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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
M. Lecoq’s System
By Émile Gaboriau (1832–1873)
 
From ‘File No. 113’

IN the centre of a large and curiously furnished room, half library and half actor’s study, was seated at a desk the same person wearing gold spectacles who had said at the police station to the accused cashier Prosper Bertomy, “Take courage!” This was M. Lecoq in his official character.  1
  Upon the entrance of Fanferlot, who advanced respectfully, curving his backbone as he bowed, M. Lecoq slightly lifted his head and laid down his pen, saying, “Ah! you have come at last, my boy! Well, you don’t seem to be progressing with the Bertomy case.”  2
  “Why, really,” stammered Fanferlot, “you know—”  3
  “I know that you have muddled everything, until you are so blinded that you are ready to give over.”  4
  “But master, it was not I—”  5
  M. Lecoq had arisen and was pacing the floor. Suddenly he stopped before Fanferlot, nicknamed “the Squirrel.”  6
  “What do you think, Master Squirrel,” he asked in a hard and ironical tone, “of a man who abuses the confidence of those who employ him, who reveals enough of what he has discovered to make the evidence misleading, and who betrays for the benefit of his foolish vanity the cause of justice—and an unhappy prisoner?”  7
  The frightened Fanferlot recoiled a step.  8
  “I should say,” he began, “I should say—”  9
  “You think this man should be punished and dismissed; and you are right. The less a profession is honored, the more honorable should be those who follow it. You however are treacherous. Ah! Master Squirrel, we are ambitious, and we try to play the police in our own way! We let Justice wander where she will, while we search for other things. It takes a more cunning bloodhound than you, my boy, to hunt without a hunter and at his own risk.”  10
  “But master, I swear—”  11
  “Be silent. Do you wish me to prove that you have told everything to the examining magistrate, as was your duty? Go to! While others were charging the cashier, you informed against the banker! You watched him; you became intimate with his valet de chambre!”  12
  Was M. Lecoq really in anger? Fanferlot, who knew him well, doubted it a little; but with this devil of a man one never quite knew how to take him.  13
  “If you were only clever,” he continued, “but no! You wish to be a master, and you are not even a good workman.”  14
  “You are right, master,” said Fanferlot piteously, who could deny no longer. “But how could I work upon a business like this, when there was no trace, no mark, no sign, no conviction,—nothing, nothing?”  15
  M. Lecoq raised his shoulders.  16
  “Poor boy!” he said. “Know, then, that the day when you were summoned with the commissary to verify the robbery, you had—I will not say certainly but very probably—between your two large and stupid hands the means of knowing which key, the banker’s or the cashier’s, had been used in committing the theft.”  17
  “What an idea!”  18
  “You want proof? Very well. Do you remember that mark which you observed on the side of the copper? It struck you, for you did not repress an exclamation when you saw it. You examined it carefully with a glass; and you were convinced that it was quite fresh, and therefore made recently. You said, and with reason, that this mark dated from the moment of the theft. But with what had it been made? With a key, evidently. That being the case, you should have demanded the keys of the banker and the cashier, and examined them attentively. One of these would have shown some atoms of the green paint with which a strong-box is usually coated.”  19
  Fanferlot listened with open mouth to this explanation. At the last words, he slapped his forehead violently, and cried—of himself—“Imbecile!”  20
  “You are right,” replied M. Lecoq—“imbecile. What! With such a guide before your eyes, you neglected it and drew no conclusion! This is the one clue to the affair. If I find the guilty one, it will be by means of this mark, and I will find him; I am determined to do it.”  21
  When away from Lecoq, Fanferlot, nicknamed the Squirrel, often slandered and defied him; but in his presence he yielded to the magnetic influence which this extraordinary man exercised upon all who came near him.  22
  Such exact information and such minute details perplexed his mind. Where and how could M. Lecoq have gathered them?  23
  “You have been studying the case, master?”  24
  “Probably. But as I am not infallible, I may have let some valuable point escape me. Sit down, and tell me all that you know.”  25
  One could not prevaricate with M. Lecoq. Therefore Fanferlot told the exact truth,—which was not his custom. However, before the end of his recital, his vanity prevented him from telling how he had been tricked by Mademoiselle Nina Gypsy and the stout gentleman.  26
  Unfortunately, M. Lecoq was never informed by halves.  27
