easily distinguishable. He put aside also the part of the dress upon which the assassin had wiped his weapon. These with the bundle recovered from the Seine, and the different casts taken by the old fellow, were all the traces the murderer had left behind him.
It was not much; but this little was enormous in the eyes of M. Daburon; and he had strong hopes of discovering the culprit. The greatest obstacle to success in the unravelling of mysterious crimes is in mistaking the motive. If the researches take at the first step a false direction, they are diverted further and further from the truth, in proportion to the length they are followed. Thanks to old Tabaret, the magistrate felt confident that he was in the right path.
Night had come on. M. Daburon had now nothing more to do at La Jonchere; but Gevrol, who still clung to his own opinion of the guilt of the man with the rings in his ears, declared he would remain at Bougival. He determined to employ the evening in visiting the different wine shops, and finding if possible new witnesses. At the moment of departure, after the commissary and the entire party had wished M. Daburon good-night, the latter asked M. Tabaret to accompany him.
"I was about to solicit that honour," replied the old fellow. They set out together; and naturally the crime which had been discovered, and with which they were mutually preoccupied, formed the subject of their conversation.
"Shall we, or shall we not, ascertain the antecedents of this woman!" repeated old Tabaret. "All depends upon that now!"
"We shall ascertain them, if the grocer's wife has told the truth," replied M. Daburon. "If the husband of Widow Lerouge was a sailor, and if her son Jacques is in the navy, the minister of marine can furnish information that will soon lead to their discovery. I will write to the minister this very night."
They reached the station at Rueil, and took their places in the train. They were fortunate enough to secure a 1st class carriage to themselves. But old Tabaret was no longer disposed for conversation. He reflected, he sought, he combined; and in his face might easily be read the working of his thoughts. M. Daburon watched him curiously and felt singularly attracted by this eccentric old man, whose very original taste had led him to devote his services to the secret police of the Rue de Jerusalem.
"M Tabaret," he suddenly asked, "have you been long associated with the police?"
"Nine years, M. Daburon, more than nine years; and permit me to confess I am a little surprised that you have never before heard of me."
"I certainly knew you by reputation," answered M. Daburon; "but your name did not occur to me, and it was only in consequence of hearing you praised that I had the excellent idea of asking your assistance. But what, I should like to know, is your reason for adopting this employment?"
"Sorrow, sir, loneliness, weariness. Ah! I have not always been happy!"
"I have been told, though, that you are rich."
The old fellow heaved a deep sigh, which revealed the most cruel deceptions. "I am well off, sir," he replied; "but I have not always been so. Until I was forty-five years old, my life was a series of absurd and useless privations. I had a father who wasted my youth, ruined my life, and made me the most pitiable of human creatures."
There are men who can never divest themselves of their professional habits. M. Daburon was at all times and seasons more or less an investigating magistrate.
"How, M. Tabaret," he inquired, "your father the author of all your misfortunes?"
"Alas, yes, sir! I have forgiven him at last; but I used to curse him heartily. In the first transports of my resentment, I heaped upon his memory all the insults that can be inspired by the most violent hatred, when I learnt,—But I will confide my history to you, M. Daburon. When I was five and twenty years of age. I was earning two thousand francs a year, as a clerk at the Monte de Piete. One morning my father entered my lodging, and abruptly announced to me that he was ruined, and without food or shelter. He appeared in despair, and talked of killing himself. I loved my father. Naturally, I strove to reassure him; I boasted of my situation, and explained to him at some length, that, while I earned the means for living, he should want for nothing; and, to commence, I insisted that henceforth we should live together. No sooner said than done, and during twenty years I was encumbered with the old—"
"What! you repent of your admirable conduct, M. Tabaret?"
"Do I repent of it! That is to say he deserved to be poisoned by the bread I gave him."
M. Daburon was unable to repress a gesture of surprise, which did not escape the old fellow's notice.
"Hear, before you condemn me," he continued. "There was I at twenty-five, imposing upon myself the severest privations for the sake of my father,—no more friends, no more flirtations, nothing. In the evenings, to augment our scanty revenues, I worked at copying law papers for a notary. I denied myself even the luxury of tobacco. Notwithstanding this, the old fellow complained without ceasing; he regretted his lost fortune; he must have pocket-money, with which to buy this, or that; my utmost exertions failed to satisfy him. Ah, heaven alone knows what I suffered! I was not born to live alone and grow old, like a dog. I longed for the pleasures of a home and a family. My dream was to marry, to adore a good wife, by whom I might be loved a little, and to see innocent healthy little ones gambolling about my knees. But pshaw! when such thoughts entered my heart and forced a tear or two from my eyes, I rebelled against myself. I said: 'My lad, when you earn but three thousand francs a year, and have an old and cherished father to support, it is your duty to stifle such desires, and remain a bachelor.' And yet I met a young girl. It is thirty years now since that time; well! just look at me, I am sure I am blushing as red as a tomato. Her name was Hortense. Who can tell what has become of her? She was beautiful and poor. Well, I was quite an old man when my father died, the wretch, the—"
"M. Tabaret!" interrupted the magistrate, "for shame, M. Tabaret!"
"But I have already told you, I have forgiven him, sir. However, you will soon understand my anger. On the day of his death, looking in his secretary, I found a memorandum of an income of twenty thousand francs!"
"How so! was he rich?"
"Yes, very rich; for that was not all: he owned near Orleans a property leased for six thousand francs a year. He owned, besides, the house I now live in, where we lived together; and I, fool, sot, imbecile, stupid animal that I was, used to pay the rent every three months to the concierge!"
"That was too much!" M. Daburon could not help saying.
"Was it not, sir? I was robbing myself of my own money! To crown his hypocrisy, he left a will wherein he declared, in the name of Holy Trinity, that he had no other aim in view, in thus acting, than my own advantage. He wished, so he wrote, to habituate me to habits of good order and economy, and keep me from the commission of follies. And I was forty-five years old, and for twenty years I had been reproaching myself if ever I spent a single sou uselessly. In short, he had speculated on my good heart, he had . . . Bah! on my word, it is enough to disgust the human race with filial piety!"
M. Tabaret's anger, albeit very real and justified, was so highly ludicrous, that M. Daburon had much difficulty to restrain his laughter, in spite of the real sadness of the recital.
"At least," said he, "this fortune must have given you pleasure."
"Not at all, sir, it came too late. Of what avail to have the bread when one has no longer the teeth? The marriageable age had passed. I resigned my situation, however, to make way for some one poorer than myself. At the end of a month I was sick and tired of life; and, to replace the affections that had been denied me, I resolved to give myself a passion, a hobby,