Part 6 out of 6
sound had been heard; not a word, not an ejaculation, not even a noise
of shuffling--nothing. Any suspicious sound might have reached May, on
the other side of the wall, and warned him of what was going on.
"How strange," murmured Father Absinthe, too much amazed to lend a
helping hand to his younger colleague. "How strange! Who would have
"Enough! enough!" interrupted Lecoq, in that harsh, imperious voice,
which imminent peril always gives to energetic men. "Enough!--we will
talk to-morrow. I must run away for a minute, and you will remain here.
If May shows himself, capture him; don't allow him to escape."
"I understand; but what is to be done with the man who is lying there?"
"Leave him where he is. I have bound him securely, so there is nothing
to fear. When the night-police pass, we will give him into charge--"
He paused and listened. A short way down the street, heavy, measured
footsteps could be heard approaching.
"There they come," said Father Absinthe.
"Ah! I dared not hope it! I shall have a good chance now."
At the same moment, two sergeants de ville, whose attention had been
attracted by this group at the street corner, hastened toward them. In
a few words, Lecoq explained the situation, and it was decided that one
of the sergeants should take the accomplice to the station-house, while
the other remained with Father Absinthe to cut off May's retreat.
"And now," said Lecoq, "I will run round to the Rue de Grenelle and give
the alarm. To whose house does this garden belong?"
"What!" replied one of the sergeants in surprise, "don't you know the
gardens of the Duke de Sairmeuse, the famous duke who is a millionaire
ten times over, and who was formerly the friend--"
"Ah, yes, I know, I know!" said Lecoq.
"The thief," resumed the sergeant, "walked into a pretty trap when he
got over that wall. There was a reception at the mansion this evening,
as there is every Monday, and every one in the house is still up. The
guests are only just leaving, for there were five or six carriages still
at the door as we passed by."
Lecoq darted off extremely troubled by what he had just heard. It now
seemed to him that if May had got into this garden, it was not for the
purpose of committing a robbery, but in the hope of throwing his
pursuers off the track, and making his escape by way of the Rue de
Grenelle, which he hoped to do unnoticed, in the bustle and confusion
attending the departure of the guests.
On reaching the Hotel de Sairmeuse, a princely dwelling, the long facade
of which was brilliantly illuminated, Lecoq found a last carriage just
coming from the courtyard, while several footmen were extinguishing the
lights, and an imposing "Suisse," dazzling to behold in his gorgeous
livery, prepared to close the heavy double doors of the grand entrance.
The young detective advanced toward this important personage: "Is this
the Hotel de Sairmeuse?" he inquired.
The Suisse suspended his work to survey the audacious vagabond who
ventured to question him, and then in a harsh voice replied: "I advise
you to pass on. I want none of your jesting."
Lecoq had forgotten that he was clad as a barriere loafer. "Ah," he
rejoined, "I'm not what I seem to be. I'm an agent of the secret
service; by name Lecoq. Here is my card, and I came to tell you that an
escaped criminal has just scaled the garden wall in the rear of the
Hotel de Sairmeuse."
The young detective thought a little exaggeration could do no harm, and
might perhaps insure him more ready aid. "Yes," he replied; "and one of
the most dangerous kind--a man who has the blood of three victims
already on his hands. We have just arrested his accomplice, who helped
him over the wall."
The flunky's ruby nose paled perceptibly. "I will summon the servants,"
he faltered, and suiting the action to the word, he was raising his hand
to the bell-chain, employed to announce the arrival of visitors, when
Lecoq hastily stopped him.
"A word first!" said he. "Might not the fugitive have passed through the
house and escaped by this door, without being seen? In that case he
would be far away by this time."
"Excuse me, but I know what I am saying. First, the door opening into
the garden is closed; it is only open during grand receptions, not for
our ordinary Monday drawing-rooms. Secondly, Monseigneur requires me to
stand on the threshold of the street door when he is receiving. To-day
he repeated this order, and you may be sure that I haven't disobeyed
"Since that's the case," said Lecoq, slightly reassured, "we shall
perhaps succeed in finding our man. Warn the servants, but without
ringing the bell. The less noise we make, the greater will be our chance
In a moment the fifty servants who peopled the ante-rooms, stables, and
kitchens of the Hotel de Sairmeuse were gathered together. The great
lanterns in the coach houses and stables were lighted, and the entire
garden was illuminated as by enchantment.
"If May is concealed here," thought Lecoq, delighted to see so many
auxiliaries, "it will be impossible for him to escape."
But it was in vain that the gardens were thoroughly explored over and
over again; no one could be found. The sheds where gardening tools were
kept, the conservatories, the summer houses, the two rustic pavilions
at the foot of the garden, even the dog kennels, were scrupulously
visited, but all in vain. The trees, with the exception of some
horse-chestnuts at the rear of the garden, were almost destitute of
leaves, but they were not neglected on that account. An agile boy, armed
with a lantern, climbed each tree, and explored even the topmost
"The murderer must have left by the way he came," obstinately repeated
the Suisse who had armed himself with a huge pistol, and who would not
let go his hold on Lecoq, fearing an accident perhaps.
To convince the Suisse of his error it was necessary for the young
detective to place himself in communication with Father Absinthe and the
sergeant de ville on the other side of the wall. As Lecoq had expected,
the latter both replied that they had not once taken their eyes off the
wall, and that not even a mouse had crossed into the street.
The exploration had hitherto been conducted after a somewhat haphazard
fashion, each of the servants obeying his own inspiration; but the
necessity of a methodically conducted search was now recognized.
Accordingly, Lecoq took such measures that not a corner, not a recess,
could possibly escape scrutiny; and he was dividing the task between his
willing assistants, when a new-comer appeared upon the scene. This was
a grave, smooth-faced individual in the attire of a notary.
"Monsieur Otto, Monseigneur's first valet de chambre," the Suisse
murmured in Lecoq's ear.
This important personage came on behalf of Monsieur le Duc (he did not
say "Monseigneur") to inquire the meaning of all this uproar. When he
had received an explanation, M. Otto condescended to compliment Lecoq
on his efficiency, and to recommend that the house should be searched
from garret to cellar. These precautions alone would allay the fears of
Madame la Duchesse.
He then departed, and the search began again with renewed ardor. A mouse
concealed in the gardens of the Hotel de Sairmeuse could not have
escaped discovery, so minute were the investigations. Not a single
object of any size was left undisturbed. The trees were examined leaf
by leaf, one might almost say. Occasionally the discouraged servants
proposed to abandon the search; but Lecoq urged them on. He ran from one
to the other, entreating and threatening by turns, swearing that he
asked only one more effort, and that this effort would assuredly be
crowned with success. Vain promises! The fugitive could not be found.
