But Rateau gave in without a struggle. He appeared more dazed than frightened, and quietly allowed the agents of the Committee to lead him back to the bridge, where Chauvelin had paused, waiting for him.
A minute or two later Tournefort was once more beside his chief. He was carrying the precious bundle, which, he explained, the boatman had given up without question.
“The man knew nothing about it,” the agent said. “No one, he says, could have been more surprised than he was when this bundle was suddenly flung at him over the parapet of the bridge.”
Just then the small group, composed of two or three agents of the Committee, holding their prisoner by the arms, came into view. One man was walking ahead and was the first to approach Chauvelin. He had a small screw of paper in his hand, which he gave to his chief.
“Found inside the lining of the prisoner’s hat, citizen,” he reported curtly, and opened the shutter of a small, dark lantern which he wore at his belt.
Chauvelin took the paper from his subordinate. A weird, unexplainable foreknowledge of what was to come caused his hand to shake and beads of perspiration to moisten his forehead. He looked up and saw the prisoner standing before him. Crushing the paper in his hand he snatched the lantern from the agent’s belt and flashed it in the face of the quarry who, at the last, had been so easily captured.
Immediately a hoarse cry of disappointment and of rage escaped his throat.
“Who is this man?” he cried.
One of the agents gave reply:
“It is old Victor, the landlord of the ‘Bon
He is just a fool, who has been playing a practical joke.”
Tournefort, too, at sight of the prisoner had uttered a cry of dismay and of astonishment.
“Victor!” he exclaimed. “Name of a dog, citizen, what are you doing here?”
But Chauvelin had gripped the man by the arm so fiercely that the latter swore with the pain.
“What is the meaning of this?” he queried roughly.
“Only a bet, citizen,” retorted Victor reproachfully. “No reason to fall on an honest patriot for a bet, just as if he were a mad dog.”
“A joke? A bet?” murmured Chauvelin hoarsely, for his throat now felt hot and parched. “What do you mean? Who are you, man? Speak, or I’ll—”
“My name is Jean Victor,” replied the other. “I am the landlord of the ‘Bon Copain.’ An hour ago a man came into my cabaret. He was a queer, consumptive creature, with a churchyard cough that made you shiver. Some of my customers knew him by sight, told me that the man’s name was Rateau, and that he was an habitue of the ‘Liberte,’ in the Rue Christine. Well; he soon fell into conversation, first with me, then with some of my customers—talked all sorts of silly nonsense, made absurd bets with everybody.