  “It seems to me, Master Squirrel,” he said, “that you have forgotten something. How far did you follow the empty cab?”  28
  Fanferlot, despite his assurance, blushed to his ears, and dropped his eyes like a schoolboy caught in a guilty act.  29
  “O patron,” he stammered, “you know that too? How could you have—”  30
  Suddenly a thought flashed through his brain: he stopped, and bounding from his chair, cried, “Oh, I am sure—that stout gentleman with the red whiskers was you!”  31
  Fanferlot’s surprise gave such a ridiculous expression to his face that M. Lecoq could not help smiling.  32
  “Then it was you,” continued the amazed detective, “it was you, that fat man at whom I stared. I did not recognize you! Ah, patron, what an actor you would make if you pleased! And I was disguised also!”  33
  “But very poorly, my poor boy, I tell you for your own good. Do you think a heavy beard and a blouse sufficient to evade detection? But the eye, stupid fellow, the eye! It is the eye that must be changed. There is the secret.”  34
  This theory of disguise explains why the official, lynx-like Lecoq never appeared at the police office without his gold spectacles.  35
  “But then, patron,” continued Fanferlot, working out the idea, “you have made the little girl confess, although Madame Alexandre failed? You know then why she left ‘The Grand-Archange’; why she did not wait for M. Louis de Clameran; and why she bought calico dresses for herself?”  36
  “She never acts without my instructions.”  37
  “In this case,” said the detective, greatly discouraged, “there is nothing more for me to do except acknowledge myself a fool.”  38
  “No, Squirrel,” replied M. Lecoq with kindness; “no, you are not a fool; you are simply wrong in undertaking a task beyond your powers. Have you made one progressive step since you began this case? No. This only proves that you are incomparable as a lieutenant, but that you have not the sang-froid of a general. I will give you an aphorism; keep it, and make it a rule of conduct—‘Some men may shine in the second who are eclipsed in the first rank.’”…  39
  Egotist, like all great artists, M. Lecoq had never had, nor did he wish to have, a pupil. He worked alone. He despised assistants; for he did not wish to share the pleasures of triumph nor the bitterness of defeat.  40
  Therefore Fanferlot, who knew his patron so well, was astonished to hear him, who had heretofore given nothing but orders, helping him with counsel.  41
  He was so mystified that he could not help showing his surprise.  42
  “It seems to me, patron,” he risked saying, “that you take a strong personal interest in this case, that you study it so closely.”  43
  M. Lecoq started nervously,—which motion escaped his detective,—and then, frowning, he said in a hard voice:—  44
  “It is your nature to be curious, Master Squirrel; but take care that you do not go too far. Do you understand?”  45
  Fanferlot began to offer excuses.  46
  “Enough! Enough!” interrupted M. Lecoq. “If I lend you a helping hand, it is because I wish to. I wish to be the head while you are the arm. Alone, with your preconceived ideas, you never would find the guilty one. If we two do not find him together, then I am not M. Lecoq.”  47
  “We shall succeed, if you make it your business.”  48
  “Yes, I am entangled in it, and during four days I have learned many things. However, keep this quiet. I have reasons for not being known in this case. Whatever happens, I forbid you to mention my name. If we succeed, the success must be given to you. And above all, do not seek explanations. Be satisfied with what I tell you.”  49
  These charges seemed to fill Fanferlot with confidence.  50
  “I will be discreet, patron,” he promised.  51
  “I depend upon you, my boy. To begin: Carry this photograph of the strong box to the examining magistrate. M. Patrigent I know, is as perplexed as possible upon the subject of the prisoner. You must explain, as if it were your own discovery, what I have just shown you. When you repeat all this to him with these indications, I am sure he will release the cashier. Prosper Bertomy, the accused cashier, must be free before I begin my work.”  52
  “I understand, patron. But shall I let M. Patrigent see that I suspect another than the banker or the cashier?”  53
  “Certainly. Justice demands that you follow up the case. M. Patrigent will charge you to watch Prosper; reply that you will not lose sight of him. I assure you that he will be in good hands.”  54
  “And if he asks news of—Mademoiselle Gypsy?”  55
  M. Lecoq hesitated for a moment.  56
  “You will say to him,” he said finally, “that you have decided, in the interest of Prosper, to place her in a house where she can watch some one whom you suspect.”  57
  The joyous Fanferlot rolled the photograph, took his hat, and prepared to leave. M. Lecoq detained him by a gesture:—“I have not finished,” he said. “Do you know how to drive a carriage and take care of a horse?”  58
  “Why, patron, you ask me that—an old rider of the Bouthor Circus?”  59
