It was half-past four; M. Desmalions, the Prefect of Police, was not yet back at the office. His private secretary laid on the desk a bundle of letters and reports which he had annotated for his chief, rang the bell and said to the messenger who entered by the main door:
"Monsieur le Préfet has sent for a number of people to see him at five o'clock. Here are their names. Show them into separate waiting-rooms, so that they can't communicate with one another, and let me have their cards when they come."
The messenger went out. The secretary was turning toward the small door that led to his room, when the main door opened once more and admitted a man who stopped and leaned swaying over the back of a chair.
"Why, it's you, Vérot!" said the secretary. "But what's happened? What's the matter?"
Inspector Vérot was a very stout, powerfully built man, with a big neck and shoulders and a florid complexion. He had obviously been upset by some violent excitement, for his face, streaked with red veins and usually so apoplectic, seemed almost pale.
"Oh, nothing. Monsieur le Secrétaire!" he said.
"Yes, yes; you're not looking your usual self. You're gray in the face.... And the way you're perspiring...."
Inspector Vérot wiped his forehead and, pulling himself together, said:
"It's just a little tiredness.... I've been overworking myself lately: I was very keen on clearing up a case which Monsieur Desmalions had put in my hands. All the same, I have a funny sort of feeling—"
"Will you have a pick-me-up?"
"No, no; I'm more thirsty."
"A glass of water?"
"No, thank you."
"I should like—I should like—"