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The most ardent curiosity could be read in Mme. Fortin's little eyes.

"I understood at once," she began, "that something extraordinarywas going on."But the commissary interrupted her,"I have not done yet. It may be that to-night or to-morrow someone will call and inquire how Mlle. Lucienne is.""And then?""You will answer that she is as bad as possible; and that she hasneither spoken a word, nor recovered her senses, since the accident;and that she will certainly not live through the day."The effort which Mme. Fortin made to remain silent gave, better thanany thing else, an idea of the terror with which the commissaryinspired her.

"That is not all," he went on. "As soon as the person in questionhas started off, you will follow him, without affectation, as faras the street-door, and you will point him out with your finger,here, like that, to one of my agents, who will happen to be on theBoulevard.""And suppose he should not be there?""He shall be there. You can make yourself easy on that score."The looks of distress which the honorable hotel-keepers wereexchanging did not announce a very tranquil conscience.

"In other words, here we are under surveillance," said M. Fortinwith a groan. "What have we done to be thus mistrusted?"To reply to him would have been a task more long than difficult.

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"Do as I tell you," insisted the commissary harshly, "and don'tmind the rest, and, meantime, good-night."He was right in trusting implicitly to his agent's punctuality;for, as soon as he came out of the Hotel des Folies, a man passedby him, and without seeming to address him, or even to recognizehim, said in a whisper,"What news?"Nothing," he replied, "except that the Fortins are notified. Thetrap is well set. Keep your eyes open now, and spot any one whocomes to ask about Mlle. Lucienne.

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And he hurried on, still followed by Maxence, who walked along likea body without soul, tortured by the most frightful anguish.

As he had been away the whole evening, four or five persons werewaiting for him at his office on matters of current business. Hedespatched them in less than no time; after which, addressinghimself to an agent on duty,"This evening," he said, "at about nine o'clock, in a restaurant onthe Boulevard, a quarrel took place. A person tried to pick aquarrel with another.

"You will proceed at once to that restaurant; you will get theparticulars of what took place; and you will ascertain exactly whothis man is, his name, his profession, and his residence."Like a man accustomed to such errands,"Can I have a description of him?" inquired the agent.

"Yes. He is a man past middle age, military bearing, heavy mustache,ribbons in his buttonhole.""Yes, I see: one of your regular fighting fellows.""Very well. Go then. I shall not retire before your return. Ah,I forgot; find out what they thought to-night on the 'street' aboutthe Mutual Credit affair, and what they said of the arrest of oneSaint Pavin, editor of 'The Financial Pilot,' and of a banker namedJottras.""Can I take a carriage?""Do so."The agent started; and he was not fairly out of the house, when thecommissary, opening a door which gave into a small study, called,"Felix!

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It was his secretary, a man of about thirty, blonde, with a gentleand timid countenance, having, with his long coat, somewhat theappearance of a theological student. He appeared immediately.

"You call me, sir?""My dear Felix," replied the commissary, "I have seen you, sometimes,imitate very nicely all sorts of hand-writings."The secretary blushed very much, no doubt on account of Maxence, whowas sitting by the side of his employer. He was a very honestfellow; but there are certain little talents of which people do notlike to boast; and the talent of imitating the writing of others isof the number, for the reason, that, fatally and at once, it suggeststhe idea of forgery.

"It was only for fun that I used to do that, sir," he stammered.

"Would you be here if it had been otherwise?" said the commissary.

"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.