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M. Plantat, in speaking of M. Domini's impatience, did not exaggerate the truth. That personage was furious; he could not comprehend the reason of the prolonged absence of his three fellow-workers of the previous evening. He had installed himself early in the morning in his cabinet, at the court-house, enveloped in his judicial robe; and he counted the minutes as they passed. His reflections during the night, far from shaking, had only confirmed his opinion. As he receded from the period of the crime, he found it very simple and natural - indeed, the easiest thing in the world to account for. He was annoyed that the rest did not share his convictions, and he awaited their report in a state of irritation which his clerk only too well perceived. He had eaten his breakfast in his cabinet, so as to be sure and be beforehand with M. Lecoq. It was a usless precaution; for the hours passed on and no one arrived.
To kill time, he sent for Guespin and Bertaud and questioned them anew, but learned nothing more than he had extracted from them the night before. One of the prisoners swore by all things sacred that he knew nothing except what he had already told ; the other preserved an obstinate and ferocious silence, confining himself to the remark: "I know that I am lost; do with me what you please."
M. Domini was just going to send a mounted gendarme to Orcival to find out the cause of the delay, when those whom he awaited were announced. He quickly gave the order to admit them, and so keen was his curiosity, despite what he called his dignity, that he got up and went forward to meet them.
"How late you are! "said he.
"And yet we haven't lost a minute," replied M. Plantat. "We haven't even been in bed."
"There is news, then? Has the count's body been found?"
"There is much news, Monsieur," said M. Lecoq. "But the count's body has not been found, and I dare even say that it will not be found - for the very simple fact that he has not been killed. The reason is that he was not one of the victims, as at first supposed, but the assassin.
At this distinct declaration on M. Lecoq's part, the judge started in his seat.
"Why, this is folly!" cried he.
M. Lecoq never smiled in a magistrate's presence. "I do not think so," said he, coolly; "I am persuaded that if Monsieur Domini will grant me his attention for half an hour I will have the honor of persuading him to share my opinion."
M. Domini's slight shrug of the shoulders did not escape the detective, but he calmly continued:
"More; I am sure that Monsieur Domini will not permit me to leave his cabinet without a warrant to arrest Count Hector de Tremorel, whom at present he thinks tobe dead."
"Possibly," said M. Domini. "Proceed."
M. Lecoq then rapidly detailed the facts gathered by himself and M. Plantat from the beginning of the inquest. He narrated them not as if he had guessed or been told of them, but in their order of time and in such a manner that each new incident which, he mentioned followed naturally from the preceding one. He had completely resumed his character of a retired haberdasher, with a little piping voice, and such obsequious expressions as, "I have the honor," and "If Monsieur the Judge will deign to permit me;" he resorted to the candy-box with the portrait, and, as the night before at Valfeuillu, chewed a lozenge when he came to the more striking points. M. Domini's surprise increased every minute as he proceeded; while at times, exclamations of astonishment passed his lips: "Is it possible?" "That is hard to believe!"
M. Lecoq finished his recital; he tranquilly munched a lozenge, and added:
"What does Monsieur the Judge of Instruction think now?"
M. Domini was fain to confess that he was almost satisfied. A man, however, never permits an opinion deliberately and carefully formed to be refuted by one whom he looks on as an inferior, without a secret chagrin. But in this case the evidence was too abundant, and too positive to be resisted.
"I am convinced," said he, "that a crime was committed on Monsieur Sauvresy with the dearly paid assistance of this Robelot. To-morrow I shall give instructions to Doctor Gendron to proceed at once to an exhumation and autopsy of the late master of Valfeuillu."
"And you may be sure that I shall find the poison," chimed in the doctor.
"Very well," resumed M. Domini. "But does it necessarily follow that because Monsieur Tremorel poisoned his friend to marry his widow, he yesterday killed his wife and then fled? I don't think so."
"Pardon me," objected Lecoq, gently. "It seems to me that Mademoiselle Courtois's supposed suicide proves at least something."
