Part 2 out of 4
The dinner party lasted some considerable time; then the inevitable
cataclysm occurred. The ladies were busy chattering and rouging their
lips when the bill was presented. They affected to see and hear
nothing: it is a way ladies have when dinner has to be paid for; but I
saw and heard everything. The waiter stood by, silent and obsequious
at first, whilst M. le Marquis hunted through all his pockets. Then
there was some whispered colloquy, and the waiter's attitude lost
something of its correct dignity. After that the proprietor was
called, and the whispered colloquy degenerated into altercation,
whilst the ladies--not at all unaware of the situation--giggled
amongst themselves. Finally, M. le Marquis offered a promissory note,
which was refused.
Then it was that our eyes met. M. de Firmin-Latour had flushed to the
roots of his hair. His situation was indeed desperate, and my
opportunity had come. With consummate sang-froid, I advanced towards
the agitated group composed of M. le Marquis, the proprietor, and the
head waiter. I glanced at the bill, the cause of all this turmoil,
which reposed on a metal salver in the head waiter's hand, and with a
"If M. le Marquis will allow me . . ." I produced my pocket-book.
The bill was for nine hundred francs.
At first M. le Marquis thought that I was about to pay it--and so did
the proprietor of the establishment, who made a movement as if he
would lie down on the floor and lick my boots. But not so. To begin
with, I did not happen to possess nine hundred francs, and if I did, I
should not Have been fool enough to lend them to this young
scapegrace. No! What I did was to extract from my notebook a card, one
of a series which I always keep by me in case of an emergency like the
present one. It bore the legend: "Comte Hercule de Montjoie,
secretaire particulier de M. le Duc d'Otrante," and below it the
address, "Palais du Commissariat de Police, 12 Quai d'Orsay." This
card I presented with a graceful flourish of the arm to the proprietor
of the establishment, whilst I said with that lofty self-assurance
which is one of my finest attributes and which I have never seen
"M. le Marquis is my friend. I will be guarantee for this trifling
The proprietor and head waiter stammered excuses. Private secretary of
M. le Duc d'Otrante! Think of it! It is not often that such personages
deign to frequent the .restaurants of Montmartre. M. le Marquis, on
the other hand, looked completely bewildered, whilst I, taking
advantage of the situation, seized him familiarly by the arm, and
leading him toward the door, I said with condescending urbanity:
"One word with you, my dear Marquis. It is so long since we have met."
I bowed to the ladies.
"Mesdames," I said, and was gratified to see that they followed my
dramatic exit with eyes of appreciation and of wonder. The proprietor
himself offered me my hat, and a moment or two later M. de
Firmin-Latour and I were out together in the Rue Lepic.
"My dear Comte," he said as soon as he had recovered his breath, "how
can I think you? . . ."
"Not now, Monsieur, not now," I replied. "You have only just time to
make your way as quickly as you can back to your palace in the Rue de
Grammont before our friend the proprietor discovers the several
mistakes which he has made in the past few minutes and vents his wrath
upon your fair guests."
"You are right," he rejoined lightly. "But I will have the pleasure to
call on you to-morrow at the Palais du Commissariat."
"Do no such thing, Monsieur le Marquis," I retorted with a pleasant
laugh. "You would not find me there."
"But--" he stammered.
"But," I broke in with my wonted business-like and persuasive manner,
"if you think that I have conducted this delicate affair for you with
tact and discretion, then, in your own interest I should advise you to
call on me at my private office, No. 96 Rue Daunou. Hector Ratichon,
at your service."
He appeared more bewildered than ever.
"Rue Daunou," he murmured. "Ratichon!"
"Private inquiry and confidential agent," I rejoined. "My brains are
at your service should you desire to extricate yourself from the
humiliating financial position in which it has been my good luck to
find you, and yours to meet with me."
With that I left him, Sir, to walk away or stay as he pleased. As for
me, I went quickly down the street. I felt that the situation was
absolutely perfect; to have spoken another word might have spoilt it.
Moreover, there was no knowing how soon the proprietor of that humble
hostelry would begin to have doubts as to the identity of the private
secretary of M. le Duc d'Otrante. So I was best out of the way.
The very next day M. le Marquis de Firmin-Latour called upon me at my
office in the Rue Daunou. Theodore let him in, and the first thing
that struck me about him was his curt, haughty manner and the look of
disdain wherewith he regarded the humble appointments of my business
premises. He himself was magnificently dressed, I may tell you. His
bottle-green coat was of the finest cloth and the most perfect cut I
had ever seen. His kerseymere pantaloons fitted him without a wrinkle.
He wore gloves, he carried a muff of priceless zibeline, and in his
cravat there was a diamond the size of a broad bean.
He also carried a malacca cane, which he deposited upon my desk, and a
gold-rimmed spy-glass which, with a gesture of supreme affectation, he
raised to his eye.
"Now, M. Hector Ratichon," he said abruptly, "perhaps you will be good
enough to explain."
I had risen when he entered. But now I sat down again and coolly
pointed to the best chair in the room.
"Will you give yourself the trouble to sit down, M. le Marquis?" I
He called me names--rude names! but I took no notice of that . . . and
he sat down.
"Now!" he said once more.
"What is it you desire to know, M. le Marquis?" I queried.
"Why you interfered in my affairs last night?"
"Do you complain?" I asked.
"No," he admitted reluctantly, "but I don't understand your object."
"My object was to serve you then," I rejoined quietly, "and later."
"What do you mean by 'later'?"
"To-day," I replied, "to-morrow; whenever your present position
becomes absolutely unendurable."
"It is that now," he said with a savage oath.
"I thought as much," was my curt comment.
"And do you mean to assert," he went on more earnestly, "that you can
find a way out of it?"
"If you desire it--yes!" I said.
He drew his chair nearer to my desk, and I leaned forward, with my
elbows on the table, the finger-tips of one hand in contact with those
of the other.
"Let us begin by reviewing the situation, shall we, Monsieur?" I
"If you wish," he said curtly.
"You are a gentleman of refined, not to say luxurious tastes, who
finds himself absolutely without means to gratify them. Is that so?"
"You have a wife and a father-in-law who, whilst lavishing costly
treasures upon you, leave you in a humiliating dependence on them for
Again he nodded approvingly.
"Human nature," I continued with gentle indulgence, "being what it is,
you pine after what you do not possess--namely, money. Houses,
equipages, servants, even good food and wine, are nothing to you
beside that earnest desire for money that you can call your own, and
which, if only you had it, you could spend at your pleasure."
"To the point, man, to the point!" he broke in impatiently.
"One moment, M. le Marquis, and I have done. But first of all, with
your permission, shall we also review the assets in your life which we
will have to use in order to arrive at the gratification of your
"Assets? What do you mean?"
"The means to our end. You want money; we must find the means to get
it for you."
"I begin to understand," he said, and drew his chair another inch or
two closer to me.
"Firstly, M. le Marquis," I resumed, and now my voice had become
earnest and incisive, "firstly you have a wife, then you have a
father-in-law whose wealth is beyond the dreams of humble people like
myself, and whose one great passion in life is the social position of
the daughter whom he worships. Now," I added, and with the tip of my
little finger I touched the sleeve of my aristocratic client, "here at
once is your first asset. Get at the money-bags of papa by threatening
the social position of his daughter."
Whereupon my young gentleman jumped to his feet and swore and abused
me for a mudlark and a muckworm and I don't know what. He seized his
malacca cane and threatened me with it, and asked me how the devil I
dared thus to speak of Mme. la Marquise de Firmin-Latour. He cursed,
and he stormed and he raved of his sixteen quarterings and of my
loutishness. He did everything in fact except walk out of the room.
I let him go on quite quietly. It was part of his programme, and we
had to go through the performance. As soon as he gave me the chance of
putting in a word edgeways I rejoined quietly:
"We are not going to hurt Madame la Marquise, Monsieur; and if you do
not want the money, let us say no more about it."
Whereupon he calmed down; after a while he sat down again, this time
with his cane between his knees and its ivory knob between his teeth.
"Go on," he said curtly.
Nor did he interrupt me again whilst I expounded my scheme to him--one
that, mind you, I had evolved during the night, knowing well that I
should receive his visit during the day; and I flatter myself that no
finer scheme for the bleeding of a parsimonious usurer was ever
devised by any man.
If it succeeded--and there was no reason why it should not--M. de
Firmin-Latour would pocket a cool half-million, whilst I, sir, the
brain that had devised the whole scheme, pronounced myself satisfied
with the paltry emolument of one hundred thousand francs, out of
which, remember, I should have to give Theodore a considerable sum.
We talked it all over, M. le Marquis and I, the whole afternoon. I may
tell you at once that he was positively delighted with the plan, and
then and there gave me one hundred francs out of his own meagre purse
for my preliminary expenses.
The next morning we began work.
I had begged M. le Marquis to find the means of bringing me a few
scraps of the late M. le Comte de Naquet's--Madame la Marquise's
first husband--handwriting. This, fortunately, he was able to do. They
were a few valueless notes penned at different times by the deceased
gentleman and which, luckily for us all, Madame had not thought it
worth while to keep under lock and key.
I think I told you before, did I not? what a marvellous expert I am in
every kind of calligraphy, and soon I had a letter ready which was to
represent the first fire in the exciting war which we were about to
wage against an obstinate lady and a parsimonious usurer.
My identity securely hidden under the disguise of a commissionnaire, I
took that letter to Mme. la Marquise de Firmin-Latour's sumptuous
abode in the Rue de Grammont.
M. le Marquis, you understand, had in the meanwhile been thoroughly
primed in the role which he was to play; as for Theodore, I thought it
best for the moment to dispense with his aid.
The success of our first skirmish surpassed our expectations.
Ten minutes after the letter had been taken upstairs to Mme. la
Marquise, one of the maids, on going past her mistress's door, was
startled to hear cries and moans proceeding from Madame's room. She
entered and found Madame lying on the sofa, her face buried in the
cushions, and sobbing and screaming in a truly terrifying manner. The
maid applied the usual restoratives, and after a while Madame became
more calm and at once very curtly ordered the maid out of the room.
M. le Marquis, on being apprised of this mysterious happening, was
much distressed; he hurried to his wife's apartments, and was as
gentle and loving with her as he had been in the early days of their
honeymoon. But throughout the whole of that evening, and, indeed, for
the next two days, all the explanation that he could get from Madame
herself was that she had a headache and that the letter which she had
received that afternoon was of no consequence and had nothing to do
with her migraine.
But clearly the beautiful Rachel was extraordinarily agitated. At
night she did not sleep, but would pace up and down her apartments in
a state bordering on frenzy, which of course caused M. le Marquis a
great deal of anxiety and of sorrow.
