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IX

As he left Mlle. Lucienne's room,

"There is nothing more to keep me at the Hotel des Folies," said
the commissary of police to Maxence. "Every thing possible will be
done, and well done, by M. de Tregars. I am going home, therefore;
and I am going to take you with me. I have a great deal to do and
you'll help me."

That was not exactly true; but he feared, on the part of Maxence,
some imprudence which might compromise the success of M. de
Tregars' mission.

He was trying to think of every thing to leave as little as possible
to chance; like a man who has seen the best combined plans fail for
want of a trifling precaution.

Once in the yard, he opened the door of the lodge where the
honorable Fortins, man and wife, were deliberating, and exchanging
their conjectures, instead of going to bed. For they were
wonderfully puzzled by all those events that succeeded each other,
and anxious about all these goings and comings.

"I am going home," the commissary said to them; "but, before that,
listen to my instructions. You will allow no one, you understand,
- no one who is not known to you, to go up to Mlle. Lucienne's
room. And remember that I will admit of no excuse, and that you
must not come and tell me afterwards, 'It isn't our fault, we can't
see everybody that comes in,' and all that sort of nonsense."

He was speaking in that harsh and imperious tone of which
police-agents have the secret, when they are addressing people who
have, by their conduct, placed themselves under their dependence.

"We are going to close our front-door," replied the estimable
hotel-keepers. " We will comply strictly with your orders."

"I trust so; because, if you should disobey me, I should hear it,
and the result would be a serious trouble to you. Besides your
hotel being unmercifully closed up, you would find yourselves
implicated in a very bad piece of business.

The most ardent curiosity could be read in Mme. Fortin's little eyes.

"I understood at once," she began, "that something extraordinary
was going on."

But the commissary interrupted her,

"I have not done yet. It may be that to-night or to-morrow some
one will call and inquire how Mlle. Lucienne is."

"And then?"

"You will answer that she is as bad as possible; and that she has
neither spoken a word, nor recovered her senses, since the accident;
and that she will certainly not live through the day."

The effort which Mme. Fortin made to remain silent gave, better than
any thing else, an idea of the terror with which the commissary
inspired her.

"That is not all," he went on. "As soon as the person in question
has started off, you will follow him, without affectation, as far
as the street-door, and you will point him out with your finger,
here, like that, to one of my agents, who will happen to be on the
Boulevard."

"And suppose he should not be there?"

"He shall be there. You can make yourself easy on that score."

The looks of distress which the honorable hotel-keepers were
exchanging did not announce a very tranquil conscience.

"In other words, here we are under surveillance," said M. Fortin
with a groan. "What have we done to be thus mistrusted?"

To reply to him would have been a task more long than difficult.

"Do as I tell you," insisted the commissary harshly, "and don't
mind the rest, and, meantime, good-night."

He was right in trusting implicitly to his agent's punctuality;
for, as soon as he came out of the Hotel des Folies, a man passed
by him, and without seeming to address him, or even to recognize
him, said in a whisper,

"What news?"

Nothing," he replied, "except that the Fortins are notified. The
trap is well set. Keep your eyes open now, and spot any one who
comes to ask about Mlle. Lucienne.

And he hurried on, still followed by Maxence, who walked along like
a body without soul, tortured by the most frightful anguish.

As he had been away the whole evening, four or five persons were
waiting for him at his office on matters of current business. He
despatched them in less than no time; after which, addressing
himself to an agent on duty,

"This evening," he said, "at about nine o'clock, in a restaurant on
the Boulevard, a quarrel took place. A person tried to pick a
quarrel with another.

"You will proceed at once to that restaurant; you will get the
particulars of what took place; and you will ascertain exactly who
this man is, his name, his profession, and his residence."

Like a man accustomed to such errands,

"Can I have a description of him?" inquired the agent.

"Yes. He is a man past middle age, military bearing, heavy mustache,
ribbons in his buttonhole."

"Yes, I see: one of your regular fighting fellows."

"Very well. Go then. I shall not retire before your return. Ah,
I forgot; find out what they thought to-night on the 'street' about
the Mutual Credit affair, and what they said of the arrest of one
Saint Pavin, editor of 'The Financial Pilot,' and of a banker named
Jottras."

"Can I take a carriage?"

"Do so."

The agent started; and he was not fairly out of the house, when the
commissary, opening a door which gave into a small study, called,
"Felix!

It was his secretary, a man of about thirty, blonde, with a gentle
and timid countenance, having, with his long coat, somewhat the
appearance of a theological student. He appeared immediately.

"You call me, sir?"

"My dear Felix," replied the commissary, "I have seen you, sometimes,
imitate very nicely all sorts of hand-writings."

The secretary blushed very much, no doubt on account of Maxence, who
was sitting by the side of his employer. He was a very honest
fellow; but there are certain little talents of which people do not
like to boast; and the talent of imitating the writing of others is
of the number, for the reason, that, fatally and at once, it suggests
the idea of forgery.

"It was only for fun that I used to do that, sir," he stammered.

"Would you be here if it had been otherwise?" said the commissary.
"Only this time it is not for fun, but to do me a favor that I
wish you to try again."

And, taking out of his pocket the letter taken by M. de Tregars
from the man in the restaurant,

"Examine this writing," he said. "and see whether you feel capable
of imitating it tolerably well."

