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Robelot must have had rare presence of mind and courage to kill himself in that obscure closet, without making enough noise to arouse the attention of those in the library. He had wound a string tightly around his neck, and had used a piece of pencil as a twister, and so had strangled himself. He did not, however, betray the hideous look which the popular belief attributes to those who have died by strangulation. His face was pale, his eyes and mouth half open, and he had the appearance of one who has gradually and without much pain lost his consciousness by congestion of the brain.
"Perhaps he is not quite dead yet," said the doctor. He quickly pulled out his case of instruments and knelt beside the motionless body.
This incident seemed to annoy M. Lecoq very much; just as everything was, as he said, "running on wheels," his principal witness, whom he had caught at the peril of his life, had escaped him. M. Plantat, on the contrary, seemed tolerably well satisfied, as if the death of Robelot furthered projects which he was secretly nourishing, and fulfilled his secret hopes. Besides, it little mattered if the object was to oppose M. Domini's theories and induce him to change his opinion. This corpse had more eloquence in it than the most explicit of confessions.
The doctor, seeing the uselessness of his pains, got up.
"It's all over," said he. "The asphyxia was accomplished in a very few moments."
The bone-setter's body was carefully laid on the floor in the library.
"There is nothing more to be done," said M. Plantat, "but to carry him home; we will follow on so as to seal up his effects, which perhaps contain important papers. Run to the mairie," he added, turning to his servant, "and get a litter and two stout men."
Dr. Gendron's presence being no longer necessary, he promised M. Plantat to rejoin him at Robelot's, and started off to inquire after M. Courtois's condition.
Louis lost no time, and soon reappeared followed, not by two, but ten men. The body was placed on a litter and carried away. Robelot occupied a little house of three rooms, where he lived by himself; one of the rooms served as a shop, and was full of plants, dried herbs, grain, and other articles appertaining to his vocation as an herbist. He slept in the back room, which was better furnished than most country rooms. His body was placed upon the bed. Among the men who had brought it was the "drummer of the town," who was at the same time the grave-digger. This man, expert in everything pertaining to funerals, gave all the necessary instructions on the present occasion, himself taking part in the lugubrious task.
Meanwhile M. Plantat examined the furniture, the keys of which had been taken from the deceased's pocket. The value of the property found in the possession of this man, who had, two years before, lived from day to day on what he could pick up, were an over-whelming proof against him in addition to the others already discovered. But M. Plantat looked in vain for any new indications of which he was ignorant. He found deeds of the Morin property and of the Frapesle and Peyron lands; there were also two bonds, for one hundred and fifty and eight hundred and twenty francs, signed by two Orcival citizens in Robelot's favor. M. Plantat could scarcely conceal his disappointment.
"Nothing of importance," whispered he in M. Lecoq's ear. "How do you explain that?"
"Perfectly," responded 'the detective. "He was a sly rogue, this Robelot, and he was cunning enough to conceal his sudden fortune and patient enough to appear to be years accumulating it. You only find in his secretary effects which he thought he could avow without danger. How much is there in all?"
Plantat rapidly added up the different sums, and said:
"About fourteen thousand five hundred francs."
"Madame Sauvresy gave him more than that," said the detective, positively. "If he had no more than this, he would not have been such a fool as to put it all into land. He must have a hoard of money concealed somewhere."
"Of course he must. But where?"
"Ah, let me look."
He began to rummage about, peering into everything in the room, moving the furniture, sounding the floor wjth his heels, and rapping on the wall here and there. Finally he came to the fireplace, before which he stopped.
"This is July," said he. "And yet there are cinders here in the fireplace."
"People sometimes neglect to clean them out in the spring."
"True; but are not these very clean and distinct? I don't find any of the light dust and soot on them which ought to be there after they have lain several months."
He went into the second room whither he had sent the men after they had completed their task, and said:
"I wish one of you would get me a pickaxe."
All the men rushed out; M. Lecoq returned to his companion.
"Surely," muttered he, as if apart, "these cinders have been disturbed recently, and if they have been - "
He knelt down, and pushing the cinders away, laid bare the stones of the fireplace. Then taking a thin piece of wood, he easily inserted it into the cracks between the stones.
"See here, Monsieur Plantat," said he. "There is no cement between these stones, and they are movable; the treasure must be here."
When the pickaxe was brought, he gave a single blow with it; the stones gaped apart, and betrayed a wide and deep hole between them.
"Ah," cried he, with a triumphant air, "I knew it well enough."
The hole was full of rouleaux of twenty-franc pieces; on counting them, M. Lecoq found that there were nineteen thousand five hundred francs.
The old justice's face betrayed an expression of profound grief.
"That," thought he, "is the price of my poor Sauvresy's life."
M. Lecoq found a small piece of paper, covered with figures, deposited with the gold; it seemed to be Robelot's accounts. He had put on the left hand the sum of forty thousand francs; on the right hand, various sums were inscribed, the total of which was twenty-one thousand five hundred francs. It was only too clear; Mme. Sauvresy had paid Robelot forty thousand francs for the bottle of poison. There was nothing more to learn at his house. They locked the money up in the secretary, and affixed seals everywhere, leaving two men on guard.
But M. Lecoq was not quite satisfied yet. What was the manuscript which Plantat had read? At first he had thought that it was simply a copy of the papers confided to him by Sauvresy; but it could not be that; Sauvresy couldn't have thus described the last agonizing scenes of his life. This mystery mightily worried the detective and dampened the joy he felt at having solved the crime at Valfeuillu. He made one more attempt to surprise Plantat into satisfying his curiosity. Taking him by the coat-lapel, he drew him into the embrasure of a window, and with his most innocent air, said:
"I beg your pardon, are we going back to your house?"
"Why should we? You know the doctor is going to meet us here."
"I think we may need the papers you read to us, to convince Monsieur Domini."
M. Plantat smiled sadly, and looking steadily at him, replied:
"You are very sly, Monsieur Lecoq; but I too am sly enough to keep the last key of the mystery of which you hold all the others."
"Believe me - " stammered M. Lecoq.
"I believe," interrupted his companion, "that you would like very well to know the source of my information. Your memory is too good for you to forget that when I began last evening I told you that this narrative was for your ear alone, and that I had only one object in disclosing it - to aid our search. Why should you wish the judge of instruction to see these notes, which are purely personal, and have no legal or authentic character?"
He reflected a few moments, and added:
"I have too much confidence in you, Monsieur Lecoq, and esteem you too much, not to have every trust that you will not divulge these strict confidences. What you will say will be of as much weight as anything I might divulge - especially now that you have Robelot's body to back your assertions, as well as the money found in his possession. If Monsieur Domini still hesitates to believe you, you know that the doctor promises to find the poison which killed Sauvresy.
M. Plantat stopped and hesitated.
"In short," he resumed, "I think you will be able to keep silence as to what you have heard from me."
M. Lecoq took him by the hand, and pressing it significantly, said:
"Count on me, Monsieur."
At this moment Dr. Gendron appeared at the door.
"Courtois is better," said he. "He weeps like a child; but he will come out of it."
"Heaven be praised!" cried the old justice of the peace. " Now, since you've come, let us hurry off to Corbeil; Monsieur Domini, who is waiting for us this morning, must be mad with impatience."
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