The Mystery of Orcival
Emile Gaboriau

Part 2 out of 7

friends, and am invited to dine this very evening."

M. Domini did not like the police, and scarcely concealed it. He
rather submitted to their co-operation than accepted it, solely
because he could not do without them. While listening to M. Lecoq,
he could not but approve of what he said; yet he looked at him with
an eye by no means friendly.

"Since you know so much about the matter," observed he, dryly, "we
ill proceed to examine the scene of the crime.

"I am quite at Monsieur the judge's orders," returned the detective,
laconically. As everyone was getting up, he took the opportunity
to offer M. Plantat his lozenge-box.

Monsieur perhaps uses them?

Plantat, unwilling to decline, appropriated a lozenge, and the
detective's face became again serene. Public sympathy was necessary
to him, as it is to all great comedians.


M. Lecoq was the first to reach the staircase, and the spots of
blood at once caught his eye.

"Oh," cried he, at each spot he saw, "oh, oh, the wretches!"

M. Courtois was much moved to find, so much sensibility in a
detective. The latter, as he continued to ascend, went on:

"The wretches! They don't often leave traces like this everywhere
- or at least they wipe them out."

On gaining the first landing, and the door of the boudoir which led
into the chamber, he stopped, eagerly scanning, before he entered,
the position of the rooms.

Then he entered the boudoir, saying:

"Come; I don't see my way clear yet."

"But it seems to me," remarked the judge, "that we have already
important materials to aid your task. It is clear that Guespin,
if he is not an accomplice, at least knew something about the crime."

M. Lecoq had recourse to the portrait in the lozenge-box. It was
more than a glance, it was a confidence. He evidently said something
to the dear defunct, which he dared not say aloud.

"I see that Guespin is seriously compromised," resumed he. "Why
didn't he want to tell where he passed the night? But, then, public
opinion is against him, and I naturally distrust that."

The detective stood alone in the middle of the room, the rest, at
his request, remained at the threshold, and looking keenly about
him, searched for some explanation of the frightful disorder of the

"Fools!" cried he, in an irritated tone, "double brutes! Because
they murder people so as to rob them, is no reason why they should
break everything in the house. Sharp folks don't smash up furniture;
they carry pretty picklocks, which work well and make no noise.
Idiots! one would say - "

He stopped with his mouth wide open.

"Eh! Not so bungling, after all, perhaps."

The witnesses of this scene remained motionless at the door,
following, with an interest mingled with surprise, the detective's

Kneeling down, he passed his flat palm over the thick carpet, among
the broken porcelain.

"It's damp; very damp. The tea was not all drunk, it seems, when
the cups were broken."

"Some tea might have remained in the teapot," suggested Plantat.

"I know it," answered M. Lecoq, "just what I was going to say. So
that this dampness cannot tell us the exact moment when the crime
was committed."

"But the clock does, and very exactly," interrupted the mayor.

"The mayor," said M. Domini, "in his notes, well explains that the
movements of the clock stopped when it fell."

"But see here," said M. Plantat, "it was the odd hour marked by
that clock that struck me. The hands point to twenty minutes past
three; yet we know that the countess was fully dressed, when she
was struck. Was she up taking tea at three in the morning? It's
hardly probable."

I, too, was struck with that circumstance," returned M. Lecoq, "and
that's why I said, 'not so stupid!' Well, let's see."

He lifted the clock with great care, and replaced it on the mantel,
being cautious to set it exactly upright. The hands continued to
point to twenty minutes past three.

"Twenty past three!" muttered he, while slipping a little wedge
under the stand. "People don't take tea at that hour. Still less
common is it that people are murdered at daylight."

He opened the clock-case with some difficulty, and pushed the longer
hand to the figure of half-past three.

The clock struck eleven!

"Good," cried M. Lecoq, triumphantly. "That is the truth!" and
drawing the lozenge-box from his pocket, he excitedly crushed a
lozenge between his teeth.

The simplicity of this discovery surprised the spectators; the idea
of trying the clock in this way had occurred to no one. M. Courtois,
especially, was bewildered.

"There's a fellow," whispered he to the doctor, "who knows what
he's about."

"Ergo," resumed M. Lecoq (who knew Latin), "we have here, not brutes,
as I thought at first, but rascals who looked beyond the end of their
knife. They intended to put us off the scent, by deceiving us as to
the hour."

"I don't see their object very clearly," said M. Courtois, timidly.

"Yet it is easy to see it," answered M. Domini. "Was it not for
their interest to make it appear that the crime was committed after
the last train for Paris had left? Guespin, leaving his companions
at the Lyons station at nine, might have reached here at ten,
murdered the count and countess, seized the money which he knew to
be in the count's possession, and returned to Paris by the last

"These conjectures are very shrewd," interposed M. Plantat; "but
how is it that Guespin did not rejoin his comrades in the
Batignolles? For in that way, to a certain degree, he might have
provided a kind of alibi."

Dr. Gendron had been sitting on the only unbroken chair in the
chamber, reflecting on Plantat's sudden embarrassment, when he
had spoken of Robelot the bone-setter. The remarks of the judge
drew him from his revery; he got up, and said:

"There is another point; putting forward the time was perhaps
useful to Guespin, but it would greatly damage Bertaud, his

But," answered M. Domini, " it might be that Bertaud was not
consulted. As to Guespin, he had no doubt good reasons for not
returning to the wedding. His restlessness, after such a deed,
would possibly have betrayed him."

M. Lecoq had not thought fit to speak as yet. Like a doctor at a
sick bedside, he wanted to be sure of his diagnosis. He had
returned to the mantel, and again pushed forward the hands of the
clock. It sounded, successively, half-past eleven, then twelve,
then half-past twelve, then one.

As he moved the hands, he kept muttering:

"Apprentices - chance brigands! You are malicious, parbleu, but
you don't think of everything. You give a push to the hands, but
don't remember to put the striking in harmony with them. Then
comes along a detective, an old rat who knows things, and the dodge
is discovered."

M. Domini and Plantat held their tongues. M. Lecoq walked up to

"Monsieur the Judge," said he, "is perhaps now convinced that the
deed was done at half-past ten."

"Unless," interrupted M. Plantat, "the machinery of the clock has
been out of order."

"That often happens," added M. Courtois. "The clock in my
drawing-room is in such a state that I never know the time of day."

M. Lecoq reflected.

"It is possible," said he, "that Monsieur Plantat is right. The
probability is in favor of my theory; but probability, in such an
affair, is not sufficient; we must have certainty. There happily
remains a mode of testing the matter - the bed ; I'll wager it is
rumpled up." Then addressing the mayor, "I shall need a servant to
lend me a hand."

I'll help you," said Plantat, "that will be a quicker way."

They lifted the top of the bed and set it on the floor, at the
same time raising the curtains.

"Hum! " cried M. Lecoq, "was I right?"

"True," said M. Domini, surprised, "the bed is rumpled."

"Yes; and yet no one has lain in it."

"But - " objected M. Courtois.

"I am sure of what I say," interrupted the detective. "The sheets,
it is true, have been thrown back, perhaps someone has rolled about
in the bed; the pillows have been tumbled, the quilts and curtains
ruffled, but this bed has not the appearance of having been slept
in. It is, perhaps, more difficult to rumple up a bed than to put
it in order again. To make it up, the coverings must be taken off,
and the mattresses turned. To disarrange it, one must actually lie
down in it, and warm it with the body. A bed is one of those
terrible witnesses which never misguide, and against which no counter
testimony can be given. Nobody has gone to bed in this - "

"The countess," remarked Plantat, "was dressed; but the count might
have gone to bed first."

No," answered M. Lecoq, "I'll prove to the contrary. The proof is
easy, indeed, and a child of ten, having heard it, wouldn't think
of being deceived by this intentional disorder of the bedclothes."

M. Lecoq's auditors drew up to him. He put the coverings back upon
the middle of the bed, and went on:

"Both of the pillows are much rumpled, are they not? But look under
the bolster-it is all smooth, and you find none of those wrinkles
which are made by the weight of the head and the moving about of
the arms. That's not all; look at the bed from the middle to the
foot. The sheets being laid carefully, the upper and under lie
close together everywhere. Slip your hand underneath-there - you
see there is a resistance to your hand which would not occur if the
legs had been stretched in that place. Now Monsieur de Tremorel
was tall enough to extend the full length of the bed."

This demonstration was so clear, its proof so palpable, that it
could not be gainsaid.

"This is nothing," continued M. Lecoq. "Let us examine the second
mattress. When a person purposely disarranges a bed, he does not
think of the second mattress."

He lifted up the upper mattress, and observed that the covering of
the under one was perfectly even.

"H'm, the second mattress," muttered M. Lecoq, as if some memory
crossed his mind.

"It appears to be proved," observed the judge, "that Monsieur de
Tremorel had not gone to bed."

