Wyllard's Weird/Chapter 13
A STUDENT OF MEN AND WOMEN.
There was a silence of some minutes, during which Mademoiselle Beauville wept quietly. And then Heathcote and the ex-police-officer rose to take leave.
"I thank you sincerely, Mademoiselle, for having given me all the information in your power to give, and I must beg you to accept some small compensation for the time I have wasted," said Mr. Heathcote, slipping a couple of twenty-franc pieces into the dressmaker's hand.
The lonely spinster's eyes shone with a feverish light as her skinny fingers closed upon the gold. It was like manna dropped from heaven. Long and weary weeks had passed since her robes et modes had brought her so much money. Her chief customers of late had been the grisettes of the quarter, who had dribbled out their payments by two or three francs at a time, and who had exacted the maximum of labour for the minimum of pay. Mademoiselle's hollow cheeks were flushed with the warm red wine, her heart glowed with the thought that she could now pay her last term to the Harpagon landlord—not much worse, perhaps, than the rest of his species, but all landlords seem Harpagons when they claim their due from the needy.
"Monsieur is too good, too generous," murmured the seamstress; "I should refuse all remuneration, only work has been so slack of late—"
"Not one word, Mademoiselle. Stay, I have one more question, and that an important one, to ask before I take my leave. Can you give me the exact date upon which Léonie Lemarque left Paris for Dover?"
"Assuredly, Monsieur. It was on the 4th of July."
"The 4th! And it was on the evening of the 5th she met with her death. You say she carried a small handbag containing linen."
"Yes. Her clothes were of the fewest, dear child; but everything she had was neat and nice of its kind. She had a change of linen with her."
"Had she nothing else in the bag?"
"Nothing. I went into the room while she was packing, and I saw her take a small sealed packet from under her pillow, and put it in her bosom. I had seen the same packet under her grandmother's pillow before she died. It looked like a parcel of letters or papers of some kind."
"Do you know what station Léonie was to arrive at?"
"Yes. It was the terminus of Charing."
"Precisely. It was a double name like that."
"Good. Adieu, Mademoiselle. My friend and I may come to you again perhaps to make further inquiries."
"You shall be very welcome, Monsieur. And if you discover the secret of my poor young friend's fate, you will tell me—"
"One word, Monsieur. Where is our little Léonie buried? Has she a decent grave in your English land?"
"She lies in a rustic churchyard under a great yew-tree. There is a stone upon her grave, with a brief record of when and how she met her death. Her name and age shall now be added to the inscription."
"Indeed, Monsieur! But what kind friend was it who placed a stone over the grave of a nameless stranger?"
"That was my care. It was a very small thing to do."
"Ah, Monsieur, it is in doing these small things that a great heart shows itself."
Mr. Heathcote and his companion made their adieux, accompanied to the landing by the spinster, who felt as if she had entertained angels unawares; but when the sound of their footsteps had died away upon the stairs she went back to her room, and wept over the fate of her young friend.
"I have nothing left in this world to love but you," she said, piteously addressing the cockatoo.
"J'ai bien des chos's au Mont-d'-Piété," replied the bird.
It was one o'clock by the time Mr. Heathcote and Monsieur Drubarde left the dressmaker's apartment, so the Englishman suggested a light luncheon at the Restaurant Lapérouse, within a stone's throw of Drubarde's apartment; and the suggestion being received favourably by the ex-policeman, they were soon afterwards seated at a little table, in a private room with a window overlooking the river, ready to do justice to the plat du jour
, a fricandeau aux épinards
, and to a bottle of Mouton-Rothschild
. The wine-bibbing at the dressmaker's apartment had been merely a benevolent excuse for providing the spinster with a little good Bordeaux.
"Now, Monsieur Drubarde, we are alone and at our ease. You have now all the facts of Léonie Lemarque's death well within your knowledge; and it is for you to give me your opinion."
"A very difficult case in which to come to a decided opinion," answered Drubarde. "At present my conclusions and yours are antagonistic. My niece wrote out a careful translation of your newspaper report. I have her translation in my pocket-book. You can look it over if you like, to see that it is faithfully done. I have read it three or four times, with keenest attention, and I can so far see nothing out of the common in Léonie Lemarque's fate. A pretty girl travelling alone, a common ruffian, a common murder."
"And you see no link between this crime and that former murder?"
"Not a thread—not a hair. A deed done ten years ago—unpunished, the murderer undiscovered."
