Émile Gaboriau.

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"From all the accounts of the accused, it appears that his parents
were evidently very honest people. His father was foreman in a copper
foundry; and his mother a seamstress. They may be still living; but for
many years they have not seen their son.

"The accused was sent to school; and, if you believe him, he learned
quickly, and showed remarkable talents. But from his twelfth year he
joined several bad companions of his age, and frequently abandoned his
home for weeks, roaming about Paris. How did he support himself while he
was thus vagabondizing?

"He has never given a satisfactory explanation. But he has made such
precise statements about the manner in which youthful thieves maintain
themselves in the capital, that many witnesses suspect him of having
helped them in robbing open stalls in the streets.

"The positive result of these investigations is, that his father,
distressed by his misconduct, and despairing of ever seeing him mend his
ways, had him sent to a house of correction when he was fourteen years
old.

"Released at the end of eighteen months, he says he was bound out as
an apprentice, and soon learned his business well enough to support
himself. This last allegation, however, cannot be true; for four
witnesses, of whom one at least is of the same profession as Crochard,
declare that they have seen him at work, and that, if he ever was a
skilled mechanic, he is so no longer. Besides, he cannot have been long
at work; for he had been a year in prison again, when the revolution
of 1848 began. This fact he has himself stated to more than twenty-five
persons. But he has explained his imprisonment very differently; and
almost every witness has received a new version. One was told that he
had been sentenced for having stabbed one of his companions while drunk;
another, that it was for a row in a drinking-saloon; and a third, that
he was innocently involved with others in an attempt to rob a foreigner.

"The prosecution is, therefore, entitled to conclude fairly that
Crochard was sentenced simply as a thief.

"Set free soon after the revolution, he did not resume his profession,
but secured a place as machinist in a theatre on the boulevards. At the
end of three months he was turned off, because of 'improper conduct with
women,' according to one; or, if we believe another statement, because
he was accused of a robbery committed in one of the boxes.

"Unable to procure work, he engaged himself as groom in a wandering
circus, and thus travelled through the provinces. But at Marseilles,
he is wounded in a fight, and has to go to a hospital, where he remains
three months.

"After his return to Paris, he associated himself with a rope-dancer,
but was soon called upon to enter the army. He escaped conscription by
good luck. But the next year we find him negotiating with a dealer in
substitutes; and he confesses having sold himself purely from a mad
desire to possess fifteen hundred francs at once, and to be able to
spend them in debauch. Having successfully concealed his antecedents,
he is next admitted as substitute in the B Regiment of the line; but,
before a year had elapsed, his insubordination has caused him to be sent
to Africa as a punishment.

"He remained there sixteen months, and conducted himself well enough to
be incorporated in the First Regiment of Marines, one battalion of which
was to be sent to Senegambia. He had, however, by no means given up
his bad ways; for he was very soon after condemned to ten years' penal
servitude for having broken into a house by night as a robber."

The chief surgeon, who had for some time given unmistakable signs of
impatience, now rose all of a sudden, and said, -

"Pardon me, if I interrupt you, sir; but can you rely upon the veracity
of your witnesses?"

"Why should I doubt them?"

"Because it seems to me very improbable that a cunning fellow, such as
this Crochard seems to be, should have denounced himself."

"But he has not denounced himself."

"Ah?"

"He has often mentioned this condemnation; but he has always attributed
it to acts of violence against a superior; On that point he has never
varied in his statements."

"Then how on earth did you learn" -

"The truth? Oh, very simply. _I_ inquired at Saigon; and I succeeded
in finding a sergeant in the Second Regiment of Marines, who was in
the First Regiment at the same time with Crochard. He gave me all these
details. And there is no mistake about the identity; for, as soon as
I said 'Crochard' the sergeant exclaimed, 'Oh, yes! Crochard, surnamed
Bagnolet.'"

And, as the doctor bowed without saying a word, the magistrate said, -

"I resume the account. The statements of the accused since his arrest
are too insignificant to be here reported. There is only one peculiarity
of importance for the prosecution, which may possibly serve to enable us
to trace the instigators of this crime. On three occasions, and in the
presence of, at least, three witnesses each time, Crochard has used, in
almost the same terms, these words, -

"'No one would believe the strange acquaintances one makes in prisons.
You meet there young men of family, who have done a foolish thing,
and lots of people, who, wishing to make a fortune all at once, had no
chance. When they come out from there, many of these fellows get into
very good positions; and then, if you meet them, they don't know you. I
have known some people there, who now ride in their carriages.'"

The doctor had become silent.

"Oh!" he said half aloud, "might not some of these people whom the
assassin has known in prison have put arms in his hand?"

"That is the very question I asked myself."

"Because, you see, some of Daniel's enemies are fearful people; and if
you knew what is in this letter here in my hand, which, no doubt, will
be the cause of that poor boy's death" -

"Allow me to finish, doctor," said the man of law. And then, more
rapidly, he went on, -

"Here follows a blank. How the accused lived in Paris, to which he
had returned after his release, is not known. Did he resort to mean
cheating, or to improper enterprises, in order to satisfy his passions?
The prosecution is reduced to conjectures, since Crochard has refused to
give details, and only makes very general statements as to these years.

"This fact only is established, that every thing he took with him when
he left Paris was new, - his tools, the linen in his valise, the clothes
he wore, from the cap on his head to his shoes. Why were they all new?"

As the magistrate had now reached the last line on the first sheet, the
surgeon rose, bowed low, and said, -

"Upon my word, sir, I surrender; and I do begin to hope that Lieut.
Champcey may still be avenged."

A smile of pleased pride appeared for a moment on the lips of the
lawyer; but assuming his mask of impassiveness instantly again, as if he
had been ashamed of his weakness, he said with delicate irony, -

"I really think human justice may this time reach the guilty. But wait
before you congratulate me."

The old surgeon was too candid to make even an attempt at concealing his
astonishment.

"What!" he said, "you have more evidence still?"

The magistrate gravely shook his head, and said, -

"The biography which I have just read establishes nothing. We do not
succeed by probabilities and presumptions; however strong they are in
convincing a jury. They want and require proof, positive proof, before
they condemn. Well, such proof I have."

"Oh!"

From the same box from which he had taken the papers concerning Crochard
he now drew a letter, which he shook in the air with a threatening
gesture. "Here is something," he said, "which was sent to the state
attorney twelve days after the last attempt had been made on M.
Champcey's life. Listen!" And he read thus, -


"Sir, - A sailor, who has come over to Boen-Hoa, where I live with my
wife, has told us that a certain Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, has shot,
and perhaps mortally wounded, Lieut. Champcey of the ship 'Conquest.'

"In connection with this misfortune, my wife thinks, and I also consider
it a matter of conscience, that we should make known to you a very
serious matter.

"One day I happened to be on a yardarm, side by side with Crochard,
helping the sailors to furl a sail, when I saw him drop a huge block,
which fell upon Lieut. Champcey, and knocked him down.

"No one else had noticed it; and Crochard instantly pulled up the block
again. I was just considering whether I ought to report him, when he
fell at my feet, and implored me to keep it secret; for he had been very
unfortunate in life, and if I spoke he would be ruined.

"Thinking that he had been simply awkward, I allowed myself to be moved,
and swore to Crochard that the matter should remain between us. But
what has happened since proves very clearly, as my wife says, that I was
wrong to keep silence; and I am ready now to tell all, whatever may be
the consequences.

"Still, sir, I beg you will protect me, in case Crochard should think of
avenging himself on me or on my family, - a thing which might very easily
happen, as he is a very bad man, capable of any thing.

"As I cannot write, my wife sends you this letter. And we are, with the
most profound respect, &c."


The doctor rubbed his hands violently.

"And you have seen this blacksmith?" he asked.

"Certainly! He has been here, he and his wife. Ah! if the man had been
left to his own counsels, he would have kept it all secret, so terribly
is he afraid of this Crochard; but, fortunately, his wife had more
courage."

"Decidedly," growled the surgeon. "The women are, after all, the better
part of creation."

The magistrate carefully replaced the letter in the box, and then went
on in his usual calm voice, -

"Thus the first attempt at murder is duly and fully proven. As for the
second, - the one made on the river, - we are not quite so far advanced.
Still I have hopes. I have found out, for instance, that Crochard is a
first-rate swimmer. Only about three months ago he made a bet with one
of the waiters at the hotel where he is engaged, that he would swim
across the Dong-Nai twice, at a place where the current is strongest;
and he did it."

"But that is evidence; is it not?"

"No; it is only a probability in favor of the prosecution. But I
have another string to my bow. The register on board ship proves that
Crochard went on shore the very evening after the arrival of the vessel.
Where, and with whom, did he spend the evening? Not one of my hundred
and odd witnesses has seen him that night. And that is not all. No one
has noticed, the next day, that his clothes were wet. Therefore he must
have changed his clothes; and, in order to do that, he must have bought
some; for he had taken nothing with him out of the ship but what he had
on. Where did he buy these clothes? I mean to find that out as soon as
I shall no longer be forced to carry on the investigation secretly, as I
have done so far. For I never forget one thing, that the real criminals
are in France, and that they will surely escape us, if they hear that
their wretched accomplice here is in trouble."

Once more the surgeon drew Henrietta's letter from his pocket, and
handed it to the lawyer, saying, -

"I know who they are, the really guilty ones. I know Daniel's
enemies, - Sarah Brandon, Maxime de Brevan, and the others."

But the magistrate waved back the letter, and replied, -

"It is not enough for us to know them, doctor; we want evidence against
them, - clear, positive, irrefutable evidence. This evidence we will get
from Crochard. Oh, I know the ways of these rascals! As soon as they see
they are overwhelmed by the evidence against them, and feel they are
in real danger, they hasten to denounce their accomplices, and to aid
justice, with all their perversity to discover them. The accused will
do the same. When I shall have established the fact that he was hired
to murder M. Champcey, he will tell me by whom he was hired; and he will
have to confess that he was thus hired, when I show him how much of the
money he received for the purpose is now left."

The old surgeon once more jumped up from his chair.

"What!" he said, "you have found Crochard's treasure?"

"No," replied the lawyer, "not yet; but" -

He could hardly keep from smiling grimly; but he added at once, -

"But I know where it is, I think. Ah! I can safely say it was not on the
first day exactly that I saw where the truth probably was hid. I have
had a good deal of perplexity and trouble. Morally sure as I was, after
the first examination of the accused, that he had a relatively large sum
hidden somewhere, I first gave all my attention to his chamber. Assisted
by a clever police-agent, I examined that room for a whole fortnight,
till I was furious. The furniture was taken to pieces, and examined,
the lining taken out of the chairs, and even the paper stripped from the
walls. All in vain. I was in despair, when a thought struck me, - one of
those simple thoughts which make you wonder why it did not occur to you
at once. I said to myself, 'I have found it!' And, anxious to ascertain
if I was right, I immediately sent for the man with whom Crochard had
made the bet about swimming across the Dong-Nai. He came; and - But I
prefer reading you his deposition."

He took from the large bundle of papers a single sheet, and, assuming an
air of great modesty, read the affidavit.


"_Magistrate_. - At what point of the river did Crochard swim across?

"_Witness_. - A little below the town.

"_M_. - Where did he undress?

"_W_. - At the place where he went into the water, just opposite the
tile-factory of M. Wang-Tai.

"_M_. - What did he do with his clothes?

"_W_. (very much surprised). - Nothing.

"_M_. - Excuse me; he must have done something. Try to recollect.

"_W_. (striking his forehead). - Why, yes! I remember now. When Bagnolet
had undressed, I saw he looked annoyed, as if he disliked going into the
water. But no! that was not it. He was afraid about his clothes; and he
did not rest satisfied till I had told him I would keep watch over them.
Now, his clothes consisted of a mean pair of trousers and a miserable
blouse. As they were in my way, I put them down on the ground, at the
foot of a tree. He had in the meantime done his work, and came back;
but, instead of listening to my compliments, he cried furiously,
'My clothes!' - 'Well,' I said, 'they are not lost. There they are.'
Thereupon he pushed me back fiercely, without saying a word, and ran
like a madman to pick up his clothes."


The chief surgeon was electrified; he rose, and said, -

"I understand; yes, I understand."




XXV.

Thus proceeding from one point to another, and by the unaided power of
his sagacity, coupled with indefatigable activity, the magistrate
had succeeded in establishing Crochard's guilt, and the existence of
accomplices who had instigated the crime. No one could doubt that he was
proud of it, and that his self-esteem had increased, although he
tried hard to preserve his stiff and impassive appearance. He had even
affected a certain dislike to the idea of reading Henrietta's letter,
until he should have proved that he could afford to do without such
assistance.

But, now that he had proved this so amply, he very quickly asked for the
letter, and read it. Like the chief surgeon, he, also, was struck and
amazed by the wickedness of M. de Brevan.

"But here is exactly what we want," he exclaimed, - "an irrefragable
proof of complicity. He would never have dared to abuse Miss Ville-
Handry's confidence in so infamous a manner, if he had not been
persuaded, in fact been quite sure, that Lieut. Champcey would never
return to France."

Then, after a few minutes' reflection, he added, -

"And yet I feel that there is something underneath still, which we do
not see. Why had they determined upon M. Champcey's death even before
he sailed? What direct and pressing interest could M. de Brevan have in
wishing him dead at that time? Something must have happened between the
two which we do not know."

"What?"

"Ah! that is what I cannot conceive. But remember what I say, doctor:
the future reserves some fearful mysteries yet to be revealed to us
hereafter."

The two men had been so entirely preoccupied with their thoughts, that
they were unconscious of the flight of time; and they were not a little
astonished, therefore, when they now noticed that the day was gone, and
night was approaching. The lawyer rose, and asked, returning Henrietta's
letter to the doctor, -

"Is this the only one M. Champcey has received?"

"No; but it is the only one he has opened."

"Would you object to handing me the others?"

The excellent doctor hesitated.

"I will hand them to you," he said at last, "if you will assure me that
the interests of justice require it. But why not wait" -

He did not dare say, "Why not wait for M. Champcey's death?" but the
lawyer understood him.

"I will wait," he said.

While thus talking, they had reached the door. They shook hands; and the
chief surgeon, his heart fall of darkest presentiments, slowly made his
way to the hospital.

A great surprise awaited him there. Daniel, whom he had left in a
desperate condition, almost dying, - Daniel slept profoundly, sweetly.
His pale face had recovered its usual expression; and his respiration
was free and regular.

"It is almost indescribable," said the old doctor, whose experience was
utterly at fault. "I am an ass; and our science is a bubble."

Turning to Lefloch, who had respectfully risen at his entrance, he
asked, -

"Since when has your master been sleeping in this way?"

"For an hour, commandant."

"How did he fall asleep?"

"Quite naturally, commandant. After you left, the lieutenant was for
some time pretty wild yet; but soon he quieted down, and finally he
asked for something to drink. I gave him a cup of your tea; he took it,
and then asked me to help him turn over towards the wall. I did so, and
I saw him remain so, his arm bent, and his head in his hand, like a man
who is thinking profoundly. But about a quarter of an hour later, all
of a sudden, I thought I heard him gasp. I came up softly on tiptoe, and
looked. I was mistaken; the lieutenant was not gasping, he was crying
like a baby; and what I had heard were sobs. Ah, commandant! I felt as
if somebody had kicked me in the stomach. Because, you see, I know
him; and I know, that, before a man such as he is goes to crying like a
little child, he must have suffered more than death itself. Holy God!
If I knew where I could catch them, these rascals who give him all this
trouble" -

His fists rose instinctively, and most undoubtedly something bright
started from his eyes which looked prodigiously like a tear rolling
slowly down one of the deep furrows in his cheek.

"Now," he continued in a half-stifled voice, "I saw why the lieutenant
had wished to turn his face to the wall, and I went back without making
a noise. A moment after that, he began talking aloud. But he was right
in his senses now, I tell you."

"What did he say?"

"Ah! he said something like, 'Henrietta, Henrietta!' Always that good
friend of his, for whom he was forever calling when he had the fever.
And then he said, 'I am killing her, I! I am the cause of her death.
Fool, stupid, idiot that I am! He has sworn to kill me and Henrietta,
the wretch! He swore it no doubt, the very day on which I, fool as I
was, confided Henrietta and my whole fortune to him.'"

"Did he say that?"

"The very words, commandant, but better, a great deal better."

The old surgeon seemed to be amazed.

"That cunning lawyer had judged rightly," he said. "He suspected there
was something else; and here it is."

"You say, commandant?" asked the good sailor.

