Émile Gaboriau.

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by a crowd of Annamites.

They had been firing for an hour, when Daniel's neighbors saw him
suddenly let go his rifle, turn over, and fall.

They hurried up to catch him; but he fell, face forward, to the ground,
saying aloud, and very distinctly, -

"This time they have not missed me!"

At the outcry raised by the two neighbors of Daniel, other hunters had
hastened up, and among them the chief surgeon of "The Conquest," one of
those old "pill-makers," who, under a jovial scepticism, and a rough,
almost brutal outside, conceal great skill and an almost feminine
tenderness. As soon as he looked at the wounded man, whom his friends
had stretched out on his back, making a pillow of their overcoats, and
who lay there pale and inanimate, the good doctor frowned, and growled
out, -

"He won't live."

The officers were thunderstruck.

"Poor Champcey!" said one of them, "to escape the Kamboja fevers, and to
be killed here at a pleasure party! Do you recollect, doctor, what you
said on the occasion of his second accident, - 'Mind the third'?"

The old doctor did not listen. He had knelt down, and rapidly stripped
the coat off Daniel's back. The poor man had been struck by a shot. The
ball had entered on the right side, a little behind; and between the
fourth and the fifth rib, one could see a round wound, the edges drawn
in. But the most careful examination did not enable him to find the
place where the projectile had come out again. The doctor rose slowly,
and, while carefully dusting the knees of his trousers, he said, -

"All things considered, I would not bet that he may not escape. Who
knows where the ball may be lodged? It may have respected the vital
parts.

"Projectiles often take curious turns and twists. I should almost be
disposed to answer for M. Champcey, if I had him in a good bed in the
hospital at Saigon. At all events, we must try to get him there alive.
Let one of you gentlemen tell the sailors who have come with us to make
a litter of branches."

The noise of a struggle, of fearful oaths and inarticulate cries,
interrupted his orders. Some fifteen yards off, below the place where
Daniel had fallen, two sailors were coming out of the thicket, their
faces red with anger, dragging out a man with a wretched gun, who hurled
out, -

"Will you let me go, you parcel of good-for-nothings! Let me go, or I'll
hurt you!"

He was so furiously struggling in the arms of the two sailors, clinging
with an iron grip to roots and branches and rocks, turning and twisting
at every step, that the men at last, furious at his resistance, lifted
him up bodily, and threw him at the chief surgeon's feet, exclaiming, -

"Here is the scoundrel who has killed our lieutenant!"

It was a man of medium size, with a dejected air, and lack-lustre eyes,
wearing a mustache and chin-beard, and looking impudent. His costume
was that of an Annamite of the middle classes, - a blouse buttoned at
the side, trousers made in Chinese style, and sandals of red leather. It
was, nevertheless, quite evident that the man was a European.

"Where did you find him?" asked the surgeon of the men.

"Down there, commandant, behind that big bush, to the right of Lieut.
Champcey, and a little behind him."

"Why do you accuse him?"

"Why? We have good reasons, I should think. He was hiding. When we saw
him, he was lying flat on the ground, trembling with fear; and we said
at once, 'Surely, there is the man who fired that shot.'"

The man had, in the meantime, raised himself, and assumed an air of
almost provoking assurance.

"They lie!" he exclaimed. "Yes, they lie, the cowards!"

This insult would have procured him a sound drubbing, but for the old
surgeon, who held the arm of the first sailor who made the attack. Then,
continuing his interrogatory, he asked, -

"Why did you hide?"

"I did not hide."

"What were you doing there, crouching in the bush?"

"I was at my post, like the others. Do they require a permit to carry
arms in Cochin China? I was not invited to your hunting party, to be
sure; but I am fond of game; and I said to myself, 'Even if I were to
shoot two or three head out of the hundreds their drivers will bring
down, I would do them no great harm.'"

The doctor let him talk on for some time, observing him closely with his
sagacious eye; then, all of a sudden, he broke in, saying, -

"Give me your gun!"

The man turned so visibly pale, that all the officers standing around
noticed it. Still he did what he was asked to do, and said, -

"Here it is. It's a gun one of my friends has lent me."

The doctor examined the weapon very carefully; and, after having
inspected the lock, he said, -

"Both barrels of your gun are empty; and they have not been emptied more
than two minutes ago."

