The Widow Lerouge by Emile Gaboriau
Old Tabaret talked, but he acted also.
Abandoned by the investigating magistrate to his own resources, he set to work without losing a minute and without taking a moment's rest.
The story of the cabriolet, drawn by a swift horse, was exact in every particular.
Lavish with his money, the old fellow had gathered together a dozen detectives on leave or rogues out of work; and at the head of these worthy assistants, seconded by his friend Lecoq, he had gone to Bougival.
He had actually searched the country, house by house, with the obstinacy and the patience of a maniac hunting for a needle in a hay- stack.
His efforts were not absolutely wasted.
After three days' investigation, he felt comparatively certain that the assassin had not left the train at Rueil, as all the people of Bougival, La Jonchere, and Marly do, but had gone on as far as Chatou.
Tabaret thought he recognized him in a man described to him by the porters at that station as rather young, dark, and with black whiskers, carrying an overcoat and an umbrella.
This person, who arrived by the train which left Paris for St. Germain at thirty-five minutes past eight in the evening, had appeared to be in a very great hurry.
On quitting the station, he had started off at a rapid pace on the road which led to Bougival. Upon the way, two men from Marly and a woman from La Malmaison had noticed him on account of his rapid pace. He smoked as he hurried along.
On crossing the bridge which joins the two banks of the Seine at Bougival, he had been still more noticed.
It is usual to pay a toll on crossing this bridge; and the supposed assassin had apparently forgotten this circumstance. He passed without paying, keeping up his rapid pace, pressing his elbows to his side, husbanding his breath, and the gate-keeper was obliged to run after him for his toll.
He seemed greatly annoyed at the circumstance, threw the man a ten sou piece, and hurried on, without waiting for the nine sous change.
Nor was that all.
The station master at Rueil remembered, that, two minutes before the quarter past ten train came up, a passenger arrived very agitated, and so out of breath that he could scarcely ask for a second class ticket for Paris.
The appearance of this man corresponded exactly with the description given of him by the porters at Chatou, and by the gatekeeper at the bridge.
Finally, the old man thought he was on the track of some one who entered the same carriage as the breathless passenger. He had been told of a baker living at Asnieres, and he had written to him, asking him to call at his house.
Such was old Tabaret's information, when on the Monday morning he called at the Palais de Justice, in order to find out if the record of Widow Lerouge's past life had been received. He found that nothing had arrived, but in the passage he met Gevrol and his man.
The chief of detectives was triumphant, and showed it too. As soon as he saw Tabaret, he called out, "Well, my illustrious mare's-nest hunter, what news? Have you had any more scoundrels guillotined since the other day? Ah, you old rogue, you want to oust me from my place I can see!"
The old man was sadly changed.
The consciousness of his mistake made him humble and meek. These pleasantries, which a few days before would have made him angry, now did not touch him. Instead of retaliating, he bowed his head in such a penitent manner that Gevrol was astonished.
"Jeer at me, my good M. Gevrol," he replied, "mock me without pity; you are right, I deserve it all."
"Ah, come now," said the chief, "have you then performed some new masterpiece, you impetuous old fellow?"
Old Tabaret shook his head sadly.
"I have delivered up an innocent man," he said, "and justice will not restore him his freedom."
Gevrol was delighted, and rubbed his hands until he almost wore away the skin.
"This is fine," he sang out, "this is capital. To bring criminals to justice is of no account at all. But to free the innocent, by Jove! that is the last touch of art. Tirauclair, you are an immense wonder; and I bow before you."
And at the same time, he raised his hat ironically.
"Don't crush me," replied the old fellow. "As you know, in spite of my grey hairs, I am young in the profession. Because chance served me three or four times, I became foolishly proud. I have learned too late that I am not all that I had thought myself; I am but an apprentice, and success has turned my head; while you, M. Gevrol, you are the master of all of us. Instead of laughing, pray help me, aid me with your advice and your experience. Alone, I can do nothing, while with your assistance----!"
Gevrol is vain in the highest degree.
Tabaret's submission tickled his pretensions as a detective immensely; for in reality he thought the old man very clever. He was softened.