"Nothing of interest to you. Go on."

"Well, after that - but there is nothing more to tell, except that I
heard nothing more. The lieutenant remained in the same position till I
came to light the lamp; then he ordered me to make him tack ship, and
to let down the screen over the lamp. I did so. He gave out two or three
big sighs, and then goodnight, and nothing more. He was asleep as you
see him now."

"And how did his eyes look when he fell asleep?"

"Quite calm and bright."

The doctor looked like a man to whom something has happened which is
utterly inexplicable to him, and said in a low voice, -

"He will pull through, I am sure now. I said there could not be another
miracle; and here it is!"

Then turning to Lefloch, he asked, -

"You know where I am staying?"

"Yes, commandant."

"If your officer wakes up in the night, you will send for me at once."

"Yes, commandant."

But Daniel did not wake up; and he had hardly opened his eyes on the
next morning, about eight o'clock, when the chief surgeon entered his
room. At the first glance at his patient, he exclaimed, -

"I am sure our imprudence yesterday will have no bad effects!"

Daniel said nothing; but, after the old surgeon had carefully examined
him, he began, -

"Now, doctor, one question, a single one: in how many days will I be
able to get up and take ship?"

"Ah! my dear lieutenant, there is time enough to talk about that."

"No, doctor, no! I must have an answer. Fix a time, and I shall have the
fortitude to wait; but uncertainty will kill me. Yes, I shall manage to
wait, although I suffer like" -

The surgeon was evidently deeply touched.

"I know what you suffer, my poor Champcey," he said; "I read that letter
which came much nearer killing you than Crochard's ball. I think in a
month you will be able to sail."

"A month!" said Daniel in a tone as if he had said an age. And after a
pause he added, -

"That is not all, doctor: I want to ask you for the letters which I
could not read yesterday."

"What? You would - But that would be too great an imprudence."

"No, doctor, don't trouble yourself. The blow has fallen. If I did not
lose my mind yesterday, that shows that my reason can stand the most
terrible trial. I have, God be thanked, all my energy. I know I must
live, if I want to save Henrietta, - to avenge her, if I should come too
late. That thought, you may rest assured, will keep me alive."

The surgeon hesitated no longer: the next moment Daniel opened the other
two letters from Henrietta. One, very long, was only a repetition of the
first he had read. The other consisted only of a few lines: -


"M. de Brevan has just left me. When the man told me mockingly that I
need not count upon your return, and cast an atrocious look at me,
I understood. Daniel, that man wants your life; and he has hired
assassins. For my sake, if not for your own, I beseech you be careful.
Take care, be watchful; think that you are the only friend, the sole
hope here below, of your Henrietta."


Now it was truly seen that Daniel had not presumed too much on his
strength and his courage. Not a muscle in his face changed; his eye
remained straight and clear; and he said in an accent of coldest,
bitterest irony, -

"Look at this, doctor. Here is the explanation of the strange ill luck
that has pursued me ever since I left France."

At a glance the doctor read Henrietta's warning, which came, alas! so
much too late.

"You ought to remember this, also, that M. de Brevan could not foresee
that the assassin he had hired would be caught."

This was an unexpected revelation; and Daniel was all attention.

"What?" he said. "The man who fired at me has been arrested?"

Lefloch was unable to restrain himself at this juncture, and replied, -

"I should say so, lieutenant, and by my hand, before his gun had cooled
off."

The doctor did not wait for the questions which he read in the eyes of
his patient. He said at once, -

"It is as Lefloch says, my dear lieutenant; and, if you have not been
told anything about it, it was because the slightest excitement would
become fatal. Yesterday's experience has only proved that too clearly.
Yes, the assassin is in jail."

"And his account is made up," growled the sailor.

But Daniel shrugged his shoulders, and said, -

"I do not want him punished, any more than the ball which hit me. That
wretched creature is a mere tool. But, doctor, you know who are the real
guilty ones."

"And justice shall be done, I swear!" broke in the old surgeon, who
looked upon the cause of his patient with as much interest as if it were
his own. "Our lucky star has sent us a lawyer who is no trifler, and
who, if I am not very much mistaken, would like very much to leave
Saigon with a loud blast of trumpets."

He remained buried in thought for a while, watching his patient out of



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 29 of 39)