The Affair of the Red Portefeuille
The red portefeuille in question was a certain red morocco note-case. How, in the Rue de Jerusalem, it became “an affair,” was the story its owner told us. And on this wise.
“It was safe enough,” Dick Langley said, “in my inner breast-pocket when I left Spa that morning; and it was safe there too when I reached the Nord terminus that evening. But I had not been five minutes in my customary quarters at the Grand before I discovered that my note-case was most indubitably—gone—looted quietly, you know. The how was that clean cut through the bottom seam of the pocket; the where must have been in the crowd at the station just now.
“I don’t profess to be much of a judge of this sort of thing; but it struck me at the time that the fellow who had operated on me must have been about the top of his profession—so scarcely perceptible was the solution of continuity in my garment, so absolutely unconscious had I been of his propinquity. Still, I had lost some fifty thousand francs’ worth of French bank-paper, not one sou whereof was I likely to see again. So that it was with feelings of wholly not unadmixed admiration that I was examining the traces of the spoiler’s handiwork when the door opened, and someone came into the room.
“I looked up, expecting to see Vere Lucingham. Vere was second secretary here then; an incorrigible farceur, who had, as such, a ‘difficulty’ with some victimized native to settle next day; which business had brought me up from the Bad. But it was not Vere on whom the door had just closed.
“It was a slight, wiry little man, with his black hair cut close to his bullet head, with a sallow face shaved blue, and a keen, cool eye that took everything in the room in at a glance, and then rested upon me as though I was precisely the person its owner wished and expected to behold. In fact, I fancied that the little man muttered as much to himself.
“So I asked him politely who he was, instead of what he wanted.
“‘Dard, agent of the Surete,’ he answered.
“I had to ask him what he wanted, then, you know. His reply to this was curious.
“‘In the name of the law I arrest you,’ he said.
“‘Might I inquire why?’ I returned.
“‘You, Thompsonne, alias Walkerre,’ the little man pursued. ‘In short, Thompsonne, with an infinity of aliases. Why, for your last coup at Spa this morning.’
“He was perfectly in earnest, I could see; he meant every word he said. I stared at him. His smile was particularly irritating to me in my then state of mind. The window was open; there was the making of a good fall outside. I admit my first impulse was to dispose of my visitor summarily that way.
“‘C'est pas la peine,’ he observed, misreading my eyes; ‘you would only break your neck.’ “He was so perfectly cool that I had perforce to get myself in hand again.
“‘That,’ I said to him when I had done it, ‘is the second mistake you have made, monsieur—’ “‘Dard,’ he put in.
“‘Monsieur Dard, since I have had the pleasure of your society. It was not myself that I was tempted to toss out of that window. And I am not Thompson—’
“‘English pickpocket,’ this insufferable Monsieur Dard put in here. ‘Ah! you are not Thompsonne, English pickpocket? Really?’
“‘Really not. Your last mistake is rather a ghastly one you will find, I shouldn’t wonder.’
“‘Allons donc!’ he responded, shrugging his shoulder.
“‘My dear Monsieur Dard,’ I went on, grinning inwardly now, in spite of my annoyance, and in anticipation of Vere’s entry on the scene, to see how profoundly convinced my interlocutor was that he had arrested his Thompsonne, and how charmingly he mistook my modest assurance for the impudence of that hardened criminal; ‘my dear Monsieur Dard, it so happens that in a very few minutes I shall be able to produce unimpeachable evidence of my proper identity.’
“‘Pray do not trouble yourself,’ he deprecated ironically.
“‘I am not going to trouble myself at all,’ I said; ‘my unimpeachable evidence will walk into this room of its own accord in about a quarter of an hour.’
“‘Aha! And he comes from where, your unimpeachable evidence?’
“‘From the British embassy, my dear Monsieur Dard. You will, I presume, admit, then, your mistake is the ghastly mistake I have ventured to style it? You will? Very good. And as you have only a quarter of an hour to wait before you admit this, and as any esclandre would hardly improve matters, do me the favor to sit down, light one of these cigarettes, and relieve my curiosity as to why in your wisdom you have arrested me as Thompson, English pickpocket, and what, supposing I am Thompson aforesaid, I have been doing in Spa?’
