|Newspaper Title||Mornington Standard (Vic. : 1889 - 1908)|
|Trove Title||The Masterpiece of Crime|
-Crime. (. ý amn ~Ron TH Fa P as aI E. B. H.) CHAPTER I. No.ehance l Oscar was his Christian Rame, Lapisotte his surname. He was poor, without talent,'and he thought him self a manI of genius. ' His first care, on starting life, was to take a pseudonym; his second, to take another; and so forth, for ten years, be employed all the fantastic appellations he could devise to excite the cunriosity of his contempo raries. .nep Yet this curiosity, which he affected to fear, and which he coveted with all his might, hardly cared to pierce the dense ob scurity of his existence. Under all his bor rowed labels, whetrheth e i clled himself Jacques de La Mole, Antoine Guivland, Tildy Bob, Gregorias Haupskas;?wlhether he assumed noble, plebeian, foreign,;romantie, or modern titles, he remained none the less the most unknown of quill-drivers, the most obscure "of the misunderstood, and. the poorestof men of letters. Glory did not want him. "E par si mlove! I have an idea,"' he said to himself with conviction, striking with his flinger his bony head-piece, which he imagined profound' because it sounded 'hollow. One can never tell to what aberrations literary vanity may force a man.' Thereare men of true talent whom it has thrownl into inconceivable absurdities, and whom it has even induced to conimit shameful aslid odious acts. What must then ensue when it torments a wretch of proved incapacity ? 'Patience exhausted, pride embittered, hellp lessness engendered, one's life spoiled by a useless yet persistent hope, there was little lacking to give birth to the idea of ending it bya suicide, or quitting it by a crime. Osecar Lapisotte was not brave enough to choose death. Besides, his prelensions to intellectual superiority would find an outlet in the consummation of a crime. He said to himself, in fact, that his genius had hitherto taken a wronig direction in applying itself to dreams of art, and that he was destined for deeds of violence. In other words crime would bring a fortune, and wealth would at length plaee in the light of day that transcendent intellect which was wasting away in poverty. ' Thus the " misunderstood" proved to himself, artistically and morally, that he must cotm mit a crime. He committed it. And as if fate wislhed to prove him right, for the first time in his life, he executed a masterpiece. About ten years before the day on which he became a criminal, Oscar Lapisotte had lived on the sixth floor in a house in the Rue St. Denis. Lost amidst a score or so of lodgers, known only under one of his nu merous pseudonyms, he had become inti mate there with a gossiping old servant maid, who used to tell him of all her little matters of business. She was half-nurse, half-servant to a very aged widow, an in valid, and fairly wealthy. 'For the matter of that, he scarcely stayed a month in that house.
One evening, when he had just quitted a friend of his, house-surgeon at La Pitic Hospital, passing through a ward on hisway out, he recognised the servant, who was dying. She told him that she had left the widow only three weeks ago, that they had temporarily filled herplace by a charwoman, that her mistress was too infirm to visit her, and that she was very miserable. "I can understand that," said Oscar. "You would like to see her, would you not?" "Oh! it is not that. The fact is, I'm afraid lest, if I die here, madame maiy read all the letters I have left with her, and de spise me after my death." "And why should she despise you t" " Listen; I will tell you the whole truth. You were once my lover; but that was a long time ago. I may. acknowledge to you that I have had other intrigues. You are not angry with ime for that, are you? Besides, you know well I was not of your class. You were an artist, ta man of the world; our acquaintance was but an episode, to which you attaclhed no importance. But there was in the house with sme a man of my own position, a coanclinan, and if ma dame should k:now, it would be my ruin. And so many ill-deeds have I committed for hissake. Alih! the scoundrel! 1 was de voted to him. lie is the fathller of my child; that is why I allowed myself to be led by him. He has always promised me, to recognise it, and marry me. Now, I can well see that it was all pretence; hlowever, never mind that ! My little one will noL be badly off with what I leave him, and madame, I know, will be good enough to look after him also, for I ihave writ ten to her-to madame--to tell her that I have a child. I have' the letter here, under my pillow, and I want it despatched to her, but only it my ipapers are first burnt. For, unless they are I would sooner eat the letter. I don't want madame to know all I have done. She would liave no pity for the urchin if she knes' hint to be the son of a loose woman and a thief." "Come, come, my dear friend," said Oscar, brusquely, "explain your