The evidence was now conclusive. To persist in searching the garden any
longer would be worse than folly. Accordingly, the young detective
decided to recall his auxiliaries. "That's enough," he said, in a
despondent voice. "It is now certain that the criminal is no longer in
Was he cowering in some corner of the great house, white with fear, and
trembling at the noise made by his pursuers? One might reasonably
suppose this to be the case; and such was the opinion of the servants.
Above all, such was the opinion of the Suisse who renewed with growing
assurance his affirmations of a few moments before.
"I have not moved from the threshold of the house to-night," he said,
"and I should certainly have seen any person who passed out."
"Let us go into the house, then," said Lecoq. "But first let me ask my
companion, who is waiting for me in the street, to join me. It is
unnecessary for him to remain any longer where he is."
When Father Absinthe had responded to the summons all the lower doors
were carefully closed and guarded, and the search recommenced inside the
house, one of the largest and most magnificent residences of the
Faubourg Saint-Germain. But at this moment all the treasures of the
universe could not have won a single glance or a second's attention from
Lecoq. All his thoughts were occupied with the fugitive. He passed
through several superb drawing-rooms, along an unrivaled picture
gallery, across a magnificent dining-room, with sideboards groaning
beneath their load of massive plate, without paying the slightest
attention to the marvels of art and upholstery that were offered to his
view. He hurried on, accompanied by the servants who were guiding and
lighting him. He lifted heavy articles of furniture as easily as he
would have lifted a feather; he moved each chair and sofa from its
place, he explored each cupboard and wardrobe, and drew back in turns
all the wall-hangings, window-curtains, and portieres. A more complete
search would have been impossible. In each of the rooms and passages
that Lecoq entered not a nook was left unexplored, not a corner was
forgotten. At length, after two hours' continuous work, Lecoq returned
to the first floor. Only five or six servants had accompanied him on his
tour of inspection. The others had dropped off one by one, weary of this
adventure, which had at first possessed the attractions of a pleasure
"You have seen everything, gentlemen," declared an old footman.
"Everything!" interrupted the Suisse, "everything! Certainly not. There
are the private apartments of Monseigneur and those of Madame la
Duchesse still to be explored."
"Alas!" murmured Lecoq, "What good would it be?"
But the Suisse had already gone to rap gently at one of the doors
opening into the hall. His interest equaled that of the detectives. They
had seen the murderer enter; he had not seen him go out; therefore the
man was in the house and he wished him to be found.
The door at which he had knocked soon opened, and the grave,
clean-shaven face of Otto, the duke's first valet de chambre, showed
itself. "What the deuce do you want?" he asked in surly tones.
"To enter Monseigneur's room," replied the Suisse, "in order to see if
the fugitive has not taken refuge there."
"Are you crazy?" exclaimed the head valet de chambre. "How could any one
have entered here? Besides, I can't suffer Monsieur le Duc to be
disturbed. He has been at work all night, and he is just going to take
a bath before going to bed."
The Suisse seemed very vexed at this rebuff; and Lecoq was presenting
his excuses, when another voice was heard exclaiming. "Let these worthy
men do their duty, Otto."
"Ah! do you hear that!" exclaimed the Suisse triumphantly.
"Very well, since Monsieur le Duc permits it. Come in, I will light you
through the apartments."
Lecoq entered, but it was only for form's sake that he walked through
the different apartments; a library, an admirable study, and a charming
smoking-room. As he was passing through the bed-chamber, he had the
honor of seeing the Duc de Sairmeuse through the half-open door of a
small, white, marble bath-room.
"Ah, well!" cried the duke, affably, "is the fugitive still invisible?"
"Still invisible, monsieur," Lecoq respectfully replied.
The valet de chambre did not share his master's good humor. "I think,
gentlemen," said he, "that you may spare yourselves the trouble of
visiting the apartments of the duchess. It is a duty we have taken upon
ourselves--the women and I--and we have looked even in the bureau
Upon the landing the old footman, who had not ventured to enter his
master's apartments, was awaiting the detectives. He had doubtless
received his orders, for he politely inquired if they desired anything,
and if, after such a fatiguing night, they would not find some cold meat
and a glass of wine acceptable. Father Absinthe's eyes sparkled. He
probably thought that in this royal abode they must have delicious
things to eat and drink--such viands, indeed, as he had never tasted in
his life. But Lecoq civilly refused, and left the Hotel de Sairmeuse,
reluctantly followed by his old companion.
He was eager to be alone. For several hours he had been making immense
efforts to conceal his rage and despair. May escaped! vanished!
evaporated! The thought drove him almost mad. What he had declared to
be impossible had nevertheless occurred. In his confidence and pride,
he had sworn to answer for the prisoner's head with his own life; and
yet he had allowed him to slip between his fingers.
When he was once more in the street, he paused in front of Father
Absinthe, and crossing his arms, inquired: "Well, my friend, what do you
think of all this?"
The old detective shook his head, and in serene unconsciousness of his
want of tact, responded: "I think that Gevrol will chuckle with
At this mention of his most cruel enemy, Lecoq bounded from the ground
like a wounded bull. "Oh!" he exclaimed. "Gevrol has not won the battle
yet. We have lost May; it is a great misfortune; but his accomplice
remains in our hands. We hold the crafty man who has hitherto defeated
all our plans, no matter how carefully arranged. He is certainly shrewd
and devoted to his friend; but we will see if his devotion will
withstand the prospect of hard labor in the penitentiary. And that is
what awaits him, if he is silent, and if he thus accepts the
responsibility of aiding and abetting the fugitive's escape. Oh! I've
no fears--M. Segmuller will know how to draw the truth out of him."
So speaking, Lecoq brandished his clinched fist with a threatening air
and then, in calmer tones, he added: "But we must go to the
station-house where the accomplice was removed. I wish to question him
It was six o'clock, and the dawn was just breaking when Father Absinthe
and his companion reached the station-house, where they found the
superintendent seated at a small table, making out his report. He did
not move when they entered, failing to recognize them under their
disguises. But when they mentioned their names, he rose with evident
cordiality, and held out his hand.
"Upon my word!" said he, "I congratulate you on your capture last night."
Father Absinthe and Lecoq exchanged an anxious look. "What capture?"
they both asked in a breath.
"Why, that individual you sent me last night so carefully bound."
"Well, what about him?"
The superintendent burst into a hearty laugh. "So you are ignorant of
your good fortune," said he. "Ah! luck has favored you, and you will
receive a handsome reward."
"Pray tell us what we've captured?" asked Father Absinthe, impatiently.
"A scoundrel of the deepest dye, an escaped convict, who has been
missing for three months. You must have a description of him in your
pocket--Joseph Couturier, in short."
On hearing these words, Lecoq became so frightfully pale that Father
Absinthe, fearing he was going to faint, raised his arms to prevent his
falling. A chair stood close by, however, and on this Lecoq allowed
himself to drop. "Joseph Couturier," he faltered, evidently unconscious
of what he was saying. "Joseph Couturier! an escaped convict!"
The superintendent certainly did not understand Lecoq's agitation any
better than Father Absinthe's discomfited air.
"You have reason to be proud of your work; your success will make a
sensation this morning," he repeated. "You have captured a famous prize.
I can see Gevrol's nose now when he hears the news. Only yesterday he
was boasting that he alone was capable of securing this dangerous
After such an irreparable failure as that which had overtaken Lecoq, the
unintended irony of these compliments was bitter in the extreme. The
superintendent's words of praise fell on his ears like so many blows
from a sledge hammer.
"You must be mistaken," he eventually remarked, rising from his seat and
summoning all his energy to his assistance. "That man is not Couturier."
"Oh, I'm not mistaken; you may be quite sure of that. He fully answers
the description appended to the circular ordering his capture, and even
the little finger of his left hand is lacking, as is mentioned."
"Ah! that's a proof indeed!" groaned Father Absinthe.
"It is indeed. And I know another one more conclusive still. Couturier
is an old acquaintance of mine. I have had him in custody before; and
he recognized me last night just as I recognized him."
After this further argument was impossible; hence it was in an entirely
different tone that Lecoq remarked: "At least, my friend, you will allow
me to address a few questions to your prisoner."
"Oh! as many as you like. But first of all, let us bar the door and
place two of my men before it. This Couturier has a fondness for the
open air, and he wouldn't hesitate to dash out our brains if he only
saw a chance of escape."
After taking these precautions, the man was removed from the cage in
which he had been confined. He stepped forward with a smile on his face,
having already recovered that nonchalant manner common to old offenders
who, when in custody, seem to lose all feeling of anger against the
police. They are not unlike those gamblers who, after losing their last
halfpenny, nevertheless willingly shake hands with their adversary.
Couturier at once recognized Lecoq. "Ah!" said he, "It was you who did
that business last night. You can boast of having a solid fist! You fell
upon me very unexpectedly; and the back of my neck is still the worse
for your clutch."
"Then, if I were to ask a favor of you, you wouldn't be disposed to
"Oh, yes! all the same. I have no more malice in my composition than a
chicken; and I rather like your face. What do you want of me?"
"I should like to have some information about the man who accompanied
you last night."
Couturier's face darkened. "I am really unable to give you any," he
"Because I don't know him. I never saw him before last night."
"It's hard to believe that. A fellow doesn't enlist the first-comer for
an expedition like yours last evening. Before undertaking such a job
with a man, one finds out something about him."
"I don't say I haven't been guilty of a stupid blunder," replied
Couturier. "Indeed I could murder myself for it, but there was nothing
about the man to make me suspect that he belonged to the secret-service.
He spread a net for me, and I jumped into it. It was made for me, of
course; but it wasn't necessary for me to put my foot into it."
"You are mistaken, my man," said Lecoq. "The individual in question
didn't belong to the police force. I pledge you my word of honor, he
For a moment Couturier surveyed Lecoq with a knowing air, as if he hoped
to discover whether he were speaking the truth or attempting to deceive
him. "I believe you," he said at last. "And to prove it I'll tell you
how it happened. I was dining alone last evening in a restaurant in the
Rue Mouffetard, when that man came in and took a seat beside me.
Naturally we began to talk; and I thought him a very good sort of a
fellow. I forget how it began, but somehow or other he mentioned that
he had some clothes he wanted to sell; and being glad to oblige him, I
took him to a friend, who bought them from him. It was doing him a good
turn, wasn't it? Well, he offered me something to drink, and I returned
the compliment. We had a number of glasses together, and by midnight I
began to see double. He then began to propose a plan, which, he swore,
would make us both rich. It was to steal the plate from a superb
mansion. There would be no risk for me; he would take charge of the
"I had only to help him over the wall, and keep watch. The proposal was
tempting--was it not? You would have thought so, if you had been in my
place, and yet I hesitated. But the fellow insisted. He swore that he
was acquainted with the habits of the house; that Monday evening was a
grand gala night there, and that on these occasions the servants didn't
lock up the plate. After a little while I consented."
A fleeting flush tinged Lecoq's pale cheeks. "Are you sure he told you
that the Duc de Sairmeuse received every Monday evening?" he asked,
"Certainly; how else could I have known it! He even mentioned the name
you uttered just now, a name ending in 'euse.'"
A strange thought had just flitted through Lecoq's mind.
"What if May and the Duc de Sairmeuse should be one and the same
person?" But the notion seemed so thoroughly absurd, so utterly
inadmissible that he quickly dismissed it, despising himself even for
having entertained it for a single instant. He cursed his inveterate
inclination always to look at events from a romantic impossible side,
instead of considering them as natural commonplace incidents. After all
there was nothing surprising in the fact that a man of the world, such
as he supposed May to be, should know the day set aside by the Duc de
Sairmeuse for the reception of his friends.
The young detective had nothing more to expect from Couturier. He
thanked him, and after shaking hands with the superintendent, walked
away, leaning on Father Absinthe's arm. For he really had need of
support. His legs trembled, his head whirled, and he felt sick both in
body and in mind. He had failed miserably, disgracefully. He had
flattered himself that he possessed a genius for his calling, and yet
he had been easily outwitted.
To rid himself of pursuit, May had only had to invent a pretended
accomplice, and this simple stratagem had sufficed to nonplus those who
were on his trail.
Father Absinthe was rendered uneasy by his colleague's evident
dejection. "Where are we going?" he inquired; "to the Palais de Justice,
or to the Prefecture de Police?"
Lecoq shuddered on hearing this question, which brought him face to face
with the horrible reality of his situation. "To the Prefecture!" he
responded. "Why should I go there? To expose myself to Gevrol's insults,
perhaps? I haven't courage enough for that. Nor do I feel that I have
strength to go to M. Segmuller and say: 'Forgive me: you have judged me
too favorably. I am a fool!'"
"What are we to do?"
"Ah! I don't know. Perhaps I shall embark for America--perhaps I shall
throw myself into the river."
He had walked about a hundred yards when suddenly he stopped short.
"No!" he exclaimed, with a furious stamp of his foot. "No, this affair
shan't end like this. I have sworn to have the solution of the
enigma--and I will have it!" For a moment he reflected; then, in a
calmer voice, he added: "There is one man who can save us, a man who
will see what I haven't been able to discern, who will understand things
that I couldn't. Let us go and ask his advice, my course will depend on
After such a day and such a night, it might have been expected that
these two men would have felt an irresistible desire to sleep and rest.
But Lecoq was sustained by wounded vanity, intense disappointment, and
yet unextinguished hope of revenge: while poor Father Absinthe was not
unlike some luckless cab-horse, which, having forgotten there is such
a thing as repose, is no longer conscious of fatigue, but travels on
until he falls down dead. The old detective felt that his limbs were
failing him; but Lecoq said: "It is necessary," and so he walked on.
They both went to Lecoq's lodgings, where they laid aside their
disguises and made themselves trim. Then after breakfasting they hastily
betook themselves to the Rue St. Lazare, where, entering one of the most
stylish houses in the street, Lecoq inquired of the concierge: "Is M.
Tabaret at home?"
"Yes, but he's ill," was the reply.
"Very ill?" asked Lecoq anxiously.
"It is hard to tell," replied the man: "it is his old complaint--gout."
And with an air of hypocritical commiseration, he added: "M. Tabaret is
not wise to lead the life he does. Women are very well in a way, but at
The two detectives exchanged a meaning glance, and as soon as they were
out of hearing burst out laughing. Their hilarity had scarcely ceased
when they reached the first floor, and rang the bell at the door of one
of the apartments. The buxom-looking woman who appeared in answer to his
summons, informed them that her master would receive them, although he
was confined to his bed. "However, the doctor is with him now," she
added. "But perhaps the gentlemen would not mind waiting until he has
gone?" The gentlemen replying in the affirmative, she then conducted
them into a handsome library, and invited them to sit down.
The person whom Lecoq had come to consult was a man celebrated for
wonderful shrewdness and penetration, well-nigh exceeding the bounds of
possibility. For five-and-forty years he had held a petty post in one
of the offices of the Mont de Piete, just managing to exist upon the
meagre stipend he received. Suddenly enriched by the death of a
relative, of whom he had scarcely ever heard, he immediately resigned
his functions, and the very next day began to long for the same
employment he had so often anathematized. In his endeavors to divert his
mind, he began to collect old books, and heaped up mountains of
tattered, worm-eaten volumes in immense oak bookcases. But despite this
pastime to many so attractive, he could not shake off his weariness. He
grew thin and yellow, and his income of forty thousand francs was
literally killing him, when a sudden inspiration came to his relief. It
came to him one evening after reading the memoirs of a celebrated
detective, one of those men of subtle penetration, soft as silk, and
supple as steel, whom justice sometimes sets upon the trail of crime.
"And I also am a detective!" he exclaimed.
This, however, he must prove. From that day forward he perused with
feverish interest every book he could find that had any connection with
the organization of the police service and the investigation of crime.
Reports and pamphlets, letters and memoirs, he eagerly turned from one
to the other, in his desire to master his subject. Such learning as he
might find in books did not suffice, however, to perfect his education.
Hence, whenever a crime came to his knowledge he started out in quest
of the particulars and worked up the case by himself.
Soon these platonic investigations did not suffice, and one evening, at
dusk, he summoned all his resolution, and, going on foot to the
Prefecture de Police, humbly begged employment from the officials there.
He was not very favorably received, for applicants were numerous. But
he pleaded his cause so adroitly that at last he was charged with some
trifling commissions. He performed them admirably. The great difficulty
was then overcome. Other matters were entrusted to him, and he soon
displayed a wonderful aptitude for his chosen work.
The case of Madame B----, the rich banker's wife, made him virtually
famous. Consulted at a moment when the police had abandoned all hope of
solving the mystery, he proved by A plus B--by a mathematical deduction,
so to speak--that the dear lady must have stolen her own property; and
events soon proved that he had told the truth. After this success he was
always called upon to advise in obscure and difficult cases.
It would be difficult to tell his exact status at the Prefecture. When
a person is employed, salary or compensation of some kind is understood,
but this strange man had never consented to receive a penny. What he did
he did for his own pleasure--for the gratification of a passion which
had become his very life. When the funds allowed him for expenses seemed
insufficient, he at once opened his private purse; and the men who
worked with him never went away without some substantial token of his
liberality. Of course, such a man had many enemies. He did as much
work--and far better work than any two inspectors of police; and he
didn't receive a sou of salary. Hence, in calling him "spoil-trade," his
rivals were not far from right.
Whenever any one ventured to mention his name favorably in Gevrol's
presence, the jealous inspector could scarcely control himself, and
retorted by denouncing an unfortunate mistake which this remarkable man
once made. Inclined to obstinacy, like all enthusiastic men, he had
indeed once effected the conviction of an innocent prisoner--a poor
little tailor, who was accused of killing his wife. This single error
(a grievous one no doubt), in a career of some duration, had the effect
of cooling his ardor perceptibly; and subsequently he seldom visited the
Prefecture. But yet he remained "the oracle," after the fashion of those
great advocates who, tired of practise at the bar, still win great and
glorious triumphs in their consulting rooms, lending to others the
weapons they no longer care to wield themselves.
When the authorities were undecided what course to pursue in some great
case, they invariably said: "Let us go and consult Tirauclair." For this
was the name by which he was most generally known: a sobriquet derived
from a phrase which was always on his lips. He was constantly saying:
"/Il faut que cela se tire au clair/: That must be brought to light."
Hence, the not altogether inappropriate appellation of "Pere
Tirauclair," or "Father Bring-to-Light."
Perhaps this sobriquet assisted him in keeping his occupation secret
from his friends among the general public. At all events they never
suspected them. His disturbed life when he was working up a case, the
strange visitors he received, his frequent and prolonged absences from
home, were all imputed to a very unreasonable inclination to gallantry.
His concierge was deceived as well as his friends, and laughing at his
supposed infatuation, disrespectfully called him an old libertine. It
was only the officials of the detective force who knew that Tirauclair
and Tabaret were one and the same person.
Lecoq was trying to gain hope and courage by reflecting on the career
of this eccentric man, when the buxom housekeeper reentered the library
and announced that the physician had left. At the same time she opened
a door and exclaimed: "This is the room; you gentlemen can enter now."
On a large canopied bed, sweating and panting beneath the weight of
numerous blankets, lay the two-faced oracle--Tirauclair, of the
Prefecture--Tabaret, of the Rue Saint Lazare. It was impossible to
believe that the owner of such a face, in which a look of stupidity was
mingled with one of perpetual astonishment, could possess superior
talent, or even an average amount of intelligence. With his retreating
forehead, and his immense ears, his odious turned-up nose, tiny eyes,
and coarse, thick lips, M. Tabaret seemed an excellent type of the
ignorant, pennywise, petty rentier class. Whenever he took his walks
abroad, the juvenile street Arabs would impudently shout after him or
try to mimic his favorite grimace. And yet his ungainliness did not seem
to worry him in the least, while he appeared to take real pleasure in
increasing his appearance of stupidity, solacing himself with the
reflection that "he is not really a genius who seems to be one."
At the sight of the two detectives, whom he knew very well, his eyes
sparkled with pleasure. "Good morning, Lecoq, my boy," said he. "Good
morning, my old Absinthe. So you think enough down there of poor Papa
Tirauclair to come and see him?"
"We need your advice, Monsieur Tabaret."
"We have just been as completely outwitted as if we were babies in long
"What! was your man such a very cunning fellow?"
Lecoq heaved a sigh. "So cunning," he replied, "that, if I were
superstitious, I should say he was the devil himself."
The sick man's face wore a comical expression of envy. "What! you have
found a treasure like that," said he, "and you complain! Why, it is a
magnificent opportunity--a chance to be proud of! You see, my boys,
everything has degenerated in these days. The race of great criminals
is dying out--those who've succeeded the old stock are like counterfeit
coins. There's scarcely anything left outside a crowd of low offenders
who are not worth the shoe leather expended in pursuing them. It is
enough to disgust a detective, upon my word. No more trouble, emotion,
anxiety, or excitement. When a crime is committed nowadays, the criminal
is in jail the next morning, you've only to take the omnibus, and go to
the culprit's house and arrest him. He's always found, the more the
pity. But what has your fellow been up to?"
"He has killed three men."
"Oh! oh! oh!" said old Tabaret, in three different tones, plainly
implying that this criminal was evidently superior to others of his
species. "And where did this happen?"
"In a wine-shop near the barriere."
"Oh, yes, I recollect: a man named May. The murders were committed in
the Widow Chupin's cabin. I saw the case mentioned in the 'Gazette des
Tribunaux,' and your comrade, Fanferlot l'Ecureuil, who comes to see me,
told me you were strangely puzzled about the prisoner's identity. So you
are charged with investigating the affair? So much the better. Tell me
all about it, and I will assist you as well as I can."
Suddenly checking himself, and lowering his voice, Tirauclair added:
"But first of all, just do me the favor to get up. Now, wait a moment,
and when I motion you, open that door there, on the left, very suddenly.
Mariette, my housekeeper, who is curiosity incarnate, is standing there
listening. I hear her hair rubbing against the lock. Now!"
The young detective immediately obeyed, and Mariette, caught in the act,
hastened away, pursued by her master's sarcasms. "You might have known
that you couldn't succeed at that!" he shouted after her.
Although Lecoq and Father Absinthe were much nearer the door than old
Tirauclair, neither of them had heard the slightest sound; and they
looked at each other in astonishment, wondering whether their host had
been playing a little farce for their benefit, or whether his sense of
hearing was really so acute as this incident would seem to indicate.
"Now," said Tabaret, settling himself more comfortably upon his
pillows--"now I will listen to you, my boy. Mariette will not come back
On his way to Tabaret's, Lecoq had busied himself in preparing his
story; and it was in the clearest possible manner that he related all
the particulars, from the moment when Gevrol opened the door of the
Poivriere to the instant when May leaped over the garden wall in the
rear of the Hotel de Sairmeuse.
While the young detective was telling his story, old Tabaret seemed
completely transformed. His gout was entirely forgotten. According to
the different phases of the recital, he either turned and twisted on his
bed, uttering little cries of delight or disappointment, or else lay
motionless, plunged in the same kind of ecstatic reverie which
enthusiastic admirers of classical music yield themselves up to while
listening to one of the great Beethoven's divine sonatas.
"If I had been there! If only I had been there!" he murmured regretfully
every now and then through his set teeth, though when Lecoq's story was
finished, enthusiasm seemed decidedly to have gained the upper hand. "It
is beautiful! it is grand!" he exclaimed. "And with just that one
phrase: 'It is the Prussians who are coming,' for a starting point!
Lecoq, my boy, I must say that you have conducted this affair like an
"Don't you mean to say like a fool?" asked the discouraged detective.
"No, my friend, certainly not. You have rejoiced my old heart. I can
die; I shall have a successor. Ah! that Gevrol who betrayed you--for he
did betray you, there's no doubt about it--that obtuse, obstinate
'General' is not worthy to blacken your shoes!"
"You overpower me, Monsieur Tabaret!" interrupted Lecoq, as yet
uncertain whether his host was poking fun at him or not. "But it is none
the less true that May has disappeared, and I have lost my reputation
before I had begun to make it."
"Don't be in such a hurry to reject my compliments," replied old
Tabaret, with a horrible grimace. "I say that you have conducted this
investigation very well; but it could have been done much better, very
much better. You have a talent for your work, that's evident; but you
lack experience; you become elated by a trifling advantage, or
discouraged by a mere nothing; you fail, and yet persist in holding fast
to a fixed idea, as a moth flutters about a candle. Then, you are young.
But never mind that, it's a fault you will outgrow only too soon. And
now, to speak frankly, I must tell you that you have made a great many
Lecoq hung his head like a schoolboy receiving a reprimand from his
teacher. After all was he not a scholar, and was not this old man his
"I will now enumerate your mistakes," continued old Tabaret, "and I will
show you how, on at least three occasions, you allowed an opportunity
for solving this mystery to escape you."
"Pooh! pooh! my boy, let me talk a little while now. What axiom did you
start with? You said: 'Always distrust appearances; believe precisely
the contrary of what appears true, or even probable.'"
"Yes, that is exactly what I said to myself."
"And it was a very wise conclusion. With that idea in your lantern to
light your path, you ought to have gone straight to the truth. But you
are young, as I said before; and the very first circumstance you find
that seems at all probable you quite forget the rule which, as you
yourself admit, should have governed your conduct. As soon as you meet
a fact that seems even more than probable, you swallow it as eagerly as
a gudgeon swallows an angler's bait."
This comparison could but pique the young detective. "I don't think I've
been so simple as that," protested he.
"Bah! What did you think, then, when you heard that M. d'Escorval had
broken his leg in getting out of his carriage?"
"Believe! I believed what they told me, because--" He paused, and
Tirauclair burst into a hearty fit of laughter.
"You believed it," he said, "because it was a very plausible story."
"What would you have believed had you been in my place?"
"Exactly the opposite of what they told me. I might have been mistaken;
but it would be the logical conclusion as my first course of reasoning."
This conclusion was so bold that Lecoq was disconcerted. "What!" he
exclaimed; "do you suppose that M. d'Escorval's fall was only a fiction?
that he didn't break his leg?"
Old Tabaret's face suddenly assumed a serious expression. "I don't
suppose it," he replied; "I'm sure of it."
Lecoq's confidence in the oracle he was consulting was very great; but
even old Tirauclair might be mistaken, and what he had just said seemed
such an enormity, so completely beyond the bounds of possibility, that
the young man could not conceal a gesture of incredulous surprise.
"So, Monsieur Tabaret, you are ready to affirm that M. d'Escorval is in
quite as good health as Father Absinthe or myself; and that he has
confined himself to his room for a couple of months to give a semblance
of truth to a falsehood?"
"I would be willing to swear it."
"But what could possibly have been his object?"
Tabaret lifted his hands to heaven, as if imploring forgiveness for the
young man's stupidity. "And it was in you," he exclaimed, "in you that
I saw a successor, a disciple to whom I might transmit my method of
induction; and now, you ask me such a question as that! Reflect a moment.
Must I give you an example to assist you? Very well. Let it be so.
Suppose yourself a magistrate. A crime is committed; you are charged with
the duty of investigating it, and you visit the prisoner to question him.
Very well. This prisoner has, hitherto, succeeded in concealing his
identity--this was the case in the present instance, was it not? Very
well. Now, what would you do if, at the very first glance, you recognized
under the prisoner's disguise your best friend, or your worst enemy? What
would you do, I ask?"
"I should say to myself that a magistrate who is obliged to hesitate
between his duty and his inclinations, is placed in a very trying
position, and I should endeavor to avoid the responsibility."
"I understand that; but would you reveal this prisoner's
identity--remember, he might be your friend or your enemy?"
The question was so delicate that Lecoq remained silent for a moment,
reflecting before he replied.
The pause was interrupted by Father Absinthe. "I should reveal nothing
whatever!" he exclaimed. "I should remain absolutely neutral. I should
say to myself others are trying to discover this man's identity. Let
them do so if they can; but let my conscience be clear."
This was the cry of honesty; not the counsel of a casuist.
"I also should be silent," Lecoq at last replied; "and it seems to me
that, in holding my tongue, I should not fail in my duty as a
On hearing these words, Tabaret rubbed his hands together, as he always
did when he was about to present some overwhelming argument. "Such being
the case," said he, "do me the favor to tell me what pretext you would
invent in order to withdraw from the case without exciting suspicion?"
"I don't know; I can't say now. But if I were placed in such a position
I should find some excuse--invent something--"
"And if you could find nothing better," interrupted Tabaret, "you would
adopt M. d'Escorval's expedient; you would pretend you had broken a
limb. Only, as you are a clever fellow, you would sacrifice your arm;
it would be less inconvenient than your leg; and you wouldn't be
condemned to seclusion for several months."
"So, Monsieur Tabaret, you are convinced that M. d'Escorval knows who
May really is."
Old Tirauclair turned so suddenly in his bed that his forgotten gout
drew from him a terrible groan. "Can you doubt?" he exclaimed. "Can you
possibly doubt it? What proofs do you want then? What connection do you
see between the magistrate's fall and the prisoner's attempt at suicide?
I wasn't there as you were; I only know the story as you have told it
to me. I can't look at the facts with my own eyes, but according to your
statements, which are I suppose correct, this is what I understand. When
M. d'Escorval has completed his task at the Widow Chupin's house, he
comes to the prison to examine the supposed murderer. The two men
recognize each other. Had they been alone, mutual explanations might
have ensued, and affairs taken quite a different turn. But they were not
alone; a third party was present--M. d'Escorval's clerk. So they could
say nothing. The magistrate asked a few common-place questions, in a
troubled voice, and the prisoner, terribly agitated, replied as best he
could. Now, after leaving the cell, M. d'Escorval no doubt said to
himself: 'I can't investigate the offenses of a man I hate!' He was
certainly terribly perplexed. When you tried to speak to him, as he was
leaving the prison, he harshly told you to wait till the next day; and
a quarter of an hour later he pretended to fall down and break his leg."
"Then you think that M. d'Escorval and May are enemies?" inquired Lecoq.
"Don't the facts prove that beyond a doubt?" retorted Tabaret. "If they
had been friends, the magistrate might have acted in the same manner;
but then the prisoner wouldn't have attempted to strangle himself. But
thanks to you; his life was saved; for he owes his life to you. During
the night, confined in a straight-waistcoat, he was powerless to injure
himself. Ah! how he must have suffered that night! What agony! So, in
the morning, when he was conducted to the magistrate's room for
examination, it was with a sort of frenzy that he dashed into the
dreaded presence of his enemy. He expected to find M. d'Escorval there,
ready to triumph over his misfortunes; and he intended to say: 'Yes,
it's I. There is a fatality in it. I have killed three men, and I am in
your power. But there is a mortal feud between us, and for that very
reason you haven't the right to prolong my tortures! It would be
infamous cowardice if you did so.' However, instead of M. d'Escorval,
he sees M. Segmuller. Then what happens? He is surprised, and his eyes
betray the astonishment he feels when he realizes the generosity of his
enemy--an enemy from whom he had expected no indulgence. Then a smile
comes to his lips--a smile of hope; for he thinks, since M. d'Escorval
has not betrayed his secret, that he may be able to keep it, and emerge,
perhaps, from this shadow of shame and crime with his name and honor
Old Tabaret paused, and then, with a sudden change of tone and an
ironical gesture, he added: "And that--is my explanation."
Father Absinthe had risen, frantic with delight. "Cristi!" he exclaimed,
"that's it! that's it!"
Lecoq's approbation was none the less evident although unspoken. He
could appreciate this rapid and wonderful work of induction far better
than his companion.
For a moment or two old Tabaret reclined upon his pillows enjoying the
sweets of admiration; then he continued: "Do you wish for further
proofs, my boy? Recollect the perseverance M. d'Escorval displayed in
sending to M. Segmuller for information. I admit that a man may have a
passion for his profession; but not to such an extent as that. You
believed that his leg was broken. Then were you not surprised to find
a magistrate, with a broken limb, suffering mortal anguish, taking such
wonderful interest in a miserable murderer? I haven't any broken bones,
I've only got the gout; but I know very well that when I'm suffering,
half the world might be judging the other half, and yet the idea of
sending Mariette for information would never occur to me. Ah! a moment's
reflection would have enabled you to understand the reason of his
solicitude, and would probably have given you the key to the whole
Lecoq, who was such a brilliant casuist in the Widow Chupin's hovel, who
was so full of confidence in himself, and so earnest in expounding his
theories to simple Father Absinthe--Lecoq hung his head abashed and did
not utter a word. But he felt neither anger nor impatience.
He had come to ask advice, and was glad that it should be given him. He
had made many mistakes, as he now saw only too plainly; and when they
were pointed out to him he neither fumed nor fretted, nor tried to prove
that he had been right when he had been wrong. This was certainly an
excellent trait in his character.
Meanwhile, M. Tabaret had poured out a great glass of some cooling drink
and drained it. He now resumed: "I need not remind you of the mistake
you made in not compelling Toinon Chupin to tell you all she knew about
this affair while she was in your power. 'A bird in the hand'--you know
"Be assured, Monsieur Tabaret, that this mistake has cost me enough to
make me realize the danger of allowing a well-disposed witness's zeal
to cool down."
"We will say no more about that, then. But I must tell you that three
or four times, at least, it has been in your power to clear up this
The oracle paused, awaiting some protestation from his disciple. None
came, however. "If he says this," thought the young detective, "it must
indeed be so."