Finally, on the Friday morning it seemed as if Madame could contain
herself no longer. She threw herself into her husband's arms and
blurted out the whole truth. M. le Comte de Naquet, her first husband,
who had been declared drowned at sea, and therefore officially
deceased by Royal decree, was not dead at all. Madame had received a
letter from him wherein he told her that he had indeed suffered
shipwreck, then untold misery on a desert island for three years,
until he had been rescued by a passing vessel, and finally been able,
since he was destitute, to work his way back to France and to Paris.
Here he had lived for the past few months as best he could, trying to
collect together a little money so as to render himself presentable
before his wife, whom he had never ceased to love.
Inquiries discreetly conducted had revealed the terrible truth, that
Madame had been faithless to him, had light-heartedly assumed the
death of her husband, and had contracted what was nothing less than a
bigamous marriage. Now he, M. de Naquet, standing on his rights as
Rachel Mosenstein's only lawful husband, demanded that she should
return to him, and as a prelude to a permanent and amicable
understanding, she was to call at three o'clock precisely on the
following Friday at No. 96 Rue Daunou, where their reconciliation and
reunion was to take place.
The letter announcing this terrible news and making this preposterous
demand she now placed in the hands of M. le Marquis, who at first was
horrified and thunderstruck, and appeared quite unable to deal with
the situation or to tender advice. For Madame it meant complete social
ruin, of course, and she herself declared that she would never survive
such a scandal. Her tears and her misery made the loving heart of M.
le Marquis bleed in sympathy. He did all he could to console and
comfort the lady, whom, alas! he could no longer look upon as his
wife. Then, gradually, both he and she became more composed. It was
necessary above all things to make sure that Madame was not being
victimized by an impostor, and for this purpose M. le Marquis
generously offered himself as a disinterested friend and adviser. He
offered to go himself to the Rue Daunou at the hour appointed and to
do his best to induce M. le Comte de Naquet--if indeed he existed--to
forgo his rights on the lady who had so innocently taken on the name
and hand of M. le Marquis de Firmin-Latour. Somewhat more calm, but
still unconsoled, the beautiful Rachel accepted this generous offer. I
believe that she even found five thousand francs in her privy purse
which was to be offered to M. de Naquet in exchange for a promise
never to worry Mme. la Marquise again with his presence. But this I
have never been able to ascertain with any finality. Certain it is
that when at three o'clock on that same afternoon M. de Firmin-Latour
presented himself at my office, he did not offer me a share in any
five thousand francs, though he spoke to me about the money, adding
that he thought it would look well if he were to give it back to
Madame, and to tell her that M. de Naquet had rejected so paltry a sum
I thought such a move unnecessary, and we argued about it rather
warmly, and in the end he went away, as I say, without offering me any
share in the emolument. Whether he did put his project into execution
or not I never knew. He told me that he did. After that there followed
for me, Sir, many days, nay, weeks, of anxiety and of strenuous work.
Mme. la Marquise received several more letters from the supposititious
M. de Naquet, any one of which would have landed me, Sir, in a vessel
bound for New Caledonia. The discarded husband became more and more
insistent as time went on, and finally sent an ultimatum to Madame
saying that he was tired of perpetual interviews with M. le Marquis de
Firmin-Latour, whose right to interfere in the matter he now wholly
denied, and that he was quite determined to claim his lawful wife
before the whole world.
Madame la Marquise, in the meanwhile, had passed from one fit of
hysterics into another. She denied her door to everyone and lived in
the strictest seclusion in her beautiful apartment of the Rue de
Grammont. Fortunately this all occurred in the early autumn, when the
absence of such a society star from fashionable gatherings was not as
noticeable as it otherwise would have been. But clearly we were
working up for the climax, which occurred in the way I am about to
Ah, my dear Sir, when after all these years I think of my adventure
with that abominable Marquis, righteous and noble indignation almost
strikes me dumb. To think that with my own hands and brains I
literally put half a million into that man's pocket, and that he
repaid me with the basest ingratitude, almost makes me lose my faith
in human nature. Theodore, of course, I could punish, and did so
adequately; and where my chastisement failed, Fate herself put the
But M. de Firmin-Latour . . .!
However, you shall judge for yourself.
As I told you, we now made ready for the climax; and that climax, Sir,
I can only describe as positively gorgeous. We began by presuming that
Mme. la Marquise had now grown tired of incessant demands for
interviews and small doles of money, and that she would be willing to
offer a considerable sum to her first and only lawful husband in
exchange for a firm guarantee that he would never trouble her again as
long as she lived.
We fixed the sum at half a million francs, and the guarantee was to
take the form of a deed duly executed by a notary of repute and signed
by the supposititious Comte de Naquet. A letter embodying the demand
and offering the guarantee was thereupon duly sent to Mme. la
Marquise, and she, after the usual attack of hysterics, duly confided
the matter to M. de Firmin-Latour.
The consultation between husband and wife on the deplorable subject
was touching in the extreme; and I will give that abominable Marquis
credit for playing his role in a masterly manner. At first he declared
to his dear Rachel that he did not know what to suggest, for in truth
she had nothing like half a million on which she could lay her hands.
To speak of this awful pending scandal to Papa Mosenstein was not to
be thought of. He was capable of repudiating the daughter altogether
who was bringing such obloquy upon herself and would henceforth be of
no use to him as a society star.
As for himself in this terrible emergency, he, of course, had less
than nothing, or his entire fortune would be placed--if he had one--at
the feet of his beloved Rachel. To think that he was on the point of
losing her was more than he could bear, and the idea that she would
soon become the talk of every gossip-monger in society, and mayhap be
put in prison for bigamy, wellnigh drove him crazy.
What could be done in this awful perplexity he for one could not
think, unless indeed his dear Rachel were willing to part with some of
her jewellery; but no! he could not think of allowing her to make such
Whereupon Madame, like a drowning man, or rather woman, catching at a
straw, bethought her of her emeralds. They were historic gems, once
the property of the Empress Marie-Therese, and had been given to her
on her second marriage by her adoring father. No, no! she would never
miss them; she seldom wore them, for they were heavy and more valuable
than elegant, and she was quite sure that at the Mont de Piete they
would lend her five hundred thousand francs on them. Then gradually
they could be redeemed before papa had become aware of their temporary
disappearance. Madame would save the money out of the liberal
allowance she received from him for pin-money. Anything, anything was
preferable to this awful doom which hung over her head.
But even so M. le Marquis demurred. The thought of his proud and
fashionable Rachel going to the Mont de Piete to pawn her own jewels was
not to be thought of. She would be seen, recognized, and the scandal
would be as bad and worse than anything that loomed on the black horizon
of her fate at this hour.
What was to be done? What was to be done?
Then M. le Marquis had a brilliant idea. He knew of a man, a very
reliable, trustworthy man, attorney-at-law by profession, and
therefore a man of repute, who was often obliged in the exercise of
his profession to don various disguises when tracking criminals in the
outlying quarters of Paris. M. le Marquis, putting all pride and
dignity nobly aside in the interests of his adored Rachel, would
borrow one of these disguises and himself go to the Mont de Piete with
the emeralds, obtain the five hundred thousand francs, and remit them
to the man whom he hated most in all the world, in exchange for the
Madame la Marquise, overcome with gratitude, threw herself, in the
midst of a flood of tears, into the arms of the man whom she no longer
dared to call her husband, and so the matter was settled for the
moment. M. le Marquis undertook to have the deed of guarantee drafted
by the same notary of repute whom he knew, and, if Madame approved of
it, the emeralds would then be converted into money, and the interview
with M. le Comte de Naquet fixed for Wednesday, October 10th, at some
convenient place, subsequently to be determined on--in all
probability at the bureau of that same ubiquitous attorney-at-law, M.
Hector Ratichon, at 96 Rue Daunon.
All was going on excellently well, as you observe. I duly drafted the
deed, and M. de Firmin-Latour showed it to Madame for her approval. It
was so simply and so comprehensively worded that she expressed herself
thoroughly satisfied with it, whereupon M. le Marquis asked her to
write to her shameful persecutor in order to fix the date and hour for
the exchange of the money against the deed duly signed and witnessed.
M. le Marquis had always been the intermediary for her letters, you
understand, and for the small sums of money which she had sent from
time to time to the factitious M. de Naquet; now he was to be
entrusted with the final negotiations which, though at a heavy cost,
would bring security and happiness once more in the sumptuous palace
of the Rue de Grammont.
Then it was that the first little hitch occurred. Mme. la
Marquise--whether prompted thereto by a faint breath of suspicion, or
merely by natural curiosity--altered her mind about the appointment.
She decided that M. le Marquis, having pledged the emeralds, should
bring the money to her, and she herself would go to the bureau of M.
Hector Ratichon in the Rue Daunou, there to meet M. de Naquet, whom
she had not seen for seven years, but who had once been very dear to
her, and herself fling in his face the five hundred thousand francs,
the price of his silence and of her peace of mind.
At once, as you perceive, the situation became delicate. To have
demurred, or uttered more than a casual word of objection, would in
the case of M. le Marquis have been highly impolitic. He felt that at
once, the moment he raised his voice in protest: and when Madame
declared herself determined he immediately gave up arguing the point.
The trouble was that we had so very little time wherein to formulate
new plans. Monsieur was to go the very next morning to the Mont de
Piete to negotiate the emeralds, and the interview with the fabulous
M. de Naquet was to take place a couple of hours later; and it was now
three o'clock in the afternoon.
As soon as M. de Firmin-Latour was able to leave his wife, he came
round to my office. He appeared completely at his wits' end, not
knowing what to do.
"If my wife," he said, "insists on a personal interview with de
Naquet, who does not exist, our entire scheme falls to the ground.
Nay, worse! for I shall be driven to concoct some impossible
explanation for the non-appearance of that worthy, and heaven only
knows if I shall succeed in wholly allaying my wife's suspicions.
"Ah!" he added with a sigh, "it is doubly hard to have seen fortune so
near one's reach and then to see it dashed away at one fell swoop by
the relentless hand of Fate."
Not one word, you observe, of gratitude to me or of recognition of the
subtle mind that had planned and devised the whole scheme.
But, Sir, it is at the hour of supreme crises like the present one
that Hector Ratichon's genius soars up to the empyrean. It became
great, Sir; nothing short of great; and even the marvellous schemes of
the Italian Macchiavelli paled before the ingenuity which I now
Half an hour's reflection had sufficed. I had made my plans, and I had
measured the full length of the terrible risks which I ran. Among
these New Caledonia was the least. But I chose to take the risks, Sir;
my genius could not stoop to measuring the costs of its flight. While
M. de Firmin-Latour alternately raved and lamented I had already
planned and contrived. As I say, we had very little time: a few hours
wherein to render ourselves worthy of Fortune's smiles. And this is
what I planned.