“Monsieur Dard looked at me harder, shrugged his shoulders higher, smiled more insufferably than he had looked, and shrugged, and smiled yet. I had, however, so far impressed him in some way, that when I sat down and lit a little roll of Pherceli tobacco he followed my example. Then he said:
“‘You were at the Redoute at Spa this morning when play commenced?’
“I admitted I was.
“‘At the roulette-table in the smaller salte?’ he continued.
“‘Excuse me; you are wrong there. It is well known I never touch roulette. I was at the trente-et- quarante table.’
“‘At the same table,’ pursued the impassible Dard, ‘was standing one Hippolyte Bourdon.’
“‘Who is he?’
“‘Whom you must have noticed place a red portefeuille—’
“‘A red portefeuille?’ I repeated.
“‘Containing it appears, in bank-notes, the sum of—’
“‘Of fifty odd thousand francs, I suppose,’ I muttered, pensive at the recollection of my own vanished paper, the result of that run upon the Rouge that morning.
“‘No,’ Monsieur Dard returned sharply, ‘not quite so much as that. About forty thousand francs. A miscount, no doubt,’ he added.
“‘By Jove!’ I ejaculated in the vernacular, unheeding my friend’s sarcasm. ‘This is queer. A red portefeuille, you say? Morocco?’
“‘Your penetration is perfect,’ Monsieur Dard replied, with an ironical bow. ‘A red Morocco portefeuille, Monsieur Bourdon, as you noticed, placed it in the inner breast-pocket of his coat; and—’
“‘What! The inner breast-pocket, too?’ The coincidence was getting more than queer.
“‘And you,’ pursued Monsieur Dard, ‘took advantage of the crowd at the doorway to—’
“And I will be shot, you know, if Monsieur Dard didn’t pantomime precisely the maneuver my devaliseur just now must have employed to cut my red morocco portefeuille out of my inner breast-pocket.
“‘Go on,’ I said, astonished. ‘What did I do then?’
“‘You rushed precipitately down the staircase of the Redoute.’ “‘I wanted to catch the train, you know.’
“‘Ca se comprend! You jumped into a panier waiting outside, and caused yourself to be driven furiously to the station, where you arrived in time to take a ticket, first-class, to Paris by the 11:37 express.’
“‘I admit all that. Go on.’
“‘In the meantime, though unfortunately too late, Monsieur Bourdon had become aware of his loss. He instantly communicated his suspicions—he had noticed you repeatedly at his elbow—to the Commissaire of Police. Oddly enough,’ continued Monsieur Dard, his eyes on me more maliciously than ever, ‘the commissaire was at that moment engaged with the Sergeant Rokerre—you know the Sergeant Rokerre, without doubt? No? Really? Not the Sergeant Rokerre of your own Surete from Scotlanyar? Well, no matter; the Sergeant Rokerre knows you.’
“‘The devil he does!’ I interjaculated.
“‘Yes. In fact it was precisely one Thompsonne, with an infinity of aliases, notorious English pickpocket, who had brought the Sergeant Rokerre from Bruxelles, where he had lost sight of his man, to Spa, where he expected to find him; and it was precisely this Thompsonne that Bourdon described when he described the individual he believed had robbed him.’
“‘I don’t say he didn’t,’ I commented; ‘I only say he didn’t describe me.’
“‘Wait a minute,’ Monsieur Dard, returned. ‘By means of this description you were traced to the station! By means of it it was ascertained you had taken a ticket for Paris. The Sergeant Rokerre then communicated by telegraph with us, and took other precautions in the event of your changing your mind with regard to your destination. However, these proved unnecessary. You arrived in Paris at nine o’clock this evening. Monsieur Thompsonne is too important a personage for us not to possess his signalement. That telegraphed to us by the Sergeant Rokerre from Spa agreed remarkably with the pen portrait of the same which I of course consulted when the affair was placed in my hands. So remarkably,’ concluded Monsieur Dard, ‘that though the telegrams specified such things as that travelling dress you wear, as that purple and black plaid, as that peculiarly-fashioned cap, I had need of none of them to feel certain you were the Thompsonne I wanted the instant I came into the room.’
“‘And you feel as certain of it still, Monsieur Dard?’
“‘Undoubtedly,’ he said, smiling insufferably. Yet I had reason to know the Surete could boast of fewer abler agents than this same Dard. I was curious to hear why he was so certain I was his Thompsonne.
“‘Before I prove to you I am not, prove to me I am,’ I asked him. “‘I will prove that to you in two words,’ he declared, calmly. “‘Well.’
