Produced by Dagny; John Bickers
FILE NO. 113
By Emile Gaboriau
In the Paris evening papers of Tuesday, February 28, 1866, under the
head of _Local Items_, the following announcement appeared:
"A daring robbery, committed against one of our most eminent bankers,
M. Andre Fauvel, caused great excitement this morning throughout the
neighborhood of Rue de Provence.
"The thieves, who were as skilful as they were bold, succeeded in
making an entrance to the bank, in forcing the lock of a safe that has
heretofore been considered impregnable, and in possessing themselves
of the enormous sum of three hundred and fifty thousand francs in
"The police, immediately informed of the robbery, displayed their
accustomed zeal, and their efforts have been crowned with success.
Already, it is said, P. B., a clerk in the bank, has been arrested,
and there is every reason to hope that his accomplices will be speedily
overtaken by the hand of justice."
For four days this robbery was the town talk of Paris.
Then public attention was absorbed by later and equally interesting
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events: an acrobat broke his leg at the circus; an actress made her
debut at a small theatre: and the _item_ of the 28th was soon forgotten.
But for once the newspapers were - perhaps intentionally - wrong, or at
least inaccurate in their information.
The sum of three hundred and fifty thousand francs certainly had been
stolen from M. Andre Fauvel's bank, but not in the manner described.
A clerk had also been arrested on suspicion, but no decisive proof had
been found against him. This robbery of unusual importance remained, if
not inexplicable, at least unexplained.
The following are the facts as they were related with scrupulous
exactness at the preliminary examination.
The banking-house of Andre Fauvel, No. 87 Rue de Provence, is an
important establishment, and, owing to its large force of clerks,
presents very much the appearance of a government department.
On the ground-floor are the offices, with windows opening on the street,
fortified by strong iron bars sufficiently large and close together to
discourage all burglarious attempts.
A large glass door opens into a spacious vestibule where three or four
office-boys are always in waiting.
On the right are the rooms to which the public is admitted, and from
which a narrow passage leads to the principal cash-room.
The offices of the corresponding clerk, book-keeper, and general
accounts are on the left.
At the farther end is a small court on which open seven or eight little
wicket doors. These are kept closed, except on certain days when notes
are due; and then they are indispensable.
M. Fauvel's private office is on the first floor over the offices, and
leads into his elegant private apartments.
This private office communicates directly with the bank by means of
a narrow staircase, which opens into the room occupied by the head
This room, which in the bank goes by the name of the "cash-office," is
proof against all attacks, no matter how skilfully planned; indeed, it
could almost withstand a regular siege, sheeted as it is like a monitor.
The doors, and the partition where the wicket door is cut, are covered
with thick sheets of iron; and a heavy grating protects the fireplace.
Fastened in the wall by enormous iron clamps is a safe, a formidable
and fantastic piece of furniture, calculated to fill with envy the poor
devil who easily carries his fortune in a pocket-book.
This safe, which is considered the masterpiece of the firm of Becquet,
is six feet in height and four and a half in width, made entirely of
wrought iron, with triple sides, and divided into isolated compartments
in case of fire.
The safe is opened by an odd little key, which is, however, the least
important part of the mechanism. Five movable steel buttons, upon which
are engraved all the letters of the alphabet, constitute the real power
of this ingenious safe.
Before inserting the key into the lock, the letters on the buttons must
be in the exact position in which they were placed when the safe was
In M. Fauvel's bank, as everywhere, the safe was always closed with a
word that was changed from time to time.
This word was known only to the head of the bank and the cashier, each
of whom had also a key to the safe.
In a fortress like this, a person could deposit more diamonds than the
Duke of Brunswick's, and sleep well assured of their safety.
But one danger seemed to threaten, that of forgetting the secret word
which was the "Open sesame" of the safe.
On the morning of the 28th of February, the bank-clerks were all busy
at their various desks, about half-past nine o'clock, when a middle-aged
man of dark complexion and military air, clad in deep mourning, appeared
in the office adjoining the "safe," and announced to the five or six
employees present his desire to see the cashier.
He was told that the cashier had not yet come, and his attention was
called to a placard in the entry, which stated that the "cash-room" was
opened at ten o'clock.
