The Shirt of Mail

THE death of that desperate devil Durand, raised me immensely in the estimation of the influential notabilities of Lyons. The incidents of the enterprise were vividly illustrated in the local journals—by written emblazonment, I mean—we had not then arrived in France at popular pictorial embellishments of passing ephemeral topics. I was presented with a gratuity of one thousand francs as a reward, it was politely stated, for my skill and audacity; and M. le Sous-Prefȇt hinted to me, unofficially, but none the less confidentially, that it would not be long before I should be transferred to Paris, and attached to the Bureau of La Haute Police. For some years, of course, considering my age, notwithstanding, he was pleased to say, the virile capacity I had displayed as a kind of cadet, to be trained under vigilant superintendence for the delicate and difficult duties I might ultimately be selected to carry out. In the meantime I was to be paid a weekly salary of twenty-five francs, as a substantial recognition of my permanent enrolment as a conscript-soldier in the civilian army of France. The civilian army of France! A pretty, tickling phrase that! Far more agreeable than the vulgar verity, “The Corps of Mouchards.” And let us be just. If there is one thing that French functionaries—from Monsieur le Maire, to Monsieur le Ministre—from Prefȇt to Prince—are unrivalled in, it is the faculty of skilfully lacquering over with copper phraseology whatever is vile, base, and tyrannous in the govermental action of France.

This remark made, en passant, is, it will be well understood, an after thought. Such an irreverent reflection could not, as I listened with both ears to the Sous-Prefet’s flattering announcement, have entered my head, which must have been, I suspect, more than half turned by the surprising change in my circumstances so rapidly brought about. One can see that it could hardly have been otherwise, looking at the incidents of that change. I had escaped for ever from the detested weaving frame. The excellent and well-to-do Durand family were my fast friends, rendered so by services which they highly estimated. My name, unknown so short a time before, except to more than half-a-dozen equally obscure individuals, was now, or had been, a week or so before, in everybody’s mouth—my portrait at two sous, morally flattering, however vile as a work of art, and detestable as a likeness, had circulated largely. I had been openly thanked by the authorities and rewarded by an actual salary of twenty-five francs per week, and the magnificent gift of a thousand francs. Only conceive—a thousand francs! Already I was entitled to look upon myself as the enfant gate, the spoiled child of success; yet somehow, in my imagination, did these actual splendours fade, in view of the dazzling future disclosed by M. le Sous-Prefȇt’s communication. To be, at no great distance of time, a member of the Secret Political Police, High state functionaries directed in the days of the Empire by the renowned Fouché, Duc D’Otrante, and at the actual time by a Minister, who report gave out to be as able and unscrupulous as he,—why this, should I prove equal to my fortune—and I would prove equal to my fortune—was to place riches and rank within certain reach! The missions confided to the High Police were, I knew, of the most important, delicate nature—state affairs, in a word—and the reward of skill and success were naturally proportioned to the lofty range of their duties. It would be necessary to diligently cultivate, during the years of cadet probation spoken of, the special gifts for such a vocation, which, it was said, I possessed in such perfection—and, Holy Blue! would I not diligently cultivate these special, but at present undeveloped gifts! Ah, could I, at this moment, have but dimly foreseen the humiliations, the shame, the infamies involved in these duties, my spreading plumes would have quickly collapsed. Certainly I should not have made, as I hurried along the Pont Moraud, on my way to my new lodging at Les Bratteaue, the impulsive, exulting bound I did make—a mental leap, as it were, mechanically participated by the body, at the glittering prize pictured by my heated fancy as within actual reach. I forget what precise prize—a Duc D’Otrante coronet possibly—which bound or leap pitching me into violent contact with a young man of about my own age, effectually awakened me from the daydream by which I was absorbed.
 
“What the devil— Ah! is that you? Upon my word, for an invalid, you have rather a vigorous spring.”

I had run or leapt against Gustave Morant the artist.

I apologised; we walked on together, and he invited me to visit Madame Morant. He had been married about three months.
 
“Madame Morant will be happy to receive you,” he said, adding, with a slight sneer, “ladies, you know, are partial to celebrities.”
 
I accepted the invitation, and remarking that I had known Mademoiselle Coulanges—his wife’s maiden name—well, by sight and character, I heartily congratulated him upon his union with so amiable a person.

“Ah! yes,” he said, abstractedly, and partly to himself, whilst a shadow momentarily darkened his bright face. “Ah! yes—an angel of whom I am unworthy!”

Had then, care, anxiety already crossed the threshhold of that young home? I feared so, and from my knowledge of Gustave Morant’s character and circumstances could easily divine the source of that care, anxiety, and of his self-upbraiding.

*                  *                  *                  *                 *                  *

Madame Morant received me with much kindness and grace, and I was speedily upon such terms of intimate friendship with both husband and wife, that they unreservedly confided to me their most secret hopes, aspirations, fears, and anxieties. Both orphans, they had no relatives in Lyon of whom they could seek counsel, and mine, young as I was, they believed might afford them the helpful guidance of which they stood in need.

As the action of the present narrative turns mainly upon the fortunes of this amiable family, it will be necessary that the reader should make their acquaintance some months before my personal introduction to Madame Morant.

Julie Coulanges, a charming brunette, whose dark, southern eyes shone with a fire, pure as bright, was a graceful flower painter, by which art, since her parents’ death, she had earned a modest maintenance. I hardly need say that such a young person so circumstanced was exposed to powerful temptations, but not the shadow of a suspicion had ever for a moment rested upon the fair fame of Mademoiselle Coulanges. There had, it is true, been a rumour that she had been wooed by a young Paris gentleman, and that an encounter between him and one Captain Regnard, a notorious duellist, who had, with insolent persistence, sought to force his society upon her, which duel terminated fatally for the Parisian had been caused by that wooing. Still no one suspected Julie Coulanges of even indiscretion in the matter. Indeed it was confidently asserted that the Paris monsieur had sought to court her, pour le bon motif, as we say, honourably that is; and that being engaged to Gustave Morant, she had declined the flattering and advantageous offer.

This rumour, we shall presently see, was, though based upon truth, inexact, as rumours usually are, though it was perfectly true that she had been long engaged to Gustave Morant, the painter, a young man as poor, as amiable, and, in a certain worldly sense, as unreflecting as herself. It was, moreover, perfectly true that Gustave Morant might have married middle-aged Mademoiselle Medard, the daughter and heiress of the rich retired silk mercer of the Place Bellecour. The favour of this lady he was reported to have won by painting her portrait so cleverly, that although it was impossible not to recognise the likeness, the coarse, dry, parchment complection, vixen eyes, and altogether crabbed aspect of the original, were so judiciously modified and softened, that a very pleasant ensemble resulted—an achievement which elicited from more than one shrewd observer that if Gustave Morand was not the great genius he believed himself to be, he certainly possessed a skill in likeness-painting which, diligently cultivated, could hardly fail of realising a fortune.

Unfortunately young Morant looked down from the exaltation of his vanity with supreme contempt upon that branch of his art; his genius had wings for a far loftier flight, and next to Julie, the exhibition of his great historic picture—a glittering mass of effulgent uniforms, fiery steeds, and crimson cannon-flashes, upon a background of universal smoke, the fanciful representation of a battle in Algeria—lent brightness to the future, upon which with love, beauty, and virtue for his companions, he, having with some difficulty persuaded Julie to acquiesce in the rash step, determined to, without further delay, to boldly enter upon.

The naturally clear perception of Julie Coulanges, dazzled as she was by the glittering mirage of a love gilded home, and, notwithstanding her entire unworldliness, suggested doubts of the prudence of such hasty nuptials, circumstanced as they were. How those doubts were combated and overcome, the following dialogue, which I have many times heard them merrily rehearse will show:—

JULIE: “We shall have very little to begin the world with, Gustave?”
 
GUSTAVE: “Not so, very little, ma belle. Guguénard wrote to me that Vernet sold a picture, decidedly inferior to mine, a short time since, for twelve thousand francs. Twelve thousand francs, Julie! If mine but fetches half that sum, it is already a fortune.”
 
JULIE: “You know Guguénard much better than I do, and have, I am aware, confidence in his judgment.”
 
GUSTAVE: “Entire confidence, Julie. Have you forgotten the compliment passed by Monsieur Le Vicomte de Parrans upon Henri Guguénard the engraver’s taste in the fine arts.”
 
JULIE: “No, I remember it well—and—that Guguénard was himself the relator of the anecdote.”

GUSTAVE: “Is not that a little ungenerous, Julie?”
 
JULIE : “Peut-etre! What, however, is certain, is that I myself have full confidence in your genius, Gustave. We will venture.”
 
