Part 3 out of 6
dress; hence, she had also drawn upon her repertoire of grimaces for an
innocent, sad, and yet resigned expression, well fitted, in her opinion,
to win the sympathy and indulgence of the magistrate upon whom her fate
Thus disguised, with downcast eyes and honeyed voice, she looked so
unlike the terrible termagant of the Poivriere, that her customers would
scarcely have recognized her. Indeed, an honest old bachelor might have
offered her twenty francs a month to take charge of his chambers--solely
on the strength of her good looks. But M. Segmuller had unmasked so many
hypocrites that he was not deceived for a moment. "What an old actress!"
he muttered to himself, and, glancing at Lecoq, he perceived the same
thought sparkling in the young detective's eyes. It is true that the
magistrate's penetration may have been due to some notes he had just
perused--notes containing an abstract of the woman's former life, and
furnished by the chief of police at the magistrate's request.
With a gesture of authority M. Segmuller warned Goguet, the clerk with
the silly smile, to get his writing materials ready. He then turned
toward the Widow Chupin. "Your name?" he asked in a sharp tone.
"Aspasie Claperdty, my maiden name," replied the old woman, "and to-day,
the Widow Chupin, at your service, sir;" so saying, she made a low
courtesy, and then added: "A lawful widow, you understand, sir; I have
my marriage papers safe in my chest at home; and if you wish to send any
"Your age?" interrupted the magistrate.
"Dealer in wines and spirits outside of Paris, near the Rue du
Chateau-des-Rentiers, just beyond the fortifications."
A prisoner's examination always begins with these questions as to
individuality, which gives both the magistrate and the culprit time to
study each other, to try, as it were, each other's strength, before
joining in a serious struggle; just as two duelists, about to engage in
mortal combat, first try a few passes with the foils.
"Now," resumed M. Segmuller, "we will note your antecedents. Have you
not already been found guilty of several offenses?"
The Widow Chupin was too well versed in criminal procedure to be
ignorant of those famous records which render the denial of identity
such a difficult matter in France. "I have been unfortunate, my good
judge," she whined.
"Yes, several times. First of all, you were arrested on a charge of
receiving stolen goods."
"But it was proved that I was innocent, that my character was whiter
than snow. My poor, dear husband had been deceived by his comrades; that
"Possibly. But while your husband was undergoing his sentence, you were
condemned, first to one month's and then to three months' imprisonment
"Oh, I had some enemies who did their best to ruin me."
"Next you were imprisoned for having led some young girls astray."
"They were good-for-nothing hussies, my kind sir, heartless,
unprincipled creatures. I did them many favors, and then they went and
related a batch of falsehoods to ruin me. I have always been too kind
and considerate toward others."
The list of the woman's offenses was not exhausted, but M. Segmuller
thought it useless to continue. "Such is your past," he resumed. "At the
present time your wine-shop is the resort of rogues and criminals. Your
son is undergoing his fourth term of imprisonment; and it has been
clearly proved that you abetted and assisted him in his evil deeds. Your
daughter-in-law, by some miracle, has remained honest and industrious,
hence you have tormented and abused her to such an extent that the
authorities have been obliged to interfere. When she left your house you
tried to keep her child--no doubt meaning to bring it up after the same
fashion as its father."
"This," thought the Widow Chupin, "is the right moment to try and soften
the magistrate's heart." Accordingly, she drew one of her new
handkerchiefs from her pocket, and, by dint of rubbing her eyes,
endeavored to extract a tear. "Oh, unhappy me," she groaned. "How can
any one imagine that I would harm my grandson, my poor little Toto! Why,
I should be worse than a wild beast to try and bring my own flesh and
blood to perdition."
She soon perceived, however, that her lamentations did not much affect
M. Segmuller, hence, suddenly changing both her tone and manner, she
began her justification. She did not positively deny her past; but she
threw all the blame on the injustice of destiny, which, while favoring
a few, generally the less deserving, showed no mercy to others. Alas!
she was one of those who had had no luck in life, having always been
persecuted, despite her innocence. In this last affair, for instance,
how was she to blame? A triple murder had stained her shop with blood;
but the most respectable establishments are not exempt from similar
catastrophes. During her solitary confinement, she had, said she, dived
down into the deepest recesses of her conscience, and she was still
unable to discover what blame could justly be laid at her door.
"I can tell you," interrupted the magistrate. "You are accused of
impeding the action of the law."
"Good heavens! Is it possible?"
"And of seeking to defeat justice. This is equivalent to complicity,
Widow Chupin; take care. When the police entered your cabin, after this
crime had been committed, you refused to answer their questions."
"I told them all that I knew."
"Very well, then, you must repeat what you told them to me."
M. Segmuller had reason to feel satisfied. He had conducted the
examination in such a way that the Widow Chupin would now have to
initiate a narrative of the tragedy. This excellent point gained; for
this shrewd old woman, possessed of all her coolness, would naturally
have been on her guard against any direct questions. Now, it was
essential that she should not suspect either what the magistrate knew
of the affair, or what he was ignorant of. By leaving her to her own
devices she might, in the course of the version which she proposed to
substitute for the truth, not merely strengthen Lecoq's theories, but
also let fall some remark calculated to facilitate the task of future
investigation. Both M. Segmuller and Lecoq were of opinion that the
version of the crime which they were about to hear had been concocted
at the station-house of the Place d'Italie while the murderer and the
spurious drunkard were left together, and that it had been transmitted
by the accomplice to the widow during the brief conversation they were
allowed to have through the wicket of the latter's cell.
Invited by the magistrate to recount the circumstances of the tragedy,
Mother Chupin did not hesitate for a moment. "Oh, it was a very simple
affair, my good sir," she began. "I was sitting by my fireside on Sunday
evening, when suddenly the door opened, and three men and two women came
M. Segmuller and the young detective exchanged glances. The accomplice
had evidently seen Lecoq and his comrade examining the footprints, and
accordingly the presence of the two women was not to be denied.
"What time was this?" asked the magistrate.
"About eleven o'clock."
"As soon as they sat down they ordered a bowl of wine, a la Frangaise.
Without boasting, I may say that I haven't an equal in preparing that
drink. Of course, I waited on them, and afterward, having a blouse to
mend for my boy, I went upstairs to my room, which is just over the
"Leaving the people alone?"
"Yes, my judge."
"That showed a great deal of confidence on your part."
The widow sadly shook her head. "People as poor as I am don't fear the
thieves," she sighed.
"Go on--go on."
"Well, I had been upstairs about half an hour, when I heard some one
below call out: 'Eh! old woman!' So I went down, and found a tall,
big-bearded man, who had just come in. He asked for a glass of brandy,
which I brought to a table where he had sat down by himself."
"And then did you go upstairs again?" interrupted the magistrate.
The exclamation was ironical, of course, but no one could have told from
the Widow Chupin's placid countenance whether she was aware that such
was the case.
"Precisely, my good sir," she replied in the most composed manner. "Only
this time I had scarcely taken up my needle when I heard a terrible
uproar in the shop. I hurried downstairs to put a stop to it--but heaven
knows my interference would have been of little use. The three men who
had come in first of all had fallen upon the newcomer, and they were
beating him, my good sir, they were killing him. I screamed. Just then
the man who had come in alone drew a revolver from his pocket; he fired
and killed one of his assailants, who fell to the ground. I was so
frightened that I crouched on the staircase and threw my apron over my
head that I might not see the blood run. An instant later Monsieur
Gevrol arrived with his men; they forced open the door, and behold--"
The Widow Chupin here stopped short. These wretched old women, who have
trafficked in every sort of vice, and who have tasted every disgrace,
at times attain a perfection of hypocrisy calculated to deceive the most
subtle penetration. Any one unacquainted with the antecedents of the
landlady of the Poivriere would certainly have been impressed by her
apparent candor, so skillfully did she affect a display of frankness,
surprise, and fear. Her expression would have been simply perfect, had
it not been for her eyes, her small gray eyes, as restless as those of
a caged animal, and gleaming at intervals with craftiness and cunning.
There she stood, mentally rejoicing at the success of her narrative, for
she was convinced that the magistrate placed implicit confidence in her
revelations, although during her recital, delivered, by the way, with
conjurer-like volubility, not a muscle of M. Segmuller's face had
betrayed what was passing in his mind. When she paused, out of breath,
he rose from his seat, and without a word approached his clerk to
inspect the notes taken during the earlier part of the examination.
From the corner where he was quietly seated, Lecoq did not cease
watching the prisoner. "She thinks that it's all over," he muttered to
himself; "she fancies that her deposition is accepted without question."
If such were, indeed, the widow's opinion, she was soon to be
undeceived; for, after addressing a few low-spoken words to the smiling
Goguet, M. Segmuller took a seat near the fireplace, convinced that the
moment had now come to abandon defensive tactics, and open fire on the
"So, Widow Chupin," he began, "you tell us that you didn't remain for
a single moment with the people who came into your shop that evening!"
"Not a moment."
"They came in and ordered what they wanted; you waited on them, and then
left them to themselves?"
"Yes, my good sir."
"It seems to me impossible that you didn't overhear some words of their
conversation. What were they talking about?"
"I am not in the habit of playing spy over my customers."
"Didn't you hear anything?"
"Nothing at all."
The magistrate shrugged his shoulders with an air of commiseration. "In
other words," he remarked, "you refuse to inform justice--"
"Oh, my good sir!"
"Allow me to finish. All these improbable stories about leaving the shop
and mending your son's clothes in your bedroom are so many inventions.
You have concocted them so as to be able to say to me: 'I didn't see
anything; I didn't hear anything.' If such is your system of defense,
I warn you that it will be impossible for you to maintain it, and I may
add that it would not be admitted by any tribunal."
"It is not a system of defense; it is the truth."