situation tome better. You talk too fast, and mix. up everything; you must tell me clearly how things stand, if you'wish me to do you a service. - I ask nothing betti-; it it be pos sible; but I want to understand thloroi hly".';; At that moment Oscar did inot dream at all of crime. He merely gav tle li ein to his curiosity as a literary maim sceneted a romance, and was preparing "copy." -Ahi, well!" returned the woman, "this is how it is. I will try to be \clear. I fell ill suddenly in the street in an attack of apoplexy, and tlhey brought le to the hos pital. Madame has left miie here, as they couldnot moveme. I hae written to her and she answered me. ,Her charwoman came as her representative: Bit neither to madame nor to the e~harioman could I speak of what torinents me. I have: a packet of the coach'a'n's letters ; you understand, the father. The letters are full of wickedness; thefts be advises me to com mit; and thanks le aends me after I have committed them. For.I have' robbed, yes, robbed for his sakel-;.robbed my mistress. I ought to have' bii'nt those accursed letters; but they ha'd"also in them caressing words, promises o -iarriage, and assur ances that he would acknowledge the little :one, so I kept them. One day the scamp threatened to take them from me to com-. promise me. I refused him money, and he gave me to understand that, once master of the papers, hewonld do what he liked with me. I waebornibly frightened. All the same, I did not wish to part with the letters. To place them in safety, I asked madame if I might enStrat to her some family papers, which I valind very much, and thus .I in troduceda my, letters into her bureau. Madame -ave me a drawer to myself with the ke ' I know I might send word to her that I gnr the papers. But I mistrust
the charwoman, who would? bring them to me. From words she has let.slip I can easily guess that she, too, hasthecoachoman in tow now. He is a regular humbug, I can tell you ;and if he coaxes her it is to obtain the packet, the hiding place ofI which he knows. So, you understand my embarrassment. Oh! if you would be so good! I do not deserve it, it is true; but it would be handsome on your part to render ' me this service." "What service 2" ' " To bring me my letters." "But how do you mean nie to get hold of them ?" "That is very simple! Listen; every evening at ten o'clock madame takes her sleeping-draught of chloral, and sleeps soundly at that hour. The charwoman is not there then, as she goes away at seven, o'clock, after dinner. You understand that madame has never told her that she takes chloral; for fear'of being robbed. She 'only told me, in whom she had full confidence, poor thing. Well! you might enter then, she would not hear .you, and you could conme away and bring me my letters. You know there are two entrances to the house. By the back staircase tle hall porter would notice nothing. Oh ! do that for me, speak !" "But you are mad. The desk-how am I to open that ? And the door of the room, how to get through that ?" "Iavoe a double key to the bureau. To my shame, be it said, I had it made in order to rob madame. Here it is with that of my drawer. Here, too, is the key to enter through the kitchen by the backstairs. I beg you-I ]tnow not why, but I have faith in you, I am sure that you will do this that I may die in peace." Oscar Lapisotte took the keys. His eyes dilated. A sudden pallor overspread his face. Nervous twitches played round his thin-folded lips. Abruptly the possibility of crime came to Ihis mind. This woman dead, the deed was easy to execute. "Oh, I amn stifling, stifling," said the sick woman, whom the long confession had overpowered. "Give me something to drink, to drink !" The couch was in the dark, dimly lit by a night:light. In the adjacent beds everyone was asleep. Oscar raised the sick woman's head, drew awvay the pillow, and placed it on her mouth, where he held it with a wristof iron for at least ten minutes. He had the horrible courage to wait, watch in hand. When he uncovered the face, the sick woman was suffocated. She had neither been able to make a movement or utter a cry. She appeared to have suc cumbed to a determination of blood to the head. He replaced tIle pillow beneath the head and arranged the bedclothes under the chin. The corpse seemed to be asleep. The bed of the nurse being fairly close to the door the assassin escaped without dis turbance. Be glided along the house surgeon's corridor, passed through a side gate from the hospiltal road, and found him self outside without having been seen. It was twentyt minutes past nine. Without losing time, in a fever to carry out his plan, the wretch set out with long strides for the Rue Saint Denis. He entered the house before 'ten o'clock. On the road he hnad matured his paint. He first entered the stables wherethe coachtlnt's things ought to be. lIe'piekcd up a necktie there, tore a small strip from it, and put the strip in his pocket.
