Part 3 out of 4
legends which tell us that the devil runs away with his elect from
time to time, when I received a summons from M. the Commissary of
Police to present myself at his bureau.
He was pleasant and urbane as usual, but to my anxious query after
Theodore he only gave me the old reply: "No trace of him can be
Then he added: "We must therefore take it for granted, my good M.
Ratichon, that your man of all work is--of his own free will--keeping
out of the way. The murder theory is untenable; we have had to abandon
it. The total disappearance of the body is an unanswerable argument
against it. Would you care to offer a reward for information leading
to the recovery of your missing friend?"
I hesitated. I certainly was not prepared to pay anyone for finding
"Think it over, my good M. Ratichon," rejoined M. le Commissaire
pleasantly. "But in the meanwhile I must tell you that we have decided
to set Aristide Nicolet free. There is not a particle of evidence
against him either in the matter of the dog or of that of your friend.
Mme. de Nole's servants cannot swear to his identity, whilst you have
sworn that you last saw the dog in your man's arms. That being so, I
feel that we have no right to detain an innocent man."
Well, Sir, what could I say? I knew well enough that there was not a
tittle of solid evidence against the man Nicolet, nor had I the power
to move the police of His Majesty the King from their decision. In my
heart of hearts I had the firm conviction that the ginger-polled
ruffian knew all about Carissimo and all about the present whereabouts
of that rascal Theodore. But what could I say, Sir? What could I do?
I went home that night to my lodgings at Passy more perplexed than
ever I had been in my life before.
The next morning I arrived at my office soon after nine. The problem
had presented itself to me during the night of finding a new man of
all work who would serve me on the same terms as that ungrateful
I mounted the stairs with a heavy step and opened the outer door of my
apartment with my private key; and then, Sir, I assure you that for
one brief moment I felt that my knees were giving way under me and
that I should presently measure my full length on the floor.
There, sitting at the table in my private room, was Theodore. He had
donned one of the many suits of clothes which I always kept at the
office for purposes of my business, and he was calmly consuming a
luscious sausage which was to have been part of my dinner today, and
finishing a half-bottle of my best Bordeaux.
He appeared wholly unconscious of his enormities, and when I taxed him
with his villainies and plied him with peremptory questions he met me
with a dogged silence and a sulky attitude which I have never seen
equalled in all my life. He flatly denied that he had ever walked the
streets of Paris with a dog under his arm, or that I had ever chased
him up the Rue Beaune. He denied ever having lodged in the Hotel des
Cadets, or been acquainted with its proprietress, or with a
red-polled, hunchback miscreant named Aristide Nicolet. He denied that
the coat and hat found in room No. 25 were his; in fact, he denied
everything, and with an impudence, Sir, which was past belief.
But he put the crown to his insolence when he finally demanded two
hundred francs from me: his share in the sum paid to me by Mme. de
Nole for the recovery of her dog. He demanded this, Sir, in the name
of justice and of equity, and even brandished our partnership contract
in my face.
I was so irate at his audacity, so disgusted that presently I felt
that I could not bear the sight of him any longer. I turned my back on
him and walked out of my own private room, leaving him there still
munching my sausage and drinking my Bordeaux.
I was going through the antechamber with a view to going out into the
street for a little fresh air when something in the aspect of the
chair-bedstead on which that abominable brute Theodore had apparently
spent the night attracted my attention. I turned over one of the
cushions, and with a cry of rage which I took no pains to suppress I
seized upon what I found lying beneath: a blue linen blouse, Sir, a
peaked cap, a ginger-coloured wig and beard!
The villain! The abominable mountebank! The wretch! The . . . I was
wellnigh choking with wrath.
With the damning pieces of conviction in my hand, I rushed back into
the inner room. Already my cry of indignation had aroused the vampire
from his orgy. He stood before me sheepish, grinning, and taunted me,
Sir--taunted me for my blindness in not recognizing him under the
disguise of the so-called Aristide Nicolet.
It was a disguise which he had kept by him in case of an emergency
when first he decided to start business as a dog thief. Carissimo had
been his first serious venture and but for my interference it would
have been a wholly successful one. He had worked the whole thing out
with marvellous cleverness, being greatly assisted by Madame Sand, the
proprietress of the Hotel des Cadets, who was a friend of his
mother's. The lady, it seems, carried on a lucrative business of the
same sort herself, and she undertook to furnish him with the necessary
confederates for the carrying out of his plan. The proceeds of the
affair were to be shared equally between himself and Madame; the
confederates, who helped to jostle Mme. de Nole whilst her dog was
being stolen, were to receive five francs each for their trouble.
When he met me at the corner of the Rue Beaune he was on his way to
the Rue Guenegaud, hoping to exchange Carissimo for five thousand
francs. When he met me, however, he felt that the best thing to do for
the moment was to seek safety in flight. He had only just time to run
back to the hotel to warn Mme. Sand of my approach and beg her to
detain me at any cost. Then he flew up the stairs, changed into his
disguise, Carissimo barking all the time furiously. Whilst he was
trying to pacify the dog, the latter bit him severely in the arm,
drawing a good deal of blood--the crimson scar across his face was a
last happy inspiration which put the finishing touch to his disguise
and to the hoodwinking of the police and of me. He had only just time
to staunch the blood from his arm and to thrust his own clothes and
Carissimo into the wall cupboard when the gendarme and I burst in upon
I could only gasp. For one brief moment the thought rushed through my
mind that I would denounce him to the police for . . . for . . .
But that was just the trouble. Of what could I accuse him? Of
murdering himself or of stealing Mme. de Nole's dog? The commissary
would hardly listen to such a tale . . . and it would make me seem
ridiculous. . . .
So I gave Theodore the soundest thrashing he ever had in his life, and
fifty francs to keep his mouth shut.
But did I not tell you that he was a monster of ingratitude?
You are right, Sir, I very seldom speak of my halcyon days--those days
when the greatest monarch the world has ever known honoured me with
his intimacy and confidence. I had my office in the Rue St. Roch then,
at the top of a house just by the church, and not a stone's throw from
the palace, and I can tell you, Sir, that in those days ministers of
state, foreign ambassadors, aye! and members of His Majesty's
household, were up and down my staircase at all hours of the day. I
had not yet met Theodore then, and fate was wont to smile on me.
As for M. le Duc d'Otrante, Minister of Police, he would send to me or
for me whenever an intricate case required special acumen,
resourcefulness and secrecy. Thus in the matter of the English
files--have I told you of it before? No? Well, then, you shall hear.
Those were the days, Sir, when the Emperor's Berlin Decrees were going
to sweep the world clear of English commerce and of English
enterprise. It was not a case of paying heavy duty on English goods,
or a still heavier fine if you smuggled; it was total prohibition, and
hanging if you were caught bringing so much as a metre of Bradford
cloth or half a dozen Sheffield files into the country. But you know
how it is, Sir: the more strict the law the more ready are certain
lawless human creatures to break it. Never was smuggling so rife as it
was in those days--I am speaking now of 1810 or 11--never was it so
daring or smugglers so reckless.
M. le Duc d'Otrante had his hands full, I can tell you. It had become
a matter for the secret police; the coastguard or customs officials
were no longer able to deal with it.
Then one day Hypolite Leroux came to see me. I knew the man well--a
keen sleuthhound if ever there was one--and well did he deserve his
name, for he was as red as a fox.
"Ratichon," he said to me, without preamble, as soon as he had seated
himself opposite to me, and I had placed half a bottle of good
Bordeaux and a couple of glasses on the table. "I want your help in
the matter of these English files. We have done all that we can in our
department. M. le Duc has doubled the customs personnel on the Swiss
frontier, the coastguard is both keen and efficient, and yet we know
that at the present moment there are thousands of English files used
in this country, even inside His Majesty's own armament works. M. le
Duc d'Otrante is determined to put an end to the scandal. He has
offered a big reward for information which will lead to the conviction
of one or more of the chief culprits, and I am determined to get that
reward--with your help, if you will give it."
"What is the reward?" I asked simply.
"Five thousand francs," he replied. "Your knowledge of English and
Italian is what caused me to offer you a share in this splendid
"It's no good lying to me, Leroux," I broke in quietly, "if we are
going to work amicably together."
"The reward is ten thousand francs." I made the shot at a venture,
knowing my man well.
"I swear that it is not," he asserted hotly.
"Swear again," I retorted, "for I'll not deal with you for less than
He did swear again and protested loudly. But I was firm.
"Have another glass of wine," I said.
After which he gave in.
The affair was bound to be risky. Smugglers of English goods were
determined and desperate men who were playing for high stakes and
risking their necks on the board. In all matters of smuggling a
knowledge of foreign languages was an invaluable asset. I spoke
Italian well and knew some English. I knew my worth. We both drank a
glass of cognac and sealed our bond then and there.
After which Leroux drew his chair closer to my desk.
"Listen, then," he said. "You know the firm of Fournier Freres, in
the Rue Colbert?"
"By name, of course. Cutlers and surgical instrument makers by
appointment to His Majesty. What about them?"
"M. le Duc has had his eyes on them for some time."
"Fournier Freres!" I ejaculated. "Impossible! A more reputable firm
does not exist in France."
"I know, I know," he rejoined impatiently. "And yet it is a curious
fact that M. Aristide Fournier, the junior partner, has lately bought
for himself a house at St. Claude."
"At St. Claude?" I ejaculated.
"Yes," he responded dryly. "Very near to Gex, what?"
I shrugged my shoulders, for indeed the circumstances did appear
Do you know Gex, my dear Sir? Ah, it is a curious and romantic spot.
It has possibilities, both natural and political, which appear to have
been expressly devised for the benefit of the smuggling fraternity.
Nestling in the midst of the Jura mountains, it is outside the customs
zone of the Empire. So you see the possibilities, do you not? Gex soon
became the picturesque warehouse of every conceivable kind of
contraband goods. On one side of it there was the Swiss frontier, and
the Swiss Government was always willing to close one eye in the matter
of customs provided its palm was sufficiently greased by the
light-fingered gentry. No difficulty, therefore, as you see, in
getting contraband goods--even English ones--as far as Gex.
Here they could be kept hidden until a fitting opportunity occurred
for smuggling them into France, opportunities for which the Jura, with
their narrow defiles and difficult mountain paths, afforded
magnificent scope. St. Claude, of which Leroux had just spoken as the
place where M. Aristide Fournier had recently bought himself a house,
is in France, only a few kilometres from the neutral zone of Gex. It
seemed a strange spot to choose for a wealthy and fashionable member
of Parisian bourgeois society, I was bound to admit.
