Part 5 out of 6
not merely unpleasant, but often extremely dangerous to struggle on
against all the world, and unfortunately for truth and logic one man's
opinion, correct though it may be, is nothing in the balance of daily
life against the faulty views of a thousand adversaries.
The "May affair" had soon become notorious among the members of the
police force; and whenever Lecoq appeared at the Prefecture he had to
brave his colleagues' sarcastic pleasantry. Nor did M. Segmuller escape
scot free; for more than one fellow magistrate, meeting him on the
stairs or in the corridor, inquired, with a smile, what he was doing
with his Casper Hauser, his man in the Iron Mask, in a word, with his
mysterious mountebank. When thus assailed, both M. Segmuller and Lecoq
could scarcely restrain those movements of angry impatience which come
naturally to a person who feels certain he is in the right and yet can
not prove it.
"Ah, me!" sometimes exclaimed the magistrate, "why did D'Escorval break
his leg? Had it not been for that cursed mishap, he would have been
obliged to endure all these perplexities, and I--I should be enjoying
myself like other people."
"And I thought myself so shrewd!" murmured the young detective by his side.
Little by little anxiety did its work. Magistrate and detective both
lost their appetites and looked haggard; and yet the idea of yielding
never once occurred to them. Although of very different natures, they
were both determined to persevere in the task they had set
themselves--that of solving this tantalizing enigma. Lecoq, indeed, had
resolved to renounce all other claims upon his time, and to devote
himself entirely to the study of the case. "Henceforth," he said to M.
Segmuller, "I also will constitute myself a prisoner; and although the
suspected murderer will be unable to see me, I shall not lose sight of
It so happened that there was a loft between the cell occupied by May
and the roof of the prison, a loft of such diminutive proportions that
a man of average height could not stand upright in it. This loft had
neither window nor skylight, and the gloom would have been intense, had
not a few faint sun-rays struggled through the interstices of some
ill-adjusted tiles. In this unattractive garret Lecoq established
himself one fine morning, just at the hour when May was taking his daily
walk in the courtyard of the prison accompanied by a couple of keepers.
Under these circumstances there was no fear of Lecoq's movements
attracting the prisoner's notice or suspicion. The garret had a paved
floor, and first of all the young detective removed one of the stones
with a pickax he had brought for the purpose. Beneath this stone he
found a timber beam, through which he next proceeded to bore a hole of
funnel shape, large at the top and gradually dwindling until on piercing
the ceiling of the cell it was no more than two-thirds of an inch in
diameter. Prior to commencing his operations, Lecoq had visited the
prisoner's quarters and had skilfully chosen the place of the projected
aperture, so that the stains and graining of the beam would hide it from
the view of any one below. He was yet at work when the governor of the
Depot and his rival Gevrol appeared upon the threshold of the loft.
"So this is to be your observatory, Monsieur Lecoq!" remarked Gevrol,
with a sneering laugh.
"You will not be very comfortable here."
"I shall be less uncomfortable than you suppose; I have brought a
large blanket with me, and I shall stretch myself out on the floor
and manage to sleep here."
"So that, night and day, you will have your eye on the prisoner?"
"Yes, night and day."
"Without giving yourself time to eat or drink?" inquired Gevrol.
"Excuse me! Father Absinthe will bring me my meals, execute any errand
I may have, and relieve me at times if necessary."
The jealous General laughed; but his laugh, loud as it was, was yet a
trifle constrained. "Well, I pity you," he said.
"Do you know what you will look like, with your eye glued to that hole?"
"Like what? Tell me, we needn't stand on ceremony."
"Ah, well! You will look just like one of those silly naturalists who
put all sorts of little insects under a magnifying glass, and spend
their lives in watching them."
Lecoq had finished his work; and rose from his kneeling position. "You
couldn't have found a better comparison, General," said he. "I owe my
idea to those very naturalists you speak about so slightingly. By dint
of studying those little creatures--as you say--under a microscope,
these patient, gifted men discover the habits and instincts of the
insect world. Very well, then. What they can do with an insect, I will
do with a man!"
"Oh, ho!" said the governor of the prison, considerably astonished.
"Yes; that's my plan," continued Lecoq. "I want to learn this prisoner's
secret; and I will do so. That I've sworn; and success must be mine,
for, however strong his courage may be, he will have his moments of
weakness, and then I shall be present at them. I shall be present if
ever his will fails him, if, believing himself alone, he lets his mask
fall, or forgets his part for an instant, if an indiscreet word escapes
him in his sleep, if his despair elicits a groan, a gesture, or a look
--I shall be there to take note of it." The tone of resolution with
which the young detective spoke made a deep impression upon the
governor's mind. For an instant he was a believer in Lecoq's theory; and
he was impressed by the strangeness of this conflict between a prisoner,
determined to preserve the secret of his identity, and the agent for the
prosecution, equally determined to wrest it from him. "Upon my word, my
boy, you are not wanting in courage and energy," said he.
"Misdirected as it may be," growled Gevrol, who, although he spoke very
slowly and deliberately, was in his secret soul by no means convinced
of what he said. Faith is contagious, and he was troubled in spite of
himself by Lecoq's imperturbable assurance. What if this debutant in the
profession should be right, and he, Gevrol, the oracle of the
Prefecture, wrong! What shame and ridicule would be his portion, then!
But once again he inwardly swore that this inexperienced youngster could
be no match for an old veteran like himself, and then added aloud: "The
prefect of police must have more money than he knows what to do with,
to pay two men for such a nonsensical job as this."
Lecoq disdained to reply to this slighting remark. For more than a
fortnight the General had profited of every opportunity to make himself
as disagreeable as possible, and the young detective feared he would be
unable to control his temper if the discussion continued. It would be
better to remain silent, and to work and wait for success. To succeed
would be revenge enough! Moreover, he was impatient to see these
unwelcome visitors depart; believing, perhaps, that Gevrol was quite
capable of attracting the prisoner's attention by some unusual sound.
As soon as they went away, Lecoq hastily spread his blanket over the
stones and stretched himself out upon it in such a position that he
could alternately apply his eye and his ear to the aperture. In this
position he had an admirable view of the cell below. He could see the
door, the bed, the table, and the chair; only the small space near the
window and the window itself were beyond his range of observation. He
had scarcely completed his survey, when he heard the bolts rattle: the
prisoner was returning from his walk. He seemed in excellent spirits,
and was just completing what was, undoubtedly, a very interesting story,
since the keeper who accompanied him lingered for a moment to hear the
finish. Lecoq was delighted with the success of his experiment. He could
hear as easily as he could see. Each syllable reached his ear
distinctly, and he had not lost a single word of the recital, which was
amusing, though rather coarse.
The turnkey soon left the cell; the bolts rattled once more, and the key
grated in the lock. After walking once or twice across his cell, May
took up his volume of Beranger and for an hour or more seemed completely
engrossed in its contents. Finally, he threw himself down upon his bed.
Here he remained until meal-time in the evening, when he rose and ate
with an excellent appetite. He next resumed the study of his book, and
did not go to bed until the lights were extinguished.
Lecoq knew well enough that during the night his eyes would not serve
him, but he trusted that his ears might prove of use, hoping that some
telltale word might escape the prisoner's lips during his restless
slumber. In this expectation he was disappointed. May tossed to and fro
upon his pallet; he sighed, and one might have thought he was sobbing,
but not a syllable escaped his lips. He remained in bed until very late
the next morning; but on hearing the bell sound the hour of breakfast,
eleven o'clock, he sprang from his couch with a bound, and after
capering about his cell for a few moments, began to sing, in a loud and
cheerful voice, the old ditty:
Sous ton manteau, libre et content, Je ris, je bois, sans gene--"
The prisoner did not stop singing until a keeper entered his cell
carrying his breakfast. The day now beginning differed in no respect
from the one that had preceded it, neither did the night. The same might
be said of the next day, and of those which followed. To sing, to eat,
to sleep, to attend to his hands and nails--such was the life led by
this so-called buffoon. His manner, which never varied, was that of a
naturally cheerful man terribly bored.
Such was the perfection of his acting that, after six days and nights
of constant surveillance, Lecoq had detected nothing decisive, nor even
surprising. And yet he did not despair. He had noticed that every
morning, while the employees of the prison were busy distributing the
prisoner's food, May invariably began to sing the same ditty.
"Evidently this song is a signal," thought Lecoq. "What can be going on
there by the window I can't see? I must know to-morrow."
Accordingly on the following morning he arranged that May should be
taken on his walk at half-past ten o'clock, and he then insisted that
the governor should accompany him to the prisoner's cell. That worthy
functionary was not very well pleased with the change in the usual
order of things. "What do you wish to show me?" he asked. "What is there
so very curious to see?"
"Perhaps nothing," replied Lecoq, "but perhaps something of great
Eleven o'clock sounding soon after, he began singing the prisoner's
song, and he had scarcely finished the second line, when a bit of bread,
no larger than a bullet, adroitly thrown through the window, dropped at
A thunderbolt falling in May's cell would not have terrified the
governor as much as did this inoffensive projectile. He stood in silent
dismay; his mouth wide open, his eyes starting from their sockets, as
if he distrusted the evidence of his own senses. What a disgrace! An
instant before he would have staked his life upon the inviolability of
the secret cells; and now he beheld his prison dishonored.
"A communication! a communication!" he repeated, with a horrified air.
Quick as lightning, Lecoq picked up the missile. "Ah," murmured he, "I
guessed that this man was in communication with his friends."
The young detective's evident delight changed the governor's stupor into
fury. "Ah! my prisoners are writing!" he exclaimed, wild with passion.
"My warders are acting as postmen! By my faith, this matter shall be
So saying, he was about to rush to the door when Lecoq stopped him.
"What are you going to do, sir?" he asked.
"I am going to call all the employees of this prison together, and
inform them that there is a traitor among them, and that I must know who
he is, as I wish to make an example of him. And if, in twenty-four hours
from now, the culprit has not been discovered, every man connected with
this prison shall be removed."
Again he started to leave the room, and Lecoq, this time, had almost to
use force to detain him. "Be calm, sir; be calm," he entreated.
"I will punish--"
"Yes, yes--I understand that--but wait until you have regained your
self-possession. It is quite possible that the guilty party may be one
of the prisoners who assist in the distribution of food every morning."
"What does that matter?"
"Excuse me, but it matters a great deal. If you noise this discovery
abroad, we shall never discover the truth. The traitor will not be fool
enough to confess his guilt. We must be silent and wait. We will keep
a close watch and detect the culprit in the very act."
These objections were so sensible that the governor yielded. "So be it,"
he sighed, "I will try and be patient. But let me see the missive that
was enclosed in this bit of bread."
