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THE WIDOW LEROUGE by Emile Gaboriau

Part 8 out of 8

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"Will you give me your word," he continued, "to let me have the rest
whenever I ask for them?"


"Then I am going. Do not fear, I will be faithful to our compact, they
shall not take me alive. Adieu, my father! in all this you are the
true criminal, but you alone will go unpunished. Ah, heaven is not
just. I curse you!"

When, an hour later, the servants entered the count's room, they found
him stretched on the floor with his face against the carpet, and
showing scarcely a sign of life.

On leaving the Commarin house, Noel staggered up the Rue de

It seemed to him that the pavement oscillated beneath his feet, and
that everything about him was turning round. His mouth was parched,
his eyes were burning, and every now and then a sudden fit of sickness
overcame him.

But, at the same time, strange to relate, he felt an incredible
relief, almost delight. It was ended then, all was over; the game was
lost. No more anguish now, no more useless fright and foolish terrors,
no more dissembling, no more struggles. Henceforth he had nothing more
to fear. His horrible part being played to the bitter end, he could
now lay aside his mask and breathe freely.

An irresistible weariness succeeded the desperate energy which, in the
presence of the count, had sustained his impudent arrogance. All the
springs of his organization, stretched for more than a week past far
beyond their ordinary limits, now relaxed and gave way. The fever
which for the last few days had kept him up failed him now; and, with
the weariness, he felt an imperative need of rest. He experienced a
great void, an utter indifference for everything.

His insensibility bore a striking resemblance to that felt by persons
afflicted with sea-sickness, who care for nothing, whom no sensations
are capable of moving, who have neither strength nor courage to think,
and who could not be aroused from their lethargy by the presence of
any great danger, not even of death itself.

Had any one come to him then he would never have thought of resisting,
nor of defending himself; he would not have taken a step to hide
himself, to fly, to save his head.

For a moment he had serious thoughts of giving himself up, in order to
secure peace, to gain quiet, to free himself from the anxiety about
his safety.

But he struggled against this dull stupor, and at last the reaction
came, shaking off this weakness of mind and body.

The consciousness of his position, and of his danger, returned to him.
He foresaw, with horror, the scaffold, as one sees the depth of the
abyss by the lightning flashes.

"I must save my life," he thought; "but how?"

That mortal terror which deprives the assassin of even ordinary common
sense seized him. He looked eagerly about him, and thought he noticed
three or four passers-by look at him curiously. His terror increased.

He began running in the direction of the Latin quarter without
purpose, without aim, running for the sake of running, to get away,
like Crime, as represented in paintings, fleeing under the lashes of
the Furies.

He very soon stopped, however, for it occurred to him that this
extraordinary behaviour would attract attention.

It seemed to him that everything in him betokened the murderer; he
thought he read contempt and horror upon every face, and suspicion in
every eye.

He walked along, instinctively repeating to himself: "I must do

But he was so agitated that he was incapable of thinking or of
planning anything.

When he still hesitated to commit the crime, he had said to himself;
"I may be discovered." And with that possibility in view, he had
perfected a plan which should put him beyond all fear of pursuit. He
would do this and that; he would have recourse to this ruse, he would
take that precaution. Useless forethought! Now, nothing he had
imagined seemed feasible. The police were seeking him, and he could
think of no place in the whole world where he would feel perfectly

He was near the Odeon theatre, when a thought quicker than a flash of
lightning lit up the darkness of his brain.

It occurred to him that as the police were doubtless already in
pursuit of him, his description would soon be known to everyone, his
white cravat and well trimmed whiskers would betray him as surely as
though he carried a placard stating who he was.

Seeing a barber's shop, he hurried to the door; but, when on the point
of turning the handle, he grew frightened.

The barber might think it strange that he wanted his whiskers shaved
off, and supposing he should question him!

He passed on.

He soon saw another barber's shop, but the same fears as before again
prevented his entering.

Gradually night had fallen, and, with the darkness, Noel seemed to
recover his confidence and boldness.

After this great shipwreck in port, hope rose to the surface. Why
should he not save himself? There had been many just such cases. He
could go to a foreign country, change his name, begin his life over
again, become a new man entirely. He had money; and that was the main

And, besides, as soon as his eighty thousand francs were spent, he had
the certainty of receiving, on his first request, five or six times as
much more.

