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A TO SPEAK of the detective novel is to speak of Gaboriau. He
cannot be called the father of it; but the French novelist
made his field so peculiarly his own, developed its type of human nature so painstakingly, created so distinctive a reputation associated with it, that it is doubtful whether any one can be said to have outrivaled him.
Born at Saujon, in the Department of the Charente-Inférieure, in 1835, Gaboriau drifted from school into the cavalry service; then into three or four less picturesque methods of keeping body and soul together; and finally, by a kind of literary accident, he became the private secretary of the Parisian novelist Paul Féval. His first successful story ran as a continued one in a journal called Le Pays. It was "The Lerouge Affair,' but it did not even under newspaper circumstances find any considerable favor until it caught the eye of the astute Millaud, the founder of the Petit Journal. Millaud recognized in the fiction a new note in detective-novel making. He transferred it to another journal, Le Soleil. There it made an instant and tremendous success.
From that moment Gaboriau's career was determined and fortunate. In rapid succession followed (The Crime of Orcival (1867); (File No. 113' (1867); the elaborate (Slaves of Paris) (1869); (M. Lecoq' (1869), - in which title appears the name of the moving spirit of almost all the other stories; “The Infernal Life) (1870); and four or five others. All these stories have been translated into almost every modern language that has a reading public. They brought Gaboriau a large income during his lifetime, and they are still valuable literary properties. Their author died in Paris, his health broken in consequence of incessant overwork, in September 1873.
Gaboriau elevated the detective story to something like a superior plane in popular fiction. It is a question whether he did not say in a large measure the strongest word in it, and to all intents and purposes the last word. His books all have a certain resemblance, in that we start into a complex drama with a riddle of crime. The unfolding always brings us sooner or later to a dramatic family secret, of which the original crime has only been an outside detail. The secret is the mainspring of the book, and about the middle of it the reader finds himself chiefly absorbed by it. Indeed, Gaboriau's novels have often been spoken of as “told backward.) Most of the novels too gain their movement from one source — the wonderful shrewdness and audacity of a certain M. Lecoq of the Paris detective service. M. Lecoq was really an exaggeration of the well-known and wonderfully able Paris detective, M. Vidocq; and there are dozens of episodes in the course of Vidocq's brilliant professional career which Gaboriau did not dress up so very much in introducing them into his stories. There is an individuality to each novel, in spite of the family likeness. Occasionally, like Dickens, the author attacked abuses with effect; as in “The Infernal Life' and 'The Slaves of Paris,' and other books where he has set forth the merciless system of private blackmailing in Paris with little exaggeration.
As to literary manner, Gaboriau was not a writer of the first order, even as a French popular novelist. But he knew how to write; and there is a correctness of diction and a nervous vivacity that is much to his credit, considering the rapidity with which he produced his work, and the fact that he had no sufficient early training for his profession. He is seldom slipshod, and he is never really negligent. He has been criticized for making his dénouements too simple, if one regards them as a whole process; but his details are full of variety, and the reader of Gaboriau never is troubled to keep his attention on the author's pages, even in the case of those stories that are not of the first class among his works. Perhaps the best of all the novels is one of the shorter ones, File No. 113.'
THE IMPOSTOR AND THE BANKER'S WIFE: THE ROBBERY
From (File No. 113)
AOUL SPENCER, supposed to be Raoul de Clameran, began to i triumph over his instincts of revolt. He ran to the door
and rang the bell. It opened. «Is my aunt at home ?” he asked the footman.
“Madame is alone in the boudoir next her room," replied the servant.
Clameran had said to Raoul, «Above all, be careful about your entrance; your appearance must express everything, and thus you will avoid impossible explanations.”
The suggestion was useless.
When Raoul entered the little reception-room, his pale face and wild eyes frightened Madame Fauvel, who cried:
“Raoul! What has happened to you ?”
The sound of her gentle voice produced upon the young vagrant the effect of an electric shock. He trembled from head to foot: yet his mind was clear; Louis had not been mistaken in him. Raoul continued his rôle as if on the stage, and as assurance came to him his knavery crushed his better nature.
"Mother, the misfortune which has come to me,” he replied, " is the last one."
Madame Fauvel had never seen him like this. Trembling with emotion, she rose and stood before him, with her tender face near his. She fixed in a steady gaze the power of her will, as if she meant to read the depths of his soul.
“What is it?" she insisted. “Raoul, my son, tell me." He pushed her gently away.
“What has happened,” he replied in a choked voice which pierced the heart of Madame Fauvel, “proves that I am unworthy of you, unworthy of my noble and generous father.”
She moved her head in protestation.
