The Mystery of Orcival
Part 1 out of 7
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The Mystery of Orcival
by Emile Gaboriau
On Thursday, the 9th of July, 186-, Jean Bertaud and his son, well
known at Orcival as living by poaching and marauding, rose at three
o'clock in the morning, just at daybreak, to go fishing.
Taking their tackle, they descended the charming pathway, shaded
by acacias, which you see from the station at Evry, and which leads
from the burg of Orcival to the Seine.
They made their way to their boat, moored as usual some fifty yards
above the wire bridge, across a field adjoining Valfeuillu, the
imposing estate of the Count de Tremorel.
Having reached the river-bank, they laid down their tackle, and
Jean jumped into the boat to bail out the water in the bottom.
While he was skilfully using the scoop, he perceived that one of
the oar-pins of the old craft, worn by the oar, was on the point
"Philippe," cried he, to his son, who was occupied in unravelling
a net, "bring me a bit of wood to make a new oar-pin."
"All right," answered Philippe.
There was no tree in the field. The young man bent his steps toward
the park of Valfeuillu, a few rods distant; and, neglectful of
Article 391 of the Penal Code, jumped across the wide ditch which
surrounds M. de Tremorel's domain. He thought he would cut off a
branch of one of the old willows, which at this place touch the
water with their drooping branches.
He had scarcely drawn his knife from his pocket, while looking
about him with the poacher's unquiet glance, when he uttered a low
cry, "Father! Here! Father!"
"What's the matter?" responded the old marauder, without pausing
from his work.
"Father, come here!" continued Philippe. "In Heaven's name, come
Jean knew by the tone of his son's voice that something unusual had
happened. He threw down his scoop, and, anxiety quickening him, in
three leaps was in the park. He also stood still, horror-struck,
before the spectacle which had terrified Philippe.
On the bank of the river, among the stumps and flags, was stretched
a woman's body. Her long, dishevelled locks lay among the
water-shrubs; her dress - of gray silk - was soiled with mire and
blood. All the upper part of the body lay in shallow water, and
her face had sunk in the mud.
"A murder!" muttered Philippe, whose voice trembled.
"That's certain," responded Jean, in an indifferent tone. "But who
can this woman be? Really one would say, the countess."
"We'll see," said the young man. He stepped toward the body; his
father caught him by the arm.
"What would you do, fool?" said he. "You ought never to touch the
body of a murdered person without legal authority."
"You think so?"
"Certainly. There are penalties for it."
"Then, come along and let's inform the Mayor."
"Why? as if people hereabouts were not against us enough already!
Who knows that they would not accuse us - "
But, father - "
"If we go and inform Monsieur Courtois, he will ask us how and why
we came to be in Monsieur de Tremorel's park to find this out. What
is it to you, that the countess has been killed? They'll find her
body without you. Come, let's go away."
But Philippe did not budge. Hanging his head, his chin resting
upon his palm, he reflected.
"We must make this known," said he, firmly. "We are not savages;
we will tell Monsieur Courtois that in passing along by the park in
our boat, we perceived the body."
Old Jean resisted at first; then, seeing that his son would, if
need be, go without him, yielded.
They re-crossed the ditch, and leaving their fishing-tackle in the
field, directed their steps hastily toward the mayor's house.
Orcival, situated a mile or more from Corbeil, on the right bank
of the Seine, is one of the most charming villages in the environs
of Paris, despite the infernal etymology of its name. The gay and
thoughtless Parisian, who, on Sunday, wanders about the fields,
more destructive than the rook, has not yet discovered this smiling
country. The distressing odor of the frying from coffee-gardens
does not there stifle the perfume of the honeysuckles. The refrains
of bargemen, the brazen voices of boat-horns, have never awakened
echoes there. Lazily situated on the gentle slopes of a bank washed
by the Seine, the houses of Orcival are white, and there are
delicious shades, and a bell-tower which is the pride of the place.
On all sides vast pleasure domains, kept up at great cost, surround
it. From the upper part, the weathercocks of twenty chateaux may
be seen. On the right is the forest of Mauprevoir, and the pretty
country-house of the Countess de la Breche; opposite, on the other
side of the river, is Mousseaux and Petit-Bourg, the ancient domain
of Aguado, now the property of a famous coach-maker; on the left,
those beautiful copses belong to the Count de Tremorel, that large
park is d'Etiolles, and in the distance beyond is Corbiel; that vast
building, whose roofs are higher than the oaks, is the Darblay mill.
The mayor of Orcival occupies a handsome, pleasant mansion, at the
upper end of the village. Formerly a manufacturer of dry goods, M.
Courtois entered business without a penny, and after thirty years
of absorbing toil, he retired with four round millions of francs.
Then he proposed to live tranquilly with his wife and children,
passing the winter at Paris and the summer at his country-house.
But all of a sudden he was observed to be disturbed and agitated.
Ambition stirred his heart. He took vigorous measures to be
forced to accept the mayoralty of Orcival. And he accepted it,
quite in self-defence, as he will himself tell you. This office
was at once his happiness and his despair; apparent despair,
interior and real happiness.
It quite befits him, with clouded brow, to rail at the cares of
power; he appears yet better when, his waist encircled with the
gold-laced scarf, he goes in triumph at the head of the municipal
Everybody was sound asleep at the mayor's when the two Bertauds
rapped the heavy knocker of the door. After a moment, a servant,
half asleep, appeared at one of the ground-floor windows.
"What's the matter, you rascals?" asked he, growling.
Jean did not think it best to revenge an insult which his
reputation in the village too well justified.
"We want to speak to Monsieur the Mayor," he answered. "There is
terrible need of it. Go call him, Monsieur Baptiste; he won't
"I'd like to see anybody blame me," snapped out Baptiste.
It took ten minutes of talking and explaining to persuade the
servant. Finally, the Bertauds were admitted to a little man, fat
and red, very much annoyed at being dragged from his bed so early.
It was M. Courtois.
They had decided that Philippe should speak.
"Monsieur Mayor," he said, "we have come to announce to you a great
misfortune. A crime has been committed at Monsieur de Tremorel's."
M. Courtois was a friend of the count's; he became whiter than his
shirt at this sudden news.
"My God!" stammered he, unable to control his emotion, "what do you
say - a crime!"
"Yes; we have just discovered a body; and as sure as you are here,
I believe it to be that of the countess."
The worthy man raised his arms heavenward, with a wandering air.
"But where, when?"
"Just now, at the foot of the park, as we were going to take up
"It is horrible!" exclaimed the good M. Courtois; "what a calamity!
So worthy a lady! But it is not possible - you must be mistaken;
I should have been informed - "
"We saw it distinctly, Monsieur Mayor."
"Such a crime in my village! Well, you have done wisely to come
here. I will dress at once, and will hasten off - no, wait." He
reflected a moment, then called:
The valet was not far off. With ear and eye alternately pressed
against the key-hole, he heard and looked with all his might. At
the sound of his master's voice he had only to stretch out his hand
and open the door.
"Monsieur called me?"
"Run to the justice of the peace," said the mayor. "There is not
a moment to lose. A crime has been committed - perhaps a murder
- you must go quickly. And you," addressing the poachers, "await
me here while I slip on my coat."
The justice of the peace at Orcival, M. Plantat - "Papa Plantat,"
as he was called - was formerly an attorney at Melun. At fifty,
Mr. Plantat, whose career had been one of unbroken prosperity,
lost in the same month, his wife, whom he adored, and his two sons,
charming youths, one eighteen, the other twenty-two years old.
These successive losses crushed a man whom thirty years of happiness
left without defence against misfortune. For a long time his reason
was despaired of. Even the sight of a client, coming to trouble his
grief, to recount stupid tales of self-interest, exasperated him.
It was not surprising that he sold out his professional effects and
good-will at half price. He wished to establish himself at his ease
in his grief, with the certainty of not being disturbed in its
But the intensity of his mourning diminished, and the ills of
idleness came. The justiceship of the peace at Orcival was vacant,
and M. Plantat applied for and obtained it. Once installed in this
office, he suffered less from ennui. This man, who saw his life
drawing to an end, undertook to interest himself in the thousand
diverse cases which came before him. He applied to these all the
forces of a superior intelligence, the resources of a mind admirably
fitted to separate the false from the true among the lies he was
forced to hear. He persisted, besides, in living alone, despite
the urging of M. Courtois; pretending that society fatigued him,
and that an unhappy man is a bore in company.
Misfortune, which modifies characters, for good or bad, had made
him, apparently, a great egotist. He declared that he was only
interested in the affairs of life as a critic tired of its active
scenes. He loved to make a parade of his profound indifference
for everything, swearing that a rain of fire descending upon Paris,
would not even make him turn his head. To move him seemed
impossible. "What's that to me?" was his invariable exclamation.
Such was the man who, a quarter of an hour after Baptiste's
departure, entered the mayor's house.
M. Plantat was tall, thin, and nervous. His physiognomy was not
striking. His hair was short, his restless eyes seemed always to
be seeking something, his very long nose was narrow and sharp.
After his affliction, his mouth, formerly well shaped, became
deformed; his lower lip had sunk, and gave him a deceptive look of
"They tell me," said he, at the threshold, "that Madame de Tremorel
has been murdered."