Lecoq could not consent to this proposal. "I warned M. Segmuller," said
he, "that there would probably be something new this morning; and he
will be waiting for me in his office. We must only examine the letter
in his presence."
This remark was so correct that the governor assented; and they at once
started for the Palais de Justice. On their way, Lecoq endeavored to
convince his companion that it was wrong to deplore a circumstance which
might be of incalculable benefit to the prosecution. "It was an
illusion," said he, "to imagine that the governor of a prison could be
more cunning than the prisoners entrusted to him. A prisoner is almost
always a match in ingenuity for his custodians."
The young detective had not finished speaking when they reached the
magistrate's office. Scarcely had Lecoq opened the door than M.
Segmuller and his clerk rose from their seats. They both read important
intelligence in our hero's troubled face. "What is it?" eagerly asked
the magistrate. Lecoq's sole response was to lay the pellet of bread
upon M. Segmuller's desk. In an instant the magistrate had opened it,
extracting from the centre a tiny slip of the thinnest tissue paper.
This he unfolded, and smoothed upon the palm of his hand. As soon as he
glanced at it, his brow contracted. "Ah! this note is written in
cipher," he exclaimed, with a disappointed air.
"We must not lose patience," said Lecoq quietly. He took the slip of
paper from the magistrate and read the numbers inscribed upon it. They
ran as follows: "235, 15, 3, 8, 25, 2, 16, 208, 5, 360, 4, 36, 19, 7,
14, 118, 84, 23, 9, 40, 11, 99."
"And so we shall learn nothing from this note," murmured the governor.
"Why not?" the smiling clerk ventured to remark. "There is no system of
cipher which can not be read with a little skill and patience; there are
some people who make it their business."
"You are right," said Lecoq, approvingly. "And I, myself, once had the
knack of it."
"What!" exclaimed the magistrate; "do you hope to find the key to this
"With time, yes."
Lecoq was about to place the paper in his breast-pocket, when the
magistrate begged him to examine it a little further. He did so; and
after a while his face suddenly brightened. Striking his forehead with
his open palm, he cried: "I've found it!"
An exclamation of incredulous surprise simultaneously escaped the
magistrate, the governor, and the clerk.
"At least I think so," added Lecoq, more cautiously. "If I am not
mistaken, the prisoner and his accomplice have adopted a very simple
system called the double book-cipher. The correspondents first agree
upon some particular book; and both obtain a copy of the same edition.
When one desires to communicate with the other, he opens the book
haphazard, and begins by writing the number of the page. Then he must
find on the same page the words that will express his thoughts. If the
first word he wishes to write is the twentieth on the page, he places
number 20 after the number of the page; then he begins to count one,
two, three, and so on, until he finds the next word he wishes to use.
If this word happens to be the sixth, he writes the figure 6, and he
continues so on till he has finished his letter. You see, now, how the
correspondent who receives the note must begin. He finds the page
indicated, and then each figure represents a word."
"Nothing could be clearer," said the magistrate, approvingly.
"If this note," pursued Lecoq, "had been exchanged between two persons
at liberty, it would be folly to attempt its translation. This simple
system is the only one which has completely baffled inquisitive efforts,
simply because there is no way of ascertaining the book agreed upon. But
in this instance such is not the case; May is a prisoner, and he has
only one book in his possession, 'The Songs of Beranger.' Let this book
be sent for--"
The governor of the Depot was actually enthusiastic. "I will run and
fetch it myself," he interrupted.
But Lecoq, with a gesture, detained him. "Above all, sir," said he,
"take care that May doesn't discover his book has been tampered with.
If he has returned from his promenade, make some excuse to have him sent
out of his cell again; and don't allow him to return there while we are
using his book."
"Oh, trust me!" replied the governor, hastily leaving the room.
Less than a quarter of an hour afterward he returned, carrying in
triumph a little volume in 32mo. With a trembling hand Lecoq turned to
page 235, and began to count. The fifteenth word on the page was 'I'; the
third afterward, 'have'; the eighth following, 'told'; the twenty-fifth,
'her'; the second, 'your'; the sixteenth, 'wishes.' Hence, the meaning
of those six numbers was: "I have told her your wishes."
The three persons who had witnessed this display of shrewdness could not
restrain their admiration. "Bravo! Lecoq," exclaimed the magistrate. "I
will no longer bet a hundred to one on May," thought the smiling clerk.
But Lecoq was still busily engaged in deciphering the missive, and soon,
in a voice trembling with gratified vanity, he read the entire note
aloud. It ran as follows: "I have told her your wishes; she submits. Our
safety is assured; we are waiting your orders to act. Hope! Courage!"
Yet what a disappointment it produced after the fever of anxiety and
expectation that had seized hold of everybody present. This strange
epistle furnished no clue whatever to the mystery; and the ray of hope
that had sparkled for an instant in M. Segmuller's eyes speedily faded
away. As for the versatile Goguet he returned with increased conviction
to his former opinion, that the prisoner had the advantage over his
"How unfortunate," remarked the governor of the Depot, with a shade of
sarcasm in his voice, "that so much trouble, and such marvelous
penetration, should be wasted!"
"So you think, sir, that I have wasted my time!" rejoined Lecoq in a
tone of angry banter, a scarlet flush mantling at the same time over his
features. "Such is not my opinion. This scrap of paper undeniably proves
that if any one has been mistaken as regards the prisoner's identity,
it is certainly not I."
"Very well," was the reply. "M. Gevrol and myself may have been
mistaken: no one is infallible. But have you learned anything more than
you knew before? Have you made any progress?"
"Why, yes. Now that people know the prisoner is not what he pretends to
be, instead of annoying and hampering me, perhaps they will assist us
to discover who he really is."
Lecoq's tone, and his allusion to the difficulties he had encountered,
cut the governor to the quick. The knowledge that the reproof was not
altogether undeserved increased his resentment and determined him to
bring this discussion with an inferior to an abrupt close. "You are
right," said he, sarcastically. "This May must be a very great and
illustrious personage. Only, my dear Monsieur Lecoq (for there is an
only), do me the favor to explain how such an important personage could
disappear, and the police not be advised of it? A man of rank, such as
you suppose this prisoner to be, usually has a family, friends,
relatives, proteges, and numerous connections; and yet not a single
person has made any inquiry during the three weeks that this fellow May
has been under my charge! Come, admit you never thought of that."
The governor had just advanced the only serious objection that could be
found to the theory adopted by the prosecution. He was wrong, however,
in supposing that Lecoq had failed to foresee it; for it had never once
been out of the young detective's mind; and he had racked his brain
again and again to find some satisfactory explanation. At the present
moment he would undoubtedly have made some angry retort to the
governor's sneering criticism, as people are wont to do when their
antagonists discover the weak spot in their armor, had not M. Segmuller
"All these recriminations do no good," he remarked, calmly; "we can make
no progress while they continue. It would be much wiser to decide upon
the course that is now to be pursued."
Thus reminded of the present situation of affairs, the young detective
smiled; all his rancor was forgotten. "There is, I think, but one course
to pursue," he replied in a modest tone; "and I believe it will be
successful by reason of its simplicity. We must substitute a
communication of our own composition for this one. That will not be at
all difficult, since I have the key to the cipher. I shall only be
obliged to purchase a similar volume of Beranger's songs; and May,
believing that he is addressing his accomplice, will reply in all
sincerity--will reveal everything perhaps--"
"Excuse me!" interrupted the governor, "but how will you obtain
possession of his reply?"
"Ah! you ask me too much. I know the way in which his letters have
reached him. For the rest, I will watch and find a way--never fear!"
Goguet, the smiling clerk, could not conceal an approving grin. If he
had happened to have ten francs in his pocket just then he would have
risked them all on Lecoq without a moment's hesitation.
"First," resumed the young detective, "I will replace this missive by
one of my own composition. To-morrow, at breakfast time, if the prisoner
gives the signal, Father Absinthe shall throw the morsel of bread
enclosing my note through the window while I watch the effect through
the hole in the ceiling of the cell."
Lecoq was so delighted with this plan of his that he at once rang the
bell, and when the magistrate's messenger appeared, he gave him half a
franc and requested him to go at once and purchase some of the thinnest
tissue paper. When this had been procured, Lecoq took his seat at the
clerk's desk, and, provided with the volume of Beranger's songs, began
to compose a fresh note, copying as closely as possible the forms of the
figures used by the unknown correspondent. The task did not occupy him
more than ten minutes, for, fearing lest he might commit some blunder,
he reproduced most of the words of the original letter, giving them,
however, an entirely different meaning.
When completed, his note read as follows: "I have told her your wishes;
she does not submit. Our safety is threatened. We are awaiting your
orders. I tremble."
Having acquainted the magistrate with the purport of the note, Lecoq
next rolled up the paper, and enclosing it in the fragment of bread,
remarked: "To-morrow we shall learn something new."
To-morrow! The twenty-four hours that separated the young man from the
decisive moment he looked forward to seemed as it were a century; and
he resorted to every possible expedient to hasten the passing of the
time. At length, after giving precise instructions to Father Absinthe,
he retired to his loft for the night. The hours seemed interminable, and
such was his nervous excitement that he found it quite impossible to
sleep. On rising at daybreak he discovered that the prisoner was already
awake. May was sitting on the foot of his bed, apparently plunged in
thought. Suddenly he sprang to his feet and paced restlessly to and fro.
He was evidently in an unusually agitated frame of mind: for he
gesticulated wildly, and at intervals repeated: "What misery! My God!
"Ah! my fine fellow," thought Lecoq, "you are anxious about the daily
letter you failed to receive yesterday. Patience, patience! One of my
writing will soon arrive."
At last the young detective heard the stir usually preceding the
distribution of the food. People were running to and fro, sabots clicked
noisily in the corridors, and the keepers could be heard engaged in loud
conversation. By and by the prison bell began to toll. It was eleven
o'clock, and soon afterward the prisoner commenced to sing his favorite
"Diogene! Sous ton manteau, libre et content--"
Before he commenced the third line the slight sound caused by the
fragment of bread as it fell upon the stone floor caused him to pause
Lecoq, at the opening in the ceiling above, was holding his breath and
watching with both eyes. He did not miss one of the prisoner's
movements--not so much as the quiver of an eyelid. May looked first at
the window, and then all round the cell, as if it were impossible for
him to explain the arrival of this projectile. It was not until some
little time had elapsed that he decided to pick it up. He held it in the
hollow of his hand, and examined it with apparent curiosity. His
features expressed intense surprise, and any one would have sworn that
he was innocent of all complicity. Soon a smile gathered round his lips,
and after a slight shrug of the shoulders, which might be interpreted,
"Am I a fool?" he hastily broke the pellet in half. The sight of the
paper which it contained seemed to amaze him.
