“They are not,” retorted the other. “The Commissary swears to his own signature on the identity book. The concierge at the Abbaye swears that he knows Mole, so do all the men of the Surete who have seen him. The Commissary has known him as an indigent, good-for-nothing lubbard who has begged his way in the streets of Paris ever since he was released from gaol some months ago, after he had served a term for larceny. Even your own man Hebert admits to feeling doubtful on the point. You have had the nightmare, citizen,” concluded Fouquier-Tinville with a harsh laugh.
“But, name of a dog!” broke in Chauvelin savagely. “You are not proposing to let the man go?”
“What else can I do?” the other rejoined fretfully. “We shall get into terrible trouble if we interfere with a man like Paul Mole. You know yourself how it is these days. We should have the whole of the rabble of Paris clamouring for our blood. If, after we have guillotined him, he is proved to be a good patriot, it will be my turn next. No! I thank you!”
“I tell you, man,” retorted Chauvelin desperately, “that the man is not Paul Mole—that he is the English spy whom we all know as the Scarlet Pimpernel.”
“Eh Bien!” riposted Fouquier-Tinville. “Bring me more tangible proof that our prisoner is not Paul Mole and I’ll deal with him quickly enough, never fear. But if by to-morrow morning you do not satisfy me on the point ... I must let him go his way.”
A savage oath rose to Chauvelin’s lips. He felt like a man who has been running, panting to reach a goal, who sees that goal within easy distance of him, and is then suddenly captured, caught in invisible meshes which hold him tightly, and against which he is powerless to struggle. For the moment he hated Fouquier-Tinville with a deadly hatred, would have tortured and threatened him until he wrung a consent, an admission, out of him.
Name of a name! when that damnable English spy was actually in his power, the man was a pusillanimous fool to allow the rich prize to slip from his grasp! Chauvelin felt as if he were choking; his slender fingers worked nervily around his cravat; beads of perspiration trickled unheeded down his pallid forehead.
Then suddenly he had an inspiration—nothing less! It almost seemed as if Satan, his friend, had whispered insinuating words into his ear. That scrap of paper! He had thrust it awhile ago into the breast pocket of his coat. It was still there, and the Public Prosecutor wanted a tangible proof. ... Then, why not. ...?
Slowly, his thoughts still in the process of gradual coordination, Chauvelin drew that soiled scrap of paper out of his pocket. Fouquier-Tinville, surly and ill-humoured, had his back half-turned towards him, was moodily picking at his teeth. Chauvelin had all the leisure which he required. He smoothed out the creases in the paper and spread it out carefully upon the desk close to the other man’s elbow. Fouquier-Tinville looked down on it, over his shoulder.