“Don’t be in such a hurry to reject my compliments,” replied old Tabaret, with a horrible grimace. “I say that you have conducted this investigation very well; but it could have been done much better, very much better. You have a talent for your work, that’s evident; but you lack experience; you become elated by a trifling advantage, or discouraged by a mere nothing; you fail, and yet persist in holding fast to a fixed idea, as a moth flutters about a candle. Then, you are young. But never mind that, it’s a fault you will outgrow only too soon. And now, to speak frankly, I must tell you that you have made a great many blunders.”
Lecoq hung his head like a schoolboy receiving a reprimand from his teacher. After all was he not a scholar, and was not this old man his master?
“I will now enumerate your mistakes,” continued old Tabaret, “and I will show you how, on at least three occasions, you allowed an opportunity for solving this mystery to escape you.”
“Pooh! pooh! my boy, let me talk a little while now. What axiom did you start with? You said: ’Always distrust appearances; believe precisely the contrary of what appears true, or even probable.’”
“Yes, that is exactly what I said to myself.”
“And it was a very wise conclusion. With that idea in your lantern to light your path, you ought to have gone straight to the truth. But you are young, as I said before; and the very first circumstance you find that seems at all probable you quite forget the rule which, as you yourself admit, should have governed your conduct. As soon as you meet a fact that seems even more than probable, you swallow it as eagerly as a gudgeon swallows an angler’s bait.”
This comparison could but pique the young detective. “I don’t think I’ve been so simple as that,” protested he.
“Bah! What did you think, then, when you heard that M. d’Escorval had broken his leg in getting out of his carriage?”
“Believe! I believed what they told me, because—” He paused, and Tirauclair burst into a hearty fit of laughter.
“You believed it,” he said, “because it was a very plausible story.”
“What would you have believed had you been in my place?”
“Exactly the opposite of what they told me. I might have been mistaken; but it would be the logical conclusion as my first course of reasoning.”
This conclusion was so bold that Lecoq was disconcerted. “What!” he exclaimed; “do you suppose that M. d’Escorval’s fall was only a fiction? that he didn’t break his leg?”
Old Tabaret’s face suddenly assumed a serious expression. “I don’t suppose it,” he replied; “I’m sure of it.”
Lecoq’s confidence in the oracle he was consulting was very great; but even old Tirauclair might be mistaken, and what he had just said seemed such an enormity, so completely beyond the bounds of possibility, that the young man could not conceal a gesture of incredulous surprise.