, bowing till his backbone was a perfect curve, M. Lecoq laid down his pen, and said, looking sharply at him:
"Ah, here you are, young man. Well, it seems that you haven't made much progress in the Bertomy case."
"Why," murmured Fanferlot, "you know—"
"I know that you have muddled everything until you can't see your way out; so that you are ready to give up."
"But, M. Lecoq, it was not I——"
M. Lecoq arose, and walked up and down the room: suddenly he confronted Fanferlot, and said, in a tone of scornful irony:
"What would you think, Master Squirrel, of a man who abuses the confidence of those who employ him, who reveals just enough to lead the prosecution on the wrong scent, who sacrifices to his own foolish vanity the cause of justice and the liberty of an unfortunate man?"
Fanferlot started back with a frightened look.
"I should say," he stammered, "I should say—"
"You would say this man ought to be punished, and dismissed from his employment; and you are right. The less a profession is honored, the more honorable should those be who belong to it. And yet you have been false to yours. Ah! Master Fanferlot, we are ambitious, and we try to make the police force serve our own views! We let Justice stray her way, and we go ours. One must be a more cunning bloodhound than you are, my friend, to be able to hunt without a huntsman. You are too self-reliant by half."
"But, patron, I swear—"
"Silence! Do you pretend to say that you did your duty, and told all to the judge of instruction? Whilst others were informing against the cashier, you undertook to inform against the banker. You watched his movements: you became intimate with his valet."
Was M. Lecoq really angry, or pretending to be? Fanferlot, who knew him well, was puzzled to know whether all this indignation was real.
"If you were only skilful," he continued, "but no: you wish to be master, and you are not fit to be a journeyman."
"You are right, patron," said Fanferlot, piteously, for he saw that it was useless for him to deny anything. "But how could I go about an affair like this, where there was not even a trace or sign to start from?"
M. Lecoq shrugged his shoulders.
"You are an ass! Why, don't you know that on the very day you were sent for with the commissary to verify the robbery, you held—I do not say certainly, but very probably held—in your great stupid hands the means of knowing which key had been used when the money was stolen?"
"You want to know, do you? I will tell you. Do you remember the scratch you discovered on the safe-door? You were so struck by it, that you exclaimed directly you saw it. You carefully examined it, and were convinced that it was a fresh scratch, only a few hours old. You thought, and rightly too, that this scratch was made at the time of the theft. Now, with what was it made? Evidently with a key. That being the case, you should have asked for the keys both of the banker and the cashier. One of them would have had some particles of the hard green paint sticking to it."
Fanferlot listened with open mouth to this explanation. At the last words, he violently slapped his forehead with his hand, and cried out:
"You have rightly named yourself," said M. Lecoq. "Imbecile! This proof stares you right in the face, and you don't see it! This scratch is the sole and only clew to work the case upon, and you must go and lose the traces of it. If I find the guilty party, it will be by means of this scratch; and I am determined that I will find him."
At a distance the Squirrel very bravely abused and defied M. Lecoq; but, in his presence, he yielded to the influence which this extraordinary man exercised upon all who approached him.
This exact information, these minute details of all his secret movements, and even thoughts, so upset his mind that he could not think where and how M. Lecoq had obtained them. Finally he said, humbly:
"You must have been looking up this case, patron?"
"Probably I have; but I am not infallible, and may have overlooked some important evidence. Take a seat, and tell me all you know."
M. Lecoq was not the man to be hoodwinked, so Fanferlot told the exact truth, a rare thing for him to do. However as he reached the end of his statement, a feeling of mortified vanity prevented his telling how he had been fooled by Gypsy and the stout man.
Unfortunately for poor Fanferlot, M. Lecoq was always fully informed on every subject in which he interested himself.
"It seems to me, Master Squirrel, that you have forgotten something. How far did you follow the empty coach?"
Fanferlot blushed, and hung his head like a guilty school-boy.
"Oh, patron!" he cried, "and you know about that too! How could you have——"
But a sudden idea flashed across his brain: he stopped short, bounded off his chair, and cried:
"Oh! I know now: you were the large gentleman with red whiskers."
His surprise gave so singular an expression to his face that M. Lecoq could not restrain a smile.
