“Now,” cried Lecoq, “I see it all clearly. Aha, they want to force young Gandelu to disappear with Rose, do they?”
Beneath his gold-rimmed spectacles his eyes flashed fiercely. He seemed to be occupied in drawing out his plan of campaign.
“From this moment,” said he, “be at ease. In another month Mademoiselle de Mussidan shall be your wife; this I promise you, and the promises of Lecoq are never broken.”
He paused for an instant, as though to collect his thoughts, and then continued,—
“I can answer for all, except for your life. So many are interested in your disappearance from this world, that every effort will be made to get rid of you. Do not cease your caution for an instant. Never eat twice running at the same restaurant, throw away food that has the slightest strange taste. Avoid crowds in the street; do not get into a cab; never lean from a window before ascertaining that its supports are solid; in a word, fear and suspect everything.”
For a moment longer Lecoq detained the young artist.
“Tell me,” said he, “have you the mark of a wound on your shoulder or arm?”
“I have, sir; the scar of a very severe scald.”
“I thought so; yes, I was almost certain of it,” said Lecoq thoughtfully; and as he conducted the young man to the door, he took leave of him with the same words that Mascarin had often used to Paul,—
“Farewell for the present, Duke de Champdoce.”
THROUGH THE AIR.
At these last words Andre turned round, but the door closed, and he heard the key grate in the lock. He passed through the outer office, where the superintendent, his two clerks, and his late adversary all seemed to gaze upon him with a glance of admiration and esteem.
He gained the open street.
What did those last words of Lecoq mean? He was a foundling, it is true; but what foundling has not had lofty aspirations, and felt that, for all he knew, he might be the scion of some noble house.
As soon as Lecoq thought that the coast was clear, he opened the door, and called the agent, Palot.
“My lad,” said the great man, “you saw that young man who went out just now? He is a noble fellow, full of good feeling and honor. I look upon him as my friend.”
Palot made a gesture signifying that henceforth his late antagonist was as something sacred in his eyes.
“You will be his shadow,” pursued Lecoq, “and keep near enough to him to rush to his aid at a moment of danger. That gang, of which Mascarin is the head, want his life. You are my right-hand man, and I trust him to you. I have warned him, but youth is rash; and you will scent danger where he would never dream that it lurked. If there is any peril, dash boldly forward, but endeavor to let no one find out who you are. If you must speak to him—but only do so at the last extremity—whisper my name in his ear, and he will know you have come from me. Remember, you are answerable for him; but change your face. La Candele and the others must not recognize in you the wine-shop bully; that would spoil all. What have you on under that blouse, a commissionaire’s dress?