Then he went up the back stairs .our steps at a time. It w as on the first floor, and one could stride up the eighteen' steps with no risk of being perceived. He opened the door, entered noiselessly, reached the bed chambuler, and in one mo tion strangled the old woman who was sleeping there. Here, too, he had the cool ness to keep the throat comprcssed for a good quarter of an hour. He then opened the bureau. In the big drawer in the middle there were stock shares and bonds ; in the left drawer, bank notes; in the right one, rolls of louis. He sorted out the converlible deeds and left the rest. In all-deeds. gold, and notes-there were one thundred and forty thousand francs, with which lhe crammed his pockets. lie then looked after the letters. He enasily found them in the little corner, just twhere the servant had told him .they were. Ie lbrnt them in the fireplace, but took care to leave intact those scraps that were most compromising to the servant, and the coachman. Just a few well chosen sufficed to establish the whole story of the child, the temptations to theft, and the thefts committed. lie placed these in sight near tile fender, admirably arranged to induce belief that some one. had hastily burned them, and had gone away before they were quite consumed. He crhmipled and tore the strip of neck tie, placing it in the stiff convulsive grasp of the dead woman's right rhand: He then went out,' lied like'a streak of lightning as far as the road, and then at once com menced to walk with the quiet, strolling pace of an idler.: Oscar Lapisotts was certainly not in. 'error in imagining hitmself a genius ; he had a genius for crime, and had worked with the hand of a master. A crime is really only a masterpiece if' the author of it escapes with impunity.'. On the other hand, impunity is only - complete if justice finds the wrong man guilty. ,:,Oscar Lapissotto enjoyed 'complete im. ponity SJustice did n'ot hesitate one single in. stant in findiding the assassin: Clearly it was the coachman.( The'fragments : f fthe. letters were' infallible o?oofrs WVo ei??else bu'it the oachiman Sthe nurse's lover;. could know; so well tlie details that favoured the crinmle? : WlVo else could obtain the keys! Had lihe not begun by robbing the widow :in. concertwith? the nurse. ,Was it. not; logical. that he should have takei the step which separates theft . from assassination.. ''Be sides, the accusing scrap of necktie, spoke clearly.: To crown his bad luck, the coach man'had a bad previous record.. As 'a last' overwhelming circuinstance, lie could not' .account for the employment of his' time at. the fatal hour. He mighlt deny his' guilt, and protest his innocence as lie pleased; all was againist him, nothing pleaded in his favour.. He ;iwas judged, .condemned to death, executed; and the judges, the juryr, the lawyer, the papers, and the publih were all of one accord in having an easy cons cience in the matter. .There remained but one obscure poin- in the business; it was the fortune that they could not recover, They thought that the scamp had hidden it in a sure place,' but. no one doubted that he had stolen it. In' fine, if ever a criminal was proved guilty of his crime, it was he. They say that consciousness of a good action gives profound peace;. But few people have the boldness to say that inipu.. nity after an evil action brings also its hap. piness. Bavray d'Auverillay, in. his. ad.
mirable "Diaboliques," was not afraidto write a novel entitled ' Happiness in crime," and he was right, for criminals do know what it is to be at peace. Oscar Lapissotte was able fully to enjoy his double murder, and to relish the fruits of it in absolute tranquility. He suffered neither remorse nor terror. The only trou blesome sentiment he experienced, and which increased little by little, was' enor mous pride, and, above all, the pride of the artist; What made him oblivious of every moral consideration was exactly the perfec tion of his work and the feeling that he had "appeared absolutely guiltlcess. In that thought alone his thirst for superiority: found a drauight to quaff to'intoxication. On the other halds, lie' renined' one of the crodwvd, obsSird. and jiustly iunknown. He had made good use of Iris new fortune to effect an entry to journals and reviews-he had wellfJlted tlhe critics, but he could not 'gain the ear of tlhepublic. His verses,:his prose, his theatrical essays were stamped with the brand of incapacity. Men of :the profession knew Anatole Desroses slightly, the amateur mian of letters, who had more, income than talent, but readers laughed at his income, and everyone agreed in refusing him even the smallest morsel of talent. He was duly convicted of incapiability. " And yet," he sminetimes said to himself, with sparkling eyes, 'yet if I wanted to ! If I were to relate my masterpiece-for I lnavure chieved a mssterpiece, there is no doubt about that. Anatole Desroses may be an'idiot-lie it so; but Oscar Lapisotte is a man of genius. All the same, it is fearful to