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The Crime of the Boulevard

Jules Claretie

  Produced by Darleen Dove, Ernest Schaal, and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at

  _The Crime of The Boulevard_


  By JULES CLARETIE Member of the French Academy




  R. F. FENNO & COMPANY Eighteen East Seventeenth Street :: NEW YORK

  Copyright, 1897 BY R. F. FENNO & COMPANY

  The Crime of the Boulevard



  "WHERE does Bernardet live?"

  "At the passage to the right--Yes, that house which you see with thegrating and the garden behind it."

  The man to whom a passer-by had given this information hurried away inthe direction pointed out; although gasping for breath, he tried to run,in order to more quickly reach the little house at the end of thepassage of the Elysee des Beaux Arts. This passage, a sort ofcul-de-sac, on either side of which were black buildings, strange oldhouses, and dilapidated storehouses, opened upon a boulevard filled withlife and movement; with people promenading; with the noise of tramways;with gaiety and light.

  The man wore the dress and had the bearing of a workman. He was veryshort, very fat, and his bald head was bared to the warm October rain.He was a workman, in truth, who labored in his concierge lodge, makingover and mending garments for his neighbors, while his wife looked afterthe house, swept the staircases, and complained of her lot.

  Mme. Moniche found life hard and disagreeable, and regretted that it hadnot given her what it promised when, at eighteen, and very pretty, shehad expected something better than to watch beside a tailor bent overhis work in a concierge's lodge. Into her life a tragedy had suddenlyprecipitated itself, and Mme. Moniche found, that day, something tobrighten up her afternoon. Entering a moment before, the apartmentoccupied by M. Rovere, she had found her lodger lying on his back, hiseyes fixed, his arms flung out, with a gash across his throat!

  M. Rovere had lived alone in the house for many years, receiving a fewmysterious persons. Mme. Moniche looked after his apartment, entering byusing her own key whenever it was necessary; and her lodger had givenher permission to come there at any time to read the daily papers.

  Mme. Moniche hurried down the stairs.

  "M. Rovere is dead! M. Rovere has been murdered! His throat has beencut! He has been assassinated!" And, pushing her husband out of thedoor, she exclaimed:

  "The police! Go for the police!"

  This word "police" awakened in the tailor's mind, not the thought of theneighboring Commissary, but the thought of the man to whom he felt thathe ought to appeal, whom he ought to consult. This man was the goodlittle M. Bernardet, who passed for a man of genius of his kind, at theSurete, and for whom Moniche had often repaired coats and rehemmedtrousers.

  From the mansion in the Boulevard de Clichy, where Moniche lived, to M.Bernardet's house, was but a short distance, and the concierge knew theway very well, as he had often been there. But the poor man was sostupefied, so overwhelmed, by the sudden appearance of his wife in hisroom, by the brutal revelation which came to him as the blow of a fist,by the horrible manner of M. Rovere's death, that he lost his head.Horrified, breathless, he asked the first passer-by where Bernardetlived, and he ran as fast as he could in the direction pointed out.

  Arrived at the grating, the worthy man, a little confused, stoppedshort. He was very strongly moved. It seemed to him that he had beencast into the agony of a horrible nightmare. An assassination in thehouse! A murder in the Boulevard de Clichy in broad daylight, just overhis head, while he was quietly repairing a vest!

  He stood looking at the house without ringing. M. Bernardet was, nodoubt, breakfasting with his family, for it was Sunday, and the policeofficer, meeting Moniche the evening before, had said to him:"To-morrow is my birthday."

  Moniche hesitated a moment, then he rang the bell. He was not keptwaiting; the sudden opening of the grating startled him; he pushed backthe door and entered. He crossed a little court, at the end of which wasa pavilion; he mounted the three steps and was met on the threshold by alittle woman, as rosy and fresh as an apple, who, napkin in hand, gaylysaluted him.

  "Eh, Monsieur Moniche!"

  It was Mme. Bernardet, a Burgundian woman, about thirty-five years ofage, trim and coquettish, who stepped back so that the tailor couldenter.

