Part 4 out of 6
to arrive at a solution of the mystery.
At the Morgue the young detective met with no better success than at the
Prefecture. After ringing three or four times, one of the keepers opened
the door and informed him that the bodies had not been identified, and
that the old police agent had not been seen since he went away early in
"This is a bad beginning," thought Lecoq. "I will go and get some
dinner--that, perhaps, will change the luck; at all events, I have
certainly earned the bottle of good wine to which I intend to treat
It was a happy thought. A hearty meal washed down with a couple of
glasses of Bordeaux sent new courage and energy coursing through his
veins. If he still felt a trifle weary, the sensation of fatigue was at
all events greatly diminished when he left the restaurant with a cigar
between his lips.
Just at that moment he longed for Father Papillon's trap and sturdy
steed. Fortunately, a cab was passing: he hired it, and as eight o'clock
was striking, alighted at the corner of the square in front of the
Northern Railway Station. After a brief glance round, he began his
search for the hotel where the murderer pretended to have left a box of
It must be understood that he did not present himself in his official
capacity. Hotel proprietors fight shy of detectives, and Lecoq was aware
that if he proclaimed his calling he would probably learn nothing at
all. By brushing back his hair and turning up his coat collar, he made,
however, a very considerable alteration in his appearance; and it was
with a marked English accent that he asked the landlords and servants
of various hostelries surrounding the station for information concerning
a "foreign workman named May."
He conducted his search with considerable address, but everywhere he
received the same reply.
"We don't know such a person; we haven't seen any one answering the
description you give of him."
Any other answer would have astonished Lecoq, so strongly persuaded was
he that the prisoner had only mentioned the circumstances of a trunk
left at one of these hotels in order to give a semblance of truth to his
narrative. Nevertheless he continued his investigation. If he noted down
in his memorandum book the names of all the hotels which he visited, it
was with a view of making sure of the prisoner's discomfiture when he
was conducted to the neighborhood and asked to prove the truth of his
Eventually, Lecoq reached the Hotel de Mariembourg, at the corner of the
Rue St. Quentin. The house was of modest proportions; but seemed
respectable and well kept. Lecoq pushed open the glass door leading into
the vestibule, and entered the office--a neat, brightly lighted room,
where he found a woman standing upon a chair, her face on a level with
a large bird cage, covered with a piece of black silk. She was repeating
three or four German words with great earnestness to the inmate of the
cage, and was so engrossed in this occupation that Lecoq had to make
considerable noise before he could attract her attention.
At length she turned her head, and the young detective exclaimed: "Ah!
good evening, madame; you are much interested, I see, in teaching your
parrot to talk."
"It isn't a parrot," replied the woman, who had not yet descended from
her perch; "but a starling, and I am trying to teach it to say 'Have you
breakfasted?' in German."
"What! can starlings talk?"
"Yes, sir, as well as you or I," rejoined the woman, jumping down from
Just then the bird, as if it had understood the question, cried very
distinctly: "Camille! Where is Camille?"
But Lecoq was too preoccupied to pay any further attention to the incident.
"Madame," he began, "I wish to speak to the proprietor of this hotel."
"I am the proprietor."
"Oh! very well. I was expecting a mechanic--from Leipsic--to meet me
here in Paris. To my great surprise, he has not made his appearance; and
I came to inquire if he was stopping here. His name is May."
"May!" repeated the hostess, thoughtfully. "May!"
"He ought to have arrived last Sunday evening."
The woman's face brightened. "Wait a moment," said she. "Was this friend
of yours a middle-aged man, of medium size, of very dark
complexion--wearing a full beard, and having very bright eyes?"
Lecoq could scarcely conceal his agitation. This was an exact
description of the supposed murderer. "Yes," he stammered, "that is a
very good portrait of the man."
"Ah, well! he came here on Shrove Sunday, in the afternoon. He asked for
a cheap room, and I showed him one on the fifth floor. The office-boy
was not here at the time, and he insisted upon taking his trunk upstairs
himself. I offered him some refreshments; but he declined to take
anything, saying that he was in a great hurry; and he went away after
giving me ten francs as security for the rent."
"Where is he now?" inquired the young detective.
"Dear me! that reminds me," replied the woman. "He has never returned,
and I have been rather anxious about him. Paris is such a dangerous
place for strangers! It is true he spoke French as well as you or I; but
what of that? Yesterday evening I gave orders that the commissary of
police should be informed of the matter."
"Yes. Still, I don't know whether the boy obeyed me. I had forgotten all
about it. Allow me to ring for the boy, and ask him."
A bucket of iced water falling upon Lecoq's head could not have
astonished him more than did this announcement from the proprietress of
the Hotel de Mariembourg. Had the prisoner indeed told the truth? Was
it possible? Gevrol and the governor of the prison were right, then, and
M. Segmuller and he, Lecoq, were senseless fools, pursuing a fantom.
These ideas flashed rapidly through the young detective's brain. But he
had no time for reflection. The boy who had been summoned now made his
appearance, and proved to be a big overgrown lad with frank, chubby
"Fritz," asked his mistress, "did you go to the commissary's office?"
"What did he say?"
"He was not in; but I spoke to his secretary, M. Casimir, who said you
were not to worry yourself, as the man would no doubt return."
"But he has not returned."
The boy rejoined, with a movement of the shoulders that plainly implied:
"How can I help that?"
"You hear, sir," said the hostess, apparently thinking the importunate
questioner would now withdraw.
Such, however, was not Lecoq's intention, and he did not even move,
though he had need of all his self-possession to retain his English
accent. "This is very annoying," said he, "very! I am even more anxious
and undecided than I was before, since I am not certain that this is the
man I am seeking for."
"Unfortunately, sir, I can tell you nothing more," calmly replied the
Lecoq reflected for a moment, knitting his brows and biting his lips,
as if he were trying to discover some means of solving the mystery. In
point of fact, he was seeking for some adroit phrase which might lead
this woman to show him the register in which all travelers are compelled
to inscribe their full names, profession, and usual residence. At the
same time, however, it was necessary that he should not arouse her
"But, madame," said he at last, "can't you remember the name this man
gave you? Was it May? Try to recollect if that was the name--May--May!"
"Ah! I have so many things to remember. But now I think of it, and the
name must be entered in my book, which, if it would oblige you, I can
show you. It is in the drawer of my writing-table. Whatever can I have
done with my keys?"
And while the hostess, who seemed to possess about as much intelligence
as her starling, was turning the whole office upside down looking for
her keys, Lecoq scrutinized her closely. She was about forty years of
age, with an abundance of light hair, and a very fair complexion. She
was well preserved--that is to say, she was plump and healthy in
appearance; her glance was frank and unembarrassed; her voice was clear
and musical, and her manners were pleasing, and entirely free from
"Ah!" she eventually exclaimed, "I have found those wretched keys at
last." So saying, she opened her desk, took out the register, laid it
on the table, and began turning over the leaves. At last she found the
"Sunday, February 20th," said she. "Look, sir: here on the seventh
line--May--no Christian name--foreign artist--coming from Leipsic--
While Lecoq was examining this record with a dazed air, the woman
exclaimed: "Ah! now I can explain how it happened that I forgot the
man's name and strange profession--'foreign artist.' I did not make the
"Who made it, then?"
"The man himself, while I was finding ten francs to give him as change
for the louis he handed me. You can see that the writing is not at all
like that of other entries."
Lecoq had already noted this circumstance, which seemed to furnish an
irrefutable argument in favor of the assertions made by the landlady and
the prisoner. "Are you sure," he asked, "that this is the man's
In his anxiety he had forgotten his English accent. The woman noticed
this at once, for she drew back, and cast a suspicious glance at the
pretended foreigner. "I know what I am saying," she said, indignantly.
"And now this is enough, isn't it?"
Knowing that he had betrayed himself, and thoroughly ashamed of his lack
of coolness, Lecoq renounced his English accent altogether. "Excuse me,"
he said, "if I ask one more question. Have you this man's trunk in your
"You would do me an immense service by showing it to me."
"Show it to you!" exclaimed the landlady, angrily. "What do you take me
for? What do you want? and who are you?"
"You shall know in half an hour," replied the young detective, realizing
that further persuasion would be useless.
He hastily left the room, ran to the Place de Roubaix, jumped into a
cab, and giving the driver the address of the district commissary of
police, promised him a hundred sous over and above the regular fare if
he would only make haste. As might have been expected under such
circumstances, the poor horse fairly flew over the ground.
Lecoq was fortunate enough to find the commissary at his office. Having
given his name, he was immediately ushered into the magistrate's
presence and told his story in a few words.
"It is really true that they came to inform me of this man's
disappearance," said the commissary. "Casimir told me about it this
"They--came--to inform--you--" faltered Lecoq.
"Yes, yesterday; but I have had so much to occupy my time. Now, my man,
how can I serve you?"
"Come with me, sir; compel them to show us the trunk, and send for a
locksmith to open it. Here is the authority--a search warrant given me
by the investigating magistrate to use in case of necessity. Let us lose
no time. I have a cab at the door."
"We will start at once," said the commissary.
The driver whipped up his horse once more, and they were soon rapidly
rolling in the direction of the Rue St. Quentin.
"Now, sir," said the young detective, "permit me to ask if you know this
woman who keeps the Hotel de Mariembourg?"
"Yes, indeed, I know her very well. When I was first appointed to this
district, six years ago, I was a bachelor, and for a long while I took
my meals at her table d'hote. Casimir, my secretary, boards there even
"And what kind of woman is she?"
"Why, upon my word, my young friend, Madame Milner--for such is her
name--is a very respectable widow (highly esteemed by her neighbors) and
having a very prosperous business. If she remains a widow, it is only
from choice, for she is very prepossessing and has plenty of suitors."
"Then you don't think her capable of serving, for the sake of a good
round sum, the interests of some wealthy culprit?"
"Have you gone mad?" interrupted the commissary. "What, Madame Milner
perjure herself for the sake of money! Haven't I just told you that she
is an honest woman, and that she is very well off! Besides, she informed
me yesterday that this man was missing, so--"
Lecoq made no reply; the driver was pulling up; they had reached their
On seeing her obstinate questioner reappear, accompanied by the commissary,
Madame Milner seemed to understand everything.
"Good heavens!" she exclaimed, "a detective! I might have guessed it!
Some crime has been committed; and now my hotel has lost its reputation
While a messenger was despatched for a locksmith, the commissary
endeavored to reassure and console her, a task of no little difficulty,
and which he was some time in accomplishing.
