The Man with the Black Feather/Chapter 18




It was the habit of the three friends to play a game of dominoes in the evening after dinner. M. Lecamus, who was a Norman, took a delight in using terms racy of the soil. When he set down the Double-six, he would cry: "Now for the double-nigger!" When he put down a Five, he would cry: "The pup! That bites!" When he put down a One, he would cry: "The maggot! Bait!" The Three drew from him this phrase: "If you've the pluck, down with the pig's-tail!" He called the Two "The beggar!" The unfortunate Four was blasted by the name of "The whelp!" and he could not put down a Blank without announcing: "The washerwoman!"

Marceline took the greatest delight in these exclamations, and she was always ready to play dominoes. Theophrastus generally lost; and it was a pleasure to see him lose, for at this game he had displayed the most disagreeable nature in the world. Whenever he lost, he sulked.

One evening Theophrastus had, as usual, lost; and with an angry frown on his brow, he had stopped playing, and buried himself in an evening paper. He was very fond of the political notes, and his opinions were limited. They were bounded on the north by "The Despotism of Tyrants," and on the south by "The Socialist Utopia." Between the Socialist Utopia and the Despotism of Tyrants, he understood everything, he declared, except that one should attack the army. He often said, "The army must not be touched!" He was a worthy soul.

That evening he read the Political Notes without, as usual, commenting aloud on them, because he was sulking. And then his eyes were caught by this headline:


He could not refrain from smiling, so absurd did this hypothesis seem to him. Then he ran his eyes over the first lines of the article, and let escape him the word "Strange!…" and then the word "Odd…" and then the word "Amazing…" But without any particular display of emotion. Then he decided that it was time to stop sulking, and said:

"You have n't read this article entitled: 'Cartouche is not dead,' Adolphe. It's a strange and amazing article."

Marceline and Adolphe started violently and looked at one another in dismay. Theophrastus read:

"Is Cartouche, then, not dead? For some days the police, with the greatest mystery which we however have penetrated, have been solely occupied with a series of strange crimes of which they have been forced to conceal the most curious side from the public. These crimes and the manner in which their author escapes from the Police at the very moment at which they believe they have caught him, recall point by point the methods of the celebrated Cartouche. If it were not a question of an affair as reprehensible as a series of crimes, one could even admire the art with which the model is imitated. As an official of the Prefecture of Police, whose name we do not give since he insisted on secrecy, said to us yesterday, 'He's the very spit of Cartouche!' So much so that the detectives no longer call the mysterious robber, on the track of whom they sometimes find themselves, anything but Cartouche! Moreover the authorities, with great secrecy but with considerable intelligence—for once we find no difficulty in admitting it—have placed in the hands of three of them a history of Cartouche edited by the Librarians of the National Library. They have decided, quite subtly, that the history of Cartouche should be useful to them, not only in the matter in hand, which consists in their preventing to-day the criminal eccentricities of the new Cartouche and in arresting the new Cartouche himself, but also that his story ought to form a part of the general instruction of all detectives. Indeed a rumour has come to our ears that M. Lepine, the Prefect of Police, has ordered several of the evening courses at the Prefecture to be devoted to the authentic history of the illustrious robber."

"What do you think of that?" said Theophrastus with an air of amiable indulgence. "It's a regular farce. The journalists are queer beggars to try to stuff us with all this rubbish."

Neither Adolphe nor Marceline smiled. In a somewhat shaky voice Marceline bade him go on reading.

"The first crime of the new Cartouche, the crime at least with which the Police was first called on to occupy itself, does not present that aspect of horror which we find in some of the others. It is a romantic crime. Let us say at once that all the crimes of which we have cognisance and which are attributed to the new Cartouche, have been committed during the last fortnight and always between eleven o'clock at night and four in the morning."

Madame Longuet started up, her face as white as a sheet. Since the Astral operation, Theophrastus had been sleeping in the bedroom by himself, while she had slept in a small bed in the study. M. Lecamus caught her wrist and swiftly drew her back into her seat. His eyes bade her be silent.