"Besides," added the doctor, "if he had been murdered in his bed,
his clothes would be lying here somewhere."

"Without considering," suggested M. Lecoq, "that some blood must
have been found on the sheets. Decidedly, these criminals were
not shrewd."

"What seems to me surprising," M. Plantat observed to the judge,"
is that anybody would succeed in killing, except in his sleep, a
young man so vigorous as Count Hector."

"And in a house full of weapons," added Dr. Gendron; "for the
count's cabinet is full of guns, swords and hunting knives; it's
a perfect arsenal."

"Alas!" sighed M. Courtois, "we know of worse catastrophies. There
is not a week that the papers don't - "

He stopped, chagrined, for nobody was listening to him. Plantat
claimed the general attention, and continued:

"The confusion in the house seems to you surprising; well now, I'm
surprised that it is not worse than it is. I am, so to speak, an
old man; I haven't the energy of a young man of thirty-five; yet it
seems to me that if assassins should get into my house, when I was
there, and up, it would go hard with them. I don't know what I
would do; probably I should be killed; but surely I would give the
alarm. I would defend myself, and cry out, and open the windows,
and set the house afire."

"Let us add," insisted the doctor, "that it is not easy to surprise
a man who is awake. There is always an unexpected noise which puts
one on his guard. Perhaps it is a creaking door, or a cracking
stair. However cautious the murderer, he does not surprise his

"They may have used fire-arms;" struck in the worthy mayor, "that
has been done. You are quietly sitting in your chamber; it is
summer, and your windows are open; you are chatting with your wife,
and sipping a cup of tea; outside, the assassins are supplied with
a short ladder; one ascends to a level with the window, sights you
at his ease, presses the trigger, the bullet speeds - "

"And," continued the doctor, "the whole neighborhood, aroused by it,
hastens to the spot."

"Permit me, pardon, permit me," said M. Courtois, testily, "that
would be so in a populous town. Here, in the midst of a vast park,
no. Think, doctor, of the isolation of this house. The nearest
neighbor is a long way off, and between there are many large trees,
intercepting the sound. Let us test it by experience. I will fire
a pistol in this room, and I'll wager that you will not hear the
echo in the road."

"In the daytime, perhaps, but not in the night."

"Well," said M. Domini, who had been reflecting while M. Courtois
was talking, "if against all hope, Guespin does not decide to speak
to-night, or to-morrow, the count's body will afford us a key to
the mystery."

During this discussion, M. Lecoq had continued his investigations,
lifting the furniture, studying the fractures, examining the
smallest pieces, as if they might betray the truth. Now and then,
he took out an instrument-case, from which he produced a shank,
which he introduced and turned in the locks. He found several keys
on the carpet, and on a rack, a towel, which he carefully put one
side, as if he deemed it important. He came and went from the
bedroom to the count's cabinet, without losing a word that was said;
noting in his memory, not so much the phrases uttered, as the
diverse accents and intonations with which they were spoken. In an
inquest such as that of the crime of Orcival, when several officials
find themselves face to face, they hold a certain reserve toward
each other. They know each other to have nearly equal experience,
to be shrewd, clear-headed, equally interested in discovering the
truth, not disposed to confide in appearances, difficult to
surprise. Each one, likely enough, gives a different interpretation
to the facts revealed; each may have a different theory of the deed;
but a superficial observer would not note these differences. Each,
while dissimulating his real thoughts, tries to penetrate those of
his neighbor, and if they are opposed to his own, to convert him
to his opinion. The great importance of a single word justifies
this caution. Men who hold the liberty and lives of others in their
hands, a scratch of whose pen condemns to death, are apt to feel
heavily the burden of their responsibility. It is an ineffable
solace, to feel that this burden is shared by others. This is, why
no one dares take the initiative, or express himself openly; but
each awaits other opinions, to adopt or oppose them. They exchange
fewer affirmations than suggestions. They proceed by insinuation;
then they utter commonplaces, ridiculous suppositions, asides,
provocative, as it were, of other explanations.

In this instance, the judge of instruction and Plantat were far
from being of the same opinion; they knew it before speaking a word.
But M. Domini, whose opinion rested on material and palpable facts,
which appeared to him indisputable, was not disposed to provoke
contradiction. Plantat, on the contrary, whose system seemed to
rest on impressions, on a series of logical deductions, would not
clearly express himself, without a positive and pressing invitation.
His last speech, impressively uttered, had not been replied to; he
judged that he had advanced far enough to sound the detective.

"Well, Monsieur Lecoq," asked he, "have you found any new traces?"

M. Lecoq was at that moment curiously examining a large portrait
of the Count Hector, which hung opposite the bed. Hearing M.
Plantat's question, he turned.

"I have found nothing decisive," answered he, "and I have found
nothing to refute my conjectures. But - "

He did not finish; perhaps he too, recoiled before his share of the

"What?" insisted M. Domini, sternly.

"I was going to say," resumed M. Lecoq, "that I am not yet satisfied.
I have my lantern and a candle in it; I only need a match - "

"Please preserve your decorum," interrupted the judge severely.

"Very well, then," continued M. Lecoq, in a tone too humble to be
serious, " I still hesitate. If the doctor, now, would kindly
proceed to examine the countess's body, he would do me a great

"I was just going to ask the same favor, Doctor," said M. Domini.

The doctor answering, "Willingly," directed his steps toward the

M. Lecoq caught him by the arm.

"If you please," said he, in a tone totally unlike that he had used
up to this time, " I would like to call your attention to the wounds
on the head, made by a blunt instrument, which I suppose to be a
hammer. I have studied these wounds, and though I am no doctor,
they seem to me suspicious."

"And to me," M. Plantat quickly added. "It seemed to me, that in
the places struck, there was no emission of blood in the cutaneous

"The nature of these wounds," continued M. Lecoq, "will be a
valuable indication, which will fix my opinion." And, as he felt
keenly the brusque manner of the judge, he added:

"It is you, Doctor, who hold the match."

M. Gendron was about to leave the room, when Baptiste, the mayor's
servant - the man who wouldn't be scolded - appeared. He bowed and

I have come for Monsieur the Mayor."

"For me? why?" asked M. Courtois. "What's the matter? They don't
give me a minute's rest! Answer that I am busy."

"It's on account of madame," resumed the placid Baptiste; "she isn't
at all well." The excellent mayor grew slightly pale.

"My wife!" cried he, alarmed. "What do you mean? Explain yourself."

"The postman arrived just now," returned Baptiste with a most
tranquil air, "and I carried the letters to madame, who was in the
drawing-rooM. Hardly had I turned on my heels when I heard a shriek,
and the noise of someone falling to the floor." Baptiste spoke
slowly, taking artful pains to prolong his master's anguish.

"Speak! go on!" cried the mayor, exasperated. "Speak, won't you?"

"I naturally opened the drawing-room door again. What did I see?
madame, at full length on the floor. I called for help; the
chambermaid, cook, and others came hastening up, and we carried
madame to her bed. Justine said that it was a letter from
Mademoiselle Laurence which overcame my mistress - "

At each word Baptiste hesitated, reflected; his eyes, giving the
lie to his solemn face, betrayed the great satisfaction he felt in
relating his master's misfortunes.

His master was full of consternation. As it is with all of us,
when we know not exactly what ill is about to befall us, he dared
not ask any questions. He stood still, crushed; lamenting, instead
of hastening home. M. Plantat profited by the pause to question
the servant, with a look which Baptiste dared not disobey.

"What, a letter from Mademoiselle Laurence? Isn't she here, then?"

"No, sir: she went away a week ago, to pass a month with one of her

"And how is madame?"

"Better, sir; only she cries piteously."

The unfortunate mayor had now somewhat recovered his presence of
mind. He seized Baptiste by the arm.

"Come along," cried he," come along!"

They hastened off.

"Poor man! "said the judge of instruction. "Perhaps his daughter
is dead."

M. Plantat shook his head.

" If it were only that! " muttered he. He added, turning to M.

"Do you recall the allusions of Bertaud, monsieur?"


The judge of instruction, the doctor, and M. Plantat exchanged a
significant look. What misfortune had befallen M. Courtois, this
worthy, and despite his faults, excellent person? Decidedly, this
was an ill-omened day!

"If we are to speak of Bertaud's allusions," said M. Lecoq," I have
heard two very curious stories, though I have been here but a few
hours. It seems that this Mademoiselle Laurence - "

M. Plantat abruptly interrupted the detective.

"Calumnies! odious calumnies! The lower classes, to annoy the rich,
do not hesitate to say all sorts of things against them. Don't you
know it? Is it not always so? The gentry, above all, those of a
provincial town, live in glass houses. The lynx eyes of envy watch
them steadily night and day, spy on them, surprise what they regard
as their most secret actions to arm themselves against them. The
bourgeois goes on, proud and content; his business prospers; he
possesses the esteem and friendship of his own class; all this
while, he is vilified by the lower classes, his name dragged in the
dust, soiled by, suppositions the most mischievous. Envy, Monsieur,
respects nothing, no one."