At last they all went up to the missing man's room, and Lecoq sprang
toward the trunk. Ah! there was no denying it. It had, indeed, come from
Leipsic; as the labels pasted upon it by the different railroad
companies only too plainly proved. On being opened, it was, moreover,
found to contain the various articles mentioned by the prisoner.
Lecoq was thunderstruck. When he had seen the commissary lock the trunk
and its contents up in a cupboard and take possession of the key, he
felt he could endure nothing more. He left the room with downcast head;
and stumbled like a drunken man as he went down the stairs.
Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, was very gay that year; that is to say,
all places of public resort were crowded. When Lecoq left the Hotel de
Mariembourg about midnight, the streets were as full as if it had been
noonday, and the cafes were thronged with customers.
But the young detective had no heart for pleasure. He mingled with the
crowd without seemingly seeing it, and jostled against groups of people
chatting at the corners, without hearing the imprecations occasioned by
his awkwardness. Where was he going? He had no idea. He walked
aimlessly, more disconsolate and desperate than the gambler who had
staked his last hope with his last louis, and lost.
"I must yield," he murmured; "this evidence is conclusive. My
presumptions were only chimeras; my deductions the playthings of chance!
All I can now do is to withdraw, with the least possible damage and
ridicule, from the false position I have assumed."
Just as he reached the boulevard, however, a new idea entered his brain,
an idea of so startling a kind that he could scarcely restrain a loud
exclamation of surprise. "What a fool I am!" cried he, striking his hand
violently against his forehead. "Is it possible to be so strong in
theory, and yet so ridiculously weak in practise? Ah! I am only a child,
a mere novice, disheartened by the slightest obstacle. I meet with a
difficulty, and at once I lose all my courage. Now, let me reflect
calmly. What did I tell the judge about this murderer, whose plan of
defense so puzzles us? Did I not tell him that we had to deal with a man
of superior talent--with a man of consummate penetration and
experience--a bold, courageous fellow of imperturbable coolness, who
will do anything to insure the success of his plans? Yes; I told him all
that, and yet I give up the game in despair as soon as I meet with a
single circumstance that I can not instantly explain. It is evident that
such a prisoner would not resort to old, hackneyed, commonplace
expedients. Time, patience, and research are requisite to find a flaw
in his defense. With such a man as he is, the more appearances are
against my presumptions, and in favor of his narrative, the more certain
it is that I am right--or else logic is no longer logic."
At this thought, Lecoq burst into a hearty laugh. "Still," continued he,
"it would perhaps be premature to expose this theory at headquarters in
Gevrol's presence. He would at once present me with a certificate for
admission into some lunatic asylum."
The young detective paused. While absorbed in thought, his legs, obeying
an instinctive impulse, had brought him to his lodgings. He rang the
bell; the door opened, and he groped his way slowly up to the fourth
floor. He had reached his room, and was about to enter, when some one,
whom he could not distinguish in the dark, called out: "Is that you,
"Yes, it's I!" replied the young man, somewhat surprised; "but who are
"I'm Father Absinthe."
"Oh! indeed! Well, you are welcome! I didn't recognize your voice--will
you come in?"
They entered the room, and Lecoq lit a candle. Then the young man could
see his colleague, and, good heavens! he found him in a most pitiable
He was as dirty and as bespattered with mud as a lost dog that has been
wandering about in the rain and the mire for a week at the very least.
His overcoat bore the traces of frequent contact with damp walls; his
hat had lost its form entirely. His eyes wore an anxious look, and his
mustache drooped despondently. He spoke, moreover, so strangely that one
might have supposed his mouth was full of sand.
"Do you bring me bad news?" inquired Lecoq, after a short examination
of his companion.
"The people you were following escaped you, then?"
The old man nodded his head affirmatively.
"It is unfortunate--very unfortunate!" said Lecoq. "But it is useless
to distress ourselves about it. Don't be so cast down, Father Absinthe.
To-morrow, between us, we will repair the damage."
This friendly encouragement only increased the old man's evident
embarrassment. He blushed, this veteran, as if he had been a schoolgirl,
and raising his hands toward heaven, he exclaimed: "Ah, you wretch!
didn't I tell you so?"
"Why! what is the matter with you?" inquired Lecoq.
Father Absinthe made no reply. Approaching a looking-glass that hung
against the wall, he surveyed himself reproachfully and began to heap
cruel insults upon the reflection of his features.
"You old good-for-nothing!" he exclaimed. "You vile deserter! have you
no shame left? You were entrusted with a mission, were you not? And how
have you fulfilled it? You have got drunk, you old wretch, so drunk as
to have lost your wits. Ah, you shan't escape punishment this time, for
even if M. Lecoq is indulgent, you shan't taste another drop for a week.
Yes, you old sot, you shall suffer for this escapade."
"Come, come," said Lecoq, "you can sermonize by and by. Now tell me your
"Ah! I am not proud of it, believe me. However, never mind. No doubt you
received the letter in which I told you I was going to follow the young
men who seemed to recognize Gustave?"
"Yes, yes--go on!"
"Well, as soon as they entered the cafe, into which I had followed them,
they began drinking, probably to drive away their emotion. After that
they apparently felt hungry. At all events they ordered breakfast. I
followed their example. The meal, with coffee and beer afterward, took
up no little time, and indeed a couple of hours had elapsed before they
were ready to pay their bill and go. Good! I supposed they would now
return home. Not at all. They walked down the Rue Dauphin; and I saw
them enter another cafe. Five minutes later I glided in after them; and
found them already engaged in a game of billiards."
At this point Father Absinthe hesitated; it is no easy task to recount
one's blunders to the very person who has suffered by them.
"I seated myself at a little table," he eventually resumed, "and asked
for a newspaper. I was reading with one eye and watching with the other,
when a respectable-looking man entered, and took a seat beside me. As
soon as he had seated himself he asked me to let him have the paper when
I had finished with it. I handed it to him, and then we began talking
about the weather. At last he proposed a game of bezique. I declined,
but we afterward compromised the matter by having a game of piquet. The
young men, you understand, were still knocking the balls about. We began
by playing for a glass of brandy each. I won. My adversary asked for his
revenge, and we played two games more. I still kept on winning. He
insisted upon another game, and again I won, and still I drank--and
"Go on, go on."
"Ah! here's the rub. After that I remember nothing--nothing either about
the man I had been playing with or the young men. It seems to me,
however, that I recollect falling asleep in the cafe, and that a long
while afterward a waiter came and woke me and told me to go. Then I must
have wandered about along the quays until I came to my senses, and
decided to go to your lodgings and wait on the stairs until you
To Father Absinthe's great surprise, Lecoq seemed rather thoughtful than
angry. "What do you think about this chance acquaintance of yours,
papa?" asked the young detective.
"I think he was following me while I was following the others, and that
he entered the cafe with the view of making me drunk."
"What was he like?"
"Oh, he was a tall, stoutish man, with a broad, red face, and a flat
nose; and he was very unpretending and affable in manner.
"It was he!" exclaimed Lecoq.
"Why, the accomplice--the man whose footprints we discovered--the
pretended drunkard--a devil incarnate, who will get the best of us yet,
if we don't keep our eyes open. Don't you forget him, papa; and if you
ever meet him again--"
But Father Absinthe's confession was not ended. Like most devotees, he
had reserved the worst sin for the last.
"But that's not all," he resumed; "and as it's best to make a clean
breast of it, I will tell you that it seems to me this traitor talked
about the affair at the Poivriere, and that I told him all we had
discovered, and all we intended to do."
Lecoq made such a threatening gesture that the old tippler drew back in
consternation. "You wretched man!" exclaimed the young detective, "to
betray our plans to the enemy!"
But his calmness soon returned. If at first sight the evil seemed to be
beyond remedy, on further thought it had a good side after all. It
sufficed to dispel all the doubts that had assailed Lecoq's mind after
his visit to the Hotel de Mariembourg.
"However," quoth our hero, "this is not the time for deliberation. I am
overcome with fatigue; take a mattress from the bed for yourself, my
friend, and let us get a little sleep."
Lecoq was a man of considerable forethought. Hence, before going to bed
he took good care to wind up his alarm so that it might wake him at six
o'clock. "With that to warn us," he remarked to his companion, as he
blew out the candle, "there need be no fear of our missing the coach."
He had not, however, made allowance for his own extreme weariness or for
the soporific effect of the alcoholic fumes with which his comrade's
breath was redolent. When six o'clock struck at the church of St.
Eustache, the young detective's alarm resounded faithfully enough, with
a loud and protracted whir. Shrill and sonorous as was the sound, it
failed, however, to break the heavy sleep of the two detectives. They
would indeed, in all probability, have continued slumbering for several
hours longer, if at half-past seven a sturdy fist had not begun to rap
loudly at the door. With one bound Lecoq was out of bed, amazed at
seeing the bright sunlight, and furious at the futility of his
"Come in!" he cried to his early visitor. He had no enemies to fear, and
could, without danger, sleep with his door unlocked.
In response to his call, Father Papillon's shrewd face peered into the
"Ah! it is my worthy coachman!" exclaimed Lecoq. "Is there anything new?"
"Excuse me, but it's the old affair that brings me here," replied our
eccentric friend the cabman. "You know--the thirty francs those wretched
women paid me. Really, I shan't sleep in peace till you have worked off
the amount by using my vehicle. Our drive yesterday lasted two hours and
a half, which, according to the regular fare, would be worth a hundred
sous; so you see I've still more than twelve hours at your disposal."
"That is all nonsense, my friend!"
"Possibly, but I am responsible for it, and if you won't use my cab,
I've sworn to spend those twelve hours waiting outside your door. So now
make up your mind." He gazed at Lecoq beseechingly, and it was evident
that a refusal would wound him keenly.
"Very well," replied Lecoq, "I will take you for the morning, only I
ought to warn you that we are starting on a long journey."
"Oh, Cocotte's legs may be relied upon."
"My companion and myself have business in your own neighborhood. It is
absolutely necessary for us to find the Widow Chupin's daughter-in-law;
and I hope we shall be able to obtain her address from the police
commissary of the district where the Poivriere is situated."
"Very well, we will go wherever you wish; I am at your orders."
A few moments later they were on their way.
Papillon's features wore an air of self-satisfied pride as, sitting
erect on his box, he cracked his whip, and encouraged the nimble
Cocotte. The vehicle could not have got over the ground more rapidly if
its driver had been promised a hundred sous' gratuity.
