The End of Evil Ways/Section 7
This is what was taking place at the Palais while Lucien's protectresses were obeying the orders issued by Jacques Collin. The gendarmes placed the moribund prisoner on a chair facing the window in Monsieur Camusot's room; he was sitting in his place in front of his table. Coquart, pen in hand, had a little table to himself a few yards off.
The aspect of a magistrate's chambers is not a matter of indifference; and if this room had not been chosen intentionally, it must be owned that chance had favored justice. An examining judge, like a painter, requires the clear equable light of a north window, for the criminal's face is a picture which he must constantly study. Hence most magistrates place their table, as this of Camusot's was arranged, so as to sit with their back to the window and leave the face of the examinee in broad daylight. Not one of them all but, by the end of six months, has assumed an absent-minded and indifferent expression, if he does not wear spectacles, and maintains it throughout the examination.
It was a sudden change of expression in the prisoner's face, detected by these means, and caused by a sudden point-blank question, that led to the discovery of the crime committed by Castaing at the very moment when, after a long consultation with the public prosecutor, the magistrate was about to let the criminal loose on society for lack of evidence. This detail will show the least intelligent person how living, interesting, curious, and dramatically terrible is the conflict of an examination—a conflict without witnesses, but always recorded. God knows what remains on the paper of the scenes at white heat in which a look, a tone, a quiver of the features, the faintest touch of color lent by some emotion, has been fraught with danger, as though the adversaries were savages watching each other to plant a fatal stroke. A report is no more than the ashes of the fire.
"What is your real name?" Camusot asked Jacques Collin.
"Don Carlos Herrera, canon of the Royal Chapter of Toledo, and secret envoy of His Majesty Ferdinand VII."
It must here be observed that Jacques Collin spoke French like a Spanish trollop, blundering over it in such a way as to make his answers almost unintelligible, and to require them to be repeated. But Monsieur de Nucingen's German barbarisms have already weighted this Scene too much to allow of the introduction of other sentences no less difficult to read, and hindering the rapid progress of the tale.
"Then you have papers to prove your right to the dignities of which you speak?" asked Camusot.
"Yes, monsieur—my passport, a letter from his Catholic Majesty authorizing my mission.—In short, if you will but send at once to the Spanish Embassy two lines, which I will write in your presence, I shall be identified. Then, if you wish for further evidence, I will write to His Eminence the High Almoner of France, and he will immediately send his private secretary."
"And do you still pretend that you are dying?" asked the magistrate. "If you have really gone through all the sufferings you have complained of since your arrest, you ought to be dead by this time," said Camusot ironically.
"You are simply trying the courage of an innocent man and the strength of his constitution," said the prisoner mildly.
"Coquart, ring. Send for the prison doctor and an infirmary attendant.—We shall be obliged to remove your coat and proceed to verify the marks on your shoulder," Camusot went on.
"I am in your hands, monsieur."
The prisoner then inquired whether the magistrate would be kind enough to explain to him what he meant by "the marks," and why they should be sought on his shoulder. The judge was prepared for this question.
"You are suspected of being Jacques Collin, an escaped convict, whose daring shrinks at nothing, not even at sacrilege!" said Camusot promptly, his eyes fixed on those of the prisoner.
Jacques Collin gave no sign, and did not color; he remained quite calm, and assumed an air of guileless curiosity as he gazed at Camusot.
"I, monsieur? A convict? May the Order I belong to and God above forgive you for such an error. Tell me what I can do to prevent your continuing to offer such an insult to the rights of free men, to the Church, and to the King my master."
The judge made no reply to this, but explained to the Abbe that if he had been branded, a penalty at that time inflicted by law on all convicts sent to the hulks, the letters could be made to show by giving him a slap on the shoulder.
"Oh, monsieur," said Jacques Collin, "it would indeed be unfortunate if my devotion to the Royal cause should prove fatal to me."
"Explain yourself," said the judge, "that is what you are here for."
"Well, monsieur, I must have a great many scars on my back, for I was shot in the back as a traitor to my country while I was faithful to my King, by constitutionalists who left me for dead."
"You were shot, and you are alive!" said Camusot.
