THE GREAT FRENCH DETECTIVE, IN AUSTIN
A Successful Political Intrigue
It is not generally known that Tictocq, the famous French detective, was in Austin last week. He registered at the Avenue Hotel under an assumed name, and his quiet and reserved manners singled him out at once for one not to be singled out.
No one knows why he came to Austin, but to one or two he vouchsafed the information that his mission was an important one from the French Government.
One report is that the French Minister of State has discovered an old statute among the laws of the empire, resulting from a treaty between the Emperor Charlemagne and Governor Roberts which expressly provides for the north gate of the Capital grounds being kept open, but this is merely a conjecture.
Last Wednesday afternoon a well-dressed gentleman knocked at the door of Tictocq’s room in the hotel. The detective opened the door.
“Monsieur Tictocq, I believe,” said the gentleman.
“You will see on the register that I sign my name Q. X. Jones,” said Tictocq, “and gentlemen would understand that I wish to be known as such. If you do not like being referred to as no gentleman, I will give you satisfaction any time after July 1st, and fight Steve O’Donnell, John McDonald, and Ignatius Donnelly in the meantime if you desire.”
“I do not mind it in the least,” said the gentleman. “In fact, I am accustomed to it. I am Chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, Platform No. 2, and I have a friend in trouble. I knew you were Tictocq from your resemblance to yourself.”
“Entrez vous,” said the detective.
The gentleman entered and was handed a chair.
“I am a man of few words,” said Tictoq. “I will help your friend if possible. Our countries are great friends. We have given you Lafayette and French fried potatoes. You have given us California champagne and–taken back Ward McAllister. State your case.”
“I will be very brief,” said the visitor. “In room No. 76 in this hotel is stopping a prominent Populist Candidate. He is alone. Last night some one stole his socks. They cannot be found. If they are not recovered, his party will attribute their loss to the Democracy. They will make great capital of the burglary, although I am sure it was not a political move at all. The socks must be recovered. You are the only man that can do it.”
“Am I to have carte blanche to question every person connected with the hotel?”
“The proprietor has already been spoken to. Everything and everybody is at your service.”
Tictocq consulted his watch. “Come to this room to-morrow afternoon at 6 o’clock with the landlord, the Populist Candidate, and any other witnesses elected from both parties, and I will return the socks.”
“Bien, Monsieur; schlafen sie wohl.”
The Chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, Platform No.2, bowed courteously and withdrew.
* * * *
Tictocq sent for the bell boy. “Did you go to room 76 last night?”
“Who was there?”
“An old hayseed what come on the 7:25.”
“What did he want?”
“To put the light out.”
“Did you take anything while in the room?”
“No, he didn’t ask me.”
“What is your name?”
“You can go.”
The drawing-rooms of one of the most magnificent private residences in Austin are a blaze of lights. Carriages line the streets in front, and from gate to doorway is spread a velvet carpet, on which the delicate feet of the guests may tread.
The occasion is the entree into society of one of the fairest buds in the City of the Violet Crown. The rooms are filled with the culture, the beauty, the youth and fashion of society. Austin society is acknowledged to be the wittiest, the most select, and the highest bred to be found southwest of Kansas City.
Mrs. Rutabaga St. Vitus, the hostess, is accustomed to draw around her a circle of talent, and beauty, rarely equalled anywhere. Her evenings come nearer approaching the dignity of a salon than any occasion, except, perhaps, a Tony Faust and Marguerite reception at the Iron Front.
Miss St. Vitus, whose advent into society’s maze was heralded by such an auspicious display of hospitality, is a slender brunette, with large, lustrous eyes, a winning smile, and a charming ingenue manner. She wears a china silk, cut princesse, with diamond ornaments, and a couple of towels inserted in the back to conceal prominence of shoulder blades. She is chatting easily and naturally on a plush covered tete-a-tete with Harold St. Clair, the agent for a Minneapolis pants company. Her friend and schoolmate, Elsie Hicks, who married three drummers in one day, a week or two before, and won a wager of two dozen bottles of Budweiser from the handsome and talented young hack-driver, Bum Smithers, is promenading in and out the low French windows with Ethelbert Windup, the popular young candidate for hide inspector, whose name is familiar to every one who reads police court reports.
Somewhere, concealed by shrubbery, a band is playing, and during the pauses in conversation, onions can be smelt frying in the kitchen.
Happy laughter rings out from ruby lips, handsome faces grow tender as they bend over white necks and drooping beads; timid eyes convey things that lips dare not speak, and beneath silken bodice and broadcloth, hearts beat time to the sweet notes of “Love’s Young Dream.”
“And where have you been for some time past, you recreant cavalier?” says Miss St. Vitus to Harold St. Clair. “Have you been worshipping at another shrine? Are you recreant to your whilom friends? Speak, Sir Knight, and defend yourself.”
“Oh, come off,” says Harold, in his deep, musical baritone; “I’ve been having a devil of a time fitting pants on a lot of bow-legged jays from the cotton-patch. Got knobs on their legs, some of ’em big as gourds, and all expect a fit. Did you every try to measure a bow-legged–I mean–can’t you imagine what a jam-swizzled time I have getting pants to fit ’em? Business dull too, nobody wants ’em over three dollars.”
“You witty boy,” says Miss St. Vitus. “Just as full of bon mots and clever sayings as ever. What do you take now?”
“Give me your arm and let’s go into the drawing-room and draw a cork. I’m chewing a little cotton myself.”
Arm in arm, the handsome couple pass across the room, the cynosure of all eyes. Luderic Hetherington, the rising and gifted night-watchman at the Lone Star slaughter house, and Mabel Grubb, the daughter of the millionaire owner of the Humped-backed Camel saloon, are standing under the oleanders as they go by.
“She is very beautiful,” says Luderic.
