Part 8 out of 11
And jumping on shore, without uttering a word of disappointment, he
was going in search of his comrades, when he saw suddenly a man turn
up out of the darkness, whose features it was impossible to
"Who is there?" he asked.
"Mr. Officer," answered the man in an almost unintelligible jargon, a
horrible medley of French, Spanish, and English. "I heard you tell the
little man in the boat there"--
"I thought you wanted to get back on board your ship?"
"Well, then, if you like it, I am a boatman; I can take you over."
There was no reason why Daniel should mistrust the man. In all ports
of the world, and at any hour of the day or the night, men are to be
found who are lying in wait on the wharves for sailors who have been
belated, and who are made to pay dear for such extra services.
"Ah! you are a boatman, you say?" Daniel exclaimed, quite pleased at
the encounter. "Well, where is your boat?"
"There, Mr. Officer, a little way down; just follow me. But what ship
do you want to go to?"
"That ship there."
And Daniel pointed out to him "The Conquest" as she lay not six
hundred yards off in the river, showing her lights.
"That is rather far," grumbled the man; "the tide is low; and the
current is very strong."
"I'll give you a couple of francs for your trouble."
The man clapped his hands with delight, and said,--
"Ah! if that's the way, all right. Come along, Mr. Officer, a little
farther down. There, that's my boat. Get in, now steady!"
Daniel followed his directions; but he was so much struck by the man's
awkwardness in getting the boat off, that he could not help saying to
"Ah, my boy, you are not a boatman, after all!"
"I beg pardon, sir; I used to be one before I came to this country."
"What is your country?"
"Nevertheless, you will have to learn a great deal before you will
ever be a sailor."
Still, as the boat was very small, a mere nutshell, in fact, Daniel
thought he could, if needs be, take an oar himself. Thereupon, sitting
down, and stretching out his legs, he was soon once more plunged in
meditations. The unfortunate man was soon roused, however, by a
Thanks to a shock, a wrong movement, or any other accident, the boat
upset, and Daniel was thrown into the river; and, to fill the measure
of his mishaps, one of his feet was so closely jammed in between the,
seat and the boat itself, that he was paralyzed in his movements, and
soon under water.
He saw it all in an instant; and his first thought was,--
"I am lost!"
But, desperate as his position was, he was not the man to give up.
Gathering, by one supreme effort, all his strength and energy, he took
hold of the boat, that had turned over just above him, and pushed it
so forcibly, that he loosened his foot, and at the same moment reached
the surface. It was high time; for Daniel had swallowed much water.
"Now," he thought, "I have a chance to escape!"
A very frail chance, alas!--so small a chance, in fact, that it
required all the strong will and the invincible courage of Daniel to
give it any effect. A furious current carried him down like a straw;
the little boat, which might have supported him, had disappeared; and
he knew nothing about this formidable Dong-Nai, except that it went on
widening to its mouth. There was nothing to guide him; for the night
was so dark, that land and water, the river and its banks, all melted
together in the uniform, bottomless darkness.
What had become of the boatman, however? At all events, he called,--
"Ahoy, my man!"
No answer. Had he been swept off? Or did he get back into the boat?
Perhaps he was drowned already.
But all of a sudden Daniel's heart trembled with joy and hope. He had
just made out, a few hundred yards below, a red light, indicating a
vessel at anchor. All his efforts were directed towards that point. He
was carried thither with an almost bewildering rapidity. He nearly
touched it; and then, with incredible presence of mind, and great
precision, at the moment when the current drove him close up to the
anchor-chain, he seized it. He held on to it; and, having recovered
his breath, he uttered three times in succession, with all the
strength of his lungs, so sharp a cry, that it was heard above the
fierce roar of the river,--
"Help, help, help!"
From the ship came a call, "Hold on!" proving to him that his appeal
had been heard, and that help was at hand.
Too late! An eddy in the terrible current seized him, and, with
irresistible violence, tore the chain, slippery with mud, out of his
stiffened hands. Rolled over by the waters, he was rudely thrown
against the side of the vessel, went under, and was carried off.
When he rose to the surface, the red light was far above him, and
below no other light was in sight. No human help was henceforth within
reach. Daniel could now count only upon himself in trying to make one
of the banks. Although he could not measure the distance, which might
be very great, the task did not seem to him beyond his strength, if he
had only been naked. But his clothes encumbered him terribly; and the
water which they soaked up made them, of course, every moment more
"I shall be drowned, most assuredly," he thought, "if I cannot get rid
of my clothes."
Excellent swimmer as he was, the task was no easy one. Still he
accomplished it. After prodigious efforts of strength and skill, he
got rid of his shoes; and then he cried out, as if in defiance of the
blind element against which he was struggling,--
"I shall pull through! I shall see Henrietta again!"
But it had cost him an enormous amount of time to undress; and how
could he calculate the distance which this current had taken him down
--one of the swiftest in the world? As he tried to recall all he knew
about it, he remembered having noticed that, a mile below Saigon, the
river was as wide as a branch of the sea. According to his
calculation, he must be near that spot now.
"Never mind," he said to himself, "I mean to get out of this."
Not knowing to which bank he was nearest, he had resolved, almost
instinctively, to swim towards the right bank, on which Saigon stands.
He was thus swimming for about half an hour, and began already to feel
his muscles stiffening, and his joints losing their elasticity, while
his breathing became oppressed, and his extremities were chilled, when
he noticed from the wash of the water that he was near the shore. Soon
he felt the ground under his feet; but, the moment he touched it, he
sank up to his waist into the viscous and tenacious slime, which makes
all the Cochin China rivers so peculiarly dangerous.
There was the land, no doubt, and only the darkness prevented his
seeing it; and yet his situation was more desperate than ever. His
legs were caught as in a vice; the muddy water was boiling nearly up
to his lips; and, at every effort to extricate himself, he sank deeper
in, a little at a time, but always a little more. His presence of mind
now began to leave him, as well as his strength; and his thoughts
became confused, when he touched, instinctively feeling for a hold,
the root of a mangrove.
That root might be the saving of his life. First he tried its
strength; then, finding it sufficiently solid, he hoisted himself up
by it, gently, but with the frenzied energy of a drowning man; then,
creeping cautiously on the treacherous mud, he finally succeeded in
reaching firm ground, and fell down exhausted.
He was saved from drowning; but what was to become of him, naked,
exhausted, chilled as he was, and lost in this dark night in a strange
and deserted country? After a moment, however, he rose, and tried to
get on; but at every step he was held back on all sides by lianes and
"Well," he said, "I must stay here till day breaks."
The rest of the night he spent in walking up and down, and beating his
chest, in order to keep out the terrible chills which penetrated to
the very marrow of his bones. The first light of dawn showed him how
he was imprisoned within an apparently impenetrable thicket, out of
which, it seemed, he could never find his way. He did find it,
however, and after a walk of four hours, he reached Saigon.
Some sailors of a merchant-ship, whom he met, lent him a few clothes,
and carried him on board "The Conquest," where he arrived more dead
"Where do you come from, great God! in such a state?" exclaimed his
comrades when they saw him.
"What has happened to you?"
And, when he had told them all he had gone through since they parted,
"Certainly, my dear Champcey, you are a lucky fellow. This is the
second accident from which you escape as by a miracle. Mind the
"Mind the third!" that was exactly what Daniel thought.
For, in the midst of all the frightful sufferings he had undergone
during the past night, he had reflected deeply. That block which had
fallen on his head, no one knew whence; this boat sinking suddenly,
and without apparent cause--were they the work of chance alone?
The awkwardness of the boatman who had so unexpectedly turned up to
offer him his services had filled his mind with strange doubts. This
man, a wretched sailor, might be a first-class swimmer; and, having
taken all his measures before upsetting the boat, he might easily have
reached land after the accident.
"This boatman," Daniel thought, "evidently wanted me to perish. Why,
and what purpose? Evidently not for his sake. But who is interested in
my death? Sarah Brandon? No, that cannot be!"
What was still less likely was, that a wretch in Sarah Brandon's pay
should have found his way on board "The Conquest," and should then
have been precisely at the right moment at the wharf, the first time
Daniel went on shore. Still his suspicions troubled him to such a
degree, that he determined to make every effort to solve the mystery.
To begin, /he asked/ for a list of all the men who had been allowed to
go on shore the night before. He learned in reply, that only the crews
of the different boats had been at Saigon, but that all the emigrants
having been allowed to land, several of these men had also gone on
shore. With this information, and in spite of his great weakness,
Daniel went to the chief of police at Saigon, and asked him for an
officer. With this agent he went to the wharf, to the spot where the
boat of "The Conquest" had been lying the night before, and asked him
to make inquiries there as to any boatman that might have disappeared
during the night.
None of the boatmen was missing; but they brought Daniel a poor
Annamite fellow, who had been wandering about the river-bank ever
since early morning, tearing his hair, and crying that he had been
robbed; that they had stolen his boat. Daniel had been unable the
night before to distinguish the form or the dress of the man whose
services he had accepted; but he had heard his voice, and he recalled
the peculiar intonation so perfectly, that he would have recognized it
among thousands. Besides, this poor devil did not know a word of
French (more than ten persons bore witness to it); and born on the
river, and having always lived there, he was an excellent sailor.
Finally, it was very clear, that, if this man had committed the crime,
he would have been careful not to claim his boat.
What could Daniel conclude from this summary inquiry?
"There is no doubt about it," he thought. "I was to be murdered.
There is no man, however brave he may think himself, who would not
tremble at the idea that he has, just by a miracle, escaped from the
assassin's hand. There is not one who would not feel his blood grow
chill in his veins at the thought that those who have failed in their
attempt once will no doubt renew their efforts, and that perhaps the
miracle may not be repeated.
That was Daniel's position.
He felt henceforth this terrible certainty, that war had been declared
against him, a savage warfare, merciless, pitiless, a war of treachery
and cunning, of snare and ambush. It had been proved to him that at
his side, so to say, as his very shadow, there was ever a terrible
enemy, stimulated by the thirst of gain, watching all his steps, ever
awake and on the watch, and ready to seize the first opportunity to
strike. The infernal cunning of the first two attempts enabled Daniel
to measure the superior wickedness of the man who had been chosen and
enlisted--at least Daniel thought so--by Sarah Brandon.
Still he did not say a word of the danger to which he was exposed, and
even assumed, as soon as he had recovered from the first shock, a
certain cheerfulness which he had not shown during the whole voyage,
and under which he concealed his apprehensions.
"I do not want my enemy," he said to himself, "to suspect my
But from that moment his suspicions never fell asleep; and every step
he took was guided by most careful circumspection. He never put one
foot before the other, so to say, without first having examined the
ground; he never seized a man-rope without having first tried its
solidity; he had made it a law to eat and drink nothing, not even a
glass of water, but what came from the officers' table.
These perpetual precautions, these ceaseless apprehensions, were
extremely repugnant to his daring temper; but he felt, that, under
such circumstances, careless would be no longer courage, but simple
folly. He had engaged in a duel in which he wanted to be victorious;
hence he must at least defend himself against the attack. He felt,
moreover, that he was the only protector his beloved had now; and
that, if he died, she would certainly be lost. But he also thought not
only of defending himself, but of getting at the assassin, and,
through him, at the infamous creature by whom he was employed, Sarah
He therefore pursued his search quietly, slowly, but indefatigably.
Certain circumstances which he had at first forgotten, and a few
points skilfully put together, gave him some hope. He had, for
instance, ascertained that none but the crews of the boats had been on
shore, and that, of these, not one had been for ten minutes out of
sight of the others. Hence the pretended boatman was not a sailor on
board "The Conquest." Nor could it have been one of the marines, as
none of them had been allowed to leave the vessel. There remained the
emigrants, fifty or sixty of whom had spent the night in Saigon.
But was not the idea that one of these men might have led Daniel into
the trap contradicted by the circumstances of the first attempt? By no
means; for many of the younger men among these emigrants had asked
permission to help in the working of the ship in order to break the
monotony of the long voyage. After careful inquiry, Daniel ascertained
even that four of them had been with the sailors on the yards from
which the heavy block fell that came so near ending his life.
Which were they? This he could not ascertain.
Still the result was enough for Daniel to make his life more
endurable. He could breathe again on board ship; he went and came in
all safety, since he was sure that the guilty man was not one of the
crew. He even felt real and great relief at the thought that his
would-be assassin was not to be looked for among these brave and frank
sailors; none of them, at least, had been bribed with gold to commit a
murder. Moreover, the limits of his investigations had now narrowed
down in such a manner, that he might begin to hope for success in the
Unfortunately the emigrants had, a fortnight after the landing,
scattered abroad, going according as they were wanted, to the
different establishments in the colony, which were far apart from each
other. Daniel had therefore, at least for the moment, to give up a
plan he had formed, to talk with every one of them until he should
recognize the voice of the false boatman.
He himself, besides, was not to remain at Saigon. After a first
expedition, which kept him away for two months, he obtained command of
a steam-sloop, which was ordered to explore and to take all the
bearings of the River Kamboja, from the sea to Mitho, the second city
of Cochin China. This was no easy task; for the Kamboja had already
defeated the efforts of several hydrographic engineers by its
capricious and constant changes, every pass and every turn nearly
changing with the monsoons in direction and depth.
But the mission had its own difficulties and dangers. The Kamboja is
not only obstructed by foul swamps; but it flows through vast marshy
plains, which, in the season of rains, are covered with water; while
in the dry season, under the burning rays of the sun, they exhale that
fatal malaria which has cost already thousands of valuable lives.
Daniel was to experience its effects but too soon. In less than a week
after he had set out, he saw three of the men who had been put under
his orders die before his eyes, after a few hours' illness, and amid
atrocious convulsions. They had the cholera. During the next four
months, seven succumbed to fevers which they had contracted in these
pestilential swamps. And towards the end of the expedition, when the
work was nearly done, the survivors were so emaciated, that they had
hardly strength enough to hold themselves up. Daniel alone had not yet
suffered from these terrible scourges. God knows, however, that he had
not spared himself, nor ever hesitated to do what he thought he ought
to do. To sustain, to electrify these men, exhausted as they were by
sickness, and irritated at wasting their lives upon work that had no
reward, a leader was required who should possess uncommon intrepidity,
and who should treat danger as an enemy who is to be defied only by
facing him; and such a leader they found in Daniel.
He had told Sarah Brandon on the eve of his departure,--
"With a love like mine, with a hatred like mine, in the heart, one can
defy all things. The murderous climate is not going to harm me; and,
if I had six balls in my body, I should still find strength enough to
come and call you to account for what you have done to Henrietta
before I die."
He certainly had had need of all that dauntless energy which passion
inspires to sustain him in his trials. But alas! his bodily sufferings
were as nothing in comparison with his mental anxiety. At night, while
his men were asleep, he kept awake, his heart torn with anguish, now
crushed under the thought of his helplessness, and now asking himself
if rage would not deprive him of his reason.
It was a year now since he had left Paris to go on board "The
Conquest," a whole year.
And he had not received a single letter from Henrietta,--not one.
Every time a vessel arrived from France with despatches, his hopes
revived; and every time they were disappointed.
"Well," he would say to himself, "I can wait for the next." And then
he began counting the days. Then it arrived at last, this long-
expected ship, and never, never once brought a letter from Henrietta--
How could this silence be explained? What strange events could have
happened? What must he think, hope, fear?
To be chained by honor to a place a thousand leagues from the woman he
loved to distraction, to know nothing about her, her life, her actions
and her thoughts, to be reduced to such extreme wretchedness, to
Daniel would have been much less unhappy if some one had suddenly come
and told him, "Miss Ville-Handry is no more."
Yes, less unhappy; for true love in its savage selfishness suffers
less from death than from treason. If Henrietta had died, Daniel would
have been crushed; and maybe despair would have driven him to extreme
measures; but he would have been relieved of that horrible struggle
within him, between his faith in the promises of his beloved and
certain suspicions, which caused his hair to stand on end.
But he knew that she was alive; for there was hardly a vessel coming
from France or from England which did not bring him a letter from
Maxime, or from the Countess Sarah. For Sarah insisted upon writing to
him, as if there existed a mysterious bond between them, which she
defied him to break.
"I obey," she said, "an impulse more powerful than reason and will
alike. It is stronger than I am, stronger than all things else; I must
write to you, I cannot help it."
At another time she said,--
"Do you remember that evening, O Daniel! when, pressing Sarah Brandon
to your heart, you swore to be hers forever? The Countess Ville-Handry
cannot forget it."
Under the most indifferent words there seemed to palpitate and to
struggle a passion which was but partially restrained, and ever on the
point of breaking forth. Her letters read like the conversations of
timid lovers, who talk about the rain and the weather in a tone of
voice trembling with desire, and with looks burning with passion.
"Could she really be in love with me?" Daniel thought, "and could that
be her punishment?"
Then, again, swearing, like the roughest of his men, he added,--
"Am I to be a fool forever? Is it not quite clear that this wicked
woman only tries to put my suspicions to sleep? She is evidently
preparing for her defence, in case the rascal who attempted my life
should be caught, and compromise her by his confessions."
Every letter; moreover, brought from the Countess Sarah some news
about his betrothed, her "stepdaughter." But she always spoke of her
with extreme reserve and reticence, and in ambiguous terms, as if
counting upon Daniel's sagacity to guess what she could not or would
not write. According to her account, Henrietta had become reconciled
to her father's marriage. The poor child's melancholy had entirely
disappeared. Miss Henrietta was very friendly with Sir Thorn. The
coquettish ways of the young girl became quite alarming; and her
indiscretion provoked the gossip of visitors. Daniel might as well
accustom himself to the idea, that, on his return, he might find
Henrietta a married woman.
"She lies, the wretch!" said Daniel; "yes, she lies!"
But he tried in vain to resist; every letter from Sarah brought him
the germ of some new suspicion, which fermented in his mind as the
miasma fermented in the veins of his men.