"These men here, at least, pretend so," answered the mayor, who had
M. Courtois was no longer the same man. He had had time to make
his toilet a little. His face attempted to express a haughty
coldness. He had been reproaching himself for having been wanting
in dignity, in showing his grief before the Bertauds. "Nothing
ought to agitate a man in my position," said he to himself. And,
being terribly agitated, he forced himself to be calm, cold, and
M. Plantat was so naturally.
"This is a very sad event," said he, in a tone which he forced
himself to make perfectly disinterested; "but after all, how does
it concern us? We must, however, hurry and ascertain whether it
is true. I have sent for the brigadier, and he will join us."
"Let us go," said M. Courtois; "I have my scarf in my pocket."
They hastened off. Philippe and his father went first, the young
man eager and impatient, the old one sombre and thoughtful. The
mayor, at each step, made some exclamation.
"I can't understand it," muttered he; "a murder in my commune! a
commune where, in the memory of men, no crime has been committed!"
And be directed a suspicious glance toward the two Bertauds. The
road which led toward the chateau of M. de Tremorel was an
unpleasant one, shut in by walls a dozen feet high. On one side
is the park of the Marchioness de Lanascol; on the other the
spacious garden of Saint Jouan. The going and coming had taken
time; it was nearly eight o'clock when the mayor, the justice,
and their guides stopped before the gate of M. de Tremorel.
The mayor rang. The bell was very large; only a small gravelled
court of five or six yards separated the gate from the house;
nevertheless no one appeared.
The mayor rang more vigorously, then with all his strength; but in
Before the gate of Mme. de Lanascol's chateau, nearly opposite, a
groom was standing, occupied in cleaning and polishing a bridle-bit.
"It's of no use to ring, gentlemen," said this man; there's nobody
in the chateau."
"How! nobody?" asked the mayor, surprised.
"I mean," said the groom, "that there is no one there but the master
and mistress. The servants all went away last evening by the 8.40
train to Paris, to the wedding of the old cook, Madame Denis. They
ought to return this morning by the first train. I was invited
myself - "
"Great God!" interrupted M. Courtois, "then the count and countess
remained alone last night?"
"Entirely alone, Monsieur Mayor."
"It is horrible!"
M. Plantat seemed to grow impatient during this dialogue. "Come,"
said he, "we cannot stay forever at the gate. The gendarmes do not
come; let us send for the locksmith." Philippe was about to hasten
off, when, at the end of the road, singing and laughing were heard.
Five persons, three women and two men, soon appeared.
"Ah, there are the people of the chateau," cried the groom, whom
this morning visit seemed to annoy, "they ought to have a key."
The domestics, seeing the group about the gate, became silent and
hastened their steps. One of them began to run ahead of the others;
it was the count's valet de chambre.
"These gentlemen perhaps wish to speak to Monsieur the Count?"
asked he, having bowed to M. Plantat.
We have rung five times, as hard as we could," said the mayor.
"It is surprising," said the valet de chambre, "the count sleeps
very lightly. Perhaps he has gone out."
"Horror!" cried Philippe. "Both of them have been murdered!" These
words shocked the servants, whose gayety announced a reasonable
number of healths drunk to the happiness of the newly wedded pair.
M. Courtois seemed to be studying the attitude of old Bertaud.
"A murder!" muttered the valet de chambre. "It was for money then;
it must have been known - "
"What?" asked the mayor.
"Monsieur the Count received a very large sum yesterday morning."
"Large! yes," added a chambermaid. "He had a large package of
bank-bills. Madame even said to Monsieur that she should not shut
her eyes the whole night, with this immense sum in the house."
There was a silence; each one looked at the others with a frightened
air. M. Courtois reflected.
"At what hour did you leave the chateau last evening?" asked he of
"At eight o'clock; we had dinner early."
"You went away all together?"
"You did not leave each other?"
"Not a minute."
"And you returned all together?"
The servants exchanged a significant look.
"All," responded a chambermaid - "that is to say, no. One left us
on reaching the Lyons station at Paris; it was Guespin."
"Yes, sir; he went away, saying that he would rejoin us at Wepler's,
in the Batignolles, where the wedding took place." The mayor
nudged the justice with his elbow, as if to attract his attention,
and continued to question the chambermaid.
"And this Guespin, as you call him - did you see him again?"
"No, sir. I asked several times during the evening in vain, what
had become of him; his absence seemed to me suspicious." Evidently
the chambermaid tried to show superior perspicacity. A little more,
and she would have talked of presentiments.
"Has this Guespin been long in the house?"
"What were his duties?"
"He was sent from Paris by the house of the 'Skilful Gardener,' to
take care of the rare flowers in Madame's conservatory."
"And did he know of this money?"
The domestics again exchanged significant glances.
"Yes," they answered in chorus, "we had talked a great deal about
it among ourselves."
The chambermaid added: "He even said to me, 'To think that Monsieur
the Count has enough money in his cabinet to make all our fortunes.'"
"What kind of a man is this?"
This question absolutely extinguished the talkativeness of the
servants. No one dared to speak, perceiving that the least word
might serve as the basis of a terrible accusation. But the groom
of the house opposite, who burned to mix himself up in the affair,
had none of these scruples. "Guespin," answered he, "is a good
fellow. Lord, what jolly things he knows! He knows everything
you can imagine. It appears he has been rich in times past, and if
he wished - But dame! he loves to have his work all finished, and
go off on sprees. He's a crack billiard-player, I can tell you."
Papa Plantat, while listening in an apparently absent-minded way
to these depositions, or rather these scandals, carefully examined
the wall and the gate. He now turned, and interrupting the groom:
"Enough of this," said he, to the great scandal of M. Courtois.
"Before pursuing this interrogatory, let us ascertain the crime,
if crime there is; for it is not proved. Let whoever has the key,
open the gate."
The valet de chambre had the key; he opened the gate, and all
entered the little court. The gendarmes had just arrived. The
mayor told the brigadier to follow him, and placed two men at the
gate, ordering them not to permit anyone to enter or go out,
unless by his orders. Then the valet de chambre opened the door
of the house.
If there had been no crime, at least something extraordinary had
taken place at the chateau; the impassible justice might have
been convinced of it, as soon as he had stepped into the
vestibule. The glass door leading to the garden was wide open,
and three of the panes were shattered into a thousand pieces. The
carpeting of waxed canvas between the doors had been torn up, and
on the white marble slabs large drops of blood were visible. At
the foot of the staircase was a stain larger than the rest, and
upon the lowest step a splash hideous to behold.
Unfitted for such spectacles, or for the mission he had now to
perform, M. Courtois became faint. Luckily, he borrowed from the
idea of his official importance, an energy foreign to his character.
The more difficult the preliminary examination of this affair
seemed, the more determined he was to carry it on with dignity.
"Conduct us to the place where you saw the body," said he to
Bertaud. But Papa Plantat intervened.
"It would be wiser, I think," he objected, "and more methodical,
to begin by going through the house."
"Perhaps-yes-true, that's my own view," said the mayor, grasping at
the other's counsel, as a drowning man clings to a plank. And he
made all retire excepting the brigadier and the valet de chambre,
the latter remaining to serve as guide. "Gendarmes," cried he to
the men guarding the gate, "see to it that no one goes out; prevent
anybody from entering the house, and above all, let no one go into
Then they ascended the staircase. Drops of blood were sprinkled
all along the stairs. There was also blood on the baluster, and M.
Courtois perceived, with horror, that his hands were stained.
When they had reached the first landing-stage, the mayor said to
the valet de chambre:
"Tell me, my friend, did your master and mistress occupy the same
"And where is their chamber?"
As he spoke, the valet de chambre staggered back terrified, and
pointed to a door, the upper panel of which betrayed the imprint
of a bloody hand. Drops of perspiration overspread the poor
mayor's forehead he too was terrified, and could hardly keep on
his feet. Alas, authority brings with it terrible obligations!
The brigadier, an old soldier of the Crimea, visibly moved,
M. Plantat alone, as tranquil as if he were in his garden, retained
his coolness, and looked around upon the others.
"We must decide," said he.
He entered the room; the rest followed.
There was nothing unusual in the apartment; it was a boudoir hung
in blue satin, furnished with a couch and four arm-chairs, covered
also with blue satin. One of the chairs was overturned.
They passed on to the bed-chamber.
A frightful disorder appeared in this rooM. There was not an
article of furniture, not an ornament, which did not betray that a
terrible, enraged and merciless struggle had taken place between
the assassins and their victims. In the middle of the chamber a
small table was overturned, and all about it were scattered lumps
of sugar, vermilion cups, and pieces of porcelain.
"Ab!" said the valet de chambre, "Monsieur and Madame were taking
tea when the wretches came in!"
The mantel ornaments had been thrown upon the floor; the clock,
in falling, had stopped at twenty minutes past three. Near the
clock were the lamps; the globes were in pieces, the oil had been
The canopy of the bed had been torn down, and covered the bed.
Someone must have clutched desperately at the draperies. All the
furniture was overturned. The coverings of the chairs had been
hacked by strokes of a knife, and in places the stuffing protruded.