“Ah!” he continued, “I know and judge myself. No one could reproach my own infamous conduct so cruelly as my own conscience. I was not born wicked, but I am a miserable fool. I have hours when, as if in a vertigo, I do not know what I am doing. Ah! I should not have been like this, mother, if you had been with me in my childhood. But brought up among strangers, and left to myself without any guides but my own instincts, I am at the mercy of my own passions. Possessing nothing, not even my stolen name, I am vain and devoured by ambition. Poor and without resources but your help, I have the tastes and vices of a millionaire's son. Alas! when I recovered you, the harm was done. Your affection, your maternal tenderness which have given me my only days of happiness, could not save me. I who have suffered so much, who have endured so many privations, who have known hunger, have been spoiled by this new luxury with which you have surrounded me. I threw myself into pleasure as a drunkard rushes for the strong drink of which he has been deprived."
Raoul expressed himself with such intense conviction and assurance that Madame Fauvel did not interrupt.
Mute and terrified, she dared not question him, fearful of learning some horrible news.
He however continued:— «Yes, I have been a fool. Happiness has passed by me, and I did not know enough to stretch out my hand to take it. I have rejected an exquisite reality for the pursuit of a phantom. I, who should have spent my life by your side and sought constantly for new proofs of my love and gratitude, I, a dark shadow, give you a cruel stab, cause you sorrow, and render you the most unfortunate of beings. Ah! what a brute I have been! For the sake of a creature whom I should despise, I have thrown to the wind a fortune whose every piece of gold has cost you a tear! With you lies happiness. I know it too late.”
He stopped, overcome by the thought of his evil conduct, ready to burst into tears.
“It is never too late to repent, my son,” murmured Madame Fauvel, “and redeem your wrong.”
“Ah, if I could! » cried Raoul; but no, it is too late. Who knows how long my good resolutions will last? It is not only to-day that I have condemned myself without pity. Seized by remorse at each new failure, I have sworn to regain my selfrespect. Alas! to what has my periodical repentance amounted ? At the first new temptation I forget my remorse and my oaths. You consider me a man: I am only an unstable child. I am weak and cowardly, and you are not strong enough to dominate my weakness and control my vacillating character. I have the best intentions in the world, yet my actions are those of a scoundrel. The gap between my position and my nature is too wide for me to reconcile them. Who knows where my deplorable character may lead me ?”
He gave a gesture expressing recklessness, and added, "I myself will bring justice upon myself.”
Madame Fauvel was too deeply agitated to follow Raoul's sudden moods.
“Speak!” she cried; "explain yourself. Am I not your mother? You must tell me the truth; I must hear all.”
He appeared to hesitate, as if he feared to give so terrible a shock to his mother. Finally, in a hollow voice he said, “I am ruined !)
“Yes, and I have nothing more to wait for nor to hope for. I am dishonored, and through my own fault, my own grievous fault ! »
“It is true. But fear not, mother; I will not drag the name that you bestowed upon me in the dirt. I have the vulgar courage not to survive my dishonor. Go, waste no sympathy on me. I am one of those creatures of destiny who have no refuge save death. I am the victim of fate. Have you not been forced to deny my birth? Did not the memory of me haunt you and deprive your nights of sleep? And now, having found you, in exchange for your devotion I bring into your life a bitter curse.”
“Ungrateful child! Have I ever reproached you ? »
“Never. And therefore with your blessing, and with your loved name on his lips, your Raoul will — die!”
“Die ? You?”
« Yes, mother: honor bids it. I am condemned by inexorable judges — my will and my conscience.”
An hour earlier Madame Fauvel would have sworn that Raoul had made her suffer all that a woman could endure; and now he had brought her a new grief so acute that the former ones seemed naught in comparison.
“What have you done ? ” she stammered.
“No, but neither you nor I can replace it. Poor mother, have I not taken everything from you? Haven't you given me your last jewel?”
“But M. De Clameran is rich; he has put his fortune at my disposal. I will order the carriage and go to him.”
M. De Clameran, mother, is absent for eight days; and I must have the money to-night, or I am lost. Go! I have thought of everything before deciding. But one loves life at twenty!”
He drew a pistol half out of his pocket, saying with a grim smile, “This will arrange everything.”
Madame Fauvel was too unnerved in reflecting upon the horror of the conduct of the supposed Raoul de Clameran to fancy that this last wild menace was but a means for obtaining money.
Forgetting the past, ignoring the future, and concentrating her thought on the present situation, she saw but one thing — that her son was about to kill himself, and that she was powerless to arrest his suicide.
“Wait, wait,” she said; “André will soon return, and I will tell him that I have need of — How much did you lose ? »