The information furnished by Maxime de Brevan was different, and often
contradictory even, but by no means more reassuring. His letters
portrayed the perplexity and the hesitation of a man who is all
anxiety to soften hard truths. According to him, the Countess Sarah
and Miss Ville-Handry did not get on well with each other; but he
declared he was bound to say that the wrong was all on the young
lady's side, who seemed to make it the study of her life to mortify
her step-mother, while the latter bore the most irritating
provocations with unchanging sweetness. He alluded to the calumnies
which endangered Miss Henrietta's reputation, admitting that she had
given some ground for them by thoughtless acts. He finally added that
he foresaw the moment when she would leave her father's house in spite
of all his advice to the contrary.
"And not one line from her," exclaimed Daniel,--"not one line!"
And he wrote her letter after letter, beseeching her to answer him,
whatever might be the matter, and to fear nothing, as the certainty
even of a misfortune would be a blessing to him in comparison with
this torturing uncertainty.
He wrote without imagining for a moment that Henrietta suffered all
the torments he endured, that their letters were intercepted, and that
she had no more news of him than he had of her.
Time passed, however, carrying with it the evil as well as the good
days. Daniel returned to Saigon, bringing back with him one of the
finest hydrographic works that exist on Cochin China. It was well
known that this work had cost an immense outlay of labor, of
privations, and of life; hence he was rewarded as if he had won a
battle, and he was rewarded instantly, thanks to special powers
conferred upon his chief, reserving only the confirmation in France,
which was never refused.
All the survivors of the expedition were mentioned in public orders
and in the official report; two were decorated; and Daniel was
promoted to officer of the Legion of Honor. Under other circumstances,
this distinction, doubly valuable to so young a man, would have made
him supremely happy; now it left him cold.
The fact was, that these long trials had worn out the elasticity of
his heart; and the sources of joy, as well as the sources of sorrow,
had dried up. He no longer struggled against despair, and came to
believe that Henrietta had forgotten him, and would never be his wife.
Now, as he knew he never could love another, or rather as no other
existed for him; as, without Henrietta, the world seemed to him empty,
absurd, intolerable,--he asked himself why he should continue to live.
There were moments in which he looked lovingly at his pistols, and
said to himself,--
"Why should I not spare Sarah Brandon the trouble?"
What kept his hand back was the leaven of hatred which still rose in
him at times. He ought to have the courage, at least, to live long
enough to avenge himself. Harassed by these anxieties, he withdrew
more and more from society; never went on shore; and his comrades on
board "The Conquest" felt anxious as they looked at him walking
restlessly up and down the quarter-deck, pale, and with eyes on fire.
For they loved Daniel. His superiority was so evident, that none
disputed it; they might envy him; but they could never be jealous of
him. Some of them thought he had brought back with him from Kamboja
the germ of one of those implacable diseases which demoralize the
strongest, and which break out suddenly, carrying a man off in a few
"You ought not to become a misanthrope, my dear Champcey," they would
say. "Come, for Heaven's sake shake off that sadness, which might make
an end of you before you are aware of it!"
And jestingly they added,--
"Decidedly, you regret the banks of the Kamboja!"
They thought it a jest: it was the truth. Daniel did regret even the
worst days of his mission. At that time his grave responsibility,
overwhelming fatigues, hard work, and daily danger, had procured him
at least some hours of oblivion. Now idleness left him, without
respite or time, face to face with his distressing thoughts. It was
the desire, the necessity almost, of escaping in some manner from
himself, which made him accept an invitation to join a number of his
comrades who wanted to try the charms of a great hunting party.
On the morning of the expedition, however, he had a kind of
"A fine opportunity," he thought, "for the assassin hired by Sarah
Then, shrugging his shoulders, he said with a bitter laugh,--
"How can I hesitate? As if a life like mine was worth the trouble of
protecting it against danger!"
When they arrived on the following day on the hunting ground, he, as
well as the other hunters, received their instructions, and had their
posts assigned them by the leader. He found himself placed between two
of his comrades, in front of a thicket, and facing a narrow ravine,
through which all the game must necessarily pass as it was driven down
by a crowd of Annamites.
They had been firing for an hour, when Daniel's neighbors saw him
suddenly let go his rifle, turn over, and fall.
They hurried up to catch him; but he fell, face forward, to the
ground, saying aloud, and very distinctly,--
"This time they have not missed me!"
At the outcry raised by the two neighbors of Daniel, other hunters had
hastened up, and among them the chief surgeon of "The Conquest," one
of those old "pill-makers," who, under a jovial scepticism, and a
rough, almost brutal outside, conceal great skill and an almost
feminine tenderness. As soon as he looked at the wounded man, whom his
friends had stretched out on his back, making a pillow of their
overcoats, and who lay there pale and inanimate, the good doctor
frowned, and growled out,--
"He won't live."
The officers were thunderstruck.
"Poor Champcey!" said one of them, "to escape the Kamboja fevers, and
to be killed here at a pleasure party! Do you recollect, doctor, what
you said on the occasion of his second accident,--'Mind the third'?"
The old doctor did not listen. He had knelt down, and rapidly stripped
the coat off Daniel's back. The poor man had been struck by a shot.
The ball had entered on the right side, a little behind; and between
the fourth and the fifth rib, one could see a round wound, the edges
drawn in. But the most careful examination did not enable him to find
the place where the projectile had come out again. The doctor rose
slowly, and, while carefully dusting the knees of his trousers, he
"All things considered, I would not bet that he may not escape. Who
knows where the ball may be lodged? It may have respected the vital
"Projectiles often take curious turns and twists. I should almost be
disposed to answer for M. Champcey, if I had him in a good bed in the
hospital at Saigon. At all events, we must try to get him there alive.
Let one of you gentlemen tell the sailors who have come with us to
make a litter of branches."
The noise of a struggle, of fearful oaths and inarticulate cries,
interrupted his orders. Some fifteen yards off, below the place where
Daniel had fallen, two sailors were coming out of the thicket, their
faces red with anger, dragging out a man with a wretched gun, who
"Will you let me go, you parcel of good-for-nothings! Let me go, or
I'll hurt you!"
He was so furiously struggling in the arms of the two sailors,
clinging with an iron grip to roots and branches and rocks, turning
and twisting at every step, that the men at last, furious at his
resistance, lifted him up bodily, and threw him at the chief surgeon's
"Here is the scoundrel who has killed our lieutenant!"
It was a man of medium size, with a dejected air, and lack-lustre
eyes, wearing a mustache and chin-beard, and looking impudent. His
costume was that of an Annamite of the middle classes,--a blouse
buttoned at the side, trousers made in Chinese style, and sandals of
red leather. It was, nevertheless, quite evident that the man was a
"Where did you find him?" asked the surgeon of the men.
"Down there, commandant, behind that big bush, to the right of Lieut.
Champcey, and a little behind him."
"Why do you accuse him?"
"Why? We have good reasons, I should think. He was hiding. When we saw
him, he was lying flat on the ground, trembling with fear; and we said
at once, 'Surely, there is the man who fired that shot.'"
The man had, in the meantime, raised himself, and assumed an air of
almost provoking assurance.
"They lie!" he exclaimed. "Yes, they lie, the cowards!"
This insult would have procured him a sound drubbing, but for the old
surgeon, who held the arm of the first sailor who made the attack.
Then, continuing his interrogatory, he asked,--
"Why did you hide?"
"I did not hide."
"What were you doing there, crouching in the bush?"
"I was at my post, like the others. Do they require a permit to carry
arms in Cochin China? I was not invited to your hunting party, to be
sure; but I am fond of game; and I said to myself, 'Even if I were to
shoot two or three head out of the hundreds their drivers will bring
down, I would do them no great harm.'"
The doctor let him talk on for some time, observing him closely with
his sagacious eye; then, all of a sudden, he broke in, saying,--
"Give me your gun!"
The man turned so visibly pale, that all the officers standing around
noticed it. Still he did what he was asked to do, and said,--
"Here it is. It's a gun one of my friends has lent me."
The doctor examined the weapon very carefully; and, after having
inspected the lock, he said,--
"Both barrels of your gun are empty; and they have not been emptied
more than two minutes ago."
"That is so; I fired both barrels at an animal that passed me within
"One of the balls may have gone astray."
"That cannot be. I was aiming in the direction of the prairie; and,
consequently, I was turning my back to the place where the officer was
To the great surprise of everybody, the doctor's face, ordinarily
crafty enough, now looked all benevolent curiosity,--so much so, that
the two sailors who had captured the man were furious, and said
"Ah! don't believe him, commandant, the dirty dog!"
But the man, evidently encouraged by the surgeon's apparent
"Am I to be allowed to defend myself, or not?"