"What does all this mean?" wondered Lecoq.
The prisoner had opened the note, and was examining with knitted brows
the figures which were apparently destitute of all meaning to him. Then,
suddenly rushing to the door of his cell, and hammering upon it with
clenched fists, he cried at the top of his voice: "Here! keeper! here!"
"What do you want?" shouted a turnkey, whose footsteps Lecoq could hear
hastening along the adjoining passage.
"I wish to speak to the magistrate."
"Very well. He shall be informed."
"Immediately, if you please. I have a revelation to make."
"He shall be sent for immediately."
Lecoq waited to hear no more. He tore down the narrow staircase leading
from the loft, and rushed to the Palais de Justice to acquaint M.
Segmuller with what had happened.
"What can all this mean?" he wondered as he darted over the pavement.
"Are we indeed approaching a denouement? This much is certain, the
prisoner was not deceived by my note. He could only decipher it with the
aid of his volume of Beranger, and he did not even touch the book;
plainly, then, he hasn't read the letter."
M. Segmuller was no less amazed than the young detective. They both
hastened to the prison, followed by the smiling clerk, who was the
magistrate's inevitable shadow. On their way they encountered the
governor of the Depot, arriving all in a flutter, having been greatly
excited by that important word "revelation." The worthy official
undoubtedly wished to express an opinion, but the magistrate checked him
by the abrupt remark, "I know all about it, and I am coming."
When they had reached the narrow corridor leading to the secret cells,
Lecoq passed on in advance of the rest of the party. He said to himself
that by stealing upon the prisoner unawares he might possibly find him
engaged in surreptitiously reading the note. In any case, he would have
an opportunity to glance at the interior of the cell. May was seated
beside the table, his head resting on his hands. At the grating of the
bolt, drawn by the governor himself, the prisoner rose to his feet,
smoothed his hair, and remained standing in a respectful attitude,
apparently waiting for the visitors to address him.
"Did you send for me?" inquired the magistrate.
"You have, I understand, some revelation to make to me."
"I have something of importance to tell you."
"Very well! these gentlemen will retire."
M. Segmuller had already turned to Lecoq and the governor to request
them to withdraw, when the prisoner motioned him not to do so.
"It is not necessary," said May, "I am, on the contrary, very well
pleased to speak before these gentlemen."
May did not wait for the injunction to be repeated. Throwing his chest
forward, and his head back as had been his wont throughout his
examinations, whenever he wished to make an oratorical display, he began
as follows: "It shall be for you to say, gentlemen, whether I'm an
honest man or not. The profession matters little. One may, perhaps, act
as the clown of a traveling show, and yet be an honest man--a man of
"Oh, spare us your reflections!"
"Very well, sir, that suits me exactly. To be brief, then here is a
little paper which was thrown into my cell a few minutes ago. There are
some numbers on it which may mean something; but I have examined them,
and they are quite Greek to me."
He paused, and then handing Lecoq's missive to the magistrate, quietly
added: "It was rolled up in a bit of bread."
This declaration was so unexpected, that it struck all the officials
dumb with surprise, but the prisoner, without seeming to notice the
effect he had produced, placidly continued: "I suppose the person who
threw it, made a mistake in the window. I know very well that it's a
mean piece of business to denounce a companion in prison. It's a
cowardly act and one may get into trouble by doing so; still, a fellow
must be prudent when he's charged with murder as I am, and with
something very unpleasant, perhaps, in store for him."
A terribly significant gesture of severing the head from the body left
no doubt whatever as to what May meant by the "something very
"And yet I am innocent," continued May, in a sorrowful, reproachful tone.
The magistrate had by this time recovered the full possession of his
faculties. Fixing his eyes upon the prisoner and concentrating in one
magnetic glance all his power of will, he slowly exclaimed: "You speak
falsely! It was for you that this note was intended."
"For me! Then I must be the greatest of fools, or why should I have sent
for you to show it you? For me? In that case, why didn't I keep it? Who
knew, who could know that I had received it?"
These words were uttered with such a marvelous semblance of honesty,
May's gaze was frank and open, his voice rang so true, and his reasoning
was so specious, that all the governor's doubts returned.
"And what if I could prove that you are uttering a falsehood?" insisted
M. Segmuller. "What if I could prove it--here and now?"
"You would have to lie to do so! Oh! pardon! Excuse me; I mean--"
But the magistrate was not in a frame of mind to stickle for nicety of
expression. He motioned May to be silent; and, turning to Lecoq,
exclaimed: "Show the prisoner that you have discovered the key to his
A sudden change passed over May's features. "Ah! it is this agent of
police who says the letter was for me," he remarked in an altered tone.
"The same agent who asserts that I am a grand seigneur." Then, looking
disdainfully at Lecoq, he added: "Under these circumstances there's no
hope for me. When the police are absolutely determined that a man shall
be found guilty, they contrive to prove his guilt; everybody knows that.
And when a prisoner receives no letters, an agent, who wishes to show
that he is corresponding knows well enough how to write to him."
May's features wore such an expression of marked contempt that Lecoq
could scarcely refrain from making an angry reply. He restrained his
impulse, however, in obedience to a warning gesture from the magistrate,
and taking from the table the volume of Beranger's songs, he endeavored
to prove to the prisoner that each number in the note which he had shown
M. Segmuller corresponded with a word on the page indicated, and that
these various words formed several intelligible phrases. This
overpowering evidence did not seem to trouble May in the least. After
expressing the same admiration for this novel system of correspondence
that a child would show for a new toy, he declared his belief that no
one could equal the police in such machinations.
What could have been done in the face of such obstinacy? M. Segmuller
did not even attempt to argue the point, but quietly retired, followed
by his companions. Until they reached the governor's office, he did not
utter a word; then, sinking down into an armchair, he exclaimed: "We
must confess ourselves beaten. This man will always remain what he is--
an inexplicable enigma."
"But what is the meaning of the comedy he has just played? I do not
understand it at all," remarked the governor.
"Why," replied Lecoq, "don't you see that he wished to persuade the
magistrate that the first note, the one that fell into the cell while
you and I were there yesterday, had been written by me in a mad desire
to prove the truth of my theory at any cost? It was a hazardous project;
but the importance of the result to be gained must have emboldened him
to attempt it. Had he succeeded, I should have been disgraced; and he
would have remained May--the stroller, without any further doubt as to
his identity. But how could he know that I had discovered his secret
correspondence, and that I was watching him from the loft overhead? That
will probably never be explained."
The governor and the young detective exchanged glances of mutual
distrust. "Eh! eh!" thought the former, "yes, indeed, that note which
fell into the cell while I was there the other day might after all have
been this crafty fellow's work. His Father Absinthe may have served him
in the first instance just as he did subsequently."
While these reflections were flitting through the governor's mind, Lecoq
suspiciously remarked to himself: "Who knows but what this fool of a
governor confided everything to Gevrol? If he did so, the General,
jealous as he is, would not have scrupled to play one such a damaging
His thoughts had gone no further when Goguet, the smiling clerk, boldly
broke the silence with the trite remark: "What a pity such a clever
comedy didn't succeed."
These words startled the magistrate from his reverie. "Yes, a shameful
farce," said he, "and one I would never have authorized, had I not been
blinded by a mad longing to arrive at the truth. Such tricks only bring
the sacred majesty of justice into contempt!"
At these bitter words, Lecoq turned white with anger. This was the
second affront within an hour. The prisoner had first insulted him, and
now it was the magistrate's turn. "I am defeated," thought he. "I must
confess it. Fate is against me! Ah! if I had only succeeded!"
Disappointment alone had impelled M. Segmuller to utter these harsh
words; they were both cruel and unjust, and the magistrate soon
regretted them, and did everything in his power to drive them from
Lecoq's recollection. They met every day after this unfortunate
incident; and every morning, when the young detective came to give an
account of his investigations, they had a long conference together. For
Lecoq still continued his efforts; still labored on with an obstinacy
intensified by constant sneers; still pursued his investigations with
that cold and determined zeal which keeps one's faculties on the alert
The magistrate, however, was utterly discouraged. "We must abandon this
attempt," said he. "All the means of detection have been exhausted. I
give it up. The prisoner will go to the Assizes, to be acquitted or
condemned under the name of May. I will trouble myself no more about the
He said this, but the anxiety and disappointment caused by defeat,
sneering criticism, and perplexity, as to the best course to be pursued,
so affected his health that he became really ill--so ill that he had
to take to his bed.
He had been confined to his room for a week or so, when one morning
Lecoq called to inquire after him.
"You see, my good fellow," quoth M. Segmuller, despondently, "that this
mysterious murderer is fatal to us magistrates. Ah! he is too much for
us; he will preserve the secret of his identity."
"Possibly," replied Lecoq. "At all events, there is now but one way left
to discover his secret; we must allow him to escape--and then track him
to his lair."
This expedient, although at first sight a very startling one, was not
of Lecoq's own invention, nor was it by any means novel. At all times,
in cases of necessity, have the police closed their eyes and opened the
prison doors for the release of suspected criminals. And not a few,
dazzled by liberty and ignorant of being watched, have foolishly
betrayed themselves. All prisoners are not like the Marquis de
Lavalette, protected by royal connivance; and one might enumerate many
individuals who have been released, only to be rearrested after
confessing their guilt to police spies or auxiliaries who have won their
Naturally, however, it is but seldom, and only in special cases, and as
a last resort, that such a plan is adopted. Moreover, the authorities
only consent to it when they hope to derive some important advantage,
such as the capture of a whole band of criminals. For instance, the
police perhaps arrest one of a band. Now, despite his criminal
propensities the captured culprit often has a certain sense of honor--we
all know that there is honor among thieves--which prompts him to refuse
all information concerning his accomplices. In such a case what is to
be done? Is he to be sent to the Assizes by himself, tried and
convicted, while his comrades escape scot free? No; it is best to set
him at liberty. The prison doors are opened, and he is told that he is
free. But each after step he takes in the streets outside is dogged by
skilful detectives; and soon, at the very moment when he is boasting of
his good luck and audacity to the comrades he has rejoined, the whole
gang find themselves caught in the snare.
M. Segmuller knew all this, and much more, and yet, on hearing Lecoq's
proposition, he made an angry gesture and exclaimed: "Are you mad?"
"I think not, sir."
"At all events your scheme is a most foolish one!"
"Why so, sir? You will recollect the famous murder of the Chaboiseaus.
