The luckless Toinon hid her face in her hands, and sobbed in an almost unintelligible voice: “Ah, I did not wish my little one to be a thief.”
But what this poor creature did not tell was that the man who had led the child out into the streets, to teach him to steal, was his own father, and her husband—the ruffian, Polyte Chupin. The two detectives plainly understood, however, that such was the case, and the father’s crime was so horrible, and the woman’s grief so great, that, familiar as they were with all the phases of crime, their very hearts were touched. Lecoq’s main thought, however, was to shorten this painful scene. The poor mother’s emotion was a sufficient guarantee of her sincerity.
“Listen,” said he, with affected harshness. “Two questions only, and then I will leave you. Was there a man named Gustave among the frequenters of the Poivriere?”
“No, sir, I’m quite sure there wasn’t.”
“Very well. But Lacheneur—you must know Lacheneur!”
“Yes, sir; I know him.”
The young police agent could not repress an exclamation of delight. “At last,” thought he, “I have a clue that may lead me to the truth. What kind of man is he?” he asked with intense anxiety.
“Oh! he is not at all like the other men who come to drink at my mother-in-law’s shop. I have only seen him once; but I remember him perfectly. It was on a Sunday. He was in a cab. He stopped at the corner of the waste ground and spoke to Polyte. When he went away, my husband said to me: ’Do you see that old man there? He will make all our fortunes.’ I thought him a very respectable-looking gentleman—”
“That’s enough,” interrupted Lecoq. “Now it is necessary for you to tell the investigating magistrate all you know about him. I have a cab downstairs. Take your child with you, if you like; but make haste; come, come quickly!”
The extreme uncertainty of the result was another attraction for M. Segmuller’s investigating mind. Given the magnitude of the difficulties that were to be overcome, he rightly considered that if his efforts proved successful, he would have achieved a really wonderful victory. And, assisted by such a man as Lecoq, who had a positive genius for his calling, and in whom he recognized a most valuable auxiliary, he really felt confident of ultimate success.
Even on returning home after the fatiguing labors of the day he did not think of freeing himself from the burden of responsibility in relation to the business he had on hand, or of driving away care until the morrow. He dined in haste, and as soon as he had swallowed his coffee began to study the case with renewed ardor. He had brought from his office a copy of the prisoner’s narrative, which he attentively perused, not once or twice, but several times, seeking for some weak point that might be attacked with a probability of success. He analyzed every