"But," I mused, "one cannot go to Gex without a permit from the
"Not by road," Leroux assented. "But you will own that there are means
available to men who are young and vigorous like M. Fournier, who
moreover, I understand, is an accomplished mountaineer. You know Gex,
I had crossed the Jura once, in my youth, but was not very intimately
familiar with the district. Leroux had a carefully drawn-out map of it
in his pocket; this he laid out before me.
"These two roads," he began, tracing the windings of a couple of thin
red lines on the map with the point of his finger, "are the only two
made ones that lead in and out of the district. Here is the
Valserine," he went on, pointing to a blue line, "which flows from
north to south, and both the roads wind over bridges that span the
river close to our frontier. The French customs stations are on our
side of those bridges. But, besides those two roads, the frontier can,
of course, be crossed by one or other of the innumerable mountain
tracks which are only accessible to pedestrians or mules. That is
where our customs officials are powerless, for the tracks are
precipitous and offer unlimited cover to those who know every inch of
the ground. Several of them lead directly into St. Claude, at some
considerable distance from the customs stations, and it is these
tracks which are being used by M. Aristide Fournier for the felonious
purpose of trading with the enemy--on this I would stake my life. But
I mean to be even with him, and if I get the help which I require from
you, I am convinced that I can lay him by the heels."
"I am your man," I concluded simply.
"Very well," he resumed. "Are you prepared to journey with me to Gex?"
"When do you start?"
"I shall be ready."
He gave a deep sigh of satisfaction.
"Then listen to my plan," he said. "We'll journey together as far as
St. Claude; from there you will push on to Gex, and take up your abode
in the city, styling yourself an interpreter. This will give you the
opportunity of mixing with some of the smuggling fraternity, and it
will be your duty to keep both your eyes and ears open. I, on the
other hand, will take up my quarters at Mijoux, the French customs
station, which is on the frontier, about half a dozen kilometres from
Gex. Every day I'll arrange to meet you, either at the latter place or
somewhere half-way, and hear what news you may have to tell me. And
mind, Ratichon," he added sternly, "it means running straight, or the
reward will slip through our fingers."
I chose to ignore the coarse insinuation, and only riposted quietly:
"I must have money on account. I am a poor man, and will be out of
pocket by the transaction from the hour I start for Gex to that when
you pay me my fair share of the reward."
By way of a reply he took out a case from his pocket. I saw that it
was bulging over with banknotes, which confirmed me in my conviction
both that he was actually an emissary of the Minister of Police and
that I could have demanded an additional thousand francs without fear
of losing the business.
"I'll give you five hundred on account," he said as he licked his ugly
thumb preparatory to counting out the money before me.
"Make it a thousand," I retorted; "and call it 'additional,' not 'on
He tried to argue.
"I am not keen on the business," I said with calm dignity, "so if you
think that I am asking too much--there are others, no doubt, who would
do the work for less."
It was a bold move. But it succeeded. Leroux laughed and shrugged his
shoulders. Then he counted out ten hundred-franc notes and laid them
out upon the desk. But before I could touch them he laid his large
bony hands over the lot and, looking me straight between the eyes, he
said with earnest significance:
"English files are worth as much as twenty francs apiece in the
"Fournier Freres would not take the risks which they are doing for a
consignment of less than ten thousand."
"I doubt if they would," I rejoined blandly.
"It will be your business to find out how and when the smugglers
propose to get their next consignment over the frontier."
"And to communicate any information you may have obtained to me."
"And to keep an eye on the valuable cargo, of course?" I concluded.
"Yes," he said roughly, "an eye. But hands off, understand, my good
Ratichon, or there'll be trouble."
He did not wait to hear my indignant protest. He had risen to his
feet, and had already turned to go. Now he stretched his great coarse
hand out to me.
"All in good part, eh?"
I took his hand. He meant no harm, did old Leroux. He was just a
common, vulgar fellow who did not know a gentleman when he saw one.
And we parted the best of friends.
A week later I was at Gex. At St. Claude I had parted from Leroux, and
then hired a chaise to take me to my destination. It was a matter of
fifteen kilometres by road over the frontier of the customs zone and
through the most superb scenery I had ever seen in my life. We drove
through narrow gorges, on each side of which the mountain heights rose
rugged and precipitous to incalculable altitudes above. From time to
time only did I get peeps of almost imperceptible tracks along the
declivities, tracks on which it seemed as if goats alone could obtain
a footing. Once--hundreds of feet above me--I spied a couple of mules
descending what seemed like a sheer perpendicular path down the
mountain side. The animals appeared to be heavily laden, and I
marvelled what forbidden goods lay hidden within their packs and
whether in the days that were to come I too should be called upon to
risk my life on those declivities following in the footsteps of the
reckless and desperate criminals whom it was my duty to pursue.
I confess that at the thought, and with those pictures of grim nature
before me, I felt an unpleasant shiver coursing down my spine.
Nothing of importance occurred during the first fortnight of my
sojourn at Gex. I was installed in moderately comfortable, furnished
rooms in the heart of the city, close to the church and market square.
In one of my front windows, situated on the ground floor, I had placed
a card bearing the inscription: "Aristide Barrot, Interpreter," and
below, "Anglais, Allemand, Italien." I had even had a few
clients--conversations between the local police and some poor wretches
caught in the act of smuggling a few yards of Swiss silk or a couple
of cream cheeses over the French frontier, and sent back to Gex to be
dealt with by the local authorities.
Leroux had found lodgings at Mijoux, and twice daily he walked over to
Gex to consult with me. We met, mornings and evenings, at the cafe
restaurant of the Crane Chauve, an obscure little tavern situated on
the outskirts of the city. He was waxing impatient at what he called
my supineness, for indeed so far I had had nothing to report.
There was no sign of M. Aristide Fournier. No one in Gex appeared to
know anything about him, though the proprietor of the principal hotel
in the town did recollect having had a visitor of that name once or
twice during the past year. But, of course, during this early stage of
my stay in the town it was impossible for me to believe anything that
I was told. I had not yet succeeded in winning the confidence of the
inhabitants, and it was soon pretty evident to me that the whole
countryside was engaged in the perilous industry of smuggling.
Everyone from the mayor downwards did a bit of a deal now and again in
contraband goods. In ordinary cases it only meant fines if one was
caught, or perhaps imprisonment for repeated offenses.
But four or five days after my arrival at Gex I saw three fellows
handed over to the police of the department. They had been caught in
the act of trying to ford the Valserine with half a dozen pack-mules
laden with English cloth. They were hanged at St. Claude two days
I can assure you, Sir, that the news of this summary administration of
justice sent another cold shiver down my spine, and I marvelled if
indeed Leroux's surmises were correct and if a respectable tradesman
like Aristide Fournier would take such terrible risks even for the
sake of heavy gains.
I had been in Gex just a fortnight when the weather, which hitherto
had been splendid, turned to squalls and storms. We were then in the
second week of September. A torrential rain had fallen the whole of
one day, during which I had only been out in order to meet Leroux, as
usual, at the Cafe du Crane Chauve. I had just come home from our
evening meeting--it was then ten o'clock--and I was preparing to go
comfortably to bed, when I was startled by a violent ring at the
I had only just time to wonder if this belated visitor desired to see
me or my worthy landlady, Mme. Bournon, when her heavy footsteps
resounded along the passage. The next moment I heard my name spoken
peremptorily by a harsh voice, and Mme. Bournon's reply that M.
Aristide Barrot was indeed within. A few seconds later she ushered my
nocturnal visitor into my room.
He was wrapped in a dark mantle from head to foot, and he wore a
wide-brimmed hat pulled right over his eyes. He did not remove either
as he addressed me without further preamble.
"You are an interpreter, Sir?" he queried, speaking very rapidly and
in sharp commanding tones.
"At your service," I replied.
"My name is Ernest Berty. I want you to come with me at once to my
house. I require your services as intermediary between myself and some
men who have come to see me on business. These men whom I wish you to
see are Russians," he added, I fancied as an afterthought, "but they
speak English fluently."
I suppose that I looked just as I felt--somewhat dubious owing to the
lateness of the hour and the darkness of the night, not to speak of
the abominable weather, for he continued with marked impatience:
"It is imperative that you should come at once. Though my house is at
some little distance from here, I have a chaise outside which will
also bring you back, and," he added significantly, "I will pay you
whatever you demand."
"It is very late," I demurred, "the weather--"
"Your fee, man!" he broke in roughly, "and let's get on!"
"Five hundred francs," I said at a venture.
"Come!" was his curt reply. "I will give you the money as we drive
I wished I had made it a thousand; apparently my services were worth a
great deal to him. However, I picked up my mantle and my hat, and
within a few seconds was ready to go. I shouted up to Mme. Bournon
that I would not be home for a couple of hours, but that as I had my
key I need not disturb her when I returned.
Once outside the door I almost regretted my ready acquiescence in this
nocturnal adventure. The rain was beating down unmercifully, and at
first I saw no sign of a vehicle; but in answer to my visitor's sharp
command I followed him down the street as far as the market square, at
the corner of which I spied the dim outline of a carriage and a couple
Without wasting too many words, M. Ernest Berty bundled me into the
carriage, and very soon we were on the way. The night was impenetrably
dark and the chaise more than ordinarily rickety. I had but little
opportunity to ascertain which way we were going. A small lanthorn
fixed opposite to me in the interior of the carriage, and flickering
incessantly before my eyes, made it still more impossible for me to
see anything outside the narrow window. My companion sat beside me,
silent and absorbed. After a while I ventured to ask him which way we
"Through the town," he replied curtly. "My house is just outside
Now, Divonne is, as I knew, quite close to the Swiss frontier. It is a
matter of seven or eight kilometres--an hour's drive at the very
least in this supremely uncomfortable vehicle. I tried to induce
further conversation, but made no headway against my companion's
taciturnity. However, I had little cause for complaint in another
direction. After the first quarter of an hour, and when we had left
the cobblestones of the city behind us, he drew a bundle of notes from
his pocket, and by the flickering light of the lanthorn he counted out
ten fifty-franc notes and handed them without another word to me.