"I suppose," he said patronisingly, "you refer to the La Jonchere affair?"
"Alas! yes, my dear M. Gevrol, I wished to work without you, and I have got myself into a pretty mess."
Cunning old Tabaret kept his countenance as penitent as that of a sacristan caught eating meat on a Friday; but he was inwardly laughing and rejoicing all the while.
"Conceited fool!" he thought, "I will flatter you so much that you will end by doing everything I want."
M. Gevrol rubbed his nose, put out his lower lip, and said, "Ah,-- hem!"
He pretended to hesitate; but it was only because he enjoyed prolonging the old amateur's discomfiture.
"Come," said he at last, "cheer up, old Tirauclair. I'm a good fellow at heart, and I'll give you a lift. That's kind, isn't it? But, to-day, I'm too busy, I've an appointment to keep. Come to me to-morrow morning, and we'll talk it over. But before we part I'll give you a light to find your way with. Do you know who that witness is that I've brought?"
"No; but tell me, my good M. Gevrol."
"Well, that fellow on the bench there, who is waiting for M. Daburon, is the husband of the victim of the La Jonchere tragedy!"
"Is it possible?" exclaimed old Tabaret, perfectly astounded. Then, after reflecting a moment, he added, "You are joking with me."
"No, upon my word. Go and ask him his name; he will tell you that it is Pierre Lerouge."
"She wasn't a widow then?"
"It appears not," replied Gevrol sarcastically, "since there is her happy spouse."
"Whew!" muttered the old fellow. "And does he know anything?"
In a few sentences, the chief of detectives related to his amateur colleague the story that Lerouge was about to tell the investigating magistrate.
"What do you say to that?" he asked when he came to the end.
"What do I say to that?" stammered old Tabaret, whose countenance indicated intense astonishment; "what do I say to that? I don't say anything. But I think,--no, I don't think anything either!"
"A slight surprise, eh?" said Gevrol, beaming.
"Say rather an immense one," replied Tabaret.
But suddenly he started, and gave his forehead a hard blow with his fist.
"And my baker!" he cried, "I will see you to-morrow, then, M. Gevrol."
"He is crazed," thought the head detective.
The old fellow was sane enough, but he had suddenly recollected the Asnieres baker, whom he had asked to call at his house. Would he still find him there?
Going down the stairs he met M. Daburon; but, as one has already seen, he hardly deigned to reply to him.
He was soon outside, and trotted off along the quays.
"Now," said he to himself, "let us consider. Noel is once more plain Noel Gerdy. He won't feel very pleased, for he thought so much of having a great name. Pshaw! if he likes, I'll adopt him. Tabaret doesn't sound so well as Commarin, but it's at least a name. Anyhow, Gevrol's story in no way affects Albert's situation nor my convictions. He is the legitimate son; so much the better for him! That however, would not prove his innocence to me, if I doubted it. He evidently knew nothing of these surprising circumstances, any more than his father. He must have believed as well as the count in the substitution having taken place. Madame Gerdy, too, must have been ignorant of these facts; they probably invented some story to explain the scar. Yes, but Madame Gerdy certainly knew that Noel was really her son, for when he was returned to her, she no doubt looked for the mark she had made on him. Then, when Noel discovered the count's letters, she must have hastened to explain to him--"
Old Tabaret stopped as suddenly as if further progress were obstructed by some dangerous reptile. He was terrified at the conclusion he had reached.
"Noel, then, must have assassinated Widow Lerouge, to prevent her confessing that the substitution had never taken place, and have burnt the letters and papers which proved it!"
But he repelled this supposition with horror, as every honest man drives away a detestable thought which by accident enters his mind.
"What an old idiot I am!" he exclaimed, resuming his walk; "this is the result of the horrible profession I once gloried in following! Suspect Noel, my boy, my sole heir, the personification of virtue and honour! Noel, whom ten years of constant intercourse have taught me to esteem and admire to such a degree that I would speak for him as I would for myself! Men of his class must indeed be moved by terrible passions to cause them to shed blood; and I have always known Noel to have but two passions, his mother and his profession. And I dare even to breath a suspicion against this noble soul? I ought to be whipped! Old fool! isn't the lesson you have already received sufficiently terrible? Will you never be more cautious?"
