Part 1 out of 8
Etext prepared by David, firstname.lastname@example.org
and Dagny, email@example.com
THE LEROUGE CASE
by EMILE GABORIAU
On Thursday, the 6th of March, 1862, two days after Shrove Tuesday,
five women belonging to the village of La Jonchere presented
themselves at the police station at Bougival.
They stated that for two days past no one had seen the Widow Lerouge,
one of their neighbours, who lived by herself in an isolated cottage.
They had several times knocked at the door, but all in vain. The
window-shutters as well as the door were closed; and it was impossible
to obtain even a glimpse of the interior.
This silence, this sudden disappearance alarmed them. Apprehensive of
a crime, or at least of an accident, they requested the interference
of the police to satisfy their doubts by forcing the door and entering
Bougival is a pleasant riverside village, peopled on Sundays by crowds
of boating parties. Trifling offences are frequently heard of in its
neighbourhood, but crimes are rare.
The commissary of police at first refused to listen to the women, but
their importunities so fatigued him that he at length acceded to their
request. He sent for the corporal of gendarmes, with two of his men,
called into requisition the services of a locksmith, and, thus
accompanied, followed the neighbours of the Widow Lerouge.
La Jonchere owes some celebrity to the inventor of the sliding
railway, who for some years past has, with more enterprise than
profit, made public trials of his system in the immediate
neighbourhood. It is a hamlet of no importance, resting upon the slope
of the hill which overlooks the Seine between La Malmaison and
Bougival. It is about twenty minutes' walk from the main road, which,
passing by Rueil and Port-Marly, goes from Paris to St. Germain, and
is reached by a steep and rugged lane, quite unknown to the government
The party, led by the gendarmes, followed the main road which here
bordered the river until it reached this lane, into which it turned,
and stumbled over the rugged inequalities of the ground for about a
hundred yards, when it arrived in front of a cottage of extremely
modest yet respectable appearance. This cottage had probably been
built by some little Parisian shopkeeper in love with the beauties of
nature; for all the trees had been carefully cut down. It consisted
merely of two apartments on the ground floor with a loft above. Around
it extended a much-neglected garden, badly protected against midnight
prowlers, by a very dilapidated stone wall about three feet high, and
broken and crumbling in many places. A light wooden gate, clumsily
held in its place by pieces of wire, gave access to the garden.
"It is here," said the women.
The commissary stopped. During his short walk, the number of his
followers had been rapidly increasing, and now included all the
inquisitive and idle persons of the neighbourhood. He found himself
surrounded by about forty individuals burning with curiosity.
"No one must enter the garden," said he; and, to ensure obedience, he
placed the two gendarmes on sentry before the entrance, and advanced
towards the house, accompanied by the corporal and the locksmith.
He knocked several times loudly with his leaded cane, first at the
door, and then successively at all the window shutters. After each
blow, he placed his ear against the wood and listened. Hearing
nothing, he turned to the locksmith.
"Open!" said he.
The workman unstrapped his satchel, and produced his implements. He
had already introduced a skeleton key into the lock, when a loud
exclamation was heard from the crowd outside the gate.
"The key!" they cried. "Here is the key!"
A boy about twelve years old playing with one of his companions, had
seen an enormous key in a ditch by the roadside; he had picked it up
and carried it to the cottage in triumph.
"Give it to me youngster," said the corporal. "We shall see."
The key was tried, and it proved to be the key of the house.
The commissary and the locksmith exchanged glances full of sinister
misgivings. "This looks bad," muttered the corporal. They entered the
house, while the crowd, restrained with difficulty by the gendarmes,
stamped with impatience, or leant over the garden wall, stretching
their necks eagerly, to see or hear something of what was passing
within the cottage.
Those who anticipated the discovery of a crime, were unhappily not
deceived. The commissary was convinced of this as soon as he crossed
the threshold. Everything in the first room pointed with a sad
eloquence to the recent presence of a malefactor. The furniture was
knocked about, and a chest of drawers and two large trunks had been
forced and broken open.
In the inner room, which served as a sleeping apartment, the disorder
was even greater. It seemed as though some furious hand had taken a
fiendish pleasure in upsetting everything. Near the fireplace, her
face buried in the ashes, lay the dead body of Widow Lerouge. All one
side of the face and the hair were burnt; it seemed a miracle that the
fire had not caught her clothing.
"Wretches!" exclaimed the corporal. "Could they not have robbed,
without assassinating the poor woman?"
"But where has she been wounded?" inquired the commissary, "I do not
see any blood."
"Look! here between the shoulders," replied the corporal; "two fierce
blows, by my faith. I'll wager my stripes she had no time to cry out."
He stooped over the corpse and touched it.
"She is quite cold," he continued, "and it seems to me that she is no
longer very stiff. It is at least thirty-six hours since she received
The commissary began writing, on the corner of a table, a short
"We are not here to talk, but to discover the guilty," said he to the
corporal. "Let information be at once conveyed to the justice of the
peace, and the mayor, and send this letter without delay to the Palais
de Justice. In a couple of hours, an investigating magistrate can be
here. In the meanwhile, I will proceed to make a preliminary inquiry."
"Shall I carry the letter?" asked the corporal of gendarmes.
"No, send one of your men; you will be useful to me here in keeping
these people in order, and in finding any witnesses I may want. We
must leave everything here as it is. I will install myself in the
A gendarme departed at a run towards the station at Rueil; and the
commissary commenced his investigations in regular form, as prescribed
"Who was Widow Lerouge? Where did she come from? What did she do? Upon
what means, and how did she live? What were her habits, her morals,
and what sort of company did she keep? Was she known to have enemies?
Was she a miser? Did she pass for being rich?"
The commissary knew the importance of ascertaining all this: but
although the witnesses were numerous enough, they possessed but little
information. The depositions of the neighbours, successively
interrogated, were empty, incoherent, and incomplete. No one knew
anything of the victim, who was a stranger in the country. Many
presented themselves as witnesses moreover, who came forward less to
afford information than to gratify their curiosity. A gardener's wife,
who had been friendly with the deceased, and a milk-woman with whom
she dealt, were alone able to give a few insignificant though precise
In a word, after three hours of laborious investigation, after having
undergone the infliction of all the gossip of the country, after
receiving evidence the most contradictory, and listened to
commentaries the most ridiculous, the following is what appeared the
most reliable to the commissary.
Twelve years before, at the beginning of 1850, the woman Lerouge had
made her appearance at Bougival with a large wagon piled with
furniture, linen, and her personal effects. She had alighted at an
inn, declaring her intention of settling in the neighbourhood, and had
immediately gone in quest of a house. Finding this one unoccupied, and
thinking it would suit her, she had taken it without trying to beat
down the terms, at a rental of three hundred and twenty francs payable
half yearly and in advance, but had refused to sign a lease.
The house taken, she occupied it the same day, and expended about a
hundred francs on repairs.
She was a woman about fifty-four or fifty-five years of age, well
preserved, active, and in the enjoyment of excellent health. No one
knew her reasons for taking up her abode in a country where she was an
absolute stranger. She was supposed to have come from Normandy, having
been frequently seen in the early morning to wear a white cotton cap.
This night-cap did not prevent her dressing very smartly during the
day; indeed, she ordinarily wore very handsome dresses, very showy
ribbons in her caps, and covered herself with jewels like a saint in a
chapel. Without doubt she had lived on the coast, for ships and the
sea recurred incessantly in her conversation.
She did not like speaking of her husband who had, she said, perished
in a shipwreck. But she had never given the slightest detail. On one
particular occasion she had remarked, in presence of the milk-woman
and three other persons, "No woman was ever more miserable than I
during my married life." And at another she had said, "All new, all
fine! A new broom sweeps clean. My defunct husband only loved me for a
Widow Lerouge passed for rich, or at the least for being very well off
and she was not a miser. She had lent a woman at La Malmaison sixty
francs with which to pay her rent, and would not let her return them.
At another time she had advanced two hundred francs to a fisherman of
Port-Marly. She was fond of good living, spent a good deal on her
food, and bought wine by the half cask. She took pleasure in treating
her acquaintances, and her dinners were excellent. If complimented on
her easy circumstances, she made no very strong denial. She had
frequently been heard to say, "I have nothing in the funds, but I have
everything I want. If I wished for more, I could have it."
Beyond this, the slightest allusion to her past life, her country, or
her family had never escaped her. She was very talkative, but all she
would say would be to the detriment of her neighbours. She was
supposed, however, to have seen the world, and to know a great deal.
She was very distrustful and barricaded herself in her cottage as in a
fortress. She never went out in the evening, and it was well known
that she got tipsy regularly at her dinner and went to bed very soon
afterwards. Rarely had strangers been seen to visit her; four or five
times a lady accompanied by a young man had called, and upon one
occasion two gentlemen, one young, the other old and decorated, had
come in a magnificent carriage.
In conclusion, the deceased was held in but little esteem by her
neighbours. Her remarks were often most offensive and odious in the
mouth of a woman of her age. She had been heard to give a young girl
the most detestable counsels. A pork butcher, belonging to Bougival,
embarrassed in his business, and tempted by her supposed wealth, had
at one time paid her his addresses. She, however, repelled his
advances, declaring that to be married once was enough for her. On
several occasions men had been seen in her house; first of all, a
young one, who had the appearance of a clerk of the railway company;
then another, a tall, elderly man, very sunburnt, who was dressed in a
blouse, and looked very villainous. These men were reported to be her
Whilst questioning the witnesses, the commissary wrote down their
depositions in a more condensed form, and he had got so far, when the
investigating magistrate arrived, attended by the chief of the
detective police, and one of his subordinates.
M. Daburon was a man thirty-eight years of age, and of prepossessing
appearance; sympathetic notwithstanding his coldness; wearing upon his
countenance a sweet, and rather sad expression. This settled
melancholy had remained with him ever since his recovery, two years
before, from a dreadful malady, which had well-nigh proved fatal.
