Émile Gaboriau.

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as his collar. But, nevertheless, he was not without his compass, the
screw. He puts up his eyeglass, and looks at me up and down; and then he
says in his finest manner, 'What is it, my good fellow? Do you want to
speak to me?'

"Thereupon, quite sure of my business now, I say, 'Yes, to you, Justin
Chevassat. Don't you recall me? Evariste Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet;
eh? Do you recollect now?' However, the gentleman continued to hold his
head high, and to look at me. At last he says, '_If_ you do not clear
out, I will call a policeman.' Well, the mustard got into my nose, and I
began to cry, to annoy him, so as to collect a crowd, -

"'What, what! Policemen, just call them, please do! They will take us
before a magistrate. If I am mistaken, they won't hang me; but, if I am
not mistaken, they will laugh prodigiously. What have I to risk? Nothing
at all; for I have nothing.'

"I must tell you, that, while I said all this, I looked at him fixedly
with the air of a man who has nothing in his stomach, and who is bent
upon putting something into it. He also looked at me fixedly; and, if
his eyes had been pistols - but they were not. And, when he saw I was
determined, the fine gentleman softened down.

"'Make no noise,' he whispered, looking with a frightened air at all the
idlers who commenced to crowd around us. And pretending to laugh
very merrily, - for the benefit of the spectators, you know, - he said,
speaking very low and very rapidly, -

"'In the costume that you have on, I cannot ask you to get into my
carriage; that would only compromise us both uselessly. I shall send my
coachman back, and walk home. You can follow quietly; and, when we get
into a quiet street, we will take a cab, and talk.'

"As I was sure I could catch him again, if he should try to escape, I
approved the idea. 'All right. I understand.'"

The magistrate suddenly interrupted the accused. He thought it of great
importance that Crochard's evidence should be written down, word for
word; and he saw, that, for some little while, the clerk had been unable
to follow.

"Rest a moment, Crochard," he said.

And when the clerk had filled up what was wanting, and the magistrate
had looked it over, he said to the prisoner, -

"Now you can go on, but speak more slowly."

The wretch smiled, well pleased. This permission gave him more time to
select his words, and this flattered his vanity; for even the lowest of
these criminals have their weak point, in which their vanity is engaged.

"Don't let your soup get cold," he continued. "Chevassat said a
few words to his coachman, who whipped the horse, and there he was,
promenading down the boulevard, turning his cane this way, puffing out
big clouds of smoke, as if he had not the colic at the thought that his
friend Bagnolet was following on his heels.

"I ought to say that he had lots of friends, very genteel friends, who
wished him good-evening as they passed him. There were some even who
stopped him, shook hands with him, and offered to treat him; but he left
them all promptly, saying, 'Excuse me, pray, I am in a hurry.'

"Why, yes, he was in a hurry; and I who was behind him, and saw and
heard it all, I laughed in my sleeve most heartily."

Whatever advantage there may be in not interrupting a great talker, who
warms up as he talks, and consequently forgets himself, the magistrate
became impatient.

"Spare us your impressions," he said peremptorily.

This was not what Crochard expected. He looked hurt, and went on
angrily, -

"In fine, my individual goes down the boulevard as far as the opera,
turns to the right, crosses the open square, and goes down the first
street to the left. Here a cab passes; he hails it; orders the driver to
take _us_ to Vincennes. We get in; and his first care is to let down
the curtains. Then he looks at me with a smile, holds out his hand, and
says, 'Well, old man! how are you?'

"At first, when I saw myself so well received, I was quite overcome.
Then reflecting, I thought, 'It is not natural for him to be so soft. He
is getting ready for some trick. Keep your eyes open, Bagnolet.'

"'Then you are not angry that I spoke to you; eh?' He laughs, and says,

"Then I, 'However, you hadn't exactly a wedding-air when I spoke to
you, and I thought you were looking for a way to get rid of me
unceremoniously.' But he said very seriously, 'Look here, I am going to
talk to you quite openly! For a moment I was surprised; but I was not
annoyed. I have long foreseen something of the kind would happen; and
I know that every time I go out I run the risk of meeting a former
comrade. You are not the first who has recognized me, and I am prepared
to save myself all annoyance. If I wanted to get rid of you, this
very evening you would have lost all trace of me, thanks to a little
contrivance I have arranged. Besides, as you are in Paris without leave,
before twenty-four hours are over, you would _be_ in jail.' He told me
all this so calmly, that I felt it was so, and that the scamp had some
special trick.