You tell me that you were not in Paris during the year 1816 of which I
speak. If you had been, you would surely recollect the sensation
caused throughout the entire city by the disappearance of M. le
Marquis de Firmin-Latour, one of the most dashing young officers in
society and one of its acknowledged leaders. It was the 10th day of
October. M. le Marquis had breakfasted in the company of Madame at
nine o'clock. A couple of hours later he went out, saying he would be
home for dejeuner. Madame clearly expected him, for his place was
laid, and she ordered the dejeuner to be kept back over an hour in
anticipation of his return. But he did not come. The afternoon wore on
and he did not come. Madame sat down at two o'clock to dejeuner alone.
She told the major-domo that M. le Marquis was detained in town and
might not be home for some time. But the major-domo declared that
Madame's voice, as she told him this, sounded tearful and forced, and
that she ate practically nothing, refusing one succulent dish after
The staff of servants was thus kept on tenterhooks all day, and when
the shadows of evening began to draw in, the theory was started in the
kitchen that M. le Marquis had either met with an accident or been
foully murdered. No one, however, dared speak of this to Madame la
Marquise, who had locked herself up in her room in the early part of
the afternoon, and since then had refused to see anyone. The
major-domo was now at his wits' end. He felt that in a measure the
responsibility of the household rested upon his shoulders. Indeed he
would have taken it upon himself to apprise M. Mauruss Mosenstein of
the terrible happenings, only that the worthy gentleman was absent
from Paris just then.
Mme. la Marquise remained shut up in her room until past eight
o'clock. Then she ordered dinner to be served and made pretence of
sitting down to it; but again the major-domo declared that she ate
nothing, whilst subsequently the confidential maid who had undressed
her vowed that Madame had spent the whole night walking up and down
Thus two agonizing days went by; agonizing they were to everybody.
Madame la Marquise became more and more agitated, more and more
hysterical as time went on, and the servants could not help but notice
this, even though she made light of the whole affair, and desperate
efforts to control herself. The heads of her household, the
major-domo, the confidential maid, the chef de cuisine, did venture to
drop a hint or two as to the possibility of an accident or of foul
play, and the desirability of consulting the police; but Madame would
not hear a word of it; she became very angry at the suggestion, and
declared that she was perfectly well aware of M. le Marquis's
whereabouts, that he was well and would return home almost
As was only natural, tongues presently began to wag. Soon it was
common talk in Paris that M. le Marquis de Firmin-Latour had
disappeared from his home and that Madame was trying to put a bold
face upon the occurrence. There were surmises and there was gossip--
oh! interminable and long-winded gossip! Minute circumstances in
connexion with M. le Marquis's private life and Mme. la Marquise's
affairs were freely discussed in the cafes, the clubs and restaurants,
and as no one knew the facts of the case, surmises soon became very
On the third day of M. le Marquis's disappearance Papa Mosenstein
returned to Paris from Vichy, where he had just completed his annual
cure. He arrived at Rue de Grammont at three o'clock in the afternoon,
demanded to see Mme. la Marquise at once, and then remained closeted
with her in her apartment for over an hour. After which he sent for
the inspector of police of the section, with the result that that very
same evening M. le Marquis de Firmin-Latour was found locked up in an
humble apartment on the top floor of a house in the Rue Daunou, not
ten minutes' walk from his own house. When the police--acting on
information supplied to them by M. Mauruss Mosenstein--forced their
way into that apartment, they were horrified to find M. le Marquis de
Firmin-Latour there, tied hand and foot with cords to a chair, his
likely calls for help smothered by a woollen shawl wound loosely round
the lower part of his face.
He was half dead with inanition, and was conveyed speechless and
helpless to his home in the Rue de Grammont, there, presumably, to be
nursed back to health by Madame his wife.
Now in all this matter, I ask you, Sir, who ran the greatest risk?
Why, I--Hector Ratichon, of course--Hector Ratichon, in whose
apartment M. de Firmin-Latour was discovered in a position bordering
on absolute inanition. And the proof of this is, that that selfsame
night I was arrested at my lodgings at Passy, and charged with robbery
and attempted murder.
It was a terrible predicament for a respectable citizen, a man of
integrity and reputation, in which to find himself; but Papa
Mosenstein was both tenacious and vindictive. His daughter, driven to
desperation at last, and terrified that M. le Marquis had indeed been
foully murdered by M. de Naquet, had made a clean breast of the whole
affair to her father, and he in his turn had put the minions of the
law in full possession of all the facts; and since M. le Comte de
Naquet had vanished, leaving no manner of trace or clue of his person
behind him, the police, needing a victim, fell back on an innocent
man. Fortunately, Sir, that innocence clear as crystal soon shines
through every calumny. But this was not before I had suffered terrible
indignities and all the tortures which base ingratitude can inflict
upon a sensitive heart.
Such ingratitude as I am about to relate to you has never been
equalled on this earth, and even after all these years, Sir, you see
me overcome with emotion at the remembrance of it all. I was under
arrest, remember, on a terribly serious charge, but, conscious of mine
own innocence and of my unanswerable system of defence, I bore the
preliminary examination by the juge d'instruc-tion with exemplary
dignity and patience. I knew, you see, that at my very first
confrontation with my supposed victim the latter would at once say:
"Ah! but no! This is not the man who assaulted me."
Our plan, which so far had been overwhelmingly successful, had been
On the morning of the tenth, M. de Firmin-Latour having pawned the
emeralds, and obtained the money for them, was to deposit that money
in his own name at the bank of Raynal Freres and then at once go to
the office in the Rue Daunou.
There he would be met by Theodore, who would bind him comfortably but
securely to a chair, put a shawl around his mouth and finally lock the
door on him. Theodore would then go to his mother's and there remain
quietly until I needed his services again.
It had been thought inadvisable for me to be seen that morning
anywhere in the neighbourhood of the Rue Daunou, but that perfidious
reptile Theodore ran no risks in doing what he was told. To begin with
he is a past master in the art of worming himself in and out of a
house without being seen, and in this case it was his business to
exercise a double measure of caution. And secondly, if by some unlucky
chance the police did subsequently connect him with the crime, there
was I, his employer, a man of integrity and repute, prepared to swear
that the man had been in my company at the other end of Paris all the
while that M. le Marquis de Firmin-Latour was, by special arrangement,
making use of my office in the Rue Daunou, which I had lent him for
purposes of business.
Finally it was agreed between us that when M. le Marquis would
presently be questioned by the police as to the appearance of the man
who had assaulted and robbed him, he would describe him as tall and
blond, almost like an Angliche in countenance. Now I possess--as you
see, Sir--all the finest characteristics of the Latin race, whilst
Theodore looks like nothing on earth, save perhaps a cross between a
rat and a monkey.
I wish you to realize, therefore, that no one ran any risks in this
affair excepting myself. I, as the proprietor of the apartment where
the assault was actually supposed to have taken place, did run a very
grave risk, because I could never have proved an alibi. Theodore was
such a disreputable mudlark that his testimony on my behalf would have
been valueless. But with sublime sacrifice I accepted these risks, and
you will presently see, Sir, how I was repaid for my selflessness. I
pined in a lonely prison-cell while these two limbs of Satan concocted
a plot to rob me of my share in our mutual undertaking.
Well, Sir, the day came when I was taken from my prison-cell for the
purpose of being confronted with the man whom I was accused of having
assaulted. As you will imagine, I was perfectly calm. According to our
plan the confrontation would be the means of setting me free at once.
I was conveyed to the house in the Rue de Grammont, and here I was
kept waiting for some little time while the juge d'instruction went in
to prepare M. le Marquis, who was still far from well. Then I was
introduced into the sick-room. I looked about me with the perfect
composure of an innocent man about to be vindicated, and calmly gazed
on the face of the sick man who was sitting up in his magnificent bed,
propped up with pillows.
I met his glance firmly whilst M. le Juge d'instruction placed the
question to him in a solemn and earnest tone:
"M. le Marquis de Firmin-Latour, will you look at the prisoner before
you and tell us whether you recognize in him the man who assaulted
And that perfidious Marquis, Sir, raised his eyes and looked me
squarely--yes! squarely--in the face and said with incredible
"Yes, Monsieur le Juge, that is the man! I recognize him."
To me it seemed then as if a thunderbolt had crashed through the
ceiling and exploded at my feet. I was like one stunned and dazed; the
black ingratitude, the abominable treachery, completely deprived me of
speech. I felt choked, as if some poisonous effluvia--the poison, Sir,
of that man's infamy--had got into my throat. That state of inertia
lasted, I believe, less than a second; the next I had uttered a hoarse
cry of noble indignation.
"You vampire, you!" I exclaimed. "You viper! You . . ."
I would have thrown myself on him and strangled him with glee, but
that the minions of the law had me by the arms and dragged me away out
of the hateful presence of that traitor, despite my objurgations and
my protestations of innocence. Imagine my feelings when I found myself
once more in a prison-cell, my heart filled with unspeakable
bitterness against that perfidious Judas. Can you wonder that it took
me some time before I could collect my thoughts sufficiently to review
my situation, which no doubt to the villain himself who had just
played me this abominable trick must have seemed desperate indeed? Ah!
I could see it all, of course! He wanted to> see me sent to New
Caledonia, whilst he enjoyed the fruits of his unpardonable
backsliding. In order to retain the miserable hundred thousand francs
which he had promised me he did not hesitate to plunge up to the neck
in this heinous conspiracy.
Yes, conspiracy! for the very next day, when I was once more hailed
before the juge d'instruction, another confrontation awaited me: this
time with that scurvy rogue Theodore. He had been suborned by M. le
Marquis to turn against the hand that fed him. What price he was paid
for this Judas trick I shall never know, and all that I do know is
that he actually swore before the juge d'instruction that M. le
Marquis de Firmin-Latour called at my office in the late forenoon of
the tenth of October; that I then ordered him--Theodore--to go out to
get his dinner first, and then to go all the way over to Neuilly with
a message to someone who turned out to be non-existent. He went on to
assert that when he returned at six o'clock in the afternoon he found
the office door locked, and I--his employer--presumably gone. This at
first greatly upset him, because he was supposed to sleep on the
premises, but seeing that there was nothing for it but to accept the
inevitable, he went round to his mother's rooms at the back of the
fish-market and remained there ever since, waiting to hear from me.
