desk, wrenched away, hung by a single hinge. The drawers had been pulled out and thrown upon the floor.
To the left of the room stood the bed, which had been completely disarranged and upset. Even the straw of the mattress had been pulled out and examined.
"Not the slightest imprint," murmured Gevrol disappointed. "He must have arrived before half-past nine. You can all come in now."
He walked right up to the corpse of the widow, near which he knelt.
"It can not be said," grumbled he, "that the work is not properly done! the assassin is no apprentice!"
Then looking right and left, he continued: "Oh! oh! the poor devil was busy with her cooking when he struck her; see her pan of ham and eggs upon the hearth. The brute hadn't patience enough to wait for the dinner. The gentleman was in a hurry, he struck the blow fasting; therefore he can't invoke the gayety of dessert in his defense!"
"It is evident," said the commissary to the investigating magistrate, "that robbery was the motive of the crime."
"It is probable," answered Gevrol in a sly way; "and that accounts for the absence of the silver spoons from the table."
"Look here! Some pieces of gold in this drawer!" exclaimed Lecoq, who had been searching on his own account, "just three hundred and twenty francs!"
"Well, I never!" cried Gevrol, a little disconcerted. But he soon recovered from his embarrassment, and added: "He must have forgotten them; that often happens. I have known an assassin, who, after accomplishing the murder, became so utterly bewildered as to depart without remembering to take the plunder, for which he had committed the crime. Our man became excited perhaps, or was interrupted. Some one may have knocked at the door. What makes me more willing to think so is, that the scamp did not leave the candle burning. You see he took the trouble to put it out."
"Pooh!" said Lecoq. "That proves nothing. He is probably an economical and careful man."
The investigations of the two agents were continued all over the house; but their most minute researches resulted in discovering absolutely nothing; not one piece of evidence to convict; not the faintest indication which might serve as a point of departure. Even the dead woman's papers, if she possessed any, had disappeared. Not a letter, not a scrap of paper even, to be met with. From time to time Gevrol stopped to swear or grumble. "Oh! it is cleverly done! It is a tiptop piece of work! The scoundrel is a cool hand!"
"Well, what do you make of it?" at length demanded the investigating magistrate.
"It is a drawn game monsieur," replied Gevrol. "We are baffled for the present. The miscreant has taken his measures with great precaution; but I will catch him. Before night, I shall have a dozen men in pursuit. Besides, he is sure to fall into our hands. He has carried off the plate and the jewels. He is lost!"
"Despite all that," said M. Daburon, "we are no further advanced than we were this morning!"
"Well!" growled Gevrol. "A man can only do what he can!"
"Ah!" murmured Lecoq in a low tone, perfectly audible, however, "why is not old Tirauclair here?"
"What could he do more than we have done?" retorted Gevrol, directing a furious glance at his subordinate. Lecoq bowed his head and was silent, inwardly delighted at having wounded his chief.
"Who is old Tirauclair?" asked M. Daburon. "It seems to me that I have heard the name, but I can't remember where."
"He is an extraordinary man!" exclaimed Lecoq. "He was formerly a clerk at the Mont de Piete," added Gevrol; "but he is now a rich old fellow, whose real name is Tabaret. He goes in for playing the detective by way of amusement."
"And to augment his revenues," insinuated the commissary.
"He?" cried Lecoq. "No danger of that. He works so much for the glory of success that he often spends money from his own pocket. It's his amusement, you see! At the Prefecture we have nicknamed him 'Tirauclair,' from a phrase he is constantly in the habit of repeating. Ah! he is sharp, the old weasel! It was he who in the case of that banker's wife, you remember, guessed that the lady had robbed herself, and who proved it."
"True!" retorted Gevrol; "and it was also he who almost had poor Dereme guillotined for killing his wife, a thorough bad woman; and all the while the poor man was innocent."
"We are wasting our time, gentlemen," interrupted M. Daburon. Then, addressing himself to Lecoq, he added:—"Go and find M. Tabaret. I have heard a great deal of him, and shall be glad to see him at work here."
Lecoq started off at a run, Gevrol was seriously humiliated. "You have of course, sir, the right to demand the services of whom you please," commenced he, "but yet—"
"Do not," interrupted M. Daburon, "let us lose our tempers, M. Gevrol. I have known you for a long time, and I know your worth; but to-day we happen to differ in opinion. You hold absolutely to your sunburnt man in the blouse, and I, on my side, am convinced that you are not on the right track!"
"I think I am right," replied the detective, "and I hope to prove it. I shall find the scoundrel, be he whom he may!"
"I ask nothing better," said M. Daburon.
"Only, permit me, sir, to give—what shall I say without failing in respect?—a piece of advice?"
"I would advise you, sir, to distrust old Tabaret."
"Really? And for what reason?"
"The old fellow allows himself to be carried away too much by appearances. He has become an amateur detective for the sake of popularity, just like an author; and, as he is vainer than a peacock, he is apt to lose his temper and be very obstinate. As soon as he finds himself in the presence of a crime, like this one, for example, he pretends he can explain everything on the instant. And he manages to invent a story that will correspond exactly with the situation. He professes, with the help of one single fact, to be able to reconstruct all the details of an assassination, as a savant pictures an antediluvian animal from a single bone. Sometimes he divines correctly; very often, though, he makes a mistake. Take, for instance, the case of the tailor, the unfortunate Dereme, without me—"
"I thank you for your advice," interrupted M. Daburon, "and will profit by it. Now commissary," he continued, "it is most important to ascertain from what part of the country Widow Lerouge came."
The procession of witnesses under the charge of the corporal of gendarmes were again interrogated by the investigating magistrate.
But nothing new was elicited. It was evident that Widow Lerouge had been a singularly discreet woman; for, although very talkative, nothing in any way connected with her antecedents remained in the memory of the gossips of La Jonchere.
All the people interrogated, however, obstinately tried to impart to the magistrate their own convictions and personal conjectures. Public opinion sided with Gevrol. Every voice denounced the tall sunburnt man with the gray blouse. He must surely be the culprit. Everyone remembered his ferocious aspect, which had frightened the whole neighbourhood. He had one evening menaced a woman, and another day beaten a child. They could point out neither the child nor the woman; but no matter: these brutal acts were notoriously public. M. Daburon began to despair of gaining the least enlightenment, when some one brought the wife of a grocer of Bougival, at whose shop the victim used to deal, and a child thirteen years old, who knew, it was said, something positive.
The grocer's wife first made her appearance. She had heard Widow Lerouge speak of having a son still living.
"Are you quite sure of that?" asked the investigating magistrate.
"As of my existence," answered the woman, "for, on that evening, yes, it was evening, she was, saving your presence, a little tipsy. She remained in my shop more than an hour."
"And what did she say?"
"I think I see her now," continued the shopkeeper: "she was