"Do you forget that Léonie went to London with credentials to a friend of this very murderer? Perhaps a friend so devoted, so bound to the guilty man, that he might not stop at murder to get rid of the one witness of his friend's crime."
"To imagine that is to imagine an impossible friendship. Men do not risk their necks nowadays, whatever they may have done in the time of Damon and Pythias."
"Then you see nothing extraordinary or mysterious in the violent death of this girl, within twenty-four hours of her leaving Paris, carrying with her documents which may, in some manner, have betrayed the secret of the double murder. Perhaps a letter from the lover to his mistress, a letter written by a man maddened by jealousy, threatening to do the deed which was afterwards done. You see no sufficient ground for connecting one crime with the other, for seeking the secret of the second crime in the history of the first."
"Honestly, I do not," replied Drubarde, who had fastened his napkin under his chin, had nibbled a radish or two, and destroyed the symmetry of a dish of prawns, by way of preparation for the fricandeau
. "I only wish I could see my way to such an opinion. It would make as pretty a complication as ever I was concerned in. However, there is no knowing what new discoveries we may hit upon, if we go to work patiently. My present view of the case is that Léonie Lemarque, being young, silly, and inexperienced, and not knowing a word of English, altogether a wrong person to attempt such a journey alone, got into bad hands at the very beginning. I believe that, instead of meeting this person who was to have befriended her, and who must have been a man of standing and respectability, or the old grandmother would not have sent her to him, she fell into the hands of a scoundrel, and was lured into your train for Cornwall."
"You must remember that Paddington Station is some miles from Charing Cross," said Heathcote. "The girl could not be smuggled from one train to the other unawares. She must have traversed half London on foot, or in a conveyance of some kind."
"Possibly. But, as likely as not, she was in the companionship of the wrong man. Consider her ignorance, her helplessness. What an easy prey for a villain!"
Heathcote was unconvinced.
"I cannot imagine a crime so motiveless as that which you suggest," he said thoughtfully.
He began to lose faith in the old sleuthhound. He began to think that Félix Drubarde was worn-out; that scent, and pace, and tongue were things of the past. He began to think that the work of finding the link between the two crimes must be done by himself rather than by Drubarde.
"What became of the girl's bag?" asked Drubarde, after he had eaten a liberal portion of veal and spinach. "There is no mention of a bag in your newspaper."
"There was no bag found. If there had been, the victim might have been identified earlier."
"And the sealed packet?"
"There was no packet. There was nothing but a little basket containing a few cherries and a biscuit-bag. There was no clue to identity. The murderer had done his work well."
"The best thing you can do is to put Mr. Distin in possession of the details you heard from Mademoiselle Beauville. He can make inquiries at the Charing Cross Station, where it is just possible the girl may be remembered by some of the porters. A girl travelling alone, and meeting a gentleman on the platform. The meeting may have been observed even there, where hundreds meet and part every hour. Railway officials are observant and keen-witted. It is within the limits of the possible that this poor girl may not have passed altogether unremarked."
"I will write to Distin this afternoon," said Heathcote. "And there is another thing I can do. If your theory is correct, Léonie Lemarque missed the person who was to have met her at the station, and fell into bad hands. If that is so, the fact ought to be arrived at easily by an appeal to the person whom she should have met."
He took out his pencil and pocket-book, and wrote the rough draft of an advertisement:
"The person who was to have met Léonie Lemarque at Charing Cross Station on the morning of July 5th last is earnestly requested to communicate immediately with Messrs. Distin & Son, Solicitors, Furnival's Inn."
He translated this advertisement to Monsieur Drubarde.
"Yes, that is a wise test," said the police-officer. "I see you have the true flair. If the man is innocent, he will answer that advertisement—always supposing that it come to his knowledge."
"I will repeat it so often in the Times that it will not be easy for the appeal to escape him," answered Heathcote.
"Then if there is no sign, we shall say guilty," said Drubarde.
"And in that case we have to find the villain."
"You may add a postscript to your letter to Monsieur Distin, advising him to inquire at the cloak-room of Charing Cross Station for an unclaimed handbag left there on July 5th. Something must have been done with that handbag, and, in our civilised condition, it is not easy to get rid of even a handbag."