The secretary had been broken open; the writing-slide, dislocated,
hung by its hinges; the drawers were open and empty, and everywhere,
blood - blood upon the carpet, the furniture, the curtains - above
all, upun the bed-curtains.
Poor wretches! " stammered the mayor. "They were murdered here."
Every one for a moment was appalled. But meanwhile, the justice of
the peace devoted himself to a minute scrutiny, taking notes upon
his tablets, and looking into every corner. When he had finished:
Come," said he, "let us go into the other rooms.
Every where there was the same disorder. A band of furious maniacs,
or criminals seized with a frenzy, had certainly passed the night
in the house.
The count's library, especially, had been turned topsy-turvy. The
assassins had not taken the trouble to force the locks; they had
gone to work with a hatchet. Surely they were confident of not
being overheard; for they must have struck tremendous blows to make
the massive oaken bureau fly in pieces.
Neither parlor nor smoking-room had been respected. Couches, chairs,
canopies were cut and torn as if they had been lunged at with swords.
Two spare chambers for guests were all in confusion.
They then ascended to the second story.
There, in the first room which they penetrated, they found, beside
a trunk which had been assaulted, but which was nnt not opened, a
hatchet for splitting wood which the valet de chambre recognized as
belonging to the house.
"Do you understand now?" said the mayor to M. Plantat. "The
assassins were in force, that's clear. The murder accomplished,
they scattered through the chateau, seeking everywhere the money
they knew they would find here. One of them was engaged in breaking
open this trunk, when the others, below, found the money; they
called him; he hastened down, and thinking all further search
useless, he left the hatchet here."
"I see it," said the brigadier, "just as if I had been here."
The ground-floor, which they next visited, had been respected.
Only, after the crime had been committed, and the money secured,
the murderers had felt the necessity of refreshing themselves.
They found the remains of their supper in the dining-rooM. They
had eaten up all the cold meats left in.the cupboard. On the
table, beside eight empty bottles of wine and liqueurs, were ranged
"There were five of them," said the mayor.
By force of will, M. Courtois had recovered his self-possession.
"Before going to view the bodies," said he, "I will send word to
the procureur of Corbeil. In an hour, we will have a judge of
instruction, who will finish our painful task."
A gendarme was instructed to harness the count's buggy, and to
hasten to the procureur. Then the mayor and the justice, followed
by the brigadier, the valet de chambre, and the two Bertauds, took
their way toward the river.
The park of Valfeuillu was very wide from right to left. From the
house to the Seine it was almost two hundred steps. Before the
house was a grassy lawn, interspersed with flower-beds. Two paths
led across the lawn to the river-bank.
But the murderers had not followed the paths. Making a short cut,
they had gone straight across the lawn. Their traces were perfectly
visible. The grass was trampled and stamped down as if a heavy load
had been dragged over it. In the midst of the lawn they perceived
something red; M. Plantat went and picked it up. It was a slipper,
which the valet de chambre recognized as the count's. Farther on,
they found a white silk handkerchief, which the valet declared he
had often seen around the count's neck. This handkerchief was
stained with blood.
At last they arrived at the river-bank, under the willows from
which Philippe bad intended to cut off a branch; there they saw the
body. The sand at this place was much indented by feet seeking a
firm support. Everything indicated that here had been the supreme
M. Courtois understood all the importance of these traces.
"Let no one advance," said he, and, followed by the justice of the
peace, he approached the corpse. Although the face could not be
distinguished, both recognized the countess. Both had seen her in
this gray robe, adorned with blue trimmings.
Now, how came she there?
The mayor thought that having succeeded in escaping from the hands
of the murderers, she had fled wildly. They had pursued her, had
caught up with her there, and she had fallen to rise no more. This
version explained the traces of the struggle. It must have been
the count's body that they had dragged across the lawn.
M. Courtois talked excitedly, trying to impose his ideas on the
justice. But M. Plantat hardly listened; you might have thought
him a hundred leagues from Valfeuillu; he only responded by
monosyllables - yes, no, perhaps. And the worthy mayor gave
himself great pains; he went and came, measured steps, minutely
scrutinized the ground.
There was not at this place more than a foot of water. A mud-hank,
upon which grew some clumps of flags and some water-lilies,
descended by a gentle decline from the bank to the middle of the
river. The water was very clear, and there was no current; the
slippery and slimy mire could be distinctly seen.
M. Courtois had gone thus far in his investigations, when he was
struck by a sudden idea.
"Bertaud," said he, "come here."
The old poacher obeyed.
"You say that you saw the body from your boat?"
"Yes, Monsieur Mayor."
"Where is your boat?"
"There, hauled up to that field."
"Well, lead us to it."
It was clear to all that this order had a great effect upon the man.
He trembled and turned pale under his rough skin, tanned as it was
by sun and storM. He was even seen to cast a menacing look toward
"Let us go," said he at last.
They were returning to the house when the valet proposed to pass
over the ditch. "That will be the quickest way," said he, "I will
go for a ladder which we will put across."
He went off, and quickly reappeared with his improvised foot-bridge.
But at the moment he was adjusting it, the mayor cried out to him:
The imprints left by the Bertauds on both sides of the ditch had
just caught his eye.
"What is this?" said he; "evidently someone has crossed here, and
not long ago; for the traces of the steps are quite fresh."
After an examination of some minutes he ordered that the ladder
should be placed farther off. When they had reached the boat, he
said to Jean, "Is this the boat with which you went to take up your
nets this morning?"
"Then," resumed M. Courtois, "what implements did you use? your
cast net is perfectly dry; this boat-hook and these oars have not
been wet for twenty-four hours."
The distress of the father and son became more and more evident.
"Do you persist in what you say, Bertaud?" said the mayor.
"And you, Philippe?"
"Monsieur," stammered the young man, "we have told the truth."
"Really!" said M. Courtois, in an ironical tone. "Then you will
explain to the proper authorities how it was that you could see
anything from a boat which you had not entered. It will be proved
to you, also, that the body is in a position where it is impossible
to see it from the middle of the river. Then you will still have
to tell what these foot-prints on the grass are, which go from your
boat to the place where the ditch has been crossed several times
and by several persons."
The two Bertauds hung their heads.
"Brigadier," ordered the mayor, "arrest these two men in the name
of the law, and prevent all communication between them."
Philippe seemed to be ill. As for old Jean, he contented himself
with shrugging his shoulders and saying to his son:
"Well, you would have it so, wouldn't you?"
While the brigadier led the two poachers away, and shut them up
separately, and under the guard of his men, the justice and the
mayor returned to the park. With all this," muttered M. Courtois,
"no traces of the count."
They proceeded to take up the body of the countess. The mayor sent
for two planks, which, with a thousand precautions, they placed on
the ground, being able thus to move the countess without effacing
the imprints necessary for the legal examination. Alas! it was
indeed she who had been the beautiful, the charming Countess de
Tremorel! Here were her smiling face, her lovely, speaking eyes,
her fine, sensitive mouth.
There remained nothing of her former self. The face was
unrecognizable, so soiled and wounded was it. Her clothes were in
tatters. Surely a furious frenzy had moved the monsters who had
slain the poor lady! She had received more than twenty
knife-wounds, and must have been struck with a stick, or rather
with a hammer; she had been dragged by her feet and by her hair!
In her left hand she grasped a strip of common cloth, torn,
doubtless, from the clothes of one of the assassins. The mayor,
in viewing the spectacle, felt his legs fail him, and supported
himself on the arm of the impassible Plantat.
"Let us carry her to the house," said the justice, "and then we
will search for the count."
The valet and brigadier (who had now returned) called on the
domestics for assistance. The women rushed into the garden.
There was then a terrible concert of cries, lamentations, and
"The wretches! So noble a mistress! So good a lady!"
M. and Mme. de Tremorel, one could see, were adored by their people.
The countess had just been laid upon the billiard-table, on the
ground-floor, when the judge of instruction and a physician were
"At last!" sighed the worthy mayor; and in a lower tone he added,
"the finest medals have their reverse."
For the first time in his life, he seriously cursed his ambition,
and regretted being the most important personage in Orcival.
The judge of instruction of the tribunal at Corbeil, was M. Antoine
Domini, a remarkable man, since called to higher functions. He was
forty years of age, of a prepossessing person, and endowed with a
very expressive, but too grave physiognomy. In him seemed typified
the somewhat stiff solemnity of the magistracy. Penetrated with the
dignity of his office, he sacrificed his life to it, rejecting the
most simple distractions, and the most innocent pleasures.
He lived alone, seldom showing himself abroad; rarely received his
friends, not wishing, as he said, that the weaknesses of the man
should derogate from the sacred character of the judge. This latter
reason had deterred him from marrying, though he felt the need of a
Always and everywhere he was the magistrate - that is, the
representative, even to fanaticism, of what he thought the most
august institution on the earth. Naturally gay, he would
double-lock himself in when he wished to laugh. He was witty; but
if a bright sally escaped him, you may be sure he repented of it.