M. Segmuller seemed to reflect for a moment; then, suddenly, he
exclaimed: "Then you have nothing to tell me about this miserable
"But he is not an assassin, my good sir."
"What do you mean by such an assertion?"
"I mean that he only killed the others in protecting himself. They
picked a quarrel with him; he was alone against three, and saw very
plainly that he could expect no mercy from brigands who--"
The color rose to the Widow Chupin's cheeks, and she suddenly checked
herself, greatly embarrassed, and evidently regretting that she had not
bridled her tongue. It is true she might reasonably hope, that the
magistrate had imperfectly heard her words, and had failed to seize
their full purport, for two or three red-hot coals having fallen from
the grate on the hearth, he had taken up the tongs, and seemed to be
engrossed in the task of artistically arranging the fire.
"Who can tell me--who can prove to me that, on the contrary, it was not
this man who first attacked the others?" he murmured, thoughtfully.
"I can," stoutly declared the widow, already forgetful of her prudent
hesitation, "I can swear it."
M. Segmuller looked up, intense astonishment written upon his face. "How
can you know that?" he said slowly. "How can you swear it? You were in
your bedroom when the quarrel began."
Silent and motionless in his corner, Lecoq was inwardly jubilant. This
was a most happy result, he thought, but a few questions more, and the
old woman would be obliged to contradict herself. What she had already
said sufficed to show that she must have a secret interest in the
matter, or else she would never have been so imprudently earnest in
defending the prisoner.
"However, you have probably been led to this conclusion by your
knowledge of the murderer's character," remarked M. Segmuller, "you are
apparently well acquainted with him."
"Oh, I had never set eyes on him before that evening."
"But he must have been in your establishment before?"
"Never in his life."
"Oh, oh! Then how do you explain that on entering the shop while you
were upstairs, this unknown person--this stranger--should have called
out: 'Here, old woman!' Did he merely guess that the establishment was
kept by a woman; and that this woman was no longer young?"
"He did not say that."
"Reflect a moment; you, yourself just told me so."
"Oh, I didn't say that, I'm sure, my good sir."
"Yes, you did, and I will prove it by having your evidence read. Goguet,
read the passage, if you please."
The smiling clerk looked back through his minutes and then, in his
clearest voice, he read these words, taken down as they fell from the
Widow Chupin's lips: "I had been upstairs about half an hour, when I
heard some one below call out 'Eh! old woman.' So I went down," etc.,
"Are you convinced?" asked M. Segmuller.
The old offender's assurance was sensibly diminished by this proof of
her prevarication. However, instead of discussing the subject any
further, the magistrate glided over it as if he did not attach much
importance to the incident.
"And the other men," he resumed, "those who were killed: did you know
"No, good sir, no more than I knew Adam and Eve."
"And were you not surprised to see three men utterly unknown to you, and
accompanied by two women, enter your establishment?"
"Come! you do not think of what you are saying. It was not chance that
brought these customers, in the middle of the night, to a wine-shop with
a reputation like yours--an establishment situated far from any
frequented route in the midst of a desolate waste."
"I'm not a sorceress; I say what I think."
"Then you did not even know the youngest of the victims, the man who was
attired as a soldier, he who was named Gustave?"
"Not at all."
M. Segmuller noted the intonation of this response, and then slowly
added: "But you must have heard of one of Gustave's friends, a man
On hearing this name, the landlady of the Poivriere became visibly
embarrassed, and it was in an altered voice that she stammered:
"Lacheneur! Lacheneur! no, I have never heard that name mentioned."
Still despite her denial, the effect of M. Segmuller's remark was
evident, and Lecoq secretly vowed that he would find this Lacheneur, at
any cost. Did not the "articles of conviction" comprise a letter sent
by this man to Gustave, and written, so Lecoq had reason to believe, in
a cafe on the Boulevard Beaumarchais? With such a clue and a little
patience, the mysterious Lacheneur might yet be discovered.
"Now," continued M. Segmuller, "let us speak of the women who
accompanied these unfortunate men. What sort of women were they?"
"Oh! women of no account whatever!"
"Were they well dressed?"
"On the contrary, very miserably."
"Well, give me a description of them."
"They were tall and powerfully built, and indeed, as it was Shrove
Sunday, I first of all took them for men in disguise. They had hands
like shoulders of mutton, gruff voices, and very black hair. They were
as dark as mulattoes--"
"Enough!" interrupted the magistrate, "I require no further proof of your
mendacity. These women were short, and one of them was remarkably fair."
"I swear to you, my good sir--"
"Do not declare it upon oath. I shall be forced to confront you with an
honest man, who will tell you to your face that you are a liar!"
The widow did not reply, and there was a moment's silence. M. Segmuller
determined to deal a decisive blow. "Do you also affirm that you had
nothing of a compromising character in the pocket of your apron?" he
"Nothing--you may have it examined; it was left in the house."
"Then you still persist in your system," resumed M. Segmuller. "Believe
me, you are wrong. Reflect--it rests with you to go to the Assize Court
as a witness, or an accomplice."
Although the widow seemed crushed by this unexpected blow, the
magistrate did not add another word. Her deposition was read over to
her, she signed it, and was then led away.
M. Segmuller immediately seated himself at his desk, filled up a blank
form and handed it to his clerk, saying: "This is an order for the
governor of the Depot. Tell him to send the supposed murderer here at
If it is difficult to extort a confession from a man interested in
preserving silence and persuaded that no proofs can be produced against
him, it is a yet more arduous task to make a woman, similarly situated,
speak the truth. As they say at the Palais de Justice, one might as well
try to make the devil confess.
The examination of the Widow Chupin had been conducted with the greatest
possible care by M. Segmuller, who was as skilful in managing his
questions as a tried general in maneuvering his troops.
However, all that he had discovered was that the landlady of the
Poivriere was conniving with the murderer. The motive of her connivance
was yet unknown, and the murderer's identity still a mystery. Both M.
Segmuller and Lecoq were nevertheless of the opinion that the old hag
knew everything. "It is almost certain," remarked the magistrate, "that
she was acquainted with the people who came to her house--with the
women, the victims, the murderer--with all of them, in fact. I am
positive as regards that fellow Gustave--I read it in her eyes. I am
also convinced that she knows Lacheneur--the man upon whom the dying
soldier breathed vengeance--the mysterious personage who evidently
possesses the key to the enigma. That man must be found."
"Ah!" replied Lecoq, "and I will find him even if I have to question
every one of the eleven hundred thousand men who constantly walk the
streets of Paris!"
This was promising so much that the magistrate, despite his
preoccupation, could not repress a smile.
"If this old woman would only decide to make a clean breast of it at her
next examination!" remarked Lecoq.
"Yes. But she won't."
The young detective shook his head despondently. Such was his own
opinion. He did not delude himself with false hopes, and he had noticed
between the Widow Chupin's eyebrows those furrows which, according to
physiognomists, indicate a senseless, brutish obstinacy.
"Women never confess," resumed the magistrate; "and even when they
seemingly resign themselves to such a course they are not sincere. They
fancy they have discovered some means of misleading their examiner. On
the contrary, evidence will crush the most obstinate man; he gives up
the struggle, and confesses. Now, a woman scoffs at evidence. Show her
the sun; tell her it's daytime; at once she will close her eyes and say
to you, 'No, it's night.' Male prisoners plan and combine different
systems of defense according to their social positions; the women, on
the contrary, have but one system, no matter what may be their condition
in life. They deny everything, persist in their denials even when the
proof against them is overwhelming, and then they cry. When I worry the
Chupin with disagreeable questions, at her next examination, you may be
sure she will turn her eyes into a fountain of tears."
In his impatience, M. Segmuller angrily stamped his foot. He had many
weapons in his arsenal; but none strong enough to break a woman's dogged
"If I only understood the motive that guides this old hag!" he
continued. "But not a clue! Who can tell me what powerful interest
induces her to remain silent? Is it her own cause that she is defending?
Is she an accomplice? Is it certain that she did not aid the murderer
in planning an ambuscade?"
"Yes," responded Lecoq, slowly, "yes; this supposition very naturally
presents itself to the mind. But think a moment, sir, such a theory
would prove that the idea we entertained a short time since is
altogether false. If the Widow Chupin is an accomplice, the murderer is
not the person we have supposed him to be; he is simply the man he seems
This argument apparently convinced M. Segmuller. "What is your opinion?"
The young detective had formed his opinion a long while ago. But how
could he, a humble police agent, venture to express any decided views
when the magistrate hesitated? He understood well enough that his
position necessitated extreme reserve; hence, it was in the most modest
tone that he replied: "Might not the pretended drunkard have dazzled
Mother Chupin's eyes with the prospect of a brilliant reward? Might he
not have promised her a considerable sum of money?"
He paused; Goguet, the smiling clerk, had just returned.
Behind him stood a private of the Garde de Paris who remained
respectfully on the threshold, his heels in a straight line, his right
hand raised to the peak of his shako, and his elbow on a level with his
eyes, in accordance with the regulations.
"The governor of the Depot," said the soldier, "sends me to inquire if
he is to keep the Widow Chupin in solitary confinement; she complains
bitterly about it."
M. Segmuller reflected for a moment. "Certainly," he murmured, as if
replying to an objection made by his own conscience; "certainly, it is
an undoubted aggravation of suffering; but if I allow this woman to
associate with the other prisoners, she will certainly find some
opportunity to communicate with parties outside. This must not be; the
interests of justice and truth must be considered first." The thought
embodied in these last words decided him. "Despite her complaints the
prisoner must be kept in solitary confinement until further orders," he
The soldier allowed his right hand to fall to his side, he carried his
right foot three inches behind his left heel, and wheeled around.
Goguet, the smiling clerk, then closed the door, and, drawing a large
envelope from his pocket, handed it to the magistrate. "Here is a
communication from the governor of the Depot," said he.