This reply seemed to disconcert and annoy the newcomer.
"I expected," he said, in a tone of cool impertinence, "to find someone
here ready to attend to my business. I explained the matter to M. Fauvel
yesterday. I am Count Louis de Clameran, an iron-manufacturer at Oloron,
and have come to draw three hundred thousand francs deposited in this
bank by my late brother, whose heir I am. It is surprising that no
direction was given about it."
Neither the title of the noble manufacturer, nor his explanations,
appeared to have the slightest effect upon the clerks.
"The cashier has not yet arrived," they repeated, "and we can do nothing
"Then conduct me to M. Fauvel."
There was a moment's hesitation; then a clerk named Cavaillon, who was
writing near a window, said:
"The chief is always out at this hour."
"Then I will call again," replied M. de Clameran.
And he walked out, as he had entered, without saying "Good-morning," or
even touching his hat.
"Not very polite, that customer," said little Cavaillon, "but he will
soon be settled, for here comes Prosper."
Prosper Bertomy, head cashier of Fauvel's banking-house, was a tall,
handsome man, of about thirty, with fair hair and large dark-blue eyes,
fastidiously neat, and dressed in the height of fashion.
He would have been very prepossessing but for a cold, reserved
English-like manner, and a certain air of self-sufficiency which spoiled
his naturally bright, open countenance.
"Ah, here you are!" cried Cavaillon, "someone has just been asking for
"Who? An iron-manufacturer, was it not?"
"Well, he will come back again. Knowing that I would get here late this
morning, I made all my arrangements yesterday."
Prosper had unlocked his office-door, and, as he finished speaking,
entered, and closed it behind him.
"Good!" exclaimed one of the clerks, "there is a man who never lets
anything disturb him. The chief has quarrelled with him twenty times for
always coming too late, and his remonstrances have no more effect upon
him than a breath of wind."
"And very right, too; he knows he can get anything he wants out of the
"Besides, how could he come any sooner? a man who sits up all night, and
leads a fast life, doesn't feel like going to work early in the morning.
Did you notice how very pale he looked when he came in?"
"He must have been playing heavily again. Couturier says he lost fifteen
thousand francs at a sitting last week."
"His work is none the worse done for all that," interrupted Cavaillon.
"If you were in his place - "
He stopped short. The cash-room door suddenly opened, and the cashier
appeared before them with tottering step, and a wild, haggard look on
his ashy face.
"Robbed!" he gasped out: "I have been robbed!"
Prosper's horrified expression, his hollow voice and trembling limbs,
betrayed such fearful suffering that the clerks jumped up from their
desks, and ran toward him. He almost dropped into their arms; he was
sick and faint, and fell into a chair.
His companions surrounded him, and begged him to explain himself.
"Robbed?" they said; "where, how, by whom?"
Gradually, Prosper recovered himself.
"All the money I had in the safe," he said, "has been stolen."
"Yes, all; three packages, each containing one hundred notes of a
thousand francs, and one package of fifty thousand. The four packages
were wrapped in a sheet of paper, and tied together."
With the rapidity of lightning, the news of the robbery spread
throughout the banking-house, and the room was soon filled with curious
"Tell us, Prosper," said young Cavaillon, "did you find the safe broken
"No; it is just as I left it."
"Well then, how, why - - "
"Yesterday I put three hundred and fifty thousand francs in the safe;
and this morning they are gone."
All were silent except one old clerk, who did not seem to share the
"Don't distress yourself, M. Bertomy," he said: "perhaps the chief
disposed of the money."
The unhappy cashier started up with a look of relief; he eagerly caught
at the idea.
"Yes!" he exclaimed, "you are right: the chief must have taken it."
But, after thinking a few minutes, he said in a tone of deep
"No, that is impossible. During the five years that I have had charge of
the safe, M. Fauvel has never opened it except in my presence. Several
times he has needed money, and has either waited until I came, or sent
for me, rather than touch it in my absence."
"Well," said Cavaillon, "before despairing, let us ascertain."
But a messenger had already informed M. Fauvel of the disaster.
As Cavaillon was about to go in quest of him, he entered the room.