"That is so; I fired both barrels at an animal that passed me within
reach."

"One of the balls may have gone astray."

"That cannot be. I was aiming in the direction of the prairie; and,
consequently, I was turning my back to the place where the officer was
standing."

To the great surprise of everybody, the doctor's face, ordinarily crafty
enough, now looked all benevolent curiosity, - so much so, that the two
sailors who had captured the man were furious, and said aloud, -

"Ah! don't believe him, commandant, the dirty dog!"

But the man, evidently encouraged by the surgeon's apparent kindliness,
asked, -

"Am I to be allowed to defend myself, or not?"

And then he added in a tone of supreme impudence, -

"However, whether I defend myself or not, it will, no doubt, be all
the same. Ah! if I were only a sailor, or even a marine, that would be
another pair of sleeves; they would hear me! But now, I am nothing but
a poor civilian; and here everybody knows civilians must have broad
shoulders. Wrong or right, as soon as they are accused, they are
convicted."

The doctor seemed to have made up his mind; for he interrupted this flow
of words, saying in his kindest voice, -

"Calm yourself, my friend. There is a test which will clearly establish
your innocence. The ball that has struck Lieut. Champcey is still in the
wound; and I am the man who is going to take it out, I promise you. We
all here have rifles with conical balls; you are the only one who has an
ordinary shot-gun with round balls, so there is no mistake possible. I
do not know if you understand me?"

Yes, he understood, and so well, that his pale face turned livid, and
he looked all around with frightened glances. For about six seconds he
hesitated, counting his chances; then suddenly falling on his knees, his
hands folded, and beating the ground with his forehead, he cried out, -

"I confess! Yes, it may be I who have hit the officer. I heard
the bushes moving in his direction, and I fired at a guess. What a
misfortune! O God, what a misfortune! Ah! _I_ would give my life to save
his if I could. It was an accident, gentlemen, I swear. Such accidents
happen every day in hunting; the papers are full of them. Great God!
what an unfortunate man I am!"

The doctor had stepped back. He now ordered the two sailors who had
arrested the man, to make sure of him, to bind him, and carry him to
Saigon to prison. One of the gentlemen, he said, would write a few
lines, which they must take with them. The man seemed to be annihilated.

"A misfortune is not a crime," he sighed out. "I am an honest mechanic."

"We shall see that in Saigon," answered the surgeon.

And he hastened away to see if all the preparations had been made
to carry the wounded man. In less than twenty minutes, and with that
marvellous skill which is one of the characteristic features of good
sailors, a solid litter had been constructed; the bottom formed a real
mattress of dry leaves; and overhead a kind of screen had been made of
larger leaves. When they put Daniel in, the pain caused him to utter a
low cry of pain. This was the first sign of life he had given.

"And now, my friends," said the doctor, "let us go! And bear in mind, if
you shake the lieutenant, he is a dead man."

It was hardly eight in the morning when the melancholy procession
started homeward; and it was not until between two and three o'clock on
the next morning that it entered Saigon, under one of those overwhelming
rains which give one an idea of the deluge, and of which Cochin China
has the monopoly. The sailors who carried the litter on which Daniel
lay had walked eighteen hours without stopping, on footpaths which
were almost impassable, and where every moment a passage had to be cut
through impenetrable thickets of aloes, cactus, and jack-trees. Several
times the officers had offered to take their places; but they had always
refused, relieving each other, and taking all the time as ingenious
precautions as a mother might devise for her dying infant. Although,
therefore, the march lasted so long, the dying man felt no shock; and
the old doctor said, quite touched, to the officers who were around
him, -

"Good fellows, how careful they are! You might have put a full glass of
water on the litter, and they would not have spilled a drop."

Yes, indeed! Good people, rude and rough, no doubt, in many ways, coarse
sometimes, and even brutal, bad to meet on shore the day after pay-day,
or coming out from a drinking-shop, but keeping under the rough outside
a heart of gold, childlike simplicity, and the sacred fire of noblest
devotion. The fact was, they did not dare breathe heartily till after
they had put their precious burden safe under the hospital porch.

Two officers who had hastened in advance had ordered a room to be made
ready. Daniel was carried there; and when he had been gently put on a
white, good bed, officers and sailors withdrew into an adjoining room to
await the doctor's sentence. The latter remained with the wounded man,
with two assistant surgeons who had been roused in the meantime.

