Émile Gaboriau.

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the corner of his eye, and then said suddenly, -

"Now I think of it, why could you not see the lawyer? He is all anxiety
to examine you. Consider, lieutenant, do you feel strong enough to see
him?"

"Let him come," cried Daniel, "let him come! Pray, doctor, go for him at
once!"

"I shall do my best, my dear Champcey. I will go at once, and leave you
to finish your correspondence."

He left the room with these words; and Daniel turned to the letters,
which were still lying on his bed. There were seven of them, - four from
the Countess Sarah, and three from Maxime. But what could they tell
him now? What did he care for the falsehoods and the calumnies they
contained? He ran over them, however.

Faithful to her system, Sarah wrote volumes; and from line to line, in
some way or other, her real or feigned love for Daniel broke forth more
freely, and no longer was veiled and hidden under timid reserve and
long-winded paraphrases. She gave herself up, whether her prudence had
forsaken her, or whether she felt quite sure that her letters could
never reach Count Ville-Handry. It sounded like an intense, irresistible
passion, escaping from the control of the owner, and breaking forth
terribly, like a long smouldering fire. Of Henrietta she said but
little, - enough, however, to terrify Daniel, if he had not known the
truth.

"That unfortunate, wayward girl," she wrote, "has just caused her aged
father such cruel and unexpected grief, that he was on the brink of
the grave. Weary of the control which her indiscretions rendered
indispensable, she has fled, we know not with whom; and all our efforts
to find her have so far been unsuccessful."

On the other hand, M. de Brevan wrote, "Deaf to my counsel and prayers
even, Miss Ville-Handry has carried out the project of leaving her
paternal home. Suspected of having favored her escape, I have been
called out by Sir Thorn, and had to fight a duel with him. A paper which
I enclose will give you the details of our meeting, and tell you that I
was lucky enough to wound that gentleman of little honor, but of great
skill with the pistol.

"Alas! my poor, excellent Daniel, why should I be compelled by the
duties of friendship to confess to you that it was not for the purpose
of remaining faithful to you, that Miss Henrietta was so anxious to be
free? Do not desire to return, my poor friend! You would suffer too much
in finding her whom you have loved so dearly unworthy of an honest
man, unworthy of you. Believe me, I did all I could to prevent her
irregularities, which now have become public. I only drew her hatred
upon me, and I should not be surprised if she did all she could to make
us all cut our throats."

This impudence was bold enough to confound anybody's mind, and to make
one doubt one's own good sense. Still he found the newspaper, which
had been sent to him with the letter, and in it the account of the duel
between M. de Brevan and M. Thomas Elgin. What did that signify? He once
more read over, more attentively than at first, the letters of Maxime
and the Countess Sarah; and, by comparing them with each other, he
thought he noticed in them some traces of a beginning disagreement.

"It may be that there is discord among my enemies," he said to himself,
"and that they do no longer agree, now that, in their view, the moment
approaches when they are to divide the proceeds of their crimes. Or did
they never agree, and am I the victim of a double plot? Or is the whole
merely a comedy for the purpose of deceiving me, and keeping me here,
until the murderer has done his work?"

He was not allowed to torture his mind long with efforts to seek the
solution of this riddle. The old doctor came back with the lawyer, and
for more than half an hour he had to answer an avalanche of questions.
But the investigation had been carried on with such rare sagacity,
that Daniel could furnish the prosecution only a single new fact, - the
surrender of his entire fortune into the hands of M. de Brevan.

And even this fact must needs, on account of its extreme improbability,
remain untold in an investigation which was based upon logic alone.
Daniel very naturally, somewhat ashamed of his imprudence, tried to
excuse himself; and, when he had concluded his explanations, the lawyer
said, -

"Now, one more question: would you recognize the man who attempted to
drown you in the Dong-Nai in a boat which he had offered to you, and
which he upset evidently on purpose?"

"No, sir."

"Ah! that is a pity. That man was Crochard, I am sure; but he will deny
it; and the prosecution will have nothing but probabilities to oppose to
his denial, unless I can find the place where he changed his clothes."

"Excuse me, there is a way to ascertain his identity."

"How?"

"The voice of the wretch is so deeply engraven on my mind, that even
at this moment, while I am speaking to you, I think I can hear it in my
ear; and I would recognize it among a thousand."