That, Sir, was the tissue of lies which that jailbird had concocted
for my undoing, knowing well that I could not disprove them because it
had been my task on that eventful morning to keep an eye on M. le
Marquis whilst he went to the Mont de Piete first, and then to MM.
Raynal Freres, the bankers where he deposited the money. For this
purpose I had been obliged to don a disguise, which I had not
discarded till later in the day, and thus was unable to disprove
satisfactorily the monstrous lies told by that perjurer.
Ah! I can see that sympathy for my unmerited misfortunes has filled
your eyes with tears. No doubt in your heart you feel that my
situation at that hour was indeed desperate, and that I--Hector
Ratichon, the confidant of kings, the benefactor of the oppressed--did
spend the next few years of my life in a penal settlement, where those
arch-malefactors themselves should have been. But no, Sir! Fate may be
a fickle jade, rogues may appear triumphant, but not for long, Sir,
not for long! It is brains that conquer in the end . . . brains backed
by righteousness and by justice.
Whether I had actually foreseen the treachery of those two
rattlesnakes, or whether my habitual caution and acumen alone prompted
me to take those measures of precaution of which I am about to tell
you, I cannot truthfully remember. Certain it is that I did take those
precautions which ultimately proved to be the means of compensating me
for most that I had suffered.
It had been a part of the original plan that, on the day immediately
following the tenth of October, I, in my own capacity as Hector
Ratichon, who had been absent from my office for twenty-four hours,
would arrive there in the morning, find the place locked, force an
entrance into the apartment, and there find M. le Marquis in his
pitiable plight. After which I would, of course, immediately notify
the police of the mysterious occurrence.
That had been the role which I had intended to play. M. le Marquis
approved of it and had professed himself quite willing to endure a
twenty-four-hours' martyrdom for the sake of half a million francs. But,
as I have just had the honour to tell you, something which I will not
attempt to explain prompted me at the last moment to modify my plan in
one little respect. I thought it too soon to go back to the Rue Daunou
within twenty-four hours of our well-contrived coup, and I did not
altogether care for the idea of going myself to the police in order to
explain to them that I had found a man gagged and bound in my office.
The less one has to do with these minions of the law the better. Mind
you, I had envisaged the possibility of being accused of assault and
robbery, but I did not wish to take, as it were, the very first steps
myself in that direction. You might call this a matter of sentiment or
of prudence, as you wish.
So I waited until the evening of the second day before I got the key
from Theodore. Then before the concierge at 96 Rue Daunou had closed
the porte-cochere for the night, I slipped into the house unobserved,
ran up the stairs to my office and entered the apartment. I struck a
light and made my way to the inner room where the wretched Marquis
hung in the chair like a bundle of rags. I called to him, but he made
no movement. As I had anticipated, he had fainted for want of food. Of
course, I was very sorry for him, for his plight was pitiable, but he
was playing for high stakes, and a little starvation does no man any
harm. In his case there was half a million at the end of his brief
martyrdom, which could, at worst, only last another twenty-four hours.
I reckoned that Mme. la Marquise could not keep the secret of her
husband's possible whereabouts longer than that, and in any event I was
determined that, despite all risks, I would go myself to the police on
the following day.
In the meanwhile, since I was here and since M. le Marquis was
unconscious, I proceeded then and there to take the precaution which
prudence had dictated, and without which, seeing this man's treachery
and Theodore's villainy, I should undoubtedly have ended my days as a
convict. What I did was to search M. le Marquis's pockets for anything
that might subsequently prove useful to me.
I had no definite idea in the matter, you understand; but I had vague
notions of finding the bankers' receipt for the half-million francs.
Well, I did not find that, but I did find the receipt from the Mont de
Piete for a parure of emeralds on which half a million francs had been
lent. This I carefully put away in my waistcoat pocket, but as there
was nothing else I wished to do just then I extinguished the light and
made my way cautiously out of the apartment and out of the house. No
one had seen me enter or go out, and M. le Marquis had not stirred
while I went through his pockets.
That, Sir, was the precaution which I had taken in order to safeguard
myself against the machinations of traitors. And see how right I was;
see how hopeless would have been my plight at this hour when Theodore,
too, turned against me like the veritable viper that he was. I never
really knew when and under what conditions the infamous bargain was
struck which was intended to deprive me of my honour and of my
liberty, nor do I know what emolument Theodore was to receive for his
treachery. Presumably the two miscreants arranged it all some time
during that memorable morning of the tenth even whilst I was risking
my life in their service.
As for M. de Firmin-Latour, that worker of iniquity who, in order to
save a paltry hundred thousand francs from the hoard which I had
helped him to acquire, did not hesitate to commit such an abominable
crime, he did not long remain in the enjoyment of his wealth or of his
peace of mind.
The very next day I made certain statements before M. le Juge
d'instruction with regard to M. Mauruss Mosenstein, which caused the
former to summon the worthy Israelite to his bureau, there to be
confronted with me. I had nothing more to lose, since those execrable
rogues had already, as it were, tightened the rope about my neck, but
I had a great deal to gain--revenge above all, and perhaps the
gratitude of M. Mosenstein for opening his eyes to the rascality of
In a stream of eloquent words which could not fail to carry
conviction, I gave then and there in the bureau of the juge
d'instruction my version of the events of the past few weeks, from the
moment when M. le Marquis de Firmin-Latour came to consult me on the
subject of his wife's first husband, until the hour when he tried to
fasten an abominable crime upon me. I told how I had been deceived by
my own employe, Theodore, a man whom I had rescued out of the gutter
and loaded with gifts, how by dint of a clever disguise which would
have deceived his own mother he had assumed the appearance and
personality of M. le Comte de Naquet, first and only lawful lord of
the beautiful Rachel Mosenstein. I told of the interviews in my
office, my earnest desire to put an end to this abominable
blackmailing by informing the police of the whole affair. I told of
the false M. de Naquet's threats to create a gigantic scandal which
would forever ruin the social position of the so-called Marquis de
Firmin-Latour. I told of M. le Marquis's agonized entreaties, his
prayers, supplications, that I would do nothing in the matter for the
sake of an innocent lady who had already grievously suffered. I spoke
of my doubts, my scruples, my desire to do what was just and what was
A noble expose of the situation, Sir, you will admit. It left me hot
and breathless. I mopped my head with a handkerchief and sank back,
gasping, in the arms of the minions of the law. The juge d'instruction
ordered my removal, not back to my prison-cell but into his own
ante-room, where I presently collapsed upon a very uncomfortable bench
and endured the additional humiliation of having a glass of water held
to my lips. Water! when I had asked for a drink of wine as my throat
felt parched after that lengthy effort at oratory.
However, there I sat and waited patiently whilst, no doubt, M. le Juge
d'Instruction and the noble Israelite were comparing notes as to their
impression of my marvellous speech. I had not long to wait. Less than
ten minutes later I was once more summoned into the presence of M. le
Juge; and this time the minions of the law were ordered to remain in
the antechamber. I thought this was of good augury; and I waited to
hear M. le Juge give forth the order that would at once set me free.
But it was M. Mosenstein who first addressed me, and in very truth
surprise rendered me momentarily dumb when he did it thus:
"Now then, you consummate rascal, when you have given up the receipt
of the Mont de Piete which you stole out of M. le Marquis's pocket you
may go and carry on your rogueries elsewhere and call yourself
mightily lucky to have escaped so lightly."
I assure you, Sir, that a feather would have knocked me down. The
coarse insult, the wanton injustice, had deprived me of the use of my
limbs and of my speech. Then the juge d'instruction proceeded dryly:
"Now then, Ratichon, you have heard what M. Mauruss Mosenstein has
been good enough to say to you. He did it with my approval and
consent. I am prepared to give an _ordonnance de non-lieu_ in your
favour which will have the effect of at once setting you free if you
will restore to this gentleman here the Mont de Piete receipt which
you appear to have stolen."
"Sir," I said with consummate dignity in the face of this reiterated
taunt, "I have stolen nothing--"
M. le Juge's hand was already on the bell-pull.
"Then," he said coolly, "I can ring for the gendarmes to take you back
to the cells, and you will stand your trial for blackmail, theft,
assault and robbery."
I put up my hand with an elegant and perfectly calm gesture.
"Your pardon, M. le Juge," I said with the gentle resignation of
undeserved martyrdom, "I was about to say that when I re-visited my
rooms in the Rue Daunou after a three days' absence, and found the
police in possession, I picked up on the floor of my private room a
white paper which on subsequent examination proved to be a receipt
from the Mont de Piete for some valuable gems, and made out in the
name of M. le Marquis de Firmin-Latour."
"What have you done with it, you abominable knave?" the irascible old
usurer rejoined roughly, and I regret to say that he grasped his
malacca cane with ominous violence.
But I was not to be thus easily intimidated.
"Ah! voila, M. le Juge," I said with a shrug of the shoulders. "I have
mislaid it. I do not know where it is."
"If you do not find it," Mosenstein went on savagely, "you will find
yourself on a convict ship before long."
"In which case, no doubt," I retorted with suave urbanity, "the police
will search my rooms where I lodge, and they will find the receipt
from the Mont de Piete, which I had mislaid. And then the gossip will
be all over Paris that Mme. la Marquise de Firmin-Latour had to pawn
her jewels in order to satisfy the exigencies of her first and only
lawful husband who has since mysteriously disappeared; and some people
will vow that he never came back from the Antipodes, whilst others--by
far the most numerous--will shrug their shoulders and sigh: 'One never
knows!' which will be exceedingly unpleasant for Mme. la Marquise."
Both M. Mauruss Mosenstein and the juge d'instruc-tion said a great
deal more that afternoon. I may say that their attitude towards me and
the language that they used were positively scandalous. But I had
become now the master of the situation and I could afford to ignore
their insults. In the end everything was settled quite amicably. I
agreed to dispose of the receipt from the Mont de Piete to M. Mauruss
Mosenstein for the sum of two hundred francs, and for another hundred
I would indicate to him the banking house where his precious
son-in-law had deposited the half-million francs obtained for the
emeralds. This latter information I would indeed have offered him
gratuitously had he but known with what immense pleasure I thus put a
spoke in that knavish Marquis's wheel of fortune.
The worthy Israelite further agreed to pay me an annuity of two
hundred francs so long as I kept silent upon the entire subject of
Mme. la Marquise's first husband and of M. le Marquis's role in the
mysterious affair of the Rue Daunou. For thus was the affair classed
amongst the police records. No one outside the chief actors of the
drama and M. le Juge d'Instruction ever knew the true history of how a
dashing young cavalry officer came to be assaulted and left to starve
for three days in the humble apartment of an attorney-at-law of
undisputed repute. And no one outside the private bureau of M. le Juge
d'Instruction ever knew what it cost the wealthy M. Mosenstein to have
the whole affair "classed" and hushed up.