"Then it was you," continued the bewildered detective; "you were the large gentleman at whom I stared, so as to impress his appearance upon my mind, and I never recognized you! Patron, you would make a superb actor, if you would go on the stage; but I was disguised, too—very well disguised."
"Very poorly disguised; it is only just to you that I should let you know what a failure it was, Fanferlot. Do you think that a heavy beard and a blouse are a sufficient transformation? The eye is the thing to be changed—the eye! The art lies in being able to change the eye. That is the secret."
This theory of disguise explained why the lynx-eyed Lecoq never appeared at the police-office without his gold spectacles.
"Then, patron," said Fanferlot, clinging to his idea, "you have been more successful than Mme. Alexandre; you have made the little girl confess? You know why she leaves the Archangel, why she does not wait for M. de Clameran, and why she bought calico dresses?"
"She is following my advice."
"That being the case," said the detective dejectedly, "there is nothing left for me to do, but to acknowledge myself an ass."
"No, Squirrel," said M. Lecoq, kindly, "you are not an ass. You merely did wrong in undertaking a task beyond your capacity. Have you progressed one step since you started this affair? No. That shows that, although you are incomparable as a lieutenant, you do not possess the qualities of a general. I am going to present you with an aphorism; remember it, and let it be your guide in the future: A man can shine in the second rank, who would be totally eclipsed in the first."
Never had Fanferlot seen his patron so talkative and good-natured. Finding his deceit discovered, he had expected to be overwhelmed with a storm of anger; whereas he had escaped with a little shower that had cooled his brain. Lecoq's anger disappeared like one of those heavy clouds which threaten in the horizon for a moment, and then are suddenly swept away by a gust of wind.
But this unexpected affability made Fanferlot feel uneasy. He was afraid that something might be concealed beneath it.
"Do you know who the thief is, patron?"
"I know no more than you do, Fanferlot; and you seem to have made up your mind, whereas I am still undecided. You declare the cashier to be innocent, and the banker guilty. I don't know whether you are right or wrong. I started after you, and have only reached the preliminaries of my search. I am certain of but one thing, and that is, that a scratch was on the safe-door. That scratch is my starting-point."
As he spoke, M. Lecoq took from his desk and unrolled an immense sheet of drawing-paper.
On this paper was photographed the door of M. Fauvel's safe. The impression of every detail was perfect. There were the five movable buttons with the engraved letters, and the narrow, projecting brass lock: The scratch was indicated with great exactness.
"Now," said M. Lecoq, "here is our scratch. It runs from top to bottom, starting from the hole of the lock, diagonally, and, observe, from left to right; that is to say, it terminates on the side next to the private staircase leading to the banker's apartments. Although very deep at the key-hole, it ends off in a scarcely perceptible mark."
"Yes, patron, I see all that."
"Naturally you thought that this scratch was made by the person who took the money. Let us see if you were right. I have here a little iron box, painted with green varnish like M. Fauvel's safe; here it is. Take a key, and try to scratch it."
"The deuce take it!" he said after several attempts, "this paint is awfully hard to move!"
"Very hard, my friend, and yet that on the safe is still harder and thicker. So you see the scratch you discovered could not have been made by the trembling hand of a thief letting the key slip."
"Sapristi!" exclaimed Fanferlot, stupefied: "I never should have thought of that. It certainly required great force to make the deep scratch on the safe."
"Yes, but how was that force employed? I have been racking my brain for three days, and only yesterday did I come to a conclusion. Let us examine together, and see if our conjectures present enough chances of probability to establish a starting-point."
M. Lecoq abandoned the photograph, and, walking to the door communicating with his bedroom, took the key from the lock, and, holding it in his hand, said:
"Come here, Fanferlot, and stand by my side: there; very well. Now suppose that I want to open this door, and you don't want me to open it; when you see me about to insert the key, what would be your first impulse?"
"To put my hands on your arm, and draw it toward me so as to prevent your introducing the key."
"Precisely so. Now let us try it; go on." Fanferlot obeyed; and the key held by M. Lecoq, pulled aside from the lock, slipped along the door, and traced upon it a diagonal scratch, from top to bottom, the exact reproduction of the one in the photograph.
"Oh, oh, oh!" exclaimed Fanferlot in three different tones of admiration, as he stood gazing in a revery at the door.
