"Get out of that, if you can."
The judge's whole theory tumbled to pieces if M. Lecoq's deductions were right; but he could not admit that he had been so much deceived; he could not renounce an opinion formed by deliberate reflection.
"I don't pretend that Guespin is the only criminal," said he. "He could only have been an accomplice; and that he was."
"An accomplice? No, Judge, he was a victim. Ah, Tremorel is a great rascal! Don't you see now why he put forward the hands? At first I didn't perceive the object of advancing the time five hours; now it is clear. In order to implicate Guespin the crime must appear to have been committed after midnight, and—"
He suddenly checked himself and stopped with open mouth and fixed eyes as a new idea crossed his mind. The judge, who was bending over his papers trying to find something to sustain his position, did not perceive this.
"But then," said the latter, "how do you explain Guespin's refusal to speak and to give an account of where he spent the night?"
M. Lecoq had now recovered from his emotion, and Dr. Gendron and M. Plantat, who were watching him with the deepest attention, saw a triumphant light in his eyes. Doubtless he had just found a solution of the problem which had been put to him.
"I understand," replied he, "and can explain Guespin's obstinate silence. I should be perfectly amazed if he decided to speak just now."
M. Domini misconstrued the meaning of this; he thought he saw in it a covert intention to banter him.
"He has had a night to reflect upon it," he answered. "Is not twelve hours enough to mature a system of defence?"
The detective shook his head doubtfully.
"It is certain that he does not need it," said he. "Our prisoner doesn't trouble himself about a system of defence, that I'll swear to."
"He keeps quiet, because he hasn't been able to get up a plausible story."
"No, no; believe me, he isn't trying to get up one. In my opinion, Guespin is a victim; that is, I suspect Tremorel of having set an infamous trap for him, into which he has fallen, and in which he sees himself so completely caught that he thinks it useless to struggle. The poor wretch is convinced that the more he resists the more surely he will tighten the web that is woven around him."
"I think so, too," said M. Plantat.
"The true criminal, Count Hector," resumed the detective, "lost his presence of mind at the last moment, and thus lost all the advantages which his previous caution had gained. Don't let us forget that he is an able man, perfidious enough to mature the most infamous stratagems, and unscrupulous enough to execute them. He knows that justice must have its victims, one for every crime; he does not forget that the police, as long as it has not the criminal, is always on the search with eye and ear open; and he has thrown us Guespin as a huntsman, closely pressed, throws his glove to the bear that is close upon him. Perhaps he thought that the innocent man would not be in danger of his life; at all events he hoped to gain time by this ruse; while the bear is smelling and turning over the glove, the huntsman gains ground, escapes and reaches his place of refuge; that was what Tremorel proposed to do."
The Corbeil policeman was now undoubtedly Lecoq's most enthusiastic listener. Goulard literally drank in his chief's words. He had never heard any of his colleagues express themselves with such fervor and authority; he had had no idea of such eloquence, and he stood erect, as if some of the admiration which he saw in all the faces were reflected back on him. He grew in his own esteem as he thought that he was a soldier in an army commanded by such generals. He had no longer any opinion excepting that of his superior. It was not so easy to persuade, subjugate, and convince the judge.
"But," objected the latter, "you saw Guespin's countenance?"
"Ah, what matters the countenance—what does that prove? Don't we know if you and I were arrested to-morrow on a terrible charge, what our bearing would be?"
M. Domini gave a significant start; this hypothesis scarcely pleased him.
"And yet you and I are familiar with the machinery of justice. When I arrested Lanscot, the poor servant in the Rue Marignan, his first words were: 'Come on, my account is good.' The morning that Papa Tabaret and I took the Viscount de Commarin as he was getting out of bed, on the accusation of having murdered the widow Lerouge, he cried: 'I am lost.' Yet neither of them were guilty; but both of them, the viscount and the valet, equal before the terror of a possible mistake of justice, and running over in their thoughts the charges which would be brought against them, had a moment of overwhelming discouragement."
"But such discouragement does not last two days," said M. Domini.
M. Lecoq did not answer this; he went on, growing more animated as he proceeded.
"You and I have seen enough prisoners to know how deceitful appearances are, and how little they are to be trusted. It would be foolish to base a theory upon a prisoner's bearing. He who talked about 'the cry of innocence' was an idiot, just as the man was who prated about the 'pale stupor' of guilt. Neither crime nor virtue have, unhappily, any especial countenance. The Simon girl, who was accused of having killed her father, absolutely refused to answer any questions for twenty-two days; on the twenty-third, the murderer was caught. As to the Sylvain affair—"
M. Domini rapped lightly on his desk to check the detective. As a man, the judge held too obstinately to his opinions; as a magistrate he was equally obstinate, but was at the same time ready to make any sacrifice of his self-esteem if the voice of duty prompted it. M. Lecoq's arguments had not shaken his convictions, but they imposed on him the duty of informing himself at once, and to either conquer the detective or avow himself conquered.
"You seem to be pleading," said he to M. Lecoq. "There is no need of that here. We are not counsel and judge; the same honorable intentions animate us both. Each, in his sphere, is searching after the truth. You think you see it shining where I only discern clouds; and you may be mistaken as well as I."
Then by an act of heroism, he condescended to add:
"What do you think I ought to do?"
The judge was at least rewarded for the effort he made by approving glances from M. Plantat and the doctor. But M. Lecoq did not hasten to respond; he had many weighty reasons to advance; that, he saw, was not what was necessary. He ought to present the facts, there and at once, and produce one of those proofs which can be touched with the finger. How should he do it? His active mind searched eagerly for such a proof.
"Well?" insisted M. Domini.
"Ah," cried the detective. "Why can't I ask Guespin two or three questions?"
The judge frowned; the suggestion seemed to him rather presumptuous. It is formally laid down that the questioning of the accused should be done in secret, and by the judge alone, aided by his clerk. On the other hand it is decided, that after he has once been interrogated he may be confronted with witnesses. There are, besides, exceptions in favor of the members of the police force. M. Domini reflected whether there were any precedents to apply to the case.
"I don't know," he answered at last, "to what point the law permits me to consent to what you ask. However, as I am convinced the interests of truth outweigh all rules, I shall take it on myself to let you question Guespin."
He rang; a bailiff appeared.
"Has Guespin been carried back to prison?"
"Not yet, Monsieur."
"So much the better; have him brought in here."
M. Lecoq was beside himself with joy; he had not hoped to achieve such a victory over one so determined as M. Domini.
"He will speak now," said he, so full of confidence that his eyes shone, and he forgot the portrait of the dear defunct, "for I have three means of unloosening his tongue, one of which is sure to succeed. But before he comes I should like to know one thing. Do you know whether Tremorel saw Jenny after Sauvresy's death?"
"Jenny?" asked M. Plantat, a little surprised.
"Certainly he did."
"Pretty often. After the scene at the Belle Image the poor girl plunged into terrible dissipation. Whether she was smitten with remorse, or understood that it was her conduct which had killed Sauvresy, or suspected the crime, I don't know. She began, however, to drink furiously, falling lower and lower every week—"
"And the count really consented to see her again?"
"He was forced to do so; she tormented him, and he was afraid of her. When she had spent all her money she sent to him for more, and he gave it. Once he refused; and that very evening she went to him the worse for wine, and he had the greatest difficulty in the world to send her away again. In short, she knew what his relations with Madame Sauvresy had been, and she threatened him; it was a regular black-mailing operation. He told me all about the trouble she gave him, and added that he would not be able to get rid of her without shutting her up, which he could not bring himself to do."
"How long ago was their last interview?"
"Why," answered the doctor, "not three weeks ago, when I had a consultation at Melun, I saw the count and this demoiselle at a hotel window; when he saw me he suddenly drew back."
"Then," said the detective, "there is no longer any doubt—"
He stopped. Guespin came in between two gendarmes.
The unhappy gardener had aged twenty years in twenty-four hours. His eyes were haggard, his dry lips were bordered with foam.
"Let us see," said the judge. "Have you changed your mind about speaking?"
The prisoner did not answer.
"Have you decided to tell us about yourself?"
Guespin's rage made him tremble from head to foot, and his eyes became fiery.
"Speak!" said he hoarsely. "Why should I?"
He added with the gesture of a desperate man who abandons himself, renounces all struggling and all hope:
"What have I done to you, my God, that you torture me this way? What do you want me to say? That I did this crime—is that what you want? Well, then—yes—it was I. Now you are satisfied. Now cut my head off, and do it quick—for I don't want to suffer any longer."
A mournful silence welcomed Guespin's declaration. What, he confessed it!
M. Domini had at least the good taste not to exult; he kept still, and yet this avowal surprised him beyond all expression.
M. Lecoq alone, although surprised, was not absolutely put out of countenance. He approached Guespin and tapping him on the shoulder, said in a paternal tone:
"Come, comrade, what you are telling us is absurd. Do you think the judge has any secret grudge against you? No, eh? Do you suppose I am interested to have you guillotined? Not at all. A crime has been committed, and we are trying to find the assassin. If you are innocent, help us to find the man who isn't: What were you doing from Wednesday evening till Thursday morning?"
But Guespin persisted in his ferocious and stupid obstinacy.
"I've said what I have to say," said he.
M. Lecoq changed his tone to one of severity, stepping back to watch the effect he was about to produce upon Guespin.
"You haven't any right to hold your tongue. And even if you do, you fool, the police know everything. Your master sent you on an errand, didn't he, on Wednesday night; what did he give you? A one-thousand-franc note?"
The prisoner looked at M. Lecoq in speechless amazement.
"No," he stammered. "It was a five-hundred-franc note."
The detective, like all great artists in a critical scene, was really moved. His surprising genius for investigation had just inspired him with a bold stroke, which, if it succeeded, would assure him the victory.
"Now," said he, "tell me the woman's name."
"I don't know."
"You are only a fool then. She is short, isn't she, quite pretty, brown and pale, with very large eyes?"
"You know her, then?" said Guespin, in a voice trembling with emotion.
