He met some friends, too,—one was a person rather like himself, with the same swaggering high-handed air, who accosted him as we were passing the corner of the square just by the Hotel d’Aix.
“What ho! Basil my boy!” cried the stranger. “In chokey? Took up by the police? What’ve you done? Robbed a church?”
“Come on with us and you’ll soon know. No, really, come along, I may want you. I’m going before the beak and may want a witness as to character.”
“Right oh! There are some more of us here from the old shop—Jack Tyrrell, Bobus Smith—all Mars and Neptune men. They’ll speak for a pal at a pinch. Where shall we come?”
“To the town hall, the mairie,” replied the Colonel, after a brief reference to his escort. “I’ve got a particular appointment there with Monsieur le Commissaire, and the Right Honourable the Earl of Blackadder.”
“Oh! that noble sportsman? What’s wrong with him? What’s he been doing to you or you to him?”
“I punched his head, that’s all.”
“No doubt he deserved it; anyhow, Charlie Forrester will be pleased. By-by, you’ll see me again, and all the chaps I can pick up at the Cercle and the hotels near.”
Then our procession passed on, the Colonel and gendarmes leading, Tiler and I with l’Echelle close behind.
We found my lord awaiting us. He had driven on ahead in a fiacre and was standing alone at the entrance to the police office, which is situated on the ground floor of the Hotel de Ville, a pretty old-fashioned building of gray stone just facing the Etablissement Thermale, the home of the far-famed baths from which Aix-les-Bains takes its name.
“In here?” asked my lord; and with a brief wave of his hand he would have passed in first, but the officers of the law put him rather rudely aside and claimed precedence for their prisoner.
But when M. le Commissaire, who was there, seated at a table opposite his greffier, rose and bowed stiffly, inquiring our business, my lord pushed forward into the front and began very warmly, in passable French:
“I am an aggrieved person seeking justice on a wrong-doer. I—demand justice of you—”
“Pardon, monsieur, je vous prie. We must proceed in order, and first allow me to assure you that justice is always done in France. No one need claim it in the tone you have assumed.”
The Commissary was a solemn person, full of the stiff formality exhibited by members of the French magistracy, the juniors especially. He was dressed in discreet black, his clean-shaven, imperturbable face showed over a stiff collar, and he wore the conventional white tie of the French official.
“Allow me to ask—” he went on coldly.
“I will explain in a few words,” began my lord, replying hurriedly.
“Stay, monsieur, it is not from you that I seek explanation. It is the duty of the officers of the law now present, and prepared, I presume, to make their report. Proceed, sergeant.”