And then he added in a tone of supreme impudence,--
"However, whether I defend myself or not, it will, no doubt, be all
the same. Ah! if I were only a sailor, or even a marine, that would be
another pair of sleeves; they would hear me! But now, I am nothing but
a poor civilian; and here everybody knows civilians must have broad
shoulders. Wrong or right, as soon as they are accused, they are
The doctor seemed to have made up his mind; for he interrupted this
flow of words, saying in his kindest voice,--
"Calm yourself, my friend. There is a test which will clearly
establish your innocence. The ball that has struck Lieut. Champcey is
still in the wound; and I am the man who is going to take it out, I
promise you. We all here have rifles with conical balls; you are the
only one who has an ordinary shot-gun with round balls, so there is no
mistake possible. I do not know if you understand me?"
Yes, he understood, and so well, that his pale face turned livid, and
he looked all around with frightened glances. For about six seconds he
hesitated, counting his chances; then suddenly falling on his knees,
his hands folded, and beating the ground with his forehead, he cried
"I confess! Yes, it may be I who have hit the officer. I heard the
bushes moving in his direction, and I fired at a guess. What a
misfortune! O God, what a misfortune! Ah! /I/ would give my life to
save his if I could. It was an accident, gentlemen, I swear. Such
accidents happen every day in hunting; the papers are full of them.
Great God! what an unfortunate man I am!"
The doctor had stepped back. He now ordered the two sailors who had
arrested the man, to make sure of him, to bind him, and carry him to
Saigon to prison. One of the gentlemen, he said, would write a few
lines, which they must take with them. The man seemed to be
"A misfortune is not a crime," he sighed out. "I am an honest
"We shall see that in Saigon," answered the surgeon.
And he hastened away to see if all the preparations had been made to
carry the wounded man. In less than twenty minutes, and with that
marvellous skill which is one of the characteristic features of good
sailors, a solid litter had been constructed; the bottom formed a real
mattress of dry leaves; and overhead a kind of screen had been made of
larger leaves. When they put Daniel in, the pain caused him to utter a
low cry of pain. This was the first sign of life he had given.
"And now, my friends," said the doctor, "let us go! And bear in mind,
if you shake the lieutenant, he is a dead man."
It was hardly eight in the morning when the melancholy procession
started homeward; and it was not until between two and three o'clock
on the next morning that it entered Saigon, under one of those
overwhelming rains which give one an idea of the deluge, and of which
Cochin China has the monopoly. The sailors who carried the litter on
which Daniel lay had walked eighteen hours without stopping, on
footpaths which were almost impassable, and where every moment a
passage had to be cut through impenetrable thickets of aloes, cactus,
and jack-trees. Several times the officers had offered to take their
places; but they had always refused, relieving each other, and taking
all the time as ingenious precautions as a mother might devise for her
dying infant. Although, therefore, the march lasted so long, the dying
man felt no shock; and the old doctor said, quite touched, to the
officers who were around him,--
"Good fellows, how careful they are! You might have put a full glass
of water on the litter, and they would not have spilled a drop."
Yes, indeed! Good people, rude and rough, no doubt, in many ways,
coarse sometimes, and even brutal, bad to meet on shore the day after
pay-day, or coming out from a drinking-shop, but keeping under the
rough outside a heart of gold, childlike simplicity, and the sacred
fire of noblest devotion. The fact was, they did not dare breathe
heartily till after they had put their precious burden safe under the
Two officers who had hastened in advance had ordered a room to be made
ready. Daniel was carried there; and when he had been gently put on a
white, good bed, officers and sailors withdrew into an adjoining room
to await the doctor's sentence. The latter remained with the wounded
man, with two assistant surgeons who had been roused in the meantime.
Hope was very faint. Daniel had recovered his consciousness during the
journey, and had even spoken a few words to those around him, but
incoherent words, the utterance of delirium. They had questioned him
once or twice; but his answers had shown that he had no consciousness
of the accident which had befallen him, nor of his present condition;
so that the general opinion among the sailors who were waiting, and
who all had more or less experience of shot-wounds, was, that fever
would carry off their lieutenant before sunrise.
Suddenly, as if by magic, all was hushed, and not a word spoken.
The old surgeon had just appeared at the door of the sick-chamber;
and, with a pleasant and hopeful smile on his lips, he said,--
"Our poor Champcey is doing as well as could be expected; and I would
almost be sure of his recovery, if the great heat was not upon us."
And, silencing the murmur of satisfaction which arose among them at
this good news, he went on to say,--
"Because, after all, serious as the wound is, it is nothing in
comparison with what it might have been; and what is more, gentlemen,
I have the /corpus delicti/."
He raised in the air, as he said this, a spherical ball, which he held
between his thumb and forefinger.
"Another instance," he said, "to be added to those mentioned by our
great masters of surgery, of the oddities of projectiles. This one,
instead of pursuing its way straight through the body of our poor
friend, had turned around the ribs, and gone to its place close by the
vertebral column. There I found it, almost on the surface; and nothing
was needed to dislodge it but a slight push with the probe."
The shot-gun taken from the hands of the murderer had been deposited
in a corner of the large room: they brought it up, tried the ball, and
found it to fit accurately.
"Now we have a tangible proof," exclaimed a young ensign, "an
unmistakable proof, that the wretch whom our men have caught is
Daniel's murderer. Ah, he might as well have kept his confession!"
But the old surgeon replied with a dark frown,--
"Gently, gentlemen, gently! Don't let us be over-hasty in accusing a
poor fellow of such a fearful crime, when, perhaps, he is guilty only
"O doctor, doctor!" protested half a dozen voices.
"I beg your pardon! Don't let us be hasty, I say; and let us consider,
For an assassination there must be a motive, and an all-powerful
motive; for, aside from the scaffold which he risks, no man is capable
of killing another man solely for the purpose of shedding his blood.
Now, in this case, I look in vain for any reason, which could have
induced the man to commit a murder. He certainly did not expect to rob
our poor comrade. But hatred, you say, or vengeance, perhaps! Well,
that may be. But, before a man makes up his mind to shoot even the man
he hates like a dog, he must have been cruelly offended by him; and,
to bring this about, he must have been in contact, or must have stood
in some relation to him. Now, I ask you, is it not far more probable
that the murderer saw our friend Champcey this morning for the first
"I beg your pardon, commandant! He knew him perfectly well."
The man who interrupted the doctor was one of the sailors to whom the
prisoner had been intrusted to carry him to prison. He came forward,
twisting his worsted cap in his hands; and, when the old surgeon had
ordered him to speak, he said,--
"Yes, the rascal knew the lieutenant as well as I know you,
commandant; and the reason of it is, that the scoundrel was one of the
emigrants whom we brought here eighteen months ago."
"Are you sure of what you say?"
"As sure as I see you, commandant. At first my comrade and I did not
recognize him, because a year and a half in this wretched country
disfigure a man horribly; but, while we were carrying him to jail, we
said to one another, 'That is a head we have seen before.' Then we
made him talk; and he told us gradually, that he had been one of the
passengers, and that he even knew my name, which is Baptist Lefloch."
This deposition of the sailor made a great impression upon all the
bystanders, except the old doctor. It is true he was looked upon, on
board "The Conquest," as one of the most obstinate men in holding on
to his opinions.
"Do you know," he asked the sailor, "if this man was one of the four
or five who had to be put in irons during the voyage?"
"No, he was not one of them, commandant."
"Did he ever have anything to do with Lieut. Champcey? Has he been
reprimanded by him, or punished? Has he ever spoken to him?"
"Ah, commandant! that is more than I can tell."
The old doctor slightly shrugged his shoulders, and said in a tone of
"You see, gentlemen, this deposition is too vague to prove anything.
Believe me, therefore, do not let us judge before the trial, and let
us go to bed."
Day was just breaking, pale and cool; the sailors disappeared one by
one. The doctor was getting ready to lie down on a bed which he had
ordered to be put up in a room adjoining that in which the wounded man
was lying, when an officer came in. It was one of those who had been
standing near Champcey; he, also, was a lieutenant.
"I should like to have a word in private with you, doctor," he said.
"Very well," replied the old surgeon. "Be kind enough to come up to my
room." And when they were alone, he locked the door, and said,--
"I am listening."
The lieutenant thought a moment, like a man who looks for the best
form in which to present an important idea, and then said,--
"Between us, doctor, do you believe it was an accident, or a crime?"
The surgeon hesitated visibly.
"I will tell you, but you only, frankly, that I do not believe it was
an accident. But as we have no evidence"--
"Pardon me! I think I have evidence."
"You shall, judge yourself. When Daniel fell, he said, 'This time,
they have not missed me!'"
"Did he say so?"
"Word for word. And Saint Edme, who was farther from him than I was,
heard it as distinctly as I did."
To the great surprise of the lieutenant, the chief surgeon seemed only
moderately surprised; his eyes, on the contrary, shone with that
pleased air of a man who congratulates himself at having foreseen
exactly what he now is told was the fact. He drew a chair up to the
fireplace, in which a huge fire had been kindled to dry his clothes,
sat down, and said,--
"Do you know, my dear lieutenant, that what you tell me is a matter of
the greatest importance? What may we not conclude from those words,
'This time they have not missed me'? In the first place, it proves
that Champcey was fully aware that his life was in danger. Secondly,
that plural, 'They have not,' shows that he knew he was watched and
threatened by several people: hence the scamp whom we caught must have
accomplices. In the third place, those words, 'This time,' establish
the fact that his life has been attempted before."
