“But how?” I stammered, “how?”
Again Mademoiselle Angele laughed, and through the ripples of her laughter came her merry words:
“Maman was very fat, was she not, my good Monsieur Ratichon? Did you not think she was extraordinarily like me?”
I caught the glance in her eyes, and they were literally glowing with mischief. Then all of a sudden I understood. She had impersonated a fat mother, covered her lovely face with lines, worn a disfiguring wig and an antiquated bonnet, and round her slender figure she had tucked away thousands of packages of English files. I could only gasp. Astonishment, not to say admiration, at her pluck literally took my breath away.
“But, Monsieur Berty?” I murmured, my mind in a turmoil, my thoughts running riot through my brain. “The Englishmen, the mules, the packs?”
“Monsieur Berty, as you see, stands before you now in the person of Monsieur Fournier,” she replied. “The Englishmen were three faithful servants who threw dust not only in your eyes, my dear M. Ratichon, but in those of the customs officials, while the packs contained harmless personal luggage which was taken by your friend and his gendarmes to the customs station at Mijoux, and there, after much swearing, equally solemnly released with many apologies to M. Fournier, who was allowed to proceed unmolested on his way, and who arrived here safely this afternoon, whilst Maman divested herself of her fat and once more became the slender Mme. Aristide Fournier, at your service.”
She bobbed me a dainty curtsy, and I could only try and hide the pain which this last cruel stab had inflicted on my heart. So she was not “Mademoiselle” after all, and henceforth it would even be wrong to indulge in dreams of her.
But the ten thousand francs crackled pleasantly in my breast pocket, and when I finally took leave of Monsieur Aristide Fournier and his charming wife, I was an exceedingly happy man.
But Leroux never forgave me. Of what he suspected me I do not know, or if he suspected me at all. He certainly must have known about fat Maman from the customs officials who had given us coffee at Mijoux.
But he never mentioned the subject to me at all, nor has he spoken to me since that memorable night. To one of his colleagues he once said that no words in his vocabulary could possibly be adequate to express his feelings.
Honour among ------
Ah, my dear Sir, it is easy enough to despise our profession, but believe me that all the finer qualities—those of loyalty and of truth—are essential, not only to us, but to our subordinates, if we are to succeed in making even a small competence out of it.