Gevrol, hitherto an attentive listener, burst into a loud laugh. “Still that Russian princess,” said he.
Neither the magistrate nor the young detective relished this unseasonable jest. “You forget yourself, sir,” said M. Segmuller severely. “You forget that the sneers you address to your comrade also apply to me!”
The General saw that he had gone too far; and while glancing hatefully at Lecoq, he mumbled an apology to the magistrate. The latter did not apparently hear him, for, bowing to the governor, he motioned Lecoq to follow him away.
“Run to the Prefecture of Police,” he said as soon as they were out of hearing, “and ascertain how and under what pretext this woman obtained permission to see Polyte Chupin.”
On his way back to his office, M. Segmuller mentally reviewed the position of affairs; and came to the conclusion that as he had failed to take the citadel of defense by storm, he must resign himself to a regular protracted siege. He was exceedingly annoyed at the constant failures that had attended all Lecoq’s efforts; for time was on the wing, and he knew that in a criminal investigation delay only increased the uncertainty of success. The more promptly a crime is followed by judicial action the easier it is to find the culprit, and prove his guilt. The longer investigation is delayed the more difficult it becomes to adduce conclusive evidence.
In the present instance there were various matters that M. Segmuller might at once attend to. With which should he begin? Ought he not to confront May, the Widow Chupin, and Polyte with the bodies of their victims? Such horrible meetings have at times the most momentous results, and more than one murderer when unsuspectedly brought into the presence of his victim’s lifeless corpse has changed color and lost his assurance.
Then there were other witnesses whom M. Segmuller might examine. Papillon, the cab-driver; the concierge of the house in the Rue de Bourgogne—where the two women flying from the Poivriere had momentarily taken refuge; as well as a certain Madame Milner, landlady of the Hotel de Mariembourg. In addition, it would also be advisable to summon, with the least possible delay, some of the people residing in the vicinity of the Poivriere; together with some of Polyte’s habitual companions, and the landlord of the Rainbow, where the victims and the murderer had apparently passed the evening of the crime. Of course, there was no reason to expect any great revelations from any of these witnesses, still they might know something, they might have an opinion to express, and in the present darkness one single ray of light, however faint, might mean salvation.
Obeying the magistrate’s orders, Goguet, the smiling clerk, had just finished drawing up at least a dozen summonses, when Lecoq returned from the Prefecture. M. Segmuller at once asked him the result of his errand.