The lawyer made no reply, weighing, no doubt, in his mind the chances of
a confrontation. Then he made up his mind, and said, -

"It is worth trying."

And handing his clerk, who had been a silent witness of this scene, an
order to have the accused brought to the hospital, he said, -

"Take this to the jail, and let them make haste."

It was a month now since Crochard had been arrested; and his
imprisonment, so far from discouraging him, had raised his spirits. At
first, his arrest and the examination had frightened him; but, as the
days went by, he recovered his insolence.

"They are evidently looking for evidence," he said; "but, as they cannot
find any, they will have to let me go."

He looked, therefore, as self-assured as ever when he came into Daniel's
room, and exclaimed, while still in the door, with an air of intolerable
arrogance, -

"Well? I ask for justice; I am tired of jail. If I am guilty, let them
cut my throat; if I am innocent" -

But Daniel did not let him finish.

"That is the man!" he exclaimed; "I am ready to swear to it, that is the
man!"

Great as was the impudence of Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, he was
astonished, and looked with rapid, restless eyes at the chief surgeon,
at the magistrate, and last at Lefloch, who stood immovable at the foot
of the bed of his lieutenant. He had too much experience of legal forms
not to know that he had given way to absurd illusions, - and that his
position was far more dangerous than he had imagined. But what was their
purpose? what had they found out? and what did they know positively?
The effort he made to guess all this gave to his face an atrocious
expression.

"Did you hear that, Crochard?" asked the lawyer.

But the accused had recovered his self-control by a great effort; and he
replied, -

"I am not deaf." And there was in his voice the unmistakable accent
of the former vagabond of Paris. "I hear perfectly well; only I don't
understand."

The magistrate, finding that, where he was seated, he could not very
well observe Crochard, had quietly gotten up, and was now standing near
the mantle-piece, against which he rested.

"On the contrary," he said severely, "you understand but too well Lieut.
Champcey says you are the man who tried to drown him in the Dong-Nai. He
recognizes you."

"That's impossible!" exclaimed the accused. "That's impossible; for" -

But the rest of the phrase remained in his throat. A sudden reflection
had shown him the trap in which he had been caught, - a trap quite
familiar to examining lawyers, and terrible by its very simplicity. But
for that reflection, he would have gone on thus, -

"That's impossible; for the night was too dark to distinguish a man's
features."

And that would have been equivalent to a confession; and he would have
had nothing to answer the magistrate, if the latter had asked at once, -

"How do you know that the darkness was so great on the banks of the
Dong-Nai? It seems you were there, eh?"

Quite pallid with fright, the accused simply said, -

"The officer must be mistaken."

"I think not," replied the magistrate.

Turning to Daniel, he asked him, -

"Do you persist in your declaration, lieutenant?"

"More than ever, sir; I declare upon honor that I recognize the
man's voice. When he offered me a boat, he spoke a kind of almost
unintelligible jargon, a mixture of English and Spanish words; but he
did not think of changing his intonation and his accent."

Affecting an assurance which he was far from really feeling, Crochard,
surnamed Bagnolet, shrugged his shoulders carelessly, and said, -

"Do I know any English? Do I know any Spanish?"

"No, very likely not; but like all Frenchmen who live in this colony,
and like all the marines, you no doubt know a certain number of words of
these two languages."

To the great surprise of the doctor and of Daniel, the prisoner did not
deny it; it looked as if he felt that he was on dangerous ground.

"Never mind!" he exclaimed in the most arrogant manner. "It is anyhow
pretty hard to accuse an honest man of a crime, because his voice
resembles the voice of a rascal."

The magistrate gently shook his head. He said, -

"Do you pretend being an honest man?"

"What! I pretend? Let them send for my employers."

"That is not necessary. I know your antecedents, from the first petty
theft that procured you four months' imprisonment, to the aggravated
robbery for which you were sent to the penitentiary, when you were in
the army."

Profound stupor lengthened all of Crochard's features; but he was
not the man to give up a game in which his head was at stake, without
fighting for it.

"Well, there you are mistaken," he said very coolly. "I have been
condemned to ten years, that is true, when I was a soldier; but it was
for having struck an officer who had punished me unjustly."