Thus he reasoned, trying to dismiss his disquieting thoughts, and restraining his habits of investigation; but in his heart a tormenting voice constantly whispered, "Suppose it is Noel."
He at length reached the Rue St. Lazare. Before the door of his house stood a magnificent horse harnessed to an elegant blue brougham. At the sight of these he stopped.
"A handsome animal!" he said to himself; "my tenants receive some swell people."
They apparently received visitors of an opposite class also, for, at that moment, he saw M. Clergeot came out, worthy M. Clergeot, whose presence in a house betrayed ruin just as surely as the presence of the undertakers announce a death. The old detective, who knew everybody, was well acquainted with the worthy banker. He had even done business with him once, when collecting books. He stopped him and said: "Halloa! you old crocodile, you have clients, then, in my house?"
"So it seems," replied Clergeot dryly, for he does not like being treated with such familiarity.
"Ah! ah!" said old Tabaret. And, prompted by the very natural curiosity of a landlord who is bound to be very careful about the financial condition of his tenants, he added, "Who the deuce are you ruining now?"
"I am ruining no one," replied M. Clergeot, with an air of offended dignity. "Have you ever had reason to complain of me whenever we have done business together? I think not. Mention me to the young advocate up there, if you like; he will tell you whether he has reason to regret knowing me."
These words produced a painful impression on Tabaret. What, Noel, the prudent Noel, one of Clergeot's customers! What did it mean? Perhaps there was no harm in it; but then he remembered the fifteen thousand francs he had lent Noel on the Thursday.
"Yes," said he, wishing to obtain some more information, "I know that M. Gerdy spends a pretty round sum."
Clergeot has the delicacy never to leave his clients undefended when attacked.
"It isn't he personally," he objected, "who makes the money dance; its that charming little woman of his. Ah, she's no bigger than your thumb, but she'd eat the devil, hoofs, horns, and all!"
What! Noel had a mistress, a woman whom Clergeot himself, the friend of such creatures, considered expensive! The revelation, at such a moment, pierced the old man's heart. But he dissembled. A gesture, a look, might awaken the usurer's mistrust, and close his mouth.
"That's well known," replied Tabaret in a careless tone. "Youth must have it's day. But what do you suppose the wench costs him a year?"
"Oh, I don't know! He made the mistake of not fixing a price with her. According to my calculation, she must have, during the four years that she has been under his protection, cost him close upon five hundred thousand francs."
Four years? Five hundred thousand francs! These words, these figures, burst like bombshells on old Tabaret's brain. Half a million! In that case, Noel was utterly ruined. But then--
"It is a great deal," said he, succeeding by desperate efforts in hiding his emotion; "it is enormous. M. Gerdy, however, has resources."
"He!" interrupted the usurer, shrugging his shoulders. "Not even that!" he added, snapping his fingers; "He is utterly cleaned out. But, if he owes you money, do not be anxious. He is a sly dog. He is going to be married; and I have just renewed bills of his for twenty- six thousand francs. Good-bye, M. Tabaret."
The usurer hurried away, leaving the poor old fellow standing like a milestone in the middle of the pavement. He experienced something of that terrible grief which breaks a father's heart when he begins to realize that his dearly loved son is perhaps the worst of scoundrels.
And, yet, such was his confidence in Noel that he again struggled with his reason to resist the suspicions which tormented him. Perhaps the usurer had been slandering his friend. People who lend their money at more than ten per cent are capable of anything. Evidently he had exaggerated the extent of Noel's follies.
And, supposing it were true? Have not many men done just such insane things for women, without ceasing to be honest?
As he was about to enter his house, a whirlwind of silk, lace, and velvet, stopped the way. A pretty young brunette came out and jumped as lightly as a bird into the blue brougham.
Old Tabaret was a gallant man, and the young woman was most charming, but he never even looked at her. He passed in, and found his concierge standing, cap in hand, and tenderly examining a twenty franc piece.
"Ah, sir," said the man, "such a pretty young person, and so lady- like! If you had only been here five minutes sooner."
