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Never would a stranger who should have suddenly come into Daniel's chamber, upon seeing Crochard's attitude, have imagined that the wretch was accused of a capital crime, and was standing there before a magistrate, in presence of the man whom he had tried three times to assassinate.
Quite at home in the law, as far as it was studied at the galleys, he had instantly recognized that his situation was by no means so desperate as he had at first supposed; that, if the jury rendered a verdict of guilty of death, it would be against the instigator of the crime, and that he would probably get off with a few years' penal servitude.
Hence he had made up his mind about his situation with that almost bestial indifference which characterizes people who are ready for everything, and prepared for everything. He had recovered from that stupor which the discovery of his crime had produced in him, and from the rage in which he had been thrown by the loss of his bank-notes. Now there appeared, under the odious personage of the murderer, the pretentious and ridiculous orator of the streets and prisons, who is accustomed to make himself heard, and displays his eloquence with great pride.
He assumed a studied position; and it was evident that he was preparing himself for his speech, although, afterwards, a good many words escaped him which are found in no dictionary, but belong to the jargon of the lowest classes, and serve to express the vilest sentiments.
"It was," he began, "a Friday, an unlucky day,--a week, about, before 'The Conquest' sailed. It might have been two o'clock. I had eaten nothing; I had not a cent in my pockets and I was walking along the boulevards, loafing, and thinking how I could procure some money.
"I had crossed several streets, when a carriage stopped close to me; and I saw a very fine gentleman step out, a cigar in his mouth, a gold chain across his waistcoat, and a flower in his buttonhole. He entered a glove-shop.
"At once I said to myself, 'Curious! I have seen that head somewhere.'
"Thereupon, I go to work, and remain fixed to the front of the shop, a little at the side, though, you know, at a place where, without being seen myself, I could very well watch my individual, who laughed and talked, showing his white teeth, while a pretty girl was trying on a pair of gloves. The more I looked at him, the more I thought, 'Positively, Bagnolet, although that sweet soul don't look as if he were a member of your society, you know him.'
"However, as I could not put a name to that figure, I was going on my way, when suddenly my memory came back to me, and I said, 'Cretonne, it is an old comrade. I shall get my dinner.'
"After all, I was not positively sure; because why? Fifteen years make a difference in a man, especially when he does not particularly care to be recognized. But I had a little way of my own to make the thing sure.
"I waited, therefore, for my man; and, at the moment when he crossed the sidewalk to get into his carriage, I stepped up, and cried out, though not very loud, 'Eh, Chevassat!'
"The scamp! They might have fired a cannon at his ear, and he would not have jumped as he did when I spoke to him. And white he was,--as white as his collar. But, nevertheless, he was not without his compass, the screw. He puts up his eyeglass, and looks at me up and down; and then he says in his finest manner, 'What is it, my good fellow? Do you want to speak to me?'
"Thereupon, quite sure of my business now, I say, 'Yes, to you, Justin Chevassat. Don't you recall me? Evariste Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet; eh? Do you recollect now?' However, the gentleman continued to hold his head high, and to look at me. At last he says, 'If you do not clear out, I will call a policeman.' Well, the mustard got into my nose, and I began to cry, to annoy him, so as to collect a crowd,--
"'What, what! Policemen, just call them, please do! They will take us before a magistrate. If I am mistaken, they won't hang me; but, if I am not mistaken, they will laugh prodigiously. What have I to risk? Nothing at all; for I have nothing.'
"I must tell you, that, while I said all this, I looked at him fixedly with the air of a man who has nothing in his stomach, and who is bent upon putting something into it. He also looked at me fixedly; and, if his eyes had been pistols--but they were not. And, when he saw I was determined, the fine gentleman softened down.
"'Make no noise,' he whispered, looking with a frightened air at all the idlers who commenced to crowd around us. And pretending to laugh very merrily,--for the benefit of the spectators, you know,--he said, speaking very low and very rapidly,--
"'In the costume that you have on, I cannot ask you to get into my carriage; that would only compromise us both uselessly. I shall send my coachman back, and walk home. You can follow quietly; and, when we get into a quiet street, we will take a cab, and talk.'