"I had made friends with some of the soldiers, to whom certain pious persons had sent money, so they placed me so far off that only spent balls reached me, and the men aimed at my back. This is a fact that His Excellency the Ambassador can bear witness to——"
"This devil of a man has an answer for everything! However, so much the better," thought Camusot, who assumed so much severity only to satisfy the demands of justice and of the police. "How is it that a man of your character," he went on, addressing the convict, "should have been found in the house of the Baron de Nucingen's mistress—and such a mistress, a girl who had been a common prostitute!"
"This is why I was found in a courtesan's house, monsieur," replied Jacques Collin. "But before telling you the reasons for my being there, I ought to mention that at the moment when I was just going upstairs I was seized with the first attack of my illness, and I had no time to speak to the girl. I knew of Mademoiselle Esther's intention of killing herself; and as young Lucien de Rubempre's interests were involved, and I have a particular affection for him for sacredly secret reasons, I was going to try to persuade the poor creature to give up the idea, suggested to her by despair. I meant to tell her that Lucien must certainly fail in his last attempt to win Mademoiselle Clotilde de Grandlieu; and I hoped that by telling her she had inherited seven millions of francs, I might give her courage to live.
"I am convinced, Monsieur le Juge, that I am a martyr to the secrets confided to me. By the suddenness of my illness I believe that I had been poisoned that very morning, but my strong constitution has saved me. I know that a certain agent of the political police is dogging me, and trying to entangle me in some discreditable business.
"If, at my request, you had sent for a doctor on my arrival here, you would have had ample proof of what I am telling you as to the state of my health. Believe me, monsieur, some persons far above our heads have some strong interest in getting me mistaken for some villain, so as to have a right to get rid of me. It is not all profit to serve a king; they have their meannesses. The Church alone is faultless."
It is impossible to do justice to the play of Jacques Collin's countenance as he carefully spun out his speech, sentence by sentence, for ten minutes; and it was all so plausible, especially the mention of Corentin, that the lawyer was shaken.
"Will you confide to me the reasons of your affection for Monsieur Lucien de Rubempre?"
"Can you not guess them? I am sixty years of age, monsieur—I implore you do not write it.—It is because—must I say it?"
"It will be to your own advantage, and more particularly to Monsieur Lucien de Rubempre's, if you tell everything," replied the judge.
"Because he is—Oh, God! he is my son," he gasped out with an effort.
And he fainted away.
"Do not write that down, Coquart," said Camusot in an undertone.
Coquart rose to fetch a little phial of "Four thieves' Vinegar."
"If he is Jacques Collin, he is a splendid actor!" thought Camusot.
Coquart held the phial under the convict's nose, while the judge examined him with the keen eye of a lynx—and a magistrate.
"Take his wig off," said Camusot, after waiting till the man recovered consciousness.
Jacques Collin heard, and quaked with terror, for he knew how vile an expression his face would assume.
"If you have not strength enough to take your wig off yourself——Yes, Coquart, remove it," said Camusot to his clerk.
Jacques Collin bent his head to the clerk with admirable resignation; but then his head, bereft of that adornment, was hideous to behold in its natural aspect.
The sight of it left Camusot in the greatest uncertainty. While waiting for the doctor and the man from the infirmary, he set to work to classify and examine the various papers and the objects seized in Lucien's rooms. After carrying out their functions in the Rue Saint-Georges at Mademoiselle Esther's house, the police had searched the rooms at the Quai Malaquais.
"You have your hand on some letters from the Comtesse de Serizy," said Carlos Herrera. "But I cannot imagine why you should have almost all Lucien's papers," he added, with a smile of overwhelming irony at the judge.
Camusot, as he saw the smile, understood the bearing of the word "almost."
"Lucien de Rubempre is in custody under suspicion of being your accomplice," said he, watching to see the effect of this news on his examinee.
"You have brought about a great misfortune, for he is as innocent as I am," replied the sham Spaniard, without betraying the smallest agitation.
"We shall see. We have not as yet established your identity," Camusot observed, surprised at the prisoner's indifference. "If you are really Don Carlos Herrera, the position of Lucien Chardon will at once be completely altered."
"To be sure, she became Madame Chardon—Mademoiselle de Rubempre!" murmured Carlos. "Ah! that was one of the greatest sins of my life."
He raised his eyes to heaven, and by the movement of his lips seemed to be uttering a fervent prayer.
"But if you are Jacques Collin, and if he was, and knew that he was, the companion of an escaped convict, a sacrilegious wretch, all the crimes of which he is suspected by the law are more than probably true."
Carlos Herrera sat like bronze as he heard this speech, very cleverly delivered by the judge, and his only reply to the words "knew that he was" and "escaped convict" was to lift his hands to heaven with a gesture of noble and dignified sorrow.
"Monsieur l'Abbe," Camusot went on, with the greatest politeness, "if you are Don Carlos Herrera, you will forgive us for what we are obliged to do in the interests of justice and truth."
Jacques Collin detected a snare in the lawyer's very voice as he spoke the words "Monsieur l'Abbe." The man's face never changed; Camusot had looked for a gleam of joy, which might have been the first indication of his being a convict, betraying the exquisite satisfaction of a criminal deceiving his judge; but this hero of the hulks was strong in Machiavellian dissimulation.
"I am accustomed to diplomacy, and I belong to an Order of very austere discipline," replied Jacques Collin, with apostolic mildness. "I understand everything, and am inured to suffering. I should be free by this time if you had discovered in my room the hiding-place where I keep my papers—for I see you have none but unimportant documents."
This was a finishing stroke to Camusot: Jacques Collin by his air of ease and simplicity had counteracted all the suspicions to which his appearance, unwigged, had given rise.
"Where are these papers?"
"I will tell you exactly if you will get a secretary from the Spanish Embassy to accompany your messenger. He will take them and be answerable to you for the documents, for it is to me a matter of confidential duty—diplomatic secrets which would compromise his late Majesty Louis XVIII—Indeed, monsieur, it would be better——However, you are a magistrate—and, after all, the Ambassador, to whom I refer the whole question, must decide."
At this juncture the usher announced the arrival of the doctor and the infirmary attendant, who came in.
"Good-morning, Monsieur Lebrun," said Camusot to the doctor. "I have sent for you to examine the state of health of this prisoner under suspicion. He says he had been poisoned and at the point of death since the day before yesterday; see if there is any risk in undressing him to look for the brand."
Doctor Lebrun took Jacques Collin's hand, felt his pulse, asked to look at his tongue, and scrutinized him steadily. This inspection lasted about ten minutes.
"The prisoner has been suffering severely," said the medical officer, "but at this moment he is amazingly strong——"
"That spurious energy, monsieur, is due to nervous excitement caused by my strange position," said Jacques Collin, with the dignity of a bishop.
"That is possible," said Monsieur Lebrun.
At a sign from Camusot the prisoner was stripped of everything but his trousers, even of his shirt, and the spectators might admire the hairy torso of a Cyclops. It was that of the Farnese Hercules at Naples in its colossal exaggeration.
"For what does nature intend a man of this build?" said Lebrun to the judge.
The usher brought in the ebony staff, which from time immemorial has been the insignia of his office, and is called his rod; he struck it several times over the place where the executioner had branded the fatal letters. Seventeen spots appeared, irregularly distributed, but the most careful scrutiny could not recognize the shape of any letters. The usher indeed pointed out that the top bar of the letter T was shown by two spots, with an interval between of the length of that bar between the two points at each end of it, and there was another spot where the bottom of the T should be.
"Still that is quite uncertain," said Camusot, seeing doubt in the expression of the prison doctor's countenance.
Carlos begged them to make the same experiment on the other shoulder and the middle of his back. About fifteen more such scars appeared, which, at the Spaniard's request, the doctor made a note of; and he pronounced that the man's back had been so extensively seamed by wounds that the brand would not show even if it had been made by the executioner.
An office-clerk now came in from the Prefecture, and handed a note to Monsieur Camusot, requesting an answer. After reading it the lawyer went to speak to Coquart, but in such a low voice that no one could catch a word. Only, by a glance from Camusot, Jacques Collin could guess that some information concerning him had been sent by the Prefet of Police.
"That friend of Peyrade's is still at my heels," thought Jacques Collin. "If only I knew him, I would get rid of him as I did of Contenson. If only I could see Asie once more!"
After signing a paper written by Coquart, the judge put it into an envelope and handed it to the clerk of the Delegate's office.
This is an indispensable auxiliary to justice. It is under the direction of a police commissioner, and consists of peace-officers who, with the assistance of the police commissioners of each district, carry into effect orders for searching the houses or apprehending the persons of those who are suspected of complicity in crimes and felonies. These functionaries in authority save the examining magistrates a great deal of very precious time.
At a sign from the judge the prisoner was dressed by Monsieur Lebrun and the attendant, who then withdrew with the usher. Camusot sat down at his table and played with his pen.
