Part 2 out of 6
"Ah! ah!" said the inspector, whose hearing was evidently impaired.
"Ah, he has discovered--"
"The pot of roses which others did not scent, General." By this remark,
Father Absinthe made an enemy of his superior officer. But he cared
little for that: Lecoq had become his deity, and no matter what the
future might reserve, the old veteran had resolved to follow his young
"We'll see about that," murmured the inspector, mentally resolving to
have an eye on this youth whom success might transform into a rival. He
said no more, for the little party which he preceded had now overtaken
him, and he stood aside to make way for the commissary of police.
This commissary was far from being a novice. He had served for many
years, and yet he could not repress a gesture of horror as he entered
the Poivriere. The sergeant-major of the 53d, who followed him, an old
soldier, decorated and medaled--who had smelt powder many scores of
times--was still more overcome. He grew as pale as the corpses lying on
the ground, and was obliged to lean against the wall for support. The
two physicians alone retained their stoical indifference.
Lecoq had risen, his report in his hand; he bowed, and assuming a
respectful attitude, was waiting to be questioned.
"You must have passed a frightful night," said the commissary, kindly;
"and quite unnecessarily, since any investigation was superfluous."
"I think, however," replied the young police agent, having recourse to
all his diplomacy, "that my time has not been entirely lost. I have
acted according to the instructions of my superior officer; I have
searched the premises thoroughly, and I have ascertained many things.
I have, for example, acquired the certainty that the murderer had a
friend, possibly an accomplice, of whom I can give quite a close
description. He must have been of middle age, and wore, if I am not
mistaken, a soft cap and a brown woolen overcoat: as for his boots--"
"Zounds!" exclaimed Gevrol, "and I--" He stopped short, like a man whose
impulse had exceeded his discretion, and who would have gladly recalled
"And you?" inquired the commissary, "pray, what do you mean?"
The inspector had gone too far to draw back, and, unwittingly, was now
obliged to act as his own executioner. "I was about to mention," he
said, "that this morning, an hour or so ago, while I was waiting for
you, sir, before the station-house, at the Barriere d'Italie, where the
murderer is confined, I noticed close by an individual whose appearance
was not unlike that of the man described by Lecoq. This man seemed to
be very intoxicated, for he reeled and staggered against the walls. He
tried to cross the street, but fell down in the middle of it, in such
a position that he would inevitably have been crushed by the first
Lecoq turned away his head; he did not wish them to read in his eyes how
perfectly he understood the whole game.
"Seeing this," pursued Gevrol, "I called two men and asked them to aid
me in raising the poor devil. We went up to him; he had apparently
fallen asleep: we shook him--we made him sit up; we told him that he
could not remain there, but he immediately flew into a furious rage. He
swore at us, threatened us, and began fighting us. And, on my word, we
had to take him to the station-house, and leave him there to recover
from the effects of his drunken debauch."
"Did you shut him up in the same cell with the murderer?" inquired Lecoq.
"Naturally. You know very well that there are only two cages in the
station-house at the barriere--one for men and the other for women;
The commissary seemed thoughtful. "Ah! that's very unfortunate," he
stammered; "and there is no remedy."
"Excuse me, there is one," observed Gevrol, "I can send one of my men
to the station-house with an order to detain the drunken man--"
Lecoq interposed with a gesture: "Trouble lost," he said coldly. "If
this individual is an accomplice, he has got sober by now--rest assured
of that, and is already far away."
"Then what is to be done?" asked the inspector, with an ironical air.
"May one be permitted to ask the advice of Monsieur Lecoq."
"I think chance offered us a splendid opportunity, and we did not know
how to seize it; and that the best thing we can do now is to give over
mourning, and prepare to profit by the next opportunity that presents
Gevrol was, however, determined to send one of his men to the
station-house; and it was not until the messenger had started that Lecoq
commenced the reading of his report. He read it rapidly, refraining as
much as possible from placing the decisive proofs in strong relief,
reserving these for his own benefit; but so strong was the logic of his
deductions that he was frequently interrupted by approving remarks from
the commissary and the two physicians.
Gevrol, who alone represented the opposition, shrugged his shoulders
till they were well-nigh dislocated, and grew literally green with
"I think that you alone, young man, have judged correctly in this
affair," said the commissary when Lecoq had finished reading. "I may be
mistaken; but your explanations have made me alter my opinion concerning
the murderer's attitude while I was questioning him (which was only for
a moment). He refused, obstinately refused, to answer my questions, and
wouldn't even give me his name."
The commissary was silent for a moment, reviewing the past circumstances
in his mind, and it was in a serious tone that he eventually added: "We
are, I feel convinced, in presence of one of those mysterious crimes the
causes of which are beyond the reach of human sagacity--this strikes me
as being one of those enigmatical cases which human justice never can
reach." Lecoq made no audible rejoinder; but he smiled to himself and
thought: "We will see about that."
No consultation held at the bedside of a dying man ever took place in
the presence of two physicians so utterly unlike each other as those who
accompanied the commissary of police to the Poivriere.
One of them, a tall old man with a bald head, wearing a broad-brimmed
hat, and an overcoat of antique cut, was evidently one of those modest
savants encountered occasionally in the byways of Paris--one of those
healers devoted to their art, who too often die in obscurity, after
rendering immense services to mankind. He had the gracious calmness of
a man who, having seen so much of human misery, has nothing left to
learn, and no troubled conscience could have possibly sustained his
searching glance, which was as keen as his lancet.
His colleague--young, fresh-looking, light-haired, and jovial--was
somewhat foppishly attired; and his white hands were encased in handsome
fur gloves. There was a soft self-satisfied smile on his face, and he
had the manners of those practitioners who, for profit's sake,
invariably recommend the infallible panaceas invented each month in
chemical laboratories and advertised ad nauseam in the back pages of
newspapers. He had probably written more than one article upon "Medicine
for the use of the people"; puffing various mixtures, pills, ointments,
and plasters for the benefit of their respective inventors.
"I will request you, gentlemen," said the commissary of police, "to
begin your duties by examining the victim who wears a military costume.
Here is a sergeant-major summoned to answer a question of identity, whom
I must send back to his quarters as soon as possible."
The two physicians responded with a gesture of assent, and aided by
Father Absinthe and another agent of police, they lifted the body and
laid it upon two tables, which had previously been placed end to end.
They were not obliged to make any note of the attitude in which they
found the body, since the unfortunate man, who was still alive when the
police entered the cabin, had been moved before he expired.
"Approach, sergeant," ordered the commissary, "and look carefully at
It was with very evident repugnance that the old soldier obeyed.
"What is the uniform that he wears?"
"It is the uniform of the 2d battalion of the 53d regiment of the line."
"Do you recognize him?"
"Not at all."
"Are you sure that he does not belong to your regiment?"
"I can not say for certain: there are some conscripts at the Depot whom
I have never seen. But I am ready to swear that he had never formed part
of the 2d battalion--which, by the way, is mine, and in which I am
Lecoq, who had hitherto remained in the background, now stepped forward.
"It might be as well," he suggested, "to note the numbers marked on the
other articles of clothing."
"That is a very good idea," said the commissary, approvingly.
"Here is his shako," added the young police agent. "It bears the number
The officials followed Lecoq's advice, and soon discovered that each
article of clothing worn by the unfortunate man bore a different number.
"The deuce!" murmured the sergeant; "there is every indication--But it
is very singular."
Invited to consider what he was going to say, the brave trooper
evidently made an effort to collect his intellectual faculties. "I would
stake my epaulets that this fellow never was a soldier," he said at
last. "He must have disguised himself to take part in the Shrove Sunday
"Why do you think that?"
"Oh, I know it better than I can explain it. I know it by his hair, by
his nails, by his whole appearance, by a certain /je ne sais quoi/; in
short, I know it by everything and by nothing. Why look, the poor devil
did not even know how to put on his shoes; he has laced his gaiters
wrong side outwards." Evidently further doubt was impossible after this
evidence, which confirmed the truth of Lecoq's first remark to Inspector
"Still, if this person was a civilian, how could he have procured this
clothing?" insisted the commissary. "Could he have borrowed it from the
men in your company?"
"Yes, that is possible; but it is difficult to believe."
"Is there no way by which you could ascertain?"
"Oh! very easily. I have only to run over to the fort and order an
inspection of clothing."
"Do so," approved the commissary; "it would be an excellent way of
getting at the truth."
But Lecoq had just thought of a method quite as convincing, and much
more prompt. "One word, sergeant," said he, "isn't cast off military
clothing sold by public auction?"
"Yes; at least once a year, after the inspection."
"And are not the articles thus sold marked in some way?"
"Then see if there isn't some mark of the kind on this poor wretch's
The sergeant turned up the collar of the coat and examined the
waist-band of the pantaloons. "You are right," he said, "these are
The eyes of the young police agent sparkled. "We must then believe that
the poor devil purchased this costume," he observed. "Where? Necessarily
at the Temple, from one of the dealers in military clothing. There are
only five or six of these establishments. I will go from one to another
of them, and the person who sold these clothes will certainly recognize
them by some trade mark."
"And that will assist us very much," growled Gevrol. The sergeant-major,
to his great relief, now received permission to retire, but not without
having been warned that very probably the commissary would require his
deposition. The moment had come to search the garments of the pretended
soldier, and the commissary, who performed this duty himself, hoped that
some clue as to the man's identity would be forthcoming. He proceeded
with his task, at the same time dictating to one of the men a
/proces-verbal/ of the search; that is to say, a minute description of all
the articles he found upon the dead man's person. In the right hand
trousers pocket some tobacco, a pipe, and a few matches were found; in
the left hand one, a linen handkerchief of good quality, but unmarked,
and a soiled leather pocket-book, containing seven francs and sixty
There appeared to be nothing more, and the commissary was expressing his
regret, when, on carefully examining the pocket-book he found a
compartment which had at first escaped his notice, being hidden by a
leather flap. This compartment contained a carefully folded paper. The
commissary unfolded it and read the contents aloud:
"My dear Gustave,--To-morrow, Sunday evening, do not fail to
come to the ball at the Rainbow, according to our agreement.