"If Laurence has bee slandered," observed Dr. Gendron, smiling,
"she has a good advocate to defend her."

The old justice of the peace (the man of bronze, as M. Courtois
called him) blushed slightly, a little embarrassed.

"There are causes," said he, quietly, "which defend themselves.
Mademoiselle Courtois is one of those young girls who has a right
to all respect. But there are evils which no laws can cure, and
which revolt me. Think of it, monsieurs, our reputations, the
honor of our wives and daughters, are at the mercy of the first
petty rascal who has imagination enough to invent a slander. It
is not believed, perhaps; but it is repeated, and spreads. What
can be done? How can we know what is secretly said against us;
will we ever know it?"

"Eh! " replied the doctor, "what matters it? There is only one
voice, to my mind, worth listening to - that of conscience. As to
what is called 'public opinion,' as it is the aggregate opinion of
thousands of fools and rogues, I only despise it."

This discussion might have been prolonged, if the judge of
instruction had not pulled out his watch, and made an impatient

"While we are talking, time is flying," said he. "We must hasten
to the work that still remains."

It was then agreed that while the doctor proceeded to his autopsy,
the judge should draw up his report of the case. M. Plantat was
charged with watching Lecoq's investigations.

As soon as the detective found himself alone with M. Plantat:

"Well," he said, drawing a long breath, as if relieved of a heavy
burden, "now we can get on."

Plantat smiled; the detective munched a lozenge, and added:

"It was very annoying to find the investigation already going on
when I reached here. Those who were here before me have had time
to get up a theory, and if I don't adopt it at once, there is the
deuce to pay!"

M. Domini's voice was heard in the entry, calling out to his clerk.

"Now there's the judge of instruction," continued Lecoq, "who thinks
this a very simple affair; while I, Lecoq, the equal at least of
Gevrol, the favorite pupil of Papa Tabaret - I do not see it at all
clearly yet."

He stopped; and after apparently going over in his mind the result
of his discoveries, went on: " No; I'm off the track, and have
almost lost my way. I see something underneath all this - but
what? what?"

M. Plantat's face remained placid, but his eyes shone.

"Perhaps you are right," said he, carelessly; "perhaps there is
something underneath." The detective looked at him; he didn't
stir. His face seemed the most undisturbed in the world. There
was a long silence, by which M. Lecoq profited to confide to the
portrait of the defunct the reflections which burdened his brain.

"See here, my dear darling," said he, "this worthy person seems a
shrewd old customer, and I must watch his actions and gestures
carefully. He does not argue with the judge; he's got an idea that
he doesn't dare to tell, and we must find it out. At the very first
he guessed me out, despite these pretty blond locks. As long as he
thought he could, by misleading me, make me follow M. Domini's tack,
he followed and aided me showing me the way. Now that he sees me
on the scent, he crosses his arms and retires. He wants to leave
me the honor of the discovery. Why? He lives here - perhaps he
is afraid of making enemies. No. He isn't a man to fear much of
anything. What then? He shrinks from his own thoughts. He has
found something so amazing, that he dares not explain himself."

A sudden reflection changed the course of M. Lecoq's confidences.

A thousand imps!" thought he. "Suppose I'm wrong! Suppose this
old fellow is not shrewd at all! Suppose he hasn't discovered
anything, and only obeys the inspirations of chance! I've seen
stranger things. I've known so many of these folks whose eyes
seem so very mysterious, and announce such wonders; after all, I
found nothing, and was cheated. But I intend to sound this old
fellow well."

And, assuming his most idiotic manner, he said aloud:

"On reflection, Monsieur, little remains to be done. Two of the
principals are in custody, and when they make up their minds to
talk - they'll do it, sooner or later, if the judge is determined
they shall - we shall know all."

A bucket of ice-water falling on M. Plantat's head could not have
surprised him more, or more disagreeably, than this speech.

"What! " stammered he, with an air of frank amazement, "do you, a
man of experience, who - "

Delighted with the success of his ruse, Lecoq could not keep his
countenance, and Plantat, who perceived that he had been caught in
the snare, laughed heartily. Not a word, however, was exchanged
between these two men, both subtle in the science of life, and
equally cunning in its mysteries. They quite understood each other.

"My worthy old buck," said the detective to himself, " you've got
something in your sack ; only it's so big, so monstrous, that you
won't exhibit it, not for a cannon-ball. You wish your hand forced,
do you? Ve-ry well!"

"He's sly," thought M. Plantat. "He knows that I've got an idea;
he's trying to get at it - and I believe he will."

M. Lecoq had restored his lozenge-box to his pocket, as he always
did when he went seriously to work. His amour-propre was enlisted;
he played a part-and he was a rare comedian.

"Now," cried he, "let's to horse. According to the mayor's account,
the instrument with which all these things were broken has been

"In the room in the second story," answered M. Plantat, "overlooking
the garden, we found a hatchet on the floor, near a piece of
furniture which had been assailed, but not broken open; I forbade
anyone to touch it."

"And you did well. Is it a heavy hatchet?"

"It weighs about two pounds."

"Good. Let's see it."

They ascended to the room in question, and M. Lecoq, forgetting his
part of a haberdasher, and regardless of his clothes, went down flat
on his stomach, alternately scrutinizing the hatchet - which was a
heavy, terrible weapon-and the slippery and well-waxed oaken floor.

"I suppose," observed M. Plantat, "that the assassins brought this
hatchet up here and assailed this cupboard, for the sole purpose of
putting us off our scent, and to complicate the mystery. This
weapon, you see, was by no means necessary for breaking open the
cupboard, which I could smash with my fist. They gave one blow
- only one - and quietly put the hatchet down."

The detective got up and brushed himself.

"I think you are mistaken," said he. "This hatchet wasn't put on
the floor gently; it was thrown with a violence betraying either
great terror or great anger. Look here; do you see these three
marks, near each other, on the floor? When the assassin threw the
hatchet, it first fell on the edge - hence this sharp cut; then it
fell over on one side; and the flat, or hammer end left this mark
here, under my finger. Therefore, it was thrown with such violence
that it turned over itself and that its edge a second time cut in
the floor, where you see it now."

"True," answered M. Plantat. The detective's conjectures doubtless
refuted his own theory, for he added, with a perplexed air:

"I don't understand anything about it."

M. Lecoq went on:

"Were the windows open this morning as they are now?"


"Ah! The wretches heard some noise or other in the garden, and
they went and looked out. What did they see? I can't tell. But
I do know that what they saw terrified them, that they threw down
the hatchet furiously, and made off. Look at the position of these
cuts - they are slanting of course - and you will see that the
hatchet was thrown by a man who was standing, not by the cupboard,
but close by the open window."

Plantat in his turn knelt down, and looked long and carefully.
The detective was right. He got up confused, and after meditating
a moment, said:

"This perplexes me a little; however - "

He stopped, motionless, in a revery, with one of his hands on his

"All might yet be explained," he muttered, mentally searching for a
solution of the mystery, "and in that case the time indicated by
the clock would be true."

M. Lecoq did not think of questioning his companion. He knew that
he would not answer, for pride's sake.

This matter of the hatchet puzzles me, too," said he. "I thought
that these assassins had worked leisurely; but that can't be so.
I see they were surprised and interrupted."

Plantat was all ears.

"True," pursued M. Lecoq, slowly, "we ought to divide these
indications into two classes. There are the traces left on purpose
to mislead us - the jumbled-up bed, for instance; then there are
the real traces, undesigned, as are these hatchet cuts. But here
I hesitate. Is the trace of the hatchet true or false, good or
bad? I thought myself sure of the character of these assassins:
but now - He paused; the wrinkles on his face, the contraction
of his mouth, betrayed his mental effort.

"But now?" asked M. Plantat.

M. Lecoq, at this question, seemed like a man just roused from sleep.

"I beg your pardon," said he. " I forgot myself. I've a bad habit
of reflecting aloud. That's why I almost always insist on working
alone. My uncertainty, hesitation, the vacillation of my suspicions,
lose me the credit of being an astute detective - of being an agent
for whom there's no such thing as a mystery."

Worthy M. Plantat gave the detective an indulgent smile.

"I don't usually open my mouth," pursued M. Lecoq, "until my mind
is satisfied; then I speak in a peremptory tone, and say - this is
thus, or this is so. But to-day I am acting without too much
restraint, in the company of a man who knows that a problem such
as this seems to me to he, is not solved at the first attempt. So
I permit my gropings to be seen without shame. You cannot always
reach the truth at a bound, but by a series of diverse calculations,
by deductions and inductions. Well, just now my logic is at fault."

"How so?"