"Do you begin to understand now?" asked M. Lecoq.
"Understand, patron? Why, a child could understand it now. Ah, what a man you are! I see the scene as if I had been present. Two persons were present at the robbery; one wished to take the money, the other wished to prevent its being taken. That is clear, that is certain."
Accustomed to triumphs of this sort, M. Lecoq was much amused at Fanferlot's enthusiasm.
"There you go off, half-primed again," he said, good-humoredly: "you regard as sure proof a circumstance which may be accidental, and at the most only probable."
"No, patron, no! a man like you could not be mistaken: doubt no longer exists."
"That being the case, what deductions would you draw from our discovery?"
"In the first place, it proves that I am correct in thinking the cashier innocent."
"Because, at perfect liberty to open the safe whenever he wished to do so, it is not likely that he would have brought a witness when he intended to commit the theft."
"Well reasoned, Fanferlot. But on this supposition the banker would be equally innocent: reflect a little."
Fanferlot reflected, and all of his animation vanished.
"You are right," he said in a despairing tone. "What can be done now?"
"Look for the third rogue, or rather the real rogue, the one who opened the safe, and stole the notes, and who is still at large, while others are suspected."
"Impossible, patron—impossible! Don't you know that M. Fauvel and his cashier had keys, and they only? And they always kept these keys in their pockets."
"On the evening of the robbery the banker left his key in the secretary."
"Yes; but the key alone was not sufficient to open the safe; the word also must be known."
M. Lecoq shrugged his shoulders impatiently.
"What was the word?" he asked.
"Which is the name of the cashier's grisette. Now keep your eyes open. The day you find a man sufficiently intimate with Prosper to be aware of all the circumstances connected with this name, and at the same time on a footing with the Fauvel family which would give him the privilege of entering M. Fauvel's chamber, then, and not until then, will you discover the guilty party. On that day the problem will be solved."
Self-sufficient and vain, like all famous men, M. Lecoq had never had a pupil, and never wished to have one. He worked alone, because he hated assistants, wishing to share neither the pleasures of success nor the pain of defeat.
Thus Fanferlot, who knew his patron's character, was surprised to hear him giving advice, who heretofore had only given orders.
He was so puzzled, that in spite of his pre-occupation he could not help betraying his surprise.
"Patron," he ventured to say, "you seem to take a great interest in this affair, you have so deeply studied it."
M. Lecoq started nervously, and replied, frowning:
"You are too curious, Master Squirrel; be careful that you do not go too far. Do you understand?"
Fanferlot began to apologize.
"That will do," interrupted M. Lecoq. "If I choose to lend you a helping hand, it is because it suits my fancy to do so. It pleases me to be the head, and let you be the hand. Unassisted, with your preconceived ideas, you never would have found the culprit; if we two together don't find him, my name is not Lecoq."
"We shall certainly succeed if you interest yourself in the case."
"Yes, I am interested in it, and during the last four days I have discovered many important facts. But listen to me. I have reasons for not appearing in this affair. No matter what happens, I forbid your mentioning my name. If we succeed, all the success must be attributed to you. And, above all, don't try to find out what I choose to keep from you. Be satisfied with what explanations I give you. Now, be careful."
These conditions seemed quite to suit Fanferlot.
"I will obey your instructions, and be discreet."
"I shall rely upon you. Now, to begin, you must carry this photograph to the judge of instruction. I know M. Patrigent is much perplexed about this case. Explain to him, as if it were your own discovery, what I have just shown you; repeat for his benefit the scene we have acted, and I am convinced that this evidence will determine him to release the cashier. Prosper must be at liberty before I can commence my operations."
"Of course, patron, but must I let him know that I suspect anyone besides the banker or cashier?"
"Certainly. Justice must not be kept in ignorance of your intention of following up this affair. M. Patrigent will tell you to watch Prosper; you will reply that you will not lose sight of him. I myself will answer for his being in safe-keeping."
"Suppose he asks me about Gypsy?"
M. Lecoq hesitated for a moment.
"Tell him," he finally said, "that you persuaded her, in the interest of Prosper, to live in a house where she can watch someone whom you suspect."
Fanferlot was joyously picking up his hat to go, when M. Lecoq checked him by waving his hand, and said: