Émile Gaboriau.

The Clique of Gold online

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Saigon?"

"By my work, forsooth! _I_ have two arms; and I am not a good-for-
nothing."

"You have found employment, you say, as engraver on metal?"

"No."

"But you said" -

Evariste Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, could hardly conceal his
impatience.

"If you won't let me have my say," he broke out insolently, "it isn't
worth while questioning me."

The magistrate seemed not to notice it. He answered coldly, -

"Oh! talk as much as you want. I can wait."

"Well, then, the day after we had landed, M. Farniol, the owner of the
French restaurant, offered me a place as waiter. Of course I accepted,
and stayed there a year. Now I wait at table at the Hotel de France,
kept by M. Roy. You can send for my two masters; they will tell you
whether there is any complaint against me."

"They will certainly be examined. And where do you live?"

"At the Hotel de France, of course, where I am employed."

The magistrate's face looked more and more benevolent. He asked next, -

"And that is a good place, - to be waiter at a restaurant or a hotel?"

"Why, yes - pretty good."

"They pay well; eh?"

"That depends, - sometimes they do; at other times they don't. When it is
the season" -

"That is so everywhere. But let us be accurate. You have been now
eighteen months in Saigon; no doubt you have laid up something?"

The man looked troubled and amazed, as if he had suddenly found out that
the apparent benevolence of the magistrate had led him upon slippery and
dangerous ground. He said evasively, -

"If I have put anything aside, it is not worth mentioning."

"On the contrary, let us mention it. How much about have you saved?"

Bagnolet's looks, and the tremor of his lips, showed the rage that was
devouring him.

"I don't know," he said sharply.

The magistrate made a gesture of surprise which was admirable. He
added, -

"What! You don't know how much you have laid up? That is too improbable!
When people save money, one cent after another, to provide for their old
age, they know pretty well" -

"Well, then, take it for granted that I have saved nothing."

"As you like it. Only it is my duty to show you the effect of your
declaration. You tell me you have not laid up any money, don't you? Now,
what would you say, if, upon search being made, the police should find a
certain sum of money on your person or elsewhere?"

"They won't find any."

"So much the better for you; for, after what you said, it would be a
terrible charge."

"Let them search."

"They are doing it now, and not only in your room, but also elsewhere.
They will soon know if you have invested any money, or if you have
deposited it with any of your acquaintances."

"I may have brought some money with me from home."

"No; for you have told me that you could no longer live in Paris,
finding no work."

Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, made such a sudden and violent start, that
the surgeon thought he was going to attack the magistrate. He felt he
had been caught in a net the meshes of which were drawing tighter and
tighter around him; and these apparently inoffensive questions assumed
suddenly a terrible meaning.

"Just answer me in one word," said the magistrate. "Did you bring any
money from France, or did you not?"

The man rose, and his lips opened to utter a curse; but he checked
himself, sat down again, and, laughing ferociously, he said, -

"Ah! you would like to 'squeeze' me, and make me cut my own throat. But
luckily, I can see through you; and I refuse to answer."

"You mean you want to consider. Have a care! You need not consider in
order to tell the truth."

And, as the man remained obstinately silent, the magistrate began again
after a pause, saying, -

"You know what you are accused of? They suspect that you fired at Lieut.
Champcey with intent to kill."

"That is an abominable lie!"

"So you say. How did you hear that the officers of 'The Conquest' had
arranged a large hunting-party?"

"I had heard them speak of it at _table d'hote_."

"And you left your service in order to attend this hunt, some twelve
miles from Saigon? That is certainly singular."

"Not at all; for I am very fond of hunting. And then I thought, if I
could bring back a large quantity of game, I would probably be able to
sell it very well."

"And you would have added the profit to your other savings, wouldn't
you?"

Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, was stung by the point of this ironical
question, as if he had received a sharp cut. But, as he said nothing,
the magistrate continued, -

"Explain to us how the thing happened."

On this ground the murderer knew he was at home, having had ample time
to get ready; and with an accuracy which did great honor to his memory,
or to his veracity, he repeated what he had told the surgeon on the
spot, and at the time of the catastrophe. He only added, that he had
concealed himself, because he had seen at once to what terrible charges
he would be exposed by his awkwardness. And as he continued his account,
warming up with its plausibility, he recovered the impudence, or
rather the insolence, which seemed to be the prominent feature of his
character.

"Do you know the officer whom you have wounded?" asked the magistrate
when he had finished.

"Of course, I do, as I have made the voyage with him. He is Lieut.
Champcey."

"Have you any complaint against him?"

"None at all."

Then he added in a tone of bitterness and resentment, -

"What relations do you think could there be between a poor devil like
myself and a great personage like him? Would he have condescended even
to look at me? Would I have dared to speak to him? If I know him, it is
only because I have seen him, from afar off, walk the quarter-deck with
the other officers, a cigar in his mouth, after a good meal, while we
in the forecastle had our salt fish, and broke our teeth with worm-eaten
hard-tack."

"So you had no reason to hate him?"

"None; as little as anybody else."

Seated upon a wretched little footstool, his paper on his knees, an
inkhorn in his hand, the clerk was rapidly taking down the questions and
the answers. The magistrate made him a sign that it was ended, and then
said, turning to the murderer, -

"That is enough for to-day. I am bound to tell you, that, having so far
only kept you as a matter of precaution, I shall issue now an order for
your arrest."

"You mean I am to be put in jail?"

"Yes, until the court shall decide whether you are _guilty_ of murder,
or of involuntary homicide."

Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, seemed to have foreseen this conclusion: at
least he coolly shrugged his shoulders, and said in a hoarse voice, -

"In that case I shall have my linen changed pretty often here; for, if I
had been wicked enough to plot an assassination, I should not have been
fool enough to say so."

"Who knows?" replied the magistrate. "Some evidence is as good as an
avowal."

And, turning to the clerk, he said, -

"Read the deposition to the accused."

A moment afterwards, when this formality had been fulfilled, the
magistrate and the old doctor left the room. The former looked extremely
grave, and said, -

"You were right, doctor; that man is a murderer. The so-called friend,
whose name he would not tell us, is no other person than the rascal
whose tool he is. And I mean to get that person's name out of him, if
M. Champcey recovers, and will give me the slightest hint. Therefore,
doctor, nurse your patient."

To recommend Daniel to the surgeon was at least superfluous. If the old
original was inexorable, as they said on board ship, for those lazy ones
who pretended to be sick for the purpose of shirking work, he was all
tenderness for his real patients; and his tenderness grew with the
seriousness of their danger. He would not have hesitated a moment
between an admiral who was slightly unwell, and the youngest midshipman
of the fleet who was dangerously wounded. The admiral might have waited
a long time before he would have left the midshipman, - an originality
far less frequent than we imagine.

It would have been enough, therefore, for Daniel to be so dangerously
wounded. But there was something else besides. Like all who had ever
sailed with Daniel, the surgeon, also, had conceived a lively interest
in him, and was filled with admiration for his character. Besides that,
he knew that his patient alone could solve this great mystery, which
puzzled him exceedingly.

Unfortunately, Daniel's condition was one of those which defy all
professional skill, and where all hope depends upon time, nature, and
constitution. To try to question him would have been absurd; for he
had so far continued delirious. At times he thought he was on board
his sloop in the swamps of the Kamboja; but most frequently he imagined
himself fighting against enemies bent upon his ruin. The names of Sarah
Brandon, Mrs. Brian, and Thomas Elgin, were constantly on his lips,
mixed up with imprecations and fearful threats.

For twenty days he remained so; and for twenty days and twenty nights
his "man," Baptist Lefloch, who had caught the murderer, was by his
bedside, watching his slightest movement, and ever bending over him
tenderly. Not one of those noble daughters of divine wisdom, whom we
meet in every part of the globe, wherever there is a sick man to nurse,
could have been more patient, more attentive, or more ingenious, than
this common sailor. He had put off his shoes, so as to walk more softly;
and he came and went on tiptoe, his face full of care and anxiety,
preparing draughts, and handling with his huge bony hands, with
laughable, but almost touching precautions, the small phials out of
which he had to give a spoonful to his patient at stated times.

"I'll have you appointed head nurse of the navy, Lefloch," said the old
surgeon.

But he shook his head and answered, -

"I would not like the place, commandant. Only, you see, when we were
down there on the Kamboja, and Baptist Lefloch was writhing like a worm
in the grip of the cholera, and when he was already quite blue and cold,
Lieut. Champcey did not send for one of those lazy Annamites to rub him,
he came himself, and rubbed him till he brought back the heat and life
itself. Now, you see, I want to do some little for him."

"You would be a great scamp if you did not."

The surgeon hardly left the wounded man himself. He visited him four
or five times a day, once at least every night, and almost every day
remained for hours sitting by his bedside, examining the patient, and
experiencing, according to the symptoms, the most violent changes from
hope to fear, and back again. It was thus he learned a part, at least,
of Daniel's history, - that he was to marry a daughter of Count Ville-
Handry, who himself had married an adventuress; and that they had
separated him from his betrothed by a forged letter. The doctor's
conjectures were thus confirmed: such cowardly forgers would not
hesitate to hire an assassin.

But the worthy surgeon was too deeply impressed with the dignity of his
profession to divulge secrets which he had heard by the bedside of a
patient. And when the magistrate, devoured by impatience, came to him
every three or four days, he always answered, -

"I have nothing new to tell you. It will take weeks yet before you
can examine my patient. I am sorry for it, for the sake of Evariste
Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, who must be tired of prison; but he must
wait."

In the meantime, Daniel's long delirium had been succeeded by a period
of stupor. Order seemed gradually to return to his mind. He recognized
the persons around him, and even stammered a few sensible words. But he
was so excessively weak, that he remained nearly all the time plunged in
a kind of torpor which looked very much like death itself. When he was
aroused for a time, he always asked in an almost inaudible voice, -

"Are there no letters for me from France?"

Invariably, Lefloch replied, according to orders received from the
doctor, -

"None, lieutenant."

But he told a falsehood. Since Daniel was confined to his bed, three
vessels had arrived from France, two French and one English; and among
the despatches there were eight or ten letters for Lieut. Champcey. But
the old surgeon said to himself, not without good reason, -

"Certainly it is almost a case of conscience to leave this unfortunate
man in such uncertainty: but this uncertainty is free from danger, at
least; while any excitement would kill him as surely and as promptly as
I could blow out a candle."

A fortnight passed; and Daniel recovered some little strength; at last
he entered upon a kind of convalescence - if a poor man who could not
turn over in bed unaided can be called a convalescent. But, with his
returned consciousness, his sufferings also reappeared; and, as he
gradually ascertained how long he had been confined, his anxiety assumed
an alarming character.

"There must be letters for me," he said to his man; "you keep them from
me. I must have them."

The doctor at last came to the conclusion that this excessive agitation
was likely to become as dangerous as the excitement he dreaded so much;
so he said one day, -

"Let us run the risk."

It was a burning hot afternoon, and Daniel had now been an invalid for
seven weeks. Lefloch raised him on his pillows, stowed him away, as he
called it; and the surgeon handed him his letters.

Daniel uttered a cry of delight.

At the first glance he had recognized on three of the envelopes
Henrietta's handwriting. He kissed them, and said, -

"At last she writes!"

The shock was so violent, that the doctor was almost frightened.

"Be calm, my dear friend," he said. "Be calm! Be a man, forsooth!"

But Daniel only smiled, and replied, -

"Never mind me, doctor; you know joy is never dangerous; and nothing but
joy can come to me from her who writes to me. However, just see how calm
I am!"

So calm, that he did not even take the time to see which was the oldest
of his letters.

He opened one of them at haphazard, and read: -


"Daniel, my dear Daniel, my only friend in this world, and my sole hope,
how could you intrust me to such an infamous person? How could you hand
over your poor Henrietta to such a wretch? This Maxime de Brevan, this
scoundrel, whom you considered your friend, if you knew" -


This was the long letter written by Henrietta the day after M. de Brevan
had declared to her that he loved her, and that sooner or later, whether
she chose or not, she should be his, giving her the choice between the
horrors of starvation and the disgrace of becoming his wife.

As Daniel went on reading, a deadly pallor was spreading over his face,
pale as it was already; his eyes grew unnaturally large; and big drops
of perspiration trickled down his temples. A nervous trembling seized
him, so violent, that it made his teeth rattle; sobs rose from his
chest; and a pinkish foam appeared on his discolored lips. At last he
reached the concluding lines, -


"Now," the young girl wrote, "since, probably, none of my letters have
reached you, they must have been intercepted. This one will reach you;
for I am going to carry it to the post-office myself. For God's
sake, Daniel, return! Come back quick, if you wish to save, not your
Henrietta's honor, for I shall know how to die, but your Henrietta's
life!"


Then the surgeon and the sailor witnessed a frightful sight.

This man, who but just now had not been able to raise himself on his
pillows; this unfortunate sufferer, who looked more like a skeleton
than a human being; this wounded man, who had scarcely his breath left
him, - threw back his blankets, and rushed to the middle of the room,
crying, with a terrible voice, -

"My clothes, Lefloch, my clothes!"

The doctor had hastened forward to support him; but he pushed him aside
with one arm, continuing, -

"By the holy name of God, Lefloch, make haste! Run to the harbor,
wretch! there must be a steamer there. I buy it. Let it get up steam,
instantly. In an hour I must be on my way."

But this great effort had exhausted him. He tottered; his eyes dosed;
and he fainted away in the arms of his sailor, stammering, -

"That letter, doctor, that letter; read it, and you will see I must go."

Raising his lieutenant, and holding him like a child in his arms,
Lefloch carried him back to his bed; but, for more than ten minutes, the
doctor and the faithful sailor were unable to tell whether they had not
a corpse before their eyes, and were wasting all their attentions.

No! It was Lefloch who first noticed a slight tremor.

"He moves!" he cried out. "Look, commandant, he moves! He is alive!
We'll pull him through yet."

They succeeded, in fact, to rekindle this life which had appeared so
nearly extinct; but they did _not_ bring back that able intellect. The
cold and indifferent look with which Daniel stared at them, when he at
last opened his eyes once more, told them that the tottering reason of
the poor man had not been strong enough to resist this new shock. And
still he must have retained some glimpses of the past; for his
efforts to collect his thoughts were unmistakable. He passed his hands
mechanically over his forehead, as if trying to remove the mist
which enshrouded his mind. Then a convulsion shook him; and his lips
overflowed with incoherent words, in which the recollection of the
fearful reality, and the extravagant conceptions of delirium, were
strangely mixed.

"I foresaw it," said the chief surgeon. "I foresaw it but too fully."

He had by this time exhausted all the resources of his skill and long
experience; he had followed all the suggestions nature vouchsafed; and
he could do nothing more now, but wait. Picking up the fatal letter, he
went into the embrasure of one of the windows to read it. Daniel had
in his wanderings said enough to enable the doctor to understand the
piercing cry of distress contained in the poor girl's letter; and
Lefloch, who watched him, saw a big tear running down his cheek, and in
the next moment a flood of crimson overspread his face.

"This is enough to madden a man!" he growled. "Poor Champcey!"

And like a man who no longer possesses himself, who must move somehow,
he stuffed the letter in his pocket, and went out, swearing till the
plaster seemed to fall from the ceiling.

Precisely at the same hour, the magistrate, who had been notified of the
trial, came to ask for news. Seeing the old surgeon cross the hospital
yard, he ran up and asked, as soon as he was within hearing, -

"Well?"

The doctor went a few steps farther, and then replied in a tone of
despair, -

"Lieut. Champcey is lost!"

"Great God! What do you mean?"

"What I think. Daniel has a violent brain-fever, or rather congestion of
the brain. Weakened, exhausted, extenuated as he is, how can he endure
it? He cannot; that is evident. It would take another miracle to
save him now; and you may rest assured it won't be done. In less
than twenty-four hours he will be a dead man, and his assassins will
triumph."

"Oh!"

The old surgeon's eyes glared with rage; and a sardonic smile curled his
lips as he continued, -

"And who could keep those rascals from triumphing? If Daniel dies, you
will be bound to release that scamp, the wretched murderer whom you keep
imprisoned, - that man Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet; for there will be no
evidence. Or, if you send him before a court, he will be declared guilty
of involuntary homicide. And yet you know, as well as I do, he has
wantonly fired at one of the noblest creatures I have ever known. And,
when he has served his term, he will receive the price of Champcey's
life, and he will spend it in orgies; and the others, the true
criminals, who have hired him, will go about the world with lofty pride,
rich, honored, and haughty."

"Doctor!"

But the old original was not to be stopped. He went on, -

"Ah, let me alone! Your human justice, - do you want me to tell you what
I think of it? I am ashamed of it! When you send every year three or
four stupid murderers to the scaffold, and some dozens of miserable
thieves to the penitentiary, you fold your black gowns around you, and
proudly proclaim that all is well, and that society, thus protected, may
sleep soundly. Well, do you know what is the real state of things? You
only catch the stupid, the fools. The others, the strong, escape between
the meshes of your laws, and, relying on their cleverness and your want
of power, they enjoy the fruit of their crimes in all the pride of their
impunity, until" -

He hesitated, and added, unlike his usual protestations of atheism, -

"Until the day of divine judgment."

Far from appearing hurt by such an outburst of indignation, the
magistrate, after having listened with impassive face, said, as soon as
the doctor stopped for want of breath, -

"You must have discovered something new."

"Most assuredly. I think I hold at last the thread of the fearful plot
which is killing my poor Daniel. Ah, if he would but live! But he cannot
live."

"Well, well, console yourself, doctor. You said human justice has its
limits, and hosts of criminals escape its vengeance; but in this case,
whether Lieut. Champcey live or die, justice shall be done, I promise
you!"

He spoke in a tone of such absolute certainty, that the old surgeon was
struck by it. He exclaimed, -

"Has the murderer confessed the crime?"

The magistrate shook his head.

"No," he replied; "nor have I seen him again since the first
examination. But I have not been asleep. I have been searching; and I
think I have sufficient evidence now to bring out the truth. And if you,
on your side, have any positive information" -

"Yes, I have; and I think I am justified now in communicating it to you.
I have, besides, a letter" -

He was pulling the letter out of his pocket; but the magistrate stopped
him, saying, -

"We cannot talk here in the middle of the court, where everybody can
watch us from the windows. The court-room is quite near: suppose we go
there, doctor."

For all answer the surgeon put on his cap firmly, took his friend's arm,
and the next moment the soldier on duty at the gate of the hospital
saw them go out, engaged in a most animated conversation. When they had
reached the magistrate's room, he shut the door carefully; and, after
having invited the surgeon to take a seat, he said: -

"I shall ask you for your information in a moment. First listen to what
I have to say. I know now who Evariste Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet,
really is; and I know the principal events of his life. Ah! it has
cost me time and labor enough; but human justice is patient, doctor.
Considering that this man had sailed on board 'The Conquest' for more
than four months, in company with one hundred and fifty emigrants, I
thought it would be unlikely that he should not have tried to break
the monotony of such a voyage by long talks with friends. He is a good
speaker, a Parisian, a former soldier, and a great traveller. He was,
no doubt, always sure of an audience. I sent, therefore, one by one, for
all the former passengers on board 'The Conquest,' whom I could find,
a hundred, perhaps; and I examined them. I soon found out that my
presumption was not unfounded.

"Almost every one of them had found out some detail of Bagnolet's
life, some more, some less, according to the degree of honesty or
demoralization which Bagnolet thought he discovered in them. I collected
all the depositions of these witnesses; I completed and compared them,
one by the other; and thus, by means of the confessions of the accused,
certain allusions and confidences of his made to others, and his
indiscretions when he was drunk, I was enabled to make up his biography
with a precision which is not likely to be doubted."

Without seeming to notice the doctor's astonishment, he opened a large
case on his table; and, drawing from it a huge bundle of papers, he held
it up in the air, saying, -

"Here are the verbal depositions of my hundred and odd witnesses."

Then, pointing at four or five sheets of paper, which were covered with
very fine and close writing, he added, -

"And here are my extracts. Now, doctor, listen, - "

And at once he commenced reading this biography of his "accused," making
occasional remarks, and explaining what he had written.

"_Evariste Crochard_, surnamed _Bagnolet_, was born at Bagnolet in 1829,
and is, consequently, older than he says, although he looks younger. He
was born in February; and this month is determined by the deposition
of a witness, to whom the accused offered, during the voyage, a bottle,
with the words, 'To-day is my birthday.'



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 28 of 39)