"Oh, it's very simple. I thought I understood the rascals, and
knew them by heart; and yet I have only recognized imaginary
adversaries. Are they fools, or are they mighty sly? That's what
I ask myself. The tricks played with the bed and clock had, I
supposed, given me the measure and extent of their intelligence
and invention. Making deductions from the known to the unknown,
I arrived, by a series of very simple consequences, at the point
of foreseeing all that they could have imagined, to throw us off
the scent. My point of departure admitted, I had only, in order
to reach the truth, to take the contrary of that which appearances
indicated. I said to myself:

"A hatchet has been found in the second story; therefore the
assassins carried it there, and designedly forgot it.

"They left five glasses on the dining-room table; therefore they
were more or less than five, but they were not five.

"There were the remains of a supper on the table; therefore they
neither drank nor ate.

"The countess's body was on the river-bank; therefore it was placed
there deliberately. A piece of cloth was found in the victim's hand;
therefore it was put there by the murderers themselves.

"Madame de Tremorel's body is disfigured by many dagger-strokes, and
horribly mutilated; therefore she was killed by a single blow - "

"Bravo, yes, bravo," cried M. Plantat, visibly charmed.

"Eh! no, not bravo yet," returned M. Lecoq. "For here my thread
is broken; I have reached a gap. If my deductions were sound, this
hatchet would have been very carefully placed on the floor."

"Once more, bravo," added the other, "for this does not at all
affect our general theory. It is clear, nay certain, that the
assassins intended to act as you say. An unlooked-for event
interrupted them."

"Perhaps; perhaps that's true. But I see something else - "


"Nothing - at least, for the moment. Before all, I must see the
dining-room and the garden."

They descended at once, and Plantat pointed out the glasses and
bottles, which he had put one side. The detective took the glasses,
one after another, held them level with his eye, toward the light,
and scrutinized the moist places left on them.

"No one has drank from these glasses," said he, firmly.

"What, from neither one of them?"

The detective fixed a penetrating look upon his companion, and in
a measured tone, said:

"From neither one."

M. Plantat only answered by a movement of the lips, as if to say,
" You are going too far."

The other smiled, opened the door, and called:


The valet hastened to obey the call. His face was suffused with
tears; he actually bewailed the loss of his master.

"Hear what I've got to say, my lad," said M. Lecoq, with true
detective-like familiarity. "And be sure and answer me exactly,
frankly, and briefly."

"I will, sir."

"Was it customary here at the chateau, to bring up the wine before
it was wanted?"

"No, sir; before each meal, I myself went down to the cellar for it."

"Then no full bottles were ever kept in the dining-room?"


"But some of the wine might sometimes remain in draught?"

"No; the count permitted me to carry the dessert wine to the
servants' table."

"And where were the empty bottles put?"

"I put them in this corner cupboard, and when they amounted to a
certain number, I carried them down cellar."

"When did you last do so?"

"Oh" - Francois reflected - "at least five or six days ago."

"Good. Now, what liqueurs did the count drink?"

"The count scarcely ever drank liqueurs. If, by chance, he took a
notion to have a small glass of eau-de-vie, he got it from the
liqueur closet, there, over the stove."

"There were no decanters of rum or cognac in any of the cupboards?"


"Thanks; you may retire."

As Francois was going out, M. Lecoq called him back.

"While we are about it, look in the bottom of the closet, and see
if you find the right number of empty bottles."

The valet obeyed, and looked into the closet.

"There isn't one there."

"Just so," returned M. Lecoq. "This time, show us your heels for

As soon as Francois had shut the door, M. Lecoq turned to Plantat
and asked:

"What do you think now?"

"You were perfectly right."

The detective then smelt successively each glass and bottle.

"Good again! Another proof in aid of my guess."

"What more?"

"It was not wine that was at the bottom of these glasses. Among
all the empty bottles put away in the bottom of that closet, there
was one - here it is - which contained vinegar; and it was from
this bottle that they turned what they thought to be wine into the

Seizing a glass, he put it to M. Plantat's nose, adding:

"See for yourself."

There was no disputing it; the vinegar was good, its odor of the
strongest; the villains, in their haste, had left behind them an
incontestable proof of their intention to mislead the officers of
justice. While they were capable of shrewd inventions, they did
not have the art to perform them well. All their oversights could,
however, be accounted for by their sudden haste, caused by the
occurrence of an unlooked-for incident. "The floors of a house
where a crime has just been committed," said a famous detective,
"burn the feet." M. Lecoq seemed exasperated, like a true artist,
before the gross, pretentious, and ridiculous work of some green
and bungling scholar.

"These are a parcel of vulgar ruffians, truly! able ones, certainly;
but they don't know their trade yet, the wretches."

M. Lecoq, indignant, ate three or four lozenges at a mouthful.

"Come, now," said Plantat, in a paternally severe tone. "Don't
let's get angry. The people have failed in address, no doubt; but
reflect that they could not, in their calculations, take account
of the craft of a man like you."

M. Lecoq, who had the vanity which all actors possess, was flattered
by the compliment, and but poorly dissimulated an expression of

"We must be indulgent; come now," pursued Plantat. "Besides," he
paused a moment to give more weight to what he was going to say,
"besides, you haven't seen everything yet."

No one could tell when M. Lecoq was playing a comedy. He did not
always know, himself. This great artist, devoted to his art,
practised the feigning of all the emotions of the human soul, just
as he accustomed himself to wearing all sorts of costumes. He was
very indignant against the assassins, and gesticulated about in
great excitement; but he never ceased to watch Plantat slyly, and
the last words of the latter made him prick up his ears.

"Let's see the rest, then," said he.

As he followed his worthy comrade to the garden, he renewed his
confidences to the dear defunct.

"Confound this old bundle of mystery! We can't take this obstinate
fellow by surprise, that's clear. He'll give us the word of the
riddle when we have guessed it; not before. He is as strong as we,
my darling; he only needs a little practice. But look you - if he
has found something which has escaped us, he must have previous
information, that we don't know of."

Nothing had been disturbed in the garden.

"See here, Monsieur Lecoq," said the old justice of the peace, as he
followed a winding pathway which led to the river. "It was here that
one of the count's slippers was found;, below there, a little to the
right of these geraniums, his silk handkerchief was picked up."

They reached the river-bank, and lifted, with great care, the planks
which had been placed there to preserve the foot-prints.

"We suppose," said M. Plantat, "that the countess, in her flight,
succeeded in getting to this spot; and that here they caught up
with her and gave her a finishing blow."

Was this really Plantat's opinion, or did he only report the
morning's theory? M. Lecoq could not tell.

"According to my calculations," he said, "the countess could not
have fled, but was brought here already dead, or logic is not logic.
However, let us examine this spot carefully."

He knelt down and studied the sand on the path, the stagnant water,
and the reeds and water-plants. Then going along a little distance,
he threw a stone, approaching again to see the effect produced on
the mud. He next returned to the house, and came back again under
the willows, crossing the lawn, where were still clearly visible
traces of a heavy burden having been dragged over it. Without the
least respect for his pantaloons, he crossed the lawn on all-fours,
scrutinizing the smallest blades of grass, pulling away the thick
tufts to see the earth better, and minutely observing the direction
of the broken stems. This done, he said:

"My conclusions are confirmed. The countess was carried across here."

"Are you sure of it?" asked Plantat.

There was no mistaking the old man's hesitation this time; he was
clearly undecided, and leaned on the other's judgment for guidance.

"There can be no error, possibly."

The detective smiled, as he added:

"Only, as two heads are better than one, I will ask you to listen
to me, and then, you will tell me what you think."

M. Lecoq had, in searching about, picked up a little flexible stick,
and while he talked, he used it to point out this and that object,
like the lecturer at the panorama.

"No," said he, "Madame de Tremorel did not fly from her murderers.
Had she been struck down here, she would have fallen violently; her
weight, therefore, would have made the water spirt to some distance,
as well as the mud; and we should certainly have found some splashes."

"But don't you think that, since morning, the sun - "

"The sun would have absorbed the water; but the stain of dry mud
would have remained. I have found nothing of the sort anywhere.
You might object, that the water and mud would have spirted right
and left; but just look at the tufts of these flags, lilies, and
stems of cane - you find a light dust on every one. Do you find
the least trace of a drop of water? No. There was then no splash,
therefore no violent fall; therefore the countess was not killed
here; therefore her body was brought here, and carefully deposited
where you found it."

M. Plantat did not seem to be quite convinced yet.

But there are the traces of a struggle in the sand," said he.

His companion made a gesture of protest.

"Monsieur deigns to have his joke; those marks would not deceive a

"It appears to me, however - "

"There can be no mistake, Monsieur Plantat. Certain it is that the
sand has been disturbed and thrown about. But all these trails that
lay bare the earth which was covered by the sand, were made by the
same foot. Perhaps you don't believe it. They were made, too, with
the end of the foot; that you may see for yourself."

