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"Only this time it is not for fun, but to do me a favor that Iwish you to try again."And, taking out of his pocket the letter taken by M. de Tregarsfrom the man in the restaurant,"Examine this writing," he said. "and see whether you feel capableof imitating it tolerably well."Spreading the letter under the full light of the lamp, the secretaryspent at least two minutes examining it with the minute attention ofan expert. And at the same time he was muttering,"Not at all convenient, this. Hard writing to imitate. Not asalient feature, not a characteristic sign! Nothing to strike theeye, or attract attention. It must be some old lawyer's clerk whowrote this."In spite of his anxiety of mind, the commissary smiled.

"I shouldn't be surprised if you had guessed right."Thus encouraged,"At any rate." Felix declared, "I am going to try."He took a pen, and, after trying a dozen times,"How is this?" he asked, holding out a sheet of paper.

The commissary carefully compared the original with the copy.

"It is not perfect," he murmured; "but at night, with the imaginationexcited by a great peril - Besides, we must risk something.""If I had a few hours to practise!""But you have not. Come, take up your pen, and write as well asyou can, in that same hand, what I am going to tell you."And after a moment's thought, he dictated as follows"All goes well. T. drawn into a quarrel, is to fight in the morningwith swords. But our man, whom I cannot leave, refuses to go ahead,unless he is paid two thousand francs before the duel. I have notthe amount. Please hand it to the bearer, who has orders to waitfor you."The commissary, leaning over his secretary's shoulder, was followinghis hand, and, the last word being written,"Perfect! "he exclaimed. "Now quick, the address: Mme. le Baronnede Thaller, Rue de le Pepiniere."There are professions which extinguish, in those who exercise them,all curiosity. It is with the most complete indifference, andwithout asking a question, that the secretary had done what he hadbeen requested.

"Now, my dear Felix," resumed the commissary, you will please getyourself up as near as possible like a restaurant-waiter, and takethis letter to its address.""At this hour!""Yes. The Baroness de Thaller is out to a ball. You will tell theservants that you are bringing her an answer concerning an importantmatter. They know nothing about it; but they will allow you to waitfor their mistress in the porter's lodge. As soon as she comes in,you will hand her the letter, stating that two gentlemen who aretaking supper in your restaurant are waiting for the answer. It maybe that she will exclaim that you are a scoundrel, that she does notknow what it means: in that case, we shall have been anticipated, andyou must get away as fast as you can. But the chances are, that shewill give you two thousand francs; and then you must so manage, thatshe will be seen plainly when she does it. Is it all understood?"Perfectly.""Go ahead, then, and do not lose a minute. I shall wait."Away from Mlle. Lucienne, Maxence had gradually been recalled tothe strangeness of the situation; and it was with a mingled feelingof curiosity and surprise that he observed the commissary actingand bustling about.

The good man had found again all the activity of his youth, togetherwith that fever of hope and that impatience of success, whichusually disappear with age.

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He was going over the whole of the case again, - his first meetingwith Mlle. Lucienne, the various attempts upon her life; and he hadjust taken out of the file the letter of information which had beenintrusted to him, in order to compare the writing with that of theletter taken from his adversary by M. de Tregars, when the lattercame in all out of breath.

"Zelie has spoken!" he said.

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And, at once addressing Maxence,"You, my dear friend," he resumed, "you must run to the Hotel desFolies.""Is Lucienne worse?""No. Lucienne is getting on well enough. Zelie has spoken; butthere is no certainty, that, after due reflection, she will notrepent, and go and give the alarm. You will return, therefore,and you will not lose sight of her until I call for her in themorning. If she wishes to go out, you must prevent her."The commissary had understood the importance of the precaution.

"You must prevent her," he added, "even by force; and I authorizeyou, if need be, to call upon the agent whom I have placed on duty,watching the Hotel des Folies, and to whom I am going to send wordimmediately."Maxence started off on a run.

"Poor fellow!" murmured Marius, "I know where your father is. Whatare we going to learn now?"He had scarcely had time to communicate the information he hadreceived from Mme. Cadelle, when the first of the commissary'semissaries made his appearance.

"The commission is done," he said, in that confident tone of a manwho thinks he has successfully accomplished a difficult task.

"You know the name of the individual who sought a quarrel with M.

de Tregars?""His name is Corvi. He is well known in all the tables d'hote,where there are women, and where they deal a healthy little gameafter dinner. I know him well too. He is a bad fellow, who passeshimself off for a former superior officer in the Italian army.