"That needs clearing up. This coincidence can only be a matter of pure chance."
"But I am sure that Monsieur Tremorel shaved himself - of that we have proof; then, we did not find the boots which, according to the valet, he put on the morning of the murder."
"Softly, softly," interrupted the judge. "I don't pretend that you are absolutely wrong; it must be as you say; only I give you my objections. Let us admit that Tremorel killed his wife, that he fled and is alive. Does that clear Guespin, and show that he took no part in the murder?"
This was evidently the flaw in Lecoq's case; but being convinced of Hector's guilt, he had given little heed to the poor gardener, thinking that his innocence would appear of itself when the real criminal was arrested. He was about to reply, when footsteps and voices were heard in the corridor.
"Stop," said M. Domini. "Doubtless we shall now hear something important about Guespin."
"Are you expecting some new witness?" asked M. Plantat.
"No; I expect one of the Corbeil police to whom I have given an important mission."
"Yes. Very early this morning a young working-woman of the town, whom Guespin has been courting, brougnt me an excellent pflotograph of him. I gave this portrait to the agent with instructions to go to the Vulcan's Forges and ascertain if Guespin had been seen there, and whether he bought anything there night before last."
M. Lecoq was inclined to be jealous; the judge's proceeding ruffled him, and he could not conceal an expressive grimace.
"I am truly grieved," said he, dryly, " that Monsieur the Judge has so little confidence in me that he thinks it necessary to give me assistance."
This sensitiveness aroused M. Domini, who replied:
"Eh! my dear man, you can't be everywhere at once. I think you very shrewd, but you were not here, and I was in a hurry."
"A false step is often irreparable."
"Make yourself easy; I've sent an intelligent man." At this moment the, door opened, and the policeman referred to by the judge appeared on the threshold. He was a muscular man about forty years old, with a military pose, a heavy mustache, and thick brows, meeting over the nose. He had a sly rather than a shrewd expression, so that his appearance alone seemed to awake all sorts of suspicions and put one instinctively on his guard.
"Good news!" said he in a big voice: "I didn't make the journey to Paris for the King of Prussia; we are right on the track of this rogue of a Guespin."
M. Domini encouraged him with an approving gesture.
"See here, Goulard," said he, "let us go on in order if we can. You went then, according to my instructions, to the Vulcan's Forges?"
"At once, Monsieur."
"Precisely. Had they seen the prisoner there?"
"Yes; on the evening of Wednesday, July 8th."
"At what hour?"
"About ten o'clock, a few minutes before they shut up; so that he was remarked, and the more distinctly observed."
The judge moved his lips as if to make an objection, but was stopped by a gesture from M. Lecoq.
"And who recognized the photograph?"
"Three of the clerks. Guespin's manner first attracted their attention. It was strange, so they said, and they thought he was drunk, or at least tipsy. Then their recollection was fixed by his talking very fast, saying that he was going to patronize them a great deal, and that if they would make a reduction in their prices he would procure for them the custom of an establishment whose confidence he possessed, the Gentil Jardinier, which bought a great many gardening tools."
M. Domini interrupted the examination to consult some papers which lay before him on his desk. It was, he found, the Gentil Jardinier which had procured Guespin his place in Tremorel's household. The judge remarked this aloud, and added:
"The question of identity seems to be settled. Guespin was undoubtedly at the Vulcan's Forges on Wednesday night."
"So much the better for him," M. Lecoq could not help muttering.
The judge heard him, but though the remark seemed singular to him he did not notice it, and went on questioning the agent.
"Well, did they tell you what Guespin went there to obtain?"
"The clerks recollected it perfectly. He first bought a hammer, a cold chisel, and a file."
"I knew it," exclaimed the judge. "And then?"
"Then - "
Here the man, ambitious to make a sensation among his hearers, rolled his eyes tragically, and in a dramatic tone, added:
"Then he bought a dirk knife!"
The judge felt that he was triumphing over M. Lecoq.