"As I was sure I could catch him again, if he should try to escape, I approved the idea. 'All right. I understand.'"
The magistrate suddenly interrupted the accused. He thought it of great importance that Crochard's evidence should be written down, word for word; and he saw, that, for some little while, the clerk had been unable to follow.
"Rest a moment, Crochard," he said.
And when the clerk had filled up what was wanting, and the magistrate had looked it over, he said to the prisoner,--
"Now you can go on, but speak more slowly."
The wretch smiled, well pleased. This permission gave him more time to select his words, and this flattered his vanity; for even the lowest of these criminals have their weak point, in which their vanity is engaged.
"Don't let your soup get cold," he continued. "Chevassat said a few words to his coachman, who whipped the horse, and there he was, promenading down the boulevard, turning his cane this way, puffing out big clouds of smoke, as if he had not the colic at the thought that his friend Bagnolet was following on his heels.
"I ought to say that he had lots of friends, very genteel friends, who wished him good-evening as they passed him. There were some even who stopped him, shook hands with him, and offered to treat him; but he left them all promptly, saying, 'Excuse me, pray, I am in a hurry.'
"Why, yes, he was in a hurry; and I who was behind him, and saw and heard it all, I laughed in my sleeve most heartily."
Whatever advantage there may be in not interrupting a great talker, who warms up as he talks, and consequently forgets himself, the magistrate became impatient.
"Spare us your impressions," he said peremptorily.
This was not what Crochard expected. He looked hurt, and went on angrily,--
"In fine, my individual goes down the boulevard as far as the opera, turns to the right, crosses the open square, and goes down the first street to the left. Here a cab passes; he hails it; orders the driver to take us to Vincennes. We get in; and his first care is to let down the curtains. Then he looks at me with a smile, holds out his hand, and says, 'Well, old man! how are you?'
"At first, when I saw myself so well received, I was quite overcome. Then reflecting, I thought, 'It is not natural for him to be so soft. He is getting ready for some trick. Keep your eyes open, Bagnolet.'
"'Then you are not angry that I spoke to you; eh?' He laughs, and says, 'No.'
"Then I, 'However, you hadn't exactly a wedding-air when I spoke to you, and I thought you were looking for a way to get rid of me unceremoniously.' But he said very seriously, 'Look here, I am going to talk to you quite openly! For a moment I was surprised; but I was not annoyed. I have long foreseen something of the kind would happen; and I know that every time I go out I run the risk of meeting a former comrade. You are not the first who has recognized me, and I am prepared to save myself all annoyance. If I wanted to get rid of you, this very evening you would have lost all trace of me, thanks to a little contrivance I have arranged. Besides, as you are in Paris without leave, before twenty-four hours are over, you would be in jail.' He told me all this so calmly, that I felt it was so, and that the scamp had some special trick.
"'Then,' I said, 'you rather like meeting an old friend, eh?'
"He looked me straight in the face and replied, 'Yes; and the proof of it is, that if you were not here, sitting at my side, and if I had known where to find you, I should have gone in search of you. I have something to do for you.'"
Henceforth Bagnolet had reason to be satisfied.
Although the magistrate preserved his impassive appearance, Daniel and the chief surgeon listened with breathless attention, feeling that the prisoner had come to the really important part of his confession, from which, no doubt, much light would be obtained. Lefloch himself listened with open mouth; and one could follow on his ingenuous countenance all the emotions produced by the recital of the criminal, who, but for him, would probably have escaped justice.
"Naturally," continued Crochard, "when he talked of something to do, I opened my ears wide. 'Why,' I said, 'I thought you had retired from business.' And I really thought he had. 'You are mistaken,' he replied. 'Since I left that place you know of, I have been living nicely. But I have not put anything aside; and if an accident should happen to me, which I have reason to fear, I would be destitute.'
"I should have liked very much to know more; but he would not tell me anything else concerning himself; and I had to give him my whole history since my release. Oh! that was soon done. I told him how nothing I had undertaken had ever succeeded; that, finally, I had been a waiter in a drinking-shop; that they had turned me out; and that for a month now I had been walking the streets, having not a cent, no clothes, no lodgings, and no bed but the quarries.
"'Since that is so,' he said, 'you shall see what a comrade is.' I ought to say that the cab had been going all the time we were talking, and that we were out in the suburbs now. My Chevassat raised the blind to look out; and, as soon as he saw a clothing store, he ordered the driver to stop there. The driver did so; and then Chevassat said to me, 'Come, old man, we'll begin by dressing you up decently.' So we get out; and upon my word, he buys me a shirt, trousers, a coat, and everything else that was needful; he pays for a silk hat, and a pair of varnished boots. Farther down the street was a watchmaker. I declare he makes me a present of a gold watch, which I still have, and which they seized when they put me in jail. Finally, he has spent his five hundred francs, and gives me eighty francs to boot, to play the gentleman.
"You need not ask if I thanked him, when we got back into the cab. After such misery as I had endured, my morals came back with my clothes. I would have jumped into the fire for Chevassat. Alas! I would not have been so delighted, if I had known what I should have to pay for all this; for in the first place"--
"Oh, go on!" broke in the lawyer; "go on!"
Not without some disappointment, Crochard had to acknowledge that everything purely personal did not seem to excite the deepest interest. He made a face, full of spite, and then went on, speaking more rapidly,--
"All these purchases had taken some time; so that it was six o'clock, and almost dark, when we reached Vincennes. A little before we got into the town, Chevassat stopped the cab, paid the driver, sends him back, and, taking me by the arm, says, 'You must be hungry: let us dine.'
"So we first absorb a glass of absinthe; then he carries me straight to the best restaurant, asks for a private room, and orders a dinner. Ah, but a dinner! Merely to hear it ordered from the bill of fare made my mouth water.
"We sit down; and I, fearing nothing, would not have changed places with the pope. And I talked, and I ate, and I drank; I drank, perhaps, most; for I had not had anything to drink for a long time; and, finally, I was rather excited. Chevassat seemed to have unbuttoned, and told me lots of funny things which set me a-laughing heartily. But when the coffee had been brought, with liquors in abundance, and cigars at ten cents apiece, my individual rises, and pushes the latch in the door; for there was a latch.
"Then he comes back, and sits down right in front of me, with his elbows on the table. 'Now, old man,' he says, 'we have had enough laughing and talking. I am a good fellow, you know; but you understand that I am not treating you for the sake of your pretty face alone. I want a good stout fellow; and I thought you might be the man.'
"Upon my word, he told me that in such a peculiar way, that I felt as if somebody had kicked me in the stomach; and I began to be afraid of him. Still I concealed my fears, and said, 'Well, let us see; go it! What's the row?'
"At once he replies, 'As I told you before, I have not laid up a cent. But if anything should happen to a certain person whom I think of, I should be rich; and you--why, you might be rich too, if you were willing to give him a little push with the elbow, so that the thing might happen to him a little sooner.'"
Earnestly bent upon the part which he had to play for the sake of carrying out his system of defence, the prisoner assumed more and more hypocritical repentance, an effort which gave to his wicked face a peculiarly repulsive expression.
The magistrate, however, though no doubt thoroughly disgusted with this absurd comedy, did not move a muscle of his face, nor make a gesture, anxious, as he was, not to break the thread of this important deposition.
"Ah, sir!" exclaimed Crochard, his hand upon his heart, "when I heard Chevassat talk that way, my heart turned within me, and I said, 'Unfortunate man, what do you mean? I should commit a murder? Never! I'd rather die first!' He laughed, and replied, 'Don't be a fool; who talks to you of murder? I spoke of an accident. Besides, you would not risk anything. The thing would happen to him abroad.' I continued, however, to refuse, and I spoke even of going away; when Chevassat seized a big knife, and said, now that I had his secret, I was bound to go on. If not!--he looked at me with such a terrible air, that, upon my word, I was frightened, and sat down again.
