Émile Gaboriau.

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with new facts. When he saw he was not likely to gain much, he said, -

"Justice cannot stoop to such expedients." Then he added, seeing how
disappointed Crochard looked, -

"You had better try and recollect all you can. Have you forgotten
or concealed nothing that might assist us in carrying out this
examination?"

"No; I think I have told you every thing."

"You cannot furnish any additional evidence of the complicity of Justin
Chevassat, of his efforts to tempt you to commit this crime, or of the
forgery he committed in getting up a false set of papers for you?"

"No! Ah, he is a clever one, and leaves no trace behind him that could
convict him. But, strong as he is, if we could be confronted in court,
I'd undertake, just by looking at him, to get the truth out of him
somehow."

"You shall be confronted, I promise you."

The prisoner seemed to be amazed.

"Are you going to send for Chevassat?" he asked.

"No. You will be sent home, to be tried there."

A flash of joy shone in the eyes of the wretch. He knew the voyage would
not be a pleasant one; but the prospect of being tried in France was
as good as an escape from capital punishment to his mind. Besides, he
delighted in advance in the idea of seeing Chevassat in court, seated by
his side as a fellow-prisoner.

"Then," he asked again, "they will send me home?"

"On the first national vessel that leaves Saigon."

The magistrate went and sat down at the table where the clerk was
writing, and rapidly ran his eye over the long examination, seeing if
anything had been overlooked. When he had done, he said, -

"Now give me as accurate a description of Justin Chevassat as you can."

Crochard passed his hand repeatedly over his forehead; and then, his
eyes staring at empty space, and his neck stretched out, as if he saw a
phantom which he had suddenly called up, he said, -

"Chevassat is a man of my age; but he does not look more than twenty
seven or eight. That is what made me hesitate at first, when I met him
on the boulevard. He is a handsome fellow, very well made, and wears
all his beard. He looks clever, with soft eyes; and his face inspires
confidence at once."

"Ah! that is Maxime all over," broke in Daniel.

And, suddenly remembering something, he called Lefloch. The sailor
started, and almost mechanically assumed the respectful position of a
sailor standing before his officer.

"Lieutenant?" he said.

"Since I have been sick, they have brought part of my baggage here; have
they not?"

"Yes, lieutenant, all of it."

"Well. Go and look for a big red book with silver clasps. You have no
doubt seen me look at it often."

"Yes, lieutenant; and I know where it is."

And he immediately opened one of the trunks that were piled up in a
corner of the room, and took from it a photograph album, which, upon a
sign from Daniel, he handed to the lawyer.

"Will you please," said Daniel at the same time, "ask the prisoner, if,
among the sixty or seventy portraits in that book, he knows any one?"

The album was handed to Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, who turned over
leaf after leaf, till all of a sudden, and almost beside himself, he
cried out, -

"Here he is, Justin Chevassat! Oh! that's he, no doubt about it."

Daniel could, from his bed, see the photograph, and said, -

"That is Maxime's portrait."

After this decisive evidence, there could be no longer any doubt that
Justin Chevassat and Maxime de Brevan were one and the same person. The
investigation was complete, as far as it could be carried on in Saigon;
the remaining evidence had to be collected in Paris. The magistrate
directed, therefore, the clerk to read the deposition; and Crochard
followed it without making a single objection. But when he had signed
it, and the gendarmes were about to carry him off again, and to put
on the handcuffs, he asked leave to make an addition. The magistrate
assented; and Crochard said, -

"I do not want to excuse myself, nor to make myself out innocent; but I
do not like, on the other hand, to seem worse than I am."

He had assumed a very decided position, and evidently aimed at giving to
his words an expression of coarse but perfect frankness.

"The thing which I had undertaken to do, it was not in my power to do.
It has never entered my head to kill a man treacherously. If I had been
a brute, such as these are, the lieutenant would not be there, wounded
to be sure, but alive. Ten times I might have done his business most
effectively; but I did not care. I tried in vain to think of Chevassat's
big promises; at the last moment, my heart always failed me. The thing
was too much for me. And the proof of it is, that I missed him at ten
yards' distance. The only time when I tried it really in earnest was
in the little boat, because there, I ran some risk; it was like a duel,
since my life was as much at stake as the lieutenant's. I can swim as
well as anybody, to be sure; but in a river like the Dong-Nai, at
night, and with a current like that, no swimmer can hold his own. The
lieutenant got out of it; but I was very near being drowned. I could not
get on land again until I had been carried down two miles or more; and,
when I did get on shore, I sank in the mud up to my hips. Now, I humbly
beg the lieutenant's pardon; and you shall see if I am going to let
Chevassat escape."