"What lady? why?"
"That elegant lady, who just went out, sir; she came to make some inquiries about M. Gerdy. She gave me twenty francs for answering her questions. It seems that the gentleman is going to be married; and she was evidently much annoyed about it. Superb creature! I have an idea that she is his mistress. I know now why he goes out every night."
"Yes, sir, but I never mentioned it to you, because he seemed to wish to hide it. He never asks me to open the door for him, no, not he. He slips out by the little stable door. I have often said to myself, 'Perhaps he doesn't want to disturb me; it is very thoughtful on his part, and he seems to enjoy it so.'"
The concierge spoke with his eyes fixed on the gold piece. When he raised his head to examine the countenance of his lord and master, old Tabaret had disappeared.
"There's another!" said the concierge to himself. "I'll bet a hundred sous, that he's running after the superb creature! Run ahead, go it, old dotard, you shall have a little bit, but not much, for it's very expensive!"
The concierge was right. Old Tabaret was running after the lady in the blue brougham.
"She will tell me all," he thought, and with a bound he was in the street. He reached it just in time to see the blue brougham turn the corner of the Rue St. Lazare.
"Heavens!" he murmured. "I shall lose sight of her, and yet she can tell me the truth."
He was in one of those states of nervous excitement which engender prodigies. He ran to the end of the Rue St. Lazare as rapidly as if he had been a young man of twenty.
Joy! He saw the blue brougham a short distance from him in the Rue du Havre, stopped in the midst of a block of carriages.
"I have her," said he to himself. He looked all about him, but there was not an empty cab to be seen. Gladly would he have cried, like Richard the III., "My kingdom for a cab!"
The brougham got out of the entanglement, and started off rapidly towards the Rue Tronchet. The old fellow followed.
He kept his ground. The brougham gained but little upon him.
While running in the middle of the street, at the same time looking out for a cab, he kept saying to himself: "Hurry on, old fellow, hurry on. When one has no brains, one must use one's legs. Why didn't you think to get this woman's address from Clergeot? You must hurry yourself, my old friend, you must hurry yourself! When one goes in for being a detective, one should be fit for the profession, and have the shanks of a deer."
But he was losing ground, plainly losing ground. He was only halfway down the Rue Tronchet, and quite tired out; he felt that his legs could not carry him a hundred steps farther, and the brougham had almost reached the Madeleine.
At last an open cab, going in the same direction as himself, passed by. He made a sign, more despairing than any drowning man ever made. The sign was seen. He made a supreme effort, and with a bound jumped into the vehicle without touching the step.
"There," he gasped, "that blue brougham, twenty francs!"
"All right!" replied the coachman, nodding.
And he covered his ill-conditioned horse with vigorous blows, muttering, "A jealous husband following his wife; that's evident. Gee up!"
As for old Tabaret, he was a long time recovering himself, his strength was almost exhausted.
For more than a minute, he could not catch his breath. They were soon on the Boulevards. He stood up in the cab leaning against the driver's seat.
"I don't see the brougham anywhere," he said.
"Oh, I see it all right, sir. But it is drawn by a splendid horse!"
"Yours ought to be a better one. I said twenty francs; I'll make it forty."
The driver whipped up his horse most mercilessly, and growled, "It's no use, I must catch her. For twenty francs, I would have let her escape; for I love the girls, and am on their side. But, fancy! Forty francs! I wonder how such an ugly man can be so jealous."
Old Tabaret tried in every way to occupy his mind with other matters. He did not wish to reflect before seeing the woman, speaking with her, and carefully questioning her.
He was sure that by one word she would either condemn or save her lover.
"What! condemn Noel? Ah, well! yes."
The idea that Noel was the assassin harassed and tormented him, and buzzed in his brain, like the moth which flies again and again against the window where it sees a light.
As they passed the Chaussee d'Antin, the brougham was scarcely thirty paces in advance. The cab driver turned, and said: "But the Brougham is stopping."
"Then stop also. Don't lose sight of it; but be ready to follow it again as soon as it goes off."
Old Tabaret leaned as far as he could out of the cab.
The young woman alighted, crossed the pavement, and entered a shop where cashmeres and laces were sold.