"Then, all at once, he became as jolly again as before; and, whilst he kept pouring the brandy into my glass, he explained to me that I would be a fool to hesitate; that I could never in all my life find such a chance again of making a fortune; that I would most certainly succeed; and that then I would have an income, keep a carriage as he did, wear fine clothes, and have every day a dinner like the one we had just been enjoying together.
"I became more and more excited. This lot of gold which he held up before my mind's eyes dazzled me; and the strong drink I had been taking incessantly got into my head. Then he flourished again the big knife before my face; and finally I did not know what I was saying or doing. I got up; and, striking the table with my fist, I cried out, 'I am your man!'"
Although, probably, the whole scene never took place, except in the prisoner's imagination, Daniel could not help trembling under his cover, at the thought of these two wretches arranging for his death, while they were there, half drunk, glass in hand, and their elbows resting on a table covered with wine-stains. Lefloch, on his part, stood grasping the bedstead so hard with his hand, that the wood cracked. Perhaps he dreamed he held in his grasp the neck of the man who was talking so coolly of murdering his lieutenant. The lawyer and the doctor thought of nothing but of watching the contortions of the accused. He had drawn a handkerchief from his pocket, and rubbed his eyes hard, as if he hoped thus to bring forth a few tears.
"Come, come!" said the magistrate. "No scene!"
Crochard sighed deeply, and then continued in a tearful tone,--
"They might cut me to pieces, and I would not be able to say what happened after that. I was dead drunk, and do not recollect a thing any more. From what Chevassat afterwards told me, I had to be carried to the carriage; and he took me to a hotel in the suburb, where he hired a lodging for me. When I woke the next day, a little before noon, my head was as heavy as lead; and I tried to recall what had happened at the restaurant, and if it was not perhaps merely the bad wine that had given me the nightmare.
"Unfortunately, it was no dream; and I soon found that out, when a waiter came up and brought me a letter. Chevassat wrote me to come to his house, and to breakfast with him for the purpose of talking business.
"Of course I went. I asked the concierge where M. Justin Chevassat lives in the house; and he directs me to go to the second floor, on the right hand. I go up, ring the bell; a servant opens the door; I enter, and find, in an elegant apartment, my brigand in a dressing-gown, stretched out on a sofa. On the way I had made up my mind to tell him positively that he need not count upon me; that the thing was a horror to me; and that I retracted all I had said. But, as soon as I began, he became perfectly furious, calling me a coward and a traitor, and telling me that I had no choice but to make my fortune, or to receive a blow with the big knife between my shoulders. At the same time he spread out before me a great heap of gold. Then, yes, then I was weak. I felt I was caught. Chevassat frightened me; the gold intoxicated me. I pledged my word; and the bargain was made."
As he said this, Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, sighed deeply and noisily, like a man whose heart has been relieved of a grievous burden. He really felt prodigiously relieved. To have to confess everything on the spot, without a moment's respite to combine a plan of apology, was a hard task. Now, the wretch had stood this delicate and dangerous trial pretty well, and thought he had managed cleverly enough to prepare for the day of his trial a number of extenuating circumstances. But the magistrate hardly gave him time to breathe.
"Not so fast," he said: "we are not done yet. What were the conditions which you and Chevassat agreed upon?"
"Oh! very simple, sir. I, for my part, said yes to everything he proposed. He magnetized me, I tell you, that man! We agreed, therefore, that he would pay me four thousand francs in advance, and that, after the accident, he would give me six thousand certain, and a portion of the sum which he would secure."
"Thus you undertook, for ten thousand francs, to murder a man?"
"That sum is very far from those fabulous amounts by which you said you had been blinded and carried away."
"Pardon me! There was that share in the great fortune."
"Ah! You knew very well that Chevassat would never have paid you anything."
