The Prison Mazas

NEAR the site of the ancient Bastile stands the modern Bastile Mazas, into the long before prepared cells of which the Paris Police on the morning of the 2nd of December, 1851, thrust a “fournée” of the most distinguished men in France— Statesmen, Savans, Generals—many of them surprised in, and stolen out of their beds.

The formality of “lettres de cachet,” was not observed upon that occasion. The Prince-President’s verbal order conveyed to us through De Maupas, the Prefect of Police, would have been quite sufficient warrant to shoot as well as seize the proscribed men. It will be the same again whenever the Senate or Corps Lêgislatif shall presume to abuse, in their master’s opinion, the week or so’s liberty of speech graciously accorded to them. “Do not be alarmed,” wrote an acquaintance of mine from Paris on the 16th of March last, to a Bonapartist pur sang. “Do not be alarmed by Plichon speeches. There are always Mazas and Cayenne.”
Yes, Mazas and Cayenne are always there, and I have now to relate how it happened that I, a Detective Officer, whose political creed might have been summed up in one sentence—“zealous obedience to the power capable of enforcing obedience,” incurred and escaped the hazard of being found incarcerated in the prison, and next shipped off to the pestilental penal settlement.
To do so, I must go back to 1849, towards the close of which year I engaged a lodging in the Rue Neuve, Saint Eustache. In the same house dwelt Madame Colbert, her twin sons, Albert and François Colbert, and Louise, wife of Albert. François was a working goldsmith; Albert a watchmaker, skilled in a branch of the manufacture much better remunerated than other portions of watch-work. Their age was five or six and twenty, and as the families boarded together, and the young men were expert workmen, industrious and frugal, their united earnings supported them all in creditable competence. In colour of hair, complexion, height, figure, François and Albert Colbert closely resembled each other, as they also did in character, temperament, and opinion. Ultra-Republicans, and at the same remarkably devout—children of the Crusaders, not of Voltaire, as they used to boast—they were the most attached and duteous of sons, and well entitled was the excellent Madame Colbert to that filial love and duty. Madame Louise Colbert was a pale, delicate young woman, not pretty, perhaps, but a person of the sweetest disposition. She had been married over four years, and had two charming children, named Albert and Louise.

I was honoured with the friendship of this amiable family, upon whom I became the innocent cause of inflicting a cruel calamity. I was engaged in carrying on an enquiry, in the result of which a very young widow was deeply interested. One day, when I was suffering from a severe cold, a piece of intelligence reached me, which rendered it necessary for me at once personally communicate with the widow. I dispatched a note requesting her to call upon me. She arrived, when I happened to be in consultation with an officer from the Prefecture. She was shown into a room by Madame Louise, where the two children, Albert and Louise were playing, and requested to wait there till I could see her. Madame Louise noticed that the young person looked flushed, excited, but naturally attributed that to anxiety caused by my message to her. It might have been half an hour before I could wait upon the widow, who I found fondling with the children, one upon each knee. Our conference did not last more than ten minutes, and she was about to leave, when Madame Colbert entered the room. The moment her glance rested upon the widow, an expression of intense alarm flashed over her pale features. Instantly she hurried the children away. Returning in a few minutes she sternly remarked, addressing the young woman— “Your coming here, Madame, is a criminal imprudence, which may have terrible results. Permit me,” and without waiting for permission, Madame unfastened the widow’s dress at the throat. “It is a fever—you are in the first stage of scarlet fever!”
Grand Dieu!” exclaimed the woman. “But no—it is not possible! I have a billious headache— nothing more,” she added, shivering nevertheless, in every limb, and sinking down upon a sofa.
“It is the scarlet fever, I tell you,” repeated Madame Colbert. “I know the symptoms but too well. Send for a fiacre, M. Duhamel. This poor woman must be sent home at once.”

“God grant that the children have not taken the infection,” said Madame Colbert, when we were alone together. “I will send for Dr. Petit, at once. And you, too, should take precautions. Not a word of this to my sons, or Louise.”
The precautions taken did not avail to save the children, who before a week had passed, were buried in one grave at Perè La Chaise. The stroke of death is never so severe, so cruel, as when it descends upon the cradle of a child.