"Yes, comrade, and if you want to know her name, to put in your prayers, she is called—Jenny."
Men who are really able in some specialty, whatever it may be, never uselessly abuse their superiority; their satisfaction at seeing it recognized is sufficient reward. M. Lecoq softly enjoyed his triumph, while his hearers wondered at his perspicacity. A rapid chain of reasoning had shown him not only Tremorel's thoughts, but also the means he had employed to accomplish his purpose.
Guespin's astonishment soon changed to anger. He asked himself how this man could have been informed of things which he had every reason to believe were secret. Lecoq continued:
"Since I have told you the woman's name, tell me now, how and why the count gave you a five-hundred-franc note."
"It was just as I was going out. The count had no change, and did not want to send me to Orcival for it. I was to bring back the rest."
"And why didn't you rejoin your companions at the wedding in the Batignolles?"
"What was the errand which you were to do for the count?"
Guespin hesitated. His eyes wandered from one to another of those present, and he seemed to discover an ironical expression on all the faces. It occurred to him that they were making sport of him, and had set a snare into which he had fallen. A great despair took possession of him.
"Ah," cried he, addressing M. Lecoq, "you have deceived me. You have been lying so as to find out the truth. I have been such a fool as to answer you, and you are going to turn it all against me."
"What? Are you going to talk nonsense again?"
"No, but I see just how it is, and you won't catch me again! Now I'd rather die than say a word."
The detective tried to reassure him; but he added:
"Besides, I'm as sly as you; I've told you nothing but lies."
This sudden whim surprised no one. Some prisoners intrench themselves behind a system of defence, and nothing can divert them from it; others vary with each new question, denying what they have just affirmed, and constantly inventing some new absurdity which anon they reject again. M. Lecoq tried in vain to draw Guespin from his silence; M. Domini made the same attempt, and also failed; to all questions he only answered, "I don't know."
At last the detective waxed impatient.
"See here," said he to Guespin, "I took you for a young man of sense, and you are only an ass. Do you imagine that we don't know anything? Listen: On the night of Madame Denis's wedding, you were getting ready to go off with your comrades, and had just borrowed twenty francs from the valet, when the count called you. He made you promise absolute secrecy (a promise which, to do you justice, you kept); he told you to leave the other servants at the station and go to Vulcan's Forges, where you were to buy for him a hammer, a file, a chisel, and a dirk; these you were to carry to a certain woman. Then he gave you this famous five-hundred-franc note, telling you to bring him back the change when you returned next day. Isn't that so?"
An affirmative response glistened in the prisoner's eyes; still, he answered, "I don't recollect it."
"Now," pursued M. Lecoq, "I'm going to tell you what happened afterwards. You drank something and got tipsy, and in short spent a part of the change of the note. That explains your fright when you were seized yesterday morning, before anybody said a word to you. You thought you were being arrested for spending that money. Then, when you learned that the count had been murdered during the night, recollecting that on the evening before you had bought all kinds of instruments of theft and murder, and that you didn't know either the address or the name of the woman to whom you gave up the package, convinced that if you explained the source of the money found in your pocket, you would not be believed—then, instead of thinking of the means to prove your innocence, you became afraid, and thought you would save yourself by holding your tongue."
The prisoner's countenance visibly changed; his nerves relaxed; his tight lips fell apart; his mind opened itself to hope. But he still resisted.
"Do with me as you like," said he.
"Eh! What should we do with such a fool as you?" cried M. Lecoq angrily. "I begin to think you are a rascal too. A decent fellow would see that we wanted to get him out of a scrape, and he'd tell us the truth. You are prolonging your imprisonment by your own will. You'd better learn that the greatest shrewdness consists in telling the truth. A last time, will you answer?"
Guespin shook his head; no.
"Go back to prison, then; since it pleases you," concluded the detective. He looked at the judge for his approval, and added:
"Gendarmes, remove the prisoner."
The judge's last doubt was dissipated like the mist before the sun. He was, to tell the truth, a little uneasy at having treated the detective so rudely; and he tried to repair it as much as he could.
"You are an able man, Monsieur Lecoq," said he. "Without speaking of your clearsightedness, which is so prompt as to seem almost like second sight, your examination just now was a master-piece of its kind. Receive my congratulations, to say nothing of the reward which I propose to recommend in your favor to your chiefs."
The detective at these compliments cast down his eyes with the abashed air of a virgin. He looked tenderly at the dear defunct's portrait, and doubtless said to it:
"At last, darling, we have defeated him—this austere judge who so heartily detests the force of which we are the brightest ornament, makes his apologies; he recognizes and applauds our services."
He answered aloud:
"I can only accept half of your eulogies, Monsieur; permit me to offer the other half to my friend Monsieur Plantat."
M. Plantat tried to protest.
"Oh," said he, "only for some bits of information! You would have ferreted out the truth without me all the same."
The judge arose and graciously, but not without effort, extended his hand to M. Lecoq, who respectfully pressed it.
"You have spared me," said the judge, "a great remorse. Guespin's innocence would surely sooner or later have been recognized; but the idea of having imprisoned an innocent man and harassed him with my interrogatories, would have disturbed my sleep and tormented my conscience for a long time."
"God knows this poor Guespin is not an interesting youth," returned the detective. "I should be disposed to press him hard were I not certain that he's half a fool."
M. Domini gave a start.
"I shall discharge him this very day," said he, "this very hour."
"It will be an act of charity," said M. Lecoq; "but confound his obstinacy; it was so easy for him to simplify my task. I might be able, by the aid of chance, to collect the principal facts—the errand, and a woman being mixed up in the affair; but as I'm no magician, I couldn't guess all the details. How is Jenny mixed up in this affair? Is she an accomplice, or has she only been made to play an ignorant part in it? Where did she meet Guespin and whither did she lead him? It is clear that she made the poor fellow tipsy so as to prevent his going to the Batignolles. Tremorel must have told her some false story—but what?"
"I don't think Tremorel troubled his head about so small a matter," said M. Plantat. "He gave Guespin and Jenny some task, without explaining it at all."
M. Lecoq reflected a moment.
"Perhaps you are right. But Jenny must have had special orders to prevent Guespin from putting in an alibi."
"But," said M. Domini, "Jenny will explain it all to us."
"That is what I rely on; and I hope that within forty-eight hours I shall have found her and brought her safely to Corbeil."
He rose at these words, took his cane and hat, and turning to the judge, said:
"Yes, I know," interrupted M. Domini, "you want a warrant to arrest Hector de Tremorel."
"I do, as you are now of my opinion that he is still alive."
"I am sure of it."
M. Domini opened his portfolio and wrote off a warrant as follows:
"By the law: "We, judge of instruction of the first tribunal, etc., considering articles 91 and 94 of the code of criminal instruction, command and ordain to all the agents of the police to arrest, in conformity with the law, one Hector de Tremorel, etc."
When he had finished, he said:
"Here it is, and may you succeed in speedily finding this great criminal."
"Oh, he'll find him," cried the Corbeil policeman.
"I hope so, at least. As to how I shall go to work, I don't know yet. I will arrange my plan of battle to-night."
The detective then took leave of M. Domini and retired, followed by M. Plantat. The doctor remained with the judge to make arrangements for Sauvresy's exhumation.
M. Lecoq was just leaving the court-house when he felt himself pulled by the arm. He turned and found that it was Goulard who came to beg his favor and to ask him to take him along, persuaded that after having served under so great a captain he must inevitably become a famous man himself. M. Lecoq had some difficulty in getting rid of him; but he at length found himself alone in the street with the old justice of the peace.
"It is late," said the latter. "Would it be agreeable to you to partake of another modest dinner with me, and accept my cordial hospitality?"
"I am chagrined to be obliged to refuse you," replied M. Lecoq. "But I ought to be in Paris this evening."
"But I—in fact, I—was very anxious to talk to you—about—"
"About Mademoiselle Laurence?"
"Yes; I have a plan, and if you would help me—"
M. Lecoq affectionately pressed his friend's hand.
"I have only known you a few hours," said he, "and yet I am as devoted to you as I would be to an old friend. All that is humanly possible for me to do to serve you, I shall certainly do."
"But where shall I see you? They expect me to-day at Orcival."
"Very well; to-morrow morning at nine, at my rooms. No—Rue Montmartre."
"A thousand thanks; I shall be there."
When they had reached the Belle Image they separated.
Nine o'clock had just struck in the belfry of the church of St. Eustache, when M. Plantat reached Rue Montmartre, and entered the house bearing the number which M. Lecoq had given him.
"Monsieur Lecoq?" said he to an old woman who was engaged in getting breakfast for three large cats which were mewing around her. The woman scanned him with a surprised and suspicious air. M. Plantat, when he was dressed up, had much more the appearance of a fine old gentleman than of a country attorney; and though the detective received many visits from all sorts of people, it was rarely that the denizens of the Faubourg Saint Germaine rung his bell.
"Monsieur Lecoq's apartments," answered the old woman, "are on the third story, the door facing the stairs."
The justice of the peace slowly ascended the narrow, ill-lighted staircase, which in its dark corners was almost dangerous. He was thinking of the strange step he was about to take. An idea had occurred to him, but he did not know whether it were practicable, and at all events he needed the aid and advice of the detective. He was forced to disclose his most secret thoughts, as it were, to confess himself; and his heart beat fast. The door opposite the staircase on the third story was not like other doors; it was of plain oak, thick, without mouldings, and fastened with iron bars. It would have looked like a prison door had not its sombreness been lightened by a heavily colored engraving of a cock crowing, with the legend "Always Vigilant." Had the detective put his coat of arms up there? Was it not more likely that one of his men had done it? After examining the door more than a minute, and hesitating like a youth before his beloved's gate, he rang the bell. A creaking of locks responded, and through the narrow bars of the peephole he saw the hairy face of an old crone.
"What do you want?" said the woman, in a deep, bass voice.
"What do you want of him?"
"He made an appointment with me for this morning."
"Your name and business?"
"Monsieur Plantat, justice of the peace at Orcival."