The police soon succeeded in capturing the guilty parties; but a robbery
of a hundred and sixty thousand francs in bank-notes and coin had been
committed at the same time, and this large sum of money couldn't be
found. The murderers obstinately refused to say where they had concealed
it; for, of course, it would prove a fortune for them, if they ever
escaped the gallows. In the mean while, however, the children of the
victims were ruined. Now, M. Patrigent, the magistrate who investigated
the affair, was the first to convince the authorities that it would be
best to set one of the murderers at liberty. His advice was followed;
and three days later the culprit was surprised unearthing the money from
among a bed of mushrooms. Now, I believe that our prisoner--"
"Enough!" interrupted M. Segmuller. "I wish to hear no more on the
matter. I have, it seems to me, forbidden you to broach the subject."
The young detective hung his head with a hypocritical air of submission.
But all the while he watched the magistrate out of the corner of his eye
and noted his agitation. "I can afford to be silent," he thought; "he
will return to the subject of his own accord."
And in fact M. Segmuller did return to it only a moment afterward.
"Suppose this man were released from prison," said he, "what would you
"What would I do, sir! I would follow him like grim death; I would not
once let him out of my sight; I would be his shadow."
"And do you suppose he wouldn't discover this surveillance?"
"I should take my precautions."
"But he would recognize you at a single glance."
"No, sir, he wouldn't, for I should disguise myself. A detective who
can't equal the most skilful actor in the matter of make-up is no better
than an ordinary policeman. I have only practised at it for a
twelvemonth, but I can easily make myself look old or young, dark or
light, or assume the manner of a man of the world, or of some frightful
ruffian of the barrieres."
"I wasn't aware that you possessed this talent, Monsieur Lecoq."
"Oh! I'm very far from the perfection I hope to arrive at; though I may
venture to say that in three days from now I could call on you and talk
with you for half an hour without being recognized."
M. Segmuller made no rejoinder; and it was evident to Lecoq that the
magistrate had offered this objection rather in the hope of its being
overruled, than with the wish to see it prevail.
"I think, my poor fellow," he at length observed, "that you are
strangely deceived. We have both been equally anxious to penetrate the
mystery that enshrouds this strange man. We have both admired his
wonderful acuteness--for his sagacity is wonderful; so marvelous,
indeed, that it exceeds the limits of imagination. Do you believe that
a man of his penetration would betray himself like an ordinary prisoner?
He will understand at once, if he is set at liberty, that his freedom
is only given him so that we may surprise his secret."
"I don't deceive myself, sir. May will guess the truth of course. I'm
quite aware of that."
"Very well. Then, what would be the use of attempting what you propose?"
"I have come to this conclusion," replied Lecoq, "May will find himself
strangely embarrassed, even when he's set free. He won't have a sou in
his pocket; we know he has no trade, so what will he do to earn a
living? He may struggle along for a while; but he won't be willing to
suffer long. Man must have food and shelter, and when he finds himself
without a roof over his head, without even a crust of bread to break,
he will remember that he is rich. Won't he then try to recover
possession of his property? Yes, certainly he will. He will try to
obtain money, endeavor to communicate with his friends, and I shall wait
till that moment arrives. Months may elapse, before, seeing no signs of
my surveillance, he may venture on some decisive step; and then I will
spring forward with a warrant for his arrest in my hand."
"And what if he should leave Paris? What if he should go abroad?"
"Oh, I will follow him. One of my aunts has left me a little land in the
provinces worth about twelve thousand francs. I will sell it, and spend
the last sou, if necessary, so long as I only have my revenge. This man
has outwitted me as if I were a child, and I must have my turn."
"And what if he should slip through your fingers?"
Lecoq laughed like a man that was sure of himself. "Let him try," he
exclaimed; "I will answer for him with my life."
"Your idea is not a bad one," said M. Segmuller, eventually. "But you
must understand that law and justice will take no part in such
intrigues. All I can promise you is my tacit approval. Go, therefore,
to the Prefecture; see your superiors--"
With a really despairing gesture, the young man interrupted M.
Segmuller. "What good would it do for me to make such a proposition?"
he exclaimed. "They would not only refuse my request, but they would
dismiss me on the spot, if my name is not already erased from the roll."
"What, dismissed, after conducting this case so well?"
"Ah, sir, unfortunately every one is not of that opinion. Tongues have
been wagging busily during your illness. Somehow or other, my enemies
have heard of the last scene we had with May; and impudently declare
that it was I who imagined all the romantic details of this affair,
being eager for advancement. They pretend that the only reasons to doubt
the prisoner's identity are those I have invented myself. To hear them
talk at the Depot, one might suppose that I invented the scene in the
Widow Chupin's cabin; imagined the accomplices; suborned the witnesses;
manufactured the articles of conviction; wrote the first note in cipher
as well as the second; duped Father Absinthe, and mystified the
"The deuce!" exclaimed M. Segmuller; "in that case, what do they think
The wily detective's face assumed an expression of intense embarrassment.
"Ah! sir," he replied with a great show of reluctance, "they pretend
that you have allowed yourself to be deceived by me, and that you
haven't weighed at their proper worth the proofs I've furnished."
A fleeting flush mantled over M. Segmuller's forehead. "In a word," said
he, "they think I'm your dupe--and a fool besides."
The recollection of certain sarcastic smiles he had often detected on
the faces of colleagues and subordinates alike, the memory of numerous
covert allusions to Casper Hauser, and the Man with the Iron
Mask--allusions which had stung him to the quick--induced him to
hesitate no longer.
"Very well! I will aid you, Monsieur Lecoq," he exclaimed. "I should
like you to triumph over your enemies. I will get up at once and
accompany you to the Palais de Justice. I will see the public prosecutor
myself; I will speak to him, and plead your case for you."
Lecoq's joy was intense. Never, no never, had he dared to hope for such
assistance. Ah! after this he would willingly go through fire on M.
Segmuller's behalf. And yet, despite his inward exultation, he had
sufficient control over his feelings to preserve a sober face. This
victory must be concealed under penalty of forfeiting the benefits that
might accrue from it. Certainly, the young detective had said nothing
that was untrue; but there are different ways of presenting the truth,
and he had, perhaps, exaggerated a trifle in order to excite the
magistrate's rancor, and win his needful assistance.
"I suppose," remarked M. Segmuller, who was now quite calm again--no
outward sign of wounded vanity being perceptible--"I suppose you have
decided what stratagem must be employed to lull the prisoner's
suspicions if he is permitted to escape."
"I must confess I haven't given it a thought," replied Lecoq. "Besides,
what good would any such stratagem do? He knows too well that he is the
object of suspicion not to remain on the alert. Still, there is one
precaution which I believe absolutely necessary, indispensable indeed,
if we wish to be successful."
"What precaution do you mean?" inquired the magistrate.
"Well, sir, I think an order should be given to have May transferred to
another prison. It doesn't in the least matter which; you can select the
one you please."
"Why should we do that?"
"Because, during the few days preceding his release, it is absolutely
necessary he should hold no communication with his friends outside, and
that he should be unable to warn his accomplice."
"Then you think he's badly guarded where he is?" inquired M. Segmuller
with seeming amazement.
"No, sir, I did not say that. I am satisfied that since the affair of
the cipher note the governor's vigilance has been unimpeachable.
However, news from outside certainly reaches the suspected murderer at
the Depot; we have had material evidence--full proof of that--and
The young detective paused in evident embarrassment. He plainly had some
idea in his head to which he feared to give expression.
"And besides?" repeated the magistrate.
"Ah, well, sir! I will be perfectly frank with you. I find that Gevrol
enjoys too much liberty at the Depot; he is perfectly at home there, he
comes and goes as he likes, and no one ever thinks of asking what he is
doing, where he is going, or what he wants. No pass is necessary for his
admission, and he can influence the governor just as he likes. Now, to
tell the truth, I distrust Gevrol."
"Oh! Monsieur Lecoq!"
"Yes, I know very well that it's a bold accusation, but a man is not
master of his presentiments: so there it is, I distrust Gevrol. Did the
prisoner know that I was watching him from the loft, and that I had
discovered his secret correspondence, was he ignorant of it? To my mind
he evidently knew everything, as the last scene we had with him proves."
"I must say that's my own opinion," interrupted M. Segmuller.
"But how could he have known it?" resumed Lecoq. "He could not have
discovered it by himself. I endured tortures for a while in the hope of
solving the problem. But all my trouble was wasted. Now the supposition
of Gevrol's intervention would explain everything."
M. Segmuller had turned pale with anger. "Ah! if I could really believe
that!" he exclaimed; "if I were sure of it! Have you any proofs?"
The young man shook his head. "No," said he, "I haven't; but even if my
hands were full of proofs I should not dare to show them. I should ruin
my future. Ah, if ever I succeed, I must expect many such acts of
treachery. There is hatred and rivalry in every profession. And, mark
this, sir--I don't doubt Gevrol's honesty. If a hundred thousand francs
were counted out upon the table and offered to him, he wouldn't even try
to release a prisoner. But he would rob justice of a dozen criminals in
the mere hope of injuring me, jealous as he is, and fearing lest I might
How many things these simple words explained. Did they not give the key
to many and many an enigma which justice has failed to solve, simply on
account of the jealousy and rivalry that animate the detective force?
Thus thought M. Segmuller, but he had no time for further reflection.
"That will do," said he, "go into the drawing-room for a moment. I will
dress and join you there. I will send for a cab: for we must make haste
if I am to see the public prosecutor to-day."
Less than a quarter of an hour afterward M. Segmuller, who usually spent
considerable time over his toilet, was dressed and ready to start. He
and Lecoq were just getting into the cab that had been summoned when a
footman in a stylish livery was seen approaching.
"Ah! Jean," exclaimed the magistrate, "how's your master?"
"Improving, sir," was the reply. "He sent me to ask how you were, and
to inquire how that affair was progressing?"
"There has been no change since I last wrote to him. Give him my
compliments, and tell him that I am out again."
The servant bowed. Lecoq took a seat beside the magistrate and the cab
"That fellow is one of D'Escorval's servants," remarked M. Segmuller.
"He's richer than I, and can well afford to keep a footman."
"D'Escorval's," ejaculated Lecoq, "the magistrate who--"
"Precisely. He sent his man to me two or three days ago to ascertain
what we were doing with our mysterious May."
"Then M. d'Escorval is interested in the case?"
"Prodigiously! I conclude it is because he opened the prosecution, and
because the case rightfully belongs to him. Perhaps he regrets that it
passed out of his hands, and thinks that he could have managed the
investigation better himself. We would have done better with it if we
could. I would give a good deal to see him in my place."
But this change would not have been at all to Lecoq's taste. "Ah,"
thought he, "such a fellow as D'Escorval would never have shown me such
confidence as M. Segmuller." He had, indeed, good reason to congratulate
himself: for that very day M. Segmuller, who was a man of his word, a
man who never rested until he had carried his plan into execution,
actually induced the authorities to allow May to be set at liberty; and
the details of this measure only remained to be decided upon. As regards
the proposed transfer of the suspected murderer to another prison, this
was immediately carried into effect, and May was removed to Mazas, where
Lecoq had no fear of Gevrol's interference.