Crochard's hands twitched nervously. He cried out,--
"Chevassat cheat me! cochonnere! I would have--but no; he knows me; he would never have dared"--
The magistrate had caught the prisoner's eye, and, fixing him sternly, he said good-naturedly,--
"Why did you tell me, then, that that man magnetized you, and frightened you out of your wits?"
The wretch had gone into the snare, and, instead of answering, hung his head, and tried to sob.
"Repentance is all very well," said the lawyer, who did not seem to be in the least touched; "but just now it would be better for you to explain how your trip to Cochin China was arranged. Come, collect yourself, and give us the details."
"As to that," he resumed his account, "you see Chevassat explained to me everything at breakfast; and the very same day he gave me the address which you found on the paper in which the bank-notes were wrapped up."
"What did he give you M. Champcey's address for?"
"So that I might know him personally."
"Well, go on."
"At first, when I heard he was a lieutenant in the navy, I said I must give it up, knowing as I did that with such men there is no trifling. But Chevassat scolded me so terribly, and called me such hard names, that I finally got mad, and promised everything.
"'Besides,' he said to me, 'listen to my plan. The navy department wants mechanics to go to Saigon. They have not gotten their full number yet: so you go and offer yourself. They will accept you, and even pay your journey to Rochefort: a boat will carry you out to the roadstead on board the frigate "Conquest." Do you know whom you will find on board? Our man, Lieut. Champcey. Well, now, I tell you! that if any accident should happen to him, either during the voyage, or at Saigon, that accident will pass unnoticed, as a letter passes through the post-office.'
"Yes, that's what he told me, every word of it; and I think I hear him now. And I--I was so completely bewildered, that I had nothing to say in return. However, there was one thing which troubled me; and I thought, 'Well, after all, they won't accept me at the navy department, with my antecedents.'
"But, when I mentioned the difficulty to Chevassat, he laughed. Oh, but he laughed! it made me mad.
"'You are surely more of a fool than I thought,' he said. 'Are your condemnations written on your face? No, I should say. Well, as you will exhibit your papers in excellent order, they will take you.'
"I opened my eyes wide, and said, 'That's all very pretty, what you say; but the mischief is, that, as I have not worked at my profession for more than fifteen years, I have no papers at all.' He shrugs his shoulders, and says, 'You shall have your papers.' That worries me; and I reply, 'If I have to steal somebody's papers, and change my name, I won't do it.' But the brigand had his notions. 'You shall keep your name,' he said, touching me on the shoulder. 'You shall always remain Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet; and you shall have your papers as engraver on metal as perfect as anybody can have them.'
"And, to be sure, the second day after that he gave me a set of papers, signatures, seals, all in perfect order."
"The papers found in your room, you mean?" asked the lawyer.
"Where did Chevassat get them?"
"Get them? Why, he had made them himself. He can do anything he chooses with his pen, the scamp! If he takes it into his head to imitate your own handwriting, you would never suspect it."
Daniel and the old surgeon exchanged glances. This was a strong and very important point in connection with the forged letter that had been sent to the navy department, and claimed to be signed by Daniel himself. The magistrate was as much struck by the fact as they were; but his features remained unchanged; and, pursuing his plan in spite of all the incidents of the examination, he asked,--
"These papers caused no suspicion?"
"None whatever. I had only to show them, and they accepted me. Besides, Chevassat said he would enlist some people in my behalf; perhaps I had been specially recommended."
"And thus you sailed?"
"Yes. They gave me my ticket, some money for travelling expenses; and, five days after my meeting with Chevassat, I was on board 'The Conquest.' Lieut. Champcey was not there. Ah! I began to hope he would not go out on the expedition at all. Unfortunately, he arrived forty- eight hours afterwards, and we sailed at once."
The marvellous coolness of the wretch showed clearly under his affected trouble; and, while it confounded Daniel and the old surgeon, it filled the faithful Lefloch with growing indignation. He spoke of this abominable plot, of this assassination which had been so carefully plotted, and of the price agreed upon, and partly paid in advance, as if the whole had been a fair commercial operation.