“He looked me in the eyes with cool triumph in his own, as he leaned across the table and said: “‘The red portefeuille was distinctly seen in your possession at the station la bas at Spa.’ “‘That is very probable,’ I returned.
“‘Ah! You admit it? In effect what good to deny it?’
“‘I don’t deny it the least in the world.’
“‘No?’ Monsieur Dard replied, rising with that confounded touch of melodrama in his rising that taints all Frenchmen more or less; ‘no, you do not deny it, and it would be useless if you did, because that same red portefeuille was again seen in your possession at the station here in Paris three-quarters of an hour ago.’
“‘I admit it was in my possession there, too, Monsieur Dard.’
“‘Because,’ he went on, ‘you have held no communication with any one since, except with me; because, therefore, and in short, that red portefeuille and the forty thousand—’
“‘Excuse me, fifty thousand,’ I interrupted, spitefully, spoiling his peroration.
“‘Because,’ he repeated, ‘that red portefeuille is—there!’ And he pointed with unhesitating forefinger straight at that inner breast-pocket of my travelling jacket, where indeed my red morocco note case ought to have been.
“I could scarcely well help grinning in his sallow, blue-shaven face, at the sell and the swindle that was coming.
“‘The devil it is!’ I replied, turning so as to expose that clean, artistic cut in my garment. ‘I should be only too glad if you were right about that, at all events. But what do you make of this, Monsieur Dard?’
“Monsieur Dard didn’t seem to know exactly what to make of it for a minute or two, I thought. Then he smiled that confounded smile of his, and wagged his head, as it were, admiringly.
“‘It is very clever,’ he observed, ‘wonderfully clever. But my dear Monsieur Thompsonne, it will not do. Ah, no; it will not do at all!’
“Eventually I gathered that Monsieur Dard’s opinion, belief, conviction, was that I had been operating on myself!
“And to make one’s self out so far from the robber as the robbed wouldn’t have been such a bad move on the part of the real Thompson, would it? It was a notion, though, which could only enter that individual’s head—or Monsieur Dard’s; so that, to Monsieur Dard, I was simply more positively the real Thompson than ever, don’t you see?
“But that too clever little man’s triumph was of the briefest. The next moment the door opened with a rush, and there entered, perhaps more precipitately than he had intended, an unmistakable subordinate from the Rue de Jerusalem, whom I presumed Monsieur Dard had prudently put on guard outside, followed by someone far more reassuring in the shape of Vere Lucingham.
“‘Some trouble to get at you, Dick,’ said Vere, when he perceived me. ‘Ah! here is Monsieur Dard. Bon jour, Monsieur Dard.’
“Notwithstanding its natural imperturbability, the countenance of the agent of the Surete betrayed signs of exquisite discomfort at this salutation; for Monsieur Dard knew who Vere was perfectly well. He had taken certain instructions from the second secretary in a matter in which the embassy had just employed him; and the second secretary knew me—Thompsonne, with the infinity of aliases, notorious British pickpocket, and addressed me familiarly as ‘Dick.’
“‘Diable! diable! diable!’ muttered discomfited Monsieur Dard in three different keys. If this were the case, why—. The inference was as obvious as it was unpleasant. I was no more Thompsonne than he was himself.
“At a sign the subordinate withdrew. Vere seated himself, and looked from one to the other of us.
“‘Perhaps, I’m de trop?’ he inquired, as if this idea had just struck him. ‘You’ve business with Monsieur Dard, Dick?’
“‘No,’ I returned, enjoying the spectacle Monsieur Dard presented ineffably; ‘it’s Monsieur Dard who has business with me. Perhaps you can help him to settle it.’
“‘All right. What’s the row?’
“‘Monsieur Dard has done me the honor of arresting me,’ I explained.
“‘Ah! for what?’
“‘Picking pockets at Spa.’
“‘Serve you right, you know.’
“‘And as being one Thompsonne, with an infinity of aliases, who picks pockets generally everywhere. Is it not so, Monsieur Dard?’
“‘Eh bien oui,’ that individual rapped out; ‘for me, I confess, you are Thompsonne. Unless—?’ and he glanced interrogatively at Vere. Which farceur shook his head dubiously.