If you have no money pass by my house, and I will leave some
with the concierge, who will give it to you.
"Be at the ball by eight o'clock. If I am not already there,
it will not be long before I make my appearance. Everything
is going on satisfactorily.
Alas! what did this letter reveal? Only that the dead man's name was
Gustave; that he had some connection with a man named Lacheneur, who had
advanced him money for a certain object; and that they had met at the
Rainbow some hours before the murder.
It was little--very little--but still it was something. It was a clue;
and in this absolute darkness even the faintest gleam of light was
"Lacheneur!" growled Gevrol; "the poor devil uttered that name in his
"Precisely," insisted Father Absinthe, "and he declared that he wished
to revenge himself upon him. He accused him of having drawn him into a
trap. Unfortunately, death cut his story short."
Lecoq was silent. The commissary of police had handed him the letter,
and he was studying it with the closest attention. The paper on which
it was written was of the ordinary kind; the ink was blue. In one of the
corners was a half-effaced stamp, of which one could just distinguish
This was enough for Lecoq. "This letter," he thought, "was certainly
written in a cafe on the Boulevard Beaumarchais. In which one? I must
ascertain that point, for this Lacheneur must be found."
While the agents of the prefecture were gathered around the commissary,
holding council and deliberating, the physicians began their delicate
and disagreeable task. With the assistance of Father Absinthe, they
removed the clothing of the pretended soldier, and then, with sleeves
rolled up, they bent over their "subject" like surgeons in the schools
of anatomy, and examined, inspected, and appraised him physically. Very
willingly would the younger doctor have dispensed with these
formalities, which he considered very ridiculous, and entirely
unnecessary; but the old physician had too high a regard for his
profession, and for the duty he had been called upon to fulfil, to
neglect the slightest detail. Minutely, and with the most scrupulous
exactitude, he noted the height of the dead man, his supposed age, the
nature of his temperament, the color and length of his hair, and the
degree of development of his muscular system.
Then the doctors passed to an examination of the wound. Lecoq had judged
correctly. The medical men declared it to be a fracture of the base of
the skull. It could, they stated, only have been caused by some
instrument with a very broad surface, or by a violent knock of the head
against some hard substance of considerable magnitude.
But no weapon, other than the revolver, had been found; and it was
evidently not heavy enough to produce such a wound. There must, then,
necessarily, have been a hand-to-hand struggle between the pretended
soldier and the murderer; and the latter, seizing his adversary by the
throat, had dashed him violently against the wall. The presence of some
very tiny but very numerous spots of extravasated blood about the neck
made this theory extremely plausible.
No other wound, not even a bruise or a scratch, was to be found. Hence,
it became evident that this terrible struggle must have been exceedingly
short. The murder of the pretended soldier must have been consummated
between the moment when the squad of police heard the shrieks of despair
and the moment when Lecoq peered through the shutter and saw the victim
The examination of the other murdered man required different but even
greater precautions than those adopted by the doctors in their
inspection of the pseudo soldier. The position of these two victims had
been respected; they were still lying across the hearth as they had
fallen, and their attitude was a matter of great importance, since it
might have decisive bearing on the case. Now, this attitude was such
that one could not fail to be impressed with the idea that with both
these men death had been instantaneous. They were both stretched out
upon their backs, their limbs extended, and their hands wide open.
No contraction or extension of the muscles, no trace of conflict could
be perceived; it seemed evident that they had been taken unawares, the
more so as their faces expressed the most intense terror.
"Thus," said the old doctor, "we may reasonably suppose that they were
stupefied by some entirely unexpected, strange, and frightful spectacle.
I have come across this terrified expression depicted upon the faces of
dead people more than once. I recollect noticing it upon the features
of a woman who died suddenly from the shock she experienced when one of
her neighbors, with the view of playing her a trick, entered her house
disguised as a ghost."
Lecoq followed the physician's explanations, and tried to make them
agree with the vague hypotheses that were revolving in his own brain.
But who could these individuals be? Would they, in death, guard the
secret of their identity, as the other victim had done?
The first subject examined by the physicians was over fifty years of
age. His hair was very thin and quite gray and his face was closely
shaven, excepting a thick tuft of hair on his rather prominent chin. He
was very poorly clad, wearing a soiled woolen blouse and a pair of
dilapidated trousers hanging in rags over his boots, which were very
much trodden down at the heels. The old doctor declared that this man
must have been instantly killed by a bullet. The size of the circular
wound, the absence of blood around its edge, and the blackened and burnt
state of the flesh demonstrated this fact with almost mathematical
The great difference that exists in wounds made by firearms, according
to the distance from which the death-dealing missile comes, was seen
when the physicians began to examine the last of the murdered men. The
ball that had caused the latter's death had scarcely crossed a yard of
space before reaching him, and his wound was not nearly so hideous in
aspect as the other's. This individual, who was at least fifteen years
younger than his companion, was short and remarkably ugly; his face,
which was quite beardless, being pitted all over by the smallpox. His
garb was such as is worn by the worst frequenters of the barriere. His
trousers were of a gray checked material, and his blouse, turned back
at the throat, was blue. It was noticed that his boots had been
blackened quite recently. The smart glazed cap that lay on the floor
beside him was in harmony with his carefully curled hair and gaudy
These were the only facts that the physicians' report set forth in
technical terms, this was the only information obtained by the most
careful investigation. The two men's pockets were explored and turned
inside out; but they contained nothing that gave the slightest clue to
their identity, either as regards name, social position, or profession.
There was not even the slightest indication on any of these points, not
a letter, nor an address, not a fragment of paper, nothing--not even
such common articles of personal use, as a tobacco pouch, a knife, or
a pipe which might be recognized, and thus establish the owner's
identity. A little tobacco in a paper bag, a couple of pocket
handkerchiefs that were unmarked, a packet of cigarettes--these were
the only articles discovered beyond the money which the victims carried
loose in their pockets. On this point, it should be mentioned that the
elder man had sixty-seven francs about him, and the younger one, two
Rarely had the police found themselves in the presence of so strange an
affair, without the slightest clue to guide them. Of course, there was
the fact itself, as evidenced by the bodies of the three victims; but
the authorities were quite ignorant of the circumstances that had
attended and of the motive that had inspired the crime. Certainly, they
might hope with the powerful means of investigation at their disposal
to finally arrive at the truth in the course of time, and after repeated
efforts. But, in the mean while, all was mystery, and so strangely did
the case present itself that it could not safely be said who was really
responsible for the horrible tragedy at the Poivriere.
The murderer had certainly been arrested; but if he persisted in his
obstinacy, how were they to ascertain his name? He protested that he had
merely killed in self-defense. How could it be shown that such was not
the case? Nothing was known concerning the victims; one of whom had with
his dying breath accused himself. Then again, an inexplicable influence
tied the Widow Chupin's tongue. Two women, one of whom had lost an
earring valued at 5,000 francs, had witnessed the struggle--then
disappeared. An accomplice, after two acts of unheard-of audacity, had
also made his escape. And all these people--the women, the murderer, the
keeper of the saloon, the accomplice, and the victims--were equally
strange and mysterious, equally liable not to be what they seemed.
Perhaps the commissary of police thought he would spend a very
unpleasant quarter of an hour at the prefecture when he reported the
case. Certainly, he spoke of the crime in a very despondent tone.
"It will now be best," he said at last, "to transport these three bodies
to the Morgue. There they will doubtless be identified." He reflected
for a moment, and then added: "And to think that one of these dead men
is perhaps Lacheneur himself!"
"That is scarcely possible," said Lecoq. "The spurious soldier, being
the last to die, had seen his companions fall. If he had supposed
Lacheneur to be dead, he would not have spoken of vengeance."
Gevrol, who for the past two hours had pretended to pay no attention to
the proceedings, now approached. He was not the man to yield even to the
strongest evidence. "If Monsieur, the Commissary, will listen to me, he
shall hear my opinion, which is a trifle more definite than M. Lecoq's
Before he could say any more, the sound of a vehicle stopping before the
door of the cabin interrupted him, and an instant afterward the
investigating magistrate entered the room.
All the officials assembled at the Poivriere knew at least by sight the
magistrate who now made his appearance, and Gevrol, an old habitue of
the Palais de Justice, mechanically murmured his name: "M. Maurice
He was the son of that famous Baron d'Escorval, who, in 1815, sealed his
devotion to the empire with his blood, and upon whom Napoleon, in the
Memorial of St. Helena, pronounced this magnificent eulogium: "Men as
honest as he may, I believe, exist; but more honest, no, it is not
Having entered upon his duties as magistrate early in life, and being
endowed with remarkable talents, it was at first supposed that the
younger D'Escorval would rise to the most exalted rank in his
profession. But he had disappointed all such prognostications by
resolutely refusing the more elevated positions that were offered to
him, in order to retain his modest but useful functions in the public
prosecutor's offices at Paris. To explain his repeated refusals, he said
that life in the capital had more charms for him than the most enviable
advancement in provincial centres. But it was hard to understand this
declaration, for in spite of his brilliant connections and large
fortune, he had, ever since the death of his eldest brother, led a most
retired life, his existence merely being revealed by his untiring labors
and the good he did to those around him.
He was now about forty-two years of age, but appeared much younger,
although a few furrows already crossed his brow. One would have admired
his face, had it not been for the puzzling immobility that marred its
beauty, the sarcastic curl of his thin lips, and the gloomy expression
of his pale-blue eyes. To say that he was cold and grave, did not
express the truth, it was saying too little. He was gravity and coldness
personified, with a shade of hauteur added.
Impressed by the horror of the scene the instant he placed his foot upon
the threshold, M. d'Escorval acknowledged the presence of the physicians
and the commissary by a slight nod of the head. The others in the room
had no existence so far as he was concerned. At once his faculties went
to work. He studied the ground, and carefully noted all the surroundings
with the attentive sagacity of a magistrate who realizes the immense
weight of even the slightest detail, and who fully appreciates the
eloquence of circumstantial evidence.
