Monsieur Lecoq, by Émile Gaboriau

XXV

How this idea had entered old Tabaret’s head, Lecoq could not understand. A vague suspicion had, it is true, flitted through his own mind; but it was in a moment of despair when he was distracted at having lost May, and when certain of Couturier’s remarks furnished the excuse for any ridiculous supposition. And yet now Father Tirauclair calmly proclaimed this suspicion — which Lecoq had not dared seriously to entertain, even for an instant — to be an undoubted fact.

“You look as if you had suddenly fallen from the clouds,” exclaimed the oracle, noticing his visitor’s amazement. “Do you suppose that I spoke at random like a parrot?”

“No, certainly not, but —”

“Tush! You are surprised because you know nothing of contemporary history. If you don’t wish to remain all your life a common detective, like your friend Gevrol, you must read, and make yourself familiar with all the leading events of the century.”

“I must confess that I don’t see the connection.”

M. Tabaret did not deign to reply. Turning to Father Absinthe, he requested the old detective, in the most affable tones, to go to the library and fetch two large volumes entitled: “General Biography of the Men of the Present Age,” which he would find in the bookcase on the right. Father Absinthe hastened to obey; and as soon as the books were brought, M. Tabaret began turning the pages with an eager hand, like a person seeking some word in a dictionary.

“Esbayron,” he muttered, “Escars, Escayrac, Escher, Escodica — at last we have it — Escorval! Listen attentively, my boy, and you will be enlightened.”

This injunction was entirely unnecessary. Never had the young detective’s faculties been more keenly on the alert. It was in an emphatic voice that the sick man then read: “Escorval (Louis-Guillaume, baron d’). — Diplomatist and politician, born at Montaignac, December 3d, 1769; of an old family of lawyers. He was completing his studies in Paris at the outbreak of the Revolution and embraced the popular cause with all the ardor of youth. But, soon disapproving the excesses committed in the name of Liberty, he sided with the Reactionists, advised, perhaps, by Roederer, who was one of his relatives. Commended to the favor of the First Counsel by M. de Talleyrand, he began his diplomatic career with a mission to Switzerland; and during the existence of the First Empire he was entrusted with many important negotiations. Devoted to the Emperor, he found himself gravely compromised at the advent of the Second Restoration. At the time of the celebrated rising at Montaignac, he was arrested on the double charge of high treason and conspiracy. He was tried by a military commission, and condemned to death. The sentence was not executed, however. He owed his life to the noble devotion and heroic energy of a priest, one of his friends, the Abbe Midon, cure of the little village of Sairmeuse. The baron d’Escorval had only one son, who embraced the judicial profession at a very early age.”

Lecoq was intensely disappointed. “I understand,” he remarked. “This is the biography of our magistrate’s father. Only I don’t see that it teaches us anything.”

An ironical smile curved old Tirauclair’s lips. “It teaches us that M. d’Escorval’s father was condemned to death,” he replied. “That’s something, I assure you. A little patience, and you will soon know everything.”

Having found a new leaf, he recommenced to read: “Sairmeuse (Anne-Marie-Victor de Tingry, Duc de). — A French general and politician, born at the chateau de Sairmeuse, near Montaignac, in 1758. The Sairmeuse family is one of the oldest and most illustrious in France. It must not be confounded with the ducal family of Sermeuse, whose name is written with an ‘e.’ Leaving France at the beginning of the Revolution, Anne de Sairmeuse began by serving in the army of Conde. Some years later he offered his sword to Russia; and it is asserted by some of his biographers that he was fighting in the Russian ranks at the time of the disastrous retreat from Moscow. Returning to France with the Bourbons, he became notorious by the intensity of his ultra-royalist opinions. It is certain that he had the good fortune to regain possession of his immense family estates; and the rank and dignities which he had gained in foreign lands were confirmed. Appointed by the king to preside at the military commission charged with arresting and trying the conspirators of Montaignac his zeal and severity resulted in the capture and conviction of all the parties implicated.”