"That is just what I thought, doctor."
The worthy old gentleman looked very grave and solemn, meditating
"Well, I," he continued slowly, "I had a very clear presentiment of
all that as soon as I looked at the murderer. Do you remember the
man's amazing impudence as long as he thought he could not be
convicted of the crime? And then, when he found that the calibre of
his gun betrayed him, how abject, how painfully humble, he became!
Evidently such a man is capable of anything."
"Oh! you need only look at him"--
"Yes, indeed! Well, as I was thus watching him, I instinctively
recalled the two remarkable accidents which so nearly killed our poor
Champcey,--that block that fell upon him from the skies, and that
shipwreck in the Dong-Nai. But I was still doubtful. After what you
tell me, I am sure."
He seized the lieutenant's hand; and, pressing it almost painfully, he
"Yes, I am ready to take my oath that this wretch is the vile tool of
people who hate or fear Daniel Champcey; who are deeply interested in
his death; and who, being too cowardly to do their own business, are
rich enough to hire an assassin."
The lieutenant was evidently unable to follow.
"Still, doctor," he objected, "but just now you insisted"--
"Upon a diametrically opposite doctrine; eh?"
The old surgeon smiled, and said,--
"I had my reasons. The more I am persuaded that this man is an
assassin, the less I am disposed to proclaim it on the housetops. He
has accomplices, you think, do you?"
"Well, if we wish to reach them, we must by all means reassure them,
leave them under the impression that everybody thinks it was an
accident. If they are frightened, good-night. They will vanish before
you can put out your hand to seize them."
"Champcey might be questioned; perhaps he could furnish some
But the doctor rose, and stopped him with an air of fury,--
"Question my patient! Kill him, you mean! No! If I am to have the
wonderful good luck to pull him through, no one shall come near his
bed for a month. And, moreover, it will be very fortunate indeed if in
a month he is sufficiently recovered to keep up a conversation."
He shook his head, and went on, after a moment's silence,--
"Besides, it is a question whether Champcey would be disposed to say
what he knows, or what he suspects. That is very doubtful. Twice he
has been almost killed. Has he ever said a word about it? He probably
has the same reasons for keeping silence now that he had then."
Then, without noticing the officer's objections, he added,--
"At all events, I will think it over, and go and see the judges as
soon as they are out of bed. But I must ask you, lieutenant, to keep
my secret till further order. Will you promise?"
"On my word, doctor."
"Then you may rest assured our poor friend shall be avenged. And now,
as I have barely two hours to rest, please excuse me."
As soon as he was alone, the doctor threw himself on his bed; but he
could not sleep. He had never in his life been so much puzzled. He
felt as if this crime was the result of some terrible but mysterious
intrigue; and the very fact of having, as he fancied, raised a corner
of the veil, made him burn with the desire to draw it aside
"Why," he said to himself, "why might not the scamp whom we hold be
the author of the other two attempts likewise? There is nothing
improbable in that supposition. The man, once engaged, might easily
have been put on board 'The Conquest;' and he might have left France
saying to himself that it would be odd indeed, if during a long
voyage, or in a land like this, he did not find a chance to earn his
money without running much risk."
The result of his meditations was, that the chief surgeon appeared, at
nine o'clock, at the office of the state attorney. He placed the
matter before him very fully and plainly; and, an hour afterwards, he
crossed the yard on his way to the prison, accompanied by a magistrate
and his clerk.
"How is the man the sailors brought here last night?" he asked the
"Badly, sir. He would not eat."
"What did he say when he got here?"
"Nothing. He seemed to be stupefied."
"You did not try to make him talk?"
"Why, yes, a little. He answered that he had done some mischief; that
he was in despair, and wished he were dead."
The magistrate looked at the surgeon as if he meant to say, "Just as I
expected from what you told me!" Then, turning again to the jailer, he
"Show us to the prisoner's cell."
The murderer had been put into a small but tidy cell in the first
story. When they entered, they found him seated on his bed, his heels
on the bars, and his chin in the palm of his hands. As soon as he saw
the surgeon, he jumped up, and with outstretched arms and rolling
"The officer has died!"
"No," replied the surgeon, "no! Calm yourself. The wound is a very bad
one; but in a fortnight he will be up again."
These words fell like a heavy blow upon the murderer. He turned pale;
his lips quivered; and he trembled in all his limbs. Still he promptly
mastered this weakness of the flesh; and falling on his knees, with
folded hands, he murmured in the most dramatic manner,--
"Then I am not a murderer! O Great God, I thank thee!"
And his lips moved as if he were uttering a fervent prayer.
It was evidently a case of coarsest hypocrisy; for his looks
contradicted his words and his voice. The magistrate, however, seemed
to be taken in.
"You show proper feelings," he said. "Now get up and answer me. What
is your name?"
"Evariste Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet."
"Where were you born?"
"At Bagnolet, near Paris. And on that account, my friend"--
"Never mind. Your profession?"
The man hesitated. The magistrate added,--
"In your own interest I advise you to tell the truth. The truth always
comes out in the end; and your position would be a very serious one if
you tried to lie. Answer, therefore, directly."
"Well, I am an engraver on metal; but I have been in the army; I
served my time in the marines."
"What brought you to Cochin China?"
"The desire to find work. I was tired of Paris. There was no work for
engravers. I met a friend who told me the government wanted good
workmen for the colonies."
"What was your friend's name?"
A slight blush passed over the man's cheek's, and he answered
"I have forgotten his name."
The magistrate seemed to redouble his attention, although he did not
"That is very unfortunate for you," he answered coldly. "Come, make an
effort; try to remember."
"I know I cannot; it is not worth the trouble."
"Well; but no doubt you recollect the profession of the man who knew
so well that government wanted men in Cochin China? What was it?"
The man, this time, turned crimson with rage, and cried out with
"How do I know? Besides, what have I to do with my friend's name and
profession? I learned from him that they wanted workmen. I called at
the navy department, they engaged me; and that is all."
Standing quietly in one of the corners of the cell, the old chief
surgeon lost not a word, not a gesture, of the murderer. And he could
hardly refrain from rubbing his hands with delight as he noticed the
marvellous skill of the magistrate in seizing upon all those little
signs, which, when summed up at the end of an investigation, form an
overwhelming mass of evidence against the criminal. The magistrate, in
the meantime, went on with the same impassive air,--
"Let us leave that question, then, since it seems to irritate you, and
let us go on to your residence here. How have you supported yourself
"By my work, forsooth! /I/ have two arms; and I am not a good-for-
"You have found employment, you say, as engraver on metal?"
"But you said"--
Evariste Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, could hardly conceal his
"If you won't let me have my say," he broke out insolently, "it isn't
worth while questioning me."
The magistrate seemed not to notice it. He answered coldly,--
"Oh! talk as much as you want. I can wait."
"Well, then, the day after we had landed, M. Farniol, the owner of the
French restaurant, offered me a place as waiter. Of course I accepted,
and stayed there a year. Now I wait at table at the Hotel de France,
kept by M. Roy. You can send for my two masters; they will tell you
whether there is any complaint against me."
"They will certainly be examined. And where do you live?"
"At the Hotel de France, of course, where I am employed."
The magistrate's face looked more and more benevolent. He asked
"And that is a good place,--to be waiter at a restaurant or a hotel?"
"Why, yes--pretty good."
"They pay well; eh?"
"That depends,--sometimes they do; at other times they don't. When it
is the season"--
"That is so everywhere. But let us be accurate. You have been now
eighteen months in Saigon; no doubt you have laid up something?"
The man looked troubled and amazed, as if he had suddenly found out
that the apparent benevolence of the magistrate had led him upon
slippery and dangerous ground. He said evasively,--
"If I have put anything aside, it is not worth mentioning."
"On the contrary, let us mention it. How much about have you saved?"
Bagnolet's looks, and the tremor of his lips, showed the rage that was
"I don't know," he said sharply.
The magistrate made a gesture of surprise which was admirable. He
"What! You don't know how much you have laid up? That is too
improbable! When people save money, one cent after another, to provide
for their old age, they know pretty well"--
"Well, then, take it for granted that I have saved nothing."
"As you like it. Only it is my duty to show you the effect of your
declaration. You tell me you have not laid up any money, don't you?
Now, what would you say, if, upon search being made, the police should
find a certain sum of money on your person or elsewhere?"
"They won't find any."
"So much the better for you; for, after what you said, it would be a
"Let them search."
"They are doing it now, and not only in your room, but also elsewhere.
They will soon know if you have invested any money, or if you have
deposited it with any of your acquaintances."
"I may have brought some money with me from home."
"No; for you have told me that you could no longer live in Paris,
finding no work."
Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, made such a sudden and violent start,
that the surgeon thought he was going to attack the magistrate. He
felt he had been caught in a net the meshes of which were drawing
tighter and tighter around him; and these apparently inoffensive
questions assumed suddenly a terrible meaning.