"This is a serious affair," he said gravely; "very serious."
The commissary's only response was to lift his eyes to heaven. A gesture
that plainly implied, "I quite agree with you!" The fact is, that for
the past two hours the worthy commissary's responsibility had weighed
heavily upon him, and he secretly blessed the investigating magistrate
for relieving him of it.
"The public prosecutor was unable to accompany me," resumed M.
d'Escorval, "he has not the gift of omnipresence, and I doubt if it will
be possible for him to join me here. Let us, therefore, begin operations
The curiosity of those present had become intense; and the commissary
only expressed the general feeling when he said: "You have undoubtedly
questioned the murderer, sir, and have learnt--"
"I have learnt nothing," interrupted M. d'Escorval, apparently much
astonished at the interruption.
He took a chair and sat himself down, and while his clerk was busy in
authenticating the commissary's /proces-verbal/, he began to read the
report prepared by Lecoq.
Pale, agitated, and nervous, the young police agent tried to read upon
the magistrate's impassive face the impression produced by the document.
His future depended upon the magistrate's approval or disapproval; and
it was not with a fuddled mind like that of Father Absinthe that he had
now to deal, but with a superior intelligence.
"If I could only plead my own cause," he thought. "What are cold written
phrases in comparison with spoken, living words, palpitating with
emotion and imbued with the convictions of the speaker."
However, he was soon reassured. The magistrate's face retained its
immobility, but again and again did M. d'Escorval nod his head in token
of approval, and occasionally some point more ingenious than the others
extorted from his lips the exclamations: "Not bad--very good!"
When he had finished the perusal he turned to the commissary and
remarked: "All this is very unlike your report of this morning, which
represented the affair as a low broil between a party of miserable
The observation was only too just and fair; and the commissary deeply
regretted that he had trusted to Gevrol's representations, and remained
in bed. "This morning," he responded evasively, "I only gave you my
first impressions. These have been modified by subsequent researches,
"Oh!" interrupted the magistrate, "I did not intend to reproach you; on
the contrary, I must congratulate you. One could not have done better
nor acted more promptly. The investigation that has been carried out
shows great penetration and research, and the results are given with
unusual clearness, and wonderful precision."
Lecoq's head whirled.
The commissary hesitated for an instant. At first he was sorely tempted
to confiscate this praise to his own profit. If he drove away the
unworthy thought, it was because he was an honest man, and more than
that, because he was not displeased to have the opportunity to do Gevrol
a bad turn and punish him for his presumptuous folly.
"I must confess," he said with some embarrassment, "that the merit of
this investigation does not belong to me."
"To whom, then, shall I attribute it--to the inspector?" thought M.
d'Escorval, not without surprise, for having occasionally employed
Gevrol, he did not expect from him such ingenuity and sagacity as was
displayed in this report. "Is it you, then, who have conducted this
investigation so ably?" he asked.
"Upon my word, no!" responded Inspector Gevrol. "I, myself, am not so
clever as all that. I content myself with telling what I actually
discover; and I only give proofs when I have them in hand. May I be hung
if the grounds of this report have any existence save in the brains of
the man who imagined them." Perhaps the inspector really believed what
he said, being one of those persons who are blinded by vanity to such
a degree that, with the most convincing evidence before their eyes, they
obstinately deny it.
"And yet," insisted the magistrate, "these women whose footprints have
been detected must have existed. The accomplice who left the flakes of
wool adhering to the plank is a real being. This earring is a positive,
Gevrol had hard work to refrain from shrugging his shoulders. "All this
can be satisfactorily explained," he said, "without a search of twelve
or fourteen hours. That the murderer had an accomplice is possible. The
presence of the women is very natural. Wherever there are male thieves,
you will find female thieves as well. As for the diamond--what does that
prove? That the scoundrels had just met with a stroke of good luck, that
they had come here to divide their booty, and that the quarrel arose
from the division."
This was an explanation, and such a plausable one, that M. d'Escorval
was silent, reflecting before he announced his decision. "Decidedly,"
he declared at last, "decidedly, I adopt the hypothesis set forth in the
report. Who prepared it?"
Gevrol's face turned red with anger. "One of my men," he replied, "a
clever, adroit fellow, Monsieur Lecoq. Come forward, Lecoq, that the
magistrate may see you."
The young man advanced, his lips tightly compressed so as to conceal a
smile of satisfaction which almost betrayed itself.
"My report, sir, is only a summary," he began, "but I have certain ideas--"
"Which you will acquaint me with, when I ask for them," interrupted the
magistrate. And oblivious of Lecoq's chagrin, he drew from his clerk's
portfolio two forms, which he filled up and handed to Gevrol, saying:
"Here are two orders; take them to the station, where the murderer and
the landlady of this cabin are confined, and have them conducted to the
prefecture, where they will be privately examined."
Having given these directions, M. d'Escorval was turning toward the
physicians, when Lecoq, at the risk of a second rebuff, interposed. "May
I venture, sir, to beg of you to confide this message to me?" he asked
of the investigating magistrate.
"Impossible, I may have need of you here."
"I desired, sir, to collect certain evidence and an opportunity to do
so may not present itself again."
The magistrate perhaps fathomed the young man's motive. "Then, let it
be so," he replied, "but after your task is completed you must wait for
me at the prefecture, where I shall proceed as soon as I have finished
here. You may go."
Lecoq did not wait for the order to be repeated. He snatched up the
papers, and hastened away.
He literally flew over the ground, and strange to say he no longer
experienced any fatigue from the labors of the preceding night. Never
had he felt so strong and alert, either in body or mind. He was very
hopeful of success. He had every confidence in himself, and his
happiness would indeed have been complete if he had had another judge
to deal with. But M. d'Escorval overawed him to such a degree that he
became almost paralyzed in his presence. With what a disdainful glance
the magistrate had surveyed him! With what an imperious tone he had
imposed silence upon him--and that, too, when he had found his work
deserving of commendation.
"Still, never mind," the young detective mentally exclaimed, "no one
ever tastes perfect happiness here below."
And concentrating all his thoughts on the task before him, he hurried
on his way.
When, after a rapid walk of twenty minutes, Lecoq reached the police
station near the Barriere d'Italie, the doorkeeper, with his pipe in his
mouth, was pacing slowly to and fro before the guard-house. His
thoughtful air, and the anxious glances he cast every now and then
toward one of the little grated windows of the building sufficed to
indicate that some very rare bird indeed had been entrusted to his
keeping. As soon as he recognized Lecoq, his brow cleared, and he paused
in his promenade.
"Ah, well!" he inquired, "what news do you bring?"
"I have an order to conduct the prisoners to the prefecture."
The keeper rubbed his hands, and his smile of satisfaction plainly
implied that he felt a load the less on his shoulders.
"Capital! capital!" he exclaimed. "The Black Maria, the prison van, will
pass here in less than an hour; we will throw them in, and hurry the
Lecoq was obliged to interrupt the keeper's transports of satisfaction.
"Are the prisoners alone?" he inquired.
"Quite alone: the woman in one cell, and the man in the other. This has
been a remarkably quiet night, for Shrove Sunday! Quite surprising
indeed! It is true your hunt was interrupted."
"You had a drunken man here, however."
"No--yes--that's true--this morning just at daybreak. A poor devil, who
is under a great obligation to Gevrol."
The involuntary irony of this remark did not escape Lecoq. "Yes, under
a great obligation, indeed!" he said with a derisive laugh.
"You may laugh as much as you like," retorted the keeper, "but such is
really the case; if it hadn't been for Gevrol the man would certainly
have been run over."
"And what has become of him?"
The keeper shrugged his shoulders. "You ask me too much," he responded.
He was a worthy fellow who had been spending the night at a friend's
house, and on coming out into the open air, the wine flew into his head.
He told us all about it when he got sober, half an hour afterward. I
never saw a man so vexed as he was. He wept, and stammered: "The father
of a family, and at my age too! Oh! it is shameful! What shall I say to
my wife? What will the children think?"
"Did he talk much about his wife?"
"He talked about nothing else. He mentioned her name--Eudosia Leocadie,
or some name of that sort. He declared that he should be ruined if we
kept him here. He begged us to send for the commissary, to go to his
house, and when we set him free, I thought he would go mad with joy; he
kissed our hands, and thanked us again and again!"
"And did you place him in the same cage as the murderer?" inquired Lecoq.
"Then they talked with each other."
"Talked? Why, the drunkard was so 'gone' I tell you, that he couldn't
have said 'bread' distinctly. When he was placed in a cell, bang! He
fell down like a log of wood. As soon as he recovered, we let him out.
I'm sure, they didn't talk to each other."
The young police agent had grown very thoughtful. "I was evidently
right," he murmured.
"What did you say?" inquired the keeper.
"Nothing," replied Lecoq, who was not inclined to communicate his
reflections to the custodian of the guard-house. These reflections of
his were by no means pleasant ones. "I was right," he thought; "this
pretended drunkard was none other than the accomplice. He is evidently
an adroit, audacious, cool-headed fellow. While we were tracking his
footprints he was watching us. When we had got to some distance, he was
bold enough to enter the hovel. Then he came here and compelled them to
arrest him; and thanks to an assumption of childish simplicity, he
succeeded in finding an opportunity to speak with the murderer. He
played his part perfectly. Still, I know that he did play a part, and
that is something. I know that one must believe exactly the opposite of
what he said. He talked of his family, his wife and children--hence, he
has neither children, wife, nor family."
Lecoq suddenly checked himself, remembering that he had no time to waste
in conjectures. "What kind of fellow was this drunkard?" he inquired.
"He was tall and stout, with full ruddy cheeks, a pair of white
whiskers, small eyes, a broad flat nose, and a good-natured, jovial
"How old would you suppose him to be?"
"Between forty and fifty."
"Did you form any idea of his profession?"
"It's my opinion, that what with his soft cap and his heavy brown
overcoat, he must be either a clerk or the keeper of some little shop."