"Well," said he to the detective in his most ironical tone, "what do you think of your friend now? What do you say to this honest and worthy young man, who, on the very night of the crime, leaves a wedding where he would have had a good time, to go and buy a hammer, a chisel, and a dirk - everything, in short, used in the murder and the mutilation of the body?"
Dr. Gendron seemed a little disconcerted at this, but a sly smile overspread M. Plantat's face. As for M. Lecoq, he had the air of one who is shocked by objections which he knows he ought to annihilate by a word, and yet who is fain to be resigned to waste time in useless talk, which he might put to great profit.
"I think, Monsieur," said he, very humbly, "that the murderers at Valfeuillu did not use either a hammer or a chisel, or a file, and that they brought no instrument at all from outside - since they used a hammer."
"And didn't they have a dirk besides?" asked the judge in a bantering tone, confident that he was on the right path.
"That is another question, I confess ; but it is a difficult one to answer."
He began to lose patience. He turned toward the Corbeil policeman, and abruptly asked him:
"Is this all you know?"
The big man with the thick eyebrows superciliously eyed this little Parisian who dared to question him thus. He hesitated so long that M. Lecoq, more rudely than before, repeated his question.
"Yes, that's all," said Goulard at last, "and I think it's sufficient; the judge thinks so too; and he is the only person who gives me orders, and whose approbation I wish for."
M. Lecoq shrugged his shoulders, and proceeded:
"Let's see; did you ask what was the shape of the dirk bought by Guespin? Was it long or short, wide or narrow?"
"Faith, no. What was the use?"
"Simply, my brave fellow, to compare this weapon with the victim's wounds, and to see whether its handle corresponds to that which left a distinct and visible imprint between the victim's shoulders."
"I forgot it; but it is easily remedied."
"An oversight may, of course, be pardoned; but you can at least tell us in what sort of money Guespin paid for his purchases?"
The poor man seemed so embarrassed, humiliated, and vexed, that the judge hastened to his assistance.
"The money is of little consequence, it seems to me," said he.
"I beg you to excuse me I don't agree with you," returned M. Lecoq. "This matter may be a very grave one. What is the most serious evidence against Guespin? The money found in his pocket. Let us suppose for a moment that night before last, at ten o'clock, he changed a one-thousand-franc note in Paris. Could the obtaining of that note have been the motive of the crime at Valfeuillu? No, for up to that hour the crime had not been committed. Where could it have come from? That is no concern of mine, at present. But if my theory is correct, justice will be forced to agree that the several hundred francs found in Guespin's possession can and must be the change for the note."
"That is only a theory," urged M. Domini in an irritated tone.
"That is true; but one which may turn out a certainty. It remains for me to ask this man how Guespin carried away the articles which he bought? Did he simply slip them into his pocket, or did he have them done up in a bundle, and if so, how?"
The detective spoke in a sharp, hard, freezing tone, with a bitter raillery in it, frightening his Corbeil colleague out of his assurance.
"I don't know," stammered the latter. "They didn't tell me - I thought - "
M. Lecoq raised his hands as if to call the heavens to witness: in his heart, he was charmed with this fine occasion to revenge himself for M. Domini's disdain. He could not, dared not say anything to the judge; but he had the right to banter the agent and visit his wrath upon him.
"Ah so, my lad," said he, "what did you go to Paris for? To show Guespin's picture and detail the crime to the people at Vulcan's Forges? They ought to be very grateful to you; but Madame Petit, Monsieur Plantat's housekeeper, would have done as much."
At this stroke the man began to get angry; he frowned, and in his bluffest tone, began:
"Look here now, you - "
"Ta, ta, ta," interrupted M. Lecoq. "Let me alone, and know who is talking to you. I am Monsieur Lecoq."
The effect of the famous detective's name on his antagonist was magical. He naturally laid down his arms and surrendered, straightway becoming respectful and obsequious. It almost flattered him to be roughly handled by such a celebrity. He muttered, in an abashed and admiring tone:
"What, is it possible? You, Monsieur Lecoq!"