The bereaved family did not reproach me. It would have been soverignly unjust on their part to do so. Yet I could not bear to be a daily witness of the young mother’s agony of grief for her lost little ones; and I quitted the house. The woman who had unwittingly brought death into that before happy home, survived the children a few days only.

This may appear to be a strange introduction to the “The Prison Mazas.” Nevertheless, without it, my conduct in that prison, necessitating my flight from France, would be without intelligible motive or excuse.

I frequently met the Colbert family afterwards in the streets and other places of public resort, and was always kindly recognised by them. Madame Louise bore no more children. The cradle remained empty, the void in her own and her husband’s heart unfilled. I could not express in words the remorseful regret I felt for having, however innocently, brought such a remediless calamity upon an amiable family from whom I had received every kindness. Madame Colbert nursed me as a mother nurses her son through a sharp and dangerous illness. True, I was completely blameless as to intention, but it was equally true that if I had not lodged in the same house with them, little Albert and Louise would, in all human probability be still alive. This grew to be a morbid sentiment with me utterly irrational in its exaggeration.

*                  *                  *                  *                 *                  *

The complete success of the Coup d’Etat, on the 2nd of December, 1851, never for an hour really doubtful, with such satanic skill, and irresistible force, was the blow dealt, was assured beyond question, when the massacre of an unarmed crowd of men, women and children on the 4th of December, after the spasmodic, feeble resistance of Paris had entirely ceased, stamped the conviction upon the palpitating brain of every Frenchman and Frenchwoman, that once more “La Terreur armée,” was enthroned in France. To finish the work, there only remained to make up the list of the proscribed—arrest such as were not already in custody, and hand them all over for formal condemnation to the Courts-Martial, sitting en permanence, in every chief town of France.
Upon my list of “men of action,” whom it had been decided ought, in the interests of the public safety, to be sent to Cayenne, was one Etienne Delaporte, a young man of soul so ardent as to be kindled to flare by the false fire of a spurious socialism. He was already a recognised chef of the Reds, and the last time he was seen in public was when fighting by the side of Doussoub, at the barricade where that representative of the Haute Vienne, and member of the Mountain, was killed.

A man of courage and resource, Etienne Delaporte was not a man to be easily captured. He could not, however, have left Paris, and I believed myself to be close at his heels, when a note reached me from Madame Colbert, which gave the hunted man a respite, by engaging my services in quite a different cause than that of capturing a so-called criminal.

Madame Colbert’s son, the husband of Louise, accused of homicide, with premeditation, had been seized and lodged in the prison Mazas. No one, not even a lawyer, would be permitted to see him, till the judge had completed the “Instruction;” but it being well-known to Madame Colbert that the political police were invested with exceptional privileges in such cases, she entreated me to communicate with her son, who would be in sore need of sympathy and counsel, without delay.

No second request was needed; and within an hour of receiving Madame Colbert’s note, I was myself “au secrét,” with Albert Colbert—the readily received pretence for the interview being private instructions from the Prefecture of Police.

I listened with mingled surprise and consternation to a narrative of the chain of circumstance that had led to the crime of which he was accused, and would, he felt a bitter conviction, cause his head before many days had passed, “to fall into the basket”—meaning his death by guillotine. The shadow of that death had already settled upon his haggard countenance, which was that of a man who had aged, in appearance, full ten years, since I last saw him. He had received a flesh wound, which though not serious, had caused considerable loss of blood, adding to the pallor of a face which gleamed whitely out of the gloom of the dungeon, one of the gloomiest cells in the prison, like that of a spectre.
“It is kind of you, Duhamel, to visit me, at considerable risk, I can have no doubt, to yourself, considering the position you hold, but you are too clear-headed to hold out any hope to me, after you shall have heard what I have to say. I am a lost man, and must accept the gift of a stern fate as best I may. For me the stroke of death will be brief as sharp; the prolonged agony will be the loving mother’s, wife’s, brothers. And it is I, the well-loved son, husband, brother, that shall have inflicted upon them that lifelong grief. Death in all his quiver, has no sharper sting than that!
“You cannot remain very long, and would learn all the facts of the case, which to calmer judgments than mine, may not, you say, appear so desperate. You shall, since you so strongly urge the request, know all—all without reserve, or false colouring.