Having obtained this description, which agreed with the result of his
investigations, Lecoq was about to enter the station house when a sudden
thought brought him to a standstill. "I hope this man has had no
communication with this Widow Chupin!" he exclaimed.
The keeper laughed heartily. "How could he have had any?" he responded.
"Isn't the old woman alone in her cell? Ah, the old wretch! She has been
cursing and threatening ever since she arrived. Never in my whole life
have I heard such language as she has used. It has been enough to make
the very stones blush; even the drunken man was so shocked that he went
to the grating in the door, and told her to be quiet."
Lecoq's glance and gesture were so expressive of impatience and wrath
that the keeper paused in his recital much perturbed. "What is the
matter?" he stammered. "Why are you angry?"
"Because," replied Lecoq, furiously, "because--" Not wishing to disclose
the real cause of his anger, he entered the station house, saying that
he wanted to see the prisoner.
Left alone, the keeper began to swear in his turn. "These police agents
are all alike," he grumbled. "They question you, you tell them all they
desire to know; and afterward, if you venture to ask them anything, they
reply: 'nothing,' or 'because.' They have too much authority; it makes
Looking through the little latticed window in the door, by which the men
on guard watch the prisoners, Lecoq eagerly examined the appearance of
the assumed murderer. He was obliged to ask himself if this was really
the same man he had seen some hours previously at the Poivriere,
standing on the threshold of the inner door, and holding the whole squad
of police agents in check by the intense fury of his attitude. Now, on
the contrary, he seemed, as it were, the personification of weakness and
despondency. He was seated on a bench opposite the grating in the door,
his elbows resting on his knees, his chin upon his hand, his under lip
hanging low and his eyes fixed upon vacancy.
"No," murmured Lecoq, "no, this man is not what he seems to be."
So saying he entered the cell, the culprit raised his head, gave the
detective an indifferent glance, but did not utter a word.
"Well, how goes it?" asked Lecoq.
"I am innocent!" responded the prisoner, in a hoarse, discordant voice.
"I hope so, I am sure--but that is for the magistrate to decide. I came
to see if you wanted anything."
"No," replied the murderer, but a second later he changed his mind. "All
the same," he said, "I shouldn't mind a crust and a drink of wine."
"You shall have them," replied Lecoq, who at once went out to forage in
the neighborhood for eatables of some sort. In his opinion, if the
murderer had asked for a drink after at first refusing to partake of
anything, it was solely with the view of conveying the idea that he was
really the kind of man he pretended to be.
At all events, whoever he might be, the prisoner ate with an excellent
appetite. He then took up the large glass of wine that had been brought
him, drained it slowly, and remarked: "That's capital! There can be
nothing to beat that!"
This seeming satisfaction greatly disappointed Lecoq, who had selected,
as a test, one of those horribly thick, bluish, nauseous mixtures in
vogue around the barrieres--hoping, nay, almost expecting, that the
murderer would not drink it without some sign of repugnance. And yet the
contrary proved the case. However, the young detective had no time to
ponder over the circumstance, for a rumble of wheels now announced the
approach of that lugubrious vehicle, the Black Maria.
When the Widow Chupin was removed from her cell she fought and scratched
and cried "Murder!" at the top of her voice; and it was only by sheer
force that she was at length got into the van. Then it was that the
officials turned to the assassin. Lecoq certainly expected some sign of
repugnance now, and he watched the prisoner closely. But he was again
doomed to disappointment. The culprit entered the vehicle in the most
unconcerned manner, and took possession of his compartment like one
accustomed to it, knowing the most comfortable position to assume in
such close quarters.
"Ah! what an unfortunate morning," murmured Lecoq, disconsolately.
"Still I will lie in wait for him at the prefecture."
When the door of the prison-van had been securely closed, the driver
cracked his whip, and the sturdy horses started off at a brisk trot.
Lecoq had taken his seat in front, between the driver and the guard; but
his mind was so engrossed with his own thoughts that he heard nothing
of their conversation, which was very jovial, although frequently
interrupted by the shrill voice of the Widow Chupin, who sang and yelled
her imprecations alternately.
It is needless, however, to recapitulate her oaths; let us rather follow
the train of Lecoq's meditation. By what means could he secure some clue
to the murderer's identity? He was still convinced that the prisoner
must belong to the higher ranks of society. After all, it was not so
extraordinary that he should have succeeded in feigning an appetite,
that he should have concealed his distaste for a nauseous beverage, and
that he should have entered the Black Maria without hesitation. Such
conduct was quite possible, indeed almost probable on the part of a man,
endowed with considerable strength of will, and realizing the imminence
of his peril. But granting this, would he be equally able to hide his
feelings when he was obliged to submit to the humiliating formalities
that awaited him--formalities which in certain cases can, and must, be
pushed even to the verge of insult and outrage?
No; Lecoq could not believe that this would be possible. He felt sure
that the disgraceful position in which the prisoner would find himself
would cause him to revolt, to lose his self-control, to utter some word
that might give the desired clue.
It was not until the gloomy vehicle had turned off the Pont Neuf on to
the Quai de l'Horloge that the young detective became conscious of what
was transpiring around him. Soon the van passed through an open gateway,
and drew up in a small, damp courtyard.
Lecoq immediately alighted, and opened the door of the compartment in
which the supposed murderer was confined, exclaiming as he did so: "Here
we are, get out." There was no fear of the prisoner escaping. The iron
gate had been closed, and at least a dozen agents were standing near at
hand, waiting to have a look at the new arrivals.
The prisoner slowly stepped to the ground. His expression of face
remained unchanged, and each gesture evinced the perfect indifference
of a man accustomed to such ordeals.
Lecoq scrutinized his demeanor as attentively as an anatomist might have
watched the action of a muscle. He noted that the prisoner seemed to
experience a sensation of satisfaction directly his foot touched the
pavement of the courtyard, that he drew a long breath, and then
stretched and shook himself, as if to regain the elasticity of his
limbs, cramped by confinement in the narrow compartment from which he
had just emerged. Then he glanced around him, and a scarcely perceptible
smile played upon his lips. One might have sworn that the place was
familiar to him, that he was well acquainted with these high grim walls,
these grated windows, these heavy doors--in short, with all the sinister
belongings of a prison.
"Good Lord!" murmured Lecoq, greatly chagrined, "does he indeed
recognize the place?"
And his sense of disappointment and disquietude increased when, without
waiting for a word, a motion, or a sign, the prisoner turned toward one
of the five or six doors that opened into the courtyard. Without an
instant's hesitation he walked straight toward the very doorway he was
expected to enter--Lecoq asked himself was it chance? But his amazement
and disappointment increased tenfold when, after entering the gloomy
corridor, he saw the culprit proceed some little distance, resolutely
turn to the left, pass by the keeper's room, and finally enter the
registrar's office. An old offender could not have done better.
Big drops of perspiration stood on Lecoq's forehead. "This man," thought
he, "has certainly been here before; he knows the ropes."
The registrar's office was a large room heated almost to suffocation by
an immense stove, and badly lighted by three small windows, the panes
of which were covered with a thick coating of dust. There sat the clerk
reading a newspaper, spread out over the open register--that fatal book
in which are inscribed the names of all those whom misconduct, crime,
misfortune, madness, or error have brought to these grim portals.
Three or four attendants, who were awaiting the hour for entering upon
their duties, reclined half asleep upon the wooden benches that lined
three sides of the room. These benches, with a couple of tables, and
some dilapidated chairs, constituted the entire furniture of the office,
in one corner of which stood a measuring machine, under which each
culprit was obliged to pass, the exact height of the prisoners being
recorded in order that the description of their persons might be
complete in every respect.
At the entrance of the culprit accompanied by Lecoq, the clerk raised
his head. "Ah!" said he, "has the van arrived?"
"Yes," responded Lecoq. And showing the orders signed by M. d'Escorval,
he added: "Here are this man's papers."
The registrar took the documents and read them. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "a
triple assassination! Oh! oh!" The glance he gave the prisoner was
positively deferential. This was no common culprit, no ordinary
vagabond, no vulgar thief.
"The investigating magistrate orders a private examination," continued
the clerk, "and I must get the prisoner other clothing, as the things
he is wearing now will be used as evidence. Let some one go at once and
tell the superintendent that the other occupants of the van must wait."
At this moment, the governor of the Depot entered the office. The clerk
at once dipped his pen in the ink, and turning to the prisoner he asked:
"What is your name?"
"Your Christian name?"
"I have none."
"What, have you no Christian name?"
The prisoner seemed to reflect for a moment, and then answered, sulkily:
"I may as well tell you that you need not tire yourself by questioning
me. I shan't answer any one else but the magistrate. You would like to
make me cut my own throat, wouldn't you? A very clever trick, of course,
but one that won't do for me."
"You must see that you only aggravate your situation," observed the
"Not in the least. I am innocent; you wish to ruin me. I only defend
myself. Get anything more out of me now, if you can. But you had better
give me back what they took from me at the station-house. My hundred and
thirty-six francs and eight sous. I shall need them when I get out of
this place. I want you to make a note of them on the register. Where are
The money had been given to Lecoq by the keeper of the station-house,
who had found it upon the prisoner when he was placed in his custody.
Lecoq now laid it upon the table.
"Here are your hundred and thirty-six francs and eight sous," said he,
"and also your knife, your handkerchief, and four cigars."
An expression of lively contentment was discernible on the prisoner's
"Now," resumed the clerk, "will you answer?"
But the governor perceived the futility of further questioning; and
silencing the clerk by a gesture, he told the prisoner to take off his
Lecoq thought the assassin's glance wavered as he heard this order. Was
it only a fancy?"
"Why must I do that?" asked the culprit.
"To pass under the beam," replied the clerk. "We must make a note of
your exact height."
The prisoner made no reply, but sat down and drew off his heavy boots.
The heel of the right one was worn down on the inside. It was, moreover,
noticed that the prisoner wore no socks, and that his feet were coated
"You only wear boots on Sundays, then?" remarked Lecoq.
"Why do you think that?"
"By the mud with which your feet are covered, as high as the ankle-bone."