"Just answer me in one word," said the magistrate. "Did you bring any
money from France, or did you not?"
The man rose, and his lips opened to utter a curse; but he checked
himself, sat down again, and, laughing ferociously, he said,--
"Ah! you would like to 'squeeze' me, and make me cut my own throat.
But luckily, I can see through you; and I refuse to answer."
"You mean you want to consider. Have a care! You need not consider in
order to tell the truth."
And, as the man remained obstinately silent, the magistrate began
again after a pause, saying,--
"You know what you are accused of? They suspect that you fired at
Lieut. Champcey with intent to kill."
"That is an abominable lie!"
"So you say. How did you hear that the officers of 'The Conquest' had
arranged a large hunting-party?"
"I had heard them speak of it at /table d'hote/."
"And you left your service in order to attend this hunt, some twelve
miles from Saigon? That is certainly singular."
"Not at all; for I am very fond of hunting. And then I thought, if I
could bring back a large quantity of game, I would probably be able to
sell it very well."
"And you would have added the profit to your other savings, wouldn't
Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, was stung by the point of this ironical
question, as if he had received a sharp cut. But, as he said nothing,
the magistrate continued,--
"Explain to us how the thing happened."
On this ground the murderer knew he was at home, having had ample time
to get ready; and with an accuracy which did great honor to his
memory, or to his veracity, he repeated what he had told the surgeon
on the spot, and at the time of the catastrophe. He only added, that
he had concealed himself, because he had seen at once to what terrible
charges he would be exposed by his awkwardness. And as he continued
his account, warming up with its plausibility, he recovered the
impudence, or rather the insolence, which seemed to be the prominent
feature of his character.
"Do you know the officer whom you have wounded?" asked the magistrate
when he had finished.
"Of course, I do, as I have made the voyage with him. He is Lieut.
"Have you any complaint against him?"
"None at all."
Then he added in a tone of bitterness and resentment,--
"What relations do you think could there be between a poor devil like
myself and a great personage like him? Would he have condescended even
to look at me? Would I have dared to speak to him? If I know him, it
is only because I have seen him, from afar off, walk the quarter-deck
with the other officers, a cigar in his mouth, after a good meal,
while we in the forecastle had our salt fish, and broke our teeth with
"So you had no reason to hate him?"
"None; as little as anybody else."
Seated upon a wretched little footstool, his paper on his knees, an
inkhorn in his hand, the clerk was rapidly taking down the questions
and the answers. The magistrate made him a sign that it was ended, and
then said, turning to the murderer,--
"That is enough for to-day. I am bound to tell you, that, having so
far only kept you as a matter of precaution, I shall issue now an
order for your arrest."
"You mean I am to be put in jail?"
"Yes, until the court shall decide whether you are /guilty/ of murder,
or of involuntary homicide."
Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, seemed to have foreseen this conclusion:
at least he coolly shrugged his shoulders, and said in a hoarse
"In that case I shall have my linen changed pretty often here; for, if
I had been wicked enough to plot an assassination, I should not have
been fool enough to say so."
"Who knows?" replied the magistrate. "Some evidence is as good as an
And, turning to the clerk, he said,--
"Read the deposition to the accused."
A moment afterwards, when this formality had been fulfilled, the
magistrate and the old doctor left the room. The former looked
extremely grave, and said,--
"You were right, doctor; that man is a murderer. The so-called friend,
whose name he would not tell us, is no other person than the rascal
whose tool he is. And I mean to get that person's name out of him, if
M. Champcey recovers, and will give me the slightest hint. Therefore,
doctor, nurse your patient."
To recommend Daniel to the surgeon was at least superfluous. If the
old original was inexorable, as they said on board ship, for those
lazy ones who pretended to be sick for the purpose of shirking work,
he was all tenderness for his real patients; and his tenderness grew
with the seriousness of their danger. He would not have hesitated a
moment between an admiral who was slightly unwell, and the youngest
midshipman of the fleet who was dangerously wounded. The admiral might
have waited a long time before he would have left the midshipman,--an
originality far less frequent than we imagine.
It would have been enough, therefore, for Daniel to be so dangerously
wounded. But there was something else besides. Like all who had ever
sailed with Daniel, the surgeon, also, had conceived a lively interest
in him, and was filled with admiration for his character. Besides
that, he knew that his patient alone could solve this great mystery,
which puzzled him exceedingly.
Unfortunately, Daniel's condition was one of those which defy all
professional skill, and where all hope depends upon time, nature, and
constitution. To try to question him would have been absurd; for he
had so far continued delirious. At times he thought he was on board
his sloop in the swamps of the Kamboja; but most frequently he
imagined himself fighting against enemies bent upon his ruin. The
names of Sarah Brandon, Mrs. Brian, and Thomas Elgin, were constantly
on his lips, mixed up with imprecations and fearful threats.
For twenty days he remained so; and for twenty days and twenty nights
his "man," Baptist Lefloch, who had caught the murderer, was by his
bedside, watching his slightest movement, and ever bending over him
tenderly. Not one of those noble daughters of divine wisdom, whom we
meet in every part of the globe, wherever there is a sick man to
nurse, could have been more patient, more attentive, or more
ingenious, than this common sailor. He had put off his shoes, so as to
walk more softly; and he came and went on tiptoe, his face full of
care and anxiety, preparing draughts, and handling with his huge bony
hands, with laughable, but almost touching precautions, the small
phials out of which he had to give a spoonful to his patient at stated
"I'll have you appointed head nurse of the navy, Lefloch," said the
But he shook his head and answered,--
"I would not like the place, commandant. Only, you see, when we were
down there on the Kamboja, and Baptist Lefloch was writhing like a
worm in the grip of the cholera, and when he was already quite blue
and cold, Lieut. Champcey did not send for one of those lazy Annamites
to rub him, he came himself, and rubbed him till he brought back the
heat and life itself. Now, you see, I want to do some little for him."
"You would be a great scamp if you did not."
The surgeon hardly left the wounded man himself. He visited him four
or five times a day, once at least every night, and almost every day
remained for hours sitting by his bedside, examining the patient, and
experiencing, according to the symptoms, the most violent changes from
hope to fear, and back again. It was thus he learned a part, at least,
of Daniel's history,--that he was to marry a daughter of Count Ville-
Handry, who himself had married an adventuress; and that they had
separated him from his betrothed by a forged letter. The doctor's
conjectures were thus confirmed: such cowardly forgers would not
hesitate to hire an assassin.
But the worthy surgeon was too deeply impressed with the dignity of
his profession to divulge secrets which he had heard by the bedside of
a patient. And when the magistrate, devoured by impatience, came to
him every three or four days, he always answered,--
"I have nothing new to tell you. It will take weeks yet before you can
examine my patient. I am sorry for it, for the sake of Evariste
Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, who must be tired of prison; but he must
In the meantime, Daniel's long delirium had been succeeded by a period
of stupor. Order seemed gradually to return to his mind. He recognized
the persons around him, and even stammered a few sensible words. But
he was so excessively weak, that he remained nearly all the time
plunged in a kind of torpor which looked very much like death itself.
When he was aroused for a time, he always asked in an almost inaudible
"Are there no letters for me from France?"
Invariably, Lefloch replied, according to orders received from the
But he told a falsehood. Since Daniel was confined to his bed, three
vessels had arrived from France, two French and one English; and among
the despatches there were eight or ten letters for Lieut. Champcey.
But the old surgeon said to himself, not without good reason,--
"Certainly it is almost a case of conscience to leave this unfortunate
man in such uncertainty: but this uncertainty is free from danger, at
least; while any excitement would kill him as surely and as promptly
as I could blow out a candle."
A fortnight passed; and Daniel recovered some little strength; at last
he entered upon a kind of convalescence--if a poor man who could not
turn over in bed unaided can be called a convalescent. But, with his
returned consciousness, his sufferings also reappeared; and, as he
gradually ascertained how long he had been confined, his anxiety
assumed an alarming character.
"There must be letters for me," he said to his man; "you keep them
from me. I must have them."
The doctor at last came to the conclusion that this excessive
agitation was likely to become as dangerous as the excitement he
dreaded so much; so he said one day,--
"Let us run the risk."
It was a burning hot afternoon, and Daniel had now been an invalid for
seven weeks. Lefloch raised him on his pillows, stowed him away, as he
called it; and the surgeon handed him his letters.
Daniel uttered a cry of delight.
At the first glance he had recognized on three of the envelopes
Henrietta's handwriting. He kissed them, and said,--
"At last she writes!"
The shock was so violent, that the doctor was almost frightened.
"Be calm, my dear friend," he said. "Be calm! Be a man, forsooth!"
But Daniel only smiled, and replied,--
"Never mind me, doctor; you know joy is never dangerous; and nothing
but joy can come to me from her who writes to me. However, just see
how calm I am!"
So calm, that he did not even take the time to see which was the
oldest of his letters.