"'Then,' I said, 'you rather like meeting an old friend, eh?'

"He looked me straight in the face and replied, 'Yes; and the proof of
it is, that if you were not here, sitting at my side, and if I had known
where to find you, I should have gone in search of you. I have something
to do for you.'"

Henceforth Bagnolet had reason to be satisfied.

Although the magistrate preserved his impassive appearance, Daniel and
the chief surgeon listened with breathless attention, feeling that the
prisoner had come to the really important part of his confession, from
which, no doubt, much light would be obtained. Lefloch himself listened
with open mouth; and one could follow on his ingenuous countenance all
the emotions produced by the recital of the criminal, who, but for him,
would probably have escaped justice.

"Naturally," continued Crochard, "when he talked of something to do,
I opened my ears wide. 'Why,' I said, 'I thought you had retired from
business.' And I really thought he had. 'You are mistaken,' he replied.
'Since I left that place you know of, I have been living nicely. But
I have not put anything aside; and if an accident should happen to me,
which I have reason to fear, I would be destitute.'

"I should have liked very much to know more; but he would not tell me
anything else concerning himself; and I had to give him my whole history
since my release. Oh! that was soon done. I told him how nothing I had
undertaken had ever succeeded; that, finally, I had been a waiter in a
drinking-shop; that they had turned me out; and that for a month now
I had been walking the streets, having not a cent, no clothes, no
lodgings, and no bed but the quarries.

"'Since that is so,' he said, 'you shall see what a comrade is.' I ought
to say that the cab had been going all the time we were talking, and
that we were out in the suburbs now. My Chevassat raised the blind to
look out; and, as soon as he saw a clothing store, he ordered the driver
to stop there. The driver did so; and then Chevassat said to me, 'Come,
old man, we'll begin by dressing you up decently.' So we get out; and
upon my word, he buys me a shirt, trousers, a coat, and everything else
that was needful; he pays for a silk hat, and a pair of varnished
boots. Farther down the street was a watchmaker. I declare he makes me a
present of a gold watch, which I still have, and which they seized when
they put me in jail. Finally, he has spent his five hundred francs, and
gives me eighty francs to boot, to play the gentleman.

"You need not ask if I thanked him, when we got back into the cab. After
such misery as I had endured, my morals came back with my clothes. I
would have jumped into the fire for Chevassat. Alas! I would not have
been so delighted, if I had known what I should have to pay for all
this; for in the first place" -

"Oh, go on!" broke in the lawyer; "go on!"

Not without some disappointment, Crochard had to acknowledge that
everything purely personal did not seem to excite the deepest interest.
He made a face, full of spite, and then went on, speaking more
rapidly, -

"All these purchases had taken some time; so that it was six o'clock,
and almost dark, when we reached Vincennes. A little before we got into
the town, Chevassat stopped the cab, paid the driver, sends him back,
and, taking me by the arm, says, 'You must be hungry: let us dine.'

"So we first absorb a glass of absinthe; then he carries me straight to
the best restaurant, asks for a private room, and orders a dinner. Ah,
but a dinner! Merely to hear it ordered from the bill of fare made my
mouth water.

"We sit down; and I, fearing nothing, would not have changed places with
the pope. And I talked, and I ate, and I drank; I drank, perhaps, most;
for I had not had anything to drink for a long time; and, finally, I was
rather excited. Chevassat seemed to have unbuttoned, and told me lots of
funny things which set me a-laughing heartily. But when the coffee had
been brought, with liquors in abundance, and cigars at ten cents apiece,
my individual rises, and pushes the latch in the door; for there was a

"Then he comes back, and sits down right in front of me, with his elbows
on the table. 'Now, old man,' he says, 'we have had enough laughing and
talking. I am a good fellow, you know; but you understand that I am not
treating you for the sake of your pretty face alone. I want a good stout
fellow; and I thought you might be the man.'

"Upon my word, he told me that in such a peculiar way, that I felt as if
somebody had kicked me in the stomach; and I began to be afraid of him.
Still I concealed my fears, and said, 'Well, let us see; go it! What's
the row?'