Theophrastus paused in his reading and said, "What on earth do they mean by their new Cartouche? Myself, I only know the old one!… Well, let's hear about the romantic crime…"

He read on, growing calmer and calmer at every line:

"A lady, young and charming, and very well known in Paris, where her Salon is filled by all those who occupy themselves gracefully with Spiritualism—the affair is, after all, somewhat compromising, therefore we do not publish her name—was in the middle of her toilet about one o'clock in the morning, preparing to enjoy her well-earned repose after a somewhat exhausting conference with the most illustrious of the Pneumatics, when suddenly her window, which opens on to a balcony, was flung open violently, and a man of little more than middle height, still young, and extremely vigorous (this detail is in the police report), but with his hair entirely white, sprang into the room. He had in his hand a shining, nickel-plated revolver.

"'Do not be frightened, madame,' he said to the terrified lady. 'I am not going to harm you. Regard me as your most humble servant. My name is Louis-Dominique Cartouche; and my only ambition is to sup with you. By the throttle of Madame Phalaris! I've got a devil of a twist on me!' And he laughed.

"Mme. de B… (we will call her Mme. de B…) thought she had to do with a madman. But it was only a man resolved to sup with her, since, he said, he had been for a long time fascinated by her grace and charm. Yet this man was far more dangerous than a madman. For it was necessary to give way to him, owing to his nickel-plated revolver.

"'You are going to ring for your servants, and order them to bring an excellent supper,' said the man coolly. 'Do not give them any explanation which might cause me trouble. If you do, you're a dead woman.'

"Mme. de B… is a lady of courage. She rose at once to the occasion, rang for her maid, ordered supper to be brought to her boudoir, and a quarter of an hour later she and the man with the white hair were facing one another at table, the best friends in the world. We need hardly say that the man with the white hair made no haste over that delightful meal; and it was after two o'clock when he climbed down from the balcony. It was perhaps not unnatural that the beautiful Mme. de B… should not have informed the police of the adventure. It was necessity that compelled her to the avowal; for a few days later a Commissary of Police called on her, and informed her that the ring, containing a magnificent diamond, which she wore on the third finger of her right hand was the property of Mlle. Emilienne de Besançon; that that lady had seen it on her finger at a charity bazaar the day before; that Mme. de B… was doubtless ignorant whose property it was; doubtless it had been given to her. Mme. de B… was beyond words surprised and annoyed. She told the story of the balcony, the unknown, and the supper; and said that in bidding her good-bye he had forced the ring on her, saying that he had had it from a lady of whom he had been very fond, Mme. de Phalaris, but who had died a long while ago. It was impossible to suspect Mme. de B… She furnished a proof: the shining, nickel-plated revolver, which the unknown had left on a small table in the boudoir. At the same time she begged the Commissary of Police to take away a hundred bottles of champagne of the finest brands, which the unknown had sent to her the day after that extraordinary night, on the pretext that the supper had been excellent, but the champagne alone had left something to be desired. She feared lest, like the ring, the champagne should have been stolen.

"This adventure, which is the least of those we have to relate, is a faithful reproduction of an affair which took place on the night of July 13, 1721, at the house of Mme. la Maréchale de Boufflers. That lady also was at her toilet. The young man arrived by the balcony; he had not a shining, nickel-plated revolver in his hand, but he carried six English pistols in his belt. After having introduced himself as Louis-Dominique Cartouche, he demanded supper. And the widow of Louis-François, Duke de Boufflers, Peer and Marshal of France, the hero of Lille and Malplaquet, supped with Cartouche, and did not hurry over the supper.

"Cartouche only complained of the champagne; and next morning Mme. de Boufflers received a hundred bottles. He had had them taken from the cellars of a great financier by his butler Patapon.

"A few days later one of the bands of Cartouche stopped a carriage in the street. Cartouche looked in through the window and scanned the faces. It was Mme. la Maréchale de Boufflers.

"He turned to his men and said in ringing tones, 'Let Mme. la Maréchale de Boufflers pass freely to-night and always.'

"He bowed low to Mme. la Maréchale, after having slipped on her finger a magnificent diamond which he had previously stolen from Mme. de Phalaris. Mme. de Phalaris never saw it again!

"And now let us pass on to the crime in Bac Street."