"Now, Crochard," said the lawyer, "I cannot impress it too strongly on your mind, how important it is for your own interests that you should tell the truth. Remember, all your statements will be verified. Do you know whether Chevassat lives in Paris under an assumed name?"
"No, sir! I have always heard him called Chevassat by everybody."
"What? By everybody?"
"Well, I mean his concierge, his servants."
The magistrate seemed for a moment to consider how he should frame his next question; and then he asked, all of a sudden,--
"Suppose that the--accident, as you call it, had succeeded, you would have taken ship; you would have arrived in France; you reach Paris; how would you have found Chevassat to claim your six thousand francs?"
"I should have gone to his house, where I breakfasted with him; and, if he had left, the concierge would have told me where he lived now."
"Then you really think you saw him at his own rooms? Consider. If you left him only for a couple of hours, between the time when you first met him and the visit you paid him afterwards, he might very well have improvised a new domicile for himself."
"Ah! I did not lie, sir. When dinner was over, I had lost my consciousness, and I did not get wide awake again till noon on the next day. Chevassat had the whole night and next morning."
Then, as a suspicion suddenly flashed through Crochard's mind, he exclaimed,--
"Ah, the brigand! Why did he urge me never to write to him otherwise than 'to be called for'?"
The magistrate had turned to his clerk.
"Go down," he said, "and see if any of the merchants in town have a Paris Directory."
The clerk went off like an arrow, and appeared promptly back again with the volume in question. The magistrate hastened to look up the address given by the prisoner, and found it entered thus: "Langlois, sumptuous apartments for families and single persons. Superior attendance."
"I was almost sure of it," he said to himself.
Then handing Daniel the paper on which the words "University" and "Street" could be deciphered, he asked,--
"Do you know that handwriting, M. Champcey?"
Too full of the lawyer's shrewd surmises to express any surprise, Daniel looked at the words, and said coolly,--
"That is Maxime de Brevan's handwriting."
A rush of blood colored instantly the pale face of Crochard. He was furious at the idea of having been duped by his accomplice, by the instigator of the crime he had committed, and for which he would probably never have received the promised reward.
"Ah, the brigand!" he exclaimed. "And I, who was very near not denouncing him at all!"
A slight smile passed over the lawyer's face. His end had been attained. He had foreseen this wrath on the part of the prisoner; he had prepared it carefully, and caused it to break out fully; for he knew it would bring him full light on the whole subject.
"To cheat me, me!" Crochard went on with extraordinary vehemence,--"to cheat a friend, an old comrade! Ah the rascal! But he sha'n't go to paradise, if I can help it! Let them cut my throat, I don't mind it; I shall be quite content even, provided I see his throat cut first."
"He has not even been arrested yet."
"But nothing is easier than to catch him, sir. He must be uneasy at not hearing from me; and I am sure he is going every day to the post-office to inquire if there are no letters yet for M. X. O. X. 88. I can write to him. Do you want me to write to him? I can tell him that I have once more missed it, and that I have been caught even, but that the police have found out nothing, and that they have set me free again. I am sure, after that, the scamp will keep quiet; and the police will have nothing to do but to take the omnibus, and arrest him at his lodgings."
The magistrate had allowed the prisoner to give free vent to his fury, knowing full well by experience how intensely criminals hate those of their accomplices by whom they find themselves betrayed. And he was in hopes that the rage of this man might suggest a new idea, or furnish him with new facts. When he saw he was not likely to gain much, he said,--
"Justice cannot stoop to such expedients." Then he added, seeing how disappointed Crochard looked,--
"You had better try and recollect all you can. Have you forgotten or concealed nothing that might assist us in carrying out this examination?"
"No; I think I have told you every thing."
"You cannot furnish any additional evidence of the complicity of Justin Chevassat, of his efforts to tempt you to commit this crime, or of the forgery he committed in getting up a false set of papers for you?"
"No! Ah, he is a clever one, and leaves no trace behind him that could convict him. But, strong as he is, if we could be confronted in court, I'd undertake, just by looking at him, to get the truth out of him somehow."