They made the venture! A luckless one. The picture was sent to Paris, and at the end of a month or so, returned with an intimation that though it indicated remarkable capacity, it as a finished work of art, was below mediocrity, and not saleable at scarcely any price. Criticisms upon his work by men whose judgment he could not dispute, were at the same time sent to him, by which he was made thoroughly to understand that whatever genius or aptitude he might possess, long and severe study in the mechanical part of painting must be undergone before he could hope to worthily realise the crude idealisations with which his brain throbbed and sparkled.

The poor fellow was incapable of resigning himself, even for the sake of his charming wife to the laborious self-discipline required. With the collapse of his soaring visions the fitful mind-energy which he possessed, abandoned him, and he had already given way. I found, though not without a keen sense of shame and remorse, to the seductions of the wine shop and gaming table.

I promised Madame Morant to do all in my power to turn her facile husband from the fatal path leading to an abyss, upon which he had entered. With that object in view I watched his movements covertly, and soon discovered that his most intimate acquaintance at the wine shop and gaming table was Captain Regnaud—he who had killed the young Parisian in the duel with which Madame Morant’s name had been mixed up.

Perplexing—incomprehensible! Could it be possible that he, Gustave Morant, had never heard of that circumstance? I was compelled to believe so. The motive of the scoundrel duellist for compassing the ruin of Madame Morant’s husband, one could easily imagine, but that Gustave Morant should be caught in such a shallow snare, seemed to be utterly incredible! At length I determined to speak with him frankly and sincerely, and should have done so the next time I met him, when light suddenly dawned upon and dissipated my perplexity.

A Monsieur Baurdon, Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, and Colonel of Dragoons, en retraite, called upon me with a brief note from Monsieur le Sous-Prefȇt, who would feel obliged if I could in any way assist the bearer of the note, which Monsieur le Sous-Prefȇt thought I might be able to do with the greater facility, inasmuch as I was known to be acquainted with the individuals, or some of them, with whom M. Baurdon wished to be placed in communication.
 
Colonel Baurdon was the father of the young gentleman, Arthur Baurdon, his only son, who had been killed by Captain Regnaud. He had come direct from Paris, and after a lengthened conference, it was agreed that I should at once accompany him to Madame Morant. She would, I knew, be alone.
 
Madame Morant was much startled and surprised when I announced “M. le Colonel Baurdon, de Paris.” The name was evidently familiar to her.
 
“I am the father, Mademoiselle—I beg pardon, Madame Morant, of the unfortunate Arthur Baurdon who I hope still lives in your friendly remembrance?”

“Assuredly, Monsieur,” replied Julie, “and this, notwithstanding my acquaintance with your amiable son, was of the slightest kind.”

“So I understand; and yet but for that slight acquaintance, my son would now be alive.”

“How, Monsieur?” exclaimed Madame Morant, blushing and trembling, “I do not comprend.”

“Not quite clearly you must mean, my dear Madame; but pray do not agitate yourself. A few words will explain my meaning, and justify, or at least excuse my presence here. During the night, previous to the duel with Captain Regnaud,” added Colonel Baurdon, “so inexplicable as having arisen from the few sharp, but meaningless words said to have provoked it; and my son foreboding it might be the last time he should address me upon earth, penned a long letter, which after his death was, of course forwarded to me. It was only about a week ago,” continued the speaker, with increasing emotion, sternly as he strove to preserve a simulated stoicism, that I found courage to read it through. “One paragraph, the last, alone relates to you, Madame; a brief one, but written with a hand which trembled more at those few lines than all the rest, informed me that he had passionately loved the beautiful orpheline of Lyon, Julie Coulanges, artiste en fleurs, but feeling that I could never consent to the alliance had never disclosed his passion to the said Julie Coulanges. In words, of course, is meant,” added the Colonel, “as it is scarely possible that a sentiment so vivid should not have found interpretation, though that of his lips was withheld.”

“Have the kindness, Monsieur, to confine yourself to what it is needful I should hear. For the rest,” added Madame Morant, with a slight tinge of pride, “no self-respecting young woman permits herself to interpret the demeanour of young gentlemen in whose society she may chance to find herself.”
 
“Excuse me, Madame, I would not willingly offend. I have, however, a few more words to say. Captain Regnaud was, I have reason to believe, keener-sighted than you; and he, I am informed, greatly admired Mademoiselle Coulanges, declared his preference, and was repulsed—contemptuously repulsed.”