"You lie. A former soldier of your regiment, who is now in garrison here
in Saigon, will prove it."

For the first time the accused seemed to be really troubled. He saw all
of a sudden his past rising before him, which until now he had thought
unknown or forgotten; and he knew full well the weight which antecedents
like his would have in the scales of justice. So he changed his tactics;
and, assuming an abject humility, he said, -

"One may have committed a fault, and still be incapable of murdering a
man."

"That is not your case."

"Oh! how can you say such a thing? - I who would not harm a fly. Unlucky
gun! Must I needs have such a mishap?"

The magistrate had for some time been looking at the accused with an air
of the most profound disgust. He interrupted him rudely now, and said, -

"Look here, my man! Spare us those useless denials. Justice knows
everything it wants to know. That shot was the third attempt you made to
murder a man."

Crochard drew back. He looked livid. But he had still the strength to
say in a half-strangled voice, -

"That is false!"

But the magistrate had too great an abundance of evidence to allow the
examination to continue. He said simply, -

"Who, then, threw, during the voyage, an enormous block at M. Champcey's
head? Come, don't deny it. The emigrant who was near you, who saw you,
and who promised he would not report you at that time, has spoken. Do
you want to see him?"

Once more Crochard opened his lips to protest his innocence; but he
could not utter a sound. He was crushed, annihilated; he trembled in all
his limbs; and his teeth rattled in his mouth. In less than no time, his
features had sunk in, as it were, till he looked like a man at the foot
of the scaffold. It may be, that, feeling he was irretrievably lost, he
had had a vision of the fatal instrument.

"Believe me," continued the lawyer, "do not insist upon the impossible;
you had better tell the truth."

For another minute yet, the miserable man hesitated. Then, seeing no
other chance of safety, except the mercy of the judges, he fell heavily
on his knees, and stammered out, -

"I am a wretched man."

At the same instant a cry of astonishment burst from the doctor, from
Daniel, and the worthy Lefloch. But the man of law was not surprised. He
knew in advance that the first victory would be easily won, and that the
real difficulty would be to induce the prisoner to confess the name of
his principal. Without giving him, therefore time to recover, he said, -

"Now, what reasons had you for persecuting M. Champcey in this way?"

The accused rose again; and, making an effort, he said slowly, -

"I hated him. Once during the voyage he had threatened to have me put in
irons."

"The man lies!" said Daniel.

"Do you hear?" asked the lawyer. "So you will not tell the truth? Well,
I will tell it for you. They had hired you to kill Lieut. Champcey,
and you wanted to earn your money. You got a certain sum of money in
advance; and you were to receive a larger sum after his death."

"I swear" -

"Don't swear! The sum in your possession, which you cannot account for,
is positive proof of what I say."

"Alas! I possess nothing. You may inquire. You may order a search."

Under the impassive mask of the lawyer, a certain degree of excitement
could at this moment be easily discerned. The time had come to strike
a decisive blow, and to judge of the value of his system of induction.
Instead, therefore, of replying to the prisoner, he turned to the
gendarmes who were present and said to them, -

"Take the prisoner into the next room. Strip him, and examine all his
clothes carefully: see to it that there is nothing hid in the lining."

The gendarmes advanced to seize the prisoner, when he suddenly jumped
up, and said in a tone of ill-constrained rage, -

"No need for that! I have three one thousand-franc-notes sewn into the
lining of my trousers."

This time the pride of success got completely the better of the
imperturbable coldness of the magistrate. He uttered a low cry of
satisfaction, and could not refrain from casting a look of triumph at
Daniel and the doctor, which said clearly, -

"Well? What did I tell you?"

It was for a second only; the next instant his features resumed their
icy immobility; and, turning to the accused, he said in a tone of
command, -

"Hand me the notes!"

Crochard did not stir; but his livid countenance betrayed the fierce
suffering he endured. Certainly, at this moment, he did not play a part.
To take from him his three thousand francs, the price of the meanest and
most execrable crime; the three thousand francs for the sake of which he
had risked the scaffold, - this was like tearing his entrails from him.

Like an enraged brute who sees that the enemy is all-powerful, he
gathered all his strength, and, with a furious look, glanced around the
room to see if he could escape anywhere, asking himself, perhaps, upon
which of the men he ought to throw himself for the purpose.