Hope was very faint. Daniel had recovered his consciousness during
the journey, and had even spoken a few words to those around him, but
incoherent words, the utterance of delirium. They had questioned him
once or twice; but his answers had shown that he had no consciousness
of the accident which had befallen him, nor of his present condition; so
that the general opinion among the sailors who were waiting, and who all
had more or less experience of shot-wounds, was, that fever would carry
off their lieutenant before sunrise.

Suddenly, as if by magic, all was hushed, and not a word spoken.

The old surgeon had just appeared at the door of the sick-chamber; and,
with a pleasant and hopeful smile on his lips, he said, -

"Our poor Champcey is doing as well as could be expected; and I would
almost be sure of his recovery, if the great heat was not upon us."

And, silencing the murmur of satisfaction which arose among them at this
good news, he went on to say, -

"Because, after all, serious as the wound is, it is nothing in
comparison with what it might have been; and what is more, gentlemen, I
have the _corpus delicti_."

He raised in the air, as he said this, a spherical ball, which he held
between his thumb and forefinger.

"Another instance," he said, "to be added to those mentioned by our
great masters of surgery, of the oddities of projectiles. This one,
instead of pursuing its way straight through the body of our poor
friend, had turned around the ribs, and gone to its place close by the
vertebral column. There I found it, almost on the surface; and nothing
was needed to dislodge it but a slight push with the probe."

The shot-gun taken from the hands of the murderer had been deposited
in a corner of the large room: they brought it up, tried the ball, and
found it to fit accurately.

"Now we have a tangible proof," exclaimed a young ensign, "an
unmistakable proof, that the wretch whom our men have caught is Daniel's
murderer. Ah, he might as well have kept his confession!"

But the old surgeon replied with a dark frown, -

"Gently, gentlemen, gently! Don't let us be over-hasty in accusing a
poor fellow of such a fearful crime, when, perhaps, he is guilty only of
imprudence."

"O doctor, doctor!" protested half a dozen voices.

"I beg your pardon! Don't let us be hasty, I say; and let us consider,
For an assassination there must be a motive, and an all-powerful motive;
for, aside from the scaffold which he risks, no man is capable of
killing another man solely for the purpose of shedding his blood. Now,
in this case, I look in vain for any reason, which could have induced
the man to commit a murder. He certainly did not expect to rob our poor
comrade. But hatred, you say, or vengeance, perhaps! Well, that may be.
But, before a man makes up his mind to shoot even the man he hates like
a dog, he must have been cruelly offended by him; and, to bring this
about, he must have been in contact, or must have stood in some relation
to him. Now, I ask you, is it not far more probable that the murderer
saw our friend Champcey this morning for the first time?"

"I beg your pardon, commandant! He knew him perfectly well."

The man who interrupted the doctor was one of the sailors to whom the
prisoner had been intrusted to carry him to prison. He came forward,
twisting his worsted cap in his hands; and, when the old surgeon had
ordered him to speak, he said, -

"Yes, the rascal knew the lieutenant as well as I know you, commandant;
and the reason of it is, that the scoundrel was one of the emigrants
whom we brought here eighteen months ago."

"Are you sure of what you say?"

"As sure as I see you, commandant. At first my comrade and I did not
recognize him, because a year and a half in this wretched country
disfigure a man horribly; but, while we were carrying him to jail, we
said to one another, 'That is a head we have seen before.' Then we
made him talk; and he told us gradually, that he had been one of the
passengers, and that he even knew my name, which is Baptist Lefloch."

This deposition of the sailor made a great impression upon all the
bystanders, except the old doctor. It is true he was looked upon, on
board "The Conquest," as one of the most obstinate men in holding on to
his opinions.

"Do you know," he asked the sailor, "if this man was one of the four or
five who had to be put in irons during the voyage?"

"No, he was not one of them, commandant."

"Did he ever have anything to do with Lieut. Champcey? Has he been
reprimanded by him, or punished? Has he ever spoken to him?"

"Ah, commandant! that is more than I can tell."

The old doctor slightly shrugged his shoulders, and said in a tone of
indifference, -

"You see, gentlemen, this deposition is too vague to prove anything.
Believe me, therefore, do not let us judge before the trial, and let us
go to bed."