Body and soul he gave to his vocation; and no one could bring more
conscientiousness to the discharge of what he thought to be his
duty. He was also inflexible. It was monstrous, in his eyes, to
discuss an article of the code. The law spoke; it was enough; he
shut his eyes, covered his ears, and obeyed.
>From the day when a legal investigation commenced, he did not sleep,
and he employed every means to discover the truth. Yet he was not
regarded as a good judge of instruction; to contend by tricks with
a prisoner was repugnant to him; to lay a snare for a rogue he
thought debasing; in short, he was obstinate - obstinate to
foolishness, sometimes to absurdity; even to denying the existence
of the sun at mid-day.
The mayor and Papa Plantat hastened to meet M. Domini. He bowed
to them gravely, as if he had not known them, and presenting to
them a man of some sixty years who accompanied him:
Messieurs," said he, "this is Doctor Gendron."
Papa Plantat shook hands with the doctor; the mayor smiled
graciously at him, for Dr. Gendron was well-known in those parts;
he was even celebrated, despite the nearness of Paris. Loving his
art and exercising it with a passionate energy, he yet owed his
renown less to his science than his manners. People said: "He is
an original;" they admired his affectation of independence, of
scepticism, and rudeness. He made his visits from five to nine in
the morning - all the worse for those for whom these hours were
inconvenient. After nine o'clock the doctor was not to be had.
The doctor was working for himself, the doctor was in his
laboratory, the doctor was inspecting his cellar. It was rumored
that he sought for secrets of practical chemistry, to augment still
more his twenty thousand livres of income. And he did not deny it;
for in truth he was engaged on poisons, and was perfecting an
invention by which could be discovered traces of all the alkaloids
which up to that time had escaped analysis. If his friends
reproached him, even jokingly, on sending away sick people in the
afternoon, he grew red with rage.
"Parbleu!" he answered, "I find you superb! I am a doctor four
hours in the day. I am paid by hardly a quarter of my patients
- that's three hours I give daily to humanity, which I despise.
Let each of you do as much, and we shall see."
The mayor conducted the new-comers into the drawing-room, where he
installed himself to write down the results of his examination.
"What a misfortune for my town, this crime!" said he to M. Domini.
"What shame! Orcival has lost its reputation."
"I know nothing of the affair," returned the judge. "The gendarme
who went for me knew little about it."
M. Courtois recounted at length what his investigation had
discovered, not forgetting the minutest detail, dwelling especially
on the excellent precautions which he had had the sagacity to take.
He told how the conduct of the Bertauds had at first awakened his
suspicions; how he had detected them, at least in a pointblank lie;
how, finally, he had determined to arrest them. He spoke standing,
his head thrown back, with wordy emphasis. The pleasure of
speaking partially rewarded him for his recent distress.
"And now," he concluded, "I have just ordered the most exact search,
so that doubtless we shall find the count's body. Five men,
detailed by me, and all the people of the house, are searching the
park. If their efforts are not crowned with success, I have here
some fishermen who will drag the river."
M. Domini held his tongue, only nodding his head from time to time,
as a sign of approbation. He was studying, weighing the details
told him, building up in his mind a plan of proceeding.
"You have acted wisely," said he, at last. "The misfortune is a
great one, but I agree with you that we are on the track of the
criminals. These poachers, or the gardener who has disappeared,
have something, perhaps, to do with this abominable crime."
Already, for some minutes, M. Plantat had rather awkwardly concealed
some signs of impatience.
"The misfortune is," said he, "that if Guespin is guilty, he will
not be such a fool as to show himself here."
"Oh, we'll find him," returned M. Domini. "Before leaving Corbeil,
I sent a despatch to the prefecture of police at Paris, to ask for
a police agent, who will doubtless be here shortly."
"While waiting," proposed the mayor, "perhaps you would like to see
the scene of the crime?"
M. Domini made a motion as if to rise; then sat down again.
"In fact, no," said he; "we will see nothing till the agent arrives.
But I must have some information concerning the Count and Countess
The worthy mayor again triumphed.
"Oh, I can give it to you," answered he quickly, "better than
anybody. Ever since their advent here, I may say, I have been one
of their best friends. Ah, sir, what charming people! excellent,
and affable, and devoted - "
And at the remembrance of all his friends' good qualities, M.
Courtois choked in his utterance.
"The Count de Trernorel," he resumed, "was a man of thirty-four
years, handsome, witty to the tips of his nails. He had sometimes,
however, periods of melancholy, during which he did not wish to see
anybody; but he was ordinarily so affable, so polite, so obliging;
he knew so well how to be noble without haughtiness, that everybody
here esteemed and loved him."
"And the countess? "asked the judge of instruction.
"An angel, Monsieur, an angel on earth! Poor lady! You will soon
see her remains, and surely you would not guess that she has been
the queen of the country, by reason of her beauty."
"Were they rich?"
"Yes; they must have had, together, more than a hundred thousand
francs income - oh, yes, much more; for within five or six months
the count, who had not the bucolic tastes of poor Sauvresy, sold
some lands to buy consols."
"Have they been married long?"
M. Courtois scratched his head; it was his appeal to memory.
"Faith," he answered, "it was in September of last year; just six
months ago. I married them myself. Poor Sauvresy had been dead a
The judge of instruction looked up from his notes with a surprised
"Who is this Sauvresy," he inquired, "of whom you speak?"
Papa Plantat, who was furiously biting his nails in a corner,
apparently a stranger to what was passing, rose abruptly.
"Monsieur Sauvresy," said he, "was the first husband of Madame de
Tremorel. My friend Courtois has omitted this fact."
"Oh!" said the mayor, in a wounded tone, "it seems to me that under
present circumstances - "
"Pardon me," interrupted the judge. "It is a detail such as may
well become valuable, though apparently foreign to the case, and
at the first view, insignificant."
"Hum!" grunted Papa Plantat. "Insignificant - foreign to it!"
His tone was so singular, his air so strange, that M. Domini was
struck by it.
"Do you share," he asked, "the opinion of the mayor regarding the
Plantat shrugged his shoulders.
"I haven't any opinions," he answered: "I live alone - see nobody;
don't disturb myself about anything. But - "
"It seems to me," said M. Courtois, "that nobody should be better
acquainted with people who were my friends than I myself."
"Then, you are telling the story clumsily," said M. Plantat, dryly.
The judge of instruction pressed him to explain himself. So M.
Plantat, without more ado, to the great scandal of the mayor, who
was thus put into the background, proceeded to dilate upon the main
features of the count's and countess's biography.
"The Countess de Tremorel, nee Bertha Lechaillu, was the daughter
of a poor village school-master. At eighteen, her beauty was
famous for three leagues around, but as she only had for dowry her
great blue eyes and blond ringlets, but few serious lovers presented
themselves. Already Bertha, by advice of her family, had resigned
herself to take a place as a governess - a sad position for so
beautiful a maid - when the heir of one of the richest domains in
the neighborhood happened to see her, and fell in love with her.
"Clement Sauvresy was just thirty; he had no longer any family,
and possessed nearly a hundred thousand livres income from lands
absolutely free of incumbrance. Clearly, he had the best right in
the world to choose a wife to his taste. He did not hesitate. He
asked for Bertha's hand, won it, and, a month after, wedded her at
mid-day, to the great scandal of the neighboring aristocracy, who
went about saying: 'What folly! what good is there in being rich,
if it is not to double one's fortune by a good marriage!'
"Nearly a month before the marriage, Sauvresy set the laborers to
work at Valfeuillu, and in no long time had spent, in repairs and
furniture, a trifle of thirty thousand crowns. The newly married
pair chose this beautiful spot in which to spend their honeymoon.
They were so well-contented there that they established themselves
permanently at Valfeuillu, to the great satisfaction of the
"Bertha was one of those persons, it seemed, who are born especially
to marry millionnaires. Without awkwardness or embarrassment, she
passed easily from the humble school-room, where she had assisted
her father, to the splendid drawing-room of Valfeuillu. And when
she did the honors of her chateau to all the neighboring aristocracy,
it seemed as though she had never done anything else. She knew how
to remain simple, approachable, modest, all the while that she took
the tone of the highest society. She was beloved."
"But it appears to me," interrupted the mayor, "that I said the
same thing, and it was really not worth while - "
A gesture from M. Domini closed his mouth, and M. Plantat continued:
"Sauvresy was also liked, for he was one of those golden hearts
which know not how to suspect evil. He was one of those men with
a robust faith, with obstinate illusions, whom doubts never disturb.
He was one of those who thoroughly confide in the sincerity of
their friends, in the love of their mistresses. This new domestic
household ought to be happy; it was so. Bertha adored her husband
- that frank man, who, before speaking to her a word of love,
offered her his hand. Sauvresy professed for his wife a worship
which few thought foolish. They lived in great style at Valfeuillu.
They received a great deal. When autumn came all the numerous spare
chambers were filled. The turnouts were magnificent.
"Sauvresy had been married two years, when one evening he brought
from Paris one of his old and intimate friends, a college comrade
of whom he had often spoken, Count Hector de Tremorel. The count
intended to remain but a short time at Valfeuillu; but weeks passed
and then months, and he still remained. It was not surprising.