"At once he replies, 'As I told you before, I have not laid up a cent.
But if anything should happen to a certain person whom I think of, I
should be rich; and you - why, you might be rich too, if you were willing
to give him a little push with the elbow, so that the thing might happen
to him a little sooner.'"

Earnestly bent upon the part which he had to play for the sake of
carrying out his system of defence, the prisoner assumed more and more
hypocritical repentance, an effort which gave to his wicked face a
peculiarly repulsive expression.

The magistrate, however, though no doubt thoroughly disgusted with this
absurd comedy, did not move a muscle of his face, nor make a gesture,
anxious, as he was, not to break the thread of this important

"Ah, sir!" exclaimed Crochard, his hand upon his heart, "when I
heard Chevassat talk that way, my heart turned within me, and I said,
'Unfortunate man, what do you mean? I should commit a murder? Never! I'd
rather die first!' He laughed, and replied, 'Don't be a fool; who talks
to you of murder? I spoke of an accident. Besides, you would not risk
anything. The thing would happen to him abroad.' I continued, however,
to refuse, and I spoke even of going away; when Chevassat seized a big
knife, and said, now that I had his secret, I was bound to go on. If
not! - he looked at me with such a terrible air, that, upon my word, I
was frightened, and sat down again.

"Then, all at once, he became as jolly again as before; and, whilst he
kept pouring the brandy into my glass, he explained to me that I would
be a fool to hesitate; that I could never in all my life find such a
chance again of making a fortune; that I would most certainly succeed;
and that then I would have an income, keep a carriage as he did, wear
fine clothes, and have every day a dinner like the one we had just been
enjoying together.

"I became more and more excited. This lot of gold which he held up
before my mind's eyes dazzled me; and the strong drink I had been taking
incessantly got into my head. Then he flourished again the big knife
before my face; and finally I did not know what I was saying or doing.
I got up; and, striking the table with my fist, I cried out, 'I am your

Although, probably, the whole scene never took place, except in the
prisoner's imagination, Daniel could not help trembling under his cover,
at the thought of these two wretches arranging for his death, while they
were there, half drunk, glass in hand, and their elbows resting on a
table covered with wine-stains. Lefloch, on his part, stood grasping
the bedstead so hard with his hand, that the wood cracked. Perhaps he
dreamed he held in his grasp the neck of the man who was talking so
coolly of murdering his lieutenant. The lawyer and the doctor thought of
nothing but of watching the contortions of the accused. He had drawn a
handkerchief from his pocket, and rubbed his eyes hard, as if he hoped
thus to bring forth a few tears.

"Come, come!" said the magistrate. "No scene!"

Crochard sighed deeply, and then continued in a tearful tone, -

"They might cut me to pieces, and I would not be able to say what
happened after that. I was dead drunk, and do not recollect a thing any
more. From what Chevassat afterwards told me, I had to be carried to
the carriage; and he took me to a hotel in the suburb, where he hired a
lodging for me. When I woke the next day, a little before noon, my head
was as heavy as lead; and I tried to recall what had happened at the
restaurant, and if it was not perhaps merely the bad wine that had given
me the nightmare.

"Unfortunately, it was no dream; and I soon found that out, when a
waiter came up and brought me a letter. Chevassat wrote me to come
to his house, and to breakfast with him for the purpose of talking

"Of course I went. I asked the concierge where M. Justin Chevassat lives
in the house; and he directs me to go to the second floor, on the right
hand. I go up, ring the bell; a servant opens the door; I enter, and
find, in an elegant apartment, my brigand in a dressing-gown, stretched
out on a sofa. On the way I had made up my mind to tell him positively
that he need not count upon me; that the thing was a horror to me; and
that I retracted all I had said. But, as soon as I began, he became
perfectly furious, calling me a coward and a traitor, and telling me
that I had no choice but to make my fortune, or to receive a blow with
the big knife between my shoulders. At the same time he spread out
before me a great heap of gold. Then, yes, then I was weak. I felt I was
caught. Chevassat frightened me; the gold intoxicated me. I pledged my
word; and the bargain was made."