"Yes, it is I, young man ; but console yourself; I bear no grudge against you. You don't know your trade, but you have done me a service and you have brought us a convincing proof of Guespin's innocence."
M. Domini looked on at this scene with secret chagrin. His recruit went over to the enemy, yielding without a struggle to a confessed superiority. M. Lecoq's presumption, in speaking of a prisoner's innocence whose guilt seemed to the judge indisputable, exasperated him.
"And what is this tremendous proof, if you please?" asked he.
"It is simple and striking," answered M. Lecoq, putting on his most frivolous air as his conclusions narrowed the field of probabilities.
"You doubtless recollect that when we were at Valfeuillu we found the hands of the clock in the bedroom stopped at twenty minutes past three. Distrusting foul play, I put the striking apparatus in motion - do you recall it? What happened? The clock struck eleven. That convinced us that the crime was committed before that hour. But don't you see that if Guespin was at the Vulcan's Forges at ten he could not have got back to Valfeuillu before midnight? Therefore it was not- he who did the deed."
The detective, as he came to this conclusion, pulled out the inevitable box and helped himself to a lozenge, at the same time bestowing upon the judge a smile which said:
"Get out of that, if you can."
The judge's whole theory tumbled to pieces if M. Lecoq's deductions were right; but he could not admit that he had been so much deceived; he could not renounce an opinion formed by deliberate reflection.
"I don't pretend that Guespin is the only criminal," said he. "He could only have been an accomplice; and that he was."
"An accomplice? No, Judge, he was a victim. Ah, Tremorel is a great rascal! Don't you see now why he put forward the hands? At first I didn't perceive the object of advancing the time five hours; now it is clear. In order to implicate Guespin the crime must appear to have been committed after midnight, and - "
He suddenly checked himself and stopped with open mouth and fixed eyes as a new idea crossed his mind. The judge, who was bending over his papers trying to find something to sustain his position, did not perceive this.
"But then," said the latter, "how do you explain Guespin's refusal to speak and to give an account of where he spent the night?"
M. Lecoq had now recovered from his emotion, and Dr. Gendron and M. Plantat, who were watching him with the deepest attention, saw a triumphant light in his eyes. Doubtless he had just found a solution of the problem which had been put to him.
"I understand," replied he, "and can explain Guespin's obstinate silence. I should be perfectly amazed if he decided to speak just now."
M. Domini misconstrued the meaning of this; he thought he saw in it a covert intention to banter him.
He has had a night to reflect upon it," he answered. "Is not twelve hours enough to mature a system of defence?"
The detective shook his head doubtfully.
"It is certain that he does not need it," said he. "Our prisoner doesn't trouble himself about a system of defence, that I'll swear to."
"He keeps quiet, because he hasn't been able to get up a plausible story."
"No, no; believe me, he isn't trying to get up one. In my opinion, Guespin is a victim; that is, I suspect Tremorel of having set an infamous trap for him, into which he has fallen, and in which he sees himself so completely caught that he thinks it useless to struggle. The poor wretch is convinced that the more he resists the more surely he will tighten the web that is woven around him."
"I think so, too," said M. Plantat.
"The true criminal, Count Hector," resumed the detective, "lost his presence of mind at the last moment, and thus lost all the advantages which his previous caution had gained. Don't let us forget that he is an able man, perfidious enough to mature the most infamous stratagems, and unscrupulous enough to execute them. He knows that justice must have its victims, one for every crime; he does not forget that the police, as long as it has not the criminal, is always on the search with eye and ear open ; and he has thrown us Guespin as a huntsman, closely pressed, throws his glove to the bear that is close upon him. Perhaps he thought that the innocent man would not be in danger of his life; at all events he hoped to gain time by this ruse; while the bear is smelling and turning over the glove,, the huntsman gains ground, escapes and reaches his place of refuge; that was what Tremorel proposed to do."