"All right. Wait."
The peephole was closed and the old man waited.
"Peste!" growled he. "Everybody can't get in here, it seems." Hardly had this reflection passed through his mind when the door opened with a noise as of chains and locks. He entered, and the old crone, after leading him through a dining-room whose sole furniture was a table and six chairs, introduced him to a large room, half toilet-room and half working-room, lighted by two windows looking on the court, and guarded by strong, close bars.
"If you will take the trouble to sit," said the servant, "Monsieur Lecoq will soon be here; he is giving orders to one of his men."
But M. Plantat did not take a seat; he preferred to examine the curious apartment in which he found himself. The whole of one side of the wall was taken up with a long rack, where hung the strangest and most incongruous suits of clothes. There were costumes belonging to all grades of society; and on some wooden pegs above, wigs of all colors were hanging; while boots and shoes of various styles were ranged on the floor. A toilet-table, covered with powders, essences, and paints, stood between the fireplace and the window. On the other side of the room was a bookcase full of scientific works, especially of physic and chemistry. The most singular piece of furniture in the apartment, however, was a large ball, shaped like a lozenge, in black velvet, suspended beside the looking-glass. A quantity of pins were stuck in this ball, so as to form the letters composing these two names: HECTOR-JENNY.
These names glittering on the black background attracted the old man's attention at once. This must have been M. Lecoq's reminder. The ball was meant to recall to him perpetually the people of whom he was in pursuit. Many names, doubtless, had in turn glittered on that velvet, for it was much frayed and perforated. An unfinished letter lay open upon the bureau.
M. Plantat leaned over to read it; but he took his trouble for nothing, for it was written in cipher.
He had no sooner finished his inspection of the room than the noise of a door opening made him turn round. He saw before him a man of his own age, of respectable mien, and polite manners, a little bald, with gold spectacles and a light-colored flannel dressing-gown.
M. Plantat bowed, saying:
"I am waiting here for Monsieur Lecoq."
The man in gold spectacles burst out laughing, and clapped his hands with glee.
"What, dear sir," said he, "don't you know me? Look at me well —it is I—Monsieur Lecoq!" And to convince him, he took off his spectacles. Those might, indeed, be Lecoq's eyes, and that his voice; M. Plantat was confounded.
"I never should have recognized you," said he.
"It's true, I have changed a little—but what would you have? It's my trade."
And pushing a chair toward his visitor, he pursued:
"I have to beg a thousand pardons for the formalities you've had to endure to get in here; it's a dire necessity, but one I can't help. I have told you of the dangers to which I am exposed; they pursue me to my very door. Why, last week a railway porter brought a package here addressed to me. Janouille—that's my old woman —suspected nothing, though she has a sharp nose, and told him to come in. He held out the package, I went up to take it, when pif! paf! off went two pistol-shots. The package was a revolver wrapped up in oilcloth, and the porter was a convict escaped from Cayenne, caught by me last year. Ah, I put him through for this though!"
He told this adventure carelessly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
"But let's not starve ourselves to death," he continued, ringing the bell. The old hag appeared, and he ordered her to bring on breakfast forthwith, and above all, some good wine.
"You are observing my Janouille," remarked he, seeing that M. Plantat looked curiously at the servant. "She's a pearl, my dear friend, who watches over me as if I were her child, and would go through the fire for me. I had a good deal of trouble the other day to prevent her strangling the false railway porter. I picked her out of three or four thousand convicts. She had been convicted of infanticide and arson. I would bet a hundred to one that, during the three years that she has been in my service, she has not even thought of robbing me of so much as a centime."
But M. Plantat only listened to him with one ear; he was trying to find an excuse for cutting Janouille's story short, and to lead the conversation to the events of the day before.
"I have, perhaps, incommoded you a little this morning, Monsieur Lecoq?"
"Me? then you did not see my motto—'always vigilant?' Why, I've been out ten times this morning; besides marking out work for three of my men. Ah, we have little time to ourselves, I can tell you. I went to the Vulcan's Forges to see what news I could get of that poor devil of a Guespin."
"And what did you hear?"
"That I had guessed right. He changed a five-hundred-franc note there last Wednesday evening at a quarter before ten."
"That is to say, he is saved?"
"Well, you may say so. He will be, as soon as we have found Miss Jenny."
The old justice of the peace could not avoid showing his uneasiness.
"That will, perhaps, be long and difficult?"
"Bast! Why so? She is on my black ball there—we shall have her, accidents excepted, before night."
"You really think so?"
"I should say I was sure, to anybody but you. Reflect that this girl has been connected with the Count de Tremorel, a man of the world, a prince of the mode. When a girl falls to the gutter, after having, as they say, dazzled all Paris for six months with her luxury, she does not disappear entirely, like a stone in the mud. When she has lost all her friends there are still her creditors, who follow and watch her, awaiting the day when fortune will smile on her once more. She doesn't trouble herself about them, she thinks they've forgotten her; a mistake! I know a milliner whose head is a perfect dictionary of the fashionable world; she has often done me a good turn. We will go and see her if you say so, after breakfast, and in two hours she will give us Jenny's address. Ah, if I were only as sure of pinching Tremorel!"
M. Plantat gave a sigh of relief. The conversation at last took the turn he wished.
"You are thinking of him, then?" asked he.
"Am I?" shouted M. Lecoq, who started from his seat at the question. "Now just look at my black ball there. I haven't thought of anybody else, mark you, since yesterday; I haven't had a wink of sleep all night for thinking of him. I must have him, and I will!"
"I don't doubt it; but when?"
"Ah, there it is! Perhaps to-morrow, perhaps in a month; it depends on the correctness of my calculations and the exactness of my plan."
"What, is your plan made?"
"And decided on."
M. Plantat became attention itself.
"I start from the principle that it is impossible for a man, accompanied by a woman, to hide from the police. In this case, the woman is young, pretty, and in a noticeable condition; three impossibilities more. Admit this, and we'll study Hector's character. He isn't a man of superior shrewdness, for we have found out all his dodges. He isn't a fool, because his dodges deceived people who are by no means fools. He is then a medium sort of a man, and his education, reading, relations, and daily conversation have procured him a number of acquaintances whom he will try to use. Now for his mind. We know the weakness of his character; soft, feeble, vacillating, only acting in the last extremity. We have seen him shrinking from decisive steps, trying always to delay matters. He is given to being deceived by illusions, and to taking his desires for accomplished events. In short, he is a coward. And what is his situation? He has killed his wife, he hopes he has created a belief in his own death, he has eloped with a young girl, and he has got nearly or quite a million of francs in his pocket. Now, this position admitted, as well as the man's character and mind, can we by an effort of thought, reasoning from his known actions, discover what he has done in such and such a case? I think so, and I hope I shall prove it to you."
M. Lecoq rose and promenaded, as his habit was, up and down the room. "Now let's see," he continued, "how I ought to proceed in order to discover the probable conduct of a man whose antecedents, traits, and mind are known to me. To begin with, I throw off my own individuality and try to assume his. I substitute his will for my own. I cease to be a detective and become this man, whatever he is. In this case, for instance, I know very well what I should do if I were Tremorel. I should take such measures as would throw all the detectives in the universe off the scent. But I must forget Monsieur Lecoq in order to become Hector de Tremorel. How would a man reason who was base enough to rob his friend of his wife, and then see her poison her husband before his very eyes? We already know that Tremorel hesitated a good while before deciding to commit this crime. The logic of events, which fools call fatality, urged him on. It is certain that he looked upon the murder in every point of view, studied its results, and tried to find means to escape from justice. All his acts were determined on long beforehand, and neither immediate necessity nor unforeseen circumstances disturbed his mind. The moment he had decided on the crime, he said to himself: 'Grant that Bertha has been murdered; thanks to my precautions, they think that I have been killed too; Laurence, with whom I elope, writes a letter in which she announces her suicide; I have money, what must I do?' The problem, it seems to me, is fairly put in this way."
"Perfectly so," approved M. Plantat.
"Naturally, Tremorel would choose from among all the methods of flight of which he had ever heard, or which he could imagine, that which seemed to him the surest and most prompt. Did he meditate leaving the country? That is more than probable. Only, as he was not quite out of his senses, he saw that it was most difficult, in a foreign country, to put justice off the track. If a man flies from France to escape punishment, he acts absurdly. Fancy a man and woman wandering about a country of whose language they are ignorant; they attract attention at once, are observed, talked about, followed. They do not make a purchase which is not remarked; they cannot make any movement without exciting curiosity. The further they go the greater their danger. If they choose to cross the ocean and go to free America, they must go aboard a vessel; and the moment they do that they may be considered as good as lost. You might bet twenty to one they would find, on landing on the other side, a detective on the pier armed with a warrant to arrest them. I would engage to find a Frenchman in eight days, even in London, unless he spoke pure enough English to pass for a citizen of the United Kingdom. Such were Tremorel's reflections. He recollected a thousand futile attempts, a hundred surprising adventures, narrated by the papers; and it is certain that he gave up the idea of going abroad."
"It's clear," cried M. Plantat, "perfectly plain and precise. We must look for the fugitives in France."
"Yes," replied M. Lecoq. "Now let's find out where and how people can hide themselves in France. Would it be in the provinces? Evidently not. In Bordeaux, one of our largest cities, people stare at a man who is not a Bordelais. The shopkeepers on the quays say to their neighbors: 'Eh! do you know that man?' There are two cities, however, where a man may pass unnoticed—Marseilles and Lyons; but both of these are distant, and to reach them a long journey must be risked—and nothing is so dangerous as the railway since the telegraph was established. One can fly quickly, it's true; but on entering a railway carriage a man shuts himself in, and until he gets out of it he remains under the thumb of the police. Tremorel knows all this as well as we do. We will put all the large towns, including Lyons and Marseilles, out of the question."
"In short, it's impossible to hide in the provinces."