Father Absinthe alone was sad. He had been forgiven by Lecoq, but he
could not forget that he, an old police agent, had been duped as easily
as if he had been some ignorant provincial. The thought was humiliating,
and then in addition he had been fool enough to reveal the secret plans
of the prosecution! He knew but too well that this act of folly had
doubled the difficulties of Lecoq's task.
The long drive in Father Papillon's cab was not a fruitless one. The
secretary of the commissary of police for the thirteenth arrondissement
informed Lecoq that Polyte Chupin's wife lived with her child, in the
suburbs, in the Rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles. He could not indicate the
precise number, but he described the house and gave them some
information concerning its occupants.
The Widow Chupin's daughter-in-law, a native of Auvergne, had been
bitterly punished for preferring a rakish Parisian ragamuffin to one of
the grimy charcoal-burners of the Puy de Dome. She was hardly more than
twelve years of age when she first came to Paris and obtained employment
in a large factory. After ten years' privation and constant toil, she
had managed to amass, sou by sou, the sum of three thousand francs. Then
her evil genius threw Polyte Chupin across her path. She fell in love
with this dissipated, selfish rascal; and he married her for the sake
of her little hoard.
As long as the money lasted, that is, for some three or four months,
matters went on pleasantly enough. But as soon as the last franc had
been spent, Polyte left his wife, and complacently resumed his former
life of idleness, thieving, and debauchery. When at times he returned
home, it was merely with the view of robbing his wife of what little
money she might have saved in the mean while; and periodically she
uncomplainingly allowed him to despoil her of the last penny of her
Horrible to relate, this unworthy rascal even tried to trade on her good
looks. Here, however, he met with a strenuous resistance--a resistance
which excited not merely his own ire, but also the hatred of the
villain's mother--that old hag, the Widow Chupin. The result was that
Polyte's wife was subjected to such incessant cruelty and persecution
that one night she was forced to fly with only the rags that covered
her. The Chupins--mother and son--believed, perhaps, that starvation
would effect what their horrible threats and insidious counsel had
failed to accomplish. Their shameful expectations were not, however,
In mentioning these facts to Lecoq, the commissary's secretary added
that they had become widely known, and that the unfortunate creature's
force of character had won for her general respect. Among those she
frequented, moreover, she was known by the nickname of "Toinon the
Virtuous"--a rather vulgar but, at all events, sincere tribute to her
Grateful for this information, Lecoq returned to the cab. The Rue de la
Butte-aux-Cailles, whither Papillon was now directed to drive, proved
to be very unlike the Boulevard Malesherbes, and one brief glance
sufficed to show that opulence had not here fixed its abode. Luck seemed
for the moment to have turned in Lecoq's favor. At all events, when he
and Father Absinthe alighted at the corner of the street, it so happened
that the very first person the young detective questioned concerning the
virtuous Toinon was well acquainted with her whereabouts. The house in
which she resided was pointed out, and Lecoq was instructed to go
upstairs to the top floor, and knock at the door in front of him. With
such precise directions the two detectives speedily reached Madame
Polyte Chupin's abode.
This proved to be a cold and gloomy attic of medium size, windowless,
but provided with a small skylight. A straw pallet, a broken table, two
chairs, and a few plain kitchen utensils constituted the sole
appointments of this miserable garret. But in spite of the occupant's
evident poverty, everything was neat and clean, and to use a forcible
expression that fell from Father Absinthe, one could have eaten off the
The two detectives entered, and found a woman busily engaged in making
a heavy linen sack. She was seated in the centre of the room, directly
under the skylight, so that the sun's rays might fall upon her work. At
the sight of two strangers, she half rose from her chair, surprised, and
perhaps a little frightened; but when Lecoq had explained that they
desired a few moments' conversation with her, she gave up her own seat,
and drawing the second chair from a corner, invited both detectives to
sit down. Lecoq complied, but Father Absinthe declared that he preferred
to remain standing.
With a single glance Lecoq took an inventory of the humble abode, and,
so to speak, appraised the woman. She was short, stout, and of
commonplace appearance. Her forehead was extremely low, being crowned
by a forest of coarse, black hair; while the expression of her large,
black eyes, set very close together, recalled the look of patient
resignation one so often detects in ill-treated and neglected animals.
Possibly, in former days, she might have possessed that fleeting
attraction called the /beaute du diable/; but now she looked almost as old
as her wretched mother-in-law. Sorrow and privation, excessive toil and
ill-treatment, had imparted to her face a livid hue, reddening her eyes
and stamping deep furrows round about her temples. Still, there was an
attribute of native honesty about her which even the foul atmosphere in
which she had been compelled to live had not sufficed to taint.
Her little boy furnished a striking contrast. He was pale and puny; his
eyes gleamed with a phosphorescent brilliancy; and his hair was of a
faded flaxen tint. One little circumstance attracted both detectives'
attention. If the mother was attired in an old, thin, faded calico
dress, the child was warmly clad in stout woolen material.
"Madame, you have doubtless heard of a dreadful crime, committed in your
mother-in-law's establishment," began Lecoq in a soft voice.
"Alas! yes, sir," replied Toinon the Virtuous, quickly adding: "But my
husband could not have been implicated in it, since he is in prison."
Did not this objection, forestalling, as it were, suspicion, betray the
most horrible apprehensions?
"Yes, I am aware of that," replied Lecoq. "Polyte was arrested a
"Yes, and very unjustly, sir," replied the neglected wife. "He was led
astray by his companions, wicked, desperate men. He is so weak when he
has taken a glass of wine that they can do whatever they like with him.
If he were only left to himself he would not harm a child. You have only
to look at him--"
As she spoke, the virtuous Toinon turned her red and swollen eyes to a
miserable photograph hanging against the wall. This blotchy smudge
portrayed an exceedingly ugly, dissipated-looking young man, afflicted
with a terrible squint, and whose repulsive mouth was partially
concealed by a faint mustache. This rake of the barrieres was Polyte
Chupin. And yet despite his unprepossessing aspect there was no
mistaking the fact that this unfortunate woman loved him--had always
loved him; besides, he was her husband.
A moment's silence followed her indication of the portrait--an act
which clearly revealed how deeply she worshiped her persecutor; and
during this pause the attic door slowly and softly opened. Not of
itself, however, for suddenly a man's head peered in. The intruder,
whoever he was, instantly withdrew, uttering as he did so a low
exclamation. The door was swiftly closed again; the key--which had been
left on the outside--grated in the lock, and the occupants of the garret
could hear hurried steps descending the stairs.
Lecoq was sitting with his back to the door, and could not, therefore,
see the intruder's face. Quickly as he had turned, he had failed to see
who it was: and yet he was far from being surprised at the incident.
Intuition explained its meaning.
"That must have been the accomplice!" he cried.
Thanks to his position, Father Absinthe had seen the man's face. "Yes,"
said he, "yes, it was the same man who made me drink with him
With a bound, both detectives threw themselves against the door,
exhausting their strength in vain attempts to open it. It resisted all
their efforts, for it was of solid oak, having been purchased by the
landlord from some public building in process of demolition, and it was,
moreover, furnished with a strong and massive fastening.
"Help us!" cried Father Absinthe to the woman, who stood petrified with
astonishment; "give us a bar, a piece of iron, a nail--anything!"
The younger man was making frantic efforts to push back the bolt, or to
force the lock from the wood. He was wild with rage. At last, having
succeeded in forcing the door open, they dashed out in pursuit of their
mysterious adversary. On reaching the street, they eagerly questioned
the bystanders. Having described the man as best they could, they found
two persons who had seen him enter the house of Toinon the Virtuous, and
a third who had seen him as he left. Some children who were playing in
the middle of the street added that he had run off in the direction of
the Rue du Moulin-des-Pres as fast as his legs could carry him. It was
in this street, near the corner of the Rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles, that
Lecoq had left old Papillon waiting with the cab.
"Let us hasten there!" proposed Father Absinthe; "perhaps Papillon can
give us some information."
But Lecoq shook his head despondently. He would go no further. "It would
be of no use," he said. "He had sufficient presence of mind to turn the
key in the lock, and that saved him. He is at least ten minutes in
advance of us, and we should never overtake him."
Father Absinthe could not restrain his anger. He looked upon this
mysterious accomplice who had so cruelly duped him as a personal enemy,
and he would willingly have given a month's pay to be able to lay his
hand on his shoulder. Lecoq was quite as angry as his subordinate, and
his vanity was likewise wounded; he felt, however, that coolness and
deliberation were necessary.
"Yes," said he thoughtfully, "he's a shrewd and daring fellow--a perfect
demon. He doesn't remain idle. If we are working, he's at work too. No
matter what side I turn, I find him on the defensive. He foiled you,
papa, in your effort to obtain a clue concerning Gustave's identity; and
he made me appear a fool in arranging that little comedy at the Hotel
de Mariembourg. His diligence has been wonderful. He has hitherto been
in advance of us everywhere, and this fact explains the failures that
have attended all my efforts. Here we arrive before him. But if he came
here, it was because he scented danger. Hence, we may hope. Now let us
get back and question Polyte's wife."
Alas! poor Toinon the Virtuous did not understand the affair at all. She
had remained upstairs, holding her child by the hand, and leaning over
the baluster; her mind in great perplexity and her eyes and ears on the
alert. As soon as she perceived the two detectives coming up the stairs
again, she hastened down to meet them. "In the name of heaven, what does
this all mean?" she asked. "Whatever has happened?"
But Lecoq was not the man to tell his business on a landing, with
inquisitive ears all around him, and before he answered Toinon he made
her go up into her own garret, and securely close the door.
"We started in pursuit of a man who is implicated in the murders at the
Poivriere," he said; "one who came here hoping to find you alone, who
was frightened at seeing us."
"A murderer!" faltered Toinon, with clasped hands. "What could he want
"Who knows? It is very probable that he is one of your husband's friends."
"Why, did you not tell me just now that Polyte had some very undesirable
acquaintances? But don't be alarmed; this does not compromise him in the
least. Besides, you can very easily clear him of all suspicion."
"How? In what way? Oh, tell me at once."
"Merely by answering me frankly, and by assisting me to find the guilty
party. Now, among your husband's friends, don't you know any who might
be capable of such a deed? Give me the names of his acquaintances."