He opened one of them at haphazard, and read:--
"Daniel, my dear Daniel, my only friend in this world, and my sole
hope, how could you intrust me to such an infamous person? How
could you hand over your poor Henrietta to such a wretch? This
Maxime de Brevan, this scoundrel, whom you considered your friend,
if you knew"--
This was the long letter written by Henrietta the day after M. de
Brevan had declared to her that he loved her, and that sooner or
later, whether she chose or not, she should be his, giving her the
choice between the horrors of starvation and the disgrace of becoming
As Daniel went on reading, a deadly pallor was spreading over his
face, pale as it was already; his eyes grew unnaturally large; and big
drops of perspiration trickled down his temples. A nervous trembling
seized him, so violent, that it made his teeth rattle; sobs rose from
his chest; and a pinkish foam appeared on his discolored lips. At last
he reached the concluding lines,--
"Now," the young girl wrote, "since, probably, none of my letters
have reached you, they must have been intercepted. This one will
reach you; for I am going to carry it to the post-office myself.
For God's sake, Daniel, return! Come back quick, if you wish to
save, not your Henrietta's honor, for I shall know how to die, but
your Henrietta's life!"
Then the surgeon and the sailor witnessed a frightful sight.
This man, who but just now had not been able to raise himself on his
pillows; this unfortunate sufferer, who looked more like a skeleton
than a human being; this wounded man, who had scarcely his breath left
him,--threw back his blankets, and rushed to the middle of the room,
crying, with a terrible voice,--
"My clothes, Lefloch, my clothes!"
The doctor had hastened forward to support him; but he pushed him
aside with one arm, continuing,--
"By the holy name of God, Lefloch, make haste! Run to the harbor,
wretch! there must be a steamer there. I buy it. Let it get up steam,
instantly. In an hour I must be on my way."
But this great effort had exhausted him. He tottered; his eyes dosed;
and he fainted away in the arms of his sailor, stammering,--
"That letter, doctor, that letter; read it, and you will see I must
Raising his lieutenant, and holding him like a child in his arms,
Lefloch carried him back to his bed; but, for more than ten minutes,
the doctor and the faithful sailor were unable to tell whether they
had not a corpse before their eyes, and were wasting all their
No! It was Lefloch who first noticed a slight tremor.
"He moves!" he cried out. "Look, commandant, he moves! He is alive!
We'll pull him through yet."
They succeeded, in fact, to rekindle this life which had appeared so
nearly extinct; but they did /not/ bring back that able intellect. The
cold and indifferent look with which Daniel stared at them, when he at
last opened his eyes once more, told them that the tottering reason of
the poor man had not been strong enough to resist this new shock. And
still he must have retained some glimpses of the past; for his efforts
to collect his thoughts were unmistakable. He passed his hands
mechanically over his forehead, as if trying to remove the mist which
enshrouded his mind. Then a convulsion shook him; and his lips
overflowed with incoherent words, in which the recollection of the
fearful reality, and the extravagant conceptions of delirium, were
"I foresaw it," said the chief surgeon. "I foresaw it but too fully."
He had by this time exhausted all the resources of his skill and long
experience; he had followed all the suggestions nature vouchsafed; and
he could do nothing more now, but wait. Picking up the fatal letter,
he went into the embrasure of one of the windows to read it. Daniel
had in his wanderings said enough to enable the doctor to understand
the piercing cry of distress contained in the poor girl's letter; and
Lefloch, who watched him, saw a big tear running down his cheek, and
in the next moment a flood of crimson overspread his face.
"This is enough to madden a man!" he growled. "Poor Champcey!"
And like a man who no longer possesses himself, who must move somehow,
he stuffed the letter in his pocket, and went out, swearing till the
plaster seemed to fall from the ceiling.
Precisely at the same hour, the magistrate, who had been notified of
the trial, came to ask for news. Seeing the old surgeon cross the
hospital yard, he ran up and asked, as soon as he was within
The doctor went a few steps farther, and then replied in a tone of
"Lieut. Champcey is lost!"
"Great God! What do you mean?"
"What I think. Daniel has a violent brain-fever, or rather congestion
of the brain. Weakened, exhausted, extenuated as he is, how can he
endure it? He cannot; that is evident. It would take another miracle
to save him now; and you may rest assured it won't be done. In less
than twenty-four hours he will be a dead man, and his assassins will
The old surgeon's eyes glared with rage; and a sardonic smile curled
his lips as he continued,--
"And who could keep those rascals from triumphing? If Daniel dies, you
will be bound to release that scamp, the wretched murderer whom you
keep imprisoned,--that man Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet; for there will
be no evidence. Or, if you send him before a court, he will be
declared guilty of involuntary homicide. And yet you know, as well as
I do, he has wantonly fired at one of the noblest creatures I have
ever known. And, when he has served his term, he will receive the
price of Champcey's life, and he will spend it in orgies; and the
others, the true criminals, who have hired him, will go about the
world with lofty pride, rich, honored, and haughty."
But the old original was not to be stopped. He went on,--
"Ah, let me alone! Your human justice,--do you want me to tell you
what I think of it? I am ashamed of it! When you send every year three
or four stupid murderers to the scaffold, and some dozens of miserable
thieves to the penitentiary, you fold your black gowns around you, and
proudly proclaim that all is well, and that society, thus protected,
may sleep soundly. Well, do you know what is the real state of things?
You only catch the stupid, the fools. The others, the strong, escape
between the meshes of your laws, and, relying on their cleverness and
your want of power, they enjoy the fruit of their crimes in all the
pride of their impunity, until"--
He hesitated, and added, unlike his usual protestations of atheism,--
"Until the day of divine judgment."
Far from appearing hurt by such an outburst of indignation, the
magistrate, after having listened with impassive face, said, as soon
as the doctor stopped for want of breath,--
"You must have discovered something new."
"Most assuredly. I think I hold at last the thread of the fearful plot
which is killing my poor Daniel. Ah, if he would but live! But he
"Well, well, console yourself, doctor. You said human justice has its
limits, and hosts of criminals escape its vengeance; but in this case,
whether Lieut. Champcey live or die, justice shall be done, I promise
He spoke in a tone of such absolute certainty, that the old surgeon
was struck by it. He exclaimed,--
"Has the murderer confessed the crime?"
The magistrate shook his head.
"No," he replied; "nor have I seen him again since the first
examination. But I have not been asleep. I have been searching; and I
think I have sufficient evidence now to bring out the truth. And if
you, on your side, have any positive information"--
"Yes, I have; and I think I am justified now in communicating it to
you. I have, besides, a letter"--
He was pulling the letter out of his pocket; but the magistrate
stopped him, saying,--
"We cannot talk here in the middle of the court, where everybody can
watch us from the windows. The court-room is quite near: suppose we go
For all answer the surgeon put on his cap firmly, took his friend's
arm, and the next moment the soldier on duty at the gate of the
hospital saw them go out, engaged in a most animated conversation.
When they had reached the magistrate's room, he shut the door
carefully; and, after having invited the surgeon to take a seat, he
"I shall ask you for your information in a moment. First listen to
what I have to say. I know now who Evariste Crochard, surnamed
Bagnolet, really is; and I know the principal events of his life. Ah!
it has cost me time and labor enough; but human justice is patient,
doctor. Considering that this man had sailed on board 'The Conquest'
for more than four months, in company with one hundred and fifty
emigrants, I thought it would be unlikely that he should not have
tried to break the monotony of such a voyage by long talks with
friends. He is a good speaker, a Parisian, a former soldier, and a
great traveller. He was, no doubt, always sure of an audience. I sent,
therefore, one by one, for all the former passengers on board 'The
Conquest,' whom I could find, a hundred, perhaps; and I examined them.
I soon found out that my presumption was not unfounded.
"Almost every one of them had found out some detail of Bagnolet's
life, some more, some less, according to the degree of honesty or
demoralization which Bagnolet thought he discovered in them. I
collected all the depositions of these witnesses; I completed and
compared them, one by the other; and thus, by means of the confessions
of the accused, certain allusions and confidences of his made to
others, and his indiscretions when he was drunk, I was enabled to make
up his biography with a precision which is not likely to be doubted."
Without seeming to notice the doctor's astonishment, he opened a large
case on his table; and, drawing from it a huge bundle of papers, he
held it up in the air, saying,--
"Here are the verbal depositions of my hundred and odd witnesses."
Then, pointing at four or five sheets of paper, which were covered
with very fine and close writing, he added,--
"And here are my extracts. Now, doctor, listen,--"
And at once he commenced reading this biography of his "accused,"
making occasional remarks, and explaining what he had written.
"/Evariste Crochard/, surnamed /Bagnolet/, was born at Bagnolet in
1829, and is, consequently, older than he says, although he looks
younger. He was born in February; and this month is determined by the
deposition of a witness, to whom the accused offered, during the
voyage, a bottle, with the words, 'To-day is my birthday.'
"From all the accounts of the accused, it appears that his parents
were evidently very honest people. His father was foreman in a copper
foundry; and his mother a seamstress. They may be still living; but
for many years they have not seen their son.