  “Very well. As soon as the judge has dismissed you, return home, and prepare a wig and livery of a valet de chambre of the first class; and having dressed, go with this letter to the Agency on the Rue Delorme.”  60
  “But, patron—”  61
  “There are no ‘buts,’ my boy; for this agent will send you to M. Louis de Clameran, who needs a new valet de chambre, his own having left yesterday evening.”  62
  “Excuse me if I dare say that you are deceived. Clameran will not agree to the conditions: he is no friend of the cashier.”  63
  “How you always interrupt me,” said M. Lecoq, in his most imperative tones. “Do only what I tell you, and let everything else alone. M. Clameran is not a friend to Prosper. I know that. But he is the friend and protector of Raoul de Lagors. Why? Who can explain the intimacy of these two men of such different ages? We must know this. We must also know who is M. Louis de Clameran—this forge-master who lives in Paris and never goes to his own factories! A jolly dog who has taken it into his head to live at the Hôtel du Louvre and who mingles in the whirling crowd, is difficult to watch. Through you, I shall have my eye on him. He has a carriage; you will drive it; and in the easiest way you will know his acquaintances, and be able to give me an account of his slightest proceedings.”  64
  “You shall be obeyed, patron.”  65
  “Still another word. M. De Clameran is very irritable and suspicious. You will be introduced to him as Joseph Dubois. He will ask for your recommendations. Here are three, showing that you have served the Marquis de Sairmeuse, the Count de Commarin, and your last place—the house of the Baron de Wortschen, who has just gone to Germany. Keep your eyes open, be correct, and watch his movements. Serve well, but without excess of manner. But don’t be too cringing, for that would arouse suspicion.”  66
  “Make yourself easy, patron: now, where shall I report?”  67
  “I will come to see you every day. Until you have an order, don’t step inside of this house: you might be followed. If anything unforeseen occurs, send a dispatch to your wife, and she will advise me. Now go; and be prudent.”  68
  The door shut behind Fanferlot, and M. Lecoq passed quickly into his bedroom.  69
  In the twinkling of an eye he stripped off all traces of the official detective chief,—the starched cravat, the gold spectacles, and the wig, which when removed released the thick black hair.  70
  The official Lecoq disappeared; the true Lecoq remained, a person that no one knew,—a handsome young man with brilliant eyes and a resolute manner.  71
  Only a moment was he visible. Seated before a dressing-table, on which were spread a greater array of paints, essences, rouge, cosmetics, and false hair than is required for a modern belle, he began to substitute a new face for the one accorded him by nature.  72
  He worked slowly, handling his little brushes with extreme care, and in about an hour had achieved one of his periodical masterpieces. When he had finished, he was no longer Lecoq: he was the stout gentleman with the red whiskers, not recognized by Fanferlot.  73
  “There,” he exclaimed, giving a last glance in the mirror, “I have forgotten nothing; I have left nothing to chance. All my threads are tied, and I can progress. I hope the Squirrel will not lose time.”  74
  But Fanferlot was too joyous to squander a moment. He did not run,—he flew along the way toward the Palais de Justice and M. Patrigent the judge.  75
  At last he had the opportunity of demonstrating his own superior perspicacity.  76
  It never occurred to him that he was striving to triumph through the ideas of another man. The greater part of the world is content to strut, like the jackdaw, in peacock’s feathers.  77
  The result did not blight his hopes. If M. Patrigent was not altogether convinced, he at least admired the ingenuity of the proceeding.  78
  “This is what I will do,” he said in dismissing Fanferlot: “I will present a favorable report to the council chamber, and to-morrow, most likely, the cashier will be released.”  79
  Immediately he began to write one of those terrible decisions of “Not Proven,” which restores liberty to the accused man, but not honor; which says that he is not guilty, but which does not declare him innocent:—  80
  “Whereas, against the prisoner Prosper Bertomy sufficient charges do not exist, in accordance with Article 128 of the Criminal Code, we declare there are no grounds at present for prosecution against the aforesaid prisoner: we therefore order that he be released from the prison where he is now detained, and set at liberty by the jailer,” etc.  81
  When this was finished, M. Patrigent remarked to his registrar Sigault:—“Here is one of those mysterious crimes which baffle justice! This is another file to be added to the archives of the record office.” And with his own hand he wrote upon the outside the official number, “File No. 113.”  82
 
 
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