The poor woman's hesitation was evident; undoubtedly she had been
present at many sinister cabals, and had been threatened with terrible
punishment if she dared to disclose the plans formed by Polyte or his
"You have nothing to fear," said Lecoq, encouragingly, "and I promise
you no one shall ever know that you have told me a word. Very probably
you can tell me nothing more than I know already. I have heard a great
deal about your former life, and the brutality with which Polyte and his
mother have treated you."
"My husband has never treated me brutally," said the young woman,
indignantly; "besides, that matter would only concern myself."
"And your mother-in-law?"
"She is, perhaps, a trifle quick-tempered; but in reality she has a good
"Then, if you were so happy at the Widow Chupin's house, why did you fly
Toinon the Virtuous turned scarlet to the very roots of her hair. "I
left for other reasons," she replied. "There were always a great many
drunken men about the house; and, sometimes, when I was alone, some of
them tried to carry their pleasantry too far. You may say that I have
a solid fist of my own, and that I am quite capable of protecting
myself. That's true. But while I was away one day some fellows were
wicked enough to make this child drink to such an excess that when I
came home I found him as stiff and cold as if he were dead. It was
necessary to fetch a doctor or else--"
She suddenly paused; her eyes dilated. From red she turned livid, and
in a hoarse, unnatural voice, she cried: "Toto! wretched child!"
Lecoq looked behind him, and shuddered. He understood everything. This
child--not yet five years old--had stolen up behind him, and, ferreting
in the pockets of his overcoat, had rifled them of their contents.
"Ah, well--yes!" exclaimed the unfortunate mother, bursting into tears.
"That's how it was. Directly the child was out of my sight, they used
to take him into town. They took him into the crowded streets, and
taught him to pick people's pockets, and bring them everything he could
lay his hands on. If the child was detected they were angry with him and
beat him; and if he succeeded they gave him a sou to buy some sweets,
and kept what he had taken."
The luckless Toinon hid her face in her hands, and sobbed in an almost
unintelligible voice: "Ah, I did not wish my little one to be a thief."
But what this poor creature did not tell was that the man who had led
the child out into the streets, to teach him to steal, was his own
father, and her husband--the ruffian, Polyte Chupin. The two detectives
plainly understood, however, that such was the case, and the father's
crime was so horrible, and the woman's grief so great, that, familiar
as they were with all the phases of crime, their very hearts were
touched. Lecoq's main thought, however, was to shorten this painful
scene. The poor mother's emotion was a sufficient guarantee of her
"Listen," said he, with affected harshness. "Two questions only, and
then I will leave you. Was there a man named Gustave among the
frequenters of the Poivriere?"
"No, sir, I'm quite sure there wasn't."
"Very well. But Lacheneur--you must know Lacheneur!"
"Yes, sir; I know him."
The young police agent could not repress an exclamation of delight. "At
last," thought he, "I have a clue that may lead me to the truth. What
kind of man is he?" he asked with intense anxiety.
"Oh! he is not at all like the other men who come to drink at my
mother-in-law's shop. I have only seen him once; but I remember him
perfectly. It was on a Sunday. He was in a cab. He stopped at the corner
of the waste ground and spoke to Polyte. When he went away, my husband
said to me: 'Do you see that old man there? He will make all our
fortunes.' I thought him a very respectable-looking gentleman--"
"That's enough," interrupted Lecoq. "Now it is necessary for you to tell
the investigating magistrate all you know about him. I have a cab
downstairs. Take your child with you, if you like; but make haste; come,
The extreme uncertainty of the result was another attraction for M.
Segmuller's investigating mind. Given the magnitude of the difficulties
that were to be overcome, he rightly considered that if his efforts
proved successful, he would have achieved a really wonderful victory.
And, assisted by such a man as Lecoq, who had a positive genius for his
calling, and in whom he recognized a most valuable auxiliary, he really
felt confident of ultimate success.
Even on returning home after the fatiguing labors of the day he did not
think of freeing himself from the burden of responsibility in relation
to the business he had on hand, or of driving away care until the
morrow. He dined in haste, and as soon as he had swallowed his coffee
began to study the case with renewed ardor. He had brought from his
office a copy of the prisoner's narrative, which he attentively perused,
not once or twice, but several times, seeking for some weak point that
might be attacked with a probability of success. He analyzed every
answer, and weighed one expression after another, striving, as he did
so, to find some flaw through which he might slip a question calculated
to shatter the structure of defense. He worked thus, far into the night,
and yet he was on his legs again at an early hour in the morning. By
eight o'clock he was not merely dressed and shaved, he had not merely
taken his matutinal chocolate and arranged his papers, but he was
actually on his way to the Palais de Justice. He had quite forgotten
that his own impatience was not shared by others.
In point of fact, the Palais de Justice was scarcely awake when he
arrived there. The doors had barely opened. The attendants were busy
sweeping and dusting; or changing their ordinary garments for their
official costumes. Some of them standing in the windows of the long
dressing room were shaking and brushing the judges' and advocates'
gowns; while in the great hall several clerks stood in a group, chaffing
each other while waiting for the arrival of the head registrar and the
opening of the investigation offices.
M. Segmuller thought that he had better begin by consulting the public
prosecutor, but he discovered that this functionary had not yet arrived.
Angry and impatient, he proceeded to his own office; and with his eyes
fixed on the clock, growled at the slowness of the minute hand. Just
after nine o'clock, Goguet, the smiling clerk, put in an appearance and
speedily learned the kind of humor his master was in.
"Ah, you've come at last," gruffly ejaculated M. Segmuller, momentarily
oblivious of the fact that he himself scarcely ever arrived before ten,
and that a quarter-past nine was certainly early for his clerk.
Goguet's curiosity had indeed prompted him to hurry to the Palais;
still, although well aware that he did not deserve a reprimand, he
endeavored to mumble an excuse--an excuse cut short by M. Segmuller in
such unusually harsh tones that for once in a way Goguet's habitual
smile faded from his face. "It's evident," thought he, "that the wind's
blowing from a bad quarter this morning," with which reflection he
philosophically put on his black sleeves and going to his table
pretended to be absorbed in the task of mending his pens and preparing
In the mean while, M. Segmuller who was usually calmness personified,
and dignity par excellence, paced restlessly to and fro. At times he
would sit down and then suddenly spring to his feet again, gesticulating
impatiently as he did so. Indeed, he seemed unable to remain quiet for
"The prosecution is evidently making no headway," thought the clerk.
"May's prospects are encouraging." Owing to the magistrate's harsh
reception the idea delighted him; and, indeed, letting his rancor have
the upper hand, Goguet actually offered up a prayer that the prisoner
might get the better of the fight.
From half-past nine till ten o'clock M. Segmuller rang for his messenger
at least five times, and each time he asked him the same questions: "Are
you sure that M. Lecoq has not been here this morning? Inquire! If he
has not been here he must certainly have sent some one, or else have
written to me."
Each time the astonished doorkeeper replied: "No one has been here, and
there is no letter for you."
Five identical negative answers to the same inquiries only increased the
magistrate's wrath and impatience. "It is inconceivable!" he exclaimed.
"Here I am upon coals of fire, and that man dares to keep me waiting.
Where can he be?"
At last he ordered a messenger to go and see if he could not find Lecoq
somewhere in the neighborhood; perhaps in some restaurant or cafe. "At
all events, he must be found and brought back immediately," said he.
When the man had started, M. Segmuller began to recover his composure.
"We must not lose valuable time," he said to his clerk. "I was to
examine the widow Chupin's son. I had better do so now. Go and tell them
to bring him to me. Lecoq left the order at the prison."
In less than a quarter of an hour Polyte entered the room. From head to
foot, from his lofty silk cap to his gaudy colored carpet slippers, he
was indeed the original of the portrait upon which poor Toinon the
Virtuous had lavished such loving glances. And yet the photograph was
flattering. The lens had failed to convey the expression of low cunning
that distinguished the man's features, the impudence of his leering
smile, and the mingled cowardice and ferocity of his eyes, which never
looked another person in the face. Nor could the portrait depict the
unwholesome, livid pallor of his skin, the restless blinking of his
eyelids, and the constant movement of his thin lips as he drew them
tightly over his short, sharp teeth. There was no mistaking his nature;
one glance and he was estimated at his worth.
When he had answered the preliminary questions, telling the magistrate
that he was thirty years of age, and that he had been born in Paris, he
assumed a pretentious attitude and waited to see what else was coming.
But before proceeding with the real matter in hand, M. Segmuller wished
to relieve the complacent scoundrel of some of his insulting assurance.
Accordingly, he reminded Polyte, in forcible terms, that his sentence
in the affair in which he was now implicated would depend very much upon
his behavior and answers during the present examination.
Polyte listened with a nonchalant and even ironical air. In fact, this
indirect threat scarcely touched him. Having previously made inquiries
he had ascertained that he could not be condemned to more than six
months' imprisonment for the offense for which he had been arrested; and
what did a month more or less matter to him?
The magistrate, who read this thought in Polyte's eyes, cut his preamble
short. "Justice," said he, "now requires some information from you
concerning the frequenters of your mother's establishment."
"There are a great many of them, sir," answered Polyte in a harsh voice.
"Do you know one of them named Gustave?"
To insist would probably awaken suspicion in Polyte's mind; accordingly, M.
Segmuller continued: "You must, however, remember Lacheneur?"
"Lacheneur? No, this is the first time I've heard that name."
"Take care. The police have means of finding out a great many things."
The scapegrace did not flinch. "I am telling the truth, sir," he
retorted. "What interest could I possibly have in deceiving you?"
Scarcely had he finished speaking than the door suddenly opened and
Toinon the Virtuous entered the room, carrying her child in her arms.
On perceiving her husband, she uttered a joyful exclamation, and sprang
toward him. But Polyte, stepping back, gave her such a threatening
glance that she remained rooted to the spot.
"It must be an enemy who pretends that I know any one named Lacheneur!"
cried the barriere bully. "I should like to kill the person who uttered
such a falsehood. Yes, kill him; I will never forgive it."
The messenger whom M. Segmuller had instructed to go in search of Lecoq
was not at all displeased with the errand; for it enabled him to leave
his post and take a pleasant little stroll through the neighborhood. He
first of all proceeded to the Prefecture of Police, going the longest
way round as a matter of course, but, on reaching his destination, he
could find no one who had seen the young detective.