"There," thought the old fellow, "is where the thousand franc notes go! Half a million in four years! What can these creatures do with the money so lavishly bestowed upon them? Do they eat it? On the altar of what caprices do they squander these fortunes? They must have the devil's own potions which they give to drink to the idiots who ruin themselves for them. They must possess some peculiar art of preparing and spicing pleasure; since, once they get hold of a man, he sacrifices everything before forsaking them."
The cab moved on once more, but soon stopped again.
The brougham had made a fresh pause, this time in front of a curiosity shop.
"The woman wants then to buy out half of Paris!" said old Tabaret to himself in a passion. "Yes, if Noel committed the crime, it was she who forced him to it. These are my fifteen thousand francs that she is frittering away now. How long will they last her? It must have been for money, then, that Noel murdered Widow Lerouge. If so, he is the lowest, the most infamous of men! What a monster of dissimulation and hypocrisy! And to think that he would be my heir, if I should die here of rage! For it is written in my will in so many words, 'I bequeath to my son, Noel Gerdy!' If he is guilty, there isn't a punishment sufficiently severe for him. But is this woman never going home?"
The woman was in no hurry. The weather was charming, her dress irresistible, and she intended showing herself off. She visited three or four more shops, and at last stopped at a confectioner's, where she remained for more than a quarter of an hour.
The old fellow, devoured by anxiety, moved about and stamped in his cab. It was torture thus to be kept from the key to a terrible enigma by the caprice of a worthless hussy! He was dying to rush after her, to seize her by the arm, and cry out to her: "Home, wretched, creature, home at once! What are you doing here? Don't you know that at this moment your lover, he whom you have ruined, is suspected of an assassination? Home, then, that I may question you, that I may learn from you whether he is innocent or guilty. For you will tell me, without knowing it. Ah! I have prepared a fine trap for you! Go home, then, this anxiety is killing me!"
She returned to her carriage. It started off once more, passed up the Rue de Faubourg Montmarte, turned into the Rue de Provence, deposited its fair freight at her own door, and drove away.
"She lives here," said old Tabaret, with a sigh of relief.
He got out of the cab, gave the driver his forty francs, bade him wait, and followed in the young woman's footsteps.
"The old fellow is patient," thought the driver; "and the little brunette is caught."
The detective opened the door of the concierge's lodge.
"What is the name of the lady who just came in?" he demanded.
The concierge did not seem disposed to reply.
"Her name!" insisted the old man.
The tone was so sharp, so imperative, that the concierge was upset.
"Madame Juliette Chaffour," he answered.
"On what floor does she reside?"
"On the second, the door opposite the stairs."
A minute later, the old man was waiting in Madame Juliette's drawing- room. Madame was dressing, the maid informed him, and would be down directly.
Tabaret was astonished at the luxury of the room. There was nothing flaring or coarse, or in bad taste. It was not at all like the apartment of a kept woman. The old fellow, who knew a good deal about such things, saw that everything was of great value. The ornaments on the mantelpiece alone must have cost, at the lowest estimate, twenty thousand francs.
"Clergeot," thought he, "didn't exaggerate a bit."
Juliette's entrance disturbed his reflections.
She had taken off her dress, and had hastily thrown about her a loose black dressing-gown, trimmed with cherry-coloured satin. Her beautiful hair, slightly disordered after her drive, fell in cascades about her neck, and curled behind her delicate ears. She dazzled old Tabaret. He began to understand.
"You wished, sir, to speak with me?" she inquired, bowing gracefully.
"Madame," replied M. Tabaret, "I am a friend of Noel Gerdy's, I may say his best friend, and--"
"Pray sit down, sir," interrupted the young woman.
She placed herself on a sofa, just showing the tips of her little feet encased in slippers matching her dressing-gown, while the old man sat down in a chair.
"I come, madame," he resumed, "on very serious business. Your presence at M. Gerdy's--"
"Ah," cried Juliette, "he already knows of my visit? Then he must employ a detective."
"My dear child--" began Tabaret, paternally.