Investigating magistrate since 1859, he had rapidly acquired the most
brilliant reputation. Laborious, patient, and acute, he knew with
singular skill how to disentangle the skein of the most complicated
affair, and from the midst of a thousand threads lay hold to the right
one. None better than he, armed with an implacable logic, could solve
those terrible problems in which X--in algebra, the unknown quantity--
represents the criminal. Clever in deducing the unknown from the
known, he excelled in collecting facts, and in uniting in a bundle of
overwhelming proofs circumstances the most trifling, and in appearance
the most insignificant.
Although possessed of qualifications for his office so numerous and
valuable, he was tremblingly distrustful of his own abilities and
exercised his terrible functions with diffidence and hesitation. He
wanted audacity to risk those sudden surprises so often resorted to by
his colleagues in the pursuit of truth.
Thus it was repugnant to his feelings to deceive even an accused
person, or to lay snares for him; in fact the mere idea of the
possibility of a judicial error terrified him. They said of him in the
courts, "He is a trembler." What he sought was not conviction, nor the
most probable presumptions, but the most absolute certainty. No rest
for him until the day when the accused was forced to bow before the
evidence; so much so that he had been jestingly reproached with
seeking not to discover criminals but innocents.
The chief of detective police was none other than the celebrated
Gevrol. He is really an able man, but wanting in perseverance, and
liable to be blinded by an incredible obstinacy. If he loses a clue,
he cannot bring himself to acknowledge it, still less to retrace his
steps. His audacity and coolness, however, render it impossible to
disconcert him; and being possessed of immense personal strength,
hidden under a most meagre appearance, he has never hesitated to
confront the most daring of malefactors.
But his specialty, his triumph, his glory, is a memory of faces, so
prodigious as to exceed belief. Let him see a face for five minutes,
and it is enough. Its possessor is catalogued, and will be recognised
at any time. The impossibilities of place, the unlikelihood of
circumstances, the most incredible disguises will not lead him astray.
The reason for this, so he pretends, is because he only looks at a
man's eyes, without noticing any other features.
This faculty was severely tested some months back at Poissy, by the
following experiment. Three prisoners were draped in coverings so as
to completely disguise their height. Over their faces were thick
veils, allowing nothing of the features to be seen except the eyes,
for which holes had been made; and in this state they were shown to
Without the slightest hesitation he recognised the prisoners and named
them. Had chance alone assisted him?
The subordinate Gevrol had brought with him, was an old offender,
reconciled to the law. A smart fellow in his profession, crafty as a
fox, and jealous of his chief, whose abilities he held in light
estimation. His name was Lecoq.
The commissary, by this time heartily tired of his responsibilities,
welcomed the investigating magistrate and his agents as liberators. He
rapidly related the facts collected and read his official report.
"You have proceeded very well," observed the investigating magistrate.
"All is stated clearly; yet there is one fact you have omitted to
"What is that, sir?" inquired the commissary.
"On what day was Widow Lerouge last seen, and at what hour?"
"I was coming to that presently. She was last seen and spoken to on
the evening of Shrove Tuesday, at twenty minutes past five. She was
then returning from Bougival with a basketful of purchases."
"You are sure of the hour, sir?" inquired Gevrol.
"Perfectly, and for this reason; the two witnesses who furnished me
with this fact, a woman named Tellier and a cooper who lives hard by,
alighted from the omnibus which leaves Marly every hour, when they
perceived the widow in the cross-road, and hastened to overtake her.
They conversed with her and only left her when they reached the door
of her own house."
"And what had she in her basket?" asked the investigating magistrate.
"The witnesses cannot say. They only know that she carried two sealed
bottles of wine, and another of brandy. She complained to them of
headache, and said, 'Though it is customary to enjoy oneself on Shrove
Tuesday, I am going to bed.'"
"So, so!" exclaimed the chief of detective police. "I know where to
"You think so?" inquired M. Daburon.
"Why, it is clear enough. We must find the tall sunburnt man, the
gallant in the blouse. The brandy and the wine were intended for his
entertainment. The widow expected him to supper. He came, sure enough,
the amiable gallant!"
"Oh!" cried the corporal of gendarmes, evidently scandalised, "she was
very old, and terribly ugly!"
Gevrol surveyed the honest fellow with an expression of contemptuous
pity. "Know, corporal," said he, "that a woman who has money is always
young and pretty, if she desires to be thought so!"
"Perhaps there is something in that," remarked the magistrate; "but it
is not what strikes me most. I am more impressed by the remark of this
unfortunate woman. 'If I wished for more, I could have it.'"
"That also attracted my attention," acquiesced the commissary.
But Gevrol no longer took the trouble to listen. He stuck to his own
opinion, and began to inspect minutely every corner of the room.
Suddenly he turned towards the commissary. "Now that I think of it,"
cried he, "was it not on Tuesday that the weather changed? It had been
freezing for a fortnight past, and on that evening it rained. At what
time did the rain commence here?"
"At half-past nine," answered the corporal. "I went out from supper to
make my circuit of the dancing halls, when I was overtaken opposite
the Rue des Pecheurs by a heavy shower. In less than ten minutes there
was half an inch of water in the road."
"Very well," said Gevrol. "Then if the man came after half-past nine
his shoes must have been very muddy. If they were dry, he arrived
sooner. This must have been noticed, for the floor is a polished one.
Were there any imprints of footsteps, M. Commissary?"
"I must confess we never thought of looking for them."
"Ah!" exclaimed the chief detective, in a tone of irritation, "that is
"Wait," added the commissary; "there is yet time to see if there are
any, not in this room, but in the other. We have disturbed absolutely
nothing there. My footsteps and the corporal's will be easily
distinguished. Let us see."
As the commissary opened the door of the second chamber, Gevrol
stopped him. "I ask permission, sir," said he to the investigating
magistrate, "to examine the apartment before any one else is permitted
to enter. It is very important for me."
"Certainly," approved M. Daburon.
Gevrol passed in first, the others remaining on the threshold. They
all took in at a glance the scene of the crime. Everything, as the
commissary had stated, seemed to have been overturned by some furious
madman. In the middle of the room was a table covered with a fine
linen cloth, white as snow. Upon this was placed a magnificent
wineglass of the rarest manufacture, a very handsome knife, and a
plate of the finest porcelain. There was an opened bottle of wine,
hardly touched, and another of brandy, from which about five or six
small glassfuls had been taken.
On the right, against the wall, stood two handsome walnut-wood
wardrobes, with ornamental locks; they were placed one on each side of
the window; both were empty, and the contents scattered about on all
sides. There were clothing, linen, and other effects unfolded, tossed
about, and crumpled. At the end of the room, near the fireplace, a
large cupboard used for keeping the crockery was wide open. On the
other side of the fireplace, an old secretary with a marble top had
been forced, broken, smashed into bits, and rummaged, no doubt, to its
inmost recesses. The desk, wrenched away, hung by a single hinge. The
drawers had been pulled out and thrown upon the floor.
To the left of the room stood the bed, which had been completely
disarranged and upset. Even the straw of the mattress had been pulled
out and examined.
"Not the slightest imprint," murmured Gevrol disappointed. "He must
have arrived before half-past nine. You can all come in now."
He walked right up to the corpse of the widow, near which he knelt.
"It can not be said," grumbled he, "that the work is not properly
done! the assassin is no apprentice!"
Then looking right and left, he continued: "Oh! oh! the poor devil was
busy with her cooking when he struck her; see her pan of ham and eggs
upon the hearth. The brute hadn't patience enough to wait for the
dinner. The gentleman was in a hurry, he struck the blow fasting;
therefore he can't invoke the gayety of dessert in his defense!"
"It is evident," said the commissary to the investigating magistrate,
"that robbery was the motive of the crime."
"It is probable," answered Gevrol in a sly way; "and that accounts for
the absence of the silver spoons from the table."
"Look here! Some pieces of gold in this drawer!" exclaimed Lecoq, who
had been searching on his own account, "just three hundred and twenty
"Well, I never!" cried Gevrol, a little disconcerted. But he soon
recovered from his embarrassment, and added: "He must have forgotten
them; that often happens. I have known an assassin, who, after
accomplishing the murder, became so utterly bewildered as to depart
without remembering to take the plunder, for which he had committed
the crime. Our man became excited perhaps, or was interrupted. Some
one may have knocked at the door. What makes me more willing to think
so is, that the scamp did not leave the candle burning. You see he
took the trouble to put it out."
"Pooh!" said Lecoq. "That proves nothing. He is probably an economical
and careful man."
The investigations of the two agents were continued all over the
house; but their most minute researches resulted in discovering
absolutely nothing; not one piece of evidence to convict; not the
faintest indication which might serve as a point of departure. Even
the dead woman's papers, if she possessed any, had disappeared. Not a
letter, not a scrap of paper even, to be met with. From time to time
Gevrol stopped to swear or grumble. "Oh! it is cleverly done! It is a
tiptop piece of work! The scoundrel is a cool hand!"
"Well, what do you make of it?" at length demanded the investigating
"It is a drawn game monsieur," replied Gevrol. "We are baffled for the
present. The miscreant has taken his measures with great precaution;
but I will catch him. Before night, I shall have a dozen men in
pursuit. Besides, he is sure to fall into our hands. He has carried
off the plate and the jewels. He is lost!"
"Despite all that," said M. Daburon, "we are no further advanced than
we were this morning!"
"Well!" growled Gevrol. "A man can only do what he can!"
"Ah!" murmured Lecoq in a low tone, perfectly audible, however, "why
is not old Tirauclair here?"
"What could he do more than we have done?" retorted Gevrol, directing
a furious glance at his subordinate. Lecoq bowed his head and was
silent, inwardly delighted at having wounded his chief.
"Who is old Tirauclair?" asked M. Daburon. "It seems to me that I have
heard the name, but I can't remember where."