Accordingly, M. Segmuller's envoy retraced his steps, and leisurely
sauntered through the restaurants, cafes, and wine shops installed in
the vicinity of the Palais de Justice, and dependent on the customers
it brought them. Being of a conscientious turn of mind, he entered each
establishment in succession and meeting now and again various
acquaintances, he felt compelled to proffer and accept numerous glasses
of the favorite morning beverage--white wine. Turn which way he would,
however, loiter as long as he might, there were still no signs of Lecoq.
He was returning in haste, a trifle uneasy on account of the length of
his absence, when he perceived a cab pull up in front of the Palais
gateway. A second glance, and oh, great good fortune, he saw Lecoq,
Father Absinthe, and the virtuous Toinon alight from this very vehicle.
His peace of mind at once returned; and it was in a very important and
somewhat husky tone that he delivered the order for Lecoq to follow him
without a minute's delay. "M. Segmuller has asked for you a number of
times," said he, "He has been extremely impatient, and he is in a very
bad humor, so you may expect to have your head snapped off in the most
Lecoq smiled as he went up the stairs. Was he not bringing with him the
most potent of justifications? He thought of the agreeable surprise he
had in store for the magistrate, and fancied he could picture the sudden
brightening of that functionary's gloomy face.
And yet, fate so willed it that the doorkeeper's message and his urgent
appeal that Lecoq should not loiter on the way, produced the most
unfortunate results. Believing that M. Segmuller was anxiously waiting
for him, Lecoq saw nothing wrong in opening the door of the magistrate's
room without previously knocking; and being anxious to justify his
absence, he yielded, moreover, to the impulse that led him to push
forward the poor woman whose testimony might prove so decisive. When he
saw, however, that the magistrate was not alone, and when he recognized
Polyte Chupin--the original of the photograph--in the man M. Segmuller
was examining, his stupefaction became intense. He instantly perceived
his mistake and understood its consequences.
There was only one thing to be done. He must prevent any exchange of
words between the two. Accordingly, springing toward Toinon and seizing
her roughly by the arm, he ordered her to leave the room at once. But
the poor creature was quite overcome, and trembled like a leaf. Her eyes
were fixed upon her unworthy husband, and the happiness she felt at
seeing him again shone plainly in her anxious gaze. Just for one second;
and then she caught his withering glance and heard his words of menace.
Terror-stricken, she staggered back, and then Lecoq seized her around
the waist, and, lifting her with his strong arms, carried her out into
the passage. The whole scene had been so brief that M. Segmuller was
still forming the order for Toinon to be removed from the room, when he
found the door closed again, and himself and Goguet alone with Polyte.
"Ah, ah!" thought the smiling clerk, in a flutter of delight, "this is
something new." But as these little diversions never made him forget his
duties, he leaned toward the magistrate and asked: "Shall I take down
the last words the witness uttered?"
"Certainly," replied M. Segmuller, "and word for word, if you please."
He paused; the door opened again, this time to admit the magistrate's
messenger, who timidly, and with a rather guilty air, handed his master
a note, and then withdrew. This note, scribbled in pencil by Lecoq on
a leaf torn from his memorandum book, gave the magistrate the name of
the woman who had just entered his room, and recapitulated briefly but
clearly the information obtained in the Rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles.
"That young fellow thinks of everything!" murmured M. Segmuller. The
meaning of the scene that had just occurred was now explained to him.
He understood everything.
He bitterly regretted this unfortunate meeting; at the same time casting
the blame on his own impatience and lack of caution, which, as soon as
the messenger had started in search of Lecoq, had induced him to summon
Polyte Chupin. Although he could not conceal from himself the enormous
influence this seemingly trivial incident might have, still he would not
allow himself to be cast down, but prepared to resume his examination
of Polyte Chupin in hopes of yet obtaining the information he desired.
"Let us proceed," he said to Polyte, who had not moved since his wife
had been taken from the room, being to all appearances sublimely
indifferent to everything passing around him. To the magistrate's
proposal he carelessly nodded assent.
"Was that your wife who came in just now?" asked M. Segmuller.
"She wished to embrace you, and you repulsed her."
"I didn't repulse her."
"You kept her at a distance at all events. If you had a spark of
affection in your nature, you would at least have looked at your child,
which she held out to you. Why did you behave in that manner?"
"It wasn't the time for sentiment."
"You are not telling the truth. You simply desired to attract her
attention, to influence her evidence."
"I--I influence her evidence! I don't understand you."
"But for that supposition, your words would have been meaningless?"
The magistrate turned to his clerk: "Goguet," said he, "read the last
remark you took down."
In a monotonous voice, the smiling clerk repeated: "I should like to
kill the person who dared to say that I knew Lacheneur."
"Well, then!" insisted M. Segmuller, "what did you mean by that?"
"It's very easy to understand, sir."
M. Segmuller rose. "Don't prevaricate any longer," he said. "You
certainly ordered your wife not to say anything about Lacheneur. That's
evident. Why did you do so? What are you afraid of her telling us? Do
you suppose the police are ignorant of your acquaintance with
Lacheneur--of your conversation with him when he came in a cab to the
corner of the waste ground near your mother's wine-shop; and of the
hopes of fortune you based upon his promises? Be guided by me; confess
everything, while there is yet time; and abandon the present course
which may lead you into serious danger. One may be an accomplice in more
ways than one."
As these words fell on Polyte's ears, it was evident his impudence and
indifference had received a severe shock. He seemed confounded, and hung
his head as if thoroughly abashed. Still, he preserved an obstinate
silence; and the magistrate finding that this last thrust had failed to
produce any effect, gave up the fight in despair. He rang the bell, and
ordered the guard to conduct the witness back to prison, and to take
every precaution to prevent him seeing his wife again.
When Polyte had departed, Lecoq reentered the room. "Ah, sir," said he,
despondently, "to think that I didn't draw out of this woman everything
she knew, when I might have done so easily. But I thought you would be
waiting for me, and made haste to bring her here. I thought I was acting
for the best--"
"Never mind, the misfortune can be repaired."
"No, sir, no. Since she has seen her husband, it is quite impossible to
get her to speak. She loves that rascal intensely, and he has a
wonderful influence over her. You heard what he said. He threatened her
with death if she breathed a word about Lacheneur, and she is so
terrified that there is no hope of making her speak."
Lecoq's apprehension was based on fact, as M, Segmuller himself
perceived the instant Toinon the Virtuous again set foot in his office.
The poor creature seemed nearly heartbroken, and it was evident she
would have given her life to retract the words that had escaped her when
first questioned by Lecoq. Polyte's threat had aroused the most sinister
apprehensions in her mind. Not understanding his connection with the
affair, she asked herself if her testimony might not prove his
death-warrant. Accordingly, she answered all M. Segmuller's questions
with "no" or "I don't know"; and retracted everything she had previously
stated to Lecoq. She swore that she had been misunderstood, that her
words had been misconstrued; and vowed on her mother's memory, that she
had never heard the name of Lacheneur before. At last, she burst into
wild, despairing sobs, and pressed her frightened child against her
What could be done to overcome this foolish obstinacy, as blind and
unreasoning as a brute's? M. Segmuller hesitated. "You may retire, my
good woman," said he kindly, after a moment's pause, "but remember that
your strange silence injures your husband far more than anything you
She left the room--or rather she rushed wildly from it as though only
too eager to escape--and the magistrate and the detective exchanged
glances of dismay and consternation.
"I said so before," thought Goguet, "the prisoner knows what he's about.
I would be willing to bet a hundred to one in his favor."
A French investigating magistrate is possessed of almost unlimited
powers. No one can hamper him, no one can give him orders. The entire
police force is at his disposal. One word from him and twenty agents,
or a hundred if need be, search Paris, ransack France, or explore
Europe. If there be any one whom he believes able to throw light upon
an obscure point, he simply sends an order to that person to appear
before him, and the man must come even if he lives a hundred leagues
Such is the magistrate, such are his powers. On the other hand, the
prisoner charged with a crime, but as yet un-convicted, is confined,
unless his offense be of a trivial description, in what is called a
"secret cell." He is, so to say, cut off from the number of the living.
He knows nothing of what may be going on in the world outside. He can
not tell what witnesses may have been called, or what they may have
said, and in his uncertainty he asks himself again and again how far the
prosecution has been able to establish the charges against him.
Such is the prisoner's position, and yet despite the fact that the two
adversaries are so unequally armed, the man in the secret cell not
unfrequently wins the victory. If he is sure that he has left behind him
no proof of his having committed the crime; if he has no guilty
antecedents to be afraid of, he can--impregnable in a defense of
absolute denial--brave all the attacks of justice.
Such was, at this moment, the situation of May, the mysterious murderer;
as both M. Segmuller and Lecoq were forced to admit, with mingled grief
and anger. They had hoped to arrive at a solution of the problem by
examining Polyte Chupin and his wife, and they had been disappointed;
for the prisoner's identity remained as problematical as ever.
"And yet," exclaimed the magistrate impatiently, "these people know
something about this matter, and if they would only speak--"
"But they won't."
"What motive is it that keeps them silent? This is what we must
discover. Who will tell us the price that has been promised Polyte
Chupin for his silence? What recompense can he count upon? It must be
a great one, for he is braving real danger!"
Lecoq did not immediately reply to the magistrate's successive queries,
but it was easy to see from his knit brows that his mind was hard at
work. "You ask me, sir," he eventually remarked, "what reward has been
promised Chupin? I ask on my part who can have promised him this
"Who has promised it? Why, plainly the accomplice who has beaten us on
"Yes," rejoined Lecoq, "I suppose it must have been he. It certainly
looks like his handiwork--now, what artifice can he have used? We know
how he managed to have an interview with the Widow Chupin, but how has
he succeeded in getting at Polyte, who is in prison, closely watched?"
The young detective's insinuation, vague as it was, did not escape M.
Segmuller. "What do you mean?" asked the latter, with an air of mingled
surprise and indignation. "You can't suppose that one of the keepers has
Lecoq shook his head, in a somewhat equivocal manner. "I mean nothing,"
he replied, "I don't suspect any one. All I want is information. Has
Chupin been forewarned or not?"
"Yes, of course he has."
"Then if that point is admitted it can only be explained in two ways.
Either there are informers in the prison, or else Chupin has been
allowed to see some visitor."
These suppositions evidently worried M. Segmuller, who for a moment
seemed to hesitate between the two opinions; then, suddenly making up
his mind, he rose from his chair, took up his hat, and said: "This
matter must be cleared up. Come with me, Monsieur Lecoq."