The drive was unspeakably wearisome; but after a while I suppose that
the monotonous rumbling of the wheels and the incessant patter of the
rain against the window-panes lulled me into a kind of torpor. Certain
it is that presently--much sooner than I had anticipated--the chaise
drew up with a jerk, and I was roused to full consciousness by hearing
M. Berty's voice saying curtly:
"Here we are! Come with me!"
I was stiff, Sir, and I was shivering--not so much with cold as with
excitement. You will readily understand that all my faculties were now
on the qui vive. Somehow or other during the wearisome drive by the
side of my close-tongued companion my mind had fastened on the
certitude that my adventure of this night bore a close connexion to
the firm of Fournier Freres and to the English files which were
causing so many sleepless nights to M. le Duc d'Otrante, Minister of
But nothing in my manner, as I stepped out of the carriage under the
porch of the house which loomed dark and massive out of the
surrounding gloom, betrayed anything of what I felt. Outwardly I was
just a worthy bourgeois, an interpreter by profession, and delighted
at the remunerative work so opportunely put in my way.
The house itself appeared lonely as well as dark. M. Berty led the way
across a narrow passage, at the end of which there was a door which he
pushed open, saying in his usual abrupt manner: "Go in there and wait.
I'll send for you directly."
Then he closed the door on me, and I heard his footsteps recrossing
the corridor and presently ascending some stairs. I was left alone in
a small, sparsely furnished room, dimly lighted by an oil lamp which
hung down from the ceiling. There was a table in the middle of the
room, a square of carpet on the floor, and a couple of chairs beside a
small iron stove. I noticed that the single window was closely
shuttered and barred. I sat down and waited. At first the silence
around me was only broken by the pattering of the rain against the
shutters and the soughing of the wind down the iron chimney pipe, but
after a little while my senses, which by this time had become
super-acute, were conscious of various noises within the house itself:
footsteps overhead, a confused murmur of voices, and anon the
unmistakable sound of a female voice raised as if in entreaty or in
Somehow a vague feeling of alarm possessed itself of my nervous
system. I began to realise my position--alone, a stranger in a house
as to whose situation I had not the remotest idea, and among a set of
men who, if my surmises were correct, were nothing less than a gang of
determined and dangerous criminals. The voices, especially the female
one, were now sounding more clear. I tiptoed to the door, and very
gently opened it. There was indeed no mistaking the tone of desperate
pleading which came from some room above and through & woman's lips. I
even caught the words: "Oh, don't! Oh, don't! Not again!" repeated at
intervals with pitiable insistence.
Mastering my not unnatural anxiety, I opened the door a little farther
and slipped out into the passage, all my instincts of chivalry towards
beauty in distress aroused by those piteous cries. Forgetful of every
possible danger and of all prudence, I had already darted down the
corridor, determined to do my duty as a gentleman as soon as I had
ascertained whence had come those cries of anguish, when I heard the
frou-frou of skirts and a rapid patter of small feet down the stairs.
The next moment a radiant vision, all white muslin, fair curls and the
scent of violets, descended on me from above, a soft hand closed over
mine and drew me, unresisting, back into the room from whence I had
Bewildered, I gazed on the winsome apparition before me, and beheld a
young girl, slender as a lily, dressed in a soft, clinging gown which
made her appear more slender still, her fair hair arranged in a tangle
of unruly curls round the dainty oval of her face.
She was exquisite, Sir! And the slenderness of her! You cannot imagine
it! She looked like a young sapling bending to the gale. But what cut
me to the heart was the look of terror and of misery in her face. She
clasped her hands together and the tears gathered in her eyes.
"Go, Sir, go at once!" she murmured under her breath, speaking very
rapidly. "Do not waste a minute, I beg of you! As you value your life,
go before it is too late!"
"But, Mademoiselle," I stammered; for indeed her words and appearance
had roused all my worst fears, but also all my instincts of the
sleuth-hound scenting his quarry.
"Don't argue, I beg of you," continued the lovely creature, who indeed
seemed the prey of overwhelming emotions--fear, horror, pity. "When he
comes back do not let him find you here. I'll explain, I'll know what
to say, only I entreat you--go!"
Sir, I have many faults, but cowardice does not happen to be one of
them, and the more the angel pleaded the more determined was I to see
this business through. I was, of course, quite convinced by now that I
was on the track of M. Aristide Fournier and the English files, and I
was not going to let five thousand francs and the gratitude of the
Minister of Police slip through my fingers so easily.
"Mademoiselle," I rejoined as calmly as I could, "let me assure you
that though your anxiety for me is like manna to a starving man, I
have no fears for my own safety. I have come here in the capacity of a
humble interpreter; I certainly am not worth putting out of the way.
Moreover, I have been paid for my services, and these I will render to
my employer to the best of my capabilities."
"Ah, but you don't know," she retorted, not departing one jot from her
attitude of terror and of entreaty, "you don't understand. This house,
Monsieur," she added in a hoarse whisper, "is nothing but a den of
criminals wherein no honest man or woman is safe."
"Pardon, Mademoiselle," I riposted as lightly and as gallantly as I
could, "I see before me the living proof that angels, at any rate,
"Alas! Sir," she rejoined, with a heart-rending sigh, "if you mean me,
I am only to be pitied. My dear mother and I are naught but slaves to
the will of my brother, who uses us as tools for his nefarious ends."
"But . . ." I stammered, horrified beyond speech at the vista of
villainy which her words had opened up before me.
"My mother, Sir," she said simply, "is old and ailing; she is dying of
anguish at sight of her son's misdeeds. I would not, could not leave
her, yet I would give my life to see her free from that miscreant's
My whole soul was stirred to its depths by the intensity of passion
which rang through this delicate creature's words. What weird and
awesome mystery of iniquity and of crime lay hid, I wondered, between
these walls? In what tragedy had I thus accidentally become involved
while fulfilling my prosaic duty in the interest of His Majesty's
exchequer? As in a flash it suddenly came to me that perhaps I could
serve both this lovely creature and the Emperor better by going out of
the house now, and lying hidden all the night through somewhere in its
vicinity until in daylight I could locate its exact situation. Then I
could communicate with Leroux at once and procure the apprehension of
this Berty--or Fournier--who apparently was a desperate criminal.
Already a bold plan was taking shape in my brain, and with my mind's
eye I had measured the distance which separated me from the front door
and safety when, in the distance, I heard heavy footsteps slowly
descending the stairs. I looked at my lovely companion, and saw her
eyes gradually dilating with increased horror. She gave a smothered
cry, pressed her handkerchief to her lips, then she murmured hoarsely,
"Too late!" and fled precipitately from the room, leaving me a prey to
mingled emotions such as I had never experienced before.
A moment or two later M. Ernest Berty, or whatever his real name may
have been, entered the room. Whether he had encountered his exquisite
sister on the corridor or the stairs, I could not tell; his face, in
the dim light of the hanging lamp, looked impenetrable and sinister.
"This way, M. Barrot," he said curtly.
Just for one brief moment the thought occurred to me to throw myself
upon him with my whole weight--which was considerable--and make a wild
dash for the front door. But it was more than probable that I should
be intercepted and brought back, after which no doubt I would be an
object of suspicion to these rascals and my life would not be worth an
hour's purchase. With the young girl's warnings ringing in my ears, I
felt that my one chance of safety and of circumventing these criminals
lay in my seeming ingenuousness and complete guileless-ness.
I assumed a perfect professional manner and followed my companion up
the stairs. He ushered me into a room just above the one where I had
been waiting up to now. Three men dressed in rough clothes were
sitting at a table on which stood a couple of tankards and four empty
pewter mugs. My employer offered me a glass of ale, which I declined.
Then we got to work.
At the first words which M. Berty uttered I knew that all my surmises
had been correct. Whether he himself was M. Aristide Fournier, or
another partner of that firm, or some other rascal engaged in
nefarious doings, I could not know; certain it was that through the
medium of cipher words and phrases which he thought were
unintelligible to me, and which he ordered me to interpret into
English, he was giving directions to the three men with regard to the
convoying of contraband cargo over the frontier.
There was much talk of "toys" and "babies"--the latter were to take a
walk in the mountains and to avoid the "thorns"; the "toys" were to be
securely fastened and well protected against water. It was obviously a
case of mules and of the goods, the "thorns" being the customs
officials. By the time that we had finished I was absolutely convinced
in my mind that the cargo was one of English files or razors, for it
was evidently extraordinarily valuable and not at all bulky, seeing
that two "babies" were to carry all the "toys" for a considerable
distance. The men, too, were obviously English. I tried the few words
of Russian that I knew on them, and their faces remained perfectly
Yes, indeed, I was on the track of M. Aristide Fournier, and of one of
the most important hauls of enemy goods which had ever been made in
France. Not only that. I had also before me one of the most brutish
criminals it had ever been my misfortune to come across. A bully, a
fiend of cruelty. In very truth my fertile brain was seething with
plans for eventually laying that abominable ruffian by the heels:
hanging would be a merciful punishment for such a miscreant. Yes,
indeed, five thousand francs--a goodly sum in those days, Sir--was
practically assured me. But over and above mere lucre there was the
certainty that in a few days' time I should see the light of gratitude
shining out of a pair of lustrous blue eyes, and a winning smile
chasing away the look of fear and of sorrow from the sweetest face I
had seen for many a day.
Despite the turmoil that was raging in my brain, however, I flatter
myself that my manner with the rascals remained consistently calm,
businesslike, indifferent to all save to the work in hand. The
soi-disant Ernest Berty spoke invariably in French, either dictating
his orders or seeking information, and I made verbal translation into
English of all that he said. The seance lasted close upon an hour, and
presently I gathered that the affair was terminated and that I could
consider myself dismissed.
I was about to take my leave, having apparently completed my work,
when M. Ernest Berty called me back with a curt command.
"One moment, M. Barrot," he said.
"At Monsieur's service," I responded blandly.
"As you see," he continued, "these fellows do not know a word of
French. All along the way which they will have to traverse they will
meet friendly outposts, who will report to them on the condition of
the roads and warn them of any danger that might be ahead. Their
ignorance of our language may be a source of infinite peril to them.
They need an interpreter to accompany them over the mountains."
He paused for a moment or two, then added abruptly:
"Would you care to go? The matter is important," he went on quietly,
"and I am willing to pay you. It means a couple of nights' journey--a
halt in the mountains during the day--and there will be ten thousand
francs for you if the 'toys' reach St. Claude safely."