As for me, I had three hundred francs as payment for work which I had
risked my neck and my reputation to accomplish. Three hundred instead
of the hundred thousand which I had so richly deserved: that, and a
paltry two hundred francs a year, which was to cease the moment that
as much as a rumour of the whole affair was breathed in public. As if
I could help people talking!
But M. le Marquis did not enjoy the fruits of his villainy, and I had
again the satisfaction of seeing him gnaw his finger-nails with rage
whenever the lovely Rachel paid for his dinner at fashionable
restaurants. Indeed Papa Mosenstein tightened the strings of his
money-bags even more securely than he had done in the past. Under
threats of prosecution for theft and I know not what, he forced his
son-in-law to disgorge that half-million which he had so pleasantly
tucked away in the banking house of Raynal Freres, and I was indeed
thankful that prudence had, on that memorable morning, suggested to me
the advisability of dogging the Marquis's footsteps. I doubt not but
what he knew whence had come the thunderbolt which had crushed his
last hopes of an independent fortune, and no doubt too he does not
cherish feelings of good will towards me.
But this eventuality leaves me cold. He has only himself to thank for
his misfortune. Everything would have gone well but for his treachery.
We would have become affluent, he and I and Theodore. Theodore has
gone to live with his mother, who has a fish-stall in the Halles; she
gives him three sous a day for washing down the stall and selling the
fish when it has become too odorous for the ordinary customers.
And he might have had five hundred francs for himself and remained my
You must not think for a moment, my dear Sir, that I was ever actually
deceived in Theodore. Was it likely that I, who am by temperament and
habit accustomed to read human visages like a book, was it likely, I
say, that I would fail to see craftiness in those pale, shifty eyes,
deceit in the weak, slobbering mouth, intemperance in the whole aspect
of the shrunken, slouchy figure which I had, for my subsequent sorrow,
so generously rescued from starvation?
Generous? I was more than generous to him. They say that the poor are
the friends of the poor, and I told you how poor we were in those
days! Ah! but poor! my dear Sir, you have no conception! Meat in Paris
in the autumn of 1816 was 24 francs the kilo, and milk 1 franc the
quarter litre, not to mention eggs and butter, which were delicacies
far beyond the reach of cultured, well-born people like myself.
And yet throughout that trying year I fed Theodore--yes, I fed him.
He used to share onion pie with me whenever I partook of it, and he
had haricot soup every day, into which I allowed him to boil the skins
of all the sausages and the luscious bones of all the cutlets of which
I happened to partake. Then think what he cost me in drink! Never
could I leave a half or quarter bottle of wine but he would finish it;
his impudent fingers made light of every lock and key. I dared not
allow as much as a sou to rest in the pocket of my coat but he would
ferret it out the moment I hung the coat up in the outer room and my
back was turned for a few seconds. After a while I was forced--yes, I,
Sir, who have spoken on terms of equality with kings--I was forced to
go out and make my own purchases in the neighbouring provision shops.
And why? Because if I sent Theodore and gave him a few sous wherewith
to make these purchases, he would spend the money at the nearest
cabaret in getting drunk on absinthe.
He robbed me, Sir, shamefully, despite the fact that he had ten per
cent, commission on all the profits of the firm. I gave him twenty
francs out of the money which I had earned at the sweat of my brow in
the service of Estelle Bachelier. Twenty francs, Sir! Reckoning two
hundred francs as business profit on the affair, a generous provision
you will admit! And yet he taunted me with having received a thousand.
This was mere guesswork, of course, and I took no notice of his
taunts: did the brains that conceived the business deserve no payment?
Was my labour to be counted as dross?--the humiliation, the blows
which I had to endure while he sat in hoggish content, eating and
sleeping without thought for the morrow? After which he calmly
pocketed the twenty francs to earn which he had not raised one finger,
and then demanded more.
No, no, my dear Sir, you will believe me or not, that man could not go
straight. Times out of count he would try and deceive me, despite the
fact that, once or twice, he very nearly came hopelessly to grief in
Now, just to give you an instance. About this time Paris was in the
grip of a gang of dog-thieves as unscrupulous and heartless as they
were daring. Can you wonder at it? with that awful penury about and a
number of expensive "tou-tous" running about the streets under the
very noses of the indigent proletariat? The ladies of the aristocracy
and of the wealthy bourgeoisie had imbibed this craze for lap-dogs
during their sojourn in England at the time of the emigration, and
being women of the Latin race and of undisciplined temperament, they
were just then carrying their craze to excess.
As I was saying, this indulgence led to wholesale thieving. Tou-tous
were abstracted from their adoring mistresses with marvellous
adroitness; whereupon two or three days would elapse while the adoring
mistress wept buckets full of tears and set the police of M. Fouche,
Duc d'Otrante, by the ears in search of her pet. The next act in the
tragi-comedy would be an anonymous demand for money--varying in amount
in accordance with the known or supposed wealth of the lady--and an
equally anonymous threat of dire vengeance upon the tou-tou if the
police were put upon the track of the thieves.
You will ask me, no doubt, what all this had to do with Theodore.
Well! I will tell you.
You must know that of late he had become extraordinarily haughty and
independent. I could not keep him to his work. His duties were to
sweep the office--he did not do it; to light the fires--I had to light
them myself every morning; to remain in the anteroom and show clients
in--he was never at his post. In fact he was never there when I did
want him: morning, noon and night he was out--gadding about and coming
home, Sir, only to eat and sleep. I was seriously thinking of giving
him the sack. And then one day he disappeared! Yes, Sir, disappeared
completely as if the earth had swallowed him up. One morning--it was
in the beginning of December and the cold was biting--I arrived at the
office and found that his chair-bed which stood in the antechamber had
not been slept in; in fact that it had not been made up overnight. In
the cupboard I found the remnants of an onion pie, half a sausage, and
a quarter of a litre of wine, which proved conclusively that he had
not been in to supper.
At first I was not greatly disturbed in my mind. I had found out quite
recently that Theodore had some sort of a squalid home of his own
somewhere behind the fish-market, together with an old and wholly
disreputable mother who plied him with drink whenever he spent an
evening with her and either he or she had a franc in their pocket.
Still, after these bouts spent in the bosom of his family he usually
returned to sleep them off at my expense in my office.
I had unfortunately very little to do that day, so in the late
afternoon, not having seen anything of Theodore all day, I turned my
steps toward the house behind the fish-market where lived the mother
of that ungrateful wretch.
The woman's surprise when I inquired after her precious son was
undoubtedly genuine. Her lamentations and crocodile tears certainly
were not. She reeked of alcohol, and the one room which she inhabited
was indescribably filthy. I offered her half a franc if she gave me
authentic news of Theodore, knowing well that for that sum she would
have sold him to the devil. But very obviously she knew nothing of his
whereabouts, and I soon made haste to shake the dirt of her abode from
I had become vaguely anxious.
I wondered if he had been murdered somewhere down a back street, and
if I should miss him very much.
I did not think that I would.
Moreover, no one could have any object in murdering Theodore. In his
own stupid way he was harmless enough, and he certainly was not
possessed of anything worth stealing. I myself was not over-fond of
the man--but I should not have bothered to murder him.
Still, I was undoubtedly anxious, and slept but little that night
thinking of the wretch. When the following morning I arrived at my
office and still could see no trace of him, I had serious thoughts of
putting the law in motion on his behalf.
Just then, however, an incident occurred which drove all thoughts of
such an insignificant personage as Theodore from my mind.
I had just finished tidying up the office when there came a peremptory
ring at the outer door, repeated at intervals of twenty seconds or so.
It meant giving a hasty glance all round to see that no fragments of
onion pie or of cheap claret lingered in unsuspected places, and it
meant my going, myself, to open the door to my impatient visitor.
I did it, Sir, and then at the door I stood transfixed. I had seen
many beautiful women in my day--great ladies of the Court, brilliant
ladies of the Consulate, the Directorate and the Empire--but never in
my life had I seen such an exquisite and resplendent apparition as the
one which now sailed through the antechamber of my humble abode.
Sir, Hector Ratichon's heart has ever been susceptible to the charms
of beauty in distress. This lovely being, Sir, who now at my
invitation entered my office and sank with perfect grace into the
arm-chair, was in obvious distress. Tears hung on the fringe of her
dark lashes, and the gossamer-like handkerchief which she held in her
dainty hand was nothing but a wet rag. She gave herself exactly two
minutes wherein to compose herself, after which she dried her eyes and
turned the full artillery of her bewitching glance upon me.
"Monsieur Ratichon," she began, even before I had taken my accustomed
place at my desk and assumed that engaging smile which inspires
confidence even in the most timorous; "Monsieur Ratichon, they tell me
that you are so clever, and--oh! I am in such trouble."
"Madame," I rejoined with noble simplicity, "you may trust me
to do the impossible in order to be of service to you."
Admirably put, you will admit. I have always been counted a master of
appropriate diction, and I had been quick enough to note the plain
band of gold which encircled the third finger of her dainty left hand,
flanked though it was by a multiplicity of diamond, pearl and other
"You are kind, Monsieur Ratichon," resumed the beauteous creature more
calmly. "But indeed you will require all the ingenuity of your
resourceful brain in order to help me in this matter. I am struggling
in the grip of a relentless fate which, if you do not help me, will
leave me broken-hearted."
"Command me, Madame," I riposted quietly.
From out the daintiest of reticules the fair lady now extracted a very
greasy and very dirty bit of paper, and handed it to me with the brief
request: "Read this, I pray you, my good M. Ratichon." I took the
paper. It was a clumsily worded, ill-written, ill-spelt demand for
five thousand francs, failing which sum the thing which Madame had
lost would forthwith be destroyed.
I looked up, puzzled, at my fair client.
"My darling Carissimo, my dear M. Ratichon," she said in reply to my
"Carissimo?" I stammered, yet further intrigued.
"My darling pet, a valuable creature, the companion of my lonely
hours," she rejoined, once more bursting into tears. "If I lose him,
my heart will inevitably break."
I understood at last.
"Madame has lost her dog?" I asked.
"It has been stolen by one of those expert dog thieves, who then levy
blackmail on the unfortunate owner?"
Again she nodded in assent.
I read the dirty, almost illegible scrawl through more carefully this
time. It was a clumsy notification addressed to Mme. la Comtesse de
Nole de St. Pris to the effect that her tou-tou was for the moment
safe, and would be restored to the arms of his fond mistress provided
the sum of five thousand francs was deposited in the hands of the
bearer of the missive.