The magistrate broke the seal, and read aloud, as follows:
"I feel compelled to advise M. Segmuller to take every precaution with
the view of assuring his own safety before proceeding with the
examination of the prisoner, May. Since his unsuccessful attempt at
suicide, this prisoner has been in such a state of excitement that we
have been obliged to keep him in a strait-waistcoat. He did not close
his eyes all last night, and the guards who watched him expected every
moment that he would become delirious. However, he did not utter a word.
When food was offered him this morning, he resolutely rejected it, and
I should not be surprised if it were his intention to starve himself to
death. I have rarely seen a more determined criminal. I think him
capable of any desperate act."
"Ah!" exclaimed the clerk, whose smile had disappeared, "If I were in
your place, sir, I would only let him in here with an escort of
"What! you--Goguet, you, an old clerk--make such a proposition! Can it
be that you're frightened?"
"Frightened! No, certainly not; but--"
"Nonsense!" interrupted Lecoq, in a tone that betrayed superlative
confidence in his own muscles; "Am I not here?"
If M. Segmuller had seated himself at his desk, that article of
furniture would naturally have served as a rampart between the prisoner
and himself. For purposes of convenience he usually did place himself
behind it; but after Goguet's display of fear, he would have blushed to
have taken the slightest measure of self-protection. Accordingly, he
went and sat down by the fireplace--as he had done a few moments
previously while questioning the Widow Chupin--and then ordered his
door-keeper to admit the prisoner alone. He emphasized this word
A moment later the door was flung open with a violent jerk, and the
prisoner entered, or rather precipitated himself into the room. Goguet
turned pale behind his table, and Lecoq advanced a step forward, ready
to spring upon the prisoner and pinion him should it be requisite. But
when the latter reached the centre of the room, he paused and looked
around him. "Where is the magistrate?" he inquired, in a hoarse voice.
"I am the magistrate," replied M. Segmuller.
"No, the other one."
"What other one?"
"The one who came to question me last evening."
"He has met with an accident. Yesterday, after leaving you, he fell down
and broke his leg."
"And I am to take his place."
The prisoner was apparently deaf to the explanation. Excitement had
seemingly given way to stupor. His features, hitherto contracted with
anger, now relaxed. He grew pale and tottered, as if about to fall.
"Compose yourself," said the magistrate in a benevolent tone; "if you
are too weak to remain standing, take a seat."
Already, with a powerful effort, the man had recovered his
self-possession. A momentary gleam flashed from his eyes. "Many thanks
for your kindness," he replied, "but this is nothing. I felt a slight
sensation of dizziness, but it is over now."
"Is it long since you have eaten anything?"
"I have eaten nothing since that man"--and so saying he pointed to
Lecoq--"brought me some bread and wine at the station house."
"Wouldn't you like to take something?"
"No--and yet--if you would be so kind--I should like a glass of water."
"Will you not have some wine with it?"
"I should prefer pure water."
His request was at once complied with. He drained a first glassful at
a single draft; the glass was then replenished and he drank again, this
time, however, more slowly. One might have supposed that he was drinking
in life itself. Certainly, when he laid down the empty glass, he seemed
quite another man.
Eighteen out of every twenty criminals who appear before our
investigating magistrates come prepared with a more or less complete
plan of defense, which they have conceived during their preliminary
confinement. Innocent or guilty, they have resolved, on playing some
part or other, which they begin to act as soon as they cross the
threshold of the room where the magistrate awaits them.
The moment they enter his presence, the magistrate needs to bring all
his powers of penetration into play; for such a culprit's first attitude
as surely betrays his plan of defense as an index reveals a book's
contents. In this case, however, M. Segmuller did not think that
appearances were deceitful. It seemed evident to him that the prisoner
was not feigning, but that the excited frenzy which marked his entrance
was as real as his after stupor.
At all events, there seemed no fear of the danger the governor of the
Depot had spoken of, and accordingly M. Segmuller seated himself at his
desk. Here he felt stronger and more at ease for his back being turned
to the window, his face was half hidden in shadow; and in case of need,
he could, by bending over his papers, conceal any sign of surprise or
The prisoner, on the contrary, stood in the full light, and not a
movement of his features, not the fluttering of an eyelid could escape
the magistrate's attention. He seemed to have completely recovered from
his indisposition; and his features assumed an expression which
indicated either careless indifference, or complete resignation.
"Do you feel better?" asked M. Segmuller.
"I feel very well."
"I hope," continued the magistrate, paternally, "that in future you will
know how to moderate your excitement. Yesterday you tried to destroy
yourself. It would have been another great crime added to many others--a
With a hasty movement of the hand, the prisoner interrupted him. "I have
committed no crime," said he, in a rough, but no longer threatening
voice. "I was attacked, and I defended myself. Any one has a right to
do that. There were three men against me. It was a great misfortune; and
I would give my right hand to repair it; but my conscience does not
reproach me--that much!"
The prisoner's "that much," was a contemptuous snap of his finger and
"And yet I've been arrested and treated like an assassin," he continued.
"When I saw myself interred in that living tomb which you call a secret
cell, I grew afraid; I lost my senses. I said to myself: 'My boy,
they've buried you alive; and it is better to die--to die quickly, if
you don't wish to suffer.' So I tried to strangle myself. My death
wouldn't have caused the slightest sorrow to any one. I have neither
wife nor child depending upon me for support. However, my attempt was
frustrated. I was bled; and then placed in a strait-waistcoat, as if I
were a madman. Mad! I really believed I should become so. All night long
the jailors sat around me, like children amusing themselves by
tormenting a chained animal. They watched me, talked about me, and
passed the candle to and fro before my eyes."
The prisoner talked forcibly, but without any attempt at oratorical
display; there was bitterness but not anger in his tone; in short, he
spoke with all the seeming sincerity of a man giving expression to some
deep emotion or conviction. As the magistrate and the detective heard
him speak, they were seized with the same idea. "This man," they
thought, "is very clever; it won't be easy to get the better of him."
Then, after a moment's reflection, M. Segmuller added aloud: "This
explains your first act of despair; but later on, for instance, even
this morning, you refused to eat the food that was offered you."
As the prisoner heard this remark, his lowering face suddenly
brightened, he gave a comical wink, and finally burst into a hearty
laugh, gay, frank, and sonorous.
"That," said he, "is quite another matter. Certainly, I refused all they
offered me, and now I will tell you why. As I had my hands confined in
the strait-waistcoat, the jailor tried to feed me just as a nurse tries
to feed a baby with pap. Now I wasn't going to submit to that, so I
closed my lips as tightly as I could. Then he tried to force my mouth
open and push the spoon in, just as one might force a sick dog's jaws
apart and pour some medicine down its throat. The deuce take his
impertinence! I tried to bite him: that's the truth, and if I had
succeeded in getting his finger between my teeth, it would have stayed
there. However, because I wouldn't be fed like a baby, all the prison
officials raised their hands to heaven in holy horror, and pointed at
me, saying: 'What a terrible man! What an awful rascal!'"
The prisoner seemed to thoroughly enjoy the recollection of the scene
he had described, for he now burst into another hearty laugh, to the
great amazement of Lecoq, and the scandal of Goguet, the smiling clerk.
M. Segmuller also found it difficult to conceal his surprise. "You are
too reasonable, I hope," he said, at last, "to attach any blame to these
men, who, in confining you in a strait-waistcoat, were merely obeying
the orders of their superior officers with the view of protecting you
from your own violent passions."
"Hum!" responded the prisoner, suddenly growing serious. "I do blame
them, however, and if I had one of them in a corner--But, never mind,
I shall get over it. If I know myself aright, I have no more spite in
my composition than a chicken."
"Your treatment depends on your own conduct," rejoined M. Segmuller, "If
you will only remain calm, you shan't be put in a strait-waistcoat
again. But you must promise me that you will be quiet and conduct
The murderer sadly shook his head. "I shall be very prudent hereafter,"
said he, "but it is terribly hard to stay in prison with nothing to do.
If I had some comrades with me, we could laugh and chat, and the time
would slip by; but it is positively horrible to have to remain alone,
entirely alone, in that cold, damp cell, where not a sound can be
The magistrate bent over his desk to make a note. The word "comrades"
had attracted his attention, and he proposed to ask the prisoner to
explain it at a later stage of the inquiry.
"If you are innocent," he remarked, "you will soon be released: but it
is necessary to prove your innocence."
"What must I do to prove it?"
"Tell the truth, the whole truth: answer my questions honestly without
"As for that, you may depend upon me." As he spoke the prisoner lifted
his hand, as if to call upon God to witness his sincerity.
But M. Segmuller immediately intervened: "Prisoners do not take the
oath," said he.
"Indeed!" ejaculated the man with an astonished air, "that's strange!"
Although the magistrate had apparently paid but little attention to the
prisoner, he had in point of fact carefully noted his attitude, his tone
of voice, his looks and gestures. M. Segmuller had, moreover, done his
utmost to set the culprit's mind at ease, to quiet all possible
suspicion of a trap, and his inspection of the prisoner's person led him
to believe that this result had been attained.
"Now," said he, "you will give me your attention; and do not forget that
your liberty depends upon your frankness. What is your name?"
"What is your Christian name?"
"I have none."
"That is impossible."
"I have been told that already three times since yesterday," rejoined
the prisoner impatiently. "And yet it's the truth. If I were a liar, I
could easily tell you that my name was Peter, James, or John. But lying
is not in my line. Really, I have no Christian name. If it were a
question of surnames, it would be quite another thing. I have had plenty
"What were they?"
"Let me see--to commence with, when I was with Father Fougasse, I was
called Affiloir, because you see--"
"Who was this Father Fougasse?"