"He is an extraordinary man!" exclaimed Lecoq. "He was formerly a
clerk at the Mont de Piete," added Gevrol; "but he is now a rich old
fellow, whose real name is Tabaret. He goes in for playing the
detective by way of amusement."
"And to augment his revenues," insinuated the commissary.
"He?" cried Lecoq. "No danger of that. He works so much for the glory
of success that he often spends money from his own pocket. It's his
amusement, you see! At the Prefecture we have nicknamed him
'Tirauclair,' from a phrase he is constantly in the habit of
repeating. Ah! he is sharp, the old weasel! It was he who in the case
of that banker's wife, you remember, guessed that the lady had robbed
herself, and who proved it."
"True!" retorted Gevrol; "and it was also he who almost had poor
Dereme guillotined for killing his wife, a thorough bad woman; and all
the while the poor man was innocent."
"We are wasting our time, gentlemen," interrupted M. Daburon. Then,
addressing himself to Lecoq, he added:--"Go and find M. Tabaret. I
have heard a great deal of him, and shall be glad to see him at work
Lecoq started off at a run, Gevrol was seriously humiliated. "You have
of course, sir, the right to demand the services of whom you please,"
commenced he, "but yet--"
"Do not," interrupted M. Daburon, "let us lose our tempers, M. Gevrol.
I have known you for a long time, and I know your worth; but to-day we
happen to differ in opinion. You hold absolutely to your sunburnt man
in the blouse, and I, on my side, am convinced that you are not on the
"I think I am right," replied the detective, "and I hope to prove it.
I shall find the scoundrel, be he whom he may!"
"I ask nothing better," said M. Daburon.
"Only, permit me, sir, to give--what shall I say without failing in
respect?--a piece of advice?"
"I would advise you, sir, to distrust old Tabaret."
"Really? And for what reason?"
"The old fellow allows himself to be carried away too much by
appearances. He has become an amateur detective for the sake of
popularity, just like an author; and, as he is vainer than a peacock,
he is apt to lose his temper and be very obstinate. As soon as he
finds himself in the presence of a crime, like this one, for example,
he pretends he can explain everything on the instant. And he manages
to invent a story that will correspond exactly with the situation. He
professes, with the help of one single fact, to be able to reconstruct
all the details of an assassination, as a savant pictures an
antediluvian animal from a single bone. Sometimes he divines
correctly; very often, though, he makes a mistake. Take, for instance,
the case of the tailor, the unfortunate Dereme, without me--"
"I thank you for your advice," interrupted M. Daburon, "and will
profit by it. Now commissary," he continued, "it is most important to
ascertain from what part of the country Widow Lerouge came."
The procession of witnesses under the charge of the corporal of
gendarmes were again interrogated by the investigating magistrate.
But nothing new was elicited. It was evident that Widow Lerouge had
been a singularly discreet woman; for, although very talkative,
nothing in any way connected with her antecedents remained in the
memory of the gossips of La Jonchere.
All the people interrogated, however, obstinately tried to impart to
the magistrate their own convictions and personal conjectures. Public
opinion sided with Gevrol. Every voice denounced the tall sunburnt man
with the gray blouse. He must surely be the culprit. Everyone
remembered his ferocious aspect, which had frightened the whole
neighbourhood. He had one evening menaced a woman, and another day
beaten a child. They could point out neither the child nor the woman;
but no matter: these brutal acts were notoriously public. M. Daburon
began to despair of gaining the least enlightenment, when some one
brought the wife of a grocer of Bougival, at whose shop the victim
used to deal, and a child thirteen years old, who knew, it was said,
The grocer's wife first made her appearance. She had heard Widow
Lerouge speak of having a son still living.
"Are you quite sure of that?" asked the investigating magistrate.
"As of my existence," answered the woman, "for, on that evening, yes,
it was evening, she was, saving your presence, a little tipsy. She
remained in my shop more than an hour."
"And what did she say?"
"I think I see her now," continued the shopkeeper: "she was leaning
against the counter near the scales, jesting with a fisherman of
Marly, old Husson, who can tell you the same; and she called him a
fresh water sailor. 'My husband,' said she, 'was a real sailor, and
the proof is, he would sometimes remain years on a voyage, and always
used to bring me back cocoanuts. I have a son who is also a sailor,
like his dead father, in the imperial navy.'"
"Did she mention her son's name?"
"Not that time, but another evening, when she was, if I may say so,
very drunk. She told us that her son's name was Jacques, and that she
had not seen him for a very long time."
"Did she speak ill of her husband?"
"Never! She only said he was jealous and brutal, though a good man at
bottom, and that he led her a miserable life. He was weak-headed, and
forged ideas out of nothing at all. In fact he was too honest to be
"Did her son ever come to see her while she lived here?"
"She never told me of it."
"Did she spend much money with you?"
"That depends. About sixty francs a month; sometimes more, for she
always buys the best brandy. She paid cash for all she bought."
The woman knowing no more was dismissed. The child, who was now
brought forward, belonged to parents in easy circumstances. Tall and
strong for his age, he had bright intelligent eyes, and features
expressive of watchfulness and cunning. The presence of the magistrate
did not seem to intimidate him in the least.
"Let us hear, my boy," said M. Daburon, "what you know."
"Well, sir, a few days ago, on Sunday last, I saw a man at Madame
"At what time of the day?"
"Early in the morning. I was going to church, to serve in the second
"Well," continued the magistrate, "and this man was tall and sunburnt,
and dressed in a blouse?"
"No, sir, on the contrary, he was short, very fat, and old."
"You are sure you are not mistaken?"
"Quite sure," replied the urchin, "I saw him close face to face, for I
spoke to him."
"Tell me, then, what occurred?"
"Well, sir, I was passing when I saw this fat man at the gate. He
appeared very much vexed, oh! but awfully vexed! His face was red, or
rather purple, as far as the middle of his head, which I could see
very well, for it was bare, and had very little hair on it."
"And did he speak to you first?"
"Yes, sir, he saw me, and called out, 'Halloa! youngster!' as I came
up to him, and he asked me if I had got a good pair of legs? I
answered yes. Then he took me by the ear, but without hurting me, and
said, 'Since that is so, if you will run an errand for me, I will give
you ten sous. Run as far as the Seine; and when you reach the quay,
you will notice a large boat moored. Go on board, and ask to see
Captain Gervais: he is sure to be there. Tell him that he can prepare
to leave, that I am ready.' Then he put ten sous in my hand; and off I
"If all the witnesses were like this bright little fellow," murmured
the commissary, "what a pleasure it would be!"
"Now," said the magistrate, "tell us how you executed your
"I went to the boat, sir, found the man, and I told him; and that's
Gevrol, who had listened with the most lively attention, leaned over
towards the ear of M. Daburon, and said in a low voice: "Will you
permit me, sir, to ask the brat a few questions?"
"Certainly, M. Gevrol."
"Come now, my little friend," said Gevrol, "if you saw this man again,
would you know him?"
"Then there was something remarkable about him?"
"Yes, I should think so! his face was the colour of a brick!"
"And is that all?"
"Well, yes, sir."
"But you must remember how he was dressed; had he a blouse on?"
"No; he wore a jacket. Under the arms were very large pockets, and
from out of one of them peeped a blue spotted handkerchief."
"What kind of trousers had he on?"
"I do not remember."
"And his waistcoat?"
"Let me see," answered the child. "I don't think he wore a waistcoat.
And yet,--but no, I remember he did not wear one; he had a long
cravat, fastened near his neck by a large ring."
"Ah!" said Gevrol, with an air of satisfaction, "you are a bright boy;
and I wager that if you try hard to remember you will find a few more
details to give us."
The boy hung down his head, and remained silent. From the knitting of
his young brows, it was plain he was making a violent effort of
memory. "Yes," cried he suddenly, "I remember another thing."
"The man wore very large rings in his ears."
"Bravo!" cried Gevrol, "here is a complete description. I shall find
the fellow now. M. Daburon can prepare a warrant for his appearance
whenever he likes."
"I believe, indeed, the testimony of this child is of the highest
importance," said M. Daburon; and turning to the boy added, "Can you
tell us, my little friend, with what this boat was loaded?"
"No, sir, I couldn't see because it was decked."
"Which way was she going, up the Seine or down?"
"Neither, sir, she was moored."
"We know that," said Gevrol. "The magistrate asks you which way the
prow of the boat was turned,--towards Paris or towards Marly?"
"The two ends of the boat seemed alike to me."
The chief of the detective of police made a gesture of disappointment.
"At least," said he, addressing the child again, "you noticed the name
of the boat? you can read I suppose. One should always know the names
of the boats one goes aboard of."
"No, I didn't see any name," said the little boy.
"If this boat was moored at the quay," remarked M. Daburon, "it was
probably noticed by the inhabitants of Bougival."
"That is true, sir," approved the commissary.
"Yes," said Gevrol, "and the sailors must have come ashore. I shall
find out all about it at the wine shop. But what sort of a man was
Gervais, the master, my little friend?"
"Like all the sailors hereabouts, sir."
The child was preparing to depart when M. Daburon recalled him.
"Before you go, my boy, tell me, have you spoken to any one of this
meeting before to-day?"
"Yes, sir, I told all to mamma when I got back from church, and gave
her the ten sous."
"And you have told us the whole truth?" continued the magistrate. "You
know that it is a very grave matter to attempt to impose on justice.
She always finds it out, and it is my duty to warn you that she
inflicts the most terrible punishment upon liars."
The little fellow blushed as red as a cherry, and held down his head.
"I see," pursued M. Daburon, "that you have concealed something from
us. Don't you know that the police know everything?"
"Pardon! sir," cried the boy, bursting into tears,--"pardon. Don't
punish me, and I will never do so again."
"Tell us, then, how you have deceived us?"
"Well, sir, it was not ten sous that the man gave me, it was twenty
sous. I only gave half to mamma; and I kept the rest to buy marbles
"My little friend," said the investigating magistrate, "for this time
I forgive you. But let it be a lesson for the remainder of your life.
You may go now, and remember it is useless to try and hide the truth;
it always comes to light!"
The two last depositions awakened in M. Daburon's mind some slight
gleams of hope. In the midst of darkness, the humblest rush-light
"I will go at once to Bougival, sir, if you approve of this step,"
"Perhaps you would do well to wait a little," answered M. Daburon.
"This man was seen on Sunday morning; we will inquire into Widow
Lerouge's movements on that day."
Three neighbours were called. They all declared that the widow had
kept her bed all Sunday. To one woman who, hearing she was unwell, had
visited her, she said, "Ah! I had last night a terrible accident."
Nobody at the time attached any significance to these words.
"The man with the rings in his ears becomes more and important," said
the magistrate, when the woman had retired. "To find him again is
indispensable: you must see to this, M. Gevrol."
"Before eight days, I shall have him," replied the chief of detective
police, "if I have to search every boat on the Seine, from its source
to the ocean. I know the name of the captain, Gervais. The navigation
office will tell me something."
He was interrupted by Lecoq, who rushed into the house breathless.
"Here is old Tabaret," he said. "I met him just as he was going out.
What a man! He wouldn't wait for the train, but gave I don't know how
much to a cabman; and we drove here in fifty minutes!"
Almost immediately, a man appeared at the door, whose aspect it must
be admitted was not at all what one would have expected of a person
who had joined the police for honour alone. He was certainly sixty
years old and did not look a bit younger. Short, thin, and rather
bent, he leant on the carved ivory handle of a stout cane. His round
face wore that expression of perpetual astonishment, mingled with
uneasiness, which has made the fortunes of two comic actors of the
Palais-Royal theatre. Scrupulously shaved, he presented a very short
chin, large and good natured lips, and a nose disagreeably elevated,
like the broad end of one of Sax's horns. His eyes of a dull gray,
were small and red at the lids, and absolutely void of expression; yet
they fatigued the observer by their insupportable restlessness. A few
straight hairs shaded his forehead, which receded like that of a
greyhound, and through their scantiness barely concealed his long ugly
ears. He was very comfortably dressed, clean as a new franc piece,
displaying linen of dazzling whiteness, and wearing silk gloves and
leather gaiters. A long and massive gold chain, very vulgar-looking,
was twisted thrice round his neck, and fell in cascades into the
pocket of his waistcoat.
M. Tabaret, surnamed Tirauclair, stood at the threshold, and bowed
almost to the ground, bending his old back into an arch, and in the
humblest of voices asked, "The investigating magistrate has deigned to
send for me?"
"Yes!" replied M. Daburon, adding under his breath; "and if you are a
man of any ability, there is at least nothing to indicate it in your
"I am here," continued the old fellow, "completely at the service of
"I wish to know," said M. Daburon, "whether you can discover some clue
that will put us upon the track of the assassin. I will explain the--"
"Oh, I know enough of it!" interrupted old Tabaret. "Lecoq has told me
the principal facts, just as much as I desire to know."
"Nevertheless--" commenced the commissary of police.
"If you will permit me, I prefer to proceed without receiving any
details, in order to be more fully master of my own impressions. When
one knows another's opinion it can't help influencing one's judgment.
I will, if you please, at once commence my researches, with Lecoq's
As the old fellow spoke, his little gray eyes dilated, and became
brilliant as carbuncles. His face reflected an internal satisfaction;
even his wrinkles seemed to laugh. His figure became erect, and his
step was almost elastic, as he darted into the inner chamber.
He remained there about half an hour; then came out running, then
re-entered and then again came out; once more he disappeared and
reappeared again almost immediately. The magistrate could not help
comparing him to a pointer on the scent, his turned-up nose even moved
about as if to discover some subtle odour left by the assassin. All
the while he talked loudly and with much gesticulation, apostrophising
himself, scolding himself, uttering little cries of triumph or self-
encouragement. He did not allow Lecoq to have a moment's rest. He
wanted this or that or the other thing. He demanded paper and a
pencil. Then he wanted a spade; and finally he cried out for plaster
of Paris, some water and a bottle of oil.
When more than an hour had elapsed, the investigating magistrate began
to grow impatient, and asked what had become of the amateur detective.
"He is on the road," replied the corporal, "lying flat in the mud, and
mixing some plaster in a plate. He says he has nearly finished, and
that he is coming back presently."
He did in fact return almost instantly, joyous, triumphant, looking at
least twenty years younger. Lecoq followed him, carrying with the
utmost precaution a large basket.
"I have solved the riddle!" said Tabaret to the magistrate. "It is all
clear now, and as plain as noon-day. Lecoq, my lad, put the basket on
Gevrol at this moment returned from his expedition equally delighted.
"I am on the track of the man with the earrings," said he; "the boat
went down the river. I have obtained an exact description of the
"What have you discovered, M. Tabaret!" asked the magistrate.
The old fellow carefully emptied upon the table the contents of the
basket,--a big lump of clay, several large sheets of paper, and three
or four small lumps of plaster yet damp. Standing behind this table,
he presented a grotesque resemblance to those mountebank conjurers who
in the public squares juggle the money of the lookers-on. His clothes
had greatly suffered; he was covered with mud up to the chin.
"In the first place," said he, at last, in a tone of affected modesty,
"robbery has had nothing to do with the crime that occupies our
"Oh! of course not!" muttered Gevrol.
"I shall prove it," continued old Tabaret, "by the evidence. By-and-by
I shall offer my humble opinion as to the real motive. In the second
place, the assassin arrived here before half-past nine; that is to
say, before the rain fell. No more than M. Gevrol have I been able to
discover traces of muddy footsteps; but under the table, on the spot
where his feet rested, I find dust. We are thus assured of the hour.
The widow did not in the least expect her visitor. She had commenced
undressing, and was winding up her cuckoo clock when he knocked."
"These are absolute details!" cried the commissary.
"But easily established," replied the amateur. "You see this cuckoo
clock above the secretary; it is one of those which run fourteen or
fifteen hours at most, for I have examined it. Now it is more than
probable, it is certain, that the widow wound it up every evening
before going to bed. How, then, is it that the clock has stopped at
five? Because she must have touched it. As she was drawing the chain,
the assassin knocked. In proof, I show this chair standing under the
clock, and on the seat a very plain foot-mark. Now look at the dress
of the victim; the body of it is off. In order to open the door more
quickly, she did not wait to put it on again, but hastily threw this
old shawl over her shoulders."
"By Jove!" exclaimed the corporal, evidently struck.
"The widow," continued the old fellow, "knew the person who knocked.
Her haste to open the door gives rise to this conjecture; what follows
proves it. The assassin then gained admission without difficulty. He
is a young man, a little above the middle height, elegantly dressed.
He wore on that evening a high hat. He carried an umbrella, and smoked
a trabucos cigar in a holder."
"Ridiculous!" cried Gevrol. "This is too much."
"Too much, perhaps," retorted old Tabaret. "At all events, it is the
truth. If you are not minute in your investigations, I cannot help it;
anyhow, I am, I search, and I find. Too much, say you? Well deign to
glance at these lumps of damp plaster. They represent the heels of the
boots worn by the assassin, of which I found a most perfect impression
near the ditch, where the key was picked up. On these sheets of paper,
I have marked in outline the imprint of the foot which I cannot take
up, because it is on some sand. Look! heel high, instep pronounced,
sole small and narrow,--an elegant boot, belonging to a foot well
cared for evidently. Look for this impression all along the path; and
you will find it again twice. Then you will find it five times
repeated in the garden where no one else had been; and these
footprints prove, by the way, that the stranger knocked not at the
door, but at the window-shutter, beneath which shone a gleam of light.
At the entrance to the garden, the man leapt to avoid a flower bed!
the point of the foot, more deeply imprinted than usual, shows it. He
leapt more than two yards with ease, proving that he is active, and
Old Tabaret spoke in a low voice, clear and penetrating: and his eye
glanced from one to the other of his auditors, watching the impression
he was making.
"Does the hat astonish you, M. Gevrol?" he pursued. "Just look at the
circle traced in the dust on the marble top of the secretary. Is it
because I have mentioned his height that you are surprised? Take the
trouble to examine the tops of the wardrobes and you will see that the
assassin passed his hands across them. Therefore he is taller than I
am. Do not say that he got on a chair, for in that case, he would have
seen and would not have been obliged to feel. Are you astonished about
the umbrella? This lump of earth shows an admirable impression not
only of the end of the stick, but even of the little round piece of
wood which is always placed at the end of the silk. Perhaps you cannot
get over the statement that he smoked a cigar? Here is the end of a
trabucos that I found amongst the ashes. Has the end been bitten? No.
Has it been moistened with saliva? No. Then he who smoked it used a
Lecoq was unable to conceal his enthusiastic admiration, and
noiselessly rubbed his hands together. The commissary appeared
stupefied, while M. Daburon was delighted. Gevrol's face, on the
contrary, was sensibly elongated. As for the corporal, he was
"Now," continued the old fellow, "follow me closely. We have traced
the young man into the house. How he explained his presence at this
hour, I do not know; this much is certain, he told the widow he had
not dined. The worthy woman was delighted to hear it, and at once set
to work to prepare a meal. This meal was not for herself; for in the
cupboard I have found the remains of her own dinner. She had dined off
fish; the autopsy will confirm the truth of this statement. Besides
you can see yourselves, there is but one glass on the table, and one
knife. But who is this young man? Evidently the widow looked upon him
as a man of superior rank to her own; for in the cupboard is a table-
cloth still very clean. Did she use it? No. For her guest she brought
out a clean linen one, her very best. It is for him this magnificent
glass, a present, no doubt, and it is evident she did not often use
this knife with the ivory handle."
"That is all true," murmured M. Daburon, "very true."