After having made this suggestion, Monsieur Drubarde devoted himself entirely to the pleasures of the table. Heathcote ate very little, and was too troubled in mind to know what he ate. He saw himself no nearer a solution of the problem which he had pledged himself to solve. Yet this he felt, that the sky was growing clearer round Bothwell Grahame. The secret of the girl's death seemed to lie between the man whom she was to have met at Charing Cross and the phenomenal villain of Drubarde's imagination, who had lured her into the Cornish train with darkest intent.
He left Félix Drubarde directly after luncheon, and walked back to the Hôtel de Bade, where he devoted the afternoon to his correspondence. He wrote at fullest length to Joseph Distin, enclosing the advertisement for the Times, with a cheque, and an order for its daily appearance until further notice. He wrote a cheery letter to Hilda, telling her to be hopeful; and he wrote to Mrs. Wyllard, telling her that the result of his investigations up to the present hour had gone far to dispel his suspicion of her cousin's guilt.
"I am still groping in the dark," he concluded, "and am very far from having achieved any tangible result; but I am working with all my mind and all my strength, and I hope that Providence will not compel me to abandon my task until I have fathomed the mystery of Léonie Lemarque's death."
He wrote thus, unconsciously forgetting that Dora Wyllard did not know even the name of the victim. The discovery of the girl's identity, made three days ago, at Dinan, seemed, to him an old history, so exclusively had his mind dwelt upon this one subject since his interview with the nuns. The fact that the name must be a new thing to Dora never struck him.
He dined alone in his private sitting-room, he who at any other time would have enjoyed the glitter and life of the Boulevard in all its evening brilliancy. He wanted to be free from all sound and movement, from the sight of strange faces, so that his mind should work undisturbed upon the problem he had set himself to solve.
And now over his solitary cutlet, with his pocket-book open before him, he marshalled his facts, and reflected upon each detail of the story.
The murderer of Marie Prévol and Maxime de Maucroix had escaped, and in all probability was still living. He appeared to have been rich, independent of all ties, a Bohemian in his habits, a man who could live in any country. Hardly possible that such a man would remain within a narrow radius of the scene of his crime. He was not to be looked for assuredly in Paris, or even in France. It was far more likely that he had crossed the Atlantic, and sunk his identity in that wider, freer society of the United States, where money and cleverness outweigh a man's antecedents, where no one asks what a man has been, only what he is, or is worth in the present. Or it might be that such a man as this Georges—a night-bird, a man of fervid temperament, a lover of pleasure rather than work, unambitious, a voluptuary—would turn his face to Southern America, and dream away the after stages of an exhausted life in some romantic city upon the Seaboard of the Pacific. Not in Europe—or not in the accessible quarters of Europe—should he be sought for.
But in the meantime, here in this city of Paris, there was something to be done. Vain to look for the man himself, perhaps; but those who had known the man—his chosen friends, the companions of his midnight orgies—might still be found. From them the man's antecedents might be learned; and possibly some glimmer of light could be obtained as to his adventures and whereabouts after the murder.
Edward Heathcote reviewed his Parisian acquaintance in search of such men as might be likely to have known this Monsieur Georges. It was almost impossible for a man, spending his money lavishly, the favoured admirer of a beautiful actress, not to be in some measure a man of mark, and widely known in the faster section of Parisian society.
Mr. Heathcote knew his Paris well, and loved it well. After that bitter loss which had changed the current of his life, he had found hard work in his office his best cure, and next best to hard mental labour he had found relief of mind in the society of the artistic and keen-witted idlers of the Boulevard and the Bohemian clubs. He had found a week in Paris—a week of Boulevard idleness and Boulevard society—the best remedy for the dulness and the depression that come from an unsatisfied heart and an overworked brain: and in these occasional plunges into Parisian society he had made a wider acquaintance with the artistic classes than it is often granted to a provincial Englishman to make.
He ran over the names of the men he knew best in Paris, trying to hit upon the likeliest person to suit his purpose. It must be a man who had been well to the fore ten years ago, when Marie Prévol was a famous beauty, and her lover was spending his nights and his fortune on the Boulevard. It should not be difficult, he thought, to hit upon such a man.
"Volney Dugarge, Bize, Pontruche, Trottier. Yes, Trottier. That is the man; a thorough-going Bohemian, a haunter of supper-tables and gambling-dens, a hanger-on of lorettes, steeped to the tips of his nails in the atmosphere of the demi-monde, a man who had known Gautier and Nerval and Gustave Planche, an habitué of the Boulevard theatres; poor, keen-witted, a member of the band of paragraphists, the men who invent scandals, political, social, literary, theatrical, according to the prevailing demand, who write smart paragraphs for the most audacious of the newspapers, and puffs for enterprising tradesmen."