That same afternoon, moreover, the Widow Chupin received her conditional
release. There was no difficulty as regards her son, Polyte. He had, in
the mean time, been brought before the correctional court on a charge
of theft; and, to his great astonishment, had heard himself sentenced
to thirteen months' imprisonment. After this, M. Segmuller had nothing
to do but to wait, and this was the easier as the advent of the Easter
holidays gave him an opportunity to seek a little rest and recreation
with his family in the provinces.
On the day he returned to Paris--the last of the recess, and by chance
a Sunday--he was sitting alone in his library when his cook came to tell
him that there was a man in the vestibule who had been sent from a
neighboring register office to take the place of a servant he had
recently dismissed. The newcomer was ushered into the magistrate's
presence and proved to be a man of forty or thereabouts, very red in the
face and with carroty hair and whiskers. He was, moreover, strongly
inclined to corpulence, and was clad in clumsy, ill-fitting garments.
In a complacent tone, and with a strong Norman accent, he informed the
magistrate that during the past twenty years he had been in the
employment of various literary men, as well as of a physician, and
notary; that he was familiar with the duties that would be required of
him at the Palais de Justice, and that he knew how to dust papers
without disarranging them. In short, he produced such a favorable
impression that, although M. Segmuller reserved twenty-four hours in
which to make further inquiries, he drew a twenty-franc piece from his
pocket on the spot and tendered it to the Norman valet as the first
instalment of his wages.
But instead of pocketing the proffered coin, the man, with a sudden
change of voice and attitude, burst into a hearty laugh, exclaiming: "Do
you think, sir, that May will recognize me?"
"Monsieur Lecoq!" cried the astonished magistrate.
"The same, sir; and I have come to tell you that if you are ready to
release May, all my arrangements are now completed."
When one of the investigating magistrates of the Tribunal of the Seine
wishes to examine a person confined in one of the Paris prisons, he
sends by his messenger to the governor of that particular jail a
so-called "order of extraction," a concise, imperative formula, which
reads as follows: "The keeper of ---- prison will give into the custody
of the bearer of this order the prisoner known as ----, in order that
he may be brought before us in our cabinet at the Palais de Justice."
No more, no less, a signature, a seal, and everybody is bound to obey.
But from the moment of receiving this order until the prisoner is again
incarcerated, the governor of the prison is relieved of all
responsibility. Whatever may happen, his hands are clear. Minute
precautions are taken, however, so that a prisoner may not escape during
his journey from the prison to the Palais. He is carefully locked up in
a compartment of one of the lugubrious vehicles that may be often seen
waiting on the Quai de l'Horloge, or in the courtyard of the
Sainte-Chapelle. This van conveys him to the Palais, and while he is
awaiting examination, he is immured in one of the cells of the gloomy
jail, familiarly known as "la Souriciere" or the "mouse-trap." On
entering and leaving the van the prisoner is surrounded by guards; and
on the road, in addition to the mounted troopers who always accompany
these vehicles, there are prison warders or linesmen of the Garde de
Paris installed in the passage between the compartments of the van and
seated on the box with the driver. Hence, the boldest criminals
ordinarily realize the impossibility of escaping from this ambulatory
Indeed, statistics record only thirty attempts at escape in a period of
ten years. Of these thirty attempts, twenty-five were ridiculous
failures; four were discovered before their authors had conceived any
serious hope of success: and only one man actually succeeded in
alighting from the vehicle, and even he had not taken fifty steps before
he was recaptured.
Lecoq was well acquainted with all these facts, and in preparing
everything for May's escape, his only fear was lest the murderer might
decline to profit of the opportunity. Hence, it was necessary to offer
every possible inducement for flight. The plan the young detective had
eventually decided on consisted in sending an order to Mazas for May to
be despatched to the Palais de Justice. He could be placed in one of the
prison vans, and at the moment of starting the door of his compartment
would not be perfectly secured. When the van reached the Palais de
Justice and discharged its load of criminals at the door of the
"mouse-trap" May would purposely be forgotten and left in the vehicle,
while the latter waited on the Quai de l'Horloge until the hour of
returning to Mazas. It was scarcely possible that the prisoner would
fail to embrace this apparently favorable opportunity to make his
Everything was, therefore, prepared and arranged according to Lecoq's
directions on the Monday following the close of the Easter holidays; the
requisite "order of extraction" being entrusted to an intelligent man
with the most minute instructions.
Now, although the van in which May would journey was not to be expected
at the Palais de Justice before noon, it so happened that at nine
o'clock that same morning a queer-looking "loafer" having the aspect of
an overgrown, overaged "gamin de Paris" might have been seen hanging
about the Prefecture de Police. He wore a tattered black woolen blouse
and a pair of wide, ill-fitting trousers, fastened about his waist by
a leather strap. His boots betrayed a familiar acquaintance with the
puddles of the barrieres, and his cap was shabby and dirty, though, on
the other hand, his necktie, a pretentious silk scarf of flaming hue,
was evidently quite fresh from some haberdasher's shop. No doubt it was
a present from his sweetheart.
This uncomely being had the unhealthy complexion, hollow eyes, slouching
mien, and straggling beard common to his tribe. His yellow hair, cut
closely at the back of the head, as if to save the trouble of brushing,
was long in front and at the sides; being plastered down over his
forehead and advancing above his ears in extravagant corkscrew ringlets.
What with his attire, his affected jaunty step, his alternate raising
of either shoulder, and his way of holding his cigarette and of ejecting
a stream of saliva from between his teeth, Polyte Chupin, had he been
at liberty, would undoubtedly have proffered a paw, and greeted this
barriere beauty as a "pal."
It was the 14th of April; the weather was lovely, and, on the horizon,
the youthful foliage of the chestnut trees in the Tuileries gardens
stood out against a bright blue sky. The "ethereal mildness" of "gentle
spring" seemed to have a positive charm for the tattered "loafer" who
lazily loitered in the sunlight, dividing his attention between the
passers-by and some men who were hauling sand from the banks of the
Seine. Occasionally, however, he crossed the roadway, and, strange to
say, exchanged a few remarks with a neatly dressed, long-bearded
gentleman, who wore gold-rimmed spectacles over his nose and drab silk
gloves on his hands. This individual exhibited all the outward
characteristics of eminent respectability, and seemed to take a
remarkable interest in the contents of an optician's shop window.
Every now and then a policeman or an agent of the detective corps passed
by on his way to the Prefecture, and the elderly gentleman or the
"loafer" would at times run after these officials to ask for some
trifling information. The person addressed replied and passed on; and
then the "loafer" and the gentleman would join each other and laughingly
exclaim: "Good!--there's another who doesn't recognize us."
And in truth the pair had just cause for exultation, good reason to be
proud, for of some twelve or fifteen comrades they accosted, not one
recognized the two detectives, Lecoq and Father Absinthe. For the
"loafer" was none other than our hero, and the gentleman of such eminent
respectability his faithful lieutenant.
"Ah!" quoth the latter with admiration, "I am not surprised they don't
recognize me, since I can't recognize myself. No one but you, Monsieur
Lecoq, could have so transformed me."
Unfortunately for Lecoq's vanity, the good fellow spoke at a moment when
the time for idle conversation had passed. The prison van was just
crossing the bridge at a brisk trot.
"Attention!" exclaimed the young detective, "there comes our friend!
Quick!--to your post; remember my directions, and keep your eyes open!"
Near them, on the quay, was a large pile of timber, behind which Father
Absinthe immediately concealed himself, while Lecoq, seizing a spade
that was lying idle, hurried to a little distance and began digging in
the sand. They did well to make haste. The van came onward and turned
the corner. It passed the two detectives, and with a noisy clang rolled
under the heavy arch leading to "la Souriciere." May was inside, as
Lecoq assured himself on recognizing the keeper sitting beside the
The van remained in the courtyard for more than a quarter of an hour.
When it reappeared, the driver had left his perch and the quay opposite
the Palais de Justice, threw a covering over his horses, lighted his
pipe, and quietly walked away. The moment for action was now swiftly
For a few minutes the anxiety of the two watchers amounted to actual
agony; nothing stirred--nothing moved. But at last the door of the van
was opened with infinite caution, and a pale, frightened face became
visible. It was the face of May. The prisoner cast a rapid glance around
him. No one was in sight. Then as swiftly and as stealthily as a cat he
sprang to the ground, noiselessly closed the door of the vehicle, and
walked quietly toward the bridge.
Lecoq breathed again. He had been asking himself if some trifling
circumstance could have been forgotten or neglected, thus disarranging
all his plans. He had been wondering if this strange man would refuse
the dangerous liberty which had been offered him. But he had been
anxious without cause. May had fled; not thoughtlessly, but with
From the moment when he was left alone, apparently forgotten, in the
insecurely locked compartment, until he opened the door and glanced
around him, sufficient time had elapsed for a man of his intellect and
discernment to analyze and calculate all the chances of so grave a step.
Hence, if he had stepped into the snare laid for him, it must be with
a full knowledge of the risks he had to run. He and Lecoq were alone
together, free in the streets of Paris, armed with mutual distrust,
equally obliged to resort to strategy, and forced to hide from each
other. Lecoq, it is true, had an auxiliary--Father Absinthe. But who
could say that May would not be aided by his redoubtable accomplice?
Hence, it was a veritable duel, the result of which depended entirely
upon the courage, skill, and coolness of the antagonists.
All these thoughts flashed through the young detective's brain with the
quickness of lightning. Throwing down his spade, and running toward a
sergeant de ville, who was just coming out of the Palais de Justice, he
gave him a letter which was ready in his pocket. "Take this to M.
Segmuller at once; it is a matter of importance," said he.
The policeman attempted to question this "loafer" who was in
correspondence with the magistrates; but Lecoq had already darted off
on the prisoner's trail.
May had covered but a short distance. He was sauntering along with his
hands in his pockets; his head high in the air, his manner composed and
full of assurance. Had he reflected that it would be dangerous to run
while so near the prison from which he had just escaped? Or was he of
opinion that as an opportunity of flight had been willingly furnished
him, there was no danger of immediate rearrest? This was a point Lecoq
could not decide. At all events, May showed no signs of quickening his
pace even after crossing the bridge; and it was with the same tranquil
manner that he next crossed the Quai aux Fleurs and turned into the Hue
de la Cite.