I suppose that something in my face betrayed the eagerness which I
felt. Here was indeed the finger of Providence pointing to the best
means of undoing this abominable criminal. Not that I intended to risk
my neck for any ten thousand francs he chose to offer me, but as the
trusted guide of his ingenuous "babies" I could convoy them--not to
St. Claude, as he blandly believed, but straight into the arms of
Leroux and the customs officials.
"Then that is understood," he said in his usual dictatorial manner,
taking my consent for granted. "Ten thousand francs. And you will
accompany these gentlemen and their 'babies' as far as St. Claude?"
"I am a poor man, Sir," I responded meekly.
"Of course you are," he broke in roughly.
Then from a number of papers which lay upon the table, he selected one
which he held out to me.
"Do you know St. Cergues?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied. "It is a short walk from Gex."
"This," he added, pointing to a paper which I had taken from him, "is
a plan of the village and of the Pass of Cergues close by. Study it
carefully. At some point some way up the pass, which I have marked
with a cross, I and my men with the 'babies' will be waiting for you
to-morrow evening at eight o'clock. You cannot possibly fail to find
the spot, for the plan is very accurate and very minute, and it is
less than five hundred metres from the last house at the entrance of
the pass. I shall escort the men until then, and hand them over into
your charge for the mountain journey. Is that clear?"
"Very well, then; you may go. The carriage is outside the door. You
know your way."
He dismissed me with a curt nod, and the next two minutes saw me
outside this house of mystery and installed inside the ramshackle
vehicle on my way back to my lodgings.
I was worn out with fatigue and excitement, and I imagine that I slept
most of the way. Certain it is that the journey home was not nearly so
long as the outward one had been. The rain was still coming down
heavily, but I cared nothing about the weather, nothing about fatigue.
My path to fame and fortune had been made easier for me than in my
wildest dreams I would have dared to hope. In the morning I would see
Leroux and make final arrangements for the capture of those impudent
smugglers, and I thought the best way would be for him to meet me and
the "babies" and the "toys" at the very outset of our journey, as I
did not greatly relish the idea of crossing lonely and dangerous
mountain paths in the company of these ruffians.
I reached home without adventure. The vehicle drew up just outside my
lodgings, and I was about to alight when my eyes were attracted by
something white which lay on the front seat of the carriage,
conspicuously placed so that the light from the inside lanthorn fell
full upon it. I had been too tired and too dazed, I suppose, to notice
the thing before, but now, on closer inspection, I saw that it was a
note, and that it was addressed to me: "M. Aristide Barrot,
Interpreter," and below my name were the words: "Very urgent."
I took the note feeling a thrill of excitement running through my
veins at its touch. I alighted, and the vehicle immediately
disappeared into the night. I had only caught one glimpse of the
horses, and none at all of the coachman. Then I went straight into my
room, and by the light of the table lamp I unfolded and read the
mysterious note. It bore no signature, but at the first words I knew
that the writer was none other than the lovely young creature who had
appeared to me like an angel of innocence in the midst of that den of
* * * * *
"Monsieur," she had written in a hand which had clearly been trembling
with agitation, "you are good, you are kind; I entreat you to be
merciful. My dear mother, whom I worship, is sick with terror and
misery. She will die if she remains any longer under the sway of that
inhuman monster who, alas! is my own brother. And if I lose her I
shall die, too, for I should no longer have anyone to stand between me
and his cruelties.
"My dear mother has some relations living at St. Claude. She would
have gone to them before now, but my brother keeps us both virtual
prisoners here, and we have no means of arranging for such a perilous
journey for ourselves. Now, by the most extraordinary stroke of good
fortune, my brother will be absent all day to-morrow and the following
night. My dear mother and I feel that God Himself is showing us the
way to our release.
"Will you, can you help us, dear M. Barrot? Mother and I will be at
Gex to-morrow at one hour after sundown. We will lie perdu in the
little Taverne du Roi de Rome, where, if you come to us, you will find
us waiting anxiously. If you can do nothing to help us, we must return
broken-hearted to our hated prison; but something in my heart tells me
that you can help us. All that we want is a vehicle of some sort and
the escort of a brave man like yourself as far as St. Claude, where
our relatives will thank you on their knees for your kindness and
generosity to two helpless, miserable, unprotected women, and I will
kiss your hands in unbounded gratitude and devotion."
* * * * *
It were impossible, Monsieur, to tell you of the varied emotions which
filled my heart when I had perused that heart-rending appeal. All my
instincts of chivalry were aroused. I was determined to do my duty to
these helpless ladies as a man and as a gallant knight. Even before I
finally went to bed I had settled in my mind what I meant to do.
Fortunately it was quite possible for me to reconcile my duties to my
Emperor and those which I owed to myself in the matter of the reward
for the apprehension of the smugglers, with my burning desire to be
the saviour and protector of the lovely creature whose beauty had
inflamed my impressionable heart, and to have my hands kissed by her
in gratitude and devotion.
The next morning Leroux and I were deep in our plans, whilst we sipped
our coffee outside the Crane Chauve. He was beside himself with joy
and excitement at the prospective haul, which would, of course,
redound enormously to his credit, even though the success of the whole
undertaking would be due to my acumen, my resourcefulness and my
pluck. Fortunately I found him not only ready but eager to render me
what assistance he could in the matter of the two ladies who had
thrown themselves so entirely on my protection.
"We might get valuable information out of them," he remarked. "In the
excess of their gratitude they may betray many more secrets and
nefarious doings of the firm of Fournier Freres."
"Which further proves," I remarked, "how deeply you and Monsieur le
Ministre of Police are indebted to me over this affair."
He did not argue the point. Indeed, we were both of us far too much
excited to waste words in useless bickerings. Our plans for the
evening were fairly simple. We both pored over the map which
Fournier-Berty had given me, until we felt that we could reach
blindfolded the spot which had been marked with a cross. We then
arranged that Leroux should betake himself thither with a strong posse
of gendarmes during the day, and lie hidden in the vicinity until such
time as I myself appeared upon the scene, identified my friends of the
night before, parleyed with them for a minute or two, and finally
retired, leaving the law in all its majesty, as represented by Leroux,
to deal with the rascals.
In the meantime I also mapped out for myself my own share in this
night's adventurous work. I had hired a vehicle to take me as far as
St. Cergues; here I intended to leave it at the local inn, and then
proceed on foot up the mountain pass to the appointed spot. As soon as
I had seen the smugglers safely in the hands of Leroux and the
gendarmes, I would make my way back to St. Cergues as rapidly as I
could, step into my vehicle, drive like the wind back to Gex, and
place myself at the disposal of my fair angel and her afflicted
Leroux promised me that at the customs station on the French frontier
the officials would look after me and the ladies, and that a pair of
fresh horses would be ready to take us straight on to St. Claude,
which, if all was well, we could then reach by daybreak.
Having settled all these matters we parted company, he to arrange his
own affairs with the Commissary of Police and the customs officials,
and I to await with as much patience as I could the hour when I could
start for St. Cergues.
The night--just as I anticipated--promised to be very dark. A thin
drizzle, which wetted the unfortunate pedestrian to the marrow, had
replaced the torrential rain of the previous day.
Twilight was closing in very fast. In the late autumn afternoon I
drove to St. Cergues, after which I left the chaise in the village and
boldly started to walk up the mountain pass. I had studied the map so
carefully that I was quite sure of my way, but though my appointment
with the rascals was for eight o'clock, I wished to reach the
appointed spot before the last flicker of grey light had disappeared
from the sky.
Soon I had left the last house well behind me. Boldly I plunged into
the narrow path. The loneliness of the place was indescribable. Every
step which I took on the stony track seemed to rouse the echoes of the
grim heights which rose precipitously on either side of me, and in my
mind I felt aghast at the extraordinary courage of those men who--like
Aristide Fournier and his gang--chose to affront such obvious and
manifold dangers as these frowning mountain regions held for them for
the sake of paltry lucre.
I had walked, according to my reckoning, just upon five hundred metres
through the gorge, when on ahead I perceived the flicker of lights
which appeared to be moving to and fro. The silence and loneliness no
longer seemed to be absolute. A few metres from where I was men were
living and breathing, plotting and planning, unconscious of the net
which the unerring hand of a skilful fowler had drawn round them and
The next moment I was challenged by a peremptory "Halt!" Recognition
followed. M. Ernest Berty, or Aristide Fournier, whichever he was,
acknowledged with a few words my punctuality, whilst through the gloom
I took rapid stock of his little party. I saw the vague outline of
three men and a couple of mules which appeared to be heavily laden.
They were assembled on a flat piece of ground which appeared like a
roofless cavern carved out of the mountain side. The walls of rock
around them afforded them both cover and refuge. They seemed in no
hurry to start. They had the long night before them, so one of them
remarked in English.
However, presently M. Fournier-Berty gave the signal for the start to
be made, he himself preparing to take leave of his men. Just at that
moment my ears caught the welcome sound of the tramping of feet, and
before any of the rascals there could realise what was happening,
their way was barred by Leroux and his gendarmes, who loudly gave the
order, "Hands up, in the name of the Emperor!"
I was only conscious of a confused murmur of voices, of the click of
firearms, of words of command passing to and fro, and of several
violent oaths uttered in the not unfamiliar voice of M. Aristide
Fournier. But already I had spied Leroux. I only exchanged a few words
with him, for indeed my share of the evening's work was done as far as
he was concerned, and I made haste to retrace my steps through the
darkness and the rain along the lonely mountain path toward the goal
where chivalry and manly ardour beckoned to me from afar.
I found my vehicle waiting for me at St. Cergues, and by the promise
of an additional pourboire, I succeeded in making the driver whip up
his horses to some purpose. Less than an hour later we drew up at Gex
outside the little inn, pretentiously called Le Roi de Rome. On
alighting I was met by the proprietress who, in answer to my inquiry
after two ladies who had arrived that afternoon, at once conducted me
Already my mind was busy conjuring up visions of the fair lady of
yester-eve. The landlady threw open a door and ushered me into a small
room which reeked of stale food and damp clothes. I stepped in and
found myself face to face with a large and exceedingly ugly old woman
who rose with difficulty from the sofa as I entered.
"M. Aristide Barrot," she said as soon as the landlady had closed the
door behind me.