A couple of minutes later, the magistrate and the detective had reached
the Depot, which is connected with the Palais de Justice by a narrow
passage, especially reserved for official use. The prisoners' morning
rations had just been served to them, and the governor was walking up
and down the courtyard, in the company of Inspector Gevrol. As soon as
he perceived M. Segmuller he hastened toward him and asked if he had not
come about the prisoner May.
As the magistrate nodded assent, the governor at once added: "Well I was
only just now telling Inspector Gevrol that I was very well satisfied
with May's behavior. It has not only been quite unnecessary to place him
in the strait-waistcoat again, but his mood seems to have changed
entirely. He eats with a good appetite; he is as gay as a lark, and he
constantly laughs and jests with his keeper."
Gevrol had pricked up his ears when he heard himself named by the
governor, and considering this mention to be a sufficient introduction,
he thought there would be no impropriety in his listening to the
conversation. Accordingly, he approached the others, and noted with some
satisfaction the troubled glances which Lecoq and the magistrate
M. Segmuller was plainly perplexed. May's gay manner to which the
governor of the Depot alluded might perhaps have been assumed for the
purpose of sustaining his character as a jester and buffoon, it might
be due to a certainty of defeating the judicial inquiry, or, who knows?
the prisoner had perhaps received some favorable news from outside.
With Lecoq's last words still ringing in his ears, it is no wonder that
the magistrate should have dwelt on this last supposition. "Are you
quite sure," he asked, "that no communication from outside can reach the
inmates of the secret cells?"
The governor of the Depot was cut to the quick by M. Segmuller's implied
doubt. What! were his subordinates suspected? Was his own professional
honesty impugned? He could not help lifting his hands to heaven in mute
protest against such an unjust charge.
"Am I sure?" he exclaimed. "Then you can never have visited the secret
cells. You have no idea, then, of their situation; you are unacquainted
with the triple bolts that secure the doors; the grating that shuts out
the sunlight, to say nothing of the guard who walks beneath the windows
day and night. Why, a bird couldn't even reach the prisoners in those
Such a description was bound to reassure the most skeptical mind, and
M. Segmuller breathed again: "Now that I am easy on that score," said
he, "I should like some information about another prisoner--a fellow
named Chupin, who isn't in the secret cells. I want to know if any
visitor came for him yesterday."
"I must speak to the registrar," replied the governor, "before I can
answer you with certainty. Wait a moment though, here comes a man who
can perhaps tell us. He is usually on guard at the entrance. Here,
Ferraud, this way!"
The man to whom the governor called hastened to obey the summons.
"Do you know whether any one asked to see the prisoner Chupin yesterday?"
"Yes, sir, I went to fetch Chupin to the parlor myself."
"And who was his visitor?" eagerly asked Lecoq, "wasn't he a tall man;
very red in the face--"
"Excuse me, sir, the visitor was a lady--his aunt, at least so Chupin
Neither M. Segmuller nor Lecoq could restrain an exclamation of
surprise. "What was she like?" they both asked at the same time.
"She was short," replied the attendant, "with a very fair complexion and
light hair; she seemed to be a very respectable woman."
"It must have been one of the female fugitives who escaped from the
Widow Chupin's hovel," exclaimed Lecoq.
Gevrol, hitherto an attentive listener, burst into a loud laugh. "Still
that Russian princess," said he.
Neither the magistrate nor the young detective relished this
unseasonable jest. "You forget yourself, sir," said M. Segmuller
severely. "You forget that the sneers you address to your comrade also
apply to me!"
The General saw that he had gone too far; and while glancing hatefully
at Lecoq, he mumbled an apology to the magistrate. The latter did not
apparently hear him, for, bowing to the governor, he motioned Lecoq to
follow him away.
"Run to the Prefecture of Police," he said as soon as they were out of
hearing, "and ascertain how and under what pretext this woman obtained
permission to see Polyte Chupin."
On his way back to his office, M. Segmuller mentally reviewed the
position of affairs; and came to the conclusion that as he had failed
to take the citadel of defense by storm, he must resign himself to a
regular protracted siege. He was exceedingly annoyed at the constant
failures that had attended all Lecoq's efforts; for time was on the
wing, and he knew that in a criminal investigation delay only increased
the uncertainty of success. The more promptly a crime is followed by
judicial action the easier it is to find the culprit, and prove his
guilt. The longer investigation is delayed the more difficult it becomes
to adduce conclusive evidence.
In the present instance there were various matters that M. Segmuller
might at once attend to. With which should he begin? Ought he not to
confront May, the Widow Chupin, and Polyte with the bodies of their
victims? Such horrible meetings have at times the most momentous
results, and more than one murderer when unsuspectedly brought into the
presence of his victim's lifeless corpse has changed color and lost his
Then there were other witnesses whom M. Segmuller might examine.
Papillon, the cab-driver; the concierge of the house in the Rue de
Bourgogne--where the two women flying from the Poivriere had momentarily
taken refuge; as well as a certain Madame Milner, landlady of the Hotel
de Mariembourg. In addition, it would also be advisable to summon, with
the least possible delay, some of the people residing in the vicinity
of the Poivriere; together with some of Polyte's habitual companions,
and the landlord of the Rainbow, where the victims and the murderer had
apparently passed the evening of the crime. Of course, there was no
reason to expect any great revelations from any of these witnesses,
still they might know something, they might have an opinion to express,
and in the present darkness one single ray of light, however faint,
might mean salvation.
Obeying the magistrate's orders, Goguet, the smiling clerk, had just
finished drawing up at least a dozen summonses, when Lecoq returned from
the Prefecture. M. Segmuller at once asked him the result of his errand.
"Ah, sir," replied the young detective, "I have a fresh proof of that
mysterious accomplice's skill. The permit that was used yesterday to see
young Chupin was in the name of his mother's sister, a woman named Rose
Pitard. A visiting card was given her more than a week ago, in
compliance with a request indorsed by the commissary of police of her
The magistrate's surprise was so intense that it imparted to his face
an almost ludicrous expression. "Is this aunt also in the plot?" he
"I don't think so," replied Lecoq, shaking his head. "At all events, it
wasn't she who went to the prison parlor yesterday. The clerks at the
Prefecture remember the widow's sister very well, and gave me a full
description of her. She's a woman over five feet high, with a very dark
complexion; and very wrinkled and weatherbeaten about the face. She's
quite sixty years old; whereas, yesterday's visitor was short and fair,
and not more than forty-five."
"If that's the case," interrupted M. Segmuller, "this visitor must be
one of our fugitives."
"I don't think so."
"Who do you suppose she was, then?"
"Why, the landlady of the Hotel de Mariembourg--that clever woman who
succeeded so well in deceiving me. But she had better take care! There
are means of verifying my suspicions."
The magistrate scarcely heard Lecoq's last words, so enraged was he at
the inconceivable audacity and devotion displayed by so many people: all
of whom were apparently willing to run the greatest risks so long as
they could only assure the murderer's incognito.
"But how could the accomplice have known of the existence of this
permit?" he asked after a pause.
"Oh, nothing could be easier, sir," replied Lecoq. "When the Widow
Chupin and the accomplice had that interview at the station-house near
the Barriere d'Italie, they both realized the necessity of warning
Polyte. While trying to devise some means of getting to him, the old
woman remembered her sister's visiting card, and the man made some
excuse to borrow it."
"Yes, such must be the case," said M. Segmuller, approvingly. "It will
be necessary to ascertain, however--"
"And I will ascertain," interrupted Lecoq, with a resolute air, "if you
will only intrust the matter to me, sir. If you will authorize me I will
have two spies on the watch before to-night, one in the Rue de la
Butte-aux-Cailles, and the other at the door of the Hotel de
Mariembourg. If the accomplice ventured to visit Toinon or Madame Milner
he would be arrested; and then we should have our turn!"
However, there was no time to waste in vain words and idle boasting.
Lecoq therefore checked himself, and took up his hat preparatory to
departure. "Now," said he, "I must ask you, sir, for my liberty; if you
have any orders, you will find a trusty messenger in the corridor,
Father Absinthe, one of my colleagues. I want to find out something
about Lacheneur's letter and the diamond earring."
"Go, then," replied M. Segmuller, "and good luck to you!"
Good luck! Yes, indeed, Lecoq looked for it. If up to the present moment
he had taken his successive defeats good-humoredly, it was because he
believed that he had a talisman in his pocket which was bound to insure
"I shall be very stupid if I can't discover the owner of such a valuable
jewel," he soliloquized, referring to the diamond earring. "And when I
find the owner I shall at the same time discover our mysterious
The first step to be taken was to ascertain whom the earring had been
bought from. It would naturally be a tedious process to go from jeweler
to jeweler and ask: "Do you know this jewel, was it set by you, and if
so whom did you sell it to?" But fortunately Lecoq was acquainted with
a man whose knowledge of the trade might at once throw light on the
matter. This individual was an old Hollander, named Van Numen, who as
a connoisseur in precious stones, was probably without his rival in
Paris. He was employed by the Prefecture of Police as an expert in all
such matters. He was considered rich. Despite his shabby appearance, he
was rightly considered rich, and, in point of fact, he was indeed far
more wealthy than people generally supposed. Diamonds were his especial
passion, and he always had several in his pocket, in a little box which
he would pull out and open at least a dozen times an hour, just as a
snuff-taker continually produces his snuffbox.
This worthy man greeted Lecoq very affably. He put on his glasses,
examined the jewel with a grimace of satisfaction, and, in the tone of
an oracle, remarked: "That stone is worth eight thousand francs, and it
was set by Doisty, in the Rue de la Paix."
Twenty minutes later Lecoq entered this well-known jeweler's
establishment. Van Numen had not been mistaken. Doisty immediately
recognized the earring, which had, indeed, come from his shop. But whom
had he sold it to? He could not recollect, for it had passed out of his
hands three or four years before.
"Wait a moment though," said he, "I will just ask my wife, who has a
Madame Doisty truly deserved this eulogium. A single glance at the jewel
enabled her to say that she had seen this earring before, and that the
pair had been purchased from them by the Marchioness d'Arlange.
"You must recollect," she added, turning to her husband, "that the
Marchioness only gave us nine thousand francs on account, and that we
had all the trouble in the world to make her pay the balance."
Her husband did remember this circumstance; and in recording his
recollection, he exchanged a significant glance with his wife.
"Now," said the detective, "I should like to have this marchioness's
"She lives in the Faubourg St. Germain," replied Madame Doisty, "near
the Esplanade des Invalides."