He was already thinking of the disguise he should assume, and of the
frontier to which he should proceed, when the recollection of Juliette
pierced his heart like a red hot iron.

Was he going to leave without her, going away with the certainty of
never seeing her again? What! he would fly, pursued by all the police
of the civilized world, tracked like a wild beast, and she would
remain peaceably in Paris? Was it possible? For whom then had he
committed this crime? For her. Who would have reaped the benefits of
it? She. Was it not just, then, that she should bear her share of the

"She does not love me," thought the advocate bitterly, "she never
loved me. She would be delighted to be forever free of me. She will
not regret me, for I am no longer necessary to her. An empty coffer is
a useless piece of furniture. Juliette is prudent; she has managed to
save a nice little fortune. Grown rich at my expense, she will take
some other lover. She will forget me, she will live happily, while I--
And I was about to go away without her!"

The voice of prudence cried out to him: "Unhappy man! to drag a woman
along with you, and a pretty woman too, is but to stupidly attract
attention upon you, to render flight impossible, to give yourself up
like a fool."

"What of that?" replied passion. "We will be saved or we will perish
together. If she does not love me, I love her; I must have her! She
will come, otherwise--"

But how to see Juliette, to speak with her, to persuade her. To go to
her house, was a great risk for him to run. The police were perhaps
there already.

"No," thought Noel; "no one knows that she is my mistress. It will not
be found out for two or three days and, besides, it would be more
dangerous still to write."

He took a cab not far from the Carrefour de l'Observatoire, and in a
low tone told the driver the number of the house in the Rue de
Provence, which had proved so fatal to him. Stretched on the cushions
of the cab, lulled by its monotonous jolts, Noel gave no thought to
the future, he did not even think over what he should say to Juliette.
No. He passed involuntarily in review the events which had brought on
and hastened the catastrophe, like a man on the point of death,
reviews the tragedy or the comedy of his life.

Just one month before, ruined, at the end of his expedients and
absolutely without resources, he had determined, cost what it might,
to procure money, so as to be able to continue to keep Madame
Juliette, when chance placed in his hands Count de Commarin's
correspondence. Not only the letters read to old Tabaret, and shown to
Albert, but also those, which, written by the count when he believed
the substitution an accomplished fact, plainly established it.

The reading of these gave him an hour of mad delight.

He believed himself the legitimate son; but his mother soon undeceived
him, told him the truth, proved to him by several letters she had
received from Widow Lerouge, called on Claudine to bear witness to it,
and demonstrated it to him by the scar he bore.

But a falling man never selects the branch he tries to save himself
by. Noel resolved to make use of the letters all the same.

He attempted to induce his mother to leave the count in his ignorance,
so that he might thus blackmail him. But Madame Gerdy spurned the
proposition with horror.

Then the advocate made a confession of all his follies, laid bare his
financial condition, showed himself in his true light, sunk in debt;
and he finally begged his mother to have recourse to M. de Commarin.

This also she refused, and prayers and threats availed nothing against
her resolution. For a fortnight, there was a terrible struggle between
mother and son, in which the advocate was conquered.

It was then that the idea of murdering Claudine occurred to him.

The unhappy woman had not been more frank with Madame Gerdy than with
others, so that Noel really thought her a widow. Therefore, her
testimony suppressed, who else stood in his way?

Madame Gerdy, and perhaps the count. He feared them but little. If
Madame Gerdy spoke, he could always reply: "After stealing my name for
your son, you will do everything in the world to enable him to keep
it." But how to do away with Claudine without danger to himself?

After long reflection, the advocate thought of a diabolical stratagem.

He burnt all the count's letters establishing the substitution, and he
preserved only those which made it probable.

These last he went and showed to Albert, feeling sure, that, should
justice ever discover the reason of Claudine's death, it would
naturally suspect he who appeared to have most interest in it.

Not that he really wished Albert to be suspected of the crime, it was
simply a precaution. He thought that he could so arrange matters that
the police would waste their time in the pursuit of an imaginary

Nor did he think of ousting the Viscount de Commarin and putting
himself in his place. His plan was simply this; the crime once
committed, he would wait; things would take their own course, there
would be negotiations, and ultimately he would compromise the matter
at the price of a fortune.

He felt sure of his mother's silence, should she ever suspect him
guilty of the assassination.