"At your service, Madame," I stammered. "But--"
I was indeed almost aghast. Never in my life had I seen anything so
grotesque as this woman. To begin with she was more than ordinarily
stout and unwieldy--indeed, she appeared like a veritable mountain of
flesh; but what was so disturbing to my mind was that she was nothing
but a hideous caricature of her lovely daughter, whose dainty features
she grotesquely recalled. Her face was seamed and wrinkled, her white
hair was plastered down above her yellow forehead. She wore an
old-fashioned bonnet tied under her chin, and her huge bulk was draped
in a large-patterned cashmere shawl.
"You expected to see my dear daughter beside me, my good M. Barrot,"
she said after a while speaking with remarkable gentleness and
"I confess, Madame--" I murmured.
"Ah! the darling has sacrificed herself for my sake. We found to-day
that though my son was out of the way, he had set his abominable
servants to watch over us. Soon we realized that we could not both get
away. It meant one of us staying behind to act the part of unconcern
and to throw dust in the eyes of our jailers. My daughter--ah! she is
an angel, Monsieur--feared that the disappointment and my son's
cruelty, when he returned on the morrow and found that he had been
tricked, would seriously endanger my life. She decided that I must go
and that she would remain."
"But, Madame--" I protested.
"I know, Monsieur," she rejoined with the same calm dignity which
already had commanded my respect, "I know that you think me a selfish
old woman; but my Angele--she is an angel, of a truth!--made all the
arrangements, and I could not help but obey her. But have no fears for
her safety, Monsieur. My son would not dare lay hands on her as often
as he has done on me. Angele will be brave, and our relations at St.
Claude will, directly we arrive, make arrangements to go and fetch her
and bring her back to me. My brother is an influential man; he would
never have allowed my son to martyrize me and Angele had he known what
we have had to endure."
Of course I could not then tell her that all her fears for herself and
the lovely Angele could now be laid to rest. Her ruffianly son was
even now being conveyed by Leroux and his gendarmes to the frontier,
where the law would take its course. I was indeed not sorry for him. I
was not sorry to think that he would end his evil life upon the
guillotine or the gallows. I was only grieved for Angele who would
spend a night and a day, perhaps more, in agonized suspense, knowing
nothing of the events which at one great swoop would free her and her
beloved mother from the tyranny of a hated brother and send him to
expiate his crimes. Not only did I grieve, Sir, for the tender victim
of that man's brutality, but I trembled for her safety. I did not know
what minions or confederates Fournier-Berty had left in the lonely
house yonder, or under what orders they were in case he did not return
from his nocturnal expedition.
Indeed for the moment I felt so agitated at thought of that beautiful
angel's peril that I looked down with anger and scorn at the fat old
woman who ought to have remained beside her daughter to comfort and to
I was on the point of telling her everything, and dragging her back to
her post of duty which she should never have relinquished. Fortunately
my sense of what I owed to my own professional dignity prevented my
taking such a step. It was clearly not for me to argue. My first duty
was to stand by this helpless woman in distress, who had been
committed to my charge, and to convey her safely to St. Claude. After
which I could see to it that Mademoiselle Angele was brought along too
as quickly as influential relatives could contrive.
In the meanwhile I derived some consolation from the thought that at
any rate for the next four and twenty hours the lovely creature would
be safe. No news of the arrest of Aristide Fournier could possibly
reach the lonely house until I myself could return thither and take
her under my protection.
So I said nothing; but with perfect gallantry, just as if fat Mme.
Fournier had been a young and beautiful woman, I begged her to give
herself the trouble of mounting into the carriage which was waiting
It took time and trouble, Sir, to hoist that mass of solid flesh into
the vehicle, and the driver grumbled not a little at the unexpected
weight. However, his horses were powerful, wiry, mountain ponies, and
we made headway through the darkness and along the smooth,
departmental road at moderate speed. I may say that it was a miserably
uncomfortable journey for me, sitting, as I was forced to do, on the
narrow front seat of the carriage, without support for my head or room
for my legs. But Madame's bulk filled the whole of the back seat, and
it never seemed to enter her head that I too might like the use of a
cushion. However, even the worst moments and the weariest journeys
must come to an end, and we reached the frontier in the small hours of
the morning. Here we found the customs officials ready to render us
any service we might require. Leroux had not failed to order the fresh
relay of horses, and whilst these were being put to, the polite
officers of the station gave Madame and myself some excellent coffee.
Beyond the formal: "Madame has nothing to declare for His Majesty's
customs?" and my companion's equally formal: "Nothing, Monsieur,
except my personal belongings," they did not ply us with questions,
and after half an hour's halt we again proceeded on our way.
We reached St. Claude at daybreak, and following Madame's directions,
the driver pulled up in front of a large house in the Avenue du Jura.
Again there was the same difficulty in hoisting the unwieldy lady out
of the vehicle, but this time, in response to my vigorous pull at the
outside bell, the concierge and another man came out of the house, and
very respectfully they approached Madame and conveyed her into the
While they did so she apparently gave them some directions about
myself, for anon the concierge returned, and with extreme politeness
told me that Madame Fournier greatly hoped that I would stay in St.
Claude a day or two as she had the desire to see me again very soon.
She also honoured me with an invitation to dine with her that same
evening at seven of the clock. This was the first time, I noticed,
that the name Fournier was actually used in connexion with any of the
people with whom I had become so dramatically involved. Not that I had
ever doubted the identity of the ruffianly Ernest Berty; still it was
very satisfactory to have my surmises confirmed. I concluded that the
fine house in the Avenue du Jura belonged to Mme. Fournier's brother,
and I vaguely wondered who he was. The invitation to dinner had
certainly been given in her name, and the servants had received her
with a show of respect which suggested that she was more than a guest
in her brother's house.
Be that as it may, I betook myself for the nonce to the Hotel des
Moines in the centre of the town and killed time for the rest of the
day as best I could. For one thing I needed rest after the emotions
and the fatigue of the past forty-eight hours. Remember, Sir, I had
not slept for two nights and had spent the last eight hours on the
narrow front seat of a jolting chaise. So I had a good rest in the
afternoon, and at seven o'clock I presented myself once more at the
house in the Avenue du Jura.
My intention was to retire early to bed after spending an agreeable
evening with the family, who would no doubt overwhelm me with their
gratitude, and at daybreak I would drive back to Gex after I had heard
all the latest news from Leroux.
I confess that it was with a pardonable feeling of agitation that I
tugged at the wrought-iron bell-pull on the perron of the magnificent
mansion in the Avenue du Jura. To begin with I felt somewhat rueful at
having to appear before ladies at this hour in my travelling clothes,
and then, you will admit, Sir, that it was a somewhat awkward
predicament for a man of highly sensitive temperament to meet on terms
of equality a refined if stout lady whose son he had just helped to
send to the gallows. Fortunately there was no likelihood of Mme.
Fournier being as yet aware of this unpleasant fact: even if she did
know at this hour that her son's illicit adventure had come to grief,
she could not possibly in her mind connect me with his ill-fortune. So
I allowed the sumptuous valet to take my hat and coat and I followed
him with as calm a demeanour as I could assume up the richly carpeted
stairs. Obviously the relatives of Mme. Fournier were more than well
to do. Everything in the house showed evidences of luxury, not to say
wealth. I was ushered into an elegant salon wherein every corner
showed traces of dainty feminine hands. There were embroidered silk
cushions upon the sofa, lace covers upon the tables, whilst a work
basket, filled with a riot of many coloured silks, stood invitingly
open. And through the apartment, Sir, a scent of violets lingered and
caressed my nostrils, reminding me of a beauteous creature in distress
whom it had been my good fortune to succour.
I had waited less than five minutes when I heard a swift, elastic step
approaching through the next room, and a second or so later, before I
had time to take up an appropriate posture, the door was thrown open
and the exquisite vision of my waking dreams--the beautiful Angele--
stood smiling before me.
"Mademoiselle," I stammered somewhat clumsily, for of a truth I was
hardly able to recover my breath, and surprise had well nigh robbed me
of speech, "how comes it that you are here?"
She only smiled in reply, the most adorable smile I had ever seen on
any human face, so full of joy, of mischief--aye, of triumph, was it.
I asked after Madame. Again she smiled, and said Madame was in her
room, resting from the fatigues of her journey. I had scarce recovered
from my initial surprise when another--more complete still--confronted
me. This was the appearance of Monsieur Aristide Fournier, whom I had
fondly imagined already expiating his crimes in a frontier prison, but
who now entered, also smiling, also extremely pleasant, who greeted me
as if we were lifelong friends, and who then--I scarce could believe
my eyes--placed his arm affectionately round his sister's waist, while
she turned her sweet face up to his and gave him a fond--nay, a loving
look. A loving look to him who was a brute and a bully and a miscreant
amenable to the gallows! True his appearance was completely changed:
his eyes were bright and kindly, his mouth continued to smile, his
manner was urbane in the extreme when he finally introduced himself to
me as: "Aristide Fournier, my dear Monsieur Ratichon, at your
He knew my name, he knew who I was! whilst I . . . I had to pass my hand
once or twice over my forehead and to close and reopen my eyes several
times, for, of a truth, it all seemed like a dream. I tried to stammer
out a question or two, but I could only gasp, and the lovely Angele
appeared highly amused at my distress.
"Let us dine," she said gaily, "after which you may ask as many
questions as you like."
In very truth I was in no mood for dinner. Puzzlement and anxiety
appeared to grip me by the throat and to choke me. It was all very
well for the beautiful creature to laugh and to make merry. She had
cruelly deceived me, played upon the chords of my sensitive heart for
purposes which no doubt would presently be made clear, but in the
meanwhile since the smuggling of the English files had been
successful--as it apparently was--what had become of Leroux and his
What tragedy had been enacted in the narrow gorge of St. Cergues, and
what, oh! what had become of my hopes of that five thousand francs for
the apprehension of the smugglers, promised me by Leroux? Can you
wonder that for the moment the very thought of dinner was abhorrent to
me? But only for the moment. The next a sumptuous valet had thrown
open the folding-doors, and down the vista of the stately apartment I
perceived a table richly laden with china and glass and silver, whilst
a distinctly savoury odour was wafted to my nostrils.
"We will not answer a single question," the fair Angele reiterated
with adorable determination, "until after we have dined."
What, Sir, would you have done in my place? I believe that never until
this hour had Hector Ratichon reached to such a sublimity of manner. I
bowed with perfect dignity in token of obedience to the fair creature,
Sir; then without a word I offered her my arm. She placed her hand
upon it, and I conducted her to the dining-room, whilst Aristide
Fournier, who at this hour should have been on a fair way to being
hanged, followed in our wake.
