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IN WHICH A POLICE AGENT BESTOWS TWO FISTFULS ON A LAWYER
On arriving at No. 14, Rue de Pontoise, he ascended to the first floor and inquired for the commissary of police.
"The commissary of police is not here," said a clerk; "but there is an inspector who takes his place. Would you like to speak to him? Are you in haste?"
"Yes," said Marius.
The clerk introduced him into the commissary's office. There stood a tall man behind a grating, leaning against a stove, and holding up with both hands the tails of a vast topcoat, with three collars. His face was square, with a thin, firmmouth, thick, gray, and very ferocious whiskers, and a look that was enough to turn your pockets inside out. Of that glance it might have been well said, not that it penetrated, but that it searched.
This man's air was not much less ferocious nor less terrible than Jondrette's; the dog is, at times, no less terrible to meet than the wolf.
"What do you want?" he said to Marius, without adding "monsieur."
"Is this Monsieur le Commissaire de Police?"
"He is absent. I am here in his stead."
"The matter is very private."'
"And great haste is required."
"Then speak quick."
This calm, abrupt man was both terrifying and reassuring at one and the same time. He inspired fear and confidence. Marius related the adventure to him: That a person with whom he was not acquainted otherwise than by sight, was to be inveigled into a trap that very evening; that, as he occupied the room adjoining the den, he, Marius Pontmercy, a lawyer, had heard the whole plot through the partition; that the wretch who had planned the trap was a certain Jondrette; that there would be accomplices, probably some prowlers of the barriers, among others a certain Panchaud, alias Printanier, alias Bigrenaille; that Jondrette's daughters were to lie in wait; that there was no way of warning the threatened man, since he did not even know his name; and that, finally, all this was to be carried out at six o'clock that evening, at the most deserted point of the Boulevard de l'Hopital, in house No. 50-52.
At the sound of this number, the inspector raised his head, and said coldly: -
"So it is in the room at the end of the corridor?"
"Precisely," answered Marius, and he added: "Are you acquainted with that house?"
The inspector remained silent for a moment, then replied, as he warmed the heel of his boot at the door of the stove: -
He went on, muttering between his teeth, and not addressing Marius so much as his cravat: -
"Patron-Minette must have had a hand in this."
This word struck Marius.
"Patron-Minette," said he, "I did hear that word pronounced, in fact."
And he repeated to the inspector the dialogue between the long-haired man and the bearded man in the snow behind the wall of the Rue du Petit-Banquier.
The inspector muttered: -
"The long-haired man must be Brujon, and the bearded one Demi-Liard, alias Deux-Milliards."
He had dropped his eyelids again, and became absorbed in thought.
"As for Father What's-his-name, I think I recognize him. Here, I've burned my coat. They always have too much fire in these cursed stoves. Number 50-52. Former property of Gorbeau."
Then he glanced at Marius.
"You saw only that bearded and that long-haired man?"
"You didn't see a little imp of a dandy prowling about the premises?"
"Nor a big lump of matter, resembling an elephant in the Jardin des Plantes?"
"Nor a scamp with the air of an old red tail?"
"As for the fourth, no one sees him, not even his adjutants, clerks, and employees. It is not surprising that you did not see him."
"No. Who are all those persons?" asked Marius.
The inspector answered: -
"Besides, this is not the time for them."
He relapsed into silence, then resumed: -
"50-52. I know that barrack. Impossible to conceal ourselves inside it without the artists seeing us, and then they will get off simply by countermanding the vaudeville. They are so modest! An audience embarrasses them. None of that, none of that. I want to hear them sing and make them dance."
This monologue concluded, he turned to Marius, and demanded, gazing at him intently the while: -
"Are you afraid?"
"Of what?" said Marius.
"Of these men?"
"No more than yourself!" retorted Marius rudely, who had begun to notice that this police agent had not yet said "monsieur" to him.
The inspector stared still more intently at Marius, and continued with sententious solemnity: -
"There, you speak like a brave man, and like an honest man. Courage does not fear crime, and honesty does not fear authority."
Marius interrupted him: -
"That is well, but what do you intend to do?"
The inspector contented himself with the remark: -
"The lodgers have pass-keys with which to get in at night. You must have one."
"Yes," said Marius.
"Have you it about you?"
"Give it to me," said the inspector.
Marius took his key from his waistcoat pocket, handed it to the inspector and added: -
"If you will take my advice, you will come in force."
The inspector cast on Marius such a glance as Voltaire might have bestowed on a provincial academician who had suggested a rhyme to him; with one movement he plunged his hands, which were enormous, into the two immense pockets of his top-coat, and pulled out two small steel pistols, of the sort called "knock-me-downs." Then he presented them to Marius, saying rapidly, in a curt tone: -
"Take these. Go home. Hide in your chamber, so that you may be supposed to have gone out. They are loaded. Each one carries two balls. You will keep watch; there is a hole in the wall, as you have informed me. These men will come. Leave them to their own devices for a time. When you think matters have reached a crisis, and that it is time to put a stop to them, fire a shot. Not too soon. The rest concerns me. A shot into the ceiling, the air, no matter where. Above all things, not too soon. Wait until they begin to put their project into execution; you are a lawyer; you know the proper point." Marius took the pistols and put them in the side pocket of his coat.
"That makes a lump that can be seen," said the inspector. "Put them in your trousers pocket."
Marius hid the pistols in his trousers pockets.
"Now," pursued the inspector, "there is not a minute more to be lost by any one. What time is it? Half-past two. Seven o'clock is the hour?"
"Six o'clock," answered Marius.
"I have plenty of time," said the inspector, "but no more than enough. Don't forget anything that I have said to you. Bang. A pistol shot."
"Rest easy," said Marius.
And as Marius laid his hand on the handle of the door on his way out, the inspector called to him: -
"By the way, if you have occasion for my services between now and then, come or send here. You will ask for Inspector Javert."
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XV