"The notes!" repeated the inexorable lawyer. "Must I order force to be
used?"

Convinced of the uselessness of resistance, and of the folly of any
attempt at escape, the wretch hung his head.

"But I cannot undo the seams of my trousers with my nails," he said.
"Let them give me a knife or a pair of scissors."

They were careful not to do so. But, at a sign given by the magistrate,
one of the gendarmes approached, and, drawing a penknife from his
pocket, ripped the seam at the place which the prisoner pointed out.
A genuine convulsion of rage seized the assassin, when a little paper
parcel appeared, folded up, and compressed to the smallest possible
size. By a very curious phenomenon, which is, however, quite frequently
observed in criminals, he was far more concerned about his money than
about his life, which was in such imminent danger.

"That is my money!" he raged. "No one has a right to take it from me. It
is infamous to ill use a man who has been unfortunate, and to rob him."

The magistrate, no doubt quite accustomed to such scenes, did not even
listen to Crochard, but carefully opened the packet. It contained three
notes of a thousand francs each, wrapped up in a sheet of letter-paper,
which was all greasy, and worn out in the folds. The bank-notes had
nothing peculiar; but on the sheet of paper, traces could be made out
of lines of writing; and at least two words were distinctly
legible, - _University_ and _Street_.

"What paper is this, Crochard?" asked the lawyer.

"I don't know. I suppose I picked it up somewhere."

"What? Are you going to lie again? What is the use? Here is evidently
the address of some one who lives in University Street."

Daniel was trembling on his bed.

"Ah, sir!" he exclaimed, "I used to live in University Street, Paris."

A slight blush passed over the lawyer's face, a sign of unequivocal
satisfaction in him. He uttered half loud, as if replying to certain
objections in his own mind, -

"Everything is becoming clear."

And yet, to the great surprise of his listeners, he abandoned this
point; and, returning to the prisoner, he asked him, -

"So you acknowledge having received money for the murder of Lieut.
Champcey?"

"I never said so."

"No; but the three thousand francs found concealed on your person say so
very clearly. From whom did you receive this money?"

"From nobody. They are my savings."

The lawyer shrugged his shoulders; and, looking very sternly at
Crochard, he said, -

"I have before compelled you to make a certain confession. I mean to
do so again and again. You will gain nothing, believe me, by struggling
against justice; and you cannot save the wretches who tempted you to
commit this crime. There is only one way left to you, if you wish for
mercy; and that is frankness. Do not forget that!"

The assassin was, perhaps, better able to appreciate the importance of
such advice than anybody else there present. Still he remained silent
for more than a minute, shaken by a kind of nervous tremor, as if a
terrible struggle was going on in his heart. He was heard to mutter, -

"I do not denounce anybody. A bargain is a bargain. I am not a tell-
tale."

Then, all of a sudden, making up his mind, and showing himself just the
man the magistrate had expected to find, he said with a cynic laugh, -

"Upon my word, so much the worse for them! Since I am in the trap, let
the others be caught as well! Besides, who would have gotten the big
prize, if I had succeeded? Not I, most assuredly; and yet it was I who
risked most. Well, then, the man who hired me to 'do the lieutenant's
business' is a certain Justin Chevassat."

The most intense disappointment seized both Daniel and the surgeon. This
was not the name they had been looking for with such deep anxiety.

"Don't you deceive me, Crochard?" asked the lawyer, who alone had been
able to conceal all he felt.

"You may take my head if I lie!"

Did he tell the truth? The lawyer thought he did; for, turning to
Daniel, he asked, -

"Do you know anybody by the name of Chevassat, M. Champcey?"

"No. It is the first time in my life I hear that name."

"Perhaps that Chevassat was only an agent," suggested the doctor.

"Yes, that may be," replied the lawyer; "although, in such matters,
people generally do their own work."

And, continuing his examination, he asked the accused, -

"Who is this Justin Chevassat?"

"One of my friends."

"A friend richer than yourself, I should think?"

"As to that - why, yes; since he has always plenty of money in his
pockets, dresses in the last fashion, and drives his carriage."

"What is he doing? What is his profession?"

"Ah! as to that, I know nothing about it. I never asked him, and
he never told me. I once said to him, 'Do you know you look like a
prodigiously lucky fellow?' And he replied, 'Oh, not as much so as you
think;' but that is all."