Ah! it seemed indeed a lovely dream: one that lasted through an
excellent and copious dinner, and which turned to delightful reality
when, over a final glass of succulent Madeira, Monsieur Aristide
Fournier slowly counted out one hundred notes, worth one hundred
francs each, and presented these to me with a gracious nod.
"Your fee, Monsieur," he said, "and allow me to say that never have I
paid out so large a sum with such a willing hand."
"But I have done nothing," I murmured from out the depths of my
Mademoiselle Angele and Monsieur Fournier looked at one another, and,
no doubt, I presented a very comical spectacle; for both of them burst
into an uncontrollable fit of laughter.
"Indeed, Monsieur," quoth Monsieur Fournier as soon as he could speak
coherently, "you have done everything that you set out to do and done
it with perfect chivalry. You conveyed 'the toys' safely over the
frontier as far as St. Claude."
"But how?" I stammered, "how?"
Again Mademoiselle Angele laughed, and through the ripples of her
laughter came her merry words:
"Maman was very fat, was she not, my good Monsieur Ratichon? Did you
not think she was extraordinarily like me?"
I caught the glance in her eyes, and they were literally glowing with
mischief. Then all of a sudden I understood. She had impersonated a
fat mother, covered her lovely face with lines, worn a disfiguring wig
and an antiquated bonnet, and round her slender figure she had tucked
away thousands of packages of English files. I could only gasp.
Astonishment, not to say admiration, at her pluck literally took my
"But, Monsieur Berty?" I murmured, my mind in a turmoil, my thoughts
running riot through my brain. "The Englishmen, the mules, the packs?"
"Monsieur Berty, as you see, stands before you now in the person of
Monsieur Fournier," she replied. "The Englishmen were three faithful
servants who threw dust not only in your eyes, my dear M. Ratichon,
but in those of the customs officials, while the packs contained
harmless personal luggage which was taken by your friend and his
gendarmes to the customs station at Mijoux, and there, after much
swearing, equally solemnly released with many apologies to M.
Fournier, who was allowed to proceed unmolested on his way, and who
arrived here safely this afternoon, whilst Maman divested herself of
her fat and once more became the slender Mme. Aristide Fournier, at
She bobbed me a dainty curtsy, and I could only try and hide the pain
which this last cruel stab had inflicted on my heart. So she was not
"Mademoiselle" after all, and henceforth it would even be wrong to
indulge in dreams of her.
But the ten thousand francs crackled pleasantly in my breast pocket,
and when I finally took leave of Monsieur Aristide Fournier and his
charming wife, I was an exceedingly happy man.
But Leroux never forgave me. Of what he suspected me I do not know, or
if he suspected me at all. He certainly must have known about fat
Maman from the customs officials who had given us coffee at Mijoux.
But he never mentioned the subject to me at all, nor has he spoken to
me since that memorable night. To one of his colleagues he once said
that no words in his vocabulary could possibly be adequate to express
HONOUR AMONG ------
Ah, my dear Sir, it is easy enough to despise our profession, but
believe me that all the finer qualities--those of loyalty and of
truth--are essential, not only to us, but to our subordinates, if we
are to succeed in making even a small competence out of it.
Now let me give you an instance. Here was I, Hector Ratichon, settled
in Paris in that eventful year 1816 which saw the new order of things
finally swept aside and the old order resume its triumphant sway,
which saw us all, including our God-given King Louis XVIII, as poor as
the proverbial church mice and as eager for a bit of comfort and
luxury as a hungry dog is for a bone; the year which saw the army
disbanded and hordes of unemployed and unemployable men wandering
disconsolate and half starved through the country seeking in vain for
some means of livelihood, while the Allied troops, well fed and well
clothed, stalked about as if the sacred soil of France was so much
dirt under their feet; the year, my dear Sir, during which more
intrigues were hatched and more plots concocted than in any previous
century in the whole history of France. We were all trying to make
money, since there was so precious little of it about. Those of us who
had brains succeeded, and then not always.
Now, I had brains--I do not boast of them; they are a gift from
Heaven--but I had them, and good looks, too, and a general air of
strength, coupled with refinement, which was bound to appeal to anyone
needing help and advice, and willing to pay for both, and yet--but you
You know my office in the Rue Daunou, you have been in it--plainly
furnished; but, as I said, these were not days of luxury. There was an
antechamber, too, where that traitor, blackmailer and thief, Theodore,
my confidential clerk in those days, lodged at my expense and kept
importunate clients at bay for what was undoubtedly a liberal
salary--ten per cent, on all the profits of the business--and yet he
was always complaining, the ungrateful, avaricious brute!
Well, Sir, on that day in September--it was the tenth, I
remember--1816, I must confess that I was feeling exceedingly
dejected. Not one client for the last three weeks, half a franc in my
pocket, and nothing but a small quarter of Strasburg patty in the
larder. Theodore had eaten most of it, and I had just sent him out to
buy two sous' worth of stale bread wherewith to finish the remainder.
But after that? You will admit, Sir, that a less buoyant spirit would
not have remained so long undaunted.
I was just cursing that lout Theodore inwardly, for he had been gone
half an hour, and I strongly suspected him of having spent my two sous
on a glass of absinthe, when there was a ring at the door, and I,
Hector Ratichon, the confidant of kings and intimate counsellor of
half the aristocracy in the kingdom, was forced to go and open the
door just like a common lackey.
But here the sight which greeted my eyes fully compensated me for the
temporary humiliation, for on the threshold stood a gentleman who had
wealth written plainly upon his fine clothes, upon the dainty linen at
his throat and wrists, upon the quality of his rich satin necktie and
the perfect set of his fine cloth pantaloons, which were of an
exquisite shade of dove-grey. When, then, the apparition spoke,
inquiring with just a sufficiency of aristocratic hauteur whether M.
Hector Ratichon were in, you cannot be surprised, my dear Sir, that my
dejection fell from me like a cast-off mantle and that all my usual
urbanity of manner returned to me as I informed the elegant gentleman
that M. Ratichon was even now standing before him, and begged him to
take the trouble to pass through into my office.
This he did, and I placed a chair in position for him. He sat down,
having previously dusted the chair with a graceful sweep of his
lace-edged handkerchief. Then he raised a gold-rimmed eyeglass to his
right eye with a superlatively elegant gesture, and surveyed me
critically for a moment or two ere he said:
"I am told, my good M. Ratichon, that you are a trustworthy fellow,
and one who is willing to undertake a delicate piece of business for a
Except for the fact that I did not like the word "moderate," I was
enchanted with him.
"Rumour for once has not lied, Monsieur," I replied in my most
"Well," he rejoined--I won't say curtly, but with businesslike
brevity, "for all purposes connected with the affair which I desire to
treat with you my name, as far as you are concerned, shall be Jean
"Perfectly, Monsieur le Marquis," I replied with a bland smile.
It was a wild guess, but I don't think that I underestimated my new
client's rank, for he did not wince.
"You know Mlle. Mars?" he queried.
"The actress?" I replied. "Perfectly."
"She is playing in _Le Reve_ at the Theatre Royal just now."
"In the first and third acts of the play she wears a gold bracelet set
with large green stones."
"I noticed it the other night. I had a seat in the parterre, I may
"I want that bracelet," broke in the soi-disant Jean Duval
unceremoniously. "The stones are false, the gold strass. I admire
Mlle. Mars immensely. I dislike seeing her wearing false jewellery. I
wish to have the bracelet copied in real stones, and to present it to
her as a surprise on the occasion of the twenty-fifth performance of
_Le Reve_. It will cost me a king's ransom, and her, for the time
being, an infinite amount of anxiety. She sets great store by the
valueless trinket solely because of the merit of its design, and I
want its disappearance to have every semblance of a theft. All the
greater will be the lovely creature's pleasure when, at my hands, she
will receive an infinitely precious jewel the exact counterpart in all
save its intrinsic value of the trifle which she had thought lost."
It all sounded deliciously romantic. A flavour of the past
century--before the endless war and abysmal poverty had killed all
chivalry in us--clung to this proposed transaction. There was nothing
of the roturier, nothing of a Jean Duval, in this polished man of the
world who had thought out this subtle scheme for ingratiating himself
in the eyes of his lady fair.
I murmured an appropriate phrase, placing my services entirely at M.
le Marquis's disposal, and once more he broke in on my polished
diction with that brusquerie which betrayed the man accustomed to be
"Mlle. Mars wears the bracelet," he said, "during the third act of _Le
Reve_. At the end of the act she enters her dressing-room, and her
maid helps her to change her dress. During this entr'acte Mademoiselle
with her own hands puts by all the jewellery which she has to wear
during the more gorgeous scenes of the play. In the last act--the
finale of the tragedy--she appears in a plain stuff gown, whilst all
her jewellery reposes in the small iron safe in her dressing-room. It
is while Mademoiselle is on the stage during the last act that I want
you to enter her dressing-room and to extract the bracelet out of the
safe for me."
"I, M. le Marquis?" I stammered. "I, to steal a--"
"Firstly, M.--er--er--Ratichon, or whatever your confounded name may
be," interposed my client with inimitable hauteur, "understand that my
name is Jean Duval, and if you forget this again I shall be under the
necessity of laying my cane across your shoulders and incidentally to
take my business elsewhere. Secondly, let me tell you that your
affectations of outraged probity are lost on me, seeing that I know
all about the stolen treaty which--"
"Enough, M. Jean Duval," I said with a dignity equal, if not greater,
than his own; "do not, I pray you, misunderstand me. I am ready to do
you service. But if you will deign to explain how I am to break open
an iron safe inside a crowded building and extract therefrom a
trinket, without being caught in the act and locked up for
house-breaking and theft, I shall be eternally your debtor."
"The extracting of the trinket is your affair," he rejoined dryly. "I
will give you five hundred francs if you bring the bracelet to me
within fourteen days."
"But--" I stammered again.
"Your task will not be such a difficult one after all. I will give you
the duplicate key of the safe."
He dived into the breast pocket of his coat, and drew from it a
somewhat large and clumsy key, which he placed upon my desk.
"I managed to get that easily enough," he said nonchalantly, "a couple
of nights ago, when I had the honour of visiting Mademoiselle in her
dressing-room. A piece of wax in my hand, Mademoiselle's momentary
absorption in her reflection while her maid was doing her hair, and
the impression of the original key was in my possession. But between
taking a model of the key and the actual theft of the bracelet out of
the safe there is a wide gulf which a gentleman cannot bridge over.