"What of that?" exclaimed the prisoner, in an insolent tone. "Is it a
crime not to have a marchioness's feet?"
"It is a crime you are not guilty of, at all events," said the young
detective slowly. "Do you think I can't see that if the mud were picked
off your feet would be white and neat? The nails have been carefully cut
He paused. A new idea inspired by his genius for investigation had just
crossed Lecoq's mind. Pushing a chair in front of the prisoner, and
spreading a newspaper over it, he said: "Will you place your foot
The man did not comply with the request.
"It is useless to resist," exclaimed the governor, "we are in force."
The prisoner delayed no longer. He placed his foot on the chair, as he
had been ordered, and Lecoq, with the aid of a knife, proceeded to
remove the fragments of mud that adhered to the skin.
Anywhere else so strange and grotesque a proceeding would have excited
laughter, but here, in this gloomy chamber, the anteroom of the assize
court, an otherwise trivial act is fraught with serious import. Nothing
astonishes; and should a smile threaten to curve one's lips, it is
All the spectators, from the governor of the prison to the keepers, had
witnessed many other incidents equally absurd; and no one thought of
inquiring the detective's motive. This much was known already; that the
prisoner was trying to conceal his identity. Now it was necessary to
establish it, at any cost, and Lecoq had probably discovered some means
of attaining this end.
The operation was soon concluded; and Lecoq swept the dust off the paper
into the palm of his hand. He divided it into two parts, enclosing one
portion in a scrap of paper, and slipping it into his own pocket. With
the remainder he formed a package which he handed to the governor,
saying: "I beg you, sir, to take charge of this, and to seal it up here,
in presence of the prisoner. This formality is necessary, so that by and
by he may not pretend that the dust has been changed."
The governor complied with the request, and as he placed this "bit of
proof" (as he styled it) in a small satchel for safe keeping, the
prisoner shrugged his shoulders with a sneering laugh. Still, beneath
this cynical gaiety Lecoq thought he could detect poignant anxiety.
Chance owed him the compensation of this slight triumph; for previous
events had deceived all his calculations.
The prisoner did not offer the slightest objection when he was ordered
to undress, and to exchange his soiled and bloodstained garments for the
clothing furnished by the Government. Not a muscle of his face moved
while he submitted his person to one of those ignominous examinations
which make the blood rush to the forehead of the lowest criminal. It was
with perfect indifference that he allowed an inspector to comb his hair
and beard, and to examine the inside of his mouth, so as to make sure
that he had not concealed either some fragment of glass, by the aid of
which captives can sever the strongest bars, or one of those
microscopical bits of lead with which prisoners write the notes they
exchange, rolled up in a morsel of bread, and called "postilions."
These formalities having been concluded, the superintendent rang for one
of the keepers. "Conduct this man to No. 3 of the secret cells," he
There was no need to drag the prisoner away. He walked out, as he had
entered, preceding the guard, like some old habitue, who knows where he
"What a rascal!" exclaimed the clerk.
"Then you think--" began Lecoq, baffled but not convinced,
"Ah! there can be no doubt of it," declared the governor. "This man is
certainly a dangerous criminal--an old offender--I think I have seen
him before--I could almost swear to it."
Thus it was evident these people, with their long, varied experience,
shared Gevrol's opinion; Lecoq stood alone. He did not discuss the
matter--what good would it have done? Besides, the Widow Chupin was just
being brought in.
The journey must have calmed her nerves, for she had become as gentle
as a lamb. It was in a wheedling voice, and with tearful eyes, that she
called upon these "good gentlemen" to witness the shameful injustice
with which she was treated--she, an honest woman. Was she not the
mainstay of her family (since her son Polyte was in custody, charged
with pocket-picking), hence what would become of her daughter-in-law,
and of her grandson Toto, who had no one to look after them but her?
Still, when her name had been taken, and a keeper was ordered to remove
her, nature reasserted itself, and scarcely had she entered the corridor
than she was heard quarreling with the guard.
"You are wrong not to be polite," she said; "you are losing a good fee,
without counting many a good drink I would stand you when I get out of
Lecoq was now free until M. d'Escorval's arrival. He wandered through
the gloomy corridors, from office to office, but finding himself
assailed with questions by every one he came across, he eventually left
the Depot, and went and sat down on one of the benches beside the quay.
Here he tried to collect his thoughts. His convictions were unchanged.
He was more than ever convinced that the prisoner was concealing his
real social standing, but, on the other hand, it was evident that he was
well acquainted with the prison and its usages.
He had also proved himself to be endowed with far more cleverness than
Lecoq had supposed. What self-control! What powers of dissimulation he
had displayed! He had not so much as frowned while undergoing the
severest ordeals, and he had managed to deceive the most experienced
eyes in Paris.
The young detective had waited during nearly three hours, as motionless
as the bench on which he was seated, and so absorbed in studying his
case that he had thought neither of the cold nor of the flight of time,
when a carriage drew up before the entrance of the prison, and M.
d'Escorval alighted, followed by his clerk.
Lecoq rose and hastened, well-nigh breathless with anxiety, toward the
"My researches on the spot," said this functionary, "confirm me in the
belief that you are right. Is there anything fresh?"
"Yes, sir; a fact that is apparently very trivial, though, in truth, it
is of importance that--"
"Very well!" interrupted the magistrate. "You will explain it to me by
and by. First of all, I must summarily examine the prisoners. A mere
matter of form for to-day. Wait for me here."
Although the magistrate promised to make haste, Lecoq expected that at
least an hour would elapse before he reappeared. In this he was
mistaken. Twenty minutes later, M. d'Escorval emerged from the prison
without his clerk.
He was walking very fast, and instead of approaching the young
detective, he called to him at some little distance. "I must return home
at once," he said, "instantly; I can not listen to you."
"Enough! the bodies of the victims have been taken to the Morgue. Keep
a sharp lookout there. Then, this evening make--well--do whatever you
"But, sir, I must--"
"To-morrow!--to-morrow, at nine o'clock, in my office in the Palais de
Lecoq wished to insist upon a hearing, but M. d'Escorval had entered,
or rather thrown himself into, his carriage, and the coachman was
already whipping up the horse.
"And to think that he's an investigating magistrate," panted Lecoq, left
spellbound on the quay. "Has he gone mad?" As he spoke, an uncharitable
thought took possession of his mind. "Can it be," he murmured, "that M.
d'Escorval holds the key to the mystery? Perhaps he wishes to get rid
This suspicion was so terrible that Lecoq hastened back to the prison,
hoping that the prisoner's bearing might help to solve his doubts. On
peering through the grated aperture in the door of the cell, he
perceived the prisoner lying on the pallet that stood opposite the door.
His face was turned toward the wall, and he was enveloped in the
coverlid up to his eyes. He was not asleep, for Lecoq could detect a
strange movement of the body, which puzzled and annoyed him. On applying
his ear instead of his eye to the aperture, he distinguished a stifled
moan. There could no longer be any doubt. The death rattle was sounding
in the prisoner's throat.
"Help! help!" cried Lecoq, greatly excited. "The prisoner is killing
A dozen keepers hastened to the spot. The door was quickly opened, and
it was then ascertained that the prisoner, having torn a strip of
binding from his clothes, had fastened it round his neck and tried to
strangle himself with the assistance of a spoon that had been left him
with his food. He was already unconscious, and the prison doctor, who
immediately bled him, declared that had another ten minutes elapsed,
help would have arrived too late.
When the prisoner regained his senses, he gazed around him with a wild,
puzzled stare. One might have supposed that he was amazed to find
himself still alive. Suddenly a couple of big tears welled from his
swollen eyelids, and rolled down his cheeks. He was pressed with
questions, but did not vouchsafe so much as a single word in response.
As he was in such a desperate frame of mind, and as the orders to keep
him in solitary confinement prevented the governor giving him a
companion, it was decided to put a straight waistcoat on him. Lecoq
assisted at this operation, and then walked away, puzzled, thoughtful,
and agitated. Intuition told him that these mysterious occurrences
concealed some terrible drama.
"Still, what can have occurred since the prisoner's arrival here?" he
murmured. "Has he confessed his guilt to the magistrate, or what is his
reason for attempting so desperate an act?"
Lecoq did not sleep that night, although he had been on his feet for
more than forty hours, and had scarcely paused either to eat or drink.
Anxiety, hope, and even fatigue itself, had imparted to his body the
fictitious strength of fever, and to his intellect the unhealthy
acuteness which is so often the result of intense mental effort.
He no longer had to occupy himself with imaginary deductions, as in
former times when in the employ of his patron, the astronomer. Once
again did the fact prove stranger than fiction. Here was reality--a
terrible reality personified by the corpses of three victims lying on
the marble slabs at the Morgue. Still, if the catastrophe itself was a
patent fact, its motive, its surroundings, could only be conjectured.
Who could tell what circumstances had preceded and paved the way for
this tragical denouement?
It is true that all doubt might be dispelled by one discovery--the
identity of the murderer. Who was he? Who was right, Gevrol or Lecoq?
The former's views were shared by the officials at the prison; the
latter stood alone. Again, the former's opinion was based upon
formidable proof, the evidence of sight; while Lecoq's hypothesis rested
only on a series of subtle observations and deductions, starting from
a single sentence that had fallen from the prisoner's lips.
And yet Lecoq resolutely persisted in his theory, guided by the
following reasons. He learnt from M. d'Escorval's clerk that when the
magistrate had examined the prisoner, the latter not only refused to
confess, but answered all the questions put to him in the most evasive
fashion. In several instances, moreover, he had not replied at all. If
the magistrate had not insisted, it was because this first examination
was a mere formality, solely intended to justify the somewhat premature
delivery of the order to imprison the accused.
Now, under these circumstances, how was one to explain the prisoner's
attempt at self-destruction? Prison statistics show that habitual
offenders do not commit suicide. When apprehended for a criminal act,
they are sometimes seized with a wild frenzy and suffer repeated nervous
attacks; at others they fall into a dull stupor, just as some glutted
beast succumbs to sleep with the blood of his prey still dripping from
his lips. However, such men never think of putting an end to their days.