Thereupon he held out his hands for the handcuffs, with a theatrical
gesture, and left the room.




XXVII.

In the meantime, the long, trying scene had exhausted Daniel; and he lay
there, panting, on his bed. The surgeon and the lawyer withdrew, to let
him have some rest.

He certainly needed it; but how could he sleep with the fearful idea
of his Henrietta - she whom he loved with his whole heart - being in the
hands of this Justin Chevassat, a forger, a former galley-slave, the
accomplice and friend of Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet?

"And I myself handed her over to him!" he repeated for the thousandth
time, - "I, her only friend upon earth! And her confidence in me was
so great, that, if she had any presentiment, she suppressed it for my
sake."

Daniel had, to be sure, a certain assurance now, that Maxime de Brevan
would not be able to escape from justice. But what did it profit him to
be avenged, when it was too late, long after Henrietta should have been
forced to seek in suicide the only refuge from Brevan's persecution? Now
it seemed to him as if the magistrate was far more anxiously concerned
for the punishment of the guilty than for the safety of the victims.
Blinded by passion, so as to ask for impossibilities, Daniel would have
had this lawyer, who was so clever in unearthing crimes committed in
Saigon, find means rather to prevent the atrocious crime which was now
going on in France. On his part, he had done the only thing that could
be done.

At the first glimpse of reason that had appeared after his terrible
sufferings, he had hastened to write to Henrietta, begging her to take
courage, and promising her that he would soon be near her. In this
letter he had enclosed the sum of four thousand francs.

This letter was gone. But how long would it take before it could reach
her? Three or four months, perhaps even more.

Would it reach her in time? Might it not be intercepted, like the
others? All these anxieties made a bed of burning coals of the couch
of the poor wounded man. He twisted and turned restlessly from side to
side, and felt as if he were once more going to lose his senses. And
still, by a prodigious effort of his will, his convalescence pursued its
normal, steady way in spite of so many contrary influences.

A fortnight after Crochard's confession, Daniel could get up; he spent
the afternoon in an arm-chair, and was even able to take a few steps in
his chamber. The next week he was able to get down into the garden
of the hospital, and to walk about there, leaning on the arm of his
faithful Lefloch. And with his strength and his health, hope, also,
began to come back; when, all of a sudden, two letters from Henrietta
rekindled the fever.

In one the poor _girl_ told him how she had lived so far on the money
obtained from the sale of the little jewelry she had taken with her, but
added that she was shamefully cheated, and would soon be compelled to
seek employment of some sort in order to support herself.

"I am quite sure," she said, with a kind of heartrending cheerfulness,
"that I can earn my forty cents a day; and with that, my friend, I shall
be as happy as a queen, and wait for your return, free from want."

In the other she wrote, -

"None of my efforts to procure work has so far succeeded. The future
is getting darker and darker. Soon I shall be without bread. I shall
struggle on to the last extremity, were it only not to give my enemies
the joy of seeing me dead. But, Daniel, if you wish to see your
Henrietta again, come back; oh, come back!"

Daniel had not suffered half as much the day when the assassin's ball
ploughed through his chest. He was evidently reading one of those last
cries which precede agony. After these two fearful letters, he could
only expect a last one from Henrietta, - a letter in which she would tell
him, "All is over. I am dying. Farewell!"

He sent for the chief surgeon, and said, as soon as he entered, -

"I must go!"

The good doctor frowned, and replied rudely, -

"Are you mad? Do you know that you cannot stand up fifteen minutes?"

"I can lie down in my berth."

"You would kill yourself."

"What of that? I would rather suffer death than what I now endure.
Besides, I have made up my mind irrevocably! Read this, and you will see
yourself that I cannot do otherwise."

The chief surgeon took in Henrietta's last letter almost at a single
glance; but he held it in his hand for some time, pretending to read it,
but in reality meditating.