Therefore, I choose to employ you, M.--er--er--Ratichon, to complete
the transaction for me."
"For five hundred francs?" I queried blandly.
"It is a fair sum," he argued.
"Make it a thousand," I rejoined firmly, "and you shall have the
bracelet within fourteen days."
He paused a moment in order to reflect; his steel-grey eyes, cool and
disdainful, were fixed searchingly on my face. I pride myself on the
way that I bear that kind of scrutiny, so even now I looked bland and
withal purposeful and capable.
"Very well," he said, after a few moments, and he rose from his chair
as he spoke; "it shall be a thousand francs, M.--er--er--Ratichon, and
I will hand over the money to you in exchange for the bracelet--but it
must be done within fourteen days, remember."
I tried to induce him to give me a small sum on account. I was about
to take terrible risks, remember; housebreaking, larceny, theft--call
it what you will, it meant the _police correctionelle_ and a couple of
years in New Orleans for sure. He finally gave me fifty francs, and
once more threatened to take his business elsewhere, so I had to
accept and to look as urbane and dignified as I could.
He was out of the office and about to descend the stairs when a
thought struck me.
"Where and how can I communicate with M. Jean Duval," I asked, "when
my work is done?"
"I will call here," he replied, "at ten o'clock of every morning that
follows a performance of _Le Reve_. We can complete our transaction
then across your office desk."
The next moment he was gone. Theodore passed him on the stairs and
asked me, with one of his impertinent leers, whether we had a new
client and what we might expect from him. I shrugged my shoulders. "A
new client!" I said disdainfully. "Bah! Vague promises of a couple of
louis for finding out if Madame his wife sees more of a certain
captain of the guards than Monsieur the husband cares about."
Theodore sniffed. He always sniffs when financial matters are on the
"Anything on account?" he queried.
"A paltry ten francs," I replied, "and I may as well give you your
share of it now."
I tossed a franc to him across the desk. By the terms of my contract
with him, you understand, he was entitled to ten per cent, of every
profit accruing from the business in lieu of wages, but in this
instance do you not think that I was justified in looking on one franc
now, and perhaps twenty when the transaction was completed, as a more
than just honorarium for his share in it? Was I not taking all the
risks in this delicate business? Would it be fair for me to give him a
hundred francs for sitting quietly in the office or sipping absinthe
at a neighbouring bar whilst I risked New Orleans--not to speak of the
He gave me a strange look as he picked up the silver franc, spat on it
for luck, bit it with his great yellow teeth to ascertain if it were
counterfeit or genuine, and finally slipped it into his pocket, and
shuffled out of the office whistling through his teeth.
An abominably low, deceitful creature, that Theodore, you will see
anon. But I won't anticipate.
The next performance of _Le Reve_ was announced for the following
evening, and I started on my campaign. As you may imagine, it did not
prove an easy matter. To obtain access through the stage-door to the
back of the theatre was one thing--a franc to the doorkeeper had done
the trick--to mingle with the scene-shifters, to talk with the supers,
to take off my hat with every form of deep respect to the principals
had been equally simple.
I had even succeeded in placing a bouquet on the dressing-table of the
great tragedienne on my second visit to the theatre. Her dressing-room
door had been left ajar during that memorable fourth act which was to
see the consummation of my labours. I had the bouquet in my hand,
having brought it expressly for that purpose. I pushed open the door,
and found myself face to face with a young though somewhat forbidding
damsel, who peremptorily demanded what my business might be.
In order to minimise the risk of subsequent trouble, I had assumed the
disguise of a middle-aged Angliche--red side-whiskers, florid
complexion, a ginger-coloured wig plastered rigidly over the ears
towards the temples, high stock collar, nankeen pantaloons, a patch
over one eye and an eyeglass fixed in the other. My own sainted mother
would never have known me.
With becoming diffidence I explained in broken French that my deep
though respectful admiration of Mlle. Mars had prompted me to lay a
floral tribute at her feet. I desired nothing more.
The damsel eyed me coldly, though at the moment I was looking quite my
best, diffident yet courteous, a perfect gentleman of the old regime.
Then she took the bouquet from me and put it down on the
I fancied that she smiled, not unkindly, and I ventured to pass the
time of day. She replied not altogether disapprovingly. She sat down
by the dressing-table and took up some needlework which she had
obviously thrown aside on my arrival. Close by, on the floor, was a
solid iron chest with huge ornamental hinges and a large escutcheon
over the lock. It stood about a foot high and perhaps a couple of feet
There was nothing else in the room that suggested a receptacle for
jewellery; this, therefore, was obviously the safe which contained the
bracelet. At the self-same second my eyes alighted on a large and
clumsy-looking key which lay upon the dressing-table, and my hand at
once wandered instinctively to the pocket of my coat and closed
convulsively on the duplicate one which the soi-disant Jean Duval had
I talked eloquently for a while. The damsel answered in monosyllables,
but she sat unmoved at needlework, and after ten minutes or so I was
forced to beat a retreat.
I returned to the charge at the next performance of _Le Reve_, this
time with a box of bonbons for the maid instead of the bouquet for the
mistress. The damsel was quite amenable to a little conversation,
quite willing that I should dally in her company. She munched the
bonbons and coquetted a little with me. But she went on stolidly with
her needlework, and I could see that nothing would move her out of
that room, where she had obviously been left in charge.
Then I bethought me of Theodore. I realised that I could not carry
this affair through successfully without his help. So I gave him a
further five francs--as I said to him it was out of my own
savings--and I assured him that a certain M. Jean Duval had promised
me a couple of hundred francs when the business which he had entrusted
to me was satisfactorily concluded. It was for this business--so I
explained--that I required his help, and he seemed quite satisfied.
His task was, of course, a very easy one. What a contrast to the risk
I was about to run! Twenty-five francs, my dear Sir, just for knocking
at the door of Mlle. Mars' dressing-room during the fourth act, whilst
I was engaged in conversation with the attractive guardian of the iron
safe, and to say in well-assumed, breathless tones:
"Mademoiselle Mars has been taken suddenly unwell on the stage.
Will her maid go to her at once?"
It was some little distance from the dressing-room to the wings--down
a flight of ill-lighted stone stairs which demanded cautious ascent
and descent. Theodore had orders to obstruct the maid during her
progress as much as he could without rousing her suspicions.
I reckoned that she would be fully three minutes going, questioning,
finding out that the whole thing was a hoax, and running back to the
dressing-room--three minutes in which to open the chest, extract the
bracelet and, incidentally, anything else of value there might be
close to my hand. Well, I had thought of that eventuality, too; one
must think of everything, you know--that is where genius comes in.
Then, if possible, relock the safe, so that the maid, on her return,
would find everything apparently in order and would not, perhaps,
raise the alarm until I was safely out of the theatre.
It could be done--oh, yes, it could be done--with a minute to spare!
And to-morrow at ten o'clock M. Jean Duval would appear, and I would
not part with the bracelet until a thousand francs had passed from his
pocket into mine. I must get Theodore out of the house, by the way,
before the arrival of M. Duval.
A thousand francs! I had not seen a thousand francs all at once for
years. What a dinner I would have tomorrow! There was a certain little
restaurant in the Rue des Pipots where they concocted a cassolette of
goose liver and pork chops with haricot beans which . . . ! I only
tell you that.
How I got through the rest of that day I cannot tell you. The evening
found me--quite an habitue now--behind the stage of the Theatre
Royal, nodding to one or two acquaintances, most of the people looking
on me with grave respect and talking of me as the eccentric milor. I
was supposed to be pining for an introduction to the great
tragedienne, who, very exclusive as usual, had so far given me the
Ten minutes after the rise of the curtain on the fourth act I was in
the dressing-room, presenting the maid with a gold locket which I had
bought from a cheapjack's barrow for five and twenty francs--almost
the last of the fifty which I had received from M. Duval on account.
The damsel was eyeing the locket somewhat disdainfully and giving me
grudging thanks for it when there came a hurried knock at the door.
The next moment Theodore poked his ugly face into the room. He, too,
had taken the precaution of assuming an excellent disguise--peaked cap
set aslant over one eye, grimy face, the blouse of a scene-shifter.
"Mlle. Mars," he gasped breathlessly; "she has been taken ill--on the
stage--very suddenly. She is in the wings--asking for her maid. They
think she will faint."
The damsel rose, visibly frightened.
"I'll come at once," she said, and without the slightest flurry she
picked up the key of the safe and slipped it into her pocket. I
fancied that she gave me a look as she did this. Oh, she was a pearl
among Abigails! Then she pointed unceremoniously to the door.
"Milor!" was all she said, but of course I understood. I had no idea
that English milors could be thus treated by pert maidens. But what
cared I for social amenities just then? My hand had closed over the
duplicate key of the safe, and I walked out of the room in the wake of
the damsel. Theodore had disappeared.
Once in the passage, the girl started to run. A second or two later
I heard the patter of her high-heeled shoes down the stone stairs. I
had not a moment to lose.
To slip back into the dressing-room was but an instant's work. The
next I was kneeling in front of the chest. The key fitted the lock
accurately; one turn, and the lid flew open.
The chest was filled with a miscellaneous collection of theatrical
properties all lying loose--showy necklaces, chains, pendants, all of
them obviously false; but lying beneath them, and partially hidden by
the meretricious ornaments, were one or two boxes covered with velvet
such as jewellers use. My keen eyes noted these at once. I was indeed
in luck! For the moment, however, my hand fastened on a leather case
which reposed on the top in one corner, and which very obviously, from
its shape, contained a bracelet. My hands did not tremble, though I
was quivering with excitement. I opened the case. There, indeed, was
the bracelet--the large green stones, the magnificent gold setting,
the whole jewel dazzlingly beautiful. If it were real--the thought
flashed through my mind--it would be indeed priceless. I closed the
case and put it on the dressing-table beside me. I had at least
another minute to spare--sixty seconds wherein to dive for those
velvet-covered boxes which-- My hand was on one of them when a slight
noise caused me suddenly to turn and to look behind me. It all happened
as quickly as a flash of lightning. I just saw a man disappearing
through the door. One glance at the dressing-table showed me the whole
extent of my misfortune. The case containing the bracelet had gone, and
at that precise moment I heard a commotion from the direction of the
stairs and a woman screaming at the top of her voice: "Thief! Stop
Then, Sir, I brought upon the perilous situation that presence of mind
for which the name of Hector Ratichon will for ever remain famous.