As he said this, Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, sighed deeply and noisily,
like a man whose heart has been relieved of a grievous burden. He really
felt prodigiously relieved. To have to confess everything on the spot,
without a moment's respite to combine a plan of apology, was a hard
task. Now, the wretch had stood this delicate and dangerous trial pretty
well, and thought he had managed cleverly enough to prepare for the day
of his trial a number of extenuating circumstances. But the magistrate
hardly gave him time to breathe.

"Not so fast," he said: "we are not done yet. What were the conditions
which you and Chevassat agreed upon?"

"Oh! very simple, sir. I, for my part, said yes to everything he
proposed. He magnetized me, I tell you, that man! We agreed, therefore,
that he would pay me four thousand francs in advance, and that, after
the accident, he would give me six thousand certain, and a portion of
the sum which he would secure."

"Thus you undertook, for ten thousand francs, to murder a man?"

"I thought" -

"That sum is very far from those fabulous amounts by which you said you
had been blinded and carried away."

"Pardon me! There was that share in the great fortune."

"Ah! You knew very well that Chevassat would never have paid you

Crochard's hands twitched nervously. He cried out, -

"Chevassat cheat me! _cochonnere_! I would have - but no; he knows me; he
would never have dared" -

The magistrate had caught the prisoner's eye, and, fixing him sternly,
he said good-naturedly, -

"Why did you tell me, then, that that man magnetized you, and frightened
you out of your wits?"

The wretch had gone into the snare, and, instead of answering, hung his
head, and tried to sob.

"Repentance is all very well," said the lawyer, who did not seem to
be in the least touched; "but just now it would be better for you
to explain how your trip to Cochin China was arranged. Come, collect
yourself, and give us the details."

"As to that," he resumed his account, "you see Chevassat explained to
me everything at breakfast; and the very same day he gave me the address
which you found on the paper in which the bank-notes were wrapped up."

"What did he give you M. Champcey's address for?"

"So that I might know him personally."

"Well, go on."

"At first, when I heard he was a lieutenant in the navy, I said I must
give it up, knowing as I did that with such men there is no trifling.
But Chevassat scolded me so terribly, and called me such hard names,
that I finally got mad, and promised everything.

"'Besides,' he said to me, 'listen to my plan. The navy department wants
mechanics to go to Saigon. They have not gotten their full number yet:
so you go and offer yourself. They will accept you, and even pay your
journey to Rochefort: a boat will carry you out to the roadstead on
board the frigate "Conquest." Do you know whom you will find on board?
Our man, Lieut. Champcey. Well, now, I tell you! that if any accident
should happen to him, either during the voyage, or at Saigon,
that accident will pass unnoticed, as a letter passes through the

"Yes, that's what he told me, every word of it; and I think I hear him
now. And I - I was so completely bewildered, that I had nothing to say in
return. However, there was one thing which troubled me; and I thought,
'Well, after all, they won't accept me at the navy department, with my

"But, when I mentioned the difficulty to Chevassat, he laughed. Oh, but
he laughed! it made me mad.

"'You are surely more of a fool than I thought,' he said. 'Are your
condemnations written on your face? No, I should say. Well, as you will
exhibit your papers in excellent order, they will take you.'

"I opened my eyes wide, and said, 'That's all very pretty, what you say;
but the mischief is, that, as I have not worked at my profession
for more than fifteen years, I have no papers at all.' He shrugs his
shoulders, and says, 'You shall have your papers.' That worries me; and
I reply, 'If I have to steal somebody's papers, and change my name,
I won't do it.' But the brigand had his notions. 'You shall keep your
name,' he said, touching me on the shoulder. 'You shall always remain
Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet; and you shall have your papers as engraver
on metal as perfect as anybody can have them.'

"And, to be sure, the second day after that he gave me a set of papers,
signatures, seals, all in perfect order."

"The papers found in your room, you mean?" asked the lawyer.


"Where did Chevassat get them?"

"Get them? Why, he had made them himself. He can do anything he chooses
with his pen, the scamp! If he takes it into his head to imitate your
own handwriting, you would never suspect it."

Daniel and the old surgeon exchanged glances. This was a strong and very
important point in connection with the forged letter that had been sent
to the navy department, and claimed to be signed by Daniel himself. The
magistrate was as much struck by the fact as they were; but his features
remained unchanged; and, pursuing his plan in spite of all the incidents
of the examination, he asked, -

"These papers caused no suspicion?"