“I love my wife Louise—you will need no assurance of that. Yes, and with a profounder tenderness since the loss of our children. We seemed to clasp each other more closely in the solitariness of our path through the world than when it was gay with the laugh, the prattle of children. Enough. The subject is, I know, a painful one. Pardon me, my friend.

“But my wife was not the idol before which my young heart bowed down. Nor have I—let the truth be spoken—the ear of Louise will never be wounded by it— nor have I felt for her the transporting passion with which Adrienne—, her sire-name need not be mentioned, inspired me—inspired me before I discovered that the master passion of her soul was to acquire fortune, position, to be uplifted from the humble condition into which the [downfall] of her father had precipitated her. The awakening from my dream was a bitter one, and attended with humiliating circumstances, the sting of which has never ceased to rankle in my proud French heart. The recollection even now fires my blood: I can only glance at what occurred, and it will be enough to say that in Adrienne’s presence, I was treated with brutal personal indignity by a man, a rich man, I understood, whose name I could never discover—and whom I never again met with till the day before yesterday. Nor did I again see Adrienne, till within a few minutes of the time I chanced to encounter him. She had become his mistress, and his regiment—he was then a captain in the line, has not till lately been quartered in Paris.”

“His name?”


“Achard—Chef de Batallion, in Carrelet’s division?”
“Louis Achard, Chef de Batallion, in Carrelet’s division.”
“I have heard of him. He is to be a great man under the new régime. He was a prime favourite at the Elysée, and has a brilliant career before him.”
“His career is finished. It is Achard whom I am accused of having killed with premeditation.”
Diable! That is bad news. How did it happen?”

“I will tell you in a few words. Both myself and brother, notwithstanding the ardour of our principles, well-known to you, abstained from taking any part in the late conflict—partly restrained by the tears and prayers of our mother and my wife, partly because aware of the futility of attempting to cope with the overwhelming military force concentrated in Paris. It happened, unfortunately, that I had business in the Rue de la Paix, on the fourth, and was endeavouring to push through the unarmed crowd of men, women, and children who were looking on as at an ordinary military spectacle, upon the masses of troops echelloned there, when in a handsomely dressed woman near me, I [recognized] Adrienne—. A mist came before my eyes—my heart beat with terrible violence—a storm of rage—indignation—pity, for her vocation could not be mistaken—swept through my soul. She was alone—if anyone could be said to be alone in such a closely packed crowd, and did not see me. Recovering myself, I followed the eager direction of her eye. It was fixed upon a mounted officer—upon the man by whom I, seven years since, was treated with brutal indignity—Louis Achard, enfin. He, in his turn, had noticed Adrienne, and a sardonic smile replied to the piteous supplication of her look.

“Holy thunder of God!—I  verily believe that but for the pressure of the crowd by which I was held as if enclosed by a circle of iron, I should have been mad enough to have made one tiger-spring for vengeance at the smiling, triumphant, mocking villain. As it was, I could only writhe, curse, gnash my teeth with impotent fury.

“Just then a few shouts of  ‘Vive la République,’  ‘A bas le Tyran,’ gave the hoped for opportunity of striking terror to the hearts of the Parisians. Without one word of warning the word was given—the soldiers levelled their muskets, and a crashing, murderous volley was poured into the dense mass of unarmed people from not ten yards distance. Shrieks, groans, curses, cries for mercy, were the only replies to the soldiers terrible fire, which was kept up with unbated spirit, not only at the fleeing people, but at any inhabitant of a house who chanced to show him or herself at a window.

“I myself was slightly wounded, and fell on the pavement, thrown down by the hustling, hurrying crowd. As I rose to my feet, a feeble grasp was laid upon the tail of my coat. It was Adrienne’s! ‘Save me—save me,’ murmured the wretched woman—‘Save me, Albert.’