"I am sure," the excellent man thought in his heart, "I am sure, in this
man's place, I should do the same. But would this imprudence be of any
use to him? No; for he could not reach the mouth of the Dong-Nai alive.
Therefore it is my duty to keep him here: and that can be done, since he
is as yet unable to go out alone; and Lefloch will obey me, I am sure,
when I tell him that his master's life depends upon his obedience."

Too wise to meet so decided a determination as Daniel's was by a flat
refusal, he said, -

"Very well, then; be it as you choose!"

Only he came in again the same evening, and, with an air of
disappointment, said to Daniel, -

"To go is all very well; but there is one difficulty in the way, of
which neither you nor I have thought."

"And what is that?"

"There is no vessel going home."

"Really, doctor?"

"Ah! my dear friend," replied the excellent man boldly, "do you think I
could deceive you?"

Evidently Daniel thought him quite capable of doing so; but he took
good care not to show his suspicions, reserving to himself the right of
making direct inquiries as soon as the opportunity should offer. It came
the very next morning. Two friends of his called to see him. He sent
Lefloch out of the room on some pretext, and then begged them to go down
to the port, and to engage a passage for him, - no, not for him, but for
his man, whom urgent business recalled to France.

In the most eager manner the two gentlemen disappeared. They stayed away
three hours; and, when they came back, their answer was the same as the
doctor's. They declared they had made inquiries on all sides; but they
were quite sure that there was not a single vessel in Saigon ready to
sail for home. Ten other persons whom Daniel asked to do the same
thing brought him the same answer. And yet, that very week, two ships
sailed, - one for Havre, the other for Bordeaux. But the concierge of
the hospital, and Lefloch, were so well drilled, that no visitor reached
Daniel before having learned his lesson thoroughly.

Thus they succeeded in keeping Daniel quiet for a fortnight; but, at the
end of that time, he declared that he felt quite well enough to look out
for a ship himself; and that, if he could do no better, he meant to
sail for Singapore, where he would be sure to procure a passage home. It
would, of course, have been simple folly to try and keep a man back who
was so much bent upon his purpose; and, as his first visit to the port
would have revealed to him the true state of things, the old surgeon
preferred to make a clean breast of it. When he learned that he had
missed two ships, Daniel was at first naturally very much incensed.

"That was not right, doctor, to treat me thus," he exclaimed. "It was
wrong; for you know what sacred duties call me home."

But the surgeon was prepared for his justification. He replied with a
certain solemnity which he rarely assumed, -

"I have only obeyed my conscience. If I had let you set sail in the
condition in which you were, I should have virtually sent you to your
grave, and thus have deprived your betrothed, Miss Ville-Handry, of her
last and only chance of salvation."

Daniel shook his head sadly, and said, -

"But if I get there too late, too late; by a week, a day, do you think,
doctor, I shall not curse your prudence? And who knows, now, when a ship
will leave?"

"When? On Sunday, in five days; and that ship is 'The Saint Louis' a
famous clipper, and so good a sailor, that you will easily overtake the
two big three-masters that have sailed before you."

Offering his hand to Daniel, he added, -

"Come, my dear Champcey; don't blame an old friend who has done what he
thought was his duty to do."

Daniel was too painfully affected to pay much attention to the
conclusive and sensible reasons alleged by the chief surgeon; he saw
nothing but that his friends had taken advantage of his condition to
keep him in the dark. Still he also felt that it would have been black
ingratitude and stupid obstinacy to preserve in his heart a shadow
of resentment. He therefore, took the hand that was offered him, and,
pressing it warmly, replied in a tone of deep emotion, -

"Whatever the future may have in store for me, doctor, I shall never
forget that I owe my life to your devotion."

As usually, when he felt that excitement was overcoming him, - a very
rare event, to tell the truth, - the old surgeon fell back into his rough
and abrupt manner.

"I have attended you as I would have attended any one: that is my duty,
and you need not trouble yourself about your gratitude. If any one owes
me thanks, it is Miss Ville-Handry; and I beg you will remind her of it
when she is your wife. And now you will be good enough to dismiss all
those dismal ideas, and remember that you have only five days longer to
tremble with impatience in this abominable country."