  "What is the matter, M. Moniche?"

  Poor Moniche rolled his frightened eyes around and gasped out: "I mustspeak to M. Bernardet."

  "Nothing easier," said the little woman. "M. Bernardet is in the garden.Yes, he is taking advantage of the beautiful day; he is taking agroup"----

  "What group?"

  "You know very well, photography is his passion. Come with me."

  And Mme. Bernardet pointed to the end of the corridor, where an opendoor gave a glimpse of the garden at the rear of the house. M.Bernardet, the Inspector, had posed his three daughters with theirmother about a small table, on which coffee had been served.

  "I had just gone in to get my napkin, when I heard you ring," Mme.Bernardet said.

  Bernardet made a sign to Moniche not to advance. He was as plump and asgay as his wife. His moustache was red, his double chin smooth-shavenand rosy, his eyes had a sharp, cunning look, his head was round andclosely cropped.

  The three daughters, clothed alike in Scotch plaid, were posing in frontof a photographic apparatus which stood on a tripod. The eldest wasabout twelve years of age; the youngest a child of five. They were allthree strangely alike.

  M. Bernardet, in honor of his birthday, was taking a picture of hisdaughters. The ferret who, from morning till night, tracked robbers andmalefactors into their hiding places, was taking his recreation in hisdamp garden. The sweet idyl of this hidden life repaid him for hisunceasing investigations, for his trouble and fatiguing man-huntsthrough Paris.

  "There!" he said, clapping the cap over the lens. "That is all! Go andplay now, my dears. I am at your service, Moniche."

  He shut up his photographic apparatus, pulling out the tripod from thedeep soil in which it was imbedded, while his daughters joyously ran totheir mother. The young girls stood gazing at Moniche with their greatblue eyes, piercing and clear. Bernardet turned to look at him, and atonce divined that something had happened.

  "You are as white as your handkerchief, Moniche," he said.

  "Ah! Monsieur Bernardet! It is enough to terrify one! There has been amurder in the house."

  "A murder?"

  His face, which had been so gay and careless, suddenly took on a strangeexpression, at once tense and serious; the large blue eyes shone as withan inward fire.

  "A murder, yes, Monsieur Bernardet. M. Rovere--you did not know him?"


  "He was an original--a recluse. And now he has been assassinated. Mywife went to his room to read the papers"----

  Bernardet interrupted him brusquely:

  "When did it happen?"

  "Ah! _Dame!_ Monsieur, I do not know. All I know is my wife found thebody still warm. She was not afraid; she touched it."

  "Still warm!"

  These words struck Bernardet. He reflected a moment, then he said:

  "Come; let us go to your house."<
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  Then, struck with a sudden idea, he added: "Yes, I will take it."

  He unfastened his camera from the tripod. "I have three plates leftwhich I can use," he said.

  Mme. Bernardet, who was standing at a little distance, with the childrenclinging to her skirts, perceived that the concierge had broughtimportant news. Bernardet's smiling face had suddenly changed; theexpression became serious, his glance fixed and keen.

  "Art thou going with him?" Mme. Bernardet asked, as she saw her husbandbuckle on a leather bandolier.

  "Yes!" he answered.

  "Ah! Mon Dieu! my poor Sunday, and this evening--can we not go to thelittle theatre at Montmartre this evening?"

  "I do not know," he replied.

  "You promised! The poor children! You promised to take them to seeCloserie des Genets!"

  "I cannot tell; I do not know--I will see," the little man said. "Mydear Moniche, to-day is my fortieth birthday. I promised to take them tothe theatre--but I must go with you." Turning to his wife, he added:"But I will come back as soon as I can. Come, Moniche, let us hasten toyour M. Rovere."

  He kissed his wife on the forehead, and each little girl on both cheeks,and, strapping the camera in the bandolier, he went out, followed by thetailor. As they walked quickly along Moniche kept repeating: "Stillwarm; yes, Monsieur Bernardet, still warm!"