"Now, then we have got the young man seated. He began by drinking a
glass of wine, while the widow was putting her pan on the fire. Then,
his heart failing him, he asked for brandy, and swallowed about five
small glassfuls. After an internal struggle of ten minutes (the time
it must have taken to cook the ham and eggs as much as they are), the
young man arose and approached the widow, who was squatting down and
leaning forward over her cooking. He stabbed her twice on the back;
but she was not killed instantly. She half arose seizing the assassin
by the hands; while he drew back, lifting her suddenly, and then
hurling her down in the position in which you see her. This short
struggle is indicated by the posture of the body; for, squatting down
and being struck in the back, it is naturally on her back that she
ought to have fallen. The murderer used a sharp narrow weapon, which
was, unless I am deceived, the end of a foil, sharpened, and with the
button broken off. By wiping the weapon upon his victim's skirt, the
assassin leaves us this indication. He was not, however, hurt in the
struggle. The victim must have clung with a death-grip to his hands;
but, as he had not taken off his lavender kid gloves,--"
"Gloves! Why this is romance," exclaimed Gevrol.
"Have you examined the dead woman's finger-nails, M. Gevrol? No. Well,
do so, and then tell me whether I am mistaken. The woman, now dead, we
come to the object of her assassination. What did this well-dressed
young gentleman want? Money? Valuables? No! no! a hundred times no!
What he wanted, what he sought, and what he found, were papers,
documents, letters, which he knew to be in the possession of the
victim. To find them, he overturned everything, upset the cupboards,
unfolded the linen, broke open the secretary, of which he could not
find the key, and even emptied the mattress of the bed. At last he
found these documents. And then do you know what he did with them?
Why, burned them, of course; not in the fire-place, but in the little
stove in the front room. His end accomplished, what does he do next?
He flies, carrying with him all that he finds valuable, to baffle
detection, by suggesting a robbery. He wrapped everything he found
worth taking in the napkin which was to have served him at dinner, and
blowing out the candle, he fled, locking the door on the outside, and
throwing the key into a ditch. And that is all."
"M. Tabaret," said the magistrate, "your investigation is admirable;
and I am persuaded your inferences are correct."
"Ah!" cried Lecoq. "is he not colossal, my old Tirauclair?"
"Pyramidal!" cried Gevrol ironically. "I fear, however, your well-
dressed young man must have been just a little embarrassed in carrying
a bundle covered with a snow white napkin, which could be so easily
seen from a distance.
"He did not carry it a hundred leagues," responded old Tabaret. "You
may well believe, that, to reach the railway station, he was not fool
enough to take the omnibus. No, he returned on foot by the shortest
way, which borders the river. Now on reaching the Seine, unless he is
more knowing than I take him to be, his first care was to throw this
tell-tale bundle into the water."
"Do you believe so, M. Tirauclair?" asked Gevrol.
"I don't mind making a bet on it; and the best evidence of my belief
is, that I have sent three men, under the surveillance of a gendarme,
to drag the Seine at the nearest spot from here. If they succeed in
finding the bundle, I have promised them a recompense."
"Out of your own pocket, old enthusiast?"
"Yes, M. Gevrol, out of my own pocket."
"If they should however find this bundle!" murmured M. Daburon.
He was interrupted by the entrance of a gendarme, who said: "Here is a
soiled table-napkin, filled with plate, money, and jewels, which these
men have found; they claim the hundred francs' reward, promised them."
Old Tabaret took from his pocket-book a bank note, which he handed to
the gendarme. "Now," demanded he, crushing Gevrol with one disdainful
glance, "what thinks the investigating magistrate after this?"
"That, thanks to your remarkable penetration, we shall discover--"
He did not finish. The doctor summoned to make the post-mortem
examination entered the room. That unpleasant task accomplished, it
only confirmed the assertions and conjectures of old Tabaret. The
doctor explained, as the old man had done, the position of the body.
In his opinion also, there had been a struggle. He pointed out a
bluish circle, hardly perceptible, round the neck of the victim,
produced apparently by the powerful grasp of the murderer; finally he
declared that Widow Lerouge had eaten about three hours before being
Nothing now remained except to collect the different objects which
would be useful for the prosecution, and might at a later period
confound the culprit. Old Tabaret examined with extreme care the dead
woman's finger-nails; and, using infinite precaution, he even
extracted from behind them several small particles of kid. The largest
of these pieces was not above the twenty-fifth part of an inch in
length; but all the same their colour was easily distinguishable. He
put aside also the part of the dress upon which the assassin had wiped
his weapon. These with the bundle recovered from the Seine, and the
different casts taken by the old fellow, were all the traces the
murderer had left behind him.
It was not much; but this little was enormous in the eyes of M.
Daburon; and he had strong hopes of discovering the culprit. The
greatest obstacle to success in the unravelling of mysterious crimes
is in mistaking the motive. If the researches take at the first step a
false direction, they are diverted further and further from the truth,
in proportion to the length they are followed. Thanks to old Tabaret,
the magistrate felt confident that he was in the right path.
Night had come on. M. Daburon had now nothing more to do at La
Jonchere; but Gevrol, who still clung to his own opinion of the guilt
of the man with the rings in his ears, declared he would remain at
Bougival. He determined to employ the evening in visiting the
different wine shops, and finding if possible new witnesses. At the
moment of departure, after the commissary and the entire party had
wished M. Daburon good-night, the latter asked M. Tabaret to accompany
"I was about to solicit that honour," replied the old fellow. They set
out together; and naturally the crime which had been discovered, and
with which they were mutually preoccupied, formed the subject of their
"Shall we, or shall we not, ascertain the antecedents of this woman!"
repeated old Tabaret. "All depends upon that now!"
"We shall ascertain them, if the grocer's wife has told the truth,"
replied M. Daburon. "If the husband of Widow Lerouge was a sailor, and
if her son Jacques is in the navy, the minister of marine can furnish
information that will soon lead to their discovery. I will write to
the minister this very night."
They reached the station at Rueil, and took their places in the train.
They were fortunate enough to secure a 1st class carriage to
themselves. But old Tabaret was no longer disposed for conversation.
He reflected, he sought, he combined; and in his face might easily be
read the working of his thoughts. M. Daburon watched him curiously and
felt singularly attracted by this eccentric old man, whose very
original taste had led him to devote his services to the secret police
of the Rue de Jerusalem.
"M Tabaret," he suddenly asked, "have you been long associated with
"Nine years, M. Daburon, more than nine years; and permit me to
confess I am a little surprised that you have never before heard of
"I certainly knew you by reputation," answered M. Daburon; "but your
name did not occur to me, and it was only in consequence of hearing
you praised that I had the excellent idea of asking your assistance.
But what, I should like to know, is your reason for adopting this
"Sorrow, sir, loneliness, weariness. Ah! I have not always been
"I have been told, though, that you are rich."
The old fellow heaved a deep sigh, which revealed the most cruel
deceptions. "I am well off, sir," he replied; "but I have not always
been so. Until I was forty-five years old, my life was a series of
absurd and useless privations. I had a father who wasted my youth,
ruined my life, and made me the most pitiable of human creatures."
There are men who can never divest themselves of their professional
habits. M. Daburon was at all times and seasons more or less an
"How, M. Tabaret," he inquired, "your father the author of all your
"Alas, yes, sir! I have forgiven him at last; but I used to curse him
heartily. In the first transports of my resentment, I heaped upon his
memory all the insults that can be inspired by the most violent
hatred, when I learnt,-- But I will confide my history to you, M.
Daburon. When I was five and twenty years of age. I was earning two
thousand francs a year, as a clerk at the Monte de Piete. One morning
my father entered my lodging, and abruptly announced to me that he was
ruined, and without food or shelter. He appeared in despair, and
talked of killing himself. I loved my father. Naturally, I strove to
reassure him; I boasted of my situation, and explained to him at some
length, that, while I earned the means for living, he should want for
nothing; and, to commence, I insisted that henceforth we should live
together. No sooner said than done, and during twenty years I was
encumbered with the old--"
"What! you repent of your admirable conduct, M. Tabaret?"
"Do I repent of it! That is to say he deserved to be poisoned by the
bread I gave him."
M. Daburon was unable to repress a gesture of surprise, which did not
escape the old fellow's notice.
"Hear, before you condemn me," he continued. "There was I at twenty-
five, imposing upon myself the severest privations for the sake of my
father,--no more friends, no more flirtations, nothing. In the
evenings, to augment our scanty revenues, I worked at copying law
papers for a notary. I denied myself even the luxury of tobacco.
Notwithstanding this, the old fellow complained without ceasing; he
regretted his lost fortune; he must have pocket-money, with which to
buy this, or that; my utmost exertions failed to satisfy him. Ah,
heaven alone knows what I suffered! I was not born to live alone and
grow old, like a dog. I longed for the pleasures of a home and a
family. My dream was to marry, to adore a good wife, by whom I might
be loved a little, and to see innocent healthy little ones gambolling
about my knees. But pshaw! when such thoughts entered my heart and
forced a tear or two from my eyes, I rebelled against myself. I said:
'My lad, when you earn but three thousand francs a year, and have an
old and cherished father to support, it is your duty to stifle such
desires, and remain a bachelor.' And yet I met a young girl. It is
thirty years now since that time; well! just look at me, I am sure I
am blushing as red as a tomato. Her name was Hortense. Who can tell
what has become of her? She was beautiful and poor. Well, I was quite
an old man when my father died, the wretch, the--"
"M. Tabaret!" interrupted the magistrate, "for shame, M. Tabaret!"
"But I have already told you, I have forgiven him, sir. However, you
will soon understand my anger. On the day of his death, looking in his
secretary, I found a memorandum of an income of twenty thousand
"How so! was he rich?"
"Yes, very rich; for that was not all: he owned near Orleans a
property leased for six thousand francs a year. He owned, besides, the
house I now live in, where we lived together; and I, fool, sot,
imbecile, stupid animal that I was, used to pay the rent every three
months to the concierge!"
"That was too much!" M. Daburon could not help saying.
