“It is as you have said,” remarked Lecoq, approvingly. “But I had not finished. If the emperor was thrown into consternation by the appearance of the Prussians, it was because he was momentarily expecting the arrival of one of his own generals from the same direction—Grouchy—with thirty-five thousand men. So if this man’s allusion was exact and complete, he was not expecting an enemy, but a friend. Now draw your own conclusions.”
Father Absinthe was amazed but convinced: and his eyes, heavy with sleep a few moments before, now opened to their widest extent. “Good heavens!” he murmured, “if you put it in that way! But I forget; you must have seen something as you were looking through the shutters.”
The young man shook his head. “Upon my honor,” he declared, “I saw nothing save the struggle between the murderer and the poor devil dressed as a soldier. It was that sentence alone that aroused my attention.”
“Wonderful! prodigious!” exclaimed the astonished old man.
“I will add that reflection has confirmed my suspicions. I ask myself why this man, instead of flying at once, should have waited and remained there, at that door, to parley with us.”
With a bound, Father Absinthe sprang again to his feet. “Why?” he interrupted; “because he had accomplices, and he wished to give them time to escape. Ah! I understand it all now.”
A triumphant smile parted Lecoq’s lips. “That is what I said to myself,” he replied, “and now it is easy to verify my suspicions. There is snow outside, isn’t there?”
It was not necessary to say any more. The elder officer seized the light, and followed by his companion, he hastened to the back door of the house, which opened into a small garden. In this sheltered enclosure the snow had not melted, and upon its white surface the dark stains of numerous footprints presented themselves. Without hesitation, Lecoq threw himself upon his knees in the snow; he rose again almost immediately. “These indentations were not made by the men’s feet,” said he. “There have been women here.”
Obstinate men of Father Absinthe’s stamp, who are at first always inclined to differ from other people’s opinions, are the very individuals who end in madly adopting them. When an idea has at last penetrated their empty brains, they twist and turn it, dwell upon it, and develop it until it exceeds the bounds of reason.
Hence, the police veteran was now much more strongly convinced than his companion that the usually clever Gevrol had been mistaken, and accordingly he laughed the inspector to scorn. On hearing Lecoq affirm that women had taken part in the horrible scene at the Poivriere, his joy was extreme—“A fine affair!” he exclaimed; “an excellent case!” And suddenly recollecting a maxim that has been handed down from the time of Cicero, he added in sententious tones: “Who holds the woman holds the cause!”