Nothing in his bearing or appearance proclaimed him to be an escaped
prisoner. Since his trunk--that famous trunk which he pretended to have
left at the Hotel de Mariembourg--had been returned to him, he had been
well supplied with clothing: and he never failed, when summoned before
the magistrate, to array himself in his best apparel. The garments he
wore that day were black cloth, and their cut, combined with his manner,
gave him the appearance of a working man of the better class taking a
His tread, hitherto firm and decided, suddenly became uncertain when,
after crossing the Seine, he reached the Rue St. Jacques. He walked more
slowly, frequently hesitated, and glanced continually at the shops on
either side of the way.
"Evidently he is seeking something," thought Lecoq: "but what?"
It was not long before he ascertained. Seeing a second-hand-clothes shop
close by, May entered in evident haste. Lecoq at once stationed himself
under a gateway on the opposite side of the street, and pretended to be
busily engaged lighting a cigarette. The criminal being momentarily out
of sight, Father Absinthe thought he could approach without danger.
"Ah, well," said he, "there's our man changing his fine clothes for
coarser garments. He will ask for the difference in money; and they will
give it him. You told me this morning: 'May without a sou'--that's the
trump card in our game!"
"Nonsense! Before we begin to lament, let us wait and see what happens.
It is not likely that shopkeeper will give him any money. He won't buy
clothing of the first passer-by."
Father Absinthe withdrew to a little distance. He distrusted these
reasons, but not Lecoq who gave them.
In the mean while, in his secret soul, Lecoq was cursing himself.
Another blunder, thought he, another weapon left in the hands of the
enemy. How was it that he, who fancied himself so shrewd, had not
foreseen this emergency? Calmness of mind returned, however, a moment
afterward when he saw May emerge from the shop attired as when he
entered it. Luck had for once been in the young detective's favor.
May actually staggered when he stepped out on the pavement. His bitter
disappointment could be read in his countenance, which disclosed the
anguish of a drowning man who sees the frail plank which was his only
hope of salvation snatched from his grasp by the ruthless waves.
What could have taken place? This Lecoq must know without a moment's
delay. He gave a peculiar whistle, to warn his companion that he
momentarily abandoned the pursuit of him; and having received a similar
signal in response, he entered the shop. The owner was still standing
behind the counter. Lecoq wasted no time in parleying. He merely showed
his card to acquaint the man with his profession, and curtly asked:
"What did the fellow want who was just in here?"
The shopkeeper seemed embarrassed. "It's a long story," he stammered.
"Then tell it!" said Lecoq, surprised at the man's hesitation.
"Oh, it's very simple. About twelve days ago a man entered my shop with
a bundle under his arm. He claimed to be a countryman of mine."
"Are you an Alsatian?"
"Yes, sir. Well, I went with this man to the wine-shop at the corner,
where he ordered a bottle of good wine; and while we drank together, he
asked me if I would consent to keep the package he had with him until
one of his cousins came to claim it. To prevent any mistake, this cousin
was to say certain words--a countersign, as it were. I refused, shortly
and decidedly, for the very month before I had got into trouble and had
been charged with receiving stolen goods, all by obliging a person in
this way. Well, you never saw a man so vexed and so surprised. What made
me all the more determined in my refusal was that he offered me a good
round sum in payment for my trouble. This only increased my suspicion,
and I persisted in my refusal."
The shopkeeper paused to take breath; but Lecoq was on fire with
impatience. "And what then?" he insisted.
"Well, he paid for the wine and went away. I had forgotten all about the
matter until that man came in here just now, and after asking me if I
hadn't a package for him, which had been left by one of his cousins,
began to say some peculiar words--the countersign, no doubt. When I
replied that I had nothing at all he turned as white as his shirt; and
I thought he was going to faint. All my suspicions came back to me. So
when he afterward proposed that I should buy his clothes, I told him I
couldn't think of it."
All this was plain enough to Lecoq. "And this cousin who was here a
fortnight ago, what was he like?" asked he.
"He was a tall, rather corpulent man, with a ruddy complexion, and white
whiskers. Ah! I should recognize him in an instant!"
"The accomplice!" exclaimed Lecoq.
"What did you say?"
"Nothing that would interest you. Thank you. I am in a hurry. You will
see me again; good morning."
Lecoq had not remained five minutes in the shop: and yet, when he
emerged, May and Father Absinthe were nowhere in sight. Still, the young
detective was not at all uneasy on that score. In making arrangements
with his old colleague for this pursuit Lecoq had foreseen such a
situation, and it had been agreed that if one of them were obliged to
remain behind, the other, who was closely following May, should from
time to time make chalk marks on the walls, shutters, and facings of the
shops, so as to indicate the route, and enable his companion to rejoin
him. Hence, in order to know which way to go, Lecoq had only to glance
at the buildings around him. The task was neither long nor difficult,
for on the front of the third shop beyond that of the
second-hand-clothes dealer a superb dash of the crayon instructed him
to turn into the Rue Saint-Jacques.
On he rushed in that direction, his mind busy at work with the incident
that had just occurred. What a terrible warning that old-clothes
dealer's declaration had been! Ah! that mysterious accomplice was a man
of foresight. He had even done his utmost to insure his comrade's
salvation in the event of his being allowed to escape. What did the
package the shopkeeper had spoken of contain? Clothes, no doubt.
Everything necessary for a complete disguise--money, papers, a forged
passport most likely.
While these thoughts were rushing through Lecoq's mind, he had reached
the Rue Soufflot, where he paused for an instant to learn his way from
the walls. This was the work of a second. A long chalk mark on a
watchmaker's shop pointed to the Boulevard Saint-Michel, whither the
young detective at once directed his steps. "The accomplice," said he
to himself, resuming his meditation, "didn't succeed with that
old-clothes dealer; but he isn't a man to be disheartened by one rebuff.
He has certainly taken other measures. How shall I divine what they are
in order to defeat them?"
The supposed murderer had crossed the Boulevard Saint-Michel, and had
then taken to the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, as Father Absinthe's dashes
of the crayon proclaimed with many eloquent flourishes.
"One circumstance reassures me," the young detective murmured, "May's
going to this shop, and his consternation on finding that there was
nothing for him there. The accomplice had informed him of his plans, but
had not been able to inform him of their failure. Hence, from this hour,
the prisoner is left to his own resources. The chain that bound him to
his accomplice is broken; there is no longer an understanding between
them. Everything depends now upon keeping them apart. Yes, everything
lies in that!"
Ah! how Lecoq rejoiced that he had succeeded in having May transferred
to another prison; for he was convinced that the accomplice had warned
May of the attempt he was going to make with the old-clothes dealer on
the very evening before May's removal to Mazas. Hence, it had not been
possible to acquaint him with the failure of this scheme or the
substitution of another.
Still following the chalk marks, Lecoq now reached the Odeon theatre.
Here were fresh signs, and what was more, Father Absinthe could be
perceived under the colonnade, standing in front of one of the
book-stalls, and apparently engrossed in the contemplation of a print.
Assuming the nonchalant manner of the loafer whose garb he wore, Lecoq
took his stand beside his colleague. "Where is he?" asked the young
"There," replied his companion, with a slight movement of his head in
the direction of the steps.
The fugitive was, indeed, seated on one of the steps at the side of the
theatre, his elbows resting on his knees and his face hidden in his
hands, as if he felt the necessity of concealing the expression of his
face from the passers-by. Undoubtedly, at that moment, he gave himself
up for lost. Alone in the midst of Paris, without a penny, what was to
become of him? He knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was being
watched; that his steps were being dogged, that the first attempt he
made to inform his accomplice of his whereabouts would cost him his
secret--the secret which he plainly held as more precious than life
itself, and which, by immense sacrifices, he had so far been able to
Having for some short time contemplated in silence this unfortunate man
whom after all he could but esteem and admire, Lecoq turned to his old
companion: "What did he do on the way?" he asked.
"He went into the shops of five dealers in second-hand clothing without
success. Then he addressed a man who was passing with a lot of old
rubbish on his shoulder: but the man wouldn't even answer him."
Lecoq nodded his head thoughtfully. "The moral of this is, that there's
a vast difference between theory and practise," he remarked. "Here's a
fellow who has made some most discerning men believe that he's only a
poor devil, a low buffoon. Well, now he's free; and this so-called
Bohemian doesn't even know how to go to work to sell the clothes on his
back. The comedian who could play his part so well on the stage has
disappeared; while the man remains--the man who has always been rich,
and knows nothing of the vicissitudes of life."
The young detective suddenly ceased moralizing, for May had risen from
his seat. Lecoq was only ten yards distant, and could see that his face
was pallid. His attitude expressed profound dejection and one could read
his indecision in his eyes. Perhaps he was wondering if it would not be
best to return and place himself again in the hands of his jailers,
since he was without the resources upon which he had depended.
After a little, however, he shook off the torpor that had for a time
overpowered him; his eyes brightened, and, with a gesture of defiance,
he left the steps, crossed the open square and walked down the Rue de
l'Ancienne-Comedie. He strode onward now with the brisk, determined step
of a man who has a definite aim in view.
"Who knows where he is going now?" murmured Father Absinthe, as he
trotted along by Lecoq's side.
"I do," replied the young detective. "And the proof is, that I am going
to leave you, and run on in advance, to prepare for his reception. I may
be mistaken, however, and as we must be prepared for any emergency,
leave me the chalk-marks as you go along. If our man doesn't come to the
Hotel de Mariembourg, as I think he will, I shall come back here to
start in pursuit of you again."
Just then an empty cab chanced to be passing, and Lecoq hastily got into
it, telling the driver to take him to the Northern Railway Station by
the shortest route and as quickly as possible. As time was precious, he
handed the cabman his fare while on the road, and then began to search
his pocket-book, among the various documents confided to him by M.
Segmuller, for a particular paper he would now require.
Scarcely had the cab stopped at the Place de Roubaix than the young
detective alighted and ran toward the Hotel de Mariembourg, where, as
on the occasion of his first visit, he found Madame Milner standing on
a chair in front of her birdcage, obstinately trying to teach her
starling German, while the bird with equal obstinacy repeated: "Camille!
where is Camille?"
On perceiving the individual of questionable mien who had presumed to
cross her threshold, the pretty widow did not deign to change her
"What do you want?" she asked in a curt, sharp voice.
"I am the nephew of a messenger at the Palais de Justice," replied Lecoq
with an awkward bow, in perfect keeping with his attire. "On going to
see my uncle this morning, I found him laid up with rheumatism; and he
asked me to bring you this paper in his stead. It is a summons for you
to appear at once before the investigating magistrate."
This reply induced Madame Milner to abandon her perch. "Very well," she
replied after glancing at the summons; "give me time to throw a shawl
over my shoulder, and I'll start."