"Excuse me—there is one means; that is, simply to buy a modest little place at a distance from towns and railways, and to go and reside on it under a false name. But this excellent project is quite above Tremorel's capacity, and requires preparatory steps which he could not risk, watched as he was by his wife. The field of investigation is thus much narrowed. Putting aside foreign parts, the provinces, the cities, the country, Paris remains. It is in Paris that we must look for Tremorel."
M. Lecoq spoke with the certainty and positiveness of a mathematical professor; the old justice of the peace listened, as do the professor's scholars. But he was already accustomed to the detective's surprising clearness, and was no longer astonished. During the four-and-twenty hours that he had been witnessing M. Lecoq's calculations and gropings, he had seized the process and almost appropriated it to himself. He found this method of reasoning very simple, and could now explain to himself certain exploits of the police which had hitherto seemed to him miraculous. But M. Lecoq's "narrow field" of observation appeared still immense.
"Paris is a large place," observed the old justice.
M. Lecoq smiled loftily.
"Perhaps so; but it is mine. All Paris is under the eye of the police, just as an ant is under that of the naturalist with his microscope. How is it, you may ask, that Paris still holds so many professional rogues? Ah, that is because we are hampered by legal forms. The law compels us to use only polite weapons against those to whom all weapons are serviceable. The courts tie our hands. The rogues are clever, but be sure that our cleverness is much greater than theirs."
"But," interrupted M. Plantat, "Tremorel is now outside the law; we have the warrant."
"What matters it? Does the warrant give me the right to search any house in which I may have reason to suppose he is hiding himself? No. If I should go to the house of one of Hector's old friends he would kick me out of doors. You must know that in France the police have to contend not only with the rogues, but also with the honest people."
M. Lecoq always waxed warm on this subject; he felt a strong resentment against the injustice practised on his profession. Fortunately, at the moment when he was most excited, the black ball suddenly caught his eye.
"The devil!" exclaimed he, "I was forgetting Hector."
M. Plantat, though listening patiently to his companion's indignant utterances, could not help thinking of the murderer.
"You said that we must look for Tremorel in Paris," he remarked.
"And I said truly," responded M. Lecoq in a calmer tone. "I have come to the conclusion that here, perhaps within two streets of us, perhaps in the next house, the fugitives are hid. But let's go on with our calculation of probabilities. Hector knows Paris too well to hope to conceal himself even for a week in a hotel or lodging-house; he knows these are too sharply watched by the police. He had plenty of time before him, and so arranged to hire apartments in some convenient house."
"He came to Paris three or four times some weeks ago."
"Then there's no longer any doubt about it. He hired some apartments under a false name, paid in advance, and to-day he is comfortably ensconced in his new residence."
M. Plantat seemed to feel extremely distressed at this.
"I know it only too well, Monsieur Lecoq," said he, sadly. "You must be right. But is not the wretch thus securely hidden from us? Must we wait till some accident reveals him to us? Can you search one by one all the houses in Paris?"
The detective's nose wriggled under his gold spectacles, and the justice of the peace, who observed it, and took it for a good sign, felt all his hopes reviving in him.
"I've cudgelled my brain in vain—" he began.
"Pardon me," interrupted M. Lecoq. "Having hired apartments, Tremorel naturally set about furnishing them."
"Of course he would furnish them sumptuously, both because he is fond of luxury and has plenty of money, and because he couldn't carry a young girl from a luxurious home to a garret. I'd wager that they have as fine a drawing-room as that at Valfeuillu."
"Alas! How can that help us?"
"Peste! It helps us much, my dear friend, as you shall see. Hector, as he wished for a good deal of expensive furniture, did not have recourse to a broker; nor had he time to go to the Faubourg St. Antoine. Therefore, he simply went to an upholsterer."
"Some fashionable upholsterer—"
"No, he would have risked being recognized. It is clear that he assumed a false name, the same in which he had hired his rooms. He chose some shrewd and humble upholsterer, ordered his goods, made sure that they would be delivered on a certain day, and paid for them."
M. Plantat could not repress a joyful exclamation; he began to see M. Lecoq's drift.
"This merchant," pursued the latter, "must have retained his rich customer in his memory, this customer who did not beat him down, and paid cash. If he saw him again, he would recognize him."
"What an idea!" cried M. Plantat, delighted. "Let's get photographs and portraits of Tremorel as quick as we can—let's send a man to Orcival for them."
M. Lecoq smiled shrewdly and proceeded:
"Keep yourself easy; I have done what was necessary. I slipped three of the count's cartes-de-visite in my pocket yesterday during the inquest. This morning I took down, out of the directory, the names of all the upholsterers in Paris, and made three lists of them. At this moment three of my men, each with a list and a photograph, are going from upholsterer to upholsterer showing them the picture and asking them if they recognize it as the portrait of one of their customers. If one of them answers 'yes,' we've got our man."
"And we will get him!" cried the old man, pale with emotion.
"Not yet; don't shout victory too soon. It is possible that Hector was prudent enough not to go to the upholsterer's himself. In this case we are beaten in that direction. But no, he was not so sly as that—"
M. Lecoq checked himself. Janouille, for the third time, opened the door, and said, in a deep bass voice:
"Breakfast is ready."
Janouille was a remarkable cook; M. Plantat had ample experience of the fact when he began upon her dishes. But he was not hungry, and could not force himself to eat; he could not think of anything but a plan which he had to propose to his host, and he had that oppressive feeling which is experienced when one is about to do something which has been decided on with hesitation and regret. The detective, who, like all men of great activity, was a great eater, vainly essayed to entertain his guest, and filled his glass with the choicest Chateau Margaux; the old man sat silent and sad, and only responded by monosyllables. He tried to speak out and to struggle against the hesitation he felt. He did not think, when he came, that he should have this reluctance; he had said to himself that he would go in and explain himself. Did he fear to be ridiculed? No. His passion was above the fear of sarcasm or irony. And what did he risk? Nothing. Had not M. Lecoq already divined the secret thoughts he dared not impart to him, and read his heart from the first? He was reflecting thus when the door-bell rang. Janouille went to the door, and speedily returned with the announcement that Goulard begged to speak with M. Lecoq, and asked if she should admit him.
The chains clanked and the locks scraped, and presently Goulard made his appearance. He had donned his best clothes, with spotless linen, and a very high collar. He was respectful, and stood as stiffly as a well-drilled grenadier before his sergeant.
"What the deuce brought you here?" said M. Lecoq, sternly. "And who dared to give you my address?"
"Monsieur," said Goulard, visibly intimidated by his reception, "please excuse me; I was sent by Doctor Gendron with this letter for Monsieur Plantat."
"Oh," cried M. Plantat, "I asked the doctor, last evening, to let me know the result of the autopsy, and not knowing where I should put up, took the liberty of giving your address."
M. Lecoq took the letter and handed it to his guest. "Read it, read it," said the latter. "There is nothing in it to conceal."
"All right; but come into the other room. Janouille, give this man some breakfast. Make yourself at home, Goulard, and empty a bottle to my health."
When the door of the other room was closed, M. Lecoq broke the seal of the letter, and read:
"MY DEAR PLANTAT:
"You asked me for a word, so I scratch off a line or two which I shall send to our sorcerer's—"
"Oh, ho," cried M. Lecoq. "Monsieur Gendron is too good, too flattering, really!"
No matter, the compliment touched his heart. He resumed the letter:
"At three this morning we exhumed poor Sauvresy's body. I certainly deplore the frightful circumstances of this worthy man's death as much as anyone; but on the other hand, I cannot help rejoicing at this excellent opportunity to test the efficacy of my sensitive paper—"
"Confound these men of science," cried the indignant Plantat. "They are all alike!"
"Why so? I can very well comprehend the doctor's involuntary sensations. Am I not ravished when I encounter a fine crime?"
And without waiting for his guest's reply, he continued reading the letter:
"The experiments promised to be all the more conclusive as aconitine is one of those drugs which conceal themselves most obstinately from analysis. I proceed thus: After heating the suspected substances in twice their weight of alcohol, I drop the liquid gently into a vase with edges a little elevated, at the bottom of which is a piece of paper on which I have placed my tests. If my paper retains its color, there is no poison; if it changes, the poison is there. In this case my paper was of a light yellow color, and if we were not mistaken, it ought either to become covered with brown spots, or completely brown. I explained this experiment beforehand to the judge of instruction and the experts who were assisting me. Ah, my friend, what a success I had! When the first drops of alcohol fell, the paper at once became a dark brown; your suspicions are thus proved to be quite correct. The substances which I submitted to the test were liberally saturated with aconitine. I never obtained more decisive results in my laboratory. I expect that my conclusions will be disputed in court; but I have means of verifying them, so that I shall surely confound all the chemists who oppose me. I think, my dear friend, that you will not be indifferent to the satisfaction I feel—"
M. Plantat lost patience.
"This is unheard-of!" cried he. "Incredible! Would you say, now, that this poison which he found in Sauvresy's body was stolen from his own laboratory? Why, that body is nothing more to him than 'suspected matter!' And he already imagines himself discussing the merits of his sensitive paper in court!"
"He has reason to look for antagonists in court."
"And meanwhile he makes his experiments, and analyzes with the coolest blood in the world; he continues his abominable cooking, boiling and filtering, and preparing his arguments—!"
M. Lecoq did not share in his friend's indignation; he was not sorry at the prospect of a bitter struggle in court, and he imagined a great scientific duel, like that between Orfila and Raspail, the provincial and Parisian chemists.
"If Tremorel has the face to deny his part in Sauvresy's murder," said he, "we shall have a superb trial of it."
This word "trial" put an end to M. Plantat's long hesitation.
"We mustn't have any trial," cried he.
The old man's violence, from one who was usually so calm and self-possessed, seemed to amaze M. Lecoq.
"Ah ha," thought he, "I'm going to know all." He added aloud:
"What, no trial?"