Day was just breaking, pale and cool; the sailors disappeared one by
one. The doctor was getting ready to lie down on a bed which he had
ordered to be put up in a room adjoining that in which the wounded man
was lying, when an officer came in. It was one of those who had been
standing near Champcey; he, also, was a lieutenant.

"I should like to have a word in private with you, doctor," he said.

"Very well," replied the old surgeon. "Be kind enough to come up to my
room." And when they were alone, he locked the door, and said, -

"I am listening."

The lieutenant thought a moment, like a man who looks for the best form
in which to present an important idea, and then said, -

"Between us, doctor, do you believe it was an accident, or a crime?"

The surgeon hesitated visibly.

"I will tell you, but you only, frankly, that I do not believe it was an
accident. But as we have no evidence" -

"Pardon me! I think I have evidence."

"Oh!"

"You shall, judge yourself. When Daniel fell, he said, 'This time, they
have not missed me!'"

"Did he say so?"

"Word for word. And Saint Edme, who was farther from him than I was,
heard it as distinctly as I did."

To the great surprise of the lieutenant, the chief surgeon seemed only
moderately surprised; his eyes, on the contrary, shone with that pleased
air of a man who congratulates himself at having foreseen exactly what
he now is told was the fact. He drew a chair up to the fireplace, in
which a huge fire had been kindled to dry his clothes, sat down, and
said, -

"Do you know, my dear lieutenant, that what you tell me is a matter
of the greatest importance? What may we not conclude from those words,
'This time they have not missed me'? In the first place, it proves that
Champcey was fully aware that his life was in danger. Secondly,
that plural, 'They have not,' shows that he knew he was watched and
threatened by several people: hence the scamp whom we caught must have
accomplices. In the third place, those words, 'This time,' establish the
fact that his life has been attempted before."

"That is just what I thought, doctor."

The worthy old gentleman looked very grave and solemn, meditating
deeply.

"Well, I," he continued slowly, "I had a very clear presentiment of
all that as soon as I looked at the murderer. Do you remember the man's
amazing impudence as long as he thought he could not be convicted of the
crime? And then, when he found that the calibre of his gun betrayed him,
how abject, how painfully humble, he became! Evidently such a man is
capable of anything."

"Oh! you need only look at him" -

"Yes, indeed! Well, as I was thus watching him, I instinctively
recalled the two remarkable accidents which so nearly killed our poor
Champcey, - that block that fell upon him from the skies, and that
shipwreck in the Dong-Nai. But I was still doubtful. After what you tell
me, I am sure."

He seized the lieutenant's hand; and, pressing it almost painfully, he
went on, -

"Yes, I am ready to take my oath that this wretch is the vile tool of
people who hate or fear Daniel Champcey; who are deeply interested in
his death; and who, being too cowardly to do their own business, are
rich enough to hire an assassin."

The lieutenant was evidently unable to follow.

"Still, doctor," he objected, "but just now you insisted" -

"Upon a diametrically opposite doctrine; eh?"

"Precisely."

The old surgeon smiled, and said, -

"I had my reasons. The more I am persuaded that this man is an
assassin, the less I am disposed to proclaim it on the housetops. He has
accomplices, you think, do you?"

"Certainly."

"Well, if we wish to reach them, we must by all means reassure them,
leave them under the impression that everybody thinks it was an
accident. If they are frightened, good-night. They will vanish before
you can put out your hand to seize them."

"Champcey might be questioned; perhaps he could furnish some
information."

But the doctor rose, and stopped him with an air of fury, -

"Question my patient! Kill him, you mean! No! If I am to have the
wonderful good luck to pull him through, no one shall come near his bed
for a month. And, moreover, it will be very fortunate indeed if in a
month he is sufficiently recovered to keep up a conversation."

He shook his head, and went on, after a moment's silence, -

"Besides, it is a question whether Champcey would be disposed to say
what he knows, or what he suspects. That is very doubtful. Twice he has
been almost killed. Has he ever said a word about it? He probably has
the same reasons for keeping silence now that he had then."

Then, without noticing the officer's objections, he added, -

"At all events, I will think it over, and go and see the judges as
soon as they are out of bed. But I must ask you, lieutenant, to keep my
secret till further order. Will you promise?"

"On my word, doctor."