Lecoq withdrew with another awkward bow; but he had not reached the
street before a significant grimace betrayed his inward satisfaction.
She had duped him once, and now he had repaid her. On looking round him
he perceived a half-built house at the corner of the Rue St. Quentin,
and being momentarily in want of a hiding-place he concluded that he had
best conceal himself there. The pretty widow had only asked for
sufficient time to slip on a shawl before starting; but then it so
happened that she was rather particular as to her personal
appearance--and such a plump, attractive little body as herself, having
an eye perhaps to renewed wedlock, could not possibly be expected to tie
her bonnet strings in less than a quarter of an hour. Hence, Lecoq's
sojourn behind the scaffolding of the half-built house proved rather
longer than he had expected, and at the thought that May might arrive
at any moment he fairly trembled with anxiety. How much was he in
advance of the fugitive? Half an hour, perhaps! And he had accomplished
only half his task.
At last, however, the coquettish landlady made her appearance as radiant
as a spring morning. She probably wished to make up for the time she had
spent over her toilet, for as she turned the corner she began to run.
Lecoq waited till she was out of sight, and then bounding from his place
of concealment, he burst into the Hotel de Mariembourg like a bombshell.
Fritz, the Bavarian lad, must have been warned that the house was to be
left in his sole charge for some hours; for having comfortably installed
himself in his mistress's own particular armchair, with his legs resting
on another one, he had already commenced to fall asleep.
"Wake up!" shouted Lecoq; "wake up!"
At the sound of this voice, which rang like a trumpet blast, Fritz
sprang to his feet, frightened half out of his wits.
"You see that I am an agent of the Prefecture of Police," said the
visitor, showing his card. "Now, if you wish to avoid all sorts of
disagreeable things, the least of which will be a sojourn in prison, you
must obey me."
The boy trembled in every limb. "Yes, mein Herr--Monsieur, I mean--I
will obey you," he stammered. "But what am I to do?"
"Oh, very little. A man is coming here in a moment: you will know him
by his black clothes and his long beard. You must answer him word for
word as I tell you. And remember, if you make any mistake, you will
suffer for it."
"You may rely upon me, sir," replied Fritz. "I have an excellent memory."
The prospect of imprisonment had terrified him into abject submission.
He spoke the truth; he would have been willing to say or do anything
just then. Lecoq profited by this disposition; and then clearly and
concisely gave the lad his instructions. "And now," added he, "I must
see and hear you. Where can I hide myself?"
Fritz pointed to a glass door. "In the dark room there, sir. By leaving
the door ajar you can hear and you can see everything through the
Without another word Lecoq darted into the room in question. Not a
moment too soon, however, for the bell of the outer door announced the
arrival of a visitor. It was May. "I wish to speak to the landlady,"
"What landlady?" replied the lad.
"The person who received me when I came here six weeks ago--"
"Oh, I understand," interrupted Fritz; "it's Madame Milner you want to
see; but you have come too late; she sold the house about a month ago,
and has gone back to Alsace."
May stamped his foot and uttered a terrible oath. "I have come to claim
something from her," he insisted.
"Do you want me to call her successor?"
Concealed behind the glass door, Lecoq could not help admiring Fritz,
who was uttering these glaring falsehoods with that air of perfect
candor which gives the Germans such a vast advantage over the Latin
races, who seem to be lying even when they are telling the truth.
"Her successor would order me off," exclaimed May. "I came to reclaim
the money I paid for a room I never occupied."
"Such money is never refunded."
May uttered some incoherent threat, in which such words as "downright
robbery" and "justice" could be distinguished, and then abruptly walked
back into the street, slamming the door behind him.
"Well! did I answer properly?" asked Fritz triumphantly as Lecoq emerged
from his hiding-place.
"Yes, perfectly," replied the detective. And then pushing aside the boy,
who was standing in his way, he dashed after May.
A vague fear almost suffocated him. It had struck him that the fugitive
had not been either surprised or deeply affected by the news he had
heard. He had come to the hotel depending upon Madame Milner's
assistance, and the news of this woman's departure would naturally have
alarmed him, for was she not the mysterious accomplice's confidential
friend? Had May, then, guessed the trick that had been played upon him?
And if so, how?
Lecoq's good sense told him plainly that the fugitive must have been put
on his guard, and on rejoining Father Absinthe, he immediately
exclaimed: "May spoke to some one on his way to the hotel."
"Why, how could you know that?" exclaimed the worthy man, greatly
"Ah! I was sure of it! Who did he speak to?"
"To a very pretty woman, upon my word!--fair and plump as a partridge!"
"Ah! fate is against us!" exclaimed Lecoq with an oath. "I run on in
advance to Madame Milner's house, so that May shan't see her. I invent
an excuse to send her out of the hotel, and yet they meet each other."
Father Absinthe gave a despairing gesture. "Ah! if I had known!" he
murmured; "but you did not tell me to prevent May from speaking to the
"Never mind, my old friend," said Lecoq, consolingly; "it couldn't have
While this conversation was going on, the fugitive had reached the
Faubourg Montmartre, and his pursuers were obliged to hasten forward and
get closer to their man, so that they might not lose him in the crowd.
"Now," resumed Lecoq when they had overtaken him, "give me the
particulars. Where did they meet?"
"In the Rue Saint-Quentin."
"Which saw the other first?"
"What did the woman say? Did you hear any cry of surprise?"
"I heard nothing, for I was quite fifty yards off; but by the woman's
manner I could see she was stupefied."
Ah! if Lecoq could have witnessed the scene, what valuable deductions
he might have drawn from it. "Did they talk for a long time?" he asked.
"For less than a quarter of an hour."
"Do you know whether Madame Milner gave May money or not?"
"I can't say. They gesticulated like mad--so violently, indeed, that I
thought they were quarreling."
"They knew they were being watched, and were endeavoring to divert
"If they would only arrest this woman and question her," suggested
"What good would it do? Hasn't M. Segmuller examined and cross-examined
her a dozen times without drawing anything from her! Ah! she's a cunning
one. She would declare that May met her and insisted that she should
refund the ten francs he paid her for his room. We must do our best,
however. If the accomplice has not been warned already, he will soon be
told; so we must try to keep the two men apart. What ruse they will
employ, I can't divine. But I know that it will be nothing hackneyed."
Lecoq's presumptions made Father Absinthe nervous. "The surest way,
perhaps," ventured the latter, "would be to lock him up again!"
"No!" replied the young detective. "I want his secret, and I'll have it.
What will be said of us if we two allow this man to escape us? He can't
be visible and invisible by turns, like the devil. We'll see what he is
going to do now that he's got some money and a plan--for he has both at
the present moment. I would stake my right hand upon it."
At that same instant, as if May intended to convince Lecoq of the truth
of his suspicion, he entered a tobacconist's shop and emerged an instant
afterward with a cigar in his mouth.
So the landlady of the Hotel de Mariembourg had given May money. There
could be no further doubt on that point after the purchase of this
cigar. But had they agreed upon any plan? Had they had sufficient time
to decide on the method that May was to employ with the view of baffling
It would seem so, since the fugitive's manner had now changed in more
respects than one. If hitherto he had seemed to care little for the
danger of pursuit and capture, at present he was evidently uneasy and
agitated. After walking so long in the full sunlight, with his head high
in the air, he now slunk along in the shadow of the houses, hiding
himself as much as possible.
"It is evident that his fears have increased in proportion with his
hopes," said Lecoq to his companion. "He was quite unnerved when we saw
him at the Odeon, and the merest trifle would have decided him to
surrender; now, however, he thinks he has a chance to escape with his
The fugitive was following the boulevards, but suddenly he turned into
a side street and made his way toward the Temple, where, soon afterward,
Father Absinthe and Lecoq found him conversing with one of those
importunate dealers in cast-off garments who consider every passer-by
their lawful prey. The vender and May were evidently debating a question
of price; but the latter was plainly no skilful bargainer, for with a
somewhat disappointed air he soon gave up the discussion and entered the
"Ah, so now he has some coin he has determined on a costume," remarked
Lecoq. "Isn't that always an escaped prisoner's first impulse?"
Soon afterward May emerged into the street. His appearance was decidedly
changed, for he wore a pair of dark blue linen trousers, of the type
French "navvies" habitually affect, and a loosely fitting coat of rough
woolen material. A gay silk 'kerchief was knotted about his throat, and
a black silk cap was set on one side of his head. Thus attired, he was
scarcely more prepossessing in appearance than Lecoq, and one would have
hesitated before deciding which of the two it would be preferable to
meet at night on a deserted highway.
May seemed very well pleased with his transformation, and was evidently
more at ease in his new attire. On leaving the shop, however, he glanced
suspiciously around him, as if to ascertain which of the passers-by were
watching his movements. He had not parted with his broadcloth suit, but
was carrying it under his arm, wrapped up in a handkerchief. The only
thing he had left behind him was his tall chimney-pot hat.
Lecoq would have liked to enter the shop and make some inquiries, but
he felt that it would be imprudent to do so, for May had settled his cap
on his head with a gesture that left no doubt as to his intentions. A
second later he turned into the Rue du Temple, and now the chase began
in earnest; for the fugitive proved as swift and agile as a stag, and
it was no small task to keep him well in sight. He had no doubt lived
in England and Germany, since he spoke the language of these countries
like a native; but one thing was certain--he knew Paris as thoroughly
as the most expert Parisian.
This was shown by the way in which he dashed into the Rue des
Gravelliers, and by the precision of his course through the many winding
streets that lie between the Rue du Temple and the Rue Beaubourg. He
seemed to know this quarter of the capital by heart; as well, indeed,
as if he had spent half his life there. He knew all the wine-shops
communicating with two streets--all the byways, passages, and tortuous
alleys. Twice he almost escaped his pursuers, and once his salvation
hung upon a thread. If he had remained in an obscure corner, where he
was completely hidden, only an instant longer, the two detectives would
have passed him by and his safety would have been assured.
The pursuit presented immense difficulties. Night was coming on, and
with it that light fog which almost invariably accompanies a spring
sunset. Soon the street-lamps glimmered luridly in the mist, and then
it required a keen eyesight indeed to see even for a moderate distance.
And, to add to this drawback, the streets were now thronged with workmen
returning home after their daily toil, and with housewives intent on
purchasing provisions for the evening meal, while round about each
dwelling there congregated its numerous denizens swarming like bees
around a hive. May, however, took advantage of every opportunity to
mislead the persons who might be following him. Groups collected around
some cheap-jack's stall, street accidents, a block of vehicles--
everything was utilized by him with such marvelous presence of mind that
he often glided through the crowd without leaving any sign of his passage.