Minute directions were then given as to where and how the money was to
be deposited. Mme. la Comtesse de Nole was, on the third day from this
at six o'clock in the evening precisely, to go in person and alone to
the angle of the Rue Guenegaud and the Rue Mazarine, at the rear of
There two men would meet her, one of whom would have Carissimo in his
arms; to the other she must hand over the money, whereupon the pet
would at once be handed back to her. But if she failed to keep this
appointment, or if in the meanwhile she made the slightest attempt to
trace the writer of the missive or to lay a trap for his capture by
the police, Carissimo would at once meet with a summary death.
These were the usual tactics of experienced dog thieves, only that in
this case the demand was certainly exorbitant. Five thousand francs!
But even so . . . I cast a rapid and comprehensive glance on the
brilliant apparition before me--the jewelled rings, the diamonds in
the shell-like ears, the priceless fur coat--and with an expressive
shrug of the shoulders I handed the dirty scrap of paper back to its
"Alas, Madame," I said, taking care that she should not guess how much
it cost me to give her such advice, "I am afraid that in such cases
there is nothing to be done. If you wish to save your pet you will
have to pay. . ."
"Ah! but, Monsieur," she exclaimed tearfully, "you don't understand.
Carissimo is all the world to me, and this is not the first time, nor
yet the second, that he has been stolen from me. Three times, my good
M. Ratichon, three times has he been stolen, and three times have I
received such peremptory demands for money for his safe return; and
every time the demand has been more and more exorbitant. Less than a
month ago M. le Comte paid three thousand francs for his recovery."
"Monsieur le Comte?" I queried.
"My husband, Sir," she replied, with an exquisite air of hauteur.
"M. le Comte de Nole de St. Pris."
"Ah, then," I continued calmly, "I fear me that Monsieur de Nole de
St. Pris will have to pay again."
"But he won't!" she now cried out in a voice broken with sobs, and
incontinently once more saturated her gossamer handkerchief with her
"Then I see nothing for it, Madame," I rejoined, much against my will
with a slight touch of impatience, "I see nothing for it but that
yourself . . ."
"Ah! but, Monsieur," she retorted, with a sigh that would have melted
a heart of stone, "that is just my difficulty. I cannot pay . . ."
"Madame," I protested.
"Oh! if I had money of my own," she continued, with an adorable
gesture of impatience, "I would not worry. Mais voila: I have not a
silver franc of my own to bless myself with. M. le Comte is over
generous. He pays all my bills without a murmur--he pays my
dressmaker, my furrier; he loads me with gifts and dispenses charity
on a lavish scale in my name. I have horses, carriages,
servants--everything I can possibly want and more, but I never have
more than a few hundred francs to dispose of. Up to now I have never
for a moment felt the want of money. To-day, when Carissimo is being
lost to me, I feel the entire horror of my position."
"But surely, Madame," I urged, "M. le Comte . . ."
"No, Monsieur," she replied. "M. le Comte has flatly refused this time
to pay these abominable thieves for the recovery of Carissimo. He
upbraids himself for having yielded to their demands on the three
previous occasions. He calls these demands blackmailing, and vows that
to give them money again is to encourage them in their nefarious
practices. Oh! he has been cruel to me, cruel!--for the first time in
my life, Monsieur, my husband has made me unhappy, and if I lose my
darling now I shall indeed be broken-hearted."
I was silent for a moment or two. I was beginning to wonder what part
I should be expected to play in the tragedy which was being unfolded
before me by this lovely and impecunious creature.
"Madame la Comtesse," I suggested tentatively, after a while, "your
jewellery . . . you must have a vast number which you seldom wear
. . . five thousand francs is soon made up. . . ."
You see, Sir, my hopes of a really good remunerative business had by
now dwindled down to vanishing point. All that was left of them was a
vague idea that the beautiful Comtesse would perhaps employ me as an
intermediary for the sale of some of her jewellery, in which case . . .
But already her next words disillusioned me even on that point.
"No, Monsieur," she said; "what would be the use? Through one of the
usual perverse tricks of fate, M. le Comte would be sure to inquire
after the very piece of jewellery of which I had so disposed, and
moreover . . ."
"Moreover--yes, Mme. la Comtesse?"
"Moreover, my husband is right," she concluded decisively. "If I give
in to those thieves to-day and pay them five thousand francs, they
would only set to work to steal Carissimo again and demand ten
thousand francs from me another time."
I was silent. What could I say? Her argument was indeed unanswerable.
"No, my good M. Ratichon," she said very determinedly after a while.
"I have quite decided that you must confound those thieves. They have
given me three days' grace, as you see in their abominable letter. If
after three days the money is not forthcoming, and if in the meanwhile
I dare to set a trap for them or in any way communicate with the
police, my darling Carissimo will be killed and my heart be broken."
"Madame la Comtesse," I entreated, for of a truth I could not bear to
see her cry again.
"You must bring Carissimo back to me, M. Ratichon," she continued
peremptorily, "before those awful three days have elapsed."
"I swear that I will," I rejoined solemnly; but I must admit that I
did it entirely on the spur of the moment, for of a truth I saw no
prospect whatever of being able to accomplish what she desired.
"Without my paying a single louis to those execrable thieves," the
exquisite creature went on peremptorily,
"It shall be done, Madame la Comtesse."
"And let me tell you," she now added, with the sweetest and archest of
smiles, "that if you succeed in this, M. le Comte de Nole de St. Pris
will gladly pay you the five thousand francs which he refuses to give
to those miscreants."
Five thousand francs! A mist swam before my eyes,
"Mais, Madame la Comtesse . . ." I stammered.
"Oh!" she added, with an adorable uptilting of her little chin, "I am
not promising what I cannot fulfil. M. le Comte de Nole only said
this morning, apropos of dog thieves, that he would gladly give ten
thousand francs to anyone who succeeded in ridding society of such
I could have knelt down on the hard floor, Sir, and . . .
"Well then, Madame," was my ready rejoinder, "why not ten thousand
francs to me?"
She bit her coral lips . . . but she also smiled. I could see that
my personality and my manners had greatly impressed her.
"I will only be responsible for the first five thousand," she said
lightly. "But, for the rest, I can confidently assure you that you
will not find a miser in M. le Comte de Nole de St. Pris."
I could have knelt down on the hard floor, Sir, and kissed her
exquisitely shod feet. Five thousand francs certain! Perhaps ten! A
fortune, Sir, in those days! One that would keep me in comfort--nay,
affluence, until something else turned up. I was swimming in the
empyrean and only came rudely to earth when I recollected that I
should have to give Theodore something for his share of the business.
Ah! fortunately that for the moment he was comfortably out of the way!
Thoughts that perhaps he had been murdered after all once more coursed
through my brain: not unpleasantly, I'll admit. I would not have
raised a finger to hurt the fellow, even though he had treated me with
the basest ingratitude and treachery; but if someone else took the
trouble to remove him, why indeed should I quarrel with fate?
Back I came swiftly to the happy present. The lovely creature was
showing me a beautifully painted miniature of Carissimo, a King
Charles spaniel of no common type. This she suggested that I should
keep by me for the present for purposes of identification. After this
we had to go into the details of the circumstances under which she had
lost her pet. She had been for a walk with him, it seems, along the
Quai Voltaire, and was returning home by the side of the river, when
suddenly a number of workmen in blouses and peaked caps came trooping
out of a side street and obstructed her progress. She had Carissimo on
the lead, and she at once admitted to me that at first she never
thought of connecting this pushing and jostling rabble with any
possible theft. She held her ground for awhile, facing the crowd: for
a few moments she was right in the midst of it, and just then she felt
the dog straining at the lead. She turned round at once with the
intention of picking him up, when to her horror she saw that there was
only a bundle of something weighty at the end of the lead, and that
the dog had disappeared.
The whole incident occurred, the lovely creature declared, within the
space of thirty seconds; the next instant the crowd had scattered in
several directions, the men running and laughing as they went. Mme. la
Comtesse was left standing alone on the quay. Not a passer-by in
sight, and the only gendarme visible, a long way down the Quai, had
his back turned toward her. Nevertheless she ran and hied him, and
presently he turned and, realizing that something was amiss, he too
ran to meet her. He listened to her story, swore lustily, but shrugged
his shoulders in token that the tale did not surprise him and that but
little could be done. Nevertheless he at once summoned those of his
colleagues who were on duty in the neighbourhood, and one of them went
off immediately to notify the theft at the nearest commissariat of
police. After which they all proceeded to a comprehensive scouring of
the many tortuous sidestreets of the quartier; but, needless to say,
there was no sign of Carissimo or of his abductors.
That night my lovely client went home distracted.
The following evening, when, broken-hearted, she wandered down the
quays living over again the agonizing moments during which she lost
her pet, a workman in a blue blouse, with a peaked cap pulled well
over his eyes, lurched up against her and thrust into her hand the
missive which she had just shown me. He then disappeared into the
night, and she had only the vaguest possible recollection of his
That, Sir, was the substance of the story which the lovely creature
told me in a voice oft choked with tears. I questioned her very
closely and in my most impressive professional manner as to the
identity of any one man among the crowd who might have attracted her
attention, but all that she could tell me was that she had a vague
impression of a wizened hunchback with evil face, shaggy red beard
and hair, and a black patch covering the left eye.
Not much data to go on, you will, I think, admit, and I Can assure
you, Sir, that had I not possessed that unbounded belief in myself
which is the true hall-mark of genius, I would at the outset have felt
As it was, I found just the right words of consolation and of hope
wherewith to bow my brilliant client out of my humble apartments, and
then to settle down to deep and considered meditation. Nothing, Sir,
is so conducive to thought as a long, brisk walk through the crowded
streets of Paris. So I brushed my coat, put on my hat at a becoming
angle, and started on my way.
I walked as far as Suresnes, and I thought. After that, feeling
fatigued, I sat on the terrace of the Cafe Bourbon, overlooking the
river. There I sipped my coffee and thought. I walked back into Paris
in the evening, and still thought, and thought, and thought. After
that I had some dinner, washed down by an agreeable bottle of
wine--did I mention that the lovely creature had given me a hundred
francs on account?--then I went for a stroll along the Quai Voltaire,
and I may safely say that there is not a single side and tortuous
street in its vicinity that I did not explore from end to end during
the course of that never to be forgotten evening.
But still my mind remained in a chaotic condition. I had not succeeded
in forming any plan. What a quandary, Sir! Oh! what a quandary! Here
was I, Hector Ratichon, the confidant of kings, the right hand of two
emperors, set to the task of stealing a dog--for that is what I should
have to do--from an unscrupulous gang of thieves whose identity, abode
and methods were alike unknown to me. Truly, Sir, you will own that
this was a herculean task.