He spoke easily enough of it, - five days! It was an eternity for a
man in Daniel's state of mind. In three hours he had made all his
preparations for his departure, arranged his business matters, and
obtained a furlough for Lefloch, who was to go with him. At noon,
therefore, he asked himself with terror, how he was to employ his time
till night, when they came, and asked if he would please come over to
the courthouse, to see the magistrate.

He went at once, and found the lawyer, but so changed, that he hardly
recognized him at first. The last mail had brought him the news of his
appointment to a judgeship, which he had long anxiously desired, and
which would enable him to return, not only to France, but to his native
province. He meant to sail in a frigate which was to leave towards the
end of the month, and in which Crochard, also, was to be sent home.

"In this way," he said, "I shall arrive at the same time as the accused,
and very soon after the papers, which were sent home last week; and I
trust and hope I shall be allowed to conduct the trial of an affair,
which, so far, has gone smoothly enough in my hands."

His impassive air was gone; and that official mask was laid aside, which
might have been looked upon as much a part of his official costume as
the black gown which was lying upon one of his trunks. He laughed, he
rubbed his hands, and said, -

"I should take pleasure in having him in my court, this Justin
Chevassat, alias Maxime de Brevan. He must be a cool swindler, brimful
of cunning and astuteness, familiar with all the tricks of criminal
courts, and not so easily overcome. It will be no child's play, I am
sure, to prove that he was the instigator of Crochard's crimes, and
that he has hired him with his own money. Ah! There will be lively
discussions and curious incidents."

Daniel listened, quite bewildered.

"He, too," he thought. "Professional enthusiasm carries him away; and
here he is, troubling himself about the discussions in court, neither
less nor more than Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet. He thinks only of the
honor he will reap for having handed over to the jury such a formidable
rascal as" -

But the lawyer had not sent for Daniel to speak to him of his plans and
his hopes. Having learned from the chief surgeon that Lieut. Champcey
was on the point of sailing, he wished to tell him that he would receive
a very important packet, which he was desired to hand to the court as
soon as he reached Paris.

"This is, you understand," he concluded, "an additional precaution which
we take to prevent Maxime de Brevan from escaping us."

It was five o'clock when Daniel left the court-house; and on the little
square before it he found the old surgeon, waiting to carry him off to
dinner, and a game of whist in the evening. So, when he undressed at
night, he said to himself, -

"After all, the day has not been so very long!"

But to-morrow, and the day after to-morrow, and the next days!

He tried in vain to get rid of the fixed idea which filled his mind, - a
mechanical instinct, so to say, which was stronger than his will, and
drove him incessantly to the wharf where "The Saint Louis" was lying.
Sitting on some bags of rice, he spent hour after hour in watching the
cargo as it was put on board. Never had the Annamites and the
Chinamen, who in Saigon act as stevedores, appeared to him so lazy, so
intolerable. Sometimes he felt as if, seeing or guessing his impatience,
they were trying to irritate him by moving the bales with the utmost
slowness, and walking with unbearable laziness around with the windlass.

Then, when he could no longer bear the sight, he went to the cafe on the
wharf, where the captain of "The Saint Louis" was generally to be found.

"Your men will never finish, captain," he said. "You will never be ready
by Sunday."

To which the captain invariably replied in his fierce Marseilles
accent, -

"Don't be afraid, lieutenant. 'The Saint Louis,' I tell you, beats the
Indian mail in punctuality."

And really, on Saturday, when he saw his passenger come as usual to the
cafe, the captain exclaimed, -

"Well, what did I tell you? We are all ready. At five o'clock I get my
mail at the post-office; and to-morrow morning we are off. I was just
going to send you word that you had better sleep on board."

That evening the officers of "The Conquest," gave Daniel a farewell
dinner; and it was nearly midnight, when, after having once more shaken
hands most cordially with the old chief surgeon, he took possession of
his state-room, one of the largest on board ship, in which they had put
up two berths, so that, in case of need, Lefloch might be at hand to
attend his master.

Then at last, towards four o'clock in the morning, Daniel was aroused
by the clanking of chains, accompanied by the singing of the sailors. He
hastened on deck. They were getting up anchors; and, an hour after that,
"The Saint Louis" went down the Dong-Nai, aided by a current, rushing
along "like lightning."

"And now," said Daniel to Lefloch, "I shall judge, by the time it will
take us to get home, if fortune is on my side."