Lecoq had refrained from any sign of satisfaction while he was in the
jeweler's presence. But directly he had left the shop he evinced such
delirious joy that the passers-by asked themselves in amazement if he
were not mad. He did not walk, but fairly danced over the stones,
gesticulating in the most ridiculous fashion as he addressed this
triumphant monologue to the empty air: "At last," said he, "this affair
emerges from the mystery that has enshrouded it. At last I reach the
veritable actors in the drama, the exalted personages whose existence
I had suspected. Ah! Gevrol, my illustrious General! you talked about
a Russian princess, but you will be obliged to content yourself with a
But the vertigo that had seized the young detective gradually
disappeared. His good sense reasserted itself, and, looking calmly at
the situation, he felt that he should need all his presence of mind,
penetration, and sagacity to bring the expedition to a successful
finish. What course should he pursue, on entering the marchioness's
presence, in order to draw from her a full confession and to obtain full
particulars of the murder, as well as the murderer's name!
"It will be best to threaten her, to frighten her into confession," he
soliloquized. "If I give her time for reflection, I shall learn
He paused in his cogitations, for he had reached the residence of the
Marchioness d'Arlange--a charming mansion with a courtyard in front and
garden in the rear. Before entering, he deemed it advisable to obtain
some information concerning the inmates.
"It is here, then," he murmured, "that I am to find the solution of the
enigma! Here, behind these embroidered curtains, dwells the frightened
fugitive of the other night. What agony of fear must torture her since
she has discovered the loss of her earring!"
For more than an hour, standing under a neighbor's /porte cochere/, Lecoq
remained watching the house. He would have liked to see the face of any
one; but the time passed by and not even a shadow could be detected
behind the curtain; not even a servant passed across the courtyard. At
last, losing patience, the young detective determined to make inquiries
in the neighborhood, for he could not take a decisive step without
obtaining some knowledge of the people he was to encounter. While
wondering where he could obtain the information he required, he
perceived, on the opposite side of the street, the keeper of a wine-shop
smoking on his doorstep.
At once approaching and pretending that he had forgotten an address,
Lecoq politely asked for the house where Marchioness d'Arlange resided.
Without a word, and without condescending to take his pipe from his
mouth, the man pointed to the mansion which Lecoq had previously
There was a way, however, to make him more communicative, namely, to
enter the shop, call for something to drink, and invite the landlord to
drink as well. This was what Lecoq did, and the sight of two well-filled
glasses unbound, as by enchantment, the man's hitherto silent tongue.
The young detective could not have found a better person to question,
for this same individual had been established in the neighborhood for
ten years, and enjoyed among the servants of the aristocratic families
here residing a certain amount of confidence.
"I pity you if you are going to the marchioness's house to collect a
bill," he remarked to Lecoq. "You will have plenty of time to learn the
way here before you see your money. You will only be another of the many
creditors who never let her bell alone."
"The deuce! Is she as poor as that?"
"Poor! Why, every one knows that she has a comfortable income, without
counting this house. But when one spends double one's income every year,
The landlord stopped short, to call Lecoq's attention to two ladies who
were passing along the street, one of them, a woman of forty, dressed
in black; the other, a girl half-way through her teens. "There," quoth
the wine-seller, "goes the marchioness's granddaughter, Mademoiselle
Claire, with her governess, Mademoiselle Smith."
Lecoq's head whirled. "Her granddaughter!" he stammered.
"Yes--the daughter of her deceased son, if you prefer it."
"How old is the marchioness, then?"
"At least sixty: but one would never suspect it. She is one of those
persons who live a hundred years. And what an old wretch she is too. She
would think no more of knocking me over the head than I would of
emptying this glass of wine--"
"Excuse me," interrupted Lecoq, "but does she live alone in that great
"Yes--that is--with her granddaughter, the governess, and two servants.
But what is the matter with you?"
This last question was not uncalled for; for Lecoq had turned deadly
white. The magic edifice of his hopes had crumbled beneath the weight
of this man's words as completely as if it were some frail house of
cards erected by a child. He had only sufficient strength to murmur:
"Nothing--nothing at all."
Then, as he could endure this torture of uncertainty no longer, he went
toward the marchioness's house and rang the bell. The servant who came
to open the door examined him attentively, and then announced that
Madame d'Arlange was in the country. He evidently fancied that Lecoq was
But the young detective insisted so adroitly, giving the lackey to
understand so explicitly that he did not come to collect money, and
speaking so earnestly of urgent business, that the servant finally
admitted him to the hall, saying that he would go and see if madame had
really gone out.
Fortunately for Lecoq, she happened to be at home, and an instant
afterward the valet returned requesting the young detective to follow
him. After passing through a large and magnificently furnished
drawing-room, they reached a charming boudoir, hung with rose-colored
curtains, where, sitting by the fireside, in a large easy-chair, Lecoq
found an old woman, tall, bony, and terrible of aspect, her face loaded
with paint, and her person covered with ornaments. The aged coquette
was Madame, the Marchioness, who, for the time being, was engaged in
knitting a strip of green wool. She turned toward her visitor just
enough to show him the rouge on one cheek, and then, as he seemed rather
frightened--a fact flattering to her vanity--she spoke in an affable
tone. "Ah, well young man," said she, "what brings you here?"
In point of fact, Lecoq was not frightened, but he was intensely
disappointed to find that Madame d'Arlange could not possibly be one of
the women who had escaped from the Widow Chupin's hovel on the night of
the murder. There was nothing about her appearance that corresponded in
the least degree with the descriptions given by Papillon.
Remembering the small footprints left in the snow by the two fugitives,
the young detective glanced, moreover, at the marchioness's feet, just
perceivable beneath her skirt, and his disappointment reached its climax
when he found that they were truly colossal in size.
"Well, are you dumb?" inquired the old lady, raising her voice.
Without making a direct reply, Lecoq produced the precious earring, and,
placing it upon the table beside the marchioness, remarked: "I bring you
this jewel, madame, which I have found, and which, I am told, belongs
Madame d'Arlange laid down her knitting and proceeded to examine the
earring. "It is true," she said, after a moment, "that this ornament
formerly belonged to me. It was a fancy I had, about four years ago, and
it cost me dear--at least twenty thousand francs. Ah! Doisty, the man
who sold me those diamonds, must make a handsome income. But I had a
granddaughter to educate and pressing need of money compelled me to
"To whom?" asked Lecoq, eagerly.
"Eh?" exclaimed the old lady, evidently shocked at his audacity, "you
are very inquisitive upon my word!"
"Excuse me, madame, but I am anxious to find the owner of this valuable
Madame d'Arlange regarded her visitor with an air of mingled curiosity
and surprise. "Such honesty!" said she. "Oh, oh! And of course you don't
hope for a sou by way of reward--"
"Good, good! There is not the least need for you to turn as red as a
poppy, young man. I sold these diamonds to a great Austrian lady--the
Baroness de Watchau."
"And where does this lady reside?"
"At the Pere la Chaise, probably, since she died about a year ago. Ah!
these women of the present day--an extra waltz, or the merest draft, and
it's all over with them! In my time, after each gallop, we girls used
to swallow a tumbler of sweetened wine, and sit down between two open
doors. And we did very well, as you see."
"But, madame," insisted Lecoq, "the Baroness de Watchau must have left
some one behind her--a husband, or children--"
"No one but a brother, who holds a court position at Vienna: and who
could not leave even to attend the funeral. He sent orders that all his
sister's personal property should be sold--not even excepting her
wardrobe--and the money sent to him."
Lecoq could not repress an exclamation of disappointment. "How
unfortunate!" he murmured.
"Why?" asked the old lady. "Under these circumstances, the diamond will
probably remain in your hands, and I am rejoiced that it should be so.
It will be a fitting reward for your honesty."
Madame d'Arlange was naturally not aware that her remark implied the
most exquisite torture for Lecoq. Ah! if it should be as she said, if
he should never find the lady who had lost this costly jewel! Smarting
under the marchioness's unintended irony, he would have liked to
apostrophize her in angry terms; but it could not be, for it was
advisable if not absolutely necessary that he should conceal his true
identity. Accordingly, he contrived to smile, and even stammered an
acknowledgment of Madame d'Arlange's good wishes. Then, as if he had no
more to expect, he made her a low bow and withdrew.
This new misfortune well-nigh overwhelmed him. One by one all the
threads upon which he had relied to guide him out of this intricate
labyrinth were breaking in his hands. In the present instance he could
scarcely be the dupe of some fresh comedy, for if the murderer's
accomplice had taken Doisty, the jeweler, into his confidence he would
have instructed him to say that the earring had never come from his
establishment, and that he could not consequently tell whom it had been
sold to. On the contrary, however, Doisty and his wife had readily given
Madame d'Arlange's name, and all the circumstances pointed in favor of
their sincerity. Then, again, there was good reason to believe in the
veracity of the marchioness's assertions. They were sufficiently
authenticated by a significant glance which Lecoq had detected between
the jeweler and his wife. The meaning of this glance could not be
doubted. It implied plainly that both husband and wife were of opinion
that in buying these earrings the marchioness engaged in one of those
little speculations which are more common than many people might suppose
among ladies moving in high-class society. Being in urgent want of ready
money, she had bought on credit at a high price to sell for cash at a
As Lecoq was anxious to investigate the matter as far as possible, he
returned to Doisty's establishment, and, by a plausible pretext,
succeeded in gaining a sight of the books in which the jeweler recorded
his transactions. He soon found the sale of the earrings duly
recorded--specified by Madame Doisty at the date--both in the day-book
and the ledger. Madame d'Arlange first paid 9,000 francs on account and
the balance of the purchase money (an equivalent sum) had been received
in instalments at long intervals subsequently. Now, if it had been easy
for Madame Milner to make a false entry in her traveler's registry at
the Hotel de Mariembourg, it was absurd to suppose that the jeweler had
falsified all his accounts for four years. Hence, the facts were
indisputable; and yet, the young detective was not satisfied.
He hurried to the Faubourg Saint Honore, to the house formerly occupied
by the Baroness de Watchau, and there found a good-natured concierge,
who at once informed him that after the Baroness's death her furniture
and personal effects had been taken to the great auction mart in the Rue
Drouot; the sale being conducted by M. Petit, the eminent auctioneer.
Without losing a minute, Lecoq hastened to this individual's office. M.
