At this mention of his most cruel enemy, Lecoq bounded from the ground like a wounded bull. “Oh!” he exclaimed. “Gevrol has not won the battle yet. We have lost May; it is a great misfortune; but his accomplice remains in our hands. We hold the crafty man who has hitherto defeated all our plans, no matter how carefully arranged. He is certainly shrewd and devoted to his friend; but we will see if his devotion will withstand the prospect of hard labor in the penitentiary. And that is what awaits him, if he is silent, and if he thus accepts the responsibility of aiding and abetting the fugitive’s escape. Oh! I’ve no fears—M. Segmuller will know how to draw the truth out of him.”
So speaking, Lecoq brandished his clinched fist with a threatening air and then, in calmer tones, he added: “But we must go to the station-house where the accomplice was removed. I wish to question him a little.”
It was six o’clock, and the dawn was just breaking when Father Absinthe and his companion reached the station-house, where they found the superintendent seated at a small table, making out his report. He did not move when they entered, failing to recognize them under their disguises. But when they mentioned their names, he rose with evident cordiality, and held out his hand.
“Upon my word!” said he, “I congratulate you on your capture last night.”
Father Absinthe and Lecoq exchanged an anxious look. “What capture?” they both asked in a breath.
“Why, that individual you sent me last night so carefully bound.”
“Well, what about him?”
The superintendent burst into a hearty laugh. “So you are ignorant of your good fortune,” said he. “Ah! luck has favored you, and you will receive a handsome reward.”
“Pray tell us what we’ve captured?” asked Father Absinthe, impatiently.
“A scoundrel of the deepest dye, an escaped convict, who has been missing for three months. You must have a description of him in your pocket—Joseph Couturier, in short.”
On hearing these words, Lecoq became so frightfully pale that Father Absinthe, fearing he was going to faint, raised his arms to prevent his falling. A chair stood close by, however, and on this Lecoq allowed himself to drop. “Joseph Couturier,” he faltered, evidently unconscious of what he was saying. “Joseph Couturier! an escaped convict!”
The superintendent certainly did not understand Lecoq’s agitation any better than Father Absinthe’s discomfited air.
“You have reason to be proud of your work; your success will make a sensation this morning,” he repeated. “You have captured a famous prize. I can see Gevrol’s nose now when he hears the news. Only yesterday he was boasting that he alone was capable of securing this dangerous rascal.”
After such an irreparable failure as that which had overtaken Lecoq, the unintended irony of these compliments was bitter in the extreme. The superintendent’s words of praise fell on his ears like so many blows from a sledge hammer.