Lecoq sprang up with sparkling eyes. “I see it clearly now,” he exclaimed. “The father of the present Duc de Sairmeuse tried to have the father of the present M. d’Escorval beheaded.”

M. Tabaret was the picture of complacency. “You see the assistance history gives,” said he. “But I have not finished, my boy; the present Duc de Sairmeuse also has his article which will be of interest to us. So listen: Sairmeuse (Anne-Marie-Martial)— Son of the preceding, was born in London toward the close of the last century; received his early education in England, and completed it at the Court of Austria, which he subsequently visited on several confidential missions. Heir to the opinions, prejudices, and animosities of his father, he placed at the service of his party a highly cultivated intellect, unusual penetration, and extraordinary abilities. A leader at a time when political passion was raging highest, he had the courage to assume the sole responsibility of the most unpopular measures. The hostility he encountered, however eventually obliged him to retire from office, leaving behind him animosities likely to terminate only with his life.”

The sick man closed the book, and with assumed modesty, he asked: “Ah, well! What do you think of my little method of induction?”

But Lecoq was too much engrossed with his own thoughts to reply to this question. “I think,” he remarked, “that if the Duc de Sairmeuse had disappeared for two months — the period of May’s imprisonment, all Paris would have known of it — and so —”

“You are dreaming,” interrupted Tabaret. “Why with his wife and his valet de chambre for accomplices, the duke could absent himself for a year if he liked, and yet all his servants would believe him to be in the house.”

“I admit that,” said Lecoq, at last; “but unfortunately, there is one circumstance which completely upsets the theory we have built up so laboriously.”

“And what is that if you please?”

“If the man who took part in the broil at the Poivriere had been the Duc de Sairmeuse, he would have disclosed his name — he would have declared that, having been attacked, he had only defended himself — and his name alone would have opened the prison doors. Instead of that, what did the prisoner do? He attempted to kill himself. Would a grand seigneur, like the Duc de Sairmeuse, to whom life must be a perpetual enchantment, have thought of committing suicide?”

A mocking whistle from the old Tabaret interrupted the speaker. “You seem to have forgotten the last sentence in his biography: ‘M. Sairmeuse leaves behind him ill-will and hatred.’ Do you know the price he might have been compelled to pay for his liberty! No — no more do I. To explain his presence at the Poivriere, and the presence of a woman, who was perhaps his wife, who knows what disgraceful secrets he would have been obliged to reveal? Between shame and suicide, he chose suicide. He wished to save his name and honor intact.”

Old Tirauclair spoke with such vehemence that even Father Absinthe was deeply impressed, although, to tell the truth, he had understood but little of the conversation.

As for Lecoq, he rose very pale, his lips trembling a little. “You will excuse my hypocrisy, Monsieur Tabaret,” he said in an agitated voice. “I only offered these last objections for form’s sake. I had thought of what you now say, but I distrusted myself, and I wanted to hear you say it yourself.” Then with an imperious gesture, he added: “Now, I know what I have to do.”

Old Tabaret raised his hands toward heaven with every sign of intense dismay. “Unhappy man!” he exclaimed; “do you think of going to arrest the Duc de Sairmeuse! Poor Lecoq! Free, this man is almost omnipotent, and you, an infinitesimal agent of police, would be shattered as easily as glass. Take care, my boy, don’t attack the duke. I wouldn’t be responsible for the consequences. You might imperil your life.”

The young detective shook his head. “Oh! I don’t deceive myself,” said he. “I know that the duke is far beyond my reach — at least for the present. But he will be in my power again, the day I learn his secret. I don’t fear danger; but I know, that if I am to succeed, I must conceal myself, and so I will. Yes, I will remain in the shade until I can unveil this mystery; but then I shall reappear in my true character. And if May be really the Duc de Sairmeuse, I shall have my revenge.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38