think that an exploit so well con trivedso powerfully conceived, so vigor ously executed, so completely successful, will remain eternally unknown. Ah !'on that day I Iad true inspiration-the inspi ration that achieves, perfection. Great lheavens! Abbe Provost scribbled more than a hundred rubbisehing romances, yet wrote but one Flanson Lcscaut. Bernardin de Saint Pierre will only leave behind him Prail and Virginia.. There are many of these strange geniuses who produce but one work; but then, what a work! It remains like a monument in literature. I, too, am one of those choice spirits-I have accom plished but one excellent performance. Why did I live it instead of writing it? If. I had written it, I should be celebrated; I should have but one tale to show, but everyone would want to read it, for it would be unique of its kind. I have accomplished a masterpiece of crime." At length this idea became a nightmare to him. For ten years lie contended with it. He allowed himself to be a prey, first to regret for having performed, and not imagined the deed, thesi to a desire to re late his action as if it had been imaginary. What haunted him was not the demon, of perversity, that strange force' which urges Edgar Allan Poe's characters to proclaim their secret; it was a devotion to, litera ture, a greed for renown, a lust after glory. Like a subtle counsel, who refutes objections one by one, adil weighs all plausible arguo ments, this fixed idea of his pursued him with a thousand pleadings. . Why should you not write the truth? Whet do you fear? Anatole Desroses is safefrom punishment; the crime is old ; to most peopleit is forgotten; the author of it is known; he is dead and buried, with his head tucked between his legs. You will ap pear to have artistically arranged an old lcgalstory. You will putinto it all your hidden thoughts, all the bitterness that urged you on to the murder, all, the skilful plans you combined to coi?imitit, and allthe coincidences with which that wonderful in ventor, called chance, furnished' you. You alone are in the secret of the work, and no one will guess that you have drawn it from reality. People will see in your tale only the effort of an extraordinary imagination, And then you will be the man you wish to be, the great writer, who is slow to reveal his powers, but when he does, it is 'with a master-stroke.
You will enjoy the fruits of your crime as never did criminal before. You will have drawn from it, not only fortune, but renown too. And who knows? After the first success, when you have a name, you will get your other works read, and doubt less people will reverse the unjust opinion they have of you. On the road to celebrity, 'tis but the first step that is hard. Courage! Revive some of that astonishing boldness you had once in your life. See bow it has succeeded with you. It cannot fail to sic ceed again. You were once able to' take time by the forelock.! Yoi still hold it in your halid. Will you let it slip? You know well the work is a great one, do you not? Well, then, relate it fearlessly, with out concealment, boldly, in all its:majestic horror. Aild, if you . will follow my advice, gratify your pride to the top of its bent, put. a bold laceon it, renounce that nickname Swhich appearsto be yourreal name, and sign your own name, which will appear to be a nickname. It is not Jacques de la Moles, Antoine Guivland, or even Anatole .De. roses, it is not that heap of talentless indi viduals, whomn you want to glorify; it is yourself, Oscar Lapisotte? ;.: And one fine evening Oscar Lapisotte sat' down in front of his foolseap, with head on fire and feverish hand, like a great poet who feels himself about to' be ,delivered o' a great work; and at one stretch hle wrote the history of a crime. ,IHe' related Oscar Lapisotte's miserable' start in life;, his Bohemian existence, his many failures, his proved incapacity, his terrible embitteritieht, thle idea of: suicide. and of crime which. danced, in. his braini, that rebellious heart betrayed by a chimera' which longs to take its revenge upon the real-a whole romance of deep psychology, the dissection of the. soul, Next, .in sober language, and with a. horrible, distinctness, he described the scene in the hospital, the scene in the lue St. Denis, the death of the innocent accused, and the triumph of the true murderer. Then, with a curious and Batanio subtlety of detail, he analysed the causes which had decided the author to publish his crime, and finished with the apotheosis of Oscar Lapisotto, who placed his signature at'the foot of the confession. . :(To bi rcosnti?sed.) It is easier to establish a reputation for goodness with the world at large than with those of our own household. It must be a matter of regret to theb man: who likes to hear himself talk' to be told that he has been talking in his sleep. To have a healthy government a stile must have a good constitution. " And now that we are engaged, Frede. rick, I only think it right to make a ion 'fesion. Ilove onions.'!