"The great wild beast tamer, sir. Ah! he could boast of a menagerie and
no mistake! Lions, tigers, and bears, serpents as big round as your
thigh, parrakeets of every color under the sun. Ah! it was a wonderful
collection. But unfortunately--"
Was the man jesting, or was he in earnest? It was so hard to decide,
that M. Segmuller and Lecoq were equally in doubt. As for Goguet, the
smiling clerk, he chuckled to himself as his pen ran over the paper.
"Enough," interrupted the magistrate. "How old are you?"
"Forty-four or forty-five years of age."
"Where were you born?"
"In Brittany, probably."
M. Segmuller thought he could detect a hidden vein of irony in this reply.
"I warn you," said he, severely, "that if you go on in this way your
chances of recovering your liberty will be greatly compromised. Each of
your answers is a breach of propriety."
As the supposed murderer heard these words, an expression of mingled
distress and anxiety was apparent in his face. "Ah! I meant no offense,
sir," he sighed. "You questioned me, and I replied. You will see that
I have spoken the truth, if you will allow me to recount the history of
the whole affair."
"When the prisoner speaks, the prosecution is enlightened," so runs an
old proverb frequently quoted at the Palais de Justice. It does, indeed,
seem almost impossible for a culprit to say more than a few words in an
investigating magistrate's presence, without betraying his intentions
or his thoughts; without, in short, revealing more or less of the secret
he is endeavoring to conceal. All criminals, even the most
simple-minded, understand this, and those who are shrewd prove
remarkably reticent. Confining themselves to the few facts upon which
they have founded their defense, they are careful not to travel any
further unless absolutely compelled to do so, and even then they only
speak with the utmost caution. When questioned, they reply, of course,
but always briefly; and they are very sparing of details.
In the present instance, however, the prisoner was prodigal of words.
He did not seem to think that there was any danger of his being the
medium of accomplishing his own decapitation. He did not hesitate like
those who are afraid of misplacing a word of the romance they are
substituting for the truth. Under other circumstances, this fact would
have been a strong argument in his favor.
"You may tell your own story, then," said M. Segmuller in answer to the
prisoner's indirect request.
The presumed murderer did not try to hide the satisfaction he
experienced at thus being allowed to plead his own cause, in his own
way. His eyes sparkled and his nostrils dilated as if with pleasure. He
sat himself dawn, threw his head back, passed his tongue over his lips
as if to moisten them, and said: "Am I to understand that you wish to
hear my history?"
"Then you must know that one day about forty-five years ago, Father
Tringlot, the manager of a traveling acrobatic company, was going from
Guingamp to Saint Brieuc, in Brittany. He had with him two large
vehicles containing his wife, the necessary theatrical paraphernalia,
and the members of the company. Well, soon after passing Chatelaudren,
he perceived something white lying by the roadside, near the edge of a
ditch. 'I must go and see what that is,' he said to his wife. He stopped
the horses, alighted from the vehicle he was in, went to the ditch,
picked up the object he had noticed, and uttered a cry of surprise. You
will ask me what he had found? Ah! good heavens! A mere trifle. He had
found your humble servant, then about six months old."
With these last words, the prisoner made a low bow to his audience.
"Naturally, Father Tringlot carried me to his wife. She was a
kind-hearted woman. She took me, examined me, fed me, and said: 'He's
a strong, healthy child; and we'll keep him since his mother has been
so wicked as to abandon him by the roadside. I will teach him; and in
five or six years he will be a credit to us.' They then asked each other
what name they should give me, and as it happened to be the first day
of May, they decided to call me after the month, and so it happens that
May has been my name from that day to this."
The prisoner paused again and looked from one to another of his
listeners, as if seeking some sign of approval. None being forthcoming,
he proceeded with his story.
"Father Tringlot was an uneducated man, entirely ignorant of the law.
He did not inform the authorities that he had found a child, and, for
this reason, although I was living, I did not legally exist, for, to
have a legal existence it is necessary that one's name, parentage, and
birthplace should figure upon a municipal register.
"When I grew older, I rather congratulated myself on Father Tringlot's
neglect. 'May, my boy,' said I, 'you are not put down on any government
register, consequently there's no fear of your ever being drawn as a
soldier.' I had a horror of military service, and a positive dread of
bullets and cannon balls. Later on, when I had passed the proper age for
the conscription, a lawyer told me that I should get into all kinds of
trouble if I sought a place on the civil register so late in the day;
and so I decided to exist surreptitiously. And this is why I have no
Christian name, and why I can't exactly say where I was born."
If truth has any particular accent of its own, as moralists have
asserted, the murderer had found that accent. Voice, gesture, glance,
expression, all were in accord; not a word of his long story had rung
"Now," said M. Segmuller, coldly, "what are your means of subsistence?"
By the prisoner's discomfited mien one might have supposed that he had
expected to see the prison doors fly open at the conclusion of his
narrative. "I have a profession," he replied plaintively. "The one that
Mother Tringlot taught me. I subsist by its practise; and I have lived
by it in France and other countries."
The magistrate thought he had found a flaw in the prisoner's armor. "You
say you have lived in foreign countries?" he inquired.
"Yes; during the seventeen years that I was with M. Simpson's company,
I traveled most of the time in England and Germany."
"Then you are a gymnast and an athlete. How is it that your hands are
so white and soft?"
Far from being embarrassed, the prisoner raised his hands from his lap
and examined them with evident complacency. "It is true they are
pretty," said he, "but this is because I take good care of them and
scarcely use them."
"Do they pay you, then, for doing nothing?"
"Ah, no, indeed! But, sir, my duty consists in speaking to the public,
in turning a compliment, in making things pass off pleasantly, as the
saying is; and, without boasting, I flatter myself that I have a certain
M. Segmuller stroked his chin, according to his habit whenever he
considered that a prisoner had committed some grave blunder. "In that
case," said he, "will you give me a specimen of your talent?"
"Ah, ha!" laughed the prisoner, evidently supposing this to be a jest
on the part of the magistrate. "Ah, ha!"
"Obey me, if you please," insisted M. Segmuller.
The supposed murderer made no objection. His face at once assumed a
different expression, his features wearing a mingled air of impudence,
conceit, and irony. He caught up a ruler that was lying on the
magistrate's desk, and, flourishing it wildly, began as follows, in a
shrill falsetto voice: "Silence, music! And you, big drum, hold your
peace! Now is the hour, now is the moment, ladies and gentlemen, to
witness the grand, unique performance of these great artists, unequaled
in the world for their feats upon the trapeze and the tight-rope, and
in innumerable other exercises of grace, suppleness, and strength!"
"That is sufficient," interrupted the magistrate. "You can speak like
that in France; but what do you say in Germany?"
"Of course, I use the language of that country."
"Let me hear, then!" retorted M. Segmuller, whose mother-tongue was German.
The prisoner ceased his mocking manner, assumed an air of comical
importance, and without the slightest hesitation began to speak as
follows, in very emphatic tones: "Mit Be-willigung der hochloeblichen
Obrigkeit, wird heute, vor hiesiger ehrenwerthen Burgerschaft, zum
erstenmal aufgefuhrt--Genovesa, oder--"
This opening of the prisoner's German harangue may be thus rendered:
"With the permission of the local authorities there will now be
presented before the honorable citizens, for the first time--Genevieve,
"Enough," said the magistrate, harshly. He rose, perhaps to conceal his
chagrin, and added: "We will send for an interpreter to tell us whether
you speak English as fluently."
On hearing these words, Lecoq modestly stepped forward. "I understand
English," said he.
"Very well. You hear, prisoner?"
But the man was already transformed. British gravity and apathy were
written upon his features; his gestures were stiff and constrained, and
in the most ponderous tones he exclaimed: "Walk up! ladies and
gentlemen, walk up! Long life to the queen and to the honorable mayor
of this town! No country, England excepted--our glorious England!--could
produce such a marvel, such a paragon--" For a minute or two longer he
continued in the same strain.
M. Segmuller was leaning upon his desk, his face hidden by his hands.
Lecoq, standing in front of the prisoner, could not conceal his
astonishment. Goguet, the smiling clerk, alone found the scene amusing.
The governor of the Depot, a functionary who had gained the reputation
of an oracle by twenty years' experience in prisons and with
prisoners--a man whom it was most difficult to deceive--had advised the
magistrate to surround himself with every precaution before examining
the prisoner, May.
And yet this man, characterized as a most dangerous criminal, and the
very announcement of whose coming had made the clerk turn pale, had
proved to be a practical, harmless, and jovial philosopher, vain of his
eloquence, a bohemian whose existence depended upon his ability to turn
a compliment; in short, a somewhat erratic genius.
This was certainly strange, but the seeming contradiction did not cause
M. Segmuller to abandon the theory propounded by Lecoq. On the contrary,
he was more than ever convinced of its truth. If he remained silent,
with his elbows leaning on the desk, and his hands clasped over his
eyes, it was only that he might gain time for reflection.
The prisoner's attitude and manner were remarkable. When his English
harangue was finished, he remained standing in the centre of the room,
a half-pleased, half-anxious expression on his face. Still, he was as
much at ease as if he had been on the platform outside some stroller's
booth, where, if one could believe his story, he had passed the greater
part of his life. It was in vain that the magistrate sought for some
indication of weakness on his features, which in their mobility were
more enigmatical than the lineaments of the Sphinx.
Thus far, M. Segmuller had been worsted in the encounter. It is true,
however, that he had not as yet ventured on any direct attack, nor had
he made use of any of the weapons which Lecoq had forged for his use.
Still he was none the less annoyed at his defeat, as it was easy to see
by the sharp manner in which he raised his head after a few moments'
silence. "I see that you speak three European languages correctly," said
he. "It is a rare talent."
The prisoner bowed, and smiled complacently. "Still that does not
establish your identity," continued the magistrate. "Have you any
acquaintances in Paris? Can you indicate any respectable person who will
vouch for the truth of this story?"