“Monsieur le Colonel Baurdon,” exclaimed Madame Morant, rising and speaking with vehemence; “this is extreme impertinence on your part. Forgive me,” she added, quickly checking herself, “you have, I recognise, a privilege of grief as well as of age, justifying remarks that from others would be intolerable. I can also appreciate the motives of this questioning. But sir, the current report you speak of is not precisely correct. Captain Regnaud insulted Julie Coulanges, and was by her spurned and defied. That is the simple truth, and unknown up to the present time to my husband. I feared it might incite Gustave to seek a meeting with the homicide, and I must beg of you,” she added, addressing me, “not to allude to the circumstance in my husband’s hearing.”

“And yet this must have been, indeed was, I have proof, known to my son.”

“I cannot speak positively as to that, but I have sometimes feared it may have been so.”

“And that that surmise, if it was nothing more, conjoined with Regnaud’s belief that Arthur Baurdon might prove a formidable rival, infused venom into the else slightly irritating words that passed between them at the café.”

“I can only repeat, Monsieur, that I fear it may have fallen out as you suggest.”

M. Baurdon was silent for a few moments, then resuming with some vivacity, he said: “In the presence of so much frankness, Madame, I cannot choose but be equally sincere and open. My chief purpose in coming to Lyon is to satisfy myself of the truth or falsehood of a rumour that has reached me, to the effect that Arthur met with foul play at the hands of Regnaud, a villain, who had before three murders by duel on his head.”

“And he glories, I am told, in his terrible skill,” interjected Julie, with a shudder, “but the day of retribution will surely arrive for him.”

“At the hour when I fully satisfy myself that my boy was unfairly dealt with, that day, be assured, Madame, will have dawned for his slayer. I am now entering upon this duel, as it may fairly be called, and I have a notion, suggested by this young man, in whose zeal and adroitness I have great confidence, that you, Madame, may be instrumental, in a greater or less degree, in bringing about the catastrophe.”
 
“Me, Monsieur! You jest, surely.”

 
“On the contrary, I am perfectly serious; though our plan is as yet but faintly outlined. Regnaud is not one to relinquish easily a base purpose, and would, I doubt not, follow you to the world’s end, to avenge the wound you have inflicted upon his vanity.”
 
“Mon Dieu, can it be possible!” exclaimed Madam Morant, with much emotion; “but it is not possible, Monsieur. Captain Regnaud’s pretended passion was a fleeting caprice, nothing more.”
 
“That may be, but I am not the less convinced that you or your facile-tempered husband, (Madame will excuse my frankness) will require, and not long first, protection or redress against his machinations. And now, Madame, with many thanks for your complaisance, and counting, of course, upon the strictest silence on your part, I bid you adieu, though but for a short time, I am pretty confident. Meanwhile, you will not refuse acceptance of this trifle from Arthur Baurdon’s childless father. It is a souvenir from the tomb.”
 
We left together, and Julie Morant, upon opening the paper placed in her hands, found it contained a note of the Bank of France for one thousand francs.

*                  *                  *                  *                 *                  *

Not more than three weeks had passed, when Madame Morant learned from the lips of her husband, rendered frantic by the utterly desperate circumstances in which he was involved, that their last franc was gone, and that he had besides incurred debts of honour to Captain Regnaud amounting to more than a hundred Napoleons, for which he had given promissory notes at short dates, one of which would fall due on the following day. One may imagine the shock of such a disclosure to the young wife, who had been completely blinded to the nature of her husband’s pursuits during his long absences from home; but she was of a courageous, elastic temperament, and soon rallying from the blow, all the more quickly that M. Bourdon’s words and promise flashed hopefully upon her mind, she was, before an hour had passed, on her way to that gentleman’s house, armed with a written statement of her husband’s liabilities, and his solemn promise that if extricated from the ruin he had brought upon himself and wife, he would never enter a gaming house again, nor as long as he lived pollute his hands with the touch of dice or cards.

M. Baurdon was at home. He had determined to settle in Lyon, and Madame Morant was immediately ushered into his presence. He looked even older and sadder than when she had before seen him, but he was unchanged towards herself, judging by his kind, recognising smile, and the goodwill with which he took her trembling hand, and pressed it with both his.
“Be seated, Madame Morant,” he said; “I can guess the purport of your visit pretty well; but let me hear it from your own lips.”