“Blood was welling through, and trickling down her showy dress from a bullet wound in her bosom; and only He who created could, I feared, save her. I snatched her up—and hurried her away—so thin, emaciated was she that her weight was nothing—pursued for a considerable distance by the shouts and shots of the inebriated soldiery.

“At last I had placed her in the shop of a shoemaker, with whom I am slightly—very slightly acquainted, and at his suggestion ran off again at once to procure some wine, whilst he, leaving Adrienne in the care of his wife, hurried away in search of medical assistance.
“Louis Achard had seen Adrienne struck down, recognised by whom she was carried off, and actuated by some capricious impulse, followed. I had not left the shoemaker’s three minutes when he arrived, accompanied by several soldiers, and ordered her instant removal. The soldiers were about to do so, when it was discovered that she was dead. Possibly she died in my arms.

“The shoemaker’s wife had the prudence to meet me outside the shop, to inform me that the unfortunate young woman was dead, and that soldiers and an officer, who had asked for me—that is for the man who brought the woman there, were within?

“What demon possessed me to rush, as I did, upon destruction! The officer was gazing, his back towards me, upon the face of the dead: he turned sharply round upon hearing my step, and I was face to face—within arm’s length of Louis Achard. I yelled out a frightful malediction, and struck at him wildly, feebly. He caught my arm—flung me off—he was a man of five times my strength—and drove me with a shower of blows and contemptuous curses out of the shop.
“Certainly I was no longer a responsible being. Carried away by a tempest of convulsing, choking rage, I darted back after him—seized a musket belonging to one of the soldiers— shouted ‘Gare scelerat—assassin!’ His sword flew out of the scabbard, and he made a pass at me, inflicting a slight flesh wound, at the same moment that my bayonet went through his body.

“Horrified at what I had done—seized with terror for the consequences to myself, I made off before the soldiers recovered from the stupefaction caused by the suddenness of the deed, and sped away, running for my life. They pursued, but I soon distanced them, and as the shoemaker and his wife did not know my name, nor where I dwelt, a faint hope of escape was dawning upon my mind, when I was stopped by some gendarmes—the soldiers came up, and though I persisted in asserting that I was not the man they were in search of, that I had not been in a shoemaker’s shop, and that I was running to get home as quickly as possible out of the tumult of the streets, having been already slightly wounded by an Insurrectionist, they as strictly asserted I was the culprit they were in pursuit of—and—voila tout!”
“You have persisted in denying your identity with the homicide to the Juge d’Instruction? Yes?”
“I have as yet seen no Juge d’Instruction. The agents of  ‘Justice’ have such a mass of business on their hands, that I am told it may be a fortnight or three weeks before ‘the Juge’ will visit me.”
“In the letter to Madame Colbert, which must have been read by the authorities of the prison, you kept up the pretence of innocence?”
“I did. Yet what can such barefaced denial avail at the end of the reckoning? The shoemaker and his wife will prove that it was I who slew Louis Achard.”
“That is true! And as you will be tried by a military commission, there will be no chance of  ‘extenuating circumstances’ being tacked to the verdict. This is a terrible calamity. Persist, however, I counsel you, in denying that you are the homicide. Louis Achard is dead. Died he instantly?”
“Yes; the soldiers declared that he did.”

“Adrienne is dead—the soldiers could scarcely have taken exact cognisance of you, and in running they lost sight of the man they pursued. The shoemaker and his wife—yes, there is the difficulty. What is their name?”

“Upon my word I am not quite sure. Carlier, or Cartier, a name of some such sound as that. My acquaintance with them, as I told you, is of the slightest kind. Bah! Duhamel, what is this but the catching at a straw by a drowning man? Better throw up the cards at once, and frankly recognise that the game, the grand game of life, is irretrievably lost.”

“Persist, I again counsel you, in asserting that you are François Colbert—.”

François Colbert!”

“You signed the note to your mother A. Colbert, of course. But those who read it will hardly remember whether the initial letter of your baptismal name was A. or F.”