"Oh! I know, sir, what your errand is. Noel has sent you here to scold me. He forbade my going to his house, but I couldn't help it. It's annoying to have a puzzle for a lover, a man whom one knows nothing whatever about, a riddle in a black coat and a white cravat, a sad and mysterious being--"
"You have been imprudent."
"Why? Because he is going to get married? Why does he not admit it then?"
"Suppose that it is not true."
"Oh, but it is! He told that old shark Clergeot so, who repeated it to me. Any way, he must be plotting something in that head of his; for the last month he has been so peculiar, he has changed so, that I hardly recognize him."
Old Tabaret was especially anxious to know whether Noel had prepared an alibi for the evening of the crime. For him that was the grand question. If he had, he was certainly guilty; if not, he might still be innocent. Madame Juliette, he had no doubt, could enlighten him on that point.
Consequently he had presented himself with his lesson all prepared, his little trap all set.
The young woman's outburst disconcerted him a little; but trusting to the chances of conversation, he resumed.
"Will you oppose Noel's marriage, then?"
"His marriage!" cried Juliette, bursting out into a laugh; "ah, the poor boy! If he meets no worse obstacle than myself, his path will be smooth. Let him marry by all means, the sooner the better, and let me hear no more of him."
"You don't love him, then?" asked the old fellow, surprised at this amiable frankness.
"Listen, sir. I have loved him a great deal, but everything has an end. For four years, I, who am so fond of pleasure, have passed an intolerable existence. If Noel doesn't leave me, I shall be obliged to leave him. I am tired of having a lover who is ashamed of me and who despises me."
"If he despises you, my pretty lady, he scarcely shows it here," replied old Tabaret, casting a significant glance about the room.
"You mean," said she rising, "that he spends a great deal of money on me. It's true. He pretends that he has ruined himself on my account; it's very possible. But what's that to me! I am not a grabbing woman; and I would much have preferred less money and more regard. My extravagance has been inspired by anger and want of occupation. M. Gerdy treats me like a mercenary woman; and so I act like one. We are quits."
"You know very well that he worships you."
"He? I tell you he is ashamed of me. He hides me as though I were some horrible disease. You are the first of his friends to whom I have ever spoken. Ask him how often he takes me out. One would think that my presence dishonoured him. Why, no longer ago than last Tuesday, we went to the theatre! He hired an entire box. But do you think that he sat in it with me? Not at all. He slipped away and I saw no more of him the whole evening."
"How so? Were you obliged to return home alone?"
"No. At the end of the play, towards midnight, he deigned to reappear. We had arranged to go to the masked ball at the Opera and then to have some supper. Ah, it was amusing! At the ball, he didn't dare to let down his hood, or take off his mask. At supper, I had to treat him like a perfect stranger, because some of his friends were present."
This, then, was the alibi prepared in case of trouble. Juliette, had she been less carried away by her own feelings, would have noticed old Tabaret's emotion, and would certainly have held her tongue. He was perfectly livid, and trembled like a leaf.
"Well," he said, making a great effort to utter the words, "the supper, I suppose, was none the less gay for that."
"Gay!" echoed the young woman, shrugging her shoulders; "you do not seem to know much of your friend. If you ever ask him to dinner, take good care not to give him anything to drink. Wine makes him as merry as a funeral procession. At the second bottle, he was more tipsy than a cork; so much so, that he lost nearly everything he had with him: his overcoat, purse, umbrella, cigar-case--"
Old Tabaret couldn't sit and listen any longer; he jumped to his feet like a raving madman.
"Miserable wretch!" he cried, "infamous scoundrel! It is he; but I have him!"
And he rushed out, leaving Juliette so terrified that she called her maid.
"Child," said she, "I have just made some awful blunder, have let some secret out. I am sure that something dreadful is going to happen; I feel it. That old rogue was no friend of Noel's, he came to circumvent me, to lead me by the nose; and he succeeded. Without knowing it I must have spoken against Noel. What can I have said? I have thought carefully, and can remember nothing; but he must be warned though. I will write him a line, while you find a messenger to take it."