The Corbeil policeman was now undoubtedly Lecoq's most enthusiastic listener. Goulard literally drank in his chief's words. He had never heard any of his colleagues express themselves with such fervor and authority; he had had no idea of such eloquence, and he stood erect, as if some of the admiration which he saw in all the faces were reflected back on him. He grew in his own esteem as he thought that he was a soldier in an army commanded by such generals. He had no longer any opinion excepting that of his superior. It was not so easy to persuade, subjugate, and convince the judge.
"But," objected the latter, "you saw Guespin's countenance?"
"Ah, what matters the countenance - what does that prove? Don't we know if you and I were arrested to-morrow on a terrible charge, what our bearing would be?"
M. Domini gave a significant start; this hypothesis scarcely pleased him.
"And yet you and I are familiar with the machinery of justice. When I arrested Lanscot, the poor servant in the Rue Marignan, his first words were: 'Come on, my account is good.' The morning that Papa Tabaret and I took the Viscount de Commarin as he was getting out of bed, on the accusation of having murdered the widow Lerouge, he cried: 'I am lost.' Yet neither of them were guilty; but both of them, the viscount and the valet, equal before the terror of a possible mistake of justice, and running over in their thoughts the charges which would be brought against them, had a moment of overwhelming discouragement."
"But such discouragement does not last two days," said M. Domini.
M. Lecoq did not answer this; he went on, growing more animated as he proceeded.
"You and I have seen enough prisoners to know how deceitful appearances are, and how little they are to be trusted. It would be foolish to base a theory upon a prisoner's bearing. He who talked about 'the cry of innocence' was an idiot, just as the man was who prated about the 'pale stupor' of guilt. Neither crime nor virtue have, unhappily, any especial countenance. The Simon girl, who was accused of having killed her father, absolutely refused to answer any questions for twenty-two days; on the twenty-third, the murderer was caught. As to the Sylvain affair - "
M. Domini rapped lightly on his desk to check the detective. As a man, the judge held too obstinately to his opinions; as a magistrate he was equally obstinate, but was at the same time ready to make any sacrifice of his self-esteem if the voice of duty prompted it. M. Lecoq's arguments had not shaken his convictions, but they imposed on him the duty of informing himself at once, and to either conquer the detective or avow himself conquered.
"You seem to be pleading," said he to M. Lecoq. "There is no need of that here. We are not counsel and judge; the same honorable intentions animate us both. Each, in his sphere, is searching after the truth. You think you see it shining where I only discern clouds; and you may be mistaken as well as I."
Then by an act of heroism, he condescended to add:
"What do you think I ought to do?"
The judge was at least rewarded for the effort he made by approving glances from M. Plantat and the doctor. But M. Lecoq did not hasten to respond; he had many weighty reasons to advance; that, he saw, was not what was necessary. He ought to present the facts, there and at once, and produce one of those proofs which can be touched with the finger. How should he do it? His active mind searched eagerly for such a proof.
"Well?" insisted M. Domini.
"Ah," cried the detective. "Why can't I ask Guespin two or three questions?"
The judge frowned; the suggestion seemed to him rather presumptuous. It is formally laid down that the questioning of the accused should be done in secret, and by the judge alone, aided by his clerk. On the other hand it is decided, that after he has once been interrogated he may be confronted with witnesses. There are, besides, exceptions in favor of the members of the police force. M. Domini reflected whether there were any precedents to apply to the case.
"I don't know," he answered at last, "to what point the law permits me to consent to what you ask. However, as I am convinced the interests of truth outweigh all rules, I shall take it on myself to let you question Guespin."
He rang; a bailiff appeared.
"Has Guespin been carried back to prison?"
"Not yet, Monsieur."
"So much the better; have him brought in here."
M. Lecoq was beside himself with joy; he had not hoped to achieve such a victory over one so determined as M. Domini.
"He will speak now," said he, so full of confidence that his eyes shone, and he forgot the portrait of the dear defunct, "for I have three means of unloosening his tongue, one of which is sure to succeed. But before he comes I should like to know one thing. Do you know whether Tremorel saw Jenny after Sauvresy's death?"