M. Plantat had turned whiter than a sheet; he was trembling, and his voice was hoarse, as if broken by sobs.
"I would give my fortune," resumed he "to avoid a trial—every centime of it, though it doesn't amount to much. But how can we secure this wretch Tremorel from a conviction? What subterfuge shall we invent? You alone, my friend, can advise me in the frightful extremity to which you see me reduced, and aid me to accomplish what I wish. If there is any way in the world, you will find it and save me—"
"Pardon—hear me, and you will comprehend me. I am going to be frank with you, as I would be with myself; and you will see the reason of my hesitation, my silence, in short, of all my conduct since the discovery of the crime."
"I am listening."
"It's a sad history, Lecoq. I had reached an age at which a man's career is, as they say, finished, when I suddenly lost my wife and my two sons, my whole joy, my whole hope in this world. I found myself alone in life, more lost than the shipwrecked man in the midst of the sea, without a plank to sustain me. I was a soulless body, when chance brought me to settle down at Orcival. There I saw Laurence; she was just fifteen, and never lived there a creature who united in herself so much intelligence, grace, innocence, and beauty. Courtois became my friend, and soon Laurence was like a daughter to me. I doubtless loved her then, but I did not confess it to myself, for I did not read my heart clearly. She was so young, and I had gray hairs! I persuaded myself that my love for her was like that of a father, and it was as a father that she cherished me. Ah, I passed many a delicious hour listening to her gentle prattle and her innocent confidences; I was happy when I saw her skipping about in my garden, picking the roses I had reared for her, and laying waste my parterres; and I said to myself that existence is a precious gift from God. My dream then was to follow her through life. I fancied her wedded to some good man who made her happy, while I remained the friend of the wife, after having been the confidant of the maiden. I took good care of my fortune, which is considerable, because I thought of her children, and wished to hoard up treasures for them. Poor, poor Laurence!"
M. Lecoq fidgeted in his chair, rubbed his face with his handkerchief, and seemed ill at ease. He was really much more touched than he wished to appear.
"One day," pursued the old man, "my friend Courtois spoke to me of her marriage with Tremorel; then I measured the depth of my love. I felt terrible agonies which it is impossible to describe; it was like a long-smothered fire which suddenly breaks forth and devours everything. To be old, and to love a child! I thought I was going crazy; I tried to reason, to upbraid myself, but it was of no avail. What can reason or irony do against passion? I kept silent and suffered. To crown all, Laurence selected me as her confidant—what torture! She came to me to talk of Hector; she admired in him all that seemed to her superior to other men, so that none could be compared with him. She was enchanted with his bold horseback riding, and thought everything he said sublime."
"Did you know what a wretch Tremorel was?"
"Alas, I did not yet know it. What was this man who lived at Valfeuillu to me? But from the day that I learned that he was going to deprive me of my most precious treasure, I began to study him. I should have been somewhat consoled if I had found him worthy of her; so I dogged him, as you, Monsieur Lecoq, cling to the criminal whom you are pursuing. I went often to Paris to learn what I could of his past life; I became a detective, and went about questioning everybody who had known him, and the more I heard of him the more I despised him. It was thus that I found out his interviews with Jenny and his relations with Bertha."
"Why didn't you divulge them?"
"Honor commanded silence. Had I a right to dishonor my friend and ruin his happiness and life, because of this ridiculous, hopeless love? I kept my own counsel after speaking to Courtois about Jenny, at which he only laughed. When I hinted something against Hector to Laurence, she almost ceased coming to see me."
"Ah! I shouldn't have had either your patience or your generosity."
"Because you are not as old as I, Monsieur Lecoq. Oh, I cruelly hated this Tremorel! I said to myself, when I saw three women of such different characters smitten with him, 'what is there in him to be so loved?'"
"Yes," answered M. Lecoq, responding to a secret thought, "women often err; they don't judge men as we do."
"Many a time," resumed the justice of the peace, "I thought of provoking him to fight with me, that I might kill him; but then Laurence would not have looked at me any more. However, I should perhaps have spoken at last, had not Sauvresy fallen ill and died. I knew that he had made his wife and Tremorel swear to marry each other; I knew that a terrible reason forced them to keep their oath; and I thought Laurence saved. Alas, on the contrary she was lost! One evening, as I was passing the mayor's house, I saw a man getting over the wall into the garden; it was Tremorel. I recognized him perfectly. I was beside myself with rage, and swore that I would wait and murder him. I did wait, but he did not come out that night."
M. Plantat hid his face in his hands; his heart bled at the recollection of that night of anguish, the whole of which he had passed in waiting for a man in order to kill him. M. Lecoq trembled with indignation.
"This Tremorel," cried he, "is the most abominable of scoundrels. There is no excuse for his infamies and crimes. And yet you want to save him from trial, the galleys, the scaffold which await him."
The old man paused a moment before replying. Of the thoughts which now crowded tumultuously in his mind, he did not know which to utter first. Words seemed powerless to betray his sensations; he wanted to express all that he felt in a single sentence.
"What matters Tremorel to me?" said he at last. "Do you think I care about him? I don't care whether he lives or dies, whether he succeeds in flying or ends his life some morning in the Place Roquette."
"Then why have you such a horror of a trial?"
"Are you a friend to his family, and anxious to preserve the great name which he has covered with mud and devoted to infamy?"
"No, but I am anxious for Laurence, my friend; the thought of her never leaves me."
"But she is not his accomplice; she is totally ignorant—there's no doubt of it—that he has killed his wife."
"Yes," resumed M. Plantat, "Laurence is innocent; she is only the victim of an odious villain. It is none the less true, though, that she would be more cruelly punished than he. If Tremorel is brought before the court, she will have to appear too, as a witness if not as a prisoner. And who knows that her truth will not be suspected? She will be asked whether she really had no knowledge of the project to murder Bertha, and whether she did not encourage it. Bertha was her rival; it is natural to suppose that she hated her. If I were the judge I should not hesitate to include Laurence in the indictment."
"With our aid she will prove victoriously that she was ignorant of all, and has been outrageously deceived."
"May be; but will she be any the less dishonored and forever lost? Must she not, in that case, appear in public, answer the judge's questions, and narrate the story of her shame and misfortunes? Must not she say where, when, and how she fell, and repeat the villain's words to her? Can you imagine that of her own free will she compelled herself to announce her suicide at the risk of killing her parents with grief? No. Then she must explain what menaces forced her to do this, which surely was not her own idea. And worse than all, she will be compelled to confess her love for Tremorel."
"No," answered the detective. "Let us not exaggerate anything. You know as well as I do that justice is most considerate with the innocent victims of affairs of this sort."
"Consideration? Eh! Could justice protect her, even if it would, from the publicity in which trials are conducted? You might touch the magistrates' hearts; but there are fifty journalists who, since this crime, have been cutting their pens and getting their paper ready. Do you think that, to please us, they would suppress the scandalous proceedings which I am anxious to avoid, and which the noble name of the murderer would make a great sensation? Does not this case unite every feature which gives success to judicial dramas? Oh, there's nothing wanting, neither unworthy passion, nor poison, nor vengeance, nor murder. Laurence represents in it the romantic and sentimental element; she—my darling girl—will become a heroine of the assizes; it is she who will attract the readers of the Police Gazette; the reporters will tell when she blushes and when she weeps; they will rival each other in describing her toilet and bearing. Then there will be the photographers besieging her, and if she refuses to sit, portraits of some hussy of the street will be sold as hers. She will yearn to hide herself —but where? Can a few locks and bars shelter her from eager curiosity? She will become famous. What shame and misery! If she is to be saved, Monsieur Lecoq, her name must not be spoken. I ask of you, is it possible? Answer me."
The old man was very violent, yet his speech was simple, devoid of the pompous phrases of passion. Anger lit up his eyes with a strange fire; he seemed young again—he loved, and defended his beloved.
M. Lecoq was silent; his companion insisted.
"Why seek to mislead me? Haven't I as well as you had experience in these things? If Tremorel is brought to trial, all is over with Laurence! And I love her! Yes, I dare to confess it to you, and let you see the depth of my grief, I love her now as I have never loved her. She is dishonored, an object of contempt, perhaps still adores this wretch—what matters it? I love her a thousand times more than before her fall, for then I loved her without hope, while now—"
He stopped, shocked at what he was going to say. His eyes fell before M. Lecoq's steady gaze, and he blushed for this shameful yet human hope that he had betrayed.
"You know all, now," resumed he, in a calmer tone; "consent to aid me, won't you? Ah, if you only would, I should not think I had repaid you were I to give you half my fortune—and I am rich—"
M. Lecoq stopped him with a haughty gesture.
"Enough, Monsieur Plantat," said he, in a bitter tone, "I can do a service to a person whom I esteem, love and pity with all my soul; but I cannot sell such a service."
"Believe that I did not wish—"
"Yes, yes, you wished to pay me. Oh, don't excuse yourself, don't deny it. There are professions, I know, in which manhood and integrity seem to count for nothing. Why offer me money? What reason have you for judging me so mean as to sell my favors? You are like the rest, who can't fancy what a man in my position is. If I wanted to be rich—richer than you—I could be so in a fortnight. Don't you see that I hold in my hands the honor and lives of fifty people? Do you think I tell all I know? I have here," added he, tapping his forehead, "twenty secrets that I could sell to-morrow, if I would, for a plump hundred thousand apiece."
He was indignant, but beneath his anger a certain sad resignation might be perceived. He had often to reject such offers.
"If you go and resist this prejudice established for ages, and say that a detective is honest and cannot be otherwise, that he is tenfold more honest than any merchant or notary, because he has tenfold the temptations, without the benefits of his honesty; if you say this, they'll laugh in your face. I could get together to-morrow, with impunity, without any risk, at least a million. Who would mistrust it? I have a conscience, it's true; but a little consideration for these things would not be unpleasant. When it would be so easy for me to divulge what I know of those who have been obliged to trust me, or things which I have surprised, there is perhaps a merit in holding my tongue. And still, the first man who should come along to-morrow—a defaulting banker, a ruined merchant, a notary who has gambled on 'change—would feel himself compromised by walking up the boulevard with me! A policeman—fie! But old Tabaret used to say to me, that the contempt of such people was only one form of fear."
