The operation of fixing the seals was speedily concluded; narrow strips of parchment, held by large waxen seals, were affixed to all the doors, as well as to the bureau in which the articles gathered for the purposes of the investigation had been deposited.
Despite the haste they made, it was nearly ten o’clock when M. Plantat and his guests quitted the chateau of Valfeuillu. Instead of taking the high road, they cut across a pathway which ran along beside Mme. de Lanascol’s park, and led diagonally to the wire bridge; this was the shortest way to the inn where M. Lecoq had left his slight baggage. As they went along, M. Plantat grew anxious about his good friend, M. Courtois.
“What misfortune can have happened to him?” said he to Dr. Gendron.
“Thanks to the stupidity of that rascal of a servant, we learned nothing at all. This letter from Mademoiselle Laurence has caused the trouble, somehow.”
They had now reached the Faithful Grenadier.
A big red-faced fellow was smoking a long pipe at the door, his back against the house. He was talking with a railway employee. It was the landlord.
“Well, Monsieur Plantat,” he cried, “what a horrible affair this is! Come in, come in; there are several folks in the hall who saw the assassins. What a villain old Bertaud is! And that Guespin; ah, I would willingly trudge to Corbeil to see them put up the scaffold!”
“A little charity, Master Lenfant; you forget that both these men were among your best customers.”
Master Lenfant was confused by this reply; but his native impudence soon regained the mastery.
“Fine customers, parbleu!” he answered, “this thief of a Guespin has got thirty francs of mine which I’ll never see again.”
“Who knows?” said Plantat, ironically. “Besides, you are going to make more than that to-night, there’s so much company at the Orcival festival.”
During this brief conversation, M. Lecoq entered the inn for his night-gown. His office being no longer a secret, he was not now welcomed as when he was taken for a simple retired haberdasher. Mme. Lenfant, a lady who had no need of her husband’s aid to show penniless sots the door, scarcely deigned to answer him. When he asked how much he owed, she responded, with a contemptuous gesture, “Nothing.” When he returned to the door, his night-gown in hand, M. Plantat said:
“Let’s hurry, for I want to get news of our poor mayor.”
The three hastened their steps, and the old justice of the peace, oppressed with sad presentiments, and trying to combat them, continued:
“If anything had happened at the mayor’s, I should certainly have been informed of it by this time. Perhaps Laurence has written that she is ill, or a little indisposed. Madame Courtois, who is the best woman in the world, gets excited about nothing; she probably wanted to send her husband for Laurence at once. You’ll see that it’s some false alarm.”