“Will you please,” said Daniel at the same time, “ask the prisoner, if, among the sixty or seventy portraits in that book, he knows any one?”
The album was handed to Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, who turned over leaf after leaf, till all of a sudden, and almost beside himself, he cried out,—
“Here he is, Justin Chevassat! Oh! that’s he, no doubt about it.”
Daniel could, from his bed, see the photograph, and said,—
“That is Maxime’s portrait.”
After this decisive evidence, there could be no longer any doubt that Justin Chevassat and Maxime de Brevan were one and the same person. The investigation was complete, as far as it could be carried on in Saigon; the remaining evidence had to be collected in Paris. The magistrate directed, therefore, the clerk to read the deposition; and Crochard followed it without making a single objection. But when he had signed it, and the gendarmes were about to carry him off again, and to put on the handcuffs, he asked leave to make an addition. The magistrate assented; and Crochard said,—
“I do not want to excuse myself, nor to make myself out innocent; but I do not like, on the other hand, to seem worse than I am.”
He had assumed a very decided position, and evidently aimed at giving to his words an expression of coarse but perfect frankness.
“The thing which I had undertaken to do, it was not in my power to do. It has never entered my head to kill a man treacherously. If I had been a brute, such as these are, the lieutenant would not be there, wounded to be sure, but alive. Ten times I might have done his business most effectively; but I did not care. I tried in vain to think of Chevassat’s big promises; at the last moment, my heart always failed me. The thing was too much for me. And the proof of it is, that I missed him at ten yards’ distance. The only time when I tried it really in earnest was in the little boat, because there, I ran some risk; it was like a duel, since my life was as much at stake as the lieutenant’s. I can swim as well as anybody, to be sure; but in a river like the Dong-Nai, at night, and with a current like that, no swimmer can hold his own. The lieutenant got out of it; but I was very near being drowned. I could not get on land again until I had been carried down two miles or more; and, when I did get on shore, I sank in the mud up to my hips. Now, I humbly beg the lieutenant’s pardon; and you shall see if I am going to let Chevassat escape.”
Thereupon he held out his hands for the handcuffs, with a theatrical gesture, and left the room.
In the meantime, the long, trying scene had exhausted Daniel; and he lay there, panting, on his bed. The surgeon and the lawyer withdrew, to let him have some rest.
He certainly needed it; but how could he sleep with the fearful idea of his Henrietta—she whom he loved with his whole heart—being in the hands of this Justin Chevassat, a forger, a former galley-slave, the accomplice and friend of Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet?