The day on which William Kent encountered the man Hawkins, you remember, was the same day on which Dr. Marquet was talking with M. Davignan, in the northern city of Hanoi. That same evening Bigarot took the train south to Hué.
On that evening, as it chanced, Marie Marquet finished correcting a bundle of proofs which had to reach the École Française in Hanoi with all speed—an article of her father's for the next issue of the Bulletin. Kent had not returned to dinner. Marie dined alone with the old Norman housekeeper.
Dinner over, she took the wrapped package of proof-sheets and walked to the Residency, where she left them with an official, to go north by the night train. As she left the entrance of the building, a white figure followed her; and, outside the gateway, addressed her. This was Michael Paléologue. He had been dining with the resident, he explained, and offered to accompany her home.
The girl hesitated, walked to the corner with him, and paused. She seemed perturbed and uneasy. As they stood thus—Marie's dark-clad shape almost invisible against the green wall, her companion distinct in his whites—a running man turned the corner and uttered an exclamation of relief at sight of Paléologue.
"It is finished!" he said breathlessly. "The boat is filled with gold, but we had to shoot a fool of a guard—ah, you're not alone, Michael?"
From Paléologue broke a low, vivid curse. A swelling sound reached them from the city across the river—a sound of shots, of thudding brazen gongs, a shrill tumult of human voices. It swelled and swelled upon the night air. A cry broke from Marie.
"Fool!" snapped Paléologue. "Take her to the boat—harm her not!"
Another cry—one little cry—that was all. Two minutes later Michael Paléologue was sauntering back into the Residency. He was still there when word came that the royal palace had been plundered, robbed, looted!
By means of stern measures the news was repressed, strenuously denied, kept from the public. The resident himself went across the river to learn what had happened, but he had much difficulty in discovering the facts. He was a busy man that night and all the following morning. He kept the wires to Hanoi hot with messages.
The day was half gone when the train from the north pulled in, and the impatient resident met Bigarot and several other gentlemen. These latter were whisked to the Residency by automobile, and the facts were laid before them.
Bigarot heard everything there was to be said, read the two notes that revealed the identity of the criminal, and said nothing while every one else talked. Then this wooden man, who never spoke unless it was essential, motioned the resident to the adjoining office.
"You wish to speak with me in private?" queried the resident.
Bigarot nodded assent.
They passed into the next office and shut the door. Bigarot sat down. He held in his hand the two notes which had been discovered—one at the residence of Dr. Marquet, the other at the scene of the robbery. The former, written by Marie, told her father that she had gone away to marry William Kent. The latter was a brief scrawl signed with Kent's initials, but without meaning—a memorandum, apparently.
Bigarot laid these two notes under the nose of the resident.
"Forged," he said briefly, producing a snuff-box and inhaling a pinch of snuff.
"How do you know that?" demanded the astonished resident, anger mingling with his surprise.
This man Bigarot had come to the colonies with M. Davignan, and was unknown. His personality was unpleasant. In answer to the question, he merely shrugged.
The resident spoke angrily.
"Speak! Would you have the temerity to say that this M. Kent had nothing to do with the crime?"
Bigarot appeared to reflect, then nodded gravely. The resident swore.
"I am cursed with idiots! I suppose he did not elope with Mile. Marquet?"
Bigarot shook his head and took another pinch of snuff.
"Devil take you, imbecile! Show some sense, even if you have none. Listen! There were at least four men concerned in the robbery, which took place at exactly seven o'clock. Two guards at the outer palace gate were stabbed silently. The gate was scaled. Two guards at the inner gate were stabbed; that gate also was scaled. Then the gates were opened and the treasure was deliberately carried out to a waiting boat, in sight of all men; and, of course, who would dare to interfere? One of the palace guards came on the scene, realized that something was wrong—and was shot. That caused the first alarm. All we know is that four men, their faces hooded, were seen. They were dressed as natives—two of them as priests of the yellow robe."
"The boat?" asked Bigarot, with his first trace of interest.
"Went down-stream, of course, toward the sea. The robbery took place near the bridge, at the Mirador Gate. To go upstream, the boat must have passed through the midst of the entire city."
"It did," said Bigarot.
"Eh? How do you know that?"
"Because the thieves were not fools."
"Then," said the resident bitingly, "you are prepared to name them, or their chief?"
"Not M. Kent."
"Why not, then? We know that Mlle. Marquet has disappeared; her note explains this. Kent, too, has disappeared."
"I am not concerned with him," said Bigarot, forced at last to speak freely. "M. Davignan sent me here to prevent this robbery. Since I was too late, I must apprehend the robbers and return the spoil, is it not?"
"Oh, man of excellent virtue!" came the acid retort. "Who, then, is the thief?"
"Monsieur le prince? You have proof?"
"M. Davignan predicted that he would do it."
