No consultation held at the bedside of a dying man ever took place in the presence of two physicians so utterly unlike each other as those who accompanied the commissary of police to the Poivriere.
One of them, a tall old man with a bald head, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and an overcoat of antique cut, was evidently one of those modest savants encountered occasionally in the byways of Paris—one of those healers devoted to their art, who too often die in obscurity, after rendering immense services to mankind. He had the gracious calmness of a man who, having seen so much of human misery, has nothing left to learn, and no troubled conscience could have possibly sustained his searching glance, which was as keen as his lancet.
His colleague—young, fresh-looking, light-haired, and jovial—was somewhat foppishly attired; and his white hands were encased in handsome fur gloves. There was a soft self-satisfied smile on his face, and he had the manners of those practitioners who, for profit’s sake, invariably recommend the infallible panaceas invented each month in chemical laboratories and advertised ad nauseam in the back pages of newspapers. He had probably written more than one article upon “Medicine for the use of the people”; puffing various mixtures, pills, ointments, and plasters for the benefit of their respective inventors.
“I will request you, gentlemen,” said the commissary of police, “to begin your duties by examining the victim who wears a military costume. Here is a sergeant-major summoned to answer a question of identity, whom I must send back to his quarters as soon as possible.”
The two physicians responded with a gesture of assent, and aided by Father Absinthe and another agent of police, they lifted the body and laid it upon two tables, which had previously been placed end to end. They were not obliged to make any note of the attitude in which they found the body, since the unfortunate man, who was still alive when the police entered the cabin, had been moved before he expired.
“Approach, sergeant,” ordered the commissary, “and look carefully at this man.”
It was with very evident repugnance that the old soldier obeyed.
“What is the uniform that he wears?”
“It is the uniform of the 2d battalion of the 53d regiment of the line.”
“Do you recognize him?”
“Not at all.”
“Are you sure that he does not belong to your regiment?”
“I can not say for certain: there are some conscripts at the Depot whom I have never seen. But I am ready to swear that he had never formed part of the 2d battalion—which, by the way, is mine, and in which I am sergeant-major.”
Lecoq, who had hitherto remained in the background, now stepped forward. “It might be as well,” he suggested, “to note the numbers marked on the other articles of clothing.”