Alas! one and all gave a negative reply, at times indulging in some rough joke at the oddity of the name. And when any one asked the young detective what the man he was seeking was like, what could he reply? His answer was necessarily limited to the virtuous Toinon’s phrase: “I thought him a very respectable-looking gentleman.” This was not a very graphic description, however, and, besides, it was rather doubtful what a woman like Polyte Chupin’s wife might mean by the word “respectable.” Did she apply it to the man’s age, to his personal aspect, or to his apparent fortune.
Sometimes those whom Lecoq questioned would ask what parts this comedian of his was in the habit of playing; and then the young detective could make no reply whatever. He kept for himself the harassing thought that the role now being performed by the unknown Lacheneur was driving him—Lecoq—wild with despair.
Eventually our hero had recourse to a method of investigation which, strange to say, the police seldom employ, save in extreme cases, although it is at once sensible and simple, and generally fraught with success. It consists in examining all the hotel and lodging-house registers, in which the landlords are compelled to record the names of their tenants, even should the latter merely sojourn under their roofs for a single night.
Rising long before daybreak and going to bed late at night, Lecoq spent all his time in visiting the countless hotels and furnished lodgings in Paris. But still and ever his search was vain. He never once came across the name of Lacheneur; and at last he began to ask himself if such a name really existed, or if it were not some pseudonym invented for convenience. He had not found it even in Didot’s directory, the so-called “Almanach Boitin,” where one finds all the most singular and absurd names in France—those which are formed of the most fantastic mingling of syllables.
Still, nothing could daunt him or turn him from the almost impossible task he had undertaken, and his obstinate perseverance well-nigh developed into monomania. He was no longer subject to occasional outbursts of anger, quickly repressed; but lived in a state of constant exasperation, which soon impaired the clearness of his mind. No more theories, or ingenious deductions, no more subtle reasoning. He pursued his search without method and without order—much as Father Absinthe might have done when under the influence of alcohol. Perhaps he had come to rely less upon his own shrewdness than upon chance to reveal to him the substance of the mystery, of which he had as yet only detected the shadow.
When a heavy stone is thrown into a lake a considerable commotion ensues, the water spouts and seethes and bubbles and frequently a tall jet leaps into the air. But all this agitation only lasts for a moment; the bubbling subsides as the circles of the passing whirlpool grow larger and larger; the surface regains at last its customary smoothness; and soon no trace remains of the passage of the stone, now buried in the depths below.