“Enough! the bodies of the victims have been taken to the Morgue. Keep a sharp lookout there. Then, this evening make—well—do whatever you think best.”
“But, sir, I must—”
“To-morrow!—to-morrow, at nine o’clock, in my office in the Palais de Justice.”
Lecoq wished to insist upon a hearing, but M. d’Escorval had entered, or rather thrown himself into, his carriage, and the coachman was already whipping up the horse.
“And to think that he’s an investigating magistrate,” panted Lecoq, left spellbound on the quay. “Has he gone mad?” As he spoke, an uncharitable thought took possession of his mind. “Can it be,” he murmured, “that M. d’Escorval holds the key to the mystery? Perhaps he wishes to get rid of me.”
This suspicion was so terrible that Lecoq hastened back to the prison, hoping that the prisoner’s bearing might help to solve his doubts. On peering through the grated aperture in the door of the cell, he perceived the prisoner lying on the pallet that stood opposite the door. His face was turned toward the wall, and he was enveloped in the coverlid up to his eyes. He was not asleep, for Lecoq could detect a strange movement of the body, which puzzled and annoyed him. On applying his ear instead of his eye to the aperture, he distinguished a stifled moan. There could no longer be any doubt. The death rattle was sounding in the prisoner’s throat.
“Help! help!” cried Lecoq, greatly excited. “The prisoner is killing himself!”
A dozen keepers hastened to the spot. The door was quickly opened, and it was then ascertained that the prisoner, having torn a strip of binding from his clothes, had fastened it round his neck and tried to strangle himself with the assistance of a spoon that had been left him with his food. He was already unconscious, and the prison doctor, who immediately bled him, declared that had another ten minutes elapsed, help would have arrived too late.
When the prisoner regained his senses, he gazed around him with a wild, puzzled stare. One might have supposed that he was amazed to find himself still alive. Suddenly a couple of big tears welled from his swollen eyelids, and rolled down his cheeks. He was pressed with questions, but did not vouchsafe so much as a single word in response. As he was in such a desperate frame of mind, and as the orders to keep him in solitary confinement prevented the governor giving him a companion, it was decided to put a straight waistcoat on him. Lecoq assisted at this operation, and then walked away, puzzled, thoughtful, and agitated. Intuition told him that these mysterious occurrences concealed some terrible drama.
“Still, what can have occurred since the prisoner’s arrival here?” he murmured. “Has he confessed his guilt to the magistrate, or what is his reason for attempting so desperate an act?”