M. Andre Fauvel appeared to be a man of fifty, inclined to corpulency,
of medium height, with iron-gray hair; and, like all hard workers, he
had a slight stoop.
Never did he by a single action belie the kindly expression of his face.
He had a frank air, a lively, intelligent eye, and large, red lips.
Born in the neighborhood of Aix, he betrayed, when animated, a slight
Provencal accent that gave a peculiar flavor to his genial humor.
The news of the robbery had extremely agitated him, for his usually
florid face was now quite pale.
"What is this I hear? what has happened?" he said to the clerks, who
respectfully stood aside when he entered the room.
The sound of M. Fauvel's voice inspired the cashier with the factitious
energy of a great crisis. The dreaded and decisive moment had come; he
arose, and advanced toward his chief.
"Monsieur," he began, "having, as you know, a payment to make this
morning, I yesterday drew from the Bank of France three hundred and
fifty thousand francs."
"Why yesterday, monsieur?" interrupted the banker. "I think I have a
hundred times ordered you to wait until the day of the payment."
"I know it, monsieur, and I did wrong to disobey you. But the evil is
done. Yesterday evening I locked the money up: it has disappeared, and
yet the safe has not been broken open."
"You must be mad!" exclaimed M. Fauvel: "you are dreaming!"
These few words destroyed all hope; but the very horror of the situation
gave Prosper, not the coolness of a matured resolution, but that sort
of stupid, stolid indifference which often results from unexpected
It was with apparent calmness that he replied:
"I am not mad; neither, unfortunately, am I dreaming: I am simply
telling the truth."
This tranquillity at such a moment appeared to exasperate M. Fauvel. He
seized Prosper by the arm, and shook him roughly.
"Speak!" he cried out. "Speak! who do you pretend to say opened the
safe? Answer me!"
"I cannot say."
"No one but you and I knew the secret word. No one but you and myself
This was a formal accusation; at least, all the auditors present so
Yet Prosper's strange calmness never left him for an instant. He quietly
released himself from M. Fauvel's grasp, and very slowly said:
"In other words, monsieur, I am the only person who could have taken
Prosper drew himself to his full height, and, looking M. Fauvel full in
the face, added:
The banker made a threatening gesture; and there is no knowing what
would have happened if they had not been interrupted by loud and angry
voices at the entry-door.
A man insisted upon entering in spite of the protestations of the
errand-boys, and succeeded in forcing his way in. It was M. de Clameran.
The clerks stood looking on, bewildered and motionless. The silence was
It was easy to see that some terrible question, a question of life or
death, was being weighed by all these men.
The iron-founder did not appear to observe anything unusual. He
advanced, and without lifting his hat said, in the same impertinent
"It is after ten o'clock, gentlemen."
No one answered; and M. de Clameran was about to continue, when, turning
around, he for the first time saw the banker, and walking up to him
"Well, monsieur, I congratulate myself upon finding you in at last. I
have been here once before this morning, and found the cash-room not
opened, the cashier not arrived, and you absent."
"You are mistaken, monsieur, I was in my office."
"At any rate, I was told you were out; that gentleman over there assured
me of the fact."
And the iron-founder pointed out Cavaillon.
"However, that is of little importance," he went on to say. "I return,
and this time not only the cash-room is closed, but I am refused
admittance to the banking-house, and find myself compelled to force my
way in. Be so good as to tell me whether I can have my money."
M. Fauvel's flushed face turned pale with anger as he listened to this
insolence; yet he controlled himself.
"I would be obliged to you monsieur, for a short delay."
"I thought you told me - "
"Yes, yesterday. But this morning, this very instant, I find I have been
robbed of three hundred and fifty thousand francs."
M. de Clameran bowed ironically, and said:
"Shall I have to wait long?"
"Long enough for me to send to the bank."
Then turning his back on the iron-founder, M. Fauvel said to his
"Write and send as quickly as possible to the bank an order for three
hundred thousand francs. Let the messenger take a carriage."
Prosper remained motionless.
"Do you hear me?" said the banker angrily.