"The accused was sent to school; and, if you believe him, he learned
quickly, and showed remarkable talents. But from his twelfth year he
joined several bad companions of his age, and frequently abandoned his
home for weeks, roaming about Paris. How did he support himself while
he was thus vagabondizing?
"He has never given a satisfactory explanation. But he has made such
precise statements about the manner in which youthful thieves maintain
themselves in the capital, that many witnesses suspect him of having
helped them in robbing open stalls in the streets.
"The positive result of these investigations is, that his father,
distressed by his misconduct, and despairing of ever seeing him mend
his ways, had him sent to a house of correction when he was fourteen
"Released at the end of eighteen months, he says he was bound out as
an apprentice, and soon learned his business well enough to support
himself. This last allegation, however, cannot be true; for four
witnesses, of whom one at least is of the same profession as Crochard,
declare that they have seen him at work, and that, if he ever was a
skilled mechanic, he is so no longer. Besides, he cannot have been
long at work; for he had been a year in prison again, when the
revolution of 1848 began. This fact he has himself stated to more than
twenty-five persons. But he has explained his imprisonment very
differently; and almost every witness has received a new version. One
was told that he had been sentenced for having stabbed one of his
companions while drunk; another, that it was for a row in a drinking-
saloon; and a third, that he was innocently involved with others in an
attempt to rob a foreigner.
"The prosecution is, therefore, entitled to conclude fairly that
Crochard was sentenced simply as a thief.
"Set free soon after the revolution, he did not resume his profession,
but secured a place as machinist in a theatre on the boulevards. At
the end of three months he was turned off, because of 'improper
conduct with women,' according to one; or, if we believe another
statement, because he was accused of a robbery committed in one of the
"Unable to procure work, he engaged himself as groom in a wandering
circus, and thus travelled through the provinces. But at Marseilles,
he is wounded in a fight, and has to go to a hospital, where he
remains three months.
"After his return to Paris, he associated himself with a rope-dancer,
but was soon called upon to enter the army. He escaped conscription by
good luck. But the next year we find him negotiating with a dealer in
substitutes; and he confesses having sold himself purely from a mad
desire to possess fifteen hundred francs at once, and to be able to
spend them in debauch. Having successfully concealed his antecedents,
he is next admitted as substitute in the B Regiment of the line; but,
before a year had elapsed, his insubordination has caused him to be
sent to Africa as a punishment.
"He remained there sixteen months, and conducted himself well enough
to be incorporated in the First Regiment of Marines, one battalion of
which was to be sent to Senegambia. He had, however, by no means given
up his bad ways; for he was very soon after condemned to ten years'
penal servitude for having broken into a house by night as a robber."
The chief surgeon, who had for some time given unmistakable signs of
impatience, now rose all of a sudden, and said,--
"Pardon me, if I interrupt you, sir; but can you rely upon the
veracity of your witnesses?"
"Why should I doubt them?"
"Because it seems to me very improbable that a cunning fellow, such as
this Crochard seems to be, should have denounced himself."
"But he has not denounced himself."
"He has often mentioned this condemnation; but he has always
attributed it to acts of violence against a superior; On that point he
has never varied in his statements."
"Then how on earth did you learn"--
"The truth? Oh, very simply. /I/ inquired at Saigon; and I succeeded
in finding a sergeant in the Second Regiment of Marines, who was in
the First Regiment at the same time with Crochard. He gave me all
these details. And there is no mistake about the identity; for, as
soon as I said 'Crochard' the sergeant exclaimed, 'Oh, yes! Crochard,
And, as the doctor bowed without saying a word, the magistrate said,--
"I resume the account. The statements of the accused since his arrest
are too insignificant to be here reported. There is only one
peculiarity of importance for the prosecution, which may possibly
serve to enable us to trace the instigators of this crime. On three
occasions, and in the presence of, at least, three witnesses each
time, Crochard has used, in almost the same terms, these words,--
"'No one would believe the strange acquaintances one makes in prisons.
You meet there young men of family, who have done a foolish thing, and
lots of people, who, wishing to make a fortune all at once, had no
chance. When they come out from there, many of these fellows get into
very good positions; and then, if you meet them, they don't know you.
I have known some people there, who now ride in their carriages.'"
The doctor had become silent.
"Oh!" he said half aloud, "might not some of these people whom the
assassin has known in prison have put arms in his hand?"
"That is the very question I asked myself."
"Because, you see, some of Daniel's enemies are fearful people; and if
you knew what is in this letter here in my hand, which, no doubt, will
be the cause of that poor boy's death"--
"Allow me to finish, doctor," said the man of law. And then, more
rapidly, he went on,--
"Here follows a blank. How the accused lived in Paris, to which he had
returned after his release, is not known. Did he resort to mean
cheating, or to improper enterprises, in order to satisfy his
passions? The prosecution is reduced to conjectures, since Crochard
has refused to give details, and only makes very general statements as
to these years.
"This fact only is established, that every thing he took with him when
he left Paris was new,--his tools, the linen in his valise, the
clothes he wore, from the cap on his head to his shoes. Why were they
As the magistrate had now reached the last line on the first sheet,
the surgeon rose, bowed low, and said,--
"Upon my word, sir, I surrender; and I do begin to hope that Lieut.
Champcey may still be avenged."
A smile of pleased pride appeared for a moment on the lips of the
lawyer; but assuming his mask of impassiveness instantly again, as if
he had been ashamed of his weakness, he said with delicate irony,--
"I really think human justice may this time reach the guilty. But wait
before you congratulate me."
The old surgeon was too candid to make even an attempt at concealing
"What!" he said, "you have more evidence still?"
The magistrate gravely shook his head, and said,--
"The biography which I have just read establishes nothing. We do not
succeed by probabilities and presumptions; however strong they are in
convincing a jury. They want and require proof, positive proof, before
they condemn. Well, such proof I have."
From the same box from which he had taken the papers concerning
Crochard he now drew a letter, which he shook in the air with a
threatening gesture. "Here is something," he said, "which was sent to
the state attorney twelve days after the last attempt had been made on
M. Champcey's life. Listen!" And he read thus,--
"Sir,--A sailor, who has come over to Boen-Hoa, where I live with
my wife, has told us that a certain Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet,
has shot, and perhaps mortally wounded, Lieut. Champcey of the
"In connection with this misfortune, my wife thinks, and I also
consider it a matter of conscience, that we should make known to
you a very serious matter.
"One day I happened to be on a yardarm, side by side with Crochard,
helping the sailors to furl a sail, when I saw him drop a huge
block, which fell upon Lieut. Champcey, and knocked him down.
"No one else had noticed it; and Crochard instantly pulled up the
block again. I was just considering whether I ought to report him,
when he fell at my feet, and implored me to keep it secret; for he
had been very unfortunate in life, and if I spoke he would be
"Thinking that he had been simply awkward, I allowed myself to be
moved, and swore to Crochard that the matter should remain between
us. But what has happened since proves very clearly, as my wife
says, that I was wrong to keep silence; and I am ready now to tell
all, whatever may be the consequences.
"Still, sir, I beg you will protect me, in case Crochard should
think of avenging himself on me or on my family,--a thing which
might very easily happen, as he is a very bad man, capable of any
"As I cannot write, my wife sends you this letter. And we are, with
the most profound respect, &c."
The doctor rubbed his hands violently.
"And you have seen this blacksmith?" he asked.
"Certainly! He has been here, he and his wife. Ah! if the man had been
left to his own counsels, he would have kept it all secret, so
terribly is he afraid of this Crochard; but, fortunately, his wife had
"Decidedly," growled the surgeon. "The women are, after all, the
better part of creation."
The magistrate carefully replaced the letter in the box, and then went
on in his usual calm voice,--
"Thus the first attempt at murder is duly and fully proven. As for the
second,--the one made on the river,--we are not quite so far advanced.
Still I have hopes. I have found out, for instance, that Crochard is a
first-rate swimmer. Only about three months ago he made a bet with one
of the waiters at the hotel where he is engaged, that he would swim
across the Dong-Nai twice, at a place where the current is strongest;
and he did it."
"But that is evidence; is it not?"
"No; it is only a probability in favor of the prosecution. But I have
another string to my bow. The register on board ship proves that
Crochard went on shore the very evening after the arrival of the
vessel. Where, and with whom, did he spend the evening? Not one of my
hundred and odd witnesses has seen him that night. And that is not
all. No one has noticed, the next day, that his clothes were wet.
Therefore he must have changed his clothes; and, in order to do that,
he must have bought some; for he had taken nothing with him out of the
ship but what he had on. Where did he buy these clothes? I mean to
find that out as soon as I shall no longer be forced to carry on the
investigation secretly, as I have done so far. For I never forget one
thing, that the real criminals are in France, and that they will
surely escape us, if they hear that their wretched accomplice here is
Once more the surgeon drew Henrietta's letter from his pocket, and
handed it to the lawyer, saying,--
"I know who they are, the really guilty ones. I know Daniel's enemies,
--Sarah Brandon, Maxime de Brevan, and the others."
But the magistrate waved back the letter, and replied,--