“Do you know, M. Duhamel, that all sounds to me like so much—”

“Like so much folly—absurdity! I have no doubt of it. Notwithstanding that very decided opinion, please persist in denying that you, François Colbert, are the homicide. You know I would incur considerable risk to save you from the terrible doom you have unquestionably incurred. An idea has glanced upon my mind—the unformed shadow of an idea as yet, but which may—may become clearer, assume a practical shape. If it should, the evidence of the shoemaker and his wife will be invaluable. He is a respectable man, I hope, this Carlier or Cartier?”

“Yes, in circumstances, but a furious Bonapartist.”

“So much the better. The shadow is defining itself into shape rapidly. Adieu, my friend. There is always hope, you know? I go to see Madame Colbert, and your wife and brother.”

*                  *                  *                  *                 *                  *

It was not, however, till the next day, when I had fully elaborated the scheme, a faint outline of which had traced itself upon my mind during my interview with Albert Colbert in the prison Mazas, that I waited upon his mother and other relatives.
Family councils are legal institutions in France, though not exactly of the kind at which I upon that occasion assisted.

I first set forth the exact particulars, omitting only the early love phase of the affair, and that the Chef de Batallion had been the successful rival of Albert in the favour of an attractive, worthless girl.

Next I frankly stated my real conviction, that should Albert be brought to trial, he would be condemned to death, and that execution would follow, either by the guillotine or the bullets of a firing party. I added, induced by a sincere friendship for a family upon whom I had unwittingly brought a great calamity, that I was willing to undergo considerable risk to save Albert’s life; a feeling which, of course, glowed with much greater intensity in the hearts of his relatives than in mine. Mother, wife, brother, protested, I was sure, truly, that there was no sacrifice they would not make to save Albert.

“I knew I should receive that answer. Now then to explain. I have, like all well-known, and in their vocation, celebrated Detectives, not only the entrée of the criminal prisons of France, but a [privilege] rarely questioned, of communicating privately with prisoners.

C’est connu. Precisely. That fact I may call the base of the superstructure I propose to raise. We now proceed to the first step of that hypothetical superstructure. You, Monsieur François Colbert, have, doubtless, heard of one Etienne Delaporte, a notability amongst the Reds?”

Parbleu! Who has not, during the last week, heard of Etienne Delaporte?”

“No reader of the journals, certainly, Well, Etienne Delaporte, whom I am commissioned to capture, is described to be of your height—the colour of his hair the same as yours. He must resemble you as nearly as you do your brother. Etienne Delaporte also affects a particular dress, which no law, I am aware of, if there can, indeed, be said to be any law just now in France, prohibits being worn by any other individual. Now, I have discovered the said Etienne’s haunts; and but for this affair of your brother’s, I should have seized him yesterday, and I want this very afternoon to capture you for him.”

Comment. What? Capture me for Etienne Delaporte?”
“Yes; you will be suprised and seized by myself and three other Police Agents, neither of whom, myself inclusive, know Delaporte by sight. You will say you are George Duplay, and the papers with which I shall furnish you, will be perfectly en régle. We, Police-Agents, shall treat all that as nonsense—blague—the papers as borrowed. We take you to the prison Mazas, obtain a receipt for you, and the notorious Etienne Delaporte is at last in the hands of justice.”
“What does all this mean?” exclaimed poor Madame Colbert. “You propose to put both my sons in prison?”

“Yes, Madame, in order to get both out. I must, however, in candour, tell you that it will not be safe for you, Mesdames, to remain in Paris, perhaps not in France!”

“That is nothing—absolutely nothing,” exclaimed the mother and wife in a breath.

“Albert is an excellent working watchmaker. I am a fair working goldsmith,” subjoined François; “we shall do well anywhere. In England, for example. But speak of my going to prison for Etienne Delaporte. The doors of a prison open readily enough to let you in, but getting out again, I have heard is—.”