M. Plantat was dismayed. How could he, a man of delicacy, prudence and finesse, have committed such an awkward mistake? He had just cruelly wounded this man, who was so well disposed toward him, and he had everything to fear from his resentment.
"Far be it from me, dear friend," he commenced, "to intend the offence you imagine. You have misunderstood an insignificant phrase, which I let escape carelessly, and had no meaning at all."
M. Lecoq grew calmer.
"Perhaps so. You will forgive my being so susceptible, as I am more exposed to insults than most people. Let's leave the subject, which is a painful one, and return to Tremorel."
M. Plantat was just thinking whether he should dare to broach his projects again, and he was singularly touched by M. Lecoq's delicately resuming the subject of them.
"I have only to await your decision," said the justice of the peace.
"I will not conceal from you," resumed M. Lecoq, "that you are asking a very difficult thing, and one which is contrary to my duty, which commands me to search for Tremorel, to arrest him, and deliver him up to justice. You ask me to protect him from the law—"
"In the name of an innocent creature whom you will thereby save."
"Once in my life I sacrificed my duty. I could not resist the tears of a poor old mother, who clung to my knees and implored pardon for her son. To-day I am going to exceed my right, and to risk an attempt for which my conscience will perhaps reproach me. I yield to your entreaty."
"Oh, my dear Lecoq, how grateful I am!" cried M. Plantat, transported with joy.
But the detective remained grave, almost sad, and reflected.
"Don't let us encourage a hope which may be disappointed," he resumed. "I have but one means of keeping a criminal like Tremorel out of the courts; will it succeed?"
"Yes, yes. If you wish it, it will!"
M. Lecoq could not help smiling at the old man's faith.
"I am certainly a clever detective," said he. "But I am only a man after all, and I can't answer for the actions of another man. All depends upon Hector. If it were another criminal, I should say I was sure. I am doubtful about him, I frankly confess. We ought, above all, to count upon the firmness of Mademoiselle Courtois; can we, think you?"
"She is firmness itself."
"Then there's hope. But can we really suppress this affair? What will happen when Sauvresy's narrative is found? It must be concealed somewhere in Valfeuillu, and Tremorel, at least, did not find it."
"It will not be found," said M. Plantat, quickly.
"You think so?"
"I am sure of it."
M. Lecoq gazed intently at his companion, and simply said:
But this is what he thought: "At last I am going to find out where the manuscript which we heard read the other night, and which is in two handwritings, came from."
After a moment's hesitation, M. Plantat went on:
"I have put my life in your hands, Monsieur Lecoq; I can, of course, confide my honor to you. I know you. I know that, happen what may—"
"I shall keep my mouth shut, on my honor."
"Very well. The day that I caught Tremorel at the mayor's, I wished to verify the suspicions I had, and so I broke the seal of Sauvresy's package of papers."
"And you did not use them?"
"I was dismayed at my abuse of confidence. Besides, had I the right to deprive poor Sauvresy, who was dying in order to avenge himself, of his vengeance?"
"But you gave the papers to Madame de Tremorel?"
"True; but Bertha had a vague presentiment of the fate that was in store for her. About a fortnight before her death she came and confided to me her husband's manuscript, which she had taken care to complete. I broke the seals and read it, to see if he had died a violent death."
"Why, then, didn't you tell me? Why did you let me hunt, hesitate, grope about—"
"I love Laurence, Monsieur Lecoq, and to deliver up Tremorel was to open an abyss between her and me."
The detective bowed. "The deuce," thought he, "the old justice is shrewd—as shrewd as I am. Well, I like him, and I'm going to give him a surprise."
M. Plantat yearned to question his host and to know what the sole means of which he spoke were, which might be successful in preventing a trial and saving Laurence, but he did not dare to do so.
The detective bent over his desk lost in thought. He held a pencil in his hand and mechanically drew fantastic figures on a large sheet of white paper which lay before him. He suddenly came out of his revery. He had just solved a last difficulty; his plan was now entire and complete. He glanced at the clock.
"Two o'clock," cried he, "and I have an appointment between three and four with Madame Charman about Jenny."
"I am at your disposal," returned his guest.
"All right. When Jenny is disposed of we must look after Tremorel; so let's take our measures to finish it up to-day."
"What! do you hope to do everything to-day—"
"Certainly. Rapidity is above all necessary in our profession. It often takes a month to regain an hour lost. We've a chance now of catching Hector by surprise; to-morrow it will be too late. Either we shall have him within four-and-twenty hours or we must change our batteries. Each of my three men has a carriage and a good horse; they may be able to finish with the upholsterers within an hour from now. If I calculate aright, we shall have the address in an hour, or at most in two hours, and then we will act."
Lecoq, as he spoke, took a sheet of paper surmounted by his arms out of his portfolio, and rapidly wrote several lines.
"See here," said he, "what I've written to one of my lieutenants."
"MONSIEUR JOB— "Get together six or eight of our men at once and take them to the wine merchant's at the corner of the Rue des Martyrs and the Rue Lamartine; await my orders there."
"Why there and not here?"
"Because we must avoid needless excursions. At the place I have designated we are only two steps from Madame Charman's and near Tremorel's retreat; for the wretch has hired his rooms in the quarter of Notre Dame de Lorette."
M. Plantat gave an exclamation of surprise.
"What makes you think that?"
The detective smiled, as if the question seemed foolish to him.
"Don't you recollect that the envelope of the letter addressed by Mademoiselle Courtois to her family to announce her suicide bore the Paris postmark, and that of the branch office of Rue St. Lazare? Now listen to this: On leaving her aunt's house, Laurence must have gone directly to Tremorel's apartments, the address of which he had given her, and where he had promised to meet her on Thursday morning. She wrote the letter, then, in his apartments. Can we admit that she had the presence of mind to post the letter in another quarter than that in which she was? It is at least probable that she was ignorant of the terrible reasons which Tremorel had to fear a search and pursuit. Had Hector foresight enough to suggest this trick to her? No, for if he wasn't a fool he would have told her to post the letter somewhere outside of Paris. It is therefore scarcely possible that it was posted anywhere else than at the nearest branch office."
These suppositions were so simple that M. Plantat wondered he had not thought of them before. But men do not see clearly in affairs in which they are deeply interested; passion dims the eyes, as heat in a room dims a pair of spectacles. He had lost, with his coolness, a part of his clearsightedness. His anxiety was very great; for he thought M. Lecoq had a singular mode of keeping his promise.
"It seems to me," he could not help remarking, "that if you wish to keep Hector from trial, the men you have summoned together will be more embarrassing than useful."
M. Lecoq thought that his guest's tone and look betrayed a certain doubt, and was irritated by it.
"Do you distrust me, Monsieur Plantat?"
The old man tried to protest.
"You have my word," resumed M. Lecoq, "and if you knew me better you would know that I always keep it when I have given it. I have told you that I would do my best to save Mademoiselle Laurence; but remember that I have promised you my assistance, not absolute success. Let me, then, take such measures as I think best."
So saying, he rang for Janouille.
"Here's a letter," said he when she appeared, "which must be sent to Job at once."
"I will carry it."
"By no means. You will be pleased to remain here and wait for the men that I sent out this morning. As they come in, send them to the wine merchant's at the corner of the Rue des Martyrs; you know it—opposite the church. They'll find a numerous company there."
As he gave his orders, he took off his gown, assumed a long black coat, and carefully adjusted his wig.
"Will Monsieur be back this evening?" asked Janouille.
"I don't know."
"And if anybody comes from over yonder?"
"Over yonder" with a detective, always means "the house"—otherwise the prefecture of police.
"Say that I am out on the Corbeil affair."
M. Lecoq was soon ready. He had the air, physiognomy, and manners of a highly respectable chief clerk of fifty. Gold spectacles, an umbrella, everything about him exhaled an odor of the ledger.
"Now," said he to M. Plantat. "Let's hurry away." Goulard, who had made a hearty breakfast, was waiting for his hero in the dining-room.
"Ah ha, old fellow," said M. Lecoq. "So you've had a few words with my wine. How do you find it?"
"Delicious, my chief; perfect—that is to say, a true nectar."
"It's cheered you up, I hope."
"Oh, yes, my chief."
"Then you may follow us a few steps and mount guard at the door of the house where you see us go in. I shall probably have to confide a pretty little girl to your care whom you will carry to Monsieur Domini. And open your eyes; for she's a sly creature, and very apt to inveigle you on the way and slip through your fingers."
They went out, and Janouille stoutly barricaded herself behind them.
Whosoever needs a loan of money, or a complete suit of clothes in the top of the fashion, a pair of ladies' boots, or an Indian cashmere; a porcelain table service or a good picture; whosoever desires diamonds, curtains, laces, a house in the country, or a provision of wood for winter fires—may procure all these, and many other things besides, at Mme. Charman's.
Mme. Charman lives at 136, Rue Notre Dame de Lorette, on the first story above the ground-floor. Her customers must give madame some guarantee of their credit; a woman, if she be young and pretty, may be accommodated at madame's at the reasonable rate of two hundred per cent interest. Madame has, at these rates, considerable custom, and yet has not made a large fortune. She must necessarily risk a great deal, and bears heavy losses as well as receives large profits. Then she is, as she is pleased to say, too honest; and true enough, she is honest—she would rather sell her dress off her back than let her signature go to protest.
Madame is a blonde, slight, gentle, and not wanting in a certain distinction of manner; she invariably wears, whether it be summer or winter, a black silk dress. They say she has a husband, but no one has ever seen him, which does not prevent his reputation for good conduct from being above suspicion. However, honorable as may be Mme. Charman's profession, she has more than once had business with M. Lecoq; she has need of him and fears him as she does fire. She, therefore, welcomed the detective and his companion—whom she took for one of his colleagues—somewhat as the supernumerary of a theatre would greet his manager if the latter chanced to pay him a visit in his humble lodgings.
She was expecting them. When they rang, she advanced to meet them in the ante-chamber, and greeted M. Lecoq graciously and smilingly. She conducted them into her drawing-room, invited them to sit in her best arm-chairs, and pressed some refreshments upon them.