Hector had passed a very stormy youth, full of debauchery, of clubs,
of gambling, and of amours. He had thrown to the winds of his
caprices an immense fortune; the relatively calm life of Valfeuillu
was a relief. At first people said to him, 'You will soon have
enough of the country." He smiled, but said nothing. It was then
thought, and rightly, perhaps, that having become poor, he cared
little to display his ruin before those who had obscured his
splendor. He absented himself rarely, and then only to go to
Corbeil, almost always on foot. There he frequented the Belle Image
hotel, the best in the town, and met, as if by chance, a young lady
from Paris. They spent the afternoon together, and separated when
the last train left."
"Peste!" growled the mayor, "for a man who lives alone, who sees
nobody, who would not for the world have anything to do with other
people's business, it seems to me our dear Monsieur Plantat is
pretty well informed."
Evidently M. Courtois was jealous. How was it that he, the first
personage in the place, had been absolutely ignorant of these
meetings? His ill-humor was increasing, when Dr. Gendron answered:
"Pah! all Corbeil prated about that at the time."
M. Plantat made a movement with his lips as if to say," I know
other things besides." He went on, however, with his story.
"The visit of Count Hector made no change in the habits at the
chateau. Monsieur and Madame Sauvresy had a brother; that was all.
Sauvresy at this time made several journeys to Paris, where, as
everybody knew, he was engaged in arranging his friend's affairs.
"This charming existence lasted a year. Happiness seemed to be
fixed forever beneath the delightful shades of Valfeuillu. But
alas! one evening on returning from the hunt, Sauvresy became so
ill that he was forced to take to his bed. A doctor was called;
inflammation of the chest had set in. Sauvresy was young,
vigorous as an oak; his state did not at first cause anxiety.
A fortnight afterward, in fact, he was up and about. But he was
imprudent and had a relapse. He again nearly recovered; a week
afterward there was another relapse, and this time so serious,
that a fatal end of his illness was foreseen. During this long
sickness, the love of Bertha and the affection of Tremorel for
Sauvresy were tenderly shown. Never was an invalid tended with
such solicitude - surrounded with so many proofs of the purest
devotion. His wife and his friend were always at his couch,
night and day. He had hours of suffering, but never a second of
weariness. He repeated to all who went to see him, that he had
come to bless his illness. He said to himself, 'If I had not
fallen ill, I should never have known how much I was beloved.'"
"He said the same thing to me," interrupted the mayor, more than a
hundred times. He also said so to Madame Courtois, to Laurence,
my eldest daughter - "
"Naturally," continued M. Plantat. "But Sauvresy's distemper was
one against which the science of the most skilful physicians and
the most constant care contend in vain.
"He said that he did not suffer much, but he faded perceptibly, and
was no more than the shadow of his former self. At last, one night,
toward two or three o'clock, he died in the arms of his wife and
his friend. Up to the last moment, he had preserved the full force
of his faculties. Less than an hour before expiring, he wished
everyone to be awakened, and that all the servants of the castle
should be summoned. When they were all gathered about the bedside,
he took his wife's hand, placed it in that of the Count de Tremorel,
and made them swear to marry each other when he was no more. Bertha
and Hector began to protest, but he insisted in such a manner as to
compel assent, praying and adjuring them, and declaring that their
refusal would embitter his last moments. This idea of the marriage
between his widow and his friend seems, besides, to have singularly
possessed his thoughts toward the close of his life. In the
preamble of his will, dictated the night before his death, to M.
Bury, notary of Orcival, he says formally that their union is his
dearest wish, certain as he is of their happiness, and knowing well
that his memory will be piously kept."
"Had Monsieur and Madame Sauvresy no children?" asked the judge of
"No," answered the mayor.
M. Plantat continued:
"The grief of the count and the young widow was intense. M. de
Tremorel, especially, seemed absolutely desperate, and acted like a
madman. The countess shut herself up, forbidding even those whom
she loved best from entering her chamber - even Madame Courtois.
When the count and Madame Bertha reappeared, they were scarcely to
be recognized, so much had both changed. Monsieur Hector seemed
to have grown twenty years older. Would they keep the oath made at
the death-bed of Sauvresy, of which everyone was apprised? This
was asked with all the more curiosity, because their profound
sorrow for a man who well merited it, was admired."
The judge of instruction stopped M. Plantat with a motion of his
"Do you know," asked he, "whether the rendezvous at the Hotel Belle
Image had ceased?"
"I suppose so, sir; I think so."
"I am almost sure of it," said Dr. Gendron. "I have often heard
it said - they know everything at Corbeil - that there was a heated
explanation between M. de Tremorel and the pretty Parisian lady.
After this quarrel, they were no longer seen at the Belle Image."
The old justice of the peace smiled.
"Melun is not at the end of the world," said he, "and there are
hotels at Melun. With a good horse, one is soon at Fontainebleau,
at Versailles, even at Paris. Madame de Tremorel might have been
jealous; her husband had some first-rate trotters in his stables."
Did M. Plantat give an absolutely disinterested opinion, or did he
make an insinuation? The judge of instruction looked at him
attentively, to reassure himself, but his visage expressed nothing
but a profound serenity. He told the story as he would any other,
no matter what.
"Please go on, Monsieur," resumed M. Domini.
"Alas!" said M. Plantat, "nothing here below is eternal, not even
grief. I know it better than anybody. Soon, to the tears of the
first days, to violent despair, there succeeded, in the count and
Madame Bertha, a reasonable sadness, then a soft melancholy. And
in one year after Sauvresy's death Monsieur de Tremorel espoused
During this long narrative the mayor had several times exhibited
marks of impatience. At the end, being able to hold in no longer,
"There, those are surely exact details; but I question whether they
have advanced us a step in this grave matter which occupies us all
- to find the murderers of the count and countess."
M. Plantat, at these words, bent on the judge of instruction his
clear and deep look, as if to search his conscience to the bottom.
"These details were indispensable," returned M. Domini, "and they
are very clear. Those rendezvous at the hotel struck me; one knows
not to what extremities jealousy might lead a woman - "
He stopped abruptly, seeking, no doubt, some connection between the
pretty Parisian and the murderers; then resumed:
"Now that I know the Tremorels as if I had lived with them
intimately, let us proceed to the actual facts."
The brilliant eye of M. Plantat immediately grew dim; he opened his
lips as if to speak; but kept his peace. The doctor alone, who had
not ceased to study the old justice of the peace, remarked the sudden
change of his features.
"It only remains," said M. Domini, "to know how the new couple lived."
M. Courtois thought it due to his dignity to anticipate M. Plantat.
"You ask how the new couple lived," said he hastily; "they lived in
perfect concord; nobody knows better about it than I, who was most
intimate with them. The memory of poor Sauvresy was a bond of
happiness between them; if they liked me so well, it was because I
often talked of him. Never a cloud, never a cross word. Hector
- I called him so, familiarly, this poor, dear count - gave his
wife the tender attentions of a lover; those delicate cares, which
I fear most married people soon dispense with."
"And the countess?" asked M. Plantat, in a tone too marked not to
"Bertha?" replied the worthy mayor - "she permitted me to call her
thus, paternally - I have cited her many and many a time as an
example and model, to Madame Courtois. She was worthy of Hector
and of Sauvresy, the two most worthy men I have ever met!
Then, perceiving that his enthusiasm somewhat surprised his hearers,
he added, more softly:
"I have my reasons for expressing myself thus; and I do not
hesitate to do so before men whose profession and character will
justify my discretion. Sauvresy, when living, did me a great
service - when I was forced to take the mayoralty. As for Hector,
I knew well that he had departed - from the dissipations of his
youth, and thought I discerned that he was not indifferent to my
eldest daughter, Laurence; and I dreamed of a marriage all the more
proper, as, if the Count Hector had a great name, I would give to
my daughter a dowry large enough to gild any escutcheon. Only
events modified my projects."
The mayor would have gone on singing the praises of the Tremorels,
and his own family, if the judge of instruction had not interposed.
"Here I am fixed," he commenced, "now, it seems to me - "
He was interrupted by a loud noise in the vestibule. It seemed
like a struggle, and cries and shouts reached the drawing-room.
"I know what it is," said the mayor, "only too well. They have
just found the body of the Count de Tremorel."
The mayor was mistaken. The drawing-room door opened suddenly,
and a man of slender form, who was struggling furiously, and with
an energy which would not have been suspected, appeared, held on
one side by a gendarme, and on the other by a domestic.
Thc struggle had already lasted long, and his clothes were in great
disorder. His new coat was torn, his cravat floated in strips, the
button of his collar had been wrenched off, and his open shirt left
his breast bare. In the vestibule and court were heard the frantic
cries of the servants and the curious crowd - of whom there were
more than a hundred, whom the news of the crime had collected about
the gate, and who burned to hear, and above all to see.
This enraged crowd cried:
It is he! Death to the assassin! It is Guespin! See him!"
And the wretch, inspired by an immense fright, continued to struggle.
"Help!" shouted he hoarsely. "Leave me alone. I am innocent!"
He had posted himself against the drawing-room door, and they could
not force him forward.
"Push him," ordered the mayor, "push him."