"Then you may rest assured our poor friend shall be avenged. And now, as
I have barely two hours to rest, please excuse me."




XXIV.

As soon as he was alone, the doctor threw himself on his bed; but he
could not sleep. He had never in his life been so much puzzled. He
felt as if this crime was the result of some terrible but mysterious
intrigue; and the very fact of having, as he fancied, raised a corner of
the veil, made him burn with the desire to draw it aside altogether.

"Why," he said to himself, "why might not the scamp whom we hold be the
author of the other two attempts likewise? There is nothing improbable
in that supposition. The man, once engaged, might easily have been put
on board 'The Conquest;' and he might have left France saying to himself
that it would be odd indeed, if during a long voyage, or in a land like
this, he did not find a chance to earn his money without running much
risk."

The result of his meditations was, that the chief surgeon appeared, at
nine o'clock, at the office of the state attorney. He placed the matter
before him very fully and plainly; and, an hour afterwards, he crossed
the yard on his way to the prison, accompanied by a magistrate and his
clerk.

"How is the man the sailors brought here last night?" he asked the
jailer.

"Badly, sir. He would not eat."

"What did he say when he got here?"

"Nothing. He seemed to be stupefied."

"You did not try to make him talk?"

"Why, yes, a little. He answered that he had done some mischief; that he
was in despair, and wished he were dead."

The magistrate looked at the surgeon as if he meant to say, "Just as I
expected from what you told me!" Then, turning again to the jailer, he
said, -

"Show us to the prisoner's cell."

The murderer had been put into a small but tidy cell in the first story.
When they entered, they found him seated on his bed, his heels on the
bars, and his chin in the palm of his hands. As soon as he saw the
surgeon, he jumped up, and with outstretched arms and rolling eyes,
exclaimed, -

"The officer has died!"

"No," replied the surgeon, "no! Calm yourself. The wound is a very bad
one; but in a fortnight he will be up again."

These words fell like a heavy blow upon the murderer. He turned pale;
his lips quivered; and he trembled in all his limbs. Still he promptly
mastered this weakness of the flesh; and falling on his knees, with
folded hands, he murmured in the most dramatic manner, -

"Then I am not a murderer! O Great God, I thank thee!"

And his lips moved as if he were uttering a fervent prayer.

It was evidently a case of coarsest hypocrisy; for his looks
contradicted his words and his voice. The magistrate, however, seemed to
be taken in.

"You show proper feelings," he said. "Now get up and answer me. What is
your name?"

"Evariste Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet."

"What age?"

"Thirty-five years."

"Where were you born?"

"At Bagnolet, near Paris. And on that account, my friend" -

"Never mind. Your profession?"

The man hesitated. The magistrate added, -

"In your own interest I advise you to tell the truth. The truth always
comes out in the end; and your position would be a very serious one if
you tried to lie. Answer, therefore, directly."

"Well, I am an engraver on metal; but I have been in the army; I served
my time in the marines."

"What brought you to Cochin China?"

"The desire to find work. I was tired of Paris. There was no work for
engravers. I met a friend who told me the government wanted good workmen
for the colonies."

"What was your friend's name?"

A slight blush passed over the man's cheek's, and he answered hastily, -

"I have forgotten his name."

The magistrate seemed to redouble his attention, although he did not
show it.

"That is very unfortunate for you," he answered coldly. "Come, make an
effort; try to remember."

"I know I cannot; it is not worth the trouble."

"Well; but no doubt you recollect the profession of the man who knew so
well that government wanted men in Cochin China? What was it?"

The man, this time, turned crimson with rage, and cried out with
extraordinary vehemence, -

"How do I know? Besides, what have I to do with my friend's name and
profession? I learned from him that they wanted workmen. I called at the
navy department, they engaged me; and that is all."

Standing quietly in one of the corners of the cell, the old chief
surgeon lost not a word, not a gesture, of the murderer. And he could
hardly refrain from rubbing his hands with delight as he noticed the
marvellous skill of the magistrate in seizing upon all those little
signs, which, when summed up at the end of an investigation, form an
overwhelming mass of evidence against the criminal. The magistrate, in
the meantime, went on with the same impassive air, -

"Let us leave that question, then, since it seems to irritate you, and
let us go on to your residence here. How have you supported yourself at



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 27 of 39)