The cashier trembled; he seemed as if trying to shake off a terrible
"It is useless to send," he said in a measured tone; "we owe this
gentleman three hundred thousand francs, and we have less than one
hundred thousand in the bank."
M. de Clameran evidently expected this answer, for he muttered:
Although he pronounced this word, his voice, his manner, his face
"This comedy is well acted; but nevertheless it is a comedy, and I don't
intend to be duped by it."
Alas! After Prosper's answer, and the iron-founder's coarsely expressed
opinion, the clerks knew not what to think.
The fact was, that Paris had just been startled by several financial
crashes. The thirst for speculation caused the oldest and most reliable
houses to totter. Men of the most unimpeachable honor had to sacrifice
their pride, and go from door to door imploring aid.
Credit, that rare bird of security and peace, rested with none, but
stood with upraised wings, ready to fly off at the first rumor of
Therefore this idea of a comedy arranged beforehand between the banker
and his cashier might readily occur to the minds of people who, if not
suspicious, were at least aware of all the expedients resorted to
by speculators in order to gain time, which with them often meant
M. Fauvel had had too much experience not to instantly divine the
impression produced by Prosper's answer; he read the most mortifying
doubt on the faces around him.
"Oh! don't be alarmed, monsieur," said he to M. de Clameran, "this house
has other resources. Be kind enough to await my return."
He left the room, went up the narrow steps leading to his study, and
in a few minutes returned, holding in his hand a letter and a bundle of
"Here, quick, Couturier!" he said to one of his clerks, "take my
carriage, which is waiting at the door, and go with monsieur to M. de
Rothschild's. Hand him this letter and these securities; in exchange,
you will receive three hundred thousand francs, which you will hand to
The iron-founder was visibly disappointed; he seemed desirous of
apologizing for his impertinence.
"I assure you, monsieur, that I had no intention of giving offence. Our
relations, for some years, have been such that I hope - "
"Enough, monsieur," interrupted the banker, "I desire no apologies. In
business, friendship counts for nothing. I owe you money: I am not ready
to pay: you are pressing: you have a perfect right to demand what is
your own. Follow my clerk: he will pay you your money."
Then he turned to his clerks who stood curiously gazing on, and said:
"As for you, gentlemen, be kind enough to resume your desks."
In an instant the room was cleared of everyone except the clerks who
belonged there; and they sat at their desks with their noses almost
touching the paper before them, as if too absorbed in their work to
think of anything else.
Still excited by the events so rapidly succeeding each other, M.
Andre Fauvel walked up and down the room with quick, nervous steps,
occasionally uttering some low exclamation.
Prosper remained leaning against the door, with pale face and fixed
eyes, looking as if he had lost the faculty of thinking.
Finally the banker, after a long silence, stopped short before Prosper;
he had determined upon the line of conduct he would pursue.
"We must have an explanation," he said. "Let us go into your office."
The cashier mechanically obeyed without a word; and his chief followed
him, taking the precaution to close the door after him.
The cash-room bore no evidences of a successful burglary. Everything was
in perfect order; not even a paper was misplaced.
The safe was open, and on the top shelf lay several rouleaus of gold,
overlooked or disdained by the thieves.
M. Fauvel, without troubling himself to examine anything, took a seat,
and ordered his cashier to do the same. He had entirely recovered his
equanimity, and his countenance wore its usual kind expression.
"Now that we are alone, Prosper," he said, "have you nothing to tell
The cashier started, as if surprised at the question. "Nothing,
monsieur, that I have not already told you."
"What, nothing? Do you persist in asserting a fable so absurd and
ridiculous that no one can possibly believe it? It is folly! Confide in
me: it is your only chance of salvation. I am your employer, it is true;
but I am before and above all your friend, your best and truest friend.
I cannot forget that in this very room, fifteen years ago, you were
intrusted to me by your father; and ever since that day have I had cause
to congratulate myself on possessing so faithful and efficient a
clerk. Yes, it is fifteen years since you came to me. I was then just
commencing the foundation of my fortune. You have seen it gradually
grow, step by step, from almost nothing to its present height. As my
wealth increased, I endeavored to better your condition; you, who,
although so young, are the oldest of my clerks. At each inventory of my
fortune, I increased your salary."