“Another affair. That is quite true, under ordinary circumstances. But first, in your mind’s eye, survey the situation when you are locked up, as I will manage it, in a cell close adjoining that in which your brother is confined. I have free, private admission into each. What, then, watching an opportunity, but an inconceivable maladroitness can prevent François and Albert Colbert from exchanging cells, exchanging clothes? Ah! ah! you begin to comprehend? But let us continue. Tomorrow morning, I, somewhat staggered by Etienne Delaporte’s positive assertion, that he is not Etienne Delaporte, but one Duplay, visit the prison, accompanied by officers, who know Delaporte well. We discover our mistake; make a thousand apologies; the governor, who has not yet seen your brother, is bamboozled; the accusation treated as non arenue; and Albert Colbert passes out of Mazas on his way, without stopping, to England. François Colbert remains in prison awaiting his trial as the assassin of Major Louis Achard. It is delicious—impayable.”

“I am not so sure of  ‘impayable,’” said François, in a tone indicating a considerably cooled [enthusiasm]. “It is just possible that I may be made to pay for the delicious device with my head. The shoemaker and his wife, you say, were very slightly acquainted with Albert; my brother and I are much alike, and the Military Tribunal may decide that I am really the man who killed Chef de Bataillon Achard. That is serious, nom de Dieu! I would incur any risk in reason to save poor Albert, still—”
“Bah! you are scared by the merest shadows. True, you and your brother strongly resemble each other. That is a main element in our chance of success, strengthened by the number of persons suddenly crowded into the prison, with whose faces the officials are not yet familiar, but Carlier and his wife will be sure to recognise the mistake they will suppose the soldiers to have made, the soldiers the same, who will attribute it to your having been stopped whilst running in the same direction the homicide had taken, and that you were bleeding from a recent wound.”
“Ah! to be sure, that I was wounded, bleeding,” exclaimed François, brightening up; “that now is a reliable circumstance. Mother—Loiuse, I shall venture.”
It was my turn to falter in resolution. Should Carlier and his wife, and the soldiers, misled by the resemblance of the brothers, and a previously formed conviction, depose to François being the veritable culprit, he would, of course, to save himself, appeal to the indisputable fact that he was not wounded on the fourth of December. That might place me in a pretty predicament, for it was quite sure the authorities would not release him till they had ascertained by whose agency the exchange of prisoners had been effected! Such a startling possibility had not crossed my mind.
“True,” said I, speaking to myself rather than to the Colberts; “true, you have not been wounded. That will be decisive—if—if—bah! It is certain the witnesses will recognise that you are not the man who killed Achard. The wound which is already healed, will not be spoken of. Of course you will not appeal to the wound, nor mention it, except in the very last extremity?”

“Certainly I will not.”

Our conversation then turned upon minor details of the suggested scheme, and François Colbert having fully mastered them, I left to prepare for my part in the enterprise, which in my eyes did not wear so inviting an aspect as when I first proposed it to the Colbert family. I could not, however, well recede, after swaggering so loudly of my chivalrous determination to serve those persons to whom I was so greatly indebted, and whom I had been the means of plunging into such deep affliction. Had, indeed, the proposition been to make, instead of being made, I should at least have taken some time longer to consider it.

*                  *                  *                  *                 *                  *

One remark is called for in this place—was I, a Police Agent, morally justified in aiding the escape from Mazas, of the homicide Albert Colbert? I could not but think so. The hands of Achard when he was slain, were still red with the blood of the unarmed people of Paris, amongst them the woman whom he had seduced and ruined, and there was poetical justice in the death stroke having been dealt by Adrienne’s former lover. Then, Colbert had been [brutally] ill used by a much stronger man than himself; there was, moreover, a real duel, if not one precisely selon les règles. A sword would generally be more than a match for a fixed bayonet, and Albert had, in fact, received a wound, which had the thrust been better aimed, might have been a mortal one. Yes, I was morally justified in attempting to save Albert Colbert’s life. At least I so persuaded myself.

The Gendarmes who were to assist in arresting the pretended Etienne Delaporte, having arrived, we were about to depart on our errand, when I bethought me that I had omitted to prepare a dye with which Albert Colbert might tint his white cheeks to the natural hue of health. The ingredients were, however, in my possession, so requesting the gendarmes to wait, I passed into an adjoining room, and folded up a small quantity of each powder in a scrap of paper, upon which I wrote the necessary directions for mixing and using the preparation, adding a strict injunction to destroy the paper.
 .         .         .         .         .         .