Spreading the letter under the full light of the lamp, the secretary
spent at least two minutes examining it with the minute attention of
an expert. And at the same time he was muttering,

"Not at all convenient, this. Hard writing to imitate. Not a
salient feature, not a characteristic sign! Nothing to strike the
eye, or attract attention. It must be some old lawyer's clerk who
wrote this."

In spite of his anxiety of mind, the commissary smiled.

"I shouldn't be surprised if you had guessed right."

Thus encouraged,

"At any rate." Felix declared, "I am going to try."

He took a pen, and, after trying a dozen times,

"How is this?" he asked, holding out a sheet of paper.

The commissary carefully compared the original with the copy.

"It is not perfect," he murmured; "but at night, with the imagination
excited by a great peril - Besides, we must risk something."

"If I had a few hours to practise!"

"But you have not. Come, take up your pen, and write as well as
you can, in that same hand, what I am going to tell you."

And after a moment's thought, he dictated as follows

"All goes well. T. drawn into a quarrel, is to fight in the morning
with swords. But our man, whom I cannot leave, refuses to go ahead,
unless he is paid two thousand francs before the duel. I have not
the amount. Please hand it to the bearer, who has orders to wait
for you."

The commissary, leaning over his secretary's shoulder, was following
his hand, and, the last word being written,

"Perfect! "he exclaimed. "Now quick, the address: Mme. le Baronne
de Thaller, Rue de le Pepiniere."

There are professions which extinguish, in those who exercise them,
all curiosity. It is with the most complete indifference, and
without asking a question, that the secretary had done what he had
been requested.

"Now, my dear Felix," resumed the commissary, you will please get
yourself up as near as possible like a restaurant-waiter, and take
this letter to its address."

"At this hour!"

"Yes. The Baroness de Thaller is out to a ball. You will tell the
servants that you are bringing her an answer concerning an important
matter. They know nothing about it; but they will allow you to wait
for their mistress in the porter's lodge. As soon as she comes in,
you will hand her the letter, stating that two gentlemen who are
taking supper in your restaurant are waiting for the answer. It may
be that she will exclaim that you are a scoundrel, that she does not
know what it means: in that case, we shall have been anticipated, and
you must get away as fast as you can. But the chances are, that she
will give you two thousand francs; and then you must so manage, that
she will be seen plainly when she does it. Is it all understood?"

Perfectly."

"Go ahead, then, and do not lose a minute. I shall wait."

Away from Mlle. Lucienne, Maxence had gradually been recalled to
the strangeness of the situation; and it was with a mingled feeling
of curiosity and surprise that he observed the commissary acting
and bustling about.

The good man had found again all the activity of his youth, together
with that fever of hope and that impatience of success, which
usually disappear with age.

He was going over the whole of the case again, - his first meeting
with Mlle. Lucienne, the various attempts upon her life; and he had
just taken out of the file the letter of information which had been
intrusted to him, in order to compare the writing with that of the
letter taken from his adversary by M. de Tregars, when the latter
came in all out of breath.

"Zelie has spoken!" he said.

And, at once addressing Maxence,

"You, my dear friend," he resumed, "you must run to the Hotel des
Folies."

"Is Lucienne worse?"

"No. Lucienne is getting on well enough. Zelie has spoken; but
there is no certainty, that, after due reflection, she will not
repent, and go and give the alarm. You will return, therefore,
and you will not lose sight of her until I call for her in the
morning. If she wishes to go out, you must prevent her."

The commissary had understood the importance of the precaution.

"You must prevent her," he added, "even by force; and I authorize
you, if need be, to call upon the agent whom I have placed on duty,
watching the Hotel des Folies, and to whom I am going to send word
immediately."

Maxence started off on a run.

"Poor fellow!" murmured Marius, "I know where your father is. What
are we going to learn now?"

He had scarcely had time to communicate the information he had
received from Mme. Cadelle, when the first of the commissary's
emissaries made his appearance.

"The commission is done," he said, in that confident tone of a man
who thinks he has successfully accomplished a difficult task.

"You know the name of the individual who sought a quarrel with M.
de Tregars?"

"His name is Corvi. He is well known in all the tables d'hote,
where there are women, and where they deal a healthy little game
after dinner. I know him well too. He is a bad fellow, who passes
himself off for a former superior officer in the Italian army.

"His address?"

"He lives at Rue de la Michodiere, in a furnished house. I went
there. The porter told me that my man had just gone out with an
ill-looking individual, and that they must be in a little caf on
the corner of the next street. I ran there, and found my two
fellows drinking beer."

"Won't they give us the slip?"

"No danger of that: I have got them fixed."

"How is that?"

"It is an idea of mine. I just thought, 'Suppose they put off?'
And at once I went to notify some policemen, and I returned to
station myself near the caf . It was just closing up. My two
fellows came out: I picked a quarrel with them; and now they are
in the station-house, well recommended."

The commissary knit his brows.

"That's almost too much zeal," he murmured. "Well, what's done is
done. Did you make any inquiries about the Saint Pavin and Jottras
matter?"

"I had no time, it was too late. You forget, perhaps, sir, that it
is nearly two o'clock."

Just as he got through, the secretary who had been sent to the Rue
de la Pepiniere came in.

"Well?" inquired the commissary, not without evident anxiety.

"I waited for Mme. de Thaller over an hour," he said. "When she
came home, I gave her the letter. She read it; and, in presence of
a number of her servants, she handed me these two thousand francs."

At the sight of the bank notes, the commissary jumped to his feet.

"Now we have it!" he exclaimed. "Here is the proof that we wanted."





Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau
Category:
General Fiction
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