"Jenny?" asked M. Plantat, a little surprised.
"Certainly he did."
"Pretty often. After the scene at the Belle Image the poor girl plunged into terrible dissipation. Whether she was smitten with remorse, or understood that it was her conduct which had killed Sauvresy, or suspected the crime, I don't know. She began, however, to drink furiously, falling lower and lower every week - "
"And the count really consented to see her again?"
"He was forced to do so; she tormented him, and he was afraid of her. When she had spent all her money she sent to him for more, and he gave it. Once he refused; and that very evening she went to him the worse for wine, and he had the greatest difficulty in the world to send her away again. In short, she knew what his relations with Madame Sauvresy had been, and she threatened him; it was a regular black-mailing operation. He told me all about the trouble she gave him, and added that he would not be able to get rid of her without shutting her up, which he could not bring himself to do."
"How long ago was their last interview?"
"Why," answered the doctor, "not three weeks ago, when I had a consultation at Melun, I saw the count and this demoiselle at a hotel window; when he saw me he suddenly drew back."
"Then," said the detective, "there is no longer any doubt - "
He stopped. Guespin came in between two gendarmes.
The unhappy gardener had aged twenty years in twenty-four hours. His eyes were haggard, his dry lips were bordered with foam.
"Let us see," said the judge. "Have you changed your mind about speaking?"
The prisoner did not answer.
"Have you decided to tell us about yourself?"
Guespin's rage made him tremble from head to foot, and his eyes became fiery.
"Speak!" said he hoarsely. "Why should I?"
He added with the gesture of a desperate man who abandons himself, renounces all struggling and all hope:
"What have I done to you, my God, that you torture me this way? What do you want me to say? That I did this crime - is that what you want? Well, then - yes - it was I. Now you are satisfied. Now cut my head off, and do it quick - for I don't want to suffer any longer."
A mournful silence welcomed Guespin's declaration. What, he confessed it!
M. Domini had at least the good taste not to exult; he kept still, and yet this avowal surprised him beyond all expression.
M. Lecoq alone, although surprised, was not absolutely put out of countenance. He approached Guespin and tapping him on the shoulder, said in a paternal tone:
"Come, comrade, what you are telling us is absurd. Do you think the judge has any secret grudge against you? No, eh? Do you suppose I am interested to have you guillotined? Not at all. A crime has been committed, and we are trying to find the assassin. If you are innocent, help us to find the man who isn't: What were you doing from Wednesday evening till Thursday morning?"
But Guespin persisted in his ferocious and stupid obstinacy.
"I've said what I have to say," said he.
M. Lecoq changed his tone to one of severity, stepping back to watch the effect he was about to produce upon Guespin.
"You haven't any right to hold your tongue. And even if you do, you fool, the police know everything. Your master sent you on an errand, didn't he, on Wednesday night; what did he give you? A one-thousand-franc note?"
The prisoner looked at M. Lecoq in speechless amazement.
"No," he stammered. "It was a five-hundred-franc note."
The detective, like all great artists in a critical scene, was really moved. His surprising genius for investigation had just inspired him with a bold stroke, which, if it succeeded, would assure him the victory.
"Now," said he, "tell me the woman's name."
"I don't know."
"You are only a fool then. She is short, isn't she, quite pretty, brown and pale, with very large eyes?"
"You know her, then?" said Guespin, in a voice trembling with emotion.
"Yes, comrade, and if you want to know her name, to put in your prayers, she is called - Jenny."
Men who are really able in some specialty, whatever it may be, never uselessly abuse their superiority; their satisfaction at seeing it recognized is suffioient reward. M. Lecoq softly enjoyed his triumph, while his hearers wondered at his perspicacity. A rapid chain of reasoning had shown him not only Tremorel's thoughts, but also the means he had employed to accomplish his purpose.
Guespin's astonishment soon changed to anger. He asked himself how this man could have been informed of things which he had every reason to believe were secret. Lecoq continued:
"Since I have told you the woman's name, tell me now, how and why the count gave you a five-hundred-franc note."