This discretion made a great impression on old Tabaret, and increased
the esteem he had conceived for Lecoq. "The first time that you were
lacking in discretion," said he, "was when you tried to discover the
owner of the diamond earring found at the Poivriere."
"I made every effort to discover the last owner."
"You tried very hard, I don't deny it; but as for making every
effort--that's quite another thing. For instance, when you heard that
the Baroness de Watchau was dead, and that all her property had been
sold, what did you do?"
"You know; I went immediately to the person who had charge of the sale."
"Very well! and afterwards?"
"I examined the catalogue; and as, among the jewels mentioned, I could
find none that answered the description of these diamonds, I knew that
the clue was quite lost."
"There is precisely where you are mistaken!" exclaimed old Tirauclair,
exultantly. "If such valuable jewels are not mentioned in the catalogue
of the sale, the Baroness de Watchau could not have possessed them at
the time of her death. And if she no longer possessed them she must have
given them away or sold them. And who could she have sold them to? To
one of her lady friends, very probably. For this reason, had I been in
your place, I should have found out the names of her intimate friends;
this would have been a very easy task; and then, I should have tried to
win the favor of all the lady's-maids in the service of these friends.
This would have only been a pastime for a good-looking young fellow like
you. Then, I should have shown this earring to each maid in succession
until I found one who said: 'That diamond belongs to my mistress,' or
one who was seized with a nervous trembling."
"And to think that this idea did not once occur to me!" ejaculated Lecoq.
"Wait, wait, I am coming to the second mistake you made," retorted the
oracle. "What did you do when you obtained possession of the trunk which
May pretended was his? Why you played directly into this cunning
adversary's hand. How could you fail to see that this trunk was only an
accessory article; a bit of 'property' got ready in 'mounting' the
'comedy'? You should have known that it could only have been deposited
with Madame Milner by the accomplice, and that all its contents must
have been purchased for the occasion."
"I knew this, of course; but even under these circumstances, what could
"What could you do, my boy? Well, I am only a poor old man, but I should
have interviewed every clothier in Paris; and at last some one would
have exclaimed: 'Those articles! Why, I sold them to an individual like
this or that--who purchased them for one of his friends whose measure
he brought with him.'"
Angry with himself, Lecoq struck his clenched hand violently upon the
table beside him. "Sacrebleu!" he exclaimed, "that method was
infallible, and so simple too! Ah! I shall never forgive myself for my
stupidity as long as I live!"
"Gently, gently!" interrupted old Tirauclair. "You are going too far,
my dear boy. Stupidity is not the proper word at all; you should say
carelessness, thoughtlessness. You are young--what else could one
expect? What is far less inexcusable is the manner in which you
conducted the chase, after the prisoner was allowed to escape."
"Alas!" murmured the young man, now completely discouraged; "did I
blunder in that?"
"Terribly, my son; and here is where I really blame you. What diabolical
influence induced you to follow May, step by step, like a common
This time Lecoq was stupefied. "Ought I to have allowed him to escape
me?" he inquired.
"No; but if I had been by your side in the gallery of the Odeon, when
you so clearly divined the prisoner's intentions, I should have said to
you: 'This fellow, friend Lecoq, will hasten to Madame Milner's house
to inform her of his escape. Let us run after him.' I shouldn't have
tried to prevent his seeing her, mind. But when he had left the Hotel
de Mariembourg, I should have added: 'Now, let him go where he chooses;
but attach yourself to Madame Milner; don't lose sight of her; cling to
her as closely as her own shadow, for she will lead you to the
accomplice--that is to say--to the solution of the mystery.'"
"That's the truth; I see it now."
"But instead of that, what did you do? You ran to the hotel, you
terrified the boy! When a fisherman has cast his bait and the fish are
swimming near, he doesn't sound a gong to frighten them all away!"
Thus it was that old Tabaret reviewed the entire course of investigation
and pursuit, remodeling it in accordance with his own method of
induction. Lecoq had originally had a magnificent inspiration. In his
first investigations he had displayed remarkable talent; and yet he had
not succeeded. Why? Simply because he had neglected the axiom with which
he started: "Always distrust what seems probable!"
But the young man listened to the oracle's "summing up" with divided
attention. A thousand projects were darting through his brain, and at
length he could no longer restrain himself. "You have saved me from
despair," he exclaimed, "I thought everything was lost; but I see that
my blunders can be repaired. What I neglected to do, I can do now; there
is still time. Haven't I the diamond earring, as well as various effects
belonging to the prisoner, still in my possession? Madame Milner still
owns the Hotel de Mariembourg, and I will watch her."
"And what for, my boy?"
"What for? Why, to find my fugitive, to be sure!"
Had the young detective been less engrossed with his idea, he would have
detected a slight smile that curved Papa Tirauclair's thick lips.
"Ah, my son! is it possible that you don't suspect the real name of this
pretended buffoon?" inquired the oracle somewhat despondently.
Lecoq trembled and averted his face. He did not wish Tabaret to see his
eyes. "No," he replied, "I don't suspect--"
"You are uttering a falsehood!" interrupted the sick man. "You know as
well as I do, that May resides in the Rue de Grenelle-Saint-Germain, and
that he is known as the Duc de Sairmeuse."
On hearing these words, Father Absinthe indulged in a hearty laugh: "Ah!
that's a good joke!" he exclaimed. "Ah, ha!"
Such was not Lecoq's opinion, however. "Well, yes, Monsieur Tabaret,"
said he, "the idea did occur to me; but I drove it away."
"And why, if you please?"
"Because you would not believe in the logical sequence of your premises;
but I am consistent, and I say that it seems impossible the murderer
arrested in the Widow Chupin's drinking den should be the Duc de
Sairmeuse. Hence, the murderer arrested there, May, the pretended
buffoon, is the Duc de Sairmeuse!"
How this idea had entered old Tabaret's head, Lecoq could not
understand. A vague suspicion had, it is true, flitted through his own
mind; but it was in a moment of despair when he was distracted at having
lost May, and when certain of Couturier's remarks furnished the excuse
for any ridiculous supposition. And yet now Father Tirauclair calmly
proclaimed this suspicion--which Lecoq had not dared seriously to
entertain, even for an instant--to be an undoubted fact.
"You look as if you had suddenly fallen from the clouds," exclaimed the
oracle, noticing his visitor's amazement. "Do you suppose that I spoke
at random like a parrot?"
"No, certainly not, but--"
"Tush! You are surprised because you know nothing of contemporary
history. If you don't wish to remain all your life a common detective,
like your friend Gevrol, you must read, and make yourself familiar with
all the leading events of the century."
"I must confess that I don't see the connection."