“‘Such,’ he said, ‘is human depravity, that, in spite of his ingenuous countenance, it’s possible he may be Thompsonne. On the neck of my conscience, Dick, I can’t say you’re not a swell mobsman, and have not been picking pockets at Spa.’
“‘Allons donc!’ muttered Monsieur Dard, impatiently.
“‘But,’ continued Vere, ‘I can say that, except in the legitimate way of whist and billiards, you have never picked mine. And moreover, Monsieur Dard, though you may be right, and society in general wrong, I am bound to add that by society in general, and by myself in particular, this person has hitherto been held to be one Richard Langley, and that, if not honest, he is at least written down honorable in Debrett.’
“‘Diable! diable! diable!’ in the three different keys from Monsieur Dard again at this.
“‘So that,’ Vere concluded, ‘before altogether renouncing him, perhaps I had better hear all about it.’
“Well, the upshot of it was that we all three beat up the nearest commissaire; that my identity was duly vouched for, and that it was arranged we should meet the victimized Bourdon, and the English detective Roker, before the same official next day, when matters were partially cleared up. Monsieur Bourdon declared that though I very strongly resembled the individual who had stuck to him so pertinaciously at the roulette-table, yet that to the best of his belief he had never set eyes on me before. And the English detective decided as readily that I was not his man.
“‘Only you see, sir,’ Sergeant Roker explained, ‘you really are so uncommon like the other rascal—that is, I mean, of course, the rascal—that it ain’t no wonder we was put wrong. You had been noticed hurrying off to the station! We thought we was tracking him all the while. Our description of him hit you off so well, that we got that information about your gray jacket, and that queer cap you wore, and so on. Then again the description of you we telegraphed here quite fitted with the one they’d got of him. Altogether, sir, you see it wern’t our fault. Besides, you’d been seen with a red pocketbook down at Spa, and you’d been seen with one at the station here. Which that were a odd start, too, you’re having your pocket cut that way, wern’t it, sir?’
“I had arrived at that opinion already; but as I had had about enough of this ‘Comedy of Errors’ by this time, I cut Mr. Roker’s discourse as the ‘Chorus’ ruthlessly short here.
“Impossible as ever again, Monsieur Dard had played an almost silent part in the last scene. When it was over he saluted us comprehensively, and departed without a word. As his friend and confrere, Roker had remarked, ‘all things considered,’ the mistake of the French agent was excusable enough. It was nevertheless, though, a mistake, and it punished Monsieur Dard’s infallibility sorely to have to own it was.
“‘But,’ he said, in the course of a brief conversation we had before I left Paris—‘but en revanche, I think I can promise you, Monsieur Langley, the recovery of the money you were robbed of on the night of your arrival.’
“‘You have a clue, then?’ I inquired, not over hopefully.
“‘I have my little theory. If I get carte blanche to act upon it I will answer for success this time.’
“‘Very good; but remember, Monsieur Dard, I don’t know the number of a single note, to begin with.’
“‘That is of no consequence—you can identify the portefeuille?’ “‘Of course.’
“‘Well, it is part of my theory that the money is in that portefeuille still, exactly as it was when it was stolen.’
“‘The only thing, then, is to discover the portefeuille, Monsieur Dard?’ I laughed.
“‘Precisely,’ he responded. ‘If, as I say, I am allowed to act, I consider that discovery certain. It shall be my amende honorable.’
“With that, Monsieur Dard took his leave. I can’t say that he left me with any very abiding hope of getting my note-case again. It was, nevertheless, destined to become ‘an affair’ not yet forgotten at the Prefecture.
“On the Boulevart, three months later, I ran against Vere one afternoon.
“‘Well, my Thompsonne,’ said the farceur, ‘and how is business, eh? Faked any more fat note- cases lately? I suppose so, for your old friend Dard was inquiring for you just now.’
“‘What did he want me for?’
“‘I couldn’t gather the precise crime you’d been perpetrating; but he asked so suspiciously when you’d be back that I thought it more leery to answer him vocally out of Kathleen Mavoureen—
“It mightn’t be for years, and it mightn’t be forever,”
at which he seemed annoyed. So at last I proposed for a certain sum down to betray you unto him tonight.’
“‘Don’t be a d— fool! What do you mean?’
“‘I mean that I’m going to order a mirobolant dinner in here, and that you are to pay for it like a bird. At least I shall think but poorly of you if you don’t, when I have told you that—keep cool now—that our Dard has recovered the coin you boned from—I mean the coin that was boned from you, you know.’