They hold fast to life, no matter how seriously they may be compromised.
In truth, they are cowards.
On the other hand, the unfortunate fellow who, in a moment of frenzy,
commits a crime, not unfrequently seeks to avoid the consequences of his
act by self-destruction.
Hence, the prisoner's frustrated attempt at suicide was a strong
argument in favor of Lecoq's theory. This wretched man's secret must be
a terrible one since he held it dearer than life, since he had tried to
destroy himself that he might take it unrevealed to the grave.
Four o'clock was striking when Lecoq sprang from his bed on which he had
thrown himself without undressing; and five minutes later he was walking
down the Rue Montmartre. The weather was still cold and muggy; and a
thick fog hung over the city. But the young detective was too engrossed
with his own thoughts to pay attention to any atmospherical
unpleasantness. Walking with a brisk stride, he had just reached the
church of Saint Eustache, when a coarse, mocking voice accosted him with
the exclamation: "Ah, ha! my fine fellow!"
He looked up and perceived Gevrol, who, with three of his men, had come
to cast his nets round about the markets, whence the police generally
return with a good haul of thieves and vagabonds.
"You are up very early this morning, Monsieur Lecoq," continued the
inspector; "you are still trying to discover our man's identity, I
"Is he a prince in disguise, or only a marquis?"
"One or the other, I am quite certain."
"All right then. In that case you will not refuse us the opportunity to
drink to your success."
Lecoq consented, and the party entered a wine-shop close by. When the
glasses were filled, Lecoq turned to Gevrol and exclaimed: "Upon my
word, General, our meeting will save me a long walk. I was going to the
prefecture to request you, on M. d'Escorval's behalf, to send one of our
comrades to the Morgue this morning. The affair at the Poivriere has
been noised about, and all the world will be there, so he desires some
officer to be present to watch the crowd and listen to the remarks of
"All right; Father Absinthe shall be there when the doors open."
To send Father Absinthe where a shrewd and subtle agent was required was
a mockery. Still Lecoq did not protest, for it was better to be badly
served than to be betrayed; and he could at least trust Father Absinthe.
"It doesn't much matter," continued Gevrol; "but you should have
informed me of this last evening. However, when I reached the prefecture
you had gone."
"I had some work to do."
"At the station-house near the Barriere d'Italie. I wanted to know
whether the floor of the cell was paved or tiled." So saying, Lecoq paid
the score, saluted his superior officer, and went out.
"Thunder!" exclaimed Gevrol, striking his glass violently upon the
counter. "Thunder! how that fellow provokes me! He does not know the A
B C of his profession. When he can't discover anything, he invents
wonderful stories, and then misleads the magistrates with his
high-sounding phrases, in the hope of gaining promotion. I'll give him
advancement with a vengeance! I'll teach him to set himself above me!"
Lecoq had not been deceived. The evening before, he had visited the
station-house where the prisoner had first been confined, and had
compared the soil of the cell floor with the dust he had placed in his
pocket; and he carried away with him, as he believed, one of those
crushing proofs that often suffice to extort from the most obstinate
criminal a complete confession. If Lecoq was in haste to part company
with Gevrol, it was because he was anxious to pursue his investigations
still further, before appearing in M. d'Escorval's presence. He was
determined to find the cab-driver who had been stopped by the two women
in the Rue du Chevaleret; and with this object in view, he had obtained
at the prefecture the names and addresses of all the cab-owners hiring
between the road to Fontainebleau and the Seine.
His earlier efforts at investigation proved unsuccessful. At the first
establishment he visited, the stable boys, who were not yet up, swore
at him roundly. In the second, he found the grooms at work, but none of
the drivers had as yet put in an appearance. Moreover, the owner refused
to show him the books upon which are recorded--or should be
recorded--each driver's daily engagements. Lecoq was beginning to
despair, when at about half-past seven o'clock he reached an
establishment just beyond the fortifications belonging to a man named
Trigault. Here he learned that on Sunday night, or rather, early on
Monday morning, one of the drivers had been accosted on his way home by
some persons who succeeded in persuading him to drive them back into
This driver, who was then in the courtyard harnessing his horse, proved
to be a little old man, with a ruddy complexion, and a pair of small
eyes full of cunning. Lecoq walked up to him at once.
"Was it you," he asked, "who, on Sunday night or rather on Monday,
between one and two in the morning, drove a couple of women from the Rue
du Chevaleret into Paris?"
The driver looked up, and surveying Lecoq attentively, cautiously
"It is a positive answer that I want."
"Aha!" said the old man sneeringly, "you know two ladies who have lost
something in a cab, and so--"
The young detective trembled with satisfaction. This man was certainly
the one he was looking for. "Have you heard anything about a crime that
has been committed in the neighborhood?" he interrupted.
"Yes; a murder in a low wine-shop."
"Well, then, I will tell you that these two women are mixed up in it;
they fled when we entered the place. I am trying to find them. I am a
detective; here is my card. Now, can you give me any information?"
The driver had grown very pale. "Ah! the wretches!" he exclaimed. "I am
no longer surprised at the luck-money they gave me--a louis and two
five-franc pieces for the fare--thirty francs in all. Cursed money! If
I hadn't spent it, I'd throw it away!"
"And where did you drive them?"
"To the Rue de Bourgogne. I have forgotten the number, but I should
recognize the house."
"Unfortunately, they would not have let you drive them to their own door."
"Who knows? I saw them ring the bell, and I think they went in just as
I drove away. Shall I take you there?"
Lecoq's sole response was to spring on to the box, exclaiming: "Let us
It was not to be supposed that the women who had escaped from the Widow
Chupin's drinking-den at the moment of the murder were utterly devoid
of intelligence. Nor was it at all likely that these two fugitives,
conscious as they were of their perilous situation, had gone straight
to their real home in a vehicle hired on the public highway. Hence, the
driver's hope of finding them in the Rue de Bourgogne was purely
chimerical. Lecoq was fully aware of this, and yet he did not hesitate
to jump on to the box and give the signal for starting. In so doing, he
obeyed a maxim which he had framed in his early days of meditation--a
maxim intended to assure his after-fame, and which ran as follows:
"Always suspect that which seems probable; and begin by believing what
As soon as the vehicle was well under way, the young detective proceeded
to ingratiate himself into the driver's good graces, being anxious to
obtain all the information that this worthy was able to impart.
In a tone that implied that all trifling would be useless the cabman
cried: "Hey up, hey up, Cocotte!" and his mare pricked up her ears and
quickened her pace, so that the Rue de Choisy was speedily reached.
Then it was that Lecoq resumed his inquiries.
"Well, my good fellow," he began, "you have told me the principal facts,
now I should like the details. How did these two women attract your
"Oh, it was very simple. I had been having a most unfortunate day--six
hours on a stand on the Boulevards, with the rain pouring all the time.
It was simply awful. At midnight I had not made more than a franc and
a half for myself, but I was so wet and miserable and the horse seemed
so done up that I decided to go home. I did grumble, I can tell you.
Well, I had just passed the corner of the Rue Picard, in the Rue du
Chevaleret, when I saw two women standing under a lamp, some little
distance off. I did not pay any attention to them; for when a man is as
old as I am, women--"
"Go on!" said Lecoq, who could not restrain his impatience.
"I had already passed them, when they began to call after me. I
pretended I did not hear them; but one of them ran after the cab,
crying: 'A louis! a louis for yourself!' I hesitated for a moment, when
the woman added: 'And ten francs for the fare!' I then drew up."
Lecoq was boiling over with impatience; but he felt that the wisest
course was not to interrupt the driver with questions, but to listen to
all he had to say.
"As you may suppose," continued the coachman, "I wasn't inclined to
trust two such suspicious characters, alone at that hour and in that
part of the city. So, just as they were about to get into the cab, I
called to them: 'Wait a bit, my little friends, you have promised papa
some sous; where are they?" The one who had called after the cab at once
handed me thirty francs, saying: 'Above all, make haste!'"
"Your recital could not be more minute," exclaimed Lecoq, approvingly.
"Now, how about these two women?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean what kind of women did they seem to be; what did you take them
"Oh, for nothing very good!" replied the driver, with a knowing smile.
"Ah! and how were they dressed?"
"Like most of the girls who go to dance at the Rainbow. One of them,
however, was very neat and prim, while the other--well! she was a
"Which ran after you?"
"The girl who was neatly dressed, the one who--" The driver suddenly
paused: some vivid remembrance passed through his brain, and, abruptly
jerking the rains, he brought his horse to a standstill.
"Thunder!" he exclaimed. "Now I think of it, I did notice something
strange. One of the two women called the other 'Madame' as large as
life, while the other said 'thee' and 'thou,' and spoke as if she were
"Oh! oh! oh!" exclaimed the young detective, in three different keys.
"And which was it that said 'thee' and 'thou'?"
"Why, the dowdy one. She with shabby dress and shoes as big as a gouty
man's. You should have seen her shake the prim-looking girl, as if she
had been a plum tree. 'You little fool!' said she, 'do you want to ruin
us? You will have time to faint when we get home; now come along. And
then she began to sob: 'Indeed, madame, indeed I can't!' she said, and
really she seemed quite unable to move: in fact, she appeared to be so
ill that I said to myself: 'Here is a young woman who has drunk more
than is good for her!'"
These facts confirmed even if they corrected Lecoq's first suppositions.
As he had suspected, the social position of the two women was not the
same. He had been mistaken, however, in attributing the higher standing
to the woman wearing the shoes with the high heels, the marks of which
he had so particularly noticed in the snow, with all the attendant signs
of precipitation, terror, and weakness. In reality, social preeminence
belonged to the woman who had left the large, broad footprints behind
her. And not merely was she of a superior rank, but she had also shown
superior energy. Contrary to Lecoq's original idea, it now seemed
evident that she was the mistress, and her companion the servant.
"Is that all, my good fellow?" he asked the driver, who during the last
few minutes had been busy with his horses.