M. Tabaret did not deign to reply. Turning to Father Absinthe, he
requested the old detective, in the most affable tones, to go to the
library and fetch two large volumes entitled: "General Biography of the
Men of the Present Age," which he would find in the bookcase on the
right. Father Absinthe hastened to obey; and as soon as the books were
brought, M. Tabaret began turning the pages with an eager hand, like a
person seeking some word in a dictionary.
"Esbayron," he muttered, "Escars, Escayrac, Escher, Escodica--at last
we have it--Escorval! Listen attentively, my boy, and you will be
This injunction was entirely unnecessary. Never had the young
detective's faculties been more keenly on the alert. It was in an
emphatic voice that the sick man then read: "Escorval (Louis-Guillaume,
baron d').--Diplomatist and politician, born at Montaignac, December 3d,
1769; of an old family of lawyers. He was completing his studies in
Paris at the outbreak of the Revolution and embraced the popular cause
with all the ardor of youth. But, soon disapproving the excesses
committed in the name of Liberty, he sided with the Reactionists,
advised, perhaps, by Roederer, who was one of his relatives. Commended
to the favor of the First Counsel by M. de Talleyrand, he began his
diplomatic career with a mission to Switzerland; and during the
existence of the First Empire he was entrusted with many important
negotiations. Devoted to the Emperor, he found himself gravely
compromised at the advent of the Second Restoration. At the time of the
celebrated rising at Montaignac, he was arrested on the double charge
of high treason and conspiracy. He was tried by a military commission,
and condemned to death. The sentence was not executed, however. He owed
his life to the noble devotion and heroic energy of a priest, one of his
friends, the Abbe Midon, cure of the little village of Sairmeuse. The
baron d'Escorval had only one son, who embraced the judicial profession
at a very early age."
Lecoq was intensely disappointed. "I understand," he remarked. "This is
the biography of our magistrate's father. Only I don't see that it
teaches us anything."
An ironical smile curved old Tirauclair's lips. "It teaches us that M.
d'Escorval's father was condemned to death," he replied. "That's
something, I assure you. A little patience, and you will soon know
Having found a new leaf, he recommenced to read: "Sairmeuse
(Anne-Marie-Victor de Tingry, Duc de).--A French general and politician,
born at the chateau de Sairmeuse, near Montaignac, in 1758. The
Sairmeuse family is one of the oldest and most illustrious in France.
It must not be confounded with the ducal family of Sermeuse, whose name
is written with an 'e.' Leaving France at the beginning of the
Revolution, Anne de Sairmeuse began by serving in the army of Conde.
Some years later he offered his sword to Russia; and it is asserted by
some of his biographers that he was fighting in the Russian ranks at the
time of the disastrous retreat from Moscow. Returning to France with the
Bourbons, he became notorious by the intensity of his ultra-royalist
opinions. It is certain that he had the good fortune to regain
possession of his immense family estates; and the rank and dignities
which he had gained in foreign lands were confirmed. Appointed by the
king to preside at the military commission charged with arresting and
trying the conspirators of Montaignac his zeal and severity resulted in
the capture and conviction of all the parties implicated."
Lecoq sprang up with sparkling eyes. "I see it clearly now," he
exclaimed. "The father of the present Duc de Sairmeuse tried to have the
father of the present M. d'Escorval beheaded."
M. Tabaret was the picture of complacency. "You see the assistance
history gives," said he. "But I have not finished, my boy; the present
Duc de Sairmeuse also has his article which will be of interest to us.
So listen: Sairmeuse (Anne-Marie-Martial)--Son of the preceding, was
born in London toward the close of the last century; received his early
education in England, and completed it at the Court of Austria, which
he subsequently visited on several confidential missions. Heir to the
opinions, prejudices, and animosities of his father, he placed at the
service of his party a highly cultivated intellect, unusual penetration,
and extraordinary abilities. A leader at a time when political passion
was raging highest, he had the courage to assume the sole responsibility
of the most unpopular measures. The hostility he encountered, however
eventually obliged him to retire from office, leaving behind him
animosities likely to terminate only with his life."
The sick man closed the book, and with assumed modesty, he asked: "Ah,
well! What do you think of my little method of induction?"
But Lecoq was too much engrossed with his own thoughts to reply to this
question. "I think," he remarked, "that if the Duc de Sairmeuse had
disappeared for two months--the period of May's imprisonment, all Paris
would have known of it--and so--"
"You are dreaming," interrupted Tabaret. "Why with his wife and his
valet de chambre for accomplices, the duke could absent himself for a
year if he liked, and yet all his servants would believe him to be in
"I admit that," said Lecoq, at last; "but unfortunately, there is one
circumstance which completely upsets the theory we have built up so
"And what is that if you please?"
"If the man who took part in the broil at the Poivriere had been the Duc
de Sairmeuse, he would have disclosed his name--he would have declared
that, having been attacked, he had only defended himself--and his name
alone would have opened the prison doors. Instead of that, what did the
prisoner do? He attempted to kill himself. Would a grand seigneur, like
the Duc de Sairmeuse, to whom life must be a perpetual enchantment, have
thought of committing suicide?"
A mocking whistle from the old Tabaret interrupted the speaker. "You
seem to have forgotten the last sentence in his biography: 'M. Sairmeuse
leaves behind him ill-will and hatred.' Do you know the price he might
have been compelled to pay for his liberty! No--no more do I. To explain
his presence at the Poivriere, and the presence of a woman, who was
perhaps his wife, who knows what disgraceful secrets he would have been
obliged to reveal? Between shame and suicide, he chose suicide. He
wished to save his name and honor intact."
Old Tirauclair spoke with such vehemence that even Father Absinthe was
deeply impressed, although, to tell the truth, he had understood but
little of the conversation.
As for Lecoq, he rose very pale, his lips trembling a little. "You will
excuse my hypocrisy, Monsieur Tabaret," he said in an agitated voice.
"I only offered these last objections for form's sake. I had thought of
what you now say, but I distrusted myself, and I wanted to hear you say
it yourself." Then with an imperious gesture, he added: "Now, I know
what I have to do."
Old Tabaret raised his hands toward heaven with every sign of intense
dismay. "Unhappy man!" he exclaimed; "do you think of going to arrest
the Duc de Sairmeuse! Poor Lecoq! Free, this man is almost omnipotent,
and you, an infinitesimal agent of police, would be shattered as easily
as glass. Take care, my boy, don't attack the duke. I wouldn't be
responsible for the consequences. You might imperil your life."
The young detective shook his head. "Oh! I don't deceive myself," said
he. "I know that the duke is far beyond my reach--at least for the
present. But he will be in my power again, the day I learn his secret.
I don't fear danger; but I know, that if I am to succeed, I must conceal
myself, and so I will. Yes, I will remain in the shade until I can
unveil this mystery; but then I shall reappear in my true character. And
if May be really the Duc de Sairmeuse, I shall have my revenge."