His plan settled, he decided to strike the fatal blow on the Shrove

To neglect no precaution, he, that very same evening, took Juliette to
the theatre, and afterwards to the masked ball at the opera. In case
things went against him, he thus secured an unanswerable /alibi/.

The loss of his overcoat only troubled him for a moment. On
reflection, he reassured himself, saying: "Pshaw! who will ever know?"

Everything had resulted in accordance with his calculations; it was,
in his opinion, a matter of patience.

But when Madame Gerdy read the account of the murder, the unhappy
woman divined her son's work, and, in the first paroxysms of her
grief, she declared that she would denounce him.

He was terrified. A frightful delirium had taken possession of his
mother. One word from her might destroy him. Putting a bold face on
it, however, he acted at once and staked his all.

To put the police on Albert's track was to guarantee his own safety,
to insure to himself, in the event of a probable success, Count de
Commarin's name and fortune.

Circumstances, as well as his own terror, increased his boldness and
his ingenuity.

Old Tabaret's visit occurred just at the right moment.

Noel knew of his connection with the police, and guessed that the old
fellow would make a most valuable confidant.

So long as Madame Gerdy lived, Noel trembled. In her delirium she
might betray him at any moment. But when she had breathed her last, he
believed himself safe. He thought it all over, he could see no further
obstacle in his way; he was sure he had triumphed.

And now all was discovered, just as he was about to reach the goal of
his ambition. But how? By whom? What fatality had resuscitated a
secret which he had believed buried with Madame Gerdy?

But where is the use, when one is at the bottom of an abyss, of
knowing which stone gave way, or of asking down what side one fell?

The cab stopped in the Rue de Provence. Noel leaned out of the door,
his eyes exploring the neighbourhood and throwing a searching glance
into the depths of the hall of the house. Seeing no one, he paid the
fare through the front window, before getting out of the cab, and,
crossing the pavement with a bound, he rushed up stairs.

Charlotte, at sight of him, gave a shout of joy.

"At last it is you, sir!" she cried. "Ah, madame has been expecting
you with the greatest impatience! She has been very anxious."

Juliette expecting him! Juliette anxious!

The advocate did not stop to ask questions. On reaching this spot, he
seemed suddenly to recover all his composure. He understood his
imprudence; he knew the exact value of every minute he delayed here.

"If any one rings," said he to Charlotte, "don't open the door. No
matter what may be said or done, don't open the door!"

On hearing Noel's voice, Juliette ran out to meet him. He pushed her
gently into the salon, and followed, closing the door.

There for the first time she saw his face.

He was so changed; his look was so haggard that she could not keep
from crying out, "What is the matter?"

Noel made no reply; he advanced towards her and took her hand.

"Juliette," he demanded in a hollow voice, fastening his flashing eyes
upon her,--"Juliette, be sincere; do you love me?"

She instinctively felt that something dreadful had occurred: she
seemed to breathe an atmosphere of evil; but she, as usual, affected

"You ill-natured fellow," she replied, pouting her lips most
provokingly, "do you deserve--"

"Oh, enough!" broke in Noel, stamping his feet fiercely. "Answer me,"
he continued, bruising her pretty hands in his grasp, "yes, or no,--do
you love me?"

A hundred times had she played with her lover's anger, delighting to
excite him into a fury, to enjoy the pleasure of appeasing him with a
word; but she had never seen him like this before.

She had wronged him greatly; and she dared not complain of this his
first harshness.

"Yes, I love you," she stammered, "do you not know it?"

"Why?" replied the advocate, releasing her hands; "why? Because, if
you love me you must prove it; if you love me, you must follow me at
once,--abandon everything. Come, fly with me. Time presses----"

The young girl was terrified.

"Great heavens! what has happened?"

"Nothing, except that I have loved you too much, Juliette. When I
found I had no more money for your luxury, your caprices, I became
wild. To procure money, I,--I committed a crime,--a crime; do you
understand? They are pursuing me now. I must fly: will you follow me?"

Juliette's eyes grew wide with astonishment; but she doubted Noel.

"A crime? You?" she began.

"Yes, me! Would you know the truth? I have committed murder, an
assassination. But it was all for you."