"Yes," replied the cabman, "except that I noticed that the shabbily
dressed woman who paid me had a hand as small as a child's, and in spite
of her anger, her voice was as sweet as music."
"Did you see her face?"
"I just caught a glimpse of it."
"Could you tell if she were pretty, or whether she was a blonde or
So many questions at a time confused the driver. "Stop a minute!" he
replied. "In my opinion she wasn't pretty, and I don't believe she was
young, but she certainly was a blonde, and with plenty of hair too."
"Was she tall or short, stout or slender?"
"Between the two."
This was very vague. "And the other," asked Lecoq, "the neatly dressed
"The deuce! As for her, I did not notice her at all; all I know about
her is that she was very small."
"Would you recognize her if you met her again?"
"Good heavens! no."
The vehicle was now rolling along the Rue de Bourgogne. Half-way down
the street the driver pulled up, and, turning to Lecoq, exclaimed: "Here
we are. That's the house the hussies went into."
To draw off the silk handkerchief that served him as a muffler, to fold
it and slip it into his pocket, to spring to the ground and enter the
house indicated, was only the work of an instant for the young
In the concierge's little room he found an old woman knitting. Lecoq
bowed to her politely, and, displaying the silk handkerchief, exclaimed:
"Madame, I have come to return this article to one of your lodgers."
"To which one?"
"Really, I don't exactly know."
In a moment the worthy dame imagined that this polite young man was
making fun of her. "You scamp--!" she began.
"Excuse me," interrupted Lecoq; "allow me to finish. I must tell you
that at about three o'clock in the morning, of the day before yesterday,
I was quietly returning home, when two ladies, who were seemingly in a
great hurry, overtook me and passed on. One of them dropped this
handkerchief, which I picked up. I hastened after her to restore it, but
before I could overtake them they had rung the bell at your door and
were already in the house. I did not like to ring at such an unearthly
hour for fear of disturbing you. Yesterday I was so busy I couldn't
come; however, here I am at last, and here's the handkerchief." So
saying, Lecoq laid the handkerchief on the table, and turned as if to
go, when the concierge detained him.
"Many thanks for your kindness," said she, "but you can keep it. We have
no ladies in this house who are in the habit of coming home alone after
"Still I have eyes," insisted Lecoq, "and I certainly saw--"
"Ah! I had forgotten," exclaimed the old woman. "The night you speak of
some one certainly did ring the bell here. I pulled the string that
opens the door and listened, but not hearing any one close the door or
come upstairs, I said to myself: 'Some mischievous fellow has been
playing a trick on me.' I slipped on my dress and went out into the
hall, where I saw two women hastening toward the door. Before I could
reach them they slammed the door in my face. I opened it again as
quickly as I could and looked out into the street. But they were
hurrying away as fast as they could."
"In what direction?"
"Oh! they were running toward the Rue de Varennes."
Lecoq was baffled again; however, he bowed civilly to the concierge,
whom he might possibly have need of at another time, and then went back
to the cab. "As I had supposed, they do not live here," he remarked to
The latter shrugged his shoulders in evident vexation, which would
inevitably have vent in a torrent of words, if Lecoq, who had consulted
his watch, had not forestalled the outburst by saying: "Nine o'clock--I
am an hour behind time already: still I shall have some news to tell.
Now take me to the Morgue as quickly as possible."
When a mysterious crime has been perpetrated, or a great catastrophe has
happened, and the identity of the victims has not been established, "a
great day" invariably follows at the Morgue. The attendants are so
accustomed to the horrors of the place that the most sickly sight fails
to impress them; and even under the most distressing circumstances, they
hasten gaily to and fro, exchanging jests well calculated to make an
ordinary mortal's flesh creep. As a rule, they are far less interested
in the corpses laid out for public view on the marble slabs in the
principal hall than in the people of every age and station in life who
congregate here all day long; at times coming in search of some lost
relative or friend, but far more frequently impelled by idle curiosity.
As the vehicle conveying Lecoq reached the quay, the young detective
perceived that a large, excited crowd was gathered outside the building.
The newspapers had reported the tragedy at the Widow Chupin's
drinking-den, of course, more or less correctly, and everybody wished
to see the victims.
On drawing near the Pont Notre Dame, Lecoq told the driver to pull up.
"I prefer to alight here, rather than in front of the Morgue," he said,
springing to the ground. Then, producing first his watch, and next his
purse, he added: "We have been an hour and forty minutes, my good
fellow, consequently I owe you--"
"Nothing at all," replied the driver, decidedly.
"No--not a sou. I am too worried already to think that I took the money
these hussies offered me. It would only have served me right if the
liquor I bought with it had given me the gripes. Don't be uneasy about
the score, and if you need a trap use mine for nothing, till you have
caught the jades." As Lecoq's purse was low, he did not insist. "You
will, at least, take my name and address?" continued the driver.
"Certainly. The magistrate will want your evidence, and a summons will
be sent you."
"All right, then. Address it to Papillon (Eugene), driver, care of M.
Trigault. I lodge at his place, because I have some small interest in
the business, you see."
The young detective was hastening away, when Papillon called him back.
"When you leave the Morgue you will want to go somewhere else," he said,
"you told me that you had another appointment, and that you were already
"Yes, I ought to be at the Palais de Justice; but it is only a few steps
"No matter. I will wait for you at the corner of the bridge. It's
useless to say 'no'; I've made up my mind, and I'm a Breton, you know.
I want you to ride out the thirty francs that those jades paid me."
It would have been cruel to refuse such a request. Accordingly, Lecoq
made a gesture of assent, and then hurried toward the Morgue.
If there was a crowd on the roadway outside, it was because the gloomy
building itself was crammed full of people. Indeed, the sightseers, most
of whom could see nothing at all, were packed as closely as sardines,
and it was only by dint of well-nigh superhuman efforts that Lecoq
managed to effect an entrance. As usual, he found among the mob a large
number of girls and women; for, strange to say, the Parisian fair sex
is rather partial to the disgusting sights and horrible emotions that
repay a visit to the Morgue.
The shop and work girls who reside in the neighborhood readily go out
of their way to catch a glimpse of the corpses which crime, accident,
and suicide bring to this horrible place. A few, the more sensitive
among them, may come no further than the door, but the others enter, and
after a long stare return and recount their impressions to their less
If there should be no corpse exhibited; if all the marble slabs are
unoccupied, strange as it may seem, the visitors turn hastily away with
an expression of disappointment or discontent. There was no fear of
their doing so, however, on the morrow of the tragedy at Poivriere, for
the mysterious murderer whose identity Lecoq was trying to establish had
furnished three victims for their delectation. Panting with curiosity,
they paid but little attention to the unhealthy atmosphere: and yet a
damp chill came from beyond the iron railings, while from the crowd
itself rose an infectious vapor, impregnated with the stench of the
chloride of lime used as a disinfectant.
As a continuous accompaniment to the exclamations, sighs, and whispered
comments of the bystanders came the murmur of the water trickling from
a spigot at the head of each slab; a tiny stream that flowed forth only
to fall in fine spray upon the marble. Through the small arched windows
a gray light stole in on the exposed bodies, bringing each muscle into
bold relief, revealing the ghastly tints of the lifeless flesh, and
imparting a sinister aspect to the tattered clothing hung around the
room to aid in the identification of the corpses. This clothing, after
a certain time, is sold--for nothing is wasted at the Morgue.
However, Lecoq was too occupied with his own thoughts to remark the
horrors of the scene. He scarcely bestowed a glance on the three
victims. He was looking for Father Absinthe, whom he could not perceive.
Had Gevrol intentionally or unintentionally failed to fulfil his
promise, or had Father Absinthe forgotten his duty in his morning dram?
Unable to explain the cause of his comrade's absence, Lecoq addressed
himself to the head keeper: "It would seem that no one has recognized
the victims," he remarked.
"No one. And yet, ever since opening, we have had an immense crowd. If
I were master here, on days like this, I would charge an admission fee
of two sous a head, with half-price for children. It would bring in a
round sum, more than enough to cover the expenses."
The keeper's reply seemed to offer an inducement to conversation, but
Lecoq did not seize it. "Excuse me," he interrupted, "didn't a detective
come here this morning?"
"Yes, there was one here."
"Has he gone away then? I don't see him anywhere?"
The keeper glanced suspiciously at his eager questioner, but after a
moment's hesitation, he ventured to inquire: "Are you one of them?"
"Yes, I am," replied Lecoq, exhibiting his card in support of his
"And your name?"
The keeper's face brightened up. "In that case," said he, "I have a
letter for you, written by your comrade, who was obliged to go away.
Here it is."
The young detective at once tore open the envelope and read: "Monsieur
"Monsieur?" This simple formula of politeness brought a faint smile to
his lips. Was it not, on Father Absinthe's part, an evident recognition
of his colleague's superiority. Indeed, our hero accepted it as a token
of unquestioning devotion which it would be his duty to repay with a
master's kind protection toward his first disciple. However, he had no
time to waste in thought, and accordingly at once proceeded to peruse
the note, which ran as follows:
"Monsieur Lecoq--I had been standing on duty since the opening of the
Morgue, when at about nine o'clock three young men entered, arm-in-arm.
From their manner and appearance, I judged them to be clerks in some
store or warehouse. Suddenly I noticed that one of them turned as white
as his shirt; and calling the attention of his companions to one of the
unknown victims, he whispered: 'Gustave!'
"His comrades put their hands over his mouth, and one of them exclaimed:
'What are you about, you fool, to mix yourself up with this affair! Do
you want to get us into trouble?'
"Thereupon they went out, and I followed them. But the person who had
first spoken was so overcome that he could scarcely drag himself along;
and his companions were obliged to take him to a little restaurant close
by. I entered it myself, and it is there I write this letter, in the
mean time watching them out of the corner of my eye. I send this note,
explaining my absence, to the head keeper, who will give it you. You
will understand that I am going to follow these men. A. B. S."
The handwriting of this letter was almost illegible; and there were
mistakes in spelling in well-nigh every line; still, its meaning was
clear and exact, and could not fail to excite the most flattering hopes.