Never had Prosper heard him express himself in so feeling and paternal a
manner. Prosper was silent with astonishment.
"Answer," pursued M. Fauvel: "have I not always been like a father to
you? From the first day, my house has been open to you; you were treated
as a member of my family; Madeleine and my sons looked upon you as a
brother. But you grew weary of this peaceful life. One day, a year ago,
you suddenly began to shun us; and since then - - "
The memories of the past thus evoked by the banker seemed too much for
the unhappy cashier; he buried his face in his hands, and wept bitterly.
"A man can confide everything to his father without fear of being
harshly judged," resumed M. Fauvel. "A father not only pardons, he
forgets. Do I not know the terrible temptations that beset a young man
in a city like Paris? There are some inordinate desires before which the
firmest principles must give way, and which so pervert our moral sense
as to render us incapable of judging between right and wrong. Speak,
"What do you wish me to say?"
"The truth. When an honorable man yields, in an hour of weakness, to
temptation, his first step toward atonement is confession. Say to me,
Yes, I have been tempted, dazzled: the sight of these piles of gold
turned my brain. I am young: I have passions."
"I?" murmured Prosper. "I?"
"Poor boy," said the banker, sadly; "do you think I am ignorant of the
life you have been leading since you left my roof a year ago? Can you
not understand that all your fellow-clerks are jealous of you? that they
do not forgive you for earning twelve thousand francs a year? Never have
you committed a piece of folly without my being immediately informed of
it by an anonymous letter. I could tell the exact number of nights
you have spent at the gaming-table, and the amount of money you have
squandered. Oh, envy has good eyes and a quick ear! I have great
contempt for these cowardly denunciations, but was forced not only to
heed them, but to make inquiries myself. It is only right that I should
know what sort of a life is led by the man to whom I intrust my fortune
and my honor."
Prosper seemed about to protest against this last speech.
"Yes, my honor," insisted M. Fauvel, in a voice that a sense of
humiliation rendered still more vibrating: "yes, my credit might have
been compromised to-day by this M. de Clameran. Do you know how much
I shall lose by paying him this money? And suppose I had not had the
securities which I have sacrificed? you did not know I possessed them."
The banker paused, as if hoping for a confession, which, however, did
"Come, Prosper, have courage, be frank. I will go upstairs. You will
look again in the safe: I am sure that in your agitation you did not
search thoroughly. This evening I will return; and I am confident that,
during the day, you will have found, if not the three hundred and fifty
thousand francs, at least the greater portion of it; and to-morrow
neither you nor I will remember anything about this false alarm."
M. Fauvel had risen, and was about to leave the room, when Prosper
arose, and seized him by the arm.
"Your generosity is useless, monsieur," he said, bitterly; "having
taken nothing, I can restore nothing. I have searched carefully; the
bank-notes have been stolen."
"But by whom, poor fool? By whom?"
"By all that is sacred, I swear that it was not by me."
The banker's face turned crimson. "Miserable wretch!" cried he, "do you
mean to say that I took the money?"
Prosper bowed his head, and did not answer.
"Ah! it is thus, then," said M. Fauvel, unable to contain himself any
longer. "And you dare - . Then, between you and me, M. Prosper Bertomy,
justice shall decide. God is my witness that I have done all I could to
save you. You will have yourself to thank for what follows. I have sent
for the commissary of police: he must be waiting in my study. Shall I
call him down?"
Prosper, with the fearful resignation of a man who abandons himself,
replied, in a stifled voice:
"Do as you will."
The banker was near the door, which he opened, and, after giving the
cashier a last searching look, said to an office-boy:
"Anselme, ask the commissary of police to step down."
If there is one man in the world whom no event can move or surprise, who
is always on his guard against deceptive appearances, and is capable
of admitting everything and explaining everything, it certainly is a
Parisian commissary of police.
While the judge, from his lofty place, applies the code to the facts
submitted to him, the commissary of police observes and watches all
the odious circumstances that the law cannot reach. He is perforce the
confidant of disgraceful details, domestic crimes, and tolerated vices.
If, when he entered upon his office, he had any illusions, before the
end of a year they were all dissipated.