The advocate felt that Juliette would certainly recoil from him in
horror. He expected that terror which a murderer inspires. He was
resigned to it in advance. He thought that she would fly from him;
perhaps there would be a scene. She might, who knows, have hysterics;
might cry out, call for succor, for help, for aid. He was wrong.

With a bound, Juliette flew to him, throwing herself upon him, her
arms about his neck, and embraced him as she had never embraced him

"Yes, I do love you!" she cried. "Yes, you have committed a crime for
my sake, because you loved me. You have a heart. I never really knew
you before!"

It had cost him dear to inspire this passion in Madame Juliette; but
Noel never thought of that.

He experienced a moment of intense delight: nothing appeared hopeless
to him now.

But he had the presence of mind to free himself from her embrace.

"Let us go," he said; "the one great danger is, that I do not know
from whence the attack comes. How they have discovered the truth is
still a mystery to me."

Juliette remembered her alarming visitor of the afternoon; she
understood it all.

"Oh, what a wretched woman I am!" she cried, wringing her hands in
despair; "it is I who have betrayed you. It occurred on Tuesday, did
it not?"

"Yes, Tuesday."

"Ah, then I have told all, without a doubt, to your friend, the old
man I supposed you had sent, Tabaret!"

"Has Tabaret been here?"

"Yes; just a little while ago."

"Come, then," cried Noel, "quickly; it's a miracle that he hasn't been

He took her arm, to hurry her away; but she nimbly released herself.

"Wait," said she. "I have some money, some jewels. I will take them."

"It is useless. Leave everything behind. I have a fortune, Juliette;
let us fly!"

She had already opened her jewel box, and was throwing everything of
value that she possessed pell mell into a little travelling bag.

"Ah, you are ruining me," cried Noel, "you are ruining me!"

He spoke thus; but his heart was overflowing with joy.

"What sublime devotion! She loves me truly," he said to himself; "for
my sake, she renounces her happy life without hesitation; for my sake,
she sacrifices all!"

Juliette had finished her preparations, and was hastily tying on her
bonnet, when the door-bell rang.

"It is the police!" cried Noel, becoming, if possible, even more

The young woman and her lover stood as immovable as two statues, with
great drops of perspiration on their foreheads, their eyes dilated,
and their ears listening intently. A second ring was heard, then a

Charlotte appeared walking on tip-toe.

"There are several," she whispered; "I heard them talking together."

Grown tired of ringing, they knocked loudly on the door. The sound of
a voice reached the drawing-room, and the word "law" was plainly

"No more hope!" murmured Noel.

"Don't despair," cried Juliette; "try the servants' staircase!"

"You may be sure they have not forgotten it."

Juliette went to see, and returned dejected and terrified. She bad
distinguished heavy foot-steps on the landing, made by some one
endeavouring to walk softly.

"There must be some way of escape!" she cried fiercely.

"Yes," replied Noel, "one way. I have given my word. They are picking
the lock. Fasten all the doors, and let them break them down; it will
give me time."

Juliette and Charlotte ran to carry out his directions. Then Noel,
leaning against the mantel piece, seized his revolver and pointed it
at his breast.

But Juliette, who had returned, perceiving the movement, threw herself
upon her lover, but so violently that the revolver turned aside and
went off. The shot took effect, the bullet entering Noel's stomach. He
uttered a frightful cry.

Juliette had made his death a terrible punishment; she had prolonged
his agony.

He staggered, but remained standing, supporting himself by the mantel
piece, while the blood flowed copiously from his wound.

Juliette clung to him, trying to wrest the revolver from his grasp.

"You shall not kill yourself," she cried, "I will not let you. You are
mine; I love you! Let them come. What can they do to you? If they put
you in prison, you can escape. I will help you, we will bribe the
jailors. Ah, we will live so happily together, no matter where, far
away in America where no one knows us!"

The outer door had yielded; the police were now picking the lock of
the door of the ante-chamber.

"Let me finish!" murmured Noel; "they must not take me alive!"

And, with a supreme effort, triumphing over his dreadful agony, he
released himself, and roughly pushed Juliette away. She fell down near
the sofa.

Then, he once more aimed his revolver at the place where he felt his
heart beating, pulled the trigger and rolled to the floor.

It was full time, for the police at that moment entered the room.

Their first thought was, that before shooting himself, Noel had shot
his mistress. They knew of cases where people had romantically desired
to quit this world in company; and, moreover, had they not heard two
reports? But Juliette was already on her feet again.