Vaguely my thoughts reverted to Theodore. He might have been of good
counsel, for he knew more about thieves than I did, but the ungrateful
wretch was out of the way on the one occasion when he might have been
of use to me who had done so much for him. Indeed, my reason told me
that I need not trouble my head about Theodore. He had vanished; that
he would come back presently was, of course, an indubitable fact;
people like Theodore never vanish completely. He would come back and
demand I know not what, his share, perhaps, in a business which was so
promising even if it was still so vague.
Five thousand francs! A round sum! If I gave Theodore five hundred
the sum would at once appear meagre, unimportant. Four thousand five
hundred francs!--it did not even _sound_ well to my mind.
So I took care that Theodore vanished from my mental vision as
completely as he had done for the last two days from my ken, and as
there was nothing more that could be done that evening, I turned my
weary footsteps toward my lodgings at Passy.
All that night, Sir, I lay wakeful and tossing in my bed, alternately
fuming and rejecting plans for the attainment of that golden goal--the
recovery of Mme. de Nole's pet dog. And the whole of the next day I
spent in vain quest. I visited every haunt of ill-fame known to me
within the city. I walked about with a pistol in my belt, a hunk of
bread and cheese in my pocket, and slowly growing despair in my heart.
In the evening Mme. la Comtesse de Nole called for news of Carissimo,
and I could give her none. She cried, Sir, and implored, and her tears
and entreaties got on to my nerves until I felt ready to fall into
hysterics. One more day and all my chances of a bright and wealthy
future would have vanished. Unless the money was forthcoming on the
morrow, the dog would be destroyed, and with him my every hope of that
five thousand francs. And though she still irradiated charm and luxury
from her entire lovely person, I begged her not to come to the office
again, and promised that as soon as I had any news to impart I would
at once present myself at her house in the Faubourg St. Germain.
That night I never slept one wink. Think of it, Sir! The next few
hours were destined to see me either a prosperous man for many days to
come, or a miserable, helpless, disappointed wretch. At eight o'clock
I was at my office. Still no news of Theodore. I could now no longer
dismiss him from my mind. Something had happened to him, I could have
no doubt. This anxiety, added to the other more serious one, drove me
to a state bordering on frenzy. I hardly knew what I was doing. I
wandered all day up and down the Quai Voltaire, and the Quai des
Grands Augustins, and in and around the tortuous streets till I was
dog-tired, distracted, half crazy.
I went to the Morgue, thinking to find there Theodore's dead body, and
found myself vaguely looking for the mutilated corpse of Carissimo.
Indeed, after a while Theodore and Carissimo became so inextricably
mixed up in my mind that I could not have told you if I was seeking
for the one or for the other and if Mme. la Comtesse de Nole was now
waiting to clasp her pet dog or my man-of-all-work to her exquisite
She in the meanwhile had received a second, yet more peremptory,
missive through the same channel as the previous one. A grimy deformed
man, with ginger-coloured hair, and wearing a black patch over one
eye, had been seen by one of the servants lolling down the street
where Madame lived, and subsequently the concierge discovered that an
exceedingly dirty scrap of paper had been thrust under the door of his
lodge. The writer of the epistle demanded that Mme. la Comtesse should
stand in person at six o'clock that same evening at the corner of the
Rue Guenegaud, behind the Institut de France. Two men, each wearing a
blue blouse and peaked cap, would meet her there. She must hand over
the money to one of them, whilst the other would have Carissimo in his
arms. The missive closed with the usual threats that if the police
were mixed up in the affair, or the money not forthcoming, Carissimo
would be destroyed.
Six o'clock was the hour fixed by these abominable thieves for the
final doom of Carissimo. It was now close on five. In a little more
than an hour my last hope of five or ten thousand francs and a smile
of gratitude from a pair of lovely lips would have gone, never again
to return. A great access of righteous rage seized upon me. I
determined that those miserable thieves, whoever they were, should
suffer for the disappointment which I was now enduring. If I was to
lose five thousand francs, they at least should not be left free to
pursue their evil ways. I would communicate with the police; the
police should meet the miscreants at the corner of the Rue Guenegaud.
Carissimo would die; his lovely mistress would be brokenhearted. I
would be left to mourn yet another illusion of a possible fortune, but
they would suffer in gaol or in New Caledonia the consequences of all
Fortified by this resolution, I turned my weary footsteps in the
direction of the gendarmerie where I intended to lodge my denunciation
of those abominable thieves and blackmailers. The night was dark, the
streets ill-lighted, the air bitterly cold. A thin drizzle, half rain,
half snow, was descending, chilling me to the bone.
I was walking rapidly along the river bank with my coat collar pulled
up to my ears, and still instinctively peering up every narrow street
which debouches on the quay. Then suddenly I spied Theodore. He was
coming down the Rue Beaune, slouching along with head bent in his
usual way. He appeared to be carrying something, not exactly heavy,
but cumbersome, under his left arm. Within the next few minutes he
would have been face to face with me, for I had come to a halt at the
angle of the street, determined to have it out with the rascal then
and there in spite of the cold and in spite of my anxiety about
All of a sudden he raised his head and saw me, and in a second he
turned on his heel and began to run up the street in the direction
whence he had come. At once I gave chase. I ran after him--and then,
Sir, he came for a second within the circle of light projected by a
street lanthorn. But in that one second I had seen that which turned
my frozen blood into liquid lava--a tail, Sir!--a dog's tail, fluffy
and curly, projecting from beneath that recreant's left arm.
A dog, Sir! a dog! Carissimo! the darling of Mme. la Comtesse de
Nole's heart! Carissimo, the recovery of whom would mean five thousand
francs into my pocket! Carissimo! I knew it! For me there existed but
one dog in all the world; one dog and one spawn of the devil, one
arch-traitor, one limb of Satan! Theodore!
How he had come by Carissimo I had not time to con-conjecture. I
called to him. I called his accursed name, using appellations which
fell far short of those which he deserved. But the louder I called the
faster he ran, and I, breathless, panting, ran after him, determined
to run him to earth, fearful lest I should lose him in the darkness of
the night. All down the Rue Beaune we ran, and already I could hear
behind me the heavy and more leisured tramp of a couple of gendarmes
who in their turn had started to give chase.
I tell you, Sir, the sound lent wings to my feet. A chance--a last
chance--was being offered me by a benevolent Fate to earn that five
thousand francs, the keystone to my future fortune. If I had the
strength to seize and hold Theodore until the gendarmes came up, and
before he had time to do away with the dog, the five thousand francs
could still be mine.
So I ran, Sir, as I had never run before; the beads of perspiration
poured down from my forehead; the breath came stertorous and hot from
my heaving breast.
Then suddenly Theodore disappeared!
Disappeared, Sir, as if the earth had swallowed him up! A second ago I
had seen him dimly, yet distinctly through the veil of snow and rain
ahead of me, running with that unmistakable shuffling gait of his,
hugging the dog closely under his arm. I had seen him--another effort
and I might have touched him!--now the long and deserted street lay
dark and mysterious before me, and behind me I could hear the measured
tramp of the gendarmes and their peremptory call of "Halt, in the name
of the King!"
But not in vain, Sir, am I called Hector Ratichon; not in vain have
kings and emperors reposed confidence in my valour and my presence of
mind. In less time than it takes to relate I had already marked with
my eye the very spot--down the street--where I had last seen Theodore.
I hurried forward and saw at once that my surmise had been correct. At
that very spot, Sir, there was a low doorway which gave on a dark and
dank passage. The door itself was open. I did not hesitate. My life
stood in the balance but I did not falter. I might be affronting
within the next second or two a gang of desperate thieves, but I did
I turned into that doorway, Sir; the next moment I felt a stunning
blow between my eyes. I just remember calling out with all the
strength of my lungs: "Police! Gendarmes! A moi!" Then nothing more.
I woke with the consciousness of violent wordy warfare carried on
around me. I was lying on the ground, and the first things I saw were
three or four pairs of feet standing close together. Gradually out of
the confused hubbub a few sentences struck my reawakened senses.
"The man is drunk."
"I won't have him inside the house."
"I tell you this is a respectable house." This from a shrill feminine
voice. "We've never had the law inside our doors before."
By this time I had succeeded in raising myself on my elbow, and, by
the dim light of a hanging lamp somewhere down the passage, I was
pretty well able to take stock of my surroundings.
The half-dozen bedroom candlesticks on a table up against the wall,
the row of keys hanging on hooks fixed to a board above, the glass
partition with the words "Concierge" and "Reception" painted across
it, all told me that this was one of those small, mostly squalid and
disreputable lodging houses or hotels in which this quarter of Paris
The two gendarmes who had been running after me were arguing the
matter of my presence here with the proprietor of the place and with
I struggled to my feet. Whereupon for the space of a solid two minutes
I had to bear as calmly as I could the abuse and vituperation which
the feminine proprietor of this "respectable house" chose to hurl at
my unfortunate head. After which I obtained a hearing from the
bewildered minions of the law. To them I gave as brief and succinct a
narrative as I could of the events of the past three days. The theft
of Carissimo--the disappearance of Theodore--my meeting him a while
ago, with the dog under his arm--his second disappearance, this time
within the doorway of this "respectable abode," and finally the blow
which alone had prevented me from running the abominable thief to
The gendarmes at first were incredulous. I could see that they were
still under the belief that my excitement was due to over-indulgence
in alcoholic liquor, whilst Madame the proprietress called me an
abominable liar for daring to suggest that she harboured thieves
within her doors. Then suddenly, as if in vindication of my character,
there came from a floor above the sound of a loud, shrill bark.
"Carissimo!" I cried triumphantly. Then I added in a rapid whisper,
"Mme. la Comtesse de Nole is rich. She spoke of a big reward for the
recovery of her pet."
These happy words had the effect of stimulating the zeal of the
gendarmes. Madame the proprietress grew somewhat confused and
incoherent, and finally blurted it out that one of her lodgers--a
highly respectable gentleman--did keep a dog, but that there was no
crime in that surely.
"One of your lodgers?" queried the representative of the law. "When
did he come?"
"About three days ago," she replied sullenly.
"What room does he occupy?"
"Number twenty-five on the third floor."
"He came with his dog?" I interposed quickly, "a spaniel?"
"And your lodger, is he an ugly, slouchy creature--with hooked nose,
bleary eyes and shaggy yellow hair?"
But to this she vouchsafed no reply.
Already the matter had passed out of my hands. One of the gendarmes
prepared to go upstairs and bade me follow him, whilst he ordered his
comrade to remain below and on no account to allow anyone to enter or
leave the house. The proprietress and concierge were warned that if
they interfered with the due execution of the law they would be
severely dealt with; after which we went upstairs.