"Yes, I perceive it."

"Very well, then; when there has been a struggle on ground like
this, there are always two distinct kinds of traces - those of the
assailant and those of the victim. The assailant, throwing himself
forward, necessarily supports himself on his toes, and imprints the
fore part of his feet on the earth. The victim, on the contrary,
falling back, and trying to avoid the assault, props himself on his
heels, and therefore buries the heels in the soil. If the
adversaries are equally strong, the number of imprints of the toes
and the heels will be nearly equal, according to the chances of the
struggle. But what do we find here?"

M. Plantat interrupted:

"Enough; the most incredulous would now be convinced." After
thinking a moment, he added:

"No, there is no longer any possible doubt of it."

M. Lecoq thought that his argument deserved a reward, and treated
himself to two lozenges at a mouthful.

"I haven't done yet," he resumed. "Granted, that the countess could
not have been murdered here; let's add that she was not carried
hither, but dragged along. There are only two ways of dragging a
body; by the shoulders, and in this case the feet, scraping along
the earth, leave two parallel trails; or by the legs - in which
case the head, lying on the earth, leaves a single furrow, and that
a wide one."

Plantat nodded assent.

"When I examined the lawn," pursued M. Lecoq, "I found the parallel
trails of the feet, but yet the grass was crushed over a rather
wide space. How was that? Because it was the body, not of a man,
but of a woman, which was dragged across the lawn - of a woman
full-dressed, with heavy petticoats; that, in short, of the countess,
and not of the count."

M. Lecoq paused, in expectation of a question, or a remark.

But the old justice of the peace did not seem to be listening, and
appeared to be plunged in the deepest meditation. Night was falling;
a light fog hung like smoke over the Seine.

"We must go in," said M. Plantat, abruptly, "and see how the doctor
has got on with his autopsy."

They slowly approached the house. The judge of instruction awaited
them on the steps. He appeared to have a satisfied air.

"I am going to leave you in charge," said he to M. Plantat, "for if
I am to see the procureur, I must go at once. When you sent for
him this morning, he was absent."

M. Plantat bowed.

"I shall be much obliged if you will watch this affair to the end.
The doctor will have finished in a few minutes, he says, and will
report to-morrow morning. I count on your co-operation to put
seals wherever they are necessary, and to select the guard over the
chateau. I shall send an architect to draw up an exact plan of the
house and garden. Well, sir," asked M. Domini, turning to the
detective, "have you made any fresh discoveries?"

"I have found some important facts; but I cannot speak decisively
till I have seen everything by daylight. If you will permit me, I
will postpone making my report till to-morrow afternoon. I think
I may say, however, that complicated as this affair is - "

M. Domini did not let him finish.

"I see nothing complicated in the affair at all; everything strikes
me as very simple."

"But," objected M. Lecoq, "I thought - "

I sincerely regret," continued the judge, "that you were so hastily
called, when there was really no serious reason for it. The
evidences against the arrested men are very conclusive.

Plantat and Lecoq exchanged a long look, betraying their great

"What!" exclaimed the former, "have, you discovered any new

"More than indications, I believe," responded M. Domini. "Old
Bertaud, whom I have again questioned, begins to be uneasy. He has
quite lost his arrogant manner. I succeeded in making him
contradict himself several times, and he finished by confessing
that he saw the assassins."

"The assassins!" exclaimed M. Plantat. "Did he say assassins?"

"He saw at least one of them. He persists in declaring that he did
not recognize him. That's where we are. But prison walls have
salutary terrors. Tomorrow after a sleepless night, the fellow
will be more explicit, if I mistake not."

"But Guespin," anxiously asked the old man, " have you questioned

"Oh, as for him, everything is clear."

"Has he confessed? "asked M. Lecoq, stupefied.

The judge half turned toward the detective, as if he were displeased
that M. Lecoq should dare to question him.

"Guespin has not confessed," he answered, "but his case is none the
better for that. Our searchers have returned. They haven't' yet
found the count's body, and I think it has been carried down by the
current. But they found at the end of the park, the count's other
slipper, among the roses; and under the bridge, in the middle of
the river, they discovered a thick vest which still bears the marks
of blood."

" And that vest is Guespin's?"

"Exactly so. It was recognized by all the domestics, and Guespin
himself did not hesitate to admit that it belonged to him. But that
is not all - "

M. Domini stopped as if to take breath, but really to keep Plantat
in suspense. As they differed in their theories, he thought Plantat
betrayed a stupid opposition to him; and he was not sorry to have a
chance for a little triumph.

"That is not all," he went on; "this vest had, in the right pocket,
a large rent, and a piece of it had been torn off. Do you know what
became of that piece of Guespin's vest?"

"Ah," muttered M. Plantat, "it was that which we found in the
countess's hand."

"You are right, Monsieur. And what think you of this proof, pray,
of the prisoner's guilt?"

M. Plantat seemed amazed; his arms fell at his side. As for M.
Lecoq, who, in presence of the judge, had resumed his haberdasher
manner, he was so much surprised that he nearly strangled himself
with a lozenge.

"A thousand devils!" exclaimed he. "That's tough, that is!" He
smiled sillily, and added in a low tone, meant only for Plantat's

"Mighty tough! Though quite foreseen in our calculations. The
countess held a piece of cloth tightly in her hand; therefore it
was put there, intentionally, by the murderers."

M. Domini did not hear this remark. He shook hands with M. Plantat
and made an appointment to meet him on the morrow, at the court-house.
Then he went away with his clerk.

Guespin and old Bertaud, handcuffed, had a few minutes before being
led off to the prison of Corbeil, under the guard of the Orcival


Dr. Gendron had just finished his sad task in the billiard-room.
He had taken off his long coat, and pulled up his shirt-sleeves
above his elbows. His instruments lay on a table near him; he had
covered the body with a long white sheet. Night had come, and a
large lamp, with a crystal globe, lighted up the gloomy scene.
The doctor, leaning over a water-basin, was washing his hands, when
the old justice of the peace and the detective entered.

"Ah, it's you, Plantat," said the doctor in a suppressed tone;
"where is Monsieur Domini?"


The doctor did not take the trouble to repress a vexed motion.

"I must speak with him, though," said he, "it's absolutely necessary
- and the sooner the better; for perhaps I am wrong - I may be
mistaken - "

M. Lecoq and M. Plantat approached him, having carefully closed
the door. The doctor was paler than the corpse which lay under the
sheet. His usually calm features betrayed great distress. This
change could not have been caused by the task in which he had been
engaged. Of course it was a painful one; but M. Gendron was one
of those experienced practitioners who have felt the pulse of every
human misery, and whose disgust had become torpid by the most
hideous spectacles. He must have discovered something extraordinary.

"I am going to ask you what you asked me a while ago," said M.
Plantat. "Are you ill or suffering?"

M. Gendron shook his head sorrowfully, and answered, slowly and

"I will answer you, as you did me; 'tis nothing, I am already

Then these two, equally profound, turned away their heads, as if
fearing to exchange their ideas; they doubted lest their looks
should betray them.

M. Lecoq advanced and spoke.

"I believe I know the cause of the doctor's emotion. He has just
discovered that Madame de Tremorel was killed by a single blow, and
that the assassins afterward set themselves to disfiguring the body,
when it was nearly cold."

The doctor's eyes fastened on the detective, with a stupefied

"How could you divine that?" he asked.

"Oh, I didn't guess it alone; I ought to share the honor of the
theory which has enabled us to foresee this fact, with Monsieur

"Oh," cried the doctor, striking his forehead," now, I recollect
your advice; in my worry, I must say, I had quite forgotten it.
"Well," he added, " your foresight is confirmed. Perhaps not so
much time as you suppose elapsed between the first blow and the
rest; but I am convinced that the countess had ceased to live
nearly three hours, when the last blows were struck."

M. Gendron went to the billiard-table, and slowly raised the sheet,
discovering the head and part of the bust.

"Let us inform ourselves, Plantat," he said.

The old justice of the peace took the lamp, and passed to the other
side of the table. His hand trembled so that the globe tingled.
The vacillating light cast gloomy shadows upon the walls. The
countess's face had been carefully bathed, the blood and mud
effaced. The marks of the blows were thus more visible, but they
still found upon that livid countenance, the traces of its beauty.
M. Lecoq stood at the head of the table, leaning over to see more

"The countess," said Dr. Gendron, "received eighteen blows from a
dagger. Of these, but one is mortal; it is this one, the direction
of which is nearly vertical - a little below the shoulder, you see."
He pointed out the wound, sustaining the body in his left arm. The
eyes had preserved a frightful expression. It seemed as if the
half - open mouth were about to cry "Help! Help!"