François Colbert was duly arrested, and spite of his furious assertions that he was not Etienne Delaporte, hurried off to Mazas. The crowded state of the prison, upon which, as the reader is aware, I had to a certain extent relied, gave us an unlooked for advantage.

“Where to place this prisoner,” said the officer, who acted as quartermaster of the prison, silencing with an imperious gesture François Colbert’s protestations that a frightful mistake had been committed; that he was not Etionne Delaporte, or whatever the sèlèrat for whom he was taken, was called; “Where to place this prisoner, I know not. Mazas is already full—more than full.”

A bright idea flashed across my mind, which I was ass enough to translate into speech.

“Cannot you,” I said, “place him for a short time in the cell with the prisoner Colbert, whom I visited yesterday. It might be advantageous,” I added with sotte voce official emphasis, aside to the officer.

“With Colbert, accused of armed sedition, and the murder of the Chef de Bataillon, Achard?” said the officer, flashing at me a sharp, inquisitive look; “Well, yes,” after a brief reflective pause, also in a tone inaudible to the prisoner, “upon your responsibility—you who must know whether such a companionship is likely to aid or defeat justice.”

The necessary order was given to a subordinate, and I said aloud, addressing the officer, “It is just possible, monsieur, that this man may not be Etienne Delaporte, and to put an end to all doubt, I will go at once to M. Ambrose Quesnel, Commissaire de Police, by whom I am instructed, and who knows the said Delaporte well. I shall probably return in about an hour,” I added. [It would require nearly that time to prepare, and apply the dye, I had passed unobserved to François.]

Tres bien,” said the officer, “If he be not Etienne Delaporte, we shall get rid of him at once.”

*                  *                  *                  *                 *                  *

“This man is not Etienne Delaporte,” said M. le Commissarie Quesnel, after a glance at Albert Colbert, who had exchanged clothes with his brother, and whose cheeks were skilfully touched. “Certainly not. It is a mistake, and we would make you an apology if you had not chosen to dress in that bizarre mode. I will see that you are at once discharged.”
Less than ten minutes afterwards, Albert Colbert left Mazas a free man. The same day, he and his wife left for London, where they are now domiciled. Madame Colbert remained in Paris till François should be liberated.

*                  *                  *                  *                 *                  *

I was disturbed in mind during the next three days; much disturbed:—

“Que diablo allois je faire, dans cette galère,”

I repeated to myself fifty times a day, as the dismal conviction grew upon me, that I, urged by a Quixotic impulse, only excusable in boys, lovers, and maniacs, had run tête basse, into a frightful danger, and this conviction became a certainty, when I learned that although Carlier and his wife, deposed before the Juge d’Instruction, that the actual prisoner was not the man who slew the Chef de Bataillon, Achard, the soldiers, with equal confidence, swore he was the veritable culprit.

It was all over, the career of mouchard was closed to me for ever! and, hundred devils!—that was but a trifle! A rigorous investigation would take place—was at that moment, no doubt, taking place; the whole truth would be discovered; had been, perhaps, already—I sweated sang et eau at the thought, had, perhaps, already been discovered. As to François Colbert, his brother’s devotion would, no doubt, be generously considered, a few months more or less of simple imprisonment was all he had to fear, but Theodore Duhamel, a paid Police Agent, who had rescued the assassin of Chef de Batallion, Achard, a petted favourite of the Elysée—of the Prince who had first written his title to supreme power in the blood of Frenchmen, would, as surely as he lived, be visited with condign punishment—“peine afflictive et infamante;”—Cayenne or Lambessa, for life, no doubt.

I determined upon instant departure, whilst my legs were my own. First, I dispatched by post a note to the Prefecture of Police, stating that before it arrived, I should have left Paris, having obtained information relative to the affair Fleury, which required to be immediately and closely followed up; adding that I should not be absent from Paris more than about four days.