"Was it not, sir? I was robbing myself of my own money! To crown his
hypocrisy, he left a will wherein he declared, in the name of Holy
Trinity, that he had no other aim in view, in thus acting, than my own
advantage. He wished, so he wrote, to habituate me to habits of good
order and economy, and keep me from the commission of follies. And I
was forty-five years old, and for twenty years I had been reproaching
myself if ever I spent a single sou uselessly. In short, he had
speculated on my good heart, he had . . . Bah! on my word, it is
enough to disgust the human race with filial piety!"
M. Tabaret's anger, albeit very real and justified, was so highly
ludicrous, that M. Daburon had much difficulty to restrain his
laughter, in spite of the real sadness of the recital.
"At least," said he, "this fortune must have given you pleasure."
"Not at all, sir, it came too late. Of what avail to have the bread
when one has no longer the teeth? The marriageable age had passed. I
resigned my situation, however, to make way for some one poorer than
myself. At the end of a month I was sick and tired of life; and, to
replace the affections that had been denied me, I resolved to give
myself a passion, a hobby, a mania. I became a collector of books. You
think, sir, perhaps that to take an interest in books a man must have
studied, must be learned?"
"I know, dear M. Tabaret, that he must have money. I am acquainted
with an illustrious bibliomaniac who may be able to read, but who is
most certainly unable to sign his own name."
"This is very likely. I, too, can read; and I read all the books I
bought. I collected all I could find which related, no matter how
little, to the police. Memoirs, reports, pamphlets, speeches, letters,
novels,--all suited me; and I devoured them. So much so, that little
by little I became attracted towards the mysterious power which, from
the obscurity of the Rue de Jerusalem, watches over and protects
society, which penetrates everywhere, lifts the most impervious veils,
sees through every plot, divines what is kept hidden, knows exactly
the value of a man, the price of a conscience, and which accumulates
in its portfolios the most terrible, as well as the most shameful
secrets! In reading the memoirs of celebrated detectives, more
attractive to me than the fables of our best authors I became inspired
by an enthusiastic admiration for those men, so keen scented, so
subtle, flexible as steel, artful and penetrating, fertile in
expedients, who follow crime on the trail, armed with the law, through
the rushwood of legality, as relentlessly as the savages of Cooper
pursue their enemies in the depths of the American forests. The desire
seized me to become a wheel of this admirable machine,--a small
assistance in the punishment of crime and the triumph of innocence. I
made the essay; and I found I did not succeed too badly."
"And does this employment please you?"
"I owe to it, sir, my liveliest enjoyments. Adieu weariness! since I
have abandoned the search for books to the search for men. I shrug my
shoulders when I see a foolish fellow pay twenty-five francs for the
right of hunting a hare. What a prize! Give me the hunting of a man!
That, at least, calls the faculties into play, and the victory is not
inglorious! The game in my sport is equal to the hunter; they both
possess intelligence, strength, and cunning. The arms are nearly
equal. Ah! if people but knew the excitement of these games of hide
and seek which are played between the criminal and the detective,
everybody would be wanting employment at the office of the Rue de
Jerusalem. The misfortune is, that the art is becoming lost. Great
crimes are now so rare. The race of strong fearless criminals has
given place to the mob of vulgar pick-pockets. The few rascals who are
heard of occasionally are as cowardly as foolish. They sign their
names to their misdeeds, and even leave their cards lying about. There
is no merit in catching them. Their crime found out, you have only to
go and arrest them,--"
"It seems to me, though," interrupted M. Daburon, smiling, "that our
assassin is not such a bungler."
"He, sir, is an exception; and I shall have greater delight in
tracking him. I will do everything for that, I will even compromise
myself if necessary. For I ought to confess, M. Daburon," added he,
slightly embarrassed, "that I do not boast to my friends of my
exploits; I even conceal them as carefully as possible. They would
perhaps shake hands with me less warmly did they know that Tirauclair
and Tabaret were one and the same."
Insensibly the crime became again the subject of conversation. It was
agreed, that, the first thing in the morning, M. Tabaret should
install himself at Bougival. He boasted that in eight days he should
examine all the people round about. On his side M. Daburon promised to
keep him advised of the least evidence that transpired, and recall
him, if by any chance he should procure the papers of Widow Lerouge.
"To you, M. Tabaret," said the magistrate in conclusion, "I shall be
always at home. If you have any occasion to speak to me, do not
hesitate to come at night as well as during the day. I rarely go out,
and you will always find me either at my home, Rue Jacob, or in my
office at the Palais de Justice. I will give orders for your
admittance whenever you present yourself."
The train entered the station at this moment. M. Daburon, having
called a cab, offered a seat to M. Tabaret. The old fellow declined.
"It is not worth while," he replied, "for I live, as I have had the
honour of telling you, in the Rue St. Lazare, only a few steps from
"Till to-morrow, then!" said M. Daburon.
"Till to-morrow," replied old Tabaret; and he added, "We shall
M. Tabaret's house was in fact not more than four minutes' walk from
the railway terminus of St. Lazare. It was a fine building carefully
kept, and which probably yielded a fine income though the rents were
not too high. The old fellow found plenty of room in it. He occupied
on the first floor, overlooking the street, some handsome apartments,
well arranged and comfortably furnished, the principal of which was
his collection of books. He lived very simply from taste, as well as
habit, waited on by an old servant, to whom on great occasions the
concierge lent a helping hand.
No one in the house had the slightest suspicion of the avocations of
the proprietor. Besides, even the humblest agent of police would be
expected to possess a degree of acuteness for which no one gave M.
Tabaret credit. Indeed, they mistook for incipient idiocy his
continual abstraction of mind.
It is true that all who knew him remarked the singularity of his
habits. His frequent absenses from home had given to his proceedings
an appearance at once eccentric and mysterious. Never was young
libertine more irregular in his habits than this old man. He came or
failed to come home to his meals, ate it mattered not what or when. He
went out at every hour of the day and night, often slept abroad, and
even disappeared for entire weeks at a time. Then too he received the
strangest visitors, odd looking men of suspicious appearance, and
fellows of ill-favoured and sinister aspect.
This irregular way of living had robbed the old fellow of much
consideration. Many believed they saw in him a shameless libertine,
who squandered his income in disreputable places. They would remark to
one another, "Is it not disgraceful, a man of his age?"
He was aware of all this tittle-tattle, and laughed at it. This did
not, however, prevent many of his tenants from seeking his society and
paying court to him. They would invite him to dinner, but he almost
He seldom visited but one person of the house, but with that one he
was very intimate, so much so indeed, that he was more often in her
apartment, than in his own. She was a widow lady, who for fifteen
years had occupied an apartment on the third floor. Her name was
Madame Gerdy, and she lived with her son Noel, whom she adored.
Noel Gerdy was a man thirty-three years of age, but looking older;
tall and well made, with a noble and intelligent face, large black
eyes, and black hair which curled naturally. An advocate, he passed
for having great talent, and greater industry, and had already gained
a certain amount of notoriety. He was an obstinate worker, cold and
meditative, though devoted to his profession, and affected, with some
ostentation, perhaps, a great rigidity of principle, and austerity of
In Madame Gerdy's apartment, old Tabaret felt himself quite at home.
He considered her as a relation, and looked upon Noel as a son. In
spite of her fifty years, he had often thought of asking the hand of
this charming widow, and was restrained less by the fear of a refusal
than its consequence. To propose and to be rejected would sever the
existing relations, so pleasurable to him. However, he had by his
will, which was deposited with his notary constituted this young
advocate his sole legatee; with the single condition of founding an
annual prize of two thousand francs to be bestowed on the police agent
who during the year had unravelled the most obscure and mysterious
Short as was the distance to his house, old Tabaret was a good quarter
of an hour in reaching it. On leaving M. Daburon his thoughts reverted
to the scene of the murder; and, so blinded was the old fellow to
external objects, that he moved along the street, first jostled on the
right, then on the left, by the busy passers by, advancing one step
and receding two. He repeated to himself for the fiftieth time the
words uttered by Widow Lerouge, as reported by the milk-woman. "If I
wished for any more, I could have it."
"All is in that," murmured he. "Widow Lerouge possessed some important
secret, which persons rich and powerful had the strongest motives for
concealing. She had them in her power, and that was her fortune. She
made them sing to her tune; she probably went too far, and so they
suppressed her. But of what nature was this secret, and how did she
become possessed of it? Most likely she was in her youth a servant in
some great family; and whilst there, she saw, heard, or discovered,
something-- What? Evidently there is a woman at the bottom of it. Did
she assist her mistress in some love intrigue? What more probable? And
in that case the affair becomes even more complicated. Not only must
the woman be found but her lover also; for it is the lover who has
moved in this affair. He is, or I am greatly deceived, a man of noble
birth. A person of inferior rank would have simply hired an assassin.
This man has not hung back; he himself has struck the blow and by that
means avoiding the indiscretion or the stupidity of an accomplice. He
is a courageous rascal, full of audacity and coolness, for the crime
has been admirably executed. The fellow left nothing behind of a
nature to compromise him seriously. But for me, Gevrol, believing in
the robbery, would have seen nothing. Fortunately, however, I was
there. But yet it can hardly be that," continued the old man. "It must
be something worse than a mere love affair."
Old Tabaret entered the porch of the house. The concierge seated by
the window of his lodge saw him as he passed beneath the gas lamp.
"Ah," said he, "the proprietor has returned at last."
"So he has," replied his wife, "but it looks as though his princess
would have nothing to do with him to-night. He seems more loose than
"Is it not positively indecent," said the concierge, "and isn't he in
a state! His fair ones do treat him well! One of these fine mornings I
shall have to take him to a lunatic asylum in a straight waistcoat."
"Look at him now!" interrupted his wife, "just look at him now, in the
middle of the courtyard!"
The old fellow had stopped at the extremity of the porch. He had taken
off his hat, and, while talking to himself, gesticulated violently.