Plantat, the man with a heart of stone, turned away his head, and
the doctor, having mastered his first emotion, continued in a
professionally apathetic tone:

"The blade must have been an inch wide, and eight inches long. All
the other wounds - those on the arms, breast, and shoulders, are
comparatively slight. They must have been inflicted at least two
hours after that which caused death."

"Good," said M. Lecoq.

"Observe that I am not positive," returned the doctor quickly. "I
merely state a probability. The phenomena on which I base my own
conviction are too fugitive, too capricious in their nature, to
enable me to be absolutely certain."

This seemed to disturb M. Lecoq.

"But, from the moment when - "

"What I can affirm," interrupted Dr. Gendron, "what I would affirm
under oath, is, that all the wounds on the head, excepting one, were
inflicted after death. No doubt of that whatever - none whatever.
Here, above the eye, is the blow given while the countess was alive."

"It seems to me, Doctor," observed M. Lecoq, "that we may conclude
from the proved fact that the countess, after death, was struck by
a flat implement, that she had also ceased to live when she was
mutilated by the knife."

M. Gendron reflected a moment.

"It is possible that you are right; as for me, I am persuaded of it.
Still the conclusions in my report will not be yours. The physician
consulted by the law, should only pronounce upon patent,
demonstrated facts. If he has a doubt, even the slightest, he
should hold his tongue. I will say more; if there is any
uncertainty, my opinion is that the accused, and not the prosecution,
should have the benefit of it."

This was certainly not the detective's opinion, but he was cautious
not to say so. He had followed Dr. Gendron with anxious attention,
and the contraction of his face showed the travail of his mind.

"It seems to me now possible," said he, "to determine how and where
the countess was struck."

The doctor had covered the body, and Plantat had replaced the lamp
on the little table. Both asked M. Lecoq to explain himself.

"Very well," resumed the detective. "The direction of the wound
proves to me that the countess was in her chamber taking tea,
seated, her body inclined a little forward, when she was murdered.
The assassin came up behind her with his arm raised; he chose his
position coolly, and struck her with terrific force. The violence
of the blow was such that the victim fell forward, and in the fall,
her forehead struck the end of the table; she thus gave herself the
only fatal blow which we have discovered on the head."

M. Gendron looked from one to the other of his companions, who
exchanged significant glances. Perhaps he suspected the game they
were playing.

"The crime must evidently have been committed as you say," said he.

There was another embarrassing silence. M. Lecoq's obstinate
muteness annoyed Plantat, who finally asked him:

"Have you seen all you want to see?"

"All for to-day; I shall need daylight for what remains. I am
confident, indeed, that with the exception of one detail that
worries me, I have the key to the mystery."

"We must he here, then, early to-morrow morning."

"I will be here at any hour you will name."

"Your search finished, we will go together to Monsieur Domini, at

"I am quite at your orders."

There was another pause.

M. Plantat perceived that M. Lecoq guessed his thoughts; and did
not understand the detective's capriciousness; a little while before,
he had been very loquacious, but now held his tongue. M. Lecoq, on
the other hand, was delighted to puzzle the old man a little, and
formed the intention to astonish him the next morning, by giving
him a report which should faithfully reflect all his ideas.
Meanwhile he had taken out his lozenge-box, and was intrusting a
hundred secrets to the portrait.

"Well," said the doctor, "there remains nothing more to be done
except to retire."

"I was just going to ask permission to do so," said M. Lecoq. "I
have been fasting ever since morning."

M. Plantat now took a bold step.

"Shall you return to Paris to-night, Monsieur Lecoq?" asked he,

"No; I came prepared to remain over-night; I've brought my
night-gown, which I left, before coming up here, at the little
roadside inn below. I shall sup and sleep there."

"You will be poorly off at the Faithful Grenadier," said the old
justice of the peace. "You will do better to come and dine with me."

"You are really too good, Monsieur - "

"Besides, we have a good deal to say, and so you must remain the
night with me; we will get your night-clothes as we pass along."

M. Lecoq bowed, flattered and grateful for the invitation.

"And I shall carry you off, too, Doctor," continued M. Plantat,
"whether you will or not. Now, don't say no. If you insist on
going to Corbeil to-night, we will carry you over after supper."

The operation of fixing the seals was speedily concluded; narrow
strips of parchment, held by large waxen seals, were affixed to all
the doors, as well as to the bureau in which the articles gathered
for the purposes of the investigation had been deposited.


Despite the haste they made, it was nearly ten o'clock when M.
Plantat and his guests quitted the chateau of Valfeuillu. Instead
of taking the high road, they cut across a pathway which ran along
beside Mme. de Lanascol's park, and led diagonally to the wire
bridge; this was the shortest way to the inn where M. Lecoq had left
his slight baggage. As they went along, M. Plantat grew anxious
about his good friend, M. Courtois.

"What misfortune can have happened to him?" said he to Dr. Gendron.

"Thanks to the stupidity of that rascal of a servant, we learned
nothing at all. This letter from Mademoiselle Laurence has caused
the trouble, somehow."

They had now reached the Faithful Grenadier.

A big red-faced fellow was smoking a long pipe at the door, his
back against the house. He was talking with a railway employee.
It was the landlord.

"Well, Monsieur Plantat," he cried, "what a horrible affair this is!
Come in, come in; there are several folks in the hall who saw the
assassins. What a villain old Bertaud is! And that Guespin; ah, I
would willingly trudge to Corbeil to see them put up the scaffold!

"A little charity, Master Lenfant; you forget that both these men
were among your best customers."

Master Lenfant was confused by this reply; but his native impudence
soon regained the mastery.

"Fine customers, parbleu!" he answered, "this thief of a Guespin
has got thirty francs of mine which I'll never see again."

"Who knows?" said Plantat, ironically. "Besides, you are going to
make more than that to-night, there's so much company at the Orcival

During this brief conversation, M. Lecoq entered the inn for his
night-gown. His office being no longer a secret, he was not now
welcomed as when he was taken for a simple retired haberdasher.
Mme. Lenfant, a lady who had no need of her husband's aid to show
penniless sots the door, scarcely deigned to answer him. When he
asked how much he owed, she responded, with a contemptuous gesture,
"Nothing." When he returned to the door, his night-gown in hand,
M. Plantat said:

"Let's hurry, for I want to get news of our poor mayor."

The three hastened their steps, and the old justice of the peace,
oppressed with sad presentiments, and trying to combat them,

"If anything had happened at the mayor's, I should certainly have
been informed of it by this time. Perhaps Laurence has written that
she is ill, or a little indisposed. Madame Courtois, who is the best
woman in the world, gets excited about nothing; she probably wanted
to send her husband for Laurence at once. You'll see that it's some
false alarm."

No; some catastrophe had happened. A number of the village women
were standing before the mayor's gate. Baptiste, in the midst of
the group, was ranting and gesticulating. But at M. Plantat's
approach, the women fled like a troop of frightened gulls. The old
man's unexpected appearance annoyed the placid Baptiste not a little,
for he was interrupted, by the sudden departure of his audience, in
the midst of a superb oratorical flight. As he had a great fear of
M. Plantat, however, he dissimulated his chagrin with his habitual

"Ah, sir," cried he, when M. Plantat was three steps off, "ah, what
an affair! I was going for you - "

"Does your master wish me?"

"More than you can think. He ran so fast from Valfeuillu here, that
I could scarcely keep up with him. He's not usually fast, you know;
but you ought to have seen him this time, fat as he is!"

M. Plantat stamped impatiently.

"Well, we got here at last," resumed the man, "and monsieur rushed
into the drawing-room, where he found madame sobbing like a Magdalene.
He was so out of breath he could scarcely speak. His eyes stuck
out of his head, and he stuttered like this - 'What's-the-matter?
What's the-matter?' Madame, who couldn't speak either, held out
mademoiselle's letter, which she had in her hand."

The three auditors were on coals of fire; the rogue perceived it,
and spoke more and more slowly.

"Then monsieur took the letter, went to the window, and at a glance
read it through. He cried out hoarsely, thus: 'Oh!' then he went
to beating the air with his hands, like a swimming dog; then he
walked up and down and fell, pouf! like a bag, his face on the floor.
That was all."

"Is he dead?" cried all three in the same breath.

"Oh, no; you shall see," responded Baptiste, with a placid smile.

M. Lecoq was a patient marl, but not so patient as you might think.
Irritated by the manner of Baptiste's recital, he put down his
bundle, seized the man's arm with his right hand, while with the
left he whisked a light flexible cane, and said:

Look here, fellow, I want you to hurry up, you know."

That was all he said; the servant was terribly afraid of this little
blond man, with a strange voice, and a fist harder than a vice. He
went on very rapidly this time, his eye fixed on M. Lecoq's rattan.