"It was just as I was going out. The count had no change, and did not want to send me to Orcival for it. I was to bring back the rest."
"And why didn't you rejoin your companions at the wedding in the Batignolles?"
"What was the errand which you were to do for the count?"
Guespin hesitated. His eyes wandered from one to another of those present, and he seemed to discover an ironical expression on all the faces. It occurred to him that they were making sport of him, and had set a snare into which he had fallen. A great despair took possession of him.
"Ah," cried he, addressing M. Lecoq, "you have deceived me. You have been lying so as to find out the truth. I have been such a fool as to answer you, and you are going to turn it all against me."
"What? Are you going to talk nonsense again?"
"No, but I see just how it is, and you won't catch me again! Now I'd rather die than say a word."
The detective tried to reassure him; but he added:
"Besides, I'm as sly as you; I've told you nothing but lies."
This sudden whim surprised no one. Some prisoners intrench themselves behind a system of defence, and nothing can divert them from it; others vary with each new question, denying what they have just affirmed, and constantly inventing some new absurdity which anon they reject again. M. Lecoq tried in vain to draw Guespin from his silence; M. Domini made the same attempt, and also failed; to all questions he only answered, "I don't know."
At last the detective waxed impatient.
"See here," said he to Guespin, "I took you for a young man of sense, and you are only an ass. Do you imagine that we don't know anything? Listen: On the night of Madame Denis's wedding, you were getting ready to go off with your comrades, and had just borrowed twenty francs from the valet, when the count called you. He made you promise absolute secrecy (a promise which to do you justice, you kept) ; he told you to leave the other servants at the station and go to Vulcan's Forges, where you were to buy for him a hammer, a file, a chisel, and a dirk; these you were to carry to a certain woman. Then he gave you this famous five-hundred-franc note, telling you to bring him back the change when you returned next day. Isn't that so?"
An affirmative response glistened in the prisoner's eyes; still, he answered, " I don't recollect it."
"Now," pursued M. Lecoq, "I'm going to tell you what happened afterwards. You drank something and got tipsy, and in short spent a part of the change of the note. That explains your fright when you were seized yesterday morning, before anybody said a word to you. Vou thought you were being arrested for spending that money. Then, when you learned that the count had been murdered during the night, recollecting that on the evening before you had bought all kinds of instruments of theft and murder, and that you didn't know either the address or the name of the woman to whom you gave up the package, convinced that if you explained the source of the money found in your pocket, you would not be believed - then, instead of thinking of the means to prove your innocence, you became afraid, and thought you would save yourself by holding your tongue."
The prisoner's countenance visibly changed; his nerves relaxed; his tight lips fell apart; his mind opened itself to hope. But he still resisted.
"Do with me as you like," said he.
"Eh! What should we do with such a fool as you?" cried M. Lecoq angrily. "I begin to think you are a rascal too. A decent fellow would see that we wanted to get him out of a scrape, and he'd tell us the truth. You are prolonging your imprisonment by your own will. You'd better learn that the greatest shrewdness consists in telling the truth. A last time, will you answer?"
Guespin shook his head; no.
"Go back to prison, then; since it pleases you," concluded the detective. He looked at the judge for his approval, and added:
"Gendarmes, remove the prisoner."
The judge's last doubt was dissipated like the mist before the sun. He was, to tell the truth, a little uneasy at having treated the detective so rudely; and he tried to repair it as much as he could.
"You are an able man, Monsieur Lecoq," said he. "Without speaking of your clearsightedness, which is so prompt as to seem almost like second sight, your examination just now was a master-piece of its kind. Receive my congratulations, to say nothing of the reward which I propose to recommend in your favor to your chiefs."
The detective at these compliments cast down his eyes with the abashed air of a virgin. He looked tenderly at the dear defunct's portrait, and doubtless said to it:
"At last, darling, we have defeated him - this austere judge who so heartily detests the force of which we are the brightest ornament, makes his apologies; he recognizes and applauds our services."