"No," said he, "I have not yet got hold of the clue, I am getting near
it; but have not yet found it out."
He mounted the staircase, and rang his bell, forgetting that he had
his latch-key in his pocket. His housekeeper opened the door.
"What, is it you, sir," said she, "and at this hour!"
"What's that you say?" asked the old fellow.
"I say," replied the housekeeper, "that it is more than half-past
eight o'clock. I thought you were not coming back this evening. Have
you at least dined?"
"No, not yet."
"Well, fortunately I have kept your dinner warm. You can sit down to
it at once."
Old Tabaret took his place at the table, and helped himself to soup,
but mounting his hobby-horse again, he forgot to eat, and remained,
his spoon in the air, as though suddenly struck by an idea.
"He is certainly touched in the head," thought Manette, the
housekeeper. "Look at that stupid expression. Who in his senses would
lead the life he does?" She touched him on the shoulder, and bawled in
his ear, as if he were deaf,--"You do not eat. Are you not hungry?"
"Yes, yes," muttered he, trying mechanically to escape the voice that
sounded in his ears, "I am very hungry, for since the morning I have
been obliged--" He interrupted himself, remaining with his mouth open,
his eyes fixed on vacancy.
"You were obliged--?" repeated Manette.
"Thunder!" cried he, raising his clenched fists towards the ceiling,--
"heaven's thunder! I have it!"
His movement was so violent and sudden that the housekeeper was a
little alarmed, and retired to the further end of the dining-room,
near the door.
"Yes," continued he, "it is certain there is a child!"
Manette approached him quickly. "A child?" she asked in astonishment.
"What next!" cried he in a furious tone. "What are you doing there?
Has your hardihood come to this that you pick up the words which
escape me? Do me the pleasure to retire to your kitchen, and stay
there until I call you."
"He is going crazy!" thought Manette, as she disappeared very quickly.
Old Tabaret resumed his seat. He hastily swallowed his soup which was
completely cold. "Why," said he to himself, "did I not think of it
before? Poor humanity! I am growing old, and my brain is worn out. For
it is clear as day; the circumstances all point to that conclusion."
He rang the bell placed on the table beside him; the servant
"Bring the roast," he said, "and leave me to myself."
"Yes," continued he furiously carving a leg of Presale mutton--"Yes,
there is a child, and here is his history! The Widow Lerouge, when a
young woman, is in the service of a great lady, immensely rich. Her
husband, a sailor, probably had departed on a long voyage. The lady
had a lover--found herself enciente. She confided in the Widow
Lerouge, and, with her assistance, accomplished a clandestine
He called again.
"Manette, the dessert, and get out!"
Certainly such a master was unworthy of so excellent a cook as
Manette. He would have been puzzled to say what he had eaten for
diner, or even what he was eating at this moment; it was a preserve of
"But what," murmured he, "has become of the child? Has it been
destroyed? No; for the Widow Lerouge, an accomplice in an infanticide,
would be no longer formidable. The child has been preserved, and
confided to the care of our widow, by whom it has been reared. They
have been able to take the infant away from her, but not the proofs of
its birth and its existence. Here is the opening. The father is the
man of the fine carriage; the mother is the lady who came with the
handsome young man. Ha! ha! I can well believe the dear old dame
wanted for nothing. She had a secret worth a farm in Brie. But the old
lady was extravagant; her expenses and her demands have increased year
by year. Poor humanity! She has leaned upon the staff too heavily, and
broken it. She has threatened. They have been frightened, and said,
'Let there be an end of this!' But who has charged himself with the
commission? The papa? No; he is too old. By jupiter! The son,--the
child himself! He would save his mother, the brave boy! He has slain
the witness and burnt the proofs!"
Manette all this time, her ear to the keyhole, listened with all her
soul; from time to time she gleaned a word, an oath, the noise of a
blow upon the table; but that was all.
"For certain," thought she, "his women are running in his head."
Her curiosity overcame her prudence. Hearing no more, she ventured to
open the door a little way. The old fellow caught her in the very act.
"Monsieur wants his coffee?" stammered she timidly.
"Yes, you may bring it to me," he answered.
He attempted to swallow his coffee at a gulp, but scalded himself so
severely that the pain brought him suddenly from speculation to
"Thunder!" growled he; "but it is hot! Devil take the case! it has set
me beside myself. They are right when they say I am too enthusiastic.
But who amongst the whole lot of them could have, by the sole exercise
of observation and reason, established the whole history of the
assassination? Certainly not Gevrol, poor man! Won't he feel vexed and
humiliated, being altogether out of it. Shall I seek M. Daburon? No,
not yet. The night is necessary to me to sift to the bottom all the
particulars, and arrange my ideas systematically. But, on the other
hand, if I sit here all alone, this confounded case will keep me in a
fever of speculation, and as I have just eaten a great deal, I may get
an attack of indigestion. My faith! I will call upon Madame Gerdy: she
has been ailing for some days past. I will have a chat with Noel, and
that will change the course of my ideas."
He got up from the table, put on his overcoat, and took his hat and
"Are you going out, sir?" asked Manette.
"Shall you be late?"
"But you will return to-night?"
"I do not know."
One minute later, M. Tabaret was ringing his friend's bell.
Madame Gerdy lived in respectable style. She possessed sufficient for
her wants; and her son's practice, already large, had made them almost
rich. She lived very quietly, and with the exception of one or two
friends, whom Noel occasionally invited to dinner, received very few
visitors. During more than fifteen years that M. Tabaret came
familiarly to the apartments, he had only met the cure of the parish,
one of Noel's old professors, and Madame Gerdy's brother, a retired
colonel. When these three visitors happened to call on the same
evening, an event somewhat rare, they played at a round game called
Boston; on other evenings piquet or all-fours was the rule. Noel,
however, seldom remained in the drawing-room, but shut himself up
after dinner in his study, which with his bedroom formed a separate
apartment to his mother's, and immersed himself in his law papers. He
was supposed to work far into the night. Often in winter his lamp was
not extinguished before dawn.
Mother and son absolutely lived for one another, as all who knew them
took pleasure in repeating. They loved and honoured Noel for the care
he bestowed upon his mother, for his more than filial devotion, for
the sacrifices which all supposed he made in living at his age like an
The neighbours were in the habit of contrasting the conduct of this
exemplary young man with that of M. Tabaret, the incorrigible old
rake, the hairless dangler.
As for Madame Gerdy, she saw nothing but her son in all the world. Her
love had actually taken the form of worship. In Noel she believed she
saw united all the physical and moral perfections. To her he seemed of
a superior order to the rest of humanity. If he spoke, she was silent
and listened: his word was a command, his advice a decree of
Providence. To care for her son, study his tastes, anticipate his
wishes, was the sole aim of her life. She was a mother.
"Is Madame Gerdy visible?" asked old Tabaret of the girl who opened
the door; and, without waiting for an answer, he walked into the room
like a man assured that his presence cannot be inopportune, and ought
to be agreeable.
A single candle lighted the drawing-room, which was not in its
accustomed order. The small marble-top table, usually in the middle of
the room, had been rolled into a corner. Madame Gerdy's large arm-
chair was near the window; a newspaper, all crumpled, lay before it on
The amateur detective took in the whole at a glance.
"Has any accident happened?" he asked of the girl.
"Do not speak of it, sir: we have just had a fright! oh, such a
"What was it? tell me quickly!"
"You know that madame has been ailing for the last month. She has
eaten I may say almost nothing. This morning, even, she said to me--"
"Yes, yes! but this evening?"
"After her dinner, madame went into the drawing-room as usual. She sat
down and took up one of M. Noel's newspapers. Scarcely had she begun
to read, when she uttered a great cry,--oh, a terrible cry! We
hastened to her; madame had fallen on to the floor, as one dead. M.
Noel raised her in his arms, and carried her into her room. I wanted
to fetch the doctor, sir, but he said there was no need; he knew what
was the matter with her."
"And how is she now?"
"She has come to her senses; that is to say, I suppose so; for M. Noel
made me leave the room. All that I do know is, that a little while ago
she was talking, and talking very loudly too, for I heard her. Ah,
sir, it is all the same, very strange!"
"What is strange?"
"What I heard Madame Gerdy say to M. Noel."
"Ah ha! my girl!" sneered old Tabaret; "so you listen at key-holes, do
"No, sir, I assure you; but madame cried out like one lost. She
"My girl!" interrupted old Tabaret severely, "one always hears wrong
through key-holes. Ask Manette if that is not so."
The poor girl, thoroughly confused, sought to excuse herself.
"Enough, enough!" said the old man. "Return to your work: you need not
disturb M. Noel; I can wait for him very well here."
And satisfied with the reproof he had administered, he picked up the
newspaper, and seated himself beside the fire, placing the candle near
him so as to read with ease. A minute had scarcely elapsed when he in
his turn bounded in his chair, and stifled a cry of instinctive terror
and surprise. These were the first words that met his eye.
"A horrible crime has plunged the village of La Jonchere in
consternation. A poor widow, named Lerouge, who enjoyed the
general esteem and love of the community, has been assassinated in
her home. The officers of the law have made the usual preliminary
investigations, and everything leads us to believe that the police
are already on the track of the author of this dastardly crime."
"Thunder!" said old Tabaret to himself, "can it be that Madame
The idea but flashed across his mind; he fell back into his chair,
and, shrugging his shoulders, murmured,--
"Really this affair of La Jonchere is driving me out of my senses! I
can think of nothing but this Widow Lerouge. I shall be seeing her in
In the mean while, an uncontrollable curiosity made him peruse the
entire newspaper. He found nothing with the exception of these lines,
to justify or explain even the slightest emotion.
"It is an extremely singular coincidence, at the same time," thought
the incorrigible police agent. Then, remarking that the newspaper was
slightly torn at the lower part, and crushed, as if by a convulsive
grasp, he repeated,--
"It is strange!"
At this moment the door of Madame Gerdy's room opened, and Noel
appeared on the threshold.