Petit remembered the Watchau sale very well; it had made quite a
sensation at the time, and on searching among his papers he soon found
a long catalogue of the various articles sold. Several lots of jewelry
were mentioned, with the sums paid, and the names of the purchasers; but
there was not the slightest allusion to these particular earrings. When
Lecoq produced the diamond he had in his pocket, the auctioneer could
not remember that he had ever seen it; though of course this was no
evidence to the contrary, for, as he himself remarked,--so many articles
passed through his hands! However, this much he could declare upon oath;
the baroness's brother, her only heir, had preserved nothing--not so
much as a pin's worth of his sister's effects: although he had been in
a great hurry to receive the proceeds, which amounted to the pleasant
sum of one hundred and sixty-seven thousand five hundred and thirty
francs, all expenses deducted.
"Everything this lady possessed was sold?" inquired Lecoq.
"And what is the name of this brother of hers?"
"Watchau, also. The baroness had probably married one of her relatives.
Until last year her brother occupied a very prominent diplomatic
position. I think he now resides at Berlin."
Certainly this information would not seem to indicate that the
auctioneer had been tampered with; and yet Lecoq was not satisfied. "It
is very strange," he thought, as he walked toward his lodgings, "that
whichever side I turn, in this affair, I find mention of Germany. The
murderer comes from Leipsic, Madame Milner must be a Bavarian, and now
here is an Austrian baroness."
It was too late to make any further inquiries that evening, and Lecoq
went to bed; but the next morning, at an early hour, he resumed his
investigations with fresh ardor. There now seemed only one remaining
clue to success: the letter signed "Lacheneur," which had been found in
the pocket of the murdered soldier. This letter, judging from the
half-effaced heading at the top of the note-paper, must have been
written in some cafe on the Boulevard Beaumarchais. To discover which
precise cafe would be mere child's play; and indeed the fourth landlord
to whom Lecoq exhibited the letter recognized the paper as his. But
neither he, nor his wife, nor the young lady at the counter, nor the
waiters, nor any of the customers present at the time, had ever once
heard mention made of this singular name--Lacheneur.
And now what was Lecoq to do? Was the case utterly hopeless? Not yet.
Had not the spurious soldier declared that this Lacheneur was an old
comedian? Seizing upon this frail clue, as a drowning man clutches at
the merest fragment of the floating wreck, Lecoq turned his steps in
another direction, and hurried from theatre to theatre, asking every
one, from doorkeeper to manager: "Don't you know an actor named
Alas! one and all gave a negative reply, at times indulging in some
rough joke at the oddity of the name. And when any one asked the young
detective what the man he was seeking was like, what could he reply? His
answer was necessarily limited to the virtuous Toinon's phrase: "I
thought him a very respectable-looking gentleman." This was not a very
graphic description, however, and, besides, it was rather doubtful what
a woman like Polyte Chupin's wife might mean by the word "respectable."
Did she apply it to the man's age, to his personal aspect, or to his
Sometimes those whom Lecoq questioned would ask what parts this comedian
of his was in the habit of playing; and then the young detective could
make no reply whatever. He kept for himself the harassing thought that
the role now being performed by the unknown Lacheneur was driving
him--Lecoq--wild with despair.
Eventually our hero had recourse to a method of investigation which,
strange to say, the police seldom employ, save in extreme cases,
although it is at once sensible and simple, and generally fraught with
success. It consists in examining all the hotel and lodging-house
registers, in which the landlords are compelled to record the names of
their tenants, even should the latter merely sojourn under their roofs
for a single night.
Rising long before daybreak and going to bed late at night, Lecoq spent
all his time in visiting the countless hotels and furnished lodgings in
Paris. But still and ever his search was vain. He never once came across
the name of Lacheneur; and at last he began to ask himself if such a
name really existed, or if it were not some pseudonym invented for
convenience. He had not found it even in Didot's directory, the
so-called "Almanach Boitin," where one finds all the most singular and
absurd names in France--those which are formed of the most fantastic
mingling of syllables.
Still, nothing could daunt him or turn him from the almost impossible
task he had undertaken, and his obstinate perseverance well-nigh
developed into monomania. He was no longer subject to occasional
outbursts of anger, quickly repressed; but lived in a state of constant
exasperation, which soon impaired the clearness of his mind. No more
theories, or ingenious deductions, no more subtle reasoning. He pursued
his search without method and without order--much as Father Absinthe
might have done when under the influence of alcohol. Perhaps he had come
to rely less upon his own shrewdness than upon chance to reveal to him
the substance of the mystery, of which he had as yet only detected the
When a heavy stone is thrown into a lake a considerable commotion
ensues, the water spouts and seethes and bubbles and frequently a tall
jet leaps into the air. But all this agitation only lasts for a moment;
the bubbling subsides as the circles of the passing whirlpool grow
larger and larger; the surface regains at last its customary smoothness;
and soon no trace remains of the passage of the stone, now buried in the
So it is with the events of our daily life, however momentous they may
appear at the hour of their occurrence. It seems as if their impressions
would last for years; but no, they speedily sink into the depths of the
past, and time obliterates their passage--just as the water of the lake
closes over and hides the stone, for an instant the cause of such
commotion. Thus it was that at the end of a fortnight the frightful
crime committed in the Widow Chupin's drinking-den, the triple murder
which had made all Paris shudder, which had furnished the material for
so many newspaper articles, and the topic for such indignant comments,
was completely forgotten. Indeed, had the tragedy at the Poivriere
occurred in the times of Charlemagne, it could not have passed more
thoroughly out of people's minds. It was remembered only in three
places, at the Depot, at the Prefecture de Police, and at the Palais de
M. Segmuller's repeated efforts had proved as unsuccessful as Lecoq's.
Skilful questioning, ingenious insinuations, forcible threats, and
seductive promises had proved powerless to overcome the dogged spirit
of absolute denial which persistently animated, not merely the prisoner
May, but also the Widow Chupin, her son Polyte, Toinon the Virtuous, and
Madame Milner. The evidence of these various witnesses showed plainly
enough that they were all in league with the mysterious accomplice; but
what did this knowledge avail? Their attitude never varied! And, even
if at times their looks gave the lie to their denials, one could always
read in their eyes an unshaken determination to conceal the truth.
There were moments when the magistrate, overpowered by a sense of the
insufficiency of the purely moral weapons at his disposal, almost
regretted that the Inquisition was suppressed. Yes, in presence of the
lies that were told him, lies so impudent that they were almost insults,
he no longer wondered at the judicial cruelties of the Middle Ages, or
at the use of the muscle-breaking rack, the flesh-burning, red-hot
pincers, and other horrible instruments, which, by the physical torture
they inflicted, forced the most obstinate culprit to confess. The
prisoner May's manner was virtually unaltered; and far from showing any
signs of weakness, his assurance had, if anything, increased, as though
he were confident of ultimate victory and as though he had in some way
learned that the prosecution had failed to make the slightest progress.
On one occasion, when summoned before M. Segmuller, he ventured to
remark in a tone of covert irony: "Why do you keep me confined so long
in a secret cell? Am I never to be set at liberty or sent to the
assizes. Am I to suffer much longer on account of your fantastic idea
that I am some great personage in disguise?"
"I shall keep you until you have confessed," was M. Segmuller's answer.
"Oh! you know very well."
The prisoner shrugged his shoulders at these last words, and then in a
tone of mingled despondency and mockery retorted: "In that case there
is no hope of my ever leaving this cursed prison!"
It was probably this conviction that induced him to make all seeming
preparations for an indefinite stay. He applied for and obtained a
portion of the contents of the trunk found at the Hotel de Mariembourg,
and evinced great joy when the various knickknacks and articles of
clothing were handed over to him. Thanks to the money found upon his
person when arrested, and deposited with the prison registrar, he was,
moreover, able to procure many little luxuries, which are never denied
to unconvicted prisoners, no matter what may be the charges against
them, for they have a right to be considered as innocent until a jury
has decided to the contrary. To while away the time, May next asked for
a volume of Beranger's songs, and his request being granted, he spent
most of the day in learning several of the ditties by heart, singing
them in a loud voice and with considerable taste. This fancy having
excited some comment, he pretended that he was cultivating a talent
which might be useful to him when he was set at liberty. For he had no
doubt of his acquittal; at least, so he declared; and if he were anxious
about the date of his trial, he did not show the slightest apprehension
concerning its result.
He was never despondent save when he spoke of his profession. To all
appearance he pined for the stage, and, in fact, he almost wept when he
recalled the fantastic, many-colored costumes, clad in which he had once
appeared before crowded audiences--audiences that had been convulsed
with laughter by his sallies of wit, delivered between bursts of noisy
music. He seemed to have become altogether a better fellow; more frank,
communicative, and submissive. He eagerly embraced every opportunity to
babble about his past, and over and over again did he recount the
adventures of the roving life he had led while in the employ of M.
Simpson, the showman. He had, of course, traveled a great deal; and he
remembered everything he had seen; possessing, moreover, an
inexhaustible fund of amusing stories, with which he entertained his
custodians. His manner and his words were so natural that head keepers
and subordinate turnkeys alike were quite willing to give credit to his
The governor of the Depot alone remained unconvinced. He had declared
that this pretended buffoon must be some dangerous criminal who had
escaped from Cayenne, and who for this reason was determined to conceal
his antecedents. Such being this functionary's opinion, he tried every
means to substantiate it. Accordingly, during an entire fortnight, May
was submitted to the scrutiny of innumerable members of the police
force, to whom were added all the more notable private detectives of the
capital. No one recognized him, however, and although his photograph was
sent to all the prisons and police stations of the empire, not one of
the officials could recognize his features.
Other circumstances occurred, each of which had its influence, and one
and all of them speaking in the prisoner's favor. For instance, the
second bureau of the Prefecture de Police found positive traces of the
existence of a strolling artist, named Tringlot, who was probably the
man referred to in May's story. This Tringlot had been dead several
years. Then again, inquiries made in Germany revealed the fact that a
certain M. Simpson was very well known in that country, where he had
achieved great celebrity as a circus manager.
In presence of this information and the negative result of the scrutiny
to which May had been subjected, the governor of the Depot abandoned his
views and openly confessed that he had been mistaken. "The prisoner,
May," he wrote to the magistrate, "is really and truly what he pretends
to be. There can be no further doubt on the subject." This message, it
may be added, was sent at Gevrol's instigation.
So thus it was that M. Segmuller and Lecoq alone remained of their
opinion. This opinion was at least worthy of consideration, as they
alone knew all the details of the investigation which had been conducted
with such strict secrecy; and yet this fact was of little import. It is