Without a single flurried movement, I slipped one of the
velvet-covered cases which I still had in my hand into the breast
pocket of my coat, I closed down the lid of the iron chest and locked
it with the duplicate key, and I went out of the room, closing the
door behind me.
The passage was dark. The damsel was running up the stairs with a
couple of stage hands behind her. She was explaining to them volubly,
and to the accompaniment of sundry half-hysterical little cries, the
infamous hoax to which she had fallen a victim. You might think, Sir,
that here was I caught like a rat in a trap, and with that
velvet-covered case in my breast pocket by way of damning evidence
Not at all, Sir! Not at all! Not so is Hector Ratichon, the keenest
secret agent France has ever known, the confidant of kings, brought to
earth by an untoward move of fate. Even before the damsel and the
stage hands had reached the top of the stairs and turned into the
corridor, which was on my left, I had slipped round noiselessly to my
right and found shelter in a narrow doorway, where I was screened by
the surrounding darkness and by a projection of the frame. While the
three of them made straight for Mademoiselle's dressing-room, and
spent some considerable time there in uttering varied ejaculations
when they found the place and the chest to all appearances untouched,
I slipped out of my hiding-place, sped rapidly along the corridor, and
was soon half-way down the stairs.
Here my habitual composure in the face of danger stood me in good
stead. It enabled me to walk composedly and not too hurriedly through
the crowd behind the scenes--supers, scene-shifters, principals, none
of whom seemed to be aware as yet of the hoax practised on
Mademoiselle Mars' maid; and I reckon that I was out of the stage door
exactly five minutes after Theodore had called the damsel away.
But I was minus the bracelet, and in my mind there was the firm
conviction that that traitor Theodore had played me one of his
abominable tricks. As I said, the whole thing had occurred as quickly
as a flash of lightning, but even so my keen, experienced eyes had
retained the impression of a peaked cap and the corner of a blue
blouse as they disappeared through the dressing-room door.
Tact, wariness and strength were all required, you must admit, in
order to deal with the present delicate situation. I was speeding
along the Rue de Richelieu on my way to my office. My intention was to
spend the night there, where I had a chair-bedstead on which I had oft
before slept soundly after a day's hard work, and anyhow it was too
late to go to my lodgings at Passy at this hour.
Moreover, Theodore slept in the antechamber of the office, and I was
more firmly convinced than ever that it was he who had stolen the
bracelet. "Blackleg! Thief! Traitor!" I mused. "But thou hast not done
with Hector Ratichon yet."
In the meanwhile I bethought me of the velvet-covered box in my breast
pocket, and of the ginger-coloured hair and whiskers that I was still
wearing, and which might prove an unpleasant "piece de conviction" in
case the police were after the stolen bracelet.
With a view to examining the one and getting rid of the other, I
turned into the Square Louvois, which, as usual, was very dark and
wholly deserted. Here I took off my wig and whiskers and threw them
over the railings into the garden. Then I drew the velvet-covered box
from my pocket, opened it, and groped for its contents. Imagine my
feelings, my dear Sir, when I realised that the case was empty! Fate
was indeed against me that night. I had been fooled and cheated by a
traitor, and had risked New Orleans and worse for an empty box.
For a moment I must confess that I lost that imperturbable sang-froid
which is the admiration of all my friends, and with a genuine oath I
flung the case over the railings in the wake of the milor's hair and
whiskers. Then I hurried home.
Theodore had not returned. He did not come in until the small hours of
the morning, and then he was in a state that I can only describe, with
your permission, as hoggish. He could hardly speak. I had him at my
mercy. Neither tact nor wariness was required for the moment. I
stripped him to his skin; he only laughed like an imbecile. His eyes
had a horrid squint in them; he was hideous. I found five francs in
one of his pockets, but neither in his clothes nor on his person did I
find the bracelet.
"What have you done with it?" I cried, for by this time I was maddened
"I don't know what you are talking about!" he stammered thickly, as he
tottered towards his bed. "Give me back my five francs, you thief!"
the brutish creature finally blurted out ere he fell into a hog-like
Desperate evils need desperate remedies. I spent the rest of the night
thinking hard. By the time that dawn was breaking my mind was made up.
Theodore's stertorous breathing assured me that he was still
insentient. I was muscular in those days, and he a meagre, attenuated,
drink-sodden creature. I lifted him out of his bed in the antechamber
and carried him into mine in the office. I found a coil of rope, and
strapped him tightly in the chair-bedstead so that he could not move.
I tied a scarf round his mouth so that he could not scream. Then, at
six o'clock, when the humbler eating-houses begin to take down their
shutters, I went out.
I had Theodore's five francs in my pocket, and I was desperately
hungry. I spent ten sous on a cup of coffee and a plate of fried
onions and haricot beans, and three francs on a savoury pie, highly
flavoured with garlic, and a quarter-bottle of excellent cognac. I
drank the coffee and ate the onions and the beans, and I took the pie
and cognac home.
I placed a table close to the chair-bedstead and on it I disposed the
pie and the cognac in such a manner that the moment Theodore woke his
eyes were bound to alight on them. Then I waited. I absolutely ached
to have a taste of that pie myself, it smelt so good, but I waited.
Theodore woke at nine o'clock. He struggled like a fool, but he still
appeared half dazed. No doubt he thought that he was dreaming. Then I
sat down on the edge of the bed and cut myself off a large piece of
the pie. I ate it with marked relish in front of Theodore, whose eyes
nearly started out of their sockets. Then I brewed myself a cup of
coffee. The mingled odour of coffee and garlic filled the room. It was
delicious. I thought that Theodore would have a fit. The veins stood
out on his forehead and a kind of gurgle came from behind the scarf
round his mouth. Then I told him he could partake of the pie and
coffee if he told me what he had done with the bracelet. He shook his
head furiously, and I left the pie, the cognac and the coffee on the
table before him and went into the antechamber, closing the office
door behind me, and leaving him to meditate on his treachery.
What I wanted to avoid above everything was the traitor meeting M.
Jean Duval. He had the bracelet--of that I was as convinced as that I
was alive. But what could he do with a piece of false jewellery? He
could not dispose of it, save to a vendor of theatrical properties,
who no doubt was well acquainted with the trinket and would not give
more than a couple of francs for what was obviously stolen property.
After all, I had promised Theodore twenty francs; he would not be such
a fool as to sell that birthright for a mess of pottage and the sole
pleasure of doing me a bad turn.
There was no doubt in my mind that he had put the thing away somewhere
in what he considered a safe place pending a reward being offered by
Mlle. Mars for the recovery of the bracelet. The more I thought of
this the more convinced I was that that was, indeed, his proposed plan
of action--oh, how I loathed the blackleg!--and mine henceforth would
be to dog his every footstep and never let him out of my sight until I
forced him to disgorge his ill-gotten booty.
At ten o'clock M. Jean Duval arrived, as was his wont, supercilious
and brusque as usual. I was just explaining to him that I hoped to
have excellent news for him after the next performance of _Le Reve_
when there was a peremptory ring at the bell. I went to open the door,
and there stood a police inspector in uniform with a sheaf of papers
in his hand.
Now, I am not over-fond of our Paris police; they poke their noses in
where they are least wanted. Their incompetence favours the
machinations of rogues and frustrates the innocent ambitions of the
just. However, in this instance the inspector looked amiable enough,
though his manner, I must say, was, as usual, unpleasantly curt.
"Here, Ratichon," he said, "there has been an impudent theft of a
valuable bracelet out of Mademoiselle Mars' dressing-room at the
Theatre Royal last night. You and your mate frequent all sorts of
places of ill-fame; you may hear something of the affair."
I chose to ignore the insult, and the inspector detached a paper from
the sheaf which he held and threw it across the table to me.
"There is a reward of two thousand five hundred francs," he said, "for
the recovery of the bracelet. You will find on that paper an accurate
description of the jewel. It contains the celebrated Maroni emerald,
presented to the ex-Emperor by the Sultan, and given by him to Mlle.
Whereupon he turned unceremoniously on his heel and went, leaving me
face to face with the man who had so shamefully tried to swindle me. I
turned, and resting my elbow on the table and my chin in my hand, I
looked mutely on the soi-disant Jean Duval and equally mutely pointed
with an accusing finger to the description of the famous bracelet
which he had declared to me was merely strass and base metal.
But he had the impudence to turn on me before I could utter a
"Where is the bracelet?" he demanded. "You consummate liar, you! Where
is it? You stole it last night! What have you done with it?"
"I extracted, at your request," I replied with as much dignity as I
could command, "a piece of theatrical jewellery, which you stated to
me to be worthless, out of an iron chest, the key of which you placed
in my hands. I . . ."
"Enough of this rubbish!" he broke in roughly. "You have the bracelet.
Give it me now, or . . ."
He broke off and looked somewhat alarmed in the direction of the
office door, from the other side of which there had just come a loud
crash, followed by loud, if unintelligible, vituperation. What had
happened I could not guess; all that I could do was to carry off the
situation as boldly as I dared.
"You shall have the bracelet, Sir," I said in my most suave manner.
"You shall have it, but not unless you will pay me three thousand
francs for it. I can get two thousand five hundred by taking it
straight to Mlle. Mars."
"And be taken up by the police for stealing it," he retorted. "How
will you explain its being in your possession?"
I did not blanch.
"That is my affair," I replied. "Will you give me three thousand
francs for it? It is worth sixty thousand francs to a clever thief
"You hound!" he cried, livid with rage, and raised his cane as if he
would strike me.
"Aye, it was cleverly done, M. Jean Duval, whoever you may be. I know
that the gentleman-thief is a modern product of the old regime, but I
did not know that the fraternity could show such a fine specimen as
yourself. Pay Hector Ratichon a thousand francs for stealing a
bracelet for you worth sixty! Indeed, M. Jean Duval, you deserved to
Again he shook his cane at me.
"If you touch me," I declared boldly, "I shall take the bracelet at
once to Mlle. Mars."
He bit his lip and made a great effort to pull himself together.
"I haven't three thousand francs by me," he said.
"Go, fetch the money," I retorted, "and I'll fetch the bracelet."
He demurred for a while, but I was firm, and after he had threatened
to thrash me, to knock me down, and to denounce me to the police, he
gave in and went to fetch the money.
When I remembered Theodore--Theodore, whom only a thin partition wall
had separated from the full knowledge of the value of his ill-gotten