Without doubt the accident to his mother had greatly excited him; for
he was very pale and his countenance, ordinarily so calm, wore an
expression of profound sorrow. He appeared surprised to see old
"Ah, my dear Noel!" cried the old fellow. "Calm my inquietude. How is
"Madame Gerdy is as well as can be expected."
"Madame Gerdy!" repeated the old fellow with an air of astonishment;
but he continued, "It is plain you have been seriously alarmed."
"In truth," replied the advocate, seating himself, "I have experienced
a rude shock."
Noel was making visibly the greatest efforts to appear calm, to listen
to the old fellow, and to answer him. Old Tabaret, as much disquieted
on his side, perceived nothing.
"At least, my dear boy," said he, "tell me how this happened?"
The young man hesitated a moment, as if consulting with himself. No
doubt he was unprepared for this point blank question, and knew not
what answer to make; at last he replied,--
"Madame Gerdy has suffered a severe shock in learning from a paragraph
in this newspaper that a woman in whom she takes a strong interest has
"Ah!" replied old Tabaret.
The old fellow was in a fever of embarrassment. He wanted to question
Noel, but was restrained by the fear of revealing the secret of his
association with the police. Indeed he had almost betrayed himself by
the eagerness with which he exclaimed,--
"What! your mother knew the Widow Lerouge?"
By an effort he restrained himself, and with difficulty dissembled his
satisfaction; for he was delighted to find himself so unexpectedly on
the trace of the antecedents of the victim of La Jonchere.
"She was," continued Noel, "the slave of Madame Gerdy, devoted to her
in every way! She would have sacrificed herself for her at a sign from
"Then you, my dear friend, you knew this poor woman!"
"I had not seen her for a very long time," replied Noel, whose voice
seemed broken by emotion, "but I knew her well. I ought even to say I
loved her tenderly. She was my nurse."
"She, this woman?" stammered old Tabaret.
This time he was thunderstruck. Widow Lerouge Noel's nurse? He was
most unfortunate. Providence had evidently chosen him for its
instrument, and was leading him by the hand. He was about to obtain
all the information, which half an hour ago he had almost despaired of
procuring. He remained seated before Noel amazed and speechless. Yet
he understood, that, unless he would compromise himself, he must
"It is a great misfortune," he murmured at last.
"What it is for Madame Gerdy, I cannot say," replied Noel with a
gloomy air; "but, for me, it is an overwhelming misfortune! I am
struck to the heart by the blow which has slain this poor woman. Her
death, M. Tabaret, has annihilated all my dreams of the future, and
probably overthrown my most cherished hopes. I had to avenge myself
for cruel injuries; her death breaks the weapon in my hands, and
reduces me to despair, to impotence. Alas! I am indeed unfortunate."
"You unfortunate?" cried old Tabaret, singularly affected by his dear
Noel's sadness. "In heaven's name, what has happened to you?"
"I suffer," murmured the advocate, "and very cruelly. Not only do I
fear that the injustice is irreparable; but here am I totally without
defence delivered over to the shafts of calumny. I may be accused of
inventing falsehood, of being an ambitious intriguer, having no regard
for truth, no scruples of conscience."
Old Tabaret was puzzled. What connection could possibly exist between
Noel's honour and the assassination at La Jonchere? His brain was in a
whirl. A thousand troubled and confused ideas jostled one another in
"Come, come, Noel," said he, "compose yourself. Who would believe any
calumny uttered about you? Take courage, have you not friends? am I
not here? Have confidence, tell me what troubles you, and it will be
strange, indeed if between us two--"
The advocate started to his feet, impressed by a sudden resolution.
"Well! yes," interrupted he, "yes, you shall know all. In fact, I am
tired of carrying all alone a secret that is stifling me. The part I
have been playing irritates and wearies me. I have need of a friend to
console me. I require a counsellor whose voice will encourage me, for
one is a bad judge of his own cause, and this crime has plunged me
into an abyss of hesitations."
"You know," replied M. Tabaret kindly, "that I regard you as my own
son. Do not scruple to let me serve you."
"Know then," commenced the advocate,--"but no, not here: what I have
to say must not be overheard. Let us go into my study."
When Noel and old Tabaret were seated face to face in Noel's study,
and the door had been carefully shut, the old fellow felt uneasy, and
said: "What if your mother should require anything."
"If Madame Gerdy rings," replied the young man drily, "the servant
will attend to her."
This indifference, this cold disdain, amazed old Tabaret, accustomed
as he was to the affectionate relations always existing between mother
"For heaven's sake, Noel," said he, "calm yourself. Do not allow
yourself to be overcome by a feeling of irritation. You have, I see,
some little pique against your mother, which you will have forgotten
to-morrow. Don't speak of her in this icy tone; but tell me what you
mean by calling her Madame Gerdy?"
"What I mean?" rejoined the advocate in a hollow tone,--"what I mean?"
Then rising from his arm-chair, he took several strides about the
room, and, returning to his place near the old fellow, said,--
"Because, M. Tabaret, Madame Gerdy is not my mother!"
This sentence fell like a heavy blow on the head of the amateur
"Oh!" he said, in the tone one assumes when rejecting an absurd
proposition, "do you really know what you are saying, Noel? Is it
credible? Is it probable?"
"It is improbable," replied Noel with a peculiar emphasis which was
habitual to him: "it is incredible, if you will; but yet it is true.
That is to say, for thirty-three years, ever since my birth, this
woman has played a most marvellous and unworthy comedy, to ennoble and
enrich her son,--for she has a son,--at my expense!"
"My friend," commenced old Tabaret, who in the background of the
picture presented by this singular revelation saw again the phantom of
the murdered Widow Lerouge.
But Noel heard not, and seemed hardly in a state to hear. The young
man, usually so cold, so self-contained, could no longer control his
anger. At the sound of his own voice, he became more and more
animated, as a good horse might at the jingling of his harness.
"Was ever man," continued he, "more cruelly deceived, more miserably
duped, than I have been! I, who loved this woman, who knew not how to
show my affection for her, who, for her sake, sacrificed my youth! How
she must have laughed at me! Her infamy dates from the moment when for
the first time she took me on her knees; and, until these few days
past, she has sustained without faltering her execrable role. Her love
for me was nothing but hypocrisy! her devotion, falsehood! her
caresses, lies! And I adored her! Ah! why can I not take back all the
embraces I bestowed on her in exchange for her Judas kisses? And for
what was all this heroism of deception, this caution, this duplicity?
To betray me more securely, to despoil me, to rob me, to give to her
bastard all that lawfully appertained to me; my name, a noble name, my
fortune, a princely inheritance!"
"We are getting near it!" thought old Tabaret, who was fast relapsing
into the colleague of M. Gevrol; then aloud he said, "This is very
serious, all that you have been saying, my dear Noel, terribly
serious. We must believe Madame Gerdy possessed of an amount of
audacity and ability rarely to be met with in a woman. She must have
been assisted, advised, compelled perhaps. Who have been her
accomplices? She could never have managed this unaided; perhaps her
"Her husband!" interrupted the advocate, with a laugh. "Ah! you too
have believed her a widow. Pshaw! She never had a husband, the defunct
Gerdy never existed. I was a bastard, dear M. Tabaret, very much a
bastard; Noel, son of the girl Gerdy and an unknown father!"
"Ah!" cried the old fellow; "that then was the reason why your
marriage with Mademoiselle Levernois was broken off four years ago?"
"Yes, my friend, that was the reason. And what misfortunes might have
been averted by this marriage with a young girl whom I loved! However
I did not complain to her whom I then called my mother. She wept, she
accused herself, she seemed ready to die of grief: and I, poor fool! I
consoled her as best I could, I dried her tears, and excused her in
her own eyes. No, there was no husband. Do such women as she have
husbands? She was my father's mistress; and, on the day when he had
had enough of her, he took up his hat and threw her three hundred
thousand francs, the price of the pleasures she had given him."
Noel would probably have continued much longer to pour forth his
furious denunciations; but M. Tabaret stopped him. The old fellow felt
he was on the point of learning a history in every way similar to that
which he had imagined; and his impatience to know whether he had
guessed aright, almost caused him to forget to express any sympathy
for his friend's misfortunes.
"My dear boy," said he, "do not let us digress. You ask me for advice;
and I am perhaps the best adviser you could have chosen. Come, then,
to the point. How have you learned this? Have you any proofs? where
The decided tone in which the old fellow spoke, should no doubt, have
awakened Noel's attention; but he did not notice it. He had not
leisure to reflect. He therefore answered,--
"I have known the truth for three weeks past. I made the discovery by
chance. I have important moral proofs; but they are mere presumptive
evidence. A word from Widow Lerouge, one single word, would have
rendered them decisive. This word she cannot now pronounce, since they
have killed her; but she had said it to me. Now, Madame Gerdy will
deny all. I know her; with her head on the block, she will deny it. My
father doubtless will turn against me. I am certain, and I possess
proofs; now this crime makes my certitude but a vain boast, and
renders my proofs null and void!"
"Explain it all to me," said old Tabaret after a pause--"all, you
understand. We old ones are sometimes able to give good advice. We
will decide what's to be done afterwards."
"Three weeks ago," commenced Noel, "searching for some old documents,
I opened Madame Gerdy's secretary. Accidentally I displaced one of the
small shelves: some papers tumbled out, and a packet of letters fell
in front of my eyes. A mechanical impulse, which I cannot explain,
prompted me to untie the string, and, impelled by an invincible
curiosity, I read the first letter which came to my hand."
"You did wrong," remarked M. Tabaret.
"Be it so; anyhow I read. At the end of ten lines, I was convinced
that these letters were from my father, whose name, Madame Gerdy, in
spite of my prayers, had always hidden from me. You can understand my
emotion. I carried off the packet, shut myself up in this room, and
devoured the correspondence from beginning to end."
"And you have been cruelly punished my poor boy!"