He answered aloud:
"I can only accept half of your eulogies, Monsieur; permit me to offer the other half to my friend Monsieur Plantat."
M. Plantat tried to protest.
"Oh," said he, "only for some bits of information! You would have ferreted out the truth without me all the same."
The judge arose and graciously, but not without effort, extended his hand to M. Lecoq, who respectfully pressed it.
"You have spared me," said the judge, "a great remorse. Guespin's innocence would surely sooner or later have been recognized; but the idea of having imprisoned an innocent man and harassed him with my interrogatories, would have disturbed my sleep and tormented my conscience for a long time."
"God knows this poor Guespin is not an interesting youth," returned the detective. "I should be disposed to press him hard were I not certain that he's half a fool."
M. Domini gave a start.
"I shall discharge him this very day," said he, "this very hour."
It will be an act of charity," said M. Lecoq; "but confound his obstinacy; it was so easy for him to simplify my task. I might be able, by the aid of chance, to collect the principal facts - the errand, and a woman being mixed up in the affair; but as I'm no magician, I couldn't guess all the details. How is Jenny mixed up in this affair? Is she an accomplice, or has she only been made to play an ignorant part in it? Where did she meet Guespin and whither did she lead him? It is clear that she made the poor fellow tipsy so as to prevent his going to the Batignolles. Tremorel must have told her some false story - but what?"
"I don't think Tremorel troubled his head about so small a matter," said M. Plantat. "He gave Guespin and Jenny some task, without explaining it at all."
M. Lecoq reflected a moment.
"Perhaps you are right. But Jenny must have had special orders to prevent Guespin from putting in an alibi."
But," said M. Domini, Jenny will explain it all to us."
"That is what I rely on; and I hope that within forty-eight hours I shall have found her and brought her safely to Corbeil."
He rose at these words, took his cane and hat, and turning to the judge, said:
"Before retiring - "
"Yes, I know," interrupted M. Domini, "you want a warrant to arrest Hector de Tremorel."
"I do, as you are now of my opinion that he is still alive."
" I am sure of it."
M. Domini opened his portfolio and wrote off a warrant as follows:
"By the law: "We, judge of instruction of the first tribunal, etc., considering articles 91 and 94 of the code of criminal instruction, command and ordain to all the agents of the police to arrest, in conformity with the law, one Hector de Tremorel, etc."
When he had finished, he said:
"Here it is, and may you succeed in speedily finding this great criminal."
"Oh, he'll find him," cried the Corbeil policeman.
"I hope so, at least. As to how I shall go to work, I don't know yet. I will arrange my plan of battle to-night."
The detective then took leave of M. Domini and retired, followed by M. Plantat. The doctor remained with the judge to make arrangements for Sauvresy's exhumation.
M. Lecoq was just leaving the court-house when he felt himself pulled by the arm. He turned and found that it was Goulard who came to beg his favor and to ask him to take him along, persuaded that after having served under so great a captain he must inevitably become a famous man himself. M. Lecoq had some difficulty in getting rid of him; but he at length found himself alone in the street with the old justice of the peace.
"It is late," said the latter. "Would it be agreeable to you to partake of another modest dinner with me, and accept my cordial hospitality?"
"I am chagrined to be obliged to refuse you," replied M. Lecoq. "But I ought to be in Paris this evening."
"But I - in fact, I - was very anxious to talk to you - about - "
"About Mademoiselle Laurence?"
"Yes; I have a plan, and if you would help me - "
M. Lecoq affectionately pressed his friend's hand.
"I have only known you a few hours," said he, "and yet I am as devoted to you as I would be to an old friend. All that is humanly possible for me to do to serve you, I shall certainly do."
"But where shall I see you? They expect me to-day at Orcival."
"Very well; to-morrow morning at nine, at my rooms, No - Rue Montmartre."
"A thousand thanks; I shall be there."
When they had reached the Belle Image they separated.
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