“If you please.”
Gourdon searched his pockets for a paper which he found presently and handed to his colleague. The latter perused it thoughtfully.
“Where did Tournefort find these men?” he asked.
“For the most part at the Cabaret de la Liberte—a place of very evil repute down in the Rue Christine.”
“I know it,” rejoined the other. He was still studying the list of names which Gourdon had given him. “And,” he added, “I know most of these men. As thorough a set of ruffians as we need for some of our work. Merri, Guidal, Rateau, Desmonds. TIENS!” he exclaimed. “Rateau! Is Rateau here now?”
“Why, of course! He was recruited, like the rest of them, for the day. He won’t leave till he has been paid, you may be sure of that. Why do you ask?”
“I will tell you presently. But I would wish to speak with citizen Rateau first.”
Just at this moment Tournefort paid his periodical visit to the hall. The usual words, “Still nothing,” were on his lips, when Gourdon curtly ordered him to go and fetch the citizen Rateau.
A minute or two later Tournefort returned with the news that Rateau could nowhere be found. Chauvelin received the news without any comment; he only ordered Tournefort, somewhat roughly, back to his work. Then, as soon as the latter had gone, Gourdon turned upon his colleague.
“Will you explain—” he began with a show of bluster.
“With pleasure,” replied Chauvelin blandly. “On my way hither, less than an hour ago, I met your man Rateau, a league or so from here.”
“You met Rateau!” exclaimed Gourdon impatiently. “Impossible! He was here then, I feel sure. You must have been mistaken.”
“I think not. I have only seen the man once, when I, too, went to recruit a band of ruffians at the Cabaret de la Liberte, in connection with some work I wanted doing. I did not employ him then, for he appeared to me both drink-sodden and nothing but a miserable, consumptive creature, with a churchyard cough you can hear half a league away. But I would know him anywhere. Besides which, he stopped and wished me good morning. Now I come to think of it,” added Chauvelin thoughtfully, “he was carrying what looked like a heavy bundle under his arm.”
“A heavy bundle!” cried Gourdon, with a forceful oath. “And you did not stop him!”
“I had no reason for suspecting him. I did not know until I arrived here what the whole affair was about, or whom you were employing. All that the Committee knew for certain was that you and Tournefort and a number of men had arrived at Gentilly before daybreak, and I was then instructed to follow you hither to see what mischief you were up to. You acted in complete secrecy, remember, citizen Gourdon, and without first ascertaining the wishes of the Committee of Public Safety, whose servant you are. If the Sucy diamonds are not found, you alone will be held responsible for their loss to the Government of the People.”