It was easier to command than to execute. Terror lent to Guespin
enormous force. But it occurred to the doctor to open the second
wing of the door; the support failed the wretch, and he fell, or
rather rolled at the foot of the table at which the judge of
instruction was seated. He was straightway on his feet again, and
his eyes sought a chance to escape. Seeing none - for the windows
and doors were crowded with the lookers-on - he fell into a chair.
The fellow appeared the image of terror, wrought up to paroxysm. On
his livid face, black and blue, were visible the marks of the blows
he had received in the struggle; his white lips trembled, and he
moved his jaws as if he sought a little saliva for his burning
tongue; his staring eyes were bloodshot, and expressed the wildest
distress; his body was bent with convulsive spasms. So terrible
was this spectacle, that the mayor thought it might be an example
of great moral force. He turned toward the crowd, and pointing to
Guespin, said in a tragic tone:
"See what crime is!"
The others exchanged surprised looks.
"If he is guilty," muttered M. Plantat, "why on earth has he
It was with difficulty that the crowd was kept back; the brigadier
was forced to call in the aid of his men. Then he returned and
placed himself beside Guespin, thinking it not prudent to leave
him alone with unarmed men.
But the man was little to be feared. The reaction came; his
over-excited energy became exhausted, his strained muscles flaccid,
and his prostration resembled the agony of brain fever. Meanwhile
the brigadier recounted what had happened.
"Some of the servants of the chateau and the neighboring houses were
chatting near the gate, about the crime, and the disappearance of
Guespin last night, when all of a sudden, someone perceived him at
a distance, staggering, and singing boisterously, as if he were
"Was he really drunk?" asked M. Domini.
"Very," returned the brigadier.
"Then we owe it to the wine that we have caught him, and thus all
will be explained."
"On perceiving this wretch," pursued the gendarme, who seemed not
to have the shadow of a doubt of Guespin's guilt, "Francois, the
count's valet de chambre, and Baptiste, the mayor's servant, who
were there, hastened to meet him, and seized him. He was so tipsy
that he thought they were fooling with him. When he saw my men,
he was undeceived. Just then one of the women cried out, 'Brigand,
it was you who have this night assassinated the count and the
countess!' He immediately became paler than death, and remained
motionless and dumb. Then he began to struggle so violently that
he nearly escaped. Ah! he's strong, the rogue, although he does
not look like it."
"And he said nothing?" said Plantat.
"Not a word; his teeth were so tightly shut with rage that I'm sure
he couldn't say 'bread.' But we've got him. I've searched him,
and this is what I have found in his pockets: a handkerchief, a
pruning-knife, two small keys, a scrap of paper covered with
figures, and an address of the establishment of 'Vulcan's Forges.'
But that's not all - "
The brigadier took a step, and eyed his auditors mysteriously; he
was preparing his effect.
"That's not all. While they were bringing him along in the
court-yard, he tried to get rid of his wallet. Happily I had my
eyes open, and saw the dodge. I picked up the wallet, which he
had thrown among the flowers near the door; here it is. In it are
a one-hundred-franc note, three napoleons, and seven francs in
change. Yesterday the rascal hadn't a sou - "
"How do you know that?" asked M. Domini.
"Dame! Monsieur Judge, he borrowed of the valet Francois (who
told me of it) twenty-five francs, pretending that it was to pay
his share of the wedding expenses."
"Tell Francois to come here," said the judge of instruction. " Now,
sir," he continued, when the valet presented himself, "do you know
whether Guespin had any money yesterday?"
"He had so little, Monsieur," answered Francois promptly, "that he
asked me to lend him twenty-five francs during the day, saying that
otherwise he could not go to the wedding, not having enough even to
pay his railway fare."
"But he might have some savings - a hundred-franc note, for
instance, which he didn't like to change."
Francois shook his head with an incredulous smile.
"Guespin isn't the man to have savings," said he; "Women and cards
exhaust all his wages. No longer ago than last week, the keeper of
the Cafe du Commerce came here and made a row on account of what he
owed him, and threatened to go to the count about it."
Perceiving the effect of what he said, the valet, as if to correct
himself, hastened to add:
"I have no ill-will toward Guespin; before to-day I've always
considered him a clever fellow, though he was too much of a
practical joker; he was, perhaps, a little proud, considering his
bringing up - "
"You may go," said the judge, cutting the disquisition of M.
Francois short; the valet retired.
During this colloquy, Guespin had little by little come to himself.
The judge of instruction, Plantat, and the mayor narrowly watched
the play of his countenance, which he had not the coolness to
compose, while the doctor held his pulse and counted its beating.
"Remorse, and fear of punishment," muttered the mayor.
"Innocence, and the impossibility of proving it," responded Plantat
in a low tone.
M. Domini heard both these exclamations, but did not appear to take
notice of them. His opinion was not formed, and he did not wish
that anyone should be able to foretell, by any word of his, what
it would be.
"Are you better, my friend?" asked Dr. Gendron, of Guespin.
The poor fellow made an affirmative sign. Then, having looked
around with the anxious glance of a man who calculates a precipice
over which he has fallen, he passed his hand across his eyes and
"Something to drink!"
A glass of water was brought, and he drank it at a draught, with
an expression of intense satisfaction. Then he got upon his feet.
"Are you now in a fit state to answer me? "asked the judge.
Guespin staggered a little, then drew himself up. He continued
erect before the judge, supporting himself against a table. The
nervous trembling of his hands diminished, the blood returned to
his cheeks, and as he listened, he arranged the disorder of his
"You know the events of this night, don't you?" commenced the
judge; "the Count and Countess de Tremorel have been murdered. You
went away yesterday with all the servants of the chateau; you left
them at the Lyons station about nine o'clock; you have just
returned, alone. Where have you passed the night?"
Guespin hung his head and remained silent.
"That is not all," continued M. Domini; "yesterday you had no money,
the fact is well known; one of your fellow-servants has just proved
it. To-day, one hundred and sixty-seven francs are found in your
wallet. Where did you get this money?"
The unhappy creature's lip moved as if he wished to answer; a
sudden thought seemed to check him, for he did not speak.
"More yet. What is this card of a hardware establishment that has
been found in your pocket?"
Guespin made a sign of desperation, and stammered:
"I am innocent."
"I have not as yet accused you," said the judge of instruction,
quickly. "You knew, perhaps, that the count received a considerable
A bitter smile parted Guespin's lips as he answered:
"I know well enough that everything is against me."
There was a profound silence. The doctor, the mayor, and Plantat,
seized with a keen curiosity, dared not move. Perhaps nothing in
the world is more thrilling than one of these merciless duels
between justice and a man suspected of a crime. The questions may
seem insignificant, the answers irrelevant; both questions and
answers envelop terrible, hidden meanings. The smallest gesture,
the most rapid movement of physiognomy may acquire deep significance,
a fugitive light in the eye betray an advantage gained; an
imperceptible change in the voice may be confession.
The coolness of M. Domini was disheartening.
"Let us see," said he after a pause: "where did you pass the night?
How did you get this money? And what does this address mean?"
"Eh!" cried Guespin, with the rage of powerlessness, "I should tell
you what you would not believe."
The judge was about to ask another question, but Guespin cut him
"No; you wouldn't believe me," he repeated, his eyes glistening with
anger. "Do men like you believe men like me? I have a past, you
know, of antecedents, as you would say. The past! They throw that
in my face, as if, the future depended on the past. Well, yes; it's
true, I'm a debauchee, a gambler, a drunkard, an idler, but what of
it? It's true I have been before the police court, and condemned
for night poaching - what does that prove? I have wasted my life,
but whom have I wronged if not myself? My past! Have I not
sufficiently expiated it?"
Guespin was self-possessed, and finding in himself sensations which
awoke a sort of eloquence, he expressed himself with a savage energy
well calculated to strike his hearers.
"I have not always served others," he continued; "my father was in
easy circumstances - almost rich. He had large gardens, near
Saumur, and he passed for one of the best gardeners of that region.
I was educated, and when sixteen years old, began to study law.
Four years later they thought me a talented youth. Unhappily for
me, my father died. He left me a landed property worth a hundred
thousand francs: I sold it out for sixty thousand and went to Paris.
I was a fool then. I had the fever of pleasure-seeking, a thirst
for all sorts of pastimes, perfect health, plenty of money. I found
Paris a narrow limit for my vices; it seemed to me that the objects
of my desires were wanting. I thought my sixty thousand francs
would last forever."
Guespin paused; a thousand memories of those times rushed into his
thoughts and he muttered:
"Those were good times."
"My sixty thousand francs," he resumed, "held out eight years.
Then I hadn't a sou, yet I longed to continue my way of living.
You understand, don't you? About this time, the police, one night,
arrested me. I was 'detained' six months. You will find the
records of the affair at the prefecture. Do you know what it will
tell you? It will tell you that on leaving prison I fell into that
shameful and abominable misery which exists in Paris. It will tell
you that I have lived among the worst and lowest outcasts of Paris
- and it is the truth."
The worthy mayor was filled with consternation.
"Good Heaven!" thought he, "what an audacious and cynical rascal!
and to think that one is liable at any time to admit such servants
into his house!"