Julie complied, as well as her agitation would permit, and finished by placing the memorandum drawn up by her husband in the hand of her sympathising auditor. M. Baurdon glanced over it, and presently said—

“The sum required is a considerable one, but you were commended to my kind offices by that poor murdered boy,” glancing at a full-length portrait of his son, “and I will not fail you in this strait. You shall take the money with you; and a moderate sum in addition—”
 
“Ah, Monsieur,” broke in the weeping wife, “you are too good—too generous.”

“And a moderate sum besides,” continued M. Baurdon, “which will enable your husband to prosecute his studies, if he be sincere in his vows of amendment. But let him perfectly understand that I do this, and will further assist him, upon condition only that he never again plays or associates with Regnaud, and especially that he never again accepts bills or obligations for him or any other person, on any pretext whatever. Can I count upon your husband’s rigorous fulfilment of these terms?”

“Oh, certainly, Monsieur,” sobbed Madame Morant, “Gustave has been imprudent, thoughtless, but his heart, believe me, is uncorrupted; the promise he has given, together with the pledge you require, will be sacredly kept.”

*                  *                  *                  *                 *                  *

I contrived several pitfalls for Monsieur le Capitainé Regnaud, but feared he would escape them all, and that finding it impossible to prove he had foully murdered his son, though from various circumstances there was no doubt upon our minds that he had murdered him, Colonel Baurdon, as his only chance of vengeance, would have no alternative but to pick a quarrel with the villain, and call him out. He was eager to do so, and was impatiently considering how to set about it, when I burst in upon him in a state of considerable excitement. I had received a note from Regnaud, obscurely worded, and with a signature which I only could recognise, appointing to meet me that evening as he had an affair of honour on his hands.

“An affair of honour,” exclaimed Colonel Baurdon. “Regnaud writes to Gabriel, whom he believes to be an escaped forcat, to confer with him upon an affair of honour.”
 
“Droll, Colonel Baurdon; but true, nevertheless.”

“Are you quite sure that he has not penetrated your disguise? That he is not countermining us?”
 
“I am quite sure. That I make up well you are yourself a [witness], since you took me for a stranger of about forty years of age.”
 
“It is true. Well, we shall see; but if nothing comes of it this time, I will send the assassin a cartel tomorrow.”

*                  *                  *                  *                 *                  *

Rather late in the evening of that day, a middle-aged man entered a tavern in La Croix Rousse, and bade the attendant garçon inform Captain Regnaud, if he called, that his friend Gabriel was waiting for him in the back room. Gabriel was the name that person passed by in that and similar localities, but it was shrewdly suspected by more than one of his acquaintances, in consequence of some indistinct revelations he had made when under the influence of liquor, that he was no other than one Jaques Le Maitre, an escaped galley-slave, who, by means of a luxuriant black wig, whiskers, moustache, and beard, and altogether artistic make-up, with the further precaution of never leaving his den—wherever that might be—till darkness had fallen, had hitherto managed to escape the vigilance of the Lyon police. Evidently, from his gloomily, preoccupied, restless, unquiet demeanour, an individual at odds with the settled order of society, and on that particular evening more than usually nervous and impatient, which was not surprising, a full hour having passed before Captain Regnaud, himself, in a state of mental disquietude, and, moreover, flustered with drink, entered the small, dingy apartment.

“Ah, there you are, sacre night-owl,” exclaimed Regnard, seizing the brandy ordered, but untouched by Gabriel, and swallowing it at a gulp. “If I could have seen you three hours since, I should be eight hundred francs richer than I am!”
 
“Eight hundred francs in three hours is gros Jeu,” remarks Gabriel.
 
“Yes, I played high and madly. In fact, Gabriel, my friend, my affairs as I have before hinted to you, are just now in an awkward state. Nevertheless, with your promised assistance, clever rogue, that you are, all may yet be well.”
 
“Lemaire then will take my promissory note in lieu of that you are so eager to get out of his hands?”
 
“Not he, the villain! On the contrary, he plainly hints his opinion, and therein, between friends, I agree with him that M. Gabriel has half-a-dozen aliases—all names well known to Messieurs les Gendarmes, but not worth a sou upon a bill.”
 
“That remains to be proved Monsieur le Capitaine Ragnaud. In the meantime, what is to be done?”
 
“That, my friend, is the question. In the first place, there are a thousand francs, well nigh all I am possessed of, which shall, in case of success, be yours. Ah, that, in your opinion, is speaking to the purpose! Eh, Gabriel?”

