Volume one of the collected cases of one of the first fictional detectives
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 one readers will discover, ‘The Lerouge Case’ and ‘The Mystery of Orcival’.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Meanwhile Sauvresy’s state was not reassuring for Hector’s hopes and plans. On the very day when he had this conversation with Bertha, her husband was forced to take to his bed again. This relapse took place after he had drank a glass of quinine and water, which he had been accustomed to take just before supper; only, this time, the symptoms changed entirely, as if one malady had yielded to another of a very different kind. He complained of a pricking in his skin, of vertigo, of convulsive twitches which contracted and twisted his limbs, especially his arms. He cried out with excruciating neuralgic pains in the face. He was seized with a violent, persistent, tenacious craving for pepper, which nothing could assuage. He was sleepless, and morphine in large doses failed to bring him slumber; while he felt an intense chill within him, as if the body’s temperature were gradually diminishing.
Delirium had completely disappeared, and the sick man retained perfectly the clearness of his mind. Sauvresy bore up wonderfully under his pains, and seemed to take a new interest in the business of his estates. He was constantly in consultation with bailiffs and agents, and shut himself up for days together with notaries and attorneys. Then, saying that he must have distractions, he received all his friends, and when no one called, he sent for some acquaintance to come and chat with him in order to forget his illness. He gave no hint of what he was doing and thinking, and Bertha was devoured by anxiety. She often watched for her husband’s agent, when, after a conference of several hours, he came out of his room; and making herself as sweet and fascinating as possible, she used all her cunning to find out something which would enlighten her as to what he was about. But no one could, or at least would, satisfy her curiosity; all gave evasive replies, as if Sauvresy had cautioned them, or as if there were nothing to tell.
No complaints were heard from Sauvresy. He talked constantly of Bertha and Hector; he wished all the world to know their devotion to him; he called them his “guardian angels,” and blessed Heaven that had given him such a wife and such a friend. Sauvresy’s illness now became so serious that Tremorel began to despair; he became alarmed; what position would his friend’s death leave him in? Bertha, having become a widow, would be implacable. He resolved to find out her inmost thoughts at the first opportunity; she anticipated him, and saved him the trouble of broaching the subject. One afternoon, when they were alone, M. Plantat being in attendance at the sick man’s bedside, Bertha commenced.
“I want some advice, Hector, and you alone can give it to me. How can I find out whether Clement, within the past day or two, has not changed his will in regard to me?”
“Yes, I’ve already told you that by a will of which I myself have a copy, Sauvresy has left me his whole fortune. I fear that he may perhaps revoke it.”
“What an idea!”
“Ah, I have reasons for my apprehensions. What are all these agents and attorneys doing at Valfeuillu? A stroke of this man’s pen may ruin me. Don’t you see that he can deprive me of his millions, and reduce me to my dowry of fifty thousand francs?”
“But he will not do it; he loves you—”
“Are you sure of it? I’ve told you, there are three millions; I must have this fortune—not for myself, but for you; I want it, I must have it! But how can I find out—how? how?”
Hector was very indignant. It was to this end, then, that his delays had conducted him! She thought that she had a right now to dispose of him in spite of himself, and, as it were, to purchase him. And he could not, dared not, say anything!
“We must be patient,” said he, “and wait—”
“Wait—for what? Till he’s dead?”
“Don’t speak so.”
“Why not?” Bertha went up to him, and in a low voice, muttered:
“He has only a week to live; and see here—”
She drew a little vial from her pocket, and held it up to him.
“That is what convinces me that I am not mistaken.”
Hector became livid, and could not stifle a cry of horror. He comprehended all now—he saw how it was that Bertha had been so easily subdued, why she had refrained from speaking of Laurence, her strange words, her calm confidence.
“Poison!” stammered he, confounded.
“You have not used it?”
She fixed a hard, stern look upon him—the look which had subdued his will, against which he had struggled in vain—and in a calm voice, emphasizing each word, answered:
“I have used it.”
The count was, indeed, a dangerous man, unscrupulous, not recoiling from any wickedness when his passions were to be indulged, capable of everything; but this horrible crime awoke in him all that remained of honest energy.
“Well,” he cried, in disgust, “you will not use it again!”
He hastened toward the door, shuddering; she stopped him.
“Reflect before you act,” said she, coldly. “I will betray the fact of your relations with me; who will then believe that you are not my accomplice?”
He saw the force of this terrible menace, coming from Bertha.
“Come,” said she, ironically, “speak—betray me if you choose. Whatever happens, for happiness or misery, we shall no longer be separated; our destinies will be the same.”
Hector fell heavily into a chair, more overwhelmed than if he had been struck with a hammer. He held his bursting forehead between his hands; he saw himself shut up in an infernal circle, without outlet.
“I am lost!” he stammered, without knowing what he said, “I am lost!”
He was to be pitied; his face was terribly haggard, great drops of perspiration stood at the roots of his hair, his eyes wandered as if he were insane. Bertha shook him rudely by the arm, for his cowardice exasperated her.
“You are afraid,” she said. “You are trembling! Lost? You would not say so, if you loved me as I do you. Will you be lost because I am to be your wife, because we shall be free to love in the face of all the world? Lost! Then you have no idea of what I have endured? You don’t know, then, that I am tired of suffering, fearing, feigning.”
“Such a crime!”
She burst out with a laugh that made him shudder.