Other People's Money
The commissaries of police of Paris, as a general thing, are no simpletons; and,
if they are ever taken in, it is because it has suited them to be taken in.
Their modest title covers the most important, perhaps, of magistracies, almost
the only one known to the lower classes; an enormous power, and an influence
so decisive, that the most sensible statesman of the reign of Louis Philippe
ventured once to say, "Give me twenty good commissaries of police in Paris, and
I'll undertake to suppress any government: net profit, one hundred millions."
Parisian above all, the commissary has had ample time to study his ground when
he was yet only a peace-officer. The dark side of the most brilliant lives has no
mysteries for him. He has received the strangest confidences: he has listened to
the most astounding confessions. He knows how low humanity can stoop, and
what aberrations there are in brains apparently the soundest. The work woman
whom her husband beats, and the great lady whom her husband cheats, have
both come to him. He has been sent for by the shop-keeper whom his wife
deceives, and by the millionaire who has been blackmailed. To his office, as to a
lay confessional, all passions fatally lead. In his presence the dirty linen of two
millions of people is washed _en famille_.
A Paris commissary of police, who after ten years' practice, could retain an
illusion, believe in something, or be astonished at any thing in the world, would
be but a fool. If he is still capable of some emotion, he is a good man.
The one who had just walked into M. Favoral's apartment was already past
middle age, colder than ice, and yet kindly, but of that commonplace kindliness
which frightens like the executioner's politeness at the scaffold.
He required but a single glance of his small but clear eyes to decipher the
physiognomies of all these worthy people standing around the disordered table.