“No doubt. I must, however, know, without reservation, exactly how the said thousand francs are to be earned. Such a sum cannot be had for nothing, of course. Still, I must know all the whys and wherefores of the business before I engage in it.”
 
“Right—quite right; I expected no less from your experience and knowledge of the world. Know, then, that I am about to confide in your discretion, as I certainly would not in the oaths of Monsieur the Archbishop of Paris, or of his Holiness the Pope; and for these plain reasons, my friend—firstly, that you would almost as lieve hang yourself as appear before a magistrate for any purpose whatever; secondly, that if you did so appear, your evidence would not be worth the breath with which it was uttered. You see I am candour itself.”
 
“Well?”
 
“This, then, is the exact situation. But first let me order some brandy. You remember, Gabriel,” the captain went on to say, as soon as the brandy was placed upon the table, and I had removed my seat to such a position that my face could only be partially seen where Regnaud sat—I had not then acquired the art of ruling the expression of my countenance—“You know that since that poor devil of an artist so unexpectedly paid his debts, I have had a run of infernal luck, and I now inform you that Lemaire, curse him! will not lend me a franc without the security of friend Morant, who took up his bills in so satisfactory a manner. Well, and you know that the sacre cocu—”
 
“What?”

“I mean that he shall be one, if the devil will but help his own at a pinch, before I have had him under lock and key for a month. Gustave Morant would not, now that he has turned saint, lend me his signature to save me from perdition. And so, and so,” proceeded Captain Regnaud, gulping down another glass of brandy, “finding there was no help for it, and confident that I should be able to retire, the note before the time expired—I—I—you understand?”
 
“Not exactly.”
 
“No! Then your brain is duller than that flashing eye indicates it to be. I mean that I signed,” he added, lowering his voice to a whisper, “I mean that I signed Gustave Morant’s name without its owner’s consent. You start as if a dagger struck you. Surely, such a trifle as that can hardly ruffle Monsieur Gabriel’s seasoned conscience?”
 
“You took me by surprise, that is all, Monsieur le Capitaine. A mere bagatelle, as you say, which put in plain French, means that you have forged Gustave Morant’s signature to a bill for five thousand francs.”
 
“Just that. Well, Lemaire now refuses to renew it, even if half, as I offered yesterday, were paid down, or take any other security I can get, in its place, and the bill is due in four days.”
 
“Holy Thunder! but that is embarrassing. I see nothing for it but flight—or—or blowing Morant’s brains out—legally, of course,”

“Thou art a shrewd rascal,” rejoined Regnaud, with vivacity. “Flight happens to be out of the question, and if nothing better can be done, I must resolutely outface the matter—swear the signature is genuine. The imitation, I can answer for it, is perfect; and Gustave Morant’s former acceptances in my favour will give force and colour to my assertion. That course would, however, be a dangerous one, find the other expedient you have suggested strikes me as the safest, surest plan.”
 
“It occurred to me that you might provoke Gustave Morant to a duel, and kill him. You are an adept, I have heard, at that game.”
 
“You have heard aright; but there are cogent reasons why I should not fight him. In the first place, if he should escape with life, which, however, would not be likely, the affair of the bill of exchange would have an ugly look. Next to kill him would damage me irretrievably with his charming wife, whose good graces I do not yet despair of winning. In brief, Gabriel, if you would earn the thousand francs, you must fight and kill Gustave Morant yourself.”

“I! Bah! you rave!”
 
“Perfectly sane, if not precisely sober, I assure you, friend Gabriel. What objection have you?”
 
“What objection? Come that’s pleasant. To begin with, then, he is, I know, a good fencer; so that I should have an excellent chance of receiving, instead of a thousand francs, six inches of cold steel for my share of the bargain.”
 
“Tut! tut! There will be no risk of that. You shall pink him without the slightest risk to yourself, as I have already four in my lifetime!—the last a far smarter fencer than Morant—one Arthur Bourdon of Paris.—Why, what the devil ails you tonight, Gabriel?”
 
“A sharp spasm, that’s all. Pass the brandy.”

“The expedient,” said Regnaud, continuing to speak in a low whisper. “The expedient is as simple as it is safe. I will provide you with a just-au-corps, or undershirt, fitting close to the body; so flexible, that though impenetrable by the keenest sword point, it cannot, except by the closest, minutest examination, be distinguished from plain flannel. After throwing off your coat, you will open the vest above the mail-shirt, before engaging, to show that all is fair, and your man is as safely and certainly spitted as a capon.”
 
