leaning against the counter near the scales, jesting with a fisherman of Marly, old Husson, who can tell you the same; and she called him a fresh water sailor. 'My husband,' said she, 'was a real sailor, and the proof is, he would sometimes remain years on a voyage, and always used to bring me back cocoanuts. I have a son who is also a sailor, like his dead father, in the imperial navy.'"
"Did she mention her son's name?"
"Not that time, but another evening, when she was, if I may say so, very drunk. She told us that her son's name was Jacques, and that she had not seen him for a very long time."
"Did she speak ill of her husband?"
"Never! She only said he was jealous and brutal, though a good man at bottom, and that he led her a miserable life. He was weak-headed, and forged ideas out of nothing at all. In fact he was too honest to be wise."
"Did her son ever come to see her while she lived here?"
"She never told me of it."
"Did she spend much money with you?"
"That depends. About sixty francs a month; sometimes more, for she always buys the best brandy. She paid cash for all she bought."
The woman knowing no more was dismissed. The child, who was now brought forward, belonged to parents in easy circumstances. Tall and strong for his age, he had bright intelligent eyes, and features expressive of watchfulness and cunning. The presence of the magistrate did not seem to intimidate him in the least.
"Let us hear, my boy," said M. Daburon, "what you know."
"Well, sir, a few days ago, on Sunday last, I saw a man at Madame Lerouge's garden-gate."
"At what time of the day?"
"Early in the morning. I was going to church, to serve in the second mass."
"Well," continued the magistrate, "and this man was tall and sunburnt, and dressed in a blouse?"
"No, sir, on the contrary, he was short, very fat, and old."
"You are sure you are not mistaken?"
"Quite sure," replied the urchin, "I saw him close face to face, for I spoke to him."
"Tell me, then, what occurred?"
"Well, sir, I was passing when I saw this fat man at the gate. He appeared very much vexed, oh! but awfully vexed! His face was red, or rather purple, as far as the middle of his head, which I could see very well, for it was bare, and had very little hair on it."
"And did he speak to you first?"
"Yes, sir, he saw me, and called out, 'Halloa! youngster!' as I came up to him, and he asked me if I had got a good pair of legs? I answered yes. Then he took me by the ear, but without hurting me, and said, 'Since that is so, if you will run an errand for me, I will give you ten sous. Run as far as the Seine; and when you reach the quay, you will notice a large boat moored. Go on board, and ask to see Captain Gervais: he is sure to be there. Tell him that he can prepare to leave, that I am ready.' Then he put ten sous in my hand; and off I went."
"If all the witnesses were like this bright little fellow," murmured the commissary, "what a pleasure it would be!"
"Now," said the magistrate, "tell us how you executed your commission?"
"I went to the boat, sir, found the man, and I told him; and that's all."
Gevrol, who had listened with the most lively attention, leaned over towards the ear of M. Daburon, and said in a low voice: "Will you permit me, sir, to ask the brat a few questions?"
"Certainly, M. Gevrol."
"Come now, my little friend," said Gevrol, "if you saw this man again, would you know him?"
"Then there was something remarkable about him?"
"Yes, I should think so! his face was the colour of a brick!"
"And is that all?"
"Well, yes, sir."
"But you must remember how he was dressed; had he a blouse on?"
"No; he wore a jacket. Under the arms were very large pockets, and from out of one of them peeped a blue spotted handkerchief."
"What kind of trousers had he on?"
"I do not remember."
"And his waistcoat?"
"Let me see," answered the child. "I don't think he wore a waistcoat. And yet,—but no, I remember he did not wear one; he had a long cravat, fastened near his neck by a large ring."
"Ah!" said Gevrol, with an air of satisfaction, "you are a bright boy; and I wager that if you try hard to remember you will find a few more details to give us."
The boy hung down his head, and remained silent. From the knitting of his young brows, it was plain he was making a violent effort of memory. "Yes," cried he suddenly, "I remember another thing."
"The man wore very large rings in his ears."
"Bravo!" cried Gevrol, "here is a complete description. I shall find the fellow now. M. Daburon can prepare a warrant for his appearance whenever he likes."
"I believe, indeed, the testimony of this child is of the highest importance," said M. Daburon; and turning to the boy added, "Can you tell us, my little friend, with what this boat was loaded?"
"No, sir, I couldn't see because it was decked."
"Which way was she going, up the Seine or down?"
"Neither, sir, she was moored."
"We know that," said Gevrol. "The magistrate asks you which way the prow of the boat was turned,—towards Paris or towards Marly?"
"The two ends of the boat seemed alike to me."
The chief of the detective of police made a gesture of disappointment.
"At least," said he, addressing the child again, "you noticed the name of the boat? you can read I suppose. One should always know the names of the boats one goes aboard of."
"No, I didn't see any name," said the little boy.
"If this boat was moored at the quay," remarked M. Daburon, "it was probably noticed by the inhabitants of Bougival."
"That is true, sir," approved the commissary.
"Yes," said Gevrol, "and the sailors must have come ashore. I shall find out all about it at the wine shop. But what sort of a man was Gervais, the master, my little friend?"
"Like all the sailors hereabouts, sir."
The child was preparing to depart when M. Daburon recalled him.
"Before you go, my boy, tell me, have you spoken to any one of this meeting before to-day?"
"Yes, sir, I told all to mamma when I got back from church, and gave her the ten sous."
"And you have told us the whole truth?" continued the magistrate. "You know that it is a very grave matter to attempt to impose on justice. She always finds it out, and it is my duty to warn you that she inflicts the most terrible punishment upon liars."
The little fellow blushed as red as a cherry, and held down his head.
"I see," pursued M. Daburon, "that you have concealed something from us. Don't you know that the police know everything?"
"Pardon! sir," cried the boy, bursting into tears,—"pardon. Don't punish me, and I will never do so again."
"Tell us, then, how you have deceived us?"
"Well, sir, it was not ten sous that the man gave me, it was twenty sous. I only gave half to mamma; and I kept the rest to buy marbles with."
"My little friend," said the investigating magistrate, "for this time I forgive you. But let it be a lesson for the remainder of your life. You may go now, and remember it is useless to try and hide the truth; it always comes to light!"
The two last depositions awakened in M. Daburon's mind some slight gleams of hope. In the midst of darkness, the humblest rush-light acquires brilliancy.
"I will go at once to Bougival, sir, if you approve of this step," suggested Gevrol.
"Perhaps you would do well to wait a little," answered M. Daburon. "This man was seen on Sunday morning; we will inquire into Widow Lerouge's movements on that day."
Three neighbours were called. They all declared that the widow had kept her bed all Sunday. To one woman who, hearing she was unwell, had visited her, she said, "Ah! I had last