He tried to hit upon some plan for repairing the damage done by Prosper’s foolish letter.
“Thank you for your information, my dear child,” he said after a long silence. “I will decide at once what steps to take, for it will never do to sit quietly and let things go on in this way. Return home without delay, and be careful of everything you say and do; for M. Fauvel suspects you of being in the plot. Send me word of anything that happens, no matter how insignificant it may be.”
Nina, thus dismissed, did not move, but said timidly:
“What about Caldas, monsieur?”
This was the third time during the last fortnight that Prosper had heard this name, Caldas.
The first time it had been whispered in his ear by a respectable-looking, middle-aged man, who offered his protection one day, when passing through the police-office passage.
The second time, the judge of instruction had mentioned it in connection with Gypsy’s history.
Prosper thought over all the men he had ever been connected with, but could recall none named Caldas.
The impassable M. Verduret started and trembled at the mention of this name, but, quickly recovering himself, said:
“I promised to find him for you, and I will keep my promise. Now you must go; good-morning.”
It was twelve o’clock, and M. Verduret suddenly remembered that he was hungry. He called Mme. Alexandre, and the beaming hostess of the Archangel soon placed a tempting breakfast before Prosper and his friend.
But the savory broiled oysters and flaky biscuit failed to smooth the perplexed brow of M. Verduret.
To the eager questions and complimentary remarks of Mme. Alexandre, he answered:
“Chut, chut! let me alone; keep quiet.”
For the first time since he had known the fat man, Prosper saw him betray anxiety and hesitation.
He remained silent as long as he could, and then uneasily said:
“I am afraid I have embarrassed you very much, monsieur.”
“Yes, you have dreadfully embarrassed me,” replied M. Verduret. “What on earth to do now, I don’t know! Shall I hasten matters, or keep quiet and wait for the next move? And I am bound by a sacred promise. Come, we had better go and advise with the judge of instruction. He can assist me. Come with me; let us hurry.”
As M. Verduret had anticipated, Prosper’s letter had a terrible effect upon M. Fauvel.
It was toward nine o’clock in the morning, and M. Fauvel had just entered his study when his mail was brought in.
After opening a dozen business letters, his eyes fell on the fatal missive sent by Prosper.
Something about the writing struck him as peculiar.
It was evidently a disguised hand, and although, owing to the fact of his being a millionnaire, he was in the habit of receiving anonymous communications, sometimes abusive, but generally begging him for money, this particular letter filled him with an indefinite presentiment of evil. A cold chill ran through his heart, and he dreaded to open it.