Gabriel pretended to hesitate some time before accepting Regnaud’s atrocious proposal; but at last he said, “Well, the venture is worth trying by a fellow so out at elbows as I am. Where shall I meet with this Gustave Morant?”
 
“At Bichard’s, the restaurant, not far from the Exposition des Beaux Arts. He is of the true southern breed, and easily provoked.”
 
“And the thousand francs?”

“Five hundred at starting for the rendezvous, and five upon returning, successful.”
 
“It is a market! And now I must begone, for this confounded cholic increases upon me, and I must procure some more potent remedy than brandy.”

“Good evening, Gabriel. The thousand francs, depend upon it, are as safely yours as if already in your pocket.”

*                  *                  *                  *                 *                  *

Captain Regnaud slept soundly at daybreak the next morning, his head glued to the pillow by the strong potations of the previous evening. Nevertheless, awake he must, and did, under the infliction of the shouts and shakings of some half-a-dozen gendarmes; and cloudy, mystified, as were his wine and sleep-oppressed senses, he was soon made to comprehend that he, Jules Regnaud, Capitaine de Chasseurs, en retraite, was on his way to prison, charged with the crime of forging the signature of Gustave Morant to a bill of exchange for five thousand francs.

*                  *                  *                  *                 *                  *

The Cour d’Assises was in session the next week but one. Colonel Bourdon was in court, sitting close by me, and in a state of extreme, vengeful excitement. It almost seemed possible to kindle a cigar at the light of the flaming glance which he fixed upon Regnaud. The accused did not appear to observe either of us.
 
Various formalities having been gone through, the previously sworn deposition of Lemaire, that he had discounted the bill for Regnaud and that of Gustave Morant, that he had neither signed nor given anyone authority to sign it for him, were repeated in open court; the accused, who had recovered his audacity, frequently interrupting the last witness by questions and assertions, tending to show that Morant had given the bill, as he had former ones, in discharge of a gambling debt.

“Listen to me, Regnaud,” said the President of the Court. “You are acquainted, it appears, with one Gabriel?”

The accused seemed to falter for a moment, but recovering himself, boldly answered, “Yes; I know there is such a fellow; an escaped forçat, I have had latterly reason to suspect, and I, in consequence, kicked him out of a tavern for persisting in an attempt to force his odious society upon me.”
 
“Out of a tavern situate in La Croix Rousse?”

“Yes—no; I do not precisely remember.”

“Did you confess to him that you had forged the name of Gustave Morant, to a bill for five thousand francs?”

“Never. If he has said so, it is a vile invention to be revenged upon me. And of what worth, permit me to ask, Messieurs les Jurés, is the testimony of a fugitive galley-slave, which I contend Gabriel to be?”

“Did you tell him that you possessed a curiously-contrived just-au-corps, or undercoat, impenetrable to pistol-ball or sword thrust, by means of which you had been enabled to safely slay four persons in pretended duel?”

“Never! It is all, I insist, a hideous calumny.” replied the accused, but now ghastly pale, and with very much diminished confidence.

“It is certain, nevertheless, Regnaud, that such an article has been found at your lodgings. Do you know one Theodore Duhamel?”
 
“By reputation only. He was, I believe, once pointed out to me, but I should not recognise his features?”

“Look at the witness whom the Huissier has just placed, and say if you [persist] in that answer.”
 
“Yes—no—that is—” stammered Regnaud, upon whose swarthy forehead large beads of perspiration suddenly broke out.
 
“You are not quite sure. The witness will help your memory.”
 
With quick dexterity, I assumed the black wig, beard, whiskers, and moustaches. “Now, do you know me?” I exclaimed.
 
“Gabriel!” screamed the accused, surprised out of all self-control. “I am lost!”
 
There could be no doubt of that, and scarcely ten minutes had passed before Jules Regnaud was convicted and sentenced to the galleys for life—the president expressing his regret that he could not be punished capitally for the murders by duel he had committed. He was sent with the next chain gang to Brest, where he survived this, his fifth and last duel, though not fought with sword or pistol, about two years only.

From Experiences of a French Detective Officer by William Russell. New York: Dick & Fitgerald, 1864. 135-60.

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.