At last he left the neighborhood of the Rue des Gravelliers and made for
a broader street. Reaching the Boulevard de Sebastopol, he turned to the
left, and took a fresh start. He darted on with marvelous rapidity, with
his elbows pressed close to his body--husbanding his breath and timing
his steps with the precision of a dancing-master. Never pausing, and
without once turning his head, he ever hurried on. And it was at the
same regular but rapid pace that he covered the Boulevard de Sebastopol,
crossed the Place du Chatelet, and proceeded to mount the Boulevard
Here he suddenly halted before a cab-stand. He spoke to one of the
drivers, opened the door of his vehicle, and jumped in. The cab started
off at a rapid pace. But May was not inside. He had merely passed
through the vehicle, getting out at the other door, and just as the
driver was departing for an imaginary destination May slipped into an
adjacent cab which left the stand at a gallop. Perhaps, after so many
ruses, after such formidable efforts, after this last stratagem--perhaps
May believed that he was free.
He was mistaken. Behind the cab which bore him onward, and while he
leaned back against the cushions to rest, a man was running; and this
man was Lecoq. Poor Father Absinthe had fallen by the way. In front of
the Palais de Justice he paused, exhausted and breathless, and Lecoq had
little hope of seeing him again, since he had all he could do to keep
his man in sight without stopping to make the chalk-marks agreed upon.
May had instructed his driver to take him to the Place d'Italie:
requesting him, moreover, to stop exactly in the middle of the square.
This was about a hundred paces from the police station in which he had
been temporarily confined with the Widow Chupin. When the vehicle
halted, he sprang to the ground and cast a rapid glance around him, as
if looking for some dreaded shadow. He could see nothing, however, for
although surprised by the sudden stoppage, Lecoq had yet had time to
fling himself flat on his stomach under the body of the cab, regardless
of all danger of being crushed by the wheels. May was apparently
reassured. He paid the cabman and then retraced his course toward the
With a bound, Lecoq was on his feet again, and started after the
fugitive as eagerly as a ravenous dog might follow a bone. He had
reached the shadow cast by the large trees in the outer boulevards when
a faint whistle resounded in his ears. "Father Absinthe!" he exclaimed
in a tone of delighted surprise.
"The same," replied the old detective, "and quite rested, thanks to a
passing cabman who picked me up and brought me here--"
"Oh, enough!" interrupted Lecoq. "Let us keep our eyes open."
May was now walking quite leisurely. He stopped first before one and
then before another of the numerous wine-shops and eating-houses that
abound in this neighborhood. He was apparently looking for some one or
something, which of the two Lecoq could not, of course, divine. However,
after peering through the glass doors of three of these establishments
and then turning away, the fugitive at last entered the fourth. The two
detectives, who were enabled to obtain a good view of the shop inside,
saw the supposed murderer cross the room and seat himself at a table
where a man of unusually stalwart build, ruddy-faced and gray-whiskered,
was already seated.
"The accomplice!" murmured Father Absinthe.
Was this really the redoubtable accomplice? Under other circumstances
Lecoq would have hesitated to place dependence on a vague similarity in
personal appearance; but here probabilities were so strongly in favor
of Father Absinthe's assertion that the young detective at once admitted
its truth. Was not this meeting the logical sequence of May and Madame
Milner's chance interview a few hours before?
"May," thought Lecoq, "began by taking all the money Madame Milner had
about her, and then instructed her to tell his accomplice to come and
wait for him in some cheap restaurant near here. If he hesitated and
looked inside the different establishments, it was only because he
hadn't been able to specify any particular one. Now, if they don't throw
aside the mask, it will be because May is not sure he has eluded pursuit
and because the accomplice fears that Madame Milner may have been
The accomplice, if this new personage was really the accomplice, had
resorted to a disguise not unlike that which May and Lecoq had both
adopted. He wore a dirty blue blouse and a hideous old slouch hat, which
was well-nigh in tatters. He had, in fact, rather exaggerated his
make-up, for his sinister physiognomy attracted especial attention even
beside the depraved and ferocious faces of the other customers in the
shop. For this low eating-house was a regular den of thieves and
cut-throats. Among those present there were not four workmen really
worthy of that name. The others occupied in eating and drinking there
were all more or less familiar with prison life. The least to be dreaded
were the barriere loafers, easily recognized by their glazed caps and
their loosely-knotted neckerchiefs. The majority of the company appeared
to consist of this class.
And yet May, that man who was so strongly suspected of belonging to the
highest social sphere, seemed to be perfectly at home. He called for the
regular "ordinary" and a "chopine" of wine, and then, after gulping down
his soup, bolted great pieces of beef, pausing every now and then to
wipe his mouth on the back of his sleeve. But was he conversing with his
neighbor? This it was impossible to discern through the glass door, all
obscured by smoke and steam.
"I must go in," said Lecoq, resolutely. "I must get a place near them,
"Don't think of such a thing," said Father Absinthe. "What if they
"They won't recognize me."
"If they do, they'll kill you."
Lecoq made a careless gesture.
"I certainly think that they wouldn't hesitate to rid themselves of me
at any cost. But, nonsense! A detective who is afraid to risk his life
is no better than a low spy. Why! you never saw even Gevrol flinch."
Perhaps Father Absinthe had wished to ascertain if his companion's
courage was equal to his shrewdness and sagacity. If such were the case
he was satisfied on this score now.
"You, my friend, will remain here to follow them if they leave
hurriedly," resumed Lecoq, who in the mean while had already turned the
handle of the door. Entering with a careless air and taking a seat at
a table near that occupied by the fugitive and the man in the slouch
hat, he called for a plate of meat and a "chopine" of wine in a guttural
The fugitive and the ruffian opposite him were talking, but like
strangers who had met by chance, and not at all after the fashion of
friends who have met at a rendezvous. They spoke in the jargon of their
pretended rank in life, not that puerile slang met with in romances
descriptive of low life, but that obscene, vulgar dialect which it is
impossible to render, so changeable and diverse is the signification of
"What wonderful actors!" thought Lecoq; "what perfection! what method!
How I should be deceived if I were not absolutely certain!"
For the moment the man in the slouch hat was giving a detailed account
of the different prisons in France. He described the governors of the
principal houses of detention; explained the divergencies of discipline
in different establishments; and recounted that the food at Poissy was
ten times better than that at Fontevrault.
Lecoq, having finished his repast, ordered a small glass of brandy, and,
leaning his back against the wall and closing his eyes, pretended to
fall asleep. His ears were wide open, however, and he carefully listened
to the conversation.
Soon May began talking in his turn; and he narrated his story exactly
as he had related it to the magistrate, from the murder up to his
escape, without forgetting to mention the suspicions attached to his
identity--suspicions which afforded him great amusement, he said. He
added that he would be perfectly happy if he had money enough to take
him back to Germany; but unfortunately he only had a few sous and didn't
know where or how to procure any more. He had not even succeeded in
selling some clothing which belonged to him, and which he had with him
in a bundle.
At these words the man in the tattered felt hat declared that he had too
good a heart to leave a comrade in such embarrassment. He knew, in the
very same street, an obliging dealer in such articles, and he offered
to take May to his place at once. May's only response was to rise,
saying: "Let us start." And they did start, with Lecoq at their heels.
They walked rapidly on until passing the Rue Fer-a-Moulin, when they
turned into a narrow, dimly lighted alley, and entered a dingy dwelling.
"Run and ask the concierge if there are not two doors by which any one
can leave this house," said Lecoq, addressing Father Absinthe.
The latter instantly obeyed. He learned, however, that the house had
only one street door, and accordingly the two detectives waited. "We are
discovered!" murmured Lecoq. "I am sure of it. May must have recognized
me, or the boy at the Hotel de Mariembourg has described me to the
Father Absinthe made no response, for just then the two men came out of
the house. May was jingling some coins in his hand, and seemed to be in
a very bad temper. "What infernal rascals these receivers are!" he
However, although he had only received a small sum for his clothing, he
probably felt that his companion's kindness deserved some reward; for
immediately afterward he proposed they should take a drink together, and
with that object in view they entered a wine-shop close by. They
remained here for more than an hour, drinking together; and only left
this establishment to enter one a hundred paces distant. Turned out by
the landlord, who was anxious to shut up, the two friends now took
refuge in the next one they found open. Here again they were soon turned
out and then they hurried to another boozing-den--and yet again to a
fifth. And so, after drinking innumerable bottles of wine, they
contrived to reach the Place Saint-Michel at about one o'clock in the
morning. Here, however, they found nothing to drink; for all the
wine-shops were closed.
The two men then held a consultation together, and, after a short
discussion, they walked arm-in-arm toward the Faubourg Saint-Germain,
like a pair of friends. The liquor they had imbibed was seemingly
producing its effect, for they often staggered in their walk, and talked
not merely loudly but both at the same time. In spite of the danger,
Lecoq advanced near enough to catch some fragments of their
conversation; and the words "a good stroke," and "money enough to
satisfy one," reached his ears.
Father Absinthe's confidence wavered. "All this will end badly," he
"Don't be alarmed," replied his friend. "I frankly confess that I don't
understand the maneuvres of these wily confederates, but what does that
matter after all; now the two men are together, I feel sure of
success--sure. If one runs away, the other will remain, and Gevrol shall
soon see which is right, he or I."
Meanwhile the two drunkards had slackened their pace. By the manner in
which they examined the magnificent mansions of the Faubourg
Saint-German, one might have suspected them of the very worst
intentions. In the Rue de Varrennes, at only a few steps from the Rue
de la Chaise, they suddenly paused before a wall of moderate height
surrounding an immense garden. The man in the slouch hat now did the
talking, and explained to May--as the detectives could tell by his
gestures--that the mansion to which the garden belonged had its front
entrance in the Rue de Grenelle.
"Bah!" growled Lecoq, "how much further will they carry this nonsense?"
They carried it farther than the young detective had ever imagined. May
suddenly sprang on to his companion's shoulders, and raised himself to
a level with the summit of the wall. An instant afterward a heavy thud
might have been heard. He had let himself drop into the garden. The man
in the slouch hat remained in the street to watch.
The enigmatical fugitive had accomplished this strange, inconceivable
design so swiftly that Lecoq had neither the time nor the desire to
oppose him. His amazement at this unexpected misfortune was so great
that for, an instant he could neither think nor move. But he quickly
regained his self-possession, and at once decided what was to be done.
With a sure eye he measured the distance separating him from May's
accomplice, and with three bounds he was upon him. The man in the
slouched hat attempted to shout, but an iron hand stifled the cry in his
throat. He tried to escape, and to beat off his assailant, but a
vigorous kick stretched him on the ground as if he had been a child.
Before he had time to think of further resistance he was bound, gagged,
and carried, half-suffocated, to the corner of the Rue de la Chaise. No