"Where does he live?"

"In Paris, Rue Louis, 39."

"Do you write to him there? For I dare say you have written to him since
you have been in Saigon."

"I send my letters to M. X. O. X. 88."

It became evident now, that, so far from endeavoring to save his
accomplices, Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, would do all he could to
aid justice in discovering them. He began to show the system which the
wretch was about to adopt, - to throw all the responsibility and all the
odium of the crime on the man who had hired him, and to appear the poor
devil, succumbing to destitution when he was tempted and dazzled by such
magnificent promises, that he had not the strength to resist. The lawyer
continued, -

"Where and how did you make the acquaintance of this Justin Chevassat?"

"I made his acquaintance at the galleys."

"Ah! that is becoming interesting. And do you know for what crime he had
been condemned?"

"For forgery, I believe, and also for theft."

"And what was he doing before he was condemned?"

"He was employed by a banker, or perhaps as cashier in some large
establishment. At all events, he had money to handle; and it stuck to
his fingers."

"I am surprised, as you are so well informed with regard to this man's
antecedents, that you should know nothing of his present means of
existence."

"He has money, plenty of money; that is all I know."

"Have you lost sight of him?"

"Why, yes. Chevassat was set free long before I was. I believe he was
pardoned; and I had not met him for more than fifteen years."

"How did you find him again?"

"Oh! by the merest chance, and a very bad chance for me; since, but for
him, I would not be here."




XXVI.

Never would a stranger who should have suddenly come into Daniel's
chamber, upon seeing Crochard's attitude, have imagined that the
wretch was accused of a capital crime, and was standing there before
a magistrate, in presence of the man whom he had tried three times to
assassinate.

Quite at home in the law, as far as it was studied at the galleys, he
had instantly recognized that his situation was by no means so desperate
as he had at first supposed; that, if the jury rendered a verdict of
guilty of death, it would be against the instigator of the crime, and
that he would probably get off with a few years' penal servitude.

Hence he had made up his mind about his situation with that almost
bestial indifference which characterizes people who are ready for
everything, and prepared for everything. He had recovered from that
stupor which the discovery of his crime had produced in him, and from
the rage in which he had been thrown by the loss of his bank-notes.
Now there appeared, under the odious personage of the murderer, the
pretentious and ridiculous orator of the streets and prisons, who is
accustomed to make himself heard, and displays his eloquence with great
pride.

He assumed a studied position; and it was evident that he was preparing
himself for his speech, although, afterwards, a good many words escaped
him which are found in no dictionary, but belong to the jargon of the
lowest classes, and serve to express the vilest sentiments.

"It was," he began, "a Friday, an unlucky day, - a week, about, before
'The Conquest' sailed. It might have been two o'clock. I had eaten
nothing; I had not a cent in my pockets and I was walking along the
boulevards, loafing, and thinking how I could procure some money.

"I had crossed several streets, when a carriage stopped close to me; and
I saw a very fine gentleman step out, a cigar in his mouth, a gold
chain across his waistcoat, and a flower in his buttonhole. He entered a
glove-shop.

"At once I said to myself, 'Curious! I have seen that head somewhere.'

"Thereupon, I go to work, and remain fixed to the front of the shop, a
little at the side, though, you know, at a place where, without being
seen myself, I could very well watch my individual, who laughed and
talked, showing his white teeth, while a pretty girl was trying on
a pair of gloves. The more I looked at him, the more I thought,
'Positively, Bagnolet, although that sweet soul don't look as if he were
a member of your society, you know him.'

"However, as I could not put a name to that figure, I was going on my
way, when suddenly my memory came back to me, and I said, '_Cretonne_,
it is an old comrade. I shall get my dinner.'

"After all, I was not positively sure; because why? Fifteen years make a
difference in a man, especially when he does not particularly care to be
recognized. But I had a little way of my own to make the thing sure.

"I waited, therefore, for my man; and, at the moment when he crossed the
sidewalk to get into his carriage, I stepped up, and cried out, though
not very loud, 'Eh, Chevassat!'

"The scamp! They might have fired a cannon at his ear, and he would not
have jumped as he did when I spoke to him. And white he was, - as white



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 30 of 39)