Trottier, thus humble in his pursuits, a man utterly without pride, or, as his enemies said, without self-respect, was one of the most agreeable men in Paris. He had been a Boulevardier for the last thirty years, had seen the Boulevard extend its glittering length into regions which he had known as a wilderness of gloom and poverty. He remembered the time when the Palais Royal was the focus of Parisian gaiety, the temple of fashion and taste.
"If this man Georges had any status in Bohemian society, Sigismond Trottier must have known him," thought Heathcote.
The next thing was to find Trottier. He was a man who only began to live after dinner. He might be looked for on the Boulevard between nine o'clock and midnight. He might be found at a club much favoured by actors and journalists, a club which had taken for itself a name from the history of the mediæval drama, and rejoiced in the title of Les Enfants Sans Souci
, more briefly known as the Sans Souci
. The Sans Souci
had its nest on an entresol
in the Rue Vivienne, six low-ceiled rooms opening one out of another, three of them furnished with divans in true Oriental style. These were the smoking-rooms. Then came a fourth and much more spacious apartment, provided with numerous small tables, writing materials, and the newspapers. Tapestried portières
on the right and left of the fireplace in this reading-room opened into the sanctuary of the club, two medium-sized rooms, furnished with green cloth tables for baccarat, thickly curtained, thickly carpeted, lighted only from the courtyard of the house, which was like a dry well.
Edward Heathcote strolled along the Boulevard, looking for his friend as he went. It was nearly ten o'clock, a delicious night, balmy, starlit, summer-like; a night upon which Sigismond Trottier might naturally have been found seated amidst the idlers clustered on the asphalte in front of a popular café. But in the groups which Heathcote passed between the Hôtel de Bade and the corner of the Place de la Bourse there was no sign of Trottier's ferret-face and long gray hair. So the Englishman continued his walk to the Rue Vivienne, and entered the lamp-lit vestibule which led to the mysteries of the Sans Souci.
He had been taken there more than once by Trottier, and had been amused and interested by the people he met.
"Can you tell me if Monsieur Trottier is here this evening?" he asked of the porter.
"Yes, Monsieur. He came half an hour ago. Monsieur Trottier generally comes here at the same hour every evening to write his article for the Taon."
The rooms were almost empty. Neither journalists nor actors mustered strong before midnight. In a comfortable corner of the writing-room, at a little table brilliantly lighted by a green-shaded lamp, Edward Heathcote found the man he came to seek.
Sigismond Trottier was at least sixty years of age, tall, spare to attenuation, with a long narrow face of almost livid pallor, and long gray hair, falling over a greasy olive-green velvet collar, choice ornament of a threadbare and faded olive-green frock-coat. His jaw was narrow and projecting, his lips were thin and pinched, his nose was long and sharp, his eyebrows were gray and shaggy. The only features that gave life or colour to the face were the restless and brilliant black eyes, small, keen, observant, the eyes of a creature always on the watch. Ah, how many of the darkest mysteries of Paris had that keen glance discovered, how many a loathsome depth had that ruthless gaze explored, how many a social ulcer, how many a domestic disease, how many a wound of heart and honour, how many an atrophy of purse and reputation had those eyes pierced and scrutinised, while all the rest of the world was still blind to the coming ruin, the inevitable disgrace! Sigismond Trottier was a student of society. It was his boast that he knew this Paris of the Third Republic as well as Saint-Simon knew the Paris of the great Louis; knew it in all its strength; and in all its weakness; knew it to the core of its rotten heart.