"Monsieur had an attack of vertigo. All the house was in confusion;
everybody except I, lost their heads; it occurred to me to go for
a doctor, and I started off for one - for Doctor Gendron, whom I
knew to be at the chateau, or the doctor near by, or the apothecary
- it mattered not who. By good luck, at the street corner, I came
upon Robelot, the bone-setter - 'Come, follow me,' said I. He did
so; sent away those who were tending monsieur, and bled him in both
arms. Shortly after, he breathed, then he opened his eyes, and
then he spoke. Now he is quite restored, and is lying on one of
the drawing-room lounges, crying with all his might. He told me
he wanted to see Monsieur Plantat, and I - "

"And - Mademoiselle Laurence?" asked M. Plantat, with a trembling
voice. Baptiste assumed a tragic pose.

"Ah, gentlemen," said he, "don't ask me about her - 'tis

The doctor and M. Plantat heard no more, but hurried in; M. Lecoq
followed, having confided his night-gown to Baptiste, with, "Carry
that to M. Plantat's - quick!"

Misfortune, when it enters a house, seems to leave its fatal imprint
on the very threshold. Perhaps it is not really so, but it is the
feeling which those who are summoned to it experience. As the
physician and the justice of the peace traversed the court-yard,
this house, usually so gay and hospitable, presented a mournful
aspect. Lights were seen coming and going in the upper story.
Mlle. Lucile, the mayor's youngest daughter, had had a nervous
attack, and was being tended. A young girl, who served as Laurence's
maid, was seated in the vestibule, on the lower stair, weeping
bitterly. Several domestics were there also, frightened, motionless,
not knowing what to do in all this fright. The drawing-rcom door
was wide open; the room was dimly lighted by two candles; Mme.
Courtois lay rather than sat in a large arm-chair near the fireplace.
Her husband was reclining on a lounge near the windows at the rear
of the apartment. They had taken off his coat and had torn away
his shirt-sleeves and flannel vest, when he was to be bled. There
were strips of cotton wrapped about his naked arms. A small man,
habited like a well-to-do Parisian artisan, stood near the door,
with an embarrassed expression of countenance. It was Robelot, who
had remained, lest any new exigency for his services should arise.

The entrance of his friend startled M. Courtois from the sad stupor
into which he had been plunged. He got up and staggered into the
arms of the worthy Plantat, saying, in a broken voice:

"Ah, my friend, I am most miserable - most wretched!"

The poor mayor was so changed as scarcely to be recognizable. He
was no longer the happy man of the world, with smiling face, firm
look, the pride of which betrayed plainly his self-importance and
prosperity. In a few hours he had grown twenty years older. He
was broken, overwhelmed; his thoughts wandered in a sea of
bitterness. He could only repeat, vacantly, again and again:

"Wretched! most wretched!"

M. Plantat was the right sort of a friend for such a time. He led
M. Courtois back to the sofa and sat down beside him, and taking
his hand in his own, forced him to calm his grief. He recalled to
him that his wife, the companion of his life, remained to him, to
mourn the dear departed with him. Had he not another daughter to
cherish? But the poor man was in no state to listen to all this.

"Ah, my friend," said he shuddering, "you do not know all! If she
had died here, in the midst of us, comforted by our tender care,
my despair would be great; but nothing compared with that which
now tortures me. If you only knew - "

M. Plantat rose, as if terrified by what he was about to hear.

"But who can tell," pursued the wretched man, "where or how she
died? Oh, my Laurence, was there no one to hear your last agony
and save you? What has become of you, so young and happy?"

He rose, shaking with anguish and cried:

"Let us go, Plantat, and look for her at the Morgue." Then he fell
back again, muttering the lugubrious word, "the Morgue."

The witnesses of this scene remained, mute, motionless, rigid,
holding their breath. The stifled sobs and groans of Mme. Courtois
and the little maid alone broke the silence.

"You know that I am your friend - your best friend," said M. Plantat,
softly; "confide in me - tell me all."

"Well," commenced M. Courtois, "know" - but his tears choked his
utterance, and he could not go on. Holding out a crumpled letter,
wet with tears, he stammered:

"Here, read-it is her last letter."

M. Plantat approached the table, and, not without difficulty, read:


"Forgive, forgive, I beseech you, your unhappy
daughter, the distress she is about to cause you. Alas!
I have been very guilty, but the punishment is terrible!
In a day of wandering, I forgot all - the example and
advice of my dear, sainted mother, my most sacred
duty, and your tenderness. I could not, no, I could not
resist him who wept before me in swearing for me an
eternal love - and who has abandoned me. Now, all
is over; I am lost, lost. I cannot long conceal my
dreadful sin. Oh, dear parents, do not curse me. I
am your daughter - I cannot bear to face contempt, I
will not survive my dishonor.

"When this letter reaches you, I shall have ceased to
live; I shall have quitted my aunt's, and shall have
gone far away, where no one will find me. There I
shall end my misery and despair. Adieu, then, oh,
beloved parents, adieu! I would that I could, for the
last time, beg your forgiveness on my knees. My dear
mother, my good father, have pity on a poor wanderer;
pardon me, forgive me. Never let my sister Lucile
know. Once more, adieu - I have courage - honor
commands! For you is the last prayer and supreme
thought of your poor LAURENCE."

Great tears rolled silently down the old man's cheeks as he
deciphered this sad letter. A cold, mute, terrible anger shrivelled
the muscles of his face. When he had finished, he said, in a hoarse


M. Courtois heard this exclamation.

"Ah, yes, wretch indeed," he cried, "this vile villain who has crept
in in the dark, and stolen my dearest treasure, my darling child!
Alas, she knew nothing of life. He whispered into her ear those
fond words which make the hearts of all young girls throb; she had
faith in him; and now he abandons her. Oh, if I knew who he was
- if I knew - "

He suddenly interrupted himself. A ray of intelligence had just
illumined the abyss of despair into which he had fallen.

"No," said he, "a young girl is not thus abandoned, when she has a
dowry of a million, unless for some good reason. Love passes away;
avarice remains. The infamous wretch was not free - he was married.
He could only be the Count de Tremorel. It is he who has killed
my child."

The profound silence which succeeded proved to him that his
conjecture was shared by those around him.

"I was blind, blind!" cried he. "For I received him at my house,
and called him my friend. Oh, have I not a right to a terrible

But the crime at Valfeuillu occurred to him; and it was with a tone
of deep disappointment that he resumed:

"And not to be able to revenge myself! I could riot, then, kill
him with my own hands, see him suffer for hours, hear him beg for
mercy! He is dead. He has fallen under the blows of assassins,
less vile than himself."

The doctor and M. Plantat strove to comfort the unhappy man; but
he went on, excited more and more by the sound of his own voice.

"Oh, Laurence, my beloved, why did you not confide in me? You
feared my anger, as if a father would ever cease to love his child.
Lost, degraded, fallen to the ranks of the vilest, I would still
love thee. Were you not my own? Alas! you knew not a father's
heart. A father does not pardon; he forgets. You might still have
been happy, my lost love."

He wept; a thousand memories of the time when Laurence was a child
and played about his knees recurred to his mind; it seemed as though
it were but yesterday.

"Oh, my daughter, was it that you feared the world - the wicked,
hypocritical world? But we should have gone away. I should have
left Orcival, resigned my office. We should have settled down far
away, in the remotest corner of France, in Germany, in Italy. With
money all is possible. All? No! I have millions, and yet my
daughter has killed herself."

He concealed his face in his hands; his sobs choked him.

"And not to know what has become of her!" he continued. "Is it not
frightful? What death did she choose? You remember, Doctor, and
you, Plantat, her beautiful curls about her pure forehead, her great,
trembling eyes, her long curved lashes? Her smile - do you know, it
was the sun's ray of my life. I so loved her voice, and her mouth
so fresh, which gave me such warm, loving kisses. Dead! Lost! And
not to know what has become of her sweet form - perhaps abandoned in
the mire of some river. Do you recall the countess's body this
morning? It will kill me! Oh, my child - that I might see her one
hour - one minute - that I might give her cold lips one last kiss!"

M. Lecoq strove in vain to prevent a warm tear which ran from his
eyes, from falling. M. Lecoq was a stoic on principle, and by
profession. But the desolate words of the poor father overcame
him. Forgetting that his emotion would be seen, he came out from
the shadow where he had stood, and spoke to M. Courtois:

"I, Monsieur Lecoq, of the detectives, give you my honor that I
will find Mademoiselle Laurence's body."

The poor mayor grasped desperately at this promise, as a drowning
man to a straw.

"Oh, yes, we will find her, won't we? You will help me. They say
that to the police nothing is impossible - that they see and know
everything. We will see what has become of my child."

He went toward M. Lecoq, and taking him by the hand:

"Thank you," added he, "you are a good man. I received you ill a
while ago, and judged you with foolish pride: forgive me. We will
succeed - you will see, we will aid each other, we will put all the
police on the scent, we will search through France, money will do
it - I have it - I have millions - take them - "

His energies were exhausted: he staggered and fell heavily on the

"He must not remain here long," muttered the doctor in Plantat's
ear, "he must get to bed. A brain fever, after such excitement,
would not surprise me."