"Ah! sir, it is seventeen years since I left France."
"That is unfortunate, but the prosecution can not content itself with
such an explanation. What about your last employer, M. Simpson? Who
"M. Simpson is a rich man," replied the prisoner, rather coldly, "worth
more than two hundred thousand francs, and honest besides. In Germany
he traveled with a show of marionettes, and in England with a collection
of phenomena to suit the tastes of that country."
"Very well! Then this millionaire could testify in your favor; it would
be easy to find him, I suppose?"
"Certainly," responded May, emphatically. "M. Simpson would willingly
do me this favor. It would not be difficult for me to find him, only it
would require considerable time."
"Because at the present moment he must be on his way to America. It was
on account of this journey that I left his company--I detest the ocean."
A moment previously Lecoq's anxiety had been so intense that his heart
almost stopped beating; on hearing these last words, however, he
regained all his self-possession. As for the magistrate, he merely
greeted the murderer's reply with a brief but significant ejaculation.
"When I say that he is on his way," resumed the prisoner, "I may be
mistaken. He may not have started yet, though he had certainly made all
his arrangements before we separated."
"What ship was he to sail by?"
"He did not tell me."
"Where was he when you left him?"
"When was this?"
M. Segmuller shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. "So you say you were
in Leipsic on Wednesday? How long have you been in Paris?"
"Since Sunday afternoon, at four o'clock."
"It will be necessary to prove that."
Judging by the murderer's contracted brow it might be conjectured that
he was making a strenuous effort to remember something. He cast
questioning glances first toward the ceiling and then toward the floor,
scratching his head and tapping his foot in evident perplexity. "How can
I prove it--how?" he murmured.
The magistrate did not appear disposed to wait. "Let me assist you,"
said he. "The people at the inn where you boarded while in Leipsic must
"We did not stop at an inn."
"Where did you eat and sleep, then?"
"In M. Simpson's large traveling-carriage; it had been sold, but he was
not to give it up until he reached the port he was to sail from."
"What port was that?"
"I don't know."
At this reply Lecoq, who had less experience than the magistrate in the
art of concealing one's impressions, could not help rubbing his hands
with satisfaction. The prisoner was plainly convicted of falsehood,
indeed driven into a corner.
"So you have only your own word to offer in support of this story?"
inquired M. Segmuller.
"Wait a moment," said the prisoner, extending his arm as if to clutch
at a still vague inspiration--"wait a moment. When I arrived in Paris
I had with me a trunk containing my clothes. The linen is all marked
with the first letter of my name, and besides some ordinary coats and
trousers, there were a couple of costumes I used to wear when I appeared
"Well, what have you done with all these things?"
"When I arrived in Paris, I took the trunk to a hotel, close by the
Northern Railway Station--"
"Go on. Tell us the name of this hotel," said M. Segmuller, perceiving
that the prisoner had stopped short, evidently embarrassed.
"That's just what I'm trying to recollect. I've forgotten it. But I
haven't forgotten the house. I fancy I can see it now; and, if some one
would only take me to the neighborhood, I should certainly recognize it.
The people at the hotel would know me, and, besides, my trunk would
prove the truth of what I've told you."
On hearing this statement, Lecoq mentally resolved to make a tour of
investigation through the various hotels surrounding the Gare du Nord.
"Very well," retorted the magistrate. "Perhaps we will do as you
request. Now, there are two questions I desire to ask. If you arrived
in Paris at four o'clock in the afternoon, how did it happen that by
midnight of the same day you had discovered the Poivriere, which is
merely frequented by suspicious characters, and is situated in such a
lonely spot that it would be impossible to find it at night-time, if one
were not familiar with the surrounding localities? In the second place,
how does it happen, if you possess such clothing as you describe, that
you are so poorly dressed?"
The prisoner smiled at these questions. "I can easily explain that," he
replied. "One's clothes are soon spoiled when one travels third-class,
so on leaving Leipsic I put on the worst things I had. When I arrived
here, and felt my feet on the pavements of Paris, I went literally wild
with delight. I acted like a fool. I had some money in my pocket--it was
Shrove Sunday--and my only thought was to make a night of it. I did not
think of changing my clothes. As I had formerly been in the habit of
amusing myself round about the Barriere d'Italie, I hastened there and
entered a wine-shop. While I was eating a morsel, two men came in and
began talking about spending the night at a ball at the Rainbow. I asked
them to take me with them; they agreed, I paid their bills, and we
started. But soon after our arrival there these young men left me and
joined the dancers. It was not long before I grew weary of merely
looking on. Rather disappointed, I left the inn, and being foolish
enough not to ask my way, I wandered on till I lost myself, while
traversing a tract of unoccupied land. I was about to go back, when I
saw a light in the distance. I walked straight toward it, and reached
that cursed hovel."
"What happened then?"
"Oh! I went in; called for some one. A woman came downstairs, and I
asked her for a glass of brandy. When she brought it, I sat down and
lighted a cigar. Then I looked about me. The interior was almost enough
to frighten one. Three men and two women were drinking and chatting in
low tones at another table. My face did not seem to suit them. One of
them got up, came toward me, and said: 'You are a police agent; you've
come here to play the spy; that's very plain.' I answered that I wasn't
a police agent. He replied that I was. I again declared that I wasn't.
In short, he swore that he was sure of it, and that my beard was false.
So saying, he caught hold of my beard and pulled it. This made me mad.
I jumped up, and with a blow of my fist I felled him to the ground. In
an instant all the others were upon me! I had my revolver--you know the
"And while all this was going on what were the two women doing?"
"Ah! I was too busy to pay any attention to them. They disappeared!"
"But you saw them when you entered the place--what were they like?"
"Oh! they were big, ugly creatures, as tall as grenadiers, and as dark
Between plausible falsehood, and improbable truth, justice--human
justice, and therefore liable to error--is compelled to decide as best
it can. For the past hour M. Segmuller had not been free from mental
disquietude. But all his doubts vanished when he heard the prisoner
declare that the two women were tall and dark. If he had said: "The
women were fair," M. Segmuller would not have known what to believe, but
in the magistrate's opinion the audacious falsehood he had just heard
proved that there was a perfect understanding between the supposed
murderer and Widow Chupin.
Certainly, M. Segmuller's satisfaction was great; but his face did not
betray it. It was of the utmost importance that the prisoner should
believe that he had succeeded in deceiving his examiner. "You must
understand how necessary it is to find these women," said the magistrate
"If their testimony corresponds with your allegations, your innocence
will be proved conclusively."
"Yes, I understand that; but how can I put my hand upon them?"
"The police can assist you--our agents are always at the service of
prisoners who desire to make use of them in establishing their
innocence. Did you make any observations which might aid in the
discovery of these women?"
Lecoq, whose eyes never wandered from the prisoner's face, fancied that
he saw the faint shadow of a smile on the man's lips.
"I remarked nothing," said the prisoner coldly.
M. Segmuller had opened the drawer of his desk a moment before. He now
drew from it the earring which had been found on the scene of the
tragedy, and handing it abruptly to the prisoner, he asked: "So you
didn't notice this in the ear of one of the women?"
The prisoner's imperturbable coolness of demeanor did not forsake him.
He took the jewel in his hand, examined it attentively, held it up to
the light, admired its brilliant scintillations, and said: "It is a very
handsome stone, but I didn't notice it."
"This stone," remarked the magistrate, "is a diamond."
"Yes; and worth several thousand francs."
"So much as that!"
This exclamation may have been in accordance with the spirit of the part
assumed by the prisoner; though, at the same time, its simplicity was
undoubtedly far-fetched. It was strange that a nomad, such as the
murderer pretended to have been, acquainted with most of the countries
and capitals of Europe, should have displayed this astonishment on
learning the value of a diamond. Still, M. Segmuller did not seem to
notice the discrepancy.
"Another thing," said he. "When you threw down your pistol, crying,
'Come and take me,' what did you intend to do?"
"I intended to make my escape."
"In what way?"
"Why, of course, by the door, sir--by--"
"Yes, by the back door," retorted the magistrate, with freezing irony.
"It remains for you to explain how you--you who had just entered that
hovel for the first time--could have known of this door's existence."
For once, in the course of the examination, the prisoner seemed
troubled. For an instant all his assurance forsook him. He evidently
perceived the danger of his position, and after a considerable effort
he contrived to burst out in a laugh. His laugh was a poor one, however;
it rang false, and failed to conceal a sensation of deep anxiety.
Growing gradually bolder, he at length exclaimed: "That's nonsense, I
had just seen these two women go out by that very door."
"Excuse me, you declared a minute ago that you did not see these women
leave: that you were too busy to watch their movements."
"Did I say that?"
"Word for word; the passage shall be shown you. Goguet, find it."
The clerk at once read the passage referred to, whereupon the prisoner
undertook to show that the remark had been misunderstood. He had not
said--at least, he did not intend to say--that; they had quite
misinterpreted his words. With such remarks did he try to palliate the
effect of his apparent blunders.
In the mean while, Lecoq was jubilant. "Ah, my fine fellow," thought he,
"you are contradicting yourself--you are in deep water already--you are
lost. There's no hope for you."
The prisoner's situation was indeed not unlike that of a bather, who,
unable to swim, imprudently advances into the sea until the water rises
above his chin. He may for a while have preserved his equilibrium,
despite the buffeting of the waves, but now he totters, loses his
footing--another second, and he will sink!
"Enough--enough!" said the magistrate, cutting the prisoner's
embarrassed explanation short. "Now, if you started out merely with the
intention of amusing yourself, how did it happen that you took your
revolver with you?"
"I had it with me while I was traveling, and did not think of leaving
it at the hotel any more than I thought of changing my clothes."