Lecoq's face was so radiant when he returned to the cab that, as the
old coachman urged on his horse, he could not refrain from saying:
"Things are going on to suit you."
A friendly "hush!" was the only response. It required all Lecoq's
attention to classify this new information. When he alighted from the
cab in front of the Palais de Justice, he experienced considerable
difficulty in dismissing the old cabman, who insisted upon remaining at
his orders. He succeeded at last, however, but even when he had reached
the portico on the left side of the building, the worthy fellow,
standing up, still shouted at the top of his voice: "At M. Trigault's
house--don't forget--Father Papillon--No. 998--1,000 less 2--"
Lecoq had entered the left wing of the Palais. He climbed the stairs
till he had reached the third floor, and was about to enter the long,
narrow, badly-lighted corridor known as the Galerie de l'Instruction,
when, finding a doorkeeper installed behind a heavy oaken desk, he
remarked: "M. d'Escorval is, of course, in his office?"
The man shook his head. "No," said he, "M. d'Escorval is not here this
morning, and he won't be here for several weeks."
"Why not! What do you mean?"
"Last night, as he was alighting from his carriage, at his own door, he
had a most unfortunate fall, and broke his leg."
Some men are wealthy. They own a carriage drawn by a pair of
high-stepping horses, and driven by a coachman in stylish livery; and
as they pass by, leaning back on comfortable cushions, they become the
object of many an envious glance. Sometimes, however, the coachman has
taken a drop too much, and upsets the carriage; perhaps the horses run
away and a general smash ensues; or, maybe, the hitherto fortunate
owner, in a moment of absent-mindedness, misses the step, and fractures
his leg on the curbstone. Such accidents occur every day; and their long
list should make humble foot-passengers bless the lowly lot which
preserves them from such peril.
On learning the misfortune that had befallen M. d'Escorval, Lecoq's face
wore such an expression of consternation that the doorkeeper could not
help laughing. "What is there so very extraordinary about that I've told
you?" he asked.
The detective did not speak the truth. The fact is, he had just been
struck by the strange coincidence of two events--the supposed murderer's
attempted suicide, and the magistrate's fall. Still, he did not allow
the vague presentiment that flitted through his mind to assume any
definite form. For after all, what possible connection could there be
between the two occurrences? Then again, he never allowed himself to be
governed by prejudice, nor had he as yet enriched his formulary with an
axiom he afterward professed: "Distrust all circumstances that seem to
favor your secret wishes."
Of course, Lecoq did not rejoice at M. d'Escorval's accident; could he
have prevented it, he would have gladly done so. Still, he could not
help saying to himself that this stroke of misfortune would free him
from all further connection with a man whose superciliousness and
disdain had been painfully disagreeable to his feelings.
This thought caused a sensation of relief--almost one of
light-heartedness. "In that case," said the young detective to the
doorkeeper, "I shall have nothing to do here this morning."
"You must be joking," was the reply. "Does the world stop moving because
one man is disabled? The news only arrived an hour ago; but all the
urgent business that M. d'Escorval had in charge has already been
divided among the other magistrates."
"I came here about that terrible affair that occurred the other night
just beyond the Barriere de Fontainebleau."
"Eh! Why didn't you say so at once? A messenger has been sent to the
prefecture after you already. M. Segmuller has charge of the case, and
he's waiting for you."
Doubt and perplexity were plainly written on Lecoq's forehead. He was
trying to remember the magistrate that bore this name, and wondered
whether he was a likely man to espouse his views.
"Yes," resumed the doorkeeper, who seemed to be in a talkative mood, "M.
Segmuller--you don't seem to know him. He is a worthy man, not quite so
grim as most of our gentlemen. A prisoner he had examined said one day:
'That devil there has pumped me so well that I shall certainly have my
head chopped off; but, nevertheless, he's a good fellow!"
His heart somewhat lightened by these favorable reports, Lecoq went and
tapped at a door that was indicated to him, and which bore the
"Come in!" called out a pleasant voice.
The young detective entered, and found himself face to face with a man
of some forty years of age, tall and rather corpulent, who at once
exclaimed: "Ah! you are Lecoq. Very well--take a seat. I am busy just
now looking over the papers of the case, but I will attend to you in
Lecoq obeyed, at the same time glancing furtively at the magistrate with
whom he was about to work. M. Segmuller's appearance corresponded
perfectly with the description given by the doorkeeper. His plump face
wore an air of frankness and benevolence, and his blue eyes had a most
pleasant expression. Nevertheless, Lecoq distrusted these appearances,
and in so doing he was right.
Born near Strasbourg, M. Segmuller possessed that candid physiognomy
common to most of the natives of blonde Alsace--a deceitful mask, which,
behind seeming simplicity, not unfrequently conceals a Gascon cunning,
rendered all the more dangerous since it is allied with extreme caution.
He had a wonderfully alert, penetrating mind; but his system--every
magistrate has his own--was mainly good-humor. Unlike most of his
colleagues, who were as stiff and cutting in manner as the sword which
the statue of Justice usually holds in her hand, he made simplicity and
kindness of demeanor his leading trait, though, of course, without ever
losing sight of his magisterial duties.
Still, the tone of his voice was so paternal, and the subtle purport of
his questions so veiled by his seeming frankness, that most of those
whom he examined forgot the necessity of protecting themselves, and
unawares confessed their guilt. Thus, it frequently happened that while
some unsuspecting culprit was complacently congratulating himself upon
getting the best of the judge, the poor wretch was really being turned
inside out like a glove.
By the side of such a man as M. Segmuller a grave and slender clerk
would have excited distrust; so he had chosen one who was a caricature
of himself. This clerk's name was Goguet. He was short but corpulent,
and his broad, beardless face habitually wore a silly smile, not out of
keeping with his intellect, which was none of the brightest.
As stated above, when Lecoq entered M. Segmuller's room the latter was
busy studying the case which had so unexpectedly fallen into his hands.
All the articles which the young detective had collected, from the
flakes of wool to the diamond earring, were spread out upon the
magistrate's desk. With the greatest attention, he perused the report
prepared by Lecoq, and according to the different phases of the affair,
he examined one or another of the objects before him, or else consulted
the plan of the ground.
"A good half-hour elapsed before he had completed his inspection, when
he threw himself back in his armchair. Monsieur Lecoq," he said, slowly,
"Monsieur d'Escorval has informed me by a note on the margin of this
file of papers that you are an intelligent man, and that we can trust
"I am willing, at all events."
"You speak too slightingly of yourself; this is the first time that an
agent has brought me a report as complete as yours. You are young, and
if you persevere, I think you will be able to accomplish great things
in your profession."
Nervous with delight, Lecoq bowed and stammered his thanks.
"Your opinion in this matter coincides with mine," continued M.
Segmuller, "and the public prosecutor informs me that M. d'Escorval
shares the same views. An enigma is before us; and it ought to be
"Oh!--we'll solve it, I am certain, sir," exclaimed Lecoq, who at this
moment felt capable of the most extraordinary achievements. Indeed, he
would have gone through fire and water for the magistrate who had
received him so kindly, and his enthusiasm sparkled so plainly in his
eyes that M. Segmuller could not restrain a smile.
"I have strong hopes of it myself," he responded; "but we are far from
the end. Now, what have you been doing since yesterday? Did M.
d'Escorval give you any orders? Have you obtained any fresh
"I don't think I have wasted my time," replied Lecoq, who at once
proceeded to relate the various facts that had come to his knowledge
since his departure from the Poivriere.
With rare precision and that happiness of expression which seldom fails
a man well acquainted with his subject, he recounted the daring feats
of the presumed accomplice, the points he had noted in the supposed
murderer's conduct, the latter's unsuccessful attempt at
self-destruction. He repeated the testimony given by the cab-driver, and
by the concierge in the Rue de Bourgogne, and then read the letter he
had received from Father Absinthe.
In conclusion, he placed on the magistrate's desk some of the dirt he
had scraped from the prisoner's feet; at the same time depositing beside
it a similar parcel of dust collected on the floor of the cell in which
the murderer was confined at the Barriere d'Italie.
When Lecoq had explained the reasons that had led him to collect this
soil, and the conclusions that might be drawn from a comparison of the
two parcels, M. Segmuller, who had been listening attentively, at once
exclaimed: "You are right. It may be that you have discovered a means
to confound all the prisoner's denials. At all events, this is certainly
a proof of surprising sagacity on your part."
So it must have been, for Goguet, the clerk, nodded approvingly.
"Capital!" he murmured. "I should never have thought of that."
While he was talking, M. Segmuller had carefully placed all the
so-called "articles of conviction" in a large drawer, from which they
would not emerge until the trial. "Now," said he, "I understand the case
well enough to examine the Widow Chupin. We may gain some information
He was laying his hand upon the bell, when Lecoq stopped him with an
almost supplicating gesture. "I have one great favor to ask you, sir,"
"What is it?--speak."
"I should very much like to be present at this examination. It takes so
little, sometimes, to awaken a happy inspiration."
Although the law says that the accused shall first of all be privately
examined by the investigating magistrate assisted by his clerk, it also
allows the presence of police agents. Accordingly, M. Segmuller told
Lecoq that he might remain. At the same time he rang his bell; which was
speedily answered by a messenger.
"Has the Widow Chupin been brought here, in compliance with my orders?"
asked M. Segmuller.
"Yes, sir; she is in the gallery outside."
"Let her come in then."
An instant later the hostess of the Poivriere entered the room, bowing
to the right and to the left. This was not her first appearance before
a magistrate, and she was not ignorant of the respect that is due to
justice. Accordingly, she had arrayed herself for her examination with
the utmost care. She had arranged her rebellious gray locks in smooth
bandeaux, and her garments, although of common material, looked
positively neat. She had even persuaded one of the prison warders to buy
her--with the money she had about her at the time of her arrest--a black
crape cap, and a couple of white pocket-handkerchiefs, intending to
deluge the latter with her tears, should the situation call for a
She was indeed far too knowing to rely solely on the mere artifices of