“‘And that your formal identification of your purloined note-case is all that is wanting to put you once more in possession of your ill-gotten gains, when as a matter of course, you will invite us all to a dancing-supper at Brebant’s.’
“I may as well add at once that I was eventually let in for this entertainment, and then leave Monsieur Dard to finish the ‘Affair of the Red Portefeuille’ in his own fashion without further interruption.
“‘My theory,’ he said, ‘was this, Monsieur Langley, not being my Thompsonne, had neither robbed Bourdon nor—as I had given him great credit for doing—himself; but, on the contrary, Monsieur Langley had indubitably been robbed by someone else. Now was it not a thing unnatural, almost impossible, to suppose that on the same day, in precisely the same way as he was being accused of having robbed Bourdon at Spa, Monsieur Langley should be robbed at the Place Roubaix of a similar portefeuille, containing a similarly large amount, by any mere casual cut-purse? To me it seemed so impossible that I rejected the supposition at once. I had, therefore, to conclude that it was no mere casual cut-purse who had robbed Monsieur Langley.
“‘Who, then? Someone who had planned the coup at Spa, and followed the red portefeuille in Monsieur Langley’s inner breast-pocket to Paris?
“‘Much more likely. And yet the chance of success was hardly great enough, in proportion to the inevitable risk, to tempt an artist of such force as Monsieur Langley’s devaliseur evidently was, to leave securer and more profitable business la bas. It is true my Thompsonne, who had imperative reasons for quitting Spa, might have taken this purse also on his way; but I had ascertained that my Thompsonne had not arrived in Paris at all, you see.
“‘I put this second supposition aside the more readily because of something I remembered suddenly.
“‘I remembered that that evening there had been at the Paris terminus, waiting the arrival of the express at nine o’clock, a man who, the moment he beheld Monsieur Langley, would be mortally certain that in a certain pocket of Monsieur Langley’s travelling-coat was a red portefeuille containing some forty thousand bank-notes, who would have special reasons for watching Monsieur Langley closer than anybody else, and who believed Monsieur Langley to be Thompsonne the pickpocket.
“‘Remembering this, I quickly saw how this man, with special reasons for watching Monsieur Langley closely, might notice him take the portefeuille from his pocket, to get out his keys say; how this man, who believed Monsieur Langley to be Monsieur Thompsonne, might have hardly calculated on being able to rob him with perfect impunity, inasmuch as, on the one hand, even if Thompsonne caught him in flagrante delicto, a word from one thief would make the other only too glad to hold his tongue; and, on the other hand, if Thompsonne were not to perceive his loss at the moment, he was to be arrested, so soon as he was domiciled, by me, when, his devaliseur naturally supposed, there was slight chance of my prisoner proclaiming he had been robbed of the most positive proofs of his late operation at Spa.
“‘In short, I saw in a very brief while how this man might have robbed Monsieur Langley, supposing him to be Thompsonne. The more I reflected on the matter the more certain I became that this man, and no other, was the actual robber.
“‘And he was—the agent who had been ordered to “filer” the supposed Thompsonne on his arrival. The “faiseur” of the red portefeuille was this particular agent, I was finally convinced, and no one else.
“‘The conclusion I had arrived at was a very grave one. We are, we must be, invariably above suspicion in our métier. But I had arrived at this conclusion deliberately, and I could arrive at this alone. I laid my theory, therefore, before the chef, and more effectively than I had ventured to hope. After some deliberation the chef decided that, considering the importance of this matter to ourselves, I should be allowed to clear it up if I could. At the same time the consequences of my failing to do so were plainly intimated to me. But I did not think I should fail. Armed with the chef’s carte blanche I lost no time in placing my “suspect” under surveillance forthwith.
“‘His name was Falleix. Certain protection had procured him admittance into the Brigade, where we knew unusually little of his antecedents; a fact which had no doubt had its influence in deciding the chef in favor of an investigation.
“‘In my unavoidable absence, at the last moment, Falleix, to whom all the details of the affair must have been well known, was directed to await the arrival of the supposed Thompsonne by the express at nine o’clock, and in the event of my still not having appeared, to filer that individual quietly wherever he might go;— our object being to make the acquaintance of any confederates Thompsonne might have in Paris, you understand. I reached the Gare just as Monsieur Langley was driving away to the Grand Hotel. Once there, I, as you will doubtless recollect, left Falleix outside the supposed Thompsonne’s room, entered it myself, and arrested Monsieur Langley—a deplorable error, for which I have only forgiven myself since yesterday.