Old Tabaret was soon in his cab and hurrying towards the Prefecture of Police. Noel an assassin! His hate was without bounds, as formerly had been his confiding affection. He had been cruelly deceived, unworthily duped, by the vilest and the most criminal of men. He thirsted for vengeance; he asked himself what punishment would be great enough for the crime.
"For he not only assassinated Claudine," thought he, "but he so arranged the whole thing as to have an innocent man accused and condemned. And who can say that he did not kill his poor mother?"
He regretted the abolition of torture, the refined cruelty of the middle ages: quartering, the stake, the wheel. The guillotine acts so quickly that the condemned man has scarcely time to feel the cold steel cutting through his muscles; it is nothing more than a fillip on the neck. Through trying so much to mitigate the pain of death, it has now become little more than a joke, and might be abolished altogether.
The certainty of confounding Noel, of delivering him up to justice, of taking vengeance upon him, alone kept old Tabaret up.
"It is clear," he murmured, "that the wretch forgot his things at the railway station, in his haste to rejoin his mistress. Will they still be found there? If he has had the prudence to go boldly, and ask for them under a false name, I can see no further proofs against him. Madame Chaffour's evidence won't help me. The hussy, seeing her lover in danger, will deny what she has just told me; she will assert that Noel left her long after ten o'clock. But I cannot think he has dared to go to the railway station again."
About half way down the Rue Richelieu, M. Tabaret was seized with a sudden giddiness.
"I am going to have an attack, I fear," thought he. "If I die, Noel will escape, and will be my heir. A man should always keep his will constantly with him, to be able to destroy it, if necessary."
A few steps further on, he saw a doctor's plate on a door; he stopped the cab, and rushed into the house. He was so excited, so beside himself, his eyes had such a wild expression, that the doctor was almost afraid of his peculiar patient, who said to him hoarsely: "Bleed me!"
The doctor ventured an objection; but already the old fellow had taken off his coat, and drawn up one of his shirtsleeves.
"Bleed me!" he repeated. "Do you want me to die?"
The doctor finally obeyed, and old Tabaret came out quieted and relieved.
An hour later, armed with the necessary power, and accompanied by a policeman, he proceeded to the lost property office at the St. Lazare railway station, to make the necessary search. It resulted as he had expected. He learnt that, on the evening of Shrove Tuesday, there had been found in one of the second class carriages, of train No. 45, an overcoat and an umbrella. He was shown the articles; and he at once recognised them as belonging to Noel. In one of the pockets of the overcoat, he found a pair of lavender kid gloves, frayed and soiled, as well as a return ticket from Chatou, which had not been used.
In hurrying on, in pursuit of the truth, old Tabaret knew only too well, what it was. His conviction, unwillingly formed when Clergeot had told him of Noel's follies, had since been strengthened in a number of other ways. When with Juliette, he had felt positively sure, and yet, at this last moment, when doubt had become impossible, he was, on beholding the evidence arrayed against Noel, absolutely thunderstruck.
"Onwards!" he cried at last. "Now to arrest him."
And, without losing an instant, he hastened to the Palais de Justice, where he hoped to find the investigating magistrate. Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, M. Daburon was still in his office. He was conversing with the Count de Commarin, having related to him the facts revealed by Pierre Lerouge whom the count had believed dead many years before.
Old Tabaret entered like a whirlwind, too distracted to notice the presence of a stranger.
"Sir," he cried, stuttering with suppressed rage, "we have discovered the real assassin! It is he, my adopted son, my heir, Noel!"
"Noel!" repeated M. Daburon, rising. And then in a lower tone, he added, "I suspected it."
"A warrant is necessary at once," continued the old fellow. "If we lose a minute, he will slip through our fingers. He will know that he is discovered, if his mistress has time to warn him of my visit. Hasten, sir, hasten!"
M. Daburon opened his lips to ask an explanation; but the old detective continued: "That is not all. An innocent man, Albert, is still in prison."
"He will not be so an hour longer," replied the magistrate; "a moment before your arrival, I had made arrangements to have him released. We must now occupy ourselves with the other one."
Neither old Tabaret nor M. Daburon had noticed the disappearance of the Count de Commarin. On hearing Noel's name mentioned, he gained the door quietly, and rushed out into the passage.