I then made my pacquet—two or three changes of linen only—it would not do to encumber myself with luggage; pocketed all the cash and jewels I possessed, and left the house. Just in time: had I remained another hour, I, myself, should have been an inmate of Mazas, with a certainty of Cayenne, &c., in the near distance.
With the assistance of a trusted and trustworthy comrade to whom I immediately hastened, I sallied forth the next morning so well made up as a stout, middle aged gentleman of the glossiest respectability, wearing blue, gold-rimmed spectacles, and carrying a gold-headed cane, that I believed I might defy recognition. I have before said that I was clever at such metamorphoses, and I need not say that I tried my art to the utmost upon that particular occasion. My passport, duly vise, purported to be that of M. Victor Robinet, of Marseilles. In fact it was a genuine document, which M. V. Robinet, having lost, had come into the possession of my friend. My friend kept the passport, and M. Robinet, after much worry and some expense, was favoured with a duplicate. I had choice of several obtained in a similar manner, but M. Robinet’s was chosen for the paramount reason that I could dress, with wig, and whisker, well up to the description.

And where does the reader think I, a man in mortal danger of Cayenne, first betook myself? Positively to the Palais de Justice! I had heard that the affair Colbert would come on that day before the military tribunal sitting there, and a kind of fascination—a sort of morbid entrainement impelled me to learn the worst or best with my own ears.
The salle, where the tribunal presided by the colonel of a line regiment sat, was crowded throughout, but I, contrived swathed, artificially corpulent as I was, sweltering with heat, and presently with terror, to stand out without fainting, the ten minutes which sufficed to effectively settle my little business.

The affair “Colbert,” had commenced before I entered the salle. François looking very nervous and excited, was on the banc des accusés, and M. le Procureur-General subititut, was remarking upon the circumstances disclosed in the proces-verbal, to show that the individual at the bar, who there could be no question, it had been ascertained, was not the assassin of Chef de Batallion, Louis Achard, could not be tried for the only offence of which he was accused by a military tribunal. He should be sent before the Cour d’ Assises. François Colbert, with the assistance of one Theodore Duhamel, a Police Agent, effected the escape from the prison Mazas, and from France, of his brother, Albert Colbert, accused of armed sedition and homicide, for which offence François Colbert, could only be tried by a civil tribunal. The proofs of criminal complicity on the part of Duhamel,” added the Procureur-General substitut, “are irresistible, and to complete the chain of circumstantial evidence, a memorandum in the caitiff’s handwriting has this morning been found, instructing Albert Colbert how to mix and apply certain powders so as to colour his face with a brown healthy tint, in order the more certainly to pass out of the prison unrecognized.”
“Is Duhamel in custody?” asked the military president.

“Not yet, but there is little doubt he will be before many hours have passed. Numerous active officers are at his heels. His crime is a grave one,” added M. le Procureur-General, and should be visited with signal punishment.”

The court cordially concurred in that opinion; also that François Colbert should be sent before a civil tribunal. I may here mention that he was sentenced by the next Cour d’ Assises for the Seine, to one year’s imprisonment.

The affair “Colbert,” disposed of, another was called, which I did not stop to hear. I left Paris by the first convoi for Havre-de-Grace. My sensations during that terrible journey, added considerably to my “detective” experience. I knew what it was to be hunted, as well as to hunt.

Grand Dieu, [didn’t] I mentally amathematise with all the strength of my soul, “that noblest achievement of modern science,” as I had been in the habit of designating the Electric Telegraph, consign the wondrous wings of fire to their native, bottomless pit! What with weight of clothes and mortal terror, I must have lost two stone in weight during that cursed journey.

Havre was reached at last; my passport was visé at the Sous-Prefecture, without remark, and twelve hours afterwards I disembarked at the Southampton Docks. Hurrah!

From Experiences of a French Detective Officer by William Russell. New York: Dick & Fitgerald, 1864. 289-317.

This collection was originally published in England in 1861 under the pseudonym of Thomas Waters and claimed to be an adaptation from a manuscript by Théodore Duhamel, yet another pseudonym.