“‘Convinced by Monsieur Lucingham shortly afterwards of this error, you will recollect I signed to my aide that he might withdraw. Which he did in the most tranquil manner possible, carrying off the red portefeuille and the fifty thousand francs of Monsieur Langley with him. When, next day, I informed him of the fiasco, and the way in which our supposed faiseur had himself been robbed, it pleased Monsieur Falleix to lift his shoulders in his customary silent fashion, and to smile disagreeably in my face. I remembered that smile when the notion that Monsieur Falleix, and none but he, was the robber, began to grow upon me. He had had time to dispose of his plunder, and had evidently so disposed of it as to feel quite safe.
“‘How? Where? Questions I had to answer, and questions very difficult to answer; for the way in which he had planned and performed this coup proved Monsieur Falleix at once to be a person of profound ability, who would never have forgotten to take into his calculations the possibility, at any rate, of his being suspected and watched as I meant he should be. No; Monsieur Langley’s red portefeuille—I was of opinion, by-the-by, that the portefeuille itself had not been destroyed, either because Falleix would consider its destruction immaterial when it was no longer liable to be found in his possession, or because he had had no means of destroying it safely forthwith, and had been too prudent to keep it about him till he should have had these means—Monsieur Langley’s portefeuille, I say, and its contents, the proof of Falleix’s guilt and the correctness of my theory, were only to be discovered through Falleix’s impatience or imprudence. Only this could give me a clue; and this clue my “suspect” who now began to live, as it were, under glass—the minutest action, the most trifling incidents of whose life were all henceforth known to me, seemed to have determined I should wait for eternally. The closest watch upon him brought to light—absolutely nothing. My “suspect” continued to conduct himself in the most unsuspicious manner possible. This I had anticipated; he had taken it for granted he was surveille, of course. But the chef grew, or appeared to grow, incredulous. I was pushing my theory too far, he said; it was indigne, this, que diable!
“‘Was it? Was I mistaken? I did not wonder they thought I was; but I never thought so, somehow, myself. No; Falleix was even stronger than I had imagined; that was all.
“‘He was poor, miserably poor, amongst us who are not rich. Miserably poor. Yet I could see on his debauchee’s face rings of the vices that are costly. Those fifty thousand francs—how could he resist the temptation of them? How could he hold himself back from them any longer? Yet I knew he had not spent a sou: yet I doubted if he had even once allowed himself to ascertain if his treasure was still safe. Marvelous self-denial! What was he waiting for? A pretext to get quit of us, and beyond our reach. Never beyond mine, I used sometimes to say to myself, if he went to the end of the world.
“‘I think he knew this. I think he must have known the incessant, terrible espionage he was subjected to. But he bore it, and so he baffled it; his patience was proof against it, and he made no sign.
“‘There are those who declared at last that he was innocent. Three months had passed; this was the sole result I had obtained. But my conviction of his guilt was strong as ever.
“‘However, there must be an end of this, the chef declared. Falleix must be released from surveillance. As for me, I thought it advisable to anticipate events by tendering my resignation at once.
“‘The chef smiled and shook his head.
“‘“Not yet,” he said.
“‘“But since it appears that I am wrong?”
“‘“Not yet, I tell you. Ah! ca, you do not yet understand me?”
“‘At last I did. The chef’s idea was simple enough. Falleix, he reasoned, has been perfectly aware of the watch we have kept upon him, and so has taken very good care to avoid betraying himself. When he finds he is no longer file, he will conclude he is no longer suspected. And then—well, then, you see, he may be less careful. So I withdrew a useless surveillance, and—I leave the rest to you.
“‘The next day it was reported at the prefecture that I had been sent on special service across the Channel. But that day, and every day, in one disguise or another, I dogged my man about Paris, patiently, ruthlessly, as a hound follows a trail. In vain, however; in vain always.
“‘Had he recognized me? I felt sure he had not. Was he really guilty after all? Yes; a thousand times yes. My instinct if not my judgment told me I had not deceived myself. I stuck doggedly to the trail. Admit, though, messieurs, that this affair was assuming a hopeless aspect. There appeared no limit to the time this game of hide-and-seek between us might last.