"You shall be confronted, I promise you."
The prisoner seemed to be amazed.
"Are you going to send for Chevassat?" he asked.
"No. You will be sent home, to be tried there."
A flash of joy shone in the eyes of the wretch. He knew the voyage would not be a pleasant one; but the prospect of being tried in France was as good as an escape from capital punishment to his mind. Besides, he delighted in advance in the idea of seeing Chevassat in court, seated by his side as a fellow-prisoner.
"Then," he asked again, "they will send me home?"
"On the first national vessel that leaves Saigon."
The magistrate went and sat down at the table where the clerk was writing, and rapidly ran his eye over the long examination, seeing if anything had been overlooked. When he had done, he said,--
"Now give me as accurate a description of Justin Chevassat as you can."
Crochard passed his hand repeatedly over his forehead; and then, his eyes staring at empty space, and his neck stretched out, as if he saw a phantom which he had suddenly called up, he said,--
"Chevassat is a man of my age; but he does not look more than twenty seven or eight. That is what made me hesitate at first, when I met him on the boulevard. He is a handsome fellow, very well made, and wears all his beard. He looks clever, with soft eyes; and his face inspires confidence at once."
"Ah! that is Maxime all over," broke in Daniel.
And, suddenly remembering something, he called Lefloch. The sailor started, and almost mechanically assumed the respectful position of a sailor standing before his officer.
"Lieutenant?" he said.
"Since I have been sick, they have brought part of my baggage here; have they not?"
"Yes, lieutenant, all of it."
"Well. Go and look for a big red book with silver clasps. You have no doubt seen me look at it often."
"Yes, lieutenant; and I know where it is."
And he immediately opened one of the trunks that were piled up in a corner of the room, and took from it a photograph album, which, upon a sign from Daniel, he handed to the lawyer.
"Will you please," said Daniel at the same time, "ask the prisoner, if, among the sixty or seventy portraits in that book, he knows any one?"
The album was handed to Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, who turned over leaf after leaf, till all of a sudden, and almost beside himself, he cried out,--
"Here he is, Justin Chevassat! Oh! that's he, no doubt about it."
Daniel could, from his bed, see the photograph, and said,--
"That is Maxime's portrait."
After this decisive evidence, there could be no longer any doubt that Justin Chevassat and Maxime de Brevan were one and the same person. The investigation was complete, as far as it could be carried on in Saigon; the remaining evidence had to be collected in Paris. The magistrate directed, therefore, the clerk to read the deposition; and Crochard followed it without making a single objection. But when he had signed it, and the gendarmes were about to carry him off again, and to put on the handcuffs, he asked leave to make an addition. The magistrate assented; and Crochard said,--
"I do not want to excuse myself, nor to make myself out innocent; but I do not like, on the other hand, to seem worse than I am."
He had assumed a very decided position, and evidently aimed at giving to his words an expression of coarse but perfect frankness.
"The thing which I had undertaken to do, it was not in my power to do. It has never entered my head to kill a man treacherously. If I had been a brute, such as these are, the lieutenant would not be there, wounded to be sure, but alive. Ten times I might have done his business most effectively; but I did not care. I tried in vain to think of Chevassat's big promises; at the last moment, my heart always failed me. The thing was too much for me. And the proof of it is, that I missed him at ten yards' distance. The only time when I tried it really in earnest was in the little boat, because there, I ran some risk; it was like a duel, since my life was as much at stake as the lieutenant's. I can swim as well as anybody, to be sure; but in a river like the Dong-Nai, at night, and with a current like that, no swimmer can hold his own. The lieutenant got out of it; but I was very near being drowned. I could not get on land again until I had been carried down two miles or more; and, when I did get on shore, I sank in the mud up to my hips. Now, I humbly beg the lieutenant's pardon; and you shall see if I am going to let Chevassat escape."
Thereupon he held out his hands for the handcuffs, with a theatrical gesture, and left the room.
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