For a while, as we ascended, we could hear the dog barking furiously,
then, presently, just as we reached the upper landing, we heard a loud
curse, a scramble, and then a piteous whine quickly smothered.
My very heart stood still. The next moment, however, the gendarme had
kicked open the door of No. 25, and I followed him into the room. The
place looked dirty and squalid in the extreme--just the sort of place
I should have expected Theodore to haunt. It was almost bare save for
a table in the centre, a couple of rickety chairs, a broken-down
bedstead and an iron stove in the corner. On the table a tallow candle
was spluttering and throwing a very feeble circle of light around.
At first glance I thought that the room was empty, then suddenly I
heard another violent expletive and became aware of a man sitting
close beside the iron stove. He turned to stare at us as we entered,
but to my surprise it was not Theodore's ugly face which confronted
us. The man sitting there alone in the room where I had expected to
see Theodore and Carissimo had a shaggy beard of an undoubted ginger
hue. He had on a blue blouse and a peaked cap; beneath his cap his
lank hair protruded more decided in colour even than his beard. His
head was sunk between his shoulders, and right across his face, from
the left eyebrow over the cheek and as far as his ear, he had a
hideous crimson scar, which told up vividly against the ghastly pallor
of his face.
But there was no sign of Theodore!
At first my friend the gendarme was quite urbane. He asked very
politely to see Monsieur's pet dog. Monsieur denied all knowledge of a
dog, which denial only tended to establish his own guilt and the
veracity of mine own narrative. The gendarme thereupon became more
peremptory and the man promptly lost his temper.
I, in the meanwhile, was glancing round the room and soon spied a wall
cupboard which had obviously been deliberately screened by the
bedstead. While my companion was bringing the whole majesty of the law
to bear upon the miscreant's denegations I calmly dragged the bedstead
aside and opened the cupboard door.
An ejaculation from my quivering throat brought the gendarme to my
side. Crouching in the dark recess of the wall cupboard was
Carissimo--not dead, thank goodness! but literally shaking with
terror. I pulled him out as gently as I could, for he was so
frightened that he growled and snapped viciously at me. I handed him
to the gendarme, for by the side of Carissimo I had seen something
which literally froze my blood within my veins. It was Theodore's hat
and coat, which he had been wearing when I chased him to this house of
mystery and of ill-fame, and wrapped together with it was a rag all
smeared with blood, whilst the same hideous stains were now distinctly
visible on the door of the cupboard itself.
I turned to the gendarme, who at once confronted the abominable
malefactor with the obvious proofs of a horrible crime. But the
depraved wretch stood by, Sir, perfectly calm and with a cynicism in
his whole bearing which I had never before seen equalled!
"I know nothing about that coat," he asserted with a shrug of the
shoulders, "nor about the dog."
The gendarme by this time was purple with fury.
"Not know anything about the dog?" he exclaimed in a voice choked with
righteous indignation. "Why, he . . . he barked!"
But this indisputable fact in no way disconcerted the miscreant.
"I heard a dog yapping," he said with consummate impudence, "but I
thought he was in the next room. No wonder," he added coolly, "since
he was in a wall cupboard."
"A wall cupboard," the gendarme rejoined triumphantly, "situated in
the very room which you occupy at this moment."
"That is a mistake, my friend," the cynical wretch retorted,
undaunted. "I do not occupy this room. I do not lodge in this hotel at
"Then how came you to be here?"
"I came on a visit to a friend who happened to be out when I arrived.
I found a pleasant fire here, and I sat down to warm myself. Your
noisy and unwarranted irruption into this room has so bewildered me
that I no longer know whether I am standing on my head or on my
"We'll show you soon enough what you are standing on, my fine fellow,"
the gendarme riposted with breezy, cheerfulness. "Allons!"
I must say that the pampered minion of the law arose splendidly to the
occasion. He seized the miscreant by the arm and took him downstairs,
there to confront him with the proprietress of the establishment,
while I--with marvellous presence of mind--took possession of
Carissimo and hid him as best I could beneath my coat.
In the hall below a surprise and a disappointment were in store for
me. I had reached the bottom of the stairs when the shrill feminine
accents of Mme. the proprietress struck unpleasantly on my ear.
"No! no! I tell you!" she was saying. "This man is not my lodger. He
never came here with a dog. There," she added volubly, and pointing an
unwashed finger at Carissimo who was struggling and growling in my
arms, "there is the dog. A gentleman brought him with him last
Wednesday, when he inquired if he could have a room here for a few
nights. Number twenty-five happened to be vacant, and I have no
objection to dogs. I let the gentleman have the room, and he paid me
twenty sous in advance when he took possession and told me he would
keep the room three nights."
"The gentleman? What gentleman?" the gendarme queried, rather inanely
"My lodger," the woman replied. "He is out for the moment, but he
will be back presently I make no doubt. The dog is his. . . ."
"What is he like?" the minion of the law queried abruptly.
"Who? the dog?" she retorted impudently.
"No, no! Your lodger."
Once more the unwashed finger went up and pointed straight at me.
"He described him well enough just now; thin and slouchy in his ways.
He has lank, yellow hair, a nose perpetually crimson--with the cold no
doubt--and pale, watery eyes. . . ."
"Theodore," I exclaimed mentally.
Bewildered, the gendarme pointed to his prisoner.
"But this man . . . ?" he queried.
"Why," the proprietress replied. "I have seen Monsieur twice, or was
it three times? He would visit number twenty-five now and then."
I will not weary you with further accounts of the close examination to
which the representative of the law subjected the personnel of the
squalid hotel. The concierge and the man of all work did indeed
confirm what the proprietress said, and whilst my friend the gendarme
--puzzled and floundering--was scratching his head in complete
bewilderment, I thought that the opportunity had come for me to slip
quietly out by the still open door and make my way as fast as I could
to the sumptuous abode in the Faubourg St. Germain, where the
gratitude of Mme. de Nole, together with five thousand francs, were
even now awaiting me.
After Madame the proprietress had identified Carissimo, I had once
more carefully concealed him under my coat. I was ready to seize my
opportunity, after which I would be free to deal with the matter of
Theodore's amazing disappearance. Unfortunately just at this moment
the little brute gave a yap, and the minion of the law at once
interposed and took possession of him.
"The dog belongs to the police now, Sir," he said sternly.
The fatuous jobbernowl wanted his share of the reward, you see.
Having been forced thus to give up Carissimo, and with him all my
hopes of a really substantial fortune, I was determined to make the
red-polled miscreant suffer for my disappointment, and the minions of
the law sweat in the exercise of their duty.
I demanded Theodore! My friend, my comrade, my right hand! I had seen
him not ten minutes ago, carrying in his arms this very dog, whom I
had subsequently found inside a wall cupboard beside a blood-stained
coat. Where was Theodore? Pointing an avenging finger at the
red-headed reprobate, I boldly accused him of having murdered my
friend with a view to robbing him of the reward offered for the
recovery of the dog.
This brought a new train of thought into the wooden pates of the
gendarmes. A quartet of them had by this time assembled within the
respectable precincts of the Hotel des Cadets. One of them--senior to
the others--at once dispatched a younger comrade to the nearest
commissary of police for advice and assistance.
Then he ordered us all into the room pompously labelled "Reception,"
and there proceeded once more to interrogate us all, making copious
notes in his leather-bound book all the time, whilst I, moaning and
lamenting the loss of my faithful friend and man of all work, loudly
demanded the punishment of his assassin.
Theodore's coat, his hat, the blood-stained rag, had all been brought
down from No. 25 and laid out upon the table ready for the inspection
of M. the Commissary of Police.
That gentleman arrived with two private agents, armed with full powers
and wrapped in the magnificent imperturbability of the law. The
gendarme had already put him _au fait_ of the events, and as soon as
he was seated behind the table upon which reposed the "pieces de
conviction," he in his turn proceeded to interrogate the ginger-pated
But strive how he might, M. the Commissary elicited no further
information from him than that which we all already possessed. The man
gave his name as Aristide Nicolet. He had no fixed abode. He had come
to visit his friend who lodged in No. 25 in the Hotel des Cadets. Not
finding him at home he had sat by the fire and had waited for him. He
knew absolutely nothing of the dog and absolutely nothing of the
whereabouts of Theodore.
"We'll soon see about that!" asserted M. the Commissary.
He ordered a perquisition of every room and every corner of the hotel,
Madame the proprietress loudly lamenting that she and her respectable
house would henceforth be disgraced for ever. But the thieves--whoever
they were--were clever. Not a trace of any illicit practice was found
on the premises--and not a trace of Theodore.
Had he indeed been murdered? The thought now had taken root in my
mind. For the moment I had even forgotten Carissimo and my vanished
five thousand francs.
Well, Sir! Aristide Nicolet was marched off to the depot--still
protesting his innocence. The next day he was confronted with Mme. la
Comtesse de Nole, who could not say more than that he might have
formed part of the gang who had jostled her on the Quai Voltaire,
whilst the servant who had taken the missive from him failed to
Carissimo was restored to the arms of his loving mistress, but the
reward for his recovery had to be shared between the police and
myself: three thousand francs going to the police who apprehended the
thief, and two thousand to me who had put them on the track.
It was not a fortune, Sir, but I had to be satisfied. But in the
meanwhile the disappearance of Theodore had remained an unfathomable
mystery. No amount of questionings and cross-questionings, no amount
of confrontations and perquisitions, had brought any new matter to
light. Aristide Nicolet persisted in his statements, as did the
proprietress and the concierge of the Hotel des Cadets in theirs.
Theodore had undoubtedly occupied room No. 25 in the hotel during the
three days while I was racking my brain as to what had become of him.
I equally undoubtedly saw him for a few moments running up the Rue
Beaune with Carissimo's tail projecting beneath his coat. Then he
entered the open doorway of the hotel, and henceforth his whereabouts
remained a baffling mystery.
Beyond his coat and hat, the stained rag and the dog himself, there
was not the faintest indication of what became of him after that. The
concierge vowed that he did not enter the hotel--Aristide Nicolet
vowed that he did not enter No. 25. But then the dog was in the
cupboard, and so were the hat and coat; and even the police were bound
to admit that in the short space of time between my last glimpse of
Theodore and the gendarme's entry into room 25 it would be impossible
for the most experienced criminal on earth to murder a man, conceal
every trace of the crime, and so to dispose of the body as to baffle
the most minute inquiry and the most exhaustive search.
Sometimes when I thought the whole matter out I felt that I was
Thus about a week or ten days went by and I had just come reluctantly
to the conclusion that there must be some truth in the old mediaeval