“‘I was thinking so two mornings ago when, once more, my man-chase recommenced. In his usual listless fashion Falleix was strolling along the Quais just sufficiently ahead to be kept well in sight. It seemed everybody’s Dimanche but his; in his thread-bare garments he looked more miserably poverty-stricken than ever then. Surely he must allow himself to draw on the red portefeuille soon I tried to hope.
“‘All at once his listless mode of progression changed. My flaneur began walking like a man with some object in view. I had to shorten the distance between us.
“‘Across the Place, across the Boulevart, where was he going so straight? To the station in the Rue d’Amsterdam it appeared presently. Tempted by the sunshine, the poor devil wanted to breathe a little country air. Where?
“‘He waited his turn at the bureau of the St. Germain line. His destination, I concluded, then, was Asnieres. The price of a seat on the imperiale to that favored locality would hardly be beyond his means. But no. He was going further—too far, it struck me. He must have been difficile about the country air he breathed; for he asked for a ticket for Chatou.
“‘Diable! Why Chatou, when we were so poor that positively our whole available capital could not compass the fare; and but for the compassionate official who consented to accept a little bon upon the prefecture in payment we could never have gone at all? Why Chatou?
“‘I tried to solve this question, on our way down; for, I need hardly tell you I also had business at Chatou that day.
“‘Arrived there, Falleix strolled away, listless as ever, from the station, I following. I suppose we had about equally enjoyed the country air for half an hour, when the delusive sunshine faded; it began to rain—to rain in torrents. Impossible to continue strolling about in this deluge. We took shelter in a certain restaurant.
“‘Positively ce malherueaux had no chance. His little holiday was spoiled. Hour after hour passed by, the deluge only increased; he had only to stare blankly at the downpour. He manifested a melancholy resignation—so touching that I caught myself almost pitying him at times.
“‘Towards dusk, when nothing remained for him but to go home, the rain suddenly ceased. He took immediate advantage of the opportunity of reaching the station with a dry skin. I felt half inclined to let him go in peace. What could I learn by simply dogging him back again?
“‘Yet, why had he come here at all? Why here to Chatou in particular? In a moment I had started after him, as this question recurred to me.
“‘He must have walked fast; he was out of sight. No; I caught a glimpse of him as he turned swiftly off the roadway into the wood. Why, if he were so pressed, that detour through the wood?
“‘I reached the place where he had disappeared. Screened securely by the bushes, I looked for him. There he was, walking now as though he had just discovered he had plenty of time to reach the station before the coming train.
“‘Had he suspected me? Or had the momentary chance I had stupidly afforded him enabled him to do what he had come here to do? Had those two or three minutes lost me the whole game? I strained my eyes in the gathering darkness to see.
“‘And, suddenly, I saw him swing round, and glance sharply about him. And then he seemed to lean against the trunk of a tree beside him while one might count slowly five. And then he lounged on, this flaneur, never looking back. I let him go, now. I waited still where I was till I had heard the train pass, and stop, and start.
“‘Then in my turn I walked down that pathway, and halted by that tree, and perceived its trunk was hollow. In that hollow, my instinct told me, lay the proof of my little theory. Yet I paused a few seconds before I put in my hand.
“‘My hand pushed aside the dead leaves and the moss and touched it, and drew it forth;—a small tin box. In this tin box was the red morocco portefeuille of Monsieur Langley, bearing his initials. In the red portefeuille were fifty-one thousand two hundred francs in bank-notes of the bank of France.
“‘For more than three months that tin box had lain where I found it; for more than three months my Falleix had baffled us all. But the temptation to assure himself of the safety of his bulin had in the end proved too strong even for prudence like his. He had come down that day to touch it:—only to touch it while one might have counted slowly five.
“‘Unfortunately for him it was I who counted.
“‘I put the notes back into the portefeuille, the portefeuille into the tin box, and the tin box into the hollow trunk again. That night I made my report to the chef. Yesterday Falleix was brought down to Chatou, and I reproduced tin box, portefeuille, bank-notes, to everybody’s satisfaction but his.
“‘Poor devil! He fainted.
“‘And that is the end of the Affair of the Red Portefeuille. I trust Monsieur Langley will consider I have made him the amende honorable I promised him?’”
“Well, you know,” Dick continued, “it wasn’t for me to say he hadn’t!”