Like a dilettante who can scarcely restrain his applause until the close of the aria that delights him, Father Absinthe had been unable during the recital to entirely suppress his admiration. But it was not until Lecoq ceased speaking that he gave full vent to his enthusiasm: “Here is a detective if you like!” he exclaimed. “And they pretend that Gevrol is shrewd! What has he ever done to compare with this? Ah! shall I tell you what I think? Why, in comparison with you, the General is a more John the Baptist.”
Certainly the flattery was gross, but it was impossible to doubt its sincerity. This was the first time that the balmy dew of praise had fallen upon Lecoq’s vanity, and it greatly delighted him, although he modestly replied: “Nonsense, you are too kind, papa. After all, what have I done that is so very clever? I told you that the man was of middle age. It was not difficult to see that after one had examined his heavy, dragging step. I told you that he was tall—an easy matter. When I saw that he had been leaning upon that block of granite there to the left, I measured the block in question. It is almost five feet five inches in height, consequently a man who could rest his elbow upon it must be at least six feet high. The mark of his hand proves that I am not mistaken. On seeing that he had brushed away the snow which covered the plank, I asked myself what he had used; I thought that it might be his cap, and the mark left by the peak proves that I was right. Finally, if I have discovered the color and the material of his overcoat, it is only because when he wiped the wet board, some splinters of the wood tore off a few tiny flakes of brown wool, which I have found, and which will figure in the trial. But what does this amount to, after all? Nothing. We have only discovered the first clues of the affair. Still, we are on the right scent—so, forward then!”
The old officer was electrified, and, like an echo, he repeated: “Forward!”
That night the vagabonds, who had taken refuge in the neighborhood of the Poivriere, had a very bad time of it; for while those who managed to sleep were disturbed by frightful dreams of a police raid, those who remained awake witnessed some strange incidents, well calculated to fill their minds with terror. On hearing the shots fired inside Mother Chupin’s drinking den, most of the vagrants concluded that there had been a collision between the police and some of their comrades, and they immediately began prowling about, eagerly listening and watching, and ready to take flight at the least sign of danger. At first they could discover no particular reasons for alarm. But later on, at about two o’clock in the morning, just as they were beginning to feel secure again, the fog lifted a little, and they witnessed a phenomenon well calculated to arouse anxiety.