"A doctor," she cried, "a doctor! He can not be dead!"

One man ran out; while the others, under old Tabaret's direction,
raised the body, and carried it to Madame Juliette's bedroom where
they laid it on the bed.

"For his sake, I trust his wounds are mortal!" murmured the old
detective, whose anger left him at the sight. "After all, I loved him
as though he were my own child; his name is still in my will!"

Old Tabaret stopped. Noel just then uttered a groan, and opened his

"You see that he will live!" cried Juliette.

The advocate shook his head feebly, and, for a moment, he tossed about
painfully on the bed, passing his right hand first under his coat, and
then under his pillow. He even succeeded in turning himself half-way
towards the wall and then back again.

Upon a sign, which was at once understood, someone placed another
pillow under his head. Then in a broken, hissing voice, he uttered a
few words: "I am the assassin," he said. "Write it down, I will sign
it; it will please Albert. I owe him that at least."

While they were writing, he drew Juliette's head close to his lips.

"My fortune is beneath the pillow," he whispered. "I give it all to

A flow of blood rose to his mouth; and they all thought him dead. But
he still had strength enough to sign his confession, and to say
jestingly to M. Tabaret, "Ah, ha, my friend, so you go in for the
detective business, do you! It must be great fun to trap one's friends
in person! Ah, I have had a fine game; but, with three women in the
play, I was sure to lose."

The death struggle commenced, and, when the doctor arrived, he could
only announce the decease of M. Noel Gerdy, advocate.


Some months later, one evening, at old Mademoiselle de Goello's house,
the Marchioness d'Arlange, looking ten years younger than when we saw
her last, was giving her dowager friends an account of the wedding of
her granddaughter Claire, who had just married the Viscount Albert de

"The wedding," said she, "took place on our estate in Normandy,
without any flourish of trumpets. My son-in-law wished it; for which I
think he is greatly to blame. The scandal raised by the mistake of
which he had been the victim, called for a brilliant wedding. That was
my opinion, and I did not conceal it. But the boy is as stubborn as
his father, which is saying a good deal; he persisted in his
obstinacy. And my impudent granddaughter, obeying beforehand her
future husband, also sided against me. It is, however, of no
consequence; I defy anyone to find to-day a single individual with
courage enough to confess that he ever for an instant doubted Albert's
innocence. I have left the young people in all the bliss of the
honeymoon, billing and cooing like a pair of turtle doves. It must be
admitted that they have paid dearly for their happiness. May they be
happy then, and may they have lots of children, for they will have no
difficulty in bringing them up and in providing for them. I must tell
you that, for the first time in his life, and probably for the last,
the Count de Commarin has behaved like an angel! He has settled all
his fortune on his son, absolutely all. He intends living alone on one
of his estates. I am afraid the poor dear old man will not live long.
I am not sure that he has entirely recovered from that last attack.
Anyhow, my grandchild is settled, and grandly too. I know what it has
cost me, and how economical I shall have to be. But I do not think
much of those parents who hesitate at any pecuniary sacrifice when
their children's happiness is at stake."

The marchioness forgot, however, to state that, a week before the
wedding, Albert freed her from a very embarrassing position, and had
discharged a considerable amount of her debts.

Since then, she had not borrowed more than nine thousand francs of
him; but she intends confessing to him some day how greatly she is
annoyed by her upholsterer, by her dressmaker, by three linen drapers,
and by five or six other tradesmen.

Ah, well, she is all the same a worthy woman; she never says anything
against her son-in-law!

Retiring to his father's home in Poitou, after sending in his
resignation, M. Daburon has at length found rest; forgetfulness will
come later on. His friends do not yet despair of inducing him to

Madame Juliette is quite consoled for the loss of Noel. The eighty
thousand francs hidden by him under the pillow were not taken from
her. They are nearly all gone now though. Before long the sale of a
handsome suite of furniture will be announced.

Old Tabaret, alone, is indelibly impressed. After having believed in
the infallibility of justice, he now sees every where nothing but
judicial errors.

The ex-amateur detective doubts the very existence of crime, and
maintains that the evidence of one's senses proves nothing. He
circulates petitions for the abolition of capital punishment, and has
organised a society for the defence of poor and innocent prisoners.

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