"Proof! Name of a devil, do you call that proof?"
The resident, who had entertained Michael Paléologue lavishly, passed from apoplexy to violent rage, and then to a cold fury. He cursed Bigarot through all the seven hells and back again. Finally he reminded the detective that at the time of the crime Paléologue had been dining with him.
In reply to this, Bigarot only shrugged.
"You dare not arrest him on such a ridiculous suspicion!" cried the distracted resident.
"I don't intend to." Bigarot took another pinch of snuff, and brushed his dirty lapel. "Pray have the kindness to inform the king that his treasure will be returned within forty-eight hours, and the robbers punished. Where is M. Paléologue?"
"Gone on a week's hunting trip into the hills. He left this morning."
Bigarot showed no surprise.
"With a dozen native hunters and a native guide."
Bigarot blinked behind his thick spectacles and tapped his nose reflectively. A slight change appeared in his face; it was a flame that smoldered in his eyes.
"Kindly furnish me with a guide. I shall follow M. Paléologue."
"Oh! And you would like a file of soldiers, perhaps?"
"Not at all. The three men who came with me—no more."
Once more the resident was threatened with apoplexy. He saw this Bigarot as a low, common fellow who put on the airs of mystery. He saw a distinguished and honored guest threatened with disgrace. He saw disaster after disaster looming, and all because of Bigarot.
He pleaded with the detective. He exhorted, argued, threatened. To all of it, Bigarot listened like a wooden image. At length he rose and spoke, ignoring all that had been said.
"I would like to leave a note for M. Davignan, if you please. He will come to-morrow, by special train. By all means inform the king that his treasure is safe."
"I suppose you know where it is, then?"
"Of course I do."
"In the name of the devil! Where?"
"That information, monsieur, is for my master alone."
Bigarot, followed by the infuriated resident, rejoined his three men. They were stolid fellows, blessed with no brains, who would do exactly as they were told and would not stop to think. The resident groaned inwardly.
When he had written and sealed a note to M. Davignan, Bigarot took his four men and departed. He secured the best guide procurable, and before the noon hour was out of the city and in the hills, on the trail of Paléologue.
Meanwhile the disappearance of Marie Marquet had somehow become known. It stirred the French city even more than news of the audacious robbery. Although it was officially and promptly denied—as the robbery had been—there were uneasy rumors afoot. No one knew what to think or to believe.
Meanwhile, also, M. Davignan was speeding south by special train. He beat Bigarot's prediction by a dozen hours, reaching Hué late that night. The robbery was no mere theft of treasure; it threatened the entire French administration. The inviolate palace had been invaded. The sacred treasures of dead generations had been looted.
No sooner had Davignan's train pulled in than the resident rushed him across town to the Comat Palace, to meet with the royal council of mandarins—an infuriated array of gentlemen. On the way the resident talked volubly. Davignan smiled and listened, read Bigarot's note, and smiled again. Only as he left the automobile did he speak.
"I pray you, leave everything in my hands."
"With pleasure," said the resident whole-heartedly.
No sooner did the yellow mandarins behold the expansive, cherubic countenance of M. Davignan than they were reassured. He smiled upon them, bowed amazingly well, and smiled again. He spoke, and when the translator had echoed his words, the mandarins were appeased. In brief, he promised them the return of the treasure, also the persons of the robbers.
At this last the poor resident went wild. It was no business of the administration to hand white criminals to the royal justice of the Anamese. It was never done, clear against all rules!
"Monsieur," said M. Davignan beamingly, "you will agree that when the crown jewels of England are replaced by imitations, as is said to have been done recently, the fact is not advertised? So with us. I shall hand over the criminals. The criminals will be dead. What harm is done?"
"Dead?" repeated the distracted resident. "But Bigarot took no soldiers!"
"He needs none." However, M. Davignan lost his cherubic smile, and thought a space. A sigh oozed slowly from his bosom. "Alas! I fear that I must myself go into the hills, dear monsieur! I pray you, find me a litter, bearers, guides, and a dozen soldiers."
"What the devil?" stammered the resident. "And why?"
"Because Bigarot seems to have forgotten how important was the forged evidence against M. Kent. I am afraid that poor Bigarot will get into hot water."
"Then you believe, after all, that this M. Kent is guilty?"
"Not in the least."
The resident made a despairing gesture.
"Well! But into the hills? Monsieur, you are not capable of such exertions! You do not know our roads—"
"My dear man!" M. Davignan laughed heartily. "You do not know me. What is ability? The soul, not the body. What is truth?"
"So spoke Pilate," said the resident gloomily; "and he had no answer."
"Pardon! You will find the answer in the Apocrypha." Davignan chuckled. "We of Provence know our Bible, monsieur! I shall leave your charming city at daybreak."
The resident concluded that he was dealing with a madman, and got rid of Davignan as quickly as possible.