The judge held his tongue. He knew that Guespin was in such a state
that, under the irresistible impulse of passion, he might betray his
"But there is one thing," continued the suspected man, "that the
record will not tell you; that, disgusted with this abject life, I
was tempted to suicide. It will not tell you anything of my
desperate attempts, my repentance, my relapses. At last, I was
able in part to reforM. I got work; and after being in four
situations, engaged myself here. I found myself well off. I always
spent my month's wages in advance, it's true - but what would you
have? And ask if anyone has ever had to complain of me."
It is well known that among the most intelligent criminals, those
who have had a certain degree of education, and enjoyed some good
fortune, are the most redoubtable. According to this, Guespin was
decidedly dangerous. So thought those who heard hi. Meanwhile,
exhausted by his excitement, he paused and wiped his face, covered
M. Domini had not lost sight of his plan of attack.
"All that is very well," said he, "we will return to your confession
at the proper time and place. But just now the question is, how you
spent your night, and where you got this money."
This persistency seemed to exasperate Guespin.
"Eh!" cried he, "how do you want me to answer? The truth? You
wouldn't credit it. As well keep silent. It is a fatality."
"I warn you for your own sake," resumed the judge, "that if you
persist in refusing to answer, the charges which weigh upon you are
such that I will have you arrested as suspected of this murder."
This menace seemed to have a remarkable effect on Guespin. Great
tears filled his eyes, up to that time dry and flashing, and
silently rolled down his cheeks. His energy was exhausted; he fell
on his knees, crying:
"Mercy! I beg you, Monsieur, not to arrest me; I swear I am
innocent, I swear it!"
"You wish it," said Guespin, rising. Then he suddenly changed his
tone. "No, I will not speak, I cannot! One man alone could save
me; it is the count; and he is dead. I am innocent; yet if the
guilty are not found, I am lost. Everything is against me. I know
it too well. Now, do with me as you please; I will not say another
Guespin's determination, confirmed by his look, did not surprise the
"You will reflect," said he, quietly, "only, when you have
reflected, I shall not have the same confidence in what you say
as I should have now. Possibly," and the judge spoke slowly and
with emphasis, "you have only had an indirect part in this crime;
if so - "
"Neither indirect nor direct," interrupted Guespin; and he added,
violently, "what misery! To be innocent, and not able to defend
"Since it is so," resumed M. Domini, "you should not object to be
placed before Mme. de Tremorel's body?"
The accused did not seem affected by this menace. He was conducted
into the hall whither they had fetched the countess. There, he
examined the body with a cold and calm eye. He said, simply:
"She is happier than I; she is dead, she suffers no longer; and I,
who am not guilty, am accused of her death."
M. Domini made one more effort.
"Come, Guespin; if in any way you know of this crime, I conjure
you, tell me. If you know the murderers, name them. Try to merit
some indulgence for your frankness and repentance."
Guespin made a gesture as if resigned to persecution. "By all that
is most sacred," he answered, "I am innocent. Yet I see clearly
that if the murderer is not found, I am lost."
Little by little M. Domini's conviction was formed and confirmed.
An inquest of this sort is not so difficult as may be imagined.
The difficulty is to seize at the beginning; in the entangled skein,
the main thread, which must lead to the truth through all the mazes,
the ruses, silence, falsehoods of the guilty. M. Domini was
certain that he held this precious thread. Having one of the
assassins, he knew well that he would secure the others. Our
prisons, where good soup is eaten, and good beds are provided, have
tongues, as well as the dungeons of the medieval ages.
The judge ordered the brigadier to arrest Guespin, and told him not
to lose sight of him. He then sent for old Bertaud. This worthy
personage was not one of the people who worry themselves. He had
had so many affairs with the men of law, that one inquisition the
more disturbed him little.
"This man has a bad reputation in my commune," whispered the mayor
to M. Domini.
Bertaud heard it, however, and smiled.
Questioned by the judge of instruction, he recounted very clearly
and exactly what had happened in the morning, his resistance, and
his son's determination. He explained the reason for the
falsehood they told; and here again the chapter of antecedents
"Look here; I'm better than my reputation, after all," said he.
"There are many folks who can't say as much. You see many things
when you go about at night - enough."
He was urged to explain his allusions, but in vain.
When he was asked where and how he had passed the night, he
answered, that having left the cabaret at ten o'clock, he went to
put down some traps in Mauprevoir wood; and had gone home and to
bed about one o'clock.
"By the bye," added he, "there ought to be some game in those
traps by this time."
"Can you bring a witness to prove that you went home at one?"
asked the mayor, who bethought him of the count's clock, stopped
at twenty minutes past three.
"Don't know, I'm sure," carelessly responded the poacher, "it's
quite likely that my son didn't wake up when I went to bed."
He added, seeing the judge reflect:
"I suspect that you are going to imprison me until the murderers
are discovered. If it was winter, I wouldn't complain much; a
fellow is well off in prison then, for it's warm there. But just
at the time for hunting, it's provoking. It will be a good lesson
for that Philippe; it'll teach him what it costs to render a service
"Enough.!" interrupted M. Domini, sternly. "Do you know Guespin?"
This name suddenly subdued the careless insolence of the marauder;
his little gray eyes experienced a singular restlessness.
"Certainly," he answered in an embarrassed tone, "we have often made
a party at cards, you understand, while sipping our 'gloria.'"*
[* Coffee and brandy.]
The man's inquietude struck the four who heard him. Plantat,
especially, betrayed profound surprise. The old vagabond was too
shrewd not to perceive the effect which he produced.
Faith, so much the worse!" cried he: "I'll tell you everything.
Every man for himself, isn't it? If Guespin has done the deed, it
will not blacken him any more, nor make him any the worse off. I
know him, simply because he used to sell me the grapes and
strawberries from the count's conservatories; I suppose he stole
them; we divided the money, and I left."
Plantat could not refrain from an exclamation of satisfaction, as
if to say, "Good luck! I knew it well enough!"
When he said he would be sent to prison, Bertaud was not wrong.
The judge ordered his arrest.
It was now Philippe's turn.
The poor fellow was in a pitiable state; he was crying bitterly.
"To accuse me of such a crime, me!" he kept repeating.
On being questioned he told the pure and simple truth, excusing
himself, however, for having dared to penetrate into the park.
When he was asked at what hour his father reached home, he said he
knew nothing about it; he had gone to bed about nine, and had not
awoke until morning. He knew Guespin, from having seen him at his
father's several times. He knew that the old man had some
transactions with the gardener, but he was ignorant as to what they
were. He had never spoken four times to Guespin. The judge
ordered Philippe to be set at liberty, not that he was wholly
convinced of his innocence, but because if the crime had been
committed by several persons, it was well to have one of them
free; he could be watched, and he would betray the whereabouts
of the rest.
Meanwhile the count's body was nowhere to be found. The park had
been rigidly searched, but in vain. The mayor suggested that he
had been thrown into the river, which was also M. Domini's opinion;
and some fishermen were sent to drag the Seine, commencing their
search a little above the place where the countess was found.
It was then nearly three o'clock. M. Plantat remarked that probably
no one had eaten anything during the day. Would it not be wise to
take something, he suggested, if the investigations were to be
pursued till night? This appeal to the trivial necessities of our
rail humanity highly displeased the worthy mayor; but the rest
readily assented to the suggestion, and M. Courtois, though not in
the least hungry, followed the general example. Around the table
which was yet wet with the wine spilt by the assassins, the judge,
M. Plantat, the mayor, and the doctor sat down, and partook of an
The staircase had been put under guard, but the vestibule had
remained free. People were heard coming and going, tramping and
coughing; then rising above this continuous noise, the oaths of
the gendarmes trying to keep back the crowd. From time to time, a
scared face passed by the dining-room door, which was ajar. These
were curious folks who, more daring than the rest, wished to see
the "men of justice" eating, and tried to hear a word or two, to
report them, and so become important in the eyes of the others.
But the "men of justice " - as they said at Orcival - took care to
say nothing of moment while the doors were open, and while a
servant was passing to and fro. Greatly moved by this frightful
crime, disturbed by the mystery which surrounded it, they hid
their impressions. Each, on his part, studied the probability of
his suspicions, and kept his opinion to himself.
M. Domini, as he ate, put his notes in order, numbering the leaves,
marking certain peculiarly significant answers of the suspected
persons with a cross. He was, perhaps, the least tormented of the
four companions at this funereal repast. The crime did not seem to
him one of those which keep judges of instruction sleepless through
the night; he saw clearly the motive of it; and he had Bertaud and
Guespin, two of the assassins, or at least accomplices, secure.
M. Plantat and Dr. Gendron, seated next each other, were talking
of the illness which carried off Sauvresy. M. Courtois listened to
the hubbub without.
The news of the double murder was soon noised about the neighborhood,
and the crowd increased every minute. It filled the court, and
became bolder and bolder; the gendarmes were overwhelmed. Then or
never was the time for the mayor to show his authority. "I am going
to make these people listen to reason," said he, "and make them
retire." And at once, wiping his mouth, he threw his tumbled napkin
on the table, and went out.
It was time. The brigadier's injunctions were no longer heeded.