The old justice of the peace at once approached Mme. Courtois, who
still reclined in the arm-chair, apparently having seen or heard
nothing of what had passed, and oblivious in her grief.

"Madame!" said he, "Madame!"

She shuddered and rose, with a wandering air.

It is my fault," said she, " my miserable fault! A mother should
read her daughter's heart as in a book. I did not suspect Laurence's
secret; I am a most unhappy mother."

The doctor also came to her.

"Madame," said he, in an imperious tone, "your husband must be
persuaded to go to bed at once. His condition is very serious, and
a little sleep is absolutely necessary. I will haye a potion
prepared - "

"Oh, my God!" cried the poor lady, wringing her hands, in the fear
of a new misfortune, as bitter as the first; which, however,
restored her to her presence of mind. She called the servants, who
assisted the mayor to regain his chamber. Mme. Courtois also
retired, followed by the doctor. Three persons only remained in
the drawing-room - Plantat, Lecoq, and Robelot, who still stood
near the door.

"Poor Laurence!" murmured Plantat. "Poor girl!"

"It seems to me that her father is most to be pitied," remarked M.
Lecoq. "Such a blow, at his age, may be more than he can bear.
Even should he recover, his life is broken."

"I had a sort of presentiment," said the other, "that this misfortune
would come. I had guessed Laurence's secret, but I guessed it too

And you did not try - "

"What? In a delicate case like this, when the honor of a family
depends on a word, one must be circumspect. What could I do? Put
Courtois on his guard? Clearly not. He would have refused to
believe me. He is one of those men who will listen to nothing, and
whom the brutal fact alone can undeceive.

"You might have dealt with the Count de Tremorel."

"The count would have denied all. He would have asked what right
I had to interfere in his affairs."

But the girl?"

M. Plantat sighed heavily.

"Though I detest mixing up with what does not concern me, I did try
one day to talk with her. With infinite precaution and delicacy,
and without letting her see that I knew all, I tried to show her
the abyss near which she was drawing."

"And what did she reply?"

"Nothing. She laughed and joked, as women who have a secret which
they wish to conceal, do. Besides, I could not get a quarter of
an hour alone with her, and it was necessary to act, I knew - for I
was her best friend - before committing this imprudence of speaking
to her. Not a day passed that she did not come to my garden and
cull my rarest flowers - and I would not, look you, give one of my
flowers to the Pope himself. She had instituted me her florist in
ordinary. For her sake I collected my briars of the Cape - "

He was talking on so wide of his subject that M. Lecoq could not
repress a roguish smile. The old man was about to proceed when he
heard a noise in the hall, and looking up he observed Robelot for
the first time. His face at once betrayed his great annoyance.

"You were there, were you? "he said.

The bone-setter smiled obsequiously.

"Yes, Monsieur, quite at your service.

"You have been listening, eh?"

"Oh, as to that, I was waiting to see if Madame Courtois had any
commands for me."

A sudden reflection occurred to M. Plantat; the expression of his
eye changed. He winked at M. Lecoq to call his attention, and
addressing the bone-setter in a milder tone, said: " Come here,
Master Robelot."

Lecoq had read the man at a glance. Robelot was a small,
insignificant-looking man, but really of herculean strength. His
hair, cut short behind, fell over his large, intelligent forehead.
His eyes shone with the fire of covetousness, and expressed, when
he forgot to guard them, a cynical boldness. A sly smile was always
playing about his thin lips, beneath which there was no beard. A
little way off, with his slight figure and his beardless face, he
looked like a Paris gamin - one of those little wretches who are
the essence of all corruption, whose imagination is more soiled
than the gutters where they search for lost pennies.

Robelot advanced several steps, smiling and bowing. "Perhaps,"
said he, " Monsieur has, by chance, need of me?"

"None whatever, Master Robelot, I only wish to congratulate you on
happening in so apropos, to bleed Monsieur Courtois. Your lancet
has, doubtless, saved his life."

It's quite possible."

"Monsieur Courtois is generous - he will amply recompense this
great service."

"Oh, I shall ask him nothing. Thank God, I want nobody's help.
If I am paid my due, I am content."

"I know that well enough; you are prosperous - you ought to be

M. Plantat's tone was friendly, almost paternal. He was deeply
interested, evidently, in Robelot's prosperity.

"Satisfied!" resumed the bone-setter. "Not so much as you might
think. Life is very dear for poor people."

"But, haven't you just purchased an estate near d'Evry?"


"And a nice place, too, though a trifle damp. Happily you have
stone to fill it in with, on the land that you bought of the widow

Robelot had never seen the old justice of the peace so talkative,
so familiar; he seemed a little surprised.

"Three wretched pieces of land!" said he.

"Not so bad as you talk about. Then you've also bought something
in the way of mines, at auction, haven't you?"

"Just a bunch of nothing at all."

"True, but it pays well. It isn't so bad, you see, to be a doctor
without a diploma."

Robelot had been several times prosecuted for illegal practicing;
so he thought he ought to protest against this.

"If I cure people," said he, "I'm not paid for it."

"Then your trade in herbs isn't what has enriched you."

The conversation was becoming a cross-examination. The bone-setter
was beginning to be restless.

"Oh, I make something out of the herbs,". he answered.

"And as you are thrifty, you buy land."

"I've also got some cattle and horses, which bring in something.
I raise horses, cows, and sheep."

"Also without diploma?"

Robelot waxed disdainful.

"A piece of parchment does not make science. I don't fear the men
of the schools. I study animals in the fields and the stable,
without bragging. I haven't my equal for raising them, nor for
knowing their diseases."

M. Plantat's tone became more and more winning.

"I know that you are a bright fellow, full of experience. Doctor
Gendron, with whom you served, was praising your cleverness a
moment ago."

The bone-setter shuddered, not so imperceptibly as to escape
Plantat, who continued: "Yes, the good doctor said he never had
so intelligent an assistant. 'Robelot,' said he, 'has such an
aptitude for chemistry, and so much taste for it besides, that
he understands as well - as I many of the most delicate

"Parbleu! I did my best, for I was well paid, and I was always fond
of learning."

"And you were an apt scholar at Doctor Gendron's, Master Robelot;
he makes some very curious studies. His work and experience on
poisons are above all remarkable."

Robelot's uneasiness became apparent; his look wavered.

"Yes;" returned he, "I have seen some strange experiments."

"Well, you see, you may think yourself lucky - for the doctor is
going to have a splendid chance to study this sort of thing, and
he will undoubtedly want you to assist him."

But Robelot was too shrewd not to have already guessed that this
cross-examination had a purpose. What was M. Plantat after? he
asked himself, not without a vague terror. And, going over in
his mind the questions which had been asked, and the answers he had
given, and to what these questions led, he trembled. He thought
to escape further questioning by saying:

"I am always at my old master's orders when he needs me."

"He'll need you, be assured," said M. Plantat, who added, in a
careless tone, which his rapid glance at Robelot belied, "The
interest attaching to this case will be intense, and the task
difficult. Monsieur Sauvresy's body is to be disinterred."

Robelot was certainly prepared for something strange, and he was
armed with all his audacity. But the name of Sauvresy fell upon
his head like the stroke of a club, and he stammered, in a choked


M. Plantat had already turned his head, and continued in an
indifferent tone:

"Yes, Sauvresy is to be exhumed. It is suspected that his death
was not wholly a natural one. You see, justice always has its

Robelot leaned against the wall so as not to fall. M. Plantat

"So Doctor Gendron has been applied to. He has, as you know, found
reactive drugs which betray the presence of an alkaloid, whatever
it may be, in the substances submitted to him for analysis. He has
spoken to me of a certain sensitive paper - "

Appealing to all his energy, Robelot forced himself to stand up and
resume a calm countenance.

"I know Doctor Gendron's process," said he, "but I don't see who
could be capable of the suspicions of which you speak."

"I think there are more than suspicions," resumed M. Plantat.
"Madame de Tremorel, you know, has been murdered: her papers have,
of course, been examined; letters have been found, with very
damaging revelations, receipts, and so on."

Robelot, apparently, was once more self-possessed; he forced himself
to answer:

"Bast! let us hope that justice is in the wrong."

Then, such was this man's self-control, despite a nervous trembling
which shook his whole body as the wind does the leaves, that he
added, constraining his thin lips to form a smile:

"Madame Courtois does not come down; I am waited for at home, and
will drop in again to-morrow. Good-evening, gentlemen."

He walked away, and soon the sand in the court was heard creaking
with his steps. As he went, he staggered like a drunken man.

M. Lecoq went up to M. Plantat, and taking off his hat:

"I surrender," said he, "and bow to you; you are great, like my
master, the great Tabaret."

The detectives amour-propre was clearly aroused; his professional


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