"I see, dear Madame," began M. Lecoq, "that you have received my little note."
"Yes, Monsieur Lecoq, early this morning; I was not up."
"Very good. And have you been so kind as to do the service I asked?"
"How can you ask me, when you know that I would go through the fire for you? I set about it at once, getting up expressly for the purpose."
"Then you've got the address of Pelagie Taponnet, called Jenny?"
"Yes, I have," returned Mme. Charman, with an obsequious bow. "If I were the kind of woman to magnify my services, I would tell you what trouble it cost me to find this address, and how I ran all over Paris and spent ten francs in cab hire."
"Well, let's come to the point."
"The truth is, I had the pleasure of seeing Miss Jenny day before yesterday."
"You are joking!"
"Not the least in the world. And let me tell you that she is a very courageous and honest girl."
"She is, indeed. Why, she has owed me four hundred and eighty francs for two years. I hardly thought the debt worth much, as you may imagine. But Jenny came to me day before yesterday all out of breath and told me that she had inherited some money, and had brought me what she owed me. And she was not joking, either; for her purse was full of bank notes, and she paid me the whole of my bill. She's a good girl!" added Mme. Charman, as if profoundly convinced of the truth of her encomium.
M. Lecoq exchanged a significant glance with the old justice; the same idea struck them both at the same moment. These bank-notes could only be the payment for some important service rendered by Jenny to Tremorel. M. Lecoq, however, wished for more precise information.
"What was Jenny's condition before this windfall?" asked he.
"Ah, Monsieur Lecoq, she was in a dreadful condition. Since the count deserted her she has been constantly falling lower and lower. She sold all she had piece by piece. At last, she mixed with the worst kind of people, drank absinthe, they say, and had nothing to put to her back. When she got any money she spent it on a parcel of hussies instead of buying clothes."
"And where is she living?"
"Right by, in a house in the Rue Vintimille."
"If that is so," replied M. Lecoq, severely, "I am astonished that she is not here."
"It's not my fault, dear Monsieur Lecoq; I know where the nest is, but not where the bird is. She was away this morning when I sent for her."
"The deuce! But then—it's very annoying; I must hunt her up at once."
"You needn't disturb yourself. Jenny ought to return before four o'clock, and one of my girls is waiting for her with orders to bring her here as soon as she comes in, without even letting her go up to her room."
"We'll wait for her then."
M. Lecoq and his friend waited about a quarter of an hour, when Mme. Charman suddenly got up.
"I hear my girl's step on the stairs," said she.
"Listen to me," answered M. Lecoq, "if it is she, manage to make Jenny think that it was you who sent for her; we will seem to have come in by the merest chance."
Mme. Charman responded by a gesture of assent. She was going towards the door when the detective detained her by the arm.
"One word more. When you see me fairly engaged in conversation with her, please be so good as to go and overlook your work-people in the shops. What I have to say will not interest you in the least."
"But no trickery, you know. I know where the closet of your bedroom is, well enough to be sure that everything that is said here may be overheard in it."
Mme. Charman's emissary opened the door; there was a loud rustling of silks along the corridor; and Jenny appeared in all her glory. She was no longer the fresh and pretty minx whom Hector had known —the provoking large-eyed Parisian demoiselle, with haughty head and petulant grace. A single year had withered her, as a too hot summer does the roses, and had destroyed her fragile beauty beyond recall. She was not twenty, and still it was hard to discern that she had been charming, and was yet young. For she had grown old like vice; her worn features and hollow cheeks betrayed the dissipations of her life; her eyes had lost their long, languishing lids; her mouth had a pitiful expression of stupefaction; and absinthe had broken the clear tone of her voice. She was richly dressed in a new robe, with a great deal of lace and a jaunty hat; yet she had a wretched expression; she was all besmeared with rouge and paint.
When she came in she seemed very angry.
"What an idea!" she cried, without taking the trouble to bow to anyone; "what sense is there in sending for me to come here in this way, almost by force, and by a very impudent young woman?"
Mme. Charman hastened to meet her old customer, embraced her in spite of herself, and pressed her to her heart.
"Why, don't be so angry, dear—I thought you would be delighted and overwhelm me with thanks."
"I? What for?"
"Because, my dear girl, I had a surprise in store for you. Ah, I'm not ungrateful; you came here yesterday and settled your account with me, and to-day I mean to reward you for it. Come, cheer up; you're going to have a splendid chance, because just at this moment I happen to have a piece of exquisite velvet—"
"A pretty thing to bring me here for!"
"All silk, my dear, at thirty francs the yard. Ha, 'tis wonderfully cheap, the best—"
"Eh! What care I for your 'chance?' Velvet in July—are you making fun of me?"
"Let me show it to you, now."
"Never! I am expected to dinner at Asnieres, and so—"
She was about to go away despite Mme. Charman's attempts to detain her, when M. Lecoq thought it was time to interfere.
"Why, am I mistaken?" cried he, as if amazed; "is it really Miss Jenny whom I have the honor of seeing?"
She scanned him with a half-angry, half-surprised air, and said:
"Yes, it is I; what of it?"
"What! Are you so forgetful? Don't you recognize me?"
"No, not at all."
"Yet I was one of your admirers once, my dear, and used to breakfast with you when you lived near the Madeleine; in the count's time, you know."
He took off his spectacles as if to wipe them, but really to launch a furious look at Mme. Charman, who, not daring to resist, beat a hasty retreat.
"I knew Tremorel well in other days," resumed the detective. "And —by the bye, have you heard any news of him lately?"
"I saw him about a week ago."
"Stop, though—haven't you heard of that horrible affair?"
"No. What was it?"
"Really, now, haven't you heard? Don't you read the papers? It was a dreadful thing, and has been the talk of all Paris for the past forty-eight hours."
"Tell me about it, quick!"
"You know that he married the widow of one of his friends. He was thought to be very happy at home; not at all; he has murdered his wife with a knife."
Jenny grew pale under her paint.
"Is it possible?" stammered she. She seemed much affected, but not very greatly surprised, which M. Lecoq did not fail to remark.
"It is so possible," he resumed, "that he is at this moment in prison, will soon be tried, and without a doubt will be convicted."
M. Plantat narrowly observed Jenny; he looked for an explosion of despair, screams, tears, at least a light nervous attack; he was mistaken.
Jenny now detested Tremorel. Sometimes she felt the weight of her degradation, and she accused Hector of her present ignominy. She heartily hated him, though she smiled when she saw him, got as much money out of him as she could, and cursed him behind his back. Instead of bursting into tears, she therefore laughed aloud.
"Well done for Tremorel," said she. "Why did he leave me? Good for her too."
"What did she deceive her husband for? It was she who took Hector from me—she, a rich, married woman! But I've always said Hector was a poor wretch."
"Frankly, that's my notion too. When a man acts as Tremorel has toward you, he's a villain."
"It's so, isn't it?"
"Parbleu! But I'm not surprised at his conduct. For his wife's murder is the least of his crimes; why, he tried to put it off upon somebody else!"
"That doesn't surprise me."
"He accused a poor devil as innocent as you or I, who might have been condemned to death if he hadn't been able to tell where he was on Wednesday night."
M. Lecoq said this lightly, with intended deliberation, so as to watch the impression he produced on Jenny.
"Do you know who the man was?" asked she in a tremulous voice.
"The papers said it was a poor lad who was his gardener."
"A little man, wasn't he, thin, very dark, with black hair?"
"And whose name was—wait now—was—Guespin."
"Ah ha, you know him then?"
Jenny hesitated. She was trembling very much, and evidently regretted that she had gone so far.
"Bah!" said she at last. "I don't see why I shouldn't tell what I know. I'm an honest girl, if Tremorel is a rogue; and I don't want them to condemn a poor wretch who is innocent."
"You know something about it, then?"
"Well, I know nearly all about it—that's honest, ain't it? About a week ago Hector wrote to me to meet him at Melun; I went, found him, and we breakfasted together. Then he told me that he was very much annoyed about his cook's marriage; for one of his servants was deeply in love with her, and might go and raise a rumpus at the wedding."
"Ah, he spoke to you about the wedding, then?"
"Wait a minute. Hector seemed very much embarrassed, not knowing how to avoid the disturbance he feared. Then I advised him to send the servant off out of the way on the wedding-day. He thought a moment, and said that my advice was good. He added that he had found a means of doing this; on the evening of the marriage he would send the man on an errand for me, telling him that the affair was to be concealed from the countess. I was to dress up—as a chambermaid, and wait for the man at the cafe in the Place du Chatelet, between half-past nine and ten that evening; I was to sit at the table nearest the entrance on the right, with a bouquet in my hand, so that he should recognize me. He would come in and give me a package; then I was to ask him to take something, and so get him tipsy if possible, and then walk about Paris with him till morning."
Jenny expressed herself with difficulty, hesitating, choosing her words, and trying to remember exactly what Tremorel said.
"And you," interrupted M. Lecoq, "did you believe all this story about a jealous servant?"
"Not quite; but I fancied that he had some intrigue on foot, and I wasn't sorry to help him deceive a woman whom I detested, and who had wronged me."
"So you did as he told you?"
"Exactly, from beginning to end; everything happened just as Hector had foreseen. The man came along at just ten o'clock, took me for a maid, and gave me the package. I naturally offered him a glass of beer; he took it and proposed another, which I also accepted. He is a very nice fellow, this gardener, and I passed a very pleasant evening with him. He knew lots of queer things, and—"
"Never mind that. What did you do then?"
"After the beer we had some wine, then some beer again, then some punch, then some more wine—the gardener had his pockets full of money. He was very tipsy by eleven and invited me to go and have a dance with him at the Batignolles. I refused, and asked him to escort me back to my mistress at the upper end of the Champs Elysees. We went out of the cafe and walked up the Rue de Rivoli, stopping every now and then for more wine and beer. By two o'clock the fellow was so far gone that he fell like a lump on a bench near the Arc de Triomphe, where he went to sleep; and there I left him."
