قراءة كتاب Monsieur Lecoq, v. 1
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Monsieur Lecoq, v. 1
vanity, which was not slight, as his subordinates well knew; and, doubtless, he felt that he ought to receive from them the same consideration as was due to a person of that exalted rank.
"If you begin to complain already," he added, gruffly, "what will you do by and by?"
In fact, it was too soon to complain. The little party were then passing along the Rue de Choisy. The people on the footways were orderly; and the lights of the wine-shops illuminated the street. All these places were open. There is no fog or thaw that is potent enough to dismay lovers of pleasure. And a boisterous crowd of maskers filled each tavern, and public ballroom. Through the open windows came alternately the sounds of loud voices and bursts of noisy music. Occasionally, a drunken man staggered along the pavement, or a masked figure crept by in the shadow cast by the houses.
Before certain establishments Gevrol commanded a halt. He gave a peculiar whistle, and almost immediately a man came out. This was another member of the force. His report was listened to, and then the squad passed on.
"To the left, boys!" ordered Gevrol; "we will take the Rue d'Ivry, and then cut through the shortest way to the Rue de Chevaleret."
From this point the expedition became really disagreeable. The way led through an unfinished, unnamed street, full of puddles and deep holes, and obstructed with all sorts of rubbish. There were no longer any lights or crowded wine-shops. No footsteps, no voices were heard; solitude, gloom, and an almost perfect silence prevailed; and one might have supposed oneself a hundred leagues from Paris, had it not been for the deep and continuous murmur that always arises from a large city, resembling the hollow roar of a torrent in some cavern depth.
All the men had turned up their trousers and were advancing slowly, picking their way as carefully as an Indian when he is stealing upon his prey. They had just passed the Rue du Chateau-des-Rentiers when suddenly a wild shriek rent the air. At this place, and at this hour, such a cry was so frightfully significant, that all the men paused as if by common impulse.
"Did you hear that, General?" asked one of the detectives, in a low voice.
"Yes, there is murder going on not far from here—but where? Silence! let us listen."
They all stood motionless, holding their breath, and anxiously listening. Soon a second cry, or rather a wild howl, resounded.
"Ah!" exclaimed the inspector, "it is at the Poivriere."
This peculiar appellation "Poivriere" or "pepper-box" was derived from the term "peppered" which in French slang is applied to a man who has left his good sense at the bottom of his glass. Hence, also, the sobriquet of "pepper thieves" given to the rascals whose specialty it is to plunder helpless, inoffensive drunkards.
"What!" added Gevrol to his companions, "don't you know Mother Chupin's drinking-shop there on the right. Run."
And, setting the example, he dashed off in the direction indicated. His men followed, and in less than a minute they reached a hovel of sinister aspect, standing alone, in a tract of waste ground. It was indeed from this den that the cries had proceeded. They were now repeated, and were immediately followed by two pistol shots. The house was hermetically closed, but through the cracks in the window-shutters, gleamed a reddish light like that of a fire. One of the police agents darted to one of these windows, and raising himself up by clinging to the shutters with his hands, endeavored to peer through the cracks, and to see what was passing within.
Gevrol himself ran to the door. "Open!" he commanded, striking it heavily. No response came. But they could hear plainly enough the sound of a terrible struggle—of fierce imprecations, hollow groans, and occasionally the sobs of a woman.
"Horrible!" cried the police agent, who was peering through the shutters; "it is horrible!"
This exclamation decided Gevrol. "Open, in the name of the law!" he cried a third time.
And no one responding, with a blow of the shoulder that was as violent as a blow from a battering-ram, he dashed open the door. Then the horror-stricken accent of the man who had been peering through the shutters was explained. The room presented such a spectacle that all the agents, and even Gevrol himself, remained for a moment rooted to the threshold, shuddering with unspeakable horror.
Everything denoted that the house had been the scene of a terrible struggle, of one of those savage conflicts which only too often stain the barriere drinking dens with blood. The lights had been extinguished at the beginning of the strife, but a blazing fire of pine logs illuminated even the furthest corners of the room. Tables, glasses, decanters, household utensils, and stools had been overturned, thrown in every direction, trodden upon, shivered into fragments. Near the fireplace two men lay stretched upon the floor. They were lying motionless upon their backs, with their arms crossed. A third was extended in the middle of the room. A woman crouched upon the lower steps of a staircase leading to the floor above. She had thrown her apron over her head, and was uttering inarticulate moans. Finally, facing the police, and with his back turned to an open door leading into an adjoining room, stood a young man, in front of whom a heavy oaken table formed, as it were, a rampart.
He was of medium stature, and wore a full beard. His clothes, not unlike those of a railway porter, were torn to fragments, and soiled with dust and wine and blood. This certainly was the murderer. The expression on his face was terrible. A mad fury blazed in his eyes, and a convulsive sneer distorted his features. On his neck and cheek were two wounds which bled profusely. In his right hand, covered with a handkerchief, he held a pistol, which he aimed at the intruders.
"Surrender!" cried Gevrol.
The man's lips moved, but in spite of a visible effort he could not articulate a syllable.
"Don't do any mischief," continued the inspector, "we are in force, you can not escape; so lay down your arms."
"I am innocent," exclaimed the man, in a hoarse, strained voice.
"Naturally, but we do not see it."
"I have been attacked; ask that old woman. I defended myself; I have killed—I had a right to do so; it was in self-defense!"
The gesture with which he enforced these words was so menacing that one of the agents drew Gevrol violently aside, saying, as he did so; "Take care, General, take care! The revolver has five barrels, and we have heard but two shots."
But the inspector was inaccessible to fear; he freed himself from the grasp of his subordinate and again stepped forward, speaking in a still calmer tone. "No foolishness, my lad; if your case is a good one, which is possible, after all, don't spoil it."
A frightful indecision betrayed itself on the young man's features. He held Gevrol's life at the end of his finger, was he about to press the trigger? No, he suddenly threw his weapon to the floor, exclaiming: "Come and take me!" And turning as he spoke he darted into the adjoining room, hoping doubtless to escape by some means of egress which he knew of.
Gevrol had expected this movement. He sprang after him with outstretched arms, but the table retarded his pursuit. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "the wretch escapes us!"
But the fate of the fugitive was already decided. While Gevrol parleyed, one of the agents—he who had peered through the shutters—had gone to the rear of the house and effected an entrance through the back door. As the murderer darted out, this man sprang upon him, seized him, and with surprising strength and agility dragged him back. The murderer tried to resist; but in vain. He had lost his strength: he tottered and fell upon the table that had momentarily protected him, murmuring loud enough for every one to hear: "Lost! It is the Prussians who are coming!"
This simple and decisive maneuvre on the part of the subordinate had won the victory, and at