"You have an aunt," he suddenly said to Jacques Collin.
"An aunt?" echoed Don Carlos Herrera with amazement. "Why, monsieur, I have no relations. I am the unacknowledged son of the late Duke of Ossuna."
But to himself he said, "They are burning"—an allusion to the game of hot cockles, which is indeed a childlike symbol of the dreadful struggle between justice and the criminal.
"Pooh!" said Camusot. "You still have an aunt living, Mademoiselle Jacqueline Collin, whom you placed in Esther's service under the eccentric name of Asie."
Jacques Collin shrugged his shoulders with an indifference that was in perfect harmony with the cool curiosity he gave throughout to the judge's words, while Camusot studied him with cunning attention.
"Take care," said Camusot; "listen to me."
"I am listening, sir."
"You aunt is a wardrobe dealer at the Temple; her business is managed by a demoiselle Paccard, the sister of a convict—herself a very good girl, known as la Romette. Justice is on the traces of your aunt, and in a few hours we shall have decisive evidence. The woman is wholly devoted to you——"
"Pray go on, Monsieur le Juge," said Collin coolly, in answer to a pause; "I am listening to you."
"Your aunt, who is about five years older than you are, was formerly Marat's mistress—of odious memory. From that blood-stained source she derived the little fortune she possesses.
"From information I have received she must be a very clever receiver of stolen goods, for no proofs have yet been found to commit her on. After Marat's death she seems, from the notes I have here, to have lived with a chemist who was condemned to death in the year XII. for issuing false coin. She was called as witness in the case. It was from this intimacy that she derived her knowledge of poisons.
"In 1812 and in 1816 she spent two years in prison for placing girls under age upon the streets.
"You were already convicted of forgery; you had left the banking house where your aunt had been able to place you as clerk, thanks to the education you had had, and the favor enjoyed by your aunt with certain persons for whose debaucheries she supplied victims.
"All this, prisoner, is not much like the dignity of the Dukes d'Ossuna.
"Do you persist in your denial?"
Jacques Collin sat listening to Monsieur Camusot, and thinking of his happy childhood at the College of the Oratorians, where he had been brought up, a meditation which lent him a truly amazed look. And in spite of his skill as a practised examiner, Camusot could bring no sort of expression to those placid features.
"If you have accurately recorded the account of myself I gave you at first," said Jacques Collin, "you can read it through again. I cannot alter the facts. I never went to the woman's house; how should I know who her cook was? The persons of whom you speak are utterly unknown to me."
"Notwithstanding your denial, we shall proceed to confront you with persons who may succeed in diminishing your assurance"
"A man who has been three times shot is used to anything," replied Jacques Collin meekly.
Camusot proceeded to examine the seized papers while awaiting the return of the famous Bibi-Lupin, whose expedition was amazing; for at half-past eleven, the inquiry having begun at ten o'clock, the usher came in to inform the judge in an undertone of Bibi-Lupin's arrival.
"Show him in," replied M. Camusot.
Bibi-Lupin, who had been expected to exclaim, "It is he," as he came in, stood puzzled. He did not recognize his man in a face pitted with smallpox. This hesitancy startled the magistrate.
"It is his build, his height," said the agent. "Oh! yes, it is you, Jacques Collin!" he went on, as he examined his eyes, forehead, and ears. "There are some things which no disguise can alter. . . . Certainly it is he, Monsieur Camusot. Jacques has the scar of a cut on his left arm. Take off his coat, and you will see . . ."
Jacques Collin was again obliged to take off his coat; Bibi-Lupin turned up his sleeve and showed the scar he had spoken of.
"It is the scar of a bullet," replied Don Carlos Herrera. "Here are several more."
"Ah! It is certainly his voice," cried Bibi-Lupin.
"Your certainty," said Camusot, "is merely an opinion; it is not proof."
"I know that," said Bibi-Lupin with deference. "But I will bring witnesses. One of the boarders from the Maison Vauquer is here already," said he, with an eye on Collin.
But the prisoner's set, calm face did not move a muscle.
"Show the person in," said Camusot roughly, his dissatisfaction betraying itself in spite of his seeming indifference.
This irritation was not lost on Jacques Collin, who had not counted on the judge's sympathy, and sat lost in apathy, produced by his deep meditations in the effort to guess what the cause could be.