"Where did you purchase it?"
"It was given me by M. Simpson as a souvenir."
"Confess that this M. Simpson is a very convenient personage," said the
magistrate coldly. "Still, go on with your story. Only two chambers of
this murderous weapon were discharged, but three men were killed. You
have not told me the end of the affair."
"What's the use?" exclaimed the prisoner, in saddened tones. "Two of my
assailants had fallen; the struggle became an equal one. I seized the
remaining man, the soldier, round the body, and threw him down. He fell
against a corner of the table, and did not rise again."
M. Segmuller had unfolded upon his desk the plan of the Poivriere drawn
by Lecoq. "Come here," he said, addressing the prisoner, "and show me
on this paper the precise spot you and your adversaries occupied."
May obeyed, and with an assurance of manner a little surprising in a man
in his position, he proceeded to explain the drama. "I entered," said
he, "by this door, marked C; I seated myself at the table, H, to the
left of the entrance: my assailants occupied the table between the
fireplace, F, and the window, B."
"I must admit," said the magistrate, "that your assertions fully agree
with the statements of the physicians, who say that one of the shots
must have been fired about a yard off, and the other about two yards
This was a victory for the prisoner, but he only shrugged his shoulders
and murmured: "That proves that the physicians knew their business."
Lecoq was delighted. This part of the prisoner's narrative not merely
agreed with the doctor's statements, but also confirmed his own
researches. The young detective felt that, had he been the examiner, he
would have conducted the investigation in precisely the same way.
Accordingly, he thanked heaven that M. Segmuller had supplied the place
of M. d'Escorval.
"This admitted," resumed the magistrate, "it remains for you to explain
a sentence you uttered when the agent you see here arrested you."
"You exclaimed: 'Ah, it's the Prussians who are coming; I'm lost!' What
did you mean by that?"
A fleeting crimson tinge suffused the prisoner's cheek. It was evident
that if he had anticipated the other questions, and had been prepared
for them, this one, at least, was unexpected. "It's very strange," said
he, with ill-disguised embarrassment, "that I should have said such a
"Five persons heard you," insisted the magistrate.
The prisoner did not immediately reply. He was evidently trying to gain
time, ransacking in his mind for a plausible explanation. "After all,"
he ultimately said, "the thing's quite possible. When I was with M.
Simpson, we had with us an old soldier who had belonged to Napoleon's
body-guard and had fought at Waterloo. I recollect he was always
repeating that phrase. I must have caught the habit from him."
This explanation, though rather slow in coming, was none the less
ingenious. At least, M. Segmuller appeared to be perfectly satisfied.
"That's very plausible," said he; "but there is one circumstance that
passes my comprehension. Were you freed from your assailants before the
police entered the place? Answer me, yes or no."
"Then why, instead of making your escape by the back door, the existence
of which you had divined, did you remain on the threshold of the door
leading into the back room, with a table before you to serve as a
barricade, and your revolver leveled at the police, as if to keep them
The prisoner hung his head, and the magistrate had to wait for his
answer. "I was a fool," he stammered at last. "I didn't know whether
these men were police agents or friends of the fellows I had killed."
"In either case your own interest should have induced you to fly."
The prisoner remained silent.
"Ah, well!" resumed M. Segmuller, "let me tell you my opinion. I believe
you designedly and voluntarily exposed yourself to the danger of being
arrested in order to protect the retreat of the two women who had just
"Why should I have risked my own safety for two hussies I did not even
"Excuse me. The prosecution is strongly inclined to believe that you
know these two women very well."
"I should like to see any one prove that!" So saying, the prisoner
smiled sneeringly, but at once changed countenance when the magistrate
retorted in a tone of assurance: "I will prove it."
M. Segmuller certainly wished that a number had been branded upon the
enigmatical prisoner before him. And yet he did not by any means
despair, and his confidence, exaggerated though it might be, was not at
all feigned. He was of opinion that the weakest point of the prisoner's
defense so far was his pretended ignorance concerning the two women. He
proposed to return to this subject later on. In the mean while, however,
there were other matters to be dealt with.
When he felt that his threat as regards the women had had time to
produce its full effect, the magistrate continued: "So, prisoner, you
assert that you were acquainted with none of the persons you met at the
"I swear it."
"Have you never had occasion to meet a person called Lacheneur, an
individual whose name is connected with this unfortunate affair?"
"I heard the name for the first time when it was pronounced by the dying
soldier. Poor fellow! I had just dealt him his death blow; and yet his
last words testified to my innocence."
This sentimental outburst produced no impression whatever upon the
magistrate. "In that case," said he, "I suppose you are willing to
accept this soldier's statement."
The man hesitated, as if conscious that he had fallen into a snare, and
that he would be obliged to weigh each answer carefully. "I accept it,"
said he at last. "Of course I accept it."
"Very well, then. This soldier, as you must recollect, wished to revenge
himself on Lacheneur, who, by promising him a sum of money, had
inveigled him into a conspiracy. A conspiracy against whom? Evidently
against you; and yet you pretend that you had only arrived in Paris that
evening, and that mere chance brought you to the Poivriere. Can you
reconcile such conflicting statements?"
The prisoner had the hardihood to shrug his shoulders disdainfully. "I
see the matter in an entirely different light," said he. "These people
were plotting mischief against I don't know whom--and it was because I
was in their way that they sought a quarrel with me, without any cause
Skilfully as the magistrate had delivered this thrust, it had been as
skilfully parried; so skilfully, indeed, that Goguet, the smiling clerk,
could not conceal an approving grimace. Besides, on principle, he always
took the prisoner's part, in a mild, Platonic way, of course.
"Let us consider the circumstances that followed your arrest," resumed
M. Segmuller. "Why did you refuse to answer all the questions put to
A gleam of real or assumed resentment shone in the prisoner's eyes.
"This examination," he growled, "will alone suffice to make a culprit
out of an innocent man!"
"I advise you, in your own interest, to behave properly. Those who
arrested you observed that you were conversant with all the prison
formalities and rules."
"Ah! sir, haven't I told you that I have been arrested and put in prison
several times--always on account of my papers? I told you the truth, and
you shouldn't taunt me for having done so."
The prisoner had dropped his mask of careless gaiety, and had assumed
a surly, discontented tone. But his troubles were by no means ended; in
fact, the battle had only just begun. Laying a tiny linen bag on his
desk, M. Segmuller asked him if he recognized it.
"Perfectly! It is the package that the governor of the Depot placed in
The magistrate opened the bag, and poured the dust that it contained on
to a sheet of paper. "You are aware, prisoner," said he, "that this dust
comes from the mud that was sticking to your feet. The police agent who
collected it has been to the station-house where you spent the night of
the murder, and has discovered that the composition of this dust is
identical with that of the floor of the cell you occupied."
The prisoner listened with gaping mouth.
"Hence," continued the magistrate, "it was certainly at the
station-house, and designedly, that you soiled your feet with that mud.
In doing so you had an object."
"Let me finish. Being determined to keep your identity secret, and to
assume the character of a member of the lower classes--of a mountebank,
if you please--you reflected that the care you bestow upon your person
might betray you. You foresaw the impression that would be caused when
the coarse, ill-fitting boots you wore were removed, and the officials
perceived your trim, clean feet, which are as well kept as your hands.
Accordingly, what did you do? You poured some of the water that was in
the pitcher in your cell on to the ground and then dabbled your feet in
the mud that had thus been formed."
During these remarks the prisoner's face wore, by turns, an expression
of anxiety, astonishment, irony, and mirth. When the magistrate had
finished, he burst into a hearty laugh.
"So that's the result of twelve or fourteen hours' research," he at
length exclaimed, turning toward Lecoq. "Ah! Mr. Agent, it's good to be
sharp, but not so sharp as that. The truth is, that when I was taken to
the station-house, forty-eight hours--thirty-six of them spent in a
railway carriage--had elapsed since I had taken off my boots. My feet
were red and swollen, and they burned like fire. What did I do? I poured
some water over them. As for your other suspicions, if I have a soft
white skin, it is only because I take care of myself. Besides, as is
usual with most men of my profession, I rarely wear anything but
slippers on my feet. This is so true that, on leaving Leipsic, I only
owned a single pair of boots, and that was an old cast-off pair given
me by M. Simpson."
Lecoq struck his chest. "Fool, imbecile, idiot, that I am!" he thought.
"He was waiting to be questioned about this circumstance. He is so
wonderfully shrewd that, when he saw me take the dust, he divined my
intentions; and since then he has managed to concoct this story--a
plausible story enough--and one that any jury would believe."
M. Segmuller was saying the same thing to himself. But he was not so
surprised nor so overcome by the skill the prisoner had displayed in
fencing with this point. "Let us continue," said he. "Do you still
persist in your statements, prisoner?"
"Very well; then I shall be forced to tell you that what you are saying
The prisoner's lips trembled visibly, and it was with difficulty that
he faltered: "May my first mouthful of bread strangle me, if I have
uttered a single falsehood!"
"A single falsehood! Wait."
The magistrate drew from the drawer of his desk the molds of the
footprints prepared by Lecoq, and showing them to the murderer, he said:
"You told me a few minutes ago that the two women were as tall as
grenadiers; now, just look at the footprints made by these female
giants. They were as 'dark as moles,' you said; a witness will tell you
that one of them was a small, delicate-featured blonde, with an
exceedingly sweet voice." He sought the prisoner's eyes, gazed steadily
into them, and added slowly: "And this witness is the driver whose cab
was hired in the Rue de Chevaleret by the two fugitives, both short,
This sentence fell like a thunderbolt upon the prisoner; he grew pale,
tottered, and leaned against the wall for support.
