Although the widow seemed crushed by this unexpected blow, the magistrate did not add another word. Her deposition was read over to her, she signed it, and was then led away.
M. Segmuller immediately seated himself at his desk, filled up a blank form and handed it to his clerk, saying: “This is an order for the governor of the Depot. Tell him to send the supposed murderer here at once.”
If it is difficult to extort a confession from a man interested in preserving silence and persuaded that no proofs can be produced against him, it is a yet more arduous task to make a woman, similarly situated, speak the truth. As they say at the Palais de Justice, one might as well try to make the devil confess.
The examination of the Widow Chupin had been conducted with the greatest possible care by M. Segmuller, who was as skilful in managing his questions as a tried general in maneuvering his troops.
However, all that he had discovered was that the landlady of the Poivriere was conniving with the murderer. The motive of her connivance was yet unknown, and the murderer’s identity still a mystery. Both M. Segmuller and Lecoq were nevertheless of the opinion that the old hag knew everything. “It is almost certain,” remarked the magistrate, “that she was acquainted with the people who came to her house—with the women, the victims, the murderer—with all of them, in fact. I am positive as regards that fellow Gustave—I read it in her eyes. I am also convinced that she knows Lacheneur—the man upon whom the dying soldier breathed vengeance—the mysterious personage who evidently possesses the key to the enigma. That man must be found.”
“Ah!” replied Lecoq, “and I will find him even if I have to question every one of the eleven hundred thousand men who constantly walk the streets of Paris!”
This was promising so much that the magistrate, despite his preoccupation, could not repress a smile.
“If this old woman would only decide to make a clean breast of it at her next examination!” remarked Lecoq.
“Yes. But she won’t.”
The young detective shook his head despondently. Such was his own opinion. He did not delude himself with false hopes, and he had noticed between the Widow Chupin’s eyebrows those furrows which, according to physiognomists, indicate a senseless, brutish obstinacy.
“Women never confess,” resumed the magistrate; “and even when they seemingly resign themselves to such a course they are not sincere. They fancy they have discovered some means of misleading their examiner. On the contrary, evidence will crush the most obstinate man; he gives up the struggle, and confesses. Now, a woman scoffs at evidence. Show her the sun; tell her it’s daytime; at once she will close her eyes and say to you, ‘No, it’s night.’ Male prisoners plan and combine different systems of defense according to their social positions; the women, on the contrary, have but one system, no matter what may be their condition in life. They deny everything, persist in their denials even when the proof against them is overwhelming, and then they cry. When I worry the Chupin with disagreeable questions, at her next examination, you may be sure she will turn her eyes into a fountain of tears.”