Yes, fate, at last, declared for him. Never had the most extraordinarily
favorable winds hastened a ship home as in this case. "The Saint Louis"
was a first-class sailer; and the captain, stimulated by the presence of
a navy lieutenant, always exacted the utmost from his ship; so that
on the seventeenth day after they had left Saigon, on a fine winter
afternoon, Daniel could see the hills above Marseilles rise from the
blue waters of the Mediterranean. He was drawing near the end of the
voyage and of his renewed anxieties. Two days more, and he would be in
Paris, and his fate would be irrevocably fixed.

But would they let him go on shore that evening? He trembled as he
thought of all the formalities which have to be observed when a ship
arrives. The quarantine authorities might raise difficulties, and cause
a delay.

Standing by the side of the captain, he was watching the masts, which
looked as if they were loaded down with all the sails they could carry,
when a cry from the lookout in the bow of the vessel attracted his
attention. That man reported, at two ship's lengths on starboard, a
small boat, like a pilot-boat, making signs of distress. The captain
and Daniel exchanged looks of disappointment. The slightest delay in
the position in which they were, and at a season when night falls so
suddenly, deprived them of all hope of going on shore that night. And
who could tell how long it would take them to go to the rescue of that
boat?

"Well, never mind!" said Daniel. "We have to do it."

"I wish they were in paradise!" swore the captain.

Nevertheless, he ordered all that was necessary to slacken speed, and
then to tack so as to come close upon the little boat.

It was a difficult and tedious manoeuvre; but at last, after half an
hour's work, they could throw a rope into the boat.

There were two men in it, who hastened to come on the deck of the
clipper. One was a sailor of about twenty, the other a man of perhaps
fifty, who looked like a country gentleman, appeared ill at ease, and
cast about him restless glances in all directions. But, whilst they were
hoisting themselves up by the man-rope; the captain of "The Saint Louis"
had had time to examine their boat, and to ascertain that it was in good
condition, and every thing in it in perfect order.

Crimson with wrath, he now seized the young sailor by his collar; and,
shaking him so roughly as nearly to disjoint his neck, he said with a
formidable oath, -

"Are you making fun of me? What wretched joke have you been playing?"

Like their captain, the men on board, also, had discovered the perfect
uselessness of the signals of distress which had excited their sympathy;
and their indignation was great at what they considered a stupid
mystification. They surrounded the sailor with a threatening air,
while he struggled in the captain's hand, and cried in his Marseilles
jargon, -

"Let go! You are smothering me! It is not my fault. It was the gentleman
there, who hired my boat for a sail. I, I would not make the signal;
but" -

Nevertheless, the poor fellow would probably have experienced some very
rough treatment, if the "gentleman" had not come running up, and covered
him with his own body, exclaiming, -

"Let that poor boy go! I am the only one to blame!"

The captain, in a great rage, pushed him back, and, looking at him
savagely, said, -

"Ah! so it is you who have dared" -

"Yes, I did it. But I had my reasons. This is surely 'The Saint Louis,'
eh, coming from Saigon?"

"Yes. What next?"

"You have on board Lieut. Champcey of the navy?"

Daniel, who had been a silent witness of the scene, now stepped forward,
very much puzzled.

"I am Lieut. Champcey, sir," he said. "What do you desire?"

But, instead of replying, the "gentleman" raised his hands to heaven in
a perfect ecstasy of joy, and said in an undertone, -

"We triumph at last!"

Then, turning to Daniel and the captain, he said, -

"But come, gentlemen, come! I must explain my conduct; and we must be
alone for what I have to tell you."

Pale, and with every sign of seasickness in his face, when he had first
appeared on deck, the man now seemed to have recovered, and, in spite of
the rolling of the vessel, followed the captain and Daniel with a firm
step to the quarter-deck. As soon as they were alone, he said, -

"Could I be here, if I had not used a stratagem? Evidently not. And yet
I had the most powerful interest in boarding 'The Saint Louis' before
she should enter port; therefore I did not hesitate."

He drew from his pocket a sheet of paper, simply folded twice, and
said, -

"Here is my apology, Lieut. Champcey; see if it is sufficient."

Utterly amazed, the young officer read, -


"I am saved, Daniel; and I owe my life to the man who will hand you



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 32 of 39)