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IV

The commissaries of police of Paris, as a general thing, are no
simpletons; and, if they are ever taken in, it is because it has
suited them to be taken in.

Their modest title covers the most important, perhaps, of
magistracies, almost the only one known to the lower classes; an
enormous power, and an influence so decisive, that the most sensible
statesman of the reign of Louis Philippe ventured once to say, "Give
me twenty good commissaries of police in Paris, and I'll undertake
to suppress any government: net profit, one hundred millions."

Parisian above all, the commissary has had ample time to study his
ground when he was yet only a peace-officer. The dark side of the
most brilliant lives has no mysteries for him. He has received the
strangest confidences: he has listened to the most astounding
confessions. He knows how low humanity can stoop, and what
aberrations there are in brains apparently the soundest. The
work woman whom her husband beats, and the great lady whom her husband
cheats, have both come to him. He has been sent for by the
shop-keeper whom his wife deceives, and by the millionaire who has
been blackmailed. To his office, as to a lay confessional, all
passions fatally lead. In his presence the dirty linen of two
millions of people is washed en famille.

A Paris commissary of police, who after ten years practice, could
retain an illusion, believe in something, or be astonished at any
thing in the world, would be but a fool. If he is still capable
of some emotion, he is a good man.

The one who had just walked into M. Favoral's apartment was already
past middle age, colder than ice, and yet kindly, but of that
commonplace kindliness which frightens like the executioner's
politeness at the scaffold.

He required but a single glance of his small but clear eyes to
decipher the physiognomies of all these worthy people standing
around the disordered table. And beckoning to the agents who
accompanied him to stop at the door, - "Monsieur Vincent Favoral?"
he inquired. The cashier's guests, M. Desormeaux excepted,
seemed stricken with stupor. Each one felt as if he had a share
of the disgrace of this police invasion. The dupes who are
sometimes caught in clandestine "hells" have the same humiliated
attitudes.

At last, and not without an effort,

"M. Favoral is no longer here," replied M. Chapelain, the old
lawyer.

The commissary of police started. Whilst they were discussing with
him through the door, he had perfectly well understood that they
were only trying to gain time; and, if he had not at once burst in
the door, it was solely owing to his respect for M. Desormeaux
himself, whom he knew personally, and still more for his title of
head clerk at the Department of Justice. But his suspicions did
not extend beyond the destruction of a few compromising papers.
Whereas, in fact:

"You have helped M. Favoral to escape, gentlemen?" said he.

No one replied.

"Silence means assent," he added. "Very well: which way did he get
off?"

Still no answer. M. Desciavettes would have been glad to add
something to the forty-five thousand francs he had just lost, to be,
together with Mme. Desclavettes, a hundred miles away.

"Where is Mme. Favoral?" resumed the commissary, evidently well
informed. "Where are Mme. Gilberte and M. Maxence Favoral?"

They continued silent. No one in the dining-room knew what might
have taken place in the other room; and a single word might be treason.

The commissary then became impatient.

"Take up a light," said he to one of the agents who had remained at
the door, "and follow me. We shall see."

And without a shadow of hesitation, for it seems to be the privilege
of police-agents to be at home everywhere, he crossed the parlor,
and reached Mme. Gilberte's room just as she was withdrawing from
the window.

"Ah, it is that way he escaped!" he exclaimed.

He rushed to the window, and remained long enough leaning on his
elbows to thoroughly examine the ground, and understand the situation
of the apartment.

"It's evident," he said at last, "this window opens on the courtyard
of the next house.

This was said to one of his agents, who bore an unmistakable
resemblance to the servant who had been asking so many questions in
the afternoon.

"Instead of gathering so much useless information," he added, "why
did you not post yourself as to the outlets of the house?"

He was "sold; " and yet he manifested neither spite nor anger. He
seemed in no wise anxious to run after the fugitive. Upon the
features of Maxence and of Mme. Gilberte, and more still in Mme.
Favoral's eyes, he had read that it would be useless for the present.

"Let us examine the papers, then," said he.

"My husband's papers are all in his study," replied Mme. Favoral.

"Please lead me to it, madame."

The room which M. Favoral called loftily his study was a small room
with a tile floor, white-washed walls, and meanly lighted through a
narrow transom.

It was furnished with an old desk, a small wardrobe with grated door,
a few shelves upon which were piled some bandboxes and bundles of
old newspapers, and two or three deal chairs.

"Where are the keys?" inquired the commissary of police.

"My father always carries them in his pocket, sir," replied Maxence.

"Then let some one go for a locksmith." Stronger than fear,
curiosity had drawn all the guests of the cashier of the Mutual
Credit Society, M. Desormeaux, M. Chapelain, M. Desclavettes himself;
and, standing within the door-frame, they followed eagerly every
motion of the commissary, who, pending the arrival of the locksmith,
was making a flying examination of the bundles of papers left exposed
upon the desk.

After a while, and unable to hold in any longer:

"Would it be indiscreet," timidly inquired the old bronze-merchant,
"to ask the nature of the charges against that poor Favoral?"

"Embezzlement, sir."

"And is the amount large?"

"Had it been small, I should have said theft. Embezzling commences
only when the sum has reached a round figure."

Annoyed at the sardonic tone of the commissary:

"The fact is," resumed M. Chapelain, "Favoral was our friend; and,
if we could get him out of the scrape, we would all willingly
contribute."

"It's a matter of ten or twelve millions, gentlemen." Was it
possible? Was it even likely? Could any one imagine so many
millions slipping through the fingers of M. de Thaller's methodic
cashier?

"Ah, sir!" exclaimed Mme. Favoral, "if any thing could relieve my
feelings, the enormity of that sum would. My husband was a man of
simple and modest tastes."

The commissary shook his head.

"There are certain passions," he interrupted, "which nothing betrays
externally. Gambling is more terrible than fire. After a fire, some
charred remnants are found. What is there left after a lost game?
Fortunes may be thrown into the vortex of the bourse, without a trace
of them being left."

The unfortunate woman was not convinced.

"I could swear, sir," she protested, "that I knew how my husband
spent every hour of his life."

"Do not swear, madame."

"All our friends will tell you how parsimonious my husband was."

"Here, madame, towards yourself and your children, I have no doubt;
for seeing is believing: but elsewhere -"

He was interrupted by the arrival of the locksmith, who, in less
than five minutes, had picked all the locks of the old desk.

But in vain did the commissary search all the drawers. He found
only those useless papers which are made relics of by people who
have made order their religious faith, - uninteresting, letters,
grocers' and butchers' bills running back twenty years.

"It is a waste of time to look for any thing here," he growled.

And in fact he was about to give up his perquisitions, when a bundle
thinner than the rest attracted his attention. He cut the thread
that bound it; and almost at once:

"I knew I was right he said. And holding out a paper to Mme. Favoral:

"Read, madame, if you please."

It was a bill. She read thus:

"Sold to M. Favoral an India Cashmere, fr.8,5oo.
Received payment, FORBE & Towler."

"Is it for you, madame," asked the commissary, "that this magnificent
shawl was bought?"

Stupefied with astonishment, the poor woman still refused to admit
the evidence.

"Madame de Thaller spends a great deal," she stammered. "My husband
often made important purchases for her account."

"Often, indeed!" interrupted the commissary of police; " for here
are many other receipted bills, - earrings, sixteen thousand francs;
a bracelet, three thousand francs; a parlor set, a horse, two velvet
dresses. Here is a part, at least, if not the whole, of the ten
millions."





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