Needless to say that such a man was invaluable as a paragraphist. He had the same keen scent for a scandal that the well-trained detective has for a crime. A whisper, a shrug was enough to put him on the right track. He was a genius at that modern style of hint and innuendo which just stops short of libel. He had killed more reputations than any man in Paris: and he had never been to prison. His safety lay in the keenness of his perception, which never allowed him to fall into such mistakes as have ruined other society gossips. Whatever Sigismond Trottier wrote was true. He had an extraordinary power of winnowing the chaff from the corn in the floating scandals of the Boulevard. He knew what to accept and what to reject. His judgment was infallible. When Parisian society saw the hint of an elopement, the suggestion of a marital wrong signed by Sigismond's hieroglyphic—an Egyptian beetle—the thing was received as a fact. The pen of the unerring recorder had proclaimed a truth. Happily he was not a physical coward, though a professional assailant of man's honour and woman's reputation. He had given good proof of his courage on several occasions, had stood up before famous swordsmen, had faced marksmen of repute. That deep dint in his lean and livid cheek was the mark of a bullet from the Duke of Midlothian's pistol—that famous viveur
who expired suddenly amidst the fading flowers and flaring tapers of a Boulevard supper-room—the very spirit of profligate pleasure extinguished in a breath. That long slanting scar upon the left jaw, a shade more livid than the normal lividity of the complexion, was the result of five minutes' sword-play between the Boulevard chronicler and the Marquis du Bois-Chaufonds, the reminiscence of a duel which set all Paris talking twenty years ago, when the Walewska was in the zenith of her charms. From scalp to sole the paragraphist could have shown the scars of past battles. He had never been known to refuse a challenge.
Trottier was so absorbed in his task when Heathcote approached his table as to be quite unconscious of any one's presence. Heathcote seated himself upon the other side of the table, and took up a newspaper, to wait till the journalist came to the end of a sheet.
He had not long to wait. Before he had read more than half a dozen paragraphs in the Taon, each signed with the familiar beetle, Sigismond paused to blot a page, looked up, and recognised his English acquaintance.
"Good-evening," he said. Then, with a mighty effort, he burst into English, and exclaimed, "'Owderyoudo?" all as one word, having achieved which feat he laughed long and loud, surprised at his own talent for foreign tongues. "We begin to talk your language of horses, we others," he said triumphantly. "We have taken all your words for the sport, and now we begin to take your greetings and salutations, your shake-hand, your 'owderyoudo. And what brings you to Paris, Monsieur Effcott, at the dead season?"
"I should rather ask what you, chosen chronicler of fashionable society, can find to record in the dead season?"
"My dear friend, the most stupendous scandals are those that happen in the dead season, when Paris is a desert, and a man thinks he can murder his neighbour or run away with his neighbour's wife with equal impunity. Ah, my friend, for the development of intrigue, for the ripening of social mysteries, the working out of domestic tragedies, there can be no better time than this dull blank interval of the year, when there is no one in Paris. What stolen meetings, what little suppers in closely-sealed cabinets, when Madame is at the seaside and Monsieur is shooting wild boar in Auvergne! Heaven only forbid that Monsieur and Madame should happen to take their supper in adjacent cabinets, and that Monsieur should recognise the voice of Madame on the other side of the lath and plaster! Yes, there is no richer harvest-time for the chronicler than the season when there is not a mortal in Paris."
"Cynic!" exclaimed Heathcote. "And so you still live by exposing the faults and follies of your fellow-creatures."
"I try to reform them by proving to them that sooner or later all social secrets are known. I am about the only preacher whose sermons scare them nowadays."
"Then you consider your trade a strictly honourable one, no doubt."
"In French no doubt means perhaps," replied Trottier, "vide Michelet. No, I will say nothing for my calling, except that a man must live. You may not see the necessity of my living, but the existence of the lowest of us has its value to the man himself. The world might get on very well without me, but I can't get on without the world."
"A man of your talent might have done well in any other line—"
"Pardon; mine is not a talent. It is a specialty. I should have succeeded in no other line. If I had been rich and high-placed, like Saint-Simon, I should have kept my impressions to myself while I lived, and should have left a big book behind me when I died. But I am poor and a nobody, so I have had to live upon my impressions."
"You put the case neatly," said Heathcote, "and you are right. We are most of us the thing which circumstances make us. The man who will not allow himself to be moulded by circumstance, who will strike out into the empyrean of ideal good, is one man in a thousand."
"And the odds are that your one in a thousand, your honest man, is an eminently disagreeable personage—like Diogenes or Thomas Carlyle," said Trottier.
"You have not finished your evening's work, I suppose?"
"No; I am in for another hour."
"Good," said Heathcote; "then at midnight you will be free. Will you sup with me at the Café de Paris when your work is done? I believe it is in your power to do me a material service merely by calling upon your recollection of the past. Will you meet me at the Café de Paris at twelve?"
"With pleasure; and if my poor memories of men and events can help you, the record is at your service."