"None whatever. I had only to show them, and they accepted me. Besides,
Chevassat said he would enlist some people in my behalf; perhaps I had
been specially recommended."

"And thus you sailed?"

"Yes. They gave me my ticket, some money for travelling expenses;
and, five days after my meeting with Chevassat, I was on board 'The
Conquest.' Lieut. Champcey was not there. Ah! I began to hope he would
not go out on the expedition at all. Unfortunately, he arrived forty-
eight hours afterwards, and we sailed at once."

The marvellous coolness of the wretch showed clearly under his affected
trouble; and, while it confounded Daniel and the old surgeon, it
filled the faithful Lefloch with growing indignation. He spoke of this
abominable plot, of this assassination which had been so carefully
plotted, and of the price agreed upon, and partly paid in advance, as if
the whole had been a fair commercial operation.

"Now, Crochard," said the lawyer, "I cannot impress it too strongly on
your mind, how important it is for your own interests that you should
tell the truth. Remember, all your statements will be verified. Do you
know whether Chevassat lives in Paris under an assumed name?"

"No, sir! I have always heard him called Chevassat by everybody."

"What? By everybody?"

"Well, I mean his concierge, his servants."

The magistrate seemed for a moment to consider how he should frame his
next question; and then he asked, all of a sudden, -

"Suppose that the - accident, as you call it, had succeeded, you would
have taken ship; you would have arrived in France; you reach Paris; how
would you have found Chevassat to claim your six thousand francs?"

"I should have gone to his house, where I breakfasted with him; and, if
he had left, the concierge would have told me where he lived now."

"Then you really think you saw him at his own rooms? Consider. If you
left him only for a couple of hours, between the time when you first
met him and the visit you paid him afterwards, he might very well have
improvised a new domicile for himself."

"Ah! I did not lie, sir. When dinner was over, I had lost my
consciousness, and I did not get wide awake again till noon on the next
day. Chevassat had the whole night and next morning."

Then, as a suspicion suddenly flashed through Crochard's mind, he
exclaimed, -

"Ah, the brigand! Why did he urge me never to write to him otherwise
than 'to be called for'?"

The magistrate had turned to his clerk.

"Go down," he said, "and see if any of the merchants in town have a
Paris Directory."

The clerk went off like an arrow, and appeared promptly back again with
the volume in question. The magistrate hastened to look up the address
given by the prisoner, and found it entered thus: "_Langlois_, sumptuous
apartments for families and single persons. Superior attendance."

"I was almost sure of it," he said to himself.

Then handing Daniel the paper on which the words "University" and
"Street" could be deciphered, he asked, -

"Do you know that handwriting, M. Champcey?"

Too full of the lawyer's shrewd surmises to express any surprise, Daniel
looked at the words, and said coolly, -

"That is Maxime de Brevan's handwriting."

A rush of blood colored instantly the pale face of Crochard. He was
furious at the idea of having been duped by his accomplice, by the
instigator of the crime he had committed, and for which he would
probably never have received the promised reward.

"Ah, the brigand!" he exclaimed. "And I, who was very near not
denouncing him at all!"

A slight smile passed over the lawyer's face. His end had been attained.
He had foreseen this wrath on the part of the prisoner; he had prepared
it carefully, and caused it to break out fully; for he knew it would
bring him full light on the whole subject.

"To cheat me, me!" Crochard went on with extraordinary vehemence, - "to
cheat a friend, an old comrade! Ah the rascal! But he sha'n't go to
paradise, if I can help it! Let them cut my throat, I don't mind it; I
shall be quite content even, provided I see his throat cut first."

"He has not even been arrested yet."

"But nothing is easier than to catch him, sir. He must be uneasy at not
hearing from me; and I am sure he is going every day to the post-office
to inquire if there are no letters yet for M. X. O. X. 88. I can write
to him. Do you want me to write to him? I can tell him that I have once
more missed it, and that I have been caught even, but that the police
have found out nothing, and that they have set me free again. I am sure,
after that, the scamp will keep quiet; and the police will have nothing
to do but to take the omnibus, and arrest him at his lodgings."

The magistrate had allowed the prisoner to give free vent to his fury,
knowing full well by experience how intensely criminals hate those of
their accomplices by whom they find themselves betrayed. And he was in
hopes that the rage of this man might suggest a new idea, or furnish him

Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 31 of 39)