Originally published in two volumes—a special single volume Lecoq edition
Monsieur Lecoq is one of the earliest fictional detectives and his success with the reading public undoubtedly influenced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the creation of his more renowned fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. Lecoq, who was based on the actual former criminal turned police officer, Eugene Vidocq, was the creation of Emile Gaboriau (1832-73), a French author who had tried his hand at several genres before he became a pioneer of ‘detective fiction’. ‘The Lerouge Case’ (1866) catapulted him to almost instantaneous fame. His reputation secured, more Lecoq stories followed and earned Gaboriau a substantial international readership, though this was diminished by the arrival of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Nevertheless, Gaboriau continued to write crime novels and enjoyed considerable success especially in France until his untimely death (aged just 40 years) from pulmonary apoplexy. In common with the life of the character upon whom he is based, Lecoq has a dark side to his personality which contrasts sharply with the usual unambiguously moral personalities of most of the great detectives in this genre. He has, however, the obligatory foil in the person of Taberet, an ‘armchair detective’ who acts as mentor to Lecoq and provides intellectual assistance to solve crimes without leaving his own bed. Unlike Holmes, Lecoq is not a private detective but an officer of the French Surete or La SureteNationale which initially served as the detective branch of the Paris police force and was in fact created in 1812 by Vidocq who was its director until 1827. This Leonaur collection brings together all the Lecoq cases into one four volume edition for modern readers to enjoy. In volume two readers will discover, In volume three readers will discover a two volume work in one edition, ‘The Slaves of Paris’.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
“I, madame, I myself! Does that surprise you? Have you never had any suspicion? Perhaps you have not forgotten a fatal accident which took place out shooting, and darkened the earlier years of our married life? Well, the thing was not an accident, but a deliberate murder committed by me. Yes, I murdered him, and this fact is known, and can be proved.”
The countess grew deadly pale, and extended her hand, as though to guard herself from some coming danger.
“You are horrified, are you?” continued the count, with a sneer. “Perhaps I inspire you with horror; but do not fear; the blood is no longer on my hands, but it is here, and is choking me.” And as he spoke he pressed his fingers upon his heart. “For twenty-three years I have endured this hideous recollection and even now when I wake in the night I am bathed in cold sweat, for I fancy I can hear the last gasps of the unhappy man.”
“This is horrible, too horrible!” murmured Madame de Mussidan faintly.
“Ah, but you do not know why I killed him,—it was because the dead man had dared to tell me that the wife I adored with all the passion of my soul was unfaithful to me.”
Words of eager denial rose to the lips of the countess; but her husband went on coldly, “And it was all true, for I heard all later on.
“Poor Montlouis! he was really loved. There was a little shop-girl, who toiled hard for daily bread, but she was a thousand times more honourable than the haughty woman of noble race that I had just married.”
“Have mercy, Octave.”
“Yes, and she fell a victim to her love for Montlouis. Had he lived, he would have made her his wife. After his death, she could no longer conceal her fault. In small towns the people are without mercy; and when she left the hospital with her baby at her breast, the women pelted her with mud. But for me,” continued the count, “she would have died of hunger. Poor girl! I did not allow her much, but with it she managed to give her son a decent education. He has now grown up, and whatever happens, his future is safe.”
Had M. de Mussidan and his wife been less deeply engaged in this hideous recital, they would have heard the stifled sobs that came from the adjoining room.
The count felt a certain kind of savage pleasure in venting the rage, that had for years been suppressed, upon the shrinking woman before him. “Would it not be a cruel injustice, madame, to draw a comparison between you and this unhappy girl? Have you always been deaf to the whisperings of conscience? and have you never thought of the future punishment which most certainly awaits you? for you have failed in the duties of daughter, wife, and mother.”
Generally the countess cared little for her husband’s reproaches, well deserved as they might be, but today she quailed before him.
“With your entrance into my life,” continued the count, “came shame and misfortune. When people saw you so gay and careless under the oak-trees of your ancestral home, who could have suspected that your heart contained a dark secret? When my only wish was to win you for my wife, how did I know that you were weaving a hideous conspiracy against me? Even when so young, you were a monster of dissimulation and hypocrisy. Guilt never overshadowed your brow, nor did falsehood dim the frankness of your eyes. On the day of our marriage I mentally reproached myself for any unworthiness. Wretched fool that I was, I was happy beyond all power of expression, when you, madame, completed the measure of your guilt by adding infidelity to it.”
“It is false,” murmured the countess. “You have been deceived.”
M. de Mussidan laughed a grim and terrible laugh.
“Not so,” answered he; “I have every proof. This seems strange to you, does it? You have always looked upon me as one of those foolish husbands that may be duped without suspicion on their parts. You thought that you had placed a veil over my eyes, but I could see through it when you little suspected that I could do so. Why did I not tell you this before? Because I had not ceased to love you, and this fatal love was stronger than all honour, pride, and even self-respect.” He poured out this tirade with inconceivable rapidity, and the countess listened to it in awe-struck silence. “I kept silence,” continued the count, “because I knew that on the day I uttered the truth you would be entirely lost to me. I might have killed you; I had every right to do so, but I could not live apart from you. You will never know how near the shadow of death has been to you. When I have kissed you, I have fancied that your lips were soiled with the kisses of others, and I could hardly keep my hands from clutching your ivory neck until life was extinct, and failed utterly to decide whether I loved you or hated you the most.”
“Have mercy, Octave! have mercy!” pleaded the unhappy woman.
“You are surprised, I can see,” answered he, with a dark smile; “yet I could give you further food for wonder if I pleased, but I have said enough now.”
A tremor passed over the frame of the countess. Was her husband acquainted with the existence of the letters? All hinged upon this. He could not have read them, or he would have spoken in very different terms, had he known the mystery contained in them.
“Let me speak,” began she.
“Not a word,” replied her husband.