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