"A thousand thanks. I will go and order supper, and stroll on the Boulevard till it is ready. Au revoir!"
Sigismond Trottier was a man who kept his appointments. He was not neat in his person, or punctual in his payments. He never went to church, and he did not always wash. But if he promised a page of copy to a newspaper, the page was delivered in due time. If he offered to frank a friend to the theatre, in his quality as critic, he was waiting in the vestibule at the appointed hour, ready to keep his word. If he accepted an invitation to supper, he never kept his host waiting. Invitations to dinner he invariably declined.
"A dinner-party is an anti-climax," he protested. "A man gets drunk too early, and spoils his evening."
At midnight Monsieur Trottier's evening began, and he was ready for the feast.
Mr. Heathcote received him in one of the cosiest little rooms in the café. The Englishman's first act on entering had been to light all the wax candles on the mantelpiece, which the waiters had left unlighted. This established him at once as a man who knew his Paris, and his judicious choice of wines having strengthened his position, everything was ready when Trottier's shabby olive-green coat came meekly into the radiance of the wax candles. Trottier was known at the Café de Paris, and his shabby coat commanded the reverence of the waiters. Was he not a man who, as it were, carried reputations in his pocket, who could make a head-waiter famous by a stroke of his pen?
The supper was delicate, recherché, Parisian; the wine was Johannisberger of princely quality, and a magnum of Mumms decanted in a cut-crystal pitcher appeared with the last course. The two men talked of general topics during supper. It was only when the waiters had withdrawn, and when Sigismond Trottier had thrown himself back in his chair and lighted his cigarette, that Heathcote approached the business of the evening. It was half-past one o'clock, and the roll of wheels upon the asphalte below the open window had been gradually diminishing. There was no longer the roar of the Boulevard to disturb the speakers.
"If I can be of the slightest use to you, as an embodied chronicle of Paris, command me," said Trottier. "Here I am at your service—an open book. You have only to turn my leaves."
"Do you remember a double murder—the murder of an actress and her lover—which happened ten years ago, in the forest of Saint-Germain?"
"Do I remember? Yes, as if the thing had happened last week; and for a good reason. The man who was suspected—the lover, or, as some thought, the husband, of the actress—was my familiar friend."
"Great Heaven!" exclaimed Heathcote, almost starting from his chair. "Then my instinct was right. It told me that I should get on the track of that man—it told me that you must have known him."
"The man was well known to me and to a chosen few, but only a few," replied Trottier. "He was a man of eccentric habits—a man of considerable talent and large intellect, who could afford to live his own life, and lived it. What he did with himself in the daytime none of us knew: whether he slept away half his daylight life, or shut himself in his den and smoked and dreamed and read. The latter idea seemed likely enough, for he was a man who had read widely. He was a delightful companion, brilliant, genial, lavish to his friends, a splendid host. I have supped with him and Marie Prévol many a night in this house—sometimes making the third in a cosy trio, sometimes one of that small choice circle with which he occasionally surrounded himself."
"Then I take it that he was known in general society, either the uppermost or the middle circles."
"Not the least in the world. He was a man who scorned society, hated ceremonies and conventionalities. I never saw him in a dress-suit. I doubt if he possessed one. When he went to a theatre, it was to sit in a dark corner, where he could see without being seen. He detested crowds. He had nothing to gain from the great world, and could afford to outrage all its rules and regulations."
"Was he a thoroughbred Parisian?"
"Far from it. He was an American, but he had lived so long in Paris as to be almost as Parisian as a citizen born and bred."
"Had he made his money, or inherited it?"
"Inherited it, without doubt. His habits were those of the spender, not the worker. He was one of the lilies of the field, who toil not, neither do they spin. I take it that his father had been one of those daring speculators who in America begin with nothing and become millionaires in a year or two. As for the man himself, he had no more idea of business or finance than one of those dressed-up dolls of the Quartier Bréda. He took not the faintest interest in the transactions of the Bourse, and in that point alone revealed himself as no true Parisian."
"Do you believe that he committed the murder?" asked Heathcote.
Sigismond Trottier shrugged his shoulders, and shook back his long gray hair, as he slowly puffed his cigarette.
"Who knows?" he said. "I liked the man so well that I should hesitate at saying I believe in his guilt. And yet the fact of his disappearance from the hour of the murder is almost conclusive evidence; and I know that he was savagely jealous of Maucroix."
"You judged him a man of strong passions, a man capable of a great crime?"
"Yes, he was a man of intense feeling, strong for good or evil. A volcano glowed under that calm outward aspect, that easy-going, devil-may-care manner of his. I was very sorry for him. If Marie had been but true—"
"You believe that she was his wife?"
"I do. His manner to her was in all respects the manner of one who esteemed as well as loved her. He introduced her to his friends as his wife. He loved her too well to have refused her that title."
"But for a man who scorned conventionalities, what reason could there have been for concealment? Why should he not have introduced his actress-wife to society? Why should he not have established a home?"
"The first question is easily answered. As he loathed society for himself, he would hardly court it for his wife. The second can only be answered by the fact that the man was an eccentric. He preferred the freedom of an actress's lodging to the restrictions of a rich man's house. His happiest days were spent wandering southward with the swallows; yet so strange was the man's temper that he never stayed more than a fortnight or three weeks away from Paris. The city seemed to draw him back like a magnet."
"Yet he had no business here?"
"None that I ever discovered. He must have loved the city for its own sake. He was here all through the siege and the Commune. I have heard him say that the happiest days of his life were those on which the roar of the Prussian guns made his only music, and when Marie and he used to crouch and shiver over a handful of charcoal, and eat a supper of dry bread and Carlsbad plums."
"He must have had some pied-à-terre of his own, I conclude."
"He must have had his den somewhere in Paris; but none of us knew where it was. The only address he ever gave was that of Marie Prévol, alias
Madame Georges, in the Rue Lafitte. He met his friends on the Boulevard when the theatres were over. He was a man who enjoyed life to the full—after his own fashion. He was the master-spirit of his little circle—a daring wit, a bold politician, a trenchant critic. Paris is the city of brilliant talkers, yet I have known few who surpassed Georges as a conversationalist. I can see him now, with his long fair hair falling over his flashing eyes, his sarcastic lip, and the proud carriage of that leonine head. Not a common man by any means, and with a laugh that was like music—a man for a woman to adore; and yet Marie wavered in her fidelity directly a fashionable dandy made love to her."
"You have no idea what became of Georges after the murder?"
"If I had, I would not tell you. No, I have not the faintest inkling. He vanished as a bubble that bursts upon the surface of a stream. As a mere guess, I should say that he went back to the country of his birth—that if he is still living, he is to be found in America under another name."
"He was a rich man, you say. It is easier for a man to betake himself from one country to another than to transfer his fortune. What became of this man's French investments?"
"He may never have had any such investments. His fortune may have been invested solely in America. He was a man who declared that he valued liberty above all other blessings. He would scarcely have fettered himself by investing any portion of his wealth in a country where he was leading a life of pleasure, living as a pure Bohemian. His utter indifference to all rumours about the Bourse would show that he had no French investments. His wealth, I take it, came from some secure source on the other side of the Atlantic."
"Did you ever hear him talk of an English friend, or a friend who resided in England?"
"And yet he must have had such a friend," said Heathcote.
He related the story of Léonie Lemarque's death, and the inducement that had taken her to England, where she was to have met a friend of her aunt's long-vanished lover. Sigismond Trottier listened with keenest interest. All social mysteries, whether criminal or not, had a charm for him.
"It is a very strange case," he said, "and I don't wonder that you are following it up earnestly. No, I never heard Georges mention any English friend. It was a bold stroke for the grandmother to send the girl to a man who was the friend of the murderer of her daughter. A drowning man will catch at a straw, says your proverb; and this poor woman, penniless and friendless on her death-bed, may have caught at the name of the only rich man upon whom she could advance the faintest claim. And what was the nature of that claim? A packet of Georges' love-letters. Compromising love-letters, perhaps, to be offered to Georges' friend as the price of protection and aid for the orphan girl. A strange story. And no one knows what became of those letters?"
"No one, as yet. No letters were found upon the girl. Even the handbag she carried with her had disappeared."
"A very strange story. I wish I could help you to read the riddle. Your interest in it I imagine to be something beyond the mere artistic interest in a curious case."
"Yes, I am concerned in arriving at the truth, for the sake of one whom I honour and revere. I shall be deeply grateful if you can help me."
"Then I will help you," answered the paragraphist quietly; and Edward Heathcote felt that in this amateur detective he had a stronger ally than in the old police-officer of the left bank.
Last edited on 29 August 2018, at 13:59
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