"Ah! you have told me the truth!" scornfully continued the pitiless
magistrate. "Then, who is this man who was waiting for you while you
were at the Poivriere? Who is this accomplice who, after your arrest,
dared to enter the Widow Chupin's den to regain possession of some
compromising object--no doubt a letter--which he knew he would find in
the pocket of the Widow Chupin's apron? Who is this devoted, courageous
friend who feigned drunkenness so effectually that even the police were
deceived, and thoughtlessly placed him in confinement with you? Dare you
deny that you have not arranged your system of defense in concert with
him? Can you affirm that he did not give the Widow Chupin counsel as to
the course she should pursue?"
But already, thanks to his power of self-control, the prisoner had
mastered his agitation. "All this," said he, in a harsh voice, "is a
mere invention of the police!"
However faithfully one may describe an examination of this kind, a
narrative can convey no more idea of the real scene than a heap of cold
ashes can give the effect of a glowing fire. One can note down each
word, each ejaculation, but phraseology is powerless to portray the
repressed animation, the impassioned movements, the studied reticence,
the varied tones of voice, the now bold, now faltering glances, full of
hatred and suspicion, which follow each other in rapid succession,
mostly on the prisoner's side, but not entirely so, for although the
magistrate may be an adept in the art of concealing his feelings, at
times nature can not be controlled.
When the prisoner reeled beneath the magistrate's last words, the latter
could not control his feelings. "He yields," he thought, "he
succumbs--he is mine!"
But all hope of immediate success vanished when M. Segmuller saw his
redoubtable adversary struggle against his momentary weakness, and arm
himself for the fight with renewed, and, if possible, even greater
energy. The magistrate perceived that it would require more than one
assault to over-come such a stubborn nature. So, in a voice rendered
still more harsh by disappointment, he resumed: "It is plain that you
are determined to deny evidence itself."
The prisoner had recovered all his self-possession. He must have
bitterly regretted his weakness, for a fiendish spite glittered in his
eyes. "What evidence!" he asked, frowning. "This romance invented by the
police is very plausible, I don't deny it; but it seems to me that the
truth is quite as probable. You talk to me about a cabman whose vehicle
was hired by two short, fair-haired women: but who can prove that these
women were the same that fled from the Poivriere?"
"The police agent you see here followed the tracks they left across the
"Ah! at night-time--across fields intersected by ditches, and up a long
street--a fine rain falling all the while, and a thaw already beginning!
Oh, your story is very probable!"
As he spoke, the murderer extended his arm toward Lecoq, and then, in
a tone of crushing scorn, he added: "A man must have great confidence
in himself, or a wild longing for advancement, to try and get a man
guillotined on such evidence as that!"
At these words, Goguet, the smiling clerk, whose pen was rapidly flying
across the paper, could not help remarking to himself: "The arrow has
entered the bull's-eye this time!"
The comment was not without foundation: for Lecoq was evidently cut to
the quick. Indeed, he was so incensed that, forgetful of his subordinate
position, he sprang to his feet, exclaiming: "This circumstance would
be of slight importance if it were not one of a long chain--"
"Be good enough to keep silent," interrupted the magistrate, who,
turning to the prisoner, added: "The court does not utilize the proofs
and testimony collected by the police until it has examined and weighed
"No matter," murmured the prisoner. "I should like to see this
"Have no fear about that; he shall repeat his evidence in your presence."
"Very well. I am satisfied then. I will ask him how he can distinguish
people's faces when it is as dark as--"
He checked himself, apparently enlightened by a sudden inspiration.
"How stupid I am!" he exclaimed. "I'm losing my temper about these
people when you know all the while who they are. For of course the
cabmen drove them home."
M. Segmuller saw that the prisoner understood him. He perceived,
moreover, that the latter was doing all he could to increase the mystery
that enshrouded this essential point of the case--a point upon which the
prosecution was particularly anxious to obtain information.
The prisoner was truly an incomparable comedian, for his last
observation was made in a tone of remarkable candor, just tinged with
sufficient irony to show that he felt he had nothing to fear in this
"If you are consistent with yourself," remarked the magistrate, "you
will also deny the existence of an accomplice, of a--comrade."
"What would be the use denying it, since you believe nothing that I say?
Only a moment ago you insinuated that my former employer was an
imaginary personage; so what need I say about my pretended accomplice?
According to your agents, he's at all events a most faithful friend.
Indeed, this wonderful being--invented by Monsieur" (with these words
the prisoner pointed to Lecoq)--"was seemingly not satisfied at having
once escaped the police, for, according to your account, he voluntarily
placed himself in their clutches a second time. You gentlemen pretend
that he conferred first of all with me, and next with the Widow Chupin.
How did that happen? Perhaps after removing him from my cell, some of
your agents obligingly shut him up with the old woman."
Goguet, the clerk, wrote all this down admiringly. "Here," thought he,
"is a man of brain, who understands his case. He won't need any lawyer's
eloquence to put his defense favorably before a jury."
"And after all," continued the prisoner, "what are the proofs against
me? The name of Lacheneur faltered by a dying man; a few footprints on
some melting snow; a sleepy cab-driver's declaration; and a vague doubt
about a drunkard's identity. If that is all you have against me, it
certainly doesn't amount to much--"
"Enough!" interrupted M. Segmuller. "Your assurance is perfect now;
though a moment ago your embarrassment was most remarkable. What was the
cause of it?"
"The cause!" indignantly exclaimed the prisoner, whom this query had
seemingly enraged; "the cause! Can't you see, sir, that you are
torturing me frightfully, pitilessly! I am an innocent man, and you are
trying to deprive me of my life. You have been turning me this way and
that way for so many hours that I begin to feel as if I were standing
on the guillotine. Each time I open my mouth to speak I ask myself, is
it this answer that will send me to the scaffold? My anxiety and dismay
surprise you, do they? Why, since this examination began, I've felt the
cold knife graze my neck at least twenty times. I wouldn't like my worst
enemy to be subjected to such torture as this."
The prisoner's description of his sufferings did not seem at all
exaggerated. His hair was saturated with perspiration, and big drops of
sweat rested on his pallid brow, or coursed down his cheeks on to his
"I am not your enemy," said the magistrate more gently. "A magistrate
is neither a prisoner's friend nor enemy, he is simply the friend of
truth and the executor of the law. I am not seeking either for an
innocent man or for a culprit; I merely wish to arrive at the truth. I
must know who you are--and I do know--"
"Ah!--if the assertion costs me my life--I'm May and none other."
"No, you are not."
"Who am I then? Some great man in disguise? Ah! I wish I were! In that
case, I should have satisfactory papers to show you; and then you would
set me free, for you know very well, my good sir, that I am as innocent
as you are."
The magistrate had left his desk, and taken a seat by the fireplace
within a yard of the prisoner. "Do not insist," said he. Then, suddenly
changing both manner and tone, he added with the urbanity that a man of
the world displays when addressing an equal:
"Do me the honor, sir, to believe me gifted with sufficient perspicuity
to recognize, under the difficult part you play to such perfection, a
very superior gentleman--a man endowed with remarkable talents."
Lecoq perceived that this sudden change of manner had unnerved the
prisoner. He tried to laugh, but his merriment partook somewhat of the
nature of a sob, and big tears glistened in his eyes.
"I will not torture you any longer," continued the magistrate. "In
subtle reasoning I confess that you have conquered me. However, when I
return to the charge I shall have proofs enough in my possession to
He reflected for a moment, then lingering over each word, he added:
"Only do not then expect from me the consideration I have shown you
to-day. Justice is human; that is, she is indulgent toward certain
crimes. She has fathomed the depth of the abyss into which blind passion
may hurl even an honest man. To-day I freely offer you any assistance
that will not conflict with my duty. Speak, shall I send this officer
of police away? Would you like me to send my clerk out of the room, on
an errand?" He said no more, but waited to see the effect of this last
The prisoner darted upon him one of those searching glances that seem
to pierce an adversary through. His lips moved; one might have supposed
that he was about to make a revelation. But no; suddenly he crossed his
arms over his chest, and murmured: "You are very frank, sir.
Unfortunately for me, I'm only a poor devil, as I've already told you.
My name is May, and I earn my living by speaking to the public and
turning a compliment."
"I am forced to yield to your decision," said the magistrate sadly. "The
clerk will now read the minutes of your examination--listen."
While Goguet read the evidence aloud, the prisoner listened without
making any remark, but when asked to sign the document, he obstinately
refused to do so, fearing, he said, "some hidden treachery."
A moment afterward the soldiers who had escorted him to the magistrate's
room conducted him back to the Depot.
When the prisoner had gone, M. Segmuller sank back in his armchair,
literally exhausted. He was in that state of nervous prostration which
so often follows protracted but fruitless efforts. He had scarcely
strength enough to bathe his burning forehead and gleaming eyes with
cool, refreshing water.
This frightful examination had lasted no less than seven consecutive hours.
The smiling clerk, who had kept his place at his desk busily writing the
whole while, now rose to his feet, glad of an opportunity to stretch his
limbs and snap his fingers, cramped by holding the pen. Still, he was
not in the least degree bored. He invariably took a semi-theatrical
interest in the dramas that were daily enacted in his presence; his
excitement being all the greater owing to the uncertainty that shrouded
the finish of the final act--a finish that only too often belied the
ordinary rules and deductions of writers for the stage.
"What a knave!" he exclaimed after vainly waiting for the magistrate or
the detective to express an opinion, "what a rascal!"
M. Segmuller ordinarily put considerable confidence in his clerk's long
experience. He sometimes even went so far as to consult him, doubtless
somewhat in the same style that Moliere consulted his servant. But, on
this occasion he did not accept his opinion.
"No," said he in a thoughtful tone, "that man is not a knave. When I
spoke to him kindly he was really touched; he wept, he hesitated. I
could have sworn that he was about to tell me everything."
"Ah, he's a man of wonderful power!" observed Lecoq.