“Rats,” says Mabel.
A keen observer would have noted all this time the figure of a solitary man who seemed to avoid the company but by adroit changing of his position, and perfectly cool and self-possessed manner, avoided drawing any especial attention to himself.
The lion of the evening is Herr Professor Ludwig von Bum, the pianist.
He had been found drinking beer in a saloon on East Pecan Street by Colonel St. Vitus about a week before, and according to the Austin custom in such cases, was invited home by the colonel, and the next day accepted into society, with large music classes at his service.
Professor von Bum is playing the lovely symphony in G minor from Beethoven’s “Songs Without Music.” The grand chords fill the room with exquisite harmony. He plays the extremely difficult passages in the obligato home run in a masterly manner, and when he finishes with that grand te deum with arpeggios on the side, there is that complete hush in the room that is dearer to the artist’s heart than the loudest applause.
The professor looks around.
The room is empty.
Empty with the exception of Tictocq, the great French detective, who springs from behind a mass of tropical plants to his side.
The professor rises in alarm.
“Hush,” says Tictocq: “Make no noise at all. You have already made enough.”
Footsteps are heard outside.
“Be quick,” says Tictocq: “give me those socks. There is not a moment to spare.”
“Vas sagst du?”
“Ah, he confesses,” says Tictocq. “No socks will do but those you carried off from the Populist Candidate’s room.”
The company is returning, no longer hearing the music.
Tictooq hesitates not. He seizes the professor, throws him upon the floor, tears off his shoes and socks, and escapes with the latter through the open window into the garden.
Tictocq’s room in the Avenue Hotel.
A knock is heard at the door.
Tictocq opens it and looks at his watch.
“Ah,” he says, “it is just six. Entrez, Messieurs.”
The messieurs entrez. There are seven of them; the Populist Candidate who is there by invitation, not knowing for what purpose; the chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, platform No. 2, the hotel proprietor, and three or four Democrats and Populists, as near as could be found out.
“I don’t know,” begins the Populist Candidate, “what in the h—-“
“Excuse me,” says Tictocq, firmly. “You will oblige me by keeping silent until I make my report. I have been employed in this case, and I have unravelled it. For the honor of France I request that I be heard with attention.”
“Certainly,” says the chairman; “we will be pleased to listen.”
Tictocq stands in the centre of the room. The electric light burns brightly above him. He seems the incarnation of alertness, vigor, cleverness, and cunning.
The company seat themselves in chairs along the wall.
“When informed of the robbery,” begins Tictocq, “I first questioned the bell boy. He knew nothing. I went to the police headquarters. They knew nothing. I invited one of them to the bar to drink. He said there used to be a little colored boy in the Tenth Ward who stole things and kept them for recovery by the police, but failed to be at the place agreed upon for arrest one time, and had been sent to jail.
“I then began to think. I reasoned. No man, said I, would carry a Populist’s socks in his pocket without wrapping them up. He would not want to do so in the hotel. He would want a paper. Where would he get one? At the Statesman office, of course. I went there. A young man with his hair combed down on his forehead sat behind the desk. I knew he was writing society items, for a young lady’s slipper, a piece of cake, a fan, a half emptied bottle of cocktail, a bunch of roses, and a police whistle lay on the desk before him.
“Can you tell me if a man purchased a paper here in the last three months?” I said.
“Yes,” he replied; “we sold one last night.”
“Can you describe the man?”
“Accurately. He had blue whiskers, a wart between his shoulder blades, a touch of colic, and an occupation tax on his breath.”
“Which way did he go?”
“I then went—-“
“Wait a minute,” said the Populist Candidate, rising; “I don’t see why in the h—-“
“Once more I must beg that you will be silent,” said Tictocq, rather sharply. “You should not interrupt me in the midst of my report.”
“I made one false arrest,” continued Tictocq. “I was passing two finely dressed gentlemen on the street, when one of them remarked that he had ‘stole his socks.’ I handcuffed him and dragged him to a lighted store, when his companion explained to me that he was somewhat intoxicated and his tongue was not entirely manageable. He had been speaking of some business transaction, and what he intended to say was that he had ‘sold his stocks.’
“I then released him.
“An hour afterward I passed a saloon, and saw this Professor von Bum drinking beer at a table. I knew him in Paris. I said ‘here is my man.’ He worshipped Wagner, lived on limburger cheese, beer, and credit, and would have stolen anybody’s socks. I shadowed him to the reception at Colonel St. Vitus’s, and in an opportune moment I seized him and tore the socks from his feet. There they are.”
With a dramatic gesture, Tictocq threw a pair of dingy socks upon the table, folded his arms, and threw back his head.
With a loud cry of rage, the Populist Candidate sprang once more to his feet.
“Gol darn it! I WILL say what I want to. I—-“
The two other Populists in the room gazed at him coldly and sternly.
“Is this tale true?” they demanded of the Candidate.
“No, by gosh, it ain’t!” he replied, pointing a trembling finger at the Democratic Chairman. “There stands the man who has concocted the whole scheme. It is an infernal, unfair political trick to lose votes for our party. How far has thing gone?” he added, turning savagely to the detective.
“All the newspapers have my written report on the matter, and the Statesman will have it in plate matter next week,” said Tictocq, complacently.
“All is lost!” said the Populists, turning toward the door.
“For God’s sake, my friends,” pleaded the Candidate, following them; “listen to me; I swear before high heaven that I never wore a pair of socks in my life. It is all a devilish campaign lie.”
The Populists turn their backs.
“The damage is already done,” they said. “The people have heard the story. You have yet time to withdraw decently before the race.”
All left the room except Tictocq and the Democrats.
“Let’s all go down and open a bottle of fizz on the Finance Committee,” said the Chairman of the Executive Committee, Platform No. 2.