“You did not leave each other?”
“Not a minute.”
“And you returned all together?”
The servants exchanged a significant look.
“All,” responded a chambermaid—“that is to say, no. One left us on reaching the Lyons station at Paris; it was Guespin.”
“Yes, sir; he went away, saying that he would rejoin us at Wepler’s, in the Batignolles, where the wedding took place.” The mayor nudged the justice with his elbow, as if to attract his attention, and continued to question the chambermaid.
“And this Guespin, as you call him—did you see him again?”
“No, sir. I asked several times during the evening in vain, what had become of him; his absence seemed to me suspicious.” Evidently the chambermaid tried to show superior perspicacity. A little more, and she would have talked of presentiments.
“Has this Guespin been long in the house?”
“What were his duties?”
“He was sent from Paris by the house of the ‘Skilful Gardener,’ to take care of the rare flowers in Madame’s conservatory.”
“And did he know of this money?”
The domestics again exchanged significant glances.
“Yes,” they answered in chorus, “we had talked a great deal about it among ourselves.”
The chambermaid added: “He even said to me, ’To think that Monsieur the Count has enough money in his cabinet to make all our fortunes.’”
“What kind of a man is this?”
This question absolutely extinguished the talkativeness of the servants. No one dared to speak, perceiving that the least word might serve as the basis of a terrible accusation. But the groom of the house opposite, who burned to mix himself up in the affair, had none of these scruples. “Guespin,” answered he, “is a good fellow. Lord, what jolly things he knows! He knows everything you can imagine. It appears he has been rich in times past, and if he wished—But dame! he loves to have his work all finished, and go off on sprees. He’s a crack billiard-player, I can tell you.”
Papa Plantat, while listening in an apparently absent-minded way to these depositions, or rather these scandals, carefully examined the wall and the gate. He now turned, and interrupting the groom:
“Enough of this,” said he, to the great scandal of M. Courtois. “Before pursuing this interrogatory, let us ascertain the crime, if crime there is; for it is not proved. Let whoever has the key, open the gate.”
The valet de chambre had the key; he opened the gate, and all entered the little court. The gendarmes had just arrived. The mayor told the brigadier to follow him, and placed two men at the gate, ordering them not to permit anyone to enter or go out, unless by his orders. Then the valet de chambre opened the door of the house.