The detective was sincere in his praise. Although the prisoner had
disappointed his plans, and had even insulted him, he could not help
admiring his shrewdness and courage. He--Lecoq--had prepared himself
for a strenuous struggle with this man, and he hoped to conquer in the
end. Nevertheless in his secret soul he felt for his adversary, admiring
that sympathy which a "foeman worthy of one's steel" always inspires.
"What coolness, what courage!" continued the young detective. "Ah!
there's no denying it, his system of defense--of absolute denial--is a
masterpiece. It is perfect. How well he played that difficult part of
buffoon! At times I could scarcely restrain my admiration. What is a
famous comedian beside that fellow? The greatest actors need the adjunct
of stage scenery to support the illusion, whereas this man, entirely
unaided, almost convinced me even against my reason."
"Do you know what your very appropriate criticism proves?" inquired the
"I am listening, sir."
"Ah, well! I have arrived at this conclusion--either this man is really
May, the stroller, earning his living by paying compliments, as he
says--or else he belongs to the highest rank of society, and not to the
middle classes. It is only in the lowest or in the highest ranks that
you encounter such grim energy as he has displayed, such scorn of life,
as well as such remarkable presence of mind and resolution. A vulgar
tradesman attracted to the Poivriere by some shameful passion would have
confessed it long ago."
"But, sir, this man is surely not the buffoon, May," replied the young
"No, certainly not," responded M. Segmuller; "we must, therefore, decide
upon some plan of action." He smiled kindly, and added, in a friendly
voice: "It was unnecessary to tell you that, Monsieur Lecoq. Quite
unnecessary, since to you belongs the honor of having detected this
fraud. As for myself, I confess, that if I had not been warned in
advance, I should have been the dupe of this clever artist's talent."
The young detective bowed; a blush of modesty tinged his cheeks, but a
gleam of pleased vanity sparkled in his eyes. What a difference between
this friendly, benevolent magistrate and M. d'Escorval, so taciturn and
haughty. This man, at least, understood, appreciated, and encouraged
him; and it was with a common theory and an equal ardor that they were
about to devote themselves to a search for the truth. Scarcely had Lecoq
allowed these thoughts to flit across his mind than he reflected that
his satisfaction was, after all, a trifle premature, and that success
was still extremely doubtful. With this chilling conclusion, presence
of mind returned. Turning toward the magistrate, he exclaimed: "You will
recollect, sir, that the Widow Chupin mentioned a son of hers, a certain
"Why not question him? He must know all the frequenters of the
Poivriere, and might perhaps give us valuable information regarding
Gustave, Lacheneur, and the murderer himself. As he is not in solitary
confinement, he has probably heard of his mother's arrest; but it seems
to me impossible that he should suspect our present perplexity."
"Ah! you are a hundred times right!" exclaimed the magistrate. "I ought
to have thought of that myself. In his position he can scarcely have
been tampered with as yet, and I'll have him up here to-morrow morning;
I will also question his wife."
Turning to his clerk, M. Segmuller added: "Quick, Goguet, prepare a
summons in the name of the wife of Hippolyte Chupin, and address an
order to the governor of the Depot to produce her husband!"
But night was coming on. It was already too dark to see to write, and
accordingly the clerk rang the bell for lights. Just as the messenger
who brought the lamps turned to leave the room, a rap was heard at the
door. Immediately afterward the governor of the Depot entered.
During the past twenty-four hours this worthy functionary had been
greatly perplexed concerning the mysterious prisoner he had placed in
secret cell No. 3, and he now came to the magistrate for advice
regarding him. "I come to ask," said he, "if I am still to retain the
prisoner May in solitary confinement?"
"Although I fear fresh attacks of frenzy, I dislike to confine him in
the strait-jacket again."
"Leave him free in his cell," replied M. Segmuller; "and tell the
keepers to watch him well, but to treat him kindly."
By the provisions of Article 613 of the Code, accused parties are placed
in the custody of the government, but the investigating magistrate is
allowed to adopt such measures concerning them as he may deem necessary
for the interest of the prosecution.
The governor bowed assent to M. Segmuller's instructions, and then
added: "You have doubtless succeeded in establishing the prisoner's
"Unfortunately, I have not."
The governor shook his head with a knowing air. "In that case," said he,
"my conjectures were correct. It seems to me evident that this man is
a criminal of the worst description--an old offender certainly, and one
who has the strongest interest in concealing his identity. You will find
that you have to deal with a man who has been sentenced to the galleys
for life, and who has managed to escape from Cayenne."
"Perhaps you are mistaken."
"Hum! I shall be greatly surprised if such should prove the case. I must
admit that my opinion in this matter is identical with that of M.
Gevrol, the most experienced and the most skilful of our inspectors. I
agree with him in thinking that young detectives are often overzealous,
and run after fantoms originated in their own brains."
Lecoq, crimson with wrath, was about to make an angry response when M.
Segmuller motioned to him to remain silent. Then with a smile on his
face the magistrate replied to the governor. "Upon my word, my dear
friend," he said, "the more I study this affair, the more convinced I
am of the correctness of the theory advanced by the 'overzealous'
detective. But, after all, I am not infallible, and I shall depend upon
your counsel and assistance."
"Oh! I have means of verifying my assertion," interrupted the governor;
"and I hope before the end of the next twenty-four hours that our man
will have been identified, either by the police or by one of his
With these words he took his leave. Scarcely had he done so than Lecoq
sprang to his feet. The young detective was furious. "You see that
Gevrol already speaks ill of me; he is jealous."
"Ah, well! what does that matter to you? If you succeed, you will have
your revenge. If you are mistaken--then I am mistaken, too."
Then, as it was already late, M. Segmuller confided to Lecoq's keeping
the various articles the latter had accumulated in support of his
theory. He also placed in his hands the diamond earring, the owner of
which must be discovered; and the letter signed "Lacheneur," which had
been found in the pocket of the spurious soldier. Having given him full
instructions, he asked him to make his appearance promptly on the
morrow, and then dismissed him, saying: "Now go; and may good luck
Long, narrow, and low of ceiling, having on the one side a row of
windows looking on to a small courtyard, and on the other a range of
doors, each with a number on its central panel, thus reminding one of
some corridor in a second-rate hotel, such is the Galerie d'Instruction
at the Palais de Justice whereby admittance is gained into the various
rooms occupied by the investigating magistrates. Even in the daytime,
when it is thronged with prisoners, witnesses, and guards, it is a sad
and gloomy place. But it is absolutely sinister of aspect at night-time,
when deserted, and only dimly lighted by the smoky lamp of a solitary
attendant, waiting for the departure of some magistrate whom business
has detained later than usual.
Although Lecoq was not sensitive to such influences, he made haste to
reach the staircase and thus escape the echo of his footsteps, which
sounded most drearily in the silence and darkness pervading the gallery.
Finding an open window on the floor below, he looked out to ascertain
the state of the weather. The temperature was much milder; the snow had
altogether disappeared, and the pavement was almost dry. A slight haze,
illumined by the ruddy glare of the street lamps, hung like a purple
mantle over the city. The streets below were full of animation; vehicles
were rolling rapidly to and fro, and the footways were too narrow for
the bustling crowd, which, now that the labors of the day were ended,
was hastening homeward or in search of pleasure.
The sight drew a sigh from the young detective. "And it is in this great
city," he murmured, "in the midst of this world of people that I must
discover the traces of a person I don't even know! Is it possible to
accomplish such a feat?"
The feeling of despondency that had momentarily surprised him was not,
however, of long duration. "Yes, it is possible," cried an inward voice.
"Besides, it must be done; your future depends upon it. Where there's
a will, there's a way." Ten seconds later he was in the street, more
than ever inflamed with hope and courage.
Unfortunately, however, man can only place organs of limited power at
the disposal of his boundless desires; and Lecoq had not taken twenty
steps along the streets before he became aware that if the spirit was
willing, the flesh was weak. His limbs trembled, and his head whirled.
Nature was asserting her rights; during the last forty-eight hours, the
young detective had taken scarcely a moment's rest, and he had,
moreover, now passed an entire day without food.
"Am I going to be ill?" he thought, sinking on to a bench. And he
groaned inwardly on recapitulating all that he wished to do that
If he dealt only with the more important matters, must he not at once
ascertain the result of Father Absinthe's search after the man who had
recognized one of the victims at the Morgue; test the prisoner's
assertions regarding the box of clothes left at one of the hotels
surrounding the Northern Railway Station; and last, but not the least,
must he not procure the address of Polyte Chupin's wife, in order to
serve her with the summons to appear before M. Segmuller?
Under the power of urgent necessity, he succeeded in triumphing over his
attack of weakness, and rose, murmuring: "I will go first to the
Prefecture and to the Morgue; then I will see."
But he did not find Father Absinthe at the Prefecture, and no one could
give any tidings of him. He had not been there at all during the day.
Nor could any one indicate, even vaguely, the abode of the Widow
On the other hand, however, Lecoq met a number of his colleagues, who
laughed and jeered at him unmercifully. "Ah! you are a shrewd fellow!"
they said, "it seems that you have just made a wonderful discovery, and
it's said you are going to be decorated with the Legion of Honor."
Gevrol's influence betrayed itself everywhere. The jealous inspector had
taken pains to inform all his colleagues and subordinates that poor
Lecoq, crazed by ambition, persisted in declaring that a low, vulgar
murderer trying to escape justice was some great personage in disguise.
However, the jeers and taunts of which Lecoq was the object had but
little effect upon him, and he consoled himself with the reflection
that, "He laughs best who laughs last."
If he were restless and anxious as he walked along the Quai des
Orfevres, it was because he could not explain Father Absinthe's
prolonged absence, and because he feared that Gevrol, mad with jealousy,
might attempt, in some underhand way, to frustrate his, Lecoq's, efforts