Some curious people, more eager than the rest, had flanked the
position and were forcing an entrance through the gate leading to
the garden. The mayor's presence did not perhaps intimidate the
crowd much, but it redoubled the energy of the gendames;
the vestibule was cleared, amid murmurings against the arm of the
law. What a chance for a speech! M. Courtois was not wanting to
the occasion. He believed that his eloquence, endowed with the
virtues of a cold showerbath, would calm this unwonted effervescence
of his constituency. He stepped forward upon the steps, his left
hand resting in the opening of his vest, gesturing with his right in
the proud and impassible attitude which the sculptor lends to great
orators. It was thus that he posed before his council when, finding
unexpected opposition, he undertook to impose his will upon them,
and recall the recalcitrant members to their duty.
His speech, in fragments, penetrated to the dining-rooM. According
as he turned to the right or to the left, his voice was clear and
distinct, or was lost in space. He said:
"Fellow-citizens, an atrocious crime, unheard of before in our
commune, has shocked our peaceable and honest neighborhood. I
understand and excuse your feverish emotion, your natural
indignation. As well as you, my friends, more than you - I cherished
and esteemed the noble Count de Tremorel, and his virtuous wife. We
mourn them together - "
"I assure you," said Dr. Gendron to M. Plantat, "that the symptoms
you describe are not uncommon after pleurisy. From the acute state,
the inflammation passes to the chronic state, and becomes complicated
"But nothing," pursued the mayor, "can justify a curiosity, which
by its importunate attempts to be satisfied, embarrasses the
investigation, and is, at all events, a punishable interference
with the cause of justice. Why this unwonted gathering? Why these
rumors and noises? These premature conjectures?"
"There were several consultations," said M. Plantat, "which did not
have favorable results. Sauvresy suffered altogether strange and
unaccountable tortures. He complained of troubles so unwonted, so
absurd, if you'll excuse the word, that he discouraged all the
conjectures of the most experienced physicians.
"Was it not R-, of Paris, who attended him?"
"Exactly. He came daily, and often remained overnight. Many times
I have seen him ascending the principal street of the village, with
troubled countenance, as he went to give his prescription to the
"Be wise enough," cried M. Courtois, "to moderate your just anger;
be calm; be dignified."
"Surely," continued Dr. Dendron, "your apothecary is an intelligent
man; but you have at Orcival a fellow who quite outdoes him, a
fellow who knows how to make money; one Robelot - "
"Robelot, the bone-setter?"
"That's the man. I suspect him of giving consultations, and
prescribing sub rosa. He is very clever. In fact I educated him.
Five or six years ago, he was my laboratory boy, and even now I
employ him when I have a delicate operation on hand - "
The doctor stopped, struck by the alteration in the impassible
"What is the matter, my friend?" he asked. "Are you ill?"
The judge left his notes, to look at him. "Why," said he, "Monsieur
Plantat is very pale - "
But M. Plantat speedily resumed his habitual expression.
"'Tis nothing," he answered, "really nothing. With my abominable
stomach, as soon as I change my hour of eating - "
Having reached his peroration, M. Courtois raised his voice.
"Return," said he, "to your peaceable homes, your quiet avocations.
Rest assured the law protects you. Already justice has begun its
work; two of the criminals are in its power, and we are on the track
of their accomplices."
"Of all the servants of the chateau," remarked M. Plantat, " there
remains not one who knew Sauvresy. The domestics have one by one
"No doubt," answered the doctor, "the sight of the old servants
would be disagreeable to Monsieur de Tremorel."
He was interrupted by the mayor, who re-entered, his eyes glowing,
his face animated, wiping his forehead.
"I have let the people know," said he, "the indecency of their
curiosity. They have all gone away. They were anxious to get at
Philippe Bertaud, the brigadier says; public opinion has a sharp
Hearing the door open, he turned, and found himself face to face
with a man whose features were scarcely visible, so profoundly did
he bow, his hat pressed against his breast.
"What do you wish?" sternly asked M. Courtois. "By what right have
you come in here? - Who are you?"
The man drew himself up.
"I am Monsieur Lecoq," he replied, with a gracious smile. "Monsieur
Lecoq of the detective force, sent by the prefect of police in reply
to a telegram, for this affair."
This declaration clearly surprised all present, even the judge of
In France, each profession has its special externals, as it were,
insignia, which betray it at first view. Each profession has its
conventional type, and when public opinion has adopted a type, it
does not admit it possible that the type should be departed from.
What is a doctor? A grave man, all in black, with a white cravat.
A gentleman with a capacious stomach, adorned with heavy gold seals,
can only be a banker. Everybody knows that the artist is a merry
liver, with a peaked hat, a velvet vest, and enormous ruffles. By
virtue of this rule, the detective of the prefecture ought to have
an eye full of mystery, something suspicious about him, a negligence
of dress, and imitation jewelry. The most obtuse shopkeeper is sure
that he can scent a detective at twenty paces a big man with
mustaches, and a shining felt hat, his throat imprisoned by a collar
of hair, dressed in a black, threadbare surtout, carefully buttoned
up on account of the entire absence of linen. Such is the type.
But, according to this, M. Lecoq, as he entered the dining-room at
Valfeuillu, had by no means the air of a detective. True, M. Lecoq
can assume whatever air he pleases. His friends declare that he
has a physiognomy peculiar to himself, which he resumes when he
enters his own house, and which he retains by his own fireside, with
his slippers on; but the fact is not well proved. What is certain,
is that his mobile face lends itself to strange metamorphoses; that
he moulds his features according to his will, as the sculptor moulds
clay for modelling. He changes everything, even his look.
"So," said the judge of instruction, "the prefect has sent you to me,
in case certain investigations become necessary.
"Yes, Monsieur, quite at your service."
M. Lecoq had on this day assumed a handsome wig of lank hair, of
that vague color called Paris blonde, parted on the side by a line
pretentiously fanciful; whiskers of the same color puffed out with
bad pomade, encircled a pallid face. His big eyes seemed congealed
within their red border, an open smile rested on his thick lips,
which, in parting, discovered a range of long yellow teeth. His
face, otherwise, expressed nothing in particular. It was a nearly
equal mixture of timidity, self-sufficiency, and contentment. It
was quite impossible to concede the least intelligence to the
possessor of such a phiz. One involuntarily looked for a goitre.
The retail haberdashers, who, having cheated for thirty years in
their threads and needles, retire with large incomes, should have
such heads as this. His apparel was as dull as his person. His
coat resembled all coats, his trousers all trousers. A hair chain,
the same color as his whiskers, was attached to a large silver watch,
which bulged out his left waistcoat pocket. While speaking, he
fumbled with a confection-box made of transparent horn, full of
little square lozenges, and adorned by a portrait of a very homely,
well-dressed woman - " the defunct," no doubt. As the conversation
proceeded, according as he was satisfied or disturbed, M. Lecoq
munched a lozenge, or directed glances toward the portrait which
were quite a poem in themselves.
Having examined the man a long time, the judge of instruction
shrugged his shoulders. " Well," said M. Domini, finally, "now
that you are here, we will explain to you what has occurred."
"Oh, that's quite useless," responded Lecoq, with a satisfied air,
"perfectly useless, sir."
"Nevertheless, it is necessary that you should know - "
"What? that which monsieur the judge knows?" interrupted the
detective, "for that I already know. Let us agree there has been
a murder, with theft as its motive; and start from that point. The
countess's body has been found - not so that of the count. What
else? Bertaud, an acknowledged rogue, is arrested; he merits a
little punishment, doubtless. Guespin came back drunk; ah, there
are sad charges against this Guespin!. His past is deplorable; it
is not known where he passed the night, he refuses to answer, he
brings no alibi - this is indeed grave!"
M. Plantat gazed at the detective with visible pleasure.
"Who has told you about these things?" asked M. Domini.
"Well - everybody has told me a little."
" Here: I've already been here two hours, and even heard the mayor's
And, satisfied with the effect he had produced, M. Lecoq munched a
"You were not aware, then," resumed the judge, "that I was waiting
"Pardon me," said the detective; "I hope you will be kind enough to
hear me. You see, it is indispensable to study the ground; one must
look about, establish his batteries. I am anxious to catch the
general rumor - public opinion, as they say, so as to distrust it."
"All this," answered M. Domini, severely, "does not justify your
M. Lecoq glanced tenderly at the portrait.
"Monsieur the judge," said he, "has only to inquire at the
prefecture, and he will learn that I know my profession. The great
thing requisite, in order to make an effective search, is to remain
unknown. The police are not popular. Now, if they knew who I was,
and why I was here, I might go out, but nobody would tell me
anything; I might ask questions - they'd serve me a hundred lies;
they would distrust me, and hold their tongues."
"Quite true - quite true," murmured Plantat, coming to the support
of the detective.
M. Lecoq went on:
"So that when I was told that I was going into the country, I put
on my country face and clothes. I arrive here and everybody, on
seeing me, says to himself, 'Here's a curious bumpkin, but not a
bad fellow.' Then I slip about, listen, talk, make the rest talk!
I ask this question and that, and am answered frankly; I inform
myself, gather hints,no one troubles himself about me. These
Orcival folks are positively charming; why, I've already made several
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