"Well, where did you go?"
"What has become of the package?"
"Oh, I intended to throw it into the Seine, as Hector wished, but I forgot it; you see, I had drunk almost as much as the gardener —so I carried it back home with me, and it is in my room now."
"Have you opened it?"
"Well—what do you think?"
"What did it contain?"
"A hammer, two other tools and a large knife."
Guespin's innocence was now evident, and the detective's foresight was realized.
"Guespin's all right," said M. Plantat. "But we must know—"
M. Lecoq interrupted him; he knew now all he wished. Jenny could tell him nothing more, so he suddenly changed his tone from a wheedling one to abrupt severity.
"My fine young woman," said he, "you have saved an innocent man, but you must repeat what you have just said to the judge of instruction at Corbeil. And as you might lose yourself on the way, I'll give you a guide."
He went to the window and opened it; perceiving Goulard on the sidewalk, he cried out to him:
"Goulard, come up here."
He turned to the astonished Jenny, who was so frightened that she dared not either question him or get angry, and said:
"Tell me how much Tremorel paid you for the service you rendered him."
"Ten thousand francs; but it is my due, I swear to you; for he promised it to me long ago, and owed it to me."
"Very good; it can't be taken away from you." He added, pointing out Goulard who entered just then: "Go with this man to your room, take the package which Guespin brought you, and set out at once for Corbeil. Above all, no tricks, Miss—or beware of me!"
Mme. Charman came in just in time to see Jenny leave the room with Goulard.
"Lord, what's the matter?" she asked M. Lecoq.
"Nothing, my dear Madame, nothing that concerns you in the least. And so, thank you and good-evening; we are in a great hurry."
When M. Lecoq was in a hurry he walked fast. He almost ran down the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette, so that Plantat had great difficulty in keeping up with him; and as he went along he pursued his train of reflection, half aloud, so that his companion caught here and there a snatch of it.
"All goes well," he muttered, "and we shall succeed. It's seldom that a campaign which commences so well ends badly. If Job is at the wine merchant's, and if one of my men has succeeded in his search, the crime of Valfeuillu is solved, and in a week people will have forgotten it."
He stopped short on reaching the foot of the street opposite the church.
"I must ask you to pardon me," said he to the old justice, "for hurrying you on so and making you one of my trade; but your assistance might have been very useful at Madame Charman's, and will be indispensable when we get fairly on Tremorel's track."
They went across the square and into the wine shop at the corner of the Rue des Martyrs. Its keeper was standing behind his counter turning wine out of a large jug into some litres, and did not seem much astonished at seeing his new visitors. M. Lecoq was quite at home (as he was everywhere), and spoke to the man with an air of easy familiarity.
"Aren't there six or eight men waiting for somebody here?" he asked.
"Yes, they came about an hour ago."
"Are they in the big back room?"
"Just so, Monsieur," responded the wine merchant, obsequiously.
He didn't exactly know who was talking to him, but he suspected him to be some superior officer from the prefecture; and he was not surprised to see that this distinguished personage knew the ins and outs of his house. He opened the door of the room referred to without hesitation. Ten men in various guises were drinking there and playing cards. On M. Lecoq's entrance with M. Plantat, they respectfully got up and took off their hats.
"Good for you, Job," said M. Lecoq to him who seemed to be their chief, "you are prompt, and it pleases me. Your ten men will be quite enough, for I shall have the three besides whom I sent out this morning."
M. Job bowed, happy at having pleased a master who was not very prodigal in his praises.
"I want you to wait here a while longer," resumed M. Lecoq, "for my orders will depend on a report which I am expecting." He turned to the men whom he had sent out among the upholsterers:
"Which of you was successful?"
"I, Monsieur," replied a big white-faced fellow, with insignificant mustaches.
"What, you again, Palot? really, my lad, you are lucky. Step into this side room—first, though, order a bottle of wine, and ask the proprietor to see to it that we are not disturbed."
These orders were soon executed, and M. Plantat being duly ensconced with them in the little room, the detective turned the key.
"Speak up now," said he to Palot, "and be brief."
"I showed the photograph to at least a dozen upholsterers without any result; but at last a merchant in the Faubourg St. Germain, named Rech, recognized it."
"Tell me just what he said, if you can."
"He told me that it was the portrait of one of his customers. A month ago this customer came to him to buy a complete set of furniture—drawing-room, dining-room, bed-room, and the rest—for a little house which he had just rented. He did not beat him down at all, and only made one condition to the purchase, and that was, that everything should be ready and in place, and the curtains and carpets put in, within three weeks from that time; that is a week ago last Monday."
"And what was the sum-total of the purchase?"
"Eighteen thousand francs, half paid down in advance, and half on the day of delivery."
"And who carried the last half of the money to the upholsterer?"
"What name did this customer give?"
"He called himself Monsieur James Wilson; but Monsieur Rech said he did not seem like an English-man."
"Where does he live?"
"The furniture was carried to a small house, No. 34 Rue St. Lazare, near the Havre station."
M. Lecoq's face, which had up to that moment worn an anxious expression, beamed with joy. He felt the natural pride of a captain who has succeeded in his plans for the enemy's destruction. He tapped the old justice of the peace familiarly on the shoulder, and pronounced a single word:
Palot shook his head.
"It isn't certain," said he.
"You may imagine, Monsieur Lecoq, that when I got the address, having some time on my hands, I went to reconnoitre the house."
"The tenant's name is really Wilson, but it's not the man of the photograph, I'm certain."
M. Plantat gave a groan of disappointment, but M. Lecoq was not so easily discouraged.
"How did you find out?"
"I pumped one of the servants."
"Confound you!" cried M. Plantat. "Perhaps you roused suspicions."
"Oh, no," answered M. Lecoq. "I'll answer for him. Palot is a pupil of mine. Explain yourself, Palot."
"Recognizing the house—an elegant affair it is, too—I said to myself: 'I' faith, here's the cage; let's see if the bird is in it.' I luckily happened to have a napoleon in my pocket; and I slipped it without hesitation into the drain which led from the house to the street-gutter."
"Then you rang?"
"Exactly. The porter—there is a porter—opened the door, and with my most vexed air I told him how, in pulling out my handkerchief, I had dropped a twenty-franc piece in the drain, and begged him to lend me something to try to get it out. He lent me a poker and took another himself, and we got the money out with no difficulty; I began to jump about as if I were delighted, and begged him to let me treat him to a glass of wine."
"Oh, Monsieur Lecoq, it is one of your tricks, you know. My porter accepted my invitation, and we soon got to be the best friends in the world over some wine in a shop just across the street from the house. We were having a jolly talk together when, all of a sudden, I leaned over as if I had just espied something on the floor, and picked up—the photograph, which I had dropped and soiled a little with my foot. 'What,' cried I, 'a portrait?' My new friend took it, looked at it, and didn't seem to recognize it. Then, to be certain, I said, 'He's a very good-looking fellow, ain't he now? Your master must be some such a man.' But he said no, that the photograph was of a man who was bearded, while his master was as clean-faced as an abbe. 'Besides,' he added, 'my master is an American; he gives us our orders in French, but Madame and he always talk English together.'"
M. Lecoq's eye glistened as Palot proceeded.
"Tremorel speaks English, doesn't he?" asked he of M. Plantat.
"Quite well; and Laurence too."
"If that is so, we are on the right track, for we know that Tremorel shaved his beard off on the night of the murder. We can go on—"
Palot meanwhile seemed a little uneasy at not receiving the praise he expected.
"My lad," said M. Lecoq, turning to him, "I think you have done admirably, and a good reward shall prove it to you. Being ignorant of what we know, your conclusions were perfectly right. But let's go to the house at once; have you got a plan of the ground-floor?"
"Yes, and also of the first floor above. The porter was not dumb, and so he gave me a good deal of information about his master and mistress, though he has only been there two days. The lady is dreadfully melancholy, and cries all the time."
"We know it; the plan—"
"Below, there is a large and high paved arch for the carriages to pass through; on the other side is a good-sized courtyard, at the end of which are the stable and carriage-house. The porter's lodge is on the left of the arch; on the right a glass door opens on a staircase with six steps, which conducts to a vestibule into which the drawing-room, dining-room, and two other little rooms open. The chambers are on the first floor, a study, a—"
"Enough," M. Lecoq said, "my plan is made."
And rising abruptly, he opened the door, and followed by M. Plantat and Palot, went into the large room. All the men rose at his approach as before.
"Monsieur Job," said the detective, "listen attentively to what I have to say. As soon as I am gone, pay up what you owe here, and then, as I must have you all within reach, go and install yourselves in the first wine-shop on the right as you go up the Rue d'Amsterdam. Take your dinner there, for you will have time—but soberly, you understand."
He took two napoleons out of his pocket and placed them on the table, adding:
"That's for the dinner."
M. Lecoq and the old justice went into the street, followed closely by Palot. The detective was anxious above all to see for himself the house inhabited by Tremorel. He saw at a glance that the interior must be as Palot had described.
"That's it, undoubtedly," said he to M. Plantat; "we've got the game in our hands. Our chances at this moment are ninety to ten."
"What are you going to do?" asked the justice, whose emotion increased as the decisive moment approached.
"Nothing, just yet, I must wait for night before I act. As it is two hours yet before dark, let's imitate my men; I know a restaurant just by here where you can dine capitally; we'll patronize it."
And without awaiting a reply, he led M. Plantat to a restaurant in the Passage du Havre. But at the moment he was about to open the door, he stopped and made a signal. Palot immediately appeared.
"I give you two hours to get yourself up so that the porter won't recognize you, and to have some dinner. You are an upholsterer's apprentice. Now clear out; I shall wait for you here."
M. Lecoq was right when he said that a capital dinner was to be had in the Passage du Havre; unfortunately M. Plantat was not in a state to appreciate it. As in the morning, he found it difficult to swallow